Today in the Americas, the Tangled Webs of Leopoldo Lugones

argentina Leopoldo LugonesToday in 1874 (135 years ago) Leopoldo Lugones, an archetype of Southern Cone descent from socialist leanings in the late nineteenth century towards more conservative and eventually fascist support by the 1930s, was born in Córdoba, Argentina.

In what became common across Latin America in the late twentieth century, Lugones supported the first presidential overthrow since the the signing of the Argentine Constitution in 1853. Radical president Hipólito Yrigoyen was taken out of power by General José Félix Uriburu in the 1930 golpe de estado. But fortune would not smile upon Lugones visions of a fascist state – in 1938 he committed suicide with whiskey and cyanide in the hotel El Tropezón in El Tigre, outside of Buenos Aires.

Lugones, however, may have his political inclinations overshadow (not without good reason) his poetry, narrative fiction and journalism.

Lugones began his career as a journalist writing for socialist magazines like El Pensamiento Libre (Free Thought) and La Vanguardia. He was a member of a group of socialists including José Ingenieros and, perhaps the most well-known, Manuel Ugarte. In 1903, he would be kicked out of socialist circles because of his support of Manuel Quintana, who would win the presidency in 1904. It was around this time he met Rubén Darío.

Darío came to praise the work of the young Lugones (he had put out his first work of French symbolism, Las montañas del oro (Mountains of Gold) in 1897. By 1909, with the release of Lunario sentimental, a book of poems that would become very influential in the growing modernismo movement. One example of a poem (not a lot available in English translation):

Your slow desolation, you coal
of delirium, puts my soul
into mourning. Yet a phrase
of black notes transforms my sigh
into a heavenly butterfly.

The taste of fresh rose petals
intoxicates my arid tongue,
and moistens my song unsung:
my naïve happiness in the loss above
only to find the lips of my love.

Themes of love, my humble flute
will sing in praise.
I am pale yet happy all my days,
and in the evening, as the piragua sails,
marking the water with childlike nails,
my sweetheart will sing the same salute.

Lugones would go on to write more books, including a book of essays on the classic work by Darío, Martín Fierro, in which he claimed the book to be the national epic of Argentina. As the twentieth century drifted on, modernism fell out of vogue (Lugones himself became disillusioned as he became more conservative; others began to reject their former fervor for other reasons).

By the 1910s, Lugones was famous enough to serve as an envoy of sorts for Argentina, as he was taken to Europe to see first hand the liminal state of Europe after World War I. Like the rest of Europe, especially in Germany and Italy, democracy was traded in favor of “law and order,” which appealed to Lugones. By the 1920s, he had renounced democracy.

But like Ezra Pound, Lugones slipped toward fascism openly and in defiance (or with the consent) of the literary establishment writ large. In the 1920s he began to give lectures on Argentine nationalism (Alfredo Palacios called him a “chauvinist”) and the need for authoritarian structures to keep the people in their place. Law and order, as well as cultural homogeneity, became Lugones calling card. Take, for example, his 1924 Ayacucho Address, which commemorated the final battle in Argentina’s independence from Spain:

“Pacifism, collectivism, democracy, are synonyms for the same seat that gives the head predestined fate…with or without the law, because it as an expression of power, with its confused will…Life itself is a state of strength. And since 1914 we have again this virile sword confrontation with reality.”

In 1928 he won the National Prize for Literature by the Argentine Society of Writers.

In 1938, due to political frustrations (or a longing for a woman he could not have), Lugones committed suicide. By then, he supported fascism that, by 1941, would thrust onto the political stage in Argentina as the country had to decide how it would ally in World War II. He left a note,

Enough. I ask that I be buried in the ground without a coffin, with no sign or name that I remember. Prohibit giving my name to any public place. Not to blame anyone. I am solely responsible for my actions.

His insistence towards authoritarianism in a way caught up to his family, who were plagued by suicide and misfortune. Two of his sons committed suicide, on in the place his father killed himself. But most unfortunate of all, his daughter Susannah was disappeared during the dirty war in December 1978 – a time of – call it fascist, call it authoritarian, call it conservative – military repression against those which the state deemed dangerous and expendable.

How the webs of history often spin themselves.

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~ by Daniel on June 13, 2009.

One Response to “Today in the Americas, the Tangled Webs of Leopoldo Lugones”

  1. […] fall of past dictators.* A long history of violence, uncertainty and upheaval can dominate th… The Tangled Webs of Leopoldo Lugones[To the Roots] Today (135 years ago) Leopoldo Lugones, an archetype of Southern Cone descent from […]

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