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Abstract

The present study offers an analysis of an often neglected—and contentious—corpus of Mexican novels published at the turn of the twenty-first century. These novels are part of what has been called literature of narcotrafficking or, more specifically, narconovelas: a group of texts that imagine the violent world and cultures of drug trafficking in Mexico. Although critics such as the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi have claimed that narratives of drug trafficking presuppose a new magical realism that reproduce a discourse of Latin American exoticization, I argue against this notion. In fact, novels such as Yuri Herrera’s Trabajos del reino (2004), Guillermo Fadanelli’s Hotel DF (2010) and Daniel Sada’s El lenguaje del juego (2012) explore the ways in which the machinery of drug trafficking becomes a generator of literary aesthetics. As such, these novels present a reformulation of the core elements of the literary legacy of nineteenth-century in Latin America, during the period of national formation: the notions space, sovereignty and art. They present drug cartels are crafters of spatial configurations that call into question the previously ordered spatiality forged by the sovereign state. Narcotrafficking performs a constant erasure of the borders and geographical limits. Cartels form a multiplicity of protean, mobile, unstable borders that cannot be represented through maps when they take hold of the territories. Control over a territory—as I argue these texts show—is established by waging an incessant war against any and all perceived threats. In so doing, these novels also attempt to reconstruct and impart order over spatialities that had been traditionally associated with the power of the sovereign state but that have become fractured with the emergence of the power of narcotrafficking. As art, and as cultural productions, so-called narconovelas fashion themselves as one of the very few outlets for organizing this chaotic reproduction of borders in Mexico. As such, literature itself becomes a map with which to make sense of this volatile spatiality. All of the texts analyzed also coincide in their representations of this testing of power. Capos, those commanding subjects at the head of drug cartels, gain control of both territories and subjects by developing archaic forms of power. In these texts, capos and cartels are fashioned after medieval power structures. The drug lord becomes either a feudal lord or a king that is closely followed by a group of courtiers; territories grabbed from the state become a kingdom. Furthermore, this absolutist form of power that articulates its sovereignty by distributing systematic death requires the presence of an artistic subject in its group of courtiers. But without art, or an artist that will fulfill its role, it would be impossible to disseminate the mythology of the drug lord’s sovereignty, nor would it be possible to solidify spatial control. Thus narcotrafficking uses artistic creation as a weapon at the service of its power. However, the literature of narcotrafficking attempts to dismantle these inner workings by subverting them. These novels are not interested in reifying the drug lords or the cartels. As I argue, their undertaking points at the articulation of an emerging set of codes that resists the overwhelming violence of narcotrafficking, a violence which threatens to occlude the conditions of possibility of intellectual discourse.

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