Monthly Archives: May 2008

Lagniappe and Coda

I just ran across this video clip of – surprise – MARTIN, talking about how modernity and technology have advanced us materially but not spiritually. The theme is everywhere, it seems, and in different ways modern people seek to heal the wounds of civilization by seeking authenticity and roots.

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Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Bibliography, News


Take Home Final

Rules: Two densely written, well argued, analytical essays of 500-700 words each. Each essay must include an extensive discussion of a different novel, although you may choose comparative topics and refer to other texts. You must, however, show serious work with and thought about two of the following three novels: Los pasos perdidos, La vorágine, La casa verde. You may narrow down these topics as you see fit. Please title each essay in such a way as to indicate your focus. What I am looking for are interesting, cogent explorations, not ultimate answers. Pueden escribir en el idioma que quieran, con tal de que yo lo sepa leer.


1. Mujer y selva. The jungle as woman / as the feminine. Woman and jungle as Other. Woman and jungle as “dark continents,” chthonic forces to be tamed. Is the jungle voyage, in our texts usually undertaken by men with women (ambivalently) by their side, a masculine enterprise or a drama about masculinity? Why is it that it in the jungle, the narrators of Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine focus so strongly on the struggles in their relationships with the lovers they have brought from town? What is at stake in the voyage to the jungle: civilization? manhood? identity? race? all of the above? how are they intertwined?

2. The jungle or the uncivilized – the primitive – is a constant theme in modern literary and cultural discourse because it is the apparent opposite of civilization (and it could, perhaps, remedy some of civilization’s discontents [Freud]). Yet in many of the texts we have read, the locations and characteristics of the “civilized” and the “barbaric,” the the modern and the primitive, become confused or blurred, as though these stark dichotomies had shorted out (so to speak). Discuss, using examples. Why and how does this happen? What do you think its implications are?

3. In any two of our novels, how does the jungle function as setting, character, symbol, metaphor? What does the jungle seem to mean, or, how does the idea of the “jungle” generate meaning?

4. Most characters in La casa verde are in some way, at the very least, inhabitants of the jungle, not city people who have traveled to it. How do their “jungle” experiences differ from those of Cova or the narrator of Los pasos perdidos? Do we see the jungle through their eyes? Do they describe it in ways that at all resemble the descriptions of the people from the city? Does anyone in the novel – or the narrator – use jungle tropes we have seen in other texts?

5. In both Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine the hero is seeking some form of authenticity – which in Los pasos perdidos is explicitly located in art, and in La vorágine, more obliquely, in poetry. How are art, authenticity, identity, and masculinity intertwined in these narratives? When does the “native” or the “primitive” resist consumption as art? How does this affect the experience of the hero and thus, the sense of the text?

6. La vorágine presents the jungle as a whirlpool, that pulls the “civilized” character in and ultimately (or so it is suggested) eats him up. La casa verde as text presents its narrative, national history, and the jungle itself as a kind of web. How do these images work to imbue the jungle, as it is presented in these texts, with the meaning it may have in each?

7. Many of our narrators and narrators present the jungle as being outside history. Does the material in the novels actually support this construction of the world? How do non-Western histories, or fragments of them, appear in these novels to push against the narratives of the West?

8. Both La vorágine and La casa verde engage, and perhaps criticize the discourse of civilization, barbarism and nation we saw articulated in Sarmiento. How do they do this?

9-10. DOUBLE QUESTION (you would have to do this in five pages). Many of the narratives we have studied focus on the story of a “civilized” character who, in the jungle and with either “barbaric” or utopian “primitives,” seeks liberation from the pressures and distortions of civilization. At the same time they seek to assert some form of power or control over the jungle, so that it will conform to their expectations and give them what they need. That is to say that they that they seek, simultaneously, to civilize what is “barbaric” in modernity through a reunion with the “primitive,” and also to control or defend against what seems to them to be chaotic, dissonant, or simply incomprehensible in their experience of the “primitive”.

Yet in several cases these characters lose, in different ways, the “restraint” and the focus on work which are the hallmarks of “civilization” and modernity. At other moments the apparent “disorder” of the jungle appears to win (whether the characters maintain their “civilized” focus or not). Another problem is that the “primitive” is often not a pure origin, but a colonized space which has already been deeply scarred by Western exploitation, so that it is in fact a product of Western culture – its source of wealth, but also the place where the West deposits its waste.

(Is the “horror” Marlow sees the horror of evil itself – or of an uncontrollable Otherness – or much more concretely, of what Belgian colonialism did to the Congo? Why is it important that this question is hard to answer? How does that apply to La vorágine and/or La casa verde?)

Consider: 1) What is at stake in this struggle with the jungle / the primitive / the “timeless”? What issues does it engage? Why are is the theme of the jungle so prevalent, and so compelling? 2) In these narratives, which often emphasize the standpoint of the urban or “civilized” character, is there also material which pushes against the Western view, and thus allows the jungle to be something more than a mere mirror of the Western self? Discuss, engaging at least two of our recent readings in some detail.

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Posted by on May 8, 2008 in News, Plans



This article on the novel as a “web of defeat” is old, but interesting, easy to read, and I think useful.

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Posted by on May 1, 2008 in Vargas Llosa