First-Year Studies: Calles y Plaza Antigua: The Country and the City in Literature and Film


The city has been called voracious, boundless, the den of unbridled lust and greed (La Celestina), a heaven for opportunity, and sometimes safety from prosecution and prejudice. On it, we project our fantasies, our desires (Atlantis, Eldorado, Axtlán, the Big Apple). Feminized, it can be a citadel (traditional romances), the whore of Babylon, an entrapment. It’s a labyrinth (Borges), the urban cauldron where immigrants sink or swim (Mad Toy, Biutiful) or where human beings are dehumanized and churned out of its maws (Los olvidados). It’s the locus of lost illusions and delusions of grandeur (Abilio Estevez, Ena Lucia Portela), including postwar ones (Juan Marsé). In film and prose, it is the terrain, par excellence, of the noir genre (Nahum Montt), postmodern city (Generación X), or the tentative locus for the modernista postrevolutionary (in Maples Arce’s poetry, for instance). On the other hand, is the country a haven of time-tested virtues (Fuenteovejuna), an appropriate metaphor for the desert in desperate need of renewal (Flores de otro mundo), or the place where all dreams are deformed or come crashing down (Ana María Matute)? Are nature and the city at war with each other, and can we negotiate our own space between them (Cortázar)? We will explore these and related themes (like gender, race, class, how space defines us, how we define space) primarily in literature and film from the Spanish-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic but with frequent forays into other perspectives, other places—first and foremost among them, New York City.