Moving Forward, Looking Back: Trains, Literature, and the Arts in the River Plate

Moving Forward, Looking Back: Trains, Literature, and the Arts in the River Plate

Moving Forward, Looking Back: Trains, Literature, and the Arts in the River Plate

Moving Forward, Looking Back: Trains, Literature, and the Arts in the River Plate

Synopsis

Sarah M. Misemer is an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Theater at Texas AM University. Dr. Misemer is the author of Secular Saints: Performing Frida Kahlo, Carlos Gardel, Eva Pern, and Selena, (2008). She has published numerous articles on contemporary River Plate, Mexican, Spanish, and Latino theater in journals such as Latin American Theatre Review, Gestos, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispnicos, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Languages, Letras Peninsulares, Revista Hispnica Moderna, and Hispanic Poetry Review. Her main areas of research include contemporary Argentine and Uruguayan theater, performance, and literature.

Excerpt

I’m tempted to believe that my first acquaintance with
life began at nine o’clock one morning on a train.

—Felisberto Hernández, “Lands of Memory”

Felisberto HERNÁNDEZ published only a portion of his short story “Tierras de la memoria” (“Lands of Memory”) while he was still alive in 1944. It was later published posthumously in its entirety in 1965. I begin this book with an epigraph from this curious short story because it captures masterfully the experience of train travel, demonstrating both the chronological forward flow of time and the personal, subjective, and nostalgic perception that accompanies that same flow. Additionally, Hernández also places the action of the story in both Uruguay and Argentina as the protagonist travels by rail from Montevideo to Mendoza as an adult. Riding on the train, this same character recalls his earlier train trip to Mendoza as a youth scout. Each of these journeys is marked by his experience as a musician; he currently accompanies an accordion player (Mondolión) to a pre-arranged gig with unknown musicians to play the piano, and in his youth he played the same instrument for a family hosting scouts in Mendoza. in each case, the protagonist feels he has both succeeded and failed in his endeavor because although he has managed to find a job (present) and play a concert (past), he is convinced he can offer only a second-rate performance. the train is the conduit that connects and structures these two periods of adolescence and adulthood for the protagonist’s coming of age through travel.

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