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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


SP LA Literature: Power and Conflict in Latin American Literature

The focus of this seminar is on the literary culture and its historic proximity to structures of power in Latin America. The topics studied are diverse, but what unites them is a desire to work through some of the different ways in which identity, statehood, power, and their contestation and reworking, have been articulated through practices of writing, broadly understood. 

We begin with a study of the critical impasses generated in the mutual representation and misrepresentation of indigenous by criollo writers (and vice-versa), at the unstable status of ‘the book’ and of writing in general in the Americas, and at competing understandings of writing and of literacy. We then look at the ways in which foundational romantic texts, with their effort to “suture” societies fragmented along lines of class, gender, race, sexuality and region, were challenged by divergent popular writing cultures, and do so through the specific case of the afro-Colombian autodidact, poet and translator, Candelario Obeso. Following this, there will be an opportunity to engage with the work of the politically very different afro-Brazilian writer, Machado de Assis, particularly as his work has generated reflection on the nature Brazil’s relationship with Europe, on the schizoid nature of liberal thinking in the period, and on slavery’s foundational role in the construction of the nation in Latin America it general. Following these seminars, there will be three seminars that focus on more recent works. In the first of these we explore works by the Mexican author Jorge Volpi, a figure of the ‘CRACK’ generation, particularly as his texts ask us to rethink the relationship between the state, capital and the law in a neo-liberal epoch. Then, we return to texts written in early and mid-twentieth-century Mexico and Brazil as they lay the foundations, as semi-journalistic works, for a later testimonial writing tradition that links writing with resistance to state power, and that seeks to re-anchor literary culture from subaltern perspectives. In the final seminar, we look at the ways in which contemporary writers from Central America – often overlooked in Latin American literature courses! – have reworked the ‘testimonio’ genre, which emerged in the context of military dictatorship and effective genocide, in order to deal with the rise of crime in the post-Cold War period.  

Texts are drawn from across the region - including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador - and include a wide range of genres. Our study of them will lead us to consider key intellectual and cultural shifts in Latin America, and to explore the usefulness of a number of theoretical and critical paradigms, originating in Latin America, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

A good reading knowledge of Spanish is a prerequisite for the course, since all texts, some of them very complex, are read in Spanish. Students are expected already to have a base in the study of Latin American literature. Those who have not, but who do have a good reading knowledge of Spanish, may still take the course, but would be expected to attend various lectures and seminars on Latin American literature to fill gaps in their knowledge. 

The course is taught by staff from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Centre of Latin American Studies, and is co-ordinated by Dr Rory O'Bryen. Teaching takes the form of open-discussion seminars at which students are expected to present short papers. Students are also encouraged to attend lectures on Latin American culture given by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

See for further information including key issues and texts.

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