Pascual de Gayangos: A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist

By Cristina Álvarez Millán; Claudia Heide | Go to book overview

3
The Estranged Self of Spain:
Oriental Obsessions in the Time of Gayangos

Andrew Ginger

When we bear in mind nineteenth-century considerations of Islamic Iberia within Spain, which was so much under the sway of liberal nationalism, we may be inclined to fall back on three touchstones of much modern academic analysis: that nationalities were understood in an essentialist manner; that the ‘oriental’ was rendered exotic in order ultimately to be subjected, and that orientalist description and mapping – literal and metaphorical – was an instrument of colonisation. Some scholarship of the past decade on orientalism in the west – for example that of Mackenzie – has, of course, queried some such assumptions, deriving from Said among others – not least, any straightforward assertion that the effect or intention of describing the oriental as ‘other’ was always to subject and colonise, or that the west itself maintained over a long period of history a consistent view or discourse of the orient. As Mackenzie and Macfie both indicate in their criticism of ‘occidentalism’, the specific, contingent historical and political context of European discussion of the orient should take precedent over suppositions that there was an underlying and continuous ‘discourse’ of orientalism. Equally, some scholars working on English and Scottish culture, such as Craig and Chandler, have questioned whether understandings of national historicism were always fundamentally essentialist and ahistorical. At the same time, some academics, such as Reina Lewis, have shown how accounts of the relationship between ‘west’ and ‘east’ could be significantly shaped by concerns other than those of religion or nationality, for instance gender or class.

Reflections on the relations of the occident and the orient have come to have an increasing significance for nineteenth-century Spanish studies as academics have turned their attention to the sometimes neglected texts and images of empire and orientalism, as they did in Anglophone and French or Francophone studies. There has been a growing focus both on the persist ence of imperial possessions and overseas military activity, and on the relationship, historical and actual, with north Africa, for example in Anderson, Blanco, Charnon-Deutsch, Hooper, Iarocci, Labanyi, Schmit-Nowara.

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