Ethnographies of the everyday. Perspectives on costumbrismo
A Two-Part Conference Munich, June 2015 Berkeley, February 2016
There is no single English term that conveys the meaning of the Spanish term costumbrismo. Literature of Manners, the most common rendering in English, does not fully capture the genre’s focus on the representation of marginalized and subaltern segments of society within the Hispanophone transatlantic world. How should the literature of costumbrismo be read today? How can it be theorized? How does costumbrismo vary across differing national, regional, and continental locations? In this conference we aim to rethink costumbrismo as a discursive modality that encompassed the artistic, literary and scientific study of classes, regions, races, and nations. The ability of costumbrista genres to mediate between the artistic and the scientific guaranteed a prominent role for literature and the literate within the public spheres of Spain and Latin America until the end of the 19th century. Costumbrista literature often staged scenes of reading, writing, and publication, by means of which the authority of the literate was upheld. In this sense, costumbrismo offers a fascinating paradigm for thinking about the relationship between literature, the visual arts, and the diffusion of scientific knowledge.
Recent research on costumbrismo has departed from conventional literary-historical accounts of the phenomenon in order to underscore the important role it played within processes of modernization, social organization, and the emergence of local, regional, and national identities on both sides of the Atlantic. José Escobar, for example, proposes the concept of costumbristamimesis in order to rethink costumbrismo as a distinctively modern form of literature that breaks with classical 18th-century notions of imitation. Susan Kirkpatrick has emphasized that Spanish costumbrismo was closely intertwined with bourgeois ideology. Among the developments that made possible the institutionalization of costumbrismo on the Iberian Peninsula, for example, she includes the rise of newspapers and the growing middle- class reading public on which the periodical press relied. To Kirkpatrick, costumbrismo made possible the transition to a more markedly modern and bourgeois society. More recently, Michael Iarocci has stressed the complex role of costumbrismo within the dialectic of 19th- century cultural secularization, and Jill Lane has traced the trajectory of costumbrismo within a trans-Atlantic context. She argues that while Spanish costumbrismo offered an effective means of articulating control mechanisms over an emergent middle class, in Latin America and the Caribbean it contributed to the development of a rhetoric that was eminently nationalist and anti-colonialist. In this context, costumbrismo became a representational space for articulating local, regional, and national subjectivities.
On both sides of the Atlantic costumbrismo has in recent years been reconceptualized as a literary and artistic practice that participated in the broader discursive construction of racial and social typologies. Our project proposes to explore costumbrismo within this framework, as a means of social organization, both before and after the 18th and 19th centuries with which it is most commonly associated. Among the discourses that determined citizenship, costumbrismo contributed to the process of transforming marginal and subaltern figures into modern subjects. By converting racially and socially segregated classes into the subjects of literary discourse, costumbrismo granted them a visible space within the paradigms of modernity. Within the growing racial and social heterogeneity of urban spaces, the classification of social groups sought to impose conceptual order. At the same time, the practice of costumbrismo made room within print culture for segments of the population that were considered dangerous and marginal, and it provided epistemological tools for thinking about the subaltern. In effect, costumbrismo inscribed “the other” within a taxonomic system that provided access to languages, bodies, and identities. In this sense it sought to institute and organize a social order that implied a correspondence between the individual, society, and the nation. Against the vision of the nation as an imagined community, built upon a horizontal and homogeneous space, costumbrismo practices often articulated alternate spaces where identity could be represented in terms of divergence and disparity.
In Spain, costumbrismo often underscored Spain’s difference from the rest of Europe, while in Latin America, it was linked to the emergence and formulation of national literatures. It thus acquired a foundational value among the other literary codes that were used to construct national canons. On both sides of the Atlantic, costumbrismo offered the literate classes a virtual space in which to insist, by means of literature, on their importance in imagining the future of emerging modern nations.
Escobar, José. “Costumbrismo: estado de la cuestión.” Centro Internacional de Estudios sobre el Romanticismo Hispánico, Romanticismo 6: El costumbrismo romántico. Rome: Bulzoni, 1996: 117-126.
Iarocci, Michael. “Romantic Prose, Journalism and Costumbrismo.” The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Kirkpatrick, Susan. “The Ideology of Costumbrismo.”Ideologies &Literature 2.7 (May-June 1978): 28-44.
Lane, Jill. Blackface Cuba. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Part one: Thu 6/11- Fri 6/12, Instituto Cervantes, Munich
Thu 6/11 14.00-18.00
14.30 Ignacio Navarrete: Cervantes and costumbrismo
16.00 Diego Arévalo: Imperios Vacilantes: Portugal y España en el Río Amazonas, Siglos XVI y XVII
17.00 Cathy Jaffes: Gender, translation, and national character in the spanish enlightenment: El Eugenio by María Lorenza de los Ríos, Marquesa de Fuerte-Híjar
Fri 6/12 12.00-17.00
12.00 Michael Iarocci: Goya’s disasters of war as costumbrismo: Documentary vs. aesthetic critique
13.00 Dexter Hough-Snee: Lima inside, out, and on the page in 1854: Rebranding Lima por dentro y fuera (1797)
15.00 Daylet Domínguez: Costumbrismo en el Caribe: Literatura y ciencia en el siglo XIX
16.00 Molly Borowitz: Compassion and control: Mutual sympathy between black slaves and white women in Sab and Cecilia Valdés
17.00 Donna Southard: Francisco Rivero Gil: Graphico-lexical renderings of modern subjectivity