“Distinguished Ladies” and the Doctrine of Womanhood: Auto-surveillance and Autoperformance in Diamela Eltit’s E. Luminata

  • Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle The College of New Jersey


Phillipe Lejeune reminds us that “[i]n spite of the fact that autobiography is impossible, this in no way prevents it from existing” (132-3). Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in a history of women’s writing about their lives under dictatorship in which the impossible autobiographical act is not only complicated by the linguistic and narratological confines of self-portraiture, but is also impeded by the oppressive surveillance and censorship of totalitarianism. Although the autobiographical voice is, perhaps, the most powerful device for offering testimony of human rights violations under the absolute power of dictatorship, it is also the most impossible because it is the least likely to see print. And yet, impossible autobiographies written under curfew, in captivity, and other repressive circumstances of dictatorship, prove to adapt and replicate in resilient forms of resistance to tyranny in spite of their own impossibility. They give way to forms of autobiographical inscription that are not only outlaws of genre and convention but also public offenses punishable by death.


This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on October 19th 2015 and published on October 17th 2017.

Author Biography

Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle, The College of New Jersey

Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle is an associate professor of English at The College of New Jersey. She specializes in twentieth-century multiethnic and inter-American literature and autobiographical studies with specific interest in narratives of exile, immigration, and dictatorship throughout the Latin American diaspora. Her recent publications appear, or are forthcoming, in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Life Writing Annual, and The European Journal of Life Writing. She is currently at work on a manuscript about Latin American women’s autobiographical writing and dictatorship.