Postmodern Literature in Argentina
Postmodern literature encapsulates the diversity and complexity of the 20th century. It contests the idea of truth, coherence, and meaning by dismantling grand narratives. The French philosopher Jean François Lyotard, best known for his work of bringing the term ‘postmodernism’ to the forefront in Western philosophy, writes, “I define postmodern as the incredulity towards metanarratives”. A metanarrative can be defined as a narrative that is portrayed as a totalizing and a comprehensive account that offers a social legitimization; a grand narrative that poses as the ultimate truth. For Lyotard, metanarratives (like religious theories including Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism, or social theories like, patriarchy, Marxism, or positivism) led to a universal prescription of behavior and an inevitable exclusion of those who didn’t abide by it. He believed that ideology cannot be so rigid and has to leave room for disagreements. Postmodernism, therefore, breaks free of these chains, it advocates for a loss of metanarratives, the dilution of grand structures. It attempts to disrupt the traditional worldview and navigate around ideals of justice or truth after the loss of these metanarratives. It contests the idea of a society-imposed perception of reality and allows people to take a radical stance against it.
Postmodernism in Latin America critically reviews and builds upon the North American and European ideals of the postmodern. It challenges the first-world interpretation and pushes it to expand into the Latin American cultural specificities. While the political context is not always important for a European and North American understanding of the postmodern, with Latin America and Argentina, the understanding of the postmodern in literature has to be viewed within its political and cultural context. Postmodernism in Argentina has helped re-democratize the literary discourse, by dismantling its rigid cultural norms, especially with the inclusion of marginalized groups, such as women. It has helped the country re-evaluate its national and cultural identity.
Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1976
Written in 1976, Kiss of the Spider Woman is considered to be Puig’s best written work. The book has been adapted into a play, a broadway musical, and an Academy Award-winning film by the same name. The book was shocking for its time due to its scandalous themes of homosexuality and political revolution. Through the book, Puig helps the reader have a localized or personal understanding of the postmodern. The book is a stream of consciousness of the thoughts of its two protagonists; the writing style imitates the internal process of a person’s mind.
The novel is about long and deep conversations, the subsequent friendship, and a sexual relationship, between two men, Molina and Valentín, in an Argentinian jail. The novel touches upon subjects of class and political apathy. Molina is a lower middle-class gay man who spends his time acting out scenes from his favourite movies whereas, Valentín is an upper-class socialist revolutionary. He is initially irritated by Molina’s laid-back attitude and political unconcern. However, by the end of the novel, Molina dies for his political convictions and Valentín finds solace by retiring into a dream world, in order to escape the torture of pain.
Artificial Respiration, 1980
First published in 1980, the novel is highly critically acclaimed and has been the subject and focus of many studies. Piglia is regarded as one of the most distinguished authors of Argentina. He is considered to be a politically significant and an aesthetically innovative literary voice. Through this novel, he brings forth the cultural coordinates of the postmodern movement in Argentina. The back cover of the novel leaves the reader with anticipation and prepares her for what to expect from it. It reads –
“Conceived as a system of quotes, cultural references, allusions, plagiarisms, parodies and pastiches, Piglia's novel is not only the realization of Walter Benjamin's old dream (“to make a work consisting only of quotes”); it is as well a modern and subtle detective novel”.
Artificial Respiration is a story of Piglia’s alter ego, Emilio Renzi (Emilio is Pigalia’s middle name and Renzi is his mother’s last name), a novelist, who has appeared several times in his works. Published under an authoritarian rule in Argentina, the novel explores the relationship between human history and human imagination. Through the book, Pigalia poses the reader with knotty political and metaphysical questions. Ariel Dorfman, a celebrated Argentinian author and a professor of Latin American Studies at Duke University regards the book as “one of the most important Latin American novels of the last decade.”
Fever Dream, 2014
Originally written in 2014 and re-published in an English translation in 2017, Schweblin’s novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. The horror novel is a psychological thriller that brings forth environmental problems in Argentina. The novel does not have a narrator; it is structured as a dialogue between two character’s Amanda, a middle-aged woman and David, a young boy (who is her neighbour’s son). It is set in a hospital room where Amanda lies on a bed and David kneels besides her.
The fast-paced thriller engages the reader and makes it impossible to stop reading. Set against the horror of the health ailments faced by people in rural Argentina due to the increased consumption of genetically modified soy and use of pesticides, the novel transports the reader into a world which is dangerous, bleak, unknown, and ultimately fatal. The fears within the book swing between the terror of genetically modified crops and folk superstition. With its aura of eeriness, Scheweblin creates a masterpiece that leaves the reader feeling terrified while flooded with compassion and heartbreak.
Savage Theories, 2008
Set against the backdrop of Argentina’s turbulent political history, the 2008 published novel by Oloixarac provides the reader with a comic relief whilst still presenting the reader with a hard-hitting narrative. With a wicked sense of humour, she creates a book that is immersive, sensual, cerebral, and multi-layered. Her main characters are young academics and artists, and through their lifestyle of hooking up at parties and online interactions, she critsises the increased importance given to one’s individuality, individuality which is juxtaposed between a surplus of self-awareness and narcissism. In a novel filled with masturbation, orgies, homosexual and transsexual relations, drug induced hook-ups, Oloixarac explores the relationship between philosophy and eroticism. She takes us on a journey as her flawed and complex characters find a place for themselves in a fragmental, digital world.
The controversial novel received a backlash from the conservative voices in society as well as academia, due to Oloixarac’s polemic portrayal of young academics in Argentina. Through her attempt to write a satire about reality, Oloixarac does an exposé of the dark corners of contemporary reality. She also seamlessly weaves together fiction and theory, which she bakes into a narrative of political philosophy. Oloixarac makes the book difficult to like and one that does not appeal to the sensibilities of the masses, with a shocking and savage narrative, she creates a unique space for herself and holds up the importance of bringing forth radical thoughts and feelings.