About this panel

This panel seeks to bring the field of anarchist studies into the debate of literary and cultural studies in Latin America. We will address the role the anarchist movement played since the late 19th century, and how it contributed to shape Latin American culture, during the transition from the man of letters to the intellectual. Their debates and publishing projects contributed to transform the image writers had of themselves as an independent agent, less and less dependent upon the nation-state and willing to express critical views on society. The new public sphere these publications established altered the rules of political engagement, and contributed to aesthetic transformations that started in the late 19th century and kept affecting cultural practices through the 20th century. The panel will present topics related to the role of anarchist ideology and practice in different parts of Latin America, and it will allow assessing the scope of the impact these practices and ideas had. With a diverse geographical and temporal scope, the presentations will underline the common political ground of expressions that relate to the anarchist movement in different ways.

One of the main contributions of the anarchist movement to the literary realm has to do with the faith anarchists had in the printed word as a tool to create consciousness in the working class and to promote revolutionary change. As Lily Litvak has shown, at the core of the anarchist movement is the printing press, and the establishment of a sort of “workers’ aristocracy” among graphic artists and printers, which gave them a degree of autonomy in the cultural field during the turn of the century. Anarchists also contributed a critical view on core issues that articulate the process of modernization both in Europe and the Americas: they questioned notions of state and nation, and elaborated revolutionary perspectives in issues of gender, ecology, economy and aesthetics that preceded later debates around these topics. Anarchists had established a network of exchange that went beyond the limits of nation-states, after their belief that workers organization should have an international character. As a result, the were a key factor in the circulation of literary works and political thought that shaped the cultural landscape especially during the modernista period in Latin America. The focus on anarchist studies will contribute an international, transatlantic perspective that a reading rooted in notions of nation building tend to obscure. The international cultural networks anarchist established through their publications are key to understand the circulation of discourses during the turn of the century and modernista political debate.

Luis Othoniel’s paper will compare Lusa Capetillo from Puerto Rico and Macedonio Fernández from Argentina, two writers that in the twenties embraced anarchist ideology, but had very different aesthetics. Othoniel will center his analysis in their underlying ideological commonalities proposing a reading beyond their notorious differences. For him, they are the two forms of literary anarchism; one that sees literature as a weapon for revolutionizing social life (Capetillo), and one that sees anarchism as a weapon for revolutionizing literature. He will support this comparison with the recent critical bibliography that is emerging both from a theoretical interest in anarchism as an avant-garde aesthetic form, and the historicist interest in Latin American anarchism as a leftist alternative to Latin American populism.

María Hernández-Ojeda analyzes the novel El espíritu del río by Costa Rican writer Juana Fernández Ferraz as one of the first fictionalizations of the experience of the Brazilian utopian community Colonia Cecilia, established by Italian immigrants in 1890 and one of the first attempts to put the idea of free love or polyamory into practice. The book by Juana Fernández Ferraz is, according to María Hernández-Ojeda, the first in a series of texts and films that raised the establishment of Colonia Cecilia to a legendary status.

Marcos Wasem’s paper compares the texts written by Élisée Reclus about Colombia. Reclus was one of the founders of the first International Workingmen Organization, an active member of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the author who started the ecological tendency in the anarchist movement. He visited Colombia (then Nueva Granada) between 1855 and 1857. At the end of the 19th century, he wrote extensively about Colombia in the corresponding chapter of his Nouvelle Géographie Universelle, for which he sought collaboration from local geographers and men of letters. While his writings on Colombia have been subject of interest for geographers as an important player in the development of a critical geography, Wasem recasts these texts in the context of the debates on the concept of Latin America in the second half of the 19th century, drawing on Reclus’ ideas of the continent as a suitable land for utopian projects. He also analyzes the conflicting relationships he had with Colombian writers and scientists, like his fellow geographer and translator Vergara y Velasco.