Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Marie E. Escalante


This dissertation studies how Spanish American novels and plays from the early 19th Century construct collective identity. Instead of focusing purely on the allegorical formulation of national identity, I identify a complementary mode of political expression that slips cosmopolitan, transnational, and colonial perspectives into nation-building discourse.

Slippery Solidarity begins by characterizing the “performative” rhetorical devices that carve a space for counter-national perspectives within romanticism’s predominantly national framework. In its most basic sense, “to perform” is to be reflexive about how one acts. I classify pretending, juxtaposing, and parodying as “performative” rhetorical devices because they self-reflexively display the intersection of national and counter-national perspectives. I show that, unlike allegorical texts, in which self-referentiality serves to authoritatively stabilize the concept of the “nation,” performative texts employ this technique in order to destabilize and then transform various tenets of nation-building discourse. Pretending, juxtaposing, and parodying question the patriotic call to take up arms and defend a singular motherland, the state’s homogenizing process of exclusion, the civilización/barbarismo dichotomy, and the narrative of national mestizaje. By combining allegorical and performative devices, José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, Soledad Acosta de Samper, and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda test the complementarity of national, cosmopolitan, transnational, and post-colonial dispositions during the Independence Period. Pretending evokes the cosmopolitan critique of nationalist violence in El periquillo sarniento (1816); juxtaposing depicts the transnational romance in Una holandesa en América (1876); and parodying critiques the colonial roots of the mestizo nation in La hija de las flores, o Todos están locos (1852).

This dissertation thus makes two central interventions. First, it traces the cosmopolitan and transnational dispositions that we tend to associate with modernismo and the vanguardia back to romanticismo. In doing so, it characterizes the aesthetic diversity and political complexity of the literature of this period. Secondly, this dissertation paves the way for more nuanced analyses of 19th-century Spanish American literature, ones in which national-allegorical interpretation is not the default mode, but one possible reading—among many—of the dialogue between literature and politics.