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Civilization and Barbarism and Cruelty
The works of Esteban Echeverria's El Matadero/The Slaughterhouse and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's Facundo two classic works Argentinean 19th century literature
How does one behave like a civilized human being when one is confronted with a brutal dictator and what causes a dictator to rise to power in a land such as Argentina? These are the central questions posed both by the literature of the poet Esteban Echeverria (1805 -- 51) in his work El Matadero/The Slaughterhouse and that of the educator and writer, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. The latter author was President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874, while the author Echeverria was an early proponent of romanticism in Latin America. Echeverria's earlier text suggested that Argentina's reversion to a dictatorship was simply the result of a brutal man's tyranny upon a pure and uncomplicated land, while Sarmiento suggests a more complicated cause at oppression's roots, pointing to the complexities of the region's sprawl. For Echeverria, barbarism is in dictatorship's attempts to impose a false construct of civilization, but for Sarmiento, a lack of education and civilization amongst the gaucho people of Argentina is also partly to blame and must be remedied.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's Facundo thus functions as a study of the Argentine character, a prescription for the modernization of Latin America, and a protest against the tyranny of the government of Juan Manuel de Rosas (1835-1852). In contrast, Echeverria, although he also opposed tyrannical forms of governance, cried out for a return to old ways, rather than advancement into what he saw as a false form of progress. Reflecting his contrasting assumptions to Echeverria, Sarmiento (1811-1888) also subtitled his work Civilization and Barbarism, to contrast not only the barbarism of principal character, the nineteenth century caudillo or dictator Juan Facundo Quiroga with the fundamentally pure spirit of his people, but also the displays of barbarism and purity already extant in the Argentinean topography of the land of the pampas, and the variety of cultures and national characters encompassed within Argentinean borders.
As the caudillo is a dictator, and the matador is a killer, thus both author's texts use figures of blood and terror, such as the matador or brutal commander, to both culturally describe a particular contemporary moment of the Argentinean world in which they dwelled, and to critique the ruling authority. Neither author approved of the tyranny of de Rosas. But Echeverria extols the purity of pampas, while Sarmiento saw its lands and the land's lack of governance and education giving rise, not to purity, but the conditions that allowed Echeverria's slaughterhouse of a metaphor to become reality.
Thus Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's work presented an Argentina that was rich and cultured in its heritage, yet wild and ungoverned in a dangerous, rather than a romantic fashion as did Echeverria. In Chapters II and III of Sarmiento's text, respectively entitled "Argentine Originality" and "Characters and Association," the author painted a picture of a Latin American land that was both charming and cultured, and refined and social -- a world that was destroyed by the Revolution of 1810 and the subsequent dictatorship, but which had fundamentally barbaric elements that could not be fully extricated, thus giving rise to de Rosas' leadership.
This cultured spirit was not entirely destroyed, suggests Sarmiento, although it was indeed injured by the actions of the dictatorial protagonist of Facundo. Once upon a time, Sarmiento wrote, "music too" was found among our people," as a "national taste and recognized by all our neighbors. When an Argentine was first introduced to a Chilean family, the Chilean family at once invite him [the Argentine] to the piano, or hand him a guitar, and if he excuses himself on the ground he does not know how to play they express wonder and incredulity saying, "An Argentine who is not a musician? This general supposition bears witness to our natural habits and culture." This romantic view of the pastoral beauty and musical quantity at the hearts of the aristocracy, the aboriginal, and the rural populace, both Sarmiento and Echeverria extolled, and astounded even other Latin American peoples an already music-dominated Latin American continent. (Sarmiento, Chapter II)
In Argentina, because of its intense civility and culture, stated Sarmiento "it is a fact that the young city people of the better classes play the piano, flute, violin or guitar. And even the wild half-breed children of the streets devote themselves almost wholly to music, and many "skillful composers" have come from their midst. Esteban Echeverria, who spent many years in Europe, praised the musicianship of his own populace, even after hearing some of the finest singing and playing in Europe. ("Echeverria," 2005, Encyclopedia.com)
But Sarmiento in contrast to Echeverria also suggested that the nature of the Argentinean possessed a brutality to its populace and multitudes of life that was not present in Europe, and called for harsher forms of unifying governance. "Moral progress, the culture of intelligence neglected in the Arab or Tartar tribe, is thus here not only neglected, but impossible. Where could a school be placed so that children disseminated over ten leagues in every direction could attend classes? Civilization, then, can never be attained, barbarism is the norm, and we can be thankful if domestic customs preserve a small measure of morality." (Sarmiento, Chapter I)
Even before the dictators came to power, the country people, suggested the author Sarmiento, were not civilized but existed more or less in a state of nature and were isolated in a way that meant their manners and songs were peculiar to themselves in a fashion that resisted centralized and modern, civil authority. "The triste prevalent among the people of the northern districts is a fugue melody expressive of lamentation such as Rousseau considers natural to man in his primitive state of barbarism." (Sarmiento, Chapter II) Civilization, music, and culture was equated, for the author with music and the finer things of life, true, and was reflected in some of the works of the people, but it also meant that such barbarism impeded democratic governance, and encouraged more tyrannical forms of authority as are often imposed upon states of nature where individuals are resistant to education. Echeverria's pure but ultimately ruined state of nature by the matator becomes fertile ground for oppression in Sarmiento's estimation, precisely because of nature's ungoverned roughness.
Interestingly, however, Sarmiento was more forgiving of the Indian and indigenous, as opposed to the rural populace of Argentina. "The vidalita is a popular song with a chorus accompanied by the guitar and tabor, in the refrain of which the bystanders join, and the number and volume of the voices increase. I suppose this melody originated with the aborigines, for I once heard it at an Indian festival at Copiapo, held to celebrate Candlemas. As a religious song it must be very old, and the Indians of Chili can hardly have adopted it from the Spaniards of the Argentine Republic." (Sarmiento, Chapter II) Thus, given the evidence of such cultural displays, merely because a people are aboriginal does not mean that they are uncivilized or primitive, suggests the author, provided that they have a vibrant culture that has some structure. "Even the savage tribes of the Pampas are better organized for moral development than is our countryside." (Sarmiento, Chapter I) What is so dangerous about gaucho life, believed Sarmiento, as opposed to indigenous life is that, unlike the aboriginal people, gaucho's civilization was not fully ancient, like the indigenous structures, nor subject to influence of modernity as was present in urban life.
But's the Sarmiento text brought the author's contemporary nineteenth-century Latin American world life it also suggested that the "civilized" city vs. The "barbaric" countryside, was not always so easy to define, as quite often the urban types portrayed by the author can have a hint of the rural, and even the indigenous and African populations, can seem quite cultured in contrast. "The majo or troubadour, the type of a large class of Spaniards, is still found there and in Buenos Aires especially. He may be recognized in the gaucho of the country or in the swaggerer of the town ... All the movements of the city swaggerer disclose the majo; the action of his shoulders, his gestures, all his ways from that in which he puts on his hat, to his style of spitting through his teeth, all are of the purest Andalusia type," wrote Sarmiento, that is, of the urban city type who spurned country culture, yet possessed a questionable cultural identity of his own. Echeverria similarly mocked such figures in his romantic extolling of anything that did not smack of modernism.
Sarmiento desired modernity, in contrast, to Echeverria. But the author Sarmiento equated Argentinean barbarism not so much wildness or indigenous qualities but a failure to work and participate in the modern work ethic, much as Echeverria equated barbarism with a dictator's governance of humanity's purer impulses. But for Sarmiento, as exemplified by the gaucho and his dependence upon his female domestic…[continue]
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