In Argentina, a multimedia boom in historical fictions about the so-called Jewish White Slave Trade of the early twentieth century in Buenos Aires has created a consensus about a particular set of events that deviates in consistent ways from the available evidence. In this essay I show how the literary consensus about the history of white slavery emerges as a consistent set of narrative tropes; then I discuss how in several contemporary historical novels the admixture of history and fiction seems to allow anti-Semitism to be both omnipresent and depoliticized — simultaneously minimized in Argentine political history and dramatized as the hobby of eccentric fictional sociopaths. Furthermore, Jews are split into “good” and “bad” elements, with the unmanageable part cast out through collaboration between “good” Jews and gentiles so as to consolidate a Jewish-Argentine identity. I then consider how the portrayal of anti-Semitism in the novels resonates with cultural debates about historical anti-Semitism — particularly the contested anti-Semitism of the right-wing dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Specifically, I suggest that the “splitting” of Jews that occurs in these novels, together with the view that anti-Semitism only exists “outside” the state, make possible the mutual legitimization of a continuous Jewish-Argentine subject and a continuous Argentine state. Finally, I show how contemporary literature, by breaking radically with both the cultural consensus about white slavery and its univocal narrative of anti-Semitism, can actually help to theorize a different affective relationship to history.
Research Article|September 01 2011
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Claire Solomon; Reconsidering Anti-Semitism and White Slavery in Contemporary Historical Fiction About Argentina. Comparative Literature 1 September 2011; 63 (3): 307–327. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1335763
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