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From the Personal to the Political: Toward a New Theory of Maternal Narrative. Our literature, especially that of Arlt and Oliverio Girondo, portrays this new city through use of the avant-garde collage: Between and , the rupture in our experience of time, the effect of technology and modern communication systems, creates the impression that the city had no preservable past, that everything that had come before could be axed and that there was nothing but only the construction of the new would profit the city. The metropolis that Buenos Aires longed to be is a historical eruption.

Fifty years before the night that Arlt discovered this stagelike city, Buenos Aires was occupied by buildings only along the old south central zone, next to the customs house, the port, the Casa de Gobierno, and calle Florida. The rest was splotches of isolated houses dotting muddy expansions. But in , these enormous empty spaces shrank. The city, which earlier merged with the plains that encompassed it, was already quite fully a city, and to such an extent that much of what had been built only recently was demolished to make way for streets and avenues worthy of a grand capital.

But there was precedent for the acceleration that took place in In , Katherine Dreier, an American traveler who was a friend of Marcel Duchamp, discovered that in this city that so desired to be cosmopolitan, not even the best hotels rented rooms to women traveling alone. The city and the condition of women in it appeared to her the product of a conservative and traditional Hispanic culture.

More than Paris, Buenos Aires reminds her of Brooklyn.

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Most likely, Dreier was not far off:. Also in , a traveler who was already well known in Parisian and New York artistic circles, Marcel Duchamp, disembarks with the idea of spending a period in Buenos Aires. He knows no one and his visit is practically a secret, he leaves no traces nor does his stay elicit the notice of a single Argentinean. Bored by a city that he sees as nothing more than a village, Duchamp returns in to the United States. In letters he wrote during his stay, his judgments are often harsh and full of disdain. To him, Buenos Aires is nothing more than a provincial town, devoid of culture, where no one knows anything about contemporary art and where the elite lack refinement.

Neither Dreier nor Duchamp were in a position to capture what lay behind and beneath this checkerboard of arrow-straight streets whose rigid pattern is, without a doubt, singularly anti-picturesque. Beneath these straight streets are wastewater pipes and the tunnels of the first subway line; and on the surface, following the lines of the grid, the tramway rails, the electric and telephone lines. This, which naturally was hardly impressive to visitors from New York, was the foundation of the urban modernization upon which, a few short years later, the processes of cultural modernization were built.

The tapestry of subterranean and aerial public services and transport, which Dreier and Duchamp overlooked, formed one of the most dynamic layers of the city. They overlooked not only these technical advances but the urbanist will to design a city that was orderly, harmonious. Without a doubt, less illustrious visitors who arrived to stay, European immigrants, encountered material conditions unknown to them in their native villages. Buenos Aires was a city of immigrants. The first thing that must be said is that in the cities of Latin America, people were always arriving from somewhere else: During the Spanish colonial period, using methods that were often bloody, several thousand Spanish settlers established a colony on the lands belonging to the original Americans.

Thus was founded a hispano-criollo society, with varying degrees of miscegenation. There has never been anything befitting a viceregal court or even mestizo art because there were also few great indigenous cultures in the Rio de la Plata prior to the Spanish conquest. Buenos Aires was a muddy village, free of large buildings, lacking parks or public works, decimated from time to time by a plague that spread via the open sewers, makeshift buildings, and the slaughterhouses near the city center.

Only after did the city begin to exercise cultural influence and begin to think of itself as a future cosmopolitan center. The formula devised by the modernizing elite could be summed up as urban growth plus immigration. The idea of the city and the idea of an enormous population shift had been intertwined since Sarmiento, for whom the sprawling plains where rural culture thrives were the ideal setting for despotism, and the port cities, hospitable to foreigners, presented an ideal space for a modern republic. For him, as for many nineteenth-century men, the city was a pedagogical entity in itself.

The urban setting imparts practical lessons and ought to function as an edifying teaching mechanism.

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City life is etymologically and symbolically a civilizing act. Immigrants were a central piece of this project. At any rate, in the early years of the twentieth century, Buenos Aires was a city of foreigners half of its inhabitants came from somewhere else.

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Newspapers were published in Italian, German, Yiddish; in , as the nation celebrated the centenary of its independence from Spain and underwent all the rites of national reaffirmation, in the streets of Buenos Aires could be heard these exotic languages or a Spanish with a certain Iberian accent. In addition to the hispano-criollo population, there was now a foreign population whose members were younger and whose women gave birth to more children.

In mere decades, these immigrants and their children born in Argentina outnumber those of the hispano-criollo base dating back to the viceregal court. These Europeans arrived from their tiny villages to a city that seems immense because of its swaths of surviving pampa. They were not cosmopolitan, they simply came from abroad.

One Italian immigrant told of the shock produced by Buenos Aires. His village amounted to nothing, it was the size of a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. This immigrant, like the thousands who arrived before him, had to leave the village behind to set down roots in this city.

In Buenos Aires, it was not only the elite who fused urban models: At the end of this process and only for the children of these immigrants political citizenship and the right to call the city their own awaited. This overlap of cultural identities brings with it disillusionment and conflict. The hispano-criollo city did not recognize itself in the city of immigrants; the city, which before was the public domain of the elites, was converted into a space where everyone begins to circulate.

The network of direct relations that characterized village life was destroyed. In , an important historian and critic, Ricardo Rojas, rendered an alarming diagnosis of the presence of foreigners in Buenos Aires. Rojas has no desire to get rid of the recently arrived, but he is worried about establishing them under a sort of guardianship of the hispano-criollo elite. He does not want them to remain in their ghettos, but quite the contrary, to force them to mix.

Education, it seems to him, is the key to this assimilation. And, in fact, it was. The children of these immigrants were alphabetized and nationalized in schools that were public, secular, free, and mandatory for girls and boys, and where all cultural divisions were stamped out. The public school taught—by force—what it was to be Argentinean.

The Jews fascinated for their more extreme foreignness and incurred the very first waves of anti-Semitism. Even those who were not anti-Semitic describe them as exotic children:.

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This ethnic mix changes the colors and sounds of the city. Twenty years after Ricardo Rojas and his fearful warnings, the process had imposed itself by force and had profoundly remade the public imagination, daily life, and politics. Immigrants brought with them trade unions and anarchism, too; it is these foreigners who foster the earliest socialist movements, movements whose leaders belong, on the other hand, to the university-going middle class. Political ideologies, forms of labor organization, strategies of struggle and mobilization, via unions and strikes, provide the elite still more cause for alarm.

Public debate during the first three decades of the twentieth century revolve around the European origins of the Argentine racial mix and whether the cultural preeminence of the hispano-criollo elite ought to be preserved in the face of so much immigrant-induced disorder. What does it mean to be Argentinean?

Who has the right to define the limits of this cultural field where everything is beginning to blur? On the one hand, the gaucho, as national figure, had been transformed into a day laborer on large estates; the criollo virtues that had been conferred upon him were disappearing along with these mythological torch-bearers of Argentine nationality who, in reality, were used as cannon fodder during civil wars or pawns in political disputes between oligarchs.

But, once the gaucho had disappeared, the foreigner could offer nothing but his foreignness. This defect formed the base upon which the future of Argentina had to be imagined. This wildly successful novel, Don Segundo Sombra , published in , takes as its characters the last literary gauchos, the final protagonists to perform rural work with the cheerful disinterest of Homeric combatants. But the novel fails almost entirely to account for the presence of those immigrants who were already extending their houses across the plain.

In the twenties, Girondo travels throughout Europe and compiles a book of poems about his stops along the way. To these European postcard-cities Venice, Seville, Douarnez he adds others from Buenos Aires, in which he laments not the loss of organicism or the absence of the past but rather looks to shed light on the fragmentation of the individual and his experience in the urban setting. Europe is every bit as fragmentary, as dull as Buenos Aires; even when some corner of Europe appears excessively weighed down by history, Girondo introduces an ironic cue: Arlt—a child of immigrants and hardly a member of the hispano-criollo elite—also took note of the foreignness that, anyway, was inscribed in his very name, which he himself knew to be unpronounceable according to Spanish phonetics.

Arlt had a keen understanding of the contradictions of the cosmopolitan city: But there are also those who roam the streets and experience ostracism and solitude because they are marginal figures within the great urban machine whose workings are ever more abstract. Pulsing, the market embraces to later cast out. It also reshapes popular culture. In these same decades, the twenties and—above all—the thirties, there occur three fundamental events in modern popular culture: All this speaks of the new masses that materially and symbolically begin to occupy urban space.

The subject of the masses a topic first addressed by Ortega y Gasset in Spain, then introduced in Argentina in a great success would become an obsession in pessimistic essays about the city. As it grew, Buenos Aires disguised, through buildings that acted as masks, the pampa that was its origin and would be its destiny. Buenos Aires had swelled by superimposing, by addition, by metastasis, by filling in the empty spaces that, nonetheless, never quite fulfill their potential. On these chaotic plains, the Spanish colony had been nothing more than an extended enterprise dedicated to plunder.

Stylistically and culturally, the heterogeneous city is viewed as undesirable disorder. Victoria Ocampo claimed for Buenos Aires no longer the whimsical, picturesque landscapes of European villages that other intellectuals pined for but a pattern to its houses that alternated between the same set of stylistic features.

In this heterogeneous city without the historical powers to contain and give order to its diverse elements, the masses soon become even more threatening. They consist not only of European immigrants but their children, and other migrants, the criollos and mestizos arriving from the countryside provinces to settle down on the edge of the city. Whoever they are, they are always unfamiliar multitudes who put their difference on parade. By the s, Buenos Aires, which believed itself a metropolis before it actually became one, had assumed the attributes intellectuals had learned to fear in modern societies: The city, the stage for Peronism, has all the hallmarks of its metropolitan modernity and none of the political vicissitudes of the fifties and sixties could change this.

Buenos Aires the city is already predominately white, surrounded by prosperous suburbs, working-class neighborhoods, and shantytowns. Modernity has made good on some of its promises while revealing its inequities and inherent conflicts. The end of this era arrives in with the military dictatorship. During these terrible years, the military promotes a vision for Buenos Aires that is technocratic, an authoritarian modernization, which begins with the expulsion of the poor and of migrants to the outer edges of the city center and reinforcement of material inequalities that divided the rich and poor areas of the city as never before.

It is at this time that the highways that practically arrived at the city center are built, leaving deep wounds in the fabric of historical neighborhoods.

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  7. The technification of the city is a powerful trend that continues to gain steam; some regions of Buenos Aires have been practically rebuilt according to the model of the urban, communication, and telecommunications advances of major metropoles of the end of the century. Nevertheless, in the cultural and artistic imagination, the city is frequently viewed as a landscape of decay. The optimism of the elites at the end of the nineteenth century has given way to market forces in an urban space converted into the scene of big business.

    The elites near the end of the nineteenth century sought to shape a modern city for a population that was to arrive from Europe. Their project had contributed to inclusiveness, even if their modernization came from on high, buoyed by the rationale that these immigrant masses would receive an education that would transform them into citizens. Capitalism, in its current form, lacks protagonists with this level of political and cultural consciousness that melds reformist impulse with authoritarianism.

    The urban market is not a public square. In the face of such changes, the city that sought a homogeneous and European identity does not recognize itself in the masses of the poor—be they Argentineans or citizens of neighboring countries—who occupy the neighborhoods along its periphery and the decaying streets of the city center. Buenos Aires has been fractured in a way that reveals itself much more easily than the divide between a rich north and a poor southern region. The city is a historic map. Atop the optimistic blueprint of the nineteenth century, atop the monuments and public buildings of its glory days, there now appears a new system of highways and digital information networks.

    The new foreigners in this city are the poor—Asian immigrants, the rural dwellers expelled from their hometowns by unemployment. The Buenos Aires of the nineties is going through evident transformations: Some of the traditionally vibrant neighborhoods of Buenos Aires have entered decline: What has brought this cycle to a definitive end is the very idea of the city as a cruel and seductive place stimulating to all sorts of innovation. The city is no longer viewed a desirable scene. The imagination is captured by a sort of country kitsch, according to which gated communities carry names that evoke the hispano-criollo past in modest lots of two hundred square yards, or become deterritorialized amid enormous suburban shopping centers peppered along major highways.

    Between the country kitsch neighborhoods and the globalized camp of the shopping malls, Buenos Aires is host to a continuum of eight million inhabitants. But no one can any longer accuse the city of imitating Paris, a city that jealously guards its status as such, in the same way Manhattan and Berlin do. The European exile has come to an end. Now, in all likelihood, the image of paradise is some American suburb.

    Buenos Aires, vida cotidiana , op. Recovas are covered markets or storefronts situated beneath arcade walkways. They once dotted the landscape of Buenos Aires and are considered emblems of the city. By arrangement with the publisher.