Estrangement and "Right-Wing Life" in the Neoliberal Nineties: Matilde Sánchez's El desperdicio
Keywords:Contemporary Latin American literature, Estrangement, Postdictatorship Argentina, Neoliberalism
Matilde Sánchez’s El desperdicio (2007) tells the story of Elena Arteche, a literary scholar whose critical perspective is grounded in the Russian Formalist concept of estrangement (ostranenie in the original Russian). When Elena moves from the city of Buenos Aires to her small hometown of Pirovano in the early nineties, she shifts her focus from literature to rural life, using estrangement as a conceptual key for understanding the changes taking place in her community during a decade when neoliberalism remade rural Argentina. Existing scholarship has amply recognized that the novel produces a sustained defense of estrangement as a conceptual tool that not only renews our perception of the world, but serves as a catalyst for political change. This essay, drawing on Silvia Schwarzböck’s discussion of aesthetics and “right-wing life” (vida de derecha) in postdictatorship Argentina, argues that the novel’s defense of estrangement is haunted by a lingering sentiment that, in the passage from the military dictatorship to neoliberal democracy, the connections between estrangement, critique, and political action that were naturalized in twentieth-century theoretical discourse have perhaps come undone. By focusing on the moments of pessimism and impotence that characterize Elena’s perspective on life in the neoliberal nineties, it shows how the novel can be read as a bivalent reflection on estrangement, in which a defense of the perennial power of the estranged gaze is accompanied by a sustained questioning of its place in contemporary literature and criticism.
Contemporary Latin American literature, Estrangement, Postdictorship Argentina, Neoliberalism
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