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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Sentimental Geographies: Cervantes and the Cultural Politics of Affect in the Early Modern Mediterranean

  • Author(s): Johnson, Paul Michael
  • Advisor(s): Avilés, Luis F.
  • et al.

For Miguel de Cervantes, emotions are an integral and inevitable component of the early modern Mediterranean; to narrate a Mediterranean experience is to always already speak of an affective experience. This dissertation thus seeks to understand the author's works through two principle itineraries: first, in the context of what Fernand Braudel famously called the Mediterranean "world," or an expansive maritime perspective in which, beyond regional, national, and ideological boundaries, the Sea may be regarded not as yet another barrier but as an analytical point of departure, central staging ground, or medium for exploring issues of difference but also of interconnectedness. Second, this project ventures to illuminate Cervantes's texts through the problem of affectivity, a critical category that has until recently remained all but cordoned off from literary criticism, particularly in Cervantine and Mediterranean spheres. While considering the interdisciplinary insights achieved by scholarship of the so-called 'affective turn' in cultural studies, critical theory, and other literary traditions, the dissertation seeks to build on these contributions by reading affect, as was done throughout early modernity, as a discrete philosophical category and complex social phenomenon.

That the Cervantine oeuvre offers a privileged site for interrogating these issues is due, on the one hand, to a highly developed rhetorical language for confronting the abiding challenge of emotional expression in the Mediterranean, a language marked by the innovation of new metaphorical tropes and ironic distance from classical ones, aesthetic qualities of complexity and heterogeneity, the appropriation of figures from non-literary cultural practices, and the mobilization of a visual, gestural, corporeal, and material semiotics. On the other hand, Cervantes's texts articulate affect as a uniquely ethical solution to and form of resistance against the often conflictive encounters that traversed the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mediterranean world. In this way, Cervantine affectivity ramifies beyond the strictly aesthetic or literary realm to call forth and contest the political conditions of Cervantes's epoch, especially those which have historically enabled practices of racial and religious persecution, economic violence, ideological compliance, and imperial conquest.

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