Arlt, Roberto (1900–1942)

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Arlt, Roberto (1900–1942)

Roberto Arlt (b. 2 April 1900; d. 26 July 1942), Argentine writer. Born in Buenos Aires, Arlt's writing was one of the major critical (re)discoveries of the halcyon, countercultural period between the demise of Juan Perón (1955) and the military coup of 1966. One dimension of the interest in Arlt was a reaction against the emerging international monumentalization of Jorge Luis Borges. Arlt evoked several components of Argentine culture that were judged to be absent in Borges: he was of immigrant extraction; he was unlettered and unencumbered by an immense bookish learning; his literature centered on the urban proletariat, with a heavy emphasis on the socially marginal, misfits, and the aberrant; he was unconcerned by coherent ideologies and, indeed, often seemed to relish the incoherent and the contradictory; and he exemplified the practice of literature, not as an intellectual pastime, but as gainful employment. While today it may seem specious to promote a categoric disjunction between Borges and Arlt, Arlt was championed as an authentic voice of all of the gritty aspects of the Argentine sociopolitical body that the aloof Borges—at least in his world-literature embodiment—seemed to deny. Moreover, in novels like Los siete locos (1929; The Seven Madmen, 1984), dramas written for the populist theater, such as Trescientos millones (1932), and in the hundreds of newspaper columns that constitute a veritable mosaic of the underbelly of the Buenos Aires proletariat and petite bourgeoisie in the watershed years of the Great Depression, Arlt moved the literary registers of Spanish away from the rhetorical and poetic models of modernism and other European standards (including ossified academic norms) toward the beginnings of a true urban colloquiality in Argentine literature, one perhaps less sociolinguistically authentic than it is emblematically authentic. He died in Buenos Aires.

See alsoBorges, Jorge Luis; Literature: Spanish America.


David William Foster, Currents in the Contemporary Argentine Novel (1975), pp. 20-45.

Aden Hayes, Roberto Arlt, la estrategia de su ficción (1981).

Enrique Giordano, La teatralización de la obra dramática, de Florencio Sánchez a Roberto Arlt (1982); Review (Center for Inter-American Relations), no. 31 (1982), special issue devoted to Arlt.

Gerardo Mario Goloboff, Genio y figura de Roberto Arlt (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Martínez, Elizabeth Coonrod. Before the Boom: Latin American Revolutionary Novels of the 1920s. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.

Morales Saravia, José, Barbara Schuchard, and Wolfgang Matzat. Roberto Arlt: Una modernidad argentina. Madrid: Iberoamericana and Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert, 2001.

Rosenberg, Fernando J. The Avant-Garde and Geopolitics in Latin America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

                               David William Foster