Being not there
Studies of Latin American culture have returned time and again to the issue of how to capture the many conflicts and tensions inherent in national, group, and individual identities of the region. This dissertation examines an overlooked component of identity debates: the experience of being anonymous or unrecognized. In particular, I focus on late twentieth and early twenty-first century representations of anonymity in Argentina and Brazil. These countries share various key characteristics: emergence from recent military dictatorships; accelerating urbanization and globalization; rapid transformation of public spaces and media technologies that shape the possibilities of expressing an identity and having it recognized. Within these contexts, my dissertation considers a corpus of novels and films centered on attempts to either escape anonymity or become anonymous. Chapter 1 analyzes the decay of family and community bonds as a source of recognition and social value in Fernando Bonassi’s Subúrbio and Guillermo Saccomanno’s El oficinista. Chapter 2 examines media technology and the relationship between audiences and celebrities. I read Alejandro López’s La asesina de Lady Di and Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s O anônimo célebre as depictions of individuals seeking mass-media fame as a form of large-scale, public recognition. Chapter 3 looks at two cinematic representations of the bus 174 hijacking in Rio de Janeiro. José Padilha’s Ônibus 174 and Bruno Barreto’s Última parada 174 show the challenge of preserving the disruptive potency of the hijacker’s demand for recognition, and the danger of neutralizing it through conventional narrative tropes. Chapter 4 analyzes representations of “desired anonymity” in Sergio Chejfec’s novel Mis dos mundos and Albertina Carri’s film Los rubios. The first explores the freedom of anonymous wandering in cosmopolitan and digital spaces. The latter imagines the creation of a community in which the burden of post-dictatorship memory and identity can be de-individualized and shared. Taken together, these works illustrate the continued demand to identify oneself and be(come) recognized as a basis for everyday social-civil interactions. They also question the value and viability of expressing a clear identity or cohesive self-narrative in contemporary Argentine and Brazilian society.