Second Floor Common Room, The Heyman Center for the Humanities
Talk with Professor Claudio Lomnitz along with Professor Jesús D. R. Velasco, Graciela Montaldo, and Norma Elizondo for the lecture series New Books in the Arts & Sciences at the Heyman Center for the Humanities.
Today, thinking about family history is practically a phase of life—a curiosity that sooner or later comes to us all. Genealogy and legend is no longer the purview of aristocrats. Among us, there has been so much movement, so much rupture, and individuation that our trajectories are no longer entirely assimilable to those of our neighbors. Moreover, in these days of "cultural capital" personal stories have value, and they have become sites of reflexion and work, as is perhaps best epitomized in the genre of the "college essay." That is why even plebeyans concern themselves (ourselves) with them.
There are, of course, those who would argue that dislocation is anything but new. Did not the people of Israel wander for forty years before arriving to the promised land? Perhaps, but our pilgrimages are more like those of Odysseus: too often they start with a shipwreck, and are followed by a struggle to achieve reunion.
My most recent book, Nuestra América, is an essay on the story of my maternal grandparents—and to some degree the story of my father. It starts with a shipwreck, a story of language loss. A reflection on why I lack four of the languages that would have been of great use to properly write this book. And it works from that low point toward reunion with my past, in a sustained reflection on Jewish history, the destruction of Europe, and their place in South American cultural and intellectual history of the twentieth century.
Jesús D. R. Velasco teaches Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Columbia. He has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Universidad de Salamanca, Université de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle), and the École Normale Supérieure (Lettres et Sciences Humaines). Among his publications are books and articles on Medieval and Early Modern knighthood, history of the book and reading, medieval political theory, law and culture, Occitan poetry, etc. He has been one of the executive directors of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies and a member of the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions. He was the recipient of the 2010 John K. Walsh award for his article "La urgente presencia de las Siete Partidas". He writes the column "Isla Fluvial" for El Norte de Castilla, Spain's oldest daily newspaper, founded in 1854. He has been elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the MLA LLC Occitan Forum. He is one of the fellows of the 2015 The Op-Ed Project. He served as Chair of the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures between 2013 and 2016.
Graciela Montaldo specializes in modern Latin American cultures. She has published Museo del consumo. Archivos de la cultura de masas en la Argentina (2016), Rubén Darío. Viajes de un cosmopolita extremo (FCE, 2013), Zonas ciegas. Populismos y experimentos culturales en Argentina (2010), A propriedade da Cultura (2004), Teoría crítica, teoría cultural (2001), Ficciones culturales y fábulas de identidad en América Latina (1999), La sensibilidad amenazada (1995), and De pronto el campo (1993). She is co-editor of The Argentina Reader: History, Culture and Politics (2002), Esplendores y miserias del siglo XIX (1996) and Yrigoyen entre Borges y Arlt (1989). She has published journal articles in Latin America, the United States, and Europe on Independence writers, Latin American fin-de-siècle, modern culture, contemporary literature, as well as culture industry and institutions in Latin America.
Norma Elizondo is a writer from Mexico City, now living in New York. She is the author of many short stories and of Punto Muerto (Mexico City, Casa Lamm), a novel that intertwines family relations with watching television.