“Tired of postmodernism already?” Santiago Colás inquires at the beginning of his literary study (p. ix). If not, perhaps historians will be by the time they have completed this confusing effort to find connections between fiction and the recent Argentine past. While historians have found the use of novels in research and teaching to be a rich source of context, Colás seeks to explore the more symbolic links between literature and the crisis that has wracked Argentina, and by extension all Latin America, over the past half-century.
After an introductory chapter on recent theories of literary postmodernism— which the author finds deficient in their treatment of Latin America—four Argentine novels are examined in depth. Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (1963) emerged soon after the critical juncture for “postmodernity” in Latin America, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. While Rayuela did not deal directly with Cuba, Colás “historicizes” it in terms of intellectual connections with the spread of a Latin American “New Left.” Manuel Puig’s El beso de la mujer araña (1976), popularized in a film and a musical, dealt directly with Latin America’s oppression of those identified as social and political enemies. Colás attempts to connect the novel symbolically with the 1973 return of Juan Perón to Argentina and its impact on the radical left: “Puig’s spider woman was trapped by a web of her own production. The Montoneros also spun an ideological web of the purity of the Peronist resistance” (p. 113).
Two other novels grew out of the Proceso de reorganización nacional, the period of extreme military repression in Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Respiracion artificial, by Ricardo Piglia, was published in 1980, when censorship by the regime usually required events of the period to be “coded”; nevertheless, the theme of a professor of history who became one of the desaparecidos confronted the horrors of this experience. Colás considers Respiración artificial the essence of postmodern historicity because it comprises a series of fragments —documents and letters —that the reader must use to reconstruct the “historical record.” Finally, La novela de Perón (1985), by Tomás Eloy Martínez, is analyzed in terms of Karl Marx’s views on Louis Napoleon, whose treachery in France paralleled Perón’s betrayal of Argentina. Although it is a representation of the actual return of Perón, Colás insists that the novel transcends historical narratives describing those events.
The four novels deconstructed in this study thus demonstrate aspects of the history of Latin America, and particularly of Argentina—they offer alternative histories rather than “repressive pseudohistories.” Although the book provides an intriguing opportunity to experience a fashionable literary-historical presentation, historians may conclude that this postmodern dispensation is problematic —as Colás’ closing statement reveals: “not a history to be learned and slavishly followed, but one generated as a process of a group of subjects confronting the present as the future of the past and as the past of the future” (p. 172).