In the beginning stages of this project, I’ve found myself performing an exilic role-reversal. At the end of May, I travelled from New York to Spain, where I spent more than a month traveling and reading. Spanish authors have enjoyed a special prominence in the global exile literature of the twentieth century, largely due the mass displacement of Spanish intellectuals produced by the rise of Spanish facism and the splintering of Spanish cultural Republicanism into a network of discreet, globally-oriented exile communities.
Groups of Spaniards estranged from Francoist Spain organized themselves into political and literary factions— what I’m referring to as ‘exile communities’– that were often antagonistic, their borders policed by contentious ideas of ideological correctness and their cultural products characterized by an intense concern with laying claim to the label of authentic “Spanish-ness”. New York City was a prominent site of Spanish Republican exile, catapulted into the Spanish imagination most emphatically by Federico García Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York, in which a socially nebulous and ethereal New York City emerges: New York City as a kind of cloudy, many-surfaced funhouse mirror in which García Lorca discovers his native Spain infinitely reflected and distorted. In New York, García Lorca allows himself to transform from observer to diagnostician; his poems betray a utopian vision very much divorced from the on-the-ground realities of Spanish politics but instead connected powerfully to a global aesthetic spiritu-social ideal. The more contemporary Llámame Brooklyn— a novel by Eduardo Lago– continues this tradition, by displacing Spanish political affairs from their geographic context and casting Brooklyn as both elastic ideological springboard and fertile terrain for identity-exploration (though the novel is bizarrely uninterested in a Brooklyn-identity, instead making of a metropolis of 2.5 million a politically-convenient blank slate).
So I travelled Spain while reading about New York: a corollary, perhaps, to the counterintuitive intellectual task of interacting exclusively with the material realities of New York while analyzing Spain. And I encountered some of the same Sartre-ian nausea-of-displacement described by García Lorca and others. While struggling to understand the political implications of the recent elections in Europe (some of the most important and startling since the formation of the European Union), I read García Lorca’s similarly befuddled analyses-in-verse of American politics and Black American identity. While grappling with the emergence of alternative popular political formations in Spain (i.e Podemos), I read Lago’s cynical meditations on the atomizing and de-personalizing potentials of New York City modernity. And I discovered some of the same intellectual dissonance that, perhaps, defines some of the contours of that broad and ever-swelling literary mode I’m ambitiously calling “literature(s) of exile.” Moving closer to an understanding of this intellectual dissonance, and the aesthetic and sociological priorities it suggests, is the crux of my research this summer, and what I will explore in far greater depth in subsequent blog posts