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Beatriz Sarlo: scenes from Argentine intellectual life

Unavoidable figure of national thought, revolutionary in literary criticism and the study of ideas in Latin America, Sarlo is a rare avis that does not escape from the media mud. Fall whoever falls.

Art and Literature
Beatriz Sarlo

That Sarlo gave his opinion on this or that hot topic. That Sarlo talks about Power in times of pandemic.  As the last of a species in extension, intellectuals in public debate, a lost national tradition, and initiated by Moreno, Alberdi and Sarmiento, Beatriz Sarlo embodies intellectual acuity, without academic boasting, and looking on the plain new horizons, new questions.  The long career immersed in Argentine dilemmas authorizes Sarlo to dissect reality with a sum of knowledge that start from humanistic to journalism, and vice versa. Sarlo intellectual is as urgent as Sarlo journalist: “The theory of national culture does not develop apart from a conception of Argentina,” wrote Sarlo in 1974 regarding Juan José Hernández Arregui, a neoperonist intellectual who influenced her in her university stage, & the history of their social struggles, policies and ideologies.”  In books of essays and critics, articles and interviews, Sarlo narrates today the tightest theory of culture and society of the new millennium.  

Beatriz Sarlo was born in Buenos Aires on March 29, 1942. Granddaughter of Galician immigrants, she grows between the Belgrano and Villa Urquiza neighborhoods, in an area called Villa Mazzini in the forties. In the formation of the future intellectual is decisive the influence of an uncle Fernando, who defines “liberal anarchist, with populist traits”, “in those field evenings - with him - she learned many things: for example, where did the roast come from; or that  someone might not feel neither white nor black, neither Peronist nor antiperonist, although at the same time it was closer to each other,” he recalled in the magazine Ñ. It would also impact Sarlo a house where “there was a lot of talk about politics, I learned some surnames before those of radio theater actors and tango singers,” would say who over the years would never leave the political arena.

Beatriz Sarlo

“In the early 1960s, I thought politics was acting,” Sarlo said to the Spanish newspaper El País, which at the time alternated the modernizer Instituto Di Tella, and groups linked to the Peronism of the combative CGT Colón. “Politicians were law graduates. That was where politics came out in Argentina, as those who gave coups d'état left the Armed Forces. It wasn't an alternative in my head. I would have wanted to study anthropology, but when I arrived at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires, I was told it was a very right-wing career, almost a Paleology.  I chose Literature because I was already a voracious reader,” said Sarlo, who grew up surrounded by public teachers by mother. That Peronist experience will have its heyday once she graduated, founding a line of Peronist Youth in Trelew, Chubut, and on a later trip through Latin America, “Who was the girl in jeans, borceguis and red shirt”  would write in “Viajes. From the Amazon to the Falklands” (2014), from that route where it would approach the third world movements, and positions of the left, Maoist.

 In the intellectual field, from a peripheral position to the university, once graduated he returned only in 1983 to reorganize the Arts Career of the UBA, in   1967 published the first work of literary criticism, “Juan María Guitérrez: historian and critic tico of our literature”, where he anticipates a method of work in which the tools of literature overflow towards reality . The trilogy of the eighties, “The Empire of Sentiments” -a tribute to his mentor Roland Barthes, “A peripheral modernity”, and “Technical imagination” -another tribute, now to Walter Benjamin - would complete  Operation Sarlo which constitutes in taking poll... iacute; tically objects and discourses of cotidineity, can be popular magazines or celebreties, and propose a “program leap”, would say Daniel Link, an emancipated route of populism, and the cloisters, to reformulate the same questions as always, Civilization or Barbarism, Peronism or Antiperonism, Borges or Arlt, etc. Operation Sarlo proposes another point of view of national thought.  

In 1971 he joined the editorial board of the magazine Los Libros, a publication that began to be a modern critique of editorial novelties, and is politically radicalized as the whole of society, a professional intervention that would mark Sarlo's status as a wise editor. Also appears in this publication the question of the intellectual versus society (and what to do), one of the concerns throughout his theoretical production,  “Would cultural criticism finally be a discourse of intellectuals?... The place can be built, problems provoke intervention, and in addition, reality allows few alternatives. It is impossible to find new and better arguments to criticize conformism against what is really existing as if it were the only possible... critical thinking is not a solution to this knot. It is, only, one perspective: the narrow door has not yet been closed,”  he noted in “Scenes from postmodern life. Intellectuals, art and videoculture in Argentina” in 1993.


 Point of View: Thirty years of the cultural turn 

Sarlo's next editorial project will have a lasting interference with national culture, away from previous political radicalization, formerly pursuing “the struggle for Argentine independence and national liberation,” the essayist signed in 1975 in a controversy with Ricardo Piglia, and that it will be in 1975. oacute; silenced for obvious reasons, the coup of March 24, 1976.  In this passage to underground, he even used Silvia Nicolini's pseudonym to sign articles, Punto de Vista magazine illuminates in 1978. Until 2008 it represented a cultural look at Argentine problems, focusing on modernization processes ausculated in books, art and politics, and a real bridge between intellectuals based on the horror of the dictatorship  “When we started doing Punto de Vista (Sarlo wrote in several interviews on a project based in the Study Groups, which functioned secrets during the worst moments of persecution, kidnapping and disappearances, between 1976 and 1980. It is worth remembering that the communists who financed the project of their magazine were arrested - disappeared in August 1978. Everyone) was like the physical exercises that prisoners do. The fact that people have been in prison for a long time, that every day you have to get up and give it like you're in a gym, is part of your routine. Punto de Vista was for us, that was the prisoner's exercise. The prisoner who sets out where the sun enters to get there, the 40 minutes that the sun enters because he has to do exercises on arms, legs, abs, hang. It has to be kept perfect, because the conditions of deprivation of liberty are so extreme.  That was for us Punto de Vista. It was more a salvation for that nucleus of people, and those around it, a bet that culture in Argentina could continue to survive in that nucleus ,” concludes the editor of the magazine of intellectual resistance, who, among other things, reconfigured the literary canon in  Sarmiento - Borges -Saer, this last Santafesino writer supporting in the gaze of Sarlo for a contemporary writing.  One that best sutured a constant concern for the present from ethical, aesthetic and, at last, political positions. Punto de Vista invented a way of reading Argentine literature  — and to his audience, which continues in its virtual stage since the two thousand with his roadmate, American Bazar, .

During the eighties he published the above-mentioned fundamental trilogy, established original concepts of analysis such as “perific modernity” or “shores” -a Borges dedicated to the essential study “Borges, a writer on the shores”, 1995-, and is again linked to politics with the return to democracy, although not in Alfonsinism nor in Grupo Esmeralda, the group of intellectuals that advised President Alfonsín, including Juan Carlos Porantiero and Emilio de Ipola.  He maintains an attitude of independence, like the magazine, “the journal's trajectory can be assumed to my own,” he assured at that time, and that allows him to adopt a strong critical position during Menem's presidency, “identities, they say, have burst. That place is not the void but the market... citizenship is also exercised in the market, and that whoever cannot carry out their transactions there, is left out of the world... the market unifies, selects, and produces the illusion of difference... The market is in language”,  wrote Sarlo of the years of the “social market economy” and menemist globalization “Snapshots: Media, city and customs at the end of the century” 1996 deepens the ethnographic turn that Sarlo's writings will take in the two thousand, key in his latest book & ldquo; Public privacy” (2018)

Beatriz Sarlo

Away from the university in 2003, in which Sarlo was recognized but held an  unstable position for her modernizing and controversial program , she consolidated her media figure started in the decade previous.  Multimedia collaborations expose his figure to the limit of scorn, overlapping his intellectual stature in mapping the cultural machine, although he publishes fundamental studies on Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag and Oh , Mr. Saer.  More involved in the debates of the present time , again criticism of the government after a brief step through Frepaso - which joined the winning Alliance of the 1999 presidential election. His appearance on the official program “6,7,8” in 2011 was celebrated, or his stance contrary to the celebration of “Veteran and Fallen Day in the Malvinas War” on April 2, the date of the invasion of the Argentine islands by a de facto genocidal government, and ; To choose the position we will take on the Malvinas question (...) is to choose the country we want, Argentina of the future. An Argentina closed and self-absorbed in victimism and its own reasons or an Argentina open to the world and able to articulate its interests and aspirations with those of all human beings,” pointed out the text of several intellectuals, which Sarlo rubrica, and concluded, “The painful tragedy provoked in 1982 by a dictatorship unscrupulous and exalted even today by a retrograde nationalism summons our responsibility and that of all Argentines.” A position consistent with her vital stance, expressed in a column of the newspaper La Nación  when he traveled to Malvinas in 2012 ,  “I'm not sure that he wanted to know more about the islands. And I don't want them either, because I want them more dangerously about the nationalism I have tried to turn away from.”  The latest controversy in the cultural field, not to mention the usual media, is reflected in “The language in dispute. A debate on inclusive language” (with Santiago Kalinowski. Editions Godot. 2019),  “It is difficult for voluntarism to impose itself on linguistic use. Argentine elementary school in the 1920s asked teachers to use you in the classroom. And they used it. When they went out to recess, they said to the kids, “Don't run, you be good.” It was a failure. Linguistic uses are linked to the groups in which they expand. I have no doubt that in Buenos Aires elite schools les chiques are used. What happens in the peripheries? They are long lasting processes,”  said Sarlo, a declarant expert, in a note by Pablo Díaz Marenghi at

Sarlo received the Pen of Honor from the Argentine National Academy of Journalism, Orden do Merito Cultural, grado Gran Cruz, of the Republic of Brazil, and the Pedro Henríquez Ureña International Award 2015. He also taught courses at Columbia, Berkeley, Maryland and Minnesota universities, was a fellow of the Wilson Center in Washington, and Simón Bolívar Professor of Latin American Studies at Cambridge University.

“The last person who said he wanted to make a social democratic party was Alfonsín, who left the presidency in 1989,” consulted by Raquel Garzón in 2015 about what it means to be progressive in Argentina, “Since 1945 it has been difficult to define progresism because Peronism has been difficult to define competes for that space as a movement that defines itself as populism.  I think the horizon of a progressive man is equality. Not equal opportunities, which may be an instrument, but which alone leaves the most dispossessed, the youngest, in the same place where it finds them because they do not have the resources to take advantage of it. That difference is the first thing that needs to be explained ,” and reflecting on our shortcomings, “-We lack - Something that exists in Uruguay and Chile.  A stronger sense of legality, absent in politicians and citizens. It's something the country has to build . Perhaps the lack is related to periods of military coups or other cultural issues. Transgression is permanent in Argentina: from not paying taxes to crossing red traffic lights,” said Beatriz Sarlo, a committed intellectual who provides tools for the “great unfinished task” of building a nation.


 Says Beatriz Sarlo 

“The stratification of society is bestial. So when we talk about intellectuals we are talking about the mistake that intellectuals had, who at one point climbed into a pulpit and thought that their voice was going to be so powerful that it was going to reach the last precinct of society. And it's not like that. You can just get there, I think people you could almost know her. When we were doing Punto de Vista I said, “This is a magazine that can almost be written by those who read it”, not empirically, but sociologically. Those who read it could or will be able to write it. In fact, many were able to write it. That is, they formed in Punto de Vista and ended up on the board of directors of Punto de Vista or writing in Punto de Vista. This means our world is very small. The world of La Nación newspaper is a little bigger, that of Clarín newspaper is a little bigger yet, but it is not so much bigger. Compared to Marcelo- Tinelli, these worlds are not so much more than Punto de Vista. Our mistake was to think that that voice was universal, that it was a voice that came everywhere and does not reach everywhere, and when it comes, it comes wrong.” Interview of Sofia Mercader and Diego García at 


 They say about Beatriz Sarlo 

“The fragment, says Sarlo, is the representative of what can never be captured as an organic whole, because that totality has been lost... search -totality- in the almost invisible details... -this is- the key that allows to relate... Sarlo in a coherent figure: since it interpels the argentinian literature, interfaces cultural policies and interrogates theory to find in it methodological tools that guarantee the effectiveness and consistency of this puzzle. It is not that we have to give up the totality, but you have to think about it in a radically new way.” Daniel Link in “ Sutures. Images, writing, life.”  Buenos Aires: Editorial Entropy. 2015



Publication Date: 29/03/2021

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