Hispanic Cities on Film: Urban Theory in the Freshman Seminar

Following up on that last post–you can use the same link to access the article by Susan Divine at Westminster College co-authored with Benjamin Jones titled “Hispanic Cities on Film: Urban Theory in the Freshman Seminar” which is accompanied by an example syllabus/appendix. A fantastic read and a must for anyone integrating urban studies and cultural analysis at the undergraduate level whether in Hispanic Studies or another discipline.

Essay on (humanities) peer-review, interdisciplinarity, junior scholars

Benjamin Fraser, Malcolm Alan Compitello and Eva Karene Romero have just authored an editorial titled “A Modest Proposal Regarding Peer-Review” that can be found on Project Muse here.

While this essay has appeared in a Hispanic Studies journal–the Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies–it is pitched/positioned much more generally to speak to shifts in the humanities in particular but perhaps also to interdisciplinary scholarship outside of the humanities as well. Some insights may be particular to Hispanic Studies, while others may be more broadly applicable, take a look and let us know what you think,

Zola’s The Squares: City, Country and Work

In the Introduction to Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille by Denis Hollier (trans. Betsy Wing; MIT 1989) there are some interesting remarks:

“In 1867, Emilie Zola, a young journalist, dedicated one of his articles to the upcoming inauguration of a public space. The piece is entitled ‘The Squares.’ It begins: ‘The gates to the new Parmentier square, built on the site of the former Popincourt slaughterhouse, will soon be opened to the public.’ Then come two pages of sarcasm directed at the absurdity of urban landscaping, where lawns try to recall nature for consumptive city dwellers. ‘It looks like a bit of nature that did something wrong and was put in prison.’ A square is not a museum, but it too is a place for soft expenditure, it is an enclave through whose gates Parisian workers escape the implacable law of labor: they take the air (regenerate their lungs just as do the museum visitors observed by Bataille). For lack of an animal they kill time.” (xv)

“Despite his sarcastic remarks about squares, a mere detail in Haussmann’s overall plan, Zola is vigorously in favor of the modernization of Paris. […] In the modern city, the capital of the world of work, everyone is busy. Everything found there has its function, a physiological justification. […] Zola is allergic to the squares because the city takes its rest there, or, more precisely, because these idleness preserves are urban. Not that Zola is opposed to stopping work (workers have a right to recreation), but he is opposed to this happening in the city. If one is not working one should leave.” (xvi)

Although I’ve read more of Chilean writer Baldomero Lillo and Spanish author Emilia Pardo Bazán (both influenced by Zola) than Zola himself, I was reminded of the role of the country in the French writer’s Germinal (a great read) where the forest serves as a safe space for organizing against the evils of mine-work. Given that nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century reactions unfolded against industrialization and mechanization rather than against urbanization proper (e.g. see Lewis Mumford), it makes sense to see authors of that time upholding such a strict city-country dichotomy instead of seeing (as some have suggested) capitalist industrialization as a first step toward capitalist urbanization (much easier in hindsight)–in both cases, of course, the city and the country are part of an evolving and dynamic relationship, which renders Zola’s view on squares somewhat humorous if not also absurd from today’s perspective.

“if one is not working one should leave”–I’m not sure how well this statement represents Zola’s view, but it certainly supports a reifying perspective on city and country that itself anticipates the post-war uneven development of leisure and work spaces taken on by Lefebvre (e.g. The Production of Space).


2 Readings from 1983 (Eagleton / Williams)–‘hair-raisingly radical and rather absurd’

Revisiting development of and reflections upon cultural studies, I’ve turned most recently to  “Crisis in English Studies” (published in 1983’s Writing and Society by Raymond Williams; originally from a 1981 lecture) and chapter one of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory titled “The Rise of English” (also from 1983). Clearly these notions of crisis articulated some thirty years ago are still appropriate ways of making sense of today’s literary and (inter)disciplinary landscape–so that we might talk in similar terms today of Crisis in Hispanic Studies, Crisis in French Studies and so on…

The major benefit of Eagleton’s chapter is–and the same can be said of Williams’s Marxism and Literature–is that is places the study of literature in a historical context, the development of literary study along with Romantic understandings of creative activity and as subject to alienations of leisure and culture which were themselves rooted in developments of industrial capitalism. In this context it is possible for Eagleton to state unequivocally that “Literature would rehearse the masses in the habits of pluralistic thought and feeling, persuading them to acknowledge that more than one viewpoint than theirs existed–namely, that of their masters. It would communicate to them the moral riches of bourgeois civilization, impress upon them a reverence for middle-class achievements, and, since reading is an essentially solitary, contemplative activity, curb in them any disruptive tendency to collective political action” (1983: 25). As have many others, Eagleton points to the limitations of Matthew Arnold’s legacy (from Culture and Anarchy 1869) and how it was modified (not enough?) by F.R. Leavis and I.A.Richards in Cambridge English: and Eagleton takes pains to paint a nuanced picture of this development and how it became the basis for the myopia of the American New Criticism (which carried the excesses of Cambridge English to their logical conclusion).

For this reader, however, the picture that emerges of Leavis is much more intriguing and dissonant than that of Richards or the New Criticism, which is to say that the tradition of close-reading he is synonymous with was not as closed of a practice in his eyes as it would later become in the hands of others, bent as he was as using literature as an opening onto the whole of society–this certainly meant something distinct to both Leavis and Eagleton, but is something which today’s literary specialists may still need to be reminded of if we consider the ongoing tensions surrounding cultural studies work and interdisciplinarity in general. Of Leavis’s Scrutiny (1932) project in particular, Eagleton writes: “The whole Scrutiny project was at once hair-raisingly radical and really rather absurd” (34). I wonder–accepting the plausible limitiations of Leavis’s project–whether there nonetheless remains a lesson to be learned therein…

Williams’s “Crisis in English Studies” pushes for a complex understanding of methodological issues that still seems important to emphasize today: “Within both Marxism and structuralism there are diverse tendencies, and there is further diversity in other tendencies in part influenced by them. This has to be emphasized not only to prevent reductive labelling but for a more positive reason, that some of these tendencies are compatible with the existing dominant paradigm of literary studies while others are incompatible and have for some years been challenging the dominant paradigm—and thus its profession” (192). But it also asks what is–in my view–an equally important question regarding the composition of departments: “can radically different work still be carried on under a single heading or department when there is not just diversity of approach but more serious and fundamental differences about the object of knowledge (despite overlapping of the actual material of study)?”

I’m sure that scholars who have seen the academic battles of the 70s and 80s first hand have much more to offer on the current state of things, but it seems to me that this question posed by Williams in 1983 in regard to English Studies is just as applicable to today’s Hispanic Studies, French Studies, German Studies, Asian Studies… how do we account for diversity of approach/disciplinary heterogeneity in a general sense let alone serious conflicts regarding the purpose of education or cultural criticism? There is still much work to be done.

Early Cultural Studies Texts Worth Reading [suggestions encouraged]

Deciding to return to earlier cultural studies texts, I’ve gotten through Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life, with special references to publications and entertainments (1957) which I do recommend, surely a classic that stands the test of time.

[An aside: also of note for popular music fans is the reference to a book ‘Death-Cab for Cutie’ — seemingly a made-up name included amongst many others in Hoggart’s discussion of the ‘sex and violence’ genre of popular reads at the time that was chosen by B. Gibbard and his recent band — I heard the band but never knew the origin, of course the internet easily confirms the connection).

Also almost done with Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society (1780-1950) (1958) which can be rather dry in comparison to Hoggart’s work (above), but I’d say a stand out section is the one devoted to T. S. Eliot and his notion of ‘culture’ as a whole way of life, which clearly signals the later evolution of Williams’s thoughts on the subject, and suggests an appropriation and reformulation (differing considerably from the original, of course) of Eliot’s concept (itself digested from Boasian Anthropology) in the ‘structures of feeling’ Williams wrote about. Not done with that one yet, but already I feel I’m going to have to read Eliot’s slim book Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (from 1948) that Williams references there.

I do have to move on to consider Scrutiny (F.R. Leavis’s project from 1932 onward), which Williams points to as anticipating cultural studies as well.

Any other suggestions of earlier cultural studies texts worth reconsidering?

Worth a Read: F. R. Leavis (on C.P. Snow, technology and… Digital Humanities?)

I’m reading F. R. Leavis (of Scrutiny fame) at present–the book Nor Shall My Sword: Discourses on Pluralism, Compassion and Social Hope (1972, New York: Barnes & Noble[Harper & Row]) to be precise.

So many reasons you’d want read this. First: it includes the Richmond Lecture he delivered as a response to C.P. Snow’s 1959 Rede lecture that popularized the notion of ‘The Two Cultures’ and he LAMBASTES Snow, not without a certain dose of humor I would add; what Leavis considers to be Snow’s laughable career as a novelist, the fact that Snow could even think to talk about literature when he knows nothing about it, the first chapter alone had me in stitches–not that it’s written that way, but the criticisms are so direct and specific [perhaps personal] (and apt) that it is amusing to read.

But there are other reasons to read the book, which compiles several essays together and is not purely an attack on Snow. One of Snow’s statements (evidence for him of the split between two cultures) had been that Continue reading

Peter Marcuse Poem — “When it comes to the Right to the City..”

A friend just sent me this poem by Peter Marcuse, included with the Afterword of the 2012 Routledge book Cities for People, Not for Profit: from what I can see, the book itself seems to be linked with a special issue of the journal City from 2009 available here and was commented on pre-publication at Progressive Geographies here.
“Light verse”

When it comes to the Right to the City,
Don’t get mired just in some nitty-gritty,
Maybe break for a ditty,
Even if it isn’t so witty,
Making it boring would be a real pity.

You need to understand class,
If you don’t want to fall on your ass;
It isn’t so easy,
But if you get queasy,
And fudge it, you’ll lose it, alas.

If to critical theory you’ve aspired,
But in abstractions have gotten yourself mired,
Link your theory with action,
Help theory get traction,
You’ll get clearer, be useful — and tired.