Culture & History Digital Journal, Vol 6, No 2 (2017)

Américo Castro’s Conversos and the Question of Subjectivity


https://doi.org/10.3989/chdj.2017.018

Miriam Bodian
Department of History. University of Texas at Austin-Austin, United States
orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2230-5281

Abstract


Scholars have long puzzled over the disproportionate role played by Judeo-conversos in the innovative cultural currents of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain. Recently, a number of scholars have developed the idea that outstanding converso thinkers and authors shared a sensibility that anticipated modernity (particularly Jewish modernity). One of the key features of this sensibility was subjective consciousness. This article explores the foundational work of Américo Castro on this subject. Drawing from nineteenth-century orientalist discourse, Castro understood the subjective awareness of conversos to be a renewed expression of ancient “semitic” characteristics discernable in medieval Jewish (and Islamic) writing, as well as in the Hebrew Bible. In Castro’s view, the conversos’ inherent access to their inner life, stimulated by their experience of repression, allowed them to create a literature that became synonymous with Hispanicity. Castro’s conversos, in whom the strongly negative characteristics of his Jews have “disappeared,” are thus harbingers not of modernity, but of a coalescing Spanish national identity. Yet his essentialized view of converso subjectivity has offered support to recent scholarship on “Marranism” and modernity, which follows Castro in its converso-centric apprehension of subjectivity in early modern Europe.

Keywords


Conversos; Marranism; Subjectivity; Early Modern Spain; Orientalism; Antisemitism; Purity of Blood

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