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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Letters of blood and fire : writing and accumulation in Latin America, from the chronicles of the Indies to the present García Martínez, José Ricardo


This dissertation studies narrative, writing, and writers from the Southern Cone (Argentina and Uruguay) to Mexico and Central America (El Salvador and Guatemala), from the fifteenth century to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, from Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés to César Aira and Valeria Luiselli, among others. Throughout, I trace the logic of accumulation and the production of value, both economic and aesthetic. This is a study of Latin American literary production, the role of writers and intellectuals, and the relationship between writing, the market, and power. At the core of this dissertation is the argument that accumulation has to be produced, and that it builds on what I term cumulation. That is, accumulation is not simply a matter of amassing things (whether material objects, possessions, or words) or piling them up; that would be mere cumulation—I say “mere” cumulation, but it requires its own procedures of (often violent or traumatic) transport and collection. But for cumulation to become accumulation, there has to be some way to count what has been amassed, thereby also to make it count, to accord it value. Using a heterogeneous framework that includes Marxism, post-structuralism, and Affect Theory, I argue that the transformation from cumulation to accumulation, as depicted in Cortés’s Letters, is exhausted. At the same time, I propose that late twentieth and early twenty-first century literature returns to certain elements of the chronicles, now as a symptom of the current crisis. But what is different in contemporary writing is that, in a context of ultra-mediatized, deregulated neoliberalism, writing seems only to add to an incessant cumulation ever more resistant to the imposition of some kind of system of value.

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