Book manuscript abstract

Bodies of Evidence: The Grotesque Body and the Reconfiguration of Nation in Mexican Historiographic Metafiction

Much has been made in recent years of Latin American historiographic metafiction’s attitude toward questioning, dismantling, and rewriting stale historical narratives. Despite this attention, none have sought to explore in detail the specific techniques that authors employ to compose and organize these new narratives. In this work I explore the ways in which the grotesque human body is appropriated and deployed as principle among their strategies of narrative and thematic construction in historiographic metafiction written in Mexico between 1987 and 2008. The corpus of works through which I explore this trope—Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del Imperio (1987), Ignacio Solares’s Madero, el otro (1989), Jorge Volpi’s La paz de los sepulcros (2007), and Álvaro Uribe’s Expediente del atentado (2008)—are linked thematically through their engagement with specific historical moments and figures, and stylistically through their conceptualization of the body as depicted by the Bakhtinian notion of the grotesque.

I propose in this exploration a fundamental shift in the kinds of bodies that appear in narrative, the uses to which those bodies are put, and the ideological work that they perform. Rather than sketching out the foundations of the nation and national identity based on the union of bodies who stand in as metaphor and metonymy of the nation’s citizenry; or the dead/dying bodies that personify the unfulfilled promises of the Mexican Revolution; historiographic metafiction narrates the grotesque body as the irruption into reality of the Lacanian real. A radically senseless presence in the fabric of reality, the real systematically deconstructs and explodes the inadequate, traditionally held narratives that define Mexico, thereby opening a space in which to dramatize the weighty social and political questions that haunt the present-day nation. By examining a specific trope at work within the narrative construction of novels that occupy positions of prominence within the genre, I highlight the salience of the grotesque body as a wedge through which to open a space to interrogate the historical record, proposing new narratives, and on which to inscribe the problematic epistemology that questions modern Mexico’s foundational histories. The identification of the grotesque body and the resulting bodily readings distinguish this monograph from previous works on historical fiction by exploring the source from which the genre generates its destabilizing potential. At the same time, it proposes a new optic for the examination of traditional interpretations and the interrogation of the historiographic metafictional canon.

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