The Insubordination of Signs

Political Change, Cultural Transformation, and Poetics of the Crisis

The Insubordination of Signs

Post-Contemporary Interventions

More about this series

Book Pages: 152 Illustrations: Published: March 2004

Latin American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory, Feminist Theory

Nelly Richard is one of the most prominent cultural theorists writing in Latin America today. As a participant in Chile’s neo-avantgarde, Richard worked to expand the possibilities for cultural debate within the constraints imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990), and she has continued to offer incisive commentary about the country’s transition to democracy. Well known as the founder and director of the influential journal Revista de crítica cultural, based in Santiago, Richard has been central to the dissemination throughout Latin America of work by key contemporary thinkers, including Néstor García Canclini, Jacques Derrida, Fredric Jameson, and Diamela Eltit. Her own writing provides rigorous considerations of Latin American identity, postmodernism, gender, neoliberalism, and strategies of political and cultural resistance.

In The Insubordination of Signs Richard theorizes the cultural reactions—particularly within the realms of visual arts, literature, and the social sciences—to the oppression of the Chilean dictatorship. She reflects on the role of memory in the historical shadow of the military regime and on the strategies offered by marginal discourses for critiquing institutional systems of power. She considers the importance of Walter Benjamin for the theoretical self-understanding of the Latin American intellectual left, and she offers revisionary interpretations of the Chilean neo-avantgarde in terms of its relationships with the traditional left and postmodernism. Exploring the gap between Chile’s new left social sciences and its “new scene” aesthetic and critical practices, Richard discusses how, with the return of democracy, the energies that had set in motion the democratizing process seemed to exhaust themselves as cultural debate was attenuated in order to reduce any risk of a return to authoritarianism.


“The translators have done an eloquent job of rendering Richard’s prose in English, keeping quite loyal to the original. . . . Readers will reposition their own perspectives on debates that have been somewhat ignored in the U.S. academy in recent years and will likely refine their own theoretical apparatuses, thanks to Richard’s challenging essays.” — Marcy Schwartz , Intertexts

“These collections of essays have been extremely well translated by Alice Nelson and Silvia Tandeciarz. . . . [They] provide a clear overview of Richard’s writings and will help to introduce an important cultural critic to a new English speaking readership.” — Deborah Shaw , Bulletin of Latin American Research

"In addition to speaking more generally about the Chilean cultural scene, both of Richard's books contain some very fine readings of particular works of art." — Adriana Michele Campos Johnson , CR: The New Centennial Review

"Nelly Richard offers dazzling insight into political art in this book of essays finally translated into English. . . . Hers is a welcome critical voice for all of us: artists, activists, keepers of the margin, and defenders of the fragment." — Amy Villarejo, Altar Magazine

“At last, Nelly Richard’s work is available for English-language readers. A leading figure in the theater of Latin American critical debate, Nelly Richard has written with unorthodox brilliance about the Chilean transition to democracy, North-South cultural relations, and the value of aesthetic intervention to rethink the politics of difference.” — Francine Masiello, author of The Art of Transition: Latin American Culture and Neoliberal Crisis

“The Chilean publication of this book and of its companion volume (Masculine/Feminine) confirmed and advanced Nelly Richard’s reputation as one of the foremost critical voices of the age. Richard’s brand of cultural critique, informed by a thorough attention to contemporary forms of subjectivity, is unmatched in the force of its theoretical articulation, its aesthetic sensitivity, and its sharp deployment of political strategies. Nelly Richard is today an essential reference for intellectual work in Latin America and beyond.” — Alberto Moreiras, author of The Exhaustion of Difference: The Politics of Latin American Cultural Studies

"Nelly Richard mobilizes language into a trenchant critique of the political, academic, and market-oriented production of meaning that ushers in quiescent solutions to crises such as that of the postdictatorial reconciliation in Chile. Like the aesthetic projects she endorses, her work gives expression to the ‘diffuse zones of the unsaid.’ Richard wrestles the materiality of critique so that it maintains the inscriptions of antagonism, making it an indispensable instrument for an effective democratic culture. In The Insubordination of Signs, her words add muscle to the Benjaminian insight into rebellious memories that will not be quashed by ‘final and totalizing truths.’” — George Yúdice, author of The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era


Availability: In stock
Price: $23.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nelly Richard is a renowned Latin American cultural studies theorist. Born in France and a graduate of the Sorbonne, Richard has lived in Chile since 1970. Among her many books are La estratificación de los márgenes and Políticas y estéticas de la memoria.

Alice A. Nelson is a Member of the Faculty at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She is the author of Political Bodies: Gender, History, and the Struggle for Narrative Power in Recent Chilean Literature.

Silvia R. Tandeciarz is Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at the College of William and Mary. She is the author of Exorcismos, a book of poetry.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Author’s Note

Translators’ Acknowledgments xi

Note on This Translation xvii

1. Ruptures, Memory, and Discontinuities (Homage to Walter Benjamin) 1

2. A Border Citation: Between Neo- and Post-Avant-Garde 23

3. Destruction, Reconsstruction, and Deconstruction 39

4. The Social Sciences: Front Lines and Points of Retreat 51

5. Staging Democracy and the Politics of Difference 65

6. Conversation: German Bravo, Martin Hopenhayn, Nelly Richard, and Adriana Valdes 77

Notes 103

Bibliography 113

Index 121
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3339-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3327-2
Publicity material