The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature

This work examines four Latin American writers - Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Cesar Vallejo, and Ricardo Piglia - in the context of their respective national cultural traditions. The author proposes that a consideration of tragedy affords new ways of understanding the relation between literature and the modern Latin American nation-state. As an interpretive index, this tragic attunement sheds new light on both the foundational works of modern Latin American literature and the counter-foundational literary critiques of modernization and nation-building. Topics include Borges's short story El Sur in relation to the Argentine civilization and barbarism debate, Juan Rulfo's novella Pedro Paramo in the context of post-revolutionary reflection on national identity in Mexico, and the lyric poetry of Cesar Vellajo's Trilce. The reading is based on a juxtaposition of aporetically incompatible terms: mourning, the avant-garde, and Andean indigenism or messianism. The final section of the book investigates two novels by Ricardo Piglia, Respiracion artificial and La ciudad ausente, in the dual context of dictatorship and the market. Piglia's writing both echoes and marks a limit for tragedy as an interpretive paradigm. Patrick Dove is Visiting Professor of Spanish at St. Mary's College of Maryland.