Mass Media, “realismo villero” and “el sueño argentino”: The Return to Literature in Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s La virgen cabeza (2009)

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Conference Name

American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting

Conference Location

University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Peer Review



This paper begins by developing the concept of "de-fictionalization," which the Argentine author Roberto Arlt develops in his newspaper columns about the Paraná Delta region of Argentina. Bringing this concept to bear on Gabriela Cabezón Cámara's recent novel La virgen cabeza, which narrates the story of contemporary Delta residents living in a villa miseria or shantytown near San Isidro, I suggest that the notion of de-fictionalization is crucial to the primary critical reception of the novel, which has highlighted an interest in biopolitics. These biopolitical approaches tend to foreground what they understand as the novel's postmodernist techniques such as pastiche, bricolage and the “death of the author” in order to assert a collapsing of reality into fiction or the shifting of fiction into reality. For these critics, this process takes place by placing into dialogue de-fictionalized "world fragments" of the realities of poverty in the villa miseria and the Baroque fictions that the novel's protagonist Cleo generates through the religious devotion she inspires in the shantytown residents through her visions of the Virgin Mary. In this reading, it is the indistinguishability between fiction and reality that opens a space to critique and imagine alternatives to a neoliberal economic system that has produced the poverty depicted in the novel.

I depart from these critics by arguing instead that the novel insists on a distinction between the literary (read: the fictional with aesthetic intent that must be read, interpreted and understood) and other sorts of texts (mass media, audiovisual, theatrical, filmic, etc.) and in so doing puts forward a space in which alternative political models can be imagined precisely because they do not exist. In other words, in my reading of Cabezón Cámara's novel, I understand her as privileging not Arlt’s de-fictionalization nor the presentation of indistinguishable fragments of reality and fiction, but rather as advocating for the renewal or return to the specificity of the literary, which emerges as a the site from which new political formations might emerge, new formations based not in the biopolitics of subject production but rather in the imagination and interpretation of alternative worlds that do not depend upon subject position.


Argentina, Latin America, poverty, shantytowns, villas miseria, literature, literary, aesthetic form, form, biopolitics, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, La virgen cabeza


Latin American Literature

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