Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2021

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Romance Languages and Literature: Hispanic Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type




Human Bodies, Urban Bodies: Contemporary Representations of Violence in Literature and Cinema from Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala, analyzes three literary and one cinematographic depiction of four violent events: Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990), the army attack on the Palace of Justice in Colombia (1985), the War on Drugs in Mexico (2006-2012), and the political context of genocide’s (40’s¬ – 90’s). These events profoundly changed the sociopolitical and economic landscape of these countries, and decades later, Nona Fernández’s La Dimensión Desconocida (2016), Marta Orrantia’s Mañana no te presentes (2016), Natalia Almada’s El Velador (2011), and Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s El Material Humano (2009) represent these events. Despite discrepancies among these countries, each violent event is situated in a complex relationship between a hierarchy of military and civil perpetrators and violent urban geographies that produce, to different extents, a significant quantity of disappeared people and publicly exposed destroyed bodies. The three books (La Dimensión, Mañana and El Material) tell how problematic the aftermath is by reconstructing these events while including fictitious characters as narrators who interact with the perpetrators. In contrast, the documentary (El Velador) shows a man in a precarious living situation. These characters rebuild the violent happenings through the disruption of communication in urban space: the secret police disappear political detainees in illegal centers in Santiago de Chile; thousands of military soldiers attack the Palace while massacring hundreds of hostages in Bogotá; Mexican drug lords build lavish mausoleums in a private cemetery in Culiacán during a lost war on drugs; former perpetrators of the genocide work at the National Archive, destroying historical documents in Guatemala City. Beyond the brutal acts and the dynamics of violence (kidnapping, torture, rape, killings, massacres, missing corpses), the narratives expose what sociopolitical and economic backdrop permits the use of excessive violence. In that sense, dictatorship, drug trafficking, an attack against a prestigious legal building, and pre-genocide articulate comparable patterns of destroying human bodies without judicial consequences for the perpetrators. Furthermore, the process also implies a sophisticated strategy for erasing incriminating paperwork. For instance, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico lack an archive directly related to these events. Guatemala, on the contrary, has an institutional archive where the archivists gradually destroy documents. In a broader sense, the narratives expose how the governments obliterate part of the events by neglecting them, protecting perpetrators, altering the death’s circumstances while demolishing the places where they occurred, and deliberately enacting impunity-related laws. Meanwhile, relatives and survivors are seeking justice within a limited strand of erasure. Where are they? This question links together these violent events, since the narratives point to what happened to the people never seen alive again and how it happened. After analyzing the links between perpetrators and violent urban geographies, the core of my dissertation is the problematic reconstruction of violent memories. It covers an analysis of the way to remember those violent events, who can talk about them, and what happened to the places where the dynamic of violence occurs. Furthermore, it also includes an investigation into how the State’s executive branch forces obliteration while the victims’ relatives and survivors get little more than brand-new threats against themselves and their families in return. In conclusion, I attested how four diverse countries have similar violent backgrounds as well as a very problematic scenario for expanding new violent techniques despite its political issues. In addition, these Latin American depictions of violence go along with the violent events themselves. They emphasize the perpetrators’ complicated networks in a broken social fabric left behind by dictatorships, retaliations, the rules of drug trafficking, and genocide beyond the victims’ struggle. They show how these societies establish complicity that extends impunity at large. The four narratives are not a biographical tale on the perpetrators’ evil acts’ banality. Rather, they display how dangerous memories are. They show why the act of remembering a violent episode in the public sphere (museums, memorials, or monuments) activates a new sort of coercive dynamics that deepens the wound despite the fight for justice in tribunals. The struggle of memory also exposes how former detention centers are currently gentrified, demolished, abandoned, or precariously exhibited as memory sites.


Spanish (es)

Chair and Committee

Tabea Linhard

Committee Members

William Acree, Andrew Brown, Rebecca Clouser, Ignacio Sanchez Prado,