2002 Research Report
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Philosophical Narratives in 20th Century
am currently working on a doctoral dissertation on philosophy
and literature in 20th century Argentina. I am concerned
with a very peculiar kind of literary tradition that
blends theory and fiction in just one piece of writing.
Contrary to the philosophical novels of the European
kind (Dostoevski, Proust, Mann), this mixture is usually
so well conceived that it is difficult to perceive the
limits between rigorous thought and pure fantasy.
is the most famous author among those who write philosophical
fictions in Argentina. Part of my dissertation deals
with his work (chapters 1 and 2), but I am also concerned
with other writers. The goal of my trip to Buenos Aires
was to review some bibliographical materials that I will
use for the chapters devoted to the works of Macedonio
Fernández and Witold Gombrowicz.
Fernández is often considered to be just a picturesque
character, a witty joker, but not a real writer; still,
he is the undeniable source of the philosophical themes
of Borges, whose metaphysical fictions are unthinkable
Macedonio developed a highly unusual kind of writing (such an unusual kind,
he was not even considered a “real” writer). How was it possible?
My question is not about the origins of a style, nor is it about the creation
of a unique genre, but about the intellectual context of a strikingly different
trip to Argentina allowed me to hold in my hands some
of the literary magazines where Macedonio published his
articles. The National Library of Buenos Aires keeps
the complete edition of the periódico “Martín
Fierro”. This periodical, which appeared twice
a month during the 1920’s, was not just a literary
magazine, but it was a “Periódico quincenal
de arte y crítica libre”, as it called
itself: a periodical with a broad cultural scope. Not
only did it gave an account of the current issues in
the literary world: it didn’t even conceive of
literature as a discipline evolving outside of the artistic
experiments and revolutions of the time. Every issue
of the magazine would cover a broad number of subjects:
painting, architecture, film reviews, book reviews, poems,
take an example: the issue of September/October of 1924.
We find an article by Xul Solar praising Pettoruti, the
Argentinean cubist artist, followed by a long article
on the “Salón Nacional de Pintura” (a
very important nationwide art contest), a note by Borges
on the poetry of Nora Lange, and several poems by diverse
authors. In this context we have an article by Macedonio: “Oratoria
del hombre confuso” ("Oratory of the
Confused Man"), which is neither about painting,
nor about poetry. As a matter of fact, it appears to
be just a long succession of linguistic puns.
is the place of Macedonio’s articles in this context?
After reviewing the totality of the Martín Fierro
collection, what struck me was the lack of sophisticated
theoretical debate in a vanguardist periodical, where
some of the best minds of the moment participated. The
European vanguard, as an aesthetic, was barely distinguishable
from a highly elaborated theoretical discourse. There
were plenty of debates, manifestos, contra-manifestos,
etc., etc. And sometimes those discussions were even
more interesting than the actual production of the artists.
However, in the case of Martín Fierro, the role
of Macedonio, the most original thinker at that time,
is that of a humorist. His notes are the equivalent to
graphic humor in a contemporary newspaper. Of course,
his jokes are of a verbal kind. But the fact is that,
when we review all of those seemingly humorous notes,
when we piece them all together, it becomes apparent
that they are part of a deep theoretical concern, as
Macedonio is working during those years in a revolutionary
my chapter on Macedonio, I will have to deal with these
strategies of the joker: how do Macedonio’s antics
relate to a serious aesthetic project? We should bear
in mind that the XX-century literary theory is full of
theories where irony plays a central role (Ortega, Lukács,
Bakhtin); the truth is that we have many theories of
irony, but almost no ironists. Maybe Macedonio does not
want to have just a theory; he wants to practice what
Gombrowicz, a Polish immigrant, had come to Argentina
as a tourist in 1939. After learning about the German
invasion to Poland, he decided to remain in Argentina.
Unfortunately, the Argentinean writers, Borges included,
completely ignored him when he lived in Buenos Aires.
the 1940’s Gombrowicz published in a women’s
magazine -Aquí está-, under the
pseudonym of Alejandro Ianka. These articles have not
been collected yet in any single publication. The National
Library of Buenos Aires keeps the entire collection of Aquí está,
and thus I had the opportunity to take a look at these
rare pieces of writing.
Aquí está was
the Argentinean equivalent to a magazine that, today,
would mix many popular magazines in one: it had fashion,
pictures of gorgeous girls in swimming suits, pictures
of famous smiling actors, politics, gossip, curiosities,
science made plain, history and more gossip. What did
Gombrowicz have to do with a magazine like this? We have
to bear in mind that Borges also wrote for a similar
media: El Hogar. However, Borges is always Borges.
His articles in El Hogar are compatible with
some of his best essay writing. Evidently, Borges’ articles
are out place in such a magazine. Gombrowicz's case is
quite different. At first glance, his articles seem disappointing.
He seems to accommodate to the lowest expectations of
a public who enjoys simple fairy tales. And he does write
fairy tales. But what he does is something else too.
Reviewing his work, we can find romantic stories, all
dressed up with the conventions of a soap opera. But
a closer reading shows a great deal of irony. For instance,
he is recasting the history of Poland, with its kings,
princesses and warriors, into a soup opera. There is
a tension between the content of the story and its form.
He wanders between history and fiction: and it is hard
to say when he is telling the truth and when he is making
up things; when he is serious and when he is laughing.
The deconstruction of the great historical narratives
of the European civilization is, here, a matter of voice,
something that is achieved with just a subtle change
only did my visit to Buenos Aires allow me to work in
the periodical section of the National Library. I also
contacted some colleagues working on literature and philosophy
and was able to exchange ideas with them. No doubt about
it, the time I spent in the library and the conversations
I had with my colleagues will make a significant contribution
to the writing of my dissertation.