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Tobias Jochum


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

The Ethics of Representation in Contemporary Literary Narratives of Border Violence

Dissertation in Literature

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. José David Saldívar PhD
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. MaryAnn Snyder-Körber

The northern Mexican border city Ciudad Juárez has been allotted an extraordinary position in a panorama of informal war against vulnerable populations in the Americas under the necropolitical order of contemporary neoliberalism. Over the past 25 years, the city has emerged as a hypervisible vanguard for emergent forms of sovereignty that announce their presence through performative displays of patriarchal cruelty. The infamous femicides that first surfaced in the 1990s and, more recently, the state-sanctioned terror of the militarized drug war have become emblematic for larger Mexican and hemispheric trends, as they generated prolific responses by a transnational coalition of activists, analysts, and artists. In their brutality and complexity these atrocities constitute a crisis of representation that entails tremendous ethical, epistemological, and reflective demands for critical inquiries and creative engagements.

Foregrounding the political and ethical potential of literary interventions, this dissertation focuses on three distinct narrative approaches to the border city's imaginary and historical archive. The impressionist photo essay Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future (1998) prompts a critical reconsideration of the aesthetic of shock and the journalistic valorization of (visual) immediacy. Roberto Bolaño's magnum opus 2666 (2004; 2008), written from the extraterritorial distance of European exile, elevates the documented history of the Juárez femicides into a found metaphor signaling the collapse of political and aesthetic colonial modernity under the rise of global neoliberalism. And the satirical novel Garabato (2014) by author Willivaldo Delgadillo, finally, dissects the discursive and historical layers of Juárez from within to forge a subtle narrative ethos of reflection and resistance.

The material and discursive tangle that is "Juárez" emerges in my project as a generative catalyst for new critical vocabularies and epistemologies for our current era of crisis, as well as new forms of political resistance and innovative, often hybridized modes of representation that combine referential reality with a restrained imagination, the poetic with the prosaic, the tragic with the hopeful, and the vicissitudes of memory with a quest for alternative futures beyond our horizons and hegemonies.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft