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The Author in the Office

The Author in the Office: Narrative Writing in Twentieth-Century Argentina and Uruguay

Series: Monografías A
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    The Author in the Office
    Book Description:

    Martel's La bolsa (1891) initiates, and Dorfman's Reader (1995) concludes, a study of the white-collar citizens of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in their daytime habitat: the office. The literary background is the European literature of bureaucracy: Balzac, Galdós, Gogol, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Kafka; the theoretical approach is through the sociologists Max Weber and C. Wright Mills; the historical context is the twentieth century: the decline of European power and the ascendency of the USA; two World Wars; the Wall Street crash; communism and fascism. Through the eyes of Arlt, Benedetti, Campodónico, Cortázar, De Castro, Denevi, Fernández, Marechal, Mariani, Martínez Estrada, Onetti and Ricci, we observe life on both sides of the River Plate, as the two countries succumb to polarisation, repression and, eventually, military dictatorship. This is the twentieth century, viewed by a bewildered, frequently anguished participant: the person at the next desk. PAUL R. JORDAN lectures in Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-447-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. 1 Introduction: Writing in and of the Era of the Typewriter
    (pp. 1-25)

    This study chronicles the lives of the white-collar workers of the capital cities of two nations, Argentina and Uruguay, through the greater part of the twentieth century: that is to say, during the post-pen, pre-informatic age. In the office, it was the era of the filing cabinet, the rows of desks, the mechanical adding machine and the telephone. Most importantly, in the office itself, and in the narrative that reflects it, this was the era of the typewriter.

    The present study has no pretensions as a work of social science (although it draws on sociological and historical works), but rather...

  5. 2 Office Life in 1920s’ Buenos Aires and Montevideo: Visions of Purgatory
    (pp. 26-55)

    ‘Arlt’s anger burns with a white heat; Mariani’s is a cold, blue despair.’ This observation by Christopher Leland (1986: 71) goes to the heart of the matter: the energetic, combative, flamboyant Arlt was never contained by social or literary convention, and until the end of his short life always pressed on, transgressing and inventing. Arlt carved out his personal autonomy, earning a living through creative writing. By contrast, Mariani, sympathetically portrayed by Leland, emerges as a literary figure of some erudition and (as a key member of the Boedo group¹) social commitment, who however never achieved the recognition he merited....

  6. 3 The 1930s: From Social Criticism to Creative Disillusion
    (pp. 56-80)

    In the 1930s two major writers, the Argentine Roberto Arlt and the Uruguayan Juan Carlos Onetti, addressed the theme of the office worker. Although neither saw the office as a microcosm of society in the direct, social-realist way that the 1920s’ writers did, Arlt nevertheless ventured into bureaucratic territory with a strong social and political agenda. Onetti’s focus, meanwhile, is more psychological and existential. What the two share is acute awareness of life as narrative, which they use in exploring the linguistic, visual and social structures that shape identity.

    There is in Arlt’s writing career a progression from cultural marginality...

  7. 4 Mario Benedetti: Uruguay, the Office Republic
    (pp. 81-125)

    Over a period of some sixty years, Mario Benedetti’s writing output has been extremely varied in terms of genre. At the same time there is consistency: a frequent theme is the everyday experience of ordinary folk. For example, they might argue over a modest inheritance; or witness their divorcing parents’ acrimonious arguments; they seek their first sexual experiences; they struggle to make ends meet and to find time for their family. Certainly, in later works Benedetti’s characters may experience dramatically different circumstances such as imprisonment or exile. However, extreme as these experiences are, they would become the lot of ordinary...

  8. 5 1940s’ Argentina: From Alienation to Bureaucratic Nightmare
    (pp. 126-164)

    The 1930 military coup, which had overthrown Argentina’s Radical government, reinstalled the old oligarchy in power. The restoredancien régimewas corrupt, and by the early 1940s the country was again ripe for change; this time events would culminate in the Peronist revolution: a populist nationalist movement, headed by a charismatic leader, in which an alliance of the trade unions and sectors of the armed forces once more supplanted the land-owning oligarchy and established a corporate state.¹

    In this chapter we consider the work of three writers of the 1940s: Roberto Mariani, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada and Leopoldo Marechal. Unlike in...

  9. 6 Argentine Bureaucracy from the 1950s to the 1970s: The Enemy within
    (pp. 165-194)

    There is no doubt that bureaucracy is a matter of general concern, and one that is well established in literature. As we have seen, in the River Plate bureaucracy is first identified as a major problem and a future determining force in society in the early 1940s by Martínez Estrada. However, it was in the 1950s that the subject really emerged: with his publication of ‘Sábado de Gloria’, with Benedetti’s stories and poems, and with Denevi’s play,Los expedientes. Like Benedetti and Martínez Estrada, Denevi was very much an insider, and he used his experience as a functionary in two...

  10. 7 Uruguay from the 1960s: Bureaucracies of the Absurd
    (pp. 195-223)

    There has been much discussion of Larsen, the protagonist of Onetti’sEl astillero, which was published in 1961. Claudio Canaparo, for example, identifies Larsen as a very specific type of failure as a human being: ‘Larsen’s artistic failure is the result of an excess of understanding, pity and compassion; he is too clearheaded to be creative’ (1997: 599). He goes on to suggest that Larsen’s self-image is based not on how the character feels or believes himself to be, but rather on what he knows he is not and cannot be. In Larsen there is a divide between on the...

  11. 8 Conclusion: Globalisation and the Writer-functionary
    (pp. 224-228)

    Self-evidently, the defining characteristic of the narrative of the office is that it focuses on a broad middle sector of society: one for which literacy and numeracy are the essential skills in earning a living. Indeed, the smooth running of the entire social and economic machinery depends on this group: on their practical skills, and on their acceptance of what is frequently a tedious routine, within societies which, political rhetoric apart, often do not appear to be constructed with their interests in mind.

    The writers we have considered in this study have in different ways problematised a paradoxical condition, in...

    (pp. 229-232)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 233-237)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 238-238)