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“[It is] impossible to find a better introduction to the labyrinth, enigma, and delight that is Argentina, from the first sightings to the latest curses. Splendid and indispensable!”—Ariel Dorfman
This diverse collection brings together songs, articles, comic strips, scholarly essays, poems, and short stories. Most pieces are by Argentines. More than forty of the texts have never before appeared in English. The Argentina Reader contains photographs from Argentina’s National Archives and images of artwork by some of the country’s most talented painters and sculptors. Many selections deal with the history of indigenous Argentines, workers, women, blacks, and other groups often ignored in descriptions of the country. At the same time, the book includes excerpts by or about such major political figures as José de San Martín and Juan Perón. Pieces from literary and social figures virtually unknown in the United States appear alongside those by more well-known writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Ricardo Piglia, and Julio Cortázar.
The Argentina Reader covers the Spanish colonial regime; the years of nation building following Argentina’s independence from Spain in 1810; and the sweeping progress of economic growth and cultural change that made Argentina, by the turn of the twentieth century, the most modern country in Latin America. The bulk of the collection focuses on the twentieth century: on the popular movements that enabled Peronism and the revolutionary dreams of the 1960s and 1970s; on the dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 and the accompanying culture of terror and resistance; and, finally, on the contradictory and disconcerting tendencies unleashed by the principles of neoliberalism and the new global economy. The book also includes a list of suggestions for further reading.
The Argentina Reader is an invaluable resource for those interested in learning about Argentine history and culture, whether in the classroom or in preparation for travel in Argentina.
How to begin? This was the question that we asked ourselves when deciding on the design and scope of the story that The Argentina Reader would tell. There were many beginnings at hand, all equally convincing and with the right historical credentials: the May Revolution against Spain in 1810; the declaration of independence in 1816; the definitive constitution of the state in 1880. Argentina's colonial past was not the most obvious choice. After all, there were no magnificent Amerindian empires to speak of, and, until the second half of the eighteenth century, the Spanish crown showed little interest in a region lacking in minerals and spices. Modern Argentina's persistent disavowal of its colonial origins made that era's relevance even harder to justify. By inaugurating our presentation with a section on Argentina's colonial history we are not indulging in archival curiosities. Our purpose is to call attention to continuities within profound transformations. Thus, even though we are aware that colonial Argentina might be considered a false beginning since, properly speaking, Argentina did not exist until after independence, we find it unquestionable that the country's colonial genealogy was fundamental indeveloping the style of its nation building.
Argentina's colonial past is rooted in the history of what used to be the provinces of Río de la Plata-an area that extended roughly from the Straits of Magellan to Asunción in Paraguay and from the Atlantic coast of Uruguay to the Andes. For most of the colonial period, this vast region was but a minor extension of the viceroyalty of Peru, sparsely settled and offering no clear military or economic value to the Spanish Empire. This was particularly true on the Atlantic side. Although its founding in 1536 marked the first Spanish settlement in the region, Buenos Aires and its hinterland remained peripheral to the Spanish colonial system until late in the eighteenth century. Most of the cities founded in the first wave of Spanish conquest were located in the interior. After Buenos Aires came Asunción, now the capital of Paraguay. In the 1560s, other cities were established in Tucumán in the Northwest and in Cuyo. Salta, La Rioja, Córdoba, Santa Fé, Corrientes, San Luis, Jujuy, and Santiago del Estero followed soon afterward. All these cities' economies were subordinated to Spain's organizing principle for its South American colonies: maximizing the flow of silver from the mines of Potosi, in Bolivia, to Lima, Peru. Only when Portugal and England began to exert pressure on the Atlantic side did the crown create the viceroyalty of the provinces of Rio de la Plata with Buenos Aires as its capital. The new administrative unit, founded in 1776, would not last long. Local discontent with Spain's commercial monopoly over local products, combined with the crisis of power produced by Napoléon's invasion of Spain, soon brought about the collapse of colonial rule. By then, Buenos Aires was already the most important commercial and economic center in the region, and the rivalries with a dependent interior had begun.
The Spanish viewed the American continent as a vacant, natural space, existing outside history, intended for the gradual spread of Christianity and European culture. Through the lenses of these ethnocentric ideals, America's native inhabitants appeared to be Spain's diametric opposite: peoples without civility, without religion, without history. Complicitous with this view was the use of two complementary functional operations to master land and people: the imposition of a new spatial order, through the elaboration of maps and the division of the territory into colonial administrative units, and the acculturation of the Amerindians through evangelization. The nomadic lifestyle of the Amerindian groups inhabiting the provinces of Río de la Plata-entailing as it did the lack of urban centers and roads and the near absence of agricultural activity-played into the imperial view, which tended to see nothing but emptiness.
To represent this first stage of the Spanish conquest, we have selected excerpts from some of the many travelogs and chronicles that fed the Spanish imperial archive with maps and catalogs of the conquered lands as well as with stories about European encounters with Amerindian difference. The repertoire of colonial images coming out of that incredible mass of writing would play a central role in Argentina's historical self-perception after independence from Spain. An important contribution of the geographic imagination of travelers and explorers visiting the area was the construction of emblematic zones-the littoral, the pampas, Patagonia, the frontier-and symbolic figures such as the woman captive and the savage Amerindian. Outside this collective core of ideas, disagreement was not uncommon. Father Strobel's celebration of the Guaraní people as ideal Christians in a letter to another Jesuit in 1729 demonstrates, for example, that, when it came to religion, the conquest was not a uniform enterprise and that there were competing agendas within the same imperial project. To help counter the predominant colonial perspective, we have included a Tehuelches mythical narrative as an example of the many Amerindian histories of the land that were silenced by colonial intervention. Its placement at the very beginning, before the Spanish and European sources, should not give the reader the impression that Amerindian narratives are mere souvenirs from a largely obliterated, prehistorical time. Not only did they survive four centuries of open conflict with dominant views, but many of them are still part of the cultural memories of the few Amerindian communities remaining in the country today. It is in this sense that they are also part of an unspoken present.
The remaining texts in this section were chosen because they reveal the emergence of economic and social forces that influenced Argentina's nation-building enterprise in the nineteenth century. First, they attest to the slow but uninterrupted formation of a Creole elite, consisting of people of Spanish origin but born in America who shared the same experiences and cultural roots and whose economic interests were repeatedly at odds with those of the Spanish crown. Their systematic exclusion from the colonial administration only deepened their sense of identity. Second, the texts attest to the emergences of the gauchos as a key force in local politics in the second half of the eighteenth century. The readings reveal the first signs of a complex and lasting antagonism that would come to define the relationship between these two groups. The ambiguous attitude that surfaces in Maciel's and Sánchez de Thompson's colonial pieces, in reference to the gaucho troops who defended the colony against non-Spanish imperial powers, would return during the process of national organization, when the gauchos became both the heroes and the victims of the newly created national state. Argentina's enduring and controversial association with England also originated in the last years of the colonial period. Sánchez de Thompson's unequivocally erotic admiration for the British troops entering Buenos Aires during the British invasion of 1806 presages the future role of England as Spain's imperial successor in Argentina's long romance with Europe.
The Deeds of Elal
The Western notion of history is by necessity ethnocentric in its interpretation of events. We must be willing, then, to imagine what has been left unsaid in the historical version that has prevailed. The outlines of what is now Argentina and the imperial notion of empty space that guided the imposition of the notion of Argentina on the landscape do not reflect the mosaic of conflicting territorial configurations that existed in colonial times. Jurisdictions created by the Spanish administration largely disregarded preexisting divisions historically maintained through the oral traditions of Amerindian tribes. Various and varied indigenous communities inhabited the region known as the provinces of the Río de la Plata under Spanish rule. On the plains were the Pampas, Charrúas, Guaraníes, Timbúes, and Kaigang; in the North the Matacos, Abipones, Mocobíes, and Tobas; in Patagonia the Puelches, Tehuelches, Araucanians, Selkman, and Yamanas; in Cuyo the Huarpes; and in the Center and the Andean Northwest the Comenchingones and Diaguitas. Each tribe perceived its relationship with the land in a distinct way. The following tribal narrative is one of many renditions of the story of Elal, transcribed by the Argentine explorer and naturalist Ramón Lista (1856-97) in 1894. Handed down through countless generations, it claims that Tehuelche territory is the product of holy arrangements that amount to biblical geneses. After subduing the animals and clearing the land of its terrifying monsters, the heroic god Elal created the Tehuelches and granted them Patagonia as their homeland.
Tradition has it that Elal arrived here from the east. But often this detail is passed over lightly, and the old ones believe that the god's baby cries were first heard in the mountains [to the west].
Nosjthej, Elal's father, killed his wife, cut her belly with a stone knife, and pulled out the fetus, which he was anxious to devour. But at this very moment he heard a strange noise coming from below the ground, and, when the earth began to shake, Nosjthej was so taken aback that he forgot all about the baby. A small field mouse [térrguer] [Elal's grandmother] appeared that snatched Elal and went to hide him in the most hidden place of his burrow.
Once recovered from his surprise, Nosjthej intended to carry out his abominable plan, his hands dripping with blood. The cave was deep and narrow. His face burned with brutish anger, and his thunderous outcries echoed through the Andes. However, all of this was in vain; the god was going to grow up in the protective shelters of the earth.
Now Nosjthej turned his deranged glance toward the bloody cadaver of his victim. But what a surprise: a sparkling spring of water was running from the mutilated belly. Even after so many years have gone by and centuries upon centuries, there it still is, outside of Teckel, on the road from Ay-aike to Senguer, the wonderful spring of Jentre in whose waters generations of Tzónek Indians bathed.
The first years of Elal's life passed unnoticed in the solitude of the desert. The rodent was his support: it taught him how to eat plant foods; it housed him in its nest of guanaco wool; and it showed him the paths through the forested land. Elal continued to grow; he invented the bow and arrow and soon started his roving travels. Every evening when he returned to the cave he would bring some bird that he had hunted with his magic weapon. "Be on your guard," said the rodent to him. "The wild beasts are the daughters of the dark." But Elal smiled.
One evening, as he walked along a winding stream, Elal was suddenly attacked by an enormous puma. He braced his bow, and his unerring arrow whistled through the air, wounding the beast in the side. The puma gave a frightful roar, and then a second roar answered the first one. Elal found himself between two wild beasts: one was wounded but still on its feet, and the other, even more frightening, was hidden in the thicket. Yet the hunter put a smile on his face; he did not even bother to ready his bow again but continued on his way until he came to a hilly place.
Going down into a valley, Elal went close to the edge of a river with much water. He picked a few stones from the riverbed and stepped back a little from the bank; then he began gathering kindling, shredding some of the sticks and breaking the others. And then fire flared up for the first time in this campestral solitude.
On another occasion Elal saw a condor standing on a hilltop. "Give me one of your wing's feathers for my arrow," said Elal. "Impossible," shouted the bird. "I need them; they are my coat, and I go through the air with them."
Elal insisted, begged, and threatened. But, "Impossible, impossible," said the condor, unfolding its wings and resuming its flight. The bird had almost disappeared in the distance when Elal carefully braced his bow and let fly. The air vibrated-and the bird came falling down in spiraling circles, shouting: "What feather did you want? What feather did you want?" It reached the ground with its talons half open. Elal took the condor by the neck, plucked its head, and said: "Return to the top of the hill."
The divine hero had already developed the strength and the muscles of a young man. There was no animal that could withstand him; the puma was humiliated; the fox accompanied him on his journeys; and the condor could not deny its feathers. Everything was subjected to his reign until, one day, Nosjthej reappeared.
"I am your father," he said. Elal took him to his cavern. He showed him his weapons, the bows and the arrows, his honed flints, and his sling. He also showed him his trophies, the puma skins, the shells of giant armadillos, and huge condor wings. Then Elal extracted the marrow from a bone and offered it to his father with an air of satisfaction.
Time passed while Nosjthej was the master and Elal his subordinate. But one day the hero revolted against his father's authority and fled to hide in the mountains. His father pursued and almost reached him. But Elal stopped for a moment, stamped his foot on the ground, and yelled with a strident voice. An entangled forest rose up before the raging father and grew to become an insurmountable barrier.
The earth had already become populated with people when a giant by the name of Goshge struck them with terror and desperation. Every night they found a child missing, and hunters who lost their way were devoured by the monster. Elal went in search of the giant and found him at the edge of the forest. However, the giant proved invulnerable, and the hero's arrows splintered and rebounded; Goshge was rightly held to be invincible. Victim after victim fell, and the terror knew no end.
Now Elal transformed himself into a horsefly and went out once more in search of Goshge. He skillfully entered the giant's throat and penetrated to his abominable stomach. There he bit fiercely. The giant contorted himself and uttered several powerful bellows such as had never been heard before. The wind carried them across the plain like the final vengeful wail of the monster.
After this, there followed a mysterious time of confusion; everything was contradictory and mixed up. It was a time of violent transitions during which the order of things was changed. Elal lost almost all his divine attributes. He adopted another name and held his hair with an Indian handkerchief across the forehead. He carried a stone axe and a spear in his hands, and his hut was made of interwoven branches.
Excerpted from THE ARGENTINA READER Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|The Deeds of Elal||19|
|Monsters in Patagonia||27|
|The Jesuit Mission||34|
|A Gaucho Sings the Victories of the Empire||38|
|The First British Invasion||40|
|The Landowners' Petition||66|
|The Good Citizen||71|
|Women in the Fatherland||73|
|The Caudillo's Order||75|
|Civilization or Barbarism?||80|
|Rosas and Washington||91|
|The Black Girl||93|
|Immigration as a Means of Progress||95|
|Wars of Extermination||115|
|The Triple Alliance||119|
|One Hundred Leagues of Trench||126|
|Gauchos in and out of the State||133|
|An Expedition to the Ranquel Indians||146|
|Letter to the President||154|
|The Foundation of the National State||161|
|The Paris of South America||170|
|The Modern Crowd||182|
|Making It in America||188|
|The Jewish Gauchos||193|
|The Birth of Tango||196|
|Argentina as Latin American Avant-Garde||206|
|National Identity in a Cosmopolitan Society||209|
|The Union Civica Radical||231|
|Poems to Be Read on a Trolley Car||251|
|X-Ray of the Pampa||259|
|Soccer and Popular Joy||263|
|Peron and the People||273|
|Funes, the Memorious||306|
|The Foreign Gaze||319|
|Village on the River||324|
|House Taken Over||328|
|The Latin American Revolution according to "Che"||345|
|Are We All Neurotic?||352|
|Tucuman Is Burning||358|
|The Words of Silence||372|
|Montoneros: Soldiers of Peron||377|
|Modernization and Military Coups||399|
|The Madwomen at the Plaza de Mayo||429|
|In a State of Memory||450|
|War in the South Atlantic||465|
|Teaching the Republic||477|
|Living with Inflation||481|
|Menem: A New Style in Politics||487|
|The Journalist as the People's Detective||495|
|Roadblocks, Detours and Crossroads||500|
|We Are All Cursed||509|
|Soccer and Masculinity||519|
|The Children of Death||538|
|Suggestions for Further Readings||557|
|Acknowledgment of Copyrights||565|