115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Artificial Beings and Consciousness in Santiago Roncagliolo’s Tan cerca de la vida

Adriana Gordillo, Minnesota State University, Mankato

In this presentation, I will explore the development of the interaction between humans and machines most prominently through Santiago Roncagliolo’s novel Tan cerca de la vida, which I will place in dialogue with cultural productions of Latin America as well as the North American science fiction film industry. 


Recent technological advances in robotics, genetic manipulations, and mass communications have fuelled the discussion about the boundaries between humans and machines as seen in movies and series like Ex Machina and Eva, or Battlestar Gallactica and Humans, to name a few. The essence behind this re-creation of worlds where machines and humans share common roles in society and, sometimes, seem indistinguishable one from another, resides in our contradictory relationship with technology. On one hand, the persistent development of technology and the control of the natural world that it has generated resulted in a sense of superiority characteristic of the Western civilization. On the other hand, advances in computer sciences or biotechnology have revived ancestral fears of being displaced by our own creation (Pepperel iii).

This feeling of human vulnerability is not baseless. Recent studies show that Americans are losing the battle for jobs to robots, not to foreign industries or immigrants, an assertion also stressed by former US President Barack Obama during his farewell address. In the next few decades, automation is said to take over 38% of US jobs, 30% of British, 35% of German, and 21% of Japanese jobs (Los Angeles Times). But despite all the gloom and doom cast on these first world nations, Martin Kohr (the Executive Director of the South Center) asserts that the Global South “will likely lose the most from accelerated automation” (Inequality.org). With this in mind, in a globalized and interconnected world that rejoices in the latest advancements in communication devices and software platforms, while also facing the threat of losing human jobs to automation, futuristic and dystopian narratives portrayed in science fiction seem a likely response to a state of crisis. In fact, as David Porush argues, it is through artistic representations that humanity could still feel somewhat in control of machines (8). The question is, thus, if the Global South is the most susceptible area where humans confront their mechanical creations, what kind of artistic/literary responses to this issue has the Latin American region produced during the past century, and how have they changed?

When it comes to Latin American science fiction, the genre has suffered from a reputation of “inferiority to magical realism,” a position that places it within the realm of the “foreign” and “inauthentic” (Brown, Ginway 1). Despite these labels, Latin America has produced a significant volume of science fiction since the 19th century. This presentation will trace the fictionalization of the relationship between humans and machines from the Latin American literary perspective. This exploration opens a window to an often-marginalized discourse that is, like machines in today’s world, steadily gaining ground and positioning itself at the center of an aesthetic of disillusion and a neobaroque paradigm. I will explore the development of this interaction between humans and machines through the analysis of short stories from Pablo Capana (Argentina), Hugo Correa (Chile), and most prominently, through Santiago Roncagliolo’s (Peru) novel Tan cerca de la vida