Arts & Sciences Workshop: The Dictator Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South

Date: 

Thursday, September 27, 2018, 6:00pm

Location: 

CGIS South, S-216, 1730 Cambridge Street

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Speaker: Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra, Caroline D. Eckhardt Early Career Professor of Comparative Literature and Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Penn State

Moderator: Mariano Siskind, Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literature

The book begins with a premise: where there are dictators, there are novels about dictators. But dictator novels do not simply respond to the fact of dictatorship. As the genre coheres, it acquires a self-generating force separate from its historical referents. The dictator novel then becomes the space in which writers consider the difficulties of national consolidation, explore the role of external and global forces in sustaining dictatorship, and even interrogate the political function of writing itself. The political phenomenon of dictatorship, therefore, serves as the occasion for the self-conscious and even self-critical theorization of the complicated relationship between writing and politics. The Dictator Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South positions novels about dictators as a vital genre in the literatures of the Global South. Primarily identified with Latin America, the dictator novel has underacknowledged importance in the postcolonial literatures of Francophone and Anglophone Africa. While scholars have noted similarities, this study is the first extensive comparative analysis of these traditions. The juxtaposition illuminates the internal dynamics of the dictator novel as a literary genre. In doing so, Armillas-Tiseyra puts forward a model of south-south comparison relevant to scholars working across the Global South. This workshop will cover the introduction to the book, together with two chapters that follow the dictator novel from the late 1960s through the late 1980s. The first looks at the resurgence of the dictator novel in the waning years of the Latin American literary “boom,” marked by the near-simultaneous publication of Alejo Carpentier’s El recurso del método (Reasons of State, 1974), Augusto Roa Bastos’s Yo el Supremo (I the Supreme, 1974), and Gabriel García Márquez’s El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975). The second turns attention to the consolidation of the dictator novel in West and Central African literatures in the decades following independence. Here, the dictator novel emerges as a concentration of the concerns of the literature of political disillusionment into the figure of the dictator. These are the “local” origins of the dictator novel in African literatures. But writers also draw on a wide variety of materials, repurposing the dictator novel for new critical and political projects. Authors discussed include Ousmane Sembène, Chinua Achebe, Aminata Sow Fall, Henri Lopès, and Sony Labou Tansi.

Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra is the Caroline D. Eckhardt Early Career Professor of Comparative Literature and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Penn State. She has published essays on such topics as women’s writing in nineteenth-century Argentina, the function of the fetish in representations of the African dictator, Africa and science fiction, and magical realism in the South Atlantic; she is currently the chair of the executive committee for the forum on the Global South at the MLA and co-director of the digital platform, Global South Studies. Her first book, The Dictator-Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South is forthcoming with Northwestern University Press.