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Argentinian Literature

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The early literature of Argentina mirrors the many changes the region experienced in the colonial and early national period. Buenos Aires, initially founded in 1536, was soon destroyed by Indians, but the surviving Spanish cattle proliferated on the grassy plains, or Pampas, creating vast wild herds that became the foundation of later Argentinian wealth. The first lyric about this land was written by a surviving settler, Luis de Miranda (1500–?). The earliest narrative was the Comentarios (1555) of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, attributed to Pedro Hernández. It depicts the life in the interior during Cabeza's brief tenure during the 1540s as governor of the Río de la Plata region.

More permanent Spanish settlements followed, and in 1602, Martín del Barco Centenera (1544–1605) wrote an epic poem, La Argentina, presaging the name adopted in 1826. In cultured theater, Manuel José de Lavardén (1754–1810) presented, in neoclassic verse, a legendary love affair between a white woman and an Indian (Siripo, 1789). In popular drama, Juan Baltazar Maciel (1727–88) wrote El amor de la estanciera (The Love of the Ranch Girl, 1792–93), a forerunner of gauchesca literature. After the English invasions of 1806–07 were repelled, a series of heroic poems were written in which the people proudly declared their separate Argentinian identity. On May 25, 1810, the Argentinian people declared their independence from Spain, but it was not until July 9, 1816, that Spain finally lost its colony.

The 19th Century

Among the politically active writers of the romantic period were the poet Esteban Echeverría and the prolific thinker and future president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, both of whom were exiled for their opposition to the bloody dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas from 1835 to 1852. Sarmiento's classic book, Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants, or Civilization and Barbarism (1845; Eng. trans., 1961), also known as Facundo, totally rejected the cultural inheritance of Spain, preferring the U.S. model. Facundo sometimes reads like a treatise of history, sociology, geography, or politics and sometimes as a novel or essay. Sarmiento had created his own genre. The first novel written and published in the Río de la Plata, Amalia (1851; Eng. trans., 1918), by José Mármol (1818–71), described the corruption and terrorism generated by the Rosas regime.

A distinctive Argentinian creation was gauchesca literature, which appeared early in the 19th century, exemplified by the writing of the Uruguayan soldier-poet Bartolomé Hidalgo (1788–1822), who resided in Buenos Aires. He gave that poetry its particular physiognomy and basic features. His true gauchesca compositions were two Diálogos and one Relación. The literature, mostly verse, was a re-creation by urban, cultured men of the idiosyncratic speech of the gauchos of the Pampas. The culmination of the genre and an Argentinian classic is the two-part narrative poem Martín Fierro (1872, 1879), by José Hernández (1834–86). A famous group toward the end of the century was "the generation of 1880," whose writings generally reflected the greater political stability and optimism of the period. One of its members, Eugenio Cambaceres (1843–88), was also a disciple of positivism and naturalism; his novel Sin rumbo (Aimless, 1884) describes a protagonist compelled to live with his existential crisis, conditioned by psychological determinism.

The 20th and 21st Centuries

The turn of the 20th century brought social, cultural, and economic disruptions, and a variety of lyric postures were explored. The poetic works of Baldomero Fernández Moreno (1886–1950) searched for simplicity, "el sencillismo." A gifted woman, Alfonsina Storni (1892–1938), leaped from an ingenuous romanticism to the heights of surrealism between 1916 and 1938. The best-known poet, however, was Leopoldo Lugones, the leading exponent of modernismo (see Spanish-American modernism). Lugones was a versatile writer, which is evident in the scope of his works: poems, novels, essays, histories, and even fantastic narrative that is quasi–science fiction. Examples of his work include Las Montañas del Oro (Mountains of Gold, 1897), Los crepúsculos del jardín (Sundown in the Garden, 1905), El imperio jesuítico (Jesuit Empire, 1909), and Las fuerzas extrañas (Strange Forces, 1906). Realism was dominant in the novel, however, covering both rural (Benito Lynch) and urban life (Manuel Gálvez, 1882–1962). In the mid-1920s ultraísmo became fashionable, dislodging modernismo. Two of this movement's best representatives were Oliverio Girondo (1891–1967) and Jorge Luis Borges. Also of note was Macedonio Fernández (1874–1952), an eccentric innovator. In 1926, with Don Segundo Sombra, by the sophisticated Ricardo Güiraldes, and El juguete rabioso (The Angry Toy), by the self-taught Roberto Arlt (1900–42), the modern Argentinian novel was born.

Fantastic literature, born in 1875 with the science fiction of Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg (1852–1937), was continued in different ways by Borges and Julio Cortázar. Its principal writers have been Silvina Ocampo (1906–96), Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914–99), Enrique Anderson Imbert (1910–2000), and others. Among numerous female writers, Angélica Gorodischer (1928–    ) was the first to write science fiction and fantasy stories. Vlady Kociancich (1941–    ) publishes existentialist short stories and novels, with elements of fantasy and the thriller. Griselda Gambaro (1928–    ) has produced excellent theater pieces and novels, and Alicia Steimberg (1933–    ) has written erotic novels, parodic in nature. Olga Orozco (1920–99) was a poet of major contemporary standing.

Currently, there coexist many different literary modalities. The novelist Manuel Puig produced eclectic and wide-ranging mixtures of themes and techniques, and Ricardo Piglia (1941–    ), who proved himself equally eclectic in his first best-seller, Respiración artificial (Artificial Respiration, 1980), is perhaps the most important writer of the day. A subgenre, the "new historical novel," is very popular, as María Esther de Miguel (1930–    ) has shown. The Argentinian literature of today has matured to autonomy. Given the heterogeneous nature of Argentinian society, the literature deals with people and problems of all social classes, although the dominant middle class has always imposed its style on the country.

Angela B. Dellepiane
Further Reading:

Brushwood, John, Genteel Barbarism: Experiments in Analysis of Nineteenth-Century Spanish-American Novels (1981).

Castagnaro, R. Anthony, The Early Spanish American Novel (1971).

Fishburn, Evelyn, The Portrayal of Immigration in Nineteenth Century Argentine Fiction (1845–1902) (1981).

Foster, David William, Argentine Literature: A Research Guide, 2d ed. (1982), Social Realism in the Argentine Narrative (1986), and Violence in Argentine Literature (1995).

Henríquez Ureña, Pedro, Literary Currents in Hispanic America (1945).

Katra, William H., The Argentine Generation of 1837: Echeverría, Alberdi, Sarmiento, Mitre (1996) and Contorno: Literary Engagement in Post-Peronist Argentina (1988).

King, John, SUR: A Study of the Argentine Literary Journal and Its Role in the Development of a Culture, 1931–1979 (1986).

Leland, Christopher Towne, The Last Happy Men: The Generation of 1922, Fiction, and the Argentine Reality (1986).

Lichtblau, Myron I., The Argentine Novel in the Nineteenth Century (1959) and The Argentine Novel: An Annotated Bibliography (1997).

Menton, Seymour, Latin America's New Historical Novel (1993).

Slatta, Richard W., Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier (1992).

Sorensen Goodrich, D., Facundo and the Construction of Argentine Culture (1996).

See also:

Spanish-American literature.

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