Mauricio Oportus Preller (he/him)
PhD Candidate in Comparative Literary Studies
Mauricio Oportus Preller is a PhD candidate in the Comparative Literary Studies program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Focusing on literary representations of legal themes and figures, his research reevaluates the relationship between nation and narration in late nineteenth-century Latin America by revealing the increasingly critical attitudes of writers toward state authority, as well as their changing roles in revealing contradictions in nation-building discourses. Mauricio was awarded a 2022–23 Franke Graduate Fellowship by the Alice Kaplan Institute.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
In all honesty, this is a question I find myself struggling with from time to time. While I have always been drawn to literary texts that explore legal questions (e.g., Kafka, et al.), I have only recently become more aware of how my own upbringing may have influenced my aesthetic predilection for these texts. As of now, I believe that my intuitive mistrust for state and legal authority has a lot to do with having been born and raised in Chile, a country whose current constitutional text was redacted during a dictatorship. I would thus say my work is somewhat inspired by the discontinuities between legality, legitimacy, and justice that I have witnessed in my own political context, and which also find themselves expressed in the novels I work with.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
As someone who enjoys reading, having the chance to work with novels on a daily basis is certainly rewarding, and even more so when you find ways to approach these texts from new perspectives or through the lens of new archives. That said, I find some concrete aspects of my work to be challenging at times, especially with regard to how isolating it can get—reading and writing are, after all, activities that we perform in solitude. Luckily, I have a supporting network of friends and peers at Northwestern, and we do our best to encourage each other in our work.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I have been an Aikido practitioner for about 20 years, and I think I have been doing it for so long because of how much it helps to decompress after work. To me, it is almost like meditation. Of course, spending time with my dogs or watching Netflix with my wife are also some preferred ways to relax after a long day.
What books are on your bedside table?
Beyond the authors I am working with at any given time, there are three books I always go back to for pleasure: Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, and Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Be patient! I was 26 when I started my PhD, and for some reason, I was under the impression that I was coming late into my program. The truth is, finding out what you like and what you are good at takes time, and rushing these processes seldom yields good results. Doing a PhD resembles a marathon, and it is always best to make sure that you are in the proper condition to race it before starting.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
Thanks to my being awarded a Franke Graduate Fellowship by the Alice Kaplan Institute, I will be teaching a course in Spring 2023 focused on representations of outlaws in literature and film (tentatively titled “Law and its Discontents”). This will be my first time teaching a senior course of my own design, and I am really excited to see how it turns out!
Published: March 14, 2023
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