Argentine periodical, 1931–1980
Modeled on the examples of two renowned European cultural magazines, the Nouvelle Revue Française (New French review) and the Revista de Occidente (Western review), the journal Sur (South) has been a decisive factor in 20th-century Argentine intellectual history, enjoying an unusually long publishing life of over 40 years. Rather than a manifesto or a formal declaration of principles, the first issue in Summer 1931 opened with a letter to the American writer Waldo Frank from Victoria Ocampo, founder and financer of the publication. This letter, in the form of a personal recollection of the many conversations between the two writers about the need to publish a new, American journal, defines its purpose in rather vague terms: to study the problems that are essentially linked to America without ignoring Europe. Two years later, issue no. 8 ends with a brief note, a “Notícula,” complementing this idea. It states that the journal is original, not an imitation of any other Argentine magazine, and that it will strive to include writings by talented young people who are prepared to explore new areas of thinking and who display an authentic consciousness of the spiritual misery of contemporary times. To fulfill these self-imposed requirements, the journal provided translations of significant contemporary works originally written in French or English, essays devoted to analyzing the relationship of the intellectual to society, and innumerable articles and notes whose goal was to familiarize the readership with current trends in a cosmopolitan form of high culture.
There is no general agreement on what factors should be taken into account to establish the different stages of the history of Sur. Nevertheless, it is helpful to combine the incorporation of new figures who became decisive in the development of the journal with the impact of major external events. During the earliest period (1931–38), Ocampo’s literary preferences and opinions predominated. This explains the proliferation of the essay over poetry and fiction, and the use of an undefined notion of “taste” as the measure of literary value. The second period began with the designation of José Bianco as editor-in-chief, whose presence would affect Sur’s editorial practice by giving more space to creative writing. Although Bianco continued his activity until 1961, a third period opened in 1948 with the acceptance of a younger generation of contributors, which included Julio Cortázar, Enrique Pezzoni, and the controversial Héctor Alberto Murena.
The final period of the magazine corresponds to the 1960s, when changes in socioeconomic conditions and in the intellectual field, both in Argentina and in Latin America, seriously challenged the vitality of a deeply liberal cultural project.
The essay was the dominant form in the 1930s and, for both European contributors such as Aldous Huxley and Jacques Maritain, and local writers, the prevailing subject was the answer of intellectuals to the different crises of the period. The Sur group conceived the role of intellectuals in the social context as shapers of ideas, but without committing themselves to any particular ideology. Thus they are responsible for working in the abstract domain of ideas, in a “third position” that allows them to reflect on reality without getting involved in it.
Although the magazine was founded as a nonpolitical enterprise, changes in the international and local situation forced the members to define their position, frequently against the interests and desires of the Argentine government and society at large. The journal did not involve itself in any form of concrete political action. However, it never concealed its points of view, in particular when events raised moral questions. For instance, facing the Spanish Civil War, the initial reaction was somewhat ambivalent but, after the execution of the poet Federico García Lorca, the magazine openly supported the cause of the Republicans. Similarly, at the beginning of World War II, Sur published a declaration entitled “Nuestra actitud” (September 1939; Our attitude) which sided with the Allies. As for national issues, the magazine expressed an internationalist and mainly liberal orientation against the prevailing Catholic nationalism of the 1930s and a sustained oppositional criticism vis-à-vis the populist presidencies of Juan Domingo Peron (1946–55).
The list of contributors who published in Sur throughout its history is certainly impressive, including almost all the significant names in Argentine culture up to the mid– 1950s. Enrique Anderson Imbert, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Bernardo Canal Feijoo, Carlos Alberto Erro, Eduardo Mallea, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, Ernesto Sabato, and Juan José Sebreli are only a few of the renowned signatures to be found in the pages of the journal. Nevertheless, its two major figures are Victoria Ocampo, with her continuous ambition to preserve a secure space for high culture, and Jorge Luis Borges, the first member of the original Sur group to receive international recognition and who went on to become a leading figure in contemporary literature.
Memorable special issues included “La guerra” (October 1939; The war), “La Guerra en América” (December 1941; The war in America), “La paz” (July 1945; Peace), “Cuaderno San Martin dedicado a los derechos del hombre” (1950; San Martin notebook devoted to human rights), and “Por la reconstruccion nacional” (November-December 1955; In favor of national reconstruction). Sur also published several homage issues: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1938), Paul Valéry (1945), Pedro Henríquez Ureña (1946), Mahatma Gandhi (1948), George Bernard Shaw and André Gide (1951), Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1951), Rainer Maria Rilke (1953), José Ortega y Gasset (1956), and William Shakespeare (1964).
Sur was the publication in Argentina most vilified by its detractors, and most praised by its supporters. It remains a perfect example of the ideological tensions of Argentine cultural history. Those who believe that its pages were merely manifestations of the cultural project of an enlightened minority who lived completely cut off from the general history of the country are countered by hundreds of pages filled with the reactions of those associated with Sur to questions of Argentina’s social reality. Those who consider that there is nothing for Argentine culture to produce after Sur must accept the abundant example of those who never had access to its pages.
The death in 1979 of Victoria Ocampo, the slow break-up of her team of talented collaborators, along with the profound changes that took place among Argentine intellectuals beginning in the mid–1950s are factors that determined the disappearance of this prestigious and influential review in 1980.
Bastos, María Luisa, “Escrituras ajenas, expresión propia: Sur y los Testimonios de Victoria Ocampo,” Revista Iberoamericana 110–11 (1980):123–37
King, John, Sur: A Study of the Argentine Literary Journal and Its Role in the Development of a Culture, 1931–1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
Lafleur, Héctor, Sergio Provenzano, and Fernando Alonso, Las revistas literarias argentinas (1893–1967), Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de America Latina, 2nd edition, 1968
Matamoro, Blas, Genio y figura de Victoria Ocampo, Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1986: 201– 308
Méndez, Jesús, “The Origins of Sur, Argentina’s Elite Cultural Review,” Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía 31, no. 1 (1981): 3–15
Romano, Eduardo, “Julio Cortázar frente a Borges y el grupo de la revista Sur,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 364–66 (1980): 106–38
Zuleta, Emilia de, “Letras espanolas en la revista Sur,” Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos 80, no. 1(1977): 113–45
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