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In Memoriam
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A Requiem for Lía Schwartz

Posted By RSA, Thursday, June 18, 2020

Written by Adrian Izquierdo, Baruch College, The City University of New York

Lía Schwartz, a prominent Renaissance scholar and Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY), died on May 31, 2020 in New York.

Professor Schwartz was born in Corrientes, Argentina in 1941. She graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in Classical Literature and Spanish Philology in 1965, and then attended the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz to study Classical Literature. Little did she know that she would only come back to her native Argentina as a visitor and that in the next half century she would become a world-renowned early modern scholar, an international authority on the Spanish Golden Age, and an outstanding professor greatly beloved by peers and students alike.

Professor Schwartz’s international education, no small feat for a woman at the time, continued in the US, where she completed her PhD at the University of Illinois under the direction of James O. Crosby. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Francisco de Quevedo (1580–1645), one of the foremost early modern Spanish writers, and an author whose contemporary reception her subsequent research shaped fundamentally. She spent most of her professional career teaching at Fordham University, Dartmouth College and The Graduate Center (CUNY), but she also taught at Princeton University, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Her reputation as a leading scholar in early modern literature radiated to Spain, where she was a visiting professor at the universities of Salamanca, Autónoma de Madrid, Zaragoza, La Coruña, and Menéndez Pelayo. She was regularly invited to lecture at various universities across the US, Europe, and Latin America. For decades she played leadership roles in international organizations including the AIH (International Association of Hispanists), the AISO (International Association of the Spanish Golden Age), and other important professional associations. She was chair and deputy chair of both the AIH and the AISO, and she also chaired the Division on 16th and 17th Century Spanish Prose and Poetry of the MLA. From 2005 to 2012 she was an Associate Editor of Renaissance Quarterly, and in 2007 she was elected to the Executive Board of The Renaissance Society of America.

Professor Schwartz is best known for a series of books and critical essays on Spanish Golden Age writer Francisco de Quevedo, in which she explored, among many other topics, the relationship between Quevedo and the classics, the rhetorical tradition of the Spanish Baroque, Neostoicism, history-writing and the power structures shaping most aspects of intellectual production in the Court of the Hapsburgs, to cite just a few. Her research and publications on the Menippean satire in Early Modern Europe and the connections between satire and moral philosophy, as well as the praxis of imitatio in Quevedo and other Spanish early modern writers, were fundamental to understanding how the classical tradition had been received and revived by the Spanish intellectuals in the early modern period. Besides her research and philological editions of Quevedo’s works, her publications on other Spanish heavyweights were also groundbreaking. Her many articles on Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Góngora, Gracián, and the brothers Argensola attest to the range and depth of her research. Just a brief look at Professor Schwartz’s entries for the Gran Enciclopedia Cervantina suffices to demonstrate the scope of her knowledge: Apuleius, Aristotle, Aquiles Statius, Aristophanes, Ausonius, Boetius, Catullus, Cato, Caesar, Cicero, the Cynics, Demosthenes, Diogenes, Xenophon, Juvenal, Lucian and Ovid—all in relation to Cervantes’ opera.

But all of these, if significant, are widely known facts. I’ll now swerve a little from the conventions of the genre and dwell not only on what she published or where she taught but also on what Professor Schwartz, a beloved professor, mentor and friend, did.

You didn’t know that you wanted to become an early modern scholar before you entered one of Professor Schwartz’s courses. But once you did you were certain that was all you wanted. Genuine erudition has a very powerful appeal, and she won over her students easily with the way she imparted her knowledge. We had been infected with a Rabelaisian thirst for learning, and we would come back for more. It was fairly common to hear CUNY students from all walks of life and countries thanking Professor Schwartz and her late husband, Professor Isaías Lerner, another heavyweight in Renaissance studies, for opening the doors of graduate education to them and changing their lives. Professor Schwartz’s teaching was erudite but accessible, rigorous but not burdensome, and you never felt overwhelmed by her formidable intellect. She considered herself to be, quoting Quevedo’s apprenticeship in Neostoicism, not sapiens but proficiens—a learner—in early modern literature. Her remarks at conferences and talks were master classes on sprezzatura and brainpower, and on many occasions her observations at dissertation defenses were just what was needed to turn a thesis project into a powerful book.

She navigated with confidence the difficult ocean of short-lived critical fashions and trends that would pop up from time to time across campuses, confident that philology as an all-embracing discipline could accommodate them with ease. There was no modern intellectual or critic she didn’t know or had not read. Her graduate seminars displayed an exceptional array of titles and themes, and she offered graduate seminars on Cervantes, Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Góngora, but also on European knights and rogues, love discourses in the Renaissance, Neostoicism and the shaping of the early modern mind, the Humanistic comedia in Spain, Italian and French influences in the Spanish Golden Age, and the European Baroque Imaginary. At the University of Argentina, she had been a student of Jorge Luis Borges, and he was certainly a decisive influence on her career. Professor Schwartz’s course on “Borges and His Precursors,” together with her “Cervantes’s Don Quijote and the Crisis in European Fiction” were among the most popular and sought-after in the Hispanic and the Comparative Literature programs at the Graduate Center.

Neither institutional limitations, nor warnings of the imminent demise of the Humanities, nor failing health could dissuade Professor Schwartz from her commitment to her profession and students. Up until the end she loved being in the classroom, surrounded by her students. She relished directing new thesis projects and enjoyed being in dissertation committees in the USA and abroad. Her door was always open, and her letters of recommendation were always the first to arrive. She brought her students with her to international conferences, where many of us read our first paper with trembling knees but under her encouraging first-row gaze. And she introduced us to all the prominent scholars whose books we had read in awe in order to build connections and keep the profession alive, as she would say. Together with Professor Lerner, she became one of the leading voices of Hispanism in the US. The Graduate Center was turned into a key organizational hub for most Spanish-related events in New York together with the Cervantes Institute, the Queen Sophia Institute, foreign embassies and the Hispanic Society. And their Chelsea home became an extension—and at times an international guesthouse—of that intellectual community they had built from scratch where new book projects were hatched and students’ dissertations celebrated. Professor Schwartz was also instrumental in opening the library of the Hispanic Society, which holds the most important collection of Hispanic manuscripts and books outside of Spain, to scholars and researchers. Many of us benefited from such associations, and many research projects originated from findings in the library of the Hispanic. She was a fierce advocate of the scientific study of literature and a vocal defender of the often-neglected contribution of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain in publications and conferences on early modernity on the US.

Professor Schwartz’s achievements were recognized on many occasions. In 1999 she was awarded the Civil Order Alfonso el Sabio by the Spanish Ministry of Education; in 2013 the Spanish King and Government awarded her the Medal of the Order of Civil Merit; and in 2016 she was elected a Corresponding Member of the Real Academia Española. Last year, the University of La Coruña, and the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid joined forces with the Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies (New York) and the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute (New York) to edit a volume that pays homage to Professor Schwart’s international career and outstanding accomplishments. The transatlantic endeavor of the Spanish and American institutions, combined with the significant range of the contributions to the volume, mirrors the broad variety of Professor Schwartz’s scholarly interests and achievements. Docta y sabia Atenea. Studia in Honorem Lía Schwartz was launched at the Cervantes Institute of New York in front of a grateful and appreciative crowd of former students—many now renowned scholars in their own right—and friends.

In the end, Professor Schwartz left behind countless generations of proficiens whom she helped to go on to successful careers, live fuller lives, and carry on her legacy. In doing so, she produced her biggest achievement and her lasting testament: non omnis moriar.

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