Exam List 2: 19th Century Paris & Buenos Aires

Balzac’s “Ferragus” begins with an ambivalent ode to the city of Paris, “le plus délicieux des monstres,” a creature with a thousand legs and a human face, a mystery to all but its devotees. While Balzac’s narrative leads us to suspect an almost demonic human agency behind a block of granite falling from a construction Rousseau’s depersonifying gaze glances the blows of intentionally thrown stones by imagining them as the work of blind necessity. The ironic gaze of the city mocks its inhabitant with a constant double reading: human and non-human, a construction of thousands of human agents but always in excess of human control. Hugo’s comparison of architecture to the printing press, and the corresponding efforts by Quasimodo and Claude Frollo to make the structure of the city speak, are thus apt—the city is structured like a language, a mutable/immutable system of unmasterable signs produced by no singular agency, a book that, like Poe’s man of the crowd, does not permit itself to be read.

This list will investigate this series of tropes that emerge at the nexus of efforts to read and write the 19th century city as a text or system of signs; that is, it will consider the nature of the relationship between language and urban space as that relationship is exploited in 19th century literature. On the one hand, I will consider various attempts to render the city legible as a system of signs for identity or social class, alongside corresponding glorifications and vilifications of the mystery and illegibility of the city. On the other hand, these considerations will be met with a simultaneous move away from the referential context of the historical city in the direction of the allegorical.

Primary Texts


Balzac, Honoré de. “Ferragus” and “La Fille aux yeux d’or” in Histoire des Treize.

Baudelaire, Charles. “Tableaux Parisiens” in Les Fleurs du Mal; excerpts from Le Spleen de Paris.

Hugo, Victor. Notre Dame de Paris.

Flaubert, Gustave. L’Education sentimentale.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Chanson Bas”; “Le Phénomène futur ;” “Le Démon de l’analogie,” “Un Spectacle interrompu,”

Nerval, Gerard de. Les Nuits de Octobre, “Pandora,” Aurélie.

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Man of the Crowd.”

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Les Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire, esp. “Deuxième Promenade,” “Septième Promenade,” and “Huitième Promenade.”

Zola, Emile. Le Ventre de Paris, La Curée.

Buenos Aires

Cambaceres, Eugenio. Sin Rumbo.

Darío, Rubén. Selections from Prosas Profanas.

Echeverría, Esteban. El Matadero.

Groussac, Paul. “Vistas Parisienses” in El Viaje Intelectual.

López, Lucio Vincente. La Gran Aldea.

Mansilla, Lucio Victorio. Selections from Entre Nos: Causeries del Jueves.

Mármol, José. Amalia.

Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. Facundo. Civilización y Barbarie.

Secondary Texts

Benjamin, Walter. “Paris, Capital of the 19th Century,” “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.”

Buck-Morss, Susan. Dialectics of Seeing.

Burt, Ellen. “Mapping City Walks: The Topography of Memory in Rousseau’s Second and Seventh Promenades.”

De Certeau, Michel. “Spatial Practices” in The Practice of Everyday Life.

Gorelik, Adrian. La Grilla y el Parque.

Harvey, David. Paris, Capital of Modernity.

Jitrik, Noé. El 80 y su mundo.

Liernur, Jorge. La Ciudad Efímera.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space.

Prendergast, Christopher. Writing the City: Paris and the Nineteenth Century.

Rabinow, Paul. French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment.

Rama, Angel. La Ciudad Letrada.

Ramos, Julio. Desencuentros de la Modernidad en América Latina.

Sommer, Doris. Chapters 1 and 2 in Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America.

Stierle, Karlheinz. La Capitale des Signes.

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