Suspicion, Uprooting, and Politicization

Montaldo, Graciela Raquel

In this paper, I would like to reflect on the particularities of building and using the archive in the field of Latin American studies. As a material reservoir, the archive preserves and organizes documents, objects, and memories of practices and experiences in different media and formats. But as Jacques Derrida showed, the archive also plays a central role in constructing temporalities. The materiality of the archive is important, but its symbolic weight far more so in our culture. The archive conserves what is “important” to a community and thereby also delineates what is outside of the archive, which Boris Groys has called the “plebian.” As a result, the constitution of the archive—how it was built, by what agents, and using what criteria—must be examined (Farge) as a relevant aspect of the study.
In the field of Latin American studies, these considerations are particularly relevant, for two reasons. First, Latin American archives tend to be unstable and, second and more importantly, many zones of modern culture are not registered in the Latin American archives. Or at least not the conventional archives. Many archives were assembled too late and/or discontinued by the host institution; other archives have been robbed, damaged, or vandalized. For these reasons, much research necessarily begins from a place of distrust and suspicion that makes the archive itself the primary object of study. While other fields surely have similar problems, in Latin American cultural studies, there is the additional fact that the archive was based on a historiographical model that takes the printed document as its model of preservation. The critic Ángel Rama studied this phenomenon as the weight of the “lettered city,” that is, the hegemony of intellectuals in the Latin American symbolic world. All non-textual materials, including visual materials, aural materials, and objects, were “unimportant,” “plebeian” by definition. As such, Latin American cultural studies face the double challenge of reconstructing the archives and questioning the hegemonies that traditional disciplines have imposed on their materials. At the same time, the reasons behind the absences and emptiness must be explored.
After this introduction, I will focus on two study cases. The Rubén Darío´s (in)completed archive and the archive of the rise of mass culture in Argentina. I will explore how we can politicize the uses of the archives.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Published Here
February 20, 2019


Annick Louise and Jesús R. Velasco generously invited me to participate in the conference "Writing the Archives III: The Poetics of the Archives." This text was written for that event.