PhD Dissertation Defense - Posthumous Narration in Portuguese: Dead Story Tellers in Portugal, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, and Brazil

Thursday, April 25, 2019, 10:00 am | Foster Administration Building, Board of Trustees Room

Diana Simoes PHD Dissertation Defense

Department of Portuguese.
PhD in Luso-Afro-Brazilian Studies & Theory

PHD Dissertation Defense

PhD Candidate: Diana Simoes
Where: Foster Administration Building, Board of Trustees Room (3rd floor)
When: Thursday, April 25, 2019, 10:00 am

Abstract. Death in literature is a construction, a representation of an abstract concept. Elisabeth Bronfen and Sarah Goodwin argue, in Death and Representation, that every representation of death is, invariably, a misrepresentation: no dead person has come back to life to tell their story. Dead people are unable to speak and, certainly, unable to write books. However, dead voices have been used for centuries to tell stories, since the Greek heritage of Lucian of Samosata's Dialogues of the Dead (II century) to Machado de Assis's Brazilian novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Br4s Cubas (1881), all the way into the twenty-first century. A

This study addresses the use of fictional posthumous narration in contemporary works of Portuguese-speaking authors through the lens of the fantastic. It proposes a transatlantic comparative reading of twentieth and twenty-first-century lusophone novels and short stories from Brazil (Anibal Machado), Cabo Verde (Orlanda Amarilis, Germano Almeida), Mozambique (Mia Couto), and Portugal (Alexandra Lucas Coelho) that challenge the narrative conventions of verisimilitude and normative speech rules, according to Jan Alber's categories of unnatural narratology. This kind of contemporary postmodern narrative aims at experimenting with language and self-reference, and presents itself as anti-mimetic.

This research questions the overall reason a dead voice is more appropriate to tell a particular story. I focus on who the dead narrators are, why they died, and what they can reveal posthumously. The study challenges the limited scope of Tzvetan Todorov's definition of the fantastic. Instead, it leans towards Rosemary Jackson's broader approach to the fantastic as a type of literature productive in conveying the uncanny feeling of displacement in relation to the social and political systems that oppress and condemn.

Through the comparative analysis of this specific corpus of texts, I show that dead narrators serve three main functions: confession of personal secrets, satire and social criticism, and voicing of forgotten marginalized voices. This research demonstrates that posthumous voices are powerful agents in rewriting historical discourses commonly accepted as authentic. As transcendent figures, they have the authority to speak the truth and reveal secrets. Death provides a safe space to tell a side of the story that they kept silent while alive. I highlight the potential of posthumous narration as a means to uncover and discuss relevant contemporary issues of personal, political, and social identity. These dead narrators question race, gender, and class, while challenging the lusophone colonial heritage.

All are welcome! This defense will be in Portuguese.
Refreshments will be served after the defense (courtesy of the Center for Portuguese Studies/Tagus Press.


  • Prof. Victor K. Mendes, UMD (PhD Adviser)
  • Prof. Anna M. Klobucka, UMD
  • Prof. Dario Borim, Jr., UMD

For additional information, contact: Prof. Victor Mendes, or x8338

Departments Center for Portuguese Studies, Events