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The Spanish Gypsy: The History of a European Obsession by Lou Charnon-Deutsch

Review by: Ines Arribas


The Americas, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jul., 2005), pp. 120-121
Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History
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120 BOOK REVIEWS
Winter
Calendars,
revealing
the "limits of market and state" and the
possibility
for
a
"literary
culture to flourish
independently" (p. 216).
These various and oftentimes
competing
narratives,
Resdndez
argues, prove
that
"printing presses
did not
gener-
ate standard
print
cultures.... And these
very
diverse cultural milieus both
predated
the onset of
print capitalism
and survived
long
afterward"
(p. 236).
While
multiple
literary
cultures
certainly
continued
(and continue)
to exist in the
borderlands,
Resdndez's
own evidence
suggests
that Anderson
may
have been correct about the
homogenization
of national
identity
as a
product
of
print-capitalism.
The fact that
the Kiowa Set-Tan
gave
his Winter Calendar to a white
anthropologist
in 1892
because "the
young
men were
already forgetting
their own
history" (p. 226),
and
that the Mexican state no
longer
had the
authority
to have its bandos read aloud in
New Mexico after the mid-nineteenth
century,
testifies to the
power
of the nation-
state to circumscribe the
diversity
of
literary
cultures.
Resdndez concludes
by reminding
us of the
pull
that the U.S.
economy
and culture
still has on
Mexicans,
both those
residing
in the United States and in Mexico. But
unlike in the nineteenth
century,
he
argues, today
the
integrity
of Mexico's
national
territory
is not threatened. One
might
also note the
increasing
cultural and economic
importance
of Mexico and Mexicans to the United States. In Mexico as
here,
it is not
the territorial
integrity
of the nation that is at
stake,
but the
explosive power
of a
global
capitalist
market that threatens the
very meaning
of national
sovereignty.
Lewis & Clark
College
Portland,
Oregon
ELLIOTT YOUNG
The
Spanish Gypsy:
The
History
of
a
European
Obsession.
By
Lou Charnon-
Deutsch.
University
Park,
PA: Penn State
University Press,
2004.
Pp.
xii,
288.
Illustrations. Notes.
Bibliography.
Index. $39.95 cloth.
Ever since
Spanish Gypsies
have been the
subjects
of
literary works-starting
as
far back as
Rojas'
La Celestina and Cervantes' La
gitanilla,
there has been a recur-
rent
paradoxical
tension in their
representation.
Scholars such as Bernard Leblon
(1982)
or Jose
Ortega (1990)-who
is
unexpectedly missing
in the
bibliography
of
the book under review-have
previously
shown that
xenophobic
attitudes do coex-
ist with reactions of admiration and idealization in literature.
Indeed,
whether seen
as
belonging
to a
superior, pure
and untouched
race,
or considered
dirty,
liars,
and
immoral members of an
abject
race,
Gitanos have
indubitably
been the source of
inspiration
for a
large body
of
European literary
and artistic works since the fif-
teenth
century.
The
study
of this
corpus
is the
object
of Lou Charnon-Deutsch's
syn-
thetic and
extremely
well documented book about the
history
of a
"European
obses-
sion."
Literary
works,
legal
documents,
travel
narratives,
graphic representations,
film,
and
literary
criticism are
among
the texts that she
explores
and
analyzes
here.
As the title
suggests,
this book is a historical
journey through
the
European imag-
inary, taking
us from Golden
Age Spain
to
eighteenth
and
nineteenth-century
France
and
England,
and
finalizing
the
journey
back to
twentieth-century Spain.
As
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BOOK REVIEWS 121
Charnon-Deutsch
maps
out in the
Preface,
her interests are
multiple:
to trace the ori-
gins
of the
many myths
and
stereotypes
that surround the
Gypsies;
to
analyze
how
these
myths
have contributed to create a monolithic and fossilized
identity
for the
Gypsies;
to understand how and
why
the
dichotomy (avowal/disavowal)
of the
Gypsy
icon has been
manipulated
over the centuries to serve
very specific purposes
in the three
European
nations mentioned above
(for instance,
in the construction of
nationalism in
Spain,
or the
nostalgic
search for an idealized
Gypsy way
of life on
the
part
of British and French
Romantics);
and
finally,
to
satisfy
"the need to
broaden
interdisciplinary approaches
to the
study
of ethnic
identity" (p. 14).
The idea of
producing
a
history
of the
representation
of the
Gypsies
in
print
and
visual culture is not
novel,
and
yet
Charnon-Deutsch's
book offers
original
new read-
ings
of the "classics in
Gypsyness,"
such as
Cervantes, Borrow, Eliot, Sand,
M6rim6e,
and
Dor6.
Understanding
the
process by
which these writers and
painters
dialogue
with and
inspire
each other is
fascinating.
In
addition,
the author's
manipu-
lation of
post-colonial theory
allows her to confront and discuss
among
other
things
the relevance of a set of
pseudo-scientific
texts on racial
theory (Buffon,
de
Rochas,
Knox,
among others),
and to demonstrate how
they
have
helped
inform artistic con-
structions of the
Gypsy.
There are
repetitions
in Charnon-Deutsch's textual
analysis,
but these are inevitable and even
necessary
in order to
highlight
the commonalities
of the
literary
treatment to which the
Spanish Gypsy (female, male,
and as a com-
munity)
has been
subjected
in the
process
of
becoming
the
imagined
monolithic
community
that she describes so
compellingly.
It is
refreshing
to have an
impartial
author
who,
unlike
many
other scholars who have written on the
Gypsies, hardly
takes sides in the debates she
exposes,
and does so with subtle humor and
irony.
Charnon-Deutsch has a rich and extensive
bibliography
at her
disposal,
but a few
important
sources are
missing.
The work of
anthropologist
Juan Gamella should be
included
among
that of scholars who offer more
objective
and accurate accounts of
the Gitanos. In
addition,
the section that deals with cinematic
images
of the
Gypsies
seems
surprisingly
rushed. Two
important
films are
missing (Vengo [2000],
Gitano
[2000]),
as well as an
astonishing documentary
titled
Poligono
Sur
(2001).
The
printed
media is another
significant place
where
Gypsies
have been
imagined
and
stigmatized,
and in an ambitious volume such as
Charnon-Deutsch's,
its absence
comes as a
surprise.
Nonetheless,
these omissions do not
weigh
down the
signifi-
cance nor the
scope
of the book. It
unquestionably represents
an
indispensable
con-
tribution and a reference tool in the fields of Romani Studies and
Spanish
Cultural
Studies.
Bryn
Mawr
College
Bryn
Mawr
Pennsylvania
INES ARRIBAS
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