- Creativity and Science in Contemporary Argentine Literature: Between Romanticism and Formalism by Joanna Page
For postmodernism, which has held sway in North America and Europe in recent years, the gap between C.P. Snow’s two cultures has been closed now that science as well as the humanities recognize that truth is an unknowable construct. Uncertainty and chaos theory, as well as entropy itself, have been accepted as part of the inevitable decline of art and society. Joanna Page, however, posits that another way of integrating new scientific theory into literature has developed in Latin America, particularly in Argentina, where science fiction has always had a more metaphysical and philosophical than apocalyptic bent. This tradition, growing out of the incorporation of science into the work of Roberto Arlt in the 1930s and 1940s and that of Ernesto Sábato in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as from the rich tradition of literature of the fantastic in the work of Horacio Quiroga, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Jorge Luis [End Page 479] Borges, has led a number of Argentine writers to search for ways to integrate the uncertainties and instabilities of new scientific theories into their works “not as tropes for social, moral, or cultural decline, but as evidence of quite the reverse: of the endless, self-renewing capacity of literature.”
Page has chosen three major Argentine authors of the past half century—Guillermo Martínez, Ricardo Piglia, and Marcelo Cohen—and compares three different works of each to illustrate the range and originality of their aesthetics. Martínez, who is also a mathematician, sees art as a puzzle for reader and writer to solve and understands that literary evolution is a dialectical process, stimulated by the inexplicable. In his detective novel Crímenes imperceptibles (The Oxford Murders), for example, he posits that the human mind is often so locked into its own desire to discover patterns and meaning that it is incapable of recognizing major variations, though this does not negate the underlying logic of reason.
Piglia brings multiple new viewpoints to fiction in an effort to give it renewed life and inventiveness and free it from its current pessimism. In Respiración artificial (Artificial Respiration), he revisits Argentine history, particularly the nineteenth-century regime of Juan Manuel de Rosas, in search of an explanation of the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, conscious that “history is the retrospective proliferation of possible worlds.” It is also fundamentally aleatory, rather than a simple linear series of developments, often proceeding from anachronism, displacement, and defamiliarization rather than logic, much the way the Russian formalists viewed literature as developing. In the two novellas of Prisión perpetua (Perpetual Prison) (1988), Piglia applies scientific ideas such as Kurt Godel’s theorems of incompleteness to bring in elements of “virtual reality, psychic transference, memory implantation, and the multiverse,” which are then blended into worlds in which the human, the natural, and the mechanic all find a place and interact.
Cohen, who is a prolific translator of English and American fiction, including works by J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs, is also interested, like Thomas Pynchon, in theories of chaos and entropy, on which he has grounded his own idea of realismo inseguro (unstable realism). His fiction, an “a-realism” that combines elements of reality and the future, is permeated by “turbulence [which] gives us a vision of the world that is not governed by laws, uniformity and structures but by intermittence, mixture, and noise.” In “Volubilidad” (volubility), one of the short stories from the collection El fin de lo mismo (the end of the same thing), the protagonist compulsively projects other people’s fantasies of himself until he verges on losing his own identity, questioning events that seemingly happen by accident or coincidence—or are instigated by a government “Oficina Intersubjetiva” (Intersubjective Office) that may be trying to spur him to cohesiveness. [End Page 480]
Despite the occasional repetition, Page’s study of these cutting-edge Argentine authors is an immensely stimulating and insightful analysis of complex and multi...