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Duke University Press Books
The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics

The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822328858
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 12/25/2002
Series: Latin America Readers Series
Pages: 600
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.83(d)

About the Author

Gabriela Nouzeilles is Assistant Professor of Romance Studies at Duke University.

Graciela Montaldo is Professor of Languages and Literatures at the Universidad Simón Bolívar.

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Copyright © 2002 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 082232914X

Chapter One

At the Margins of the Empire

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.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

General Introduction 1

I. At the Margins of the Empire 15

The Deeds of Elal / Anonymous 19

Going Wild / Ulderico Schmidt 23

Monsters in Patagonia / Antonio Pigafetta 27

Women Captives / Ruy Diaz de Guzman 30

The Jesuit Mission / Father Strobel 34

A Gaucho Sings the Victories of the Empire / Juan Baltasar Maciel 38

The First British Invasion / Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson 40

II. To Build a Nation 43

The Revolution / Tulio Halperin Donghi 47

The Landowners' Petition / Mariano Moreno 66

The Good Citizen / Jose de San Martin 71

Women in the Fatherland / Juana Manuela Gorriti 73

The Caudillo's Order / Juan Manuel de Rosas 75

Civilization or Barbarism? / Domingo Faustino Sarmiento 80

Rosas and Washington / Pedro de Angelis 91

The Black Girl / Anonymous 93

Immigration as a Means of Progress / Juan Bautista Alberdi 95

III. Frontiers 103

The Slaughterhouse / Esteban Echeverria 107

Wars of Extermination / Charles Darwin 115

The Triple Alliance / Captain Francisco Seeber 119

One Hundred Leagues of Trench / Alfred Ebelot 126

Gauchos in and out of the State / Jose Hernandez 133

An Expedition to the Ranquel Indians / Lucio V. Mansilla 146

Letter to the President / Chief Manuel Namuncura 154

IV. Splendor and Fin de Siecle 157

The Foundation of the National State / David Vinas 161

The Paris of South America / James Scobie 170

The Modern Crowd / Jose Maria Ramos Mejia 182

Making It in America / Oreste Sola 188

The Jewish Gauchos / Alberto Gerchunoff 193

The Birth of Tango / Simon Collier 196

Bourgeois Snakes / Jose Ingenieros 203

Argentina as Latin American Avant-Garde / Ruben Dario 206

National Identity in a Cosmopolitan Society / Leopoldo Lugones 209

V. Modern Times 215

Simon Radowitzky / Osvaldo Bayer 219

The Union Civica Radical / David Rock 231

Poems to Be Read on a Trolley Car / Oliverio Girondo 251

Modern Women / Alfonsina Storni 254

X-Ray of the Pampa / Ezequiel Martinez Estrada 259

Soccer and Popular Joy / Roberto Arlt 263

Cambalache / Enrique Santos Discepolo 266

VI. Populism and New Nationalism 269

Peron and the People / Daniel James 273

Saint Evita / Tomas Eloy Martinez 296

Ramona's Revenge / Lino Palacio 304

Funes, the Memorious / Jorge Luis Borges 306

Victorian Fathers / Victoria Ocampo 313

The Foreign Gaze / Witold Gombrowicz 319

Village on the River / Juan L. Ortiz 324

House Taken Over / Julio Cortazar 328

Operation Massacre / Rodlfo Walsh 333

VII. Revolutionary Dreams 341

The Latin American Revolution according to "Che" / Ernesto "Che" Guevara 345

Are We All Neurotic? / Anonymous 352

Tucuman Is Burning / Maria Teresa Gramuglio and Nicolas Rosa 358

The Cordobazo / Agustin Tosco 364

The Words of Silence / Alejandra Pizarnik 372

The Muleteer / Atahualpa Yupanqui 375

Montoneros: Soldiers of Peron / Richard Gillespie 377

Antirevolutionary Peronism / Juan Domingo Peron 386

VIII. State Violence 395

Modernization and Military Coups / Guillermo O'Donnell 399

Artificial Respiration / Ricardo Piglia 421

The Madwomen at the Plaza de Mayo / Hebe de Bonafini and Matilde Sanchez 429

Never Again / National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons 440

Still Harboring / Juan Gelman 448

In a State of Memory / Tununa Mercado 450

Corpses / Nestor Perlongher 457

War in the South Atlantic / Graciela Speranza and Fernando Cittadini 465

IX. Democracy and Neoliberalism 473

Teaching the Republic / Raul Alfonsin 477

Living with Inflation / Osvaldo Soriano 481

Menem: A New Style in Politics / Vicente Palermo and Marcos Novaro 487

The Journalist as the People's Detective / Horacio Gonzalez 495

Roadblocks, Detours, and Crossroads / Rodolfo Rabanal 500

X. Argentina in the Age of Globalization: New Citizenships and the Politics of Memory 505

We Are All Cursed / Javier Auyero 509

Soccer and Masculinity / Eduardo Archetti 519

Amerindian Rights / State Law of Indigenous Rights 525

Feminist Awakenings / Marcela Nari 528

The Children of Death / Maria Moreno and Marta Dillon 538

Active Memory / Laura Ginsberg 544

Infinity / Cesar Aira 549

Postmodern Forgetfulness / Beatriz Sarlo 553

Suggestions for Further Readings 557

Acknowledgment of Copyrights 565

Index 571

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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!

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