- Eco, Latin America, and the West
The journal Eco: Revista de la cultura de occidente published its first volume in May 1960, with the financial support of the Instituto Cultural Colombo-Alemán in Bogotá, Colombia. The journal continued to publish its volumes on a monthly basis until 1984, weathering five changes in editorial leadership and periodic financial difficulties. In the early years, its editorial staff and contributors were drawn primarily from a small local group of European expatriate intellectuals. Its editors, in announcing their intention to provide a voice of and for la cultura de occidente, advocated a fundamental connection between Latin America and the Western tradition. At the same time, the journal proposed what at first glance must have struck many Latin American readers as little more than a curiosity: it promised to introduce its Latin American audience to a Germanic face that had historically been overshadowed in these latitudes by its French, English, and Spanish brethren.
A survey of the volumes published in the first years of the journal's existence underscores several important differences that distinguish Eco from other cultural reviews published in Latin America during the Cold War [End Page 171] years. For one thing, the near absence of Latin American authors in the initial years of the journal's publication is striking.1 The early volumes comprise a diverse collection of Spanish-language translations, primarily of texts originally written in German. The works chosen for translation cover a broad range of fields, including modern poetry, short stories, and literary criticism, as well as myriad essays on philosophy, physics, economics, sociology, education, and political theory. The diversity of materials is in fact so pronounced that it leaves one with the sense of dealing with an arbitrary selection. While there are very few published accounts of the journal's history to be found, it is not difficult to surmise that the unusual orientation of the journal is due in part to the nostalgia of a particular expatriate community. 2 What cannot be easily explained by recourse to psychological notions, however, is the prevailing tone in which this dissemination takes place, a tone of crisis and decline. This crisis, which Eduardo Jaramillo aptly terms a "humanism in exile," concerns a certain concept of "culture" whose continued viability as a historical or ideological project has been called into question midway through the twentieth century. Faced with the emergence of new technological and economic forces, as well as a radical redrawing of geopolitical boundaries following the end of World War II, the journal reflects the uneasy sense that the notion of "culture" that prevailed in what we call "the West" for much of the previous two centuries is today decisively losing ground to the nihilistic drive of individualism and technicity. It is the interrelation between the cultural, the geopolitical, and nihilism that I propose to explore here, and which may in turn shed some light on the uncertain status of Eco as a Latin American cultural journal.
The essence of nihilism is to bring about what Nietzsche termed the devaluation of the highest values—highest either in the sense of a "true" world believed to lie beyond ours, or in the sense of a transcendent meaning assigned to existence in this world (such as an ultimate meaning, destiny, or unity). In contrast to both religion and secular humanism, nihilism prompts the complacent attitude that life leads to nothing, and that all "truth" is merely an "appearance" projected by the will itself. The two-page editorial statement which inaugurates the first published volume of Eco in 1960 (hereafter referred to as "Propósito") concludes with [End Page 172] an allusion to the journal's title, a figure which can be heard as constituting a kind of bridge between the Germanic and Hispano-American worlds. At the same time, it announces the journal's intentions to combat the spread of nihilism through the revitalization of the "spirit" of the Western cultural tradition.
Esta revista aspira a constituir un eco de las más notables y verdaderas voces de Occidente, en particular del ámbito alemán. Mas su propósito no es la producción de un mero reflejo intelectual...