Landscapes Of Extraction: Capital And Nature In 21st Century Latin America

Julio Sebastián Figueroa, University of Pennsylvania


In this dissertation, I analyze the relationship between extractive capitalism and ecological crisis in a series of novels and documentary films from contemporary Latin America. Focusing on novels such as Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (2004), Lina Meruane’s Fruta Podrida (2007), Samanta Schweblin’s Distancia de Rescate (2014), Juan Cárdenas’ El diablo de las provincias (2017), and documentary films such as Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz (2010) and El botón de nácar (2015), I show how an uncontrolled wave of resource extraction, also known as neo-extractivism, unfolded in Latin American countries during the authoritarian and neoliberal governments that followed the revolutionary struggles of the Sixties and Seventies, and provoked reforms that led to the systemic privatization of nature and labor through political and economic violence. Drawing on a Marxist critique of capitalist ecologies and ecocriticism, this dissertation makes three key claims. First, I argue that resource extraction is the other side of the free-market economy, in that by forcibly separating resources and goods from their environment, particularly in indigenous territories and borderlands, it makes them available as commodities to be traded. Second, I contend that the violence of neo-extractivism provokes a crisis in the aesthetic representation of the landscape and its project to organize social and natural relations, which leads to narratives of environmental catastrophe that contradict ideas of progress and development. Finally, I show that due to Latin America’s role as a source of exports in the world-system, the region’s artistic production not only reveals the intimate relation between extractivism and neoliberalism, but also allows us to visualize the symbolic articulations that emerge from the fracture between human and non-human nature in the peripheries of global capital.