Preamble
As I reread this book and inevitably become my own critic
and historian, I see that a brief history of my critical education may
help the reader understand how I came to work the way I do and
what it is that unites the essays collected here.
Like nearly everyone of my generation I began studying liter-
ary history and philology in the traditional way. As an undergradu-
ate in the 1960s my desire was to know as much as possible about
literature, which meant learning literary history and reading as
many of the major and minor works as time allowed. Knowing
literature then was a largely unproblematic process, organized by
the diScipline ofliterary history. Shocked into bilingualism by ex-
ile, I
had become enthralled with language and language learning
and had picked up French and Italian in addition to my Spanish
and English. These were the four traditions to which I devoted
myself with unremitting passion. I thought it proper to cover the
entire range of each of those literatures, which appeared to me
like parallel buildings, with a foundation in the Middle Ages, ris-
ing up through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Romanticism,
and the Modem Era. There was no question but that the mod-
ems did not measure up to the classics, and less attention was
devoted to them. Latin American literature barely entered into
the picture then, and the most modem Spanish author we read
was Federico Garcia Lorca. I absorbed a good deal of Menendez
y Pelayo, sometimes diluted in other historians, and much Lan-
son, pressured by a French professor who thought his history
of French literature should simply be known by rote. In Italian
my professors harked back to even earlier eras of pedagogy. In
their classes one read Dante word by word and was forced to
memorize whole
cantiche.
The fare was heavy on Petrarch, Boccac-
cio, with some Manzoni. But no modem poetry. There was no
question of engaging in much interpretation of the works by these
authors, which were incommensurate monuments, to the under-
standing of which one made discrete contributions at best. It was
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