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Akademia Cartonera: Academic Articles, Cartonera Publications Catalog and Bibliography /Artículos académicos, Catálogo de publicaciones cartoneras y Bibliografía available in original text on CD (2009)

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Literature, Are You There? It’s Me, Eloísa Cartonera

“Never judge a book by its cover,” goes the adage, suggesting that we should not judge a book by its look alone, since appearances can be misleading. In its literal meaning, this phrase becomes cautionary, warning us that the book’s visual narrative, when juxtaposed to the textual one, can be misaligned and deceiving. Why is it, then, that the visual leads to deception? What is the story that a book’s cover tells that its words do not?  These questions are further complicated in contemplation of one particularly unusual Argentine publishing house, Eloísa Cartonera.

In the case of Eloísa Cartonera, we cannot judge books by their covers not because they are entirely deceptive, but rather because the book covers are the stories themselves textual narratives with a clear beginning and visual narratives necessarily representing a (hi)story. This (hi)story starts with Argentina’s economic crisis of 2001 which destroyed many lives and arguably made it impossible for thousands of Argentines to perform their citizenship. High unemployment and its negative impact on the labor force altered the Argentine social, economic, and cultural landscape. As a result of the crisis, the country underwent a reconfiguration of its poorest socio-economic class into cartoneros—cardboard-pickers. Influencing every aspect of society, this crisis also had an enormous impact on literary production and the publishing industry. Due to 300% inflation in early 2002,[1] the price of books escalated and paper became a valuable commodity. Consequently, the impact of the cost of paper determined the selection of authors published in well-established publishing companies as well as the affordability of books. Contingent upon the market, authors had to secure an instant economic gain for publishing companies and produce marketable books. In conjunction with this demand, the crisis further exasperated the problem by ensuring the accessibility of books only to a particular readership, the rich elite, who were able to afford and consume these bestsellers. This is not to say the crisis alone caused this change. The shift in the publishing industry was also caused by the impact of globalization that started in the 1980s. Publishing companies had been transformed into transnational conglomerates that would only publish (inter)nationally well-known authors who were highly marketable, assuring instant bestsellers.[2] Additionally, these companies would promote Argentine authors in Spain without making them accessible within Argentina.[3] The availability of Argentine authors to Argentine readers was at stake.

The change in the publishing industry and the impact of the economic crisis left Buenos Aires, in such a state of ruins that narratives could no longer (re)present themselves in traditional forms. Narratives and narrators began to search for unconventional modes of expression. The quest for an alternative profoundly affected new and emerging authors. As unpredictable and dangerous to the mainstream literary diet, new writers were not able to distribute their work in the transnational publishing venues that dominated the national market.[4] Authors without the support of a publishing house had to find different and unorthodox ways to narrate themselves and their ways of seeing.

And so, the (hi)story goes, groups of artists responded creatively to the crisis in two ways; by giving jobs to cartoneros and by publishing new and emerging authors. The Argentine publishing house Eloísa Cartonera was founded in 2003 by three young artists and writers—Javier Barilaro, Fernanda Laguna and Washington Cucurto—as a response to the economically impoverished status of cartoneros and to the culturally poor status of emerging writers. As a publishing house, they combined the social and aesthetic aspects of literature by including cartoneros in the book-making process and by offering a chance for visibility to authors emerging on the literary scene. Starting with recyclable cardboard, they produced inexpensive books that were then hand-painted by the cartoneros themselves. Just as this new model now implied that labor was seen as a creative process, the books’ low costs made them accessible to a wider readership. As a side effect of the initial enterprise and consequent success, Eloísa created a new publishing paradigm while refreshing the Latin American literary canon. This enterprise became well known through the Americas and many other alternative publishers adapted the concept to their own social and cultural contexts.[5]

The literature and authors published by Eloísa Cartonera have not been analyzed in-depth by literary critics in the Americas. Yet over the years, local and international media have embraced the impact of this publishing house on Argentina’s cultural scene. The Guardian, BBC and Rolling Stone have featured interviews with Eloísa’s founding members celebrating their response to the national economic crisis.[6] Washington Cucurto, as both co-founder and author, has been the focus of various literary and cultural studies.[7] However, there has been little intent to engage the aesthetic of the publishing house and to address critically its literary texts. When one such attempt was made, there was an instant critical dismissal of the cartonera’s published texts. At a 2007 book fair in La Paz, Guillermo Mariaca argued that cartonera publications did not make any contribution to literature; he saw neither “originality nor dialogue” in their texts.[8] Is it possible that none of these texts contained the slightest literary contribution? Assessing this “contribution to literature,” is not an easy task that any critic would take upon him/herself. This kind of intellectual positioning is precisely what all publishing houses were attempting to challenge by giving voice to and promoting new narratives.

Not all were as hypercritical of the cartonera’s publications. Several critics embraced the literature of some of the featured emerging authors. In a paper given at the 2006 LASA conference in Puerto Rico, López Seoane and Deymonnaz celebrated the “illegal” literature of the new Argentinean authors, labeling them representatives of a rebellious subculture of a dominant literary scene. These texts, they argued, “don’t give a damn about the canon” because they are full “of disrespect towards the consecrated figures of literature and towards the hegemonic norms of beautiful writing and good expression” thus making it possible for literature to be opened “to a new world of popular, young and improper bright languages.”[9] Nevertheless, these observations are not as obvious as these critics would have us believe.

What follows is an exploration of Eloísa Cartonera’s aesthetic principles and a demonstration of these standards as applied to its authors and publications. As I intend to establish the taxonomy of writers already published by Eloísa, the second part of this essay will be dedicated to some narratives of emerging Argentine authors. I will illustrate the themes and aesthetics that these authors convey in order to trace their shared literary tendencies and influences.


Eloísa Cartonera claims to provide a space that originated from the “reapropiation of popular aesthetics confronting the aesthetic colonization enforced by dominating countries.”[10] Their website states that they publish “unedited, border and vanguard material from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru: it is the publisher’s premise to distribute Latin American authors.”[11] Although the publishing house does not quite define what they consider to be “border” or avant-garde, one catches a glimpse of these notions via interviews with various members of Eloísa. On several occasions, Cucurto has stated that the literature is supposed to be light, fun and liberating.[12] Additionally, Eloísa’s publications also seek to give voice to ignored writers and narratives of the so-called low literature. When journalist Tamara Novelle asked Alejandro, one of Eloísa’s members, to define the literature they publish, he stated: “Call it as you wish. The marginal, the alternative, the ‘gore’, the ‘border’, what many consider to be low literature in Argentina, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Brazil; it has a place in Eloísa.”[13]  

Eloísa intends to subvert the main centers of power in the literary world, intelligentsia (institutional and academic) and the publishing industry that mandate the norms of the literary canon. Subversion of the hegemonic canon within Latin America is evidenced by the publication of marginalized, alternative literature that is light and escapist as well as defiant of harsh, day-to-day realities. In a 2005 interview with Silvina Friera for the Página/12 Cucurto declared: “To write a grand book?  For  what?  Literature does not influence reality nor can change it?[14] Cucurto’s allusion to the narratives of the boom suggests the publisher’s desire to destabilize the canon of literary works produced within Latin America by liberating it from grand and master narratives. By insisting on producing ignored narratives, those of low literature and popular culture, Eloísa arguably seeks to become an alternative publisher, offering narratives once omitted or entirely neglected by centers of intellectual power or by dominant publishers such as Emecé. Furthermore, this identity as alternative publisher is underlined by the fact that Eloísa does not have an editorial committee that decides what and who will be published. Everyone is welcomed to submit their work for publication.[15] Nevertheless, the characterization of Eloísa Cartonera as an alternative and subversive press becomes problematic when we examine their catalogue.


From the day of its foundation in 2003 to mid-2009, Eloísa Cartonera had published 123 titles that represent 75 authors. These titles include mostly poetry and short fiction.[16] " Readers can buy one published short story or one poem as a book. With few exceptions, such as the writings of Cucurto and César Aira, one does not find longer novels as they tend to be thicker and are consequently difficult to assemble in cartonera book format.[17] Just as the selection of genre becomes profoundly marked by modes of production, the selection of published works is marked by editorial power. Eloísa discursively opposes the existence of an editorial committee; it has been stated on various occasions that Washington Cucurto is the editor. While fully accepting works of prominent published authors, he is invested with the authority to reject manuscripts from unpublished authors.[18] These modes of exclusion and inclusion are supposedly based on his literary tastes. While this may be the case for the emerging and unpublished authors, it surely is not so for already known and consecrated figures of the literary scene in Argentina and Latin America. For this reason, we must identify the various categories of authors included in Eloisa’s catalogue.

 Out of 123 published titles, sixty titles correspond to already known and consecrated literary figures in Argentina and Latin America. A consecrated literary figure is an author who, having created and published extensive literary texts with established publishers, has also completed the difficult task of appealing to popular, academic and critical audiences both in their own countries and in North America. A good example is Ricardo Piglia. In Eloísa’s catalogue there are forty titles produced by known authors from throughout Latin America. One encounters names such as Haroldo de Campos and Waly Salomão (Brazil), Reinaldo Arenas (Cuba), Gonzalo Millán and Enrique Lihn (Chile), Luis Chávez (Costa Rica), Mario Bellatín and José Emilio Pacheco (Mexico), Oswaldo Reynoso and Martín Adán (Peru). The diffusion of prominent Argentine authors is remarkable. There are twenty publications by literary figures such as Ricardo Piglia, Rodolfo Fowgill, Leónidas Lamborghini, Néstor Perlongher, César Aira, Tomás Eloy Martínez and Elsa Drucaroff.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are 57 titles by emerging Argentine authors. An emerging author is a writer who has previously published through independent, local publishers like Interzona but has yet to be recognized by (inter)national critical and academic audiences (for example, Fernanda Laguna). Finally, there is also a group of unpublished writers in print media like the six winners of the publisher’s prize, Premio Sudaca Border, such as Leandro Avalos Blacha.

The categorization I propose here, and based on Eloísa’s catalogue, reflects contradictions in the publisher’s “official aesthetic” chartered on their website and interviews. The surprising number of published authors does not correspond at all to the aesthetic and politics proposed by Eloísa—rejecting the hegemonic canon and publishing alternative, “gore,” “border” narratives. In other words, half of the their published titles are a mere recycling of the canon as created by the same centers of intellectual power and big publishers that Eloísa, ironically, has been trying to subvert and reject. There is no simple explanation from where these contradictions arise.

My first thesis considers that this publishing house has become a far greater venture than previously anticipated. The proposed aesthetic has gone beyond the initial enterprise since the need to establish publishing alternatives coincided with the economic crisis that affected a great portion of the Argentine population, not only emerging authors. The need was as economic and political as it was aesthetic. Second, although their first publication in 2003 was by an emerging Argentine author, Gabriela Bejerman, none figures joined the catalogue soon after. This represented an economic need since what guaranteed the publisher’s monetary survival was the successful selling of prominent authors’ texts. Thus, the exclusion of such writers would have been unthinkable since Eloísa desperately needed support from renowned authors in order to become visible on the Buenos Aires’ cultural scene. The presence of the publishing house was not immediately welcomed by all national institutions and media. In December of the same year, within the pages of Página/12’s cultural supplement, Radar Libros, editor Daniel Link addressed the supplement’s omission to acknowledge the Eloísa Cartonera as that year’s “cultural happening,” this awakening occurred after Eloisa’s tremendously successful selling of some 1000 copies of César Aira’s book Mil Gotas.[19]  

Thus, one could say that the alliances about to be created entered mutually codependent spheres of aesthetics, politics, and economics. An alliance rooted in both political and social awareness was necessary in order to maintain and produce literature that corresponded to the aesthetic discourses as well as to the cultural production of the entire continent. To label these alliances between the publisher and authors from Argentina and Latin America as leftist would be reductonist, excluding the aesthetic alliance created in the book-text relationship. Additionally, seeking the categorization of literary figures based purely on aesthetic terms would also be limiting. For that reason, there are various multidimensional tensions encountered in the text that demand to be explored. In each of the categories proposed above, the alliances are constructed on diverse aesthetic, economic, and political necessities.  


The first obvious economic alliance between publisher and prominent authors is that none of the authors receive monetary compensation for the copies sold by the publishing house. By donating their texts to Eloísa, they intervene in a cultural sphere that is now based upon kinship, belonging to the publishing house that also needs them. Authors do not profit monetarily from the sale of their texts since this money is granted to the publishing house. Thus, the unilateral economic gain is directed toward the publisher’s efforts at self-sustainability.

Piglia supported the idea by explaining that “this is an historic alliance. New networks are being created in Argentina, and writers are finding ways to connect themselves to the new social situation. It’s not about making a cult of poverty, but rather, not allowing oneself to be intimidated by it.”[20] This new political and literary alliance gave authors like Aira, Piglia, and Pauls an opportunity to be associated with the social endeavor that Cucurto and his team were imagining, producing and consuming literature to defy poverty. Elsa Drucaroff explained her reasons for publishing the erotic story Leyenda erótica since it coincided with both her desire and that of Cucurto to “democratize the symbolic capital, to join those too humble to access the pleasures of literature that we have the privilege to enjoy; it is not an alien gesture, it comes from their own biographies, and social origins, and one can notice this in Eloísa, in their impartial catalogue, and in the proposition of books where manufacture and manual work are underlined.”[21]  

It is significant to note Drucaroff’s discourse here as she uses rather suggestive language (desire, pleasure, taste) to describe her alliance with the publisher reflects her own style in the mentioned story. In addition, Alan Pauls explained why he published the short storyEl caso Malarma by stressing that he liked the project “of a publisher that instead of mourning misery, made virtue out of necessity—neither sacrificing nor burdensome, but not jovial and festive…”[22] Both Drucaroff and Pauls were celebrating that Eloísa was bypassing the division between the social classes as a product of economic and publishing crisis. They underlined the role of the publishing house as a bridge between two social spheres that were not previously able to communicate: Argentines of the lowest socio-economic status, the majority of the country’s citizens, and those within the higher ranks of privilege, the intelligentsia. Supporting these authors in the new social context of post-economic crisis Argentina was necessary for the publisher due to the credibility that Eloísa sought to establish as a new publishing house. Just as the publisher needed influential authors to empower its visibility, writers also needed the publisher in order to create and be part of the new social and political network in a post-crisis Argentine socio-cultural context. Furthermore, well-established Argentine literary figures embraced the new alliance because it gave them an opportunity for further visibility and wider distribution to a national readership previously unfamiliar with their oeuvres.


Eloísa’s literary landscape is further complicated by the diffusion of Latin American authors. The need for this type of network creates a continuity of literary influences within geographical and historical frameworks. It also makes previously ignored narratives accessible to a wider Argentine demographic. This simultaneous effort is evidenced in Cucurto’s desire to reintroduce Latin American authors, omitted by transnational publishing companies, to an Argentine readership.

The inclusion of works by Haroldo de Campos, a fixture of contemporary Brazilian literature, illustrates the socio-political efforts that the publisher seeks to undertake by stepping outside of national and linguistic boundaries by reintroducing Brazilian authors ignored by Argentina’s publishing scene.[23] Published in 2007, El ángel izquierdo de la poesía is a bilingual edition of Campos’ poetry in which the poet denounces various social injustices of twentieth century Latin America; this particular book also demonstrates the complex relationship between the literary and cultural realities of the continent. It fits perfectly into the publisher’s ideology of alternative ways of responding to both globalization and economic crises. As evoked in the title, the Brazilian poet’s leftist and political aesthetic parallels the relationship between cartonero social realities and the poetic language with which Campos elaborates the subaltern subjects of the continent. The relationship between the book-object and book-text becomes more complicated as the cartonero’s visibility is both illustrated on the book cover and experienced through Campos’ poetic language. Various other narratives fit into this model including Venezuelan poet Juan Calzadilla’s Manual para incorformistas and the anthology of Brazil’s marginalized poets during the military junta, Brasil años 70: Poesía Marginal.

Nevertheless, this does not constitute a predominant model. The social and political aspect within the literary content are not entirely fixed. One only need consider the works of Enrique Lihn and his aesthetic. The Chilean poet’s inclusion within Eloísa’s canon[24] evidences Cucurto’s admiration for his poetry[25] but is also the revival of an internationally lesser known poet overshadowed by compatriots like Pablo Neruda and Gonzalo Rojas.[26] Lihn’s anxiety of everyday life and existential crises in constant denominations of his poetic language do not quite reflect the notion of popular literature. However, his work encompasses discourses emerging from themes of the human condition and alienation. It is the cartonero who breathes life into Lihn’s text. His poetry nearly establishes a mirror image of the cartonero who reconfigures his or her own identity by assuring Lihn’s presence in cartonera book form.

The relationship between the visual aspects of the cartonera-produced book and Lihn’s textual discourse echoes Roland Barthes’ notion of the ideal text as imagined in literary analysis. In S/Z, Barthes poses a definition of an ideal text in which: “the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signified; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach…[27]

Barthes’ insistence on the network that includes the visual aspect (eyes) supports my assertion that one consider cartonero book covers as discursively related to the text. Similar themes and relationships resonate in the poetry of other Latin American poets, including the Chileans Gonzalo Millán (Seudónimos de la muerte), Sergio Parra (La manoseada) and the Mexican Julián Herbert (Autorretrato a los 27).


Before the discussion of emerging Argentine authors, I will address another important element of the Eloísa enterprise: the creation of literary paternal figures who will symbolically serve as models/authority figures for emerging authors. One such writer to embody this paternal model is Argentine Ricardo Zelarayán.[28] Frequently marginalized within infrastructures of intellectual power – literary criticism, academic institutions, and publishing markets—Zelarayán is also the voice of the marginalized. Critic Nancy Fernández has drawn similarities between Cucurto and Zelarayán, noting that this alliance is foreseeable because Zelarayán: “…is an author who works with materials foreign to the classic aesthetics, he works with the scraps of language and leftovers of the rational logic. There are no explanations that close the story nor formulas that guarantee total comprehension of an anecdote.”[29]

According to Fabián Casas, Argentine emerging author and critic, the resurgence of interest in Zelarayán within the past decade is, in large part, due to his style that combines “[the] Creole picaresque with Joyce and Celine, and his work is a reflection about violence of language.”[30] It seems unexpected that Casas would compare a singular literary figure like Joyce to a writer who intentionally rejects notions of literary elitism. Despite this contradiction, Cucurto identifies Zelarayán as one of the most influential writers in his own literary development and within the national canon, as a possible replacement for the ever-present, haunting figure of Borges[31] ; in homage, Cucurto’s first book of poems is even titled Zelarayán. Zelarayán secured his position in Eloísa with the short story Lata Peinada that concludes the anthology of young Argentine authors, No hay Cuchillo sin Rosas published in 2007. Regardless of his physical age, it is not unreasonable for Zelarayán to be considered a “young” author. As a representative of a newer generation of authors, his talent and artistic accomplishments have eased much of the anxiety surrounding the nearly messianic situation affecting the contemporary literary scene: the arrival of a literary figure that will replace the old authoritative model in Borges. This specific relationship is elaborated in a short story by Fabián Casas republished by Eloísa Cartonera. Dedicated to Fogwill, Casa con diez pinos narrates an encounter between a Great Writer and the narrator Sergio, also a writer, who exchange ideas on current literary trends. After offering Sergio a job as a secretary, the Great Writer informs him that in order to become a good author, he must read the canon: Borges, Macedonio, Onetti, etc. Disturbed by such a command, the young writer is further perturbed once he realizes that the Great Writer has never heard of Zelarayán. Notably annoyed, Sergio seeks his revenge by giving away the Great Writer’s “best work yet” to some girls at a party. By disseminating his work and destroying it, Casas poses Zelarayán as a model for new authors; Borges’ important but inflated role is rightly assigned to another. All the same, not all emerging authors rebel against the canon; their principle objective is often to define their position within the canon.


Emerging authors, not only those tied to Eloísa, have been recognized as representing the Nueva Narrativa Argentina.[32] While many critics are still unsure of this label, it is notable that all of these authors were born in the 1970s, Argentina’s emerging authors barely remember life under dictatorship. While the literary works of the 1980s and 1990s were profoundly marked by the issues of memory, trauma and the disappeared, the later-day authors are profoundly marked by a different trauma: Carlos Menem’s neo-liberal experiment that partially led to the 2001 economic crisis. They were affected by an impossibility to publish their work and, more importantly, by the particular way it deconstructed their citizenship. Paradoxically, it also gave them an opportunity to express themselves in various forms of art. Consequently, many of these writers view themselves as multi-performative, bilingual, and multi-racial artists. Gabriela Bejerman, for example, is a published poet but also produces and sings pop albums under the name of Gaby Bex. Fernanda Laguna is an established visual artist, known for her installations and multi-media performances in MALBA (Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires) who publishes both under her own name and the pseudonym of Dalia Rosetti (“or is it the other way around?” she would probably note). Dani Umpi is a Uruguayan photographer, singer and writer who has been assimilated into the Argentine literary scene.[33] While publishing pornographic sonnets under the pseudonym of Ramón Paz, Pedro Mairal explains that this pseudonym gave him “a lot of freedom. It allowed me to write, without modesty, sonnets filled with sexuality in which my lyricism and vulgarity could explode. It allowed me to take my own poetic voice to faraway places that almost ceased to be mine but without complete surrender.”[34] As Ksenija Bilbija explains, Washington Cucurto is the paradigm of the postcolonial notion of the subaltern subject who, as a self-educated writer, reached the status of the bestselling author in Argentina.[35]  

Another identifying characteristic of these emerging authors concerns the canonization of their texts within various Argentine anthologies. The impetus to represent numerous emerging figures leads to several successful anthologies published between 2005 and 2007.[36] Eloísa Cartonera joined this endeavor in 2007, publishing the anthology No hay cuchillo sin Rosas: Historia de una Editorial Latinoamericana y Antología de jóvenes autores sponsored by a German publishing house cooperative, Merz & Solitude. In this book readers will find the names, short biographies and narratives of Argentine writers such as Inés Acevedo, Leandro Avalos Blacha, Gabriela Bejerman, Timo Berger, Fabián Casas, Washington Cucurto, Cuqui, Francisco Garamona, Juan Incardona, Fernanda Laguna, Juan Leotta, Cecilia Pavón, Ramón Paz, Ricardo Piña, Damián Ríos, Alejandro Rubio, Eugenia Segura, Dani Umpi and Ricardo Zelarayán. All of these authors have at least one title published by this house.

The anthology breaks with traditional literary canonization because, rather than proposing criteria for selected authors, Cucurto and his friends choose to narrate the beginnings of Eloísa Cartonera publishing house and its innovative modes of book production, followed by photos of workers and concluding with the writers’ texts. The possible ‘anomaly’ of this structure can be explained by Eloísa’s new focus on targeting a foreign market. The anthology can be purchased on the Merz & Solitude’s website and the publisher is linked to the Akademie Schloss Solitude, an institution promoting young and gifted artists via residence fellowships and the organizing of its residents’ public performances, readings and concerts. This institution sponsored the anthology because Cucurto was one of the fellows in the Academy in 2005/06. Another anomaly in this particular book is the disappearance of the cartonero visual narrative from the cover. While some of the copies feature a cartonero-painted cover, all are adorned with a mass-produced book jacket. This printed cover, designed by co-founder/artist Javier Barilaro, contains the image of a boy in a T-shirt and shorts holding up a book, the very same anthology we are about to read. To his right there is a table stacked with already-published titles by consecrated authors; Cerebro musical by César Aira, Ricardo Piglia’s Pianista, an anthology of poems by Enrique Lihn, the aforementioned anthology Brasil 70 and Néstor Perlongher’s story Evita vive. The boy is static but smiling; is he selling us the book or purchasing one himself?  The jacket illustrates an attempt, both visual and conscious, to insert these narratives into the Argentine and Latin American literary canon. After all, in this new network they now coexist under many titles published by this alternative press.

We must remember that this book is also intended for foreign consumption, in this case, within the European market. The paper quality is superior and the book even features some color photographs. Does this explain why the cartoneros have visually disappeared from the book covers and are only briefly mentioned in the introduction? Is it inevitable then that, when two marginalized groups fight for representation one is always further marginalized?  Given that the emerging authors-cartoneros press alliance and the network function on deeper levels of production and meaning, and that both groups appear from the same shared trauma of the economic collapse in 2001, this appears to be a one-time exception.

This shared trauma—the economic collapse and its consequences—is inextricably intertwined in the writing of emerging authors and becomes a common and discomforting theme haunting their texts. Thus, their fiction becomes mainly concerned with questions of deconstructed identity as writers and citizens. While some enjoy exploring the new possibilities (Laguna and Pavón), others delve in the (im)possibility of regaining and maintaining power over the text by exposing the failure of a post-crisis society to recognize them as productive and docile bodies (Umpi, Rubio, Ríos, Garramona). Social marginality becomes the prevailing dystopian condition of the human experience. In this category of texts, one expects to find auto- and metafictions that explore the writer’s identity in a contemporary society. Both genres, however, play with the relationship between the writer as an individual and a literary personage as the defining elements of these genres.  


Alejandro Rubio, Damián Ríos and Fabián Casas, among others, deal with various aspects of growing up in Argentina and the significance of authorship today. Alejandro Rubio’s short story Autobiografía podrida is noteworthy as it provides, right from the start, subjective insight into an individual’s life; we are forewarned that this is a fragment. A first person narrative relates Rubio’s childhood but later focuses on an elderly neighbor. We later discover that this geriatric grocer is actually a talented sculptor, reduced to selling vegetables to survive because his art is too expensive to purchase. The narrator/Rubio learns this only once a television crew has come to interview the old man. The narrator becomes upset when he realizes that the sculptures are “equally good as [the] work of García Márquez” but that the artist will receive only five minutes of fame in a local news program. Demonstrating a multifaceted narrative capability, the fragment focuses on the artist’s position in a global community and implicitly questions the relationship between power and authority in today’s society. The old man will remain marginalized because he lives in a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but ironically, will live his few brief minutes of fame on a local newscast.

Artists do not encounter dangers solely because of their marginalized social position. One of the defining characteristics of this generation of authors is the vast technological accessibility that surrounds and threatens them. These authors benefit from options previously unavailable; the Internet and blogging have widened their readership. Some authors blog and post work online (Pavón, Paz, and Cucurto), even using chat transcripts in their text (Laguna and Bejerman). Nevertheless, they are deeply concerned with the dangers of completely displacing (even deleting) the author/writer from their position of power. Juan Leotta’s short story Con las armas perfectly illustrates these fears. When a virus attacks a writer’s computer, he seeks help from a technician who manages to recover the important file containing his best short story yet, conveniently entitled Imborrable. The technician then asks if the writer wants revenge upon who or what attacked his PC. He decides not to pursue this search since he does not really have enemies; he is only a writer. However, he grows paranoid realizing that he is no longer a master of his own narrative in a world where virtual violence becomes more threatening than physical violence. He then believes the technician to be his enemy. When asked about his profession, he now lies and replies that he is a shooting instructor. Aware of his displacement from an authoritative position, the protagonist can regain control only by constructing a personal fiction or lying. Leotta’s emblematic story unmasks the powerlessness of a conventional writer in a hypertechnological society. Leotta opens an important debate that goes beyond the question of the writer’s position in the age of globalization. He is more concerned with the writer’s impotent stance once we realize that the enemy is a virtual one and consequently, (not) any one.

Rubio, Casas, and Ríos use autofictions to stress the writer’s position in the cultural production of post-crisis Argentina as a discomforting condition while discursively maintaining narrative power. And in Leotta’s case, the cultural context is not only contemporary Argentina, but also globalized societies of the cyber age. Nevertheless, Eloísa Cartonera assures these writers that the alliance created between author, text, and publisher can never be replaced by technology, thus maintaining the supremacy of the written text in cartonero book form. The paradigm of this alliance brings us to the question of the second dominant genre that marks emerging authors – metafictional texts by mainly female authors[37]  including Fernanda Laguna, Dalia Rosetti and Cecilia Pavón.


Fernanda Laguna publishes under both her own name and that of her alter ego Dalia Rosetti. What complicates this paradigm is that Dalia Rosetti also appears as a character in Laguna’s writings. In the Laguna-penned Bailemos igual, Dalia is the main character, planning to attend a book release party for her Me encantaría que gustes de mí, a book Laguna had published the previous year under the Rosetti pseudonym. At the party, she is, of course, a star and meets a fan, Alaska, who requests an autograph. Alaska informs her that while they may have different names, they are indeed the same person. This liberating statement sparks the eruption of carnavalesque glee once Dalia and Alaska begin to dance identically and the former feels desired and wanted as a writer. The desire of Dalia’s auto-reflexive narrative, heightened by this recognition, becomes even more explicit in Rosetti’s Sueños y pesadillas, a collection of short stories that appeared individually in four different volumes published over two years. Rosetti’s first-person narrative recounts its eponymous content: the narrator/author’s dreams and nightmares. Dalia Rosettti’s (auto)biographical construction and the embodiment of a biofictional author/narrator/writer continues when she tries to further encompass the imagined writer in her story Durazno reverdeciente, a futuristic glimpse of a 65 year-old Dalia in search of same-sex romance. When conventional methods prove futile, she turns somewhat desperately to the joys and possibilities of the Internet where she realizes the irreversible shifts in physical intimacy. Cecilia Pavón manages to continue Rosetti’s development as a fictional author, writing a sequel to Rosetti’s autobiography, Durazno reverdeciente 2. In this re-imagining of her fictionalized future Rosetti, rather than a middle-aged lesbian, is finally a successful, popular writer of bestsellers. A friend’s husband who openly despises her writing confronts her, deeming it irresponsible. She writes, he says, merely for the sake of writing, producing missing texts: “the Form, the only truth in Literature, the Form is the only space for communal redemption, for emptiness of bourgeois I, and scope of the impersonal, the Form is the only operation where the aesthetic becomes political.”[38] The husband, as an authoritative critic, has misread what is precisely the ambition of these young female authors. They want to be confined to the aesthetic (fictional) because it is the only way to maintain the authorship of written texts over the threats of the political, economic, and technological realities that endanger writers’ identities.

We encounter within all of these authors’ texts a production of meaning on various levels. First, the tracing and construction of Dalia Rosetti who is a writer/author/narrator/character is itself a task in metafiction creativity. Linda Hutcheon argues that postmodernist metafiction tends to play with the plurality of possible meanings as it demonstrates the impossibility of imposing a single, close reading of the text. It does so “by [an] overt, self-conscious control by an inscribed narrator/author figure that appears to demand, by its manipulation, the imposition of a single, closed perspective.”[39] She further argues that at the same time it tries to subvert all chances of attaining such closure. This is precisely what Rosetti as a fictional construction attempts to do, to subvert a closed perspective since we are still awaiting another chapter in Dalia’s life. Additionally, the subversion of a definitive close reading lies in the hands of the readers. The reader is actually the one with the ultimate power to reconstruct, tracing the formation of Dalia Rosetti as imaginary, fictional, and above all, a successful and in-demand writer. This is not new to literature. Portuguese modernist Fernando Pessoa invented nearly thirty alter egos—heteronyms—within his literary and poetic work, all of them with fixed biographies. What we see in the case of Rosetti is quite the contrary. It is the reader who willingly constructs this biography simply by realizing that Dalia Rosetti jumps from one text to another. As readers, we create her position as a successful writer because our reading enables for her fictional yet real construction.

The implications of these metafictions are even more complex as related to Eloísa Cartonera. The bridge of communication between the reader and Dalia’s construction is actually the former cartonero who paints the covers of the book. If we were once concerned about his/her (in)visibility, the moment a new generation of authors takes over the scene, here s/he becomes crucial to Dalia’s existence. Her embodiment is relayed on the cartoneros who physically assure that she will exist in book form. If the cartonero is removed from this paradigm, Dalia’s fictitious universe fails in its intent to embody and construct her in the physical reality. Thus insisting upon the cartonero as a necessary subject—one who assures the text’s existence, in addition to the reader and the writer—we have a more complex paradigm. This model now consists of another network of reliance and alliance, one much stronger than those previously created by well-known authors. What is new in this particular alliance is the simultaneous existence and visibility of both these groups; cartoneros and emerging authors contemplate the socio-political contexts of the reality that inevitably formed their identities. Furthermore, this inter-reliant relationship maintains the supremacy of the printed text in the Internet era. The irreducibility of the written text remains secure because of the complex relationship created between cartonero, writer and reader. Leotta’s fear thus finds its answer in the physical space of the Eloísa Cartonera publishing house in Buenos Aires. In this new paradigm, where authorship is still granted to the writer, the Internet and new technologies can never compete with this powerful alliance.


Not all emerging authors are concerned with the same problems or themes. One such group of writers currently deals with the immediate surrounding reality as reflected in popular culture. Gabriela Bejerman and Cuqui, female poets and writers, as well as Washington Cucurto are mainly concerned with the representation of the underground, marginalized landscape of Buenos Aires. Bejerman’s and Cucqui’s poetry depict female subjects entirely constructed by urban aesthetics and participation in underground metropolitan culture where characters are immersed in night life, parties, drugs, and sexual pleasures. Cucurto has already been labeled a writer who elaborates the aesthetic of slums and cumbia using tropes similar to Bejerman and Cucqui.[40] Are these the writers that López Seoane and Deymonnaz have previously identified as “illegal?”  Consequently, these are also names that would appear as representative of the editor’s notion of “border” and avant-garde. Thus, they are praised as alternative for exploring a younger generation’s social reality and sexual transgressions. Nevertheless, these somewhat camp poetry and narratives are not widely accessible to all audiences since they primarily target a reader already immersed in the same reality, as presupposed by the use of contemporary urban and youth slang. Furthermore, as they continue publishing, their writing becomes highly repetitive, potentially leaving other readers, the ones not immersed in the urban slang, uninterested in yet another episode of transgressive nocturnal encounters.  


One of the reasons this category is under that of emerging authors is because Eloísa grants the visibility to unpublished authors as well as the equality within the catalogue. First time published authors on print media become visible in the literary scene due to the publishing house. They consequently become emerging authors. Such was the case for Leandro Avalos Blacha, born in 1981, one of the six winners[41] of Eloísa’s prize contest, Premio Sudaca Borders and soon after included in the mentioned anthology as an emerging author.  

In 2005, Eloísa created a prize contest with judges such as Ricardo Piglia and Fabián Casas where previously unpublished authors were to compete to publish their first texts. The six winners of the prize presented texts dealing with similar themes of decentralized identity and the powerless position of individual in dysfunctional, post utopian society. Emblematic is Serialismo by Leandro Avalos Blacha, a short story about an educated man, Anthony James, with an unconventional hobby: killing women and saving their teeth as a symbol of fascination and perfection. One day he decides to create the perfect writer, requesting that his victims write down what they were experiencing while he was “taking care of them” or he would kill them. After extracting their teeth, he will use their bones and create objets d’art. Soon he meets Marta, who has previously heard about him and became his biggest fan. She starts promoting his work, even displaying it at MALBA (Museum of Latin American art in Buenos Aires) and Anthony James is officially named “the creator of ‘serialism’, the first aesthetic avant-garde of serial killer.”[42] This vanguard becomes enormously popular in museums and the government decides to finance students exploring his work, eventual followers of ‘serialismo.’  Students start killing communists, then homosexuals, and finally the poor. Anthony James becomes completely depressed about the fact that his singular project has been exposed and, after killing Marta, he creates his final project, an exhibition of her bones in New York City. After the protagonist dies, artists begin to debate who is going to turn his body into a work of art.

The bizarre story by Avalos Blacha is a powerful commentary on the state of affairs in contemporary Argentine as well as global society and the commodification of the art world. His premise that the ‘only’ original concept left to explore in art today concerns turning physical violence into art is an attempt to unmask the institutions of power: museums and government who exploit art for their own gains. As human bodies become commodities, the government appropriates “art” for political reasons as a way to confront the marginalized. In an extreme example, Avalos Blacha turns the issue of originality of art work -what is considered to be avant-garde and who decides what and how it is going to be used- into the main question to be addressed for future generations of authors and readers. It is no surprise that a story like Avalos Blacha’s would find its way into Eloísa Cartonera since it is similar to the questions posed by emerging authors about marginality of the writer in today’s society.

Since 2005, Eloísa has kept this competition open all year long. In other words, unpublished authors could submit their texts whenever they chose and they would be published instantly as long as Cucurto accepted the text. On their website, there is an ad that invites everyone to submit their texts. This step by Eloísa granted visibility to unpublished authors and opportunity to be associated with the names of emerging authors.


The texts of those emerging authors discussed here all share various characteristics. While employing original narrative techniques, auto-and metafictions, these authors are particularly concerned with the position of the writer in twenty-first century society. This society is not defined only by a purely nation-state identity but also encompasses society defined as globalized space. The question of the writer’s position in contemporary society is, to a certain extent, the assimilation and continuation of a literary tradition. Debate over the intellectual position of the literary author has existed within Latin American culture since colonial times. Many critics, starting with Ángel Rama,[43] assert that throughout Latin American history, writers have had an enormous socio-cultural influence in forging the nation. Simultaneously we see an alert and a nostalgic cry over the loss of this privileged position. Thus, their texts inform the readers that in today’s society the only productive space for a writer as a constitutive member of a nation and globalized society is the world of fiction. In this world, authors can imagine themselves as desired (Laguna and Pavón) or claim any authority over the written text (Rubio, Ríos and Casas) since neo-liberal society fails to recognize them as productive bodies. In addition to this preoccupation, the growing and threatening nature of technology attacks the writer’s authorship and identity.

The implications of emerging authors’ attitudes are political because they posit serious and legitimate questions about writers’ intellectual positioning in a nation’s cultural field. By warning readers that the place of a writer in today’s society is not a mere literary trope, they open this question to a wide debate. In doing so, these authors inevitably try to insert themselves into the established canon of literary works since it is the only possible space that will grant this debate. Their insertion into the canon, at this point, is not in any way subversive or rebellious since the canon is the only field that can define these writers as desirable.

This brings us back to the question of rebelling against the canon previously proposed by Casas and Cucurto. Both fall into their own traps. Their desire to rebel is, in fact, an act of recycling the canon, just like their cardboard-made books. One would imagine that the effort to subvert the canon and rebel against it would be evidenced by emerging authors’ texts. The idea would be to demonstrate to the readership that there actually has been a break with literary figures and tendencies. Readers would assume that there is indeed an ‘avant-garde’ of emerging authors that would follow Casas and Cucurto in their mission to revise the canon. Nevertheless, this turns out not to be the case. Moreover, as Casas and Cucurto seek to revive the figure of Zelarayán and kill the haunting spirit of Borges, they never seem to question the existence of the canon. We also have to keep in mind that Casas’ short story is dedicated to an already prominent figure and writer, Rodolfo Fogwill. Their endeavor is simply based on their own desire to replace one canonized literary figure with another while posing as a new literary authority. For example, an advertisement for Cucurto’s book El curandero de amor depicted a woman holding one book by Cucurto and another by Borges with a question: Guess which one I enjoyed more?  Bilbija has noted that, while the question might seem ambiguous, the answer is quite obvious. Her choice can only be Washington Cucurto.  

Then López Seoane and Deymonnaz’ argument of ”not giving a damn” about the canon is inaccurate because it is precisely the status of the consecrated literary figure that these narratives are trying to reach by opening a debate on their position and place within the canon. In this particular context, both Cucurto and Casas should be rewarded for daring to imagine a different canon. Paradoxically, it is precisely the contradictory nature of their argument that allows this debate to exist. Cucurto’s and Casas’ power to imagine a break from literary traditions is evidenced by the existence of Eloísa Cartonera as a publishing house which grants this power. By recycling the traditional canon made out of Latin American literary figures, Eloísa inevitably concedes the visibility to emerging authors and allows various debates to be opened.


It is too early, then, to speculate whether these emerging writers are indeed representatives of an “avant-garde.” Furthermore, such speculation problematizes what could be considered avant-garde in the twenty-first century. This question is still to be theorized. The first step in forming this theory contemplates the taxonomy of the works previously examined and the ways in which these writers form alliances and networks within the publishing house.

The foundation of Eloísa Cartonera was conceived as a space that would creatively respond to defying poverty. Cucurto and his friends dared to imagine a space that would make a difference in people’s lives. Thanks to the support and presentation of prominent figures of Latin American literature, the visibility of Eloísa’s venture was granted. Once this visibility was assured, it also affected the emerging authors that could now share their voice and narratives with readers. However, the authors were not alone in sharing their voice. Cartoneros made sure that the relationship between the publishing house, editor, cartonero, writer and reader created a new textual alliance in which various narratives were represented simultaneously and by the telling of stories that begin with the book cover itself.

Representing a departure from traditional publishing paradigms with unique, hand- painted visuals, the covers are created by citizens who have had experiences similar to the texts’ authors and protagonists. This interdependent relationship is a new and exciting development in an age in which electronic reproduction has easily minimized the human experience. It is indeed avant-garde and representative of a revised literary canon that likewise represents multiple and previously unexplored facets of the human experience.         

And so the (hi)story goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Djurdja Trajković is a PhD candidate in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is writing a dissertation on the aesthetics and politics of cartonera publishing houses in Latin America, with a focus an Eloísa Cartonera. Her research interests also include contemporary Latin American fiction, particularly post-boom; women’s writings; memory studies; dictatorship; and the post-dictatorship period. She is a 2009 recipient of the HEX grant awarded by the Center for the Humanities.


[1] Ksenija Bilbija, “What is Left in the World of Books: Washington Cucurto and the Eloísa Cartonera Project in Argentina,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 27 (2008): 85-102.

[2] José Luis Diego, “Políticas Editoriales y Políticas de Lectura,” Anales de la educación común 6 (2004): 38-44,

[3] Damián Ríos, “Interzona: un ejemplo argentino ”interview with Ilona Goyeneche, El Mercurio Online, March 1, 2005,

[4] Tomás Eloy Martínez, “Creadores ante la crisis,” La Nación, February 28, 2009,

[5] At the time of writing this essay, there are seven more Cartonera publishers in Latin America: two in Bolivia, Yerba Mala and Mandrágora, in Peru Sarita Cartonera, in Chile Animita Cartonera, in Brasil Dulcinéia Catadora, in Paraguay Yiyi Jambo, in Mexico La Cartonera.

[6] Marina Mariasch, “Ediciones alternatives,” Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005,; Rosario Gabino, “Cartones y poesía,” BBCMundo, 10 March 2006:

[7] Studies by Ksenija Bilbija and Beatriz Sarlo have focused on the narrative by Washington Cucurto, while Craig Epplin has explored this venture as a new media.  See Bilbija, “What is Left in the World of Books”; Beatriz Sarlo, “Sujetos y Tecnologías: la Novela después de la Historia,” Punto de Vista, 86 (2006): 1-6; Craig Epplin, “New Media, Cardboard, and Community in the Contemporary Buenos Aires,” Hispanic Review, 75, no. 4 (2007): 385-98.

[8] Full text is available at

[9] López Seoane and Santiago Deymonnaz, “Sneaking in the Illegal, Notes on Eloísa Cartonera,” (paper presented at Latin American Studies Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 15-18, 2006): 3.

[10] Tamara Novelle, “Libros con mucho color para América Latina,” Agencia periodística del Mercosur, April 7, 2008,


[12] Washington Cucurto, “El arte no es lugar para imponer sino para generar,” interview with Silvina Friera, Página/12, 6 July, 2008:

[13] Tamara Novelle, “Libros con mucho color para América Latina,” Agencia periodística del Mercosur, 7 April 2008,

[14] Washington Cucurto,“El arte no es lugar para imponer sino para generar,” interview with Silvina Friera, Página/12, July 6, 2008,

[15] María Gómez (member of Eloísa Cartonera), interview, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 8 August 2008.

[16] My ideas are based on 60 titles I have read thus far.  Not all titles were available to me since the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library does not have all titles published by Eloísa Cartonera.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Daniel Link, “Cartón pintado,” Página/12, December 28, 2003,

[20] Tomas Bril, “Profile of Eloisa Cartonera,” New Internationalist, 336, April 2004,

[21] Elsa Drucaroff, “Hay un espíritu más o menos anarco que nos abarca a todos,” Página/12, June 3, 2008,

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Published works by Eloísa include: Enrique Lihn, Por fuerza mayor (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2004); Enrique Lihn, La aparición de la virgen (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2006).


[26] This is not to say that Lihn is not considered to be an established author.  Numerous books and studies have taken him into account as one of the most respectable authors in Chile.  However, my qualifier of a “lesser known poet” is in a relationship to the wide readership in Latin America where he has not been regarded as bestselling author.  See C. M. Travis, “Beyond the Vanguardia: The Dialectical Voice of Enrique Lihn,” Romance Quarterly 49, no. 1 (2002): 61–74.

[27] Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), 5.

[28] He is a renowned author in Argentina’s literary circles who has published five works.  La obsesión del espacio (1973), Traveseando (1984), La piel de caballo (1986), Roña criolla (1991).



[31] Ksenija Bilbija in her article traces the paradox of Cucurto’s writing.  She argues that while Cucurto tries to kill Borges as the literary authority, he inevitably falls into Borges’ trap and recycles his ideas.  Bilbija, “What is Left in the World of Books.”

[32] Elsa Drucaroff.  “Hay un espíritu más o menos anarco que nos abarca a todos,” Página/12, June 3, 2008,

[33] His short story appears in the anthology of Argentine young authors No hay Cuchillo sin Rosas (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, Stuttgart: Merz & Solitude, 2005)

[34] Pedro Mairal.  Interview by author.  E-mail.  Madison, United States, July 14, 2009.

[35] Bilbija, “What is Left in the World of Books,” 27.

[36] La Joven Guardia edited by Maximiliano Tomas in 2005 and Una Terraza Propia edited by Florencia Abbate in 2006.

[37] Although the literary canon in Latin America is without a doubt male-dominated, the presence of young female authors today in Argentina and Eloísa Cartonera is quite visible.  This was a conscious decision made by Washington Cucurto.  (See interview with Tomás Eloy Martínez). Bejerman, Laguna, and Pavón are becoming known figures in Argentine literary circles.

[38] Dalia Rosetti, Durazno Reverdeciente (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005), 33.

[39] Linda Hutcheon, Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox (New York: Methuen, 1984), xiii.

[40] Bilbija, “What is Left in the World of Books,” 11.

[41] Dante Castiglione, Cacho el más Macho (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005); Marcelo Guerrieri, El Ciclista Serial (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005); Juan Leotta, Luster (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005); Pedro Nalda Querol, Palomas que no son pájaros (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005); Gonzalo Alfonsín, El Sr.  Velásquez y el Licenciado Ramírez (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005).

[42] Leandro Avalos Blacha, Serialismo (Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2005), 14.

[43] For canonical texts on this topic see: Ángel Rama, La Ciudad Letrada (Hanover: Ediciones del Norte, 1984); Doris Sommer, The Foundational Fictions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Jean Franco, The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin American and the Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); and Francine Masiello, The Art of Transition: Latin American Culture and Neoliberal Crisis (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).

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