[(essay date 2002) In the following essay, Swanson discusses The Investigation in relation to various literary movements, concluding that it is most akin to “the Latin American new novel of the Boom and before.”]
The recent voguishness of Juan José Saer (b. 1937) outside of Argentina and his publication of a playful detective novel, La pesquisa (The Investigation), in 1994 may encourage the casual academic reader to make an identification between his work and the Latin American Post-Boom, particularly the politically-inflected reading of the phenomenon favored by cultural critics who link it to the trauma of dictatorship and disappearance in the Southern Cone of the 1970s and 1980s. However, the characterization by Antonio Skármeta (born only three years after Saer) of his generation’s writing (associated by Donald Shaw with the Post-Boom) as “vocacionalmente antipretenciosa, pragmáticamente anti-cultural, sensible a lo banal, y más que reordenadora del mundo … simplemente presentadora de él” (“anti-pretentious by vocation, pragmatically anti-cultural, sensitive to the banal, and seeking, rather than to re-order the world, … simply to present it”) (Skármeta 139; Shaw, Post-Boom 9) could hardly be less applicable to Saer, whose work is essentially “heavy,” a stylistically and philosophically complex meditation on the nature of life and language.
Moreover, Saer moved to France in 1968, and, as Daniel Balderston has already observed, “his literature is only obliquely related to the literature of political commitment and the denunciation of the military dictatorships” (Smith 743). Indeed, Saer’s fiction has more in common with Borges or, even more so, Onetti than it does with many of the writers usually associated with the Post-Boom, even in its more “pluralist” conception (Shaw, Post-Boom 12). Saer, of course, has been writing fiction since around 1960 and has long been respected in Argentina as a major literary figure. Moreover, the French connection has repeatedly led to his work being linked to the nouveau roman, more so indeed than with the nueva novela. The 1990s superficial brush with popular culture (in the shape of a detective novel) cannot disguise the connection with this experimental intellectualizing 1960s tradition. At the end of the twentieth century, Saer, despite attempts to absorb his work into the new Anglo-American academy, continues to be a reminder of the relativity of formulations such as the Post-Boom and of the institutionalized political values of the new orthodoxies of cultural studies. What is more, he shows that the dilemmas and uncertainties raised by the so-called Boom fiction of the sixties are by no means resolved, while, behind the contemporary rhetoric of pluralism or strategic reading, a good deal of confusion and even inconsistency remains.
Ostensibly, then, and as the title implies, La pesquisa is a detective story. Of course, there is nothing new in the idea of a Latin American detective story, despite the tendency to associate the incorporation of this mass genre with the Post-Boom in writers such as Puig, Giardinelli, the later Vargas Llosa and Fuentes, and even Luisa Valenzuela. As Amelia S. Simpson’s authoritative survey shows, the genre...