What Is “Western Civilization”?
An Incomplete Reading List: Some Sources for My Current Research
The first draft of my chapter on the discourse of “civilization” during the American Enlightenments—to borrow Caroline Winterer’s designation—is finished and I have received editorial feedback on that.
Logically, the next thing to do would be to move forward and trace the uses of “civilization” during the Early Republic and through the Era of Good Feelings (LOL) to the Age of Jackson.
But the logic of argumentation and the logic of composition are two different things. Completing the Enlightenment chapter left me with the sense that before moving forward in time, I need to back up and look more closely at the Early Modern and Renaissance eras in Western Europe. For England, Spain, and France, that’s 1492–1600s. Viewing the Restoration Era separately in English literature gets me to the beginnings of the long 18th century, which of course includes “the Enlightenment.”
This Early Modern to Renaissance era arc deserves closer scrutiny because 1) it is a great pleasure to revisit the literatures from this time period and, 2) it is the “moment” when the long-established term “civility”—refinement, politeness, courtesy, mannerliness—gradually gives way to “civilization” as mostly a synonym of the prior term. The difference between the two seems minute during that period, but it’s crucial for later developments to trace it out via example.
In brief, “civility” is a characteristic of refined life. “Civilization” is the acquisition of refinement, or an acquired refinement.
That’s my working hypothesis anyhow as I plunge into these texts. Here is my current reading list—that is, every text of which I currently have a copy, and which I have arranged in rough chronological order (though of course I am not reading them in strict or rough chronological order because I am not a machine and I have my whims). And I’ve divided them up by language. (Creole literature is a separate list.)
First Feminists anthology
18th century poetry anthology
Fernando de Rojas
Garcilaso de la Vega
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Luis de Góngora
Francisco de Oviedo
Leandro Fernández de Moratín
Crónicas de Indias (antología)
As you can see, I’m a little light on the French-language sources for this periodization. While works of political or moral philosophy are important for this survey of the time, I’m more interested in works of imaginative literature, though of course it’s not possible to draw a sharp distinction. Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World is certainly a work of imaginative literature, as is More’s Utopia, but they are also works of political theory.
Still, I’d like to hew as close as possible to the mark of popular literature.
And that’s where you, my wise readers, come in.
Do you have any suggestions for popular authors / works in English, French, or Spanish for this period that present or grapple with questions of contrast between “civility” and “barbarity”? Remember, we are not yet at the moment where “civilization” has become a noun to describe the character of a nation or a people. We are still in the world of courteousness, though the world of the court is now contained within the broader culture of the civis.
Anyhow, suggestions welcome!