Argentine literature is somewhat of an outlier among the major productions of Latin America, having its roots neither in the culture associated with the great Spanish and Portuguese empire viceroyalties (centered in Mexico City, Lima, Bogotá, Havana, and Rio de Janeiro) nor in multifaceted contacts with indigenous cultures, some of them empires in their own right (Mexico, Peru). Indeed, most Latin American literatures have eventually had to come to terms with indigenous influences. And while this is also true of Argentina, there is not the historical depth associated with dominant traditions such as Mexico and Peru or with peripheral ones such as Paraguay or the Central American republics. Also, while most Latin American national literatures are associated with the centripetal force of their political and administrative capitals, Buenos Aires has always been a paradigm of the almost absolute dominance of its major population center. Argentina’s rupture with its colonial past, of which only a thin record in terms of literary culture exists, will be fundamentally driven by the need to look toward Europe, especially France and England, and the imperative to pursue a project of modernity that will lead it to becoming, in the 19th century, the preeminent economy of Latin America. One of the most impactful dimensions of the preeminence Buenos Aires gains from the late 19th century going forward is the consequence of its policies of immigration. Although immigrants have a multitude of origins, there is nothing quite like the Italian and Jewish diaspora that settled in the city and areas extending up the Río de la Plata system. Argentina is rightly called “the second homeland of the Italians,” and it is recognized as having the largest (mostly urban) Jewish population in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. Spaniards also represented a significant immigrant stream around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, Argentina has always been profoundly divided along two interacting axes. One has been the struggle over the national character as defined by its great port city, Buenos Aires, and the hegemony of Buenos Aires is contested by interests distributed elsewhere in the country—in opposition to the tendency to equate Buenos Aires with Argentina. The other axis is somewhat more complicated: the opposition between elite culture and popular culture. Since the return of democracy in 1983, alternative sociocultural ideologies have done much to democratize Argentine culture. In the final analysis, the most important observation that one can make is that Argentine literature in the 21st century plays a central role in conversations about Argentine society and about the individual and collective national experience.
The enormous diversity of Argentine literature has generated a wide area of foundational studies. While not a scholarly work, Abós 2005 provides a useful guide to writers’ houses and haunts in Buenos Aires. Espinoza 1974 intervenes in the debate over standards for the Spanish language in literature and other prestige contexts. Prieto 1966 examines explicit autobiographical writing, and Prieto 1968 takes up the concept of literary underdevelopment. Rojas 1917–1922 is the premier work because it corresponded to projects in the West in the first half of the 20th century that promoted national literatures over the previously dominant classical traditions of letters. Jitrik 1999– is an ongoing collection that stands as the most important project since Rojas’s, and it is significantly a project of collective voices representing a culture of democratic difference as opposed to the univocalness of Rojas’s history. Foster 1982 registers the sweep of published research on Argentine literature. Orgambide and Yahni 1970 is the only comprehensive encyclopedia of Argentine literature. Fernández Moreno 1967 provides a detailed survey of Argentine poetry. The figure of crime as an organizing motif is treated by Ludmer 2004.
Abós, Álvaro. Al pie de la letra: guía literaria de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: Grijalbo, 2005.
A literary guide to haunts, places, and residences of writers in Buenos Aires.
Espinoza, Enrique. El castellano y el babel (replica a Babel y el castellano de Arturo Capdevila). Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Regreso, 1974.
In 1928 Arturo Capdevila brought together in book form journalistic essays deploring the evolution of Spanish away from academic norms; he called the result “babel.” Espinoza replies to defend the evolution of a dynamic and distinctive national literary dialect in Argentina that has now prevailed, despite abiding defenders of Capdevila academicism. This is a debate of particular interest to Jorge Luis Borges, who can mostly be identified with Espinoza despite his animosity to cultural nationalism.
Fernández Moreno, César. La realidad y los papeles: panorama y muestra de la poesía argentina contemporánea. Madrid: Aguilar, 1967.
Although woefully out of date, this is the only comprehensive and detailed history of modern Argentine poetry.
Foster, David William, ed. Argentine Literature: A Research Guide. 2d ed. New York: Garland, 1982.
A classified listing of published research on thirty categories of topics in Argentine literature is followed by registries of scholarship on seventy-three key authors. Although now woefully out of date, it is a standard reference work.
Jitrik, Noé, ed. Historia critica de la literatura argentina. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1999–.
Consisting of monographic volumes prepared by diverse scholars, this history is the most ambitious project to date for a critical assessment of Argentine literature. Each volume is an authoritative interpretation of the specified monographic topic, with good name indexes. Unfortunately, the coverage of secondary criticism mostly excludes non-Argentine sources, thereby silencing extensive Anglo-American research on Argentine literature.
Ludmer, Josefina. The Corpus Delicti: A Manual of Argentine Fictions. Translated by Glen S. Close. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.
The discursive construction of crime and its ideological interpretations in Argentine fiction is analyzed.
Orgambide, Pedro, and Roberto Yahni, eds. Enciclopedia de la literatura argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1970.
Although now in need of updating, this registry of authors, works, and movements is considered a standard reference work and the only compilation of its kind.
Prieto, Adolfo. La literatura autobiográfica argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Álvarez, 1966.
Provides a useful survey of autobiographies and narratives based on autobiographical references.
Prieto, Adolfo. Literatura y subdesarrollo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblioteca, 1968.
Joining Noé Jitrik and David Viñas, along with other writers associated with the review Contorno (see Katra 1988, ), Prieto provides a sociopolitical critique of Argentine literature in terms of its underdevelopment vis-à-vis western European writing as a consequence of supine dependency on the models of the latter.
Rojas, Ricardo. Historia de la literatura argentina: ensayo filosófico sobre la evolución de la cultura en el Plata. Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1917–1922.
The first attempt at a comprehensive history of Argentine literature, grounded in cultural nationalism. There are multiple subsequent editions.
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