My 2012 SCMLA Presentation Abstract

Hombre de ciencia, Hombre de pluma: Carlos O. Bunge at the Crossroads of Science and Literature in the Argentine fin de siglo

Intellectual historian Oscar Terán describes Argentine writer Carlos O. Bunge (1875-1918) as “without a doubt the man who most emphasizes psychological studies in the construction of a theory about social relations”. Indeed, Bunge, along with José María Ramos Mejía and José Ingenieros, was one of the most prominent positivists, “hombres de ciencia” [men of science] of the Argentine turn of the century, the apogee of hygienic and somatic discourses. And despite his renown as a psychosociologist, as Ricardo Rojas remembers in La literatura argentina, “What [Bunge] would have most wanted to possess, was the glory of the poet, the artist, the man of imagination. This desire deformed him, since he found it in disharmony with his duties, with his reputation and with his environment”. Here not only does Rojas point to a fundamental tension between scientific and creative writing at the heart of this period of modernization, but to the “deforming” effects that this disconnect had on Bunge, as a member of the patrician elite.

In this presentation I analyze a crucial year in Bunge’s life, 1903, in which, amazingly, not only did he publish two positivist essays (Nuestra América and Principios de psicología individual y social), but also two naturalist novels (Novela de la sangre and Xarcas silenciario). Rather than focus solely on Bunge’s “psychological studies,” I consider these four works as part of a broader intellectual endeavor, one which, as a whole, actually challenges the dogmatic Spencerian approach which critics such as Terán have used to characterize his work. Particularly in his novels, Bunge shows a surprising interest in the affective connections of kinship to spiritual and metaphysical speculation. The opening line of Xarcas silenciario is exemplary in this regard: “¡No neguéis el Misterio!” [Don’t deny Mystery!]. Both of these larger interests would have been proscribed by positivist methodologies, depending solely on observation and experiment, but, as Rojas suggests, they were clearly important to Bunge. To be an “hombre de imaginación” [man of imagination] was not incompatible with being an “hombre de ciencia”, though this tension inspired Bunge to seek the fissures in dogmatic positivist thought. Here, Bunge explores not just consanguine, but affective family connections; questions the spiritual enigma of human behavior, and thus becomes a more complex participant in turn of the century Argentine intellectual circles, a figure which serves as a point of intersection between the hygienist thought of the late 19th century and more spiritual (Arielista) thought of the early 20th.

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