Dissertation

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Memoryscapes: Women chart the post-trauma city in 20th and 21st century Latin America

My dissertation project examines the treatment of urban space and memories of state-sponsored violence in the works of Latin American women writers of the post-trauma or post-dictatorship generation. I analyze a largely unexplored archive of contemporary fiction that represents public spaces in the post-trauma city, and negotiates the relationship between collective and individual memory. My dissertation demonstrates the central role of women in debates over the public memorialization of state-sponsored violence in Argentina (Tununa Mercado), Chile (Nona Fernández), Mexico (Ana Clavel), and Peru (Karina Pacheco Medrano), and extends theories of memory and urban space by arguing that fictional cityscapes serve as primary sites through which difficult national memories are worked through.

Mercado, an exile, sets the stage for writing about trauma in Latin America at a remove; she did not experience this violence corporeally, but must deal with its ghostly traces upon her return to the urban space of Buenos Aires. Both Pacheco and Fernández identify themselves as explicitly belonging to the “post” generation, as part of the “era of post-political violence” and of the “guacha” generation respectively. Clavel returns to the legacy of violence that began with the Tlatelolco student massacre. While her novel ends in 1985, it resonates with contemporary concerns; recent commemorations in Mexico City remembered the linked events of the student massacre (October, 1968) and the disappearance of the forty-three students from Guerrero (September, 2014). Through the pages of their fiction, these women challenge official narratives of history by interrogating contemporary representations of cityspace that omit traces of this violence –landscapes rigidly controlled and transformed by authoritarian regimes, patriarchal power structures, and neoliberalism. Tracing the paths the protagonists chart through the city, I draw from discussions of trauma and urban studies to demonstrate how these texts disrupt dominant narratives of urban space. By drawing attention to subaltern sites, the works insert the reader into the ongoing debates over acts of public memorialization.