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Nightmares of the Lettered City

Nightmares of the Lettered City: Banditry and Literature in Latin America, 1816-1929

Juan Pablo Dabove
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    Nightmares of the Lettered City
    Book Description:

    Nightmares of the Lettered Citypresents an original study of the popular theme of banditry in works of literature, essays, poetry, and drama, and banditry's pivotal role during the conceptualization and formation of the Latin American nation-state.

    Juan Pablo Dabove examines writings over a broad time period, from the early nineteenth century to the 1920s, and whileNightmares of the Lettered Cityfocuses on four crucial countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela), it is the first book to address the depiction of banditry in Latin America as a whole. The work offers close reading ofFacundo, Doña Bárbara, Os Sertões,andMartín Fierro,among other works, illuminating the ever-changing and often contradictory political agendas of the literary elite in their portrayals of the forms of peasant insurgency labeled "banditry."

    Banditry has haunted the Latin American literary imagination. As a cultural trope, banditry has always been an uneasy compromise between desire and anxiety (a "nightmare"), and Dabove isolates three main representational strategies. He analyzes the bandit as radical other, a figure through which the elites depicted the threats posed to them by various sectors outside the lettered city. Further, he considers the bandit as a trope used in elite internecine struggles. In this case, rural insurgency was a means to legitimize or refute an opposing sector or faction within the lettered city. Finally, Dabove shows how, in certain cases, the bandit was used as an image of the nonstate violence that the nation state has to suppress as a historical force and simultaneously exalt as a memory in order to achieve cultural coherence and actual sovereignty.

    As Dabove convincingly demonstrates, the elite's construction of the bandit is essential to our understanding of the development of the Latin American nation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7319-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction Nightmares of the Lettered City
    (pp. 1-40)

    The Latin American lettered city is haunted by monsters.¹ These monsters turn the lettered city’s noble dreams into nightmares. Inescapable and urgent, these nightmares are conveyors of an enigmatic truth. Hence the challenge of the Latin American cultural critic: to reinvent our practice not as the memory of founding fathers (cultural or military ones), heroes, or popular practices (humble albeit respectable) but rather as a sort of cultural teratology. This teratology is diverse. It comprises bloodthirsty bandits that give the rural frontier a hellish quality; rebellious peasants that burn, rape, and destroy apparently without a second (or first) thought; Indians...

  2. PART I The Foundation of National Identities: The Bandit as Other

    • 1 El periquillo sarniento Banditry as the Non Plus Ultra
      (pp. 43-53)

      El periquillo sarniento(1816) by José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi is Don Pedro Sarmiento’s autobiography. Don Pedro was a redeemed rogue, proprietor of a sizable rural estate in San Agustín de las Cuevas, Mexico, and an exemplarypater familias. On his deathbed, Don Pedro penned the history of his life since childhood, from his initial evil ways to his timely redemption. He intended his narrative to be an object lesson for his offspring (ownership, fatherhood, and the sacredness of the written word comprised the ideological tripod on which this project was based).¹ Since the narrative was writtenin articulo mortis,...

    • 2 Facundo Banditry and the State as Nomadic War Machine
      (pp. 54-73)

      In 1833 a young Charles Darwin (1809–1882) visited Juan Manuel de Rosas’s army campaign headquarters by the Río Colorado. Rosas, Argentine strongman from the late 1820s until 1852, was engaged in a war against the Indians that would earn him, in the eyes of his all-too-ready admirers, the title “Hero of the Desert.” It was indeed a milestone in his career as stern ruler and “Restorer of the Laws.” The caudillo impressed Darwin favorably. In his travelogue, Darwin called him an “extraordinary character” who seemed to be using his influence over the country “to its prosperity and advancement” (1839,...

    • 3 El Chacho Banditry and Allegories of Legitimation
      (pp. 74-83)

      During his tenure as governor of Argentina’s San Juan province (1862–1864), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento commissioned some work on a picture of Ángel Vicente Peñaloza (a.k.a. El Chacho, 1799–1863), taken several years before in Valparaíso, Chile. The work to be done on the picture of Sarmiento’s obstinate enemy (who was keeping the La Riojan countryside in a constant state of rebellion in spite of the best efforts of liberal officials and military forces allied with theporteños) consisted of some retouching in order to prepare it for international distribution. In the new version, achiripáand a sword would...

    • 4 O Cabelleira Cangaceiros, Sacarocracy, and the Invention of a National Tradition
      (pp. 84-98)

      O Cabelleira(1876) by Franklin Távora is the fictionalized biography of José Gomes (a.k.a. Cabelleira or Cabeleira, as later editions preferred), a brigand (cangaceiro) who roamed the Pernambucan sugarcane area of Brazil during the last third of the eighteenth century. The narrative spans from his childhood to his repentance, capture, and later execution on the scaffold in Recife. Contrary to what has been asserted (see Cartwright 1973, 12), this is not the first work of Brazilian fiction that features a bandit. Among the antecedents areO Índio Afonso(1873) by Bernardo Guimarães (1825–1884) andTil(1872) by José de...

    • 5 El Zarco Banditry and Foundational Allegories for the Nation-State
      (pp. 99-110)

      Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834–1893) is considered a founding father of Mexican national culture, and his literary production is understood as a culmination of nationalistic literature. In his writings the vindication of the “national intellectual” is decisive as an exclusive interpretative instance, a mediation able to achieve a synthesis between a “universal” idea of culture and the diverse economic, geographic, cultural, and ethnic elements that comprised the problematic Mexican nation (Giron 1976). In this project of a synthetic “national narrative,” the novel, as the “Bible of the nineteenth century,” would have a central role. It would define models of behavior...

    • 6 Criminology Banditry as the Wound of History
      (pp. 111-126)

      In spite of its somber, sometimes ominous tone, turn-of-the-century positivistic criminology was an undivided celebration of the status quo.¹ This celebration had a precise purpose: to move social conflict away from the political realm. Criminology did not deny the existence of conflicts within societies. Quite to the contrary, it brought them to the fore and shed a lurid light upon them. But it denied what I, together with Ernesto Laclau, would call its political character, that is, the historical contingency of the determinations bearing upon the conflicts, of the identities playing them out, of the dynamics in which the struggles...

  3. PART II Between Conservative Nostalgia and Radical Politics: The Bandit as Instrument of Critique

    • 7 Astucia Banditry and Insurgent Utopia
      (pp. 129-145)

      Astucia, el jefe de los Hermanos de la Hoja o los charros contrabandistas de la Rama: novela histórica de costumbres mexicanas con episodios originales, by Luis Inclán (1816–1875), was published in 1865. Today it is considered a key work in nineteenth-century Mexican literature, although often for the wrong reasons. In order to recover the political value of the novel, it is important to detach the novel from the state-sponsored nationalist populism that promoted it as a happy repertoire ofla mexicanidad, as if Inclán’s work were a forerunner ofAllá en el Rancho Grande(1936), by Fernando de Fuentes...

    • 8 Zárate Banditry, Nation, and the Experience of the Limits
      (pp. 146-164)

      Eduardo Blanco (1839–1912) appears to be the exact opposite of Luis Inclán. While Inclán’s novel abandons the grand narratives of statehood, Blanco devoted some of his best pages to precisely this project. But this disparity is more illusory than real. Blanco survives in contemporary literary history because of two works:Venezuela heroica(1881) andZárate(1882). The first work is a series of narratives, more or less independent of each other, that correspond to particular battles of Venezuela’s Independence War. It comprises stories animated by an obvious glorifying purpose. The second piece,Zárate, was written in the interval between...

    • 9 Martín Fierro Banditry and the Frontiers of the Voice
      (pp. 165-175)

      José Hernández’sMartín Fierrois the story of a law abiding, hardworking, family-oriented gaucho wronged and exploited by civil and military authorities. Forcibly and arbitrarily drafted to the Indian frontier in the south of Buenos Aires province, he was deprived of his family and all of his earthly possessions. This course of events turned him into an army deserter, a barroommalevo, and an outlaw in the avenger tradition (although, unlike Zárate, he never sought retribution against the justice of the peace who was at the origin of all his misfortunes or the army officials who abused and robbed him...

    • 10 Juan Moreira The Gaucho Malo as Unpopular Hero
      (pp. 176-189)

      Juan Moreira(1879) was the second novel written by Argentine writer Eduardo Gutiérrez (1851–1889). Its story is in many ways compatible with that ofMartín Fierro. Like Fierro, Juan Moreira is a respected and well-to-do paysano, ensconced in a life of work and progress. He is the owner of some land, some cattle, and a prosperous freight business dedicated to carrying agrarian products to the local train station for transport to Buenos Aires.¹ He lives peacefully at home with his wife, Vicenta, and his son, Juan junior, in Matanzas County (apartido, according to Buenos Aires political nomenclature). As...

    • 11 Alma gaucha The Gaucho Outlaw and the Leviathan
      (pp. 190-198)

      Moreira as the paramount embodiment of the gaucho malo was either saluted as the ultimate icon of resistance to the modernizing leap or derided as the quintessence of the worst tendencies in Río de la Plata society. These tendencies have been collectively termed moreirismo. The sociological studies of José María Ramos Mejía (Las multitudes argentinas[1899] andRosas y su tiempo[1907]), Carlos Octavio Bunge (Nuestra América[1903]), Juan Agustín García (La ciudad indiana[1900]), and José Ingenieros (La sicopatología en el arte[1903]) have all pointed out, from different perspectives, that the lionizing of the outlaw as cultural hero...

    • 12 Los bandidos de Río Frío Banditry, the Criminal State, and the Critique of Porfirian Illusions
      (pp. 199-212)

      Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, a French representative in Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century, pointed out that banditry, far from being a fleeting challenge to the rule of law, was “the only [Mexican] institution that can be taken seriously and that functions with perfect regularity” (quoted in Vanderwood 1992, 3). His clever depiction of a world upside down was not without an agenda. He was a convinced interventionist, and he was among those who orchestrated the fateful imperial adventure of Maximilian. For Dubois de Saligny, the semiotic catastrophe of postcolonial Mexico as embodied in the trope of banditry-as-institution (which was also...

  4. PART III The Triumph of the Nation State: The Bandit as Devious Brother and as Suppressed Origin

    • 13 Os sertões Original Banditry and the Crimes of Nations
      (pp. 215-228)

      Os sertões: campanha de Canudos(1902), by the Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha, is, among other things, the account of four successive campaigns, one more formidable than the next, launched between 1896 and 1897 against the town of Canudos. This “bandit cave” (as the commander in chief of the fourth expedition described the town [371]) lay deep in the Bahian sertão and was defended with awe inspiring tenacity and success by jagunços (“glorified bandits,” in the words of army and press releases [423]) guided by the millenarian leader Antônio Conselheiro. These campaigns finally succeeded in defeating the jagunços, at the...

    • 14 La guerra gaucha Bandit and Founding Father in the Epic of the Nation-State
      (pp. 229-240)

      The use of gaucho violence as a trope for conflicts within national culture reached a turning point around the centennial of Argentina’s 1810 Revolution. Like the colonial baroque feast, the pomp of the centennial was at the same time a dazzling performance celebrating the power of a state at its peak and the testimony of a not-so-hidden anxiety. The legendary splendor of the centennial marked the zenith of the Argentine “export-led growth model” (Bulmer-Thomas 1994) and the finest moment of the commercial and landowning class that animated and enforced the model during the previous century (Salas 1996). However, the very...

    • 15 Los de abajo The Feast, the Bandit Gang, the Bola (Revolution and Its Metaphors)
      (pp. 241-260)

      The tense relationship between unleashed rural violence as constituent power and the state’s capture apparatus can be traced in a work that was almost a contemporary ofLa guerra gauchaandEl payador(although written in conditions that could not be more diverse): Mariano Azuela’sLos de abajo(1915/1916). Twentieth-century Mexico has indeed been “in the shadow of the Revolution,” as Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer aptly put it (1994). Until just recently, there was almost no conflict or cultural manifestation that was not positioned in a space where the Revolution and its legacy (either lionized or vilified) occupied...

    • 16 Cesarismo democrático Banditry and the Necessary Gendarme (The Shadow of the Caudillo I)
      (pp. 261-269)

      In Blanco’s novelZárate, the co-optation by the sovereign (Páez) of nonstate violence (Zárate) was the condition of possibility of the effective and incessant domination of the state over populations and territory. The oral pact by which Zárate acknowledges a personal power superior to his own makes possible the state as “abstract machine of sovereignty” (Deleuze’s term). It also facilitates the reduction of the Güere forest—the seat of an alternative rationality that the novel calls “superstition” and “crime” just like in the ethnography practiced inDoña Bárbarain which El Miedo receives the same epithets—to the political and...

    • 17 Doña Bárbara Banditry and the Illusions of Modernity (The Shadow of the Caudillo II)
      (pp. 270-284)

      Rómulo Gallegos’s novelDoña Bárbarais the last landmark in our journey, and so we can approach it as the depiction of the (necessarily failed) closure of a historical and literary cycle. Even though the novel was published in 1929 (well into the twentieth century in strict chronological terms), its inclusion in this corpus obeys reasons pertaining to literary history and to political history, as well as to considerations strictly related to the intent and content of the novel. Its literary techniques and perspective are closer to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth (Martin 1989, 56–57). Actually, the...

  5. Conclusions Representational Strategies and Paradigms
    (pp. 285-294)

    This book has provided a map of the conflict arenas where the bandit trope came to play a role (or, to use a different and perhaps more precise metaphor, this book has provided a map of the conflict arenas that the bandit trope came to embody). This study has endeavored to isolate three major ways that letrado elites depicted rural insurgency as banditry. I deemed the first strategy “Bandit as Other.” In this mobilization of the trope, the bandit is a radical other, the sum of all fears of the lettered elite. As such, he has to be destroyed (what...