*Castro, Américo

Américo Castro



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Castro, Américo

Spanish, 1885–1972
Américo Castro continued the intellectual tradition of Francisco Giner de los Ríos and the Krausists—followers of the philosophy of Karl Friedrich Christian Krause, a movement begun in Madrid by Sanz del Río in 1868—as well as that of Miguel de Unamuno, example par excellence of the Generation of 1898. The recurrent selfreflections on the Spanish character are characteristic of the period that begins with the Generation of ‘98. A renewed concept of what Spain is—its reinvention, as we would say today—becomes part of the themes treated not only in the essay (by Ángel Ganivet, Miguel de Unamuno, José Ortega y Gasset, Pedro Laín Entralgo) but in poetry as well (Antonio Machado). The Spanish reality, present or historic, becomes part of the Spanish essay of the time, be it erudite, scientific, polemic, or political in nature.
Américo Castro wrote essays exclusively, with two clearly distinguishable periods in his work, the first phase encompassing essays of literary criticism with a rigorous philological base, the second stage containing his contributions to historiography. The well-defined periods of his work correlate with circumstances, Castro writing the former before the Spanish Civil War and the latter while already in exile and teaching at Princeton University. It is there, and in the subsequent period until his death, that his work reaches full fruition. Nevertheless, in spite of this chronological division, there is a unity in his work.
Before 1936 Castro’s work centered on literary figures of the Spanish Golden Age (Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Quevedo, St. Teresa), a study of Cervantes that he later partially repudiated, Erasmus, and theme studies on the concept of honor and the Don Juan figure in Spanish literature. From 1940, and without abandoning essays on literary criticism, Castro began concentrating more and more on themes dealing with historiography: the meaning of Spanish civilization, Ibero-America, Erasmus in Spain, Castile, the concept of historiography, St. James of Galicia, the nature and existence of being Spanish. All these issues culminate in his monumental book España en su historia: Cristianos, moros y judíos (1948; Spain in its history: Christians, Moors and Jews), a revised version entitled La realidad histórica de España (1954; The Structure of Spanish History), and The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History (1971), fundamental contributions to a new approach to the study of Spanish historiography which in his day provoked heated debate and controversy. To this day Castro’s theory has both followers and opponents, but no serious study of Spanish historiography can ignore it.
The first stage of Castro’s work is an attempt to place Spanish Erasmists, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, St. Teresa, Quevedo, and Golden Age drama as well as the picaresque novel within the universal European literary movements. The historiographical essays of the second phase deal with the historic meaning of culture through interpretations of Spanish culture on aesthetic and philosophical bases. While using the philologicalscientific methods learned with his master Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Castro is influenced by the ideology of Ortega y Gasset and his vitalist philosophy, by new currents of German thought (the philologist Karl Vossler, the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey), and by other European thinkers (Oswald Spengler, A.J.Toynbee).
Castro acknowledges his work to be a continuation of the Generation of ‘98 and states first in España en su historia and then in The Structure of Spanish History his intention to be the rendition of “an intellection of what Spain is at present and has been in the past,” thus enabling him “to penetrate the entrails of Spanish life.” The point of departure is human history, human actions within the life where they happen and where they exist.
His postulates originate with concrete and specific facts of life, and then are considered in the generic and universal background of humanity. To that effect he coins his own terminology to express his ideological position: the “vividura” (living or functional context), the “morada vital” (historical dwelling place), the “vivir desviviéndose” (living by denying the reality of one’s existence).
Castro proposes not to study the Spanish past but first to establish the peculiarities that are distinctive of the Spanish way of life, that differentiate Spaniards from other peoples, and then to explain the causes of such differences. He believes that the essence of that peculiarity and distinctiveness rests in the medieval cohabitation in the Iberian Peninsula of Christians, Moors, and Jews, called the three castes by Castro. The manner of living was formed in the 8th century when Islam became a presence in the peninsula, while the consciousness of being a Spaniard originated in the 10th and 11th centuries. Hence Viriato, Seneca, and St. Isidore, reputed by many to be Spaniards, for Castro are merely inhabitants of what we call Spain.
The term “morada vital,” an original metaphor of Castro’s and the center of his theory, is not unrelated to Unamuno’s concept of “intrahistoria” (a spiritual history underlying the conventional body of historical data). Ortega y Gasset refers to “the innermost abode of Spaniards” but it is Castro who gives to his term the meaning of a “horizon of possibilities and obstacles—internal and external—that confront our lives.” In Castro the “historical dwelling place” is related to el estar (to be in a given place) and not to el ser
(the essence of being).
As expected, his theories became the center of controversy with supporters (Marcel Bataillon, Laín Entralgo) as well as opponents, the most prominent being Claudio Sánchez Albornoz, who wrote España, un enigma histórico (1956; Spain, an historic enigma) as a rebuttal to Castro’s The Structure of Spanish History. There is no doubt that the polemic generated from Castro’s work is one of the most significant in the history of Spanish thought.
Castro’s essays are exploratory in nature but scholarly in form, solidly based in the methodologies of a philologist, conveying both information and the author’s thought and experience. His literary interpretation follows the lines of the Spanish Krausists, with an emphasis on order and progress and a questioning based on reason and documented in science. The structure of the essay is expository as well as argumentative since Castro, in addressing his reader, aims to inform and convince. To that effect he resorts to textual verification in his quest to get the reader to accept his viewpoint.
Castro subjects himself to continual self-examination, constantly going back to previous work in order to submit it to rigorous self-criticism, and at times the reflection serves as a point of departure for a new interpretation. Aware that language is an important tool, he searches to improve his work with more vigorous and exact use of such a critical vehicle.

Américo Castro Quesada. Born 4 May 1885 in Cantagalo, Brazil. Family moved to Granada, Spain, 1889. Studied at the University of Granada, arts degree, 1904; the Sorbonne, Paris, 1905–08; Center for Historical Studies, University of Madrid, Ph.D. in history, 1911; Institución Libre de Enseñanza. Married Carmen Medinabeitia.
Contributor, Revista de Filología (Philological review), from 1914, and El Sol (The sun), from 1923. Chair of the history of Spanish language, University of Madrid, 1915–36.
Toured and lectured in South America and the United States, 1923–24; visiting professor, University of Berlin, 1930–31. Cofounder, International University of Santander, 1933.
Left Spain during the Civil War: lived briefly in Argentina, then in United States, where he taught at the Universities of Wisconsin and Texas, then as Emory L.Ford Chair of Spanish, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1940–53; visiting professor at various American universities; post-retirement appointment at University of California San Diego, La Jolla, 1964–68. Returned to live in Madrid, 1969. Awards: honorary degrees from five universities. Officer, Legion of Honor (France); Member, Argentine Academy of Letters. Died (of a seizure while swimming) in Lloret de Mar, Gerona, 25 July 1972.
Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
Lengua, enseñanza y literatura, 1924
Santa Teresa y otros ensayos, 1929; as Teresa la Santa; Gracián y los separatismos; con otros ensayos, 1972
España en su historia: Cristianos, moros y judíos, 1948; revised edition as La realidad histórica de España, 1954; as The Structure of Spanish History, translated by Edmund L.King, 1954
Ensayo de historiología: Analogías y diferencias entre hispanos y musulmanes, 1950
Dos ensayos: Descripción, narración, historiografía; Discrepancias y mal entender, 1956
The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History, translated by Willard F.King and Selma Margaretten, 1971
An Idea of History: Selected Essays, edited and translated by Stephen Gilman and Edmund L.King, 1977
Other writings: works about Spanish history and literature.
Brent, Albert, and Robert Kirsner, “A Bibliography of the Writings of Américo Castro,” in Américo Castro: The Impact of His Thought: Essays to Mark the Centenary of His Birth, edited by Ronald E.Surtz, Jaime Ferrán, and Daniel P.Testa, Madison, Wisconsin: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1988
Further Reading
Araya, Guillermo, El pensamiento de Américo Castro, Madrid: Alianza, 1983
Brancaforte, Benito, “Américo Castro and Michel Foucault’s ‘Filosofia del sospetto’,” in Hispanic Studies in Honor of Joseph H.Silverman, edited by Joseph V.Ricapito, Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1988:371–79
Garagorri, Paulino, “Un mitoclasta nacional: En torno a la tarea desmitificadora de Américo Castro,” Revista de Ocddente 41, no. 4 (1966):234–44
García Gabaldón, Jesús, “Makbara, espacio de encuentros,” La Torre 15, no. 4 (1990):353–60
Gómez Martínez, José Luis, Américo Castro y el origen de los españoles: Historia de una polémica, Madrid: Gredos, 1975
Hornik, M.P., editor, Collected Studies in Honour of Américo Castro’s Eightieth Year, Oxford: Lincombe Lodge Research Library, 1965
Insula issue in honor of Castro (1973)
King, Willard, “Américo Castro y Lope de Vega,” Boletín Real Academia Española 68, no. 243 (1988):169–75
Laín Entralgo, Pedro, editor, Estudios sobre la obra de Américo Castro, Madrid: Taurus, 1971
Marichal, Juan, Teoría e historia del ensayismo hispánico, Madrid: Alianza, 1984
Martin, Marina, “Juan Goytisolo en deuda con Américo Castro: Reivindicación del Conde don Julián,” Letras Peninsulares 2, no. 2 (1989):211–23
Peña, Aniano, Américo Castro y su vision de España y de Cervantes, Madrid: Gredos, 1975
Pi-Sunyer, Oriol, “The Historiography of Américo Castro: An Anthropological Interpretation,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 49 (1972):40–50
Rubia Barcia, José, editor, Américo Castro and the Meaning of Spanish Civilization, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976
Sánchez-Albornoz y Menduiña, Claudio, España, un enigma histórico, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2 vols., 1956
Sotomayor, Carmen, Una lectura orientalista de Juan Goytisolo, Madrid: Fundamentos, 1990
Surtz, Ronald E., Jaime Ferrán, and Daniel P.Testa, editors, Américo Castro: The Impact of His Thought: Essays to Mark the Centenary of His Birth, Madison, Wisconsin: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1988
Varela, Javier, “La tragedia de los intelectuales y la historiografía de Américo Castro,” Insula 48, no. 563 (1993):20–22

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1 Comment

  1. Pura Vida said,

    This photograph to the left is not of Américo Castro; it is a photograph of the late Dr. Edmund L. King. Dr. King and his wife, the late Dr. Willard F. King, co-translated Castro’s The Structure of Spanish History, and other works by Castro.

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