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Unit information: Oceanic Images in Modern Chilean Culture in 2018/19

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Unit name Oceanic Images in Modern Chilean Culture
Unit code HISP30084
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Paul Merchant
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The sea is a constant but unsettling presence in Chilean culture. This unit explores how writers and artists have turned towards the Pacific Ocean in order to represent people and ideas that have been marginalised by conventional narratives about Chilean modernity. Inspired by the sea’s restlessness, avant-garde artists from Vicente Huidobro to Raúl Zurita and Cecilia Vicuña challenge the boundaries between aesthetic forms. Images of the declining fortunes of the port of Valparaíso in the middle of the 20th century reflect on the people excluded from Chile’s economic development. Contemporary cinema, meanwhile, broaches issues from the destruction wrought by tsunamis to the eradication of seafaring indigenous peoples.

Through close analysis of a range of media, students will reflect on the differing ways in which artworks relate to and contest ideas about national identity, political dissidence, transnational exchange, and the place of humanity in the natural world. Critical frameworks such as ecocriticism will be brought into contact with historical contexts, from the legacy of the War of the Pacific (1879-83) to the desire to forge new connections globally after Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. A wide-ranging and critical understanding of key social, political, and environmental issues in modern Chile.
  2. Ability to engage in close analysis of a wide range of media, including film, poetry and visual art.
  3. A critical awareness of the theoretical scholarship in the field of study and the ability to express this in written and oral form, as appropriate to level H.
  4. Advanced research skills appropriate to level H and ability to collaborate effectively in group work.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week, including plenary presentation, class discussions and small group work.

Assessment Details

Group presentation (15-20 minutes) and individual 1,000 word write up (30%: 15% group mark for presentation, 15% for individual write-up), testing ILOs 1-4.; 4,000 word essay (70%), testing ILOS 1-4.

Reading and References

Selected poems by Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Raúl Zurita

Sergio Larraín, Valparaíso (2017) (photography)


Aldo Francia, Valparaíso mi amor (1967)

Ricardo Larraín, La frontera (1991)

Ignacio Agüero, Sueños de hielo (1993)

Cecilia Vicuña, Kon Kon (2010)

Sebastián Lelio, El año del tigre (2011)

Pablo Larraín, El club (2015)

Patricio Guzmán, El botón de nácar (2015)

Visual art: Gianfranco Foschino (2015-16)

Key Readings:

Hester Blum, ‘The Prospect of Oceanic Studies’, PMLA 125:3 (May 2010), 670-77

Ascanio Cavallo and Gonzalo Maza (eds), El novísimo cine chileno (Santiago de Chile: Uqbar, 2010)

Adrian J. Ivakhiv, Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2013)

Tomás Moulian, Chile actual: anatomia de un mito (Santiago de Chile: LOM, 2002)

Nelly Richard, The Insubordination of Signs: Political Change, Cultural Transformation, and Poetics of the Crisis (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2004)