Deseos Desbordados y Cuerpos Degenerados: Narrativas Modernistas en el Fin del Siglo XIX Mexicano

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This dissertation analyzes figurations of gender and sexuality in Mexican modernista narratives that construct the modern subject. It discusses how these texts examine, interpret, and constitute subjects that were labeled as “degenerate” by medical, juridical, and criminological discourses in late nineteenth-century Mexico. Those ostensibly “scientific” and “objective” discourses reproduced and disseminated notions of pathology, through proliferating labels of “abnormality” and a focus on diagnosis as a means to control individual bodies and the national body. This dissertation argues that ambiguous representations of gender and sexuality in Mexican modernista narratives allow their authors to appropriate, reformulate, and re-articulate a modernity imported from the metropolis. Through an analysis of modernista texts that considers the dynamic between the discourse of degeneration and the national project of modernization, this study reveals the theoretical inadequacy of positivism, which inverted the relationship between diagnostic gaze and diagnosed object, blurred and confused pathological categories, and relied on internally contradictory juridical discourse. This dissertation consists of three case studies of articulations of degenerate bodies. The first chapter reads the chronicles, short stories, and novels of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, examining how the writer viewed the gender of female foreign actors as an indicator of cultural modernity. In representing female artists in these narratives, the author oscillates between emphasizing their degenerate bodies and their aesthetic superiority. The second chapter analyzes narratives by Amado Nervo, Ciro B. Ceballos, and Porfirio Parra, who represent hysterical masculine intellectual elites as modern subjects. These “abnormal” subjects, tainted by the pathology of a feminine disease, reveal the fissures inherent in a modern subject founded on the dichotomies between mind and body, spirituality and materiality, and art and science. The third chapter examines how honor, insanity, and gender combine to create a gap between the penal (in juridical discourse) and the poetic (in modernista narratives) with respect to crimes of passion. This comparative reading of juridical and literary texts reveals their narrative heterogeneity and the contradictions of the bourgeois ethics that were promoted as an important component of modernization in fin de siècle Mexico. Taken together, these three case studies shed light on the multifaceted dynamics of the representation of gender and sexuality and the construction of modernity in Mexican modernista narratives.

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  • 04/01/2019
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