This is a skillfully crafted and sophisticated study of one of the most pervasive historical and literary motifs in modern Latin America: rural banditry. Dabove offers the first comprehensive treatment of the place of banditry in the imagination of Latin American elites. Nightmares of the Lettered City will become the standard work on this complex phenomenon for decades to come.
Nightmares of the Lettered City presents an original study of the popular theme of banditry in works of literature, essays, poetry, and drama, and banditry's pivotal role during the conceptualization and formation of the Latin American nation-state. Juan Pablo Dabove examines writings over a broad time period, from the early nineteenth century to the 1920s, and while Nightmares of the Lettered City focuses on four crucial countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela), it is the first book to address the depiction of banditry in Latin America as a whole. The work offers close reading of Facundo, Dou00f1a Bárbara, Os Sertu00f5es, and Martín Fierro, among other works, illuminating the ever-changing and often contradictory political agendas of the literary elite in their portrayals of the forms of peasant insurgency labeled “banditry.” Banditry has haunted the Latin American literary imagination. As a cultural trope, banditry has always been an uneasy compromise between desire and anxiety (a “nightmare”), and Dabove isolates three main representational strategies. He analyzes the bandit as radical other, a figure through which the elites depicted the threats posed to them by various sectors outside the lettered city. Further, he considers the bandit as a trope used in elite internecine struggles. In this case, rural insurgency was a means to legitimize or refute an opposing sector or faction within the lettered city. Finally, Dabove shows how, in certain cases, the bandit was used as an image of the nonstate violence that the nation state has to suppress as a historical force and simultaneously exalt as a memory in order to achieve cultural coherence and actual sovereignty. As Dabove convincingly demonstrates, the elite's construction of the bandit is essential to our understanding of the development of the Latin American nation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
"Nightmares of the Lettered City is so well argued, so strongly supported, so clearly written, so original in approach, so erudite that I was drawn back (in healthy ways) into theoretical battles that I thought had been well debated and settled more than a decade ago."
There is an impressive breadth to this well-written and original study. Destined to become the standard work on the role of banditry in the imagination of Latin American thought.
"Nightmares of the Lettered City presents a reading of the Latin American "long 19th century" (specifically from 1816 to 1929) so broad in its scope and so brilliant in its argumentation that it forges a new paradigm of criticism for Latin American literary studies of this era. . . . surely will establish Dabove, along with critics like Doris Sommer, Beatriz Gonzalez Stephan, and Julio Ramos, as one of the authorities of his generation in this field.
We owe Dabove a considerable debt for bringing to our attention a vast corpus of often neglected material.
Provides an exquisite and erudite re-interpretation of key texts relating not only to banditry but, more generally, to the anxieties of nation formation and modernity in the fragmented polities and cultures of Latin America.
Splendid and highly readable . . . It is impossible in a short review to do justice to Dabove's fine presentation of his arguments, based on a wealth of theoretical, historical and literary considerations, or to the perceptivity of his original reading of both little-known and classical texts from which he consistently teases new ideas.
One of the most fascinating elements within the book is Dabove's illustration of the differential status that bandits and banditry have taken on in Latin American literature in the portrayal of Otherness and the bearing such varying depictions had on the nation-building activities of the urban elites. . . . Highlights the potential of literature to be a rich and rewarding source of information for contemporary research on Latin America.
Juan Pablo Dabove is professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of Nightmares of the Lettered City: Banditry and Literature in Latin America, 1816-1929.