Disaster Writing

Disaster Writing: The Cultural Politics of Catastrophe in Latin America

Mark D. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Disaster Writing
    Book Description:

    In the aftermath of disaster, literary and other cultural representations of the event can play a role in the renegotiation of political power. InDisaster Writing,Mark D. Anderson analyzes four natural disasters in Latin America that acquired national significance and symbolism through literary mediation: the 1930 cyclone in the Dominican Republic, volcanic eruptions in Central America, the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, and recurring drought in northeastern Brazil.

    Taking a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the disaster narratives, Anderson explores concepts such as the social construction of risk, landscape as political and cultural geography, vulnerability as the convergence of natural hazard and social marginalization, and the cultural mediation of trauma and loss. He shows how the political and historical contexts suggest a systematic link between natural disaster and cultural politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3203-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Approaching Disaster
    (pp. 1-28)

    Nothing shakes one’s worldview more than the experience of a natural disaster. Disaster by definition is conceived of as a rupture or inversion of the normal order of things; natural disaster denotes that moment of disjuncture when nature topples what we see as the natural order of human dominance. The natural environment that sustains human populations appears to rebel against us, wreaking havoc on our lives and throwing into question our very identities, as disaster reconfigures suddenly and brutally the lifelong relationships that we have fostered with other people and the places we inhabit. Replenishing rains that nourish lives and...

  5. 1 Disaster and the “New Patria”: Cyclone San Zenón and Trujillo’s Rewriting of the Dominican Republic
    (pp. 29-55)

    The hurricane that struck the Dominican Republic on September 2 and 3, 1930, caused unprecedented damage to the nation’s capital, disrupting severely the nation’s infrastructure as well as its self-image. Santo Domingo’s iconic Río Ozama overflowed with the hurricane’s intense rains, washing out key bridges and port facilities and flooding the neighborhoods along its banks, while winds of up to 150 miles per hour wreaked havoc on tin-roofed, wooden buildings that had been constructed during the period of rapid urbanization from the end of the nineteenth century through the US occupation (1916–1924). Thousands were killed, and a much greater...

  6. 2 Drought and the Literary Construction of Risk in Northeastern Brazil
    (pp. 56-106)

    The sertão, the arid interior of northeastern Brazil, holds a peculiar position in the Brazilian imagination. It is a mythical geography of contradictory fantasies, populated by honest-to-a-fault cowboys and corrupt politicians, Robin Hood–likecangaceiroswho rape and pillage without conscience the poor as well as the rich, and penitent religious fanatics cohabiting freely in orgiastic abandon while sacrificing their children to Old Testament gods. Its figurative landscape evokes the uninhabitable abundance of an inclement paradise; it is an isolated wilderness located beyond the reach of history and capital but mired in a precise moment of European feudalism, a hermetic...

  7. 3 Volcanic Identities: Explosive Nationalism and the Disastered Subject in Central American Literature
    (pp. 107-144)

    Volcanic eruptions figure among the most destructive natural forces conceivable in the human imagination. Memories of the incredible devastation wreaked by volcanoes on human populations from Pompeii, Italy, to Krakatau, Indonesia, and Paricutín, Mexico, linger on in the collective imagination and mythology far beyond the effects of the disasters themselves. Visions of silent cities immersed in stone and, in the case of Pompeii, unsuspecting humans converted instantaneously into monuments to human fragility give material form to millenary fears of an antagonistic nature. Far from the loving mother of human evolution, this vindictive nature stalks us from just beyond the walls...

  8. 4 Fault Lines: Mexico’s 1985 Earthquake and the Politics of Narration
    (pp. 145-190)

    The earthquake that convulsed Mexico City at 7:19 in the morning on September 19, 1985, altered irrevocably a generation’s view of life in Mexico. Despite a long and well-documented history of disasters in the area, appearing in texts as far back as pre-Columbian indigenous codices, no disaster in recent memory had affected the capital in such a drastic manner. Even prior earthquakes such as that of 1957, which caused notable damage to the capital and toppled the iconic Independence Angel from its perch on the Paseo de la Reforma, and the 1979 temblor that leveled the Universidad Iberoamericana did not...

  9. Conclusion: On Writing and the Nationalization of Catastrophe
    (pp. 191-196)

    This book sprang from my interest in how disasters catalyze lasting political and cultural changes and in the roles that writing has played in promoting and consolidating those changes throughout Latin America. I have argued that disasters force the renegotiation and modification of the individual, collective local, and national narratives that endow social and political life with meaning. Every disaster compels those who are affected to generate new, localized narratives, whether written or not, to come to terms with their experience of the catastrophe. These disaster narratives have multiple, overlapping uses, from helping individuals to resolve traumatic experience to upholding...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 197-218)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 219-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-242)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-245)