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From the Neo-Picaresque to the Neo-Noir: Black Humor and Violence in the Contemporary Colombian Novel
thesisposted on 01.08.2019 by Andres Aluma-Cazorla
In order to distinguish essays and pre-prints from academic theses, we have a separate category. These are often much longer text based documents than a paper.
Although much has been written on the violence of the Colombian novel of the last several decades (particularly in relation to the novela del sicariato or the novela negra colombiana), but only recently has there been critical interest in examining the role of humor in relation to the literary representation of violence in novels by Colombian authors. My dissertation approaches three recent, commercially successful Colombian novels with identifiable historical references to Colombian history in order to examine how the use of various degrees and types of humor affect both the representation and the reception of violence and political corruption in each of these novels. With this end in mine, I examine the dominant genres that frame both plot and characterization in each of these novels, then proceed to discuss the ways in which comic irony, satire, farce and parody are the filters through which these violent episodes, all loosely based on real events, are depicted. The three novels I examine closely were written between 2010 and 2013: Sergio Alvarez’s 35 muertos (2013), Antonio Ungar’s Tres ataúdes blancos (2010) and Mario Mendoza’s Lady Masacre (2013). Although all three novels are generic hybrids, closer examination shows that each of them both borrows and parodies genres associated largely with comic modes, even if the humor is grim or black, as it often is. 35 muertos can be readily identified as a neo-picaresque, but the picaresque satire is compromised by the highly porno-erotic nature of the protagonist’s frequent sexual encounters and the melodrama that surrounds many of them. Tres ataúdes blancos begins as a comic neo-baroque farce but halfway through the story turns into a combination of thriller and melodrama before an ending that aligns itself with testimonial writing. Lady Masacre wants to be both a neo-noir and a parody of a neo-noir, and its humor varies accordingly. Targets and types of humor vary broadly in these novels. The carnivalesque or grotesque body figures prominently in 35 muertos and Tres ataúdes, although not so much in Lady Masacre, where much of the humor is more absurdist than carnivalesque. Ironic and satirical in most cases, humor serves a critical rather than a palliative function. With the exception of the very first chapters of 35 muertos, it is a humor that makes us wince rather than laugh. In all three novels, the humor that characterizes the early chapters gradually give way to various kinds of sentimentality, melodrama or moral didacticism. The latter brings us to the complicated question of whether humor enhances or obscures the presumed political stance these authors take as they deploy various comic techniques in their fictionalized versions of painful episodes of Colombian history. Whether humor is a way of avoiding ideological commitments in order to appeal to a wider public, or, conversely, a way of issuing a political critique without completely alienating Colombian (and perhaps other Hispanic-speaking readers). The question of the relationship between humor, violence and ethics is an even more complicated one, and although I raise questions related to this issue, I leave these questions open for further reflection and for the next stage of this project.