The Past as Present: Alberto Montaner to Deliver Annual John Kronik Memorial Lecture

By: C.A. Keller, 
Tue, 11/05/2019

What does El Cid have in common with Spanish-language telenovela La Reina del Sur?

The unexpected answer: The Universidad de Zaragoza’s Alberto Montaner, the Department of Romance Studies’ guest for the second entry of its Fall Lecture Series.  

At 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the A.D. White House, Alberto Montaner will deliver the John Kronik Memorial Lecture, “The Heathen in Love: A Mediterranean Epic Character.” Montaner will give the lecture in English, and will address Romance, Byzantine and Arabic literary traditions.

In his talk, Montaner will address Mediterranean cross-cultural dynamics from a philological perspective. The lecture’s title, “The Heathen in Love,” references a specific trope: that of a woman falling in love with man of a different religion and then, sometimes, converting – which raises important questions of gender and power in the medieval – and modern – world.

The questions this trope and its subversions generate can be striking in their contemporaneity, as their answers point toward cross-cultural power dynamics and the ways in which they manifest in the work in question.

For example, what is the gender of the person in love? Who is of the “other” religion? What happens to that character –do they convert, or not? Does love triumph, surmounting all obstacles, or are the work’s characters doomed to a tragic end? How do the implications for the work shift depending on who is telling the story?

And, of course: how do these centuries-old works speak deeply, insistently, to now?

“It’s not the first time that we have cultural differences in society,” Simone Pinet, Professor of Spanish and Medieval Studies, said. “It’s interesting to see how different cultures have imagined these differences. “

Montaner is an ideal scholar to navigate the crossover between past and present. A renowned scholar famous for his work on El Cid, an epic Spanish work from the 12th or 13th century that tells the story of a famous Castilian knight during the Reconquista, he’s also the man to whom La Reina del Sur author Arturo Pérez-Reverte dedicated his most recent novel, Sidi, based on the legendary figure.

Here is where the historical crosses paths with the contemporary. Consider Sidi’s description as, according to Random House, “a story of exile and borders, of the fight for survival in hostile, uncertain territory full of opposing forces.”

Perhaps this describes a 12th century knight, perhaps a refugee navigating a 21st century border crisis.

Pinet hopes that the lecture will provide Department student a chance to see how philological approaches are not necessarily at odds with their nonphilological counterparts.

“We’re very nontraditional [as a department],” she said. “We’re very theoretical, very interdisciplinary, very conceptual. So it’s good for students to see how people might look at the same set of texts in a different kind of way.”

The John Kronik Memorial fund was established in 2002 to honor John W. Kronik, Professor Emeritus of Romance Studies, in Spanish Literature. The income from the fund is used to support an annual lecture dealing with Hispanic literature and culture in the Spanish section of the Department of Romance Studies. It also supports the acquisition of Library materials dealing with Spanish literature and culture.

Keeping in mind the diversity of the Hispanic and Latin American world, the Department tries to balance inviting star guests and field subspecialists. This typically means alternating between academics who study Spain and Latin America, early periods with more contemporary periods, and guest speakers who can address the diversity across Latin America or the specificities within Latin America, ranging from Mexico to the Southern Cone.

This is the first time Montaner will be in New York, making this a prime opportunity for both scholars and any interested party to engage with Spanish contemporary and historical traditions on this side of the Atlantic. Recent Kronik speakers have included José Quiroga, Jean Franco, and César Braga-Pinto.

During his time at Cornell, Montaner will also lead a graduate student workshop on heraldry, a topic on which he is a world-famous expert, from 12-2 p.m. Friday in Kroch Library, incorporating some of the library’s rare manuscripts into the discussion. Students who are interested in attending the workshop should contact Pinet to RSVP and receive pre-circulated materials. Lunch will follow the event.

The John Kronik Memorial Lecture is co-sponsored by the Departments of Romance Studies, Comparative Literature, and Near Eastern Studies; the Medieval Studies Program; the Society for the Humanities; and European Studies

A photograph of a statue of El Cid