In this post I will be talking about an international event I attended, but first an announcement: I officially declared a Spanish minor. As a Spanish minor, I started receiving emails from the department about different events relating to Spanish going on around campus, and I quickly RSVPed for April’s Latin Americanist Lunch. The Latin Americanist Lunches—hosted by the Center for the Americas in the College of International Studies—are monthly lunches, open to the public, where an expert lectures on a topic relating to Latin America.
On the day of the event, I showed up at Farzaneh hall having completely forgotten the topic of the lunch, or perhaps having never looked it up in the first place. So I was fairly surprised to look up from my plate of food and find the words “Erotic Mysticism” projected on the wall. After I endured a brief moment of panic that I had ended up at a radically different lecture than had I intended to, the presentation began.
The lecture was given by Dr. Nancy LaGreca, the Associate Dean of the Graduate College and an Associate Professor of Latin American Literature. She recently published a book titled Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernismo. The book is about the use of mysticism, with an emphasis on the erotic, in Latin American prose during the Modernismo literary movement. Modernismo literature is highly stylized and mystical; much emphasis is placed on the poetry produced from this movement, but Dr. LaGreca chose to study the less examined prose and the social themes contained there. The Modernismo authors were very critical of two prominent death-evading philosophies of the day: Catholicism and scientific positivism. Catholicism allowed people to ease existential anxiety though the concept of an afterlife with well-defined, exclusive rules on how to achieve it. Alternatively, recent leaps in medical technology and an adherence to populism caused others to hope for an antidote to death through science. The Modernismo authors opposed both of those views and used mysticism as an alternative, proposing that people “live on” through art, love, or a connection with nature. They placed an emphasis on “oneness” with nature and fellow man that was emotionally driven, inclusive, and open to interpretation. In prose, they would describe this sense of oneness as a spiritual experience not accessible by normal senses which often contained an erotic component. They purposefully rejected logic and rigidity in favor of passion, and used the descriptions of passion to create a different sort of death-evading philosophy than was common at the time.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this lecture. I certainly had no idea what to expect from the talk and had little to no background knowledge in this area, but I really enjoyed learning about an aspect of philosophy and Latin American literature that I had not known about before.