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First Monday Lecture Series: Professor Discusses Poverty in Chilean Literature


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Written by: Communicator StaffMarch 26, 2014

On April 7 Professor Stephen Buttes will give a lecture on South American poverty with a focus on two literary works by Chilean author José Donoso.

“The kind of general broad question that I’m interested in is, if you wanted to do something about urban poverty, if you wanted to…find a solution or ameliorate it…why would you write a novel about that? Why would you paint a painting about that?” Buttes asked.

The two books are “This Sunday” written in 1965 and “The Obscene Bird of Night” finished in 1970. The first was largely ignored as commercial fiction, and the second is considered Donoso’s masterpiece, completed after 12 years of continuous work.

Unlike others in his field, Buttes finds “This Sunday” to be an important text that actually contextualizes the second book. It was written during the other’s production, and Buttes feels that it was meant to help set the stage for “The Obscene Bird of Night.” However, he questions the use of fiction as a mode of communication.

“If you wanted to solve poverty, why would you make stuff up about it, you know, why would you tell a fictional story?” asks Buttes.

In truth, Buttes is as interested in what the books represent as he is in the texts themselves.

“There’s just something supremely weird about taking, you know, like, hunger or homelessness or things like this and turning them into something you’re supposed to enjoy at some level as a piece of fiction or a painting or a movie,” Buttes explained.

Normally, Professor Buttes teaches classes in Spanish language, literature and culture. However, he is researching areas in South America as part of a book project he’s working on. He finds the area particularly interesting because of the lack of material on it.

“Poverty is something that exists everywhere, and it’s, you know, it’s one of those things that’s pretty similar everywhere you go, and yet it’s very different, and I’m interested in those differences.”

The lecture will be in the Science Building in room 185, and is free to attend.

Story by: Sean Godfroy