UW-Madison Professor Victor Goldgel-Carballo Wins Prestigious Award

By Eli Weiner (LACIS Social Media/Outreach Intern, BBA – Marketing, BA – LACIS, 16′)

Victor Goldgel-Carballo has taught at UW-Madison in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese since 2010, and is the author of many well-received publications. He is known for his expansive knowledge and having a great rapport with his students. Professor Goldgel-Carballo recently won the Ezequiel Martínez Estrada essay prize for his recent book, Cuando lo nuevo conquistó América: Prensa, moda y literatura en el siglo XIX  (Siglo XXI Editores, 2013). I sat down with Victor to learn more about the award, his classes and his future projects.

What is your book about? 

The book is about ‘newness.’ It raises questions such as: How do we value new media? Why do fashions exert such a powerful influence upon people? Why would anyone want to read or write a new book when there are countless great texts already available? My own book analyzes the trajectory of the new as a criterion of value in nineteenth-century Latin America, tracing the concept from its initial, often deprecatory meaning of puzzlement or disruption to its modern use as an expression of praise. It compares contexts that experienced particularly rapid processes of modernization during the period (Argentina, Chile, and Cuba), studying the intertwinement of periodicals (understood as new media), fashion (defined as a pattern of cyclical renovation), and romanticism (a literary movement self-defined as “modern literature”).

Why was your book chosen for the award by Casa de las Américas? What is the award exactly?

The award is honorific, which means that I did not even know that I was being considered. I was very surprised when Roberto Fernández Retamar, the director of Casa de las Américas, wrote me to let me know that the book had been selected for the prize. The fact that about one third of the book has to do with the Cuban context might have helped to grab the attention of the jury. One of the main components of the prize is a new edition. I am happy to know that Cuban readers will be able to access the book –I don’t think there are more than two or three copies on the island right now. And the award makes me feel proud for several reasons. One of them is its name: it’s called the “Ezequiel Martínez Estrada,” referring to the most prominent Argentine essayist of the 20th-century. Another reason is the list of previous winners, which includes a colleague of ours here at UW-Madison, Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

What is your connection to LACIS? Has LACIS helped you at all with your work? If so, how?

I have been a LACIS Faculty Affiliate since I began my work in Madison in 2010, and LACIS has been fundamental in helping me to enter in dialogue with other Latin Americanists on campus and beyond –by allowing me, for example, to attend the Latin American Studies Association conference, where the book received its first prize.

What do you teach in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese? 

I teach a wide range of courses, from a big-lecture Intro to the History of Hispanic Cultures to theory-driven graduate seminars, such as one on the concepts of fiction and ideology that I am teaching right now.
What are you working on next?

My second scholarly monograph will be a study of ‘passing’ as an open secret in nineteenth-century Cuba. Racial passing is generally understood as a divergence between the private and the public identities of a given subject, and I argue that the Cuban case reveals the need for an alternative analytical model: one that allows us to conceptualize those cases in which this divergence is disregarded or disavowed, and in which the “fake” identity is implicitly validated. The book therefore focuses on a kind of passing that did not depend on racial secrets so much as open secrets, and investigates the active forms of not-knowing —ranging from tactful silence and reserve to hypocrisy and disavowal— at the core of the construction of identities.

Where are you from? What brought you to Madison?

I was born, raised, and educated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2003 I came to the University of California – Berkeley to work on a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures, and in 2010 I joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UW-Madison as an Assistant Professor.

What do you like about Madison? What do you like to do here?

I am proud of being part of a public university. One the most rewarding aspects of  my work is to feel that I am giving back to the public (whether undergraduate students from Wisconsin, graduate students from all over the world who are working on their dissertations, or Latin American readers who stumble upon my publications) after years and years of benefiting and growing in institutions of public education. In spite of recent setbacks, Madison -both the city and the university- is the kind of place where people tend to come together and strive for a life that is more creative, compassionate, and fun.Other things I enjoy a lot are writing novels and playing soccer.

We would like to extend our thanks to Professor Goldgel-Carballo for taking the time to answer these questions. We wish him the best of luck going forward!