Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Romania Continua, Romania Submersa, and the Field of Romance Studies

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Romania Continua, Romania Submersa, and the Field of Romance Studies

Article excerpt

Understanding the future of Romance studies would be an act of prophecy, rather than a forecasting. Since I am completely unable to become suddenly a prophet, mine will be some sort of Augustinian-driven consideration of the past and future of present things.

I received my formation as a very canonical Romanist. It was a very intense, almost skill-based training in the history of literatures and languages, in textual scholarship, paleography, classical languages, and other strict disciplines: the hard core of philology. For better or for worse, the rest, I had to do it by myself. I spent ten years of my life teaching Romance literatures of the Middle Ages in Salamanca and at some other European institutions. Looking back to that period after seven years in American academia requires a sort of a critical archaeology of that formation and its conditions of possibility.

The field of Romance studies could be perceived as a sort of academic battlefield in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. Different pieces have to be fit together to form the original, historical picture of a mythical Romania, a picture that includes not only the current Romance languages and cultures, the Romania continua, but also the different expressions of the Romania submersa, that is the Romance expressions of those other languages (of Celtic, Germanic or Berber origin, for instance) that, although located at the outskirts of Romania, still claim their historical and underlying romanization as one of the signs of their being higher cultures. The field became a battle from the moment that the jigsaw was puzzled by nineteenth-century national borderlines and by the classification of the Romance languages within those borderlines. All this could not be more obvious, but, at the same time, it bas very evident consequences as well: Occitan cultures are studied, if at all, within French departments, as if Occitan were a part of the monde de la francophonie; the Catalan language is studied, if at all, in Spanish departments and has even become a part of Hispanic studies; we could go on ad nauseam trying to fit pieces of what Walther von Wartburg certified as La Fragmentation linguistique de la Romania within the disciplinary boundaries of academic departments as they have been constituted in the last decades as a result of the complex interplay between linguistic geography, linguistic politics, and political geography.

It does not come as a surprise that the program in Romance philology at Columbia University is owned, as it were, by the French department, and, in fact, it would not be a surprise either, if it were owned by the department of Germanic studies, since they established the foundation for Romance studies in the Romania continua as well as the the concept of the Romania submersa, to which nowadays they refer as die verlorene Romanitat, "the lost Romanity." By the same token, but from a completely different perspective, it is not a surprise either that the same program at UC Berkeley is co-owned by several departments, sort of floating among or on top of them and resistant to change despite the fact that those departments have changed their undergraduate and graduate programs radically over the course of the last few years. In other places I am aware of, such a program does not even exist, or it is the result of a process of exhumation and resuscitation, as at the University of Salamanca or the University of Alcala de Henares, both in Spain.

To the primitive jigsaw puzzle formed by the archetypal picture of Romania, it is necessary to add another one formed by the ways in which we conceive the relationships between disciplines and academic programs. Romance studies and Romance philology are an exceptional academic space, and it is because of this exceptionality that it is uncomfortably located. In many instances, it is only a name used by the university to bring together colleagues from various smaller fields into a bigger structure in order to ease administrative work. …

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