Is the Past a Foreign Country?: Time, Language Origins, and the Nation in Early Modern Spain

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Abstract

Theorists such as Benedict Anderson have associated the development of a historicized sense of time, in contrast to an atemporal messianic time, with epochal social changes, in particular the emergence of the nation. This article discovers the two contrasting senses of time in a 17th-century controversy over the origin of the Spanish language. The competing views of the past in the Spanish debate underpinned different visions not only of language but of humanity, progress, and nation. Anderson's claims about historicism and the origin of the nation construct are reconsidered in light of this case. It is argued that, pace Anderson, national consciousness was present in early modern Spain, and it rested on messianic as much as historicized time.

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