The Argentina Reader
edited by Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo
rgentina was once almost a great nation. In 1929 it was one of the ten richest countries in the world. Thanks largely to universal public schooling, it was populated by a highly educated middle class (by far the largest in Latin America), and was democratically governed. Its capital, Buenos Aires, boasted the greatest opera house and probably the finest publishing firms, newspapers, and universities in the Hispanic world. In fact, the only city in the Western Hemisphere that rivaled it for sophistication was New York—and Buenos Aires, with its broad boulevards and its Beaux Arts architecture, was grander by far. But in retrospect this isolated, European society, built on the extermination of the country's Indians (Argentina's frontier was finally subdued only in the late nineteenth century), and this affluent economy, built on the slaughter of millions of cows, were artificial and tenuous. Since the Great Depression, of course, Argentina has suffered consistent and remarkable economic, political, and societal dysfunction (with the largest number of psychoanalysts per capita, its population is perhaps the world's most neurotic). It has also suffered a period of horrific state violence. A number of recent and creative academic studies in English (most notably those of James Scobie and Daniel James) have probed aspects of this country's tortured and paradoxical past, but this anthology—along with the translated writings of Jorge Luis Borges, and V. S. Naipaul's bleak, hostile, and brilliant essay-portraits of Buenos Aires under the febrile terror of the dirty war (reprinted last year in his The Writer and the World)—is the best introduction in English to its history, culture, and society. The editors' lucid introductions and imaginative assemblage of sources, ranging from poems to official reports to comic strips, cover Argentina from the sixteenth century to its current economic crisis. Although the editors—in their predictable efforts to ensure that the voices of the oppressed and the neglected are well represented—are a bit too ready to neglect Argentina's canonical writers and powerful groups (the enormously influential Anglo-Argentine community is ignored), this collection subtly conveys the admirable and loathsome qualities of a complicated and in many ways unfathomable society.
by Peter Ackroyd
Vintage UK/Trafalgar Square
No book can be more wearisome than a collection of old reviews, but this one is an exception, and Ackroyd's volume should be put on the shelf with V. S. Pritchett's and Cyril Connolly's critical works. A novelist, a historian, a biographer, and a critic, Ackroyd has an intelligence at once astringent and subtle, and there seems to be no English writer that he has not only read but also assimilated. This gives his criticism a rare historical authority. Sure, read him on such European and American writers as Baudelaire, Calvino, Walter Benjamin, and Edward Dorn—and read him for his biting asides ("[Susan] Sontag refers on occasions to 'strategies of discourse', by which she means 'the way people write'"). But above all read him on Spenser and Philip Larkin, on Shakespeare and Auden, on Samuel Johnson and Blake, on Macaulay and Milton and Woolf and Coleridge and Dickens. Exquisitely sensitive to the complex dialogue among writers across the centuries, and to the history embedded in the English language, Ackroyd conveys more naturally, and therefore more effectively, than any other critic a sense of English literature as an organic whole—as "an everlasting animal" (to quote Orwell on English culture) "stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same."