The power of the city over the individual and its influence on novels

Preterito Perfecto (Preterite perfect), the novel by writer Hugo Foguet, states that “The city is the sacred space where the fate of the characters is fulfilled”. The author explains in an interview: “As for the city as a recurring factor, the habitat of modern man is the city, and the counterpoint between present and past, which appears in Latin American literature, perhaps because we, Latin Americans have not resolved our past (1983). The observations on the writer’s first stories are related to this constant we identify; these stories are supported in three moments: “the city”; “The man of the city” and “The possibilities that await the man and the city he has created”.

In Foguet’s narrative, the momentum of progress and technology, increasingly accelerated, involves humanity’s own ruin. The metropolis of the future are disciplined under a hidden control and lack art. We present two stories as prototypes of the later city: “La Ciudad Subterranea (The underground city)” and “La Ventana que Mira Hacia el Futuro (The-window-that-looks-to-the future)”.

The first story warns us, from its first lines, about the nuclear disaster: “the last atomic explosions of 1983” (Foguet 1963). The terrestrial surface has become a non habitable space: “The meadows were badlands, and in the best case, savannas of hard and sharp grasses; and the forests and jungles had become impenetrable, gloomy, curiously foul”. Once the modern apocalypse has occurred, humanity must organize again to guarantee its survival: “The new cities were excavated under the old ones or next to them” and were called “Habitat”.

The new space where this post-atomic society unfolds requires a different nomenclature to be able to refer to the new way of life of its underground inhabitants. The relationship between (some) words and things has also been transformed. The story, in a science fiction key, focuses not only on the environmental effects that have ocurred after the total destruction, but also pays attention to other socio-political effects. Technology and science are problematized according to the supremacy of instrumental reason over the condition of man.

The mole-metropolis is a totalitarian society governed by “an electronic brain”, “supreme judge” of the habitat that controls all individuals. The new system requires the exercise of punishment to counteract any evidence of resistance: the character of Mario Claudio is accused of carrying out a heresy of language due to an abusive practice of archaisms that does not correspond to the “city style.” threat takes shape in “simple words like rain, spring, thirst” forbidden to the inhabitants. The sobering measure will be the expulsion of Mario Claudio “through the sixth mouth.” Once on the earth’s surface, the protagonist can see next to “the ruins of Buenos Aires “to a woman whom he calls Alma ; the Adamic gesture of giving her a name will be the last act of her human condition.

The second story, “The-window-that-looks-to-the future”, builds a city. There, his Excellency inaugurated La Ventana-Que-Mira-Al-Futuro. The public work offers, by means of a payment, to those who wish to “look into the future without doubts or fears”. The protagonists of the story, Aberasturi and Shapiro decide to experience the scope of the “Future Project” artifact and see the programmed city that “emerged splendid and cold, lonely and dead, clean and heated like an operating room” tailored to not want anything, not to think about anything, not to suffer anything”. After an interval, the characters visualize the city that contains “The Great Computer” that digits life. Everything is regulated and planned.

Other stories expose various modes of expulsion and destruction of urban space. “La Plaga (The plague)” narrates the emergence of a mysterious plague that wreaks havoc on the urban population, finally, this causes the closure of the city. Sanitary isolation will be transformed into a method of civil indoctrination; The city has become a panoptic. In “Otro vendra en su nombre (Another will come in his name)” (Foguet 1965), On the other hand, the city fears the imminent invasion of an unknown enemy and prepares to resist in the name of a “lighted patriotism”; finally, it will produce the exodus of its inhabitants: “Against the back of the crowd was the city”.

For its part, “Radioactividad (Radioactivity)”, “Advenimiento de la Bomba (Advent of the Bomb)” and “Bienvenido Falsenburg! (Welcome Felsenburg!)”, reveal the experience of the futuristic city from the nuclear threat; dysphoric versions of the world to come.

On the other hand, the author built in Preterito Perfecto (1983) two images circumscribed to the space of San Miguel de Tucumán (Argentina): the first, in a dreamlike key, projects a time of apocalypse, and second, a desolate urban space.

It is a dark, uncertain and violent social time. The city has become a guarded and repressive space. Everything can collapse. The present now, the one the protagonist dreams of, is a time where there is no paradise, no age of innocence to recover, no further destiny, no goal. ” The future has dried up.

The city spaces are “seen” and valued from different temporal coordinates. Thus, the cities of the past are pierced by the traces of absences and changes. Those of the present are looking to give them a name and with it, their identity. Finally, those of the future are built from the disenchanted look of the walker. If the city is “the navel of the world” it is also the center of experience and writing of the great part of the novelists’ work.

Hugo Foguet

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