Language Acts and Worldmaking / Languages Memory

Dr Fernando Gomez Herrero delivered the paper 'About Law and Literature; Or Evelyn Waugh attends the Pax Romana Commemorations in honour of Francisco de Vitoria in Spain in 1946' at the Languages Memory conference organised by the Language Acts and Worldmaking project.

This paper was included in a session titled “Iberia from the Outside” chaired ever so politely by Professor Julian Weiss, from King’s College London. The two-day London conference was part of a project run by Profess Catherine Boyle, also at King’s College bringing together colleagues and practitioners from different interests, backgrounds, contexts, nations, etc. 

Dr Herrero reports:

My presentation dealt with the uneven relationship between literature and law, particularly international law. I address one example of Anglo engagement with the figure of the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1492-1546), deemed inspirational “father” of international law in one official beginning, i.e. the Early Modern / colonial European capture of the Americas. Specifically, I take into account the engagements of English novelist Evelyn Waugh, eye-witness of festivities taking place in 1946 in the cities of Madrid and Salamanca, Vitoria and other cities in Spain in honour of the Early Modern / colonial Dominican intellectual.

This presentation provided syntheses of Waugh’s satirical novella Scott-King’s Modern Europe (1947), against his diary entries and elements of his biographical writing, engaging with Vitoria, but also the city of Salamanca, the International Congress of Pax Romana, the Franco Regime in early moments of the Cold War. “Vitoria” is short name for international-law initiatives, war-peace mediations, ideal of imperial self-restraint, worrisome (post-) colonial legacies, Euro-American relations, Catholicism and Protestantism, etc. Waugh’s middlebrow writing in the humorous vein is a peculiar English version of Vitoria. I look into how he did it and the possibly why. He did not know the “Neutralian lingo” and did not think much about a lot of things. Orwell already said something meaningful about this supreme art and lightness of being. I look into Waugh’s satirical humour critically. I gave vignettes. I also alluded to a second figure of importance attending the Salamanca event: JL Brierly (1881-1955), whose own The Law of Nations (first ed. 1928; 6th edition 1963) also includes references to Vitoria. Brierly was the keynote speaker in this XIX World Congress titled Pax Romana (21 June – 4th July 1946).

Crucial issues in these international links: the relations between “law” (the domain of policy, norms, rules and regulations) and “literature” (whether it is the generic social-science way of talking about “anything written,” or the more raw dismissal of the creative and banal, the indecisive or the “fudge”). I am interested in the interrogation of these differences between social sciences and the humanities. My presentation looked into the mechanics of satire, how satire works, how laughter is engaged, whether it wins over the reader, or does not. Scott King’s Modern Europe is slapstick comedy, a crazy romp against any type of pomp and ceremony: think Marx Brothers, add 19th-Century Spanish costumbrista writer, Mariano Jose de Larra, even touches of Berlanga’s famous film, and audacious comedy, Bienvenido Mister Marshall  (1953).

But there are more serious matters that have to do with the painstaking reconstruction of the said XIX Pax Romana, peace initiatives parallel to the establishment of the United Nations. International law is still for us today utopia of what we have not had much ever since Waugh, who did not think much of it. The name “Vitoria” is here excuse, pretext, sign emerging prior, during and after 1946 reaching us today and not only inside democratic Spain (currently the University of Salamanca is celebrating its 800-year existence still honouring Vitoria). My paper broke, I should say, the easy pretzel of the “inside-outside” binary in relation to Spain or Britain or any other nation. These issues are not to be contained by any happy set of national boundaries.

I will continue exploring how the sign “Vitoria” traveled through so many contexts and authors, ideologies and interests. My work will of course include postcolonial criticisms of Vitoria. Finally, I underlined some generalizations about historical links between Britain and Spain within “modern Europa” not yet left behind. Critical references were made to the academic provision of the “languages” (ominous generality) in the contemporary Brexit British context and larger Anglophone world. I am obviously invested in increasing Hispanophone inputs.