Daniel Loedel’ Hades, Argentina: A Brave Journey Into the Black Holes of his Family’s Past and a Master Class in Hauntology

I noticed Daniel Loedel’s Hades Argentina by chance among the books published by Penguin Random House which happens to be my publishing house but I couldnt find much of it in Argentina with the exception of one insipid Infobae reviews. The New York Times however added Loebel to a canon in the making of contemporary Argentine fiction that has took interest in the country’s dark recent history — the state terrorism of the ’70s and ’80s, the subsequent economic crises that brutalised the poor — and channel it into ghost stories. In Mariana Enriquez’s short story “The Inn,” for instance, a tourist-town hotel that served as an army barracks during the dictatorship is haunted by spirits from the bad old days; in César Aira’s novel “Ghosts,” a gang of naked shades haunts a Buenos Aires construction site, visible to the workers and their families, invisible to the rich people set to move into the building once it’s finished. Those tales are part of a tradition critics have called “Argentine Gothic,” one founded by names like Silvina Ocampo, Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges.

 

“Hades, Argentina” is his first novel and it is the kind of reflection on our past that I have been waiting for a long time because of its simple complexity and its modest wisdom but also because of its smart aesthetic choices. Immediately, the distances dissolved and this New Yorker was closer to me than any self proclaimed activist today. More poingantly, I felt someone had joined what at this point is an unhinged Republic of Letters of sorts composed of writers and scholars already in their 40s who have spoken very little but whose work brings about similar issues. I am referring to Cecilia Sosa, Natalia Milanesio, Jordana Blejmar or myself. While their work is strictly academic, mine acknowledges the crisis of academia and even dangers of restricting oneself to the prestige of the academic world that today has become a fenced kindergarten where critical thought can be pronounced like a prayer among the converts but not more than that. As we know, my take on it is much more performative and disruptive but I need to acknowledge these women as part of a pioneering work. Mainly based in the UK, we claim that in the transition from the dictatorship to the democratic government of Alfonsin, Menem, Duhalde in whose cabinet I was Undersecretary of State for Culture and Kirchner, as a continuation instead of a break with the past. Sosa, for example, wrote a wonderful book called Queering Acts of Mourning in the Aftermath of Argentina’s Dictatorship: The performances of Blood that exples on how the Kirchners manipulated the madres and abuelas by showering them with public money whiletransforming them into an easily controllable beacon of Argentine morality and justice. I am saying easily controlable because those human rights organisation only speak in slogans and symbols so there is not much subtlelty that they could uses to criticise the establishment today. In the name of New Left and centre Left populist ideals elevated a new nobility, a nobility linked by blood with the dead which means that in Argentina if one is not related by blood to a disappeared person is not pure enough. A new nobility (a nobility of pain and blood) pushed my generation which was the one targetted firstly by the Juntas and later by AIDS aside. Almost simultaneously with the deregulation of the markets and neoliberalism, a degradating infantilisation that today hijacks academia neutralized us as political actors and, most importantly, monopolised the space of mourning that we needed to move forward. In my case, I have been denouncing for a decade the violence of the artistic and cultural elite as a continuation of the practices of the dictatorship that in many cases finds the same characters. Money laundering, favoritism and invisibilisation which is another form of extermination, made sure that any criticism were discarded before it was uttered but with the new technologies and the social networks, phenomena like loveartnotpeople.org consolidated to become history in a published volume by Penguim Random House. Of course the plan was to let it pass (as it was going to happen with Loebels book) in silence but the bad weather in Texas had forced the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to postponeed the announcement of an award that gave me international recognition. It was then when the violence became evident. Right and left joined forces and the rest is history. But Loebels style is not reactive nor academic, with a naturalistic prose he writes a novel that in Argentina would have been accused of perpetuating the teoria de los dos demonios o two evils theory according to which there were two sources of evil: the guerrilla Montonera that aimed at turning Argentina into a communist country and the right aligned with the United States and the foreign policies of Nixon and later Reagan. Loebel, however, non challantly walks through all this like a ghost in Hades. Born in New York and being the rising star that he is in the corporate publishing world, he cannot be accused of being at the left of the left. Besides, it is his half sister who dissappeared but instead of heroising her, he learns to love her in a much better way. If Isabel was a hero, it was because facing the options that a woman had and continues having in Argentina since the corporate pact between peron and the military throught the cancerous body of Evita who became inmmaterial because, like gay people,could not secure Argentinas future with babies. If Loebels half sister is a hero is because she chose to embody Perseus instead of Andromeda and die with the power of having chosen high.

 

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