- Crimes, Frontiers, and Stories of ExterminationViolence in Argentine Literature
In recent years, the study of violence has occupied scholars who specialize in Latin American literature: they have either examined works that deal with the topic of political, class, ethnic, and sexual aggression, or they have scrutinized the creation and propagation of discourses that used violence as a technique, muffling or censoring certain groups. In other words, literary critics have looked at the ways in which power is exercised within societies dividing its members, and the silencing of dissident and/or minority voices as reflected in literary works. In addition, the study of borders or lines that separate or make contact possible between opposing groups has also been addressed. For the specific case of Argentine literature, I have in mind Letrados Iletrados (1999), a collection of essays compiled by Ana María Zubieta. Parallel to this interest in violence, attention has also focused on the formation of national communities, commonly taken as political bodies. This metaphor of countries as political bodies has allowed the representation of national communities as targets where violence can be inflicted, or as perpetrators prone to generate internal and external aggression. These two ideas, violence as a physical and/or mental form of aggression inflicted on certain groups and the exclusions and omissions that take place during the process of national self-definition, are analytical concerns prevalent in the three books reviewed. [End Page 157]
A common focus of these books dealing with nineteenth and twentieth-century Argentine literature is the examination of literary works that not only purport to mirror the conventional culture of the nation, but also of texts that transgress those dominant discourses. Therefore, these authors aim to shed light on the ways violence has shaped Argentine society as well as its literature. The first two books reviewed in this essay concentrate primarily on nineteenth-century literary works that intended to found both the nation and a national literary tradition. Because of the foundational role of nineteenth-century literature, twentieth-century literary works are constantly in dialogue with their precursors, and the tracing of those discussions is tackled—albeit in different degrees—in these three books.
The first book examined here, The Corpus Delicti: A Manual of Argentine Fictions, is the long-awaited translation of Josefina Ludmer's El cuerpo del delito (1999). Displaying her broad knowledge of Argentine intellectual history and literary criticism, Ludmer begins her study by identifying the central place of crime as a tool to found a culture within the framework of a capitalist economy. Because crimes generate a web of relationships between victims and criminals, Ludmer holds that they articulate beliefs, words, and bodies and also allow an examination of the validity and implementation of laws. Her analysis starts with fictional novels published after 1880, when Argentina was organized by liberal authorities and entered into the world market as an import economy. In the first chapter "From Transgression to Crime," Ludmer argues that because of the passing of education and civil registry laws, fictional and autobiographical works of this period consisted predominantly of stories of education and marriage. To illustrate her argument, Ludmer examines Miguel Cané's Juvenilia (1884) and La gran aldea (1884) by Lucio V. López and concludes that "the patricians of the cultural coalition define their national identity as at once political and familial" (24). Ludmer aptly clarifies that the stories of education by Cané and López represent the two political positions of the ruling elite, namely, the porteñista and the provincial viewpoints. She reads the gesture of peaceful coexistence of these contrasting perspectives among members of the liberal elite—an original development in Argentine politics that up to that moment had been plagued by civil strife and...