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Postmodernism, History and Social Critique in Post-Dictatorship Argentine Cinema: A Reading of Eliseo Subiela's 'El Lado Oscuro del Corazon'

By Page, Joanna | The Modern Language Review, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Postmodernism, History and Social Critique in Post-Dictatorship Argentine Cinema: A Reading of Eliseo Subiela's 'El Lado Oscuro del Corazon'


Page, Joanna, The Modern Language Review


There is some agreement that the older modernism

functioned against its society in ways

which are variously described as critical, negative,

contestatory, subversive, oppositional

and the like. Can anything of the sort be

affirmed about postmodernism and its social

moment? (Fredric Jameson, 'Postmodernism

and Consumer Society') (1)

?Que has hecho durante toda tu vida?

Enganar, enganar, nada mas que enganar.

[...] Ya no eres capaz de extender una mano,

de abrir los brazos ...

(A cow, El lado oscuro del corazon)

The divorce of aesthetics from meaningful social critique within the postmodern paradigm has been repeatedly decreed by many of the latter's most prominent theorists. Fredric Jameson claims the major theme of postmodernism to be 'the disappearance of a sense of history, the way in which our entire contemporary social system has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present'. The art produced under the sign of the postmodern is anarchic and depthless, symptomatic of 'a society that has become incapable of dealing with time and history' ('Postmodernism and Consumer Society', pp. 179, 171). Indeed, Jean Baudrillard, who, despite his assertion that postmodernism 'doesn't have anything to do with me', (2) remains for many one of postmodern society's most perceptive analysts, attests to a similar 'disappearance' of history and reality in our age of the simulacrum. If there exists a reality which is at all distinguishable from our narrations and simulations of it, it remains inaccessible: the very concepts of historical progress and meaning seem to be indissolubly wedded to those Enlightenment narratives from which postmodernism has declared its liberation. Postmodernism's substitution of a history of fragmentation for one of evolution would appear to undermine its capacity to intervene in issues of sociopolitical significance. Such is certainly the judgement of David Harvey, who asks: 'if, as the postmodernists insist, we cannot aspire to any unified representation of the world, or picture it as a totality full of connections and differentiations rather than as perpetually shifting fragments, then how can we possibly aspire to act coherently with respect to the world?'. (3) Having deconstructed all ideas of historical progress, questioned the existence of a non-discursive reality, and rejected all notions of fixity with regard to meaning, postmodernism appears to have little to offer the socially-committed artist.

Such a conclusion demonstrates little understanding of the politics of postmodern representation and a deficient awareness of its praxis in contexts outside the liberal democracies of Western Europe and North America. Since the end of Argentina's most recent dictatorship in 1983, many Argentine writers and filmmakers have demonstrated a commitment to representing the experience of repression, torture and censorship under an authoritarian regime. Above all, they have engaged with the psychological and social effects of the guerra sucia of 1976-1977, the most intense period of institutionalized violence during which as many as 20,000 people are estimated to have been 'disappeared', tortured and killed by the armed forces. (4) While documentary films and journalistic reports have abounded in the redemocratization period, many of Argentina's most sophisticated artists have found greater expressive potential in an anti-realist aesthetic which resonates strongly with the theories and cultural practices of European and North American postmodernism. In their art, the postmodern aesthetic is not the irreverent, apolitical anarchism that it so often becomes for Jameson and Harvey, but rather a singularly appropriate tool for the denunciation of the totalitarian abuse of power and for the exposure of its image-productions.

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