Saplings and Crustaceans: Figuring Youth and Age in Spanish Modernist Poetics

Comparative Literature Luncheon Series
Sep 28, 2015 12:15 PM to
Sep 29, 2015 01:30 PM
102 Kern

Dr. Leslie Harkema, Yale University

A number of critics of literary modernism have called attention to the fact that, with the advent of the twentieth century, a radical shift occurs in Western treatments of the Bildungsroman: the linear narrative of development oriented toward adulthood gives way to an interest in representing the non-linear experience of adolescence. Modernist writers eschew a journey along a single path in favor of a uniquely youthful temporality, marked by simultaneity, latency, and possibility. Just as the adolescent body undergoes physical changes and reaches the height of its vigor and agility, the youthful mind and imagination are represented as supple, impressionable, and potently creative. While perhaps the best known example of modernist adolescence is James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in Spanish art of the modernist period the resistance to Bildung that appears in this novel and many others emerges distinctively in lyric poetry and the discourse that surrounds its production. In this talk, I will explore this phenomenon by considering two non-human but nonetheless corporal images that recur in Spanish poetry and writings on poetics from the first three decades of the twentieth century (the so-called “Silver Age” in Spanish letters): the post-romantic image of a young tree, and the hard shell of a crustacean, emblem of adult impassivity and rigid critical tradition. Discussing several poems written in Castilian during this period as well as other cultural documents, I argue that these images defy the teleological pull of development by concretizing youth and age as physical and spiritual absolutes.

Leslie Harkema, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Yale University, received her Ph.D. in Spanish Literature from Boston University.  Her areas of interest include nineteenth- and twentieth-Century Peninsular Literature; modern Hispanic poetry; literary responses to religious, political, and scientific discourse; tropes of youth and age in European modernism; literature of exile; and theory and practice of literary translation.  Professor Harkema’s current book project, Spanish Modernism and the Aesthetics of Youth: From Miguel de Unamuno to “La Joven Literatura”, examines the little-studied relationship between Unamuno and several Spanish writers associated with the so-called Generation of 1927, focusing on youth as a central concept in their aesthetic thought and self-fashioning.

This lecture is a part of the Comparative Literature Luncheon series, a weekly informal lunchtime gathering of students, faculty, and other members of the University community featuring a presentation on a topic related to any humanities discipline.

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