Gómez de la Serna, Ramón. Morbidities & “The Concept of the New Literature.” Trans. & Ed. Nicolás Fernández-Medina. Modernist Constellations Series, Clemson UP. Under contract.
Ramón Gómez de la Serna broke ground on his first autobiography Morbidities (Morbideces, 1908) when he was only sixteen years old and finally published it when he had barely turned twenty. In Morbidities, Gómez de la Serna crafts a portrait of himself as a young, suffering writer whose acute sensitivity to a rapidly modernizing world grants him access to something extraordinary: the naked truth. He seeks to document his conversion, so to speak, to a new authorial aesthetics that aspires to throw off the shackles of nineteenth-century bourgeois epistemic traditions. Ultimately, what he offers his readers is not only the intimate “equation,” as he called it, to the underlying literary and nihilistic assumptions that guided him to his avant-gardism, but also a window to the profound social changes that affected Spain at the turn of the twentieth century. With the manifesto The Concept of the New Literature (El concepto de la nueva literatura, 1909), Gómez de la Serna defines with more rigor various of the aesthetic concepts and ideals of authorial self that he outlined in Morbidities and which he believed should inform all avant-garde practice. Indeed, several fundamental aspects that will mark his avant-gardism for decades to come are not only presaged in Morbidities and The Concept of the New Literature, but spelled out.
The publication of Morbidities & The Concept of the New Literature with the Modernist Constellations Series at Clemson UP will represent the first English translations of these major avant-garde texts.
Raising the Dead: The Science and Literature of Resuscitation in Spain. In preparation.
The cultural significance of resuscitation in Spain has passed largely unnoticed and no single study to date has systematically addressed it. The majority of studies on the subject center on modern techniques of resuscitation and their influence on the twentieth-century medical revolution. This book aims to reveal how the questions associated with resuscitation resonated in Spanish culture, particularly from the perspective of modernity’s unending fascination with the life/death divide. It explores topics ranging from anatomy, physiology, and vitalism to grave robbery, necrophilia, and perversion.
Three of the more challenging questions the science of resuscitation raised in Spain include: if the soul flees the body upon death as dictated by Scripture, how is resuscitation possible on the dead? And, if the soul imbues the body with vital force, does the soul return from its otherworldly journey to inhabit the resuscitated body once again (and is the original body/self thus restored)? Lastly, can any lifeless body that has not succumbed to the visible processes of decomposition be resuscitated? These questions have had a direct and enduring impact on Spain’s literary, scientific, and philosophical landscapes.
Life Embodied: The Promise of Vital Force in Spanish Modernity. History of Ideas Series. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2018.
The concept of vital force – the immanent energy that promotes the processes of life in the body and in nature – has proved a source of endless fascination and controversy. Indeed, the question of what vitalizes the body has haunted humanity since antiquity, and became even more pressing during the Scientific Revolution and beyond.
Examining the complexities and theories about vital force in Spanish modernity, Nicolás Fernández-Medina’s Life Embodied offers a novel and provocative assessment of the question of bodily life in Spain. Starting with Juan de Cabriada’s landmark Carta filosófica, médico-chymica of 1687 and ending with Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s avant-gardism of the 1910s, Fernández-Medina incorporates discussions of anatomy, philosophy, science, critical theory, history of medicine, and literary studies to argue that concepts of vital force served as powerful vehicles to interrogate the possibilities and limits of corporeality. Paying close attention to how the body’s capabilities were conceived and strategically woven into critiques of modernity, Fernández-Medina engages the work of Miguel Boix y Moliner, Martín Martínez, Diego de Torres Villarroel, Sebastián Guerrero Herreros, Ignacio María Ruiz de Luzuriaga, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, Pedro Mata y Fontanet, Ángela Grassi, Julián Sanz del Río, Miguel de Unamuno, and Pío Baroja, among others.
Drawing on extensive research and analysis, Life Embodied breaks new ground as the first book to address the question of vital force in Spanish modernity.
“Life Embodied examines a variety of texts – philosophical and medical treatises, poems, novels – in great detail and navigates between discussions of Hippocratism, Cartesianism, Montpellier vitalism, Romanticism, and Avant-gardism . . . Life Embodied represents a major contribution to scholarship on Spanish modernity . . . It is an excellent piece of scholarship.” —Dale J. Pratt, Brigham Young University
“Nicolás Fernández-Medina tackles the subject [of modernity and vital force] with exemplary rigor and dexterity, offering a comprehensive and kaleidoscopic view. His familiarity with first-tier authors is matched here with an impressive knowledge of numerous voices that have traditionally been relegated to the fringes of the literary canon. The picture that emerges is a fascinating one, drawn with passion and precision, always sensitive to the details as much as the larger questions in their ever-changing nature. Life Embodied is an important book, one that will stand as a pivotal reference in future debates on corporeality and sovereignty in modern Spain.” —Enrique García Santo-Tomás, University of Michigan
“Fernández-Medina consulted an impressive number of multidisciplinary sources in tracing the concept of vital force – the immanent energy that promotes the processes of life in the body and in nature – in Spain between the 17th and the late-19th centuries. That in itself speaks to the value of the volume, but so too does the author’s ability to contextualize the tension between early-modern medical discoveries about the body and the teachings of religious authorities, as these discoveries made the body-soul nexus problematic . . . Recommended.” —Enrique A. Sanabria, Choice, vol. 56.5, January 2019, np.
“In his fascinating diachronic interdisciplinary study of the theories of vital force in Spanish modernity, Nicolás Fernández-Medina revisits forgotten texts on vital force—“the immanent energy that promotes the processes of life and growth in the body and nature”—in order to demonstrate their profound influence on various disciplines such as Philosophy, Medicine, and Literature from the Spanish peninsula between the 17th and 20th centuries . . . In addition to compiling an extensive bibliography on the subject, Fernández-Medina’s ability to masterfully navigate such a wide array of texts (ranging from medical treatises to Avant-garde literature) allows him to present his reader with an original, exciting, and comprehensive thesis supported by exhaustive research and in-depth analysis.” —Diego del Río Arrillaga, Cincinnati Romance Review, vol. 46, Spring 2019, pp. 116-18.
“Life Embodied: The Promise of Vital Force in Spanish Modernity es una obra sumamente recomendable para todos aquellos interesados en la historia de la ciencia, la historia de la literatura, las relaciones entre filosofía, ciencia y poder, y el desarrollo de la modernidad en España, ya que el original planteamiento de Fernández-Medina hace que esos campos se enriquezcan entre sí para iluminar facetas todavía no atendidas en estudios previos. No hay duda de que se trata de un trabajo de densa erudición, mas su escritura es clara y facilita una lectura amena. Por último, este libro brinda una espléndida lección sobre los beneficios intelectuales que derivan de una investigación genuinamente interdisciplinar.” —Luis Álvarez-Castro, Hispania, vol. 102.2, June 2019, pp. 280-81.
“Nicolás Fernández-Medina’s ambitious tome breaks new ground as the first monograph to examine the history of vital force in Spain. It successfully demonstrates that theories of vital force —broadly defined as ‘the immanent energy that promotes the processes of life and growth in the body and in nature’ (xiii)— have long been the subject of political controversy and unremitting fascination, while simultaneously holding the promise of resistance, critique, and innovation in the face of religious and state authority . . . This impressive study, which serves as a major contribution to literature and science, will generate new lines of inquiries into the study of vital force and corporeality in modern Spain.” —Julia Chang, Hispanófila, vol. 185, 2019, pp. 149-50.
“Life Embodied es un contribución importante al campo de la historia intelectual española y de los estudios culturales peninsulares. No solo es la primera monografía que se dedica al estudio de la vitalidad, sino que además atiende a autores relegados anteriormente en los estudios culturales peninsulares. Es, por tanto, una lectura obligatoria para aquellos especialistas interesados en la influencia de la medicina en la formación del pensamiento moderno en España y en su expresión en la producción cultural.” —Isaac García Guerrero, Hispanic Journal, vol. 40.1, 2019, pp. 203-05.
“Life Embodied is a rich and nuanced work, one that is difficult to do justice in this short space. Fernández-Medina brings to bear a keen eye for historical detail combined with the interpretive skills of a literary critic, which makes the book much more than a mere survey of vitalism’s trajectory through Spanish modernity. Ultimately, Fernández-Medina agues, with a nod to Michel Foucault, that vital force represented a potentially transgressive discourse that was capable of interrogating entrenched regimes of biopower and creating new possibilities for the “practical critique of life” (p. 303). Such an ambitious rethinking of Spanish vitalism will surely interest readers from a variety of fields and should both spur debate and inspire further scholarship.” —Andrew Keitt, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 93.4, 2019, pp. 613-14.
“For literature specialists, like the present reviewer, [Life Embodied] is likely to prove an unusual book, but all the better for it. It is not only a thoroughly enjoyable read on a fascinating subject, but it also opens up new avenues of research. One cannot ask for more.” —C. A. Longhurst, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, vol. 96.9, 2019, pp. 1551-53.
“Life Embodied fits a ‘type’ in the interdisciplinary study of culture: it is, most basically, a series of studies in the life of an idea, here the medical-philosophical idea of “vital force,” each taken (in the case of the present book) at a different historical moment, and illustrating a different aspect of where that idea went, what it did, and how it changed over time, the chronological window here stretching from the 1680s to the First World War. But admirably, as with the best of this type, Fernández-Medina uses his central theme as the core of a broader discussion of Spanish intellectual history . . . In terms of sheer scholarship, superlatives fail this reviewer in describing Fernández-Medina’s achievement.” —David W. Bird, Letras Hispanas, vol. 15, 2019. pp. 143-44.
“Este libro representa una contribución importante al estudio del desarrollo de un tema hasta ahora atendido solo en forma parcial o fragmentaria. Una de sus mayores virtudes es el enfoque interdisciplinario de Fernández-Medina . . . Este trabajo es de sumo valor para todo estudioso interesado en el desarrollo del pensamiento científico español de los últimos siglos y su influencia en la filosofía, literatura y política del país. Fernández-Medina propor- ciona una visión extensa de la evolución del concepto de fuerza vital en España . . . Además de ser un excelente estudio panorámico, el profesor Fernández-Medina provee a su lector con preguntas incisivas que abren la posibilidad de innumerables estudios futuros.” —Michael K. Predmore, Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, vol. 23, 2019, pp. 257-59.
“The well-documented, substantial book is a diachronic study of how key intellectual figures in Spain between the 17th century and the 20th century resorted to the complex, changing, and often contradictory discourse of vital force (life principle, vitalism, etc.) . . . One of the book’s biggest merits is to make available to the English reader the often-ignored testimony of Spanish modernity.” —Enrique Fernández, Symposium, vol. 74.2, 2020, pp. 121-22
“[Life Embodied] constitutes a deep meditation on the interconnectedness among understandings of vital force as a mechanical phenomenon, the primacy or otherwise of the soul in human life, and the relation of these ideas with the Europeanization of thought, the structures, both mental and institutional, of political expression (democracy, absolutism, theocratic regimes), and the role of scientists in maintaining the status quo or providing new visions in a modern world.” —Richard Cleminson, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 75.3, 2020, pp. 1-4.
“One of this monograph’s best features is rhetorical: Fernández-Medina’s voice is full of energy, and his discussion keenly sensitive and probing; his argumentation is enhanced by clear, jargon-free writing that is a pleasure to read. There are gaps and exclusions, particularly as concern women’s contributions to the debates under discussion; Fernández-Medina does acknowledge ‘the underrepresentation of women in this book.’ Taking that into account, this book should nonetheless be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the importance of ideas about bodies, nature, and life in Spanish modernity.” —Rebecca Haidt, Revista Hispánica Moderna, vol. 74.1 , 2021, pp. 117-18.
“Life Embodied is a highly original, interdisciplinary study of the concept of vital force in a broad range of male-authored works from Juan de Cabriada’s Carta filosofica, medico-chymica of 1687 to Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s avant-garde Morbideces of 1908 . . . Fluently crossing the disciplines of philosophy, science, medicine, and literature, the study progresses from the seventeenth century to the degenerationist and regenerationist debates of early twentieth-century Spain, ending with avant-gardism and the advent of World War I. Moving beyond existing discipline-based scholarship focused on defined chronological periods, the book sets out its ambitious aim to provide a comprehensive study of vital force in Spanish modernity. The valuable decision to provide English-language translations of the works cited supports the aim to engage scholars across a range of disciplines for future research in this area.” —Katharine Murphy, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, vol. 55.2, 2021, pp. 474-76.
The Poetics of Otherness in Antonio Machado’s ‘Proverbios y cantares’. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2011.
Antonio Machado (1875-1939) was one of Spain’s most original and renowned twentieth-century poets and thinkers. From his early poems in Soledades. Galerías. Otros poemas (1907) to the writings of his alter-ego Juan de Mairena of the 1930s, Machado sought to explain how the Other became a concern for the self. In The Poetics of Otherness in Antonio Machado’s ‘Proverbios y cantares’, Nicolás Fernández-Medina examines how Machados ‘Proverbios y cantares’, a collection of short proverbial poems spanning 1909-1937, reveals some of the poet’s deepest concerns regarding the self-Other relationship. To appreciate Machado’s organizing concept of otherness in the ‘Proverbios y cantares’, Fernández-Medina argues how it must be contextualized in relation to the underlying Romantic concerns that Machado struggled with throughout most of his oeuvre, such concerns as autonomy, solipsism and scepticism of absolutes. In this volume, Fernández-Medina demonstrates how Machado continues a practice of ‘fragment thinking’ to meld the poetic and the philosophical, the part and the whole, and the finite and infinite, to bring light to the complexities of the self-Other relationship and its relevance in discussions of social and ethical improvement in early twentieth-century Spain.
“This handsome, hardback tome, with its most appropriate and sumptuous front cover depicting Rubens’ Cain Slaying Abel sets matters right [on Machado’s ‘Proverbios y cantares’] . . . This splendid book . . . shows that the finite inquiry into the works of Antonio Machado is far from being exhausted. This text is a serious and welcome contribution to that process.” —Philip G. Johnston, University College Dublin
“Fernández-Medina’s thorough and well-researched study places the spotlight on a largely unexplored facet and corpus of Antonio Machado’s poetic production, namely his shorter, more proverbial texts . . . [The Poetics of Otherness] will surely be an excellent resource for students and scholars of Spanish literature as well as those interested in gaining a thorough understanding of the philosophical, intellectual and social climate in which Machado wrote his poetry.”—Paul H. Cahill, Pomona College
“En la copiosísima bibliografía sobre la obra de Antonio Machado, ‘Proverbios y cantares’ es, con diferencia, la parte menos estudiada. De ahí que el presente estudio sea una contribución que se suma a los escasos trabajos, algunos recientes. . . con el propósito de corregir esta laguna. . . Acierta [Fernández-Medina] en aproximarse a los ‘Proverbios y cantares’ interesándose por el problema del otro.”—Reyes Vila-Belda, Indiana University
“In this essential and illuminating book on Antonio Machado’s “Proverbios y cantares,” Nicolás Fernández-Medina provides us with an in-depth and systematic study of what has been, with a few notable exceptions, a poorly understood corpus of the poet’s creative and meditative work . . . Fernández-Medina provides a deeper understanding of important recurring themes in the poet’s work: solipsism, how to know the self and the ‘real’ Other, the problematic search for God, skepticism in the face of absolutes. This densely rich study is contextualized as well with reference to Machado’s formative years . . . all leading to the transition from an early symbolist and modernista sensibility. Of particular interest, at the end of this splendid contribution to Machado studies, is to learn the degree to which Machado’s exploration of the experience of otherness anticipated some of the major philosophical discoveries of the twentieth century.”—Michael Predmore, Stanford University
“El combinar la precisión del objeto con la amplitud del marco es uno de los principales méritos de este trabajo, y hace recomendable su lectura para quienquiera que se interese no solamente por Machado, su poesía y su poética, sino también por el problemático ajuste de la cultura española a la Modernidad occidental . . . [Q]uien tenga un interés general por la poética de Machado y por las relaciones entre la poesía, el pensamiento, y la historia contemporánea, encontrará en The Poetics of Otherness de Fernández-Medina una valiosa introducción plena de orientaciones y estímulos.”—Luis Galván, Universidad de Navarra
Fernández-Medina, Nicolás and Maria Truglio, editors. Modernism and the Avant-Garde Body in Spain and Italy. New York: Routledge, 2016.
This interdisciplinary volume interrogates bodily thinking in avant-garde texts from Spain and Italy during the early twentieth century and their relevance to larger modernist preoccupations with corporeality. It examines the innovative ways Spanish and Italian avant-gardists explored the body as a locus for various aesthetic and sociopolitical considerations and practices. In reimagining the nexus points where the embodied self and world intersect, the texts surveyed in this book not only shed light on issues such as authority, desire, fetishism, gender, patriarchy, politics, religion, sexuality, subjectivity, violence, and war during a period of unprecedented change, but also explore the complexities of aesthetic and epistemic rupture (and continuity) within Spanish and Italian modernisms. Building on contemporary scholarship in Modernist Studies and avant-garde criticism, this volume brings to light numerous cross-cultural touch points between Spain and Italy, and challenges the center/periphery frameworks of European cultural modernism. In linking disciplines, genres, —isms, and geographical spheres, the book provides new lenses through which to explore the narratives of modernist corporeality. Each contribution centers around the question of the body as it was actively being debated through the medium of poetic, literary, and artistic exchange, exploring the body in its materiality and form, in its sociopolitical representation, relation to Self, cultural formation, spatiality, desires, objectification, commercialization, and aesthetic functions. This comparative approach to Spanish and Italian avant-gardism offers readers an expanded view of the intersections of body and text, broadening the conversation in the larger fields of cultural modernism, European Avant-garde Studies, and Comparative Literature.
Recent Articles and Chapters
“Staging Reform: Death and The Dream of Embodiment in Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s El drama del palacio deshabitado (1909).” Icons of the Luso-Hispanic World: Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Ed. Ricardo Fernández-Romero. London: Tamesis. Forthcoming.
“Fantasía, irrealidad y el conocimiento como invención: sobre la decadencia de la tradición escolástico-aristotélica en El ente dilucidado (1676) de Antonio Fuentelapeña.” Atardece el Barroco: ficciones experimentales en el reinado de Carlos II. Ed. Enrique García Santo-Tomás & Jorge García López. Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2021. 29-55.
“On the Pathology of Modernity: Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s El Doctor Inverosímil and Holistic Healing in Early Twentieth-Century Spain.” Literatura y Medicina en España. Teoría y praxis. (1800-1930). Eds. Jorge A. Diz & José G. Pérez. Madrid: Ediciones de la Torre, 2021. 171-98.
“Antonio Machado en diálogo con Emmanuel Lévinas: El compromiso con la objetividad y la otredad.” Hispanic Review88.4 (2020): 373-94.
“The Defeated Subjects of Spanish Modernity: Progress and the Anatomy of Fatigue in José de Letamendi’s Sociocultural Theory.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 96.10 (2019): 2-29.
“A Return to the Body: On Fetishism and the Inscrutable Feminine in Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s Senos.” Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy. Eds. Nicolás Fernández-Medina and Maria Truglio. New York: Routledge, 2016. 3-27.
“Reality, Idealism, and the Subject/Object Divide: Antonio Machado and the Modernist Crisis of Knowledge.” Poéticas—Revista de Estudios Literarios Vol. III.3 (2016): 59-83.
“The Body of the Letter: Vital Force and the Practice of Spanish Medicine in Juan de Cabriada’s Carta filosofica, medico-chymica (1687).” Revista Hispánica Moderna 68.2 (2015): 109-125.