Mariano José de Larra

My class cannot read Larra and they are seniors. They cannot read him. The vocabulary is too esoteric, the sentences too long, the references too esoteric — but mostly the issue is, these articles are somewhat complex texts. Events are narrated and commented upon and the students would prefer that each artículo de costumbres were separated into two texts: a story, and and explanation of what the story is intended to illustrate. One student said reading Larra was “traumatic” and is causing him to consider dropping the major. Another said Larra was “random” — there is no order in his texts, no clear reason why the characters he discusses might be of interest.

The administration has determined that classes in this university generally lack rigor and that this is a problem. This is a new attitude as they used to say the opposite. I had a colleague suffer serious tenure trouble due to teaching at the college level. My current students are having difficulty with Larra not because of a “language problem” but because they are used to simple reading in all subjects. In the culture class they are frustrated because we are not defining culture, language and nation but interrogating these concepts. The existence of these situations means I am not one of those guilty of teaching courses that lack rigor. It does make teaching harder and my evaluations are not the highest in the college since I am “confusing.”

Surely I would do better in life if I did something for the Larra students like show modern films and put them in discussion groups, but is this not to shortchange them, being as we are in the Peninsular survey? Do you think it would be ethical to skip the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th century in the Peninsular survey 1700-2013?

What I should probably do is create a history and culture course where a few literary excerpts are read. I could lecture on the writers and have students memorize summaries of their works. I could give “objective” tests. This course would take a great deal of study and development, and is not “me,” and would surely not constitute the “cutting corners on teaching” the efficiency experts require.


5 thoughts on “Mariano José de Larra

  1. I’ll bet you it isn’t just the “difficulty” of the texts. I’ll bet you the students don’t have the cultural background difficult texts may demand.

    1. This is what I fear. But they have to start somewhere, right? Or should I just do “cultural studies” … ?

  2. That reminds me of a Larra essay “Yo quiero ser cómico.” An aspiring actor visits the narrator, who asks him for his qualifications. Do you know literature, language, customs, human nature? Do you have a good memory? The aspiring actor doesn’t know anything, but then he justifies his ignorance by saying that all the actors on the stage are equally ignorant of all this. Fígaro ends by enthusiastically recommending him:

    “Venga usted acá, mancebo generoso, exclamé todo alborozado; venga usted acá, flor y nata de la andante comiquería: usted ha nacido en este siglo de hierro de nuestra gloria dramática para renovar aquel siglo de oro, en que sólo comían los hombres bellotas y pacían a su libertad por los bosques, sin la distinción del tuyo y del mío. Usted será cómico, en fin, o se han de olvidar las reglas que hoy rigen en el ejercicio.”

    1. I have not read that and obviously I should be teaching it. My students would not understand “andante comiquería,” “siglo de hierro” or the golden age myth and it would take many minutes to get them up to speed on this paragraph.

      1. Right. Some of the cultural capital you need to understand this is DQ, which is only the most famous book in the canon of Spanish literature. You need to understand the idiom “flor y nata,” the idea of the “siglo de oro,” the myth of the four ages, etc… You have to know about irony, that “cómico” is the word used for “actor.” You have to know how “comiquería” is derived from “cómico” on the analogy of “caballería” from “caballero.” It probably would take quite a while. I remember reading Larra in Spain as an undergraduate and being able to figure it out, but I’m not surprised your students have problems.

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