© La Maga, 1998
Beatriz Sarlo is one of Latin America's most important cultural critics. Born in 1942, she studied literature at the University of Buenos Aires, "es con la literatura...con la que tengo una relación más intensa," she has confessed. True to her formal training in literature, Sarlo's work has included studies on Argentina's literary giants: Sarmiento, Borges and Cortázar.
In 1978 Sarlo and a group of progressive intellectuals founded the journal Punto de Vista during the military regime, a courageous act at a time when alternative voices were considered subversive. From its origins, Punto de Vista already showed Sarlo's departure from traditional literary criticism to a more inclusive definition of culture. A few years into publication, the lead article of the bimonthly journal focused on the study of popular culture: "....it's not just about 'high culture,' but about popular culture...."
In pioneering an expanded definition of cultural production, Sarlo has been able to combine her formal training in "literatura culta" with an acute sense of observation to examine other popular expressions of Argentine culture. In her 1985 study El imperio de los sentimientos: narraciones de circulación periódica en la Argentina, 1917-1927, Sarlo ventured into exploring the feminine imagination in the modern city as manifested through weekly sentimental folletines.
In 1988 Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920 y 1930, Sarlo's attention focused on how Argentine intellectuals and writers experienced the urban transformation of Buenos Aires into a modern urban city. This was Sarlo's departure from literary criticism into a more interdisciplinary approach, "un libro de mezcla," she called it, as she moved into the realm of intellectual history.
Following that same idea of the development of the modern city, four years later in La imaginación técnica: suenos modernos de la cultura argentina Sarlo expanded her study on the cultural development of Buenos Aires of the 1920s and 30s in a truly interdisciplinary approach. The book studied a multiplicity of facets: technology, modernity, fiction and mass media. Francine Masiello notes that Sarlo "is interested in the ways in which technology enters the imagination of popular and middle class sectors and the ways in which devices...shape modern thinking." (Note: Book to be published in English by Stanford University Press in 2000.)
In 1993 Sarlos's attention turned to Argentina's literary giant: Borges: a Writer on the Edge, which was translated in 1995 Borges, un escritor en las orillas. Here she offered a new look at Borges, correcting the "overwhelming tendency...that categorizes him as a cosmopolitan writer...."
The work on Borges was followed by Escenas de la vida posmoderna; intelectuales arte y video cultura en Argentina, 1994 and Instantáneas: medios, ciudad y costumbres en el fin de siglo, 1996. Commenting on the latter, David Foster has noted, "In this work Sarlo makes it clear that the whole range of cultural production must be submitted to a theoretically grounded ideological analysis..." that "must be able to forge a public discourse that makes cultural commentary a vital part of a vigorous national debate about culture on all social levels."
More recently, in La máquina cultural: maestras, traductores y vanguardistas, 1998, Sarlo takes the stories of a turn of the century teacher, literary patron Victoria Ocampo, and the 1970s Argentine film avant-garde to reflect on little known episodes of her country's history.
Sarlo is well known in English-speaking academic circles, having taught at Columbia, Maryland, Berkeley and Cambridge. She has also been a Wilson Center and Guggenheim fellow. Much like other Latin American cultural critics and public intellectuals (Mexico's Carlos Monsivais and Brazil's Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda), Sarlo's work is not limited to the ivory tower. Her opinions in the Latin American press can range from art to popular religion; and of course politics.
By Adán Griego
(c)1998, Stanford University
Beatriz Sarlo pages edited by: Adán Griego, Curator for Latin American, Mexican American & Iberian Collections, Stanford University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's note: Special thanks to Ryan Max Steinberg, Assistant to the Curator, for translating some of the texts and for helping to assemble material for this site.