Instead of modernity revisits the key moment in the mid-nineteenth century when, it is said, ‘all that is solid melts into air’. Spanning the visual arts, literature, and thought, it reconsiders artists and writers linked to the foundations of modern culture: Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Whitman, Whistler and Courbet. In so doing, it offers an alternative to the obsession with notions of ‘modernity’ that underpin many influential theories of culture. It incorporates the Hispanic world (Spain and Spanish America) into the story of this time, disrupting and reconfiguring the narrative of ‘modernity’, challenging the belief the Hispanic had opened the doors to the ‘modern’ but was overtaken by cultures of the north-west Atlantic. While this points beyond the divide between a supposed core and periphery in culture, the book likewise undermines the patriarchal basis of canonical modernity, giving prominence to women from the painter Rosa Bonheur, and the photographers Jane Clifford and Julia Margaret Cameron, to the actress Matilde Díez. Instead of ‘modernity’, the book conjures visions of intimate connection between places and times, between representations and realities, between selves and others. It explores commonality and similarity. In its own prose, it envisages ways of conducting and writing comparative cultural study, beyond contextualisation and historicisation, drawing on the nineteenth-century imagination. In that spirit, the book finds its way across diverse fields and subject matter, tracing connections between them, from sexuality to optical technology, from brain slices to taxidermy. In so doing, it conjures four moods: meeting, departure, sacifice and repose.
From modernity to the aesthetic appreciation of history
Influential cultural theories – for example those of Barthes and Foucault – have their basis in an account of modernity, based on an understanding of the mid-nineteenth century. This account is exclusionary – notably of the Hispanic, which supposedly had a foundational role in the modern world, through the conquest of the Americas and the establishment of large-scale statehood, but putatively was then not a key player in the modernity it had helped initiate. The process of reincorporating a supposed periphery, alongside other marginalised aspects of culture, undermines the cogency of the notion of modernity. Both in its conceptual implications and in the practice of reincorporating what was excluded, this opens up the perspective of intimate connections across time and place, self and other, representation and reality. Nineteenth-century culture itself contains still untapped potential for such ways of imagining comparisons, commonalities and similarities, often beyond direct causal connection. The chapter takes inspiration from writers such as Dimock and Manning. Instead of modernity, all this opens up the perspective of ways of writing comparisons beyond narrow contextualisation and historicisation. In their place comes an aesthetic appreciation of history, of the forms and patterns that may be traced across place and time. These form ‘moods’, explored in a spirit of ‘lavishness’ and drama that evoke a psychological journeying across contingent juxtapositions, without pre-established maps or rules.
In the first of the moods, we imagine the possibility of an intimate encounter, a coming together beyond absence and ironisation. We explore that possibility by bringing together apparently diverse aspects of mid-nineteenth-century culture. In the first section of the chapter – Coming together parts 1 and 2, with interlude – we imagine a kind of triptych with a slim middle panel, exploring intimacy across the depths of time and the stretches of place, and between sign and referent. We move from two gauchos outside Buenos Aires recounting the story of Gounod’s opera Faust, to a visual fantasia on the same opera by the painter Fortuny in Spain, through to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and its consideration of Greek gods and the arts. The chapter evokes the possibility of what it calls an intimate culture, and considers what this might involve for good or ill. In the second section – Taking shape – we explore how the adoption of forms can enable intimate communication across place and time. Here we bring together nineteenth-century performance, the role of the occult and hypnotism, the pervasive concern with descriptive geometry, the relatively new art of photography, and the supposed uncanny, passing through images of intensifying infrastructure, actors and historical figures, and culminating in a consideration of a version of Poe’s Valdemar and of the photographic representation of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
This chapter imagines how it might be if, rather than emphasising deferral and difference, each departure from one context to another, from one representation to another, led precisely through that departure and difference to greater intimacy. In so doing, it evokes classic notions of the mid-century modern, for example in Marx, Manet and Baudelaire, only to explore how closely their visions of departure may be associated with this apparently paradoxical intimacy. The chapter itself departs from Marx to optical toys, from canonical Western art and Whitman’s poetry to painting in Spain and Latin America and to the works by Rosa Bonheur. It evokes the emergence of intimacy from opening gaps, attraction from a pushing away, the merger of visions of time and place in a flickering, the forming of a bubble encompassing diverse time and place within a location such as the Prado Museum. The chapter speaks of ventriloquism and of promiscuity. It ends with three key modalities by which departure intimates an erotics of sameness, featuring, alongside Bonheur, works by Courbet and the Argentine painter Pueyrredón. These are departure from one self to its own self, the slight departure from one to another, and the marked departure from self to other.
This chapter explores the implications of the notion that self-destructive and destructive forces may project intimate connections across apparently diverse contexts. It seriously explores the sacrificial obsessions of mid-nineteenth-century culture, often felt to be something of an historical embarrassment to modernity. It acknowledges the danger of ‘traumophilia’ while avoiding a simple dismissal of such impulses. Setting out from Hunt’s Scapegoat, the chapter moves from one death and dying to another, from the intimations of demise in Juliet Margaret Cameron’s photography through notions of an opened body in Spanish literature, from taxidermy, mummification and mortuary photography to Whistler’s nocturnes, Marx’s vampiric capital, visions of historic and contemporary devastation in the Americas, and glass culture in the Crystal Palace and in Mexico. It mixes Melville’s Moby Dick with re-creations of Goya’s Black Paintings, the corpses of Spain’s Lovers of Teruel with Millet’s Angelus (which so obsessed Salvador Dalí), the slicing of brains in France with a Puerto Rican’s reversal of Columbus’s Atlantic journey, Alice in Wonderland with Flaubert’s Simple Heart. It passes from history painting to practices of copying. The chapter speaks of limbo, of traumatic looping, of heterotopias of demise, of dissolution into abstraction, of a vision of Benjamin’s Angel longing for history’s debris. It explores pastiche as a dallying with deathliness. It considers the riskiness of what it calls history’s edge-play, the unsettling association of aesthetic force with extreme violence, and the ultimate threat of insanity that the mood of sacrifice involves.
In the mood of repose, we encounter a possibility that seems more familiar in the theory of culture: the notion of a decentring or attenuation in which mastery is relinquished and an affect of weakness predominates, from Derrida’s dissemination to Vattimo’s weak thought or Dimock’s weak networks. In the continual distraction from a centre, connections are formed. These kinds of outlook have often been seen as legacies of mid-century modernity, for example through influential accounts of Flaubert’s prose. But this chapter does not sentimentalise nineteenth-century notions of repose, nor does it limit them to such perspectives. It recognises the often uncomfortable, apparently alien nature of these mid-century meditations, their implication with prejudice and imperialism. It sees them as shadows of the other three moods. The chapter itself is decentred, moving through distractions from the hallucinatory, meditative effects of Fortuny’s and Courbet’s painting by way of speculative scientific treatises, to deliberate deflection from history’s violent dominant heart in Latin American writing, to serene versions of paintings of empire’s origins and legacies, and the deathliness and emptiness of visions of novelty and modernity in France and Spain. It turns to possibility of an all-embracing vision from an apparently tangential viewpoint, whether in Darwin’s garden, Thoreau’s Walden, through the eyes of a Spanish artisan, or an obsessive dwelling on donkeys. The chapter culminates with a return to a now lesser Faust in rural Andalusia.
Many nineteenth-century Spanish subjects longed to be universal. Universalism in Spanish territories ranged from expressions of brutal racism through to calls for revolutionary federalism, for Philippine nationalism, or for the emancipation of women. Subjects of the Spanish government in the nineteenth century had two primary, overlapping, but not identical motives for wishing to be universal. The first arose from the state's present situation and longer history. The second motive for universalism was a genuine concern with matters general to humanity. The central trope of El drama universal is transmigration, transmutation. In poetic universality, an intimacy is effected between what would otherwise have a confined context in place and time, and what is free of all such limits. Choice and judgement are equally fundamental to many versions of the universal laws said to govern human society.
Over the past quarter of a century, the study of nineteenth-century Hispanic culture and society has undergone two major shifts. The first was a rejection of 'the myth of backwardness', a notion that these cultures and societies were exceptions that trailed behind the wider West.. The second trend was a critical focus on a core triad of nation, gender and representation. This volume of essays provides a strong focus for the exploration and stimulation of substantial new areas of inquiry. The shared concern is with how members of the cultural and intellectual elite in the nineteenth century conceived or undertook major activities that shaped their lives. The volume looks at how people did things without necessarily framing questions of motive or incentive in terms that would bring the debate back to a master system of gender, racial, ethnographic, or national proportions. It reviews some key temporal dilemmas faced by a range of nineteenth-century Spanish writers. The volume explores how they employed a series of narrative and rhetorical techniques to articulate the consequent complexities. It also looks at how a number of religious figures negotiated the relationship between politics and religion in nineteenth-century Spain. The volume concentrates on a spectrum of writings and practices within popular literature that reflect on good and bad conduct in Spain through the nineteenth century. Among other topics, it provides information on how to be a man, be a writer for the press, a cultural entrepreneur, an intellectual, and a colonial soldier.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins with the long view of state formation out of which nineteenth-century Spain emerged. It explains how long-term cultural and societal trends, stemming from the medieval and early-modern periods, remained significant reference points. The book talks about the nineteenth century in a fashion that gives breathing space to the multifaceted nature of lived experience and practices, the coexistence of diverse conceptions of time, place and value. In re-situating nineteenth-century Spain within the wider West, historians of culture, politics and society have begun to bring out some of the unique features of its inflection of wider developments. Ways of being in nineteenth-century Spain are thus living sources for historians far beyond Iberia and well after the year 1900.