My path as a humanities teacher and researcher has been somewhat unorthodox and yet also wonderfully stimulating. I started my academic life doing a BA in Latin at the University of London in 1979, not only the same year that Margaret Thatcher became PM, but also the same year I would see bands like Joy Division and Wire live at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Yes, as a ‘provincial Londoner’ (I am actually a Yorkshireman, and, incredibly, still a follower of Leeds Utd’s fortunes!) I combined studying an apparently dead language (despite Harry Potter) with being a very much alive (post)punk in early 80s’ Britain. Odd, I know, but then again, rather than viewing the study of Ovid, Tacitus and Virgil as a conformist, reactionary – even neo-imperial-nostalgia move on my part, I like to think of it as yet another anarchic gesture; I mean, how much more inimical to common sense and how much more useless to the capitalist ethos was a Latin degree in 1970s/80s Britain? Besides, I would feel even more justified in my decision years later, when I was lucky enough to be a PhD student in the USA at the University of Michigan (in the early, very neoliberal 90s), and a Latino Studies professor would point out to me – via Dick Hebdige’s Subcultures – that the safety pins in my school blazer of the 70s had been ‘signifiers’ (!).
Nowadays, I like to think that the non-conformist, rebellious streak of my youth has been tempered by a more serious, and yet, no less energetic and passionate engagement with contemporary Latin American and Iberian art, culture and politics.
‘Contemporary’ now, yes, although my written work has been characterized by a historical sensibility in the sense that I have studied and written a book about the history of the Spanish language, (largely focusing on the relationship between alphabetic literacy and the exercising of monarchical and imperial power in both medieval Iberia and the early colonial Americas, and hence, only ‘contemporary’ in its theoretical armature [De Certeau, Benjamin, Foucault et al.]) and am now [slowly] writing a book in which I argue for a re-assertion of the traditional relationship between photography and history despite the advent of the digital age and the apparent ‘end’ of both history and the photographic index.
Having also had the privilege of living and working in Mexico City for several years [aside: the first thing I did when I arrived in ‘el DF’ in 1986 was to visit Trotsky’s museum/house and then down the road to Frida Kahlo’s ‘Casa Azul’ (Blue House) thus banishing any lingering doubts about my radical credentials derived from the Latin BA stigma], I can now hardly imagine myself doing anything else but reading, writing and teaching/translating the culture[s] that became almost (well, almost) second nature to me.
I am rambling on but when we ramble we eventually/hopefully find our way back to the beginning and hence to the main point of the ramble: I am happy to be here in the DeLC, and look forward to sharing my experience of Iberian and Latin American cultures and languages with Lancaster students and staff this Michaelmas term!