History of literatures in the Iberian Peninsula

A comparative history of literatures in the Iberian Peninsula: Volume 1. Ed. by Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza, Anxo Abuín Gonzalez, and César Domínguez. (Comparative history of literatures in European languages 24.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xiv, 750. ISBN 9789027234575. $285 (Hb).

Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN

In 1967 the International Comparative History Association created an ongoing series of books on the comparative history of European literature. Several recent volumes, such as the one reviewed here, have taken this project in a new direction and focus on the literatures of particular regions within Europe.

A comparative history of literatures in the Iberian Peninsula surveys the whole of Peninsular literature from the Middle Ages to the present. The volume is divided into five sections. The essays in the first section, by Fernando Cabo Aseguinolaza and César Domínguez, look at the historiographical background to and theoretical problems encountered in the study of Iberia as a cultural and literary region. The issues raised in these opening essays are examined in more detail in the context of the national literatures, ‘The Iberian Peninsula as a literary space’, though the comparative element is not lost. The essays cover such topics as travel literature, Catalan, Galician, and Basque literatures, and the role of cities in the Portuguese literary imagination.

The next section, ‘The multilingual literary space of the Iberian Peninsula’, is the only linguistic section. The essays examine issues that were of major importance in medieval Iberia, such as multilingualism, bilingualism, and the cultural roles of Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, and the Romance languages and literatures, though there are also essays like Karmela Rotaetxe’s ‘Basque as a literary language’ that are wider in temporal scope. This section is followed by another, ‘Dimensions of orality’, that also has much of interest for the linguist, even though the focus is largely on folkloric matters such as folk epic, ballad, and lyric.

The last section, ‘Temporal frames and literary (inter-)systems’, concerns Iberian literary politics. These essays provide helpful background to the cultural and social status of the languages and literatures of Iberia.

This is not a book intended for linguists, but linguists working on Iberian languages should nonetheless be aware of it. Though a preliminary report on a new way of looking at Iberian literatures and languages, the volume nonetheless offers a suggestive view of how the comparative study of the languages and literatures of the peninsula (both oral and written) can provide greater understanding of both the individual languages and literatures and their long-term cultural interactions in Iberia.