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In after -dinner conversation: The diary of a decadent (a critical translation of José Asunción Silva's “De sobremesa”)

Richard Kelly Washbourne, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My dissertation consists of a critical, annotated and translated edition, in English, of the fin-de-siècle novel, De sobremesa (1896), a key work of Modernista prose in Spanish America by Colombian writer José Asunción Silva. The edition features the translation, endnotes, an interdisciplinary introductory study and bibliography. After an introduction of the writer, I consider the work's form as a hybrid travelogue, memoir and manifesto, or ars poetica in prose, and its relationship to Decadence in form and content. I invoke examples of the confessional genre and memoirs from the day, and support suggestions that the novel anticipates later novels of dislocation and fragmentation. I contextualize the work as a product of the epoch's nascent ideas of psychotherapy, psychopathology and illness, and thus duly examine the presence and function of “pseudo-science” and the cult of scientific authority in the work. Accordingly, the remnant Catholic apparatus the hero adheres to is considered against his amorality. I explain this value system as partially a product of Paris, a space that is invented/discovered in the Latin American imaginary. I then treat the body in the novel, in dialogue with critics who note the novel's “medical gaze.” In this connection I study the characterization of science, normalcy, power, and subversive erotics. Appropriately I characterize the professionalization of medicine at the time and the so-called “therapeutic ethos” counterpoised to the neurotic aesthetics then in vogue. Consequently I explore the tropes of illness in the novel, specifically tuberculosis, nerves and madness. Subsequently I examine consumer psychology, and insert the hero's neo-feudal values in that era's material culture. Finally I discuss the translation process in theory and praxis, and in my translation proper provide notes to allusions and intertexts.

Subject Area

Latin American literature

Recommended Citation

Washbourne, Richard Kelly, "In after -dinner conversation: The diary of a decadent (a critical translation of José Asunción Silva's “De sobremesa”)" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056286.