In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Argentinian Literature

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • The Centennial and Modernization
  • Argentina in the World Culture
  • Intellectuals and the National and Popular Scene
  • The Radical Experimentation
  • Literature under Dictatorship

Latin American Studies Argentinian Literature
Graciela Montaldo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0003


This entry is focused on Argentinean literature. Because of its historical context, Argentinean literature is more than poetry, fictions, or experimentations with writing; it is a political practice that involves writers, intellectuals, audiences, and the culture industry. Although Spanish is the main language there are some works that take part of the Argentinean corpus and use other languages (French, Poland, English, Yiddish mainly). In just two centuries of existence (the Argentinean Republic was created in 1810, after the independence from the Spanish Empire) this literature has built a strong tradition, which it uses to rewrite itself. Most of the intellectual generations in Argentina discussed and polemicized their antecessor and tradition. Narratives on national identity played a key role in Argentinian history alongside with innovations. Authors came back to the past to rewrite and reinterpret the master narratives. “Civilization and barbarism,” for instance, was a successful motto that Domingo F. Samiento established in 1845. In spite of the different interpretation of the terms, it was and it is a way of read Argentinian reality. When someone uses it, the motto is charged with all its history. Since the beginning, it has been not just an elite practice with a sophisticated and Eurocentric tradition but also a practice that involves a native and noncanonical set of knowledge and forms.

Introductory Works

In his prologue to Literatura Argentina y realidad política (Viñas 1964), the critic and writer David Viñas posits that “Argentine literature is the history of the national will.” In La Argentina en Pedazos (Piglia 1993), another critic and writer, Ricardo Piglia, affirms that Argentinian fiction is born “of the intention to represent the world of the enemy, of those who are different, of the Other (known as the barbarian, the gaucho, the Indian, or the immigrant). Such representation presupposes and demands fiction.” Both writers represent the modernization of Argentinian criticism in the second half of the 20th century, a criticism that employs materialist, psychoanalytic, and sociological perspectives. Along with critics like Josefina Ludmer (see Ludmer 2002) and Beatriz Sarlo (see Sarlo 1988), they have put forward hypotheses about Argentinian culture that place literature and fiction at the center of an interpretation of the national character. Each sees literature as a privileged practice for understanding societal conflicts. They read fictional production as a cross between the aesthetic and the political and literature as a discourse of strong public participation. Julio Ramos, in his analysis of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, one of the founders of Argentinian literature, argues in Desencuentros de la modernidad en América Latina (Ramos 2001) that literature serves a strong state function in 19th-century Latin America: it constructs the arguments upon which the State is founded. He posits that the same is true of Argentinian intellectuals. These interpretations explore the place and function of intellectuals and letters in societies that live through rapid political processes and, following independence, experience an accelerated modernization. As Angel Rama argues in his classic La ciudad letrada (Rama 1996), the writing of Latin American intellectuals—and Argentinian ones in particular—links them closely to the construction of the State and the Nation. As early as the wars for independence, Argentinian intellectuals view the literature of the River Plate region not as an autonomous aesthetic discourse but rather as a practice linked to politics, an instance of struggle and encounter in public life. Because the River Plate Viceroyalty was not economically or socially important during the colonial era, cultural production is scarce. It nonetheless becomes relevant in the early 19th century, where we begin. Nouzeilles and Montaldo 2002 was the first intent in English to show the homogeneity and the debates at the interior of Argentinian culture.

  • Ludmer, Josefina. The Gaucho Genre: a Treatise on the Motherland. Translated by Molly Weigel. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

    Argues Argentinian literature begins with the “gaucho genre.” According to Ludmer, this writing arises out of a symbolic alliance between the voice of the gaucho (the creole, inhabitant of the Pampas) and the writing of well-educated and well-connected members of the social and political elite known as letrados. The letrado takes the political discourse of a faction in the struggle for power and puts it in the gaucho’s mouth.

  • Nouzeilles, Gabriela, and Graciela Montaldo. The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

    A reader from colonial times to the end of the 20th century. The volume includes a large number and a variegated kind of texts that explore the links between culture and politics in Argentina. Some literary texts have been translated into English for the first time.

  • Piglia, Ricardo. La Argentina en pedazos. Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Urraca, 1993.

    This book rewrites a large part of the Argentinian canon as comics. Piglia selects the works and develops a hypothesis of literature as a practice that is linked to the State. The themes of violence and conflict organize the texts. Guiding Piglia’s vision is the idea that fiction confronts the problem of representing the Other.

  • Rama, Angel. The Lettered City. Edited and translated by John Charles Chasteen. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    A seminal text that examines the role of letrados and intellectuals in Latin America from the colonial era to the late 20th century. Always linked to power, always allied with the power of writing, they design the exclusive place of culture. Rama studies the ways that letrados and intellectuals use writing not to integrate diverse societies but rather to exclude sectors of the population from “the lettered city.”

  • Ramos, Julio. Divergent Modernities: Culture and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America. Translated by John D. Blanco. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    Ramos analyzes the modernizing projects of letrados in 19th-century Latin America and studies the relationship between writing and the State in Domingo F. Sarmiento, Andrés Bello, and José Martí, among others.

  • Sarlo, Beatriz. Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920–1930. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Nueva Visión, 1988.

    Sarlo’s hypothesis about modernity in early 20th-century Argentina can also be applied before and after that period: Argentinian culture modernizes rapidly but unequally, and this modernization produces a culture of mixing (of cultural traditions, discourses, practices, temporalities and languages), in which literature is one of the privileged spaces for the amalgamation of different traditions.

  • Viñas, David. Literatura Argentina y realidad política. Buenos Aires: Jorge Alvarez, 1964.

    Viñas reads literature as a political practice of intellectuals linked to or confronted by power; national fictions construct projects of public participation. To Viñas, fiction is fundamental to the construction of hegemonies in Argentina.

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