Spanish and Portuguese | Topics in Contemporary Spanish American Literature
S678 | 28235 | Professor Patrick Dove

HISP-S 678 Topics in Contemporary Spanish American Literature
(3 credits)

Topic: “The detective genre and the NOVELA NEGRA in Latin America:
literature, skepticism, criminality and the State”

Fall 2010    #28235     9:30A-10:45A    TR     BH 209
Professor Patrick Dove

This course examines the influence of the detective story in 20th
century Latin American literary history. We will take as our point
of departure Jorge Luis Borges’ suggestion that, since Edgar Allen
Poe, modern literature has been shaped by the detective genre in the
sense that its conventions give birth to a new kind of reader, one
who is the bearer of a radical skepticism. Of course, ever since
Plato literature has been associated with the distinction between
truth and appearances, and it has frequently been accused of
blurring of the boundaries between these categories. But, for
Borges, there is something in the figure of 19th century detective—
who perhaps embodies better than anyone our modern faith in reason
and the powers of investigation—that paradoxically shapes our
literary desire and sharpens our doubts concerning appearances? How
should we understand Borges’s claim in conjunction with his
reflections on literary aesthetics and his feelings about modernity
and politics?

Among the key considerations that will guide our readings and
discussions are the following questions: What new aesthetic and
poetic possibilities and parameters are introduced via the literary
codes and formulas of the detective story? In what ways does the
detective story capture or define something essential about modern
life and its ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and so on? Is the
skepticism embodied by the detective the avatar of a widespread
shift in how modern writers approach questions about truth and
appearances, order and criminality, law and lawlessness, innocence
and guilt? If the detective genre originated in the context of more
or less developed countries (19th century US, France and England)
what happens when its characteristic codes, tropes and schemata
are “translated” into the more or less “underdeveloped” region that
is Latin America? To what extent does a consideration of the
importance of detective fiction for Borges’ own literary production
open up new ways of reading contemporary Latin American writers for
whom Borges is recognized as an influence?

Primary readings include literary works by Argentine writers such as
Borges, Bioy Casares, Silvia Ocampo, Juan de Soiza Reilly, Roberto
Arlt, Rodolfo Walsh, Juan José Saer and Ricardo Piglia, as well as
María Elvira Bermúdez (Mexico), Pablo Ignacio Taibo (Mexico),
Leonardo Padura (Cuba), Luis Sepúlveda (Chile), Roberto Bolaño
(extraterritorial) and possibly others.

Secondary readings include short theoretical texts by Montaigne,
Kant, Freud, Benjamin, as well as a close look at the debate between
Lacan and Derrida concerning Poe’s “Purloined Letter”—and at Barbara
Johnson’s brilliant reading of that debate. Some background readings
on key features in the historical evolution of the detective story—
from Poe, Chesterton and Doyle to Hammett, Chandler and others—will
also be provided, including Ernest Mandel’s DELIGHTFUL MURDER, a
social-historical analysis of the detective genre in Europe and
North America.