Landscapes of Extraction and the Memories of Extinction in Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz and El botón de nácar


  • J. Sebastián Figueroa University of Pennsylvania



Patricio Guzmán, extraction, extinction, landscape, memory, history


      Focusing on Guzmán's essay films Nostalgia de la luz (2010) and El botón de nácar (2015), in this article I argue that the ambiguity between reference and abstraction that pervades the visual representation of landscape in late capitalism offers a productive way to map out the processes of extinction caused by continual histories of extraction. This ambiguity not only reveals the limits of the landscape-form to convey the degradation of nature, but also the progressive disappearance of the human subject from the center of history in such spaces where capital seeks time and time again to resolve its internal contradictions through new forms of resource extraction. In this fashion, Guzmán’s totalizing aspiration to represent the historical, archaeological, and even cosmological pasts through the landscapes of the Atacama Desert and Patagonia becomes a way to explain how capital has moved from the human to the planetary, which entails a larger alteration of ecological metabolism and transforms extinction into the only historical horizon. I conclude that the memory of past processes of extraction and extinction inscribed in these landscapes can also function as a prolepsis of a future without us, thus presenting an opportunity to reactivate the subject’s historical potential to change the way we relate to nature.


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Author Biography

J. Sebastián Figueroa, University of Pennsylvania

Sebastián Figueroa is a PhD candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds an MA in Modern Letters from Universidad Iberoamericana, Ciudad de México, and a BA in Spanish and Education from Universidad Austral de Chile. His research focuses on contemporary fiction and film from Latin America and the political economy of resource extraction. More broadly, he is interested in the relationship between money and literature, the problem of ecology in critical and media theory, environmental humanities, and the politics of exile. His essays have appeared in Revista Chilena de Literatura, LaFuga, Estudios Filológicos, and Boletín Hispánico Helvético, among others. Dracma, his first collection of poetry, was published in 2016 (Valdivia, Serifa).