Argentine Politics and Art
In 1940, Roman Castillo replaced President Roberto Ortiz. Like many Argentines at the time, Castillo admired Hitler and Mussolini; like many citizens of Germany and Italy, many Argentines yearned for the order that fascism would presumably impose on their nation; like many of their European counterparts, many Argentines lacked the foresight to see the eventual, bloody results of such political movements.
The tide of fascist sympathy in Castillo’s administration was felt by Borges in 1942, when the National Commission for Culture did not award his collection The Garden of Forking Paths the National Prize for Literature on the grounds that Borges’s work was too ‘‘English’’—a suggestion by the NCC that indirectly (but clearly) condemned Borges as one sympathetic to the Allied cause (which he was). Borges’s indignant friends devoted a special issue of the inﬂuential journal to what they saw as a clear example of a government attempting to shape the literary tastes of a nation according to its authors’ political ideas. The issue was called ‘‘Amends to Borges’’ and its contributors feted the author at a restaurant, where the lights of the Argentine literary scene came to show their support.
Various short term governments then took turns strutting and struggling on the Argentine political stage. Castillo was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1943 and replaced by General Pedro Ramirez, who, in turn, was ousted in 1944 when he submitted to pressure from the United States to sever all ties with the Axis powers. replacement, General Edelmiro Farrell, allowed the country to be run by the army and ﬁguratively opened the door for Juan Domingo Perón (then vice president) to come to power (which he would do in 1946). While the war in Europe was coming to a close, the rise of Perón’s terror in Argentina was just beginning: when, in 1944, a crowd gathered in Buenos Aires to celebrate the liberation of Paris, the police broke up the demonstration with such force that several civilians were wounded and killed. While Argentina did declare war on the Axis powers in March of 1945, there was not much left for its military to do; Germany fell that May and, through a series of maneuvers and machinations, Perón was elected president on February 24, 1946. He was incredibly charismatic; many Argentines were likewise wooed by the charms of his wife, Eva.
Borges, however, stood apart from the crowd and considered Perón a thug. As James Woodall (in his biography Borges: A Life ) quotes Borges as writing in a Montevideo newspaper, ‘‘a great number of Argentines’’ were ‘‘becoming Nazis without being aware of it.’’ Borges’s hatred of Perón eventually caused him to be removed from his municipal librarian’s post and not reinstated (as the Director of the National Library) until after Perón’s fall in 1955.
Composed in 1945, ‘‘The Aleph’’ reﬂects Borges’s contempt for committees like the NCC, which ostensibly work for the promotion of art but actually serve as politically wayward slaves of the current regime. Carlos Daneri’s winning the Second National Prize for Literature shocks both the narrator and the reader and is obviously a bitter joke about Borges’s not being awarded the National Prize in 1942. ‘‘Once again,’’ the narrator explains, ‘‘dullness’’ had had its ‘‘triumph’’—a sentiment surely felt by Borges in 1942. The fact that Daneri also plans to compose an epic about General José de San Martín, the Argentine liberator, also reﬂects Borges’s distaste for the marriage of politics and art: the reader is meant to assume that Daneri’s poem will be a mindless piece of propaganda, much like the kind Borges saw plastered all over Buenos Aires during the rise of Perón.
Trends in Twentieth-Century Argentine Literature
The ﬁrst half of the twentieth century saw an explosion of literary schools, styles, and attitudes espoused and practiced by Argentine poets, novelists, and short-story writers. By the time Borges wrote ‘‘The Aleph,’’ his country had witnessed the birth and death of several literary movements, all of which surface in the whole of Borges’s work.
At the turn of the century, Argentine literature was grounded in realism, and writers attempted (as did their European and American counterparts) to create believable simulations of everyday life. Some of the ﬁrst throbs of modernism ( modernista ), however, were found in the work of Ruben Dario, a poet who expanded the possibilities of verse and, by extension, what the Argentine writer could accomplish if he or she did not rely exclusively on traditional forms. Dario’s presence in Buenos Aires— which had become a widely-used setting and subject of Argentine literature—reinforced the city’s reputation as the cultural Mecca of its day. The enthusiasm of Argentine writers for exploring the history and people of their homeland grew and was epitomized in 1913, when the ﬁrst Department of Argentine Literature was created in the University of Buenos Aires.
A number of journals and magazines devoted to Argentine literature also began taking shape and gaining popularity. The ﬁrst major example, Nosotros, was founded in 1907 by Alfredo Bianchi and Roberto F. Gusti; its pages were the ﬁrst place that several notable Argentine writers saw their work in print. A more novel (if less durable) journal Prisima: its two editions (November 1921 and March 1922) were plastered on the walls of buildings throughout Buenos Aires. In 1921, Bianchi asked Borges to compose a piece that outlined the tenets of ultraism ( ultraismo ), a short-lived literary movement that stressed economy of language and a turning away from older and (as its founders believed) more stale forms of expression. Again, Argentine writers were seeking to reinvent their national literature. Other movements and literary groups followed, such as the Boedo group (which emphasized the importance of authors’ devotion to social causes) and the Florida group (which practiced the avant-garde techniques of the time). Like their predecessors, these movements gave off more light than heat and fell out of favor with readers and intellectuals always on the lookout for the newest literary fashions. These readers had to look no further than a journal founded by Borges’s friend Victoria Ocampo that still stands as an indication of sophisticated Argentine readers’ tastes in the 1930s and ’40s. Borges appeared in its pages many times; ‘‘The Aleph’’ was ﬁrst published there in 1945.
By the time ‘‘The Aleph’’ was published, Argentine literature was again looking to avantgarde writers to steer the nation’s literature in new directions. In the work of some writers, ﬁction and nonﬁction seemed to meld to the point where authors were taking pains to make their work seem ‘‘real’’ by grounding it in actual events (something that Borges does throughout ‘‘The Aleph’’). This technique allowed Argentine writers to explore their nation’s past through their art or (in Borges’s case) to lull readers into believing that they were reading about ‘‘real’’ events. Such works also led to a heightened interest in surrealism and metaphysical ﬁction. As Naomi Lindstrom says in her essay on Argentine art (collected in David William Foster’s Handbook of Latin American Literature ), ‘‘The results of the 1940s movement are still unfolding,’’ and contemporary Argentine art still shows the inﬂuence of its cutting-edge predecessors.
Then & Now – Comparative Snapshots
1940s: Latin-American literature is not widely studied in North American high schools or universities.
Today: Many universities sponsor whole departments devoted to Latin-American literature; works by writers such as Borges, Julio Cortazar, and Gabriel García Márquez are included in many high school curricula.
1940s: Argentina’s fascist Perón government grows in power; Borges is eventually removed from his post at the Miguel Cane Municipal Library for signing anti-Perón petitions.
Today: Since the overthrow of Perón in 1955, Argentina has undergone a series of revolutions and suspensions of its constitution. The followers of Perón (the Perónists) are still a vigorous political party. Perón’s story became more well known in 1978, when Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita, a stylized musical about Perón and his wife, premiered.
1940s: Scientists studying subatomic particles have discovered the strong and the weak nuclear forces in addition to the electromagnetic and gravitational forces. They continue to develop quantum theory as they discover a zoo of subatomic particles in addition to the proton, neutron, and electron.
Today: Over a quarter century after the November Revolution of 1974, when evidence for the charmed quark was discovered at Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) and at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Standard Model of quantum ﬁeld theory is still the leader in the ﬁeld. This model suggests that all matter and energy is made up of quarks, gluons (particles that exchange forces between quarks), leptons (light-inmass particles), and electromagnetic waves. However, because of the inability to test predictions requiring higher energies than current particle accelerators can produce, many physicists have turned towards Chaos Theory, a branch of physics that seeks to explain how the seemingly random behaviors of systems (such as the universe and the stock exchange) rely on mathematical laws.
1940s: Science ﬁction is viewed as a well-established yet whimsical genre: science ﬁction writers are able to sell their work to vast audiences, but many are viewed by the critical establishment as trivial and derivative.
Today: There is little doubt that science ﬁction writers are addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time. Authors such as David Brin, Orson Scott Card, and William Gibson stand as literary descendents of Borges, often exploring the same issues addressed by Borges in his work.
David Galens – Short Stories for Students_ Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories (Volume 17)-Gale (2003)