Muslim and Christian rule in Spain Discussion

History in All This? Poetry, Literature & Film

The main intention of the assignment at hand is to propose a film that bridges some of the texts I find intriguing with my own family history. “The Passion of Joshua the Jew” coincides with my Jewish and Spanish heritage. Joshua was on of the many Spanish Jews forced into exile from the country just before the turn of the 16th century. My ancestors were additionally a part of this group. The two texts from the course upon which my proposal will focus are Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop and Speak, Memory by Vladamir Nabokov. Based on the family history I could secure through some independent research, the film I propose to study and analysis in conjunctions to these texts is “The Passion of Joshua the Jew.” (La passione de Giosue l’Ebreo, 2005) This specific text of Bishop’s was her final piece; the piece by Nabokov was an autobiographical piece written towards the end of his life as well. While these authors are well-known for others works, Geography III and Speak, Memory, are distinctive in their bodies of work, specifically as the content of these texts are about identity and personal history. Nabokov is notorious for writing about memory — especially how memory is connected to objects as well as spaces. Bishop moved around a great deal as part of her childhood and adolescence mainly because of family instability. As she grew into adulthood, she has opportunities to travel the world. Furthermore, she was a woman poet, which is a difficult position to occupy; thus she has a very dynamic understanding of external and internal geography. Geography as well as culture are key factors in my lineage. These connections to geography and history (personal and world) are what I plan to focus upon for this assignment.

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My mother’s ancestors were Spanish Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492?. They and other Jews were expelled because of their adamant refusal to convert to Christianity. Previously, my ancestors were under Muslim and Christian rule in Spain. Later, King Ferdinand, who took over the government, forced both the Muslims and the Jews out of Spain so as to convert to the people of the country to Catholicism. Thus, my ancestors were faced with the choice of converting to Christianity or leaving Spain, their homeland. The Spanish Jews who chose to leave Spain mostly dispersed across other European countries, as well as across the Ottoman Empire. My mother’s ancestors were the fortunate ones in so far as they were those who managed in escaping to Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Sultan extended a friendly welcome to the Spanish Jews who wound up in Turkey. Those from the Jewish community who were compelled to leave in 1492’s Inquisition, Sefarad, which is the Hebrew name for Spain.

“The Passion of Joshua the Jew” takes place in the year 1492, in Spain. 1492 is the year of Joshua’s birth. It is the same year, as aforementioned, that all the Jews and Muslims were ordered to leave the country. One of the elders among those in forced religious exile, names young Joshua as the next messiah of the people. Eventually, Joshua and his family land and settle in Italy. As Joshua grows into manhood, his curiosity regarding Catholicism as it relates to his people’s history, grows and grows. The religious leaders of his local area do not approve of Joshua’s continuing curiosity; they view it and him and dangerous. The film has strong themes of cultural diversity and religious tolerance. More than just about those issues, the film endeavors to understand the nature and the roots of prejudice and intolerance as it relates to this specific group, which was a part of the group of people to whom I can directly trace my own personal history.

In the 21st century, we still live in a world full of prejudice and intolerance. Speaking of the United States, for example, since 9/11, there has been an increased in intolerance regarding Muslims. This prejudice toward Muslims has also sparked increased intolerance for Christian people, as Christianity is the dominant religion in America and is the religion most often associated with American culture. 1492 is also the fabled year with the Spanish armada arrived on the shores of what we know now as the United States of America. Therefore this film is a strong choice as it is an intersection of the history of the country and the history of my family.

How we remember our world, national, and personal history is often closely related to the geography and nature of the spaces wherein we lived and migrated to. These are the connections that I see among the texts by Nabokov, Bishop, and “The Passion of Joshua the Jew.” These issues from history continue to persist and manifest themselves in modern societies. The events of history directly shape and influence everyday experience of the modern day. These connections are essential to my rationale to propose this film in relation to these texts for the class to view and consider together. The texts from class are very challenging and very artistic. It is amazing that these authors are able to communicate such intangible feelings and experiences with words so poetically.

…critics have long described her as a writer who practices “restraint” (in the sense that her work is concerned almost as much with what it conceals as it is with what it reveals), and it certainly is the case that may of her poems feel distant, emotionally, from the reader’s immediate presence…Bishop frequently features poetic subjects that do not or cannot fit in to their environments in some peculiar way. (McAlpine, 333, 2013)

Bishop, for example, is able to connect with emotion and experience without directly naming or speaking to it. Just as my ancestors, and Joshua from the film, Bishop’s poetry implies a subject that does not fit in, or feels forced into exile from the majority. As for Nabokov, Petit contends:

What makes this final title particularly interesting, though, is that the deliberate inscription of Nabokov’s project into a specific literary tradition, that of “autobiography” …also corresponds to the inclusion, for the very first time, of photographs in a text which, until then, was made up of words only. It thus seems that Nabokov, in this final version, is not just revisiting an earlier text, but revisiting a whole literary genre, so as to produce, through this combination of autobiography and photographs… (2012)

Nabokov, in his later years, began to bridge words, images, and many different types of text through Speak, Memory. I want to compare this film with these texts as a way to stretch our minds and to develop an appreciation or sophistication for cinema that is firmly grounded in history, culture, and literature. Many films in the present day have popular culture value, yet they lack the sophistication, subtlety, and depth of films that are as carefully crafted as poetry and literature.

The intended audience for this proposal and the film viewing are my classmates and peers. My professor will also be a part of the intended audience. On a broader scale, my audiences are those who analyze literature as well as those who may be media theorists. Connections among media forms are prevalent and the sites for vibrant analysis and discussion. Those who conduct see the connections across texts are additionally a part of my intended audience.


Bishop, Elizabeth. Geography III. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

McAlpine, Erica Levy. “Elizabeth Bishop and the Aesthetic Uses of Defense.” Literary Imagination, 14.3 (2012): 333-350.

Nabokov, Vladamir. Speak, Memoryu. New York: First Vintage International Edition, 1989.


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