Beyond Nonsense: The Cunning of Materiality in Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth

Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth lays bare the paradox at the heart of all narratives: we tell stories to understand the world around us, but then the world itself gets confused with the stories we tell. This investigation demonstrates how Luiselli’s novel embodies a positive strategy for dealing with the holes in our world and the stories that we tell about them. The work hinges on a series of miraculous objects (most prominently a pair of Marilyn Monroe’s dentures that grant unheard of powers of eloquence to a destitute amateur auctioneer), and their improbable character makes it impossible to determine which parts of the story “actually happened” and which are nothing but the disjointed hallucinations of a fevered brain. Those holes in the plot are also mirrored by the structure of the novel as whole. Its plot is inextricably bound to a series of memes (including photos, images from Google maps, citations and incisions from the work, and many others) that make the structure of the work irremediably ambiguous and leave the reader to wonder which comes first, the story or its memes? Nevertheless, despite all of these holes, the narrative manages to resist fracturing and instead becomes something greater than itself, a whole greater than its holes. This investigation concludes by showing how Luiselli manages to build an enduring -albeit unwieldy- tower of meaning on the shifting sands of nonsense. 

Track: 

  • Spanish American Studies