Argentinian Narrative 101: Gothic And Horror
Modern narrative is associated with two genres: the short story and the novel. In Argentina, in the first half of the 19th century, there was no narrative, except for a few isolated cases. This late appearance of short stories and novels indicates that the most appropriate way of thinking about Argentinian narrative is outside the genres traditionally associated with it. It could even be affirmed that the best examples of the art of narration in the first Argentine literature are not limited to the short story and the novel, but instead has many other forms. Likewise, the biography, the essay, the political pamphlet, the chronicle, the causerie, the letter, the testimony, and other forms of prose writing coexist with the short story and the novel to give consistency to the narrative, in its proliferating diversity.
These 101 series propose a journey through Argentinian narrative taking into account this formal and generic variety, and working with it, from the founding moment to the present.
The Argentinian Narrative 101 series is divided into five parts:
Argentinian Narrative 101: The Creation Of The Perfect Enemy
Argentinian Narrative 101: Gothic and Horror
Argentinian Narrative 101: Horror Meets Police
Argentinian Narrative 101: Violence and Gender Dissidence
Argentine literature has always been linked to the country's history. Gothic and horror are no exception. In an interview with the magazine Página 12, one of the most recognized authors of these genres has even stated: “terror sheltered me from the reality of growing up in the dictatorship; it was all terrifying outside, but inside at least it wasn't dangerous because it was fictional” (Enriquez, 2022). In times of dictatorship, the country was affected by a facto government where the military reduced young people, and there were continuous repressions and disappearances. It is here that many authors sought refuge from reality in art. But this historical reality is extremely present in many gothic stories, because although they use magical elements, such as haunted houses, monsters, among other things, the true horror actually lies in elements of reality.
Figure 1: Death Nature (And Bible). Vincent Van Gogh. 1885.
Mariana Enriquez makes use of fantastic elements in her stories, but this does not mean that there are no issues that conflict emotionally with her characters, issues that can or have even caused them more fear than magic. One of her stories, belonging to the book The Things We Lost in the Fire, called "The Motel", is about a teenager named Florencia, who carries the weight of being a lesbian in secret. The figure of the monster, of what is frightening, is her, as seen by society. “They were never going to treat her like a whore, that was very clear to her. [...] They were going to call her a cake, a monster, a sick, who knows what things” (Enriquez, 2016, p. 15). However, the story is not about that. The story is about Florencia and her girlfriend locked up in a hotel that, according to what was said in the town, had been used as a concentration camp during the dictatorship. When they are there, they begin to hear noises of men screaming, cars speeding and crashes, all those sounds were heard so loud that they were scared enough to urinate on themselves. After the terrifying sequence that she lives in the hotel, despite being extremely scared, she returns home and her sexual orientation continues to have more weight than what she just experienced. It can be seen when her sister tells her that if she doesn't tell her what happened that night, she was going to tell her mother that they found her kissing her girlfriend. It doesn't matter what happened to Florencia, but the fact that she is seen as something strange.
Another story in this book is "The neighbor's patio", where the protagonist Paula faces a monstrous presence in her home. Scared by this, she begins to investigate what was happening around her house, only to discover that there was a child tied up in her neighbor's yard, which she could see from her window. In the end, this boy appears in her room and kills her. But the fears that she goes through while accompanying this situation are the fears of her job as a social worker; of the atrocities of marginalization, addictions, poverty, and prostitution. “The boy showed up at a hospital that same night; They warned him while he was patrolling the surroundings of Villa 21, where twelve-year-old addicted girls got on the trucks to [....] be able to pay for the next dose” (Enriquez, 2016, p. 29). This is the reality crossed by a country where there are so many vulnerable sectors, what scares the reader the most is what is real, not the fantasy of a murderous child.
Figure 2: Mariana Enriquez. Juan Carlos Comperatore. 2019.
In the book Gothic Looks. From Fear To Horror in The Current Argentinian Narrative, Adriana Goicochea asks: "Could it be that in the emotional experience of our present life, terror has the face of dictatorship and capitalism?" (Goicochea, 2021, p. 12). This critical view operates starting from the reading hypothesis mentioned before and that this book condenses in its subtitle: horror in its fictional construction emerges as an expressive mode from the terror of the last military dictatorship. Gothic is not conceived as a genre but rather as a way of looking at and saying reality, of subverting it. This can be seen, for example, when gothic aspects are analyzed in science fiction novels or fantastic tales, in stories that the publishing market has considered expressions of "magical realism", like so many books by Gabriel García Marquez if you think about it in a Latin American sense. In Argentina one can think of Cometierra de Dolores Reyes, a story about a girl who eats dirt from cemeteries to connect with the dead, or even in texts that obey a realistic representation of the world.
One of the fundamental operations observed in horror and gothic texts is to problematize the border between the visible and the invisible. "In the Gothic, the trap and the appearance govern the representation, nothing is what it seems, everything hides a secret, evil lurks at every step, the invisible becomes visible and the inanimate comes to life" (Goicochea, 2021, p. 27).
To look a little further back at the dictatorial representation in the narrative of horror, one could think about the renowned author Julio Cortázar and his short story called "Taken house", where the house becomes a paradigmatic enclosure of isolation and confinement, refounding the poles of interior and exterior, of refuge and vulnerability, but also shaking the very presuppositions of such oppositions. The story represents strange forces that wanted to take over the house, enter it, and appropriate it; the same thing that happened in the dictatorship. The gothic prototypes (the mansions, the remote towns, the river, the margins of the big cities, the jungle) are prolonged in these narratives in the interiority of the characters and their feeling of suffocation.
Figure 3: Julio Cortazar. Joseba Gonzalez Carpallo. 2009.
The narrative construction of the characters is another point to analyze. They are tortuous and tortured, those who carry out the action carry in themselves gothic marks: the monstrous, the animal, the barbaric, the cruel. Then there are those who suffer from it, many of these tortured subjects project the gothic mode towards everyday space, particularly to the family, romantic and work spheres, as explained in the stories of Mariana Enriquez.
In Notes on The Gothic in The Río De La Plata, Cortázar regionally encrypted the gothic in Argentina and proposed: "Our encounter with the mystery took place in another direction, and I think that we received the gothic influence without falling into the ingenuity of imitating it externally" (Cortázar, 151). With this decision to place gothic in a particular reality, the notion of regionalism is recovered to study the relationships established between current Argentinian narratives and their future projections.
Figure 3: Libertad. Antonio Berni. 1980.
The tracing of tonalities to explain the violence, the search for regional modulations, the emphasis on the construction of characters and atmospheres, the analysis of the transformations in the prototypes associated with horror, the perspectives that indicate the underground to make it visible, the emphasis on the present traces of the everyday and its languages: these are some of the critical efforts deployed to surround the "gothic", the passage from fear to horror, in current Argentinian narrative. Although the use of fantastic elements when telling a story and, above all, one of terror, serve to feed the genre, it is also true that true terror lies in life, in situations such as those described in the texts and in so many others that one faces every day. The atmosphere created and the magical elements used would be of no use if they were not related to an even more terrifying reality accompanying it.
Cortazar, J. (1946). Casa Tomada. Buenos Aires. Los Anales de Buenos Aires.
Cortazar, J. (1975). Notas Sobre Lo Gótico En El Río De La Plata. Argentina. Cahiers du monde hispanique et luso-brésilien.
Enriquez, M. (2016). Las Cosas Que Perdimos En El Fuego. Barcelona. Anagrama.
Friera, S. (2022). Mariana Enriquez: «El Terror Me Refugió De La Realidad». Página 12. Retrieved from:
Goicochea, A. (2021). Miradas Góticas. Del Miedo Al Horror En La Narrativa Argentina Actual". Viedma. Etiqueta Negra.
Reyes, D. (2019). Cometierra. Buenos Aires. Sigilo.
Figure 1: Van Gogh, V. (1885). Death Nature (And Bible). [Oil on Canvas]. Retrieved from: https://magnet.xataka.com/idolos-de-hoy-y-siempre/libros-a-traves-cuadros-ocho-obras-donde-literatura-protagonista
Figure 2: Comperatore, J.C. (2019). Mariana Enriquez. [Drawing]. Retrieved from: http://eldiletante.net/trabajos/entrevista-a-mariana-enriquez
Figure 3: Gonzalez Carpallo, J. (2009). Julio Cortazar. [Painting]. Retrieved from: https://www.artelista.com/obra/8651794161645933-juliocortazar.html
Figure 4: Berni, A. (1980). Libertad. [Painting.]. Retrieved from: https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/10/25/album/1477426483_328055.html#foto_gal_1