Between the time of the Second World War and the present day there has been a steady stream of cultural interest in Nazism, World War II, the Holocaust, and the aftermath of these events. Novels like Schindler’s Ark (1982), The Reader (1995) and Caging Skies (2008), all adapted into highly successful films (Schindler’s List, The Reader and Jojo Rabbit, respectively), had authors with more-or-less close family ties to the events; but more intriguing is the significant trend in apparently more removed Latin American authors writing about these themes around the same period. This book, then, addresses the questions: why are so many Latin American writers interested in Nazism, WW2 and the Holocaust? And why now?
There are two broad hypotheses people propose when faced with these questions. First, is it because many Nazis are known to have fled to countries in the region after the war? Second, are Argentinians/Chileans/Brazilians, for example, interested in Nazism as a point of comparison to their own violent military dictatorships of the 60s, 70s and 80s?
The answer is, surprisingly, that these are not the primary reasons for this literary interest. Yes, Lucía Puenzo’s novel Wakolda (film: ‘The German Doctor’) is an historical fiction about the possible whereabouts and activities of the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in Argentina; and Patricio Pron’s novel El comienzo de la primavera/The Beginning of Springtime examines intellectual complicity in German society in a way that sheds light on similar questions under the Argentine Junta. However, for the most part, the texts examined in this study are concerned with enduring legacies of Nazi ideology within ‘Western’ liberal democracies. They suggest that the ideology of the nation state, even in its seemingly most benign forms, is structurally violent and exclusionary; and neoliberalism has produced a system of labour that maintains inhumane conditions for the majority of the global population. With the rise of the far right and fascism across the globe, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, the lessons of these novels seem more relevant than ever.
In the book I propose a theoretical framework called ‘From “Imagined” to “Inoperative” Communities' to describe this move from novels tending to articulate and underpin the ‘imagined communities’ of the nation (evoking Benedict Anderson’s argument) to their profound critique of bounded national or ‘operative’ communities, drawing on the concept of ‘inoperative communities’ formulated by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. The vocation or expectation for Latin American authors to write about national themes was strong, particularly from the 19th Century to the mid 20th century, at which point some authors began to deconstruct the category of the ‘nation’ and point out its fatal flaws. Among the latter, include canonical authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes and Ricardo Piglia that appear in the book as notable precursors – in writing about themes of Nazism, the Second World War and the Holocaust – to the generation primarily under analysis.
Featured in this study are some of the most prized and widely translated contemporary Latin American authors: Roberto Bolaño (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and Rómulo Gallegos Prize), Juan Gabriel Vásquez (winner of the International Dublin Literary Award and the Alfaguara Novel Prize), Jorge Volpi (winner of the Deux Océans-Grinzane Cavour Award and the Premio Biblioteca Breve), Ignacio Padilla (winner of the Premio Primavera de Novela and the Gilberto Owen literary award), Michel Laub (winner of the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize), Marcos Peres (winner of the Prêmio SESC de Literatura), Patricio Pron (winner of the Alfaguara Novel Prize) and Lucía Puenzo (winner of a Goya award, among others, for her films).
This book, therefore, is suitable for those seeking (or teaching) an introduction to the broad Latin American literary timeline since the Independence era; investigating ethical responses to Nazism in both philosophy and literature; and getting to know this new generation of exciting Latin American authors.
’Imagined Community’ refers to the concept put forward in Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised ed. (London: Verso, 2016). ‘Inoperative Community’ refers to the book and concept proposed by French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy in Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community, ed. by Peter Connor, trans. by Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990).