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“The Argentine does not end in Martín Fierro”

Together with the director of the National Library, Juan Sasturain, we talked about Argentine traditions and how not to be afraid to be called traditionalist.


“ The  Mariano Moreno National Library  is the living memory of everything we have thought of,” says narrator and journalist Juan Sasturain,  leading the institution that had Jorge since 2020 Luis Borges or Paul Groussac in the same office, he adds, “It is a record of everything we have done and testified. And beyond our precariousness, he is the  witness of what we wanted to be, and of our universalist vocation.  Here we find the statement that Argentines belong to a cultural world that transcends us. This vocation comes from the first donors,  Belgrano and San Martín, and among others, who delivered their libraries full of European culture. During  Pedro de Ángelis  's management in the General Archive of the Nation,  the cultural right hand of Rosas  , attempted to incorporate more American material and an exceptional task was performed in the collection of documents of the Colony and Independence today essential”, reveals Sasturain, with a vast career in graphic and television media.

“It is remarkable as a measure of alluvional society that we are, that men who did not dominate the language very well, such as Groussac or De Ángelis, were forgers of Argentine traditions from this library,” says the author recently awarded in Spain for his novel “El último Hammett” (Alfaguara/Editorial Navona), and looking at a post under the magnifying glass of the Argentines, “The National Library is also an example of the political and ideological avatars of  the country. It is the sum of national thought  of a moment, where the same roof could house a Borges (1956-1973) or a Gustavo Martínez Zuviría (1931-1955), the reactionary and xenophobic Hugo Wast”, closes.

 Journalist: What do you think the National Library represents for Argentines? 

Juan Sasturain: Argentines have the image of the National Library as unequal.  The first perception we have is that it is something immense, a Borgean stele of the infinite library . And mysterious. Legends tell that Borges wrote an entry to  Necronomicon , an imaginary book from the universe of H. P. Lovecraft. He also collaborated with the mystery the recovecos of the headquarters in Calle México. That building destined for the lottery of the nineteen hundred,  Groussac  made it not only our main library but into his own home.  Instead of an official, he was a Patriarch of Books like Borges.  The library was him, in a nutshell. Borges himself invented a lot of his own genealogy, his mythology, thanks to this library.  It's very nice to think our senior writer took the National Library of abode . Many books are written down by him and were confused with his own library.

 Q: Since then, the Library with publications and activities, and reinforced in recent years with the Museum of Language, was the platform of Argentine thought and literature, how can we continue with this tradition in pandemic? 

JS: We try to act in a context that was devastated by the situation, and through virtual compensatory proposals.Let's say that everything we had thought about how the library should be inserted into Argentine culture was suspended. My idea for the library is the idea of a reader. I think I was appointed not by a librarian, not by writer, but by reader. Or at least someone who represents the interests of readers. From my reading experience I think about ways to streamline, or disassemble, everything that interferes with the contact with books.

A book makes sense as long as it is read. Libraries are circumstantial, just like books, not writing and reading. Even what is important is the construction and reception of stories more than books. There will always be someone who says something to someone. And what I want is to guarantee that circuit with all the elements of technology available, in the middle of a complicated reality.

 Q: Can we talk about an Argentine tradition in literature and thought? 

JS:  I don't mind or fear the word tradition. Between tradition and avant-garde, I prefer tradition . I don't think there is progress in art but different forms of birth. Art operates by addition and not by substitution. When we discussed whether literature of compromise, or evasion, it was a vain discussion because inevitable we are immersed in reality. Literature is always invasion, additive to reality. In that sense, I controversy with the theory of an avant-garde that replaces traditions. Traditions are irreplaceable and widened because new cultures, new artists, fatten reality.

But I also question traditions in a retrograde concept. What happens is that we celebrate Tradition Day still imbued in a partial vision.  Our traditions are much richer than what we usually see in a Tradition Day parade. 

 Q: In November we celebrated the genius of José Hernández linked to tradition, is he still talking with us his image of gaucho? 

JS: Let's think of José Hernández: an extraordinary poet, who often forget how great he is, journalist and politician without equal. But Hernández represents an aspect of the complex Argentine tradition. His poem  Martín Fierro  was revindicated in the twentieth century when it was another gaze of the gaucho that his contemporaries had. It was written on a staunch contrary to the mitric hegemonic regime, as if today a political leader of the opposition began to write either about the cartoneros, or land takeover, and published it on the editorial margins, with unusual sales for the time. That same text nununununed by the official culture of the time, almost half a century later, was taken as Argentinean is a conjunctural phenomenon. And it is very good that the image of gaucho is still sustained but Argentine traditions are not exclusively the gauchescas Hernández could imagine.  The Argentinean does not end in Martín Fierro .

 We must think that while Hernández rescued the gaucho, he forgot other factors that are as important in our national traditions  as the Indians, totally demonized in the 1872 poem with immigrants. Martín Fierro is a perfect x-ray of a part of Argentine thought and traditions of the 19th century.

One hundred and fifty years away yield a much broader concept of Argentine tradition.  To talk about contemporary traditions we must add the alluvional contribution of the twentieth century. And all the native Latin American culture . The vision of the Argentine associated with Buenos Aires, and the humid pampas, bypassing the originating ethnic groups plus immigration, is a poor view of our culture.  It is not a bad word to be defined traditionalist, one that is depicted in the asado and the book of  Doña Petrona , in ravioli and tamales.  

 Q: You are one of the greatest researchers and diffusers of the Argentine comic book, what would be at your discretion the best of the gauchesco genre? 

JS:  The gauchesca cartoon has had a great deal of importance and continuity in national culture . The first thing that arises are three or four authors who developed a saga of characters. And they were more in diaries than in comic books. There would be three points, the most popular was that of  Walter Ciocca (1907-1984) with “Lindor Covas, el cimarrón”, which was published almost 25 years in the newspaper “La Razón” It was there associated that gauchesca could be treated in the way of folletín. And that the adventures had the model of the “Continuente” radio theatre, and that was based on the brochure base of  Eduardo Gutiérrez and his Juan Moreira  and its endless derivatives.

Then the other would be the native equivalent of the western in the context of the self-called Desert War. And I think the best was the drawings of  Carlos “Chingolo” Casalla (1926-2017) “Cape Savino ” is an exemplary cartoon. He worked on it with several screenwriters and it seems to me that the outstanding adventures are with Julio Álvarez Cao (1933-1992) In Savino, the story is told from below, well from below, because he never even came to sergeant (laughter) And, moreover, the Indian's look is much more egalitarian.

And the last classical, more traditionalist side, appears  Enrique Rapela (1911 - 1978). “El Huinca” and “Fabián Leyes”  are the exponents of their own aesthetic in this screenwriter and cartoonist. Rapela is related to  a tradition of Gauchesco illustrators, Eleodoro Marenco (1914-1996) and Tito Saubidet (1891-1955) , and who worship historical documentation. It also works with a temporal area different from the other comics, and transports us to Independence and Roses.

And there is a simultaneous vein in the scripts of   Héctor Oesterheld  (1919-detained/disappeared 1977) With drawings by Carlos Roume (1923-2009) created “Patria Vieja” and “Nahuel Barros”  in the editorial Frontera de los fifties. In the first, Oesterheld tells episodes of Argentine history, which I remember was called “Tilcara” and was about Los Gauchos de Güemes. It was an Argentine story in vignettes told from the soldiers and the people.

“Nahuel Barros”, instead, develops the plot from a baqueano, the experience of the country man, opposed to a career officer. There appears a well-intentioned Buenos Aires milico who arrives at the fort and must learn from gaucho. Oesterheld also made another very interesting one called “ Pichi”, little in Araucana language,  and that are episodes of the campaign from the gaze of the dog. An animal voice that was between the Indians and the fort, heh. In all these comics the screenwriter starts from a historical revisionism and thus introduces the political comic book into the Gauchesque universe. That will be best seen in  “History of American Emancipation” he did with Leopoldo Durañona (1938-2016)  for the magazine “Noticias” It should be mentioned that the comics of Enrique Breccia (1945) until reaching “El Sueñero” are modulations of this trend, and that now through fantasy, a tradition that confronts the national against imperialism is revalued.

 Q: We talk a lot about aspects of argentinity, Juan, what is it for you to be an Argentine? 

JS: Argentina is something under construction and sometimes in destruction.  There is a definition by  Adolfo Bioy Casares  that talks about that strange thing about being an Argentine.  I like to think to what extent Argentina is an adjective. We say Argentina, but it is really the Argentine Republic. We turn into speech the adjective into a noun. And, above, he is a liar in his origins as argentum, which refers to the legends of the White King, a place of fantasy and greed. We define ourselves in a chimera, in the expectation of an inescapable destiny of greatness. Ironically sometimes outside we are called the owners of a dream that does not exist. It's very good, even poetic, it can be pathetic, but  nothing ceases to be that discomfort being Argentinean .

In Argentina, I also think there is a great difficulty in conceiving ourselves as a community. It seems that our individualism, that one does not know well where it comes from, whether from the field or from ships, is a fairly strong feature in national condition. We are capable through individuals, we are better or brighter in individual effort, but we have flaws in collective behaviors. We can do cool things loose, even against the balance, and we disaggregate into common construction. Anyway, let's understand that we're only 200 years old, a few children, and not telling the previous American story that we find it hard to recognize. That  discontinuity is also being Argentine. 

Publication Date: 11/11/2020

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gaucho-martín fierro Martin Fierro



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