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  • Los textos de la patria: nacionalismo, políticas culturales y canon en Argentina by Fernando Degiovanni
  • Ariana Huberman
Los textos de la patria: nacionalismo, políticas culturales y canon en Argentina. By Fernando Degiovanni. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2007. Pp. 380. Notes. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. $40.15 paper.

This groundbreaking study of two seminal collections of texts published soon after the centennial celebration in Argentina offers an innovative take on the issue of nationalism and canon-building. This book is the first to carefully trace the history of two alternative and contemporary attempts to create a national tradition through literary canons by two important intellectuals: Ricardo Rojas and José Ingenieros. Degiovanni intelligently tackles the cultural politics and the complex economic issues that underlay the selection of the texts for the collections at a time of great social and political unrest in Argentine history. Both collections ceased to exist at the end of the 1920s, but the scope of this study is larger. It thoroughly reviews the history and politics of Argentine literary collections from the 1880s until the 1960s.

The two collections, La Biblioteca Argentina and La Cultura Argentina, include essays, journalistic compilations, scientific treatises, and poems, collected with the aim [End Page 421] of identifying unique Argentine traits. The critic highlights the fact that Rojas's and Ingenieros's collections were a novelty for the Argentine readership, which up to that point had had access only to poems that were mostly meant to be instructive-normative models. Moreover, the timing for the collections responded to a sizeable surge in readership, thanks to the success of state-run literacy programs at the close of the nineteenth century.

Degiovanni tracks the circulation of both literary collections and their historical and political background in order to reveal the editors' efforts to construct an Argentine cultural imaginary through the dissemination of texts from the past. The two efforts were informed by different ideologies. For the most part, Rojas's collection represents the intellectual establishment. He was concerned about what he perceived to be a weakening of Argentine identity due to the massive wave of newly arrived immigrants and the rights they had acquired to participate in the nation's democracy; this is evident in his selections. In contrast, Ingenieros took the immigrants into account as legitimate members of society. He proceeded in direct confrontation with both Rojas's authority and the government's normative textual apparatus by including texts that portrayed foreign political views. His collection was intended as an ideological challenge to the way in which tradition was established. Ingenieros had a greater reach than Rojas, in part because the texts from La Cultura Argentina were distributed alongside magazines and newspapers. The overwhelming success and size of his collection in comparison to Rojas's is an indication that it had considerable influence.

But Degiovanni reminds us that for all their differences, the main goal of both collections was to disseminate a cultural capital that would keep hierarchies in place. He rightly points out that both Rojas and Ingenieros believed that power should stay with the intellectual elite: for Rojas, in the hands of lettered criollos with Christian views; for Ingenieros, in a meritocracy based in scientific knowledge. Degiovanni shows clearly that the conflicting drives of the two collections produced a fracture in the debate for a homogenous national identity. Thus, this book questions the common belief that the post-centennial period was one of stabilization and achievement of a cultural nationalism based in a body of literature linked to state politics.

This study stands out from the extensive bibliography on nation-building at the turn of the nineteenth century because Degiovanni has chosen a creative subject, posed a convincing thesis, applied rigorous and vast archival research, and written sophisticated arguments to raise important questions about the role of state politics and market influences in the construction of national identity. It will attract undergraduate as well as graduate students and scholars in the fields of literary criticism, cultural studies, sociology, Latin American history, and literary theory. This book will also appeal to readers outside of academia with an interest in the history of publishing and Southern Cone history. [End Page 422...


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