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Reframing Excess: Death and Power in Contemporary Mexican Literary and Visual Culture



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Bollington, Lucy J 


My PhD is a study of the politically charged literary and visual works that have emerged in response to escalating violence in contemporary Mexico. Providing close, comparative readings of fictional, theoretical and documentary works by critically-acclaimed authors Jorge Volpi, Cristina Rivera Garza, Mario Bellatin and Juan Pablo Villalobos, and award-winning filmmakers Carlos Reygadas, Amat Escalante and Natalia Almada, my chapters examine explicit and oblique cultural engagements with topics such as the political assassinations of the 1990s, the dispossession brought on by the neoliberal restructuring of the economy, and the violence prompted by the so-called ‘War on Drugs’.

The cultural texts I examine share a concern with visualising and deconstructing the close relationship between death and power that marks the contemporary political terrain. I contend that narrative has become a critical site of cultural contestation, and discuss the ways in which experiments with the assemblage and frustration of narrative intertwine with issues related to visuality, embodiment and the nonhuman. Through my discussion of these themes, I trace out the ways in which cultural texts frequently employ narrative strategies that are rooted in dispersal, displacement and loss when engaging with destructive power. These strategies, I argue, pose urgent questions about the interrelation of violence and aesthetics, speak to critical shifts in the relationship between culture and the nation-state, and are marshalled to launch tentative appeals to forms of politics and ethics that work through spaces of shared dispossession.

My thesis offers an innovative framework through which to theorise these cultural processes by reframing the notion of ‘excess’, a foundational concept in scholarship on death and power that has seen a resurgence in contemporary political philosophy. In dialogue with authors such as Georges Bataille, Achille Mbembe, Adriana Cavarero, Roberto Esposito, Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière, and with close reference to the ‘necropolitical’ theory and cultural texts authored in Mexico, I posit excess as an analytical term that can encompass both reflexive critiques of spectacular violence and latent forms of resistance to this violence that proceed through loss and displacement.





Kantaris, Geoffrey


Necropolitics, Mexican visual culture, Mexican literary culture, posthumanism, violence, the 'War on Drugs', Excess, Biopolitics


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My thesis was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.