Ecology, Coloniality, Modernity: Argentine Fictions of Tierra del Fuego

By Rhoden, Laura Barbas | Mosaic (Winnipeg), March 2008 | Go to article overview

Ecology, Coloniality, Modernity: Argentine Fictions of Tierra del Fuego


Rhoden, Laura Barbas, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


In recent decades, numerous Latin American artists and theorists have invited their readers to see "Western Civilization" and the story of its elaboration from below, that is to say, from the global South. Publications that challenged representations of history and cultural encounters appeared worldwide around the 500th anniversary of the Columbus voyage. Others have considered Latin American economies and societies in light of globalization, as Latin American political and economic elites embraced neo-liberalism in the latter decades of the twentieth century. And as the last century closed, increasing numbers of working-class Latin Americans questioned neo-liberal policies, challenging them in elections, social movements, and popular protests that thrust debates into public view from Chiapas, Mexico, to southern Chile.

In this socio-political context, creative literary works, as well as theoretical studies in the social sciences, have examined a history of colonization and economic injustice for diverse communities in Latin America. A key aspect of popular protests and literary works has lately included an interrogation of environmental questions: land and water use, resource exploitation and depletion, crises of human and ecological health. Faced with environmental, social, and economic transformations on a massive scale in an era of global exchange, authors like Tatiana Lobo (Costa Rica), Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua), Homero Aridjis (Mexico), and Luis Sepulveda (Chile) have considered how processes of economic change have transformed landscapes and affected human relationships with the non-human world in Latin America.

In this study on ecology, coloniality, and modernity, I bring together scholarship from Latin American social scientists and from ecocriticism to consider two literary texts from Argentina: La tierra del fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre and Un piano en Bahia Desolacion by Libertad Demitropulos. (1) Both La tierra del fuego and Un piano en Bahia Desolacion were penned by well-known Argentine writers, and each author has garnered an international audience for her texts. Iparraguirre won several prizes for La tierra del fuego in particular, including the prestigious Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize in 2000. Demitropulos has also been recognized as an accomplished writer, having published numerous works before her death in 1998. Despite the international reputation of the authors, though, there have been very few scholarly studies published on their novels, either in Latin America or abroad. The few publications on La tierra del fuego have focused on the challenges it presents to official histories, a line of criticism closely tied to the production of post-dictatorial fiction in Latin America. (2) Of Un piano en Bahia Desolacion, I know of no scholarly studies at all, though there have been some published on Demitropulos's other works, particularly Rio de congojas.

Both La tierra del fuego and Un piano en Bahia Desolacion can be situated broadly within the context of post-dictatorial fiction. In general, this fiction challenges the construction of history and memory in the wake of the trauma of dictatorship. The two novels considered here reach beyond recent crises to recover the memory of a marginalized Argentine landscape. In particular, they speak to the presence of the ecological and cultural diversity in Argentina that fell to an advancing capitalist frontier in the nineteenth century. The novels make explicit connections between human and environmental casualties of a new world order that took shape in an era of European colonialism and Latin American nation-formation. The novels also posit a retreat from modernity that is particularly significant in light of the context of the composition and publication of the texts. My reading of the novels shows how these contemporary works depict the great transformation and crisis of Latin American environments and indigenous societies in the nineteenth century. …

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