RADICAL TRANFORMATIONS IN THE SPANISH EMPIRE DO NOT FIT INTO CONVENTIONAL ANGLO MODELS...
THE RADICAL TRANSFORMATIONS IN THE SPANISH EMPIRE DO NOT FIT INTO CONVENTIONAL ANGLO MODELS AND LIBERAL NARRATIVES. INTERVIEW WITH JORGE CAñIZARES-ESGUERRA.
BY FERNANDO GOMEZ HERRERO (Birkbeck, University of London, firstname.lastname@example.org).
I talked with Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra via Zoom on 14th Dec. 2020, call it transatlantic connection Texas-and-the-English-midlands in these challenging times of covid. And there are to be sure other unusual localities out there. I had run into other virtual events with him and I had read his work at least for a decade. Something about it remained in me. It seemed therefore the right time to address a few salient issues that are lodged in this historical work. I bet good money that his Hispanic name with two last poly-syllabic names is, just like mine, rarely pronounced or spelled out correctly in his immediate environment of the red state of Texas in the United States, which is one of the main areas invoked in the detailed conversation that follows. The other one is colonial Latin America and the Spanish America of the 19th century soon after the complex processes of national independence from European imperialisms and its sustained colonialisms of lingering depth, reach and intensity. But all these names of places and temporalities, its narratives and historiographies are contested and up for grabs now as ever.
We are moving from rebellious beginnings in Colombia to denunciations of inequality in professional university settings near the Hispanic label, never an obvious category in Texas and otherwise. Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin is not afraid to say a thing or two or three about the h-noun, history, and our contemporaneity of tense and uncertain boundaries (https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/history/faculty/jc5543). This scholarly impetus is about not wanting to fit and saying so along the way. If the reader does not feel discomfort from time to time, something is still missing in the interview or something is missing in the reader.
Cañizares Esguerra is the single author of How to Write the History of the New World); Puritan Conquistadors and Nature, Empire, and Nation. Some comments are included that put these in context. He has edited and coedited Entangled Empires : Anglo-Iberian Atlantic Worlds 1500-1830; The Atlantic in Global History, 1500-2000 (with Erik Seeman); The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade (with Jim Sidbury and Matt Childs); Princeton Handbook of Atlantic History (with Joseph C. Miller, general editor, Vincent Brown, Laurent Dubois & Karen Ordhal Kupperman, associate editors), etc. We prod into this Atlanticism and that globality (https://utexas.academia.edu/JorgeCanizaresEsguerra). We include piercing comments about his latest project, the Radical Spanish Empire (https://notevenpast.org/works-in-progress-the-radical-spanish-empire/): and we all need to bear in mind these two pieces of “Anglo” and “Latin,” for quick and easy, initial frame. Let us underline the initial “radical,” treat it at face value and bring the Spanish and America, or better, the Americas, together to the forefront of critical attention, historical and otherwise. Cañizares Esguerra proposes a new reading of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in relation to “ciencia infusa” (infused science) against the liberal historiography of Octavio Paz and certain Anglo and Latin American feminisms and also of the shocking notions, for us, of authority and knowledge in relation to the Goan slave Catarina de San Juan living in a beaterio in Puebla.
The “Hispanic” issues mentioned here are not exclusively localised in the state of Texas. As the song goes, they go “from California to the New York island / from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,” from Stanford University to the Ivies, to the small colleges in Ohio to the right-wing Jesuit schools in New York city… and move out and about the “no trespassing” sign. The “Hispanic” category is reductio ad Americanum absurdum: misnomer caught up in between English and Spanish languages, U.S. federal category appertaining to unrepresented communities, as the University of Texas is, social label of diversity, minority, subordination, even “myopia,” in relation to “non-white” sectors of the population in the state of Texas. “Hispanic” is mostly about the United States, and it is also about the history of “Mexico,” is well as the history of Spain, but it is not really about Spain or Spaniards, not even dissident Spaniards, and my own trajectory has made me aware of academic units by the “Hispanic languages and literatures” where “Spain” is invisible (wo-)man, or bad black legend among symbolic fields of pasture such as entangled Atlantic History and Iberianising proposals, but also global history circled by trepidation and disorientation, tension, asphyxia and anxiety passing from Trump to Biden, still with plenty of commotion in the streets and institutions, some of them taking down the names of former heroes of the nation. The category of the West, but also Europe, and inevitably modernity, come to the Americas, Latin and Anglo: “Trump’s wall has been made with bricks baked in the ovens of historiography,” is included in Jorge Cañizares Esguerra’s website, “Whiteness” is always near and there is “irony” and cynical deceit in the academic teapot, as in the rest of the society undergoing radical transformations. Who will catch the “hail Mary” pass Jorge Cañizares Esguerra is throwing? It is perhaps inappropriate and early to proclaim the United States as a failed experiment and it is probably better to avoid such drastic and emotive language altogether. Yet, the invitation is not to retreat from the “number-one” narratives, and the exceptionalism, or jingoism, that accompanies all-conquering liberal success and unparalleled freedom… Always better to historicise and linger in medias res, neither missing a big explanatory cause nor expecting a supreme catastrophe of all things. A second “radical” gesture is to keep going seeking the highway freedom and the endless skyways and the golden valleys, never to fall for the fetishism of the institutions, expecting nothing, brutally exceeding the conventions about the “Hispanic,” the “Anglo” and the “Latin,” and the xenophobias and bigotries, historical and otherwise…
Recognition of Rebellious Beginnings in Colombia and the History of the Sciences.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Salient aspects about your background and the training.
Jorge Cañizares Esguerra: My background is a difficult topic to tackle. I come from a generation in Latin America that experienced the Nicaraguan Revolution. And I engaged in revolutionary activities from age sixteen until twenty-two as I studied medicine. Then I spent a couple of years in the mountains in Colombia. And then I returned to Ecuador after two years of warfare, married an American citizen and left in a twelve-year exile and arrived in the United States without the language, without a word of English. And then I had to rebuild my life from scratch as it were, as a child without the language. So, mastering the culture and the language became an obsession in order to rebuild, to have a voice. Since I went to medical school, when I came here I chose history of science as an alternative to pursuing a degree in the sciences. I wanted to study the sciences and I discovered the history of science, which was more history than science. And, since in my years of revolutionary activity, I read a lot of history, I found this kind of matched. It brought both of my loves together, science, formal logics, mathematics, physics, and all that stuff that I loved, and history, writing and the humanities. They combined well. Put myself through graduate school by cleaning and cooking without any financial aid and then I got my degree in the history of science.
The insertion of the history and the science of Latin America inside the critique of Enlightenment epistemology.
FGH: What is your synthetic account of your trajectory and of your general production?
JCE: I think my trajectory is one of always being a contrarian, somebody very uncomfortable with the historiographical status quo. And when I arrived in the U.S., I began to experience in graduate school the understanding of the history of science and the understanding of Latin American history I became very uncomfortable with both narratives. One that excluded entire continents and focused on a few processes and the time was [Isaac] Newton, the Scientific Revolution, very European and Eurocentric ways. And other was the Enlightenment and Kant and all that stuff, the encyclopédie, the French academy, [Antoine Laurent] Lavoisier, the chemical revolution, and physics, the 19th century, all the way to Einstein and finally Freud and the unconscious, and of course Darwin. Those were the four or five pillars of the history of science when I began. I felt that everything that had to do with my past was excluded. And the same for Latin American history. Latin-American history was at the time this narrative of peasants and oligarchies, and of underdevelopment and colonial legacies. It was all very streamlined, and also excluded complexities of my own practice and experiences. So, as Latin Americanist, when I was doing intellectual history, I was discouraged to do it because it was conceived or considered to be a history of elites, not a history from the bottom-up. Social history of ideas and categories was not appropriate. So I was not admitted into the joint degree of history of science and history of Latin America because I was doing the "history of elites." Ideas were considered elitist at that time by gringo scholars who were thinking they were doing revolution in the region by writing about oligarchy, and resistance and peasantry. And I found it very patronising, particularly coming as a critique from someone who experienced revolution himself and experiencing exile and it was a ridiculous thing to say to somebody who was in my position. So, my dissertation was a critique of both discourses, the history-of-science discipline as such and the Latin-American-history discipline as such. I focused on 18th century actors who were exiles as I was: Spanish American Jesuit in Italy. They offered a critique of Enlightenment epistemology that I found profound and sophisticated, non-derivative. These soul mates of mine offered a very close reading of the epistemological foundations of the Enlightenment and the philosophical traveller. They subjected that narrative to a piercing critique. I put together their ideas into what I called at that time “creole epistemologies.” So, my first book is sort of a critique of the history of science through a book on the history of evidence, subjectivity, credibility and trustworthiness in the Eighteenth Century: what sources to use, what sources to believe on, and how to go about giving evidence in order to reconstruct the past of a continent. And there are many different alternatives that are offered at the time: one is conjectural history by the Enlightenment people like Rousseau, Adam Smith, Scottish Enlightenment, and people like [Juan Bautista] Muñoz in Spain whose response is more of the humanists creating archives, privileging primary documents, documents that had not written with the purpose of persuading or moving individuals, but more like the paperwork from the empire that caught historical actors off guard and that therefore were more reliable, so he creates the Archive of the Indies. So, his History of the Indies is based not printed documents, but on the everyday life paperwork of an Empire. And the third position, which is that of the creoles in Spanish America which is the recovery of indigenous documents, and the restoring of the credibility of those documents, and reading the past of the continent through the prism of the codices that the Enlightenment dismissed as the product of primitive minds, because there is evolutionary history of writing a la [Giovanni Battista] Vico that considered indigenous codices expressions of primitive minds and therefore non-credible and unreliable. So, that is what my first book is about.
And then my trajectory continues into grappling with the history of the United States from my own experience and perspective. I begin to question narratives about the United States as a history separate from the Global South, severed from the Spanish Empire of the 1500, so Massachusetts and Chesapeake [in Virginia] come about disjointed and disconnected from the history of Mexico or Peru, or as a critique of those experiences of Spain and I begin to see that this is not the case, that those histories are entangled. So, Puritan Conquistadors comes about, which is an effort to “iberianise” the Puritans’ foundation of Massachusetts as continuation of Fifteenth-Century Franciscan missions. I had then other projects. My book on Nature Empire and Nation has to do with the Scientific Revolution in conquest and colonization of the New World, that the New Worlds of the Reformation and of the Scientific Revolutions are deeply connected to the New Worlds of expansion and colonization. So, this is another, third element of my scholarship. So, these three distinct interventions I continue to pursue all the time.
Radical Spanish America Does not Fit into Liberal Historiography.
FGH: Tell me about your current projects. I have seen something about questioning categories on your website…
JCE: I am writing with Adrian [Masters] a book about the radical Spanish Empire in the 1500 (https://notevenpast.org/works-in-progress-the-radical-spanish-empire/). It is a book on petitioning paperwork in the 1500. Petitioning paperwork as a historical actor that is not been considered sufficiently as such historical actor. The[re are] three dimensions of imperial administration that are being confused in relation to their separate functions: “gobierno”[policy and legislation ] “gracia” [exemptions and rewards] and “justicia” [or litigation]. The first one, “gobierno” is about the production of legislation, and legislation comes from the bottom-up and that is one of the big contributions of this project, which is [about] the understanding that “gobierno” comes from petitioning from individuals from all kinds and all quarters that organize themselves in factions, corporate or individual factions, or sub-factions within corporate factions. These factions know the system of councils in Spain after the Comunero rebellion in which the Council extends and democratizes the participation of people through the legislation by allowing individuals to write directly to the King and the King [in turn must] respond through councils to their petitions. And those petitions eventually become cédulas, ordenanzas, mandamientos. And there are many different layers through which individuals can participate in creating legislation at the level of cabildos in cities, corregimientos, viceregal units, or at the level of empire as a whole. it is the responsibility of all these authorities to respond to these petitions. vassals have the right of addressing authorities and getting a hearing and reply. Viceroy moved around, let us say [Antonio de] Mendoza in Mexico in 1530s-1550s, as he moves in visitas or through hearings in his palace, he listens to the complains of indigenous peoples who have requests. The Viceroy,has to listen to those requests and produce mandamientos, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. These are replies to these petitions. The same for cédulas: they are replies to petitions of individuals that through the postal services and procuradores (paralegal representatives or lobbists) introduced hundreds of thousands of these documents to the King and his Council. Royal cédulas are often verbatim copies of these petitions. So, if you read the cédulas, they are “I hereby I have been informed by John Doe " that this is happening, I therefore decree 1, 2, 3, 5 and 5.” And “1,2,3,4,5” are sometimes verbatim copy of the petition of John Doe to the King. So, when you have cédulas, mandamientos or ordenanzas, etc. you have a reflection of all this lobbying and mobilizations of these factions to reform a society through legislation of different kinds, at the local, regional or imperial levels. And everybody can participate in the crafting of legislation through petitioning. That is “gobierno.”
And then there is “gracia” which is another form of petitioning in which individuals acknowledge the law or the legislation but they want to request exclusion from that law or from those regulations, either by excluding themselves or their families from certain status, [because] “we are not Indians, or “we are Spaniards,” or whatever the petition is. “Gracia” seeks to create certain special privileges for the individuals vis-à-vis the system. And it has to do with rewards, pensions, etc. Kind of payment for services provided to the Crown. So, you have to confirm that service through witnesses. You have actually to prove that you have served the King. It is called probanzas. It can be service in conquest first, and that service may transform itself to be of different kinds, it can be science, knowledge, cosmography, etc. Many individuals begin to request “gracia” around the production of knowledge, printed book, experimentation in amalgamation say, in mines or new ovens. In the realm of “gracia,” there is a history of technology and a history of science that is rich.
And finally, the last element of paperwork is litigation (“justicia”), which is the one that is the best known [laborious]. The one that historians of the law tend to study. It is all the stuff that goes to Audiencias, and goes to the Council for appeals. It is the costliest process and the one that produces a lengthy archive. The case can take years and a lot of resources and money, so it is a resource that not most people get to access or use to speak..
But there are other ways in which people intervene in the crafting of the law and that is what we are trying to suggest. It is not only through litigation in these bulky files of Justicia and Audiencia in the archive where you can find the participation of the humble, the commoner, the Indian, women, even slaves, in the creation of the crafting of the law. And what we find is that in the first eighty years of this process in Spanish America lots of people participated in the creation of institutions. There are no laws and all laws have to be created from scratch in the encounter of all these factions. So, what you begin to see is the factions and individuals within factions pitted against one another. It leads to a lot of mobility, upwards and downwards, and a lot of changes. So, conquistadors, crate lineages, and dynasties that suddenly begin to crumble and collapse. Conquistadors are disciplined with the rise of religious corporate groups, like the you have the rise of Franciscans. In Mexico they undermined the power of conquistadors. They also overreached and were taken to task and disciplined. So you have the rise of secularisation of dioceses, the rise of bishops, of the secular clergy. The secular clergy was also challenged by the rise of the Inquisition and the rise of more powerful lay authorities, namely oidores, corregidores, Viceroys remove the power of big lords. Mendoza removes In Mexico the big four [Hernán] Cortés, Nuño de Guzmán, [Pedro de] Alvarado, [Francisco de] Montejo, all four of them are in charge of entire regions. The same happened in Peru with [Diego de] Almagro, [Francisco] Pizarro. It took a Civil War for conquistadors to lose power.
Petitioning offers a social history of the emergence of bureaucracies, lay and ecclesiastical, that are pitted against one another, that are part of factions, that are always through petitioning trying to undermine other factions, that leads to a lot of change in institutions and legislation that begins to slowly congeal and slow down by the end of the 1580s and the creation of archives. So, we attribute to the creation of archives agency in the creation of a new ancien régime in the Indies that is mercantilist but that is ultimately predicted on the access to paperwork, to archives.
At the end the big winners of the whole system are the merchants but the merchants need to secure the paperwork that will allow them not to be cut to size by the rivals, conversos would be in that category, they are merchants who can be easily removed if they do not secure archives about documenting their lineages once the Inquisition arrives in the Indies. So, you have this ancien régime, a system that is very peculiar, and new and unique in global history, I would argue, that is emerging in the Indies out of this dynamic of paperwork that is specific to the New World or the Indies in general. It is also true of the Philippines.
FGH: What are the questions or themes that motivate you? What are the tentative ways out or the possible answers? When you look at the archive, do you have a general intuition, or do you follow through and see what comes up?
JCE: I think it is both. There are questions that you pose to the documents and in the hermeneutical cycle the questions are tested by the evidence and the evidence leads to new questions and the search for new documents. It is kind of back and forth. It is not just picking up from the archive whatever fits into preconceived ideas. They have to be open-ended questions and these lead to new readings of documents but also to new questions that in turn lead to new documents. It is an endless cycle, called by [Hans George] Gadamer, the hermeneutical cycle. I believe in that. I think it is true. That is how I encounter the archive and my relations with the documents and questions. You have to be driven by questions.
Vindication of Latin America as a Challenge to the Categories of Liberal Modernity.
FGH: You are a proud historian. As far as I can see you hold most conversations with fellow practitioners in the field of history and less so with those in other disciplines. Tell me something about the profession of history as you see it now. Do you (want to) remain faithful to the discipline?
JCE: Do I see myself as a historian? I see myself as an intellectual more than a historian. I want to have conversations with as many people as possible, not only with historians, [but also] with scholars and the public in general. My questions in the book The Radical Spanish Empire are about categories and [among these] the categories of British liberalism [which are] the dominant categories that have informed historical transitions in the Early Modern period are understood. So, there are categories that are associated with other categories that are expected to come together so we have the understanding of modernity that is very well crafted, namely, the printing press, Reformation, the public sphere, Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution, democracy. So, you have that account that is very nicely structured in all Western-Civilization textbooks. These categories seem to be assembled in clusters, related to one another and connected with one another, and if you take one, something is missing in these conceptual narratives.
The case of 16th-century Spanish America is telling. It does fit within these narratives of parliamentary democracy. Yet one sees political mass participation from the bottom up without the printing press. These are forms of participation that I would not call democracy, but that nevertheless are from the bottom up, expansive and wide. They lead to social upward mobility for many groups, commoners, slaves, indigenous slaves in the Indies that through petitioning manage to recover freedoms, property, etc. [Here you also have] commoners that challenge the political power of caciques [and we also have] the creation of indigenous cabildos, [which is] the manifestation of the rise of commoners versus caciques, cacicazgos, formal mayorazgos, of indigenous elites to detach themselves from the politics of everyday life in communities that reside now in the hands of commoners, who have to be elected and re-elected in positions of authority. All these changes [and] mobilities within these communities include new understandings of property, new understandings of commons, of patrimonial property and realengo. These changes include ne definitions what belongs to the state, the family, and the commons… That is all happening in the 1500s in Mexico and Peru. These are major social transformations that are coming from the bottom-up but there are happening through forms of communication that are not driven by the printing press. Social change is not happening through communication via the "public sphere" in the sense that the communication with the King is rather vertical and sometimes secretive in that petitions are sometimes coded. It is a different form of social transformation that is not associated to these [aforementioned] clusters of categories.[And] they are not necessarily connected [to them].
The clusters of liberal democracy have been so attached to narratives of modernity and democracy that all other forms of transformation that do not follow this teleology or direction are left out and excluded from narratives of transformation or whatever we call modernity, in this case participation, radical social mobility, re-engineering of institutions, substantive social transformations prior to the French Revolution.
So, how do you account for that transformation if the categories that you are given pigeonhole those transformations or the experiences of conquest within the category of authoritarian absolutism? We imagine a regime that manufactures categories [exclusively] from the top-down, creating [for example] racial categories right, left and centre, inventing forty different castas? That is absurd! How is it possible for a Queen and her council to invent these forty categories of racial [differentiation or] castas? It is absurd to assume that there was social engineering happening from Madrid, when in fact it is the social process from the conflict of factions. Factions and rivals created these categories as they fought one another through paperwork, seeking to eliminate rivals from within. So, the categories of mestizos and castas do not come from engineers in Madrid engineering discrimination from the Council. They created by Indians or mestizos in order to eliminate rivals around their own communities. It is a different understanding of the origins of these categories that have been attributed to an absolutist regime.
FGH: Your fundamental timespace is “colonial Latin America,” if I may put it thus. What is going on with this sign in the U.S. which is where you essentially live and breathe…
JCE: It is not just colonial Latin America. I do Nineteenth Century as well. [I am interested in notions such as] nation-state formation, categories of citizenship and liberalism. I am interested in Latin America as a category that emerges in response to Anglo white supremacy in the Nineteenth Century. There is that element. So, the colonial aspect of my work has to do with understanding different forms of creating societies in which Latin America is not this space of predetermined failure. There is change and things happen and there is no direction to the arc of history. It takes on different directions in many different places. [Some of] these constructs of colonial legacies are a burden to the historical imagination that we need to question.
FGH: The history of Latin America in world history: what to do –and not do-- with it? And in connection to what you just said, what do you want to do to the “liberal” narrative of “modernity” and the Americas?
JCE: I said previously what I want to do with the liberal narrative of the Americas that is very parochial and reflects a very parochial experience of one form of liberal republicanism, as it were, that is British and North European and that excludes most other forms of social transformation through those clusters of categories that need to be connected to one another.. What I am trying to do is disconnect these different clusters and show that they can be put together in different ways and still get the major historical transformations out of it, out of these combinations. So, you can have major scientific revolutions in Potosí without the printing press and without the public sphere [as conventionally understood]. You can have it through petitioning, [in the three previous modalities of] gracia, justicia and gobierno, and you can have it through forms of paperwork, upward social mobility through service, ingenuity and new technologies that happen in Potosí in a major, massive scale. We are talking about dozens artificial lakes, thousands of aqueducts that are moving wheels, turbines. There are all sorts of experimentations with chemical combinations in science to speed up the amalgamation process. There is a lot of innovation and experimentation going on about the production of silver in quantities that are so massive that can transform the global economy. So here you have a technological scientific revolution in the Andes in the 1580s-1600s that is not captured by the categories of Scientific Revolution of the Real Academy of London, or of [Isaac] Newton or of [Francis] Bacon.
This Intellectual History is About Offering Models that Wish to Pluralise the Liberal Singularity of the Global Historical Narrative.
FGH: You say you want to “expose the myths underpinning British liberal exceptionalist scholarship, and we must add the United States to the mix, develop. I suppose the criticism will be to say that “this is less exceptional [than one might think], this does not cover the whole world, this may well be one dominant historical modality, and there has got to be other ways…” So, you want to pluralise the narrative.
JCE: Yes. It is not only to pluralise the narrative. It is [about] offering models of how to pluralise the narrative. [And] how to disjoint these categories from these clusters that have been brought together by these powerful historiographies. So, you need printing press to have Reformation, to have public sphere, to have Enlightenment, to have Scientific Revolution, to have Industrial Revolution. These are clusters associated with participation, democracy, etc., that come together and create a narrative of social transformation that leaves everything else out. So, whatever happens in the XVI century Spanish America, which is the example that we use, is one that leaves us only with Absolutism, despite the massive evidence of social transformation and upward and downward social mobility and major political transformations that are happening on the continent. And yet we are left with no categories [with which] to understand those transformations. Liberalism blinds us to those transformations because it is expecting only certain ways in which social mobility can come about and we are saying “no.” There are other ways in which new societies that emerge are very dynamic and can transform in the global economy that do not necessarily have to come with all these clusters (printing press, public sphere, Enlightenment, whatever that means, etc.). You have different forms and combinations. So, this ability to separate modernity from these clusters will allow us to see transformations, not only in Spanish America, but in other places, in Turkey [with] the Ottoman Empire too and in many other societies. So, we are just offering one way in which we can break up these clusters and see radical transformations free of the dynamics that are part of ancien-régime societies.
Predilection for Foreign Entanglements: No Colonial History of Massachusetts without Mexico or Peru, No Puritans and Calvinists without the Virgin of Guadalupe and Franciscan demonology.
FGH: You go even further because you write that you want to upset the normative narratives at the core. You write that “the history of the colonisation of Virginia and New England reads differently when Iberian America becomes normative” (p. 799). Tell me more [“Entangled histories: Borderlands Historiographies in New Clothes?,” The American Historical Review Vol. 112, No. 3 (Jan. 2007): 787-799.). So, not only are you adding plurality of options, but you are more daring, you are saying that you are going to upset and subvert what we might call dominant or mainstream, simplified as “Anglo,” narratives.
JCE: That comes from Puritan Conquistadors. But the objective there was to challenge this core narrative of the U.S. settler colonialism [and] the origin of Massachusetts, Chesapeake in Virginia, etc. It is not that they were central to the British Empire. In fact, they were marginal. But they are the core historiographical narratives about the nation in the United States, how the nation comes about. So, colonial Massachusetts plays a central role in that narrative, even though it was a rather or somewhat marginal society in the Atlantic. Same thing for Chesapeake in Virginia. My point in that quote is that those societies are considered to be central to the emergence of American exceptionalism, what is distinct about the U.S., the city on the hill, the discourse of Calvinist Massachusetts, etc. And yet these cores to the narrative of exceptionalism are not unlike Mexico in the 1500s. Moreover, they are derivative from those colonial experiences. So, in Puritan conquistadors, I try to show that many of the things that the Puritans are grappling with when it comes to understanding the New World are questions, concerns and sensibilities that were first framed and conceived in places like Mexico. So, Puritans are working with these categories that were given to them by the Spanish colonization of the New World, not the other way around. In that sense, I am decentring: there is no history of Massachusetts without Mexico. There is no history of Massachusetts without the Virgin of Guadalupe. There is history of Massachusetts without Franciscan demonology. There is no history of Massachusetts without Peru.
FGH: There is no history of Massachusetts without Mexico or Peru because they knew each other? Or because the frame of vision has to be wider, more continental-American proper?
JCE: Both. For instance, the case of burials. Chris Heaney has written this wonderful article in the William and Mary Quarterly about the burials (“A Peru of their Own: English Grave-Opening and Indian Sovereignty in Early America,” Vol. 73, No. 4, Oct. 2016, pp. 609-646 (38 pages; [need to confirm]). When the Spaniards arrive to places, they raided burials to get the plunder in order to assess the quality of the status of the societies they had encountered, whether they were rich, urban, etc. In plundering burials, Spaniards sought to do a quick ethnography and anthropology of places but also to get rich through plunder . So, this model of plundering burials was a model that the Puritans themselves applied. And [Walter] Raleigh too. All the British experience in Massachusetts and Virginia was the same application of burial raiding as a way of quick ethnography and also as a way of quick returns to capital investments of these companies which were essentially the same, the conquistador company is not that different from the Virginia company. Puritans and Virgianinas could nto find their Peru and were deeply dissapointed as their raids of gaves did not yield treasure. The colonization of British America happened trough shareholding societies, through contracts with the Crown. This is the model of contracts of say Cortes, Pizarro and Almagro. The contracts included certain regions to explore and work to exert authority, taxation, gracia, gobierno, the ability to create legislation, etc. The same happens with the Virginia company. So, it is not different from the Capitulaciones of Cortés, Pizarro or Almagro. The models were similar, the division of space was similar, the relationship with indigenous people was similar, despite all the rhetoric of difference associated with the Black Legend. There wasn’t much difference.
Against All Reifications of the Category of “Europe,” the Product of Many People.
FGH: Serge Gruzinski’s La Pensée Métisse [The Mestizo Mind] is, you write, a book deliberately written to rattle conventions and stereotypes and to challenge the whole industry of “cultural studies” as understood in some circles [“Entangled histories,” ibidem]. There is some cold shoulder here. Do cultural studies have any traction for you? Is this no-good history? Do you have any traffic with post/decolonial studies?
JCE: I think post- and decolonial studies purposely assume the same category of the British model of liberal modernity that we are trying to deconstruct. So, from that model, they kind of reverse or invert the vision. It is just a reversal engineering of the same model. They are trapped in the same categories in order to find the process of power and resistance. I have my issues with postcolonialism. It has reified Europe even more than it was. It attributes to Europe institutions that might not be European in origin, but the production of many people. When we say for instance the conquest of the Philippines, or the Spaniards conquered Mexico, we are talking about alliances of a handful of conquistadors with tens of thousands of indigenous peoples. The conquest of the Philippines was led also by Purepechas, Tlaxcalans, Mexicas as much as Spaniards. So, this attribution of modernity and knowledge as "European" leads to a reification of a number of things that in origin are not European. It is kind of giving to these tiny little societies, England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, an agency to transform the world. Let's remember that "Portugal" had only a million people in the xvi century. And whatever happened with Portugal in the 1400s and 1500s, it was not just the creation of Portugal, it was the creation of all these alliances, local alliances in all these ports all over the world, from West Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Ormuz, Goa, Macao, you name them. So, this is not [exclusively] Portuguese. This is the creation of local societies just as much as they are Portuguese. In that sense, I am very uncomfortable with these sweeping reifications of the category of Europe that postcolonialism does.
“Minority” Narratives are The Narrative of the History of the United States: Neither Assimilationist Universalism nor Rigid Multiculturalism of Separate Entities.
FGH: There is a superb paragraph in your evaluation of Gruzinski’s work in which you speak of the U.S., your stamping ground, as a society “condemned to oscillate between “universalist” and “pluralist” conceptions of the polity, without the tools to understand processes of mongrelisation.” So, there is on the one hand the universalism of the Anglo-Protestant norm demanding acculturation and assimilation of the “diversity” claims. But, you also do not seem to be keen on “multiculturalisms,” say, let us call them “rigid.” And you conclude that “pluralists seem to have won the debate” [“Entangled histories,” ibidem, p. 271]: is this still the case in this very tense moment of Trump / Biden, Black Lives Matters and raging covid? What is your position here in relation to your historical practice? I do not think you go “multiculturalist” in your political practice…
JCE: The problem with multiculturalism is that it takes this idea of minorities as a kind of tossed salad to spice up the main narrative. My point is that, in the same way that African-Americans are claiming a central role in the core narrative of American history. They are not minorities. They are central to the creation of the nation. They are not individuals at the margins. Their numbers may be fewer than those of whites but that does not mean that their agency and their history is in any way a minority history. It is the history of this country. So, multiculturalism has this dimension of reducing the histories of the others as additions to be studied separately in area studies, when in reality these are narratives that are central to the creation of the nation. They cannot be severed or separated. So, Mexican American history is not Mexican American history: it is the history of the United States. You cannot sever that history from the main narrative. I think Area Studies tends to do that, tends to create these niches for minorities to have representation in numbers in universities but they are given these spaces to do things Hispanic or Black. And the problem is not that. The problem is that things Hispanic and Black are things American and that these things are the main narrative of U.S. history. They cannot be shelved in the minority archive of multiculturalism.
Radicalism in Radical Spanish America: Different Social Groups Doing Many Things?
FGH: You appear to oppose radicalism (mobility) to immobility (societies of order0: is this a salvation proposal of finding “radicalism” in the legal archive (of Latin America 1500-1800): is this fair? I am trying to make sense of “radicalism:” rich collection of social groups doing all sorts of things that do not fit into neat, rigid, predictable categories?
JCE: Exactly. Yes. At least the 1500s in Spanish America reveals a radical social experiment unique in global history, the creation of a variety of new institutions, categories, new forms of societies that are coming from the factionalism and struggle from bottom-up more than the top-down. It is radical in that sense of social experiment that has no predictable outcome. There is no teleology: nobody knew who was going to win. The conquistadors as new feudal lords and their new dynasties might have thought so , but they lost, and they lost badly. And their sons lost badly and they became bastards and mestizos. And the Franciscans thought they were winning and they did not win. Neither did the caciques. So, at the end what you have by the 1600s is the merchants as the big winners, but they have to inform themselves to follow the structures that are peculiar to this ancien régime that is emerging in the New World where paperwork is as important as commodities and capital. To be successful In Spanish America one needed an archive of paperwork, cash, and direct access to lay and ecclesiastical bureaucracies. Race was not necessarily the issue. Any one with those three things could secure lineages and dynasties for generations.
FGH: A quick clarification question: if someone said, “but Jorge, what you are placing on the table is really a mess, you will say, it is a fine mess…” Things are complex. Things do not fit into whatever models you want to bring to me. And the point is the unfittingness of it all. If someone became impatient, “it is too complex or messy, you are doing my head in, I am not understanding…” You will say, “that’s the point, I do not want to give you easy types…”
JCE: (Laughter). Yes. There is that. But there is a model too. It is not just mess. There is also a logic.
FGH: Another quick clarification question: there is no one big Platonian cause and no big catastrophic teleology, your own practice of history has to suspend both and be thick in the middle of that complexity, “muddling through” as it were… Is that fair?
The Profession of History, the Logic of the “Bigger, the Better”?
FGH: In the history profession, we appear to be going for some kind of “the bigger the better” logic. In a U.S. society that is not big on history, and perhaps also elsewhere, we move, at least some professionally, from bigger and bigger units of analysis, from this or that national history, to continental history, to the Atlantic, to the global, who knows what the next one will be, stratospheric history? These are moments of undeniable university crisis, liquidation of programmes and consolidation of departments. So, what is going on? We are avoiding terminology like “universal history,” and also “world history,” old-fashioned terminologies, we are not doing comparative civilization a la Arnold Toynbee either, and yet here we are… Is this one strong tendency in the profession of history?
JCE: Yes, it is. It does not mean it loses… It is not so much the unit of analysis. It is the nature of the question and the archive, the sources that you can draw on, that matters. Which means that you can do a very detailed analysis of Sixteenth-Century Puebla and yet bring to bear a huge global archive to understand what is happening in Sixteenth-Century Puebla, Tlaxcala, etc. That you cannot understand Tlaxcala and the dynasties that were there prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the alliances with Cortés, and the rise of new commoners, cochineals or new commodities, the participation in battles all over the hemisphere, along with Cortés and other conquistadors, as reflected in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, about 80 different battles they fought, these Indian conquistadors, the arrival of new commodities, muskets, the mercantilisation of cochineal that allowed them to have access to capital that lead to the transformation of commons, from lands to financial instruments, to the understanding of paper as banking and census, not just as land but as capital, etc. That to understand Tlaxcala, a tiny little altepetl[or human settlement], you need this global frame, that these guys may be connected to the Philippines and China through their participation in the expeditions of [Miguel López de] Legazpi. And they have intellectuals like Muñoz Camargo by the 1580s that are commoners that are acquiring power through the control of the archive as mediators and translators to the Crown and that these individuals are new elites that are replacing the ancien regime. So, there is the collapse of the old indigenous ancien regime and the collapse of the European ancien regime and the emergence of a new thing. So, you need this understanding of historiographical patterns of old societies and new regimes to understand what is new, what emerges in this place that is new and distinct and novel, globally. That is not just Tlaxcala. It is a new social experiment. It is a new society that does not follow the rules of neither indigenous polities of the past nor European polities of the Early Modern period. It is a new thing. So, for that, you need a global frame. It is not that you need the history of the world. You can do the history of Tlaxcala, but you are aware of global issues, that without the globe as a whole there is no Tlaxcala.
Old Boston Brahmin Asks, “Jorge, Remind Me, And Why do I have to go to Tlaxcala?”
FGH: This question I am going to make it folksy and a bit playful. Let us say, and it is not my position, we imagine I am an old Brahmin, comfortable, sipping my brandy in Boston by the river Charles, and I hear you talking about Tlaxcala… And here I am with my great liberal narrative of success and power and influence… “Jorge, remind me why I have to go to Tlaxcala? I don’t care how you frame it or globalize it, it is a small little place, coming from a minor nation that has no importance, so… And I am willing to give you complexity from the get-go…Why do I have to go to global Tlaxcala? To find what?”
JCE: A good question. To find…
FGH: Modalities of being human, I suppose?
JCE: No. To find the cause of the conquest of Mexico, to begin with. To find patterns of colonization and conquest that are reflected in the alliances that Cortés created with the Tlaxcalans. To find patterns of social transformation that are reflected in the emergence of new classes within Tlaxcala that are challenging all lineages and all dynasties. To find the role of new indigenous commodities in global markets that are transforming local societies, we are talking about the cochineal dye, exported from the Tlaxcala and the Mixteca or Oaxaca areas. So, you can find a number of things that are relevant to many global processes that are affected or affect anyone and everyone. Without Tlaxcala there is no Acapulco and there is no expedition to the South Sea and no Legazpi and no Philippines.
FGH: You are invested in the notion of “Atlantic History.” And you speak of making it a “distinctly transnational space in the process…” and doing “more than old imperial comparative historiographies in new clothes,” so, what would this good Atlantic History be? You have spoken of Atlantic History maturing… What would this be that Jorge applauds?
JCE: There are many and many are good. The one I pursue myself is the entangled history of the Atlantic, spaces of which do not [exclusively] belong to a European sovereign, in which many individuals and peoples are coming in and out, and they are weaving societies made of different forces, and traditions and groups, that are not necessarily attached to one Empire, be it French, Dutch, Spanish, or Portuguese. That is the Atlantic History that I like and that I practice, the one that emphasizes entangled histories.
FGH: You don’t want one main mistress, you want many mistresses. You want the British Empire as the model, or the main frame, or dominant intelligibility, you want to have others… I suppose we are talking about Empire as a big frame or canvas… We are not defending a big imperialist mission per se. We want to understand processes and transformations and scales…
JCE: Yes. I don’t want a national perspective to dominate the past. I don’t want the history of the hemisphere to be an instrument [with which] to create narratives of either patriotic or exceptional [construct] to justify X, Y or Z. I am against the idea that the past of a region belongs to a people and so, therefore, there is room for all sorts of people in the history of that region and that is what I mean by avoiding the minority trope. The minority trope reduces minorities to side players in those narratives when in fact they might not be side players, but central in many ways to the construction of the region.
Pluralist Proposal for Many Modernities?: A Provocative Example in Relation to the Reading of Knowledge in Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
FGH: You are coming across as a pluralist in a good sense of the term, and this is the feeling that I get when I read your work. And we both understand that there will be a mainstream and dominant narrative and then there will be subaltern or dominated narratives as well. So, what would you say to someone, again, making it a bit like a joke, “yes, Jorge, of course, please help yourself to that, make the cocktail richer and more colourful and complex, but at the end of the day, we [Anglos] drink it…” There is no big cause, no end of the story, perpetually in medias res… And side by side we find one dominant narrative, that of the American nation, the U.S., number-one nation. And in other disciplines, like International Relations, say, they will put your “mosaic of interdigitated Atlantic histories” inside the narrative of the liberal international order… So, how far can you go with the pluralist- narrative argument? I do not know if this one does a lot of damage to the dominant narrative of “we are number one, we are the winners of history, we are liberals by default, we welcome complications and contradictions, we may be a little bit more tolerant, we give Jorge the space to give us his plural archive…” (laughter). It is relatively easy to accommodate and perhaps even neutralize your pluralist argument… We are dealing with power/knowledge, stronger institutions generating convenient narratives, and some of these will welcome you, “yes, Jorge, you too!, (laughter), but do not make too much noise…” What would you say to that? I am making it playful but the point is very serious underneath. How have your fellow historians received your work?
JCE: I think they have received it well with interest, respect and curiosity and some scepticism, I guess. Again, my work has moved around. It has many different dimensions. Some are better received than others. We will see what happens with the Radical Spanish Empire, which is different in many ways to other stuff that I have written. There are many different things that I present, all of them seek to upset these categories that come from the liberal British understanding of modernity that I see as blinding us to other possibilities and other forms of understanding things. For instance, I recently gave a talk in Bolivia about “ciencia infusa” (infused science). It is a re-reading of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The impulse behind the piece as many others I have written is ultimately to question this notion that comes from the liberal British or Anglo understanding of modernity that was borrowed by Octavio Paz in Trampas de la Fé, and then by Anglo and Mexican feminists and other feminists in Latin America about where the troubles of Sor Juana were. The model is this Galilean model of the Inquisition, a model of an Empire that is absolutist and inquisitorial and misogynist. And that model made Sor Juana a Galileo in Mexico. It is a bulky inquisition that cannot tolerate this woman to be bright and a philosopher and a theologian. So, she had to be disciplined and had to be silenced: that is the trampas de la fé, the traps of faith of Octavio Paz. And that is in essence a trope that feminism has reinforced over and over. So, my contribution to this debate is that things are not that simple. The problem of patriarchy in Spanish America in 1670s when Sor Juana is working is not one in whichh women cook or pray or self-lacerate and males do theology and are the lords of the lettered city. No. The structure of the dilemma is different because women are expected to be prophets, philosophers and theologians and they are promoted bishops and archbishops like Cisneros who devote fortunes to have secretaries following humble women, beatas or nuns, delivering sermons in nunneries or in chapels and copied verbatim their sermons. Women could be theologians and philosophers. 1600s with Sor Juana there are two other great philosophers-theologians, Teresa de Avila and María de Agreda. María de Agreda is not only a theologian who wrote the Ciudad de Dios, a four-volume treatise on the apocalypse, and the Virgin Mary, a treatise on Mariology. Agreda , was also the main confessor of two Kings, Philip III and Philip IV. She was behind the main campaigns of abolitionism of indigenous slavery in the Philippines, Chile and Tierra Firme or Mexico. She is a major political figure in the Spanish Monarchy and a major theologian. So too is Teresa de Avila who was quickly beatified and canonized within two decades [of her death] as Saint Doctor, santa and doctora. There are seven different classifications of saints. She was canonized as “doctor,” as was Thomas of Aquinas and Augustine. She was not canonized as virgin or as patron or founder of the Order of the Carmelites or as prophet. She was canonized as “doctora,” which means that she was highly regarded as a theologian of note. So too was Sor Juana. And so were probably hundreds of women in the Spanish Monarchy, whose visions were sought after and whose trips to celestial hierarchies, talking to Christ, Mary, etc., and the descent from these hierarchies to bring that information [to the believers] was highly regarded and had great authority.
The problem for Sor Juan was not knowledge per se but how one acquires that knowledge. María de Agreda, for instance, not only does she write the Ciudad de Dios, City of God, a treatise on Mary, and the Book of Revelation, but she also writes a geography and a cosmography. There are many women who write treatises about all sorts of things in addition to these visions. The contemporaries of María de Agreda accepted her treatises as authoritative because she was in communication with God. She was not trained as a theologian or as a philosopher. She did not receive any formal education, yet she knows Latin, she can read the Bible, she can do an exegesis of the Apocalypse because she is inspired. She receives this inspiration from or is inspired by God and his angels.
This was also the assumption with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: if you see the medallions that are attached to the chest of the Hieronymite nun in the 18th-century paintings of Sor Juana she has a woman kneeling receiving holy inspiration from angels and the holy spirit. IN those paitings Sor Juana is surrounded by clocks and geometrical graphs and books like the Bible, law books, medical treatises. etc. She is a big intellectual. But the origin of her knowlegdeg eis divine inspiration: “ciencia infusa” (infused knowledge) that comes from God.
The difference, with males, is that science is not infused, it is a product of learning, education, colleges and work. The position of Sor Juana was a critique of patriarchy, from the category of “infused science.” Her position was simple "I was not inspired. I worked on this, this is “shit” that I have learned through hard work. I am not a curiosity. I am not a product of inspiration. I am not a product of the Holy Spirit descending on me and communicating to me algebra, Latin and rhetoric. I worked to get there."
So, it is a different category that matters to women like Sor Juana and it is that category that we need to identify in order to make a fair reading of gender and the problem of Sor Juana at that time that is not the Inquisition and is not the confessors that are telling her not to do theology. In fact, they are promoting her to do theology. And the posthumous work of Sor Juana, the third volume of her Fama, of her complete works, is a volume produced to promote the canonization of Sor Juana as a “doctora” of the Church, her Christological work, her work of theology, not her courtly poetry, that is perceived by her confessors to be not feeding to her virtues, her capacity to be communicating with God, and being a great theologian-philosopher. So the critique of her confessors is not a critique of her inability to be a theologian. It is a critique of her devotion to courtly culture and love poetry that is not really what she should be doing. She should be doing something far from formidable like Christological, Mariological or philosophical work instead of love poetry. It is a very different take.
Authority and Knowledge: Let us Imagine Oxford Doctors of Philosophy Chasing Down a Foreign Woman Who Cleans Toilets Transcribing Every Word She Says for Years…
FGH: So you would say those women are knowledge producers, they are well educated, well aware of what is happening in their century, we must pay attention to them, and clearly Octavio Paz’s liberal ideology, equating the Spanish Empire to Stalin, making the equation in the Cold War of Spanish Empire and Soviet Union, taking of course the side of the U.S. liberal ideology, clearly Spain is qua Empire qua Soviet Union, we may very well be in a patriarchal society but things are not so clear cut and not so easy… We must take those women seriously as producers of knowledge, not as eccentric or weird visionaries…
JCE: We need to take seriously the categories of both women and males that are promoting [this type of knowledge] because bishops, like the Bishop of Puebla, are promoting Sor Juana and there is a lot of males promoting her. The publisher of her third volume, the guy who is promoting her canonization as “doctora de la Iglesia,” as a new Teresa de Avila in Mexico, is a male, Castorena.. We need to understand the ideas, the categories, that allowed them to do strange things, for instance, the biography in Puebla, modelled after Catalina de Siena, of this Goan slave Catarina de San Juan living in a beaterio in Puebla who has four Jesuits following her for thirty years, copying every utterance. And you have this massive hagiography when she dies. There was a massive following in Puebla after the death of this slave, or former slave, from India, so called “china india,” or “china poblana,” that is very strange, because when she dies, thousands of people following her, trying to get relics from her body, fingers, nail-clippings, hair, etc. When alive, she had a team of doctors, theologians, of the Jesuit Order in Puebla following her for a decade or two copying her every utterance. Imagine, Fernando, that you have somebody in Oxford who cleans toilets and you have the leading philosophers of the department of philosophy or mathematics in Oxford following this woman who cleans toilets every day for ten years acting as secretaries of this woman. That is the equivalent of what is happening in Mexico. That is a very strange understanding of authority, epistemology, and where the authority of revelation, science and objectivity comes from. Catarina de San Juan is a very humble woman from very distant origins in India who is nevertheless considered to be authoritative enough for her thoughts to be captured verbatim by a team of scribes who are doctors themselves.
FGH: You convey that you feel the need and the importance of historicizing the categories used back then and the categories we use now. If I push you: you are not doing this excavation to rescue antiquarian knowledge?
FGH: And, therefore, you do what? Because this is hard work. You have got to go to the archive, read old paperwork, engage with this old language… It is not immediately obvious [that your immediate surroundings in] Texas is delivering to you this type of investigation on a silver plate, or Anglo society [in general]. So, you [must] generate your own historical narratives. I realize there is no easy answer and I do not want a cheap formula, yet it cannot be a kind of “look at all those weird people weren’t they crazy?, and look at those quaint things, how eccentric, ornamental, wonderful…” It’s got to be something else, what would that be?
JCE: That something else would be the critique of the liberal historiography, [and] its models that are so powerful and so dominant, so imperious and imperial, that made it difficult to see other narratives. Or to narrate another version of the past that does not fit into the canon of liberal historiography. So, feminism, when reading Sor Juana, may be wielding epistemologies that are just as colonialist as anything else. The decision of liberalism is that patriarchy is manifested in societies in Spanish America in certain ways, marginalizing women from the sciences and theology, and therefore Sor Juana was like Galileo persecuted by the Inquisition. And I am saying no. That was not the case. There was no persecution of women doing knowledge. The problem was different. The questions for Sor Juana were others. Her complaints were different.
Is Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra Big on Global History?
FGH: Is Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra big on global history? And what type or practices of global history? I suppose the brand is there so we must engage with it…
JCE: I don’t do global history myself. But I do global history in the sense of the previous comment about Tlaxcala: you need these global frameworks to do good regional histories, imperial or local. You need an awareness of many other elements happening around. Let us say in Mexico there is a lot of stuff happening at the time that I am studying that “is not just Indians and Spaniards,” there are Greeks, Ottomans, Japanese, Armenians… The Spaniards want to keep a global monarchy and therefore there were people from all quarters [of the globe] gathering in places like Mexico, Potosí, Lima, etc. That [global, expansive] dimension is the one that preoccupies me. That there are many different players that are acting within a global stage, they are connected globally as well, and we need that awareness in order to make sense of the local.
FGH: To Iberianize the Atlantic means what?
JCE: The Puritan Conquistadors I referred to means that the history of Massachusetts is to be connected back to Mexico in the 1500s. It cannot be studied as the arrival of the Calvinists fleeing England, leading to the Civil War and as the Civil War is unfolding, or to defend themselves from the consequences of the Civil War, that is not really the origin of their concerns, the preoccupations and the reason why they flee is deeper and ultimately the answers are found in 1500 in Mexico in the treatises on demonology by the Franciscans and Jesuits and the questions of “just war” and the plundering of burials, etc. that are unfolding in Mexico and Peru, and those the categories and the resources that those individuals will bring to bear to the Calvinists in the Americas.
FGH: So, is it an argument for a greater connectivity? In other words, the Anglo mosaic, very good, excellent, and you will say, “but it is not enough, let me add a few pieces here and there and create more back and forth travel or traffic…I want a bigger map”
You Say Potato, I Say Potato: What Scholars of Early Modern Catholicism Call Baroque, Scholars of Calvinism Call Typology.
FGH: You write something that I find very provocative: “it would seem that what scholars of early Modern Catholicism have called Baroque, scholars of Calvinism have called typology” (p. 121). Tell me more about it.
JCE: In Puritan Conquistadors I am making the argument that Puritanism and Calvinism was very much informed by the Old Testament, and their understanding of their mission in the New World was informed by the reading of prophets and the Book of Exodus and Numbers and Genesis, etc. That Calvinism is a hermeneutical project of reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. That is a Medieval tradition that is called typology. And that yields prophecy as well. This is also what the Baroque Is about.
FGH: I do not think the Anglo world engages with the Baroque in a way that assumes and absorbs it as something that is of its own. The Baroque is always this outside, that is colourful, that is not knowledge, it is eccentric, it is what others do. So, for the Brits, Catholic is Latin [Europe], Catholic, eccentric crazy nuns and “all that shit.” And for the Americans, it can be La Santa Muerte or something like that, but it is not much more. You only have to take a walk in Boston to see the anti-Baroque legacy in those churches and there are historical reasons for that repudiation. The tough question will be, how to vindicate the Baroque, not in a sentimental, imperialist fashion, but how to engage with that in a way that at least holds up the mirror to the different enclaves? It is not easy at all. Shakespeare is not Baroque, for example. And he is contemporary with Calderón. They are kept completely separate at the categorical level. Donne’s poetry and Quevedo’s and Góngora’s. You put the texts side by side and they are clearly in the same universe but again not according to the conventional historiographies. There is an Anglo repudiation of a category that is not nativized. It is o.k. for Bernini in Rome, but it is not for St. Paul’s in London for example… Your provocation is to put Baroque and Catholicism and Calvinism at the same time and try to make sense and work one’s way through it.
JCE: Right. The Baroque sermons is essentially a Calvinist text in a form of “jazz” in which the priest of the famale prophet is given a text from the Old Testament, with echoes in the New Testament,. They worked their way through this text to try to understand they prefigure events today. So, it is an understanding of the present through the prism of prefiguration and fulfilment. In the same way that Calvinism does it, which is also typological. Purtians saw themselves as Israelites in promised land, they see the natives as Cannanites… The whole idea of the promised land in New England, which is the constant reading of their experience through the prism of the Old Testament. So, they are writing mosaic constitutions right and left in Massachusetts. I do not see much of a difference between these two hemispheric sensibilities, not even rhetorically, the Mexican one is is as symbolic as twisted as the Puritan other. This is what I meant by Baroque and typology.
The Category of the West is the Creation of Many Peoples: No Expedition to the Philippines Without the Purepechas, Tlaxcalans and Mexicas. Period.
FGH: You must be invested in the construction of the mammoth category of the “West.” If someone is trying to engage with, and not defend, the category of the West, of what type and how to go about it in 2020?
JCE: My engagement with the category of the West is the same as my engagement with the category of Europe. Whatever it is, it was created by many people. If we talk about the so-called conquest of the Pacific, there is no Legazpi and there is no Philippines without the University of Mexico and the understanding of the meteorology or the workings of the sphere in the Pacific, the work of currents and winds, [and] the work of [Andrés de] Urdaneta in the Church office in Mexico. There is no expedition to the Philippines without the Purepechas, Tlaxcalans and Mexicas either. So, there is no European conquest of Asia without Mexico and Purepechas in Michoacan and Mexicas. Period. So, what is the West there? What is European there? The same for Madrid: Madrid, one could say, is Europe. Madrid is a capital of petitioners and is probably half Indiana and there are Japanese, Chinese, Indians from the New World and criollos, Goans, etc. It is everything but [exclusively] Spanish. And so too is Mexico as a capital of petitioners. It is a hemispheric city that is drawing people from pueblos, Havana, Yucatán, all over the place because that is the way you do business. The paperwork of empire is through petitioning and petitioners move and have procuradores and lobby. Places like Madrid are everything but “European” (sic, with quotes explicitly mentioned).
FGH: So, in other words, some groups may claim a monopoly of a category but that is never the whole picture…
JCE: It is not just a problem of monopoly. It is a problem of how that thing is created. It is created out of globalizations. The moment that Europe begins as Europe in 1492, it is a global thing. It is a construction of many different peoples, including Africans in Europe. So, if you say Europe it is a shortcut for a process that involves all sorts of peoples.
FGH: I think you have a really strong point here. In other words, any locality is not immediately understood and you must find in your own work a plurality of subjectivities making claims to that locality but also occupying the space of that locality. No one single geographical term will be self-sufficient or immediately understood or [entirely] simplified. I suppose that is what you are getting at…
JCE: Yes. I think that is true for everything. But I am particularly concerned about these two categories “Western Europe,” that is being reified, and being claimed by a tiny group of people as valuable and rescuable. There is a value in the world, democracy, freedom, etc., and that thing called Europe, or the West, is something that was built by peoples from all quarters in all places and it was not built in England, or France, or Germany… It was built in Acapulco, Tlaxcala, the Philippines.
Is The Notion of “Multiple modernities” the Telos of Your Historical Work? No.
FGH: Exactly. And because of your immediate location now, and your sensibility and your own work, you are very aware that the U.S. manufactures a certain concept of Europe for its own interests. I am generalizing now the U.S. Different groups in the U.S. make claims to a certain Eurocentric vision of themselves and also of a certain future project as well. Is therefore the notion of “multiple modernities” the telos of your historical work?
JCE: No. The telos of my historical work is politics and power. It is [about] undermining narratives of modernity that take away power from groups and communities at least in the United States and Europe that have as much claim over those societies as anybody else.
Happy in Texas, also at the University of Texas, Austin of the “Hispanic Equity Report?
FGH: I keep the tongue in cheek in check: is Jorge Cañizares Esguerra happy in the very red state of Texas with the strong Latino vote on the Trump side? Is it any better at the U of Texas, Austin of the “Hispanic Equity Report”?
JCE: That is a difficult question. The “Hispanic Equity Report” makes an argument about the structural sweeping discrimination of Hispanic faculty in the University of Texas in terms of access to authority, equity in salaries, rewards, etc. The numbers are telling. They speak for themselves. In a state that is 40% Hispanic, [the University] has 7% Hispanics as faculty, it is the least well represented sector of the population in terms of numbers of students and faculty. So you will have Latino students that will never see a Latino faculty, ever, in any of their classes. There is that. But there is also that we call “Hispanopía,” that is the inability of most people to see Hispanics, their marginality or the lack of power in this case at the University. They just disappear as a group. If, for instance, we document that LLILAS, the Latin American Studies Center at the University of Texas, Austin, one of the most important Latin American Studies Centres in the World, was founded eighty-eight years ago in Texas and never has been led by a Hispanic or Latino-American. Never, [it has] always [been] a white. So, imagine that that were to happen with the foremost, most important centre of African-American Studies in Harvard or Yale, that it was found that it was never directed by an African-American, that would be the source of outrage and immediate reform, but it is not a case of outrage when it comes to Latinos. And the same applies to every other category. So, Latinos occupy this liminal position in America that is of foreigners, outsiders, literally, DACA would be one case of undocumented individuals who have little political power and yet they are extraordinarily oppressed. You can see that with covid. The percentages of victims of covid there are as many Latinx and Hispanics as there are African Americans. Wages are limited, poverty is great and yet they have little political power to make claims to equity and to have access to power in institutions like University of Texas. We call that “Hispanopía,” a condition that is peculiar to Hispanics in Texas…
FGH: “Hispanopía"? “Hispano-miopía”?
JCE: Yes. It is myopia of Hispanics. You cannot see them when they are near you.
Interview took place 14 Dec 2020. Transcription, edition, including incorporation of interviewee changes. Final version plus introduction, FGH. Warwick, U.K., 28 Dec. 2020.