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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


SP LA Literature: Present Pasts, Pasts Present: Reflections on Literature and History in Latin American writing

SP LA Literature: Present Pasts, Pasts Present: Reflections on Literature and History in Latin American writing

Course convenors:  Dr Rory O’Bryen (, Section of Spanish & Portuguese

In this course, we look at foundational issues surrounding race, sexuality, power and representation as they are addressed and reworked over time within key literary genres in Latin American writing. Each session takes two texts broadly pertaining to a single ‘genre’ (the picaresque, the chronicle, the slave narrative, the sentimental romance, the indigenist novel, autobiography and the epic) and focuses on the transhistorical dialogue established between them as they engage with significant moments in Latin American history  (conquest, nation-formation, abolition, revolution, urbanization and war). This pairing of ‘contemporary’ and ‘historical’ narratives – from the late twentieth century and from the colonial and Independence periods – aims to facilitate multi-faceted reflection on the changing relationship between literature and history over time, and to build up a systematic interrogation of the fetish of ‘the contemporary’ that currently determines much current literary inquiry. The primary texts covered in each session are shown below.
Please note that there is a maximum capacity for this module of 10 students.  It is shared with students taking the MPhil in Latin American Studies. Priority will be given to students who have degree-level Spanish or Portuguese and who are writing a dissertation in a directly related field, but even if these requirements are fulfilled, it does not guarantee a place in cases where the module is highly over-subscribed.  Non-enrolled students will not be permitted to ‘audit’ (observe) sessions due to constraints on the module.

1.    The chronicle: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios (1555) and Juan José Saer, El entenado (1983).  (BE)
2.    The national romance: Jorge Isaacs, María (1867) and Adelaida Fernández Ochoa, Afuera crece un mundo (2018). (RO)
3.    The slave (auto)biography: Francisco Manzano, Autobiografía de un esclavo (1835/1840), and Miguel Barnet, Biografía de un cimarrón (1966). (RO)
4.    The indigenista narrative: Clorinda Matto de Turner, Aves sin nido (1889) and Elizabeth Burgos-Debray, Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (1983). (BE)     
5.    The picaresque: Francisco de Lizardi, Don Catrín de la Fachenda (1832) and Luís Zapata, El vampiro de la colonia Roma (1979). (BE)
6.    War and the epic: Mariano Azuela (1915), Los de abajo and Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, Los pichiciegos (1983). (RO)

Students must read *all* of the primary texts before attending seminars. 
Good introductory works for those who do not have a foundation in Latin American literature include Jean Franco’s Introduction to Latin American Literature (1969), Angel Rama’s La ciudad letrada (1984), Gerald Martin’s Journeys Through the Labyrinth (1989), and Doris Sommer, Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (1991). Short supplementary critical bibliographies will be provided for each of the seminars at a later date.

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