Final Doctoral Examination: Fabricio Tocco

The Final Oral Examination For the Degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (Hispanic Studies)

“A Poetics of Failure. Individualism and the State in Post-Dictatorial Southern Cone Detective Fiction”

Monday, September 16th, 2019, 4:00 pm

Room 200, Graduate Student Centre (6371 Crescent Road)
Latecomers will not be admitted.


A Poetics on Failure: Individualism and the Post-Dictatorial State in Southern Cone Detective Fiction engages with a major genre in contemporary Latin American literature: detective fiction. It focuses on a singular aspect of the genre: the historical and literary tensions between individualism and the state. Since the inception of the detective story in the 1840s with Edgar Allan Poe, this tension has traditionally been embodied in the private eye (e.g: Dupin, Holmes, Poirot) and policemen (e.g: Scotland Yard officers such as Lestrade, Japp). I read these personifications as archetypes that amount to an ego contra mundum, in the words of the British literary historian Ian Watt.

I examine how this tension is reproduced, problematized, subverted and surmounted in novels written in Latin America, especially by Southern Cone authors such as the Argentinean Ricardo Piglia, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño and the Brazilian Rubem Fonseca. My close reading of their work shows the extent to which they all share what I call a common “poetics of failure.” I see this failure as twofold, both political and aesthetic. There is the defeat of the left in the region (a local translation of the broader post-Cold War context), and also the crisis of representation in attempts to portray in fiction this defeat at the hands of a dictatorial state. Thus, I provide an account of what these Latin American authors tell us about their Anglo-American models. Whereas Poe and Conan Doyle laid the foundations for a tradition that would portray the state as a disabled yet perfectible entity, these contemporary Latin American authors re-imagine the genre by revealing the extent to which what once seemed to be an Anglo-American criticism of the state, can be actually read as its veiled apology.

Examining Committee:

Prof William H. New (University Killam Professor Emeritus)

Supervisory Committee:

Prof Jon Beasley-Murray, Research Supervisor (Hispanic Studies)
Prof Alessandra Santos (Hispanic Studies)
Prof Adam Frank (English)

University Examiners:

Prof Kim Beauchesne (Hispanic Studies)
Prof Dina Al-Kassim (Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice)

External Examiner:

Prof Héctor Hoyos
Stanford University
Stanford, California
United States