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Performing Women and Modern Literary Culture in Latin America

Intervening Acts

By Vicky Unruh

Publication Year: 2006

Women have always been the muses who inspire the creativity of men, but how do women become the creators of art themselves? This was the challenge faced by Latin American women who aspired to write in the 1920s and 1930s. Though women's roles were opening up during this time, women writers were not automatically welcomed by the Latin American literary avant-gardes, whose male members viewed women's participation in tertulias (literary gatherings) and publications as uncommon and even forbidding. How did Latin American women writers, celebrated by male writers as the “New Eve” but distrusted as fellow creators, find their intellectual homes and fashion their artistic missions? In this innovative book, Vicky Unruh explores how women writers of the vanguard period often gained access to literary life as public performers. Using a novel, interdisciplinary synthesis of performance theory, she shows how Latin American women's work in theatre, poetry declamation, song, dance, oration, witty display, and bold journalistic self-portraiture helped them craft their public personas as writers and shaped their singular forms of analytical thought, cultural critique, and literary style. Concentrating on eleven writers from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela, Unruh demonstrates that, as these women identified themselves as instigators of change rather than as passive muses, they unleashed penetrating critiques of projects for social and artistic modernization in Latin America.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Support for this book from the University of Kansas included a Hall Center for the Humanities Fellowship, a semester’s sabbatical, a General Research Fund summer grant, and release time from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. A National Endowment for the Humanities University Fellowship, coupled with a ...

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Introduction: The “Fatal Fact” of the New Woman Writer in Latin America, 1920s –1930s

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pp. 1-29

In a memoir of Buenos Aires literary activity in the 1920s and 1930s, Alberto Pineta described his nervous, stammering debut in 1929 as a young lecturer for the prestigious cultural institution Amigos del Arte. Highlighting his recollection of the event is the intimidating impact on his demeanor every time he glanced up at the audience and encountered ...

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Chapter 1: Alfonsina Storni’s Misfits: A Critical Refashioning of Poetisa Aesthetics

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pp. 30-51

In May 1919, as her regular contribution to the Buenos Aires periodical La nota, Alfonsina Storni (1892–1938) crafted the whimsical tale “Historia sintética de un traje tailleur” (The concise story of a tailored dress). In this brief memoir, the garment traces its metamorphosis from the sheep that provided its wool to the tailored suit of a bourgeois porteña to the mended ...

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Chapter 2: Walking Backwards: Victoria Ocampo’s Scenes of Intrusion

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pp. 52-71

Victoria Ocampo’s first play, La laguna de los nenúfares (1926) enacts the journey to maturity of its protagonist, Copo de Nieve, portrayed initially as a “snowflake that doesn’t melt” (14). Shipwrecked, the orphan Copo de Nieve is raised in an idyllic forest by an overprotective Magician and two tutors, Optimio the dog and Atrabilis the cat. But Copo de ...

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Chapter 3: No Place Like Home: Norah Lange’s Art of Anatomy

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pp. 72-91

In the radically transformed landscape of Buenos Aires in the 1920s, the urban nomads of the literary avant-garde enacted a nostalgic quest for fraternity and familiar terrain. “Llaneza” (Plainness), a well-known Borges poem from his first collection, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), inscribes this yearning for participation in the analogy between a ...

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Chapter 4: Choreography with Words: Nellie Campobello’s Search for a Writer’s Pose

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pp. 92-114

In the closing lines of the autobiographical essay that prefaced the 1960 anthology of her writing, Mis libros (My books), Nellie Campobello (1900 –1986)1 described the adolescent frustration she experienced while seeking the “state of mind” of a writer: “I would throw myself on the floor and resting my elbows on the rug . . . I would . . . scrutinize the poses of ...

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Chapter 5: “Dressing and Undressing the Mind”: Antonieta Rivas Mercado’s Unfinished Performance

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pp. 115-134

In the final weeks of her short life and from a self-imposed exile in Bordeaux, France, Antonieta Rivas Mercado (1900 –1931) wrote four chapters of the novel El que huía (The fugitive). Here the Mexican novelist Esteban Malo decides to end his voluntary Parisian exile and react “in real life” to the problems facing his country in the early 1930s ...

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Chapter 6: Acts of Literary Privilege in Havana: Mariblanca Sabas Alomá and Ofelia Rodríguez Acosta

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pp. 135-164

In 1929 the young Cuban feminist Ofelia Rodríguez Acosta published a novel, La vida manda (Life commands), which soon became a two-edition best-seller. The story of the novel’s ill-fated protagonist, Gertrudis, encompasses the experiences attributed to emancipated women by Cuban feminist debates in the 1920s. She works in an office, seeks economic ...

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Chapter 7: Ad-Libs by the Women of Amauta: Magda Portal and María Wiesse

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pp. 165-194

In a 1929 review of Magda Portal’s essay on vanguard poetry, a contributor to José Carlos Mariátegui’s renowned Lima magazine Amauta (1926 –1930) said little about the work itself but waxed ecstatic about its author.1 Calling her his “belligerent comrade” and “the purest feminine revolutionary ferment” of her time, the reviewer consecrated Portal as ...

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Chapter 8: A Refusal to Perform: Patrícia Galvão’s Spy on the Wall

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pp. 195-221

In a lecture on modern art for the March 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna at São Paulo’s Municipal Theatre, a founding moment for the Brazilian vanguard movement modernismo,1 Paulo Menotti del Picchia proclaimed that the new era demanded a new muse. “We want an active Eve,” he declared, “beautiful, practical, useful in the house and on the street, ...


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pp. 222-245


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pp. 246-266


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pp. 267-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796164
E-ISBN-10: 0292796161
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292709454
Print-ISBN-10: 0292709455

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2006