Friday, February 11, 2011

A very Short Introduction to

 Spanish Literature.

vsi spanlit
My knowledge of the history of Spanish Literature, basically starts & ends with Don Quixote, jump forward a few hundred years and I’m on safer ground. Like most people I’m aware that  Miguel de Cervantes(1547 – 1616) is one of the names behind the invention of the modern novel, in around the 16th century, but there is a massive gap in my knowledge of  nearly half a millennia, luckily this is where this book comes in.
A Very Short Introduction – Spanish Literature (Oxford University Press), provides a handy guide to what turns out to be a rich literary history & in the process defines what it is that makes a national literature. From conquerors to exiles, from the highbrow to the downtrodden, this book sheds light on the multifaceted character of a culture & the literary treasures it has produced. Although this is a small book - at about a 144 pages - it manages to cover a lot of ground through it’s chapter headings ;
  • Multilingualism and porous borders
  This chapter attempts to define what is Spanish about “Spanish literature”. By taking into consideration a nations changing political and linguistic map, and then adding in the question of how far back in time one can go and still use the term “Spain” meaning -  a cohesive whole nation state, as opposed to “a multiplicity of Christian And Muslim Kingdoms, both of which had Jewish populations”. It also discusses the subject of non-state nationalism (Basque, Catalan etc.), and the rise of the exile and expatriates from 1492 through to the Franco regime.
  • Spanish Literature And Modernity
Here, discussed is the authors definition of modernity & how it came about, covering “nation-formation, Capitalist Modernization, and state centralization as the goal of the restoration period through  the Avant garde of the early 20th century up until writers such as Loriga,and Molina.”
  • Gender and sexuality
This chapters argues that since the 1980’s the Spanish Literary canon has changed decisively, due to the introduction of Gender studies. The result of this has been the recovery of a whole host of “forgotten” Women Writers and the analysis of literary representations of Femininity, Masculinity and Same-Sex desire, often in canonical text, whose gender dimensions had been ignored.
  • Cultural patrimony
In this final section the author considers two aspects of cultural Patrimony; who has access to it, and how it is transmitted to future generations. Both raise issues about Cultural ownership.

For all it’s erudition, and professorial learning, I didn’t find this a dry read, it made me realise that although works such Don Quixote are a major literary signpost, that's all they are and not the be all & end all of Spanish Literature. Jo Labanyi like all good cartographers places enough information before you, to help you find your way, but because of the V.S.I. format you are not overwhelmed, allowing - in fact stimulating - the urge for future exploration.

Granta The best Of Young Spanish Language Novelists.

“From Borges to Bolaño, the Spanish language has given us some of the most beloved writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. But as the reach of Spanish-language culture extends far beyond Spain and Latin America, and as the US tilts towards a majority Hispanic population, it is time to ask who is next in this exciting tradition.”

This is the first translated issue of Granta’s “Best of young Novelists”, chosen by a panel of six highly distinguished judges we are introduced to a cornucopia of new writing from across the Spanish–speaking world, and in the process signposts a collection of the most promising novelists around today.
All the writers chosen for this book are under thirty five, and have at least one novel, or story collection to their name. From Andres Barba (Spain) to Alejandro Zambra (Chile) this is a fantastic collection of tales with the Spanish language as the link that binds them, this ambitious endeavour unites twenty two writers from eight different countries in a format that allows you to be introduced to them via a short tale.

The Very Short Introductions series (or VSI series) is a book series published by the Oxford University Press publishing house since 1995. Each book in the series offers a concise, yet cogent, introduction to a particular subject. Written by acknowledged experts, most books are between 100–150 pages and contain suggestions for further reading. Authors often present personal viewpoints, but each introduction is intended to be balanced and complete.
Granta magazine was started by students at Cambridge University in 1889, under the name “The Granta”, it was a periodical covering student politics, banter and  literary output, it was named after the river that runs through Cambridge (river Cam).  In 1979 the magazine was reborn, and has since published a great many of the world’s finest writers, tackling some of the most important subjects on this planet, from the very personal life of the individual to the events that have shaped our lives on an international level. Some of the writers who contributed are - Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, Peter Carey, Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, Bruce Chatwin, James Fenton, Richard Ford, Martha Gellhorn, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jayne Anne Phillips, Salman Rushdie, George Steiner, Graham Swift, Paul Theroux, Edmund White, Jeanette Winterson and Tobias Wolff.  All the issues going back to 1979 are still available in print.
MY Introduction to the VSI came from Winstonsdad a fantastic translated literature Blog.


Em said...

I found the Very Short Introductions series helpful more than once when I was studying sociology and philosophy. However, now I find them a bit too... short!
In all fairness, I think it's a good series. It does what it says on the cover :)

As for Granta, they have great anthologies. I love the one on the Contemporary American Short Stories edited by Richard Ford.

@parridhlantern said...

With the VSI, series I think the point is that they are a short introduction, the further reading notes, are there if you want to explore deeper into this field, Like a lot of people my knowledge of this literature is Quixote, BIG GAP, Borges etc, this didn't fill in the gap, but signposted a route through it.As for Granta fantastic anthologies full of great writers, and as I got this one for Xmas I thought it serendipitious & combined them for a post on Spanish Lit.

Richard said...

Spain's one of my favorite countries for literature (and food and etc.). I need to take a look at this book one of these days since you and Stu both liked it--thanks for the reminder!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Richard, both books are worth a look, the VSI for the history & the Granta for the future.

Tom C said...

Interesting post - that looks a very useful book.

I've subscribed to Granta for years - a very rewarding journal. These days I find it hard to find the time to read it and have yet to start the Spanish volume. They're now sending a pdf version of each edition so I can send it on to my kindle which is useful.

Novroz said...

This is a good read. I haven't read any Spanish literature before, I want to but don't know when to find it

Caroline said...

Thanks for this review. I am always glad for introductions like this. I read a few recent books especially by female writers but have absolutely no overview.

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks Tom, the VSI is part of a series that do what they say on the tin, and introduce you to a whole range of topics.

Hello Novroz,thanks & check out the Granta, it has 22 young spanish language writers. If you want some more Spanish language writers, try Roberto Bolano, Stick his name in The Search box (bloglight) on this site for information.

Hi Caroline,thanks for the comment, glad it was helpful

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the mention ,all the best stu

Anonymous said...

Wow. The 'VSI' series. Brings back memories! I didn't know they had one for Spanish lit. I need to get my hands on the Granta one. Thanks for the recommendation!