Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Photography, Punctum and Shock: Re-viewing Juan Rulfo's Short Stories

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2014), 91, (4), 437–452.

Abstract

Prominent and proliferating readings locate mythical structures at the heart of Juan Rulfo's literary world. Notably, Raymond Bartra and María Luisa Ortega suggest that his works are structured around universal, timeless myths that embed individual experiences in a collective narrative. In this article, I argue that Rulfo's narrative technique is also connected with an extra-literary, eminently modern técnica: photographic technology. Rulfo's short story collection El llano en llamas (1953) is viewed through three intersecting critical frames: Walter Benjamin's writings on the modern ‘shock’ experience; the idea of the ‘knock-out’ in Julio Cortázar's theory of the short story; and Roland Barthes' notion of the photographic ‘punctum’. My contention is that an aesthetics of photographic shock underlies Rulfo's short stories, producing tears in the narrative fabric and invoking the reader's participation through particular, personal, contingent effects.

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Bell, Lucy