This book examines how Latin American detective stories portray individualism and the state through the figures of the private eye and the police. Fabricio Tocco argues that these portrayals constitute a far more radical critique than the one developed by the Anglo-American canon, culminating in a transnational “poetics of failure” rooted in dissatisfaction with the neoliberal state.
Fabricio Tocco is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese convenor at the Australian National University.
Fabricio Tocco’s Latin American Detectives against Power is a magnificent and ambitious work of literary analysis and cultural critique. It is essential reading for anybody interested in the history of the detective genre in Latin America. Moreover, it is also a case study in cultural translation, influence, and resistance, as Tocco shows how and why Latin American authors—from Borges to Bolaño, Ricardo Piglia to Rubem Fonseca—write both within and against a literary tradition imported from Britain and the United States. Finally, and most significantly, this book’s careful and sensitive close readings of individual texts open up to a general theory of the workings of the state in the Southern Cone and elsewhere. Tocco vindicates detective fiction as political philosophy, as a vector through which, in the aftermath of state violence and neoliberalism, Latin Americans have experimented in new ways to think and practice community.
Hardly ever, readings of Latin American detective fiction do not succumb the temptation of a trite cliché: demonizing social crime. Tocco manages to avoid these and other traps, such as reading the South through the Global North lens. Quite the opposite, he thinks from our complex Latin American perspective. He engages with political and literary theory, standing always on the shoulders of our literary and critical traditions—from Borges, to Mempo Giardinelli and Ángel Rama. It is from this position that he opens a dialogue with Roberto Esposito’s philosophical contributions. Far from being mechanistic, this dialogue is original and dynamic. Tocco engages with detective fiction through Esposito’s ideas of immunitas and communitas. He does so by examining the work of three crucial authors: The Argentine Ricardo Piglia, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño, and the Brazilian Rubem Ronseca. In their detective stories, Tocco discerns the fractured communities of Latin America as well as the impossibility of a real choice between individualism and state. Thus, he re-reads the Anglo-American canon, where that choice is never truly questioned. Hence the words alluded to in the title of the book, as it examines the Anglo-American models’ failure to offer a genuine critique of the state. At the same time, this book reclaims the paradoxical and brilliant subversion of the canon in Latin American literature, which becomes a new canon—a new tradition of failure.