The objective of this course is to provide students with the necessary historical and cultural background for the study of Hispanic cultures in the context of modernity. We will explore the relation between politics and cultural production in Latin America and Spain from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. The central questions that will be addressed during our sessions relate to the nature of the new ideas, subjects, and objects that appear in the Hispanic imagination during times of intense political, economic, and social change.
In the first part of the semester we will analyze the period of the Enlightenment, taking into account its relationship to the cultural, political, and economic development of the modern world. Then we will use the concept of “threshold” (umbral) to discuss the ideological processes through which Spanish American former colonies found their independence, as well as the general intellectual climate in Spain after the loss of its New World empire. We will also consider in this section other “thresholds,” like the outset of the avant-garde in Spain, and the US-Mexico border as a historical wound and a haunting space of colliding identities.
The third section looks at the circulation of commodities, ideas, and money as a cultural process inherent to the logic of globalized consumption that defines modern capitalism. We will start by examining Spanish American modernismo and finish with a note on the poetics of recent Spanish economic crises. The fourth part of the syllabus considers the political and cultural significance of different “monsters” that appear in the literature and philosophy of the Hispanic world during times of intense social change. We will spot these threshold figures (half-human, half-beast) throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in Spain and Latin America. Finally, we will take an ecocritical view of some key Spanish and Latin American texts (and the recent Academy Award-winning film El abrazo de la serpiente), with the purpose of understanding the ultimate threshold, that between man and nature, as a space of continuous interchangeability.
The goal of this class is not to present a solid and periodized narrative of causally interrelated events and sources, but to provide representative examples of these historical transitions through both area-specific and wide ranging cultural and political artifacts. Over the course of the semester students will give a 15-minute presentation, write four personal reflections, and one final essay in which they will engage with topics and materials pertaining to the syllabus.
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