Assembling place : Buenos Aires in cultural production (1920-1935)
In works of cultural production, interpretations of the built, natural, and social environment engage a hierarchy of readings of place. Formed by a totality of interpretations—accepted/unaccepted, dominant/subordinate, normal/abnormal, and everything in between—this hierarchy of readings frames place as a social understanding. Interpretations of place, therefore, are social positionings: kinds of individual delineations of the meaning of place as a social understanding. Collectively, these social positionings compose and comprise our understanding of the meaning of a place. In this study, I examine the different ways in which the understanding of Buenos Aires as a place shapes and is shaped by the avant-garde urban criollismo of Jorge Luis Borges’ poetry of the 1920s, the five plays of Armando Discépolo’s dramatic genre of the grotesco criollo, Robert Arlt’s dark and portentous binary novel Los siete locos/ Los lanzallamas (1929/1931), and three early Argentine sound films [Tango! (Mogila Barth 1933), Los tres berretines (Equipo Lumiton 1933), and Riachuelo (Moglia Barth 1934)]. To get at the mechanisms that drive the interaction between these works of cultural production, which are social positionings, and the social understanding of Buenos Aires as a place, I draw from Manuel De Landa’s notions of assemblage theory and non-linear history. Wholes such as porteño society of the 1920s and 1930s are assemblages of an almost limitless number of parts whose functions within the greater entity are not always clear. Place, therefore, is an assemblage whose meaning is made up of indeterminable interpretations of space. It is also a non-linear social understanding in that its meaning is irreducible to its components (i.e. social positionings). The mutual interactions and feedback within assemblages such as Buenos Aires are indicative of how meaning is ever changing through processes of destratification, restratification, and stratification in its components, including Borges’ early poetry, Discépolo’s grotesco criollo, Arlt’s Los siete locos/ Los lanzallamas, and the films Tango!, Los tres berretines, and Riachuelo.