Ricardo Piglia’s Respiración artificial (1980) combines the suspense of a detective story, the analytical complexity of literary criticism, the thematic focus of a biography, and the narrative structure of epistolary fiction. The genre instability of Piglia’s novel undercuts the order and coherence of the narratives that the Argentina’s military Junta deployed to organize, classify, and control the nation’s social body during the “Process of National Reorganization” between 1976 and 1983. While Piglia’s combination of different types of storytelling is an important form of criticism against the language of the institutions and the state, this article argues that the breakdown of generic boundaries is also a strategy to represent history as it is lived and imagined by those who were severed from the social body during the dictatorship—by the “traitors” to the nation. Specifically, epistolarity—the use of the letter’s formal properties to create meaning—functions in the novel as a device to disrupt the institutional classifications (the genres) that fail to contain the figure of the traitor. It is the form of these letters and not their contents that represents and circulates history as lived by those orphaned by the institutions and turned into traitors by the state. This article proposes that letters break with institutional imperatives not because they carry coded messages that must remain secret, but because they constitute a means of expression that prevents the novel from ever attaining the rigidity that characterizes dictatorial discourse.


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pp. 73-87
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