The metafiction (and modernism) of Quiroga, Arlt and Onetti: Debunking the pre-boom lacuna

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Rebecca E. Biron - Committee Chair


The dissertation takes up three River Plate writers whose production between the years 1918 and 1939 exemplifies Western Modernist introspection and responds to a new urban milieu of mechanization, mass culture penetration; and alienation. This corpus includes Horacio Quiroga's film-themed stories and the pulp fiction-inspired work of Roberto Arlt and Juan Carlos Onetti. The research identifies mass-culture items imported into the texts, most notably, Hollywood icons, the anti-hero Rocambole, and Wild West adventure figures. The analysis shows how 'high-end' literary narrative and embedded popular analogues destabilize the aesthetic binary, thereby providing an apt culmination to Modernism's program of self-consciousness. It is demonstrated how these hybrid texts use metafictional strategies to encourage recognition as literary artifacts. These methods include 'high/low' parody, mises en abyme, frame breaks, intertexts and intratexts. The dissertation specifically studies: Quiroga's "Miss Dorothy Phillips, mi esposa" (1919), "El espectro" (1921), "El puritano" (1926), and "El vampiro" (1927); Arlt's pseudo-treatise "Las ciencias ocultas en la ciudad de Buenos Aires" (1920), the novel El juguete rabioso (1926), and the play 300 millones (1932); and, Onetti's vignettes in La tijera de Colon (1928--1929), the novel Tiempo de abrazar (1933--1974), the short stories "Avenida de Mayo - Diagonal Norte - Avenida de Mayo" (1933) and "El posible Baldi" (1936), and the novella El pozo (1939). Because the three authors were lifelong journalists, their relevant reportage is brought into the analysis, namely Quiroga's pioneering film criticism, Arlt's aguafuertes in the tabloid El mundo, and Onetti's articles in Marcha. The writers' positions vis-a-vis the Boedo/Florida vanguard are also reviewed. The dissertation concludes that the work of Quiroga, Arlt, and Onetti participates in a European/North American-style Modernism while at the same time maintaining an autochthonous legitimacy. That finding encourages a literary (re)appraisal of the uncharted period between Latin American modernismo's evanescence early in the last century and the advent of the Boom in the 50s.


Literature, Comparative; Literature, Modern; Literature, Latin American

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