Arthur Wotton, who is currently studying for an MSt in Spanish at The Queen’s College, is writing a dissertation on the Latin American dictator novel. In this post he shares some insights into this enthralling literary genre.
Latin American literature is among the most popular and rewarding options offered as part of a Spanish degree at Oxford. Students have the opportunity to study a diverse and fascinating corpus of literature, and to explore the innovative styles of writing that authors developed in order to respond to the social, cultural and political landscapes of Latin America. Household names such as García Márquez, Borges and Neruda feature on the reading list, as do huge range of literary movements from the 1800s to the present.
One of Latin America’s most interesting and influential literary traditions reflects a political reality that has been ever-present since independence: dictatorship. A long lineage of caudillos, or strongmen, have loomed large in Latin American politics for centuries: repressive and often brutal figures such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, who ordered that churches display signs reading ‘Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra’ (‘God in heaven, Trujillo on Earth’)!
The dictator novel, or novela del dictador, emerged as a result of writers seeking to challenge, satirise, or come to terms with the impact of dictatorship through representing it in fiction, and the genre came to be one of the most influential and important in all of Latin American literature, involving many of its most famous names. Not only do they focus on political machinations and repression, but in depicting visions of authoritarian societies they tackle a huge variety of themes, including historical memory, appearance and reality, the importance of language, and gender roles.
Here’s a brief look at some key dictator novels:
Miguel Ángel Asturias’s El Señor Presidente (completed 1933, published 1946) is a disturbing and experimental novel, loosely based on the Estrada Cabrera regime in Guatemala. Asturias presents a terrifying society governed by whispers and rumours, where dictatorship permeates all aspects of life: he talks of how ‘una red de hilos invisibles, más invisibles que los hilos de telégrafo, comunicaba cada hoja con el Señor Presidente, atento a lo que pasaba en las vísceras más secretas de los ciudadanos’ (‘a web of invisible threads, more invisible than telegraph wires, connected every single leaf with the President, who was aware of what was going on in the citizens’ innermost entrails’). Everyone, from the raving despot to the capital’s homeless, is caught up in this web of oppression, which is juxtaposed with mundane daily life: prisoners are interrogated while jubilant street parties take place outside, and citizens go about their morning chores as the daughter of an exiled colonel frantically searches for her family.
While Asturias’s dictator is only seen briefly, Gabriel García Márquez delves into the mind of the ruler of an unidentified Caribbean country in El otoño del patriarca (1975). García Márquez uses lots of magical realist descriptions in this novel, which seems to go in circles as the dictator’s ‘dead body’ is repeatedly found in the crumbling ruins of his palace. This gives the book a rather timeless quality, and its rambling sentences, which occasionally take up whole pages, make us think about language and who controls it – just like in Augusto Roa Bastos’s monumental Yo el Supremo (1974), an extravagant and complicated work made up of an interlocking series of conversations and footnotes in which language and writing are central.
Memory, history and how we approach them are also prevalent themes in the novel of dictatorship. The question of how people can come to terms with the past after the fall of dictators is explored by Mario Vargas Llosa in Conversación en la Catedral (1969) and La fiesta del Chivo (2000 – a staple of the Oxford first-year reading list). These ground-breaking novels alternate between present-day events and characters’ recollections as their protagonists confront the past. In Conversación en la Catedral, Santiago has a lengthy and revelatory conversation with an old acquaintance in a seedy bar in Lima, while La fiesta del Chivo interweaves Urania’s return to the Dominican Republic with storylines explaining Trujillo’s assassination. Vargas Llosa not only presents a comprehensive picture of societies under dictatorship, but also uses large casts of characters to show how different opinions on these regimes come into being.
At turns comedic, unsettling and mesmerising, dictator novels combine vibrant storytelling with a huge range of interesting themes that are bound up in their depiction of autocracies. Hard-hitting and satirical, they are extremely thought-provoking, and it’s fascinating to consider the resonance they still have today. The relationship between executive power and the media has come into sharp focus recently, as have generational political divides like those we see opening up in Vargas Llosa’s novels as family members hold starkly different perceptions of events that took place.
How might El Señor Presidente’s regime operate in an age of social media, when we share so much about ourselves online? And how would we react upon finding out that one of our world leaders had suddenly been transfigured into an enormous parrot made out of words – or tweets? – like Jorge Zalamea’s Gran Burundún-Burundá?
The dictator novel is a rich and powerful genre of Latin American fiction, and is a great starting point for anyone interested in getting into Spanish-language literature. Some of the longer texts described above can be somewhat daunting, so here are some more accessible recommendations:
Tirano Banderas by Valle-Inclán: perhaps the first true dictator novel, Spanish writer Ramón del Valle-Inclán depicts the ways in which a menacing ruler attempts to crush a revolt and maintain his grip on power.
El gran Burundún-Burundá ha muerto by Jorge Zalamea: a highly underrated but fascinating ‘poem in prose’ about the funeral of a dictator who had banned the use of language itself!
Conversación al sur by Marta Traba: two women reunite after many years and reminisce about their time standing against the Argentinian dictatorship as part of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement.
On Tuesday 12 January 2021 the Faculty hosted our first virtual literature masterclass for sixth-form students. The event usually takes place in Oxford each January but, as with most things this academic year, it has been necessary to move it online. We were joined by around 80 Year 12 and 13 students from nine different schools; colleagues led eleven parallel workshop sessions, each focusing on a different set text from the French, Spanish, or German A level curriculum. Participants were able to get a flavour of how tutorial teaching works, and to get to grips with some in-depth literary analysis. The virtual format enables us to broaden our geographical reach, and we hope to be able to offer similar sessions to more schools over the course of the year.
We’ve also begun producing a series of short videos focusing on particular literary techniques. You can find these over on our YouTube channel, on the playlist titled ‘Literary Masterclass for Sixth-Formers’. To date we have videos for French on ‘Perspective’, ‘Theatricality’, ‘Time and Tense’, and ‘Lexis and Imagery’, and a video for German on ‘Perspective’. Over time we hope to add more to the collection, with videos for Spanish learners as well as more for those studying German. Do subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive a notification when we upload a new video!
Episode 7 of the Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast is now available to listen to here. This episode features Daniela Omlor, Associate Professor in Modern Spanish Literature, talking about the novel Nada, by Carmen Laforet.
You can listen to other episodes in the podcast series here.
Episode 6 of the Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast, the second episode of the second series, is now available to listen to. This episode features Jonathan Thacker (King Alfonso XIII Professor of Spanish Studies) speaking about two short stories by Miguel de Cervantes, Novela del casamiento engañoso and El coloquio de los perros. Listen to other episodes in the podcast series here.
Episode 5 of the Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast, the first episode of the second series, is now available to listen to. This episode features Laura Lonsdale (Associate Professor in Modern Spanish Literature) speaking about Bodas de sangre, by Federico García Lorca. As in previous episodes, the first part of the discussion covers the historical and literary context of the work, as well as some more detailed questions about the text itself. The second part of the episode focuses in on a close reading of an extract from Lorca’s play. Listen to other episodes in the podcast series here.
Oxford first-year Spanish students have taken the opportunity to respond creatively through the visual arts and creative writing to some of the literary works they had studied earlier in the year, or works they plan to study next year. We saw one project last week. Here are samples from three more.
Josh Aruliah (Spanish and Linguistics, Keble College)
“This drawing depicts my interpretation of Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’, which is a hypothetical library that consists of an indefinite number of identical hexagonal galleries and contains every possible book that could be written (up to a certain length). I featured illusions, drawing inspiration from the work of Dutch artist M. C. Escher, to convey the impossible and bewildering nature of the library; the staircase and the railings are inconsistent and demonstrate the lack of a fixed direction of gravity. It is not a literal depiction of the library as I aimed instead to portray the perplexing experience of trying to visualise Borges’s fascinating creation. The short story reveals that almost all of the books contain complete gibberish and, therefore, the librarians seem to be condemned to an eternal and vain search for meaning. There is little distinction between the books and galleries in the drawing, with the upper gallery perhaps giving the impression of a reflection, which demonstrates this idea of endless futility.”
Darcie Dorkins (History and Spanish, Exeter College)
“I chose to paint Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, one of the most important figures of Spanish colonial literature, whose works were widely acclaimed during her lifetime and continue to be celebrated today. I was inspired to visually explore the conflicting notions of restriction and freedom in Sor Juana’s life which stemmed from her overlapping roles as a nun, woman, and outstanding writer, with a particular focus on one of her most widely read poems, ‘Hombres necios’. Thought to have been written in around 1680, I felt that the poem was a valuable representation of the precarious space she occupied between contemporary religious, intellectual and literary spheres in both her native Mexico and in Spain, where her works were also popular. To this end, I aimed to incorporate various symbolic elements within the piece: Sor Juana herself, as the subject of many striking portraits; the visual prominence of religion, a defining feature of her life with considerable implications for her literary career; and a book, to represent her extensive learning. I also included a mirror, as in ‘Hombres necios’ Sor Juana symbolically confronts men with the realities of their irrational and impossible standards for women, along with birds and an open cage to reflect the issues of restriction and liberation in her life.”
Darcie also translated the closing lines of Sor Juana’s Primero sueño (First Dream), a notoriously complex and linguistically rich poem:
Llegó, en efecto, el sol cerrando el giro
que esculpió de oro sobre azul zafiro.
De mil multiplicados
mil veces puntos, flujos mil dorados,
líneas, digo, de luz clara, salían
de su circunferencia luminosa,
pautando al cielo la cerúlea plana;
y a la que antes funesta fue tirana
de su imperio, atropadas embestían:
que sin concierto huyendo presurosa,
en sus mismos horrores tropezando
su sombra iba pisando,
y llegar al ocaso pretendía
con el sin orden ya, desbaratado
ejército de sombras, acosado
de la luz que el alcance le seguía.
Consiguió, al fin, la vista del ocaso
el fugitivo paso,
y en su mismo despeño recobrada,
esforzando el aliento en la ruïna,
en la mitad del globo que ha dejado
el sol desamparada,
segunda vez rebelde, determina
mientras nuestro hemisferio la dorada
ilustraba del sol madeja hermosa,
que con luz judiciosa
de orden distributivo, repartiendo
a las cosas visibles sus colores
iba, y restituyendo
entera a los sentidos exteriores
su operación, quedando a luz más cierta
el mundo iluminado, y yo despierta.
And sure enough, the Sun arrived, sealing the orbit
With the cancellation of first-year exams in Oxford earlier this summer, several students took the opportunity to respond creatively through the visual arts and creative writing to some of the literary works they had studied earlier in the year, or works they plan to study next year. Their projects included a Lorca play turned into a short story, a García Márquez short story turned into a play, and an election campaign poster for Coronel Aureliano Buendía.
Here, and in next week’s post, are samples from four projects, all under the direction of Dr Imogen Choi:
Imogen Lewis (French and Spanish, Exeter College)
“For my final creative piece of the first year I decided to focus on Golden Age poetry (specifically sonnets), and its presentation of the much-idealised Petrarchan Woman. I studied the works of three of the best-known Spanish poets: Góngora, Quevedo, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. While the ‘conceptismo’ aspect of these poems is easily captured in a painting (i.e. one can easily picture and reproduce a woman’s ‘pearly white teeth’ or ‘alabaster’ neck), it is the notorious ‘culteranismo’ aspect (the essence of marked opposition and play-on-words) that is much harder to depict. While Góngora captures the quintessential “cabellos de oro” of the Petrarchan woman, Quevedo ponders the “figura de la hermosura pasada”, and Sor Juana even begins to question identity and the representation of idealised beauty through the figures of painting and “retratos”. On the left two thirds of the piece stands the idealised, beguiling Petrarchan woman, but as the eye naturally moves from left to right we see what is really hidden behind the appearance of these poems – latent decay and and cynicism about age and beauty.”
Costanza Levy (Exeter College)
Eyes of a Blue Dog is a short play in English. It is an adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s short story, Ojos de perro azul, which narrates the relationship between a man and a woman who only meet in their dreams. The ambiguous narrative explores death, desire and the passing of time through the lens of a dreamworld. This theatrical adaptation uses dialogue, a stark set design, blue lighting and the music Charvela Vargas to evoke the central themes of Márquez’s modernist work.
Eyes of a Blue Dog
‘La llorona’ by Charvela Vargas fades in.
A deep blue light fills the stage.
‘He’ is standing to the left of the bed. ‘She’ is sitting on the edge of the bed. She looks at him, perplexed. He stares back at her for some time.
‘La Llorona’ fades out at 1 minute 24 seconds.
He They’re so bright.
He Your eyes. They’re so bright. And blue. Grey-blue. Ash-blue.
She I’ve been told that before.
He Like a blue dog. The eyes of a blue dog.
The light flickers, then it is dark, except for the candle. ‘He’ lights a cigarette. A harsh white light shines on ‘She’. She is still. There is the sound of fire burning.
He You’re like a statue. Like some copper statue I’d find in a museum.
He walks around her.
But I recognise you. I’ve seen you before. Who are you?
She I wish I could remember where I’ve gone looking for you.
He Me too. In some part of the world, ‘eyes of a blue dog’ is scrawled over all the walls, over all the floors, posted through all the letterboxes.
Every night, I tell myself, tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll remember this, and you’ll know how to find her. Then every morning, I wake up, and it’s all gone.
‘He’ lights a cigarette.
I wish there was something. Something that gave us some sort of idea.
The light flickers.
A white light shines on ‘She’. She shivers. The shiver becomes a shudder. There is the sound of fire burning. She crumples to the floor.
It is dark, except for the candle and the cigarette.
Now available online is a series of podcast episodes featuring members of the Spanish sub-Faculty talking about some of the works that we teach at Oxford, produced and presented by one of our own Modern Languages graduates, Christy Callaway-Gale.
The series is aimed at people thinking about applying for Modern Languages at university, their teachers, and also the wider public. We hope to share our fascination with literature in Spanish, to explain why we love teaching it, and why we think you might love it too.
Each episode features a different member of the Spanish sub-Faculty talking about a work of literature from their area of expertise. The format is quite informal, more a relaxed interview than a lecture. As studying Spanish at Oxford involves looking at literary texts in a lot of detail, each podcast episode also includes a segment where tutors perform a close reading of the text (or extract of the text) they’ve been speaking about. We hope this will de-mystify the literature we teach on the course and, if you’re interested in applying for Modern Languages at university, that it will give you a sense of what it might be like to study Spanish at Oxford.
In the first four episodes, we travel from the medieval period to the twentieth-century. Geraldine Hazbun talks about the beautiful and moving poem, Coplas por la muerte de su padre by Jorge Manrique. Oliver Noble Wood introduces listeners to a classic of early-modern picaresque fiction, Lazarillo de Tormes. Moving to Latin America, María del Pilar Blanco gives an insight into the writing of the Mexican Revolution, with Nellie Campobello’s Cartucho. Finally, Dominic Moran talks about Julio Cortázar’s expertly crafted, highly deceptive short story “Continuidad de los parques.”
Future episodes, we hope, will feature Spanish-Peninsular literature, as well as more texts from the medieval and early modern (Golden Age) periods.
Last week, we brought you part 1 of an interview with Dr Analía Gerbaudo, who was Global South Visiting Fellow at Oxford last term. Today, our undergraduates Stephanie and Sarah bring you the concluding part of this interview, which covers Dr Gerbaudo’s experience founding a literary magazineand an insight into her own writing.
SL & SW: En 2014, usted fundó la revista literaria El Taco en la Brea, además de ser la directora de la editorial Vera cartonera. ¿Qué la inspiró a fundar una revista literaria? ¿Qué desafíos enfrentó al fundar la revista y qué desafíos sigue enfrentando al ser la directora de una editorial?
AG: Mis fantasías de intervención son pretenciosas. Porque sé que es imposible, me encantaría que nuestra revista tuviera el impacto que tuvo en el campo intelectual argentino Punto de vista. Sé que es absolutamente imposible que una revista universitaria tenga el alcance y la llegada que esa revista cultural tuvo en Argentina, en Latinoamérica y más allá, entre 1978 y 2008. Siendo un poco más realista, y en un orden más “nano”, me interesa que los resultados de investigación realizados con fondos públicos puedan ponerse a disposición en una revista on line, de calidad y con acceso abierto para todo aquel que necesite utilizarlo. La editorial cartonera también se mueve en una tensión entre lo pensable y lo posible, tanto en términos de producción como de circulación y consumo: se intenta contribuir a generar nuevos lectores porque se apuesta a la lectura como una de las vías privilegiadas en la construcción de agencia política. Se intenta, entonces, acercar un bien simbólico de calidad a bajo precio: el libro es un objeto suntuoso incluso para un amplio sector de la clase media baja argentina y de nuestro estudiantado universitario, aun cuando la carrera elegida haya sido letras (recordemos que las carreras de grado universitario en Argentina son gratuitas: a ellas acceden estudiantes de ingresos económicos diversos). Y como en el caso de la revista, nuestras fantasías de intervención también tienen un ángulo desmesurado y delirante: estamos trabajando en una página Web para colgar todos nuestros libros cartoneros en acceso abierto. Intentamos con esto generar una circulación que vaya más allá de Argentina. Intentamos generar una circulación que contribuya a incidir en la configuración de la Word literature. Nuestros desafíos son los que atraviesa cualquier espacio institucionalizado en un país inestable como Argentina, con políticas públicas variables. Es decir, nuestros desafíos son poder sostener la calidad a pesar de la falta de financiamiento. Parece una tontería pero tener dinero para invertir en un buen diseño o para algo básico como comprar el papel (en el caso de la cartonera) no son cosas aseguradas. Como Sapiro muestra en sus análisis de la producción literaria bajo la ocupación alemana, el acceso al papel era un problema. En Argentina, el acceso al papel fue un problema no sólo bajo los regímenes dictatoriales. Este es un ejemplo, entre otros. Podríamos analizar con detalle qué relación hay entre, otra vez, activismo y trabajo intelectual en países periféricos como Argentina, Chile, Brasil, Bolivia, constantemente jaqueados por diferentes formas de violencia estatal dados los vaivenes entre ciclos expansionistas de derechos y posdictaduras.
SL & SW: In 2014, you founded the literary magazine El Taco en la Brea, in addition to being the director of the publishing house Vera cartonera. What inspired you to found a literary magazine? What challenges did you face in founding the magazine, and what do you continue to face in being the director of a publishing house?
AG: My “fantasias de intervención” are ambitious.Although I know it is impossible, I would love for our magazine to have the same impact as the cultural magazine Punto de vista did on the Argentinian intellectual scene. But I know that it is absolutely impossible for a university magazine to have the same reach and reception that Punto de vista had in Argentina, in Latin America and beyond, between 1978 and 2008. When I’m being a bit more realistic, and on a smaller, more “nano” scale, I want the research results carried out with public funds to be made available in a quality, online magazine, with open access for anyone who needs to use it. The cartonera publishing house also shifts in a tension between what is conceived and what is possible, as much in terms of production as circulation and consumption. It aims to generate new readers because it is committed to the discipline of reading as one of the privileged methods involved in the construction of political agency. We therefore also have the intention of symbolically reconciling high quality with a low price. Books are a luxury even for a wide section of the lower-middle class in Argentina, as well as for our university students, even when the degree chosen is literature (getting a university degree in Argentina is free, accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds). And, as in the case of the magazine, our “fantasias de intervención”also have a boundless, delirious element: we are working on a web page to upload all of our cartonero editions with open access. With this, we aim to circulate our work beyond Argentina, and generate a circulation that contributes to underscoring the shape of “world literature”. Our challenges are those that cross into any institutionalized space in an unstable country like Argentina, with changing public politics. That is, our challenges are to be able to maintain quality despite the lack of funding. It seems silly but having money to invest in a good design or for something basic like buying paper (in the case of the cartonera books) is not assured. As Sapiro demonstrates in her analysis of literary production under Nazi occupation, access to paper was a problem. In Argentina, access to paper was not only a problem under dictatorial regimes. This is one example among others. We could, once again, analyse in detail what the relationship is between activism and intellectual labour in peripheral countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia – countries constantly rocked by different forms of state violence, given the see-sawing between the expansionist cycles of rights and the post-dictatorial regimes.
SL & SW: Habrá estudiantes que cuando lean esta entrevista tendrán interés en estudiar sus obras. ¿Qué consejos les daría a ellos y a las personas cuyo idioma nativo no es el español si le preguntasen: “por dónde empezar”?
AG: La línea de trabajo que desarrollo se abre con un libro que publiqué en 2016: en Políticas de exhumación. Las clases de los críticos en la universidad argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986) ensayo una articulación metodológica entre las teorías de Jacques Derrida y de Pierre Bourdieu para analizar cómo se enseñó la teoría literaria y la literatura argentina en mi país durante los primeros años de la restitución “democrática”. En ese libro se muestran modos de leer y de enseñar literatura y teoría literaria desarrolladas entre 1984 y 1986 por algunos de los mejores críticos de argentina: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni y Jorge Panesi. Enviar a leer ese libro es enviar a leerlos a ellos. Esa es otra de mis fantasías de nano-intervención más poderosas.
SL & SW: There are students reading this interview who will be interested in studying your works. What advice would you give them, and other people whose native language isn’t Spanish, if they ask where to begin?
AG: The line of work I have developed opens with a book that I published in 2016: in Políticas de exhumación. In Las clases de los críticos en la universidad de argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986)) I try out an interactive methodology with the theories of Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu to analyse how literary theory and Argentinian literature was taught in my country during the first years of the “democratic” restitution. This book shows the ways of reading and teaching literature and literary theory developed between 1984 and 1986 by some of Argentina’s best critics: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni and Jorge Panesi. In recommending this book to others, I’m urging them to read these critics too. This is another of my more powerful “fantasias de nano-intervención”.
Concluding thoughts from Stephanie and Sarah
Throughout the course of this interview, Gerbaudo gives us an insight into her time at Oxford, the instrumental role of Oxford academics in furthering discussions and a taste of her own approaches to literature and literary theory, especially under censorship and dictatorship. She highlights the influence of Jacques Derrida on her own work, focussing on exhumation policies in her study of historical literary practices. Words are undeniably powerful as she demonstrates with her current role as director of Vera Cartonera editorial. Through her ambitions for the future of the literary magazine, Gerbaudo provokes us into questioning the role of activism, translation and publication in the global dissemination of literature.
We would like to thank Professor Gerbaudo for taking time to talk to us and we hope this taster of her work will inspire others to explore her work further.
This blog post was written by Stephanie Long and Sarah Wadsworth, who are in the final year of their degrees in Spanish. Here, they interview Global South Visiting Fellow, Dr Analía Gerbaudo and discuss literature and political activism, and the role of the translator. Dr Gerbaudo gave this interview in Spanish, and Stephanie and Sarah have translated it into English. As this interview is quite long, we will be publishing it in two parts – check back next week for part 2.
At the end of 2019, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Dr Analía Gerbaudo, a Global South Visiting Fellow appointed by the Research Centre for Humanities (TORCH) here in Oxford. She is Professor of Literary Theory and Didactics of Language and Literature at the National University of Litoral in her home country of Argentina, as well as the director of the independent publishing house Vera cartonera, and editor-in-chief of the online literary journal, El Taco en la Brea, which she founded in 2014. Given that one of the key aims of the TORCH project is to help diversify the curriculum at Oxford University, it seems only fitting that such a talented individual with involvement in the “cartonero” movement in Argentina – a movement dedicated to providing quality literature at an affordable price – should have received this appointment. “Translation is necessary in order for one to share texts,” Dr Gerbaudo tells us in one of her answers. For that reason, we feel privileged to have conducted and translated from Spanish the interview presented below. It is a pleasure to share with others Dr Gerbaudo’s obvious knowledge and experience.
SL & SW: Tenemos el privilegio de tener una entrevista con usted aquí en Oxford. En el verano, usted fue nombrada por la organización TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) como una << Global South Visiting Fellow >>. Según usted, ¿en qué consiste dicho nombramiento y cómo se relaciona con sus investigaciones literarias?
AG: Resulta complejo expresar con palabras lo que la experiencia habilitada por este nombramiento de TORCH me ha permitido. Se trata de algo mucho más complejo que la ya enorme posibilidad de transmitir en uno de los centros de producción intelectual más prestigiosos del mundo los resultados de mis investigaciones (siempre repito que el mapa mundial de los estudios literarios tiene tres grandes polos situados en Francia, en Estados Unidos y en Inglaterra): para alguien que estudia los procesos de institucionalización de las disciplinas, conocer las condiciones de producción de la Universidad de Oxford ya es, de por sí, una experiencia intraducible (es decir, es necesario atravesarla, no hay otro modo de sintetizar las sensaciones que uno siente cuando descubre estas increíbles bibliotecas, los equipadísimos espacios de trabajo, los edificios cuidados, los lugares de recreación, la universidad misma en su conjunto). Y en esa línea, hay algo de la sociabilidad académica que me ha parecido muy interesante. Me refiero al modo en que los profesores que confiaron en que mi visita podría realizar algún aporte han organizado los coloquios, los workshops y las presentaciones: se trató de un trabajo realizado con una responsabilidad, un profesionalismo y una obsesión que merecen verdaderamente destacarse (además de donarme su tiempo para organizar cada detalle: recordemos que el filósofo francés Jacques Derrida nos advierte que el único bien del que se tiene derecho a ser avaros es el tiempo dado su carácter irrecuperable). El trabajo que han realizado Stefano María Evangelista, Ben Bollig y Laura Marcus es absolutamente imposible de resumir en dos líneas de una entrevista. Gracias a sus intervenciones se generaron interesantísimas conversaciones con otros profesores participantes de las actividades: con Gisèle Sapiro (CNRS, EHESS, París) trabajo desde el año 2011, pero antes de esta estadía nunca había conversado con Peter McDonald ni con María del Pilar Blanco ni con Patricia Novillo-Corvalán. Es impresionante lo que ha sucedido porque si bien trabajamos mucho durante mis semanas en Oxford, sobre el cierre de la experiencia empezaron a aparecer proyectos de continuidad de la conversación: traducciones, publicaciones en la editorial cartonera que dirijo y un largo etcétera que involucra a este grupo de personas que he mencionado.
SL & SW: We’re privileged to have an interview with you here in Oxford. In the summer, you were appointed by the TORCH organisation (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) as a “Global South Visiting Fellow”. What does such an appointment involve, and how is it connected with your literary research?
AG: It is hard to express in words just what experience this TORCH appointment has afforded me. It goes far beyond the already enormous opportunity of sharing the results of my research in one of the most prestigious centres of intellectual output in the world (I have always said that the world map of literary studies has three large poles located in France, the United States and England). For someone who studies the processes of institutionalisation within disciplines, knowing the environment of the University of Oxford is already, in itself, an indescribable experience. That is to say, one has to go through it, there is no other way to accurately sum up the sensations one feels when discovering these incredible libraries, extraordinarily well-furnished workspaces, cherished buildings, recreation areas, the university itself as a whole. Along those lines, I have been pleasantly surprised by the great enthusiasm and interest of academic circles at Oxford. I refer to the way in which the professors – the ones who believed that something would become of my visit – have organized talks, workshops and presentations: such work was carried out with a responsibility, a professionalism and a dedication that truly deserve to be mentioned, in addition to giving me their time to organize every detail. Let us not forget what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida said: he warned us that the only good that comes from entitled greed is time, given its irretrievable nature. The work that Stefano María Evangelista, Ben Bollig and Laura Marcus have done is absolutely impossible to summarize in two lines of an interview. It is thanks to their involvement, that fascinating conversations have taken place with other professors participating in the activities. I have been working with Gisèle Sapiro (CNRS, EHESS, Paris) since 2011, but before this stay I had never properly spoken to Peter McDonald or María del Pilar Blanco nor to Patricia Novillo-Corvalán. What is truly striking is that although we worked continuously during my weeks in Oxford, towards the end of the experience, projects continuing the conversation began to appear, including translations, publications in the cartonera publishing house that I am director of, and much, much more all involving the group of people that I mention above.
SL & SW: Un artículo publicado por el blog de la facultad de Humanidades de la universidad nos dice que: “Las obras de la doctora Gerbaudo abordan la actual y complicada cuestión de la relación entre los estudios literarios y el activismo político”. ¿Cómo describiría esta relación entre la literatura y el activismo? ¿Se considera usted una activista política?
AG: Hay sobre este punto una larga deriva de una conversación y de una enseñanza de Gisèle Sapiro. Los trabajos de Sapiro muestran que no hay un divorcio entre autonomía y política, como se nos suele hacer creer: nadie le pagaba a Sartre ni a Zola por sus asunciones políticas que atravesaban su filosofía y su literatura. Mis trabajos siguen esa línea abierta por Sapiro: ninguna de las dos somos neutrales. Nuestras posiciones políticas se advierten en todos y cada uno de nuestros trabajos y en nuestras acciones públicas, incluidas nuestras investigaciones. Suelo hablar en mis escritos de “políticas de exhumación”. Jacques Derrida ha escrito, en un texto memorable, “One transforms while exhuming”. Exhumar prácticas clandestinas de enseñanza de teorías literarias y de literatura censuradas durante el terrorismo de Estado en Argentina así como exhumar prácticas que dan cuenta de la continuidad de políticas económicas, culturales y simbólicas de la dictadura, aún bajo el orden “democrático”, es parte de mi trabajo de investigación. Si esas intervenciones pueden considerarse una forma de activismo, entonces se podría decir que soy una activista. Creo y sigo, a pesar de todo (es decir, a pesar de que no pueden tanto como uno quisiera), una tradición francesa que apuesta al poder de las palabras. Trabajamos con palabras y en ese trabajo hay una potencia y una peligrosidad notable. No por casualidad durante la dictadura argentina era complejo hacer circular un texto como How to Do Things with Words.
SL & SW: An article published by the University’s Humanities faculty’s blog tells us: “Dr Gerbaudo’s work tackles the difficult, charged and extremely topical question of the relationship between literary studies and political activism.” How would you describe the relationship between literature and activism? And would you consider yourself a political activist?
AG: A large amount of work by Giséle Sapiro, derived from conversations and her teaching, deals with this subject. Her work demonstrates that neither autonomy nor politics can be divorced from each other, as we are often led to believe: nobody paid Sartre or Zola to include the political suppositions that run through their philosophy and literature. My own work follows the thread drawn by Sapiro: that neither of the two are neutral. Our political stances are apparent in each and every part of our work and in our public activities, including our research. I often talk about the “politics of exhumation” in my writing. Jacques Derrida wrote in one memorable text: “One transforms while exhuming”. Exhuming clandestine teaching practices of literary theories and literature censored during state terrorism in Argentina, as well as exhuming practices that account for the continuity of economic, cultural and symbolic policies of the dictatorship, even under the “democratic” order, constitute part of my research work. If these interventions can be considered a form of activism, then you could say I’m an activist, despite everything. I mean to say we cannot do as much as one would like to. I believe in and follow a French tradition that gambles on the power of words.We work with words and in such a labour, there is remarkable power as well as a marked danger. It’s no coincidence that during the Argentinian dictatorship it was difficult to circulate texts such as How to Do Things with Words.
SL & SW: El artículo dice también que usted es una “traductora activa”. ¿Qué significa ser una traductora de obras argentinas y qué opina de traducirlas de español a inglés? Por otro lado, para usted, ¿qué es lo que más le gusta de la traducción?
AG: La traducción es una herramienta fundamental, en especial en países de preponderancia monolingüe como Argentina: lamentablemente nuestro sistema educativo no afianza la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras, ni siquiera el portugués que es la lengua que se habla en uno de nuestros países vecinos, Brasil. Por lo tanto traducir es necesario si uno quiere compartir con los estudiantes los textos que ayudan a complejizar ideas, análisis, metodologías, perspectivas de investigación, de reflexión, de pensamiento. En ese sentido, mis traducciones son de textos del francés y del inglés al español. Elijo, en cada ocasión, textos que me permitan introducir categorías teóricas o maneras de leer que problematicen las discusiones recortadas en el campo nacional y, si se quiere, latinoamericano, ya que solemos publicar nuestras traducciones en revistas on line con acceso abierto. El inglés es hoy la lingua franca de la ciencia. ¿Cómo no ponerse contento cuando un texto o una idea se pueden hacer circular por canales que permitan su diseminación por los espacios por los que esta lengua transita?
SL & SW: The article also says that you are an “active translator”. What does it mean to be a translator of Argentinian literature, and what is your opinion on translating them from Spanish to English? On the other hand, what do you enjoy most about translation?
AG:Translation is a fundamental tool, especially in countries like Argentina where monolingualism is dominant. Unfortunately, our education system hasn’t acted to strengthen the teaching of foreign languages, not even with Portuguese – the language spoken in one of our neighbouring countries, Brazil. Therefore, translation is necessary in order for one to share texts with students that help them deal with more complex ideas, analyses, methodologies, research perspectives, reflection, and thought. In that sense, my translations are from French and English into Spanish. At every opportunity, I select texts that allow me to introduce theoretical categories or ways of reading that consider the problems found in discussions cut short in the national sphere, and if you like, the Latin American sphere, too, since we usually publish our translations in online magazines with open access. English is the lingua franca of science today. How can one not be pleased when a text or an idea can circulate by channels allowing their dissemination in spaces where English permits them movement?
Join us next week for the concluding part of this interview…
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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