By Julie Clack
On October 12, over 40 students, faculty, staff and friends gathered on Princeton University’s campus for a tribute to Ricardo Piglia, professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, emeritus. Piglia died Jan. 6 of cardiac arrest from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was 76.
Titled “The Whisperers,” the event was a collective performance on the act of reading as a public intervention and a form of secular prayer. As the group walked around campus, each participant read aloud from their selection of Piglia’s work or the work of one of his preferred authors. The selections ranged from Latin American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Arlt, and Juan Carlos Onetti; to American authors such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. The tribute was organized by Vivi Tellas, an Argentinian director and curator and close friend of Piglia’s.
The collective performance was followed by a presentation on Piglia’s last book, Escritores norteamericanos (American Writers). Escritores is comprised of a selection of short portraits of renowned and minor American writers and a classic essay on crime fiction, written by Piglia in the late 1960s. Read today, the collection of short texts provides a reflection on the boundaries between fiction and the essay form, as well as on the political power of writing as an act of reading. Professors Arcadio Díaz Quiñones and Pedro Meira Monteiro discussed Escritores with Julieta Mortati and Edgardo Dieleke, the book’s editors.
Dieleke, who earned his Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, worked with Piglia in numerous capacities over the course of his career. “Piglia was one of my dissertation advisors and one of the best professors I had,” said Dieleke. “[He] also offered me the chance of working with him as a teaching assistant on his course, ‘Tango, Literature and Argentine Modernity.’”
After finishing his Ph.D., Dieleke moved back to Buenos Aires, where Piglia lived after his retirement in 2011. Piglia continued acting as a mentor to Dieleke, collaborating with him on an unfinished film and offering advice on the films Dieleke directed. “Professor Piglia was a key figure to help out in the editing of my first film, adding his unique understanding of narrative,” Dieleke said. “Over the last two years, when I was working on a new film, he kept asking me about my new ideas for the film.”
Piglia also trusted the publication of Escritores to Tenemos las Máquinas, the small, independent publishing house Dieleke works at as an editor. “Piglia showed his generosity with young publishers and artists, sharing his knowledge and opening up new opportunities for younger generations,” Dieleke remarked. “He was an inspiring intellectual and writer but also a very generous friend, always open to sharing his views and opinions.”
The confluence of walking and reading was a fitting tribute to Piglia’s intellectual openness and his impact on colleagues at Princeton and abroad. You can read more about Piglia’s life and legacy on Princeton University’s website.