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  • The Deus Ex-Machina
  • Juan de Castro
Review of: Jerry Hoeg, Science, Technology, and Latin American Narrative in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP, 2000.

During the electoral process of 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a little-known agricultural engineer and academic, stormed the Peruvian political scene. One of the keys to his mass appeal lay in his often-repeated promise to bring “honradez, tecnología y trabajo” (honesty, technology, and jobs) to Peru. This slogan responded directly to the concerns of a country fed up with the demagogy, corruption, and inefficiency of then-President Alan García’s regime. However, while the slogan implies, at least in part, a moral and political critique of García’s failed populism, Fujimori’s reference to tecnología signifies his campaign’s privileging of technology as the solution to the problems of Peru. Thus one can argue that Fujimori’s propagandistic mantra was also implicitly directed against the presidential candidate then leading the polls, the internationally renowned novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.

It is, therefore, possible to see in this election a sign of contemporary Latin American attitudes regarding what C.P. Snow once called “the two cultures” (scientific versus humanistic). Faced with the choice between an engineer and a man of letters, and by implication between technological and humanities-based paradigms for the interpretation of and solution to the country’s problems, the Peruvian population decided in favor of the technocrat.1 At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó could, in his classic essay Ariel, argue for the superiority of a supposedly spiritual and artistic Latin America over a more developed, in technological and material terms, United States. But, by the end of the century, the privileging of technology—seen as neutral, apolitical, and necessarily positive—was a tenet held by large sectors of the population of Peru and the region as a whole, as demonstrated in part by the electoral success of Fujimori. While this faith in technological development as the solution to all social problems echoes discourses popular in the “First World” media, it also reflects the desire of Latin America’s population to break the cycle of poverty in which the region has been trapped. However, in one of the great ironies in Peruvian history, Fujimori’s now fortunately defunct regime has left the country mired in corruption, unemployment, poverty, and, of course, technological underdevelopment. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether Fujimori’s failure has significantly altered Latin American or even Peruvian attitudes toward technology.

This centrality of technology in contemporary Latin American political discourse gives special relevance to Jerry Hoeg’s Science, Technology, and Latin American Narrative in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. This book consists of a series of powerful and persuasive interpretations of Latin American texts that emphasize the ideas (both explicit and implicit) regarding technology and science to be found in them. Hoeg’s readings are rooted in a theoretical framework that fuses Martin Heidegger’s and José Ortega y Gasset’s “philosophies of technology,” Cornelius Castoriadis’s notion of the “Social Imaginary,” and concepts originating in communications science, such as “code” and “redundancy.” From Heidegger and Ortega, Hoeg takes the idea that “the essence of our present technological era is nothing technological, but rather the product of a higher level mediation. Heidegger calls this mediation das Ge-stell, while Ortega refers to it as the social construction or definition of bienestar or well-being” (11).

Hoeg sees Ge-stell/bienestar as defining the central code of the West, what Hoeg, following Castoriadis, terms its “Social Imaginary” (18).2 Using the concepts of Ge-stell/bienestar and that of the Social Imaginary, Hoeg deconstructs the traditional opposition between science and the humanities. Rather than presenting them as dichotomous, he believes that both technology and the humanities, especially literature, express in different, occasionally even contradictory, manners the same societal Ge-stell/bienestar. From the point of view of communications science, technology and literature can, therefore, be interpreted as examples of “the redundancy necessary to protect the message against the perturbations of a ‘noisy’ environment. . . . Without this coding or redundancy, a given society must necessarily succumb to the effects predicted by the...

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