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Review: [untitled]

Author(s): Stephen Rupp

Reviewed work(s):
Ideologies of History in the Spanish Golden Age by Anthony J. Cascardi
Source: Modern Philology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Feb., 2002), pp. 420-424
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 02/01/2010 12:43

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Modern Philology.

them altogether. Laqueur's assertions about the primacy of the Ga-

lenic model have, of course, been challenged, and the idea that there
was one body and that body was male fails to account for alternative
models in medical and philosophical writings, for the early modern
fascination with the otherness of the female body that is such a recur-
rent feature of literary and medical writing, or for Donne's almost ob-
sessive fascination with women and their differences from men.
The strength of this book, then, lies in its complicated analysis of
questions of difference, which are raised not only with respect to gen-
der, but also in relation to history. Can we know historical writings in
their genuine otherness or do we always understand them through
the veil of our present? Corthell is clear about his objectives: he does
not seek to know either the "absolute subject" of Donne's poetry or
the "subject of history" but rather the "opportunity to participate in
the work of creating ideological form" (p. 22). This is a book that will
surely make all readers of Donne newly aware of the historical presup-
positions that have accreted around these writings and the ideological
orientations that we, as readers, bring to them.
Elizabeth D. Harvey
Universityof Toronto

Ideologies of History in the Spanish Golden Age. AnthonyJ Cascardi.

University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. Pp.
viii+ 327.

In the fourth chapter of his book, Anthony Cascardi defines ideology

as "all the varied means through which symbolic forms of power are
brought to bear on cultural life" (p. 109). Cascardi develops this
definition at length, both in opposition to the traditional view of ide-
ology as a set of consciously held ideas that inform the literature and
culture of a given period and with reference to such modern theorists
of ideology as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Michel Foucault. Cascardi's
principal intent is to focus critical attention on literature as an instru-
ment of symbolic power in early modern Spain; to this end, he dis-
cusses literary texts in relation to the historical conflicts and tensions
of the period and examines the versions of Spanish history that such
texts themselves project. Certain general propositions underpin the
book's approach. Cascardi interprets the "dynamic process" of history
in terms of a Freudian "archaeology of desire" (pp. 8-9). According to
this framework, the roots of historical change lie in "desire-driven
BookReviews 421

conflict" (p. 8); since such radical desires remain occluded, conven-
tional accounts of history offer "a series of substitutes for what has
been hidden or eclipsed, although not entirely lost" (p. 186). The
critic's task is not to recover a defined historical meaning but to scru-
tinize the "discontinuities, inconsistencies, or gaps" that reveal the
multiple "displacements" in a text's version of the past (p. 187).
In the case of early modern Spain, Cascardi argues that literature
entertains and mediates historical contradictions grounded in the
tension between two "incommensurable modes" of social order: "the
one based upon traditional hierarchies associated with the values of
caste; the other associated with the relatively more modern structure
of social classes" (p. 2). Treating literature as a medium shaped by
social tensions and as a social instrument in itself, Cascardi reads
Golden Age texts in terms of the imaginary means through which they
attempt to contain or deny historical conflict.
This book presents an important argument about the ideological
force of literature in the Golden Age. All but one of its chapters have
been published previously as separate studies. Here, however, a new
introduction and cogent additions to various chapters sustain and de-
velop the main line of argumentation. Cascardi clearly acknowledges
his affiliations with influential historians of Spanish culture, princi-
pally Americo Castro, who studied Golden Age society in terms of its
caste structure, and Jose Antonio Maravall, who studied the Spanish
baroque as an urban mass culture in transition from feudalism to cap-
italism.1 But he also stresses that his approach differs from Maravall's
widely diffused view of the baroque as a culture directed from above
by a seigneurial elite in its attention to the formation of the individual
as a subject who desires to be controlled (pp. 111-14). The question
of subject formation in a society shaped by social and historical ten-
sions informs Cascardi's readings of such canonical texts as Lope de
Vega's Fuenteovejuna(1612-14), Tirso de Molina's El burladorde Sevilla
(1630), Calder6n de la Barca's La vida es sueno (1635), Cervantes' Don
Quixote (1605, 1615) and Los trabajosde Persilesy Sigismunda (1617),
and the poetry of Garcilaso de la Vega. In its extended treatment of
ideology and subjectivity and its integration of historical and theoret-
ical reflection, the book is more consistent and unified than a stan-
dard set of collected essays.
Cascardi's readings of Fuenteovejunaand La vida es sueno illustrate
the general strengths of his approach. In "The Spanish Comediaand
the Resistance to Historical Change" (chap. 1), Cascardi argues that

1. Americo Castro, De la edad conflictiva, 3d ed. (Madrid: Taurus, 1972);

Jose Antonio
Maravall, La cultura del barroco(Barcelona: Ariel, 1975).

the historical conflict underlying Fuenteovejuna is the demand for

recognition by the urban masses-the vulgo whom Lope claims as his
primary audience-in the conditions of crisis that marked the seven-
teenth-century transition from an old order of feudal estates or racial
castes to a new order of capitalist production and social classes. This
reading appeals to F W. Hegel's account of the struggle for recog-
nition between bondsman and lord. Lope's play is striking in its re-
fusal of the Hegelian dialectic: the peasants of Fuenteovejuna freely
receive recognition from the king, without achieving collective self-
consciousness or true historical agency. Its final act accommodates the
popular claim for recognition within the traditional hierarchies of
honor and monarchical rule and projects a utopian future in which
the villagers will live in a pastoral society free of historical conflict.
The familiar trajectory of romance entertains modern forms of desire,
only to efface the conflictive origins of such desires and to contain
them within existing relations of power. Lope here illustrates the gen-
eral tendency of the comediato shape its popular audience as willing
subjects of the absolutist state and so to resist a successful historical
transition toward the conditions of European modernity.
A parallel argument concerning the comedia'sallegiances to the in-
terests of political absolutism is present in Cascardi's discussion of La
vida es sueno, "Allegories of Power in Calder6n" (chap. 3). Here Cas-
cardi grounds his interpretation in Walter Benjamin's account of the
baroque Trauerspielas a form that responds to the process of secular-
ization in European thought, a process through which the concept of
nature was withdrawn as the basis of meaning and social order. Ac-
cording to Benjamin, this withdrawal shifts attention in the Trauerspiel
to the force of historical contingency, both at the level of persons and
events and in relation to interpretation (The Origin of German Tragic
Drama, trans. John Osborne [London: New Left Books, 1977]). Its
characters-particularly in the roles of king and prince-experience
the destabilizing effects of historical change; its typical mode of
signification is a "secularized form of allegory," in which no secure
correspondence exists between the text's "desacralized signs" and "a
fixed order of original meaning" (pp. 83-84). Written when Euro-
pean secularization was still in process, the Trauerspiellooks back to
the old order while recognizing that it cannot be recovered. La vida es
sueno presents many of the patterns of the Trauerspiel.Its opening
scenes depict nature as a realm of passion and disorder, its action cen-
ters on a disruption in the accepted succession of authority from the
king to his legitimate son, and its characters piece out meaning from
the uncertain signs of nature and the stars. The play's resolution, how-
ever, reinstates a conservative order, in which Segismundo restores
BookReviews 423

the rule of patriarchy and commands respect and obedience as the

single source of power and honor. In this new order, the state has sup-
planted nature as the ground of authority and sustains its powers not
through traditional (or "natural") means but through a series of strik-
ing theatrical effects. In Cascardi's words, "the function of Calderonian
drama is to enact first the destruction and then the reconstitution
of the theocratic paradigm of the culture in which it is embedded"
(p. 100). In restoring the old values of honor and monarchical rule,
La vida es sueno marks the comedia'sresistance to modernity; in substi-
tuting the power of the state for that of nature, it illustrates the use of
theatrical resources in support of political absolutism.
Throughout these essays Cascardi explores the issues that shape his
interpretations of Lope and Calder6n: the conflict between the values
of caste and class, Spain's conservative response to the European pro-
cess of secularization, and the interrelated mechanisms of subject-
formation and subjection. He consistently argues that the function of
canonical literary texts is to contain or resist the forces of historical
change, except in the cases of Gracian and Cervantes. Gracian's pro-
gram for secular education "looks forward to the reorientation of
taste not according to virtue but according to the values of social
class" (p. 140). Cervantes' complex reworking of literary and histori-
cal models exposes the restrictive nature of the attempt to ground the
subject in an idealized version of the past and strives to offer an alter-
native to the regressive moral law of the comedia.In Don Quixote,writes
Cascardi, "the Cervantine understanding of our relationship to his-
tory as mediated by desire is directed against those modes of reading
that would attempt to negate the power of desire through the promise
of a direct relationship with the past" (p. 196); in the Persiles,"idealiz-
ing romance promises redemption through submission to the demands
of a universally binding law in the form of a reconciled community of
mankind" (p. 310). Cascardi's essays are cogently argued and draw at
length on the work of influential theorists in cultural studies (e.g.,
Pierre Bourdieu, Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Felix Guattari, and Jacques
Lacan). They represent a sustained endeavor to read Golden Age
texts in relation to current critical theory and, as such, will shape fur-
ther research on power and subjectivity in the Golden Age.
Given the importance of Cascardi's work, it is worth mentioning
two reservations concerning his historical method. First, Cascardi pre-
fers history as informed by grand theory. To describe the social and
political structures of baroque Spain, he refers repeatedly to Castro
and Maravall. Conservative historical work, based on close scrutiny of
documents and other primary sources, is represented principally by
references to J. H. Elliott. Recent studies by not only Elliott but also

such historians as R. A. Stradling and I. A. A. Thompson are nonethe-

less relevant to Cascardi's argument, in that they examine the
institutions of law and government under the Hapsburgs and so eluci-
date the inexact and pragmatically restricted mechanisms through
which the state attempted to exert its powers.2 Second, Cascardi offers
no extended comment on the uses of history in nonfictional writing
from the Golden Age. He quotes from such standard sources as Mar-
tin Gonzalez de Cellorigo (pp. 22-24, 127n) and Pedro de Valencia
(p. 164) but does not compare any literary text with a substantial
nonfictional analogue. As a result, it is difficult to determine the ex-
tent to which the general historiography of the period projects the
versions of history that Cascardi describes or the extent to which it
reproduces the gaps and discontinuities detectable in its literature.
Such comparison might help to convince a skeptical reader that the
culture of early modern Spain was as univocal and receptive to politi-
cal absolutism as the grand theorists of Spanish history have claimed.

Stephen Rupp
Universityof Toronto

The Literary and Cultural Spaces of Restoration London. Cynthia

Wall.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xviii+277.

The Great Fire of London has always had a place in literary history, a
place secured by (and mostly limited to) John Dryden's "Annus Mira-
bilis" (1667) and Samuel Pepys's diary entries for September 1666.
Now Cynthia Wall has provided a fuller account of the literary and
cultural importance of the fire and its aftermath. Wall's ambitious and
impressive book "situates the literature of the Restoration and early
Augustan England ... within the historical and cultural contexts of
the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire" (p. ix). Wall reads the
fire as an unsettling, traumatic event- "Allthat had been familiar, set-
tled, phenomenologically given was suddenly and entirely swept away"
(p. ix)-that ushered in a new spatial awareness in English culture

2. Relevant work by J. H. Elliott includes "Self-Perception and Decline in Early

Seventeenth-Century Spain," Past and Present 74 (1977): 41-61, and "Concerto Bar-
roco," New YorkReview of Books (April 9, 1987), pp. 26-29. Cascardi refers to "Concerto
Barroco" as "a skeptical review of Maravall's work from the perspective of a more tradi-
tional historian" (p. 112n) but does not discuss the substance of Elliott's views. On
institutions in early modern Spain, see R. A. Stradling, Philip IV and the Governmentof
Spain, 1621-1665 (Cambridge University Press, 1988); and I. A. A. Thompson, "The
Rule of Law in Early Modern Castile," EuropeanHistory Quarterly14 (1984): 221-34. An
informative study of law and legal practice is Richard L. Kagan, Lawsuits and Litigants in
Castile, 1500-1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981).