En el mar la vida es más sabrosa (Some things can’t be translated) , by Esperanza Mayobre

En el mar la vida es más sabrosa (Some things can’t be translated), by Esperanza Mayobre

Unsettling Nature:
Culture and Ecology in the Hispanic World

Hispanic Cultures II, Spring 2019

Santiago Acosta
Columbia University
Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures
TR 10:10 am – 11:25 am
206 Casa Hispánica

This course surveys the cultural production of Latin America and Spain from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century with a focus on the environmental consequences of capitalist modernization and globalization. The main questions that will guide our sessions concern the relationship between culture (mainly literature, art, film) and the conditions (social, ideological, political) that have brought about an era of ecological degradation and climate change. How have artists and intellectuals contributed to these conditions? What alternatives can culture offer to confront what some scholars are already calling a “crisis of civilization”? We will start by analyzing the current debates about the origins of global warming, paying special attention to the role played by culture, politics, and ideology throughout key moments in history. Then the course will move on chronologically to build a panoramic view of Hispanic culture from the nineteenth century to the present. In class discussions, group activities, presentations, and written papers, students will address questions relevant not only to the study of Latin America and Spain, but also to the study of the relations between ecology and the cultural manifestations of modernity. Class discussions will seek to situate the works studied within the political and cultural currents and debates of the time. Finally, the course also hopes to motivate students—beyond the classroom—to examine their own place in an increasingly warming world.


From  Ich halte alle Indien in meiner Hand , by Anselm Kiefer

From Ich halte alle Indien in meiner Hand, by Anselm Kiefer

“I Carry the Indies in My Hand”:
The Rise of the Capitalist Ecology in the New World

Hispanic Cultures I, Fall 2018

Santiago Acosta
Columbia University
Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures
TR 10:10 am – 11:25 am 
707 Hamilton Hall

This course examines the rise of capitalism during the conquest and colonization of the Americas. We will take into account contemporary debates that suggest that we have entered a new geological era (the “Capitalocene”) characterized by the ecological impact of capitalism’s global expansion. The concept of “capitalist ecology” (a historically evolving field made up of nature, capital, and the institutions of political power) will allow us to identify the place of nature in the development of the modern world. The readings will trace the ideological and material constitution of commodities such as gold, silver, sugar, and pearls, among others, which comprised a transatlantic network of economic and ecological exchange. Central to this new global economy were notions of anthropocentrism, patriarchy, and slavery, that made possible the appropriation of nature, women, and colonies. In order to identify them, we will analyze pre-Columbian mythologies and narratives from the Spanish conquest, as well as scientific and natural history treatises, legal texts, maps, paintings, and illustrated codices that describe the transformation of New World natures into the source of European power.


Bestiario , by Starsky Brines

Bestiario, by Starsky Brines

Thresholds of Modernity:
The Art and Politics of Change in the Hispanic World

Hispanic Cultures II, Fall 2016

Santiago Acosta
Columbia University
Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures
MW 11:40 am – 12:55 pm
505 Casa Hispánica

This course builds on the concept of threshold to address the new ideas, subjects, and objects that appear in the Hispanic imagination during times of intense political, economic, and social change. In the first part, ‘Fundamentos,’ we will analyze the role of the Enlightenment in the development of the modern world. In the second part, ‘Umbrales,’ we will discuss the ideological processes through which Spanish American former colonies found their independence, as well as the intellectual climate in Spain after the loss of its New World empire. The third section, ‘Circulation,’ looks at the transnational movement of commodities, ideas, and money as cultural processes inherent to the logic of globalized consumption. We will start by examining Spanish American modernismo and finish with a note on the poetics of recent Spanish economic crises. The fourth part, ‘Monstruos,’ considers the political and cultural significance of different monsters (figures that are half-human, half-beast) appearing in the literature and philosophy of the Hispanic world during times of turmoil. Finally, in ‘Naturaleza’ we will take an ecocritical view of some key literary works (and the recent Academy Award-nominated film El abrazo de la serpiente), to reflect upon the ultimate threshold, that between humanity and nature, as a space of continuous interchangeability.