The Untimely Present

Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning

The Untimely Present

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: December 1999

Author: Idelber Avelar

Latin American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

The Untimely Present examines the fiction produced in the aftermath of the recent Latin American dictatorships, particularly those in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Idelber Avelar argues that through their legacy of social trauma and obliteration of history, these military regimes gave rise to unique and revealing practices of mourning that pervade the literature of this region. The theory of postdictatorial writing developed here is informed by a rereading of the links between mourning and mimesis in Plato, Nietzsche’s notion of the untimely, Benjamin’s theory of allegory, and psychoanalytic / deconstructive conceptions of mourning.

Avelar starts by offering new readings of works produced before the dictatorship era, in what is often considered the boom of Latin American fiction. Distancing himself from previous celebratory interpretations, he understands the boom as a manifestation of mourning for literature’s declining aura. Against this background, Avelar offers a reassessment of testimonial forms, social scientific theories of authoritarianism, current transformations undergone by the university, and an analysis of a number of novels by some of today’s foremost Latin American writers—such as Ricardo Piglia, Silviano Santiago, Diamela Eltit, João Gilberto Noll, and Tununa Mercado. Avelar shows how the ‘untimely’ quality of these narratives is related to the position of literature itself, a mode of expression threatened with obsolescence.

This book will appeal to scholars and students of Latin American literature and politics, cultural studies, and comparative literature, as well as to all those interested in the role of literature in postmodernity.


“Avelar delivers a complex account of postdictatorship society, culture, thought, and literature in a lucidly clear prose and an eloquent style.” — George Yudice, New York University

“This is a book of superior scholarship, providing an original reading of texts that are of increasing interest to students and critics.” — Jean Franco, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Idelber Avelar is Associate Professor of Latin American Literatures and Critical Theory at Tulane University.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Allegory and Mourning in Postdictatorship

1. Oedipus in Post-Auratic Times

2. The Genealogy of a Defeat

3. Countertraditions

4. Encrypting Restitution

5. Pastiche, Repetition, and the Angel

6. Overcodification of the Margins

7. Bildungsroman at A Standstill or the Weakening of Storytelling

8. The Unmourned Dead and the Promise of Restitution

Afterword: Postdictatorship and Postmodernity


Works Cited

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Winner, 2000 Katherine Singer Kovacs Award (MLA)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2415-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2381-5
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