Before properly embarking on this blog I’d like to outline what is at once a mission statement of sorts, and a disclaimer. In my very short years as an academic writer I’ve grown increasingly (and, at times, prohibitively) self-conscious. Self-conscious of how my own experiences, environment and personal relationships all in some way influence the way in which I view a piece of medieval literature. How they influence which theoretical frameworks, scholarly works and primary texts I choose to devote my time and analysis to. I’d venture to say the same is true of all literary scholars, past and present.
But this simple truth isn’t something that is routinely recognised or given space in academic discourse in the humanities. Whether it’s strictly “scholarly” or not, in the course of this blog I want to take time to reflect on the factors that influence my readings, and those that have influenced the readings of others. After all, any critical opinion of a work of literature comes heavily loaded with its writer’s sociopolitical context.
This is something that’s frequently acknowledged in Hispanic Studies when we deal with some of the first scholars in the field, such as those from the generation of 1898 (Ramón Menéndez Pidal, et al.). While the rightly lauded Pidal can be credited with practically founding medieval Spanish studies as we know it today, and with discovering and editing an extensive number of manuscripts, it’s widely accepted that his readings of the medieval Spanish epic are tinged with nationalism, and were written on some level for a post-imperialist Spain. This is perhaps made acceptable by the inevitable passage of time, and the perceived significance of the historical events Pidal lived through. Yet active acknowledgment of a scholar’s influences, and resulting bias, is rare in our modern context.
One inevitable limitation of taking this route is the risk of ending up in a spiral of self-criticism; a futile attempt at seeking out one’s own authorial intention. But we need not go so far. Simply recognising the interpretative decisions we take whilst writing is vital if we are to truly bridge the disciplinary gap between medieval studies and sociology, race and gender studies, fields in which the political comes to the fore far more than it might obviously do in my own discipline. I hope it will enable me to outline multiple interpretative options and acknowledge the grey, overlapping area between them. In short, my mission is to attempt to de-simplify and, in turn, unpack the political implications of academic writing.