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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 identity, power, history 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’ (in 2024 these will be: the colonial chronicle, the slave (auto-)biography, the national romance, indigenismo in its written and visual articulation, the diary, and the urban chronicle), and focuses on the transhistorical dialogue established between them as they engage with significant moments in Latin American history (conquest, nation- and state-formation, abolition, revolution and urbanization). This pairing of contemporary and historical narratives – from the late twentieth century and from the colonial and Independence periods – invites multi-faceted reflection on the changing relationship between literature and history over time and aims to build up a systematic interrogation of the fetish of ‘the contemporary’ that determines much current literary inquiry. The primary texts covered in 2024 will be:

1.    The colonial chronicle: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios (1555) and Juan José Saer, El entenado (1983).  (Rory O’Bryen / Stephanie Rohner) 
2.    The slave (auto)biography: Francisco Manzano, Autobiografía de un esclavo (1835/1840), and Miguel Barnet, Biografía de un cimarrón (1966). (Rory O’Bryen / Carlos Fonseca) 
3.    Worlding the national romance: excerpts from Jorge Isaacs, María (1867) and Adelaida Fernández Ochoa, Afuera crece un mundo (2018). (Rory O’Bryen / Liesbeth François)
4.    Indigenismo: Clorinda Matto de Turner, Aves sin nido (1889) and photographs by Martín Chambi (Stephanie Rohner / Rory O’Bryen) 
5.    The Diary: excerpts from José María Arguedas, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (1971), and Ricardo Piglia, Los diarios de Emilio Renzi: Años de de Formación (2015) (Carlos Fonseca/Rory O’Bryen) 
6.    The urban chronicle: Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, selected crónicas and Carlos Monsiváis, Los rituales del caos (Liesbeth François/ Rory O’Bryen)

Student papers: please keep these between 10 and 15 minutes if possible, so as to guarantee lots of time for group discussion.

Preliminary Reading
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).

Secondary readings will be provided in advance of the seminars.

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