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Space and mobility in the work of Sergio Chejfec. An analysis of four of his books

This dissertation offers an approach to the prose fiction of the Argentine author Sergio Chejfec (1956). Over the past few decades, literary criticists highlighted Chejfec’s particular style and identified him as an important voice in the Argentine – and international – literary field. The theme of walking and the importance of space in the work of Chejfec is mentioned very often in critical approaches. Strangely enough, most approaches have limited themselves to merely signaling the relevance of these themes for the work of this Argentine author. Others have approached these themes throughout the related, but not necessarily convergent bibliography that centered in Latin-American literature of the figure of “errancy” (errancia). This dissertation examines how Sergio Chejfec’s narrative texts establish a dialogue with a literary tradition that has been articulated around the specific theme of walking, and how the spatial dimension plays a fundamental part in this dialogue.

A first theoretical chapter is dedicated to a historic-cultural panorama of what could be called “a literary configuration of walking”, and to the insights of the spatial turn that took place in the last decades of the previous century in the Humanities. In the first part, several “configurations” – combinations of characteristics and symbolic values that are attributed to walking in specific periods and contexts– are examined on the basis of theoretical and panoramic texts on walking in literature and culture (Coverley, Solnit, Gros, Le Breton, Benjamin, de Certeau, Albes, Wellmann, Niccolini). These configurations include the philosophical walk, walking as introspection, flânerie, walking as an act of resistance and walking as either a slowing-down of – or, in some cases, a dialogue with – what is described as the high pace of contemporary society. A second part reveals the main arguments for the choice of the spatial turn as a framework: on the one hand, it describes this change of paradigm as a reaction against the quantitative as well as qualitative neglect of space, and the need for a concept of space that does not represent this dimension as a neutral and static container, but as a social process, regarding its dynamics and its interwovenness with socio-economic and political reality. On the other hand, this part draws an overview of several concepts for the study of space in literature that comply with these conditions and offer insights into recent spatial changes, such as the present stage of accelerated globalization, increasing mobility and the growth of metropoles (Lefebvre, Soja, Jameson, Deleuze & Guattari, Augé, Miller, Hallet, Westphal, West-Pavlov).

The next chapters offer a close analysis of three of Chejfec’s books – El aire (1992), Boca de lobo (2000) en Mis dos mundos (2008) –, which each represent a landmark in his literary career. At the same time, the chapters are structured by three different thematic perspectives: observation in the case of El aire, corporality in Boca de lobo, and the process of writing itself in Mis dos mundos.

The analysis of El aire revealed a problematization of the protagonist’s capacities to construct a mental representation of the city, as a consequence of the far-reaching changes that take place in it. This idea was contrasted with the typical emphasis in other configurations of walking as an ideal basis for observation of contemporary reality.

In Boco de lobo, the observation was made that the figure of walking displays a deep ambiguity through the contacts between the body and the precarious spaces it crosses, by referring to the liberation of its sensual dimension and to networks of solidarity, as well as to the annihilating instincts that it arouses in the protagonist and the discursive violence performed upon others during the writing of his story. This ambiguity undermines the idea of walking as an act of resistance against an authoritarian system.

Finally, it was argued that the activity of walking in Mis dos mundos appears as closely related to the writing process. During a walk in a park, the protagonist reflects upon the central dilemma of his life - his vocation as a writer as opposed to his desire to cease writing and dissolve into the flux of the outside world – without being able to resolve anything. In this context, two configurations of walking are confronted: a romantic-modern one, based on a rather traditional view on writing as an activity that relies on inspiration and subjectivity, and the avant-garde version, that insists on reuniting art and life. On the basis of these analyses, some important lines of thought in Chejfec’s approach to this theme have been articulated, that can also be applied to his other novels.

In conclusion, this dissertation argues that the author problematizes elitist and utopian visions of walking alike by confronting characters with spaces that escape their control, and that in their ambiguity render impossible a univocal reading. This way, the relation between the individual and a space that has suffered major changes throughout the last decennia is problematized. By means of reworking this configuration and of his constant negotiation between commitment and critique, Chejfec elaborates a profound reflection on questions of identity and community on the one hand, and the role of the writer and the intellectual in the contemporary context, on the other.

Date:1 Oct 2011  →  30 Sep 2015
Keywords:Sergio Chejfec
Disciplines:Language studies, Literary studies, Theory and methodology of language studies, Theory and methodology of linguistics, Theory and methodology of literary studies, Other languages and literary studies
Project type:PhD project