Theses Doctoral

Bleeding Nations: Blood Discourses and the Interpretation of Violence in Mid-Nineteenth Century Spanish America (1838-1870)

Quintero Mächler, Alejandro

My dissertation examines how mid-nineteenth century Spanish American letrados in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico –considered as exemplary case studies–, interpreted the unending violence present in their nations. They did so, I argue, by resorting to what I term “blood discourses”: overdetermined, shared, contested, and unstable textual and visual discourses, wide in connotations but mainly –not solely– coming from an inherited medical and religious tradition. These blood discourses were a direct response to a concrete reality which belied the promises of the independence process: surrounded by civil and international war, political polarization, and “caudillo” authoritarianism, letrados of varied ideological stances made use of and disputed these inherited, ready-made and ready-at-hand “blood discourses” to endow with meaning the national violence that surrounded them and establish foundational narratives. In doing so, they enacted three interconnected intellectual procedures, which I analyze distinctly, in the invigorated public sphere of the time.

These three interconnected procedures or operation, in turn, were buttressed by a hemato-centric conception of rhetoric which guaranteed their efficacy: first, letrados developed “circulatory diagnoses”, assuming the role of the nation’s “physician-letrados”, a procedure which will be examined in Juan Manuel de Rosas’s Argentina; second, they engaged in what I term “work on martyrdom”, the elaboration of genealogical martyrdom narratives, as will be shown by analyzing the case of the Archbishop of Bogotá, Manuel José Mosquera; and finally, building upon the first two operations, they effected a “coagulation of memory” which enabled them, in their role as “historian-genealogists”, to construct a representation of national history based and substantiated by the shedding of blood. This last chapter will focus on the Mexican El libro rojo, a landmark work on the nation’s own representation of history.

Through a heterogeneous archive of sources belonging to a wide ideological spectrum –newspapers, essays, novels, historical works, images, even monuments– my dissertation contends that these ubiquitous visual and textual discourses on violence lie at the core, as conditions of possibility, of how Spanish American letrados thought, wrote, and visualized the Nation. Additionally, by bringing together religion, political economy, and historiography, it allows blood discourses to bridge distinct realms of the period’s vast intellectual output. Lastly, by adopting an international, continental perspective, it overcomes the disproportionate presence of “national histories” showcasing instead similitudes and differences but also transferences and influences beyond national boundaries. Throughout the dissertation, the productive influence of philosophers, anthropologists, and historians – foremost among them Gil Anidjar, Reinhardt Koselleck, Adriana Cavarero, William Reddy, Hans Blumenberg, Elaine Scarry, Stephen Bann, and Thomas W. Laqueur– helped me frame my concepts and construct my own interpretative schemes. In short, by having an impact on the disciplines of Intellectual History, Religious Studies, and Nation-building, this dissertation hopes to shed new light on how the visual and textual interpretation of violence is inseparable from, and indeed made possible by, what I take to be “blood discourses” and the three intrinsically related operations they gave rise to.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Montaldo, Graciela Raquel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2020