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Like a Condemned Sacred Fire: Transnational Capital and Reading as Recovery and Erasure

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Abstract

This essay charts a literary voyage that begins in Istanbul in 1933 with Agatha Christie’s novel of that year, Murder on the Orient Express and ends with its 2000 Bolivian spinoff, Juan de Recacoechea’s Altiplano Express, in La Paz. In the commerce of imaginaries between these texts the places of provenance and arrival anchor the cartography of transnational capital. Over the course of this voyage, notions of revealed knowledge warp into ideas of simulacra, the United States devolves from being figured as an innocent child by Christie to signifying for Recacoechea a devouring siren, and the euphoric transnationalism of the interwar years mutates into an emasculated nationalism drained of its affective, economic and libidinal energies. Contemporary debates on world literature and Giorgio Agamben’s notion of bare life and sovereign power, Gramsci’ formulation of hegemony along with the Bolivian sociologist Rene Zavaleta’s insights frame the discussion of the two novels. The paper demonstrates that in rewriting Murder on the Orient Express as a Bolivian text, Recacoechea articulates the relationship between metropolitan literature and national identity as a paradox. If global capital enables metropolitan literatures to reach the peripheries, then these master texts also ease the passage of capital through these territories by creating fractured subjectivities. Yet, in articulating this critique as a series of readings, Recacoechea also foregrounds reading the metropolitan texts as an agentive practice undertaken by the peripheries.

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