- Heavy Beasts and the Garden of CultureRemembering Eco: Revista de la cultura de occidente
¿Entonces, dije un poco distraído, deberíamos comer de nuevo el Árbol de la Ciencia para retornar al estado de inocencia?Heinrich von Kleist, as quoted by E. Volkening
What is culture? What is "the West"? These two questions form a repeated refrain throughout the pages of the journal Eco: Revista de la cultura de occidente, which was published in Bogotá, Colombia, from 1960 to 1984. Although the terms of this refrain may seem antiquated and even reactionary today (who, after all, would subtitle their journal "Journal of Western Culture" today?), it is instructive to examine these questions and the different attempts to answer them that appear across the pages of Eco. In historical terms, it is interesting to see how Latin American cultural criticism evolved from the 1960s to the 1980s, from the archaic belief that "culture" is exclusively European, to the explosion of Latin American culture on the global scene. It is also interesting to observe how this particular group of Latin American intellectuals reacted to social [End Page 151] and political concerns during these turbulent decades. The truth is that such matters barely crossed Eco's pages, except in highly mediated form. The fact that the journal began publication only several years after the end of "La violencia," Colombia's nine-year civil war (1948–1957), and had German culture as its primary focus only 20 years after the end of the Holocaust, with nary a mention of the fact, suggests that the figure of "Western culture" proclaimed by the journal's title would be a highly depoliticized one, even one that was intended to smooth over differences and inconvenient aspects of both past and present.1 As time went on, the pristine nature of the journal's understanding of both culture and the West began to change, and some of these elements made their way into the pages of Eco. The journal's initial focus on European culture made way for a focus on Latin America's inclusion in "the West," which, though originally conceived as a potentially subversive act, ended up reasserting the idea of culture as a space where conflict is resolved, this time in the form of autochthonous identity.
Eco was originally conceived as a publication of the Instituto Colombo-Alemán, and as such, functioned primarily in its early years as a vehicle for translations into Spanish of German literature and criticism.2 The first issue contains a short statement of purpose, which begins with a quotation from Ernst Jünger: "The West possesses many sciences, and is also able to turn even the most insignificant things into science, but it lacks a science of happiness" ("Propósito," 1).3 The editors ask what such a "science" (ciencia—an awkward translation from the German Wissenschaft) of happiness might look like, as if to suggest that its discovery would be one of the journal's primary goals. The arrival at a state of happiness through culture would be a mere continuation of a path started long ago, according to their description of the West's achievements: "The Western world began its march along roads indicated by the Greeks, and it went on to unfurl itself in multiple and powerful creations. Its conquests in the fields of art, philosophy, science, and technology give clear testimony to the greatness and vitality of the spirit that produced them" (1). Such heroic progress, however, has reached a point of crisis, which is described only as "a serious subversion of values and, as a consequence of this, a lack of harmony between [End Page 152] [Western] cultural elements and civilization. In the midst of its technological blossoming [florecimiento técnico], great risks threaten the entire culture and spirit of the West." The origins of this threat are not specified, but the remedy is evident. Western man must defend his threatened values, and it is to this end that the editors have come together to produce Eco.
Their description of the journal reveals the terms of this defense: "This journal aspires to constitute an echo of the truest and noblest...