Dissertation Abstract

I successfully defended my dissertation this past Monday. Here is my final abstract.

My dissertation departs from the idea that horizontal kinship, in particular the sibling bond, has largely been overlooked by criticism of 19th century Argentine literature. Works on the foundational mid-century narratives concentrate on allegorical heterosexual unions, while those of the late century primarily deal with the failed marriages of naturalist fiction. I argue that in viewing the fictional family as a vertical, genealogical structure, these texts often fail to consider what Pierre Bourdieu calls “practical kinship”. Also, in primarily focusing on the novel, they overlook the minor genres to which women were traditionally limited, such as pedagogical texts, as well as private or semi-private writing like the diary and the memoir, in which sibling relations are more prominent. This project, in contrast, takes a politically engaged, socially influential family of writers, rather than a fictional representation, as the framework for analyzing the social, cultural, and political shifts of the turn of the century in Argentina (1890-1910). Focusing on the work of two proto-feminist sisters, Delfina and Julia Bunge, and a closeted homosexual brother, Carlos Octavio Bunge, I study the dynamic relationship between these siblings, reading a wide range of their public and private texts. In dialogue with naturalist novelists and positivist essay writers, la familia Bunge challenges the conventional view that the upper class saw the traditional criollo family unit as the last bastion of stability in the face of sexual and class “inversion” by themselves questioning normative gender roles, complicating compulsory heterosexuality, and performing the gaps in the hegemonic division of public and private space. I analyze siblinghood as a dynamic actor in shaping the literature, culture, and politics of the turn of the century, underscoring the role of relational subjectivities in forming notions of gender, sexuality, citizenship, and mutual intelligibility.

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