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The Alter-Worlds of Lispector and Saer and the End(s) of Latin American Literature

  • Author(s): Lehman, Peter James
  • Advisor(s): Johnson, Randal John
  • McClure, Kirstie M
  • et al.

My dissertation seeks to intervene in current debates about both comparative perspectives within Latin American literatures and the place of Latin America within new models of world literature. Despite the importance of this call to a more planetary approach to literature, the turn to a world scope often recapitulates problems associated with the nineteenth century emergence of the term "world literature": local concerns and traditions dissolve into the search for general patterns or persistent dependencies. If these new comparative models tend to separate the local from the construction of literature's "world," significant strains of Latin Americanist criticism have also sought to distance the local from literature and the literary, often identifying the latter alternatively with either the collapse of previous emancipatory dreams or a complicity with power and domination. Focusing on two pairs of narrative texts by the Brazilian Clarice Lispector and the Argentine Juan José Saer, I argue for a more contested notion of the literary and of the world.

Lispector's and Saer's narrative texts intertwine the literary construction of their worlds with local forms of alterity and otherness. Despite the differences between Saer's attention to an apparently more circumscribed local world in the littoral zone of Santa, Fe, Argentina, and Lispector's more seemingly abstract flights from place, their writing nonetheless meets in common spaces and experiences that have little to do with either a recognizably "Latin American" aesthetics or the generality of a world model free from contradiction, suffering, and the traces of history. In part one, on Lispector's A paixão segundo G.H. (1964) and A hora da estrela (1977), and part two on Saer's El entenado (1983) and El río sin orillas (1990), I explore the different ways that their writing represents, or contains, the possibility of altering the world and selves in literature. While the dictatorship period negatively inflects both A hora da estrela and El entenado, I argue that the inscription of their literary worlds into local, national, and regional traditions becomes a resource for more subtle connections between the texts and the periods, calling into question the attempts to make literature tell a story of either collapse or hope at the end of the last century.

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