Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction 9780822376903

Based on ethnographic research in the foothills of the Argentine Andes, Gastón R. Gordillo reveals the spatial, historic

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Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction

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RUBBLE The Afterlife of Destruction

Gastón R. Gordillo

duke universit y press durham and london | 2014

© 2014 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper ∞ Typeset in Minion by Copperline Book Services, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gordillo, Gastón. Rubble : the afterlife of destruction / Gastón R. Gordillo. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-8223-5619-6 (pbk : alk. paper) isbn 978-0-8223-5614-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Gran Chaco—Antiquities.  2. Ruins, Modern— Gran Chaco.  3. Rubble—Gran Chaco.  4. Indians of South America—Gran Chaco—Government relations.  5. Collective memory—Gran Chaco.  I. Title. f2876.g67 2014 982'.301—dc23 2014001932

Duke University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which provided funds toward the publication of this book. Frontis: Detail of map of the Gran Chaco by Father Joaquin Camaño (1789). Cover: AP Photo / Natacha Pisarenko

For Shaylih

Mankind is merely the experimental material, the tremendous surplus of failures: a field of ruins. —Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power Only in traces and ruins . . . is there ever hope of coming across genuine and just reality. —Theodor Adorno, “The Actuality of Philosophy”


Acknowledgments xi Introduction: Constellations  1

Part One  |  Ghosts of Indians One A Haunted Frontier 31 Two On the Edge of the Void  53

Part Two  |  Lost Cities

The Destruction of Space 77 Three Land of Curses and Miracles 85 Four The Ruins of Ruins 111

Part Three  |  Residues of a Dream World

Treks across Fields of Rubble 125 Five Ships Stranded in the Forest 131 Six Bringing a Destroyed Place Back to Life 153 Seven Railroads to Nowhere 169

Part Four  |  The Debris of Violence

Bright Objects 185 Eight Topographies of Oblivion 191 Nine Piles of Bones 209 Ten The Return of the Indians 229 Conclusion: We Aren’t Afraid of Ruins 253 Notes 271 References 287 Index 303


I first began thinking about the project that led to this book when in 1999 I learned through various media accounts that Professor Alfredo Tomasini, from the Universidad de La Plata, was investigating the heavily overgrown debris of old Spanish towns and Jesuit stations on the western edge of the Argentine Chaco. By then, I had been doing research elsewhere in the Chaco for over a decade, and, like many others, I assumed that “nothing remained” of those places. The news of the ongoing resilience of those ruins piqued my curiosity. The rest, as the expression goes, is history. Years later, in 2007, I met Alfredo Tomasini in the field in Quebrachal, and we had a stimulating dialogue about our respective explorations of rubble, in his case as a historical archaeologist. While his passion for the preservation of the places he has studied and rescued from oblivion may prevent him from agreeing with some of the points made about ruins in this book, I want to acknowledge my admiration for his archaeological work as well as the way he inspired me to do ethnographic research on the social afterlife and politics of rubble. My deepest gratitude goes to the many men and women who opened their homes to me at the foot of the Andes and in the Chaco and generously helped me navigate the geographies and nodes of rubble examined in this book. While this is an open list, I want to acknowledge, in particular, Agustín del Río and Eduardo Poma in Metán; Miguel Teseyra, Juan Angel Albud, and Hipólito Corvalán in Río Piedras; José Velárdez, Benito Guzmán, Liliana Guzmán, Benito Paz, and especially Nilo Rodríguez in El Galpón; Oscar and Carlos Moya in Balbuena; Toto Sarmiento, Alfredo Parada, Mercedes Parada, and especially Alejandrina Saravia, Juan Saravia (Sr.), and Juan Saravia (Jr.) on the ranches around Chorroarín; Tony Jeréz and Roberto Beleizán in Joaquín V. González; Armando Orquera in Las Lajitas; Leonor Kuhn, Jorge

xii | Acknowledgments

Miy, and Julia Alsogaray in El Piquete; Dardo Díaz, Luis Alberto Romero, Pedro Correa, Gabriel Acosta, and Julio López in Rivadavia and Santa Rosa; Cristián Molina in El Fuerte; Miguel Farías in Gaona; Beto Moreno and Félix Moreno in Quebrachal; Policarpio Fernández and his family in El Vencido; Juan Moreno, Néstor Numacata, and the late Jobino Sierra e Iglesias in San Pedro de Jujuy; Dominga Mendieta in Chalicán; and Santos Vergara, Riqui Zarra, Dardo Díaz, Leandro Alagastino, and Pocho Sucumba in Orán. In El Galpón, Horacio Thomas and Luis Caram went out of their way to assist me with invaluable documents and generously shared their time and insights with me. In San Pedro de Jujuy and Libertador General San Martín, Omar Jeréz’s enthusiastic support helped open many doors. In the city of Jujuy, Ana Teruel’s knowledge of the history of the western Chaco helped me navigate several of the places I describe in this book. Special thanks to Oscar Delgado and Carlos Ordóñez, who introduced me to and taught me about the rubble created by agribusiness around Apolinario Saravia and General Pizarro. This book has benefited enormously from colleagues and friends who gave me critical feedback about the manuscript in whole or in parts. My dialogues with Jon Beasley-Murray about the politics of affect and about ruins, their negativity, and their affirmative resilience were particularly influential. I was very fortunate to have as interlocutors two of the most important scholars currently working on ruins and ruination: Ann Stoler and Anna Tsing. Their poignant questions and comments were crucial to refine my argument. I am particularly grateful to Anna Tsing for teaching one of the last drafts of this manuscript in her seminar at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and for giving me the opportunity to personally discuss its contents with her students. Lucas Bessire’s careful reading of the manuscript and our dialogues about “the labor of the negative” in relation to the Gran Chaco were particularly important. My reviewers from Duke University Press provided invaluable insights and suggestions. I am particularly grateful to Mary Weismantel for forwarding me her thought-­provoking review. I believe this book is better because she challenged me to go further. Valerie Millholland, my editor at Duke, was supportive of this project from the start. My conversations with Axel Lazzari, and his outstanding dissertation at Columbia University, are inseparable from my ideas about phantom Indians. Of the many other people whose observations or assistance contributed to this book, I want to thank Alfredo González-­Ruibal, Diego Escolar, Tania Li, Hugh Raffles, John Comaroff, Elizabeth Ferry, Nikete Della Penna, Gustavo Verdesio, Benjamin

Acknowledgments | xiii

Noys, Courtney Booker, Lena Mortensen, Julie Hollowell, Andrew Martindale, Mark Healey, Alec Dawson, Daniel Manson, Clayton Whitt, Huma Mohibullah, and Ana Vivaldi. While I was working on the final revisions, I presented the core argument of Rubble to very receptive and challenging audiences and benefited from their extraordinary comments, questions, and criticisms. I am particularly grateful to Akhil Gupta and Jessica Cattelino at the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles; Marie-­Eve Carrier Moisan and Alexis Shotwell at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University; John Burdick, Thomas Perreault, and Justin Reed at the symposium “The Latin American City” at Syracuse University; Anna Tsing, Andrew Matthews, Lisa Rofel, and Stephanie McCallum at the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz; and Jake Kosek and Gillian Hart at the Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, where I also benefited from conversations with my colleague and comrade Don Moore. Fieldwork for this project was made possible by a generous grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (sshrc). A Hampton Grant from the University of British Columbia funded my preliminary fieldwork in 2003. I began writing this book at the Bellagio Residence and Study Center, in Bellagio, Italy, in April 2007, where I benefited from the best imaginable setting to begin writing and organizing my thoughts around what eventually became Rubble. I thank the Rockefeller Foundation for the opportunity and the talented scholars and artists with whom I shared my ideas, as well as Pilar Palaciá for being such a gracious host. The completion of this book was made possibly by the support of the John Simon Memorial Guggenheim Foundation, which granted me precious time for thinking and writing. But this book is what it is thanks, especially, to Shaylih Muehlmann: my toughest and most supportive critic, and most important, the best companion I could dream of on this haunting journey through fields of rubble.

map i.1. The western edge of the Argentine Gran Chaco in the provinces of Salta and Santiago del Estero. Map by Eric Leinberger.

Cognition of the object in its constellation is cognition of the process stored in the object. —Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectic

Introduction | Constellations


n the past decade, the expansion of agribusiness has submitted the forests of northern Argentina to their largest and most accelerated devastation on record. Private security guards and the police have evicted thousands of people from their homes while bulldozers obliterated millions of trees with one purpose in mind: to create soy fields. For regional living forms, human and nonhuman, this spatial expansion of industrialized agriculture has been a machine of destruction set to crush all obstacles to the maximization of profits. In May 2003, I arrived at one of the hotspots of the “soy boom”: the area in the province of Salta where the forests of the Gran Chaco plain meet the foothills of the Andes. The action of bulldozers was then gaining momentum, after the Argentine neoliberal bubble of the 1990s had burst the year before amid a devastating recession. Ironically, my goal in being there was to begin an ethnographic study of ruins. The debris I had in mind was not the one produced by agribusiness, but rather those created by older histories of disruption associated with Spanish colonialism, like traces of forts and mission stations. But I quickly learned that it was not possible to separate older ruins from new ones, and not just because bulldozers were crushing older forms of debris along with the new. In this confusion of traces from multiple eras, the very notion of “ruins” began to feel inadequate. After exploring a relatively wide region over four years while documenting the spatial and social legacy of multiple forms of destruction, I gradually learned that a more useful way to examine ruins in their myriad forms is to conceptually disintegrate them

2 | Introduction

and treat them as rubble. And this forced me to think of rubble from new angles, and not simply as a set of objects but also as a concept. This book examines rubble as a conceptual figure that can help us understand the ruptured multiplicity that is constitutive of all geographies as they are produced, destroyed, and remade. But because this concept is insepar­ able from the actual, textured nodes of debris I encountered on the western edge of the Argentine Chaco, I use this introduction to present how I began thinking about rubble not abstractly but spatially and ethnographically. That experience exposed me to places so thoroughly constituted by rubble that I was forced to rethink what space is, how it is produced, how it is destroyed, and what is created by this destruction. For several centuries, the geography that this book explores was a turbulent frontier defined by multiple efforts on the part of the Spanish empire and subsequently the Argentine state to defeat the indigenous insurgencies that until the late 1800s controlled the Gran Chaco, the tropical lowlands that today cover much of northern Argentina as well as eastern Paraguay and southeast Bolivia. The landscape I encountered in 2003 had changed dramatically since those days. The most important towns were relatively recent, most of them created by the railroad expansion of the 1920s. Ranches raising cattle on forested land had dominated the foothills since the 1800s and still prevailed where the uneven topography keeps mechanized soy farms at bay. More notably, indigenous people no longer lived in rural areas. The closest rural indigenous villages are deeper in the Chaco, on the Bermejo River further north. This region is known in the province of Salta as tierra gaucha, “gaucho country,” the land of cowboys who self-­identify as criollos (a term that evokes a mixed racial background) and who are presented by state commemorations as the historical enemies of “the Indians of the Chaco.” When I first arrived in this region, I wanted to explore to what degree the overgrown ruins from the Spanish era strewn at the foot of the Andes were meaningful to the criollo people living around them. While I wanted to interrogate ruins as objects in which space, history, decay, and memory coalesce, the meaning of the word ruin seemed transparent enough: a material relic from the past. It was the alleged pastness of these objects that began crumbling during that trip, as well as the boundedness I inadvertently projected onto their materiality. There was one place that stood out in my early reeducation away from ruins and toward rubble: the debris of what was once a Jesuit station and that I eventually learned to see as the church of La Manga.

Introduction | 3

The Disintegrated Ruin In the 1700s, the Jesuit order had a strong presence on the Chaco frontier around the margins of the Juramento River (called Salado downstream). One of its main mission stations was named San Juan Bautista de Balbuena. In my first week in the region, I deduced the location of its ruins by comparing current and historical maps. On Route 16, the main road connecting the mountains to the Chaco, the presence of a village called Balbuena not far from the Juramento River indicated that the name of the Jesuit station proved resilient and that its ruins were probably nearby (see map I.2, page 12). People living by the side of the road confirmed that the ruins were a few kilometers west of Route 16, on a relatively difficult-­to-­reach cattle ranch amid forested hills and creeks. The man who guided me there was Alfredo, in his fifties and a typical gaucho. He and his wife lived about four kilometers from the site, tendering cattle for an absentee landowner. I arrived at their home on foot, having left my small rental car behind because deep potholes made the trail impassable. Alfredo was an outspoken and animated man, and he promptly offered to take me to the ruins, which he simply called la iglesia — “the church.” We followed a trail in the forest for about an hour, and Alfredo shared many personal anecdotes and stories about the church. The most intriguing one was his reference to the fiestones, or “large parties,” that residents had held out there in the past, which he described as exuberant events of a Dionysian nature. The dissonance between his depiction of festivity and my austere image of a Jesuit mission led me to assume that he was referring to a legend, a local myth of sorts. When the ruins finally emerged amid the vegetation, I was in awe. The building was in remarkably good shape. This is, in fact, the best-­preserved ruin from the days of the Spanish empire that currently exists on the western edge of the Argentine Chaco. While the front of the church had collapsed, the other walls stood about seven meters high. The altar was well preserved, and a door to the right, leading to the sacristy, formed an arch decorated with a stucco frame. Vegetation shrouded the place: vines crawled on the walls and a tree stood at the center. I was thrilled, I realize now, because those clearly delineated forms — walls, arches, an altar — contrasted sharply with the mounds I had visited at other sites, where recognizable forms had been reduced to rubble. As we explored the site and I took photos, Alfredo emphasized that the place was very old. “At least a hundred years,” he repeated several times. I

4 | Introduction

Figure I.1. At “the church” with Alfredo. Photo by author.

told him the place was even older, for it had been built “in the eighteenth century.” My performance of erudition meant little to him. He pointed to the tree standing in the middle of the church: “This tree must be a hundred years old. This place is very old!” He then punched the stucco frame above the door to the sacristy. A piece of stucco fell off. “See?” he said. He punched it again, casually. Another section broke off. “Look, this place is really old! At least a hundred years. These chunks come off easy!” As Alfredo was calmly but enthusiastically eroding the materiality of the wall, one punch at a time, I was horrified. My first impulse was to ask him to stop that senseless destruction, but I felt paralyzed. I was puzzled by the sudden realization of the chasm that existed between his view of the site and my own disposition toward those ruins; I was also perplexed by the visceral reaction I was having at the sight of minor damage being inflicted on that wall. Alfredo’s casual punches and my physical discomfort revealed that each of us had been socialized under culturally specific habits that predisposed us to engage with material debris from the past in strikingly disparate ways. The object that I considered a ruin, in sum, affected our bodies very differently. Where Alfredo saw an abandoned church charged with stories and memories that was so “old” that a punch was enough to make a dent in its walls, I saw a

Introduction | 5

valuable historic site that demanded reverence, to the point that any damage to it, however minute, amounted to a sacrilege of sorts. That brief episode at the church with Alfredo was a moment of illumination that forced me to start questioning the dense genealogy of assumptions about ruins that I was bringing to the field. It also confronted me with a question of an ontological nature: what, exactly, is a ruin? Prior to visiting the site, I knew of “the ruins of San Juan Bautista de Balbuena” only through books and therefore as an abstraction about the past. My impulsive veneration of the ruin’s form, in this regard, resulted from my affective distancing and bodily estrangement from that place as an ancient relic. Alfredo, in contrast, interacted with the site as part of his work and daily habits and thus experienced it as something tangible, earthly, an old church. His casual punching of the stucco revealed an engagement with an object that he was familiar with at a sensuous, bodily level and that he did not perceive as a fetish to be revered. In questioning my own abstracted veneration of the ruins’ material form, I gradually learned to see such objects through the lens of the most concrete, unglamorous term we have to name what is created by the destruction of space: rubble. But this shift in perspective also forced me to do away with the mainstream downgrading of rubble as shapeless, worthless debris, and instead to explore rubble as textured, affectively charged matter that is intrinsic to all living places. The counterpoint between my disposition toward the materiality of the church and Alfredo’s, however, was not the result of a dualistic opposition between “elite mind” and “subaltern body,” as if my abstractions were not embodied and as if his bodily contact with that object were not informed by abstractions, if of a different sort. My visceral reaction to the punch revealed that my abstractions about that ruin were profoundly bodily and affective. And Alfredo’s physical engagement with the ruin drew from abstractions of a religious yet immanent nature, which anticipated the type of subaltern perceptions and critical abstractions that this book explores in detail. These perceptions include awareness of the forces that have produced the rubble of the present, and of the way these nodes of rubble form constellations defined by their afterlife. My experience at the site also set the tone for the affective analy­sis of rubble this book advocates: an analysis of how rubble affects human bodies and, more important, of how the same object may affect people with different class and cultural backgrounds very differently. My approach to affect is inspired by Spinoza, but also moves past his vitalism to

6 | Introduction

engage the affective dimensions of matter through the negativity and ruptures embodied in rubble. The experience at the church prompted me to start exploring the sensory multiplicity of rubble by way of submitting the concept of “the ruin” to what Theodor Adorno called “a logic of disintegration.” In Negative Dialectics Adorno highlighted the critical power of negativity to disintegrate the positivity of the given, of things as they seem to be, and thereby to undermine any reified fantasy of a complete, seamless whole. He had learned from his friend and mentor Walter Benjamin that the spectacle of positive spatial forms is central to the “bourgeois dream-­world.” This is how Benjamin referred to capitalism’s ideological phantasmagoria, a ghostly positivity that he saw crystallized in the architecture of nineteenth-­century Paris. Benjamin and Adorno were particularly interested in ruins as allegories of a critical disintegration of these allegedly positive objects, for the ruin is a clear trope of destruction and negativity. My analysis draws from this Adornian and Benjaminian project but pushes it further to critically interrogate the very concept of the ruin and turn it to rubble. While “the ruin” certainly evokes rupture, it also evokes a unified object that elite sensibilities often treat as a fetish that ought not be disturbed. That was, in fact, the elite common sense with which I began my research. This book seeks to show that this common sense is not politically innocent, but founded on a disregard for the piles of rubble that surround the objects that the heritage industry names “ruins.”

From Ruins to Rubble One of the first things that I learned in my first weeks of fieldwork was that my questions about ruinas (“ruins”) usually encountered blank stares. Most people, especially in rural areas, simply did not understand what the word ruin meant. I had to rephrase my question and ask again, this time about “old walls” or “piles of old bricks”: in short, about what middle-­class visitors would otherwise call “rubble.” Only then, when I specifically referred to the concrete, textured physical forms adopted by rubble, they nodded and told me about this or that site. Local people’s estrangement from the concept of ruins and the distinct spatial sensibility that lies behind it were brought home one day in July 2005, when I was spending time with a family I befriended a few kilometers from the ruins of the Jesuit mission of Balbuena. Like Alfredo, they called the place “the church,” or more concretely “the church of La Manga,” after the name

Introduction | 7

Figure I.2. The tower of Miraflores on the edge of soy fields. Photo by author.

of the cattle ranch it is on. A typical gaucho family, they owned a few head of cattle but also worked for wages on cattle ranches and at a nearby wheat farm, a symbol of changing times in which many cowboys also work part time in agriculture. The landowner had given them oral permission to live there and build their own corrals, a precarious arrangement that is common in the region. Over dinner, Marcelo, the head of the family, referred to other abandoned buildings near the church. His son Juan then asked me, “You call those old houses ‘ruins,’ don’t you?” His question was disarming in its blunt confirmation that the concept was alien to them. It was also clear that my use of the word had piqued his curiosity. I said yes and Juan nodded, repeating the word a couple times, ruinas, as if intrigued by its meaning. He seemed amused that old houses could be referred to that way. It took me a while to realize that what people found strange about the concept of “the ruin” is that it is a homogenizing abstraction that does not resonate with the sensuous texture of actual places and objects. As is clear in the case of “the church of La Manga,” people throughout the region referred to the sites that I abstracted as “ruins” using a language that was inseparable from those sites’ tangible forms. The fifteen-­meter brick structure that makes up what used to be the Jesuit mission of Miraflores is locally called la torre de Miraflores (the tower of Miraflores). People call the rubble of Esteco “the city of Esteco,” because of the many mounds that reveal

8 | Introduction

the layout of an old city. And the remains of Spanish forts, made up of mounds or piles of bricks forming a walled perimeter, are called fuertes (forts).1 The absence of a concept of “ruins” and the use of terms that describe the tangible form of rubble is, in fact, widespread among subaltern populations all over the world. Mayan people in Yucatán, Mexico, refer to the ruins that dot the peninsula as xlapak (“old walls”) (Ginsberg 2004, 97). The current names of many Mayan ruins that have become tourist sites are, in fact, the descriptive terms that local people used to refer to them when they were first excavated. Tulúm, for instance, means “the fort.” Likewise, Chacmultún stands for “mounds made of red stone” and Labná for “abandoned house.” These examples illustrate that local people do not see these sites as places of transcendental value but as nodes of rubble on the ground. This also reminds us that the places called “ruins” are always the ruins of something. In naming a place after the something that has been destroyed, people in Yucatán and in northern Argentina bring to light that the concept of “ruins” is alien to sub­ altern sensibilities partly because it abstracts the multiplicity of places, forms, and textures that define actually existing nodes of rubble. The spatial abstraction projected onto rubble has a clear genealogy. Drawing on Marx’s (1977) emphasis that capitalism turns sensuous human labor into a commodity and therefore into abstract labor, Lefebvre (1991) argued that capitalism generates the same abstraction in space. Commoditization, he emphasized, reduces the sensory, multifaceted texture of places to quantifiable, homogeneous abstractions to be sold and bought: “abstract space.” “The ruin” is part of this abstraction of space, but one that is often ideologically erased in narratives that present it as priceless spatial quality, that is, as “heritage.” What the ruin-­as-­abstraction highlights is the object’s pastness. The vast literature on ruins has demonstrated that “the ruin” is a conceptual invention of modernity and of its efforts to present itself as a break from the past.2 David Lowenthal has shown that this created a historically novel sensibility: imagining the past as a foreign country that is unlike the present. “It is no longer the presence of the past that speaks to us, but its pastness” (Lowenthal 1985, xviii). The pastness of the past is crystallized in efforts to present ruins as objects separated from the present. And modernity’s concern with decay and, especially, with the attempt to overcome decay through transcendence turns ruins into fetishes that ought to be preserved and revered. This is also why since the late 1800s nation-­states have petrified their hegemonic views of the past in “ruins.” Ruins deemed valuable become places to be protected from the decay that constitutes them, but as part of a process that

Introduction | 9

in marking these objects as old highlights the modernity of the present. This gesture, as Nietzsche (1997) observed, is guided by an “antiquarian” attitude that “mummifies” the past. In the twenty-­first century, this mummification of ruins has reached planetary proportions. The heritage industry has turned countless ruins into tightly managed places where visitors pay to contemplate a relic that they are ordered to photograph but not to touch. These ruins are objects without afterlife: dead things from a dead past, whose value originates far in time. The best-­kept secret of the heritage industry is that its ruins are rubble that has been fetishized.3 As argued by Quetzil Castañeda in his analysis of the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico, what makes ruins “authentic inventions of modernity” is that they are “the copy of an original that never existed.” The rubble of the former Mayan city has been selectively and strategically reorganized and given new form and layout by archaeologists and Mayan workmen “according to their own imaginings of the past.” The resulting place, made up of reconstructed heaps of debris, is currently presented as “the transcendental sum total” of that place’s “past, present, and future histories,” enfolded into a timeless material presence. The ruins, Castañeda writes, “cannibalized the aura of their authentic originals by ‘standing’ in the unique place of the latter’s debris” (1996, 48–49). This means, I would add, that “the ruins of Chichén Itzá” were manufactured as an orderly, positive object because they sit on the disjointed, fragmented rubble of a destroyed city. This also means that the aura of the ruins draws from the rubble they cannibalized. The reifi­cation of the past in a bounded, fenced-­off place also hides that beyond the fenced perimeter lie constellations of rubble created by ongoing forms of disruption. The modernist preoccupation with ruins, in short, has included a long and sustained struggle against the uncoded negativity of rubble. A major source of discomfort has long been the fact that “rubble” signals, for elite dispositions, the disintegration of recognizable forms. The most famous representative of the romantic glamorization of ruins, Rose Macaulay, admits that “ruin lovers” dislike piles of rubble for having “no grace, no form.” Massive piles of rubble are for them “excessive,” confusing, “too much,” “only antiquity and immensity” (1984, 129). Georg Simmel, likewise, tried to conceptually separate ruins from rubble. He argued that in order to speak of a ruin, “the work of man” should not to have dissolved into “the formlessness of mere matter.” Otherwise, we are dealing with “a mere heap of stones” (1959, 261). The noted art historian Alois Riegl recognized that the distinction between ruins and

10 | Introduction

rubble is purely aesthetic, in the sense that ruins with recognizable forms are more “picturesque.” Yet he also defines rubble as an object lacking form, and with “no trace of [its] original creation” (1982, 32–33). At heart, these attempts to draw a line between ruins and rubble seek to create a hierarchy of debris, in which rubble is looked down upon as a lesser, inferior type of matter, as “material without significance” that is “destined to be removed,” as Helmut Puff put it (2010, 254). These are the modernist and class-­based dispositions that have informed multiple efforts to turn “formless” rubble into monumentalized ruins, as in Chichén Itzá. That the idea of “rubble” is unsettling is also clear in that scholars avoid using the term even when referring to debris that “lacks form” but is deemed historically significant, such as that of Babylon or Troy. Even though these cities have long been reduced to heaps of debris, scholars and officials present them as “ruins” because they are deemed objects of transcendental significance. “The ruin,” in short, is the attempt to conjure away the void of rubble and the resulting vertigo that it generates. This is also why the abstracting reifications about the past projected onto ruins are much more than purely rational articulations; they are, primarily, affective dispositions, integral to the way elite actors are disturbed by the negativity of broken objects. Rubble is never formless, for the simple reason that, as Levi Bryant has argued, no material object lacks form.4 A heap of rubble, after all, does have a particular shape. The most common form adopted by piles of rubble is the mound, the most distinguishable form of rubble worldwide and a regular presence during my fieldwork. For Simmel, most of the sites described in this book would qualify not as “ruins” but as “mere heaps of stone.” And that is precisely the truth of rubble: its power to unsettle glamorized views of ruins. But this book proposes to view all ruins (independently of their form) as rubble. This means that I do not aim to abandon the word ruin, but to see the objects thus called as rubble. I will thereby use the word ruin regularly in this book, but understood as the raw, disjointed nodes of ruptured multiplicity that is immanent to rubble. “Rubble,” in short, is for me a concept of both theoretical and political importance because it deglamorizes ruins by revealing the material sedimentation of destruction. The shift I propose from ruins to rubble is inspired by the work of two leading anthropologists who have been thinking hard, and ethnographically, about processes of ruination without reifying ruins. Anna Tsing’s (2005) work on friction introduced a new ethnographic sensibility to the study of the ruptured geographies produced by capitalist forms of global connectivity, which

Introduction | 11

promise dazzling spectacles only to generate material frictions that create rubble. In her words, “When the spectacle passes on, what is left is rubble and mud, the residues of success and failure” (2005, 74). Ann Stoler (2008; 2013), in turn, has proposed to shift our gaze away from ruins and toward processes of ruination, thereby highlighting the active forces of destruction that create the palimpsests of “imperial debris” that exist all over the world. I draw from these perspectives on friction and ruination to rethink the very nature of space by way of the destruction that creates it. I am interested, in particular, in exploring the spatial, political, and conceptual implications of the fact that, as Macaulay points out, “we live in an extremely ruinous world” (1984, xvii). This means conceiving of rubble as the lens through which to examine space negatively: by way of the places that were negated to create the geographies of the present. Rubble, however, is not simply a figure of negativity. Rubble exerts positive pressure on human practice and is constitutive of the spatiality of living places. But this is a presence defined by constellations that are more often than not disregarded in mainstream sensibilities. For this reason, their examination demands an ethnographic archaeology oriented toward identifying and interconnecting on the ground the traces of places that have been destroyed.

Constellations of Rubble: An Object-­Oriented Negativity The fieldwork this book is based on was a demanding, often unsettling, always surprising journey that took me to a wide array of places located in different geographies: from the rolling, forested hills closer to the Andes, where the mountains are a tangible presence to the west, to places in the Chaco hundreds of kilometers away, where I was immersed in a flat and still largely forested vastness, which around towns like Las Lajitas was being destroyed by agribusiness. Capturing such a complex, rugged geography and its nodes of rubble in writing poses multiple challenges. How to give a sense of what ruptured places look and feel like? Lefebvre would answer, making explicit his debt to phenomenology: through the body, because “it is by means of the body that space is perceived, lived, and produced” (1991, 162). We owe to Maurice Merleau-­ Ponty, in particular, the observation that it is through the body’s orientation that we perceive, live, and produce places, for “we cannot dissociate being from orientating being” (1962, 295). I seek to orient the reader based on my own experiences of orientation in order to provide a general “mapping” of

12 | Introduction

Map I.2. Southeast of the province of Salta. Map by Eric Leinberger.

this terrain before exploring it in more depth in the rest of the book. I cannot but begin by describing how this geography disoriented me when I arrived in southeast Salta for the first time. On my first day in the region, in May 2003, when the ruins I examine in this book were still an abstraction for me, I drove from the city of Salta, which is located in a valley in the mountains, south and downhill toward Metán, the largest city in southeast Salta (pop. 30,000). That was to be my first stop, for I knew that the overgrown rubble of the city of Esteco was somewhere in the vicinity: a frontier town that, according to the legend, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 (see part II). But before reaching Metán, I decided to drive around to get a feel for the geography that I was seeing for the first time.

Introduction | 13

At the crossroads where Route 16 branches east, I turned toward the Chaco. As I was leaving the mountains behind, the rolling hills sliding down toward the plains felt strangely disorienting. I was there looking for the rubble of places like Esteco, whose violent history I knew well, but all I saw were the positive places and objects of the present: cattle ranches, trucks, a gas station, rolling hills, farms, a patch of forest, more farms, more trucks. I was aware that the debris of older histories would be overgrown and out of sight. Yet the disorientation remained. Those places seemed devoid of any trace from other epochs. “Maybe not much is left,” I thought, feeling for a moment slightly insecure about my project, affected by the seemingly positive solidity and wholeness of the present. Space itself seemed to have been wiped clean of traces from the days of Esteco. This is, after all, what a historian wrote about Esteco’s materiality: “Nothing remains” (Frigerio 1987, 79). As it was getting dark, I turned around and headed to Metán. Those first moments in the region stood out for me for the way I was affected by the positivity of the forms of the terrain, irrespective of the fact that I knew I would not see any ruins that day. The places that affected me were the living, functional places that give shape to dominant social relations and that one captures visually, for instance, while driving on fast-­paced roads. These are also the forms that reveal that space is produced, as Lefebvre taught us, in a profoundly material sense. Yet these are also the forms that naturalize the present by erasing the destruction that created it as well as the constellations of debris that testify to that disruption. After all, I began my project inspired by Lefebvre’s observation in The Production of Space that “no space vanishes utterly, leaving no trace” (1991, 164), thereby assuming that the region still contained traces of places that had vanished, but not utterly. But that day, my estrangement from those traces was also the effect of seeing those places visually, and from the distance of a vehicle, as a landscape. Many of the thousands of people who drive on those roads every day, after all, also see that geography as a disembodied landscape and are unaware of the massive size and scope of the nodes of rubble I began discovering in the next few weeks. Adorno argued that the dominant common sense under capitalism tirelessly emphasizes the positivity of social and material reality, the value of things as they are, while simultaneously erasing what these things negated and destroyed in order to acquire their positive form. This is why Benjamin and Adorno valued ruins as nodes of negativity with the power to disturb this positivity crystallized in space. Ruins, certainly, have a positivity of their own, as this book shows. They exist, after all, as Robert Ginsberg (2004) and Jon

14 | Introduction

Figure I.3. “Nothing remains of Esteco.” The trees to the right shroud the western edge of the rubble of the lost city of Esteco (May 2003). Photo by author.

Beasley-­Murray (2011) rightly insist. But this is a distinct positivity because nodes of rubble are also traces of destruction and decay that, when they have not been tamed as “heritage,” dominant sensibilities usually seek to disregard. Rubble is easy to overlook and assume as inexistent if one is not paying enough attention. If one sticks to paved roads like Routes 16 and 5 in southeast Salta, like soy farmers do, it is easy to be misled by those seemingly positive landscapes seen from afar. My orientation during my fieldwork was guided by what Bruno Latour (2005) calls the tracing on the ground of the interconnections that, in this case, residents made between different places and objects and that I made through my own observations. And this became an object-­oriented analysis not unlike the one proposed by Latour and a growing number of authors who rightly argue that the materiality of objects is not reducible to what humans make of them.5 Yet unlike most of these authors, I focused on ruptured, fraught objects that denaturalize the present; I also examined the forms of fetishization through which these ruptures are disregarded and silenced. My orientation was thereby guided by an object-­oriented negativity, a concept I analyze at the beginning of part III: a sensibility that, inspired by Benjamin and Adorno, seeks to politicize object-­oriented approaches through an attentiveness to destruction, violence, and reification.

Introduction | 15

Figure I.4. The first, unexpected ruins of my fieldwork: the remains of an old tobacco farm near the rubble of Esteco. Overgrown tobacco dryers line up in the background. Photo by author.

After I settled down in Metán, I began asking around about Esteco, and it was soon apparent that the rubble, while overgrown and invisible from the roads, was still there. On that first day of disorientation, I was at one point only two hundred meters from “the lost city,” which looked from the road like an ordinary patch of forest surrounded by fields. The rubble of Esteco was, in fact, a major node in the constellations I explore in this book. But it was also there that I was confronted with the confusion of traces from different epochs. As I approached the forest of Esteco through an internal dirt road, eager to encounter the “first ruins” of my fieldwork, I came across the much more noticeable ruins of the buildings of a tobacco farm that had collapsed the previous decade. The abandoned and overgrown tobacco dryers were three stories high and the most visible node of rubble in the area. Former workers’ homes were also in ruins. The overgrown rubble of the city from the seventeenth century was a bit farther. Also nearby I discovered a monument that marked the site of a battle that took place in 1812, during the continental insurrections that brought down the Spanish empire in South America. In interacting with residents, I soon understood that their view of Esteco was inseparable from the more recent forces of social decay that had ruined the farm and their participation in the annual ceremonies of commemoration

16 | Introduction

carried out around the monument. Multiple historical forces had piled up different nodes of rubble in the same geography: from traces left by earthquakes and by different types of anti-­imperial insurrections to the debris of more recent processes of boom and bust. As I gradually moved east toward the Chaco, I encountered similar palimpsests emerging from deceivingly positive landscapes. The area between Metán and Chorroarín (see map I.2) is a transition zone between the mountains and the Chaco defined by rolling hills, a few ridges, forests, fields, and cattle farms. As I stopped in each town for a few days to get a first impression of the surrounding areas, I encountered the same confusion and entanglement of debris. In that area, the Jesuit legacy sedimented in the rubble of mission stations from the 1700s, like the church I visited with Alfredo, was an important component of local subjectivities. But how people related to this debris was affected by more recent forms of rubble. “The tower of Miraflores,” the most visible of the Jesuit ruins because of its height, was standing next to soy fields that hid the debris of destroyed forests. A place abandoned in the 1810s because of the insurrections against the Spanish stood next to the quasi-­invisible detritus of the forests razed by agribusiness. That was my first direct encounter with the soy fields that would become ubiquitous a hundred kilometers farther, around Las Lajitas. The debris produced by a prior wave of neoliberal disruption was also constitutive of this geography. When I visited the church of La Manga with Alfredo, he informed me that, eight kilometers away, a small town called Chorroarín had been obliterated in the early 1990s by the privatization of the state-­run Argentine Railroads. Passenger services were terminated, and many small towns whose lives revolved around the flow of trains were reduced to rubble. The ruins of railway stations, in fact, became ubiquitous everywhere I went. And, as I show in the next section, the rubble of Chorroarín was intimately entangled with that of the church of La Manga. In leaving those rolling hills behind and reaching the flat edge of the Chaco around the towns of Joaquín V. González and Las Lajitas, I was at last confronted with the most recent and ongoing wave of neoliberal destruction created by soy farming. This subregion of southeast Salta is known as “Anta” (after the large department of the same name), a name that to this day evokes a gaucho geography. Classic texts that celebrate the gauchos of Salta, like Juan Carlos Dávalos’s Los gauchos (1928), focus on the experience of the cowboys of Anta, who traditionally raised cattle on forested land, with little capital, and without recourse to feed lots or fences. By 2003, Anta had become the epicen-

Introduction | 17

Figure I.5. An area of midsized cattle farms between Chorroarín and Route 5, in the heart of gaucho country, where the rugged terrain keeps bulldozers at bay. Photo by author.

ter of the soy boom in the province of Salta.6 The Center-­Left national government of Néstor Kirchner would in the following years encourage soy exports to China and India to finance the economy out of a profound recession. For the agribusinesses eager to push the soy frontier north toward the Chaco (from the core soy-­producing region in the center of Argentina), those forests worked by gauchos were blank, abstract, and available space to be readily appropriated to plant a highly profitable commodity. The gaucho geographies of southeast Salta became what Chris Hedges has called “sacrifice zones”: geographies destroyed at the altar of profits and, in the case of Argentina, of the promise of a socially inclusive progress (see Hedges and Sacco 2012). By the time I began my fieldwork, Anta had become a land of dramatic contrasts. On the strip of land parallel to the mountains that enjoys greater humidity due to the proximity of the Andes, space was dominated by highly capitalized farms that use genetically modified seeds, sophisticated machinery, heavy amounts of agrichemicals, and few laborers. The corporate nature of soy farming contrasted sharply with the working-­class, gaucho outlook that had dominated the region until then and that had informed the experience of most residents I interacted with.

18 | Introduction

Figure I.6. Harvesting machines at work near Las Lajitas (2006). Photo by author.

In this geography immersed in rapid changes, I still managed to find rubble from older epochs, like the heavily overgrown mounds of a Spanish fort from the 1700s, sitting at the edge of the sea of soy fields near Las Lajitas. It was there that I began noticing the ghostly presence of Indians in criollo experiences of the regional geography. The haunting memory of the Chaco insurgencies was in fact ubiquitous in the region, as I show in chapter 1. In Anta, the presence of the Chaco toward the east is particularly unavoidable and constitutive of local orientations. If one drives east from Las Lajitas or south from Joaquín V. González, the strip of soy fields eventually ends and the dry, forested topography of the Chaco takes over. Amid these forests, residents took me to the sites where steamships from the nineteenth century had marooned and to some of the oldest nodes of rubble created by the failed Spanish attempts to conquer the Chaco in the 1500s. In Anta, however, the most famous and prominent node of rubble was El Piquete, a ghost town located on the forested hills west of Las Lajitas, one of the last bastions of gaucho practices in southeast Salta. In September the rubble attracts thousands of pilgrims. By then, I was learning that religious processions were central to the rhythms of the region. But the annual processions to the ruins of “Piquete de Anta” stood out because, as people said, the

Introduction | 19

Figure I.7. Man and son from Las Lajitas who came in pilgrimage to the rubble of Piquete de Anta (2006). The man is about to participate in a gaucho parade. Photo by author.

town “was destroyed by the railroads.” My visit to this place confronted me with the destructive forces unleashed as collateral damage by the construction of the modern infrastructure that followed the conquest of the Chaco. The irony was that the same railroads that destroyed El Piquete laid in ruins all over the region. These nodes of rubble were, in other words, also in dialogue with each other. To complicate things even more, the ruins of El Piquete were also entangled with the rubble of the lost city of Esteco, even though they are over a hundred kilometers apart by road, for they both evoke the cataclysmic earthquake of 1692, which is central to state mythology in Salta. In short, I arrived at the foot of the Argentine Andes looking for “ruins” and found something much more complex, perplexing, and politically and conceptually more revealing: a meshwork of nodes of rubble defined by a dizzying multiplicity of forms, sizes, origins, and significance. I arrived there looking for debris from a distant past, and residents taught me that those nodes of rubble, recent and old, were part of the affective and social configurations of the present. And the one process of destruction I initially intended to focus on, the conquest of the Chaco by the Spanish and Argentine militaries, opened up a multiplicity of destructions: from the liberating destruction

20 | Introduction

created by indigenous and gaucho insurgencies against the Spanish empire to the disruptions produced by more recent waves of modernity and progress. It was this array of entanglements that forced me to examine ruins as nodes that form constellations. Benjamin used the concept of “constellations” as a “thought image” that evokes a non-­causal connectivity defined by multiplicity, rupture, and fragmentation.7 “Constellations” also offered for him a new way of looking at history and its actualization in the present. This is apparent in his essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in which he outlined a view of history defined by interruption, debris, constellations, and catastrophe in opposition to the “homogeneous, empty time” embodied by the ideology of progress.8 In Nega­ tive Dialectic, Adorno drew from Benjamin to highlight the power of the concept of constellations, in particular, to counter the fetishization of objects. “The history locked in the object,” Adorno argued, “can only be unlocked by their constellation”: that is, by the “positional value of the object in its relation to other objects.” This is why, in his words, “Cognition of the object in its constellation is cognition of the process stored in the object” (Adorno 1973, 163–64). Constellations point to processes that are stored in objects but that are also outside of them: an outside that is multicentered and has a plastic, elusive form, for constellations have no clear boundaries and superimpose on each other, forming palimpsests. Doreen Massey (1994; 2005) was the first geographer to propose to conceive of places as outward-­looking nodes defined by their immersion in wider constellations. I propose to add disruption and debris to this perspective, to show that spatial constellations are made up not only of inhabited places but also of the nodes of rubble they are enmeshed with. And nodes of rubble are part of constellations because they are far from being dead matter.

The Afterlife of Rubble Benjamin wrote about the concept of “afterlife” in relation to works of art and texts that live on in their translations. He emphasized that “life” should not be limited to “organic corporeality” but to “everything that has a history of its own.” “In the final analysis,” he wrote, “the range of life must be determined by history rather than by nature” (1968, 71). This is why inanimate matter such as rubble can be considered to have an afterlife, or “a history of its own.” And this afterlife of rubble is, indeed, determined by history and the constellations

Introduction | 21

interwoven around it. The node of rubble that locals call the church of La Manga is a case in point. When I first visited the church with Alfredo, I assumed that the site had remained abandoned for at least two centuries, since the 1810s. The vegetation shrouding those walls seemed to exude an ancient, pristine temporality: the confirmation that what I saw as a “Jesuit ruin” had remained frozen in time, disconnected from the surrounding geographies. That was the mirage of “the ruin” as an abstraction: my own projection onto that place of the social death that the heritage industry associates with ruins as relics whose value is reducible to what happened there in a distant, long-­dead past, erasing whatever happened there since. My image of a place where history had stood still quickly evaporated when I learned from the people living on nearby ranches that the building had survived for so long not because it was abandoned but because ordinary people had used it as an improvised church, and therefore subjected it to occasional repairs, over several generations. On subsequent visits, I noticed those repairs in sections of the walls. I also learned why Alfredo had told me that “large parties” were organized there. Residents on the surrounding ranches remember that every year on 16 August, the day of Saint Roche, hundreds of men and women from surrounding ranches and from the town of Chorroarín converged on the church of La Manga for several days to venerate images of the Virgin Mary and Saint Roche housed inside since the days of the Jesuit missionaries. People carried the images in procession and celebrated with music, dancing, and drinking all night long. This festive atmosphere was largely possible because no priests were involved.9 Grassroots religious celebrations of this sort, organized from without the sphere of the Church, are still popular in rural areas and are characterized by wariness toward intrusions by los curas (the priests). Located on an outlying ranch, the church provided an ideal place to re-create events of this sort. The building was still partly in ruins and was abandoned most of the year.10 But it had been appropriated the way rubble is all over the world, put to use to new ends. Martin Heidegger (1975) argued that the defining quality of places is that they gather, attracting people, memories, and affects around them. This means that places are nodes rather than containers: points toward which relations and lines of movement converge and from which they move out to entangle other nodes (Ingold 2011). Nodes and the flows they generate are the constitutive elements of spatial constellations. The debris of the Jesuit mission

22 | Introduction

of San Juan Bautista de Balbuena became, indeed, a social node: the church of La Manga, a gathering place for the families working on nearby cattle ranches for generations.11 Old gauchos who live on ranches associate the ruins’ gravitational pull with the social rhythms created in the area by the railroads, a few kilometers to the east, and in particular by the train station of Chorroarín. Created in the 1920s by the traffic of trains, the station congregated a small town that became the main hub in the area. The demand for firewood and hardwoods loaded at the station encouraged the expansion of logging camps in surrounding areas, including La Manga. As part of this geography, a village congregated next to the church until the 1970s. An overgrown cemetery and the ruins of an old school, a hundred meters away, are now the main traces of that place. Bryant has proposed the term “bright objects” to refer to those objects that attract because of the way they relate to other objects. These objects become “a hub or key node in a network, exercising gravity that influences and defines the paths of most other objects in its vicinity.”12 He calls those objects with a relatively weak pull “dim objects,” and those with little capacity to exercise gravity over others “dark objects.” The brightness of an object, he notes, does not emanate from the object itself, but is the result of the networks it is part of; it thereby may be resilient, temporary, or fleeting, depending on conjunctural circumstances. Among human bodies, the gravitational pull of objects is their affective intensity: their capacity to affect. Spinoza (1982) argued that affects are the capacity of being affected by other objects and the capacity to affect other objects: the pre-­discursive relations through which bodies are always already made outwardly in relation to the world.13 How clusters of rubble affect humans, and how bright their gravitational pull is, is mediated by socially constituted sensibilities that are not just cultural but what Bourdieu (1977) called habitual: that is, they involve a bodily, not fully conscious disposition to be affected in particular ways. Among the gauchos living around the church of La Manga, this was a disposition to be affected by traces from the Jesuit past and to create around them religious encounters of a festive nature. The relative brightness and affective power of the church surfaced in the spatial reach of its gravitational pull, gathering people from places located dozens of kilometers away. But this pull eventually receded and became relatively dim; that is, noticed and made meaningful by those living in the immediate vicinity, but not much farther. The logging camps around the church of La Manga were dismantled in the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, the man who

Introduction | 23

looked after the images of Saint Roche and the virgins near the church died, and the celebrations soon came to an end, as did the affective pull toward that place. Its brightness receded, and the church and the village next to it were rapidly overgrown. Today, the place is known only among those living in the surrounding area. And the rubble of the church is locally inseparable from the rubble of the town of Chorroarín, abandoned shortly thereafter because of the privatization of the railroads. In the nearest town, Joaquín V. González, most people have never heard of the church of La Manga, even though the local (and small) museum keeps a few photos and objects from the place. Some officials are aware of its existence and have begun declaring in public that “the Jesuit ruins” of the region —  that also include the more prominent and visible tower of Miraflores —  demonstrate the potential of southeast Salta as a tourist attraction. These ruins, however, are off the beaten track and difficult to reach. While the gauchos living on surrounding ranches remember the celebrations at the church with nostalgia, most of them currently see the building simply as an abandoned object: as rubble. Yet they have an affective appreciation for this place that does not depend on its reification. If officials ever turn this place into a “Jesuit ruin” open to the public, its afterlife as a place of festive religious encounters will most likely be relegated to oblivion.

Ethnography at the Edge of the Void My preliminary trip of 2003 led to a four-­year research project in the region involving a total of fourteen months of fieldwork, which I completed in August 2007. In the area of hills closer to the Andes, my main bases were the towns of Metán, Río de las Piedras, and El Galpón. In the lowlands of Anta, I was based in Joaquín V. González and Las Lajitas. With the mobility granted by small rental cars, I spent most of my time in the rural areas around these towns, often on fincas (cattle ranches) owned by absentee landowners and tended by gauchos like Alfredo. While the core of the research took place in the transition zone of rolling hills separating the mountains from the Chaco, I also did fieldwork deeper in the Chaco, on the Bermejo River’s old course around Rivadavia (the site of stories about steamships stranded in the forest and huge mass graves) and in the north of Santiago del Estero (the site of the ruins of a Jesuit mission and of the most important pilgrimage destination among criollos in Anta). I also traveled twice to the mountains that were a regular presence to the west on the eastern edge of the province of Jujuy,

24 | Introduction

for those ridges had been used by Spanish troops to scan the Chaco below. Finally, I also did fieldwork in the lowlands of Jujuy, which in the 1700s was part of the western Chaco frontier. There, I analyzed the rubble of a fort with a distinct afterlife that I examine in chapter 10. This fieldwork experience was, needless to say, challenging and very different from the localized ethnography I had conducted in previous years in the heart of the Chaco in Toba villages on the marshlands formed by the Pilcomayo River, over three hundred kilometers away (Gordillo 2004). There, my field site was formed by a network of villages located relatively close to each other, where I created long-­term friendships and relations. In southeast Salta, in contrast, “the field” comprised an entirely different and more diverse geography, certainly much vaster and more difficult to apprehend. Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson argue that overcoming bounded notions of the field demands “a form of motivated and stylized dislocation,” in which “a shifting” of locations is fundamental “for the discovery of phenomena that would otherwise remain invisible” (1997, 36–37, emphasis added). Indeed, it was only through my own sense of dislocation among multiple places that I was able to apprehend the layout of the constellations of rubble described in this book, and that have long remained invisible to urban eyes. And this takes me to a few final methodological observations. Exploring constellations of rubble in a multiplicity of places demanded much more than multi-­sited fieldwork. It required an equally constellational approach to ethnography that forced me to submit the very notion of “the field” to a process of disintegration. A localized, more traditional ethnography in each of these places would certainly have provided a local depth that a constellational approach cannot. But the questions about multiplicity that guided my ethnography aimed for depth of a different nature, one that will be clear by the end of this book and that I would have missed had I done fieldwork at only two or three places. Among the many illuminating moments I experienced during this journey, one thing stands out, methodologically, for me: the fact that I was forced to think about rubble not only in the context of shifting spatial dislocations, but also when the materiality of ruins was damaged and I was confronted with a void felt “in the guts.” Gilles Deleuze (1994) asks, contra Descartes: What does it mean to think? Are we thinking when we say “this is a table”? No, he responds, we only think when we are forced to think against our common sense. In my case, I was forced to think against the assumptions about ruins and decay that dominate the present in those moments of felt rupture: with Alfredo at the church of La Manga, with a much more massive

Introduction | 25

Figure I.8. Unidentified ruin a few kilometers from Quebrachal—an illustra­tion of the uncountable excess of rubble. Photo by author.

destruction of rubble I analyze in chapter 4, and especially when I witnessed the destruction of space created by the expansion of agribusiness. The concepts of constellations and rubble have a close affinity with each other because both are defined by pure multiplicity: a multiplicity that defies representation. This is why, as Shaylih Muehlmann (2012) argues in relation to rhizomes, constellations of rubble are “uncountable.” This means, needless to say, that I encountered in this region more nodes of rubble than I could have ever grasped or made sense of. Although both Alain Badiou and Deleuze are important presences in this book because they are the most influential continental philosophers on multiplicity, what sets Badiou apart from Deleuze is his more explicit engagement with negativity. Badiou (2005) argues, in this regard, that the nonrepresentational nature of the pure multiplicity of being can only be approached through the figure of “the void.” I seek to show that the pure multiplicity of rubble is the void that haunts modernity.

In this ethnography I regularly delve into history in order to illustrate the processes through which particular places were reduced to rubble. But I also draw on the texture of these places, their destruction, and their genera-

26 | Introduction

tive appropriation to reflect on several interrelated conceptual themes. This is why three of the four parts in this book are preceded by more theoretical intermezzos in which I examine in more detail conceptual problems central to my analysis: the destruction of space as central to understanding the production of space (The Destruction of Space); a spatialized, object-­oriented rethinking of the dialectic (Treks across Fields of Rubble); and a discussion of the ways in which a critical understanding of negativity can learn from the affirmative philosophies of Spinoza and Deleuze, and vice versa, in order to examine becoming through rupture, in particular to analyze the debris of violence (Bright Objects). In part I, I present the main actors in my narrative, the rural poor of southeast Salta. I begin by analyzing how most criollos engage with the rubble that dots the region through a sensibility shaped by their gaucho habits, their embrace of popular Catholicism, and a haunting presence: the absence of the Indians who those places now in ruins had been built to contain. This haunting is inseparable from people’s perceptions that Indians are their savage ancestors (chapter 1). I subsequently examine the historical emergence of the Chaco as an insurgent vortex that destroyed several Spanish cities and made their rubble invisible for several centuries. I tell the history of the conquest of the Chaco through the lens of the recurring anxieties, among Spanish and Argentine officials, about the vanishing of traces of the state. The ghosts of Indians who currently haunt the region are the phantom evocations of the forces that once reduced sites of state power to rubble (chapter 2). In part II, I examine the contemporary afterlife of the places destroyed by those insurgencies, the two cities of Esteco. I focus, in particular, on the rubble of the second city of Esteco, north of Metán, whose collapse in 1692 was so traumatic that to this day the ruins are considered to be cursed and prompt massive ceremonies of conjuring in surrounding towns. Yet I also draw a counterpoint between these ruins and those of the first, and forgotten, city of Esteco, located farther east in the Chaco, which reveals some of the cultural legacies of the spatial ruptures generated by conquest (chapter 3). The rubble of the cursed lost city at the foot of the Andes is also notable because of an event that took place there in 2005, which made apparent the ways in which subaltern views of rubble challenge the elite fetishization of ruins (chapter 4). In part III, I examine some ruins of the project of progress created in the Chaco once it was conquered by the Argentine state. These ruins constitute the rubble of the promises of prosperity that the Argentine elites claimed

Introduction | 27

would pour into the region, today actualized in the promises articulated by the agribusinesses that are destroying the gaucho geographies of Anta. Drawing on Benjamin’s view of progress as a destructive process that is presented as a “dream world,” I take up the contemporary afterlife of distinctly capitalist and modernist forms of expansion and ruination. This discussion includes, first, a journey to the dry riverbed of the Bermejo River, in the interior of the Chaco, where I examine the detritus of steamships that in the nineteenth century were defeated by the ruggedness and plasticity of the terrain (chapter 5). I then analyze the rubble of the town of El Piquete, the former “capital of Anta,” and the processions that repetitively and briefly bring it back to life (chapter 6). I conclude part III with an exploration of the derelict railroads created in the 1990s by neoliberal structural adjustment, which only a few decades earlier epitomized the mobility and the democratizing connectivity of industrial modernity (chapter 7). In part IV, I analyze the material detritus of the centuries of violence required to turn the Chaco into state territory. These traces have generated multiple attempts by officials and the Catholic Church to relegate the memory of state violence to oblivion (chapter 8). The constellations formed by the debris of violence in rural areas nonetheless elude affective capture by the state, as I show next. In particular, I look at how the very form of the human bones and mass graves that dot the region have long made rural residents aware of the extent of the violence unleashed by the conquest of the Chaco (chapter 9). I then focus on a qualitatively different debris of violence: first, the people of Wichí background who, fleeing violence elsewhere, arrived in three towns in southeast Salta in waves throughout the 1900s; second, the performative ways in which some criollos seek to come to terms with, and pay homage to, the fact that they descend from Indians. I end the narrative of the book by analyzing the appropriation of a trace of state terror that immerses it in a festive expression of indigeneity (chapter 10). Rubble draws from multiple conceptual traditions but, in the last instance, its core argument is inspired by Benjamin’s and Adorno’s efforts to open paths to negate the destructiveness of the present. No book that claims to be heir to Benjamin can overlook the fact that he was interested in arcades, fetishes, ruins, destruction, afterlife, violence, and phantasmagorias to contribute to a collective awakening from the nightmare of the bourgeois dream world. This book therefore examines rubble from multiple dimensions, “but not for the sake of rubble,” to paraphrase Benjamin (1978, 303). In the conclusion I

28 | Introduction

open up the constellations of rubble examined in the book to draw parallels with constellations of rubble elsewhere in the world in order to reflect, among other themes, on the intimate connections between rubble and insurrections, especially as they relate to attempts by the rural poor on the western edge of the Chaco to interrupt the march of the bulldozers. After all, as Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (2012) put it, these are days of destruction, but they are also days of revolt.

Part One  |  Ghosts of Indians As long as a man is affected by the image of a thing, he will regard the thing as present even though it may not exist.—Baruch Spinoza, Ethics

Absence can exert a positive causal influence. — Slavoj Z˘ iz˘ek, Organs without Bodies

One  |  A Haunted Frontier


he area at the foot of the Andes around Metán is currently known in the province of Salta as la frontera (the frontier). As a Jesuit missionary put it in 1746, this region was called the frontier because it was “infested by Indians toward the east” (cited in Furlong 1939, 21). In South America, the Spanish turned the mountains, high plateaus, and valleys of the Andes into state territory, yet, like the Incas prior to them, they faced clear limits in seeking to control the tropical lowlands extending east. Along the western edge of the Chaco, officials and missionaries experienced this territorial dissolution as an “infestation” created by uncontrollable swarms of Indians that voided the spatial reach of imperial power. The Argentine army may have brought this frontier to an end in the late 1800s when it submitted the interior of the Chaco to state control, but the legacy of that past voiding of space by Indians at the foot of the Andes has far from dissipated; it lingers in the present, for starters, in the resilience of the region’s name. Despite its social diversity, the region that stretches between Metán and Joaquín V. González shares a structure of feeling constituted by an often subtle yet recurring haunting. Strictly speaking, a haunting is distinct from memory, for it is not reducible to narratives articulated linguistically; it is, rather, an affect created by an absence that exerts a hard-­to-­articulate, nondiscursive, yet positive pressure on the body, thereby turning such absence into a physical presence that is felt and that thereby affects. Most places are haunted by absences in one way or another and with different levels of intensity, as the

32 | c h a p t e r o n e

power of the absence of the World Trade Center in New York City reveals. The haunting that defines la frontera is that this is a region without Indians that nevertheless is not indifferent to their absence, and that has not fully broken away from this absence because of a twofold, ongoing presence: the material debris of the places that once defined the frontier and the “indigenous blood” of its population. Robert Ginsberg (2004) argues that ruins should be examined as expressions of positivity, fullness, resilience, and life, rather than as sites of rupture, absence, loss, and negativity. Seeking to criticize the mainstream view of ruins as dead objects, he demonstrates that ruins have an active presence that shapes the configuration of the present. Yet positivity and negativity, contra what Ginsberg indicates, are not the poles of a dichotomy, but different moments in the deployment of relations of force. The positive afterlife of ruins, in this regard, is inseparable from the absences that pervade them. This is why, as Ginsberg admits in a line that articulates the productive force of negativity, “perhaps the most pervasive incongruity in the ruin is the strange absence that occurs amid presence, for what is not there may cast an uncanny reflection on what is there” (2004, 60). In southeast Salta, the strange absence that hovers around the presence of nodes of rubble in the region is that many of them — the city of Esteco, the church, the tower, the forts — were once built to combat a political force that no longer exists: los indios, the Indians of the Chaco, the reason that the region is still called the frontier. And as Slavoj Žižek put it, “absence can exert a positive causal influence” (2004, 31). This chapter introduces the main protagonists of this book, the rural poor of southeast Salta, through an examination of how this absence shapes their subjectivity and their bodily disposition to be affected by some nodes of rubble in distinct ways.

The Indians Within Most of the people I interacted with in rural areas self-­identify as criollos, a term that has a long, multifaceted history in Latin America. Initially used to refer to people of Iberian background born in the Americas, criollo subsequently acquired contrasting meanings in different parts of the continent. Whereas in Mexico it came to symbolize elite status and whiteness, elsewhere on the continent criollo signified cultural and racial mixture (mestizaje) and “someone who was local in birth and allegiance” (Stewart 2007, 8). The latter meaning prevailed in Argentina, where criollo has been used to refer to people

A Haunted Frontier  |  33

and habits characteristic of the nation and, in particular, to subaltern rural populations of mestizo background (Chamosa 2008). Argentina has historically stood out in Latin America for its efforts to pre­ sent itself as a white, Europeanized nation. This means that even the existence of widespread mestizaje has been officially downplayed and silenced. In Salta, the fact that criollo evokes indigenous ancestry has meant that the regional elites have long tried to minimize, and therefore exorcise, the Indian ghost that haunts criollo bodies.1 This gesture was embodied by criollismo. Created at the turn of the twentieth century by conservative authors and officials, this was an intellectual and political movement that longed for a nation anchored in “the land” and “the traditions” best represented by the gauchos, “the most original and authentic product of our land” (Leguizamón 1935, 12).2 But criollismo was also a project of whitening that celebrated the gauchos of “the Salta frontier” as mestizos whose indigenous background was dismissed as “minuscule,” an expression that “the invading race prevailed over the invaded race” (Dávalos 1928, 17–18; see Chamosa 2008, 102).3 The emphasis that their Hispanic heritage had “prevailed” also meant that criollos were presented in dualistic opposition to the Indians of the Chaco.4 In Salta, this conjuring away of the Indian ghost lurking within criollo bodies has long informed official ceremonies, commemorations, and school curricula. Ordinary criollo people partly subvert this elite gesture by regularly evoking the ongoing presence of Indians within their own criollo bodies. In Las Lajitas, for instance, I asked an eighty-­two-­year-­old criollo man, Jesús, whether there were any indigenous people living in town. “I have indigenous blood,” he responded casually, implying that he counted himself as partly indigenous. His son Antonio was with us and added, “Almost all of us criollos from around here are mestizos.” I encountered many such statements throughout the region, where my questions about indigenous people prompted criollos to respond that they themselves descended from Indians and that being criollo is synonymous with being “mestizo” and having “indigenous blood.”5 Because of this racialization, middle-­class people and public-­sector employees who live in towns distance themselves from the category criollo, which for them also evokes rural poverty and backwardness. Yet among rural criollo residents, gestures toward indigeneity are not free from friction, for they have partly internalized official commemorations and often imagine the Indians of the past as violent, inscrutable savages. The term criollo is thereby permeated by slippage and deferral in relation to the indigenous past it evokes and also conjures away.

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Figure 1.1. Gaucho on parade in Joaquín V. González (August 2007). Photo by author.

This oscillation shapes the way criollo people are affected by rubble associated with Indians. El Fuerte (the Fort) is a gaucho village in the Santa Bárbara mountain range, which while located in the province of Jujuy was historically settled by gauchos from Salta and provides grand views of the Chaco (see map 9.1, page 210). The hamlet is named after the nearby ruins of a fort strongly associated with the memory of Indians and of the violence that exterminated them. On my second visit in 2004, Faustino, a man in his late forties, welcomed me into his house after several neighbors indicated that he knew details of the fort’s history. His wife and two friends were with us, and we began talking about the Indians who fought the Spanish over those ridges. I asked what had happened to them. Faustino replied, “They were all defeated.” “They’ve killed them all,” added his wife. “That’s right,” he said. “They have pushed them away so that all the Indians disappeared. Of them, it’s us who remain here [De ellos hemos quedado nosotros acá].” They all laughed, and I did too. Their comments included the same type of affective oscillation that I noticed elsewhere. They first conjured the Indians away, linking their absence and “disappearance” to their violent extermination, but shortly thereafter called the Indians back in to suggest their ongoing

A Haunted Frontier  |  35

presence within their own criollo bodies. Conversations about absent Indians, in this regard, often led criollos to declare that those Indians were not totally absent because in fact they themselves descended from them.6 Such mestizo positioning has a double phantom resonance because it suggests that criollos embody the ghost of the Indians, who are gone but not quite. The laughter of my interlocutors at El Fuerte, I felt, expressed their complicity with that truth, as well as their slight discomfort at being confronted with it. The literature on mestizaje in Latin America has shown that, contrary to mainstream understandings, mestizos and Indians do not necessarily form a binary in which the two terms exclude each other.7 Yet François Laplantine and Alexis Nouss (2007) argue that this does not mean that mestizaje should be seen as hybridity: that is, a process in which distinct elements have dissolved to create an undifferentiated fusion. Mestizaje, rather, marks for these authors an elliptic movement of tension, vibration, and oscillation that incorporates what it negates and creates an unresolved multiplicity, what Deleuze and Guattari (1983) call “disjunctive synthesis”: a crossing without fusion. The criollos’ mestizaje, likewise, is not a fusion of European and indigenous traits that have lost their distinctive elements; rather, it is an oscillating bodily node that engages with Indians through a movement of repulsion and attraction (see Nelson 1999). What is the affective nature of Indians’ ghostly presence in the regional space and in criollo bodily sensibilities, several generations after the conquest of the Chaco? What is, in the first place, “an Indian”? Axel Lazzari (2010) rightly argues that the answer to this question cannot but begin with Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s classic point that indio is a structural category of an imperial situation meaning “not like us.” Lazzari makes a further, crucial point: the Indian as the not-­like-­us is always “a phantom and fetish, the fleeting materialized counter-­figure of the State of Civilization; its doubly double; radical alterity and its construction” (2010, 23). This “doubly double” reification becomes even more fleeting in southeast Salta, where los indios are phantoms in a twofold sense: first, as archetypical counter-­figures that are made even more ghostly by their absence, often asserted through comments that Indians still exist but always elsewhere (an elsewhere that usually points east, toward the heart of the Chaco); and second, as phantoms because of the haunting created by the debris they left behind and by the criollos’ perceptions that Indians are their savage ancestors. I initially debated using a racist term so loaded with imperial hubris as “Indians” to name what was, in the Chaco, a collective refusal to abide by state domination. But as Benjamin and Michael Taussig

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(1987; 1992) have argued, critically dissolving the fetish requires first revealing and appreciating its hallucinatory power. This is the hallucinatory power that I seek to retain in using the term-­fetish “Indians” in this book, as the term that names the haunting, fetishized, mythical entities that affect criollos from the distance of faraway times and places, but also from within their own bodies. Criollo mestizaje is this haunting: the perception that Indians have an ongoing presence among them. In Ghostly Matters Avery Gordon wrote, “If haunting describes how that which appears to be not there is often a seething presence, acting on and often meddling with taken-­for-­granted realities, the ghost is just the sign, or the empirical evidence if you like, that tells you a haunting is taking place. The ghost is not simply a dead or missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (2007, 8). The phantom Indian is, likewise, a social figure that is key to understanding the historical nature of subaltern subjectivities and spatial perceptions in southeast Salta, particularly in relation to rubble from the days when the region was the frontier.

The Strange Absence amid Presence Jacques Derrida argued that the ghost is the permanent return of the absent and that this return is spatially pervasive, for the ghost is potentially everywhere and “comes from everywhere,” proliferating in “a mob of specters to which one can no longer even assign a point of view: they invade all of space” (1994, 168). In southeast Salta, this haunting by the legacy of Indians does invade potentially all places. In rural areas, for instance, people often answered my questions about the Indians of the past by referring to the persistence of their material traces: objects made by Indians that occasionally surface around homes, in the forest, or around streams: arrowheads or pieces of ceramic exposed at eroded riverbanks or when digging a hole in the ground. That the terrain is potentially everywhere saturated with the debris left behind by Indians reminds criollos that their vanishing has been not complete, for it has left myriad traces of their past presence. This debris, in turn, makes apparent the extent of the Indians’ absence. This absence is even more pervasive with the rubble of the places respon­ sible for the disappearance of Indians. The rubble of the city of Esteco, the forts, the Jesuit stations, and the mounds that mark mass graves evoke among residents the violence and labor exploitation once unleashed on Indians as well as the wealth that resulted from this violence. This entanglement between

A Haunted Frontier  |  37

residues of violence and wealth is the topic of several chapters. It also surfaces in current evocations of the one spatial configuration that wove Esteco, the forts, and the Jesuit stations together: “the royal road” (el camino real) that once followed the course of the Salado River along the Chaco frontier. People of all ages and class backgrounds told me about this road and made a point in saying that in the 1900s the railroads as well as Route 16 were built following the contours of this ancient trail, as if the royal road persisted in dictating the spatial layout of contemporary flows of traffic. The wagons that carried riches on the royal road are assumed to have left a detritus of treasures, called tapados, buried in multiple places.8 The region is to this day haunted by the phantom presence of this elusive debris of the frontier. In rural areas, talk about tapados is ubiquitous and hovers over most ruins. Many people I met for the first time, therefore, assumed that I was interested in rubble because I was a treasure hunter going after the tapados buried underneath. The idea that someone coming from afar could be interested in rubble for reasons other than finding riches struck them as bizarre. In many of my initial conversations with locals about the “old walls” or “piles of bricks” that existed in the area, I was promptly asked, “Where’s your metal detector?” When I said I was not looking for treasures, some seemed perplexed, for the assumption is that one is drawn to ruins because of the past wealth of the Salta frontier. To be perceived as treasure hunters has also been the fate of the historical archaeologists who work at some sites in the region. Near the ruins of the first city of Esteco, at the village of El Vencido, many residents remain convinced that the archaeologists who visit the site every winter are there because of the presence of tapados underneath the rubble of the lost city.9 The tapados are charged with the negativity that created their riches through enslavement and violence in centuries past; they are therefore haunted, and protected by jealous guardian spirits described as ghosts or devils (diablos). This is why many residents argue that it is pointless to look for tapados with metal detectors. You can only find a tapado, they say, if the guardian spirit grants you access to it, usually by marking the location with a mysterious light. But even those who find tapados this way confront a cursed wealth. The gold coins of tapados, I was told many times, emanate poisonous, deadly vapors. This has not stopped countless treasure hunters from combing nodes of rubble looking for this elusive wealth, revealing that ongoing magnetism of the debris from the days when the region was a violent frontier. The magnetic power of rubble to attract the living is often generated by more mundane interests and appropriations. All over the world, ruins are

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Figure 1.2. “Making use of the useless ruin.” Charcoal oven made from the bricks of the ruins of a Franciscan mission station, north of La Unión. Photo by author.

sources of construction materials, for they usually become matter that is abandoned, has no owner, and is part of the commons. In southeast Salta, likewise, locals promptly appropriate and further erode the materiality of rubble to create new, functional buildings or objects, confirming that in their eyes “life goes on, making use of the useless ruin” (Ginsberg 2004, 185).10 I encountered many examples of this material becoming of ruins, which makes apparent how the rural poor see ruins simply as rubble. The most notable case was the rubble of La Purísima, a Franciscan mission on the old course of the Bermejo River that was abandoned in the 1870s (and that is today located in an outlying, hard-­to-­reach forested area twenty-five kilometers from La Unión, west of Rivadavia). When I visited the site in 2006, the mission’s church had been reduced to a quadrangular perimeter formed by stumps surrounded by piles of bricks. Locals had reassembled the materiality of the ruins nearby; they had used thousands of bricks from the former church to make several charcoal ovens two hundred meters away. Hegel (2010) used the term Aufhebung, or sublation, to name the process through which something that is dialectically negated and destroyed is preserved in a new form. Likewise,

A Haunted Frontier  |  39

the materiality of the ruins of La Purísima had been preserved through their destruction as ruins and their transformation into something useful: ovens. This is the type of casual dismemberment of rubble that tends to cause horror among “ruin lovers” and archaeologists. The rubble of La Purísima, despite its reduced size, continues being a bright object in the constellations of debris that evoke the violence of the region (see chapter 9). The haunting that is constitutive of local engagements with ruins will surface again and again throughout this book. But it was at the ruins of a Spanish fort that I first learned how this felt absence can acquire the form of actual phantoms of Indians. In the second half of the 1700s, San Fernando del Río del Valle was the most important fort on the frontier, and the departing point of several major Spanish expeditions to the Chaco. Today, its overgrown rubble is nine kilometers west of the epicenter of the soy boom: Las Lajitas. Most people in town, particularly the youth, have never heard of this fort and ignore that its remains are nearby, in an area of creeks whose uneven topography has kept the bulldozers away. But locals with links to old cattle ranches know that the ruins are on the Del Valle River. In July 2003, I met Armando after several people in town told me that the fort was on his midsize cattle ranch. An affable, talkative man in his late fifties, Armando lived humbly in a small, decrepit house in Las Lajitas. While his property was semi-­abandoned and he went there only occasionally, he immediately agreed to take me there. A local man named Martín, curious to see the ruins, came with us on Armando’s old pickup truck. While we were heading to the ranch, Armando commented that he had turned down several offers from soy farmers to sell off his land. He had nothing but contempt for them. “They are insatiable,” he said. After arriving at the ranch, finding the rubble of the fort required a forty-­ minute trek amid forests. Armando led the way, swinging his machete back and forth, following a trail that had largely faded away. The overgrown fort gradually emerged amid the trees and shrubs. It comprised multiple, steep mounds (two meters high) that marked the perimeter of a formerly walled quadrangle of about half a hectare (an acre). Overgrown piles of large bricks revealed the former shapes of internal buildings. While we walked around the rubble, Armando talked about the Indians who had attacked the fort from the Chaco, often gesturing toward the east. He mentioned that a long pole with carved steps used to lie on the ground. It was the lookout that soldiers had used to see whether la indiada (the Indian mob) was coming. He also

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said that the soldiers hanged Indians from there. The pole was nowhere to be seen. As we walked around, Martín kept repeating that a treasure was surely buried underground. “Something must be buried here,” he muttered several times. I asked Armando whether the place “frightens” (asusta), using the local expression to name a haunted place. He said that while he never felt anything unusual, some people do believe that the rubble is haunted. He mentioned an example that piqued my curiosity: the case of an old gaucho named Gregorio who does believe that the fort “frightens” because the “the soul of an Indian” once “flogged him” there many years earlier. Back in Las Lajitas, I asked Armando to take me to Gregorio’s home. When we arrived, Gregorio was standing on the sidewalk next to his horse. In his seventies, he was an archetypical gaucho from Anta, of those that many in Las Lajitas see as a dying species. After chatting for a few minutes, I mentioned that we had just been at the fort and asked him about his encounter with “the ghost of the Indian.” He nodded casually, as if I had asked a totally ordinary question. He said that the ghost appeared because he found human bones carved out by flooding on the banks of the river, a few meters away from the rubble of the fort. On seeing the partly unearthed bones, he decided to rebury them farther from the river. But he suspected, he said, that the soul “of the Mataco” was probably still around.11 He then reenacted what he had said to the bones: “I’m reburying you. Don’t screw with me.” “But that son of a bitch punished me!” Gregorio said. A few weeks later, he was riding his horse near the ruins, sharing the saddle with his two children, when “all of a sudden I feel several azotes [floggings].” His kids got scared, but he told them everything was okay. “But I was beaten with three big floggings. I said to myself that maybe it was that Mataco shithead. That Mataco must have been big!” I asked him how he knew he was a Mataco. “They say they buried them over there.” In southeast Salta, spatially grounded forms of haunting are articulated linguistically with the expression ese lugar asusta (“that place frightens”). For Gregorio, Fort San Fernando is one such place that “frightens.”12 This phrasing presents a particular place as having an agentive, negative, generative force that emerges from within its materiality. Not all places that frighten are ruins, and not all ruins are perceived to frighten. And the perception that a place is haunted does not prevent locals from visiting it during the day and for a few hours. But it does indicate that those places generate apprehension: a culturally mediated disposition to be affected by them in a particular way. Gregorio’s account of his experience with “the ghost of the Mataco” at the fort

A Haunted Frontier  |  41

and the way Armando first referred to the mobs of Indians attacking the frontier from the Chaco are revealing of the different forms of haunting shaping local perceptions of rubble. It is worth noting that Gregorio took for granted that the human bones that he found near the rubble belonged to an Indian, thereby actualizing that the fort was once a node of violence devoted to fighting the indigenous insurgencies of the Chaco. He also implied that he was affected by the bones’ presence and that his first reaction was to move them to a more sheltered place, gesturing to the communicative practice that criollos often create with bones and their spirits.13 But his physical contact with the bones also generated apprehension, which led him to try to deflect the bones’ negativity by warning “the soul” of his good intentions. This contact affected him as a haunting in which the Indian became a hostile presence armed with an instrument of labor discipline, the whip, which Gregorio assured me he and his children had felt. As if Indians were sporadically still fighting back, albeit as a virtual presence that was real because it was felt in the body. This haunting had a spatial orientation: the Chaco that Armando pointed toward when he evoked the Indians that raided the fort. To paraphrase Spinoza (1982, 115), indigenous insurgencies may no longer exist but are still felt as present because locals are still affected by them, and by the rubble of the places once built to fight them. Bruno Latour (2005) would explain the power of ruins to shape human action as resulting from their agency as objects or, in his words, as actants. But how ruins affect action is not created by their material presence as objects alone; it is also a function of how particular bodies are affected by them. And how this happens is, in turn, the product of bodies with a particular habitual disposition that is historically constituted. While the absence of Indians is not necessarily grounded in ruins, it is in ruins that it tends to adopt a greater ambient thickness, for these are places in which absence and incompleteness acquire tangible forms and textures. As Tim Edensor (2005a) and Yael Navaro-­Yashin (2009; 2012) have argued, ruins generate affective, nondiscursive forms of evocation that in the most diverse social settings are usually felt and interpreted through the most universal figure of a haunting: spirits. In southeast Salta, the haunting of the frontier turns the spirits of Indians into a virtual presence that, as Deleuze would put it, “possesses a full reality,” for the virtual “is not opposed to the real but to the actual” (1994, 208, 211). It is in this sense that the ghosts of Indians are for many criollo residents, to this day, “fully real.”

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The Cry of the Gaucho: Criollo Geographies in the Path of Bulldozers The gauchos and their cattle-­raising practices are haunted by the legacy of the Chaco frontier in a more structural, historical sense, for they replaced Indians in the name of civilization only to become the victims of a new wave of destruction in the name of soy. The gauchos have consequently come to occupy the same semantic field once occupied by Indians: as disposable obstacles to progress. Gauchos are, in other words, haunted by the fate of the Indians: that is, by the fact that in the future they may disappear from the geography and become phantoms as well. While not all the people who identify as criollos are cowboys who raise cattle, el gaucho embodies the idea that southeast Salta has historically been a criollo geography. And because agribusinesses have created a strip of soy fields parallel to the mountains, the areas where gaucho practices and habits still regulate rural spaces have been pushed west and east of that strip: respectively, on the rolling hills that eventually meet the mountains and in the flat, forested areas deeper in the Chaco. Because of the soy boom, many gaucho families have growing links with towns and depend on various sources of income, not simply the ganadería de monte (cattle-­raising in the forest). Those who continue raising cattle the old way, “in the bush,” have, for their part, very diverse forms of access to the land they work on. While many criollo families own small and midsize fincas (of up to three hundred hectares), many others are wage-­laborers who may own a few head of cattle but look after the landowner’s cattle. Some pay rent for pasturing their own cattle (ar­ renderos) while others live in a legally precarious situation, relying on the permission of landowners or on land whose titling is in dispute. Farther east in the Chaco, many criollo families live on government land (tierras fiscales). As part of their opening toward indigeneity, many people in these cattleraising areas are often quick to point out that their gaucho habits and gear draw directly from indigenous practices, techniques, and materials. In outlying areas of Anta, many elements of gauchos’ riding gear (ropes, the cinch, and the base of the saddle) are made of chaguar fiber, which was used for centuries by the indigenous peoples of the Chaco to manufacture bags, nets, and garments. In November and December, it is common to see criollos do what people do at that time of the year in indigenous villages on the Pilcomayo: consume algarroba beans “the Indian way,” by pounding them to make flour, adding water, and chewing the juicy paste with their clenched fists (an

A Haunted Frontier  |  43

Figure 1.3. Dancing to criollo music at the commemoration of the battle of Río Piedras, Río Piedras (September 2006). Photo by author.

action known as añapar). Also in the summer, many criollos drink aloja, an originally indigenous beverage made in the Chaco from fermented algarroba beans and honey.14 Yet criollo habits have also been markedly deindigenized and redefined by the experience of cattle ranching. Because they are usually scattered over wide areas, the spatial sensibilities of most gauchos revolve around notions of relative autonomy, independence, and privacy. Among wage-workers, this is made possible by the fact that landowners visit their property only occasionally. In contrast to the gauchos of the grasslands of the Argentine pampas, the gauchos of southeast Salta were forged in a rugged terrain of thick forests, hills, and creeks in which cattle roamed freely. Criollo practice and subjec­ tivity are thereby inseparable from the skills needed to find cattle in the density of el monte (the bush or forest).15 The most respected gauchos are renowned for their skills in chasing cattle in this obstacle-­ridden terrain through corridas (runs). This is why thick leather apparel worn to protect a rider moving through forests — the guardamonte (flaps that protect the legs) and the coleto (a leather shirt) — are gaucho emblems in Salta and embody their corporal malleability to move smoothly through rugged, thorny terrain.16 While most cowboys are male, women in criollo families also identify

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Figure 1.4. Herding cattle near the church of La Manga. Photo by author.

as gauchos, and some of them are versed in handling cattle in the forest. The spatially scattered nature of raising cattle in the forest is countered by a number of events that bring people together. La yerra, or hot-­iron branding (from hierro, iron), attracts men from neighboring ranches to mark and vaccinate calves, castrate bulls, and cut off the pointed end of horns.17 Horse races on weekends create very popular places of gaucho socialization and also attract la criollada (the criollo folk) from diverse areas. Residents nonetheless agree that decades ago the yerras and the races were larger, more massive events, the expression of the days when bulldozers had yet to appear in the region. Despite being the spatial core of the soy boom in Salta, Las Lajitas is still shaped by the legacy of its gaucho past. On the streets, one regularly sees state-­of-­the-­art agricultural machinery, brand-­new pickup trucks, and the huge silos that dominate the area around the train station. Yet a statue to honor “the gaucho” stands near the silos and many middle-­aged residents still cling to their gaucho identity and roots. In October 2006, I stayed in town at a small hotel named El Gaucho. Its owner was Antonia, a woman in her forties who had grown up on the hills west of Las Lajitas and was proud of her family’s gaucho pedigree. Antonia complained at one point that because of the expansion of soy farming many youths in Las Lajitas do not know what

A Haunted Frontier  |  45

it is to be a gaucho, adding, “I know what being a gaucho is all about. I grew up next to a gaucho.” I asked her to elaborate, and she said, “The true gaucho is that one who grows up on a finca, handling cattle, doing the things of the country, the things of el monte [the bush]. Being a gaucho is having suffered in el monte.” As this account indicates, gauchos are seen as inseparable from labor practices grounded in the forest. Her reference that gauchos are those who have “suffered in the bush” is indicative of a class-­specific bodily experience of demanding engagement in a forested topography perceived as rough. This labor experience has for most criollos moral dimensions, for the word gaucho evokes not only in this region but also elsewhere in Argentina ideas of honesty, solidarity, humility, and friendship. Yet the fact that gaucho practices and subjectivity are inseparable from the forests that sustain them means that the destruction of forests by agribusiness is obliterating the very spatiality that once defined Anta as a gaucho geography and, therefore, the gauchos as a collective social actor. During my fieldwork, deforestations were advancing at an unrelenting pace north and east of Las Lajitas. National and multinational corporations were buying up old cattle ranches or receiving large tracts of public land from the Salta government and evicting criollo residents, often taking advantage of their lack of legal titling. These evictions were frequently carried out by force, with the assistances of the police and armed private guards. Bulldozers then promptly destroyed forests, homes, and corrals to smooth out space and create fields to satisfy China’s booming demand for soy. Their impact on the geography during the four years I worked in the region was dramatic. On several occasions, I returned to an area from one year to the next to find that old forests had been bulldozed and replaced by smoldering debris. A few months later, I would return again and the debris was gone: the space had been smoothed out and turned into soy fields. Not unlike the situation described by Tsing (2005, 202) in Indonesia, the regional elites claim that these forests are not worth protecting because they have long been degraded by the environmentally “destructive” practices of local working people. Most criollo residents, needless to say, are appalled by this unrelenting destruction of space. They resent and distrust the well-­off sojeros (soy farmers) from Buenos Aires, Salta, Rosario, and foreign countries who see the region as a blank, empty slate; they call them gringos, a term used regionally to refer to light-­skinned people from “the south” (Buenos Aires and Rosario) as well as from North America or Europe. Most criollos may be indifferent to the physical damage done to rubble, but they are certainly not indifferent

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Figure 1.5. The tallest structures in southeast Salta: silos in Las Lajitas. Photo by author.

to the destruction of living, inhabited places. Near the former train station of Chorroarín, Marcelo, a gaucho in his sixties, said, referring to the clearings sweeping through the region, “The rich want to destroy the poor.” “They are devils,” he added with indignation. He made clear that he saw soy farming as an elite project founded on the obliteration of the rural poor and carried out by the epitome of evil: “devils.” This wave of land grabs and destruction has triggered multiple forms of resistance and unrest, which in many cases involve people trying to stop bulldozers by placing their bodies in their path. At the end of the book, I describe two notable cases that I followed firsthand. Opposition to agribusiness has increased in the past few years, but by and large acts of resistance are carried out in a politically adverse environment, for clearing forests in the name of soy is enthusiastically supported by the regional and national political elites.18 The destruction of the forested criollo geographies of yesteryear means that gauchos fully devoted to cattle in forested areas are becoming rarer and that poverty, unemployment, outmigration, and dependence on welfare programs have increased. The soy boom is fostering nostalgia for old gaucho ways, and many say that “true gauchos” no longer exist. The expansion of soy fields at the expense of cattle ranches is creating a notable spatial shift through

A Haunted Frontier  |  47

Figure 1.6. Debris of destroyed forests north of Las Lajitas (2006). Photo by author.

which public celebration of the gaucho is increasingly based in the towns, particularly during the fiestas patronales: the annual religious festivities that celebrate the town’s patron. These events attract families from surrounding rural areas and neighboring towns; they all include a religious procession and end with a massive gaucho parade. Organized by gaucho associations ( for­ tines de gauchos), the parades are highly popular, tightly scripted events that have been partly appropriated by the regional elites to hail the archetypical gaucho free of class conflicts celebrated by criollismo. Yet working-­class gauchos participate eagerly in these parades, for this is the main event in which they are celebrated by officials and the public on the streets. These parades involve two or more columns of riders advancing on the streets and surrounded by enthusiastic crowds. The pitter-­patter of the horses’ trotting on the pavement mingles with the announcer’s voice praising, in a stern tone, “our beloved gauchos.” The riders wear the mythical attire of the gaucho salteño (the gauchos from Salta), although such attire is rarely if ever worn on a daily basis: red ponchos, black hats, white shirts, baggy pants (bom­ bachas). The wide leather flaps that protect the legs embody that the riders are one and the same with their horses, marching in an energetic but also composed display of skill and masculinity. Throughout the parade, the announcers

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Figure 1.7. “These men are coming from where the machines have not destroyed the forests yet!” Gauchos praised for standing up to bulldozers parade in Joaquín V. González (August 2007). Photo by author.

present “our gauchos” as the noble guardians of Argentine nationhood and emphasize, over and over, that they were freedom fighters in the wars of national liberation against the Spanish in the 1810s, led by the gaucho general Juan Manuel de Güemes, the official hero of the province of Salta. These parades are the main collective event through which southeast Salta is still imagined as a gaucho geography, ironically at the time when this geography is being destroyed. They are therefore a nostalgic tribute to vanishing social and spatial landscapes. But the parades are also a ritualized articulation of the official criollista narrative that silences the openness toward indigeneity that emerges among criollo residents in informal interactions. The announcers at the parades thereby never mention or even suggest that gauchos are “mestizos” who have “indigenous blood.” In August 2007, I attended the last gaucho parade of my fieldwork at the fiesta patronal of Joaquín V. González. By then, I had witnessed seven gaucho parades in different towns of the region, and they had all taken a markedly apolitical tone, making no reference to the social plight of gauchos in rural areas affected by bulldozers. Thus I was surprised by what the announcer

A Haunted Frontier  |  49

said in his speech. This happened when a contingent of gauchos from an area known as Salta Forestal (north of the town) paraded in front of the main stage at the plaza. In Salta Forestal opposition to evictions was at the time particularly firm. As the riders trotted by, the announcer praised them for opposing the destruction of space, “for defending the forests that the carelessness of men is turning into a huge prairie.” These gauchos, he said, “are coming from where the machines have not destroyed the forests yet.” And he added, with an epic tone, “They have dared to stop the clearings and come to raise the cry of the gaucho! [el grito del gaucho].”

Concrete Abstractions The importance of the fiestas patronales in publicly celebrating the gauchos threatened by agribusiness bears testimony of the salience of religious habits among working-­class criollos. This is a syncretic religiosity that revolves around the veneration of miraculous objects and of the places where those objects are based. The power of miscellaneous saints and Virgins were mentioned in everyday conversations everywhere I went. Many are “saints of the people” (santos populares) who many priests do not approve of. One of the most revered is El Gauchito Gil, the patron saint of gauchos, who is extremely popular in this region.19 People engage with the power of these Virgins and saints through a relation of reciprocity with them, following a practice that is common throughout Latin America.20 They ask them for a “miracle” (measured through expressions of material and bodily well-­being) in exchange for a “promise.”21 Most people see different images as having distinctive features and power grounded in their physicality, which acquires a tangible collective force in the crowds that some of these images draw once a year at their sites of pilgrimage because of the devoción (devotion) they generate.22 This object-­oriented religiosity is inseparable from the social and material legacy of the Jesuit missionization that defined the frontier in the 1700s. This was brought home to me when I visited the small town of San José de Boquerón, in northern Santiago del Estero, in July 2003 (see map I.1). A one-­ meter monolith at the entrance of town informs visitors that the Jesuit mission of San José de Petacas once stood in the vicinity. The faint debris of the station is two kilometers away in a heavily forested area; it consists of a few old, eroded beams lying on the ground amid barely perceptible mounds. While the debris is abandoned and overgrown, this is the only Jesuit mission of the Salado that is identified with a monument in the nearest town. Local

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Figure 1.8. Woman holding an image of the Virgin of Huachana, on a cattle ranch near the church of La Manga. Photo by author.

criollos are well aware of the existence of traces of the Jesuit station in the forest and many of them identify as descendants of the Vilela people once missionized there. But the object that attracts their religious devotion is not that node of rubble but a wooden carving of San José preserved from that mission, which is currently at the church in Boquerón. The local priest told me that when he arrived in 1975, Boquerón was so remote that he was the first priest to have been based there permanently since the departure of the Jesuits in 1767. Yet he was amazed, he continued, to find out that for two centuries local people had re-created their own Catholic religiosity without institutional intrusions from the Church. They did not practice formal Catholic rituals, but were devoted to the Virgin, the veneration of the dead, and the veneration of the wooden image of San José, which was probably carved by indigenous artisans at the mission in the mid-­1700s. He said that he was impressed to hear how vehemently residents protested against the image of San José having been removed to a museum in the provincial capital. They requested of the priest that he arrange for San José to be returned to Boquerón. The priest complied. After negotiations with officials, the image was brought back in November 1975, amid a festive celebration. Residents now carry San José every year in a procession to the monolith that names the mission of Petacas as a historic site.

A Haunted Frontier  |  51

The resilience of the gravitational power of objects from the Jesuit stations was also clear at the ruins of the church of La Manga, which I had visited with Alfredo two months earlier. There, the local criollo population had converged on the church for generations also to venerate miraculous objects from the days of the Jesuits: Saint Roche and the Virgin of Transit. As in Boquerón, these objects articulated grassroots and syncretic practices in which the abstract imaginings that define all forms of religiosity were inseparable from the tangible presence of the objects that embody them. But whereas at Boquerón the station had been reduced to barely perceptible debris, at La Manga the solidity of the building of the old Jesuit mission allowed for the creation of a place of festive encounters. The same people who were not preoccupied with the preservation of rubble nevertheless made sure that the church of La Manga did not collapse because it was a church without priests that interwove horizontal forms of subaltern religiosity. This veneration was not a commemo­ ration or celebration of the Jesuits, who are usually evoked as violent and exploitative of Indians (see chapter 9), but of the objects based in that place. Residents in the area around the church thereby express nostalgia not for the building, but for the objects it once contained, which are no longer there. They claim that after the celebrations came to an end the ranch owners took the images of Saint Roche and the Virgin to the city of Salta; but the objects that many people seem to miss the most are the two bells that used to hang from a pole next to the church. Old gauchos told me with nostalgia that the ringing of the bells was so crisp that it could be heard several kilometers away. Sometime in the 1980s, a priest from a nearby town arrived with a pickup truck and several police officers to take the bells away. A man who witnessed this event told me that the officers treated them roughly — “as if we were thieves” — and claimed the bells were too valuable to be “in the middle of nowhere.” No one has heard of those bells again. Priests in Joaquín V. González deny knowing anything about them. Although locals had preserved those objects for generations, this control came to an end with a trademark of colonial archaeology: the state-­sponsored looting of objects that are wrested away from local hands. The same appropriation by outsiders had involved the image of San José in Boquerón. But residents there were successful in forcing the new priest to bring that revered object back to that outlying area of the Chaco, where it had belonged for generations. I last visited the church of La Manga in August 2007. A persistent rumor was then circulating in the area: that Alfredo Olmedo, the most powerful soy producer and politician in southeast Salta, had just purchased the land on

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which the church stands. Given that Olmedo is infamous for his ruthlessness in evicting gaucho families and destroying forests, some residents assumed that he would tear down the church to plant soy. While the area is surrounded by hills, the ruins sit on a plain near a stream that could theoretically become a midsize field. But Eduardo, an old gaucho who claimed to have talked to Olmedo in person when he visited the area, assured me that it would not happen. “He’s a religious man,” he said. “He’ll respect the church.” As I write, the church is still standing, and I do not know whether the rumored purchase was true. Yet Eduardo clearly believed that the building would be spared, not because it is a ruin with historic value but because it is a church, which “a religious man” like Olmedo could not but respect. By then, my four years of interactions in the area had also taught me to see that place as a criollo church, rather than as a Jesuit ruin. After all, that site had been for most of its existence a place of horizontal religious encounters, created over the rubble of a place that had long been abandoned. But the Jesuits once built a station there because those same hills, which are today inhabited by gauchos, were overflowed by swarms of Indians.

Hail solitary ruins! What virtues are yours! You appall the tyrant’s heart, and poison with secret alarm his impious joys. —Constantin de Volney, The Ruins

Two  |  On the Edge of the Void


n July 2004, I reached the summit of a mountain that two centuries earlier had been used as a sentry post by Spanish troops to detect and observe the movement of insurgent multitudes coming from the Chaco. The view of the flat geographical vastness extending toward the horizon was absorbing. At the foot of the mountains, a strip of green and yellow fields delimited by straight lines revealed the type of orderly spatiality created by agribusiness. Yet the much larger and darker landmass that pressed on that strip from the horizon looked like a uniform forested substance devoid of recognizable forms: a space whose immensity cannot be fully grasped or represented. A hundred and twenty years earlier, in 1883, an officer of the Bolivian army named Daniel Campos was also absorbed by the view of the Chaco from the mountains. But this view confronted him with a spatial immensity that in those days was particularly haunting because it was devoid of traces of civilization. Jules Crévaux, a famous French explorer of the Amazon, had recently been killed in the Chaco while exploring the Pilcomayo River. Campos and his men were given the order to enter the Chaco to find and retrieve the corpse of this noted victim. Haunted by the task ahead, Campos wrote as he watched the lowlands from above: “At our feet, immense, mysterious and overwhelming, like a terrible ocean . . . stands out the incommensurable Gran Chaco. There was the Chaco, overwhelming us with its immensity, stirring up our soul like the sea, pulling us like the abyss” (1888, 45–46). Based on their personal correspondence, Badiou wrote that Deleuze saw the expression “on the edge of the void” as the intersection between the territory

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and the process of deterritorialization, the “overflowing of the territory by the event” (2000, 84). Deleuze argued (Badiou tells us) that “this is the point at which what occurs can no longer be assigned to either the territory (the site) or the non-­territory, to either the inside or the outside. And it is true that the void has neither an interior nor an exterior” (2000, 84). The Chaco was for centuries a void in this precise, disjointed sense: a vector of deterritorialization that voided state territoriality and overflowed it with the event of indigenous armed resistance. This space was not “outside” of the state and thereby was not what James Scott (2009) would call “a non-­state space.” This vortex negated, dragged down, and slowed down state forces because of the presence of the state. This is why the void was not, as Tania Li would put it, a “spatial beyond the state” (2005, 384). This was a geography that dissolved notions of inside and outside of the state and appeared as a terrible ocean: uncontrollable, unpredictable, overwhelming. What made this void frightening was the power of Indians to destroy sites of state territoriality and seemingly dissolve their ruins. In this chapter, I examine the insurgent forces that emanated from the Chaco to turn the foot of the Andes into a turbulent frontier overflowed by deterritorializing vectors. In particular, I analyze the rubble produced by indigenous armed resistance and how this rubble haunted state agents for centuries, from the days of the Spanish siege of the Chaco until the Argentine army conquered the region at the end of the 1800s. This means exploring the distinctively modernist and elite anxieties that officials, explorers, and missionaries articulated about the ruination and disappearance of traces of state power. I thus make a historical journey to the elite fear of rubble. I also present a historical periodization of the conquest of the Chaco through an examination of the different types of ruins it generated, with the aim of showing how the gauchos of the Salta frontier and the Argentine nation-­state emerged through the destruction of the void.

The Vortex of the War Machine In the 1540s, coming south from Peru, the Spanish began conquering what are today the Andes of northern Argentina, a region they called “the province of Tucumán.” In 1566, the officers Diego de Heredia and Gerónimo de Holguín rose up against the Tucumán governor, put him in shackles, and set out on a 120-­men-­strong rogue expedition for the tropical lowlands that the Incas called chakú (“hunting ground” in Quechua). The Chaco was largely unex-

On the Edge of the Void  |  55

plored by the Spanish, but these men were drawn by rumors that those forests hid a fantastic place of wealth, “the very renowned City of the Césares, which abounds in gold, silver, pearls, and more riches.” The expedition pushed into the Chaco north along the Salado River from Santiago del Estero. Five years earlier, another Spanish rogue expedition to the Amazon in search of a similar city of riches, led by Lope de Aguirre, resulted in an imperial rampage of looting and destruction that was immortalized in Werner Herzog’s film Aguirre, the Wrath of God. In the Chaco, in contrast, the mutinous Spanish troops met a group of people called “the Esteko.” This was a cordial encounter that created an event with unexpected political and spatial implications. The Esteko welcomed the Spaniards, told them they should all “live in peace,” and organized a large feast in their honor. For several days, men and women who had been born on different continents relaxed, mingled, drank, danced, and smoked around a large fire. “We’re drunk and happy,” Holguín wrote in his diary. He added that he found the experience illuminating. “At night I believe I see how everything and all of us are one.” After several days of festivities, Holguín and Heredia decided to forget about “the city of the Césares” and to stay in the Chaco living among those people. They also decided to found a town “different from all towns,” and declared their explicit rejection of the Spanish empire. Holguín gathered his men and gave a speech. He told them they should all forget “the dreams of conquest” and the king of Spain, and that they should all live “free and in peace with the Indians.” He disavowed slavery, “because nobody is the owner of anybody or anything” (González 2005, 15–17). Contrary to all other Spanish towns in South America, the settlement they built had no fortified walls, no church, no priests, and no place of execution. Holguín named it “Cáceres,” after his hometown in Spain. But the men and women living there called it “Esteco.” In June 1567, Spanish troops from Santiago del Estero arrived in Esteco with orders to finish off that place of subversive egalitarianism. Heredia and Holguín were executed, and the place that they had created was destroyed. On 15 August 1567, Spanish officials refounded the town following formal imperial protocol. They first marked spatial hierarchies and technologies of bodily punishment, building a church and a site for torture and execution at the center of the plaza. Officials renamed the town Nuestra Señora de Talavera (Our Lady of Talavera), determined that the rebellion and the name Esteco be relegated to oblivion. The Esteko people were submitted to encomienda, the name that the Spanish gave to labor servitude in the Americas, and that

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in the Chaco was based on outright slavery (Rosenzvaig 1986). Thousands of additional men and women were brought by force to work in cotton fields.1 Disregarding the official name Talavera, everybody continued to call the town Esteco, however. While the Chaco did not have gold or silver, it did have many able bodies that could be made to work. In 1585, Spanish troops that departed from Asunción founded another encomienda center, Concepción del Bermejo, in the heart of the Chaco south of the Bermejo River. The farming people who lived there were described by the Spanish as “respectful and submissive” (Torre Revelo 1943, 64). The link with Asunción marked that the Chaco was being conquered from both ends: from the province of Tucumán in the Andes and from the province of Paraguay in the east. By the end of the 1500s, Esteco and Concepción were large, profitable slave centers based on the cultivation of cotton and other crops. The Spanish empire had conquered the Gran Chaco and turned it into state territory in a couple of swift strokes. This control lasted for several decades, but began to face growing unrest due to the high levels of exploitation and bodily punishment that defined life in Concepción and Esteco. Much of Esteco’s labor force began fleeing to the Chaco. By 1609, the town was so weakened and exposed to attacks that officials had no option but move it a hundred kilometers to the west, at the foot of the Andes, and thereby closer to the Spanish centers of the highlands. Concepción, more isolated in the center of the Chaco, became the target of frequent attacks. In 1632, a generalized insurrection routed the troops based in Concepción and forced the Spanish to escape from the town in disarray. Armed resistance intensified across the region.2 The same year, another insurrection destroyed Santiago del Guadalcázar, another encomienda center recently created at the foot of the Andes, where the Bermejo flows into the Chaco. By the late 1600s, devastated by raids and severely damaged by an earthquake, the second Esteco had also been reduced to rubble, and its slaves had been freed. What took place in the Chaco throughout the seventeenth century was a remarkable process of territorial disintegration that reduced four sites of Spanish power to rubble. The inhabitants of the Chaco had abruptly folded space and created a vortex that would haunt officials for centuries. In 1733, the Jesuit historian Pedro Lozano wrote that the destruction of Concepción “closed all roads to the light of the Gospels” in the region (1989, 121). The Chaco acquired for officials and missionaries a dark, dissolving spatial viscosity impervious to state influences and religious enlightenment. By the 1700s, the region was seen as “the tomb of missionaries,” a hellhole that

On the Edge of the Void  |  57

seemed so solidly opaque, impenetrable, and hostile that many missionaries, chief among them Lozano, were convinced that the Devil had created it (see Tommasini 1937, i; Lozano 1989, 55–58). The erasure of state presence from the Chaco was such that in the days of Lozano, a century after Concepción’s fall, officials had still been unable to reach the rubble. They were in fact unsure where the ruins were.3 Concepción became una ciudad perdida, a lost city whose traces seemed to have vanished. The first town of Esteco and Santiago del Guadalcázar also became phantoms lost amid the immensity of the Chaco. Only the ruins of the second Esteco were known, for the rubble was near a well-­traveled road at the foot of the Andes. Tales about lost cities hidden in the heart of South America have long been part of imperial imaginaries, but they usually refer to cities built by indigenous people, such as the mythical El Dorado in the Amazon or Machu Picchu in Peru. The lost cities of the Gran Chaco, on the contrary, were built by Europeans and destroyed by indigenous insurgencies. A distinct dimension of modernist sensibilities toward ruins is that they include anxieties about the resilience of state power, a sensibility that first emerged in the Renaissance in relation to Roman and Greek antiquity (Woodward 2001). Yet modernity was not created purely within Europe but also in relation to experiences of conquest overseas, particularly in the Americas.4 This means that early modernist anxieties about the fragility of state power were also molded by experiences of decay on the global edges of imperial expansion. In the Chaco, the early modernist preoccupation with ruins was defined in relation to the void. The void is one of the most important and underanalyzed concepts in theories of spatiality. The nature of the void was an intense object of scrutiny and debate in Greek philosophy. Arguing against the atomists who divided the universe between indivisible atoms and empty void, Aristotle rejected the idea that the void exists as absence of space. He argued that the alleged properties of the void are subsumed to those of place in the sense that the void is a place, but one that is “bereft of body.” Edward Casey observes that this means that the void is not pure nothingness, an emptiness defined by sheer negativity. The negativity of the void, he argues, has a positive presence and “may be itself a kind of place”: a “scene of emergence” (Casey 1997, 17, 19–20). The Chaco, likewise, became a void for state agents not because it was absent of space but because it had the power to destroy state territoriality. And this generative negativity was created by the political assemblage that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987) conceptualized as “the war machine”: a decentered,

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mobile multiplicity constituted by its violence against the territorial expansion of the state. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari exemplified their analysis of this antistate war machine with the Mogul cavalries of central Asia in the 1200s. But the author who made them to think about decentered assemblages against the state was the anthropologist Pierre Clastres, who wrote about “societies against the state” inspired by his 1966 fieldwork among former Nivaclé combatants in the Paraguayan Chaco on the Pilcomayo.5 The paradox is that Clastres drew on his ethnographic experience among men who fought the militaries of three different nation-­states (Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina) to create a timeless archetype about warfare among “Amerindians” in lowland South America. Influenced by Lévi-­Strauss’s ahistorical anthropology, Clastres (2006) imagined that the anti-­state and anti-­hierarchical dispositions he found in the Chaco represented the resilient ethos of “primitive societies” untouched by the state, abstracting how the encroachment by actual states shaped warfare in the Chaco.6 Yet Clastres aptly captured what I also noticed (decades later) in the stories of warfare I heard from children and grandchildren of Toba combatants across the border in Argentina: that the drive to form de-­centered armed assemblages against the state (“a war machine”) was not a purely negative gesture but an affirmation of self-­control and egalitarianism (see Gordillo 2004). This violent generativity was the political and spatial force that turned the Chaco into a vortex. In the Chaco, intergroup violence certainly pre-­dated the arrival of the Spanish empire. Yet the type of violence generated by the war machine did not pre-­date imperial encroachment because it had insurgent elements produced by the Spanish invasion, which initially met scattered armed resistance. The war machine that by the 1600s had arisen against centers of slavery was no unified object; it was a political multiplicity that involved people who spoke different languages, had different cultural habits, and were plagued by intergroup conflicts. The Spanish, for instance, distinguished “Indians on foot” from “equestrian Indians” who were tougher combatants and highly mobile, like the Guaycurú-­speaking groups (Saeger 2000). But what united these groups was, as Clastres put it, that in rejecting the state they all sought “the multiplication of the multiple” (Viveiros de Castro 2010, 9). The Austrian Jesuit missionaries Martin Dobrizhoffer and Florian Paucke spent eighteen years (1749–67) among the most reputed equestrian peoples of the Chaco, respectively the Abipón and Mocoví, who formed the political core of the war machine. These missionaries wrote extraordinary eth-

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nographic accounts of their experience among these people and highlighted that the military power of Abipón and Mocoví combatants drew on their sophisticated, agile use of the horse (Dobrizhoffer 1970; Paucke 1944). In contrast to the war machines of central Asia, which navigated smooth and relatively unobstructed steppes, the antistate cavalries of the Chaco operated in what Deleuze and Guattari would call “striated space”: a patterned, rugged terrain with multiple objects and forms, such as thick forests and swamps, that slowed down movement. Local groupings used these striations defensively against Spanish forces with superior firepower. “They could not be conquered, because they could not be attacked, whilst defended by ditches and impervious woods” (Dobrizhoffer 1970, 3:2). At the same time, indigenous combatants were able to smooth out those striations to increase their own speed by always traveling light. As Dobrizhoffer observed, the Abipón “crossed with ease” dense “woods full of rushes and thick trees, marshes, and lakes rendered slippery with mud” (1970, 3:11). What gave the war machine of the Chaco the upper hand, in this regard, was its unrivaled speed, which turned combatants into “flying horsemen” who attacked “like lightning bolts” (Dobrizhoffer 1970, 2:404; Paucke 1944, 2:4). The Abipón were “constantly on the move,” Dobrizhoffer noted, and he expressed admiration at the ease with which they crossed the Chaco from east to west or north to south in a matter of days (1970, 2:5). This speed allowed indigenous cavalries to create what Casey sees as the spatial outcome of the war machine: “a-­place-­as-­region” (1997, 304). For these human constellations, needless to say, the Chaco was not an impenetrable void but a porous geography of collective autonomy that they controlled and defended against state domination. When Daniel Campos wrote in 1883 that he felt he was descending from the mountains into “the abyss” of the Chaco, he captured the political immanence of the terrain below as a vortex of deterritorialization created by mobile and elusive forces committed to opposing the state. A consistent theme that would guide attempts by officials, missionaries, and officers to explore and conquer this haunting vortex in the 1700s and 1800s was the location and identification of the lost ruins of the Spanish empire.

Invisible Ruins on the Edges of Empire In the early and mid-­1700s, the authorities of the province of Tucumán responded to the debacle of Esteco with several military campaigns to the Chaco that were able to secure the frontier along the arch formed by the

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Figure 2.1. Detail of a map of the Gran Chaco created by Father Camaño in 1789, show­ing the eastern Chaco frontier. The X marks the ghostly rubble of Concepción del Ber­ mejo (in Jolís 1972).

Salado River, which was defended from the war machine with a chain of forts and Jesuit stations. Several Jesuit missionaries departed from these stations to explore the Chaco extending to the east. Based on their experiences, they tried to counter the void through one of the most important technologies of orientation that existed at the time: the production of maps. These maps sought to create a stabilized and stabilizing orientation, the view from above over a two-­dimensional plane that sought to represent a geography that had swallowed up four Spanish cities. The Jesuit cartographers delineated frontier towns, rivers, and the distribution of various naciones (nations), but also paid particular attention to representing the approximate location of the lost cities of the Chaco, each marked with an “X” or a cross that highlighted its status as a destroyed place. Father Joaquín Camaño drew the most famous colonial map of the Chaco, published in 1789 (Jolís 1972). The map includes four Xs marking Concepción del Bermejo, the two towns of Esteco, and Santiago del Guadalcázar. The caption informs that “X” stands for “destroyed city.”7

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These maps sought to counter the void of the Chaco by giving it a positive shape, historicizing it, and revealing the presence of Spanish ruins. Yet in trying to conjure the void away, the Xs brought to light its dissolving power, accentuating that the Chaco was a black hole of sorts not because it was empty but because it was already full of rubble, for everything that had been built there by the Spanish empire had been turned to dust by indigenous insurgencies. The Xs revealed a terrain permeated by absences, for the very idea of a lost city necessitated a surrounding emptiness. Not surprisingly, Spanish soldiers dreaded entering the Chaco, which they saw as “the theatre of misery” (Dobrizhoffer 1970, 124). In the second half of the 1700s, the fort whose overgrown rubble is now near Las Lajitas, San Fernando del Río del Valle, was the starting point of several expeditions to the Chaco. In 1759, an expedition comprising nearly 1,000 soldiers led by the Tucumán governor, Espinosa y Dávalos, marched from there into the Chaco with the aim of cutting through the whole region and reaching the Paraná River. At one point, the troops felt “intimidated by the desert” and “refused to go farther” (José E. Rodriguez 1927, 22). Facing a mutiny, the governor decided to turn around. He ordered that a cross be carved on a large tree along with a message that read: “Year of 1759. Don Joaquín Espinosa y Dávalos reached up to here with 300 cows, 4,000 horses, and 900 men and they performed well” (de Brizuela 1989, 141). The production of markings such as this became common in Spanish expeditions in the Chaco and could be seen as what Patricia Seed (1995) called “ceremonies of possession”: the ritualized assertion of colonial power over new territories. Yet in the Chaco, these performative gestures took place in a hostile terrain that the Spanish did not control. And in the case of the expedition of 1749, the text was an admission of defeat, which required trying to save face by praising the troops who felt intimidated by that territorial emptiness. The text also marks a spatial limit (“reached up to here”), a threshold that imperial forces were unwilling to cross. And in trying to turn a tree into a manageable and readable object, these officials also revealed that they found the terrain illegible and disorienting. The ceremonies were attempts to counter the void with a positive object that marked the presence of the state. Yet the engravings also testify to the fear that as soon as they left the Chaco, no traces would remain of their presence. In 1774, an expedition led by Governor Matorras reached the same area and found only traces of Espinosa y Dávalos’s text. The tree was partially burned, and the message was barely legible “because the sign [had] been axed by the

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Indians” (de Brizuela 1989, 141). That local people had defaced the engraving suggests that they were committed to negating even the smallest traces of an imperial presence and that they were aware of the political salience of markings in space. Matorras’s expedition crossed the spatial threshold marked by that text and pressed on, reaching a site called Lacangayé, in the geographic center of the Chaco on the Bermejo River, where there was “no memory” of Spanish troops having ever been there. But the memory of Concepción’s ruins was on Matorras’s mind, and he was particularly intent on finding them. He sent men out with the directive of finding the city “ruined by these barbarian nations,” but the search proved futile (de Brizuela 1989, 145–53). The main goal of the expedition, however, was diplomatic. Given the failure to control the region by force, Matorras sought to secure a peace treaty with Paikín, a Mocoví leader based in Lacangayé who exerted considerable influence over a wide region. After the governor showered him with gifts, Paikín consented to become a subject of the king of Spain and to allow for the future foundation of two mission stations, but on condition that his people retain control of their lands and that they not be subjected to servitude. The treaty was signed following formal royal protocol, and to commemorate the event, Matorras ordered that numerous texts and signs of the cross be engraved on trees. One of these texts read, “Year of 1774. Peace between Señor D. Gerónimo Matorras, Governor of Tucumán, and Paikín” (Gullón Abao 1993). The signing of the treaty led to the first attempt to create places of state influence in the heart of the Chaco since the demise of Concepción in 1632. In 1780, Francisco Arias led an expedition from Fort San Fernando to Lacangayé to implement the foundation of the two Franciscan missions stipulated in the treaty, which were built sixty kilometers apart from each other: Santiago de Lacangayé and San Bernardo de Vértiz. Like Matorras before him, Arias was haunted by the ghostly nature of the rubble of Concepción. He sent a party south with the aims “of discovering the site of the old Concepción destroyed” and of locating the ruins on a map. The expedition, this time, was a success. On returning, his men reported they had found la ciudad and its irrigation canals thirty Spanish leagues (120 kilometers) from Lacangayé — the first recorded visit to these ruins by Spanish officials in a century and a half. These men brought back a bell they had found in the rubble, but warned that the debris was heavily overgrown, shrouded by “impenetrable forests” (Tomas de Matorras 1989, 404–5).

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Since the bells rescued from the lost city were objects that affirmed the continuity of a project of territorial expansion, Arias ordered that they be used in the chapel of Santiago de Lacangayé. Yet the continuity proved short-­lived. By the end of the century, the two missions had been destroyed and joined the list of places dissolved by the Chaco.8 The visit to the rubble of Concepción, for its part, did not generate a map, and even the memory that the ruins had been found faded away.9 The ongoing elusiveness of these ruins, in fact, anticipated that the void of the Chaco was to outlive Spanish imperial power.

Amid the Rubble of the Spanish Empire The creation and vanishing of ruins of state power on the edges of the Spanish empire in South America took place at a time when new sensibilities about decline were being forged in the trans-­Atlantic world. Because of the rise of antimonarchical unrest in the Europe of the 1780s, these sensibilities included not only the fear of ruins by the elites but also their celebration by revolutionaries as emblems of the transient nature of oppression. This is why in 1791 a participant in the French Revolution, Constantin de Volney, emphasized that ruins proclaim a truth detested by tyrants: “the sacred dogma of Equality.” This is the equality of rubble, which blends “the dust of the king with that of the meanest slave.” Hence, for de Volney, ruins were to be celebrated. “Hail solitary ruins! . . . What virtues are yours! You appall the tyrant’s heart, and poison with secret alarm his impious joys” (2005, 1, 9–10). The constellations of ruins of Spanish towns and mission stations strewn in the Chaco, indeed, unsettled officials and missionaries and “poisoned” them with “secret alarm” because they embodied, as Beasley-­Murray would put it, the “stubbornly material limits” of imperial hegemony (2010b, 216). And these limits became even more apparent when the antimonarchical and anti-­imperial fervor sweeping through Europe, North America, and Haiti in the late 1700s reverberated in South America shortly thereafter. In the 1810s, regional elites born in the Americas, in alliance with subaltern mestizo and indigenous actors, waged wars of national liberation in multiple parts of the continent. Combat was particularly intense in the Andes, and the foot of the mountains in the western Chaco was the theater of several clashes. By the mid-­1820s, the empire that had ruled much of South America since the 1530s was reduced to rubble. On the western Chaco frontier, the mission stations and forts that had

Figure 2.2. “Esteco destroyed” and “Concepción destroyed.” Jesuit map of the Gran Chaco (1772) representing the Jesuit stations on the Salado River and the rubble of Spanish cities destroyed by insurrections (in Furlong 1936).

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marked the edge of Spanish territoriality on the Salado River were promptly abandoned and their ruins joined the constellations of rubble created in prior centuries. All of these ruins shared the fact that they had been created by insurrections. Yet whereas the war machine in the Chaco continued re-creating a geography defined against the state, the uprisings of the 1810s led to the rise of new state formations and new nations. This meant that the foothills of the Andes continued being a disputed frontier and that, in contrast to the invisible ruins strewn in the Chaco, the rubble of forts and Jesuit missions became a noticeable part of the frontier’s spatiality. It was in fact amid these nodes of rubble that this region emerged as a gaucho geography defined by cattle ranching. The Jesuits had introduced thousands of heads of cattle on the Salado frontier. Cattle ranching thrived even after the Jesuit order was expelled in 1767 and its stations were put under the management of the Franciscan order and regular clergy. In the early 1800s, the communal cattle-­ranching culture originally created at the Jesuit stations was appropriated by Salta’s landed aristocracy, which acquired the huge Jesuit estates and their cattle through auctions and generous land grants (Mata de López 2000; Teruel 2005). This process of land expropriation turned residents, most of them indigenous people who had been missionized by the Jesuits, into rural workers.10 The rolling hills stretching between the mountains and the Chaco became large haciendas (ranches) of absentee landowners, where rural workers empowered by their role in the guerrilla wars of independence became the dominant social actor. And the rubble of the Jesuit stations and the forts attracted the formation of the main villages in the region (De Moussy 2005, 292). Created around the rubble of a fort, the town of El Piquete became the hub of the Chaco frontier in Anta in the 1800s (El Piquete, in fact, means “The Fort”). And the rubble of stations such as Balbuena and Petacas attracted residents keen to celebrate religious objects from the days of the Jesuits. In short, these ruins became generative objects that structured around them the main places of sociality on the frontier. And while the wars of independence created new national sentiments, this attachment to the material legacy of the Spanish presence and Christian missionization reveals that the Salta frontier was still defined in opposition to the void of the Chaco. This was, at the same time, a porous, fluid frontier.11 By the mid-­nineteenth century, centuries of interactions had created a mestizo, culturally diverse and disjointed geography. Many of the gauchos inhabiting the region were in

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those days still strongly indigenized, in the sense that officials often described them as “Indians.”12 But these were “Christian Indians” who often fought the “wild Indians” of the Chaco attacking the frontier. These confrontations and the influx of criollo people migrating north from Santiago del Estero along the Salado gradually positioned the cowboys of the Salta frontier as “criollos,” or mestizos whose indigenous background was officially downplayed. This positioning was furthered when families from the Salta frontier began moving east and settling the Chaco along the banks of the Bermejo River in the 1860s, amid growing violence against Indians. This spatially expansive violence anticipated that the rise of the Argentine nation-­state was a continuation, by new means, of the old Spanish project to destroy the dissolving spatiality of the vortex.

The Assault on the Desert Between the 1810s and 1860s, the newly independent nation-­state that was to become Argentina was torn apart by civil war, anti-­elite unrest, and power disputes between the liberal and conservative factions of the elites. In the 1860s, the pro-­European factions based in Buenos Aires finally prevailed and pushed an aggressive process of nation-­building and territorial expansion. This demanded confronting the vast regions controlled by indigenous war machines: not only the Chaco but also Patagonia and the prairies or pampas west of Buenos Aires, which were also swarmed by indigenous cavalries. This huge vortex comprised half of the geography that currently defines the Argentine territory. The rise of Argentina as a capitalist nation was therefore defined against the insurgent multiplicities that erode its territorial integrity. This void became integral to elite concerns, and Argentine intellectuals and officials began conceptualizing the voiding of space that was preventing the nation from fully materializing as el desierto (the desert). The term was not meant to be a topographic description but articulated, primarily, an affective disposition toward space: it named very different geographies (from tropical forests in the Chaco to cold steppes in Patagonia) unified by the haunting absence of civilization, state power, and capitalism. The most influential conceptualization of “the desert” as a vortex was the book Fa­cundo, published in 1845 by the noted writer and future president of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento. Sarmiento begins the book by stating that he feels overwhelmed by “the desert.” The republic, he wrote, was haunted by an “evil”: the desert’s “extension,” which surrounded the republic “from all sides” (1999, 39).

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Sarmiento captured that the desert is a void that creates vertigo when he wrote that one feels this place “in the guts” [en las entrañas] (1999, 39). Tulio Halperín Donghi (2006) identified the foundational role of the void in Argentine history when he entitled his book on the Argentine nation-­building process Una nación para el desierto argentino (A Nation for the Argentine Desert). The Gran Chaco was the most resilient core of the Argentine desert and the last to fall. And because the conquest of the Chaco drew from prior projects of conquest, the assault on the region could not but reawaken the search for vanished imperial ruins. This territorial expansion into the Chaco was as geopolitical as it was a process of accumulation by dispossession. By then, capitalist expansion on the edges of the Chaco was gaining momentum, with logging mills on the Paraguay and Paraná Rivers, navigation plans by steamships on the Bermejo, and sugar plantations expanding in the tropical lowlands of Jujuy, which were attracting Wichí workers from the Bermejo on a seasonal basis (see Iñigo Carrera 1988). Businessmen saw the Chaco as an untapped reservoir of enormous economic potential: the home of a massive and cheap labor force as well as of huge tracts of land that could be used for farming and cattle raising. The violence to be unleashed on the Chaco, therefore, was a force at the service of a simultaneous process of state territorialization and capitalist accumulation. In 1879–82, “the conquest of the desert” began when the army invaded the pampas and northern Patagonia on multiple fronts and defeated the indigenous cavalries that had previously dominated the region. Now it was the turn of “the desert of the north.” In October 1884, Minister of War Benjamín Victorica personally led the Campaign to the Chaco. Several cavalry regiments supported by steamboats on the Bermejo and guided by indigenous men entered the Chaco from the west, the south, and the east as part of a pincer operation. As in centuries prior, the mobility of the troops was slowed down by the intricacies of thick forests and swamps, which the war machine manipulated to launch hit-­and-­run attacks. But times had changed, and indigenous combatants, while armed with some firearms, were no match for well-­organized and supplied cavalry regiments armed with Winchester rifles. In the numerous clashes that erupted all over the Chaco, the barrage of lead created by the rifles’ firepower caused disarray. The troops converged on Lacangayé (now called “La Cangayé”) in the center of the Chaco. Technicians, engineers, and scientists accompanied the army to survey and map the terrain; gather data on flora, fauna, and the habits of local populations; and open up trails. Many of them noted, and were troubled by, how

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Figure 2.3. The invasion of the void by the Argentine military (in Carranza 1884).

hard it was to find not just ruins but in general any trace of the state. An engineer named Gerónimo de la Serna noted with disappointment that there was nothing around La Cangayé that signaled its historical importance as the site where the Spanish empire had briefly secured a foothold in the late 1700s. Like other officers, he tried to locate the rubble of the mission of Santiago de Lacangayé and the engravings written on trees in 1774. “No vestige was found” (de la Serna 1930, 78, also 81, 91). General Victorica shared this concern for the vanishing of traces of the state. He sent several telegrams from the Chaco to President Julio Roca in Buenos Aires, informing him of the failure to locate the legendary ruins of Concepción or any other Spanish ruins in the Chaco. One of the telegrams read, “We have been unable to find the ruins of Concepción shown by the maps. Its vestiges must have disappeared; old Indians born in these places do not know them” (Victorica 1885, 200). That not even Indians seemed to know of the ruins made their disappearance more perplexing, as if their presence had escaped even those assumed to have mastered the spatial intricacies of the Chaco. The men who participated in the military campaign of 1884 articulated a more openly modernist preoccupation with progress and decay, and their concerns about the voiding of space and the material dissolution of ruins of

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state power were particularly marked. This was often articulated as a terrifying bodily experience. Shortly after entering the Chaco, Leopoldo Arnaud, the head of the main scientific team, wrote, “The trek across the desert is imposing, it triggers true terror” (1889, 38). A few days later, Arnaud got lost in thick forests while on a hunting trip and experienced this spatial voiding as particularly overwhelming: “The Indians, the beasts, the deadly reptiles, that was the picture I was facing. Nobody can fully understand . . . the sensation you go through when stepping onto a totally virgin terrain, on a land on which there is not even the slightest trace of civilized man” (1889, 76–77). Arnaud was clearly affected “in the guts” by what he experienced as an emptiness that emanated from the terrain and its living forms: humans, animals, and suffocating masses of vegetation that seemed to have joined forces to wipe out the slightest trace of the state. As in the past, officers responded to the void of the desert by trying to give positive form to the terrain, and Arnaud and his colleagues regularly engraved their names on trees (Arnaud 1889, 162; see also Olascoaga 1885, 34). Yet the members of the expedition eventually did come across rubble of the Spanish empire. Because of the suffocating power of the desert, these officers experienced these faint vestiges as bright ruins that seemed to pierce the void’s emptiness.

Pulsating Ruins When it seemed that the army would be unable to find traces of the Spanish presence in the Chaco, the Tenth Cavalry Regiment coming from the Salta frontier stumbled on the overgrown mounds of the mission of San Bernardo. General Victorica was thrilled and wanted to visit the rubble in person, but since his health was weak, he ordered Arnaud’s team and a group of engineers to survey it (Host 1885, 661). Thirty Wichí men who had surrendered to the army were ordered to clear and excavate the site. The dig revealed the foundations of a building made up of a chapel and several rooms. In order to celebrate the discovery, the team carved on the trunk of a large tree a message that named the overgrown piles of rubble a “ruin.” “Ruins of the Reducción San Bernardo, founded in 1774 [sic] by the most renowned Don Francisco Gavino Arias. Victorica Expedition, year of 1884” (Arnaud 1889, 128). De la Serna joined the group and was profoundly moved by his encounter with those “weak vestiges of civilization,” which, he emphasized, all explorers searched for “with zeal.” He noted that the ruins were orderly, “allocated

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in geometrical lines in the terrain”; more important, they “show the traveler, with imposing eloquence, amid the solitude of the desert . . . how much can be accomplished by perseverance and divine faith when they are put at the service of a noble, generous ideal” (1930, 7–8). The seeming weakness of those mounds in fact revealed their power and resilience. They were orderly, imposing, and eloquent ruins, sources of a moral light whose positive force emanated from their location “amid the solitude of the desert.” The army officers and the members of the scientific team were so impressed by the rubble that they organized a ceremony around it. On 10 December 1884, the soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry Regiment stood in formation next to the mounds, now crowned by the Argentine flag. Angel Carranza, the war attorney of the campaign, read the main speech. Fellow members of the expeditionary column to the southern Chaco: we have just wrested the mystery of the ruins that we are contemplating. They belong to a foundation that reveals the bravery of our elders, who with their faith as their sole weapon, conducted dangerous tasks, setting off to live among barbarians, with the aim of taking them to the light of Christianity  . . . across these deserts that still today fill up the soul with terror [pavor]. (Arnaud 1889, 136–37) He added that of San Bernardo, “like Babylon,” “only piles of dust remain.” But he also insisted that the rubble was still alive, for while it did not “speak,” it did “pulsate” (palpita) (Arnaud 1889, 136–37; de la Serna 1930, 108). The light emanating from “the ruins” was particularly moving, its power to affect was so marked, because it emerged from a dark emptiness that generated “terror.” This was light that the men had to “wrest” from the viscosity of the terrain. The ruins were silent but not dead, still resonating with the beat of Christianity and creating an affective bond between the missionaries from the 1780s and the officers and scientists who a century later arrived there to put an end to barbarism. After the speech, Arnaud read aloud their report on the excavation. Three copies were made. One of them was put inside a bottle and buried in the ruins, “marking our presence there” (Arnaud 1889, 140). The officer in charge of the regiment shouted, “¡Viva la Patria!” [Long live the Motherland!]. All the men mimicked him, raising their arms in unison to hail those heroic piles of rubble.13 In their encounters with this node of rubble, the men were haunted not only by the past, but also by a future of oblivion. De la Serna suspected that the documents that they buried in the site, the markings on the tree, and even

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those ruins that had briefly seemed imposing would soon be overgrown and forgotten: “How long will this inscription [on the tree] be preserved? Will the ruins ever be found again?” (1930, 102). This was the only ruin from the days of the Spanish empire found by the army during the Victorica Campaign. Confirming de la Serna’s fears, the site was taken over by the forest, and public references to the rubble of San Bernardo faded away. Yet the terrain that overgrew these vestiges was not the same that had long intimidated officials, missionaries, and explorers. The vastly superior firepower of the army had indeed caused havoc among the multitudes that had for centuries created the antistate negativity of the Chaco. A twofold operation began: the gradual rescue and fetishization of the imperial rubble shrouded by the terrain and, at the same time, the relegation of the rubble created by the army among local populations to oblivion.

The Destruction of the Void In December 1884, General Victorica sent out a dispatch to celebrate “the most complete success” of the military campaign (1885, 73–74). The Chaco had finally been neutralized as a vortex, and the region was now strewn with ruins that state agents did not see as such. The men preoccupied with the vanishing of imperial ruins noted casually that they regularly encountered the remains of tolderías (villages) abandoned by the people fleeing the army.14 The conquest of the Argentine Chaco was an extremely violent affair with a longue durée that far exceeded the military campaign of 1884, however. Scattered expressions of armed resistance continued for decades, particularly as land encroachment and capitalist expansion in the early 1900s was turning thousands of people, especially in the more humid eastern Chaco, into a rural proletariat deprived of land of their own. And the campaign of 1884 had not secured the control of the Pilcomayo River, the border with Bolivia and Paraguay. This is why in 1911 the Argentine army organized another large military expedition against the remnants of the war machine that controlled the margins of the Pilcomayo. This wave of violence engulfed the Toba people among whom I did fieldwork, who fought pitched battles with the army as late as 1917. The last bold act of armed resistance to emerge from the Chaco took place in 1919, when Maká combatants slaughtered the entire garrison of Fort Yunká, on the Argentine side of the Pilcomayo. This event horrified the public in Buenos Aires, which had assumed the Chaco had long been “pacified.” The army responded by murdering hundreds of men, women, and children and

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destroying several villages (Scunio 1972). The last significant massacres in the Argentine Chaco took place in the 1940s, when the desperation created in some areas by conquest and labor exploitation created millenarian, apocalyptic unrest that was crushed violently. By then, many areas were strewn with destroyed villages and mass graves, created not only by the army but also by the police and criollo militias. The rubble of the vortex that had for centuries interrupted the spatial expansion of the state is now part of the materiality of the geography of the Chaco. By the mid-­twentieth century, the disregard for the debris created by state violence in the region had become part of a widespread mechanism of topographic erasure, discursive silencing, and affective calibration. State agencies, the Catholic Church, and many of the ethnographers who began studying and exoticizing the “culture” and “mythology” of defeated populations proceeded to make the debris of state violence, and even the existence of such violence, invisible (Gordillo 2006; 2008). This erasure was inseparable from the move by officials, priests, and scholars to rescue and celebrate the ruins of the lost cities of the Chaco.

From Rubble to Ruins In the first half of the 1900s, most of the Argentine Chaco still had little infrastructure and few roads, which meant that the overgrown rubble of Spanish towns and missions remained elusive, at least for officials and academics who lived in urban areas. But in the 1940s, the interest in these ruins increased amid the rise of nationalist sentiments that, as a reaction against British and North American imperialism, celebrated the Spanish roots of the Argentine nation. In 1943, the nationalist military government that turned Coronel Juan Perón into a public figure (and three years later into the elected president of Argentina) decreed that the ruins of Concepción del Bermejo and of the missions of Santiago de Lacangayé and San Bernardo were “patrimony of the nation.” The irony is that the location of these constellations of rubble now deemed historic was still unclear.15 Like the ghostly Xs placed on Jesuit maps to represent lost cities, the decree was a gesture of conjuring that named specters assumed to be somewhere; yet it also made apparent the continuity between national and imperial forms of conquest, and, more important, that this continuity was to be petrified in space in nodes of rubble that were to become “ruins.”

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In September 1943, a businessman who was an avid “ruin hunter” found numerous mounds and fragments of pottery and china on a recently cleared dirt road eighty kilometers north of the town of Saenz Peña (in what is today the province of Chaco). The identity of the site was initially unclear. Over several years, archaeologists and historians did more research on the site, with support from the provincial government, the Universidad Nacional del Nordeste, and the Catholic Church. By the late 1950s, it was officially announced that these piles of rubble were “the ruins of Concepción del Bermejo” (Morresi 1971; Zapata Gollan 1966). Today, the formerly elusive rubble of Concepción is a ruin that is open to the public and that officials and priests have promoted to celebrate the Spanish legacy in the Chaco (see Alumni 1948; 1951). The clearest sign of this visibility is that the “ruins of Concepción del Bermejo” are now marked on all maps of the province of Chaco, crowning its transformation from elusive rubble to valuable ruin. The same process of discovery and sanctification involved other nodes of debris. In 1945, the same ruin hunter who found Concepción del Bermejo also found the vestiges of the mission of Santiago de Lacangayé (Alumni 1948, 55). In 1946, priests and functionaries organized a ceremony at these ruins to celebrate this “bastion of progress and civilization in these remote regions.” The ceremony focused on the remains of a missionary buried at the chapel in 1780 and identified as “the human remains of a man of white race.” A group of people transported the bones of the missionary to the town of Castelli, where they were solemnly reburied underneath the church altar to celebrate “the heroes of our past” (Alumni 1948, 62–65). Fifty years later, in 1996, officials announced the discovery of the ruins of the mission of San Bernardo, which had already been found in 1884 by the Victorica campaign. A few years later, archaeologists from the Universidad de La Plata announced another major discovery: the first city of Esteco. This announcement was covered by the Buenos Aires media and gained relative visibility in the Argentine academic community, for this town, Esteco El Viejo (Old Esteco) was the last of the major lost cities of the Chaco that remained unaccounted for.16 The media coverage of these events tended to highlight the “discovery” of lost ruins as if they had been physically swallowed up by the terrain and had remained untouched by humans for generations. All of those places, however, had long been known by residents and had been excavated by generations of treasure hunters, whose labor had altered the form of many such places. But

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the experience of these subaltern actors was usually silenced in the media for the sake of presenting these ruins as self-­enclosed relics without afterlife: places that had been boldly rescued by experts, thereby severing those places from the social constellations they were part of. There was one lost city, however, whose location had been well known by officials for centuries. This was a cluster of rubble that had not been forgotten because it was a particularly bright object, if one that repelled: the second city of Esteco.

Part Two  |  Lost Cities Of all ruins, possibly the most moving are those of long-­ deserted cities, fallen century by century into deeper decay, their forsaken streets grown over by forests and shrubs. —Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins

Abstraction’s modus operandi is devastation, destruction (even if such destruction may sometimes herald creation). —Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space

The Destruction of Space

The conquest of the Chaco by the Argentine state destroyed countless villages and foraging grounds, displaced thousands, and altered much of the prior materiality of the region. Forests were cut down and swamps were dried out in order to build roads, railroads, telegraph lines, bridges, towns, airfields, ports, agriculture fields, and cattle ranches — in short, the type of spatial forms that facilitate the operation of the technologies of rule that for Stuart Elden (2009; 2013) define modern territoriality. Nothing embodied more clearly that victory had been complete than the use of the labor of defeated multitudes, armed with shovels, axes, pickaxes, and machetes, to reduce older striations to rubble and produce the Chaco as state territory. While the entirety of the Chaco geography was affected, these material transformations were more dramatic and destructive in the east, where huge forests were razed to create cotton fields and ranches, where relatively large cities expanded on the margins of the Paraguay and Paraná Rivers, and where European immigrants settled on expropriated land. In the less developed western Chaco, much of the geography continued to be covered by forests that remained the home of defeated indigenous groups, who were forced to share them (amid conflicts and often violence) with criollos moving in from the Salta frontier.1 These are the forests that agribusinesses are currently turning to rubble as part of a new wave of conquest. The destruction of space inaugurated in the Gran Chaco in the late nineteenth century, in this regard, has continued unabated. But the technologies of spatial obliteration have changed.

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This wave of disruption by bulldozers involves not only northern Argentina but also much of the Gran Chaco, which is enduring one of the world’s highest deforestation rates, produced not only by soy but also by capitalized cattle ranching. In the shrinking forests of the northern Chaco in Paraguay and Bolivia, two dozen Ayoreo men and women are permanently on the move. They are the very last people native to the Chaco who are still committed to avoid living under state power. Some ngos see them as the last “isolated” indigenous people of the Gran Chaco. But as Lucas Bessire shows in his gripping book Behold the Black Caiman, these people are far from isolated; they are fleeing the onslaught of the bulldozers. Ayoreo people who left the forest only a few years ago told Bessire that they were terrified of bulldozers. They considered them monsters of steel that pursued their scent and that destroy not just trees but the material substance of the universe. Aware that bulldozers destroy space, they call them “the attackers of the world” (Bessire 2014). Hundreds of kilometers to the south, in Argentina, bulldozers in southeast Salta are destroying the places inhabited not by the last nomadic Indians of the Gran Chaco but by the criollo people who had taken their place in the name of civilization. It was those people, in fact, who first prompted me to think about the destruction of space as a concept that required further scrutiny. In talking about places disrupted by soy farming or fractured in a distant past, some residents would say, with penetrating clarity, “They have destroyed that place.” “The destruction of space” may sound like a counterintuitive concept, for it challenges the common-­sense view, first articulated by Newton, that space is an absolute, immutable extension that cannot be destroyed (see Casey 1997). This is, in fact, the same common sense disturbed by the notion of “the production of space,” which as Lefebvre (1991) noted, is often imagined as a timeless substratum that “cannot be produced.” But this assumption dispels as soon as one stops thinking of space as a disembodied abstraction and confronts it as a tangible, volumetric, textured configuration whose form is modifiable and thereby plastic. Catherine Malabou (2005) defines plasticity as the power of giving form. Humans have been giving form to space for millennia, in less or more overt ways, through two distinctive moments: a negative, destructive moment in which spatial forms are broken down into smaller fragments to be made more malleable and a positive moment of material reassembly that produces new forms. This requires seeing “destruction” and “production” not only as part of a cycle that begins anew with production, as Marx (1993) observed in the Grundrisse, but also as moments that reveal

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that space is a malleable plastic. And as Eyal Weizman (2007) shows, giving particular forms to space has profound political implications because these forms (walls, roads, towers) affect mobility, visibility, and the spatial reach of technologies of rule. In this intermezzo, I explore the negative moment of this spatial becoming through the concept of the “destruction of space.” In The Production of Space, Lefebvre emphasized that space should be examined as the materially created conditions of all forms of sociality, oppression, struggle, and emancipation. He demonstrated that production is not restricted to the making of objects, but that it is a force that generates and transforms space. Yet space, he emphasized, is a product unlike any other; it is a product that pervades society in its entirety. It is through space and its production that the contradictions and struggles of any social formation become tangible. This is why Lefebvre viewed the production of space as a disruptive, tension-­ridden process. Space, he wrote, is ruptured and unstable, “devastated and devastating,” as well as “utterly dislocated” (1991, 97). For Lefebvre, this destructiveness is particularly severe under capitalism. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had famously argued that capitalism’s fabulous productivity is founded on equally fabulous levels of destruction. Under bourgeois society, they wrote, “all old-­established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed.” Further, Marx and Engels argued that capitalism’s unrelenting dynamism has a dissolving force, through which “all fixed, fast-­frozen relations” are “swept away” and “all that is solid melts into air” (Marx and Engels 1992, 4–9). Lefebvre grounded these spatially destructive dimensions on capital’s tendency to commoditize space and treat it as an interchangeable, quantifiable, and available abstraction, which requires removing obstacles to the capitalist production of space. Lefebvre thereby emphasized that this abstract space is inherently violent, a “lethal” space that “destroys the historical conditions that gave rise to it” (1991, 370). He was particularly adamant in bringing to light the violence intrinsic to the capitalist production of space. “There is a violence intrinsic to abstraction, and to abstraction’s practical (social) use. . . . Abstraction’s modus operandi is devastation, destruction (even if such destruction may sometimes herald creation)” (Lefebvre 1991, 289, emphasis in original). Lefebvre, in other words, was well aware that the production of space is destructive. And while he stopped short of examining the destruction of space as a concept in its own terms, he implied, as the last quote suggests, that the “creative” side of spatial destruction under capitalism should not obscure its intrinsic violence. We owe to David Harvey some of the best analyses of the spatially destruc-

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tive nature of capitalist production, especially as this production has entered, in its neoliberal phase, a much more aggressive reassertion of elite power based on what he rightly calls “accumulation through dispossession” (2006). Harvey has tackled this problem through his emphasis on the impact of speed on distance (the famous, if misleading, “annihilation of space by time”) and the disruption of spatial forms created by “uneven geographic development,” a concept also examined by Neil Smith (2008). This spatial unevenness means that spatial destruction operates in disjointed and uneven ways, destroying some places and regions more so than it does others and creating sacrifice zones.2 As part of these patterns of spatially uneven disruption, Harvey identifies an important tension between stasis and motion in the way destruction operates, for while capital strives for mobility, “capital invested in the land cannot be moved without being destroyed” (Harvey 2010, 190). Yet Harvey (2006; 2010) has consistently examined this process via a concept that comes with peculiarly bourgeois baggage: “creative destruction.” Joseph Schumpeter (1950) coined and popularized this concept during the New Deal, influenced by the devastating Wall Street crash of 1929 and by Marx’s views of capitalist destruction in The Communist Manifesto. Yet the concept, in a subtle move, acknowledges this negativity but only to present it as ultimately creative, thereby depoliticizing it. Through a decisive sleight of hand, destruction is redefined as innovative, positive, desirable: the unavoidable side effect of an ever-­thriving system. It is therefore not surprising that neoliberal economists and corporate actors fully endorse the idea that capitalism is defined by creative destruction. This concept allows them to admit that capitalism is destructive, while at the same time highlighting that, in spite of this, the system creates wealth and places defined by wholeness. The positive qualifier in the phrase, in other words, acknowledges destruction only to disregard it. Ann Stoler’s (2009) concept of “imperial disregard” is a groundbreaking contribution to the understanding of how the destruction that is constitutive of capitalist and imperial relations can be noticed but affectively neutralized. Based on archival materials on the nineteenth-­century Netherlands Indies (today’s Indonesia), Stoler shows that Dutch officials were partly aware that imperial exploitation created suffering and destruction. Yet these men were ultimately undisturbed by this awareness. Disregard, as Stoler notices, does not mean to ignore something, but “to refuse to take notice of it,” revealing “an attitude of inattention” located “on the edges of awareness” (2009, 256). This inattention is central to the elite disregard for destruction.

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The main operation of disregard for the capitalist destruction of space is the celebration of bourgeois space as positive and full. If capitalism dazzles and rules through the power of its spectacle, as Guy Debord (1994) argued, this also means that it rules through the production of spectacular places: phallic, huge, imposing, excessive, grand. In the nineteenth century, the global core of this spectacle was Paris and its power, which fascinated Benjamin (1999), to induce a state of daydreaming. In the early twenty-­first century, this daydreaming is globally embodied in the phallic verticality that defines the skyscrapers of New York City, Dubai, and Hong Kong (see Gregory 1994, 334–37). Lefebvre (1991, 98) emphasized, in this regard, that capitalism cultivates these “phallic” and “arrogant” architectural forms in order to impress. Confronting the disregard for rubble encouraged by spectacular places requires cultivating disregard of a different nature, which was taught to me by people at the foot of the Andes: a disposition to disregard those places fetishized by the elites and to face, instead, the voiding of space exuded by rubble. The concept of the destruction of space is central to this project. While acknowledging the positive outcomes of destruction, it does not subsume its negativity to a creative affirmation. I conceptualize this process as destructive production, a term I prefer because it captures the twofold movement of production and destruction without recoding destruction as creative. Capitalism, indeed, creates vast amounts of wealth, objects, and places, but does so through what Stoler calls a ruination that “lays waste to certain peoples, relations, and things” (2013, 11). “The truth of the matter,” Marshall Berman wrote, “is that everything that bourgeois society builds is built to be torn down” and that the bourgeoisie “would tear down the world if it paid.” He added, “Their secret — a secret that they have managed to keep even from themselves — is that, behind their facades, they are the most violently destructive ruling class in history” (1982, 99–100). By the same token, the destruction of space under capitalism is the most devastating ever created, as climate change and the creation of sacrifice zones all over the planet make abundantly clear. But what is disrupted when space is destroyed? Léopold Lambert notes that destruction can be defined in an object-­oriented, non-­anthropocentric manner as “the operation in which physical bodies are being ‘broken down’ into smaller material assemblages.”3 Yet in being the negative moment in the process of giving form to space, this destruction disintegrates not just matter but the conditions of sociality that define a particular spatial node. This means that the main measure of this destruction is its impact on human bodies and practices as well as all forms of life. When Lefebvre wrote that space is

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devastated and devastating, he was pointing to the negative effects on human bodies and spatial relations and practices, not on “space” in the abstract. In Appalachia and the Andes, mining corporations are destroying places not just because they are obliterating rocks, but because they saturate places with rubble and poison that negatively affect people and living forms. A political understanding of this spatial destruction, in other words, must be founded on an affective view of space: that is, on how destruction affects the living. The destruction of space needs to be understood also in terms of its rhythms, temporalities, and intensities. Its material becoming is unstable and contradictory, and involves very different levels of physical disruption, violence, and different forms of speed. The most dramatic and abrupt forms of spatial destruction are certainly those produced by warfare, which can obliterate whole cities or regions amid devastating violence and loss of life in a matter of days or weeks. This is destruction as sheer negativity, in which the obliteration of particular places is usually not geared (in the short term) toward the production of a new place, but is an end in itself as part of a military engagement.4 The sectors of the corporate world that manufacture technologies of destruction — from drones to munitions and bulldozers — profit enormously from these intensified moments of obliteration. Destruction is thereby a source of profits in and of itself. Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007) shows that we live in an era of “disaster capitalism,” in which some corporations see “a business opportunity” in destruction. Yet in being also the negative moment of the production of space, the destruction of space operates today at an everyday pace dictated by the rhythms of capitalist productivity. Unlike situations of warfare, this destruction is geared toward the production of new commodities and places. Countless nodes of the globe are obliterated on a daily basis either to obtain raw materials (mountaintops blown away to extract minerals) or to create places where more commodities can be produced (forests bulldozed to create soy fields). This means that spatial destruction increases amid waves of economic acceleration and operates through the expansive logic of abstract space: that is, the idea that the planet is a blank, available surface to be exploited for profit regardless of who lives there and of the qualitative nature of those places. But the destruction of space is not simply the outcome of capitalist growth; it also accelerates, acquiring a different dynamic, when industrial production goes through its cyclical periods of crisis. This is the type of spatial disruption created by factories shutting down, jobs disappearing, and people moving away or living a more degraded existence. This rupture may be gradual and

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leave behind ghost towns whose infrastructure may be initially intact but that reveal over time a place that has been socially devastated. These places are destroyed not because they are physically shattered but because the relations of sociality that gave them life have dissolved. In the urban slums, where a quarter of humanity lives, the erosion of space adopts a different pace, closer to degradation and abandonment than destruction: the ruination that makes millions of people live in derelict, polluted, debilitating places. What all these different expressions of destruction and degradation share are the unraveling or erosion of social-­spatial configurations and the emergence of new spatial forms punctuated by unwanted material surplus. And regardless of the momentary “successes” or “failures” of distinct processes of disruption, those who are forced to live amid the rubble are usually not those who produce it. As Tsing puts it, “People with other stakes and stories will have to pick up the pieces” (2005, 74). The destruction of space, in short, brings to light a negativity that is often silenced and disregarded because it unsettles dominant sensibilities about the positivity of space. Yet the growing anxieties about climate change and a global apocalypse in popular culture also reveal that the rubble generated by capitalism is becoming harder to hide and disregard. The rapid deterioration of the planet’s sustainability has certainly become an unavoidable topic of public and scholarly debate and is demanding new conceptual tools. Stuart Elden, for instance, proposes to use the concept of “terricide” to name the damage being inflicted on the living surfaces of the globe.5 Terricide is the planetary sum of localized ruptures generated by what I propose to conceptualize, more broadly, as the destruction of space. But the point of analyzing this destruction is not simply to outline the spatiality of geographic forms of devastation, but also to explore the positive reconfigurations that follow. People affected by massive levels of disruption usually begin to rebuild and to try to remake their lives immediately thereafter. As Rebecca Solnit (2009) documents, ruins often trigger notable forms of collective solidarity. Furthermore, rubble can become, as Mark Healey has put it, “an invitation to transformation” (2011, 6): the possibility of building something better. And this positive dimension, rebuilding, also offers the possibility of exploring an alternative, liberatory view of destruction: the destruction of machineries of destruction. This is the type of revolutionary destruction that interested Benjamin, which he articulated in his enigmatic essay “The Destructive Character.” Benjamin was aware that overcoming the fetishized

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positivity of bourgeois forms implied their dialectical disintegration. “For Benjamin, ‘destruction’ always meant the destruction of some false or deceptive forms of experience as the productive condition of the construction of a new relation to the object” (Benjamin and Osborne 2000, xi). And this productive approach to destruction meant identifying the petit bourgeois prejudice against destruction as a selective and class-­based affect that, as Irving Wohlfarth (2000, 160) noted, considers most forms of destruction “taboo” unless they contribute to capitalist accumulation. Benjamin’s “destructive character” is a negation of this petit bourgeois common sense; it is an allegory for revolutionary, truly creative destruction in which the negation of the capitalist present is subsumed to the affirmation of equality and life. Benjamin wrote that the destructive character is always joyful and does not worry about rubble, for he “sees nothing permanent” and sees “ways everywhere.” “What exists he reduces to rubble, not for the sake of the rubble, but for that of the way leading through it” (1978, 302–3). In the Chaco, the obliteration of centers of labor exploitation like Concepción del Bermejo or Esteco by “the destructive character” of indigenous war machines also reduced what existed to rubble, “not for the sake of the rubble” but to open a way through it and mark new political beginnings. For the men and women freed from Spanish slavery, indeed, the rubble of these towns meant the possibility of rebuilding new places under better collective conditions. This is why these ruins have long haunted officials. At the foot of the Andes, the legacy of indigenous insurgencies lives on in the rubble of the city of Esteco.

The past is never dead. It is not even past. —William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Three  |  Land of Curses and Miracles


a Fiesta del Milagro, the celebration of the Miracle, is the most massive religious event in northwest Argentina. On 15 September, half a million people gather in the city of Salta to carry images of the Virgin Mary and   Jesus Christ out of the cathedral and onto the streets in a solemn, hierarchical procession. Led by the governor, provincial authorities, and the Church hierarchy, the multitude dutifully repeats the actions that once saved the city from destruction. According to the official commemoration, in September 1692 a series of recurring and powerful earthquakes threatened the city of Salta. People were terrified by the tremors and took the same images of Jesus and the Virgin out onto the streets to appease the wrath of God. The tremors stopped and the city was spared. The images came to be known as La Virgen y El Señor del Milagro (The Virgin and the Lord of the Miracle). Ever since, the people of Salta have annually renewed their vows of gratitude and loyalty to the images by taking to the streets in procession. Signaling that the celebration is a cornerstone of salteño identity, on the highway leading to the city a signpost reads, “Welcome to the Land of the Miracle.” Yet while the main procession takes place in the provincial capital, the Miracle of Salta is intrinsically linked to the rubble of Esteco 120 kilometers to the southeast, for the same earthquake that spared Salta razed Esteco to the ground. The destruction of Esteco left a profound affective mark on regional subjectivities, as strong, in fact, as Salta’s parallel salvation. In northwest Argentina, people of all ages and class backgrounds know the legend: that God punished Esteco because of its inhabitants’ extreme wealth, hubris, lack of

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faith, and their exploitation of indigenous slaves. The city of Esteco, people say, se perdió (disappeared). The celebration of the Miracle, therefore, commemorates not only that Salta survived but also that the same seismic forces obliterated the town on the edge of the Chaco that did not follow Salta’s pious behavior. La maldición de Esteco (the curse of Esteco) has haunted the rubble of the lost city since, which is seen as charged with a proclivity to generate earthquakes. This is why the ruins are practically surrounded, as if they were under siege, by the highest concentration of towns with celebrations of the Virgin and Lord of the Miracle in the province of Salta. In these towns, multitudes gather annually to form large processions that carry the images of the Virgin and Jesus Christ on the streets to invoke their protection to exorcise the curse that destroyed Esteco. Despite Esteco’s fame, or, rather, because of its famous curse, the ruins were never marked or commemorated by officials. By the early 2000s, the mounds of Esteco were so heavily overgrown that elsewhere in the province many people would tell stories about la ciudad perdida de Esteco without knowing its exact location. They were vaguely aware only that the rubble was “near Metán.” When I arrived in Metán, in 2003, to begin my fieldwork, everybody I met was aware of Esteco and its curse, and they referred to its wealth as a historical fact. Several people said the overgrown ruins were near an abandoned train station also named Esteco, a few kilometers away. But others said that the ruins were twenty-­five kilometers north of Metán, near the town of Río de las Piedras. While some residents were unaware of its exact location, the rubble of Esteco, as I soon learned, had a potent afterlife and was, in fact, the brightest and most haunted node within the constellations I explore in this book. How people in Río Piedras relate to the rubble of Esteco can be understood in relation to Rose Macaulay’s observation that deserted cities are “possibly the most moving” of all ruins (1984, 255). If by “moving” Macaulay meant the ruins’ power to affect, then those of the lost city of Esteco are certainly the most affectively charged of the places on which I did fieldwork and the most famous of all sites once involved in the conquest of the Chaco. What sets the rubble of abandoned cities apart is their massive material form and extension: a relatively vast materiality that makes apparent the extent of their debacle. This is why images of the huge, overgrown piles of debris of former cities like Tikal in Guatemala or Angkor Wat in Cambodia embody the collapse of a whole civilization. This is also why Hollywood often imagines the collapse

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of the modern world with images of large cities like New York City or Los Angeles being reduced to rubble (see Masco 2013). The size and extension of the mounds of Esteco, while relatively modest, also evoke a massive, cataclysmic collapse.1 Yet what was historically unique to Esteco was that it had two different locations a hundred kilometers apart from each other. The ruins of Esteco near Río Piedras are part of a constellation that includes its twin lost city, located to the east. This was the town of the same name, which was founded in 1566 by the rebellious Spanish troops who met the Esteko people, then abandoned in 1609. Whereas the Esteco that crumbled in 1692 became famous all over Salta, the rubble of the first Esteco was relegated to oblivion. “The past is everywhere,” Lowenthal (1985, xv) argues; indeed, but it is everywhere with different levels of intensity. At the end of this chapter, I examine the notable counterpoint that sets these two cities’ rubble apart, particularly in relation to the religious sensibilities that define the people living in their vicinity. The contrast reveals some of the spatial ruptures created by the conquest of the Chaco and the different levels of intensity acquired by the afterlife of its rubble.

Esteco, 2003 The first time I arrived in Río Piedras, I asked for directions to the ruins of Esteco, which an old criollo man in Metán had warned were heavily overgrown. “The lost city of Esteco,” I was told, was a few kilometers to the east, on a citrus farm, and I headed there, following a dirt road. I stopped at the farm administration and a man came to greet me. I asked for permission to enter the property “to take a look at Esteco.” The administrator nodded and said, “No problem.” He pointed east, “In two kilometers, you’ll see a forest on the right side of the road. That’s Esteco.” It was a rainy Sunday afternoon. After passing the ruins of the tobacco-­ drying stations, I arrived at the forest and got out of the car. The foggy terrain looked relatively unremarkable and devoid of historical traces: a dense forest of about 50 hectares (130 acres) surrounded by fields of citrus trees. I met two young men who worked at the farm and were walking in the drizzle on the edge of the forest. They were named César and Julián, and they said that they were just hanging out on their day off from work. We began walking along the perimeter of the forest and talking about la ciudad de Esteco, which they knew was there. I soon noticed myriad broken tiles scattered on the ground

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Figure 3.1. Observing debris from Esteco (May 2003). The mounds of the lost city are overgrown by the forest to the right. Photo by author.

around the citrus plants: some very small, some larger and up to twenty centimeters (five inches) long, but all with a distinctive red tone that made them stand out against the muddied soil. Drenched by the rain, we began picking and comparing pieces. César commented that they had been unearthed two years earlier by plowing machines. The more we inspected and talked about the pieces of tiles, the more I was drawn to the forest a few meters away, the source of those traces of buildings destroyed centuries earlier. Those distant histories that had initially seemed elusive were now emerging as material sediments firmly inscribed in the terrain. Thrilled at the sight of debris from the city of Esteco, I suggested to César and Julián that we explore the forest together. They seemed wary at first. Even though they were not from the area, but from Santiago del Estero, they had heard stories from local people about the curse haunting Esteco and those who entered the forest. But it did not take them long to change their minds. We followed a rough trail at first, but soon found ourselves trekking with difficulty through dense entanglements of trees, vines, and shrubs, and became wetter from the raindrops accumulated on the foliage. There were no

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more broken tiles on the ground, just a thick layer of plants and weeds. As we slowly made our way forward, the terrain became more irregular, and we eventually had to climb and descend steep mounds. It was now possible to distinguish the rough layout of old streets: long, straight depressions lined by mounds. The forest suddenly became a different place, a living, green veneer covering the debris of an ancient city. On a couple of occasions we stumbled upon wide, deep holes, which, I learned later, had been dug by the treasure hunters who, over the centuries, had entered the forests in search of the riches of Esteco, and whose labor had clearly transformed the shape of the terrain. At one point, Julián felt compelled to jokingly invoke that wealth. Standing on the edge of a mound, he pretended to point to something hidden amid the mass of vegetation and screamed, “Gold! Gold!” We all had a good laugh. We could not escape the legend associated with that place. The slow trek through the thick jungle that had taken over Esteco made solidly apparent that the form of the ruins was inseparable from that of the forest. Our feet, in fact, trod on the thick mass of soil and vegetation that fully shrouded the debris. The conatus or striving that for Spinoza is the prin­ ciple of all life is a spatially expansive force that makes myriad living forms quickly move on, crawl, colonize, and tightly embrace destroyed places. Esteco was now the forest. And the forest, in turn, had adapted to the shape of the mounds and their grid-­like layout, becoming their form. We wandered the intricate, textured space of the city of Esteco for over an hour until we reached the other edge of the forest. We were in citrus fields again, wet and tired. César and Julián invited me to drink mate tea at their camp in an old house, two kilometers away. Half an hour later we were sitting by a fire listening to stories about Esteco told by their foreman, Pedro, a man in his sixties from Río Piedras. He was excited to hear that we had been in the lost city and listened approvingly to our accounts of the mounds, the layout of old streets, the holes. “Many people are afraid of going there,” he said. Pedro also mentioned la mujer de piedra, the woman who turned into stone while trying to flee the crumbling city; the schoolchildren who some people swear having seen next to the forest, mimicking the actions of times past; the roosters and dogs some hear in the area, assumed to be the ghosts of animals who once lived in Esteco. Since César and Julián had told me that the farmer had bought the property only three years earlier, I asked Pedro whether he thought the farmer would eventually try to bulldoze the forest to plant more citrus. “No. He’s going to

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Figure 3.2. Esteco is the forest, and the forest is Esteco. The debris of  broken tiles in the citrus fields reveals the nearby presence of the rubble of the lost city (May 2003). Photo by author.

leave it like this,” Pedro said. César agreed, “He says he’s going to leave it like this. People around here don’t like working there.” I was impressed by the spatial implications of their comments: the power of an ancient curse to limit the expansion of capitalist forms of spatial destruction.

The Curse of Esteco Río Piedras is a small, sleepy town that is home to about two thousand people. In addition to depending on the jobs provided by the municipality, many residents work on nearby tobacco farms and cattle ranches and on the citrus farm at Esteco. In the early evening, it is common to see gauchos on horseback returning home after a day’s work on the fincas. The rubble of Esteco is seven kilometers away: not too close, but close enough. Most people in Río Piedras argue that the curse of the ruins was produced by Esteco’s tainted wealth and greed. Some highlight that Esteco’s inhabitants were fond of riding horses wearing gold horseshoes and that, in a clear sign of disdain for a symbol of Jesus’ body, they put bread on muddied streets to step on during

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rainy days. Others say that work in Esteco was done by thousands of Indian slaves and that the curse is the affective afterlife of their suffering, as Roberto Payró noted in his interviews with criollos in Río Piedras at the beginning of the twentieth century (Payró 1960, 190). This evocation of labor exploitation surfaced in September 2006, when I visited the museum of Metán, which displays a handful of nails, ceramics, and china from Esteco, as well as brief texts about its history. I asked the person in charge, a woman in her forties named Magdalena, about “the legend of Esteco.” She corrected me, “It wasn’t a legend. It was real.” Magdalena said that those living in the city were “very bad people” because they exploited thousands of slaves, “flogged them, beat them up, and put them in shackles.” That is why, she said, Esteco was destroyed and “bad things” happen there. On the night of 5 July 1975, two trains transporting oil tankers crashed at the train station named “Esteco,” located south of the ruins, resulting in a huge explosion that killed several railroad workers (Poma 1995, 351). Several middle-­aged people in each of the surrounding towns remembered that the fire could be seen fifty kilometers away; they were also unanimous in agreeing that the crash was caused by the curse of Esteco. In Metán, in fact, the accident helped solidify the belief that the ruins are around the now abandoned and overgrown train station, for such a devastating explosion was considered the outcome of the damned debris of the lost city. Yet even those who knew that Esteco is actually ten kilometers to the north agreed that the curse was to blame: the station had absorbed the negativity of the lost city by the very fact of having its name officially inscribed on its signposts. The perception that Esteco is cursed seems to be as old as the town itself, going back to the first Esteco that existed in the late 1500s downstream the Salado. The first references to Esteco being un lugar maldito (a damned place) point to the social unrest created by labor exploitation. Because of the sandy, loose texture of the soil, an enormous amount of indigenous labor was needed to repair the three-­k ilometer canal that brought water from the Salado to irrigate the cotton fields that surrounded the town. The mobilization of a large labor force to permanently repair the canal became a recurring source of conflict. An official complained that Esteco was built on “arenales y sali­ trales malditos” (damned fields of sand and salt) (Torre Revello 1943, 38). The presence of the Chaco to the east encouraged workers to flee and the resulting labor shortage solidified the belief that Esteco was damned and that the city should be moved elsewhere. But when the city was moved west in 1609, the curse traveled as well. Even the name “Esteco” traveled to the new site, despite

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the new town being officially renamed Talavera de Madrid. The perception that Esteco was cursed even at its new location was furthered by ongoing attacks from the Chaco and the impact of earthquakes. In 1632, an earthquake severely damaged Esteco’s buildings. Residents and priests interpreted this event as yet another sign that God did not favor the city, which was also affected by high rates of tropical diseases.2 Troops departed from Esteco to the Chaco several times to capture slaves and replenish the town’s labor force. Then, in 1686, the indigenous war machine retaliated with the most devastating raid ever launched on Esteco. On Good Friday of that year, Mocoví combatants stormed the town in order to free hundreds of men and women who had been captured during a slaving raid. The attackers were eventually repelled, but the city was left profoundly damaged. This was, in essence, Esteco’s “mortal blow” (Torre Revelo 1943, 11). Many vecinos (slave owners) left for good. After the attack, a woman from an elite family living in town wrote, “The vecinos of Esteco believe that this city is definitively damned, that the prophesies have been or will be fulfilled, and that it will be destroyed” (cited in González 2005, 77). Esteco was on the brink of abandonment when the powerful earthquake that also made Salta tremble delivered the final blow. “The seismic movement of 1692 reduced to rubble what was already in ruins” (Torre Revelo 1943, 69). The rubble of Esteco, in short, was primarily created by the insurgent violence ensuing from the Chaco and by the refusal of its labor force to stay. Earthquakes alone do not erase cities from the surface of the earth; while they certainly do destroy cities, residents usually reconstruct those cities shortly thereafter, as many examples demonstrate, from Lisbon in 1755 to San Francisco in 1906. Esteco, however, was neither rebuilt nor repopulated. Officials and residents gave up on it, for the place seemed condemned to be dissolved by a vortex of uprisings, disease, and tectonic movements. The power of the rubble of Esteco to generate apprehension proved resilient over several centuries, particularly in the perception that the earthquake that almost destroyed Salta could erupt from the rubble again. But the repulsion generated by the haunted ruins has coexisted with the gravitational pull generated by its famed wealth. With the crumbling of the city, it has been assumed, its legendary riches were buried by rubble and remain hidden underground as tapados. The massive, deep holes that I saw in the forest revealed that the mounds had attracted treasure hunters for generations. Roberto is a former rural worker in his late sixties, and the second time we met in Río Piedras he told me that when he was only twelve he tried to find a tapado amid

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the rubble of Esteco. He was digging when he suddenly felt “a cold thing” in his back, as if someone had stuck a cold dagger in his body. He ran away, but he was so terrified that he was unable to speak for four days. He got susto (fright sickness), a “folk illness” that is widespread in rural Latin America and involves a temporary state of semi-­paralysis triggered by a sudden, intense experience of terror. While Roberto’s grandmother eventually cured him, his bodily experience of terror at the haunted rubble kept him away from Esteco for the following five decades. Despite the curse associated with Esteco’s ruins, the awareness that a powerful city once existed nearby makes some residents of Río Piedras nostalgic for the former prominence of the place where they now live. Pancho, a man in his sixties, said, “It was the richest capital there ever was in the Argentine Republic.” A comment I heard repeatedly was that Esteco far surpassed Salta in wealth and importance. Many added with conviction, “Esteco was going to be Salta,” thereby denaturalizing current geographies of power by arguing that Esteco, now in ruins but very close to where they live, was destined to be the provincial capital. In September 2006, a day before the procession for the Miracle in Río Piedras, I visited a ninety-­two-­year-­old man named José in his home. Half a dozen of his relatives and friends were sitting at a large table, and seemed excited that I wanted to interview him about Esteco. When I asked him about the town’s history, they all listened attentively. José began by telling me, “Esteco disappeared [se perdió] because people didn’t believe in God and made fun of God.” He then proceeded to tell me the standard story of how Esteco was destroyed. An old man wearing rags arrived in the city asking for food, but people mistreated him and told him to go away. Only a very poor couple welcomed him. At the table, he warned them that Esteco was about to be destroyed and that they should promptly leave without turning around. The couple left, but on hearing the thundering destruction the woman looked back and was immediately turned into stone. Ever since then, la piedra (the stone) has moved slowly toward Salta, taking one step every year. The day it arrives, José pointed out, Salta will be destroyed. José’s younger brother, Mario, added from the other end of the table: “But because of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle, nothing happens. Precisely, we celebrate here the fiestita [little celebration] of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle. But we have the large celebration in Salta that begins next week.” José intervened, “In Salta, they celebrate because of that earthquake. But the true celebration is

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tomorrow. The true celebration is here.” I asked him whether the procession had originally begun in Río Piedras. “Right here,” he said firmly. “The one in Salta is supplementary.” People at the table nodded and began talking about the stone that slowly moves toward Salta. Someone mentioned that old gauchos saw it on the forested hill overlooking Río Piedras. José’s daughter, Eugenia, said, “Thank God it doesn’t arrive. They say that when the stone arrives in Salta, Salta disappears [se pierde] and Esteco returns.”3 I heard variations of this story hundreds of kilometers away. References to the slow-­moving stone that will eventually reach and destroy Salta are invariably present. Notably, this is a material vestige from Esteco that is imagined to be inexorably attracted, as if pulled by a magnet, to the provincial capital. The two cities still stand in tension with each other as polar opposites, to the point that one’s existence means the other’s destruction. Just as Salta was saved by the forces that caused Esteco’s demise, the resurrection of Esteco can only happen via Salta’s destruction. And the object that may cause this destruction is a material surplus from the ruins. As Mario made clear, however, the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle protect Salta and Río Piedras from the threat. For residents like José, Río Piedras is the original source of the celebration of the Miracle because of its proximity to the epicenter of the earthquakes.

Celebrating the Miracle in Río Piedras The history of the celebration of the Miracle is the history of a notable spatial trajectory that began in the city of Salta in 1692 and has gradually expanded toward the ruins of Esteco following the tempo of new earthquakes and the growing efforts by the Church and the state to code the meaning of the celebration. The processions were initially confined to the city of Salta, and the multitude originally blended without class or social distinctions. In 1844, a new earthquake shook Salta, and the Church drew on the shock created by this event to introduce a “pact of fidelity” that publicly encouraged the crowds to renew an oath of loyalty to the images and, by default, to the Church (Fernández 1973). By the late nineteenth century, the procession was spatially segregated and was led by political-­social elites and the Church hierarchy, followed by la plebe (the poor) (Caro Figueroa 2001). In 1902, the pope granted the Salta archdiocese the right to “crown” the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle, a reverence bestowed on popular religious images. With this blessing from the Vatican, the procession became central to the reproduction

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Figure 3.3. Armed police officers sheltering the Lord of the Miracle in the procession in Río Piedras (September 2006). Photo by author.

of state-­Church power in Salta and to the celebration of the legacy of Spanish colonialism. The current salience of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle around the ruins of Esteco is the outcome of new earthquakes that took place in 1908 and 1948 and further solidified the perception that the rubble was their epicenter. These tectonic forces were crudely physical reverberations emerging from the depths of the earth that revived at a bodily level the memory of the punishment that God had inflicted on Esteco because of its sins. And this is how a ring of processions for the Miracle came to almost surround the ruins of the lost city.4 Between late August and late September, the whole region around Esteco is immersed in the same religious pulsation. While residents experience this celebration through the lens of the personal reciprocity that marks other processions (requesting miracles in exchange for promises), this event is structured by the collective reciprocity that bonds the Virgin and the Lord with the people of Salta. This is the main message inculcated by the Church, which frames the Miracle as a gesture of collective gratitude and atonement that through “pomp and ceremony” inculcates what Spinoza (2007) saw as the core of religious doctrine: obedience.

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On the morning of 8 September 2006, a multitude of men, women, and children gathered around the church in Río Piedras, which had been decorated with little flags and balloons in the colors of Argentina (white and blue) and the Vatican (yellow and white). A marching band and dozens of officers from the Salta police and the Metán penitentiary lined in formation, and groups of gauchos on horseback stood nearby. The procession began when groups of men took the images of the Virgin and the Lord out of the church and onto the street with hundreds of waving handkerchiefs welcoming them, while the voice of the announcer at the podium blasted through loudspeakers. The procession’s hierarchical ordering was apparent from the start, mimicking the hierarchies that structure the main celebration in the city of Salta. The image of the Virgin led the procession, followed by the vice-­governor of Salta, the mayors of Río Piedras and nearby towns, the provincial legislator for the Metán district, and local politicians. The image of Jesus Christ came behind. As in Salta, the procession was markedly militarized. The speaker announced that the Virgin would be escoltada (escorted) by female and male officers from the Metán police, who promptly formed a protective ring around it, with male officers in camouflage uniforms creating an outer ring and carrying assault rifles. Policemen from the penitentiary of Metán holding shotguns and automatic weapons, in turn, surrounded the image of Jesus Christ. This militarized performance reminds the audience that while the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle protect the people of Salta, it is the state and its military machine that are in charge of protecting the images. As the procession moved forward, the public walked behind the images in a line of crowds stretching over several blocks. Gauchos on horseback formed the tail of the procession, some of them holding the flags of Argentina, Salta, and the Vatican. The crowd of about one thousand walked in silence while loudspeakers played religious songs and repetitive invocations honoring the Lord and Virgin of the Miracle. The town had come to a standstill, and the multitude embodied the town’s collective faith in the Miracle. When the procession arrived back at the church, the images were placed on a stage facing the street, and a central component in the Miracle celebration began: the inculcation of obedience to the Church through the renewal of “the fidelity pact.” First, an announcer stated that “the horrible temblors” that threatened Salta were the same that destroyed Esteco.5 A priest subsequently took to the stage and encouraged the public to renew the commitment that has historically united el pueblo de Salta (the people of Salta) with the images. Then he asked the multitude to repeat several times, “You will always be ours

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Figure 3.4. Evoking “the horrible temblors” in the procession for the Miracle in Río Piedras (September 2006). Photo by author.

and we will always be yours.” A loud murmur engulfed the crowded plaza, asserting the dialectic bonding the images, the Church, and the province as a whole. The concepts of “protection” and “gratitude” stood out in the invocations: the protection that the Lord and the Virgin have granted the people of Salta since “the horrible temblors,” and the gratitude that salteños have felt for their saviors since. The renewal of the pact was followed by repeated calls for the participants to give themselves up to Christ and renounce sin, the Devil, and earthly desires. This made apparent the main affective thread of the ceremony: sin, punishment, and redemption. The ceremony ended with the civic-­military parade (desfile cívico-­militar) that concludes most religious ceremonies in Salta. The armed Metán riot police marched in front of the images, followed by unarmed female officers and the police officers from the Metán prison. Then it was the turn of el Cuerpo Policial Infantil (the Children’s Police Corps): boys between six and twelve who live in police-­run boarding schools and are socialized into police discipline and habits from an early age. Their body language was striking for their youth: stern faces and a rigid, military-­style marching pace. The announcer emphasized that these boys were taught “values of honor, order, and patriotism,” and the public responded with enthusiastic applause.

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The gauchos were the climax of the parade. They rode their horses by the church and hailed the images of the Virgin and the Lord by removing their hats. The announcer appealed to the largely criollo public by praising “our beloved gauchos” and emphasized that they had come “to show their gratefulness to the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle.” At the end of the ceremony, groups of men took the religious images back inside the church. The bells were ringing, and hundreds of people, some of them in tears, waved goodbye with their handkerchiefs. A repeated call inundated the whole town through loudspeakers: “Long Live the Lord of the Miracle! Long Live the Virgin of the Miracle! Long Live our Holy Church!”

Earthquakes of the War Machine The resilient afterlife of the ruins of Esteco and the repetitive inculcation to remember the earthquake that destroyed it speaks of the long-­term affective impact of the collapse of a major node of Spanish power on the edge of the void — the last city to be abandoned in a century in which the Spanish empire suffered one debacle after another in the Chaco. That the second Esteco was the only city to leave noticeable ruins added to their affective power, re-created in oral history and in the processions for the Miracle. Popular memory and official commemorations have reinforced each other through the theme that binds them: the erasure of the political forces that destroyed Esteco and the reification of this disruption as the sole outcome of earthquakes. A geological feature of the eastern valleys and foothills of the Andes is certainly that they are part of an earthquake-­prone geography. And the earthquakes that have shaken the region have had an undeniable destructive power, like the one that obliterated Esteco in 1692 or San Juan in 1944 (Healey 2011). Yet while often reified as expressions of “nature,” the power of tectonic movements is as material as it is affective: that is, we can only understand an earthquake’s historical significance by analyzing how it affects human experience, in a process that undermines the very distinction between “society,” “nature,” and “space.” On the Chaco frontier, what made seismic tremors particularly unsettling to state actors was that it involved, primarily, a region that they were unable to control politically. The war machine, in fact, attacked not only Esteco but also Salta, despite its more sheltered location in the Lerma Valley in the highlands, thereby revealing the spatial reach of the raids launched from the Chaco.6 The earthquake of 1692 added a potent nonhuman force that in emanating

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from the depths of the terrain felt particularly ominous. Spinoza argued that transcendental views of religion create a dualism between nature and God, in which the latter is conceived of as a royal majesty who asserts power over a nature that is seen as separate from Him, as raw, wild impetus (Spinoza 2007, 81). “The Miracle” re-creates this dualism by invoking Jesus Christ and the Virgin to tame the raw impetus of earthquakes. The vertigo created by the underground void thereby blended with the political vertigo created by the anti-­ imperial insurgencies of the Chaco. The celebration of the Miracle inculcates obedience to the Church by drawing on classical biblical themes, particularly Sodom and Gomorrah as sinful cities punished and destroyed by God. And the story told by criollos of the woman turned to stone and slowly crawling toward Salta draws on the biblical story of Lot, whose wife turned into a pile of salt on looking back at Sodom’s destruction. Yet these tales from the Old Testament were reframed by the historical specificity of a violent imperial frontier in South America. As part of this reconfiguration, the memory of Esteco reproduced by working-­ class criollos stands in tension with the official celebration in one important point, for it brings to light the oppression, exploitation, and violence that the Church has sought to erase. This is why “the legend of Esteco” and its evocation of imperial abuse and hubris have long created discomfort among those who try to uphold a celebratory memory of Spanish conquest. Conservative historians have long embarked on a crusade against the criollo view of Esteco by emphasizing that it is not only “inaccurate,” but also “unjust” to the “heroic” defenders of Esteco in their struggle against “the warlike hordes of the Chaco” (Frigerio 1987, 78, 80; Reyes Gajardo 1968, 42; Torre Revelo 1943, 11).7 In Río Piedras, the current affective hegemony of the celebration of the Miracle has partly succeeded in inculcating obedience to Church doctrine as a way to keep the curse of the rubble of Esteco at bay. A similar process involves the town closest to Esteco to the east, El Galpón (see map I.2). While this is the only town in the area that does not have a celebration for the Miracle, its patron saint, San Francisco Solano, is a major presence in the spatial constellations haunted by the ruins and in the attempts to conjure away the curse. People in El Galpón say that San Francisco Solano was the mysterious old man who arrived in Esteco prior to its destruction. And the saint is evoked in the streets every year as a missionary who made wild Indians kneel down and obey, thereby linking the rubble to the void of the Chaco. More important, it was a priest from El Galpón who in July 2004, invoking

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the joint power of the Miracle and San Francisco Solano, conducted a ceremony of exorcism at the very source of the curse: in Esteco. The exorcism of the ruins took place right before the fiesta patronal in El Galpón, taking advantage of the many pilgrims visiting the town for the holiday.8 A crowd of several hundred arrived at the citrus farm on several buses and trucks, then gathered at the edge of the forest that hid the rubble from view. The farmer and his son were in attendance next to the provincial legislator from the district of Metán. The priest of El Galpón presided over the ceremony, whose ultimate goal was to plant a cross in that place that had voided Christianity for centuries. With his back turned on the forest of Esteco, he invoked the Miracle of Salta to try to appease the “fantastic stories” about that place. We want to ask God that we can put this sign of the cross in this place that’s so historic and so deeply embedded in the faith of the Miracle of Salta.  . . . For the first time, and I know I’m not wrong, someone puts the cross in this place of Esteco so that the Lord of the Miracle, who has such an influence on our life, reigns over the life of this Church of Salta. . . . With this blessing, we want to take any curse on this place away from it, to take away all the curses and the fantastic stories that have been created about Esteco; to ask for the soul of those who died in that event; to free this place from any negative action, from any diabolical action. . . . We want to free Esteco from any connotation of fear that we sometimes have in remembering,  . . . to free this place from this sad and difficult story, from everything that has been transmitted from generation to generation. At the end of the ceremony, the priest and several young men planted the one-­meter wooden cross at the edge of the forest. This invocation of the Miracle and the planting of the cross were remarkable attempts to extirpate the negative, uncontrollable, diabolical forces that had coalesced around the rubble. It was a gesture of moral authority “deeply embedded in the faith of the Miracle of Salta.” The planting of the cross was not unlike the ceremonies of possession by officials and missionaries in the Chaco of the 1700s, which sought to counter the void with a positive object. The priest emphasized that he was certain (“I know I’m not wrong”) that no cross had been planted there for over three centuries, thereby highlighting that the ruins had been a vortex beyond the reach of Christianity. The ceremony and installation of the cross were efforts to dissolve this void with the gestures of piety annually performed in the surrounding towns: an exorcism of the curse carried out at

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its source. When I visited the ruins of Esteco in 2005, the cross was still there. When I returned the following year, it was gone.

In the Shade of the Virgin of Huachana Whereas the city of Esteco that crumbled at the foot of the Andes reached mythical status, the Esteco that had existed deeper in the Chaco was largely forgotten elsewhere in the region. The rubble was for a very long time only known to local people. In the mid-­1900s, several writers and specialists were puzzled by the opacity of the rubble, and some of them explored the north of Santiago del Esteco unsuccessfully looking for it (Gorostiaga 1986; Reyes Gajardo 1968). The mystery was solved when archaeologists from the Universidad de La Plata announced that they had located the rubble near the village of El Vencido, east of the Juramento River. In Buenos Aires, La Nación reported on its front page, “A city from the sixteenth century was found in Salta.”9 The media coverage of archaeological work on the site created a public counterpoint between the famous Esteco near Metán and this “other Esteco” that no one had ever heard of. Because of the media coverage, some people in nearby towns are now vaguely aware about the “other” Esteco “south of Quebrachal.” Yet the site remains relatively unknown in Salta and has only a dim pull in regional constellations of rubble. This node of rubble is, after all, in one of the poorest areas of the Argentine Chaco. But it is the oldest material trace of attempts to turn the Chaco into state territory, the ground zero of subsequent centuries of violence. I first arrived in El Vencido, a scattered network of houses home to about six hundred, on my exploratory trip in May 2003. Unlike the area around Río Piedras, which is dominated by lush hills and the massive presence of the Andes to the west, this part of Salta, near the limit with Santiago del Estero, is defined by the flat, forested, dry terrain of the Chaco. Connected to Route 16 via a gravel road, the area is inhabited by criollos living in poverty who own a few head of cattle. In the outskirts of El Vencido, I met by chance the family who hosts the archaeologists who work on the site in the winter. Pablo, in his sixties, told me about their work and showed me several pieces of ceramic from the site, including a china plate that was intact. Mariano, a seventeen-year-old, offered to guide me in my car to “the city of Esteco.” That is what they had always called the site, even before archaeologists announced the discovery in the media.

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Figure 3.5. The rubble of the forgotten city of Esteco, near El Vencido. Photo by author.

I drove following a trail in the bush that passed through a wide depression that, Mariano told me, had been the Salado River in the times of Esteco. The river now flows several kilometers to the west. After a few minutes, he pointed to a spot where we could park the car. “Esteco begins here,” he said. He explained that the mounds are in a de facto collective space shared to hunt or tender cattle.10 In contrast to the dense forest that fully covered the debris of the other Esteco, the dry soil we began walking on was relatively free of vegetation. While partly covered with trees and bushes, the whole area was punctuated by numerous, noticeable mounds and by occasional small pieces of pots, tiles, and bricks. Mariano stopped at the base of a two-­meter mound, dug with his machete, and extracted several well-­preserved tiles. He also showed me vestiges of the canal that had once created unrest and the idea that Esteco was damned. In the following four years, I returned several times to El Vencido. While most residents see the rubble with apprehension and think that tapados are buried underground, they do not consider the site cursed and have no elaborate stories as to the nature of the people who lived there or why it was abandoned. But the afterlife of the town’s rubble is intrinsically tied to the site’s size, which makes it clear that Esteco was “a city.” Pablo lives three kilometers

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west of the mounds and swears that in his youth he could hear motley sounds from the town’s past life, as if Esteco was still alive and full of people, dogs, and roosters. “That place used to frighten a lot, especially at the time of prayer [at dusk],” he said. “It was really bad. When it was getting dark, it was the time they made a ruckus in Esteco. You heard they were talking. You heard dogs, everything. It was a town.” Notably, he perceived the afterlife of the ruins not visually but through the disordered, disjointed, indistinct sounds that define an urban space: echoes that through sensory repetitions actualize a disembodied past that is felt in the present. But what impressed me the most about the people of El Vencido was the notable contrast between their religious affects and spatial orientations and those of the residents of Río Piedras. Whereas the latter’s habits are shaped by the celebration of the Miracle and obedience to the Church, criollos in El Vencido are explicit in their disregard for both. This disregard is caused by their devotion to a Virgin of dark complexion based in the opposite direction: at the hamlet of Huachana, in the north of Santiago del Estero, in one of the most remote, heavily forested areas of the Argentine Chaco, and one increasingly affected by the expansion of soy farming. I first began to appreciate the gravitational power of Huachana to draw multitudes when in July 2003 I drove to San José de Boquerón in Santiago del Estero, cutting through one of the thickest, driest areas of monte I had ever seen in the Chaco. While driving on desolate dirt roads in terrible shape, I encountered many people who were walking, biking, or driving south as well. Some were small groups of youths carrying heavy backpacks, plastic water bottles, and blankets (July is winter in the Chaco). All were covered in dust from head to toe. Others bicycled, carrying provisions in big saddles and flags with images of the Virgin. A few pilgrims were gauchos riding their horses. Most people, however, were walking on the side of the road, carrying little or no weight. In those cases, a truck or a bus carrying water, tents, blankets, and supplies was either ahead of them or following them. The few families who lived amid those forests had posted rudimentary signs on the road, welcoming the pilgrims and offering food for sale as well a place to take a bath. I visited Huachana for the Virgin’s celebration four years later, in July 2007, when I had become aware of the huge popularity of the Virgin of Huachana in southeast Salta. Juan, my closest friend from the area of Chorroarín, came with me. Departing from Joaquín V. González, we followed a longer but less difficult road by making a detour through the province of Chaco that nonetheless demanded driving, in the last seventy-­kilometer stretch, on a rough,

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Figure 3.6. Pilgrims waiting in line to see the Virgin at the chapel of  Huachana. Most will rest and shower only after having paid their respects to the Virgin. Photo by author.

bumpy, and sandy dirt road. By then, we were part of an unbroken stream of buses, trucks, vans, cars, 4x4s, bicycles, and pilgrims on foot. We arrived in Huachana the day before the Virgin’s festivity on 31 July. During most of the year, Huachana is a chapel surrounded by a handful of houses in a desolate area. At that moment, it had become the most heavily populated place in the whole of the western Chaco. More than sixty thousand people — most of them from southeast Salta — had created a bustling, lively city of tents and myriad other structures on a grid scattered over several square kilometers: a dizzy­ing and loud aggregation of merchant booths, diners, outhouses, public showers, dancing halls, music tents, games-­of-­chance booths, and swarms of street vendors.11 They were all clogged around the chapel that held a thirty-­ centimeter-­tall plaster image of a Virgin with miraculous powers. As night fell, the pounding of the music coming from the dancing halls created an indistinct cacophony of music styles that overtook the whole tent city. The large crowds that annually converge on Huachana create a place defined by what Victor Turner (1969) called “communitas”: an antistructural, festive commonness of feeling based on casual, informal, egalitarian acquaintances relatively free from institutional control. This environment is the product of

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the antihierarchical and syncretic religious dispositions that guide many pilgrims. A few weeks earlier, I had met a gaucho woman named Pocha and her husband, Toto, at their cattle ranch west of Chorroarín. Pocha summed up the attitude of many pilgrims in Huachana when she told me, “I don’t believe in anything except the Virgin of Huachana.” She said she never thinks about God and that she never confesses to curas (priests), for she does not believe in the Catholic Church. Toto agreed, saying, “I don’t go with the curas.” This hostility toward priests and this distancing from “God,” which many criollos see as a distant abstraction, was apparent in Huachana. This is why, as Simon Coleman (2002) would put it, the festive environment created in Huachana is “communitas within contestation,” defined in opposition to the attempts by priests to regiment its rhythms and meanings. Most of the pilgrims I talked to were wary of and even hostile to the intrusive presence adopted by the Church in the past few years, which was aggressively trying to channel and domesticate the celebration. Many pilgrims expressed nostalgia for the days when the celebration was the spontaneous outcome of a multitude assembling independently of institutional intrusions. Several men and women pointed out, for instance, that in the past ordinary pilgrims (men and women) carried the Virgin on their shoulders during the main procession while the multitude blended around them. Now the Virgin is carried by men appointed by priests and is cordoned off with a rope by Church-­organized volunteers surrounded by police officers. Only priests and the bishop of Santiago del Estero walk next to the Virgin. People were particularly resentful of the fact that the Church had begun building a large temple three kilometers from the chapel, where the image is now placed for three days. In those days a rumor circulated in Huachana as undisputable fact: that the Virgin disliked the new temple and reappeared in the small chapel every night, asserting her commitment to staying at the humble place cherished by pilgrims. Despite the growing signs of institutionalization and tension, the egalitarian habits of the men and women assembled in Huachana still created a resonant celebration that was notably different from that of the Miracle in places like Río Piedras. The texts read aloud by announcers and lay church members as well as the pilgrims’ comments were noticeably free of the references to sin, the Devil, or “Long live the Holy Church!” that are common in the celebration of the Miracle. More important, the place was marked by the joyful effervescence of music and dancing halls that for most pilgrims coexisted without contradiction with their devotion for the Virgin — a festive

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Figure 3.7. Huachana, city of lights and rhythms (July 2007). Photo by author.

state that for Pentecostals and orthodox Catholics confirms the pagan and sinful nature of the Virgin of Huachana, which some of them vehemently oppose as diabolical. Yet the most defining feature of the celebration in Huachana is its location. While I was there, I asked a sixty-­one-­year-­old man from El Galpón why the Virgin was so miraculous. “It must be the place where she is and that people come making such a sacrifice,” he said. “It’s not the same as the Virgins in the towns, when you don’t have to make the sacrifice to go somewhere else like you do to get here.” For him, the Virgin’s power lies in her capacity to draw people toward a remote place across a heavily striated terrain that demands intense bodily sacrifices. In contrast, the Virgins based “in the towns,” like the Virgin of the Miracle, require only that one join the procession in the streets for a couple of hours. The Virgin’s commitment to staying in a marginalized place in the dry hinterland of the Chaco is also class-based and racialized. Priests and announcers in Huachana, for example, regularly referred to the Virgin as “the mother of the poor.” And some pilgrims made a point of saying that the Virgin of the Miracle in the Cathedral of Salta is “white” and wears “luxurious clothes,” whereas the Virgin of Huachana is dark-skinned and poor, a racialization of apparitions of the Virgin Mary that is common in

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Latin America.12 The Virgin of Huachana is, in short, the distinct product of a criollo geography. The images of the Virgin on display all over Huachana often stand next to figurines of El Gauchito Gil, the patron saint of gauchos, which most pilgrims are also devoted to. The Virgin of Huachana generates the most massive, potent articulation of the type of grassroots, antihierarchical sentiments that have defined religious habits in this area of the Chaco for generations. And while still heavily forested, the north of Santiago del Estero is also becoming the site of conflicts over evictions by soy farmers. In fact, conflicts have become particularly vio­ lent in this region, and two men defending their land were murdered since 2011.13 Located in the heart of a threatened criollo geography, this is the only pilgrimage site that in southeast Salta competes in popularity with the Mir­ acle of Salta. The same way that the church of La Manga has inspired gauchos to congregate and to create a festive event free from institutional control, Huachana has attracted criollo forms of veneration for almost two centuries. The cult seems to have begun in 1820, when a girl in Huachana discovered the wooden figurine of the Virgin on a tree — shortly after the missions on the Salado were abandoned and forty kilometers south of the ruins of the Jesuit station of San José de Petacas. According to the standard story told by pilgrims, a police officer claimed that the Virgin was diabolical and tried to destroy it by setting the tree on fire. The image miraculously survived and residents began venerating it. Officials and priests tried to take it elsewhere but the trails became impassable.14 The celebration of the Virgin of Huachana, in short, began and grew in popularity in response to attempts by state and Church agents to destroy it or take it away. In the past decades, the celebration has become even more popular as new threats converge on the region. It is on that same place that many thousands of pilgrims converge every year from hundreds of kilometers away, and particularly from southeast Salta.15 Despite living in the province of Salta, people in El Vencido are as expressive in their veneration for the Virgin of Huachana as they are in their disinterest in the Miracle of Salta. In January 2007, I was talking with Pablo and his daughter Carmen, who had become my closest acquaintances in the village. Pablo said, “I wonder how it is that we celebrate a festivity that’s not from here, but from Santiago del Estero. And we don’t care about the Fiesta del Milagro [no le damos bolilla]. And she’s the patron saint of Salta!” Carmen added with a smile on her face, “Nobody from around here goes to the celebration of the Miracle. But instead, for Huachana nobody stays here.” I commented that maybe the reason was that Huachana was closer. Pablo nodded, but Carmen

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Figure 3.8. Offering to the Virgin of Huachana in the form of a homemade flag requesting “Pan y Trabajo” (Bread and Jobs), Huachana (July 2007). Photo by author.

said, gesturing north toward Salta, “That way, it’s all paved. Toward here,” she said, gesturing toward Santiago, “it’s all loose dirt and sand.” It is worth noting, first, that Pablo said that they disregarded the official patron saints of Salta using a colloquial expression (no le damos bolilla) that suggests that this is an object not worthy of attention. And Carmen articulated the contrasting spatiality of both celebrations: that for the Miracle nobody in El Vencido leaves in pilgrimage and for Huachana everybody does. She emphasized that it would be faster, cheaper, and much easier for them to go to Salta, but that they prefer to go to Huachana instead. She highlighted, in short, that the two celebrations mobilize contrasting geographies: smooth, paved roads leading to Salta and sandy dirt roads and bush trails leading to Huachana. Pablo commented about the Miracle a few minutes later, “This is the only area in Salta that doesn’t participate.” The fact that during my fieldwork I regularly drove back and forth between El Vencido and Río Piedras, two hundred kilometers away from each other by road, was particularly illuminating. This mobility gradually helped me notice not only contrasts in religious sensibilities, but also people’s different

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views of something they share: popular belief in the power of miracles and of the places they originate from. Both celebrations mobilize requests for miracles and individualized relations of reciprocity with the images. And these requests are in both cases part of subaltern religious sentiments that seek healing from social and personal suffering. Yet in the Miracle, the Virgin and Jesus Christ evoke a collective salvation that is subjected to obedience to the Church, celebrates the provincial capital, and cultivates order and fear, the fear of earthquakes and of a cursed node of rubble. In Huachana, the miraculous power that emanates from “the mother of the poor” is located in an outlying criollo hamlet in the Chaco and is the source of more joyful, less regimented encounters. And while this celebration also contributes to reproducing the power of the Church, pilgrims inject a festive resonance into a threatened criollo geography that was the first in the Chaco to be ravaged by the Spanish empire. The rubble of the first Esteco near El Vencido is not related to the celebration of the Virgin of Huachana the way the rubble of the other Esteco is with the Miracle of Salta. The ruins, in fact, do not really register in local references to the Virgin of Huachana. Thousands of pilgrims pass by El Vencido on their way to Huachana without being aware of the existence of the mounds of Esteco three kilometers away, reflecting the dim nature of this place’s affective force in regional constellations. Yet in El Vencido, the disconnect between the Virgin and the lost city is not complete, for the two places become briefly entangled during the local celebrations for the Virgin on 1 February, the date of the original apparition and her official holiday.16 On that day, criollos in rural areas all over southeast Salta organize local celebrations or veladas (after the act of lighting candles) for the Virgin of Huachana, which are held at local shrines and without priests. These veladas have become increasingly popular, partly as a response to the growing institutionalization of the main celebration in Huachana.17 In El Vencido, on 31 January a few dozen people organize a procession carrying the Virgin from home to home amid the music of criollo violins, followed by gauchos on horseback. The following day, hundreds of men and women leave El Vencido carrying another image of the Virgin of Huachana to a site twelve kilometers to the east. This larger procession follows an old trail that passes through the southern edge of the ruins of Esteco and continues to the place of celebration: an outlying criollo home where they celebrate all day and all night, playing criollo games, eating, drinking, dancing, and lighting

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candles to the Virgin. In carrying the Virgin of Huachana through the rubble of Esteco, this procession silently gestures toward the commonality between the debris of that forgotten city and the Virgin’s commitment to celebrating and healing ruptured places. What these people certainly do not know is that Esteco is thus called because, in that same place, the Esteko people and Spanish rebels once sought to create a site of communitas not unlike the ones they cherish.

Different men can be affected in different ways by one and the same object, and one and the same man can be affected by one and the same object in different ways at different times.—Baruch Spinoza, Ethics Ruins change so fast one cannot keep pace. —Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins

Four  |  The Ruins of Ruins


n July 2005, I returned to Metán to begin a new fieldwork season in the ruins of the second city of Esteco, whose densely overgrown forms I had explored two years earlier with César and Julián. The evening of my arrival in Metán, I ran into a local acquaintance at a restaurant. Since he knew of my work, he immediately asked me if I knew what had happened in Esteco a few months earlier. I had not heard about it. “The farmer sent bulldozers in. It was on the radio and in the papers,” he said. He did not know the extent of the damage or what had happened since. After dinner, I did an online search. “Ruins of Esteco Razed,” read a headline in El Tribuno, Salta’s most important daily. “The damage to the site is absolute and irreparable.”1 I was shocked. The tactile memory of my slow, tiring hike through the dense forest shrouding the lost city acquired, all of a sudden, a totally new significance. The next morning, I drove straight to the citrus farm. The newspaper articles had not prepared me for the sight of the ruins of Esteco in ruins. The forest that I had explored with César and Julián did not exist anymore. The trees, plants, and weeds uprooted and crushed by the bulldozers had been piled up in lines parallel to each other, fifty meters apart. I was particularly disturbed by the geometrical order of the destruction brought upon Esteco. I roamed the site, taking pictures and contrasting the desolate, barren view with my memory of what that place had looked and felt like in 2003. Whereas back then I had struggled to make my way through a vast and thick botanical form, now I walked undisturbed on dusty soil strewn with myriad pieces of tile and brick, which the destruction of the forest now exposed to the light of

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Figure 4.1. The ruins of Esteco’s ruins: mangled debris of trees left by the bulldozers (July 2005). Photo by author.

day, and with the debris of countless dead trees. Yet the place was still made up of mounds, for the bulldozers had been stopped before leveling them. The removal of the forest had made Esteco fully visible as a massive field of rubble. In contemplating those piles of rubble from the top of the highest mound, I remembered how, two years earlier, I had believed that the site’s affective density as a cursed place would prevent its destruction by capitalist forms of spatial abstraction. The rubble that surrounded me was proof of how wrong I had been, for it revealed that the wave of spatial destruction created elsewhere in the region by agribusiness had also reached Esteco, even if at the service of citrus rather than of soy. But those barren piles of rubble punctuated with the debris of trees were also proof that, at least from what I had gathered in my previous fieldwork, local people had also been led to believe the same thing: that Esteco had a potency that would make the farmer “leave it like that,” even though the site was on private land and was therefore not protected by state agencies. The exorcism conducted on the farmer’s behalf in 2004 by the priest of El Galpón to appease the site’s curse, in fact, seemed to confirm that the former had decided not to tamper with the rubble out of fear of its negativity. Yet shortly thereafter, I soon learned, he ordered the destruction of the forest and the leveling of the mounds in order to build a fruit-­packaging plant. While

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he was clearly seeking to produce abstract space, I suspect that his decision was also in part due to a desire to obliterate the very materiality of the curse: that excess of rubble and jungle that was a solidly enchanted obstacle to the maximization of profit.2 In late January 2005, several bulldozers began working in Esteco around the clock. By the first days of February, the forest had been almost fully destroyed. The provincial legislator for Metán saw the bulldozers at work while driving on Route 16. Being from El Galpón, he knew that the forest that had been cleared was Esteco. His lawyer filed a class-­action suit at the Metán courts, and a judge ordered the desmonte (clearing) and any other alteration of the site to stop. The headline “Ruins of Esteco Razed” hit the media. The first consequence of this incident was that it gave the rubble of Esteco public visibility, for although the site was famous throughout Salta, few people in other parts of the province knew exactly where it was. Now the spatial coordinates of the ruins were unambiguously identified for a wider public, ironically, as a result of their partial destruction. The bulldozing created uproar among academics and members of the regional cultural and political elites, who in previous years had pushed for some attempts, however timid, to protect the site and conduct research there.3 An archaeologist who had conducted preliminary surveillance at Esteco declared to El Tribuno shortly after the news broke, “I’m really appalled. . . . It’s something horrific, terrible, incomprehensible, awful, brutal.”4 A few days after I visited the ruins of the ruins, a historian based in Metán told me, “It was a disaster. It’s a great loss for Salta and the whole country.” Some officials lamented, in particular, that this destruction would erode the possibility of turning Esteco into a heritage site and a tourist attraction. Theirs was a lament that the physical damage done to the ruins could negatively affect their transformation into a commodified object for mass consumption and contemplation. In addition to criticizing the farmer, some officials and academics blamed what had happened on the “ignorance” and “disinterest” of the local criollo population. In my previous conversations with officials about local ruins, they often bemoaned that the people living around them did not appreciate the value of those places and that they contributed to damaging them by looking for treasures or removing bricks for use in construction. Along the same lines, a local historian declared to the media about the bulldozing of Esteco, “The loss of that historic patrimony of all salteños has to do with the little concern that we have for our past. There’s a notable disinformation and lack of culture involving these issues.”5

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These officials and academics were advocating for what is historically a very recent attitude toward rubble. The idea that ruins deemed historic need to be preserved and in some cases restored was the product of the rise of new nation-­states and nationalist sentiments in a particular place and time: nineteenth-­century Europe, although this sensibility drew on earlier Renaissance attitudes toward antiquity (Jusdanis 2004; Lowenthal 1985; Woodward 2001). As is well known, the ruins of ancient Rome and Greece were for centuries overgrown and immersed in everyday, mundane places. Residents saw these objects as rubble, as is illustrated by the use of the Roman forum as pasture fields or of the Colosseum as a quarry (Woodward 2001). Countering this attitude, the rubble of antiquity was in the late 1800s rediscovered as a source of contemplation, identity, or knowledge, whose transcendental value resided in its form as “ruins.” What Pierre Nora (1989) calls the “will to remember” that defines modernity included the mandate to give “memory” rigid material form. The assumption that historic ruins ought to be preserved is now part of the common sense of most middle-­class urbanites the world over. By the time I was confronted with the bulldozing of Esteco, I had been regularly visiting the region for two years and knew that urban, middle-­class sensibilities about ruins were alien to ordinary criollos, as my experience with Alfredo in the church had already made clear. But, as I can see in retrospect, I was still underestimating how bodily the abstracting reverence for historic ruins is, and thereby how deeply ingrained it was in my own disposition to be affected by their damage. When I first heard in Metán about the bulldozing, I assumed that my acquaintances in Río Piedras would have shared at least part of my reaction, if only because they live nearby and the place is central to their spatial perceptions. But the difference between spatial destruction and production is, to a large degree, in the eyes of the beholder.

A Beautiful Place After I explored the bulldozed rubble of Esteco for the first time, I drove back to Río Piedras, eager to talk with the people I knew from my previous trips. Diego, a man in his fifties, was the first I visited. When I asked him what he thought of the incident, he shrugged, and his response was vague: “The government gave the farmer trouble because they don’t want him to occupy that place, because that place is damned. They want him to leave it just like that.” That was the first indication I had that it had not occurred to Diego that the uproar over the bulldozing might have to do with damage done to a “historic

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site.” For him, “the government” stopped the bulldozing out of fear of the curse of Esteco. And while he projected onto officials his own view of Esteco as a damned place, he did not seem troubled by the destruction. His attitude was one of distancing and indifference. After a few days, it was apparent to me that few people in town cared about the damage done to the rubble of the lost city. As residents gradually opened up to me, it was in fact clear that many supported the construction of the packaging plant and were upset that “the government” had intervened to halt it. On one of the occasions that I drove from Río Piedras to the ruined ruins, I stopped by the road to chat with a part-­time municipal employee in his fifties who was clearing bushes. His name was Horacio. When I asked him about the bulldozing in Esteco, he too shrugged: “People here have nothing to do with that. They said nothing. That’s a problem between the farm and the government.” A few days later we talked again at the same site. This time he was more outspoken. When I asked him to elaborate on his previous claim that local people had “said nothing,” he replied, “People here said nothing because the farmer was going to give them work. We were happy because of the jobs this would bring, because in this area, once the tobacco harvest is over, there’s nothing.” Frustration over the loss of potential jobs emerged in other conversations, the most frequent comment being that nobody had ever cared about the rubble, that it only became “important” when badly needed jobs were at stake. As a man serving me lunch at a diner in Río Piedras put it, criticizing that the construction of the plant had been halted, “For so long nobody could care less about that place! It was abandoned!” Many academics and officials would probably cite these quotes to support their point: that ordinary people in the region ignore the historical and scientific value of ruins, and that this is the result of a conceptual, cultural distance from the educated actors who can appreciate the true value of such places. Yet such a view would overlook the oppositional attitude I encountered among local people, which emerged not from a well-­bounded, self-­enclosed local “culture,” but from an open critique of state discourses of preservation and their elitist, detached disregard for local needs. The same way preservation narratives are defined in negative relation with tropes of subaltern ignorance, locals articulated a spatial sensibility defined in opposition to what they saw as an elite idea: that the form of overgrown piles of rubble should be preserved at the expense of local people. Whereas officials and academics such as myself had seen what happened in Esteco as the wanton destruction of ruins, residents saw the production of a place that could offer them valuable jobs out of

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useless rubble. With slight variations, this is what the ethnographic research on ruins and heritage sites shows: that local people who live around them are usually indifferent to the discourse of preservation, and are in some cases hostile to its elitist disregard for local concerns (Hertzfeld 1991; Breglia 2009; Mortensen 2009; Wilde 2003). The official mandate to remember through the petrified form of ruins and through indifference to the living places that surround them is indicative of estrangement from the social constellations that all nodes of rubble are part of. Alois Riegl noted in the early 1900s that “only works for which we have no use” can be seen exclusively from the standpoint of “age-­value,” whereas those that are still useful “impede such pure contemplation” (1982, 42). In Río Piedras, the rubble of Esteco suddenly became potentially useful, and this momentarily overshadowed that the place was cursed. But this does not mean that residents have a purely utilitarian view of space, oblivious to its historical and affective dimensions. The opposite is the case, for local people are well aware of the weight of more recent forms of ruination in the region and on the rubble of Esteco. And this allows them to articulate their own forms of critical abstraction, which include awareness of the power inequalities and poverty shaping the regional geography, and of the significance of other nodes of rubble, like the ruins of the tobacco farm near Esteco, which were now within the citrus farm but testified to the collapse of a prior source of jobs. These critical sensibilities, in short, challenge the veneration of ruins that some officials and academics naturalize as the sole measure of historical consciousness. The disputes around Esteco also reveal that the abstraction of “the ruin” is also the product of an elite bodily affect: one that is often more affected by damage inflicted on matter than by the reproduction of life. The criollos from Río Piedras taught me that their capacity for abstract critical thinking is hostile to abstractions of a transcendental type that disregard the plight of the living. Implicit in their attitude is that places that have long been abandoned do not need to be preserved because they are already destroyed. When I talked with Diego at his home and he seemed indifferent to the bulldozing, it was clear that he was not indifferent to Esteco as a place drenched in personal memories. As a boy, he had grown up next to the lost city at a camp for farmworkers. As our conversation progressed, he told me once again stories about the ruins and asked me whether I wanted to hear him sing a zamba (a type of folk song) about Esteco. I said yes, and he reached for his guitar, cleared his throat, and sang.

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The zamba that I here sing I sing it with a lot of pain A disappeared little town That never knew what sunk it Silver was its love Gold its great passion . . . The gauchos used to have Well-­arranged horses With gold horseshoes And a shining shield But the curse arrived Heaven punished them Ay, poor city of Esteco, It didn’t know what a prayer was! Ay, poor city of Esteco, It didn’t know what God was! This song evoked not the ruins affected by the clearing, but a town that had been destroyed over three hundred years earlier. And the sense of  loss and, literally, “pain” transmitted by the lyrics exude melancholy for an alleged prosperity that had vanished with the city. And the zamba was peculiar because while it recognized Esteco’s un-­Christian arrogance, it evoked sympathy for the lost city (“poor city of Esteco!”) and its people, remembered as “gauchos” just like the criollos in Río Piedras — putting momentarily aside local perceptions about the exploitation once associated with Esteco. This sense of loss was indifferent to the integrity of those overgrown mounds. After all, as Diego reminded me in playing the zamba, Esteco was destroyed centuries ago. The bulldozers that uprooted trees and bushes could not change that. In September 2006, over a year later, I returned to Río Piedras and Esteco. The farmer had built the fruit-­packaging plant elsewhere on his property, on Route 16 a few hundred meters east of the mounds of Esteco. He had hired about eighty people from Río Piedras, El Galpón, and Metán, most of them women, to work at the plant. At that time, the Salta legislature was considering a bill to expropriate the rubble of Esteco and turn it into a protected site.6 But the site looked pretty much as it had the previous year, except that bushes were beginning to colonize the rubble again, covering it with a veneer of vege­ tation absent the previous year.

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Figure 4.2. “This place is so beautiful!” Miguel enjoying the view of the mounds of Esteco, a year and a half after the bulldozers razed the area (September 2006). The cross, which was planted at the exorcism ceremony in 2004, marks where the forest once stood. Photo by author.

At the celebration of the Miracle in Río Piedras, I met Miguel, a kind man in his sixties who had been hired to sweep up the church in preparation for the festivities. We spent a lot of time together over the next few days. One day, I took him to see the ruins of the ruins of Esteco. He had worked on the farm for several years in his youth and knew the area well, but he had never entered the forest of Esteco and had not been there after the bulldozing. I parked the car next to the cross planted during the exorcism ceremony in 2004, and we climbed one of the mounds. Because of the bushes growing all over the place, it was harder to walk around than it had been a year earlier. The view of the vast field of rubble, nonetheless, was still wide and open. Miguel was very impressed. “This is really beautiful,” he said, catching me off guard. “It’s so beautiful!” I asked him why he thought so. “Well, it’s something really impressive. It’s nice that it’s clean. This way, you can walk around. If it’s all forest, no one can get in. Now it’s beautiful. It’s nice that it’s all clean, so that people can come and see everything.” Miguel’s comments stayed with me for a long time. For him, the bulldozers had enhanced the site by making it visible and accessible. After all, despite knowing the area, he had never ventured inside the forest that once covered

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the rubble. Where I had seen the senseless destruction of a ruin, Miguel saw a cleansing force that had smoothed out heavily overgrown mounds and turned them into a beautiful place that could be more easily traversed. As was the case on my first visit to the church of La Manga, I left the site thinking about my strong reaction to the damage inflicted on broken objects that locals simply viewed as rubble. The bulldozing of Esteco affected officials and academics such as myself viscerally, by creating nostalgia not for the original town, but for the previous form of the site as overgrown piles of rubble. The clearing affected residents differently because their spatial sensibilities drew on a different type of nostalgia. Theirs was nostalgia not for the rubble of Esteco, but for the social conditions that had once made it an allegedly prosperous town and the geo­political center of a vast region. This is why the destruction of what was already destroyed offered them the possibility of partly overcoming that loss through a new place, the fruit-­packaging plant, which could provide them more than could the protectors of the rubble of the lost city. Miguel and I discovered something else in the mounds of the lost city that day: a two-­meter-­deep, ten-­meter-­long trench excavated by archaeologists, ironically, near the cross that had been planted to exorcise the curse. The trench was deserted. The same scholars who had decried the bulldozing had promptly taken advantage of the removal of the jungle to excavate the mounds and further change their form. This is a well-­k nown paradox in archaeology: the “will to remember” in the name of preservation and knowledge necessarily destroys the form of ruins.

The Ruins of Ruins We know that the destruction of space creates rubble. But what is created when rubble is destroyed? The destruction of ruins can be conceptualized as the negation of an object that had already been negated: what Hegel (2010) famously called “the negation of the negation.” The following line by Adorno is pertinent: “To negate a negation does not bring about its reversal; it proves, rather, that the negation was not negative enough” (1973, 159–60). When applied to ruins, this means that to destroy and thereby negate a ruin does not bring about its reversal (the restoration of the destroyed place), but proves that the destruction of the place had not been negative or radical enough. The proof that destruction had not been complete is the very existence of ruins and rubble: debris that persists after destruction, for as Ginsberg puts

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it, ruins are in a state of “in-­between, after destruction but before dissolution” (2004, 57). The most radical way that ruins can be obliterated is through the massive rebuilding that often follows warfare or a natural catastrophe, when rubble is eliminated to make room for new buildings. In these cases, rubble ceases to exist as rubble. The ruins of San Francisco in 1906, after the earthquake and fire that razed the city, the rubble of the German cities obliterated during the Second World War, or the debris of the World Trade Center in New York City in late 2001 all stand as examples of ruins that were negated and destroyed to create positive, functional places (see Sebald 2004; Solnit 2006). The raw matter of many of these ruins was turned into construction material. Steel from the World Trade Center, for instance, was used to construct the warship U.S.S. New York or sent to foundries in Asia and the rubble of Warsaw was turned into concrete to rebuild the city (Dawdy 2010; Elzanowski 2012). The irony is that, as Jerzy Elzanowski (2012) has shown, officials in Warsaw tried to make the obliteration of the ruins of the city more palatable by referring to them as “rubble,” specifically avoiding the word ruins. This shows, once again, that rubble is often used as a conceptual rather than a descriptive category, here used to name “worthless” ruins that were to be destroyed. A different type of double negation of ruins involves nodes of rubble that are destroyed explicitly to wipe out traces of the original building for political reasons. In the French Revolution, the multitudes that rose up against the monarchy not only destroyed the Bastille prison, but also obliterated its ruins. Today, nothing of the Bastille remains on the ground in Paris — even if, as Benjamin (1999a, 91) noticed, workers constructing the Metro in 1899 unearthed its underground foundations (which also reveals, incidentally, the material excess of rubble). This is why, in agreement with Adorno, Žižek argued that, at the level of politics, in revolutionary situations only the negation of the negation accomplishes a truly radical break: “First, the old order is negated within its own ideology-­political form; then, this form itself has to be negated.” The negation of the negation, he concludes, “is the only true negation” (2007, 17–19). Badiou concurs (2010, 262). In short, in these cases, the double negation of ruins is the most radical destruction a place can undergo, so radical that not even rubble remains. But not all ruins, certainly, follow this path. Archaeological restoration is a paradoxical double negation of ruins, in which overgrown rubble is negated and destroyed to produce the fenced-­off ruin as heritage site. When first excavated, famous ruins such as Chichén Itzá, Palenque, or Troy were nothing but

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huge piles of rubble (Castañeda 1996; Clifford 1997, 232; Schmidt 2002, 221). But aesthetic enchantment with the form of ruins has long created hostility toward “mere rubble” and, in fact, a struggle against “formless” rubble. This is why the creation of heritage sites often involves efforts to destroy rubble and turn it into ruins with recognizable forms (walls, pyramids, temples) that can attract tourists, “for heaps of stone convey nothing to the ordinary spectator” (Lowenthal 1985, 280, emphasis added). And while this new form pretends to conjure away the void by replicating the site’s original form, this gesture is an exercise in simulacrum, as Castañeda (1996; 2001) has documented in the case of Chichén Itzá. As he put it, “Archaeology destroys the past in its process of investigation” (2009, 114). The negation of the negation carried out by the heritage industry destroys the rubble’s textured multiplicity to create the fetish of the ruin as carrier of the past’s pastness.7 The bulldozing of the ruins of Esteco constitutes a peculiar case of the negation of the negation, different from the cases just examined, at several levels. First, the rubble that the farmer sought to negate exuded a particularly excessive, exuberant generativity, haunted by the destruction of a city from the 1600s. While the bulldozing initially sought to wipe out this rubble and its affective excess to produce a new place, the fruit-­packaging plant, it left behind a new field of rubble: the ruins of the ruins of Esteco. This was a negation of the negation that created something that is still broken and haunted by negativity: rubble that is still rubble. But these piles of rubble are different; they are the vestiges not just of Esteco but of its ruins. The double negation was generative and created something new: broken material multiplicities with a renewed power to affect local people.

The Cursed Fruit-­Packaging Plant Rose Macaulay (1984, xvii) wrote that “ruins change so rapidly that one cannot keep pace.” In this area, this ever-­shifting material becoming of ruins involved not just the rubble of Esteco but also some of the nearby ruins of the tobacco farm. The same year that the forest of Esteco was bulldozed, some houses that used to be abandoned and overgrown a kilometer away had been fully repaired. Farmworkers were living there. The following year, the farmer built the fruit-­packaging plant a few hundred meters away from the now visible rubble of Esteco. But the plant, it turned out, was not immune to the curse, which never went away. In July 2007, Miguel, the man who the previous year marveled at the beauty

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of the bulldozed ruins, took me to El Galpón to have lunch with his relatives. One of them was Isabel, a woman in her thirties who worked at the fruit-­ packaging plant assembling lemons and mandarins in boxes. While we sat at a large table with several people, Isabel emphasized that her boss, the farmer, is stingy and exploitative. “Just like the people who lived in Esteco,” she said. She added that many of her co-­workers believe that the curse of Esteco haunts the building and fear that an earthquake may wipe it out at any time. Others at the table concurred. While we all listened attentively, Isabel narrated several stories about co-­workers who saw, felt, or heard “strange things” at the building, which they all attributed to the presence of the rubble nearby. That is why, she said, they worked with apprehension. In order to illustrate this uneasiness, she described working the night shift one time when the lights went off. In the total darkness, she and her co-­workers heard a vibration. To make things worse, someone stumbled on a pile of boxes, which collapsed loudly. A woman who had been obsessing over the curse panicked and screamed, “An earthquake! An earthquake!” They soon realized the source of the noise was a vibrating cell-­phone, sitting on an empty box that amplified the noise. Isabel said that while most of them laughed at the realization, it took them a while to calm the woman down. When I visited Río Piedras and El Galpón right after the bulldozing two years earlier, I was surprised that almost nobody seemed concerned that tampering with the mounds of Esteco might awaken the negativity of the curse. But as Spinoza (1982, 134) said, the same object may affect different people differently and affect the same people differently at different moments depending on conjunctural circumstances. In those days, in retrospect, local concerns about jobs seemed to have momentarily trumped the apprehension associated with the lost city, confirming the contingent nature of local sensibilities about rubble. But once the plant was built and the jobs materialized as alienating and exploitative, local talk about the curse resurfaced, now en­ tangled with the working conditions at the plant. Despite its modified form, the presence of the rubble continues to haunt those working nearby by evoking the exploitation and negativity that once defined Esteco and its power to make the earth tremble. Isabel criticized her boss and the labor conditions at the plant by drawing on the resilient afterlife of those mounds, whose form may have been transformed but that continue to affect the living.

Part Three  |  Residues of a Dream World In the convulsions of the commodity economy, we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.—Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century”

In demystifying the reified totality, philosophy hopes to incite its practical negation. —Diana Coole, Negativity and Politics

Treks across Fields of Rubble

In 1929, the construction of a train station a few kilometers south of the ruins of Esteco marked that the Argentine state had at last dissolved the spatial void once created by the indigenous insurgencies of the Chaco. The trains regularly passing through that station and arriving a few hours later on the Paraná River hundreds of kilometers to the east embodied that the Chaco was no longer beyond the reach of modernity. The gesture was confident enough that the train station had to honor the nearby bastion of civilization, Esteco, that had started it all. It did not seem to matter that people in the area were apprehensive about the rubble of the lost city, as Roberto Payró (1960, 198) noticed a few years earlier. In the eyes of officials, the curse had been exorcised and Esteco ought to be publicly celebrated on signposts at the railroad. Such was the confidence by the national elites at the beginning of the twentieth century, when it seemed that the conquest of the desert was about to release an exuberant positivity from within that space. The negativity of the Chaco had been so haunting that its defeat could not but turn the whole region into the void’s nemesis: the core of the national and, why not, planetary wealth. The optimism exuded by businessmen, military officers, writers, and officials about the future of the Chaco changed the common sense about the region from desert to dream world. Emilio Castro Boedo (1995, 200), a businessman who led the projects to navigate the Bermejo River, wrote in 1872 that the immigrants fleeing poverty in Europe did not have “in the universe” a region that was “more precious,” “wealthier,” “more comfortable” than the Gran Chaco. This magical creation

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of a new planetary center was also evoked by an army officer who fought there: Luis Jorge Fontana. In 1880, he wrote in a letter sent from the Chaco, “I don’t know of any other place on Earth that presents so many advantages. If paradise existed in the Americas, as it is my opinion, it was doubtless that it was here” (cited in Maeder 1977, 15). Minister of War Victorica, for his part, wrote that with the military campaign that he led in 1884, the army opened “the gates of happiness” to “lands so rich” (cited in Scunio 1972, 209). In 1904, mimicking this optimism, an official from the Ministry of Labor, Juan Bialet Massé, wrote about the Chaco, “This will be paradise. It cannot be otherwise” (cited in Trímboli 1999, 41). This is progress conceived of as historical necessity with religious overtones, in which the Argentine elites were convinced that a future of ruination in the Chaco was simply unthinkable. Over a century after these men made public their vision of progress in the Chaco, this geography is strewn with palimpsests of rubble produced by multiple waves of boom and bust.1 This is currently the poorest region in Argentina, ranking at the bottom of indicators of quality of life, life expectancy, employment, infrastructure, and nutrition. Stories of malnutrition and extreme poverty occasionally surface in the Buenos Aires media, confirming in the eyes of the urban middle-­class public that the Chaco is the most backward, strange, and distant geography of the nation. It is also one of the most distinctively nonwhite regions, inhabited by indigenous people and criollos who look equally foreign to the urban middle-­classes that descend from European immigrants. This is partly why the destruction created by soy in the Chaco is disregarded by urban elites: because it takes place in the nonwhite margins of the nation. These margins have become “the desert” of the twenty-­first century: a spatial emptiness subjected to a new wave of civilizing conquest, led this time not by cavalry regiments but by bulldozers.2 Capitalist expansion in the Chaco has certainly created nodes of prosperity. In southeast Salta, some towns have improved their infrastructure and services because of agribusinesses. The presence of large silos, the volume of trucks, and the four-­star hotel that exists in Las Lajitas (a manicured place that could just as well have been in San Diego, California) are often mentioned as proof of the progress brought by soy. But these nodes of prosperity stand next to underfunded public hospitals, the growing presence of shacks inhabited by families evicted from rural areas, and the rubble of forests and gaucho homes. The wealth produced by soy largely flows elsewhere in Argentina and the world, leaving behind razed forests as well as vast soy fields that for many criollo residents evoke the haunting absence of the places that once existed there.

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This paradigm of productive destruction based on soy and extractive industries is driving much of South America (see Bessire 2011; Hetherington 2013). That this model is spearheaded by Center-­Left governments reveals the limits reached by the leftist turn in South America in the past decade.3 In the 2010s, the continent is better off than in the openly neoliberal 1990s and these governments have played in important role in eroding U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere. But the expansion of social services and domestic markets is being funded by the creation of sacrifice zones in the Chaco, the Amazon, and mineral-­rich areas of the Andes. This destruction of space is subsumed to the generation of commodities that, like soy, promptly leave South America to fuel the globalizing rhythms of capitalist acceleration elsewhere on the planet. In part III, I examine the rubble produced since the late 1800s by some of the projects of capitalist and state modernity that preceded this last wave of ruination in the name of soy. The nodes of debris I explore are quite different from each other and are located not only in southeast Salta but also in the heart of the Chaco. They include steamships that became stranded on the Bermejo in the 1870s while trying to open up the Chaco to the flows of global trade; the ruins of what in the nineteenth century was the most important town on the Chaco frontier in Salta, El Piquete; and the debris of state-­run railroads that were once the pride and lifeblood of the region and were deva­ stated by the privatization schemes of the 1990s. These residues also share that these places and objects once promised a modernity free of cracks. This means that this debris exudes, for those living around it, the haunting presence of broken dreams. Benjamin is the main figure who inspired the chapters that follow because he was the first thinker to articulate that what we call “progress” is a bourgeois mythology that enchants what is a rubble-­generating catastrophe. And this is an enchantment generated by “bourgeois monuments”— such as arcades, boulevards, or exhibitions — and by affective dispositions that turn commodities “into the realization of dream elements” and induce a state of complacent daydreaming. This is why Benjamin sympathized with the surrealists’ goal “of re-­enchanting objects and smashing their bourgeois encoding” (Coole 2000, 173). What those objects hide, and what the smashing of their bourgeois encoding releases, is that they are torn apart by contradictions, the constellations that give them historical significance. Benjamin highlighted that the monuments of the bourgeoisie should be recognized “as ruins even before they have crumbled” (1999b, 13) because these monuments are always already constituted by rubble.

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As the Nazi armies were close to moving on to Paris in early 1940, and Benjamin was about to flee the city, only to meet his death on the shores of the Mediterranean at the French-­Spanish border, he wrote his last, arguably most famous piece, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In the context of the massive waves of destruction being unleashed all over Europe, Benjamin emphasized that progress is a storm that piles “wreckage upon wreckage.” And these “piles of debris” are so vast, he wrote, that “they reach up to the sky” (1968, 257–58). The catastrophe of progress, in this regard, is for Benjamin embodied by huge piles of rubble. In The Aesthetic of Ruins, Ginsberg wrote that there is a natural affinity between the dialectic and ruins, surpassed by no other philosophy, because both are immanently related to destruction. As he put it, “The greatest ruin-­ crunching machine in philosophical thinking is the dialectical method.” Dialectical thought, he argued, marches “across a field of ruins” (2004, 275). Benjamin went conceptually further; he redefined dialectical thinking through the ruin. The dialectic was for him not the metaphysical, logical teleology caricatured and “stupidized” by Deleuze, as Žižek (2004) crudely but rightly put it. Benjamin saw the dialectic as an immanent illumination that creates a political awakening through the attentive scrutiny of the tangible residues of the bourgeois world. In revealing the petrified life of objects and architectural forms portrayed as desirable and dreamlike, he sought to disrupt the positivity of the capitalist spectacle. This is “dialectics at a standstill” because its tensions are congealed in objects. As Susan Buck-­Morss shows in The Origin of Negative Dialectics, Benjamin’s ideas about ruins strongly influenced Adorno’s thinking on negativity. Adorno did not refrain from criticizing Benjamin, often harshly.4 Yet he admired Benjamin’s “microscopic gaze” for finding meaning “in the remains of the physical world.” He praised Benjamin for “awakening congealed life in petrified objects” and scrutinizing “living things so that they present themselves as being ancient, ur-­historical, and abruptly release their significance” (Adorno 1983, 233). Adorno summed up his admiration for Benjamin’s thinking on debris at the 1931 lecture he gave in accepting his chair at the Frankfurt Institute, soon to be shut down by the Nazis. He began his piece by saying that philosophy must openly reject the illusion endorsed by previous philosophical enterprises, “that the power of thought is sufficient to grasp the totality of the real.” And he suggested that rejecting this illusion requires examining the opposite of totality, what I hereby propose to analyze as the disintegrated multiplicity of rubble. This is why, he wrote, “only in traces and ruins” is there

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hope “of ever coming across genuine and just reality” (Adorno 1977, 120).5 Adorno’s is a call, in short, to investigate rubble as part of a political project to “demystify the reified totality” and “incite its practical negation” (Coole 2000, 178). The destructive expansion of agribusiness in lowland South America in the name of progress brings to light the ongoing relevance of Benjamin’s and Adorno’s explorations of catastrophe, ruins, and negativity. All over the continent, this new actualization of the storm of progress mingles the rubble produced by soy with ruins left behind by prior promises to create a dream world. A case in point are the ruins of Fordlandia, analyzed by Greg Grandin (2009), in the Brazilian Amazon: Henry Ford’s failed attempt to create a U.S.-­style capitalist utopia in the jungle to produce rubber for the automobile industry in the late 1920s and early 1940s. Grandin notes that the rusting ruins of Ford’s city are now surrounded by the debris created by the obliteration of the jungle to make room for soybean fields. Huge Caterpillar D9 bulldozers — which weigh as much as a hundred tons and can be outfitted with special cutting blades — are destroying not only millions of trees but also villages, which are “wiped off the map” together with “the schools, churches, and family networks that are at the heart of any community” (Grandin 2009, 367–68). Amid this devastation, some residents are looking at the ruins of Fordlandia with nostalgia, given that despite its colossal failure it promised an inclusive progress crudely absent in today’s neoliberal modernity. Yet these fields of ruins would probably look to Benjamin as the repetition of the same: the ever-­cyclical creation of “wreckage upon wreckage.” The object-­oriented negativity that I propose drawing from Adorno and Benjamin is built on a sensibility to material traces of destruction like those described by Grandin: a sensibility that confronts cracks in their historical constellations. This is also a disposition to learn, as Adorno (1974) would put it, from “damaged life.” If space can only be made sense of through the body, as Lefebvre and Casey insist, this also means that the best way to apprehend the negativity congealed in space is through a sensory, bodily, and thereby ethnographic practice. The “treks across fields of ruins” that Ginsberg alluded to are, in this regard, not merely allegorical treks; they are the actual treks that some of the best thinkers on ruination went through in order to create a bodily, sensory understanding of rubble: W. G. Sebald (1998; 2004) on his long solitary walks in East Anglia and his personal experience with the rubble of German cities after the Second World War; Paul Virilio (1994) in his first-­ hand exploration of abandoned Nazi bunkers on the Atlantic coast of France;

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Anna Tsing (1993; 2005) during her long-­term fieldwork amid the scars of destruction in the rainforests of Indonesia; and, of course, Benjamin on his long walks in Paris, observing bourgeois buildings as if they were already in ruins. My view of rubble is certainly inseparable from my own treks at the foot of the Andes. In order to create soy fields, bulldozers working in teams first crush, tear apart, and uproot trees, then lump the debris in long lines. Workers set this debris on fire, to make sure that no rubble remains. Residents often comment with horror that the obsession with soy and the disregard for those destroyed forests is such that farmers do not even care that they are burning a fortune worth of timber and firewood, let alone people’s homes. The vast fires that regularly light southeast Salta and reduce those bulldozed forests to ashes are daunting for most criollo residents. The columns of smoke, often extending toward the horizon, are made up of microscopic rubble, matter that has been so thoroughly disintegrated that it reaches up to the sky.

No space vanishes utterly, leaving no trace. —Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space

Five  |  Ships Stranded in the Forest


he first time I heard about the existence of a ship stranded in the forest I was in the village of Chalicán, in the lowlands of the province of Jujuy. It was July 2003, and while I was talking with a local man about ruins and other historical sites in the area, he said that he had heard from an acquaintance that hundreds of kilometers to the east, in the heart of the Chaco near the Bermejo River, one could see the rusty, overgrown remains of un barco en el monte, a ship in the forest. The story immediately intrigued me. Given its shallow, meandrous course, the Bermejo is not suitable for navigation, but I knew that over a century earlier private companies had launched steamships on the river as part of an effort to create a commercial route across the Gran Chaco. I also knew that this river’s challenging geography as well as a change in its course in the 1870s had left many of those ships high and dry. It was not entirely unlikely, therefore, that this man was referring to the actual remains of one of those ships. My initial curiosity was further piqued when shortly thereafter I began hearing the same rumor in towns located hundreds of kilometers from each other, such as Orán, Las Lajitas, and Metán. Those who mentioned the ship had not seen it in person but seemed convinced of its existence, and many agreed that it was somewhere near the town of Rivadavia. On hearing these stories, I could not help remembering Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo (1982), in which a rubber entrepreneur in the Peruvian Amazon in the early twentieth century makes hundreds of indigenous men drag a steamship across a hill covered with jungle to reach another river on the other side. Both the film and the stories I was hearing about the ship

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stranded in the Chaco evoked images of out-­of-­placeness and incongruity: a vehicle of industrial modernity taken out of its natural element, water, and placed on dry, overgrown terrain. And in both cases the ships had been the primary vehicles of failed capitalist projects. In Herzog’s film, the steamship makes it back to water but is shortly thereafter washed away by rapids, crushing Fitzcarraldo’s rubber-­collecting enterprise. In the case of the Chaco, the image of a ship stranded in the forest was an immobile, poignant expression of abandonment and decline. Together with railroads, steamships were the first vehicles of modern-­capitalist speed and of the attempts by capital “to annihilate space with time” (Marx 1993, 539). Set to overcome the physical and political obstacles that the Chaco posed to trade, however, these steamships not only failed to annihilate space but were in fact annihilated by it. Or, to be more precise, they were annihilated by the layered density, plasticity, and becoming of the terrain. The rumors I was gathering about one of these ships’ vestiges, in short, pointed to the failure of the globalizing projects embodied by the ships but also, and more importantly, to the power that the awareness of their debris’ existence seemed to hold, more than a century later, over the imagination of people living hundreds of kilometers away. In 2004, and again in 2006, I set out for Rivadavia in order to trace back the source of those stories and analyze the spatial and social legacy of these failed navigation plans. My fieldwork in Rivadavia meant leaving the core of the region I was focusing my research on, southeast Salta, and driving into the heart of the Chaco. This confronted me with a geography that is very different from the one that defines the foot of the Andes between Las Lajitas and Metán. This was not solid criollo country but an ethnically disjointed region with a sizable indigenous population and a particularly violent history. My experience in this region also confronted me with a distinct type of industrial debris: vehicles that once were highly mobile and whose ruination is apparent in their stasis. Authors like Kathleen Stewart (1996) and Alfredo González-­Ruibal (2008) and photographers like Sebastião Salgado and Edward Burtynsky have documented the worldwide presence of detritus of abandoned cars, trucks, and ships.1 But as González-­Ruibal has noted, the lingering social relevance of these destroyed objects is often overlooked and needs to be examined amid wider ecologies of disruption: “What is usually forgotten is the role of abandoned or destroyed things in these new ecologies —  the production of destruction” (2008, 253–54). In what follows, I analyze the detritus of steamships that the navigation of the Bermejo left around Rivadavia in relation to wider constellations of

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expansion and disruption. In particular, I examine how these traces haunt, generations later, people still affected by the failure of a project that in the second half of the nineteenth century was presented as inevitable.

In Rivadavia: “This Was a Flourishing Town” When in July 2004 I told people in southeast Salta that I was soon heading to Rivadavia to do fieldwork in the area, several among them looked perplexed and shook their heads in disbelief. For them, the idea of “going to Rivadavia” was tantamount to traveling to the very edge of geographical space, to a place that clung to the map of the province of Salta only through a tenacious imaginative effort. That this region is home to a sizable Wichí population added to this perceived remoteness. In fact, the allure of the stories about the ship in the forest at the foot of the Andes had much to do with its rumored location in a region that seemed an unlikely spatial repository for debris of industrial modernity. The paradox is that a century and a half earlier Rivadavia briefly embodied the progress that the navigation of the Bermejo was expected to bring to the province as a whole. Yet the failure of these plans left behind desolation that elsewhere in Salta is seen as a natural side effect of Rivadavia’s remoteness. At the road crossing in La Estrella on Route 5, I turned east, toward the vast, flat expanses of the Chaco. As I began driving on a gravel road, leaving behind the mountains and the last stretch of pavement for hundreds of kilometers, the terrain expanding ahead seemed particularly daunting. Even though by then I had almost two decades of fieldwork experience in the Gran Chaco, there was something in my previous knowledge of Rivadavia’s history that made me feel slightly insecure about my capacity to handle that place. The clatter of rocks from the gravel road mercilessly hitting the bottom of my small car, threatening to leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere, was not reassuring. Yet the car held, and after a slow, five-­hour drive through a monotonous terrain dominated by vast expanses of sparsely inhabited monte, I saw a small dilapidated signpost that marked the dwellings that were emerging ahead as my destination. Even though I had prepared myself to encounter a small, desolate-­looking town, Rivadavia was smaller and appeared to be more desolate than I had anticipated. Before I realized it, I had driven the town’s six blocks and reached its eastern edge. The few people on the street looked at my car with a gaze that registered either surprise or wariness — which, I wasn’t sure.

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Figure 5.1. Arriving in Rivadavia. Photo by author.

The previous year, a man who had told me about “the ship in the forest” had mentioned that on Rivadavia’s plaza one could see la caldera, the steam boiler from that ship. After getting a room in a hostel, I walked straight to the plaza, a semi-­empty square in which a few squalid trees stood on dry, hardened soil. Indeed, there it was: a two-­meter-­long metal structure resembling an engine of sorts, painted in white and supported by cement pedestals. No plaques or signposts explained its significance or history. That silent monument hinted at a twofold absence: the ghostly remains of the ships that had attracted me to Rivadavia in the first place, and the past presence of a river that was no more. In the late nineteenth century, the waters of the Bermejo, which had once flowed beside Rivadavia, carved out a new course over twenty kilometers to the north, now called the Teuco River, and left behind a dry riverbed on the edge of town. I walked one block south of the plaza, where the street ended abruptly and the terrain, covered with bushes and trees, slid down toward a wide depression. In the backyard of an old house facing the dead-­end street, two middle-­aged men were repairing a pickup-­truck engine. I approached them and asked them whether that slump was the old course of the Bermejo. “Yes,” one of them said. “In the past, ships navigated the river. Did you see the boiler

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Figure 5.2. The regional center of gravity: the boiler on Rivadavia’s plaza. Photo by author.

on the plaza? It belonged to one of those ships.” I was impressed by how readily my question about the dry riverbed triggered references to ships and the monument on the plaza. I walked to the edge of the depression, and the view was notable: what had been the banks of the Bermejo were clearly laid out on the sides of a relatively wide trough, almost two hundred meters wide, now covered with bushes and crisscrossed by trails. On contemplating an area of the English coastline that had once contained the medieval town of Dunwich, now dissolved by the North Sea, W. G. Sebald wrote, “You can sense the immense power of emptiness” (1998, 159). Sebald was noticing the negativity of absences, and I felt that a similarly immense power emanated from the emptiness of what once had been the Bermejo River. The dry riverbed looked like an enormous relic that bore witness to that town’s dislocation, a reminder that water had once flowed through that now dry expanse and that the original motive for the town’s existence was no more. After I had spent a few days in Rivadavia, it became clear that the collective memory of the steamships that had navigated the river and the dramatic disruption created by the river’s disappearance were central to local subjectivities. Everybody I talked to, criollos and indigenous alike, told me something about los barcos that once connected Rivadavia with faraway places. Older

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people in particular assured me that in their youth they heard stories from elders who had seen the boats in person, coming and going on the river. Some people recited ship names: Orán, Sol Argentino, Leguizamón. Yet the image that surfaced most often in their accounts was the depiction of how the drying up of the river had left those ships stranded in different parts of the region. On several occasions, I drove to outlying rural areas following the labyrinthine maze of trails that crisscrossed the arid forested geography. In those places, I met criollos who said the Bermejo once flowed nearby, as if the river’s ghost was still haunting them. And they all mentioned the ships that had been gradually overgrown and buried by the terrain. Many people grounded their references to stranded and buried ships in actual places. Yet what criollos emphasized, often with pride, was that the ships embodied the wealth that had once defined Rivadavia, for the general sense in the region is that this was a prosperous town whose growth was fostered by the steamships. The town’s wealth, moreover, was based, according to them, not on ordinary items of trade, but on “gold,” “silver,” and “treasures.” The man who first told me that the slump on the edge of town had once been the Bermejo was named Luis. In his fifties, he owned a small garage and became one of my closest local interlocutors. In our second conversation, he told me about the former prosperity of Rivadavia: “This was a flourishing town. All the gold from the Upper Peru [today’s Bolivia] passed through Rivadavia, because it was the only navigable port.” The idea that the steamships were loaded with gold from mining centers in the Andes is widespread in the region. The modest trade briefly generated by the steamships in the 1860s and 1870s, however, did not in fact make it that far into the Andes and was based primarily on ordinary items such as clothing, tools, and produce. Yet references to the wealth produced during the era of the Spanish empire to measure the prosperity created during Argentina’s post-­independence period is indicative of the legacy of prior histories in local subjectivities. And this perception explains the alleged former wealth of Rivadavia in its role as a key node in a network of long-­distance connectivity to faraway places. The tales about marooned ships also make many residents argue that the disappearance of the river left myriad, if elusive, treasures strewn across the geography of the Chaco. On that trip in 2004, I met Leandro, an articulate man in his thirties who was the pastor in a local Pentecostal Church. He lived near the banks of the old river, and said that when he was a boy a neighbor assured him that, a long time ago, a group of men had unloaded a pot full of

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gold and silver coins from one of the ships and buried it next to a large tree, on what is now the dry riverbank. Leandro never did anything about it, but years later, he said, strangers arrived at night on a pickup truck, dug in that spot for several hours, found “the gold and silver,” and promptly disappeared. Leandro then shifted the tone of his voice: “We have the dream, according to what the Bible says, that the old rivers will return to their old beds. We have the dream that someday it will return, because in those days Rivadavia was very rich.” In his eyes, the riches brought by the ships had been found not by local people but by strangers from faraway lands. And relying on biblical imagery, he nostalgically invoked the past wealth of Rivadavia to imagine the possibility of a future prosperity based on the return of the river. Svetlana Boym argued that nostalgia “is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s fantasy” (2001, xiii). The nostalgia that many residents in Rivadavia feel for their town’s past is certainly charged with such romance, particularly the view that the town was indeed a prosperous place. This memory silences the violence and labor exploitation that were integral to this town’s early days. Yet the nostalgia that predominates in Rivadavia is of the type that Boym calls “reflective”: nostalgia that, in contrast to the essentialist, grand, totalizing nostalgia of nationalist revivals, is fragmentary and “lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time” (2001, 50, 41). In this regard, the nostalgia that prevails among criollo people in Rivadavia is spatially tangled with the detritus created by the town’s decline and with a sense of estrangement from the buried treasures that such wealth allegedly left on this disrupted geography. The view that the ships that docked in Rivadavia carried treasures is shared by the local indigenous people, the Wichí, who live in semi-­proletarianized barrios in Rivadavia, in the town of La Unión (farther west), and in rural hamlets scattered over a wide area. As descendants of the original inhabitants of the region, Wichí men and women carry the burden of the savagery attributed to their ancestors and regularly suffer discrimination by working-­ class criollos and the small local elite of merchants and landowners. Both Wichí and criollos talk openly about these tensions and evoke the violence that not long ago pitched both groups against each other. Because of this violence, the Wichí memory of the navigation schemes is free of nostalgia. As a Wichí leader in his sixties, Gabriel, put it to me, “The ships arrived when they came to fight the aborígenes.” For many Wichí people, the steamships were vehicles of military conquest.

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The Conquest of the Bermejo The idea of penetrating opaque, savage geographies through rivers was central to imperial and state projects in the Americas, as the cases of the Amazon and the Colorado Rivers illustrate (Muehlmann 2013b; Raffles 2002). In the Gran Chaco, likewise, Spanish officials imagined that the only way to cut through the forests and swamps that prevented mobility in the region was to take advantage of the relative spatial smoothness of its largest river, the Bermejo.2 Led by wealthy landowners of Salta and Jujuy who were keen to open a trade route between the foothills of the Andes and the River Plate basin, and therefore the Atlantic Ocean, at least three expeditions navigated the river in small boats following its waters downstream in the late 1700s and early 1800s.3 But the most serious attempts at commercial navigation began in the 1850s and 1860s with the arrival in South America of what Ricardo Salvatore (2006) called one of the “transportation utopias” of the day: the steamships. What set steamships apart from regular boats was not only their speed but also their physical power, which allowed them to navigate upstream and thereby create a flow of traffic in both directions. In those days, several Argentine presidents and intellectuals praised the steamships of the Bermejo as central to the future progress of the nation, which would take “the shining torch of progress into spaces ruled by barbarism for eternal centuries” (Tommasini 1937, 211; see Rosenzvaig 1996). In 1854, Captain Thomas Page, of the U.S. Navy, led the first steamboat on the river (Page 1859, 247–61). This was an exploratory trip by a rising imperial power keen to have a presence in the heart of South America, at a moment when the rest of Argentina was immersed in political turmoil. Yet in the following years, several steamships financed by Salta businessmen who had imported steamers from Great Britain followed suit in attempts to create the first flows of trade between the Salta frontier and the Paraná River. These were tentative efforts, for when the Bermejo enters the Chaco it is still too shallow for steamships. Cargo had to be carried downstream on horseback, mules, or wagons, to where the river increased in volume. But even downstream the river was not a smooth space. The Bermejo was riddled with multiple material striations that made navigation slow and difficult: shallow waters, sandbanks, huge amounts of debris made up of logs and fallen trees, and a wildly me­andering course. This dense, layered, and liquid materiality was, furthermore, temporally unstable and shifted dramatically throughout the year, oscillating between massive floods in the summer and a shallow, slow-­

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moving stream in the dry season. Under these conditions, many of these first ships sunk or were stranded.4 The steamships, additionally, traversed indigenous territories and had to negotiate obstacles of a political nature, especially since the men on board needed to disembark regularly to procure firewood for the steamers. While on many occasions the crews traded with local people who approached the ships looking for tobacco, knives, and cloth, the ships were attacked regularly, and the crews were heavily armed and always alert.5 By 1860, two ships that navigated upstream from the Paraná River, the Ber­ mejo and the Alpha, had been able to overcome these obstacles and reach “the other side” of the void of the Chaco at a site known as Esquina Grande (see map I.1, page xiv). This had recently become the easternmost point of the Salta frontier, colonized by criollo families gradually moving from Orán by following the margins of the river. Founded by the Spanish empire in 1794 in its last significant gesture of territorial affirmation on the Chaco frontier, Orán created the first wedge of colonization into the void since the collapse of Esteco a century earlier. By then, the Franciscan order had replaced the Jesuits, and at Esquina Grande a Franciscan missionary had just founded a station among the Wichí people, the first of several missions on the Bermejo (Teruel 2005). The news that steamships had reached Esquina Grande, thereby connecting the eastern and western edges of the Chaco, created a wave of enthusiasm among Salta officials and businessmen, who decided to build a port a few kilometers downstream. The plan was that at this port, cargo carried over by land from Orán would be loaded onto ships that would move back and forth between the Chaco and Buenos Aires, opening up the void to the global current of capitalist connectivity. The port was named Colonia Rivadavia after the first president of Argentina.6 This signaled that the conquest of the Chaco, which had been put on hold since the collapse of the Spanish empire, was now being carried out by the Argentine nation. In July 1863, after a long and tortuous journey, the Gran Chaco became the first steamship to reach the recently founded town of Rivadavia. The governor of Salta was exultant and wrote that this place would create “a center of wealth” (Miller Astrada 1982, 169–70). Equally optimistic, an Italian entrepreneur involved in these schemes wrote, “The navigation of the Bermejo River will immediately multiply the value of these deserted lands a hundred times over” (Mantegazza 1916, 210). And multiply it did. The Salta government sold or granted to speculators huge tracts of land, and more and more settlers and investment poured in, bringing with them thousands of head of cattle to the shores of the Bermejo.

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Figure 5.3. The Gobernador Leguizamón, one of the many steamships to sink in the Bermejo (in Aráoz 1884).

Expropriated from their lands and subjected to violence and labor exploitation, some Wichí groups fled to the interior of the Chaco or sought refuge at the Franciscan missions (Teruel 2005). Yet other people resisted and in the months following the foundation of Rivadavia launched a widespread uprising, attacking and destroying isolated criollo posts. The response by the national guards and criollo militias was ruthless and indiscriminate, leading to the massacre of probably two to three thousand men, women, and children —  many unrelated to the uprising (Fontana 1977, 106–7). The violence did not stop there, but continued, with intermittent levels of intensity, over several decades. Most of the businessmen leading the navigation of the Bermejo were self-­ascribed humanists who said that they favored a peaceful conquest of the Chaco.7 Yet the massacres in 1863 made patently clear that the navigation of the river by steamships demanded the violent destruction of the indigenous places that existed on its shores. Amid these growing levels of violence, the Company for the Steam Navi­ gation of the Bermejo River, founded in Buenos Aires in 1869, led the most ambitious project to transform the river into a smooth space for commerce across the Chaco (del Nieto 1969). It was not a coincidence that this effort was carried out during the Sarmiento presidency (1868–74), which was launching an aggressive project of capitalist expansion against the void of “the desert.” The head of the company, Natalio Roldán, was nonetheless aware that poten-

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tially serious hurdles lay ahead, for in previous years part of the flow of the Bermejo was beginning to follow a new arm. This branch forked off the main course upstream from Esquina Grande, ran parallel to it for over four hundred kilometers (bypassing Rivadavia from the north), and then converged again with the main course downstream, three hundred kilometers east of Rivadavia. The whole liquid materiality of the river was mutating, moving around, changing its forms at a massive scale and speed. The rivers of the Chaco have long been defined by their plasticity, for the sediments and debris carried over by their slow-­moving currents gradually fill up old riverbeds and force the current to carve out new courses (Gordillo and Leguizamón 2002). Yet in the 1870s, this plasticity reached unparalleled proportions in the case of the Bermejo. The Chaco as a whole, including its rivers, seemed like an indomitable geography hostile to attempts at appropriation. When in 1871 the Sol Argentino, led by Roldán, entered the old course of the Bermejo in an effort to reach Rivadavia, it became stranded in shallow waters. For several months, the crew waited for floods, to no avail. Roldán then ordered the military in Rivadavia to recruit three hundred Wichí men to do major works upstream to increase the flow of water (Aráoz 1884, 51, 372). The works were successful, and enough water flowed down to allow the ship to reach Rivadavia. In February 1872, an exultant Roldán wrote to the Salta governor, “The navigation of the Bermejo is a fact.” He added that from then on, a current of trade would connect Buenos Aires and Bolivia “through a comfortable, fast, and economical route” (cited in Chiericotti and Comenares 1982, 311). On returning to Buenos Aires, Roldán met with President Sarmiento, who hailed the company as “benefactor of the motherland” (del Nieto 1969, 62). In the following years, new ships managed to reach Rivadavia, but navigating upstream was becoming increasingly difficult. The river was drying up, and the Teuco farther north was clearly becoming the new course of the Bermejo. In 1877, no steamship reached Rivadavia.8 One after another, the company ships stranded and sank. The last to go down was the Orán, in June 1881, an event that marked the end of the company (del Nieto 1969, 62). A few years later, the river on whose shores Rivadavia had been founded existed no more. The dry riverbed of the Bermejo was taken over by forests, and its shape, noticeable to this day, currently evokes the phantom relic of a previous incarnation of the terrain. Attempts to open up a current of trade on the Bermejo had collapsed even before the army controlled the Chaco.9 The temporal sequence of the sinking

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of the last steamship followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the army on the shores of the Bermejo was notable. The troops who entered the Chaco to destroy the void of “the desert” encountered a different, unexpected void: the abyss opened up by the sight of modern industrial vehicles that had already been defeated by the Chaco. The presence of so many wrecks in the river unsettled several officers and observers. Gerónimo de la Serna noted the hulls of five ships that illustrated “the dangerous characteristics that this river presents for navigation” (1930, 244). A navy captain navigating upstream used a similar tone to describe the river as a gallery of wrecks that posed “uncommon dangers” to new ships. He described in detail the wreck of one of those ships, the Leguizamón, “which lies in the very centre of the channel, and was at that time with her deck partially out of water, and piled up with a perfect promontory of drift-­wood” (John Page 1889, 140). These wrecks not only embodied the recent failures to bring progress in the Chaco, but had also become, in and of themselves, sources of danger: a surplus of excessive matter that could damage and sink other steamships. These were ruins of progress with the power to create further ruination. The presence of this detritus was also ominous, seeming to bring back from the past images of the future that awaited new modernist projects. Upstream, the wrecks of ships on the increasingly dry riverbed were gradually overtaken by forests. In December 1884, the scientific team of the Victorica Campaign reached Fortín Gorriti, the first fort east of Colonia Rivadavia, and de la Serna noted that the remains of the steamship La Salteña were clearly visible: “Two little cannons of this ship could be seen buried in the sands of the riverbed” (1930, 149). The debris created by attempts to navigate the Bermejo involved not only these ships but also Colonia Rivadavia itself. Cut off from the fluvial route that had briefly, if precariously, connected it with faraway places, the town entered its own process of ruination.

Loneliness and Sadness Everywhere In Rivadavia, the nostalgic accounts that people shared with me about the wealth that once marked the town are intrinsically tangled with the memory of its subsequent and dramatic decline. The memories of prosperity examined earlier, in other words, are shaped by experiences of poverty and decay that people unambiguously trace back to the drying up of the Bermejo, the end of the navigation plans, and the massive depopulation that followed them. This

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is partly why the current nostalgia for Rivadavia’s early days is reflexive and subdued, and marked by an awareness of what came next. On my second visit to Rivadavia, in October 2006, I stayed at a house that rented out rooms and was owned by Alterio, a sixty-­nine-­year-­old man born and raised in Rivadavia. One hot afternoon, while we were sitting at a table on the large indoor patio toward which the rooms faced, Alterio said that his grandmother saw the steamships pass by when she was a girl. “The ships navigated on the river,” he added, “and then everything dried up.” I asked him what happened afterward. “El pueblo se despobló,” he replied swiftly, meaning that pretty much everybody left. “There was nothing here. When I was a kid, when I went to school and a teacher arrived, he stayed for three months and then left. And he couldn’t come back because there were no roads. There was no water, no electricity, nothing. We drank water from ponds several kilometers away. It had to be carried in barrels.” Other people similarly described the disappearance of the river as causing an abrupt depopulation that left desolation behind. Luis, the garage owner, said that “only two or three families stayed.” Current memories such as these are consistent with accounts by visitors to Rivadavia in the late 1800s. In September 1878, Roldán and Giovanni Pelleschi arrived in town on horseback after having left their ship stranded downstream. Pelleschi (1886, 159) was struck by how deserted the town looked and by the dry riverbed on the edge of town. In January 1885, the scientific team of the Victorica Campaign arrived after having spent several months in the Chaco. Leopoldo Arnaud, the head of the group, was anxious to reach an outpost of civilization, but on entering Rivadavia with his men in formation, he was impressed not only by the desolation of the place but also by the locals’ fear and distrust: “The plaza was deserted. It seems that the few neighbors in the village looked at that event with terror” (1889, 192–93). Arnaud wrote about the decline that seemed to be sinking Colonia Rivadavia into oblivion: “This small village is destined in a very short time to be abandoned by its inhabitants. . . . We walked around and found loneliness and sadness everywhere. Everything is mournful there, even the buildings are scrawny and miserable” (1889, 196–97; see also de la Serna 1930, 155). The rubble of the San Bernardo mission, which Arnaud had celebrated just a few days earlier as an imposing ruin, now seemed in fact a somber anticipation of the future that awaited places such as Rivadavia. The scientific team moved forward and headed toward the Andes, seeking actual objects of

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Figure 5.4. One of Rivadavia’s oldest houses, which had survived the town’s decline, but barely (2004). By 2006, this house had collapsed and was in ruins. Photo by author.

progress. Arnaud wrote about his emotional, bodily reaction at the sight of the first telegraph poles as they approached, a few weeks later, the city of Salta: “I felt a commotion of respect and the impulse to kneel down and uncover myself in the presence of that manifestation of civilization. How many considerations were suggested to us by those mute representatives of progress!” (1889, 275). Condensed in those objects that signaled a potent positivity, progress demanded prostration and religious reverence, especially because these men came from a region already strewn with the rubble of progress. The end of the plans to navigate the Bermejo confirms that what David Harvey (1989) analyzed as “time-­ space compression” — the shrinking of distances because of the acceleration of global forms of mobility — is not a smooth or unilinear process. In many parts of the world, this compression has been undermined, halted, and even reversed, as in this case by the plastic ruggedness of the terrain, which literally destroyed the current of trade that had been planned for the river. Decline is certainly not a unilinear process either. While evoking the desolation that had marked the region, many people in Rivadavia also emphasized that the town was actually beginning to show signs of recovery, as if finally waking up from a bad dream. Highlighting that

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these changes had already left a desolate past behind, a middle-­aged woman in charge of a small store told me, “Esto era todo monte” (This was all bush). People pointed, first, to the population growth of the previous decade, triggered mostly by criollos moving into town from surrounding rural areas.10 Many also mentioned that Rivadavia was now connected to the regional electric grid (instead of depending on a diesel generator), that the construction of the gravel road in the 1980s now prevented the town from being cut off during the rainy season, and that buses from Orán came three or four times per week instead of once per week. The town, in short, was gradually rebuilding its links with other places, even if toward the Andes rather than toward the east. Rivadavia, in fact, stands at the very end of the gravel road, and few people travel east, a reminder of the massive spatial barrier that the disappearance of the river erected between the town and the eastern Chaco. Yet many of the recent transformations the town had been going through were part of a neoliberal wave of progress that was also increasing levels of poverty and inequality and creating new forms of ruination. Much of Riva­ davia’s recent population growth, in particular, has been fostered by the eviction of criollo families because the agribusiness frontier around Las Lajitas was expanding deeper into the Chaco. Rivadavia’s population is well below its 1870 figures (when it reached 2,500) and still faces adverse socioeconomic conditions, depending heavily on government social programs and jobs at the municipality.11 Additionally, the environmental degradation caused in the whole region by the logging of hardwoods and cattle raising is particularly noticeable, and vast expanses of forest grow on heavily eroded, sandy soil. Other markers of stagnation seem to have become part of the town’s layout. On my first visit in 2004, Rivadavia had a small gas station that two years later was abandoned and in ruins. Some of the oldest buildings in town, already abandoned during my previous fieldwork, had by 2006 collapsed. In 2006, there was only one telephone line in the whole town. Though reduced to a forgotten village that was almost wiped off the face of the earth, Rivadavia did linger for much longer than anyone in the 1880s would have predicted. This is why elderly people in Rivadavia transmit a sense of resilience not devoid of pride. Some of them refer to Villa del Carmen, a hamlet a hundred kilometers upstream that did not survive, and whose overgrown ruins had been visited by some of the people I met. This village’s rubble serves as a reminder that despite its decline, Rivadavia escaped that fate and was not engulfed by forests the way Villa del Carmen and the steamships were.

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The Ship in the Forest In my first days in Rivadavia, everyone I talked to agreed that the boiler on the plaza came from a steamship that was stranded in a site called Gorriti, fifteen kilometers to the east on the Bermejito, a stream that flows two kilometers south of Rivadavia carrying water from an old Bermejo tributary. While resi­dents said that they had heard about others wrecks elsewhere, this was the only case in which I met people who had actually seen the debris in person. But these people also added that the wreck in Gorriti was no longer visible, for it had been scavenged as scrap metal and subsequently buried by the sediments carried by the Bermejito. After making my own exploratory trip to Gorriti, which yielded no results, I finally met the man who several people said could guide me to the actual site from which the boiler had been removed. His name was Ramiro, a criollo man in his late fifties who owned a few goats and sheep and lived alone in a humble adobe about four kilometers from Gorriti. He had a thick white beard and the shy, slow voice tone of criollos not used to talking to strangers. Yet he seemed curious about my interest in “el barco” and agreed to take me to see the place in my car. We followed the dirt road that leads to the province of Chaco and then a trail in the bush that reached the Bermejito, a ten-­meter-­ wide stream corseted by three-­meter-­high banks. We got out of the car and walked about a hundred meters downstream. He stopped and nodded toward the water. “It’s here,” he muttered. There was nothing noticeable about the place. “You mean the ship was exactly here?” I asked. He nodded in silence. I inspected the site carefully and there were no visible traces of any human-­ made object: just the brownish waters, the muddy banks, the trees and bushes behind us and across the stream. “When I was young, you could see the top of the ship sticking out of the sand,” he said. Back then, he added, the Bermejito carried little water and was usually dry. Like other people in Rivadavia, he said that whatever was left of the ship was now underneath the water; he also said it had carried “gold” and that “gypsies” had scavenged metal planks from it, further eroding its size. By then, I was aware that there was probably nothing left of the ship. But I was still wondering whether a few, feeble traces would still be visible. Given the local consensus that this was the site I had been looking for, the absence of debris on the ground seemed to confirm that there were no longer “ships in the forest” in the Chaco, no Fitzcarraldo-­like sights of marooned steamships from the nineteenth century. Yet it was also apparent that this place was most

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Figure 5.5. “When I was young, you could see the top of the ship sticking out of the sand.” Where the ship stranded in the forest once was. Photo by author.

probably the spatial origin of the stories about “un barco en el monte” that I had heard from people hundreds of kilometers away at the foot of the Andes. Some people in Rivadavia point out that the army once ran a small fort in Gorriti, of which no visible vestiges remain today. It was exactly there, at Fortín Gorriti, that in December 1884 Gerónimo de la Serna (1930, 149) saw the semi-­buried debris of La Salteña that over a century later eluded me.12 For almost a century, La Salteña was, indeed, a ship stranded in the forest. I met half a dozen men in Rivadavia who described their visits to see the ship.13 Alterio remembered, “You could see about six meters of the ship sticking off the ground.” Dardo, Luis’s father-­in-­law, told me how the boiler was removed: “The rest of the ship was almost ready to break apart. They tried to take the ship out, but the only thing they rescued was the boiler. When we were kids we got to see the front of the barquito [small ship]. They were a bunch of fier­ ros [pieces of metal]. I had the chance to see the ship. You could see it clearly.” The rusty metal planks that made up the vestiges of La Salteña were for a long time bright objects with a gravitational pull: a dense, affective node that attracted people who simply wanted to see that bright object in person. The wreck attracted them because it was a potent articulation of a ruptured

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history. The brightness of this debris was such that the mechanical core of the ship, the boiler, was eventually removed from Gorriti and put on display in the most important public space in the region. By the time the boiler was severed from the rest of the wreck, the generations of people who had seen its remains in Gorriti had told friends, relatives, and acquaintances about them and created imaginaries that outlived those remains. The memory of the wreck in Gorriti, in turn, blended with the memory of other people’s encounters with the vestiges of the other steamships that had marooned in the Bermejo and that, like La Salteña, were gradually covered with sediments, vegetation, or water. The only remaining object from those ghostly ships is the boiler on Rivadavia’s plaza.

Monument to the Ruins of Progress Many residents in Rivadavia know the story of how the boiler ended up there. In the early 1970s, a local young man who had been enlisted to serve in the military in Tartagal (close to the Bolivian border) told his senior officers about the ship in Gorriti. He was doing what many others had done prior to him: commenting that there was “a ship in the forest” near Rivadavia. But in this case, the officers decided to send trucks, a crane, and soldiers from the Tarta­ gal Regiment to remove whatever could be salvaged. They took not just the boiler but also two small cannons, which de la Serna (1930, 149) mentioned in his 1884 depiction of the wreck. According to Nicasio, a ninety-­year-­old man I interviewed in 2004, the military wanted to take these objects to Tartagal, but the residents of Rivadavia refused. They forced the officers to leave them on the plaza. “The boiler had to stay here. And they made it stay. And now it’s over there on the plaza.” The erection of the monument in Rivadavia realigned local spatial perceptions of the debris of ships, for it implied the removal of the boiler from Gorriti and its placement in the most prominent public space in town. Alterio told me that the cannons were also displayed on the plaza for some time, but that they were eventually taken to “a museum in Salta.” Notably, those cannons were reminders of the violence that had been part and parcel of the navigation schemes. With the cannons removed, the only vestige on display at the plaza was the steam engine that once propelled the ship: a seemingly peaceful symbol of the progress that created Rivadavia. And it was this object that locals considered to belong there, at the center of the place that was almost wiped out by the failure of the project embodied by the ships. It is also worth noting

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that the boiler was manufactured in Great Britain and shipped across the Atlantic to Buenos Aires before it ended up in the Chaco. Thus, this object is also the debris of the planetary connectivity created by the capitalism of the late 1800s. Robert Musil wrote that even though monuments are built to be seen, they are usually ignored by passersby and are “impregnated with something that repels attention” (1987, 61). But this indifference is not complete, for the monuments’ presence can also attract expressions of collective energy, as the toppling of communist monuments in eastern Europe clearly shows (Boym 2001, 88–89; Taussig 1999, 21). It is to the latent potency of monuments that I now turn. In Rivadavia, people certainly go about their daily lives largely indifferent to the boiler on the plaza. Yet this object’s particular history and its peculiar configuration as a monument make locals more aware of it than is usually the case elsewhere in Argentina with monuments that honor distant national heroes. During my fieldwork, I was impressed by how this makeshift monument was such a collective magnet in local spatial perceptions. Even in rural places or in the other town in the region, La Unión, those alluding to “los barcos” referred almost immediately to “la caldera” on Rivadavia’s plaza and asked me whether I had seen it. That broken object was the regional center of gravity, the nodal point that brought disparate locales together, as it was the last thread connecting current generations to that distant past. I often felt that people talked about the boiler as if it were material proof that the stories they had heard from their grandparents were real and not the product of the feverish imagination of a generation hit hard by their town’s decline. I thought it was also notable that the boiler had no plaque or signpost, as if this object spoke for itself and did not need the written word to articulate what needed no explanation or could not be fully articulated. The boiler’s prominence is also augmented by its current immobility. Unlike ruined buildings, the debris of industrial means of transport evokes the negation of their capacity for movement. Camilo Vergara captured this object-­oriented negativity when he wrote in the caption of a photograph of an abandoned train engine sitting on destroyed tracks, “Going nowhere” (1995, 21). Likewise, the stasis of a boiler built to move ships at high speed and now going nowhere is what most graphically confirms its status as a ruin. The boiler stands as testimony to the fact that the town of Rivadavia itself is like a massive ship stranded on the ground, far from an actual river and anchored around its former, now immobile engine. This is why the boiler’s afterlife also draws from the spatial constellations it is part of: the phantom river and the

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site where the ship was once visible. These entangled places draw their force from their incomplete, ruptured nature: a riverbed without a river, a boiler without a ship, a ghostly ship without a tangible presence, all haunted by a prosperity that passed by and left rubble behind. Alois Riegl wrote that one of the features of monuments is “their claim to immortality, to an eternal present and an unceasing state of becoming” (1982, 38). This is why monuments that are in ruins are particularly striking, for they highlight the futility of such claims to transcendence. And this is why the boiler on the plaza in Rivadavia is such a peculiar, contradictory monument. The boiler is a symbol of the fragility of industrial products that in being taken away from the wreck and transported onto the plaza became a different object: a monument erected, like all monuments, “for the specific purpose of keeping single human deeds or events . . . alive in the minds of future generations” (Riegl 1982, 21). This tension between ruination and claims to posterity is what makes this monument meaningful for local people, for it captures for them both the former glory of Rivadavia as well as its subsequent dislocation. In 1852, the influential Argentine political writer and intellectual Juan Bautista Alberdi hailed the navigation of the Bermejo by steamships as one of the turning points in the making of modern Argentina. He also predicted that “a monument” would be erected on its margins to celebrate the arrival in the Chaco of “the formidable machine” that would intimidate “the savage of the Chaco” (quoted in Aráoz 1884, 201). Two years later, a steamship entered the Bermejo for the first time, led by captain Thomas Page of the U.S. Navy. Yet contrary to what Alberdi had imagined, the indigenous people that Page interacted with were not impressed by the ship: “To our astonishment, the steamer seemed to awaken among them neither fear nor curiosity” (Page 1859, 249). Page had also assumed, like Alberdi, that the mere sight of industrial machinery propelling a boat would astonish the natives. But the only ones who were astonished were Page and his crew, struck by how the inhabitants of the Chaco disregarded the steamship, one of the transportation utopias through which the bourgeois dream world was expanding all over the planet. Those people had good reasons for remaining unimpressed. Less than three decades later, those “formidable machines” had succumbed to the Bermejo’s physical force, leaving their broken hulls scattered in a geography that in subsequent decades eventually dissolved them. In the early twenty-­first century, the only monument that exists on the shores of the Bermejo’s dry riverbed is a plaque-­free relic of their ruins. This monument is therefore not

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Figure 5.6. Captain Page’s expedition to the Bermejo in 1854, with the steamboat in the background (in Page 1859).

free of the irony that Boym associates with reflective nostalgia, nostalgia that while longing for better days does not make grand claims about their truth and is aware, as Boym (2001, 50) put it, that home is in ruins.

The Vanishing of Rubble Ruins and rubble are, like all material objects, unfinished products, processes in the making that are always subject to further deterioration and are therefore, in the words of Tim Edensor, “in a fluid state of material becoming” (2005b, 16). The wrecks created in the 1800s on the Bermejo gradually disintegrated as a visible physical presence, even if remains of metal planks are still buried underground in Gorriti and elsewhere in the Chaco. This is a material disintegration that I also witnessed elsewhere during my fieldwork at places where elderly residents remembered nodes of rubble that were no longer visible.14 While Lefebvre wrote that no space vanishes utterly, leaving no trace, some places do vanish utterly, at least in the sense that their debris can no longer be apprehended at a visual or tactile level. But places and objects can vanish while leaving traces of a different nature. Around Rivadavia, the material erosion of

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wrecks into invisible fragments has been parallel to the ongoing re-­creation of a collective memory of that debris. Those ships are currently as intangible as they are present in people’s embodied and affective sensibilities, the felt absence I have explored as a haunting. The ships are phantom objects that reveal that, as Benjamin put it, “in the ruin history has physically merged into the setting” (1998, 177–78), which in this case meant physically merging with the subsoil and disappearing from view. This presence speaks to the afterlife of rubble and to residents’ attachment to places that, as Beasley-­Murray (2011) noted, were ruptured but survived. Yet a visitor from afar casually exploring the place where La Salteña marooned, oblivious to local histories and spatial sensibilities, would never guess that a ship from the nineteenth century was once there, stranded in the forest.

We know that a rhythm is slow or lively only in relation to other rhythms. —Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis This is the apparent paradox of festivals: they repeat an “unrepeatable.” —Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

Six  |  Bringing a Destroyed Place Back to Life


n May 2003, I visited for the first time what had once been the geopolitical center of the western Chaco frontier, the town of El Piquete. The setting was beautiful: green hills stretched toward the Andes and a river carved out a winding path strewn with rocks amid cliffs shrouded by forests. The ridges rising to the west were part of El Rey National Park, one of the areas of cloud rainforest in Salta. In the east, hills rolled down toward the Chaco. What attracted me to that place, however, was not the scenery but the traces of that place’s disrupted history, for people all over the region had told me that “Piquete de Anta” — as the place is now usually called — was in ruins. The river, Río del Valle, marked the end of the dirt road I had been driving on for over twenty kilometers (see map I.2, page 12). I parked the car and waded across the shallow river to reach the beach on the other side, at the foot of steep slopes. After a short hike, I reached the house of the Ezcurra sisters, one of the few families still living in the area. They were five women in their fifties and sixties who owned a midsize cattle farm. The two sisters who were home at the time gave me a warm welcome; they were clearly very pleased to see a visitor. After a brief chat, they offered to take me for a walk amid the ruins, which started behind a creek. María, probably in her early sixties, began referring to Piquete de Anta’s glory days, when it was the economic and political center of southeast Salta. She emphasized that the town had a post office, a police station, a civil registry, and a school, as if those sites were the material manifestations of a progress that had subsequently slipped away.

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Figure 6.1. “They have destroyed El Piquete.” At the former plaza of Piquete de Anta (May 2003). Photo by author.

We reached what had been the town’s plaza, an empty square with broken benches overgrown with bushes. On the side street to the right, several buildings stood as broken, hollow carcasses. The largest ruin was the building of the old church, from the 1800s, with three of its walls still standing. The grid that had organized the town was still visible, but most of the blocks were now overgrown with trees and bushes, empty of buildings. Here and there, mounds and piles of bricks marked where houses had stood. Many of the ruins, I learned later, had been dismembered as sources of construction materials. María and her sister Angelina promptly took me to the one building that seemed to hold that ruined place together: the new church, which stands by the plaza next to the ruins of the old church. The building is locked most of the year, but they had the keys and wanted to show me the images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle that are kept inside. After we entered, they removed the plastic sheeting that covered the wooden images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin, and described how every September thousands of people arrive from all over the region to honor them. They emphasized, with excitement, that in those days the town “comes back to life.”

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In the following three years, I returned to El Piquete two more times to examine how local people experienced this place in ruins and also to observe how the massive influx of pilgrims radically transformed it in mid-­September. The celebration of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle in El Piquete revealed that its ruins are part of the constellation that includes the rubble of Esteco and the city of Salta. Yet this celebration of the Miracle is strikingly different from the one I witnessed in Río Piedras, for it commemorates El Piquete’s rise and fall by injecting a massive influx of collective life in a place that was destroyed by progress.

A Destroyed Place In July 2005, during my second fieldwork in Piquete de Anta, I visited an eighty-­two-­year-­old woman named Silvia, a relative of the Ezcurra sisters who lived about one kilometer from the plaza. Her house is near the edge of the cliffs overlooking the river. A retired schoolteacher related to the main landowning family in the area, she started off by saying she was born in El Piquete, “in that house that’s destroyed on the corner of the plaza.” Like others in the area, she remembered El Piquete with nostalgia as a prosperous, wealthy town, “the place where all the rich people lived.” I asked her whether she got to see the town when it was still populated. “Very few people lived here when I was growing up. The town was already destroyed.” “Why was the town depopulated?” I asked. “Because they made the railroads,” she replied. “Progress helped some places but depopulated others. They built the railroads, and Lajitas and Joaquín V. González surged. And what are you going to do?” she said. “You go where there’s a lot a work. You sell everything and go away. That’s why El Piquete has been totally destroyed. . . . Piquete de Anta disappeared because of the progress of other towns. They made the railroads and El Piquete was broken apart. It’s the railroads that destroyed it.” It was clear that Silvia saw progress as an uneven and spatially destructive force that benefits some places while disrupting others. I also took note of the many times she used the word destruido (destroyed) to refer to what happened to the town. She highlighted not just that the place had been abandoned and depopulated but that it had been crushed, and turned to rubble, in a palpably physical way. This was in fact the way most residents talked about the town’s decline. The following day, I talked with the eldest of the Ezcurra sisters, Julia.

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After telling me how the youth gradually left, she said, “They have destroyed El Piquete.” What destroyed the town was the powerful materiality of the new current that had been created in the lowlands by the flow of trains, which for the first time allowed for rapid mobility between the Chaco frontier and other parts of the country. In the 1800s and early 1900s, El Piquete was “the capital” of the department of Anta. People often refer to this place as “Piquete of Anta” to highlight that it was the central node of the gaucho geographies created after national independence from Spain. Located on the rolling hills separating the Chaco from the mountains, this town grew around the rubble of Fort El Piquete, built in 1790 and abandoned when the Spanish empire crumbled. The town’s name therefore carried in it the memory of the imperial debris it was founded upon. In the 1840s, the village was officially divided up in an urban grid and became home to the landowning elites leading the expansion of cattle ranching in the region. By 1865, most of the gente decente (upper-­class whites) in Anta lived in El Piquete (Ferrería 2009, 55), and the town became a hub from which thousands of head of cattle were herded off in caravans across the ridges of El Rey to markets in Salta and Jujuy. The Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle were the town’s patron saints, and the procession in September drew multitudes of gauchos from surrounding areas. El Piquete became one of the many places that evoked “the horrible temblors” that destroyed Esteco, whose rubble is located (as the crow flies) about seventy kilometers to the southwest. Ironically, El Piquete emerged in the 1800s as a frontier town asserting itself against the indigenous insurgencies that were gradually being pushed toward the Chaco, only to be obliterated in the 1900s by the expansion of infrastructure in the lowlands that followed the military conquest of the Chaco. In the 1930s, the government inaugurated a railroad line twenty-­five kilometers to the east of El Piquete, running on a south-­north axis parallel to the mountains and connecting the Juramento River with the railway hub in Pichanal, on the Bermejo. This materialization of progress and speed was simply too far from Piquete de Anta, which was now out of the way in an area of hills and creeks defined by the slow-­moving traffic of men on horseback. The region went through a dramatic geopolitical transformation in which power shifted away from the hills and toward the towns that coalesced around train stations, Joaquín V. González and more recently Las Lajitas, which became the new hubs of Anta. By the late 1930s, El Piquete was in decline. In 1948, the earthquake that shook the whole province destroyed many of the town’s buildings. Since the

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earthquake revived the memory of the tremors that had destroyed Esteco in 1692, the Church invigorated the celebrations for the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle in the province and around the ruins of Esteco. In Metán, the annual processions for the Miracle began that year. But in El Piquete, with the town’s infrastructure severely damaged, more and more people left. By the 1960s, Piquete de Anta had become largely a ghost town. Today, about twenty people live in the area; they either own small and midsize cattle farms or work on them as gauchos. During my 2006 stay, I met Ricardo, a young man who lives across the river. Shortly after we introduced ourselves, he told me, “I’m the last of the Mohicans.” We laughed and I asked him about the nickname. At twenty-­one, Ricardo explained, he was the last person to have been born in El Piquete. I was impressed by his identification as the last member of a dying group of people and by his emphasis that Piquete de Anta had lost its capacity to reproduce itself, like the disappearing North American tribe popularized by Hollywood. Locals remember the town’s dislocation by pointing to the rubble that surrounds them and by drawing contrasts between the present and the past: the nice house that was over there and is now in ruins; the post office that is no more; the buildings that once existed on blocks that are now empty and overgrown. “Over there, there was a school. There were all sorts of things, but not anymore. Now everything’s very ugly and depopulated,” said Elena, one of the Ezcurra sisters. Yet the haunting created by these myriad absences is also marked by the recurring sense that what had made Piquete de Anta important is still, somehow, part of that place.

The True Lord and Virgin of the Miracle Residents interpret the decline of this town as the result of the unraveling of a natural teleology of progress that had El Piquete as its very center. The rise of new centers of power elsewhere, therefore, is often seen as an unnatural deviation from this territorial configuration. Elena said, as we were surrounded by the rubble of Piquete de Anta, “Salta had to be here.” Other people include in this perception the epicenter of the recent agribusinesses expansion: Las Lajitas. On the edge of the overgrown urban grid, I witnessed one day how two gauchos laced and marked a calf. One of them said, “Lajitas had to be here.” Notably, in Río Piedras many people said exactly the same thing: that because the rubble of Esteco was nearby, “Salta had to be here.” In making the point that places now in ruins, such as Esteco and Piquete de Anta, should

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have been the regional centers of power, people in both cases temporarily denaturalize contemporary geographies by emphasizing the ongoing power of places in ruins, nodes that continue making people gravitate toward them in different ways as places that are, still, “here.” The ruins of El Piquete and Esteco, in this regard, are bright nodes that belong in a constellation that connects them with the provincial capital. While in the rest of the province El Piquete is not as famous as Esteco, in the department of Anta this town has reached legendary status as a former emporium of prosperity. This wealth, and the fact that an earthquake also disrupted it, makes some people see Piquete de Anta as the very epicenter of the tectonic forces that destroyed Esteco. In October 2006, in Apolinario Saravia, north of Las Lajitas, I talked with two elderly women on several occasions. One of them, Sandra, explained the destruction of Esteco as the outcome of its opulence and sins. She added, “That’s linked to Piquete de Anta. Have you been there?” I said yes. “Well, in those days the only thing that remained standing in Piquete de Anta was the church, which they never restored.” Her friend Ana intervened: “They say that Piquete de Anta was the epicenter of all the tremors.” Sandra nodded: “Salta got an earthquake of a lower magnitude.” Piquete de Anta may be in ruins, but many people in the region see it as the main node of the spatial constellation entangling Esteco and Salta. These perceptions position Piquete de Anta as the original and most authentic repository of the ceremony of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle in the province of Salta. This is not unlike the way many criollos in Río Piedras see their own celebration of the Miracle because of the proximity of the ruins of Esteco. But in El Piquete this authenticity also crystallizes in the sacred objects held in the church. Local people and pilgrims made a point of telling me that these images are las verdaderas, the true images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle. The images’ authenticity is also partly imagined as the product of their power to confront the Indians who raided the area from the Chaco. Silvia told me that the Jesuits brought the images upstream and onto those hills because of the recurring attacks by Indians. The debris of that violence is on the other side of the river: a heap of overgrown stones that form a relatively long wall. Residents call the place el fuerte (the fort), a reminder that El Piquete began as a military fortification on the edge of the void. “They saved the Christ,” Silvia said, “because the Indians were going to burn it down, because they were burning everything down. That’s how it arrived here at the church.” Piquete de Anta became a refuge for the images amid the destruction unleashed by

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Figure 6.2. Parading the “true” images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle amid the rubble of Piquete de Anta (September 2006). Photo by author.

Indians but also a place protected by the images’ exorcising force. On my first visit to El Piquete, María and Angélica said that the national hero José de San Martín, the leader of the wars of independence against Spain, was based in “the fort” and made his troops carry the images of the Virgin and the Lord in their fight against Indians. The Indians were so terrified by their presence that they fled in disarray, they said, actualizing the celebration of the Miracle as an exorcism against not only earthquakes but also the insurgencies of the Chaco. But the local view that these images are “the true ones” also creates tension with official Catholic doctrine. Residents and pilgrims alike emphasize that the Virgin of the Miracle in Piquete de Anta is “poor” and “darker,” and they contrast her with the luxuriously dressed Virgin in the Cathedral of Salta, revealing the subaltern, antihierarchical sentiments that also define the veneration of the Virgin of Huachana in the north of Santiago del Estero. Similarities with the Virgin of Huachana also include the perception that in Piquete de Anta the Virgin and the Lord of the Miracle are committed to staying in a place that is now marginalized and in ruins. This became apparent after the earthquake of 1948, which destroyed much of the old church. A priest tried to take the images elsewhere, but when he was loading the images on a truck a crowd of armed gauchos stopped him. Another time, the priest tried to

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remove the images in the middle of the night, but his truck “got stuck in the river.” The message was clear: the Lord and the Virgin did not want to leave, even if the place was reduced to rubble. In the 1970s, the few remaining families in the area collected funds to build a new church. When officials argued that the ruins of the old church should be bulldozed, local people “reacted by saying that they should be bulldozed first” (Diez Gómez 2006, 99). This defense of the images and the ruins of the old church did not result from an appreciation of their value as relics with transcendent historic significance; it revealed an affective connection with tactile objects and buildings deemed central to a subjectivity forged by decline. The residents of El Piquete are haunted by the annual return of the crowds in September. When I was walking around the plaza with María and Angelina, the latter commented, “Before, this place was dazzling, but not anymore. But on September 15th it becomes very nice. It’s beautiful, more than three thousand people come.” María added, “It would be nice to repopulate the whole town.” The arrival of the multitude does blur the lines between a celebration and a repopulation, for as a local booklet puts it, “Each September 15th El Piquete is born again with the Celebration of the Miracle.”

Esteco’s Revenge I arrived in Piquete de Anta for a third time in September 2006, two days before the official beginning of the celebration. Machinery sent by the provincial government had added rocks and pebbles to a shallow section of the river so that vehicles could wade the current. My car struggled with the rocky, uneven riverbed, but in a few minutes I was on the other side and in the semi-­empty urban grid. When I parked the car next to the church, the place was still quiet; a handful of cars were around the plaza, and a few tents had been pitched here and there. Right before sunset, groups of gauchos arrived on horseback and set up camp under the many trees that now cover the empty blocks. By the time I went to sleep in my car, those men were singing coplas (improvised verses), creating back-­and-­forth rhyming contests with men camping hundreds of meters apart. It was a notable moment, marked by invisible voices sparkling here and there in the silence of the night. The quiet that defines El Piquete most of the year was finally broken with resonant intonations of a joyful collective rhythm that had, at last, returned. When I woke up the next day, a group of fifteen youths carrying backpacks had just set up camp next to me. One shouted, “Hey, how many wine

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Figure 6.3. “El Piquete becomes like a town again, like before!” Piquete de Anta during the celebration for the Miracle (September 2006). Photo by author.

cartons do you have?” “I have one,” said one. Another shouted, “I have three!” Another asked, “Where’s the fernet?,” asking for a drink that is popular in Argentina. Even though I had been generally warned, that was the first clear indication I had that many people came to Piquete de Anta loaded with alcohol and intending to party. As time passed, more and more trucks, cars, and buses came in. Merchants began covering the plaza with diners and booths of all sorts, with a wide array of commodities laid out on tables: clothes, cds, tapes, gaucho gear, and religious figurines of all sorts and sizes, including those of the Virgin of Huachana and El Gauchito Gil. I ran into Ricardo, the last of the Mohicans. He planned to hang out with friends from Las Lajitas, playing guitar and singing all night long. But they were going to meet one kilometer from the church to be far from los curas (the priests), who are hostile to such gatherings. By late afternoon, a multitude had fully appropriated all local places. Hundreds of vendors set up their booths, kitchens, and tents inside ruined buildings or amid mounds. People used their bare hands to touch the rubble and intentionally modify its form to make it useful. Bricks were promptly turned into seats or platforms holding coolers or barbecue grills. The rubble of the

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former town was the material plastic through which people made that place their own. A regular stream of pilgrims entered the old church in ruins and explored it in silence, contemplating the dilapidated roof, the collapsed back wall, the plaque on the floor marking the tomb of a priest buried in 1853. They also lit hundreds of candles in honor of the Virgin and the Lord of the Miracle, filling up the ruined building with a warm luminescence. The ruins of the church had become the affective core of the town in ruins: the most direct link between its disrupted present and its prosperous past, and thereby a place that gathered a stream of people. I talked with several pilgrims, and most of them were well aware of the town’s former prominence. They also remembered its decline as the result of the destructive forces of progress. I met Ramiro, a seventy-­eight-­year-­old man who goes to Piquete de Anta every year. He was sitting with other people next to the old church, and I joined their round of mate teas and chatted with him for about an hour. I asked him why the town was abandoned, and he said without hesitation that the railroads were the cause. He added that Palermo, an old estate near Las Lajitas, was another prominent village that is now in ruins. Ramiro then said, “Nos ha tragado el progreso” [We’ve been swallowed up by progress]. In coming every year to the ruins of a place that had been swallowed up by progress, Ramiro and thousands of others were not merely partying or requesting miracles in exchange for promises. They were also briefly reviving a place that had been destroyed by the railroads. In the afternoon, I paid a visit to the Ezcurra sisters, whose house was a whirlwind of activity due to the many relatives and friends they were hosting. Julia told me with a smile on her face, “This now becomes a town, like before!” Later that day, I saw Lucía, a woman in her fifties who lives in Salta with her husband but visits the place regularly because they own a ranch there. Lucía also told me that every year the sight of so many people on the streets makes her feel that “this was what the town must have looked like.” As night fell, and more and more people kept arriving, Piquete de Anta became a remarkably different place. Lefebvre noted that “we know that a rhythm is slow or lively only in relation to other rhythms” (2004, 10), and the bodily and sensory rhythms created in the town in ruins acquired their force precisely in contrast to the quiet that defines the rubble the rest of the year. The multitude hanging out and walking around the plaza and on the streets, the lights emanating from dozens of generators, and the loud music coming from myriad booths created a palpable collective energy. And the tension between this effervescent rhythm and the institutional attempts to

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Figure 6.4. Pilgrims at Piquete de Anta, appropriating rubble to make it useful (September 2006). Photo by author.

tame it and control it became more apparent, especially for the lay members of the Church who organized an evening novena mass. Whereas fifty or sixty people gathered in the church to listen to the sermons and religious chants, a crowd of over a thousand was out in the plaza drinking, eating, playing games of chance, and dancing to the loud pounding of cumbia, Argentine folklore, and the occasional pop song. This disjuncture created a sonic competition between the bursting cacophony of music styles at the plaza and the measured mass sermon, which was invariably drowned out by the music. The woman leading the mass defensively addressed that tension when she said, several times, “We have come here for a reason.” This reason, obedience to Catholic doctrine, was for her certainly not that of that multitude in the plaza, who seemed indifferent to the mass. But as I walked back and forth between the church and the plaza, chatting here and there with random men and women, I noticed that people were not, in fact, indifferent to what was going on in the church. First, many of those who were enjoying themselves at the plaza had come in the first place out of a genuine desire to venerate the images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle or to fulfill a promise made to them, but simply did not feel like attending mass at that moment. And everybody was well aware of the Church’s

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hostility toward this festive fraternizing. In fact, several people said that in previous years a huge tent was set up in the middle of the plaza. For a small fee, hundreds of men and women danced the night away to the music of live bands. But the priest banned such tents and all-­night parties for going against the “religious spirit” of the celebration. People were now dancing in the open and to music played from loudspeakers. At midnight, the five police officers sent from Las Lajitas to guarantee public order arrived to stop the music. The energy on the plaza subdued, and people reluctantly began to disperse. The return of social life to Piquete de Anta thus also resurrected the plaza as a place of surveillance by priests and officers. Yet the plaza was surrounded by hollowed-­out ruins and clusters of trees, which provided people with sheltered places to continue partying undisturbed. Rather than dying out, the celebrations simply spread to the margins of Piquete de Anta, and the singing and drinking continued all night long amid the rubble. Tim Edensor wrote that, in being unpoliced places, abandoned ruins attract practices often frowned on elsewhere. This is why ruins are often characterized by “affective collective endeavors that tend towards the carnivalesque” (Edensor 2005b, 30). That night, the ruins of Piquete de Anta indeed became carnivalesque places that sheltered striving bodies from priests and the police. As I was unable to sleep due to the singing and the drunken bodies regularly stumbling upon my car, I heard one of the youths camping out next to me yell, “You come to Piquete to have fun!” I had participated in the celebrations for the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle in Río Piedras the previous week. The contrast between the submissiveness and order of the crowds in Río Piedras and the festive, irreverent spirit of the crowds at El Piquete was as dramatic as it was illuminating. Amid the ruins of Piquete de Anta, the multitude clearly eroded the recurring attempts by Church members to disseminate obedience to the doctrine of the Miracle and its emphasis on sin and punishment. The absence of officials and of the militarization that had struck me about the procession in Río Piedras was also noticeable, for the five officers from Las Lajitas maintained a low-­key presence throughout. The festive resonances that dominated Piquete de Anta in those days were clearly made possible by the fact that thousands of people had temporarily left behind their homes, jobs, and everyday obligations to set up camp in a deso­ late, relatively unpoliced place. And this effervescent, face-­to-­face communitas anticipated the type of grassroots sentiments I witnessed in Huachana the

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following year, and which had also defined the criollo appropriation of the ruins of the church of La Manga in previous decades. All these gatherings cyclically congregated multitudes in places that were either in ruins or in marginalized areas, and that held objects revered as sources of miracles. Yet the effervescence at Piquete de Anta involved a celebration that elsewhere in the province emphasizes social hierarchies and obedience to the state and the Church. In those days, I could not help but feel that the collective energies generated in that town that had collapsed from an imagined pinnacle of riches represented, at least briefly, Esteco’s revenge, in a twofold sense: the ghostly return of a city of worldly pleasures indifferent to the tenets of Catho­ lic doctrine, and the even more ghostly revenge of the egalitarian sociality that defined the very first, short-­lived town of Esteco destroyed by the Spanish empire. The tension between Church efforts to enforce the doctrine of the Miracle and the experience of most pilgrims actually became most apparent the following day, 15 September, during the procession around the town in ruins. When the images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin left the church on the shoulders of ordinary pilgrims, only two or three hundred people joined them. Using a megaphone, the priest asked the merchants on the plaza to shut down their booths and turn down the music “to show respect.” His request was met with indifference. Most people continued to go about their business. As the procession advanced, hundreds of people simply watched from the margins or from inside their tents. It was only later that the procession gained more volume, eventually attracting around seven hundred men and women, probably a quarter of those who were in Piquete de Anta that day. Once the images were brought back and placed at the entrance of the church, many more people came to watch what was clearly the climax of the festivity: the parade of dozens of gauchos on horseback, who trotted by the church amid a flurry of energy, applause, and enthusiasm. By the time the parade had come to a close and the images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle were brought back inside the church, many people were already packing up and leaving. As the celebration unraveled, I talked with Lucía, the wife of the main landowner. She commented, “This is a celebration that is more social than anything else. It’s not just about faith.” She also repeated what several others said: that there were fewer people than in previous years. A few wondered if the restrictions imposed on dancing by los curas were to blame. But everyone agreed that the celebration was not what it once had been. A few decades earlier, they said, it lasted much longer,

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Figure 6.5. Gauchos parading at the end of the festivities (September 2006). A few hours later, El Piquete would be deserted again. Photo by author.

for up to a week, and was a true fiesta de gauchos, a true gaucho celebration. Many remembered with nostalgia these larger, more exuberant, and longer celebrations, as if the destruction of Piquete de Anta was finally beginning to erode, decades later, the only collective event that kept it alive. Deleuze argued that every repetition is a singularity, different from the previous action and from the next. This is why, says Deleuze, every cyclical celebration repeats “an unrepeatable” (1994, 1). What residents feel is unrepeatable are the larger, even more festive events from the days when Anta was a gaucho region that did not know of the devastation by agribusiness. Despite its dwindling size, those who live in El Piquete say that they experience the end of the celebration as a disturbing moment. In the blink of an eye, the crowds, the tents, the vendors, the music, the vehicles, the noise are all gone. The dissolution of the rhythms that briefly engulfed the place makes even more apparent that El Piquete has long been reduced to rubble. The former capital of Anta becomes once again a place in ruins, as if that whirlwind had just been an amazing dream. Or a ghost that returns only to go away. In July 2005, one of the Ezcurra sisters, Elena, told me that after the celebration she always feels sad. The place, she said, “becomes just like now,” depopulated and empty.

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Evoking Progress amid its Ruins The ruins of El Piquete have long been a magnet that once a year attracts thousands of people from the towns created by the railroads: Las Lajitas, Joaquín V. González, and Apolinario Saravia. In going back every year to briefly revive the old geopolitical center of Anta, these people seek to reciprocate their debt not only with the images of the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle, but also with the place that fell victim to their own towns’ existence and growth. They also gesture toward their unease about the new wave of progress created around Las Lajitas and Joaquín V. González, where gaucho practices are disappearing. Because of its rugged and uneven terrain, Piquete de Anta is one of the last gaucho bastions of southeast Salta, where cattle is raised the old way in forests and without recourse to feedlots. In coming annually to this town reduced to rubble, pilgrims pay homage to the vanishing gaucho geographies of their ancestors. Not surprisingly, some pilgrims idealize the past prosperity of Piquete de Anta as more inclusive and personalized than the one currently produced by agribusiness around their hometowns. During the celebration, Ramiro told me, gesturing toward the ruins around us, “Progress used to be here: cattle, culture. But progress crushed the ancients.” In a single stroke, he presented progress as a positive substance (cattle, culture), but also, at the same time, as a negative force that crushes people. And he implied that progress is the same force that both created and destroyed Piquete de Anta. “We’ve been swallowed up by progress,” he said again. Ironically, the constellations that coalesce in this place also involve the rubble of the forces that destroyed it. Because the railroads, it turns out, were also swallowed up by progress.

Capital grows to make the void: it kills around it on a planetary scale. —Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis

Seven  |  Railroads to Nowhere


n 9 July 2005, as part of the celebrations for the anniversary of Argen­ tina’s declaration of independence in 1816, the Metán mayor inaugurated el paseo de la estación (the station walkway), built to commemorate the glory days of the railroads. The walkway consisted of a black steam locomotive decorated with Argentine flags, followed by several cars, sitting on tracks in a small park, a few meters away from the actual railway tracks. Local authorities and several hundred people attended the ceremony. A man standing next to me told me that the steam engine had for decades sat in the station as an abandoned, rusting piece of debris, until it was salvaged for the occasion. Metán was once a major hub in the railroad system of northern Argentina. It was where the line coming from the province of Chaco met the one heading north to Salta, and was the home of one of the largest garages in the system, where engines and cars were repaired around the clock. A local woman told me that “seventy percent” of Metán depended on the jobs provided by the railroads. The layoffs and the downsizing of the state-­run Ferrocarriles Argentinos (Argentine Railroads) began with the 1976–83 military dictatorship, reaching a climax in the 1990s with the privatization schemes imposed during the presidency of Carlos Menem (1989–99), who followed a script drafted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The impact of privatizing the state-­run railroads on Metán and southeast Salta was dramatic. Thousands of workers were laid off, and the passenger trains, deemed unprofitable and not worth subsidizing, were terminated.

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A decade later, nostalgia for the railroads was apparent throughout Salta, and particularly in Metán. In 2003, a former railroad worker in his fifties summarized this feeling: “This used to be a land of plenty” [Ésto era un ver­ gel]. The sense of a lost prosperity weighed heavily on the mayor’s speech that day in July 2005, as he was standing next to that old locomotive. “This is a town that has grown together with the railway workers and the railroads,” he said. He emphasized that, together with other politicians, he had lobbied for the return of the passenger trains. “I hope that, God willing, the trains start running again. And that this train serves as homage and acknowledgment to the railroads, the railway workers, and all the people of Metán.” The ceremony ended amid waves of applause. People began wandering around the walkway. The train was popular with children, who climbed the front of the locomotive and explored the interiors of the cars. A vehicle that had once embodied the speed of industrial modernity was reduced to an immobile monument to the ruins of progress, not unlike the boiler of the steamship on Rivadavia’s plaza. This was yet another former vehicle “going nowhere,” in this case turned into a playground for the grandchildren of former railroad workers. This monument was in tense dialogue with other places nearby: the silent train station, two blocks away, and the buzzing transportation hub that has replaced it, the bus station across the street, always busy with long-­distance buses regularly coming from, or leaving for, Salta or Buenos Aires. The rise and fall of the railroads has been emblematic of a whole era in the expansion and decline of state relations in the region and in the whole of Argentina. Nostalgia for the days of the railroads and in particular the detritus of abandoned stations created by the termination of passenger trains were a recurring presence during my fieldwork.

Destroyer of Legends The collapse of the plans to turn the Bermejo River into a smooth space for mobility and trade meant that the terrain of the Chaco had to be smoothed out by other means. While by the early 1900s a growing number of dirt roads were being built all over the region, this new infrastructure still faced an insurmountable obstacle: the plasticity of the geography during the rainy season, which in turning roads into fields of mud paralyzed or considerably slowed down the mobility of wagons and motorized vehicles. This called for the arrival in the Chaco of the other transportation utopia of the nineteenth

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Figure 7.1. Children playing at the just inaugurated “station walkway” near the now silent train station of Metán (July 2005). Photo by author.

century, the railroads, in order to generate a firm material infrastructure able to generate mobility irrespective of weather conditions. The construction of thousands of kilometers of railroad tracks amid a densely striated terrain that needed to be partly cleared and leveled was a project of gigantic proportions that took several decades to implement and complete. In 1908, the federal government began the construction of two railway lines that were to traverse the Chaco from east to west: the Formosa-­ Embarcación line running in the hinterland separating the Bermejo and Pilcomayo Rivers and the Barranqueras-­Metán line running south of the Bermejo. Like the navigation of the Bermejo decades earlier, the construction of the railroads immediately created overtly optimistic views of the progress that was to rain prosperity on this former desert. In 1909, the French writer Jules Huret reached the edge of the Chaco in Salta and wrote, “The Chaco! We are already in that desert . . . in that last refuge of the Indian tribes refractory to any civilization.” He added that, “on a not-­too-­distant day,” the railway lines whose construction had just begun would bring in settlers and create “lands of opulent wealth” (Huret 1988, 64–65). The expansion of railroads was, indeed, imagined as the last stage of the conquest of the Chaco. Now that

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indigenous armed resistance had been defeated, progress demanded modifying the form of the geography to make it more amenable to mobility and speed. As the railroads gradually expanded west from the towns of Resistencia and Formosa on the Paraná and Paraguay Rivers, it seemed as if these roads of steel were, at last, annihilating the material viscosity of a terrain that had intimidated generations of explorers and officials. In 1922, members of the elites from the city of Formosa praised the railroads for “destroying the terrifying legend of the Chaco” (cited in Alsina 2000, 120). The destruction of the “terrifying legend” of the void, in short, became synonymous with smoothing out the striations that had defined it and allowing for unrestrained mobility. By 1931, the two lines had been inaugurated. A few years later, the line running along the foothills of the Andes was also completed. This expansion far exceeded the Chaco and was part of a project that reached most corners of the nation. By midcentury, with 44,000 kilometers of tracks, Argentina had the largest railroad system in Latin America. In 1948, this expansion reached a particularly symbolic landmark when President Juan Perón nationalized the sections of tracks that were owned by British corporations and created the state-­run Ferrocarriles Argentinos. In decades to come, the railroads became emblems of an assertive Argentine nationality, and also of the Peronist welfare state that partly eroded the power of the old elites. At the foot of the Andes, however, the rise of the railroads disrupted not only the desert but also previous nodes of progress like El Piquete. In fact, all of the other villages that existed in the region in the early 1900s were negatively affected by the tyranny of distance created by the trains’ speed. In Anta, Laguna Blanca was the main hamlet on the Juramento River, but the rise of the Joaquín V. González station a few kilometers to the west depopulated and impoverished the village. “Only the old stayed here,” an elderly woman told me in Laguna Blanca in 2006.1 The spatial transformations spurred by the railroads included the rise of numerous obrajes, logging camps and sawmills erected to exploit hardwoods and satisfy the demand for railway sleepers and fuel for the train steam engines (replaced by diesel engines in the 1950s). In creating a demand for labor that attracted criollo people from Santiago del Estero and European immigrants, the obrajes fostered the growth of small towns clustered around rural train stations and further altered the regional topography. The railroads, in short, reorganized the regional space and created the towns that currently define the spatiality of southeast Salta. The mobility created by trains meant that the region was now physically

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connected with the main urban centers of the province and the nation, such as Salta, Rosario, and Buenos Aires. This connectivity was fast and temporally consistent. Now, for the very first time, officials, businessmen, as well as ordinary people could traverse the region during the rainy season. The train schedule dictated the rhythm of social life in these towns and provided their lifeblood of commodities. In September 2006, two elderly women in Apolinario Saravia remembered that everyone in town was well aware of the days and the time the train arrived and looked forward to the mail, magazines, and newspapers that arrived by rail. Magdalena, in her eighties, added that an hour before the train arrived, the station would become crowded with passengers, vendors, and family members who had come to say goodbye. “It was a moment when the town came together.” In the early 1990s, the termination of the flow of passenger trains created by the dismantling of Argentine Railroads led to the dramatic unraveling of this experience of place, temporality, and mobility. This unraveling was spatially destructive. In addition to resulting in thousands of layoffs, the end of the passenger trains meant that many rural stations shut down and that the small towns that had grown around them disintegrated. Residents had to move elsewhere, usually to the larger towns in the region, and reinvent their lives from scratch. The parallel paving of Route 16 (connecting Metán with the province of Chaco) and the consolidation of paved roads as the main channels of connectivity led to the rapid ascendancy of buses, automobiles, and trucks as the main vehicles for travel and trade. By the early 2000s, the railroads that once interconnected the whole region had become relics from another era, ruins of progress leading nowhere. And many of the train stations that had been crucial nodes of sociality became carcasses that blended with older forms of rubble.

The Ruins of Neoliberal Argentina In South America, the Madeira-­Mamoré line in the Brazilian Amazon is another example of a railroad line that also faced a notable ruination. But these railroads now overgrown with jungle were abandoned because of the decline of Amazonian rubber production in the early 1900s, created by the rise of rubber plantations in Southeast Asia and thus by the competitiveness of global capitalism (Rodrigues Ferreira 1960). What destroyed the railroads in Salta, in contrast, was the neoliberal looting of public wealth that swept through much

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of Latin America in the 1990s. In Argentina, this neoliberal phase of massive privatizations and free-­market fundamentalism led in 2001–2002 to an economic collapse amid very high levels of poverty, 25 percent unemployment, and widespread political unrest. The rubble of the railroads in southeast Salta is thereby the regional expression of the much wider spatial and social ruina­ tion created by neoliberalism throughout the country.2 The relative economic recovery that Argentina has gone through under the Kirchner administrations since the uprising of December 2001 and the meltdown of 2002 has been officially presented as proof that the nation has left those neoliberal ruins behind and entered a postneoliberal phase, marked by increased social spending, a nationalist and pro-­Latin American rhetoric, and some nationalizations. In southeast Salta, however, the continuities with the neoliberal 1990s are apparent not only in the destructiveness of agribusiness encouraged from Buenos Aires, but also in the fact that the dismantling of the railroads as a public service was put to the service of soy farming. Only private freight trains that ship soy to Rosario, the main port on the Paraná River, run in the region. The tracks, however, are poorly maintained, so the trains must move slowly and can transport only a fraction of the cargo shipped in the 1980s on the state-­run trains.3 Most soybeans are therefore shipped by truck. But in transporting commodities rather than people, these trains confirm that even in their currently decrepit conditions they are guided, as Alain Badiou would put it, by a capitalist ontology of profit, in which what is not profitable “has no reason for existence” (2008, 47). This is why the destruction of the railroads as a public service created distinctively neoliberal rubble: the outcome of for-­profit privatizations. Among most residents, these ruins evoke nostalgia for the type of inclusive national connectivity that the railroads once embodied as part of the days when state-­run companies provided services not reducible to the search for profits. The phantom debris of steamboats around Rivadavia and the empty blocks of Piquete de Anta evoke similar ruptures and a similar nostalgia, if more articulated around ideas of lost wealth than of lost public services. But whereas these latter two clusters of debris evoke a past that people did not witness in person and can only fantasize about, the train stations were until very recently solid, visible objects of a progress that seemed to have arrived for good. For many adults who once traveled on those trains, these stations in ruins are reminders of that which they thought was a present of modernity and spatial inclusion, but that abruptly became a fractured past. This is why

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their accounts are not just nostalgic but pervaded by a sense of disbelief that the railroads proved to be so transient. In the larger towns that still involve the traffic of freight trains, Las Lajitas and Joaquín V. González, the stations remain standing but no longer function as the town core, where people “came together.” In their everyday lives, residents are indifferent to these stations, which serve only a few trains carry­ ing soy and other commodities. Yet this affective distancing is pervaded by the haunting evocation of the affordable mobility and connectivity that those train stations once granted to ordinary people and the rural poor. And this evocation is oriented toward the ruins of the stations that were abandoned, which are particularly apparent in rural areas. Chorroarín, the town that was once entangled with the celebrations around the church of La Manga, epitomizes like few others the spatially destructive nature of the dismantling of Argentine Railroads. Prior to visiting the former station, I had spent considerable time interacting with criollo families who live in the surrounding areas. They all remembered that Chorroarín was a small but thriving town, and made a point of emphasizing that it had a school, a police station, “a lot of movement,” and “a lot of life,” partly because it was there that the stones from a quarry near the village of Balbuena were loaded on the trains. When I finally visited the Chorroarín train station, in 2006, I quickly found out that getting there was harder than I had thought. The area was heavily overgrown, and the old dirt road that ran parallel to the tracks had become a trail partly covered with bushes. At one point, the trail was impassable, and I could not drive further. I left the car and began walking on the tracks. A few hundred meters ahead, a rusty water tank and the old station gradually emerged to the right amid the trees. As I got closer, I could see that although dilapidated, the building had become someone’s home. Laundry was hanging from a long wire, and several dogs quickly approached me. As the dogs barked, a smiling woman came to greet me, surprised by the visit. Her name was Norma, and after we shook hands, a man emerged from one of the rooms. He introduced himself as Lucas, a relative visiting from Tucumán for several weeks. We sat on an improvised patio, near what used to be the station’s entrance, which once faced a village that existed no more. Norma, in her forties, was the wife of a former railway worker who had been laid off in 1993 and was away that day. Lucas told me that he comes to visit Luis and Norma every year and that he knew Chorroarín when it was “a flourishing place.” “Look at it now,” he said gesturing to the derelict building and the

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Figure 7.2. Approaching the ruins of Chorroarín via the railroad tracks. Photo by author.

surrounding bushes. “It makes you feel like crying.” Norma said the area had looked totally different in the past, with houses scattered around the station in an area of grasslands. The former school still stands a few hundred meters away, she said, but the building had been renovated and is now part of a wheat farm. Chorroarín had been a “prosperous place,” she said, but when the passenger trains stopped running that place disintegrated. With nowhere to go, Norma and Luis turned the former station into their home, doing what humans have done with rubble for millennia: turning it into something useful. But this home was haunted by the past. “Now it’s all dead,” Norma said several times, as if in a dialogue with the people who say that Chorroarín had “a lot of life.” In occupying and inhabiting the old station that once held the village together, she and her husband were still affirming that place as a site of life and endurance. Yet the ruination of the village was for her synonymous with social death and negativity. I asked her whether there was any traffic of freight trains. “Almost no trains run,” she replied. Lucas added, “Twenty-­five years ago, Chorroarín was on the maps!” Chorroarín and the railroads, ironically, are still on the maps of Salta, as if that place and that infrastructure were intact. But Lucas was referring not to cartographic representations, but to the town’s past salience as a place that oriented people on the ground.

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Further north, other small towns that had grown around rural stations have also disappeared, leaving behind derelict stations that in many cases have also been turned by local people into permanent or temporary homes. Because most houses in those towns were made of wooden planks that were promptly taken apart, the abandoned train stations are the most noticeable ruins left behind by these towns’ disintegration as living places. And the stations’ names also linger on maps of Salta as if those stations were still functioning. In January 2007, I visited one of the last train stations on this line south of Pichanal, Esteban de Urizar, which had also congregated a now vanished small town (see map 9.1, page 210). Soybean fields, forests, and recent clearings strewn with burned-­down trees surrounded the former station now in ruins, which was a few hundred meters from Route 5. The buildings’ former doors and windows were now crude, empty holes, and the area was strewn with rubble and discarded objects. A few rusting freight cars sat on the tracks. In one of the buildings, there were pots and mattresses on the floor and a few pants and shirts hanging from a wire. No one was around. But on the other side of the railroad, a hundred meters away, a section of forest had recently been cleared and burned down. The men who were temporarily living in the station’s ruins and using those pots and mattresses were workers in charge of manually removing and burning the stumps and charred logs that had survived the bulldozers and the fires. That is the last stage in the destruction of forests by agribusiness: a physically strenuous, poorly paid job known as deschampe. I had seen men doing this work all over the region, usually living in shacks made of sticks and nylon sheeting in the strips of forest left between the fields to prevent wind erosion. Lefebvre (2004) wrote that capital’s destructiveness creates a void at a planetary scale, and this void is apparent in the type of space produced by those men, hired by farmers to reduce the rubble of forests to nothing. The creation of soy fields requires, in this regard, a particularly destructive negation of the negation: the destruction of the debris of forests that had already been obliterated. There was a notable convergence between the rubble of those forests and that of the train station nearby, for both were created by a capitalist ontology of profits. Yet the ruins of the Esteban de Urizar station were still there. The men working in the area had been attracted to their presence and clearly preferred the more solid shelter provided by the ruins to a shack in the forest. They had been drawn to the presence of that abandoned building that had no owner and had become part of the commons; and they manipulated its form to turn it into a useful, sheltering place.

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Figure 7.3. The ruins of the Esteban de Urizar train station, once the hub of a small town, and now used as shelter by the workers in charge of manually removing and burning the debris of forests destroyed by soy farmers. Photo by author.

The signposts at the derelict station still read “Esteban de Urizar.” As governor of the province of Tucumán, in 1710 Esteban de Urizar responded to the debacle of Esteco by organizing the largest, most brutal military campaign ever conducted by the Spanish in the Gran Chaco. The only place in Argentina commemorating this agent of imperial violence is now in ruins. Two other stations on this line also commemorate officials who participated in the Spanish siege on the Chaco: Jerónimo Matorras (who signed the treaty with Paikín in 1774) and Martínez de Tineo (who led a military expedition in 1749). The names of these now derelict places mean nothing to locals, but that is not the case with the other station in ruins that evokes the conquest of the Chaco farther south: Esteco. Many people in southeast Salta are well aware of the presence of a train station named Esteco near Metán. The train crash that created the deadly explosion in 1975 contributed to turning the station’s ruins into another tangible manifestation of the lost city’s curse. In July 2005, the day after the inauguration of “the station walkaway” to honor the railroads in Metán, I visited what remained of this station, thirty years after the accident. Surrounded by

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Figure 7.4. The last stage of the destruction of forests: deschampe workers burning the debris of trees not far from the ruins of the railroads. Photo by author.

farmlands, the ruins consisted of three clusters of overgrown buildings, a hundred meters apart from each other. The vestiges of the station stood at the center. A monolith and a plaque commemorated the men who died there in 1975. Someone had recently left flowers on the plaque. Inside the ruins, there were burned candles and plastic bottles filled with water, placed to placate the souls of the dead. Even though the ruins are in an out-­of-­the-­way place, they still attracted gestures that reveal their affective presence. Several signposts named the damned word, “Esteco.” The only houses in the vicinity were a few hundred meters away. I chatted there with Manuel, the administrator of a farm growing soy and maize. He was from Metán and clearly remembered the night of the accident. Like many others, he said that the flames of the fire could be seen in the night from a very long distance. He confirmed that many blamed the curse of Esteco for the explosion. He also said that the station had served a scattered rural popu­ lation and, unlike Chorroarín or Esteban de Urizar, had never congregated a village.4 It is likely that the curse evoked by the station’s name repelled the formation of a hamlet around it.

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Figure 7.5. “Esteco,” the haunted train station in ruins. Photo by author.

While the rubble of the city of Esteco and the ruins of the station do not share the same location, they do share the same name and belong in a constellation that brings together traces of destruction from different epochs. Esteco the train station that only a few decades ago embodied the progress of modernity was in ruins south of Esteco the frontier town abandoned three centuries earlier. A nodal site of mobility and regional connectivity named after a lost city that epitomized Spanish power and its contingency, both reduced to rubble and both cursed. I had recently been to the bulldozed rubble of the lost city, and the signs commemorating it amid the ruins of the station exerted a peculiar magnetism, as if the word “Esteco” still summoned the void. Esteco and Esteban de Urizar are on both ends of the railroad line between Metán and Pichanal. And the way they entangle disparate legacies of destruction makes them particularly notable nodes in the constellations I have explored. The railroads that created those stations in the 1920s and 1930s were supposed to be the culmination of the conquest initiated by frontier towns like Esteco and by officials like Urizar. This is why, after all, these stations were named after them. Their current ruined state as well as their immersion in a geography disrupted by agribusiness bring to light, once again,

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that the destruction of space continues unabated, mingling clusters of rubble from myriad epochs. The businessmen and officials who lead this last wave of dislocation emphasize that the progress of the soy boom is real, and they often show as proof the jobs that agribusiness offers to local people — as, for example, the jobs of those men who camped out amid the rubble of previous waves of progress.

Part Four  |  The Debris of Violence Sensible being is not only things but everything sketched out there, even virtually, everything which leaves its trace there, everything which figures there, even as divergence and a certain absence. —Maurice Merleau-­Ponty, Signs

The negative becomes the thunderbolt and lightning of a power of affirming. —Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

Bright Objects

There were several moments when my conversations and interactions with residents in southeast Salta resonated with things I observed and heard among indigenous people living hundreds of kilometers away in the heart of the Chaco. Despite the cultural differences that set them apart, many of them made reference to mysterious sources of light emanating from the forest. They tended to interpret the presence of these lights as marking the location of haunted objects, usually hidden treasures and human remains. La luz mala, the evil light, is the phrase most commonly used to refer to these lights in rural areas of northern Argentina: a luminosity that marks a negatively charged place, read through a spatial sensibility that is the product of centuries of interactions among people with mestizo and indigenous backgrounds. Bryant’s use of the term “bright objects” to refer to objects that exert influence over other objects can be therefore examined not only allegorically but also as the immanent expression of these objects’ gravitational power. In the Chaco and at the foot of the Andes, this perceived luminosity involves hidden objects that, like buried treasures and human remains, pierce through their everyday opacity to reveal, and mark in space, the spatial and cultural sedimentation of a historical legacy of violence, whose material residues both attract and repel. The massive levels of violence that were required to destroy the vortex of the war machine have become part of the material and affective spatiality of the geography. Many of the nodes of rubble I have examined in previous chapters, from the empty urban grid of Piquete de Anta to the ghostly detritus

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of steamships, are entangled with the debris of the state violence that had made those places and objects possible. I encountered traces of the violence unleashed by the conquest of the Chaco pretty much everywhere I went. These traces often surfaced in tangential, subdued ways and adopted the most diverse expressions: from the overgrown ruins of forts to the microscopic detritus of villages that had been home to indigenous people who were subsequently massacred. But one particular trace of violence wove these objects together in local spatial perceptions, because of their power to affect people in the present: mass graves. Alan Klima’s The Funeral Casino (2002) forces us to dispel the disembodied abstractions often associated with “violence” in the humanities by confronting us with the most tangible and affectively charged debris of bodily destruction: the corpse. In my fieldwork, the violence that once engulfed the region left a widespread detritus of corpses that had long hardened into bones and skulls. Tales about piles of bones created by massacres were ubiquitous in rural areas. In some places, the mass graves that locals told me about formed noticeable mounds. In other areas, stories about mass graves adopted a ghostly tone, for residents said that they had heard of them yet did not exactly know where they were. Not all of these bones were perceived to emit a light that marked their location. But they were all bright objects in the sense that they were affectively charged points of reference in spatial perceptions: nodes of organic rubble that exerted gravity around them. Yet the magnetism exerted by this detritus of mass graves and forts in rural areas was often overshadowed by the much more visible presence of markers of violence of a different nature: monuments and ruins where functionaries and priests organized ceremonies that either legitimized or silenced the vio­ lence created by the conquest of the Chaco. In part IV, I will examine how these residues, monuments, and ceremonies form a tension-­ridden, contested constellation that affects local perceptions of the violence that turned the region into Argentine territory. These tensions involve efforts to either heighten or diminish the affective brightness of traces of violence as well as debates on how to evoke the ghost of Indians in regional structures of feeling. The fact that in the Chaco objects affectively charged with the violence that created them can generate light hints at a conceptual affinity between negativity and brightness. Yet brightness is, at the same time, a positive presence that asserts itself in space. The concept of brightness therefore allows exploration of some notable, and overlooked, convergences between the work of Benjamin and Adorno on negativity and that of Deleuze, the most famous

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philosophical advocate of affirmation. In this intermezzo, I examine in more detail what has already surfaced in my argument thus far: the affirmative generativity of negativity. In some quarters of the humanities, Deleuze’s recent popularity has led to a rejection of the dialectical tradition on the grounds that it allegedly reproduces an abstract, reactive, and positivist negativity while overlooking the positive power of life. In turn, many authors who do not give up on the critical power of negativity have been critical of Deleuzian vitalism, which they see as siding with the positivity and flows of desire cultivated by contemporary capitalism.1 Avoiding what to me risks creating a misleading polarity between negativity and affirmation requires navigating these positions transversally, through the analysis of the constellations shared, even if in disjointed ways, by Adorno and Deleuze. The fact that in Negative Dialectics Adorno targets the positivity of the given, things as they are, means that negativity is for him relentless critique: the dissolution of any reified fantasies of a complete, seamless whole; the destruction of what merely is by nurturing vertigo and the disruption of fixed positionings; a way of thinking that works through “a logic of disintegration” of objectified forms and therefore of the logical formalism and teleology of the Hegelian dialectic. Adorno criticizes the ideology of positive objects because this positivity naturalizes the status quo by erasing its contradictions, ruptures, and cracks. This is why “the seriousness of unswerving negation lies in its refusal to lend itself to sanctioning things as they are” (Adorno 1973, 159). Adorno’s negativity, in other words, has little in common with the resentment of the “slave mentality” despised by Nietzsche and Deleuze or with the “sad passions” that Spinoza warned about as actions guided by reactive, blind fear. These are reactive, fearful forms of negativity: reactionary and therefore conservative negations. Adorno’s critical negativity was famously hostile to any type of affirmative gesture, partly because, as Susan Buck-­Morss argued, he “viewed critical negativity as a creative force in itself” (1977, 36). Yet Adorno never articulated what this creative force would look like. This led him to a dead end: a critique without a positive project (Buck-­Morss 1977, 190; Coole 2000, 6). This was on his part not simply an abstraction but a bodily and political disposition. In January 1969, as part of the political unrest then shaking Europe, students took over the Frankfurt Institute. Adorno responded by calling the police, who arrested seventy-­six people (Leslie 1999). Adorno disliked that youthful revolutionary affirmation that was actually doing what he had taught students

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to do, which was to negate the given. Adorno’s famous reactive gesture a few months before his death reveals the political limits of a negativity without affirmative dimensions secluded within an elite, abstract project: the sad negativity of a professor who turns to the police. As John Holloway, Fernando Matamorros, and Sergio Tischler (2009, 3) suggest, rescuing the political power of Adorno’s ideas should be done against that gesture. This is why the most important challenge faced by philosophies of negativity — as Buck-­Morss, Coole, Noys, and Žižek admit in different ways —  is to account for negativity’s positive force. And this simply cannot be done adequately without engaging critically with, and learning from, the Spinozian-­ Deleuzian tradition. It is worth noting that Adorno’s Negative Dialectic and Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition are both frontal attacks (if from different angles) on the idea of “identity,” that is, the fantasy of a univocal correspondence between object and representation. And Deleuze, like Adorno, rejects conservative views of positivity as acceptance of the given. “Affirmation conceived of as acceptance, as affirmation of that which is, as truthfulness of the true or positivity of the real, is a false affirmation. It is the yes of the ass” (Deleuze 1983, 184). Drawing from Spinoza and Nietzsche, for Deleuze the positive is will to power, a life-­affirming, creative force that is critical of the given. This is why while rejecting Hegel, Deleuze usually recognizes (against himself) the power of negativity in affirmation. This gesture is epitomized in the book he entitled, with Guattari, as a negation: Anti-­Oedipus. Deleuze and Guattari wrote that schizoanalysis, their project to overcome psychoanalysis, has a fundamental “negative moment”: “Destroy, destroy. The task of schizo­analysis goes by way of destruction. . . . Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, the law, castration.” They clarify that these are not “Hegel-­style destructions, ways of conserving” (1983, 311). Anti-­Oedipus may not be a Hegelian book, but it is not that far apart from Adorno’s logic of disintegration, coded positively as the celebration of “desiring machines.” Tellingly, Deleuze’s most frontal attack on the dialectic, Nietzsche and Phi­ losophy, is also a book that admits that negativity, like affirmation, is a force. And he argues that through what he calls “transmutation” these negative forces can become active. He uses an evocative phrase that exudes brightness to articulate this destructive-­ creative transmutation: “The negative becomes the thunderbolt and lightning of a power of affirming” (Deleuze 1983, 175). This lightning transmutation is for Deleuze best embodied in self-­ destruction, a negation in which “the will to nothingness is converted and

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crosses over to the side of affirmation” (1983, 174). And this is where Deleuze’s hostility to the negative becomes apparent, for the positive force of negativity must for him be coded and dissolved by affirmation at the service of “excess of life”: “Only affirmation subsists as an independent power: the negative shoots out of it like lightning, but also becomes absorbed into it, disappearing into it like a soluble fire” (1983, 175–76, emphasis added). Negativity shoots out like “lightning” and “soluble fire.” There is no dialectical sublation, no nega­ tive remains that are preserved in a new form. No rubble where negativity may linger on, congealing the potentially disruptive force of constellations. Deleuze’s vitalism therefore keeps him away from engaging with the critical negativity of rupture and destruction, the gesture that for Noys (2010) marks the slippage into the fetish of capitalist positivity. In his book about Deleuze, Organs without Bodies, Žižek shows in detail, if from a different angle, Deleuze’s profound “disavowed affinity” with Hegel. Yet he points out that the main difference between both, which he calls “the minimal difference,” is the difference between flux and gap. Whereas “the ultimate fact” of Deleuze’s philosophy is for Žižek “the absolute immanence of the continuous flux of pure becoming,” in Hegel it is “the irreducible rup­ ture of/in immanence” (Žižek 2004, 54). Foucault famously suggested that the twentieth century was perhaps Deleuzian, and Žižek (2012) has retorted that the twenty-­first century will be Hegelian. Maybe those statements are not totally contradictory, especially if, rephrasing Žižek, we approach the flux of becoming through the labor of the negative: the disruptive and affirmative discharge of a lightning that, as in the Chaco, illuminates objects that were destroyed. And this takes us back to Bryant’s use of concepts that evoke shades of luminosity to analyze the gravitational power of objects. It is not a coincidence that this luminosity evoked by a philosopher such as Bryant, inspired by Deleuze, brings to mind concepts dear to Adorno and Benjamin that are equally notable for their luminosity: constellations (multifaceted assemblages of bright objects) and illumination, which for Benjamin marked the phenomenology of political awakening, the shedding of light on something that had been unseen, unnoticed. Luminosity is the allegory for a way of thinking sensitive to multiplicity, connectivity, and rupture, what Teju Cole calls “constellational thinking.”2 This thinking is necessarily spatial and object-­oriented, drawing rhizomatic connectivities that scan the terrain for ruptured objects and damaged bodies that officials and elites encourage their subjects to disregard as black or dim.

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Some of the collective practices through which criollo people appropriate nodes of rubble at the foot of the Argentine Andes involve repetitive, festive events. This joyful atmosphere certainly defines many celebrations across Latin America. David Guss (2000; 2006), among others, has examined how this “festive state” is constituted by legacies of domination and defined by efforts by subaltern actors to appropriate places previously denied to them. This means that these life-­affirming practices are not guided simply by a Deleuzian vitalism. These festive events are made and unmade through the ruptures, gaps, and voids that are part of the geography and of habitual dispositions aware of the presence of rubble in space. Lucas Bessire (2014) documents this dialectic of affirmative becoming through rupture in his notable ethnography among the last people native to the Gran Chaco to lose their autonomy: the Ayoreo-­speaking people of Para­ guay and Bolivia, who are now witnessing the obliteration of their forested universe by “the attackers of the world.” Having been through particularly devastating experiences of terror, dehumanization, exploitation, and violence, many Ayoreo men and women have tangentially but persistently refused to be encapsulated within anthropological and popular views of “culture” and “indigeneity.” This is a well-­grounded refusal, for their life has been negated and made “other” for too long. Bessire thereby reveals those subtle, often imperceptible life-­affirming practices that defy codification because they are haunted by “the labor of the negative.” This attentiveness to life amid disruption points to widespread forms of critical awareness among subaltern actors the world over, who often protest the elite disregard for destruction by affirming what this disregard negates: that they are human and alive. At the foot of the Andes and in the Chaco, likewise, many people disregard the ruins celebrated by the regional elites because they are drawn to the rubble of  human bodies.

All reification is a forgetting.—Theodor Adorno, letter to Walter Benjamin, 29 February 1940

Eight  |  Topographies of Oblivion


ort Cobos was the first place I visited when I left the city of Salta to begin fieldwork in 2003. Located on the outskirts of the small town of Cobos, on the highway connecting Salta to Metán at the foot of the ridges that gradually climb up to the Andes, the fort was built in 1690 to protect Salta from attacks launched from the Chaco. Fort Cobos was destroyed several times and for decades was overgrown and partly in ruins.1 Yet in the 1940s, the same nationalist sentiments that made the federal government celebrate the ruins of the Spanish empire in the heart of the Chaco reached this abandoned and overgrown node of rubble. The place is now a national historic site. The fort has been reconstructed as a two-­story building surrounded by a wall. The site is open to the public but has no staff and visitors are rare, for the area is off the main tourist circuits. A large sign near the entrance tells visitors that the fort had been built to protect Salta from violent Indians: “The Indians were always a problem for the Spaniards, because they looted and burned down the towns of the Valley of Siancas and the region of Esteco in their forays to reach Salta.” The signpost, the only source of information at the site, brings to light that in those days both Salta and Esteco were regularly threatened by the war machine. Two years after Fort Cobos was built, the earthquake of 1692 set the destinies of Salta and Esteco apart. And like Esteco, the fort eventually fell into ruins. Yet whereas the fort was reconstructed and memorialized, the rubble of Esteco remained unnamed in official commemorations. Everyone in Salta may know about Esteco, but when it comes to

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celebrating the regional history in public ceremonies, the place is rarely if ever mentioned, as if officials sought to deflect its negativity. The name “Esteco” surfaces only obliquely, as in the signpost at Fort Cobos, and only to emphasize the violence of the insurgencies originating in the Chaco. Fort Cobos is in dialogue with a mural located a few kilometers away in the plaza of Campo Santo, next to the church. The mural depicts, with burning homes in the background, a semi-­naked Indian about to shoot an arrow at the Virgin of Candelaria, who is holding baby Jesus. A text on the mural narrates the origins of Fort Cobos in the struggle against Indians, explaining that in 1735 Indians attacked and destroyed a local hacienda, riddled the image of the Virgin with arrows, and tried to cut its throat. The image bled, the text states, and was subsequently taken to Salta to be venerated as a miraculous manifestation of a sacred body harmed by savages. The constellation formed by Fort Cobos and the mural in Campo Santo commemorates the violence that once defined the frontier as a nihilistic, brutal, sacrilegious force that emerged from the void of the Chaco to threaten a passive, victimized Christian geography.2 The reconstructed fort and the mural, in short, are nodes of memory that operate negatively by erasing, and tacitly legitimizing, the violent conquest of the Chaco by the state. In How Modernity Forgets, Paul Connerton wrote that “memorials conceal the past as much as they cause us to remember” (2009, 29). And he coined the concept that inspired this chapter’s title: “topographies of forgetting.” I analyze how these topographies operate through the reification of ruins and monuments, drawing from Adorno’s point, articulated in a letter to Benjamin, that “any reification is a forgetting” (1999, 321). I explore the inculcation of topographic forms of forgetting as it operates through the two formulas of silencing identified by Michel-­Ralph Trouillot in his masterful analysis of how Western powers and historiography silenced the 1791–1804 Haitian Revolution. The first formula is one of banalization, which tends to empty historical events of their political content “so that the entire string of facts, gnawed from all sides, becomes trivialized” (Trouillot 1995, 96). The second is a formula of erasure, which tends to erase the very existence of the event. In the case of Haiti, Trouillot shows how the European elites first trivialized the revolution as a savage, irrational outburst of violence manipulated by foreigners, and then they ignored it altogether, as if it had never taken place. Trouillot’s formulas can be understood as procedures of affective modu­ lation that operate through the inculcation of disregard. And as noted by Stoler, disregard involves what Heidegger called an “evasive turning away”

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Figure 8.1. Mural in Campo Santo, near Fort Cobos, commemorating the violence of the Indians who raided the frontier from the Chaco. Photo by author.

(Stoler 2009, 255). This evasive turning away is key to understanding the spatiality of oblivion, for some nodes of rubble may partly lose their capacity to affect if residents are encouraged to look elsewhere, at sites and ruins that are petrified as official nodes of memory with allegedly more historic value. As the cases of Fort Cobos and the mural in Campo Santo indicate, on the Salta frontier this evasive turning away is made possible by the banalization of the war machine of the Chaco as made up of hordes of inherently brutal, impulsive, savage Indians.3 This trivialization erases the affirmative gesture of self-­control and freedom that Clastres found in the Chaco among former indigenous combatants and that I found in the memory of their children and grandchildren. In the past two decades, the rise of indigenous activism and of popu­list counter-­narratives of national history in Argentina has challenged and partly eroded the trope of the violent Indian in public discourses (Gordillo and Hirsch 2003). But in the province of Salta, one of the most conservative in the country, officials and priests still draw on the fetish of the violent Indian to commemorate the void of the Chaco and silence state violence. The annual celebration of San Francisco Solano in El Galpón, the town east of the rubble of Esteco, is the main regional node in these topographies of oblivion of state violence, for it presents the conquest of the Chaco as a peaceful

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process that crystallizes in the image of an Indian who kneels down at the feet of a missionary whose sole weapon is a violin. And this commemoration revolves around a node of rubble that has been turned into a ruin.

The Kneeling Indian On 27 July 2003, I stood with over four thousand people outside the church of El Galpón, waiting for the beginning of the procession to commemorate the town’s patron saint, San Francisco Solano. Two men on the stage next to the church took turns reminding us, in severe tones, why we were there. Loudspeakers amplified their voices so they could be heard throughout the town. Over four centuries earlier, they said, the Franciscan missionary Francisco Solano arrived in the Americas from Spain to spread the word of Christ. In 1589, he left the city of Tucumán to preach in the Chaco and stopped briefly to spread the gospel at a place now in ruins, a few kilometers from El Galpón. The saint, they emphasized, converted thousands of Indians while playing his violin. He subsequently left the region, and died in Peru in 1610. Over a century later, in 1726, he was canonized by the Vatican for the many miracles he had performed as “the apostle of the Chaco.” Finally, the moment arrived. Carried on the shoulders of six middle-­aged men, el santo, the saint, appeared, emerging from the church. An exhilarating energy engulfed the plaza. Hundreds of waving handkerchiefs were raised to greet the saint: a one-­meter-­tall wooden image of San Francisco Solano holding a cross and standing on a base decorated with intensely red flowers. But the crowd was not simply hailing the saint, for San Francisco Solano was not alone. He formed an indissoluble bodily composition with a semi-­naked Indian, depicted kneeling before the saint with his hands in prayer. The two figures were locked in a gaze that signaled a petrified hierarchy: the Indian gazing up, expressing submission and reverence, and the missionary looking down at him and accepting his worship. What defined the assemblage was not this apparent hierarchy, but that the Indian was a crucial part of the object of veneration. The procession thereby marks the appearance of the absent Indian in a land of gauchos “without Indians,” an appearance that creates a destabilizing presence signaling that the criollos of the present partly descend from vanished Indians. The procession is also a reminder that in the past, this area was insurgent territory in need of missionization: that is, that it was a place where Indians did not kneel down.

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Figure 8.2. The kneeling Indian and the saint carried in procession, El Galpón (July 2007). Photo by author.

The kneeling Indian therefore negates the violent Indian, but presupposes him and carries him within; it represents the culmination of a corporeal transformation through which bodies that once resisted domination were disciplined. The celebration therefore includes references to the days when San Francisco Solano confronted the violent Indian, tacitly acknowledging that missionization was part of a process of conquest. Priests regularly refer to the saint as “conqueror of Indians,” even if they emphasize that this conquest was accomplished via the soothing music of his violin. Priests also emphasize that Solano’s violin “tamed the beasts” and helped him navigate “dangerous lands” with their “savage inhabitants.” The repetitive inculcation of these tropes has considerably shaped local subjectivities. In 2005, while walking in the procession, I talked briefly with a woman in her late twenties who was holding her six-­year-­old son by the hand. “San Francisco Solano evangelized with the violin,” she told me, “because the Indians were rebellious [rebeldes].” Her son looked up to her and asked what rebellious meant. She responded briskly, “It means malos — mean.” I participated three times in the San Francisco Solano celebrations, and it was apparent that they revolved, first, around the object of veneration: the assemblage that marks San Francisco Solano as a saint because of his miraculous

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power to make Indians kneel. The power of this object becomes tangible through the circulation and movement it generates once a year, when it leaves the church and is paraded on the streets followed by a multitude.4 Residents experience the procession as the brief moment in which the saint himself leaves the seclusion of the church and blends with the space of the whole town. This is an orderly, hierarchical, and militarized procession, similar to that of the Miracle in Río Piedras, with officials, priests, and politicians leading the way and armed police officers creating a ring around the saint and the Indian. References to the Miracle of Salta are common, as is the invocation “Long live the Catholic Church!” Yet the institutional structure of the procession inadvertently releases the surplus of violence that the ritual seeks to conjure away by tangentially highlighting the foundational link between state violence and Christianity, not unlike the celebration of the Miracle in Río Piedras. This was clear for everyone to see: the ring of riot police that surrounds the image, asserting that the saint and the Indian were protected by men in uniforms; the military parade that follows the procession, involving armed officers in riot gear and children in police uniforms marching with severe bodily gestures at the pace of martial music, naturalizing the militarization of society to the point of equating it with schooling. This militarized performance celebrates the procession’s implicit message: that the Indian was forced to kneel down. The ceremony ends at dusk, after the gaucho parades, the most festive moment of the celebration. The saint and the kneeling Indian are taken back inside the church amid tears and waving handkerchiefs. The Sunday prior to the main procession in El Galpón, a smaller yet still sizable multitude participates in another procession in honor of San Francisco Solano. It involves a smaller image of the saint and the kneeling Indian, which is taken out of town to a site located eight kilometers away, across the Juramento River. This is a place where the Catholic Church has given the evocation of peaceful conversion the form of a ruin that only a few decades ago was an overlooked pile of rubble. And as Stoler argues, naming something a ruin “is in itself a political act” (2013, 20).

The Ruins of San Francisco Solano The procession left El Galpón early on a cold winter morning whitened by frost, led by men playing criollo violins and drums and by two gauchos on horseback carrying the flags of Argentina and the Vatican. We gradually

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Figure 8.3. Celebrating mass at the ruins of San Francisco Solano (July 2005). Photo by author.

made our way across the Juramento River and to “the mission”: a six-­meter-­ high adobe wall in a clearing atop a hill surrounded by forests and pasture. Together with hundreds of men and women who reached the site on their own in vehicles or on horseback, close to a thousand people spent the whole day at the site, attending mass, eating, watching displays of gaucho prowess, and celebrating the fact that in that place San Francisco Solano stopped to convert Indians. It is there that the commemoration of the saint and his peaceful conquest of wild Indians acquires a tangible form in space: in a cluster of rubble. The ceremony seeks to blend that distant past with the present and to fold both historical geographies into one. The priest who presided over the ceremony that day asked the public to “imagine” their beloved saint holding mass “right here in these ruins,” or he noted, more broadly, that San Francisco Solano “passed through these places.” Announcers fixed and shriveled the meaning of that place by calling it “the ruins of San Francisco Solano”: the place where hordes of Indians kneeled down in submission. On 15 July 2007, the annual ceremony at the top of the hill acquired a different tone. The ruins were deemed so valuable that they were turned into a different type of object. Until then, the adobe wall was on a midsized cattle ranch. While its owners supported the processions on their property, officials

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and priests had grown increasingly concerned that the ruins were rapidly deteriorating. Pilgrims were quick to touch and appropriate the rubble for practical ends, and priests and officials complained that this was a destructive practice that demanded intervention. As one official told me, with alarm, “Many people grab adobe bricks to sit down and drink mate tea!” In order to halt the degradation of the ruins, that day in 2007 the landowner publicly signed documents that donated the lot to the municipality of El Galpón, thus placing this cluster of rubble under state management. In his speech, the secretary of culture emphasized “the historic value of the ruins” and announced that a structure financed by the Salta government was to be built around and above them “to guarantee their preservation.” The ceremony marked the official transformation of rubble into a ruin: an object with transcendental value that demanded protection. This became, in fact, the first cluster of rubble on the Juramento River to be turned into a heritage site. And this meant reducing the historical significance of those ruins to that brief moment, allegedly sometime in the 1590s, when the presence of the saint froze its meaning. Anything else that happened there was relegated to oblivion. This reification of ruins around one particular moment or actor at the expense of others is pervasive all over the world. A vast literature has examined how different actors seek to fix history in space through selective representations of the past. As Hertzfeld (1991, 12) notes, however, the critique of such reifications should not lead to the idea that behind them lies a knowable, “real” past. Every node of rubble is the product of a dizzying multiplicity of pasts that, at some level, escapes representation. Yet analyzing the fixation of meanings in rubble is important in order to reveal what it erases.5 In “the ruins of San Francisco Solano,” the site’s reification as a node of positive memory silences the violence of conquest and the different layers of indigenous and criollo suffering that once defined that place. The processions across the river to these now protected ruins began only in the late 1970s. The adobe wall they converge on is certainly not from the late 1500s, but is much more recent, originally belonging to a station built by Franciscan missionaries in 1880. Named San Miguel Arcángel de Miraflores in honor of the Jesuit station of San Miguel de Miraflores (“the tower,” a few kilometers to the west), the station congregated about a hundred Wichí men, women, and children who came from the Bermejo following the demise of La Purísima in 1875. More important, these people arrived in Miraflores fleeing the massacres in Rivadavia and Esquina Grande during the peak of the navigation of the Bermejo. Thus, this cluster of rubble is a node in a spatial con-

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stellation generated by high levels of violence in the Chaco. As the historian Ana Teruel (2005) analyzed in her archival research on this station, the people held there were haunted by recent memories of terror: they were restless and hostile to missionization; they profoundly disliked the place, saw it as “full of disease,” and feared that their children would be sold as slaves.6 The priest of El Galpón told me in 2006 that the priest who organized the first processions to the ruins was well aware that they were from the late 1800s and therefore unrelated to San Francisco Solano. But he nonetheless wanted people “to develop a consciousness of the vestiges of the Franciscan ruins.” The “invented tradition” woven around this Franciscan ruin was, in short, an attempt to celebrate the legacy of the Franciscan order in the Chaco. The irony is that the reification of the rubble as a Franciscan object from the 1590s erases the role of the same order, in that same place, in providing protection to people who were being massacred in the 1860s and 1870s. The other side effect of the reification of this “Franciscan ruin” is that it silences the much more profound legacy of the Jesuits in the region. After all, the Jesuits left several prominent ruins in the area, like the tower of Miraflores and the church of La Manga, and the much less known, and heavily overgrown, rubble of La Población de Ortega (a few kilometers west of town). In the celebrations for San Francisco Solano that I attended, I never heard a reference to the presence of these Jesuit ruins nearby. This is notable considering that the tower of Miraflores is well known in El Galpón. This silencing could be seen as part of the old rivalry between Jesuits and Franciscans in the Americas. But it could be also read as an attempt by the regular clergy to counter the fact that most criollos remember the Jesuits as particularly brutal men who exploited Indians and accumulated vast treasures from their labor (see chapter 4). But the reification of the rubble on the hilltop does more than erase the violence of the conquest of the Chaco: it erases that these were also the ruins of working-­class places of criollo socialization destroyed by the decline of rice cultivation across the river. During most of its existence, the chapel now reduced to rubble served criollos rather than indios. Once the mission unraveled in 1890, the chapel congregated a criollo village. Elderly people remember that in the 1950s the church was still standing and in good shape. They all mentioned el pueblito (the village) scattered around it, whose main vestige today is a cemetery nearby. The place fell into decay only when landowners evicted those families in the 1950s. Those who remember the more recent history of the ruination of the criollo village have nonetheless accepted the official story that, in a deeper past, San Francisco Solano stopped by that

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church to peacefully convert Indians. For the youth of El Galpón, the adobe wall is the place where San Francisco Solano made the Indians kneel down by playing the violin. The annual procession to the ruins, in this regard, exorcises the multiple legacies of disruption congealed in that place. This is not the only node of rubble that local people have come to associate with the presence of the saint. Esteco is only fifteen kilometers from El Galpón, and many residents argue that San Francisco Solano was the old man in rags who arrived in the city prior to its destruction.7 Some also say that the saint authored a famous rhyme predicting the fates of Esteco and Salta: “Salta saltará y Esteco se perderá” [Salta will be shaken and Esteco will disappear] — a rhyme that dates back to the 1700s (Lozano 1989, 108). These imaginings disentangle San Francisco Solano from the narrative of peaceful conversion and present him, rather, as a severe figure who punished Esteco’s opulence. And the exorcism carried out in Esteco by the priest of El Galpón during the celebration of San Francisco Solano confirms that this fiesta patronal is one more node in the rituals of conjuring that surround the ruins to protect the surrounding area from the curse of the lost city. Yet despite its banalization of conquest, the celebration of the saint and the kneeling Indian does draw from material debris associated with the Chaco and from evocations of the war machine that once attacked the frontier. The current legitimacy of the Catholic Church in Salta, after all, is based on earlier histories of missionization begun by the Spanish empire. Yet other commemorations of the regional history by state agencies at the foot of the Andes silence the past presence of indigenous insurgencies altogether, as if the vortex had never existed.

The Mandate to Look Away I first encountered the spatial form adopted by the mandate to forget the conquest of the Chaco when, in May 2003, I was driving on the dirt road east of Río Piedras looking for the ruins of Esteco and stumbled upon three white monoliths shaped like slim pyramids, each around three meters high. One was covered with plaques, another was crowned with a cross, and the third held an image of the Virgin Mary. They stood on a cement pedestal on the left side of the road near the bridge that crosses the Río de Las Piedras (which farther downstream joins the Juramento). The monument commemorates the battle of Río Piedras that allegedly took place there on 3 September 1812, between a patriot army led by General Manuel Belgrano and Spanish troops.

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The monoliths are six kilometers west of the rubble of Esteco, a site that despite its fame in Salta is unmarked by signposts or plaques and was at the time overgrown and invisible from the road. Those were the very first days of my fieldwork, and I thought it was curious that whereas the material traces of the conquest of the Chaco I was looking for initially seemed elusive and were invisible from roads, in and around Metán and Río Piedras there were several well-­publicized memorials that encouraged me to remember a different history: the wars of national independence that involved the foot of the Andes in the early 1810s. Lefebvre argued that monuments “project onto the landscape a conception of the world” (2003, 22). The conception of the world secreted by those monuments communicated that not much else had happened there prior to 1812–1814, as if history itself began with the Argentine nation. For officials and many residents, these nodes of memory materialize what one hears regularly in this area of Salta: that this is a region made up of lugares con mucha historia (places with a lot of history). The monuments signal that those places (and, by default, not others) are worth remembering. These are places where, as Pierre Nora (1989, 7) has argued, memory crystallizes and secretes itself, becoming a tangible, observable component of the geography. Among the several monuments that exist in the region to celebrate the birth of Argentina, La Posta de Yatasto (the Lodge of Yatasto), a few kilometers south of Metán, is the most famous and the most important regional tourist attraction. The two-­story building was for a long time abandoned and in ruins. It was rebuilt in the 1940s to celebrate the place where the two great heroes of Argentine independence, Generals José de San Martín and Manuel Belgrano, allegedly met in person in January 1814.8 Farther north on the highway to Salta, another well-­k nown historic landmark is a large statue of General Belgrano staring toward the Andes on the site where, in 1813, he made his troops swear loyalty to the new Argentine flag he had himself designed. In order to fix the memory of this event in the topography, the very name of the river was changed from Pasaje to Juramento (Oath).9 Yet the monoliths for the battle of Río Piedras stood out for me because of their proximity to the rubble of Esteco. Whereas the ruins of Esteco have a stronger presence in popular imaginings than any of these monuments, they remained overgrown, unmarked, and unnamed as an object of official history. In September 2006, I attended the annual ceremony organized around the monoliths to celebrate the battle of Río Piedras. The event was attended by hundreds of Río Piedras residents, troops from Salta wearing the uniform

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Figure 8.4. Military parade celebrating the 1812 battle of Río Piedras at the mono­ liths. The rubble of Esteco is six kilometers away on the same dirt road. Photo by author.

of the patriot armies of the 1810s, dozens of gauchos on horseback, local and regional officials, and the regional media. During the ceremony, officials and local historians told the public that the battle may not have been a major confrontation, but that it played “a decisive role” in boosting the troops’ morale and in the subsequent (and more famous) military victories by Belgrano’s troops in Tucumán and Salta.10 They also emphasized that the place was one of the many “places with a lot of history” in the region and belonged in the same constellation created by La Posta de Yatasto and the monument to Belgrano. The speeches also celebrated that an event of violence that lasted for a few hours in September 1812 had become forever inscribed in the terrain. This was a spatial actualization forged through bodily traces of violence, for as an official pointed out, “this land is sprinkled with the blood of those who have preceded us in our homeland.” This celebration of patriotic violence concluded with a military and gaucho parade that highlighted the continuity between the insurrections against the Spanish empire of the early 1810s and the gauchos of the present. None of the officials who spoke at the ceremony mentioned that the rubble of Esteco was nearby down the same road. Several of the residents of Río Pie-

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dras I had interviewed about Esteco were there, listening to the speeches and watching the military parade. In talking with them about the ceremony, it was clear that it resonated with them partly because of the official celebration of the gauchos as heroes in the wars of independence. And while locals were certainly aware of the presence of Esteco a few kilometers away, the annual celebration of the monoliths contributed to reifying some of their views of the local history. Several among them, for instance, repeated the official mantra that the region “has a lot of history” by pointing to the monoliths commemorating the battle, not to the rubble of Esteco. Diego, the man who played me his zamba about Esteco on his guitar, attends the ceremony at the monoliths every year. He was proud that the battle had taken place near his home. One day, he played for me a chacarera (criollo music style) he had composed in honor of the town of Río Piedras. At one point, the lyrics referred to the battle as follows. In the town of Río Piedras, this chacarera was born. Where the monolith stands, our flag triumphed. En el pueblo de Río Piedras nació esta chacarera. Adonde en el monolito triunfaba nuestra bandera. In this song, Diego alludes to the battle by referring to the object built in its honor, in a process whereby the monolith subsumes the battlefield. This patriot triumph took place “where the monolith stands,” as if the monolith had already been there, crystallizing violence in material form. Lefebvre argued that monuments “embody a sense of transcendence, a sense of being else­ where” (Lefebvre 2003, 21). The monument to the battle of Río Piedras is this “transcendent elsewhere,” an object that reifies the temporal elsewhere of the battlefield itself, shriveled up in the materiality of the monoliths. Local authorities further expanded the affective power of the monument into the surrounding spaces by creating yet another memorial in 2005. This memorial was made not of concrete but of living tissue: a tipa tree (Tipuana tipu) that officials claimed was the same tree under which Vicente López y Planes, who was part of Belgrano’s troops, composed the words of Argentina’s national anthem. The tree had been conveniently “discovered” just a

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hundred meters from the monoliths, and municipality workers cleared the area of vegetation and turned it into a park of sorts. A signpost reads, “Tipa of Independence. In the shade of this tree, Vicente López y Planes composed the lyrics of the Argentine National Anthem.” The transformation of trees into memorials draws on the idea that their living tissue creates an organic continuity between the past and the present, as if through a living object that was allegedly also alive when historical figures rested in its shadow, the past comes alive as well. Local people were quick to point out, with ironic smiles, that tipas do not live that long, indicating that they were aware that the selection of that tree was a fictionalized spatial reification. Yet most of them accepted as fact that the national anthem had indeed been composed nearby, around the monoliths. Whereas prior to 2005 no one in Río Piedras talked about it, once the tipa had been turned into a memorial many began mentioning “the anthem” and replicating the spatial fixation of memory intended by the signpost. Many added, proudly, “This place has a lot of history!” But what qualified as an abundance of history was, more than anything else, the density of material nodes of memory produced by officials and reaffirmed, through annual repetitions, as places worth celebrating. But what defines these various monuments at the foot of the Andes is what they do not say about the density of history that defined those places. In those days, the zeal of state agents to mark history in space and to literally invent spatial traces did not reach the rubble of Esteco a few kilometers away. Although everyone knows Esteco is there, its ruins seemed to be located on the far side of an abyss of negativity that officials did not dare to cross. The rubble refracted the state mandate to remember partly because it is a damned leftover of a more ancient temporality that long preceded the birth of the nation. Yet its presence in fact reveals that the nation was built on earlier political projects that, in Esteco, were temporarily defeated. These monuments are, in this regard, secular expressions of the conjuring of the curse of Esteco. But they operate obliquely by redirecting people’s gaze away from the Chaco. The lowlands still feel to many ordinary people at the foot of the Andes like a marginalized, relatively empty region, a geography not worth looking at, even though it was once the vortex that in fact made la frontera. In 2006, at the small museum in Metán, I mentioned to Marta, the middle-­ aged woman in charge, that people in the area did not seem to care much about the bulldozing of the ruins of Esteco the year before. “Even in my case, I’m not really interested,” she said, shrugging. “If you tell me you want to visit the ruins of Esteco, I’m not really interested. I’m more interested in going to

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Figure 8.5. Monument to Belgrano, whose image looks away from the Chaco. Photo by author.

see the monument to Belgrano, to the Juramento River, and those things. But not Esteco.” I felt it was notable how a person working at a local museum reacted to my reference to the bulldozing of Esteco: with an insistence that she had chosen to disregard those ruins as a historic site, on the grounds, she said later, that “very bad things” happened there. This disregard was shaped by the presence of the monument to Belgrano a few kilometers away, which attracted her gaze like a magnet. She had not forgotten Esteco, but had chosen to disregard it by looking away toward a positive object of memory. Even Belgrano’s statue faces west and points its arm and sword toward the Andes, looking away from the void.

The Affective Spatiality of Oblivion In the Edict of Nantes of 1598, King Henry IV of France ordered his subjects to forget. The edict declared that it was “forbidden” under penalty “to retain any memory” of the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants and that those events should be treated “as something that has not occurred.” Paul Ricoeur argued that this legally enforced order to forget is “astonishing,” for it “underscores the magical side of the operation which consists in acting as

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though nothing had taken place” (2004, 454). True. But this astonishing and magical operation to erase the past also defines the politics of modern states. The difference is that the contemporary mandate to forget works tangentially and more efficiently because it relegates the past to oblivion while celebrating “memory.” In Oblivion, Marc Augé reveals the destructive-­creative force of forgetting in shaping the positive form of memory when he writes, “Oblivion is the force of memory and remembrance is its product” (2004, 21). Drawing on a suggestive spatial metaphor, he wrote that memory “is the product of an erosion caused by oblivion. Memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of the shore are created by the sea” (2004, 20). This spatial analogy could be pushed further. The same way that the erosion by the sea gradually changes the form of the coastline, oblivion works by transforming the form of the terrain. But whereas Augé sees the liquid, mobile, plastic form of the ocean as the force of oblivion, state-induced forgetting is produced through rigid objects presented as nodes of memory: a reconstructed fort, the wooden image of a saint and a kneeling Indian, an adobe wall, three monoliths on a pedestal, the statue of a general. These objects transform space by gathering bodies around them and organizing and modulating their gaze and affective disposition through repetitive ceremonies that affirm that something worth remembering happened there. Augé suggests that oblivion is an inevitable path of memory decay, basing his argument on the grounds that no society can remember “everything.” Likewise, Nietzsche (1997) rightly argues that living a joyful existence requires some healthy levels of forgetting. Yet the truth of these statements should not make us miss that collective forgetting poses an eminently political question: why some events and not others, why some places and not others, are forgotten. The active side of forgetting, the selection of what is forgotten, was forcefully articulated by Nietzsche: “Forgetting is an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of repression” (1967, 57). The most famous example of state-­induced forgetting as a positive form of repression is that depicted in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-­Four. In the novel, forgetting is a project predicated on the destruction and calibration of traces. The Ministry of Truth permanently destroys and alters documents about events of the past that contradict the ever-­shifting official line, with the idea that without those traces, those events will in the long run be forgotten, in line with the party motto: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present

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controls the past” (Orwell 1987, 134). The control of the present and the future, in Orwell’s novel, depends on the very existence of traces as evidence that can prove that certain events of the past were real. Adrian Forty (1999) has argued, in an implicit critique of this assumption, that objects may be forgotten even if they exist and have not been destroyed. The forgetting of an object, he concludes, does not depend on the object’s ongoing material existence. This is an important point. Yet when an object is forgotten, this does not mean that its materiality is irrelevant to memory, as Forty seems to imply; it means that the object’s materiality has been disregarded as noteworthy. This means, in short, that officials can induce oblivion without the need for a Ministry of Truth devoted to destroying traces, precisely because what matters to them is not so much the presence of those objects, but how they affect. This disentangling of forgetting from the persistence of the trace results from the trace’s affective nature: the fact that its power to affect emerges from the social and historical constellations it is part of. The persistence of physical traces of state violence at the foot of the Andes, such as Fort Cobos or the Franciscan mission built in 1880 as a refuge from state terror, did not prevent functionaries and priests from redefining their significance to relegate that same violence to oblivion. Oblivion also works positively through the construction of memorials in places that were devoid of traces of prior historical events and that are then publicly marked with the message “Something important happened here.” These are intentional traces, material nodes that, as Pierre Nora argued, command the public to remember. The monoliths and the statue to Belgrano came to be intentional traces because there were no visible vestiges that anything noteworthy had happened in those locations. These memorials give material form to an absence: they create a presence where there was none. For this same reason, they are haunted by the void of oblivion. What Orwell, Trouillot, Sebald, and Augé share, in different ways, is that they recognize that the key political problem involved in evocations of the past is not that of remembering but that of oblivion. Oblivion has clear temporal dimensions related to the passing of time. But oblivion’s temporality also operates spatially, for oblivion is nothing but the material and affective erasure of traces of the past from the geographies of the present. And this erasure is usually shaped by orders to remember given by dominant social actors. The topographies of oblivion I have explored are a microcosm of similar topographies at work elsewhere in the world, in which vast amounts of rubble

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that testify to violence, destruction, and suffering are disregarded and often forgotten. Around Las Lajitas, this is also the oblivion of the rubble of forests and criollo homes on which soy fields thrive and expand. Yet the mandate to forget exists because of the existence of affects and memories that escape it and because the traces of violence and destruction are just too widespread. The topographies of oblivion I have examined are thereby a contested terrain, a spatial project in the making, unmade by lines of flight created by bodies that are affected by the debris of violence hidden in the interstices of the geography. Many of these lines of flight are attracted by the brightness of ruptured objects that defy capture because of their peculiar form and organic materiality, which often make transparent how they have been destroyed.

Dead generations lie under your feet wherever you tread. The place is haunted by ghosts that outnumber by myriads the living.— Augustus Hare, Days Near Rome Who knows how many of the best men have gone without a trace?— W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Nine  |  Piles of Bones


n July 2003, I was in the tropical lowlands of Jujuy in the San Francisco River Valley and began driving east on a dirt road that gradually climbs the last chain of mountains before one can see the Chaco on the other side. Several people had told me that in a high-­altitude valley next to a village called El Fuerte, one could see the ruins of a fort. That was Fort Santa Bárbara, set to protect the city of Jujuy from raids from the Chaco in the second half of the 1700s. As I was approaching the village, driving on a gravel road in a valley without trees, I stopped to talk to a man. I asked him about the ruins. “You’ll see them next to the cemetery. The Indians made the fort to fight against the Spanish.” I thought I had misheard. I asked him who made the fort. “The Indians,” he said. The village of El Fuerte (pop. 650) is sheltered in a mountain valley at 1,400 meters above sea level (4,600 feet), and the ruins of the fort are clearly delineated at the village’s entrance: a quadrangular perimeter created by a one-­meter-­high wall made up of flagstones. The rubble has been colonized as the local cemetery. Consisting of a cluster of homes and public buildings, El Fuerte has a clear gaucho outlook, and several men were on horseback or wearing gaucho outfits.1 To the east, the imposing Cerro Centinela or Sentinel Mountain (2,400 meters, 7,900 feet) signaled the place from which Spanish soldiers once observed whether attacking parties were coming from the Chaco. Ramón had been living in El Fuerte for a decade and ran a small hostel. About forty, he was eager to take advantage of the tourist potential of the

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Map 9.1. The San Francisco River Valley and easternmost ridges of the Andes in the province of Jujuy. Map by Eric Leinberger.

scenery and the ruins, even if not too many visitors showed up. Pointing to the summit of Cerro Centinela, he told me about the Spanish sentries who scanned the Chaco on the other side, looking for signs of malones or multitudes of Indians on horseback. When the sentries saw a cloud of dust, he said, they waved a huge red flag made up of “seven ponchos” sewn together so that the soldiers at the fort would see it and raise the alarm. I told Ramón about the man who had said that the fort was made by Indians. He rolled his eyes. He seemed upset. “That’s what people from around here say. That’s a

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Figure 9.1. The rubble of “the fort of Indians” in El Fuerte, at the foot of Sentinel Mountain, province of Jujuy. Photo by author.

problem that we have.” He said the locals were uneducated and warned me not to listen to them. Most people in the village, indeed, said that the Indians built the fort to defend their lands from attacks by the Spanish, even if they were vague about the details of the fort’s history. Local officials and schoolteachers shared Ramón’s dismay at this interpretation of the ruins. I met a teacher who said that they had launched a campaign in the school to educate children and residents, to inform them “that the fort was built by the Spanish.” “We’re trying to change people’s mentality,” he said. Clusters of rubble always evoke multiple meanings. As Christopher Woodward put it, “Ruins do not speak. We speak for them” (2001, 203). But in El Fuerte there was a whole debate about the significance of this node of rubble. Everyone agreed that the ruins had been “a fort,” but there was a clear class-­ based disagreement as to which side of the epic historical confrontation that ravaged those ridges they belonged to: the Spanish or the Indians. And this disagreement articulates that ruins can be attributed many different voices, and that their power as objects is humanly mediated. Or, rather, that how ruins affect depends not only on their physical presence but also on the socially contingent receptivity of the bodies that encounter them.

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The effort by the local intelligentsia to calibrate the meaning of the fort reveals that topographies of forgetting also operate through efforts to police the identity of rubble. In this case, the ultimate aim of this modulation in the name of historical objectivity is to celebrate the legacy of Spanish colonialism and downplay its violence. Criollo views about “the fort of Indians,” in contrast, bring violence up to the surface, for the ruins embody, in their eyes, that the Spanish killed off the Indians who once lived there. Since criollos in this village see themselves as mestizos, they also colonize the rubble of the fort with an indigeneity that is partly their own. In turning the rubble into “a fort of Indians,” they affirm a historical truth: that Indians were the original inhabitants of those lands and acted defensively against an invasion by the Spanish. Criollo residents, further, see the rubble of the fort not as a unified, bounded object but as a node in wider local constellations, for they are quick to point out that the surrounding areas are strewn with the debris of the defeat of the Indians. When I first explored the ruins of the fort, for instance, I noticed that the cemetery inside the perimeter had an open tomb, two meters deep. At the bottom, there were overgrown human bones that looked quite old and that also seemed to have belonged to two or three bodies. When I met Ramón, I asked him about the open tomb in the ruins. He responded without blinking. “It’s a mass grave with three Spaniards.” For Ramón, the identification of those remains as European asserted that this was, indeed, a Spanish fort. Not surprisingly, most criollos contradicted him and said that those bones belonged to Indians. Some added that mass graves of Indians exist in the vicinity. Several people, for instance, told me about las trincheras (the trenches) a few hundred meters from the fort. I went to take a look. They consisted of three large, partly overgrown mounds lined up next to each other, two to three meters high and ten meters in diameter. The mounds were human-­ made. “My dad told me that’s where the Indians are buried,” said Gustavo. Probably in his sixties, he is locally renowned for knowing the local history. “They say those are big holes and that the bones are there. Before, many Indians lived here,” he added. “In those three holes, thousands of Indians are buried. They wiped out the Indians.” The local interpretation of what those mounds hide is informed by local memories of violence and by a monumental absence: that of the indigenous people who once dominated the region. The size of the mounds and the attributed scale of those mass graves (“thousands of Indians”) is revealing of the local perceptions about the massive levels of violence that once took place around the fort.

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Figure 9.2. The view from Sentinel Mountain: the Chaco and the strip of fields created by agribusiness. Photo by author.

Guided by Ramiro, a gaucho in his early twenties from El Fuerte, I reached the summit of Cerro Centinela on horseback after a four-­hour ascent. The view of the Chaco was absorbing. But I was surprised to see that the summit itself was a strange palimpsest of rubble. The former sentry post from where soldiers scanned the void had become an industrial junkyard made up of rusting debris from the twentieth century: antennas reaching toward the sky, a small concrete structure, bundles of cables, dead generators, piles of bricks, the rubble of a whole technological assemblage once put in place to take advantage of the high elevation of the mountain but made obsolete by satellite technology. Those ruins testified that the state control of verticality had been deterritorialized in the smooth space of the sky. I looked for signs of human-­ made mounds but found none. A man in El Fuerte had told me that even on the summit there were mass graves of Indians. The village of El Fuerte was the first place that confronted me with local talk about mass graves, and with the fact that evocations of violence in the region were often oriented toward sites that contained the debris of bodies that had been killed and buried collectively. These perceptions focus on the most immanent debris of violence, human bones, a distinct type of ruin that is harder to disregard because of its distinguishable form. My analysis involves

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a geographic and historical journey from the Andes toward the heart of the Chaco around Rivadavia, where these bodily traces of violence have adopted a more haunting presence.

Bones of Indians I first learned about the power of los huesos de indios (the bones of Indians) among criollo people the day I met Alfredo, when we returned to his home after visiting the church of La Manga in 2003. He and his wife, Ana, began saying that Indians in the past lived “like wild animals in the bush.” Then Ana recalled how some criollos would snatch indigenous children. She said that, many years earlier, a criollo man on horseback once roped dos indiecitos (two little Indians) and killed them a few kilometers away. They were buried there. Criollos subsequently built a small shrine and called the place “Los Indiecitos.” Gauchos from the area light candles and place water bottles to ask their souls for miracles. “They are very miraculous,” Ana said. “You ask anything and they comply. The other day we asked them to find a shotgun. And we found it.” Over the course of a few minutes, she moved from recalling Indians as animal-­like savages to presenting them as the victims of violence and sources of magical power. She also displaced the emphasis on violence from Indians and toward the criollo man who murdered those children. This violent death charged the children’s remains with miraculous powers that criollos rely on to this day. Most criollo people in southeast Salta maintain regular interactions with the dead that leave a noticeable detritus of candles and plastic water bottles in all cemeteries and tombs. This debris bears testimony to the widespread nature of la alumbrada, the practice of lighting candles for the dead, which often entails leaving water to calm their thirst. As José Luis Grosso (2008, 158) has argued about criollos in Santiago del Estero, lighting candles to the dead next to their tombs is a communicative gesture, an act of conjuring and reciprocity that aims to keep the dead satisfied but at a distance, so that they do not come back to haunt the living. While this attitude involves all the dead, criollo men and women are particularly sensitive to bones found in rural areas and assumed to be “bones of Indians.” This is also why Gregorio sought to rebury the haunted bones of “the Mataco Indian” he found exposed by the river near the rubble of Fort San Fernando (see chapter 1). In 2005, I visited the shrine to “the little Indians.” I had just met Juan, the twenty-­eight-­year-­old man who lived with his parents and his younger

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brother a kilometer away. I asked about the shrine, and Juan agreed to take me there. As we walked on a trail cutting through shrub forests, he explained that locals ask the indiecitos for “little things, something simple,” such as finding a lost cow or relieving mild body aches. The shrine was very modest. It consisted of two small wooden crosses in a wire enclosure in the shade of two trees. The place was littered with empty plastic bottles and the debris of candles that had melted forming flat clusters of wax. Michael Taussig (1987; 1997) has argued that in many parts of South America the Indians’ attributed magic is proportional to their perceived primitivism. This is certainly the case in northern Argentina. Yet in southeast Salta, as in this small shrine, the magic power of the bones of Indians is often imagined as emerging from the materiality of the bones themselves, which are the rubble of the bodies of Indians. In the following years, I heard of similar shrines devoted to honoring “bones of Indians” who were killed around Las Lajitas and Gaona. In these improvised shrines, criollos tacitly gesture toward the violence unleashed on the original inhabitants of those lands, who while remembered as not-­like-­us are also partly evoked as ancestors. This gesturing is not a celebration of indigeneity, but it does say that many criollos are affected by the presence of these bones as objects that affirm the ongoing power of the Indians and their ghosts. As the cases of El Fuerte and Fort San Fernando indicate, residents often associate bones of Indians with the rubble of forts. This is also the case at the rubble of Fort Balbuena. This fort was built in 1710 by a large (and infamously violent) Spanish military expedition that sought to secure the frontier after the collapse of Esteco (Furlong 1941, 32–33). The ruins are near the village of Balbuena on Route 16, which congregates families who own midsized farms in the vicinity. A tall, bright, energetic man in his seventies, Carlos, took me to see the rubble of the fort, which is on his property two kilometers away.2 After walking with his dogs through fields and forests, we reached what seemed like an ordinary patch of forest of about one hectare surrounded by cornfields that had been recently harvested. On closer inspection, the forest had the distinct form of a quadrangle. We entered the forest with Carlos leading the way with his machete. Each of the four corners of the forest turned out to be a mound, two to three meters high. We climbed one of them, and Carlos told me we were standing on a mass grave. The first time I met Carlos, a few days earlier, he had told me that a group of men came to his house “forty years” earlier and asked him for permission to dig the mounds of “the fort.” They suspected that the rubble hid tapados

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Figure 9.3. “This is a mass grave.” Carlos standing on one of the mounds of Fort Balbuena, where forty years earlier he found “piles of bones.” Photo by author.

with the riches of the Jesuits. Carlos agreed to their request, but he asked to join them. When they began digging, they found not a treasure but human bones. Plenty of them, “all piled up.” “It was a mass grave,” Carlos told me. “I think that when they killed many Indians, the Indians rebelled and the army of the Spaniards butchered them and they buried them here. It’s four mounds, and we only opened one. But I think all of them are the same and have bones.” I asked him who could have killed those people, and this time he was more specific in identifying the possible perpetrators. “In those days, I think it was the Jesuits. Because they killed those Indians who weren’t tamed. They tamed many people, but others rebelled. The Jesuits made the Indians work for them.” On discovering the bones, he said, he and the others covered them up again. At that time, they had cleared the four mounds of bushes, and the presence of the mounds was clearly visible on the terrain. Carlos’s father, working at night, once saw a man standing on the mounds and got scared. “It was an apparition,” Carlos said. In contrast to the case of El Fuerte, residents in Balbuena associate the overgrown rubble of the fort with the Spanish and the Jesuits. And while the mass grave did not elicit in Carlos an explicit critique of the murder of Indians, it did actualize for him the ongoing presence of the material detritus of

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violence in the topography, to the point that he assumed that the four mounds of the fort were made up of corpses of Indians. And that Carlos and the treasure hunters found piles of bones while looking for riches revealed that the debris of violence that is now part of the geography is inseparable from the legendary wealth of the Jesuits.

The Skulls: The Destroyed Mountain When Carlos said that the Jesuits had killed the Indians buried in that mass grave, he was confirming what is a widespread perception in southeast Salta: that the Jesuits were violent, wealthy actors who systematically exploited Indians, a view that in fact goes back to the 1700s.3 Notably, the Jesuits provided some protection from attempts to impose encomienda on the Salado, and this is in part why the elites of the province of Tucumán were hostile to them (Gullón Abao 1993; Vitar 1997). Yet today the name “the Jesuits” has come to embody the labor exploitation associated with the Spanish period tout court, and for this reason the social memory of the Jesuits is also associated with Esteco, the spatial core of the past wealth of the frontier. The famed treasures of the Jesuits, as we have seen, are rumored to be buried in the ruins of their former stations and in tapados in myriad places. But the site that most famously embodies the Jesuit wealth in southeast Salta is a small mountain surrounded by plains called Curu-­Curu, where the Jesuits allegedly buried “seven wagons of gold.” In 1921, a schoolteacher based near the Curu-­Curu wrote that locals believed that after the Jesuits used Indian slaves to bury the seven wagons, they killed them all to keep the location secret. Because of the number of unburied corpses, the schoolteacher wrote, locals called the place “the Skulls.” These bones were haunted, and at night residents claimed to see mysterious lights and the ghosts of missionaries and Indians “carrying the treasure.”4 During my fieldwork, people of very different backgrounds told me about el cerro Curu-­Curu, often without me asking about it. Everyone agreed that generations of treasure hunters had ferociously dug, drilled, blown up, and excavated the Curu-­Curu in search of those famed seven gold wagons. Many said, “They have destroyed that mountain” (lo han destruído a ese cerro). I was first puzzled by this phrase, which seems to imply that the mountain had been razed to the ground. But people explained that while the ridge is still standing, it is considerably lower than in the past, when it could be seen from the railroads many kilometers away.

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Figure 9.4. At the summit of the Curu-Curu mountain, looking at a section of the ridge that was reduced to rubble with explosives and machinery. Photo by author.

I went to the Curu-­Curu twice, guided by men from El Galpón and Balbuena. Reaching the ridge demands a slow drive on a trail in bad shape. The Curu-­Curu sticks out a couple hundred meters above the ground; it forms an odd-­looking and relatively round protuberance surrounded by forested flatlands. Its form struck me as that of a giant tapado. The summit provides a grand view of the Chaco and of another chain of ridges, the Colorado Mountains, to the south.5 While there, I confirmed that this small mountain is a peculiar node of rubble, for it is, indeed, a place that has been partly destroyed. The level of destruction inflicted on the slopes was impressive. Some areas had clearly been ripped open with explosives and heavy machinery. My companions explained that those were the scars left in the 1980s by the construction teams building El Tunal dam on the Juramento a few kilometers away, which for several weeks diverted equipment, explosives, and bulldozers to the Curu-­Curu. The scale of the operation confirmed that even engineers saw the gold wagons of the Jesuits not as a legend but as a solid part of the terrain. The construction teams were particularly destructive treasure hunters, equipped with advanced technologies of obliteration that reduced part of the hill to rubble.

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There is a notable convergence between the violence that criollo residents see as constitutive of the Jesuit wealth and the violence that has been inflicted on the materiality of the Curu-­Curu. The prolonged assault on this rock formation reveals that this place has long been a bright object whose gravitational pull is the afterlife of the violence inflicted on indigenous people. That, in the 1920s, criollo residents called the Curu-­Curu “the Skulls” reveals that bones of murdered Indians were seen as inseparable from that buried wealth. This scarred place, therefore, is in dialogue with other nodes of rubble in regional constellations, such as Esteco, the Jesuit ruins, and the mass graves of Indians. In looking for the product of indigenous labor buried underground, the treasure hunters excavating the Curu-­Curu or other tapados in the region actualize old memories of violence that continue to reverberate in space and, in fact, to alter its form, long after this violence had come to an end. The current material and affective texture of this geography thereby reveals ongoing regional sensibilities about a history of violence that the Church and officials have not been able to code or erase. Farther east in the heart of the Chaco, evocations of violence involve events closer to the present and the presence of more haunting patterns of bodily debris. This made my return to Rivadavia in 2006 a journey to the heart of darkness created by the destruction of the vortex.

Hueseríos The massacres generated by the arrival of steamships on the Bermejo in the 1860s were among the most gruesome ever recorded in the history of the conquest of the Chaco. The epicenter was Esquina Grande, upstream from Rivadavia, where the Wichí people rose up against the invasion of their lands. An official in Orán responded to the unrest by giving the order “to exterminate all the Indians who participated in the uprisings and those who are in the surroundings of the colony.” National guards and criollo militias began a rampage of indiscriminate destruction and slaughter. In October 1863, the political chief of Rivadavia reported back on the bloodshed he unleashed on the whole region, “I have chased those treacherous savages in all directions without quarter, cutting their throats without mercy” (de la Cuesta Figueroa 1982, 222). Men, women, and children were killed by the hundreds, many of them “put to the sword” after being lured to surrender with promises of work, to the point that the governor in Salta was shocked by the news (Fontana 1977, 107). Skirmishes and further massacres continued sporadically for several

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Figure 9.5. “We were always on the run, hiding in the bush.” Claudia remembering the days of la matanza in La Unión (October 2006). Photo by author.

decades and well into the 1900s. Based on the oral accounts I gathered in the area, it is likely that the killings ceased only in the 1930s and 1940s. In Rivadavia, therefore, violence is currently as central to the regional collective memory as are the ships stranded in the forest. In contrast to Anta and Metán farther west, the tales of violence narrated by residents in this area of the Chaco are temporally and affectively closer to their own experience, often because they heard about them from older relatives or neighbors who witnessed those events. I also met people old enough to have lived through those days as children. In La Unión, I met a charming Wichí woman in her nineties, Claudia, who witnessed the violence as a girl. She remembered that she and her family were “always on the run, hiding in the bush,” escaping men who wanted to kill them. The memory of the violence, in this regard, is particularly haunting among Wichí people, who remember that period as la matanza (the massacre): the days when their ancestors were hunted down and murdered “like animals.” Criollos and Wichí people alike agree that those who were killed were simply left to rot on the ground. This is why, they said, in outlying areas people have stumbled upon vast numbers of corpses. These assemblages are called los hueseríos, a word that could be translated as “field of bones,” but that is, in

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fact, untranslatable, in that it evokes a unified amalgam of pure multiplicity: a material continuum of undifferentiated bones. The largest such continuum of entangled corpses, people agree, is in Esquina Grande. Esquina Grande is currently an outlying area on the dry course of the Bermejo. Only criollo families live in the area. The nearest village is Santa Rosa, twenty kilometers to the north on the gravel road between La Unión and Rivadavia, and the home of about three hundred Wichí people and a few criollo families. In 2006, Gabriel, a man in his sixties and one of the Wichí leaders of Santa Rosa, told me about the massacres in detail and said that he had stumbled upon the hueseríos in his youth. He was so disturbed by the experience that he got lost and had been unable to find the site since. “I got lost and didn’t know where I was. I felt disoriented.” Yet debris from the Franciscan mission that existed in Esquina Grande (1856–60) was still visible, he said. The missions that existed on the Bermejo between the 1850s and 1870s had been one of the few places that provided some shelter from the violence engulfing the region. Gabriel wanted me to see material traces of those violent times, as if to prove that what he had told me was real. On an agreed-­on day, I headed south in my car with Gabriel, Evaristo (another Wichí leader from Santa Rosa), and a twelve-­year-­old boy. They guided me through the forest, along a maze of winding trails wide enough to accommodate a vehicle. We finally crossed the dry Bermejo riverbed and parked the car not far from the home of a criollo man whom they knew and greeted. We reached the site of the former Franciscan station on foot, amid clouds of mosquitoes. Gabriel and Evaristo began examining and pointing at the ground. It took me a few moments to notice what they were pointing at: very small fragments of clay, glass, and nails, hundreds of them, strewn over a wide area of hardened whitish soil. There were no sign of mounds or bricks. The traces were so faint that I would not have noticed them if I had been there on my own. A few days earlier, I had had a similar experience at the site of another Franciscan mission from roughly the same period not far from La Unión. I had to bow down to see the almost invisible traces on the ground. Those traces and the ones in Esquina Grande were the smallest forms of material debris I encountered in my fieldwork. Those tiny fragments formed a constellation of their own, hundreds of little pieces of larger objects only identifiable through what Benjamin calls a “microscopic gaze”: a gaze sensitive to objects so small and seemingly insignificant that we otherwise may miss that they are there at all. Despite their size, those pieces became intensely bright objects that made my companions and myself gravitate toward them.

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Figure 9.6. “These are the vestiges we always come to see.” Surrounded by micro­ scopic constellations of debris in Esquina Grande. Photo by author.

As Gabriel was showing me around and we were picking up small objects here and there, he said that his father-­in-­law — who, he said, was a hundred years old when he passed away — witnessed the massacres as a boy. “They cut their throats like animals,” he said several times. “It was a sad life.” Gabriel told me again about the hueserío he had stumbled on in his youth: “Semejante hueserío! [Such a huge field of bones!]. Just like this place.” He gestured at the multiplicity of tiny objects scattered around us. He said he wanted to find the hueseríos to prove what had happened. He also felt it could help his people put forth a land claim, for they were on private property in a precarious situation. Evaristo pointed to the ground: “These are the vestiges that we always come to see.” Gabriel and Evaristo were drawn to those small objects because they are among the last visible traces of the ruins of their ancestors. For the same reason, Wichí people in this region are also well aware of the presence of the much more noticeable rubble of the largest Franciscan station, La Purísima, located over twenty kilometers from the town of La Unión. That station, in particular, is remembered as one of the few places where people were able to find shelter from the massacres.6 The vestiges of Franciscan stations in out­ lying areas, the absent hueseríos, the ghostly ships, and the boiler in Rivadavia

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are all part of the same disjointed constellation in which the debris of progress is inseparable from the debris of the violence generated in its name. In this regard, while my search for hueseríos in 2006 was similar to my search for steamships two years earlier in that both types of debris proved elusive, a large industrial object from one of those ships, the boiler, sits on Rivadavia’s plaza, transformed into a public, tangible node of commemoration. The presence of the memorial, and the fact that the cannons that were part of the ship were removed from the plaza, also makes the boiler part of the topographies of oblivion that operate by disregarding and silencing the detrius of violence created by progress in the Chaco. When Lefebvre wrote that no space vanishes utterly, “leaving no trace,” he was also highlighting the potentially faint nature of traces of places that have dissolved, but not utterly. As was the case with the ships, traces of a bodily and affective nature may outlive the material debris of massacres. For residents in Santa Rosa, in this regard, the absent presence of those fields of bones and skulls is still felt. Conversely, material traces may still linger in space while the memory of their existence may have vanished. Who knows how many people, in the Chaco or anywhere else, live near mass graves of whose existence they are not even aware because they were encouraged to forget? W. G. Sebald asked a similar question: “Who knows how many of the best men have gone without a trace?” (1998, 24). Yet the Wichí people in Santa Rosa have forgotten neither la matanza nor its traces, which they argue are still somewhere in the forest. In 2004, when I first visited the village, I met a Wichí man and Pentecostal pastor named Jorge. We talked about la matanza at his church. Referring to Esquina Grande and the hueseríos, he said, “In the bush, you can sometimes find people who were shot to death. But you can see that it’s good material, for it hasn’t come apart.” Jorge emphasized that bones are hard objects that affirm the ongoing presence of the massacre’s victims. This hardness is what Donald Moore calls the bones’ “stubborn materiality,” an organic materiality that reveals “historically prior claims buried beneath colonial conquest” (2005, 201). In this region of the Chaco, the stubbornness of bones is their positivity as bright objects that counter the dimness historically imposed on them. The hueseríos of Esquina Grande, Gabriel told me at his home in Santa Rosa, often shine at night. A very bright light that looks “like a city,” he argued, can sometimes be seen in the forest. Criollos think that the light marks a huge treasure from a buried ship. Gabriel disagrees, for he has in mind a bright object of a different nature: “I think it must be the hueserío, because of la matanza.” The

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Figure 9.7. Old nails and fragments of ceramic from the former Franciscan station in Esquina Grande. Photo by author.

brightness emanating from the forest is the measure of the level of violence that crystalized in that place, and asserts the afterlife of the rubble of human bodies. And the size of this invisible debris that abruptly shines “like a city” creates a notable counterpoint to the rubble of the lost cities of the Chaco, which has lost its past invisibility to become prominent, publicly celebrated “ruins.”

The Most Intimate of All Ruins On 17 March 2006, a forensic team found the remains of twenty-­seven men and women lying on the ground in an outlying area of the Argentine Chaco twenty kilometers south of Pozo del Tigre, province of Formosa (hundreds of kilometers east of Esquina Grande). The team was sent there by a federal judge investigating the massacre of Rincón Bomba of October 1947, when the military border police (gendarmería) murdered hundreds of Pilagá men, women, and children over several days. The investigation was the product of a persistent Pilagá activism that drew on the memory of survivors and testimony by criollos living near hueseríos. The man who guided the forensic team was in fact a criollo who lived nearby. His father had told him that in

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1947 trucks of gendarmería dumped the bodies in that place. The corpses were never buried. Sixty years later, they were still there. The forensic team explained to the media that since the corpses were scattered in a clearing, the site was not a mass grave, technically speaking.7 Bishop Francisco Nazar, often at odds with the Church hierarchy because of his support for grassroots struggles for human and indigenous rights, visited the site with the team. He declared to the media that he found the sight of so many human bones and skulls lying on the ground deeply disturbing. Human bones have a highly recognizable form that affects the living more so than do most other ruins, especially when their form and disposition reveal that a large number of people were killed together and at once. Spinoza argued that the body is not a homogeneously solid object but a textured and uneven materiality defined by liquid, soft, and hard parts (Spinoza 1982, 76). In the temporality of natural decay, bones and their hardness embody the body’s long-­term resilience, that which still is after the softer parts of the body have melted away. The composition of the hueseríos of the Gran Chaco reveals that the soft parts of those bodies decomposed in the same place; it also reveals the violence that created that debris.8 This is the negativity of death shooting out from those recognizable objects like lightning, turning them into bright matter with the power to disturb because they make transparent the violence congealed in them. All bones are rubble: ruptured objects that have not fully dissolved into nothingness. Yet bones have a unique status because they are, as Ginsberg (2004, 407) observes, the most intimate of all ruins, the ruins that have the power to affect humans most deeply. This is a power that, as Alan Klima (2002) demonstrates, is felt by the living as soon as they confront a corpse. The universality of ghost stories associated with human skeletons all over the world is testimony to this affective force, even if this experience is always culturally mediated and adopts very distinct manifestations. Human bones have this power to engage with our intimacy because they are the ruins we shall all become. They materialize a bare humanity stripped of face, voice, skin, beauty, or language. They are dead matter that reflects back on humans what all humans will become. Rubble. What affects humans the most about this organic rubble is its form: its human form. And this form is unsettling because it is human without having been manufactured by human labor, for human biological reproduction follows patterns that escape human capture. The other ruins I have explored bear the recognizable traces of the labor of past generations. Skeletons, in

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contrast, are forms that reveal that human history, as Benjamin knew well, is also a natural history. The Baroque poets who inspired Benjamin to reflect on decay were the first to see bones and skulls as human ruins. Susan Buck-­ Morss observed in her analysis of Benjamin’s interest in these poets, “Under the sign of history, the image of petrified nature is the cipher of what history has become. . . . The image of the skull can be read in two ways. It is human spirit petrified; but it is also nature in decay, the transformation of the corpse into a skeleton that will turn into dust” (1991, 161). When created violently, this “human spirit petrified” that is simultaneously “nature in decay” is politically significant because it marks a threshold that state actors cannot fully cross, in the sense that it is harder to hide that a massacre has taken place when one is physically confronted with the presence of hueseríos.

The Debt to the Dead At the foot of the Andes and in the interior of the Chaco, the presence of tight amalgams of corpses either scattered on the ground or in mass graves bears the immanent mark of the violence required to submit the region to state control. This is why those Wichí men hold on to those tiny pieces of glass and ceramic scattered on the ground in Esquina Grande as the last indirect evidence of the massacre of their ancestors. The search for human remains that have been made invisible by the state has also defined struggles against state terror elsewhere in Argentina in relation to the 1976–83 military dictatorship, which “disappeared” the bodies of close to thirty thousand people. Gabriel’s and Evaristo’s concerns for their own “disappeared” have certainly been influenced by the public conversations on human rights that have mushroomed in Argentina in the past decades; but they point to a much earlier wave of terror, which in fact set the foundation for subsequent waves of state repression elsewhere in the country in the twentieth century. The military officers and civilian collaborators who imposed terror in the Argentina of the late 1970s admired the men who had destroyed the void of the Chaco and Patagonia and the “hordes of Indians” who controlled it. In 1979, in fact, the dictatorship commemorated with fanfare its own mythical origins with large events and military parades that celebrated the centennial of the “conquest of the desert” in northern Patagonia. This celebration was integral to the terror being simultaneously unleashed on the country, which in the Argentine northwest focused on the sugar plantations of lowland Jujuy because of their organized labor force.9

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The criollo residents who know of mass graves of Indians at the foot of the Andes have a more subdued, less political attitude than do people like Gabriel and Evaristo or the human-­rights activists based in Salta. The fact that dominant narratives in Salta celebrate gauchos as symbols of the province and the nation often places criollo men and women at odds with indigenous activists that challenge those narratives. Yet without necessarily articulating a critique of state violence, many criollos acknowledge in those bones the ongoing presence of the Indians who once dominated those lands and from whom they also partly descend. And many are sensitive to these bones and the violence they congeal, and engage with them through communicative gestures. As Klima (2002) argues in relation to similar attitudes toward the dead in Thailand, such gestures are attempts to pay back a debt that cannot be fully paid. The practices by indigenous and criollo people in this region of northern Argentina reveal subaltern engagements with the memorialization of legacies of violence, attentive to the ongoing presence and suffering of the dead. These dispositions, more importantly, are alien to the antiquarian views of the past cultivated by global elites, in which, as noted by Nietzsche, “life is no longer preserved but mummified” (Elden 2001, 11). When people light candles to the dead and leave water bottles near their bones, they are gesturing toward a life that is dead, but not utterly. And for Gabriel, in Esquina Grande this afterlife of the dead is so resilient that it occasionally exudes an intense light that pierces through their bones’ invisibility. Diana Coole analyzed Maurice Merleau-­Ponty’s engagement with negativity as one that revolves around the idea of the invisible. “The invisible,” she wrote, “is the condition of the visible’s appearing and is always implicit within it.” It is also, for Merleau-­Ponty, the inner framework of the positive (Coole 2000, 135). The detritus of skeletons strewn in many parts of the Chaco is likewise for many residents an invisible but felt presence: the inner framework of the positive affects that the bones’ invisibility generates among the living. At the foot of the Andes, the ghosts of Indians awakened by some of those bones have an additional significance; they mark the haunting appearance of those whose remains are still there in the soil. And, as Derrida argued, the defining feature of the ghost is that it always returns.

It is a proper characteristic of the specter, if there is any, that no one can be sure if by returning it testifies to a living past or a living future.— Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx Negativity is the production and ruin of all identity. —Diana Coole, Negativity and Politics

Ten  |  The Return of the Indians


he day I arrived in El Galpón for the first time, in 2003, I chatted with two men hanging out at a grocery store at the plaza to get an initial feel for the place. They commented in passing that a few blocks away there was “a barrio of Matacos.” I was taken aback. Based on what I thought I knew about the region, the people they called “Matacos” were not supposed to be there. We were hundreds of kilometers away from the core Wichí (Mataco) territories on the Bermejo and Pilcomayo Rivers, and I had assumed that this area of Salta was solid criollo country, a land without Indians. Yet there they were: people living in an urban place that they had identified as barrio aborigen (indigenous neighborhood). Located on the town’s outskirts, the barrio encompassed a few blocks of precarious homes, some of them former hangars donated by the military, which gave the barrio a disjointed appearance. That day I met the local leader, Leandro, a melancholic-­ looking man in his fifties. He said they were not alone in the region, for similar barrios aborígenes existed in Quebrachal and Metán. I would return regularly to this barrio in the following years, and in 2006– 2007 I also spent time in the barrio aborigen in Quebrachal. I was drawn to these places partly because their spatiality was dramatically different from that of the indigenous villages that I knew on the Pilcomayo River. Whereas the Toba and Wichí people I met on the Pilcomayo still lived on the land of their ancestors, the urban barrios aborígenes of southeast Salta felt like Sebald’s rings of Saturn: fragments of moons that had been destroyed and

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reassembled in new ways.1 “They aren’t from around here,” criollo residents in El Galpón soon warned me about the people living at the barrio aborigen. My exploration of these people’s fraught spatial history taught me the extent to which the anthropological mapping of “ethnic groups” in the Chaco, often reified as static and bounded, is the product of multiple waves of vio­ lence and lines of flight. It also forced me to explore a type of indigeneity defined by ghostly ruptures of a material nature, and which unsettled many criollo residents because it confronted them with a social figure that had allegedly vanished from the region. I examine the return of the Indians in this twofold sense: the return of aborígenes to criollo places, and the cyclical conjuring by criollo people of the ghosts of Indians that never fully go away. I describe how haunting acquires different bodily forms that subvert official topographies of forgetting as well as the identities they endorse. But this is a subversion that, as Foucault warned, does not operate by opposing “excluded” narratives to “accepted” ones; this is, rather, a capillary, oscillating move that works through “a series of discontinuous segments whose tactical function is neither uniform nor stable” (Foucault 1990, 100). Thus I examine the return of the Indians in its myriad distributions and discontinuities, beginning with the barrios aborígenes, then moving on to the streets where some criollo men, once a year, parade as Indians during carnival and other public events. Last, I shift the gaze to a different region of the Chaco frontier, the Jujuy lowlands, where the return of the Indians has led to the festive appropriation of the rubble of a former node of state terror.

Exodus The eight or nine hundred people who live in the three barrios aborígenes of southeast Salta have been through such levels of social and linguistic dislocations, mixtures, and reassemblages that, in the eyes of most criollos, their status as Indians is dubious at best. Yet these people still define themselves as aborígenes. Based on his work on indigenous emergence along the Atlantic coast of Brazil, Jonathan Warren (2001) argued that those men and women who identify as indigenous yet no longer speak a native language, regularly marry outsiders, and do not look significantly different (in skin color and clothing) from nonindigenous neighbors have to reinvent their indigeneity by drawing on “the ruins of their traditions.” The barrios aborígenes in southeast Salta could be analyzed through a similar lens, not because their traditions are “in ruins,” but because their experience signals the ruin of an “indigenous

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Figure 10.1. Reclaiming “aboriginal territory” in gaucho country. Signpost at the barrio aborigen in Quebrachal. Photo by author.

identity” as a unified substance, as well as an opening toward the mestizaje of their criollo neighbors. I often noticed that people in these barrios referred to some practices of their ancestors as disjointed traces of sorts. I initially assumed, for instance, that they called themselves Wichí (person), the marker of self-­identification of their ancestors and of the Wichí people I had met in Rivadavia and on the Pilcomayo. Yet in these barrios no one used the word, except for the elderly, who also used it interchangeably with the term Mataco, which in most of the Chaco Wichí people reject as racist. The term Wichí worked for many as a vanishing trace, a recognizable fragment from the past that failed to resonate. In Quebrachal, for instance, the signpost that identifies the barrio as an indigenous place reads “ ‘Wichy’ Aboriginal Territory.” That the word Wichy appears in scare quotes acknowledges the term used by politicians from Salta, but tacitly admits that locals feel some distance from that designation. Most of them saw themselves simply as aborígenes, that is, as a people with a generic, elusive indigeneity that evades fixation in more specific markers such as language or culture — a disjointed indigeneity similar to the one analyzed by Shaylih Muehlmann (2009, 2013b) in northern Mexico. But there is a particular spatiality to this disjuncture, because it is the product of flight and exodus. In these

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barrios, the residents’ multiple origins were so obvious to them that no one uttered the essentialist ethnic positionings common among other indigenous people I have worked with elsewhere. Theirs was an urban, deterritorialized indigeneity that evoked a painful elsewhere that eroded the sedentarist metaphysics often attributed to indigenous people as collectives rooted since time immemorial in a bounded place (see Malkki 1997; Gordillo 2011). Most of the people in the barrios in El Galpón and Metán trace their origins to Quebrachal, over 150 kilometers away. They moved out gradually, heading west. Escaping. In the early and mid-­1900s, Quebrachal was one of the small towns gradually emerging on the railroads, some of which became the private serfdoms of ruthless landowners. In 2006, in the barrio of El Galpón I met a woman named Magdalena, then in her seventies. She was born in Quebrachal and arrived in El Galpón as a child. I asked her why her family left Quebrachal. “Because they stole the children,” she said. I asked her who stole them. “The police,” she said firmly. “They said that if they didn’t want to give the kids away, they were going to get killed. So people ran away [Se han disparado]. If you had two kids, they left you with one. If you had three, the same. If you had five children, they left you with one. That’s why many people came here. That’s why we the Matacos came here.” I asked her why they took children away. “I don’t know. They say there was an order.” She said her whole family ran away. “We escaped through the monte until we arrived in El Galpón. During the day we walked a lot and during the night we rested. That’s how we got here. . . . It was a large group of us [Éramos una tropa grande].” In the Chaco, the kidnapping of indigenous children to be sold off as servants was an old practice carried out by Spanish officials.2 In the late 1800s, officers of the Argentine army active in the Chaco were quite open about their eagerness to keep indiecitos (little Indians) for themselves.3 In Quebrachal, the forced appropriation of children was enacted by the police but dictated by the landowner who controlled the town, Robustiano Saravia. As Magdalena indicated, this was a biopolitical expropriation imposed on the “Mataco” families under his control; it also reveals that these people lived under conditions of slavery. “I was his slave,” Marcelo told me when I asked him about Robustiano Saravia. Marcelo is a criollo man in his seventies who, as he put it, “married a Mataco wife” and now lives in the barrio aborigen of El Galpón. Several people used the word esclavos (slaves) in reference to their life in Quebrachal. They emphasized that many people were chained and suffered

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Figure 10.2. “We came here because they stole the children.” Magdalena at the barrio aborigen in El Galpón. Photo by author.

physical punishment. The fact that, as Magdalena told me, families were left with “one” child confirms that their biological reproduction was reduced to its bare minimum. They became what Giorgio Agamben (1998) calls bare life, bodies stripped of rights and, in this case, subjected to a slavery that turned them into a biopolitical factory that produced human commodities: children to be sold as servants. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have criticized Agamben on the grounds that “people are never reduced to bare life but are always endowed with powers of invention and production.” “The real essence of the poor,” they write, “is not their lack but their power” (2009, 180). This critique, however, is predi­ cated on a politically misplaced dichotomy between the negativity of bare life and a positive vitalism. The affirmation of life by the poor is, in fact, predicated on the suffering that results from the conditions of bare life imposed on them. Magdalena’s escape from Quebrachal affirmed life precisely because her life had been negated and reduced to bare life. The escape of Magdalena and her family to El Galpón was a biopolitical act of refusal fueled by desire: the erosion of slavery by moving their bodies away from the places controlled by enslaving bodies. “Escape is the oldest story of

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freedom. It is also the simplest,” writes the blogger Anarchist Without Content.4 This story of freedom is the oldest and simplest because it is the most immanent: an act of negation that operates through movement. David Graeber (2011, 65) shows that the first recorded word for “freedom” in any known language refers to freedom from debt and slavery, confirming Adorno’s insistence that freedom can only be understood negatively: “Freedom turns concrete in the changing forms of repression, as resistance to repression. . . . But freedom itself and unfreedom are so entangled that unfreedom is not just an impediment to freedom but a premise of its concept” (Adorno 1973, 265). Magdalena and her family were among the first to leave Quebrachal and arrive in El Galpón. Initially, they settled on its rural surroundings, working on ranches. In the following months and years, others followed them. Some families moved farther west and reached Metán. The barrio on the edge of El Galpón gradually came together. Yet not everybody was able or willing to escape from Quebrachal. The people who currently live in the barrio aborigen in this town descend from those who stayed behind. Older people in the barrio remember the days of Saravia’s despotic rule as a bad dream of sorts. The Saravia family’s power was partly eroded by the rise of Peronism in the 1940s and eventually came undone, in the 1980s, with the end of the 1976–83 military dictatorship. Several people in Quebrachal made a point of highlighting the modest but noticeable gains they had made in the last few years, such as a housing project they received from the provincial government. But they also remember that the town used to be a place of terror, slavery, and sexual violence, the main source of the mestizaje of subsequent generations. Marcelo, who lives in the barrio in El Galpón, told me that “the Matacos in Quebrachal” were initially puros (pure), but that after a few years women had many children who were bien cruzaditos (very mixed). That place epitomized the racialized and gendered violence that produced the mestizo body, a process in which, as Mary Weismantel put it, “the man is white and the woman is not” (2001, 155). Yet for these people, Quebrachal was not their original home. They had been “thrown together” there by earlier waves of dislocation and exodus. The destruction and violence taking place hundreds of kilometers away generated lines of flight that made multiple constellations of people land, like debris from a destroyed moon, in Quebrachal. In the early 1900s, the banks of the Juramento River to the west and south of this town provided a regular provision of fish, wild fruits, and game that attracted disparate clusters of Wichí people fleeing terror, land expropria-

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tions, and social and spatial devastation elsewhere in the Chaco. The largest contingent, people in Quebrachal agree, came from the territory of Chaco (today’s province of Chaco) by way of the freight trains that began running in the 1920s. The smoothing out of the terrain of the Chaco by the railroads was, in this regard, appropriated by multitudes fleeing violence. María, a sixty-­one-­ year-­old woman, told me in 2007 that her father’s parents arrived on a train “escaping the war.” “A thousand people, a thousand Indians got off the train,” she said, putting the year at 1922. They immediately scattered to the margins of the Juramento River, where they fished, hunted, and gathered fruits and honey. There, her father met her mother, who had come not from the east but from the Pilcomayo River, hundreds of kilometers away. Other people in Quebrachal trace their ancestry back to people who fled the massacres in Rivadavia in the late 1800s. Faustino was ninety-­three when I talked to him in 2006. He was born near Macapillo, south of Quebrachal, but his parents had come from Rivadavia by hiding in the bush and living off honey and wild fruits. “They came beaten up. Their parents were beaten up” [Vinieron agarrotados. A sus padres los agarrotaron]. They spoke Wichí, but Faustino never learned it. “We’re aborígenes without language,” he said. But those clusters of refugees that had precariously assembled on the banks of the Juramento River were subsumed, and enslaved, by a capitalist landowner a few years later. Saravia was far from being a perverse, localized exception to what was happening elsewhere in the region. In those days, for instance, a landowner named Manuel Medina dominated the town of Apolinario Saravia farther north with similarly violent means. Nor was their attitude precapitalist. The slavery and terror imposed by these landowners were the political form that capitalist expansion was acquiring in the western Chaco and elsewhere in the world at around the same time. Also in the early 1900s, rubber companies with manicured head offices in Europe imposed similar conditions of slavery and terror in many parts of the Amazon rainforest and in King Leopold’s Congo in order to maximize their profits simply because they did not face any political constraints. That was the moment when the last planetary frontiers of global capitalism were crumbling amid an expansive imperial conquest and capitalism actualized its old, and often forgotten, reliance on slave labor (see Graeber 2011). And this included the systematic appropriation of children to be sold as slaves, as Roger Casement, for instance, witnessed in the Peruvian Amazon in the 1910s (Taussig 1987; Vargas Llosa 2010). In southeast Salta, this experience of terror was generative of several waves of exodus. Hardt and Negri see the exodus as one of the major figures of po-

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litical refusal, an affective-­political act of withdrawal from oppressive institutions (2009, 162–64). This exodus is also what Badiou sees as subtraction. The concept of subtraction, Noys rightly argues, is Badiou’s attempt to articulate “the affirmative part of negation” (2010, 145–46).5 The waves of exodus that made different clusters of people in the Chaco flee from one place to the next, only to flee again, mark a subtraction in its most immanent and spatial form: that of men and women withdrawing from the direct reach of exploitation and violence, moving elsewhere, and appropriating new places. Exodus as a practice of subtraction has been constitutive of the political opposition to imperial encroachment since the early days of the Spanish presence in the Chaco, when people subjected to encomienda in Esteco or Concepción del Bermejo fled and ruptured the political texture of imperial space. For centuries, these lines of flight were indeed practices of freedom that contributed to reproducing the Chaco as a vortex against the state. In the early and mid-­1900s, in contrast, the exodus of fragmented, scattered groups from one place to the next, from Rivadavia to Quebrachal and from there to El Galpón, was a sign of their defeat and of conditions of unfreedom. The creation of the barrio aborigen in El Galpón, in this regard, did not generate a place of freedom but rather a place immersed in new experiences of poverty and domination. Still, these men and women produced this place asserting an indigenous presence in “criollo country” that challenged dominant topographies of oblivion. In El Galpón, this is also a presence that has challenged the meaning of the most revered local object. Haunted by their history of displacement and exodus, people in these barrios are particularly sensitive to the annual apparition of the kneeling Indian.

The Children of San Francisco Solano (and the Phantom Indian) Many people in the barrio aborigen in El Galpón are devout followers of San Francisco Solano, participate every year in the fiesta patronal, and own images of the saint and the kneeling Indians in their homes. Yet they do so not to celebrate the pacification of Indians, as the Church does, but to claim the saint as their protector. As Leandro, the local leader, put it, “He’s the patron of the aborígenes.” He highlighted that the saint had protected aborígenes from “abuses” and “exploitation,” terms I never heard uttered in the official ceremony for San Francisco Solano, where state violence is a silenced topic.

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This view partly resonates with the ways in which Wichí people in the Chaco remember that Franciscan missionaries granted them relative, if fragile, protection from violence in the past. But in this town, this perception is inseparable from the assemblage created by the saint and the kneeling Indian. To make sure I had noticed this was an assemblage, Leandro asked, “Didn’t you see the Indian next to San Francisco?” Many people in the barrio venerate the saint to bring to the fore what the ceremony silences: the violence against indigenous people. And many perceptively capture that it is precisely because of the Indian that the saint has power. The Indian’s hands held in prayer and his gaze from below are, in fact, the anchor of the assemblage. Pedro lives in the barrio aborigen in Quebrachal and is a devout follower of San Francisco Solano. “He’s the protector of the poor and the aborígenes,” he said, and complained that some images of the saint “don’t have the Indian next to him.” He then asked me whether I could send him an image of the saint by mail, specifying that he wanted “one that has the Indian next to him.” Pedro, like Leandro in El Galpón, did not care that el indio was kneeling down in submission; what mattered to them was that he was there. This marks an indigenization that challenges the trope that the saint is “the patron of gauchos,” as announcers always emphasize during the gaucho parade after the procession. People in the barrio counter this narrative by pointing out that the object of veneration next to the saint is an Indian. An unintended consequence of the celebration of San Francisco Solano, therefore, is that it empowers the Indian that it seeks to conjure away. Not everyone in the barrio, however, is enthusiastic about the Indian form of that wooden object. Evangelical families, in particular, look down on this fetishization of the saint and the Indian and its pagan idolatry of material objects. Magdalena, who had fled Quebrachal as a child, also distanced herself from the celebration, but for different reasons. For her, the wooden Indian is dead. I asked her who San Francisco Solano was. “They said the priest fought the Indian. And the Indian died and they put him in the image,” she said. “They killed the Indian that’s on the image?” I asked her. “Yes, the Indian died. And San Francisco has him.” I asked her if the saint killed the Indian. “Yes. They said he fought with the priest. That’s why San Francisco goes around with the Indian [Por eso San Francisco anda con el indio].” I was surprised by the ease with which Magdalena disrupted not only

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the image of peaceful conquest cultivated by criollos in relation to the saint, but also the image of missionary protection from violence cultivated by her neighbors. The kneeling Indian was for Magdalena a corpse and a trophy of violence that his executioner appropriated and carried around on display. She saw the message of the official ceremony, and its truth: the defeat of indigenous resistance. And she disrupted the message of peaceful conquest by a peaceful saint by highlighting that conquest was a violent affair. The form of the kneeling Indian, therefore, is that of a murdered man whose lifeless body has been captured and made to kneel down for eternity in his wooden form. Magdalena saw the kneeling Indian, quite literally, as a debris of violence, a murdered indigenous combatant. Or a slave, which as Graeber (2011) points out, is a human who is treated as if she were dead. Magdalena thereby brushed aside the fetish and the ideological aura of the kneeling Indian in one casual gesture, for she knew all too well that indigenous people were forced to kneel down violently. But if for Magdalena the kneeling Indian is dead, this also means that the figure paraded every year on the streets is a phantom. The wooden kneeling Indian is, first, the Indian that the aborígenes of El Galpón are not: racially pure, anchored in the past, and imagined as fully indigenous. And it is a presence that returns once a year as a material apparition, when it leaves the seclusion of the church and is paraded by multitudes in processions to the ruins of San Francisco Solano across the river and through the streets of El Galpón. Criollos in El Galpón also confront this ghostly return when they follow this object on the streets, the tamed version of the archetypical Indians of the past that priests and announcers tell them to remember as echoes of the war machine: dangerous, wild, mean, and unmixed. The barrios aborígenes introduce rupture in these dispositions toward indigeneity and in these memories of Indians, for these are places inhabited by incomplete, degraded indios mestizos who look dangerously too much like criollos.

Cruzados Many criollo people refer to the aborígenes in El Galpón, Quebrachal, and Metán through a racialized language that emphasizes disjointed mixture. The most common observation is that people in these barrios are entreverados or cruzados, “mixed up.” Many add, to exalt those people’s odd nature, that some “have blond hair” or “blue eyes,” wear “blue jeans,” or have an urban

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lifestyle. As Diane Nelson (1999) has argued in the context of Guatemala, mestizaje often creates anxieties over the inability to ground clear-­cut identities in well-­bounded bodies. For many criollos, the barrios aborígenes are a source of anxiety because the people who live there do not fit the archetype of the Indian who lives off fishing in the Chaco and is racially pure and phenotypically distinct from criollos. In July 2005, while walking in the procession toward the ruins of San Francisco Solano, I asked a woman from El Galpón walking next to me about “los indios” who live in the barrio aborigen. She immediately corrected me, “No, those are others.” I was confused, so she clarified, “They aren’t indios, indios, you know.” As is standard in Argentine Spanish, she reduplicated the word indio to intensify its meaning. For her, “indios, indios” are real indios, and the people in the barrio aborigen do not qualify as such. She recognized the conceptual affinity between those people and the word Indian, yet immediately made clear the existence of a slippage, a deferral that made those people incomplete beings defined by lack, by something important about Indians that is missing from them. And this ruptured status that eludes conceptual capture becomes the real Indians’ others, people who are neither “Indians, Indians” nor whites, but mestizos. Since most criollo residents see themselves as mestizos “with Indian blood,” this situation creates a fraught space of convergence that brings to light that most working people in this region, regardless of their explicit identity, descend from the original inhabitants of the Americas. In southeast Salta, therefore, these urban barrios aborígenes confront nonindigenous residents with their own mestizaje and with the instability of their attempts to bound clear-­cut identities on bounded bodies. Several criollos, after all, also use the words entreverados or cruzados to refer to themselves. In September and October 2006, I spent much of my time in Río Piedras with Miguel, the man who had marveled at the beauty of the bulldozed ruins of Esteco. I asked him about the barrio aborigen in Metán, and he replied that people there are cruzados and that some “have blond hair.” Then he said, “All of us around here must be cruzados. Isn’t that right? Of course it is. That’s what some say.” The subtle oscillations that defined Miguel’s response were, in retrospect, notable. Miguel first positioned everyone in the region as cruzado just like the aborígenes of Metán. He then posed this as a rhetorical question, which he firmly answered in the affirmative (“of course”). But he immediately distanced himself from his own assertiveness, presenting this

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generalized mixture as something “some” people say. This fluctuating, ever-­ tense convergence between criollo residents and the ghost of their indigenous past emerges in what is the most clear counterpoint to the gaucho parades and Christian religious processions: carnival.

Indians on Parade At the foot of the Andes in Salta and Jujuy, as elsewhere in northwest Argentina, carnival is a collective, performative explosion of bodily manifestations of indigeneity in mestizo form, materialized in groups of dancers taking to the street dressed up as Indians. As Philip Deloria (1998) has analyzed in the context of the United States, the mimetic appropriation and parody of Indians by settlers has a long historical genealogy in the Americas. But at the foot of the Andes this appropriation has very distinctive forms and affective pulsations. The Indians who appear during carnival in the streets are eclectic, kaleidoscopic entities that have been reinvented and reassembled from the inside out, mixing up old Hollywood representations of Sioux Indians, music and dance styles from Bolivia, and fragments from global narratives of ethnic alterity. On la frontera, carnival is not as exuberant and massive as it is further north in San Pedro de Jujuy or Orán. Its node has historically been Metán, and toward the interior of the Chaco (El Galpón, Las Lajitas, Gaona), the carnival celebrations become more subdued, toned down by the prevalence of a socially conservative criollismo.6 The Catholic Church is hostile to the festive exuberance of carnival, and some priests preach against it, which further accentuates its tense counterpoint to the fiestas patronales. Yet in these towns, carnival still generates an affective, temporal, and spatial rupture with mainstream habits and rhythms. Over several weekends, hundreds of dancers take over the streets and overshadow the figure of the gaucho by conjuring up the ghost of the Indians haunting them from within. I met Miguel in the town of Gaona, a few kilometers north of Quebrachal. He was very welcoming and eager to tell me about his experience as the cacique (leader) of the Indians of Anta, the oldest comparsa de indios (dancing group of Indians) in Anta. He explained that the group’s members are working-­class criollos who every year spend considerable amounts of money and energy to prepare their costumes. Miguel emphasized that ostrich feathers are their most important expense, for they have to be bought from hunters in the interior of the Chaco.

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Figure 10.3. “Most of us are children of Indians.” Indians on parade during carnival. Photo by author.

I asked Miguel why he dresses up like an Indian during carnival. “It’s a tradition of people from around here,” he replied, “because most of us here are children of Indians [crías de indios].” He then explained that in the barrio aborigen of Quebrachal I could see “Indians who are pure.” “But not us,” he added. “We’re descendants from them.” As a criollo man, he explicitly emphasized that dancing like an Indian during carnival was a collective homage to his indigenous ancestors. My conversations with dancers in other towns elicited very similar responses. But Miguel stressed something else, arguing against the idea that the barrio aborigen of Quebrachal is a hybrid place of inauthentic Indians. On the contrary, he saw those people as his pure indigenous ancestors and, by the same token, emphasized that it is the criollos who are incomplete, disjointed beings. I asked Miguel if the aborígenes in Quebrachal dress up like Indians in carnival. “No. Those are real Indians,” he said. His wife, Sandra, was sitting next to us and added, “They’re Matacos. We’re also descendants of the Matacos. But those are matacos puros. Those are the true Matacos.” Miguel and Sandra wonderfully complemented each other to say that in carnival they briefly become Indians precisely because they are their impure descendants. They dance on the streets to give positive material form to the absence that haunts

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the region, where memories of an insurgent indigenous past are drenched in myriad clusters of rubble. Countering the topographies of oblivion that either celebrate or silence the conquest of the Chaco, these people reclaim the streets as Indians who annually return. The parades of colorful groups of Indians on the streets are part of the reversal of roles, parody, moral license, and defiance of everyday hierarchies that define carnival in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. Yet the appearance of the ghosts of Indians in southeast Salta is not reducible to a joyful carnivalesque atmosphere. This is clear in that some residents have made a bolder move: organizing parades of Indians during the fiestas patronales, the official ceremonies sanctified by the Church and the state and that make gauchos the icons of the region. During the fiestas patronales in Joaquín V. González and Gaona, in the heart of a gaucho country profoundly disrupted by agribusinesses, youths also parade as mounted Indians. Unlike the kaleidocopic, postmodern foot Indians of carnival, they ride their horses barely clad, wearing chiripa (cloth wrapped around the waist) and skins from wild animals. And they carry long spears. These are no longer the dancing Indians who are easier to tolerate because of carnival’s playfulness. These youths perform a human-­and-­horse military assemblage, wearing few clothes and no modern objects, and tacitly seeking the ghost that eludes them: the war machine that once dominated the Chaco and kept explorers, officials, and missionaries at bay. Not surprisingly, the first appearance of these mounted, armed Indians on the streets was met with hostility. Pancho Belaizán is a devout follower of the Virgin of Huachana and was forty-­eight when I met him in 2006 in his humble home in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Joaquín V. González. Some of his neighbors were families who had been recently evicted from their homes in a rural area north of town because of the expansion of soy fields. Pancho is the leader of the most famous group of mounted Indians in southeast Salta, the Indians of San Antonio. We had a long conversation while he was making adobe bricks next to his home. The group, he explained, involves fifteen teenagers who ride horses bareback (al pelo). The horses are Pancho’s, and he keeps them a few hundred meters away. He said he got the idea of organizing such a group when he was in Bolivia during carnival. The first time they paraded as the Indians of San Antonio was in Laguna Blanca, on the outskirts of González, in the early 1990s. They gradually moved from the margins to the core of town, and in 1998 (“eight years ago”) the city let them parade for the first time during Joaquín. V. González’s fiesta patronal on 8 August. The fact that Pancho first

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conceived of these parades during carnival marks the expansive intrusion of dispositions produced during carnival onto more hierarchical settings and moments that had, for generations, excluded any public celebration or performance of indigeneity. The first time the Indians of San Antonio paraded, in Laguna Blanca, they went ahead of the fortines gauchos. Several gauchos got upset, insulted them, and called them “garbage.” Those Indians on horseback had dared to challenge the fact that the parade had always been a gaucho event. Ever since then, they have ridden behind the gauchos. Pancho has had to accept that this is a hierarchical criollo parade that can only tolerate Indians at its margins. He also said that most of his riders are teenagers because once they grow older they feel embarrassed to ride as Indians. When adults act like Indians in public outside of carnival, they are subjected to public scorn, which confirms that in the fiestas patronales there is less tolerance for abrupt role reversals. The youth of the riders, in this regard, infantilizes the parade and dissipates its disruptive elements. Despite these tensions and limits, Pancho emphasized, the public on the streets responds favorably to their presence. “They always ask us to continue,” he said. Most people I talked to about these parades by mounted Indians seemed, indeed, to enjoy them. They even agreed with their commemorative goals: to give material, bodily, breathing form to the past presence of Indians in the region. I once gave two schoolteachers a ride from Joaquín V. González to Las Lajitas, and during the drive I asked them what they thought of the Indians of San Antonio. One of them admitted that people were initially “surprised” to see the mounted Indians on parade during the fiesta patronal. They were used to only seeing “what’s ours, the gauchos [lo nuestro, lo gaucho].” The Indians struck people as “different.” But people in the end liked it, for “this was something that was forgotten, but which is also part of our roots.” My gaucho acquaintances who live around the rubble of the former town of Chorroarín also enjoy watching the Indians of San Antonio. “It’s nice to see them,” María, Juan’s mother, told me over dinner at their home. “The Indians are exactly like those in the books.” The annual, repetitive parades of men and youth who move like Indians at carnival and the fiestas patronales are, despite their differences, subaltern commemorations of the indigeneity that is disavowed by dominant actors and institutions. And theirs is a memory generated through a bodily performativity. I interviewed a dozen men who parade as Indians in five different towns at the foot of the Andes, from Gaona to Orán. The vast majority told

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me, up front, that they do it because they are mestizos and want to commemorate their Indian ancestors. These commemorations challenge dominant topographies of oblivion and partly undo them here and there on multiple fronts. Their bodies exude that they refuse to forget the Indians and their insurgent deterritorializations. When I asked Pancho why he organizes a parade of Indians on horseback, he emphasized the insurgent nature of past indigenous cavalries. “The Indians were the first inhabitants,” he said. “They were the first who resisted, before the gauchos and before everybody. That’s why we have to keep something to remember them.” This bodily refusal to forget those who resisted “before the gauchos” is topographic: it operates by taking over and transforming, temporarily but repetitively, public space. And it is memory made material through movements that make the ghost of Indians appear as a tangible, breathing presence.

The Material Becoming of Ghosts In November 2006, I met in Orán a talented young local artist and intellectual named Leandro Alagastino. We talked extensively about the explosive performance of indigeneity during carnival in the province of Salta and in particular in Orán, where the affective resonance created by the Indians on parade is particularly massive and exuberant. Leandro paraded several times and told me that it would be simplistic to see carnival as a moment in which mestizo people simply “dress up like Indians.” “In carnival,” he said, “you have hundreds of guys who for a moment remember echoes of the past and transform themselves into Indians. In those days, they are ancestral warriors. But once carnival is over those same people probably feel ashamed if someone calls them Indians.” Leandro was the first person who made me explicitly aware of the principle articulated by Judith Butler (1990): the power of bodily performances to produce subjectivity. And he also highlighted the contradictory temporal and affective oscillations of that performativity, the push and pull that makes the Indian return and go away. Based on what I saw on the streets during carnival and on my conversations and interactions with dancers, I believe that those dancers briefly become not Indians, as Leandro suggested, but ghosts of Indians, the fleeting embodiment and becoming of a haunting. The Indians on parade materialize the felt absence that hovers over the region and over many of its nodes of rubble. When the ghosts of Indians appear in rural areas as spirits, they remain invisible, like the “Mataco ghost” that flogged Gregorio with a whip near the overgrown rubble of Fort San

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Fernando. During the carnival parades, in contrast, the apparition becomes visible, physical. The announcers who present the groups of dancing Indians from the main stage often allude to the ghostly nature of their presence: “The Indians are reborn once again like shooting stars! The spirit of the Indian is born again!” Their spirits can be seen, heard, and touched, only to disappear again “like shooting stars.” And these are Indians who are “reborn” because, in this region, they were killed or forced to blend in. Their violent disappearance is constitutive of the ghost. Because of this legacy of violence, the Indians of San Antonio add to this ghostly appearance a gesture of subtle defiance. They appear as the armed Indians on horseback who have not kneeled down, and create a sharp counterpoint with the petrified annual return of the kneeling Indian that the Church presents, as Magdalena noted, as a war trophy. In February 2007, when I was in El Galpón during carnival, I visited a man named Nilo several times at his home. He had grown up on a cattle ranch, and his father was an old, respected gaucho. I asked Nilo why some people dress up like Indians during carnival. “In order to remember, because we’re not sure what our race is,” he replied with a smile. The memories mobilized by the performance are an attempt to conjure up the ruptures and oscillations that destabilize the dancers as disjointed mestizo subjects. This is an embodied memory that strives to come to terms with the fact that locals carry the Indians inside their bodies. Nilo articulated this haunting as a doubt: the suspicion that their identity is not what it is. The people who live in the barrio aborigen of El Galpón cannot escape the field of cultural mirrors that reflect back on them the image of criollo bodies briefly becoming ghosts of Indians. As part of their urban and mestizo cultural environment, people of the barrio often participate in the town’s carnival parades, but largely in groups dancing to Bolivian cumbia and “tropical” music styles. But in 2006, to many people’s surprise, the residents of the barrio aborigen paraded as Indians. They did not perform Indians with large Hollywood-­style headresses and ecclectic costumes; on the contrary, they wore animal skins, chiripas, and single feathers on their heads, replicating realist representations of Indians from the Chaco. The perceived authenticity of their performance was such a hit that they won first prize. The people who many see as not being “Indians, Indians” but indios cruzados won the prize for performing an authentic imitation of their own ancestors. But their actions also clearly parodied the criollos becoming ghosts of Indians. And this parody gestured toward something else, which the public recognized by giving them the first prize: that the people in the barrio aborigen do not stop

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being indigenous after carnival. And that was what drew the public to applaud their authenticity, admitting that those urban aborígenes — as Miguel and Sandra said in Gaona — are the purest of all mestizos, and thereby part of the historical and affective substratum of the whole region. Derrida wrote that a defining feature of the return of the specter is that no one can be sure whether it testifies “to a living past or a living future.” And he added that the ghost “may already mark the promised return of the specter of living being” (1994, 123). At the foot of the Andes, the return of the Indians indeed signals not only a past that comes alive, but also a future life that embraces disjointed legacies and an affective convergence between gauchos and Indians, in which these figures stop being a binary and blend into a field of multiplicity. The return of the Indians is thereby not only a ghostly return but also a Nietzschean return of disruptive, vital excess. In Difference and Repeti­ tion, Deleuze (1994, 67–69) celebrates Nietzsche’s eternal return as a liberatory form of repetition: the one that (in contrast to the conservative repetition of the same) shatters the illusion of an identity by dissolving its ground and the very distinction between original and copy, object and representation. While more apparent during carnival and at the parade of Indians on horseback, this disruption of binaries often surfaces in everyday, casual gestures. Benito is a photographer and hairdresser I befriended in El Galpón, who was in every single gaucho parade I attended, taking photos on demand. Even though he lived in town and had an urban lifestyle, he was a big fan of gaucho culture. Yet this did not prevent him from embracing the legacy of indigenous insurgencies. Over lunch at his home, I asked him once why the gaucho associations are called “fortines,” since the term literally means “forts.” He replied, “It’s called fortín because they fought together with the Indians. The gauchos and the Indians are the ones who fought against the Spanish. They call it fortín because it was like a fort to defend what was ours.” I asked him whether gauchos also fought against the Indians. “No, against the Spanish, against the people from overseas who invaded us. The Indians and the gauchos are the ones who have defended us.”

The Conquest of Fort Río Negro Of the regions where I did fieldwork, the San Francisco River Valley in the tropical lowlands of Jujuy is the one whose geography has been most dramatically altered. The valley has long been covered with sugarcane fields, and the ruins of the forts and mission stations that once existed in this area of the

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Chaco frontier are largely gone or are buried under cane fields. The rubble of Fort Ledesma, for instance, is rumored to be underneath the headquarters of the Ledesma sugar plantation, the most powerful in the valley. In contrast to the gaucho outlook of southeast Salta, this region has long been socially defined by the entanglement between Andean, Bolivian, and Guaraní influences created by the plantations’ demand for labor. Despite these spatial and social transformations, I did find one place with rubble from the days when the region was a violent frontier: a one-­meter-­high, six-­meter-­long mound located in a clearing surrounded by sugarcane fields, two kilometers east of the town of Chalicán on the Río Negro (Black River) (see map 9.1). Only locals know of the place where the mound is. They call the site “the fort.” Fort Río Negro was together with Fort Ledesma the epicenter of a wave of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary violence that was a turning point in the regional history. In 1780–81, a powerful anti-­imperial insurrection swept the central Andes, led in the Cuzco area by Tupac Amaru II and in Upper Peru by Tupac Katari. The Spanish control over a vast area in South America was shaken to its core, and in March 1781 the resonances of the uprising reached the Chaco frontier in Jujuy. Toba men at the mission of San Ignacio de Ledesma rose up in arms together with Wichí men from the Chaco and, most notably, with mestizo soldiers from Fort Ledesma. They captured the fort and killed several officers “to defend the poor from the tyranny of the Spanish.” Inspired by the news coming from Upper Peru, the rebels formed a multilingual multitude that, led by a mestizo soldier and interpreter, believed that “Indians will rule again following their Inca King” (Poderti 1997, 155).7 The rebels marched south toward the city of Jujuy, but the most important fort on the frontier, Fort Río Negro, stood in the way. The first attempt to capture the fort failed, and the insurgents pressed on to Jujuy. They were subsequently routed on the outskirts of the city and were forced to withdraw. The rebel army then tried to capture Fort Río Negro again and placed it under siege. With many soldiers deserting, the commander was close to surrendering when fresh military reinforcements arrived from Santiago del Estero. In a few days, these troops crushed the insurrection and murdered hundreds of men and women. The military governor of Jujuy, Gregorio Zegada, imposed a policy of terror on the rebels and their supporters. Mestre, the senior officer in charge of the repression, informed Zegada that he had executed a hundred prisoners (including women and children) and left them “hanging from the trees on the road, so that it terrorizes them and teaches them a lesson.” Zegada ordered

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that the rebellion’s mestizo leaders be tied to horses and dragged alive on the streets of Jujuy, then hanged, beheaded, and mutilated. Their heads and hands were sent to Fort Río Negro and put on display, “so that the sight of this spectacle would create terror and an example to those who were so easily convinced by their false persuasions” (Poderti 1997, 37). The heads of other insurgents were displayed “on all the roads of this region,” on prominent trees, and in the missions of San Ignacio and Zenta. An R for “rebel” was marked by hot iron on many others, “so that they would keep a memory of their crime, and so that others would know of their treason” (Poderti 1997, 36–37, 164). Spanish officials created a spatially dispersed, blood-­drenched constellation of body parts and scars whose main goal was to remind the living of the willingness of the state to obliterate and mutilate anyone who dared challenge the imperial order of things. The ferocity of this response was heightened by the fact that the rebellion was led by mestizo soldiers and Indians, a convergence that threatened a frontier already eroded by raids from the Chaco. The corpses of insurgents were therefore turned into ad hoc, perishable memorials through which officials ordered their subjects to remember terror through the public spectacle of its bodily debris. The Crown rewarded the man who crushed the uprising, Governor Zegada, with private ownership over practically the totality of the San Francisco River valley. The massacres of 1781 consolidated the Spanish control of the valley and gave birth, shortly thereafter, to a capitalist geography. Introduced decades earlier by the Jesuits, sugarcane cultivation expanded dramatically in the 1800s and has continued to dictate life and death in the valley since. Zegada’s mansion, La Sala Calilegua (the Calilegua House) has been fully renovated and is today owned by the Ledesma plantation. Ledesma is currently infamous in Argentina for having terrorized and disappeared many of its workers under the 1976–83 military dictatorship.8 Terror, in this regard, has been a crucial force in the production and reproduction of the geography that defines the valley in the present, and the regional elites have remained faithful to Zegada’s legacy.9 Of the days of the insurrection of 1781, the only material remnant I am aware of is the mound called “the fort” near Chalicán: the place that prevented the rebels from taking over the valley. The faint vestiges of Fort Río Negro are on land currently owned by Finca Río Negro, a sugarcane farm run by the Jujuy government that is the main source of jobs for the close to two thousand people of Guaraní, criollo, and Bolivian background who live in Chalicán. The fort comprises a clearing of half a hectare in a forest

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Figure 10.4. At “the fort” during the pachamama ceremony. Participants take advantage of the large mound, sitting on it while observing the ceremony unfold at the center of the clearing (August 2007). Photo by author.

surrounded by canefields, and its only noticeable feature is the mound. Most people shrugged when I asked them why the site was called “the fort.” They did not associate the name or the place with a fortification or with memories of violence. No one was even remotely aware that over two centuries earlier an insurrection had taken place in that area. Residents of Chalicán, in fact, know of “the fort” because of its contemporary rather than historical relevance.10 On 1 August, two hundred people from Chalicán and nearby towns, most of them farmers of Bolivian background who rent land from Finca Río Negro, converge on that clearing to celebrate la pachamama, or Mother Earth, the quintessential ritual of indigeneity in northwestern Argentina. On that day, an unremarkable clearing that the rest of the year is abandoned and overgrown is occupied by a crowd that creates a whirlwind of activity, movement, music, and dancing. The ceremony of the pachamama is a festive communion with the land that affirms the reciprocity that binds it with human life. And while the ritual is an ancient indigenous practice in the Andes, in the lowlands of Jujuy it has been embraced by people of multiple backgrounds and has come to embody a mestizo, multifaceted, generic, and transnational indigeneity.

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I participated at the pachamama ceremonies at “the fort” twice. For the ceremony, the clearing is decorated with colorful banners and small flags of Argentina and Bolivia. People begin by digging up the large, two-­meter-­deep hole used in previous years, carved out next to a large tree at the center of the clearing. Dozens of small clay pots and bowls that were buried with food offerings the previous year are recovered, and women clean those that are not broken to be reused. For several hours, women carefully place diverse types of dishes on them, some of which were cooked the day before. Asking for good fortune and thanking Mother Earth for providing them with their livehood, people then take turns to “feed” la pacha and “calm her thirst.” Initially at a slow, calm pace, men and women place food in the hole, along with coca leaves, sodas, beer, wine, fake money, and lit cigarettes (which are set with the butt on the ground). Pachamama is fed with conduits of life, reproduction, enjoyment, prosperity, and earthly pleasures. The ceremony gradually gains intensity and momentum. Toward the end, dozens of hands pour more and more quantities of soda, beer, and wine into the hole, turning its materiality into a liquid, indistinguishable mixture of different forms and objects defined by multiplicity. People cover the hole again with shovels of dirt, amid music, dancing, laughing, and clouds of confetti. They are largely indifferent to the mound standing a few meters away. But some people turn that pile of rubble into something useful by sitting on it to watch the ceremony. When I first visited Chalicán, in 2003, and people mentioned that the pachamama was celebrated at “the fort” every year, I was immediately intrigued by the location. I spent many of my subsequent visits trying to find and interview the men who organized the first ceremonies there in the 1980s, some of whom had since moved to other towns in the valley. They all agreed they chose the place simply because it was a convenient site to gather and because the administration of Finca Río Negro let them use it. None seemed to think much of the site’s historical significance, even if they were aware of the mound. They all said that they liked that the place was out of the way, for quiet places are best for la pacha. In a region dominated by Ledesma’s sugarcane fields and patroled by security guards, public spaces large enough to accommodate dozens of pickup trucks and hundreds of people are relatively rare and therefore appreciated. While the pachamama is carried out there for purely conjunctural reasons, that pile of rubble is still affecting its location. Not unlike the rubble of Esteco surrounded by citrus fields or the ruins of Fort Balbuena surrounded by cornfields, the presence of the rubble made farmers circumvent it and plant

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Figure 10.5. Feeding Mother Earth at “the fort.” Photo by author.

sugarcane around it. The rubble’s materiality, in other words, contributed to preserving the small forest and therefore the place that now shelters the ceremony once a year. The physical endurance of vestiges from days that have long been forgotten is a recurring feature all over the world. In this case, only the place’s name, “the fort,” survives as a recognizable linguistic trace of the past location of Fort Río Negro. But even this name has become a trace emptied of evocations of the fortification it once referred to. This is why, among locals, the oblivion of Fort Río Negro and of the violence that once engulfed the area has been complete. Officials have placed no monuments, no plaques, no monoliths anywhere in that area or in the San Francisco River Valley to commemorate the uprising of 1781 and its swift obliteration. No official has ever said with a solemn tone, as they regularly do at the monoliths built to celebrate the battle of Río Piedras or at the ruins of San Francisco Solano, “Something important happened here” or “This place has a lot of history.” The rebellion that helped pave the way, three decades later, for the insurrections that gave birth to the Argentine nation has long been treated as a non-­event in regional commemorations: as something that never took place. Around the faint vestiges of Fort Río Negro, however, residents reveal that legacies of colonial violence can be countered in tangential, non-­explicit ways,

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and without recourse to remembrance. Once a year, after all, men and women inject massive expressions of life into what was once a place of death. The fortification that an insurgent army made up of mestizos and Indians once failed to capture is now repeatedly immersed in a festive, mestizo event that celebrates an indigeneity that preceded and survived Spanish conquest. The egalitarian effervescence created in that place is not unlike the one created by pilgrims in Huachana or in Piquete de Anta, but without institutional intrusions and without the veneration of images of saints or Virgins. In that clearing, music, dancing, and laughter take center stage. Most of the objects that women and men pour into the mouth of pachamama are soft, liquid, perishable, and reusable, ever fleeting expressions of the transient becoming of life.

Laughter alone, the eternal prerogative of man, survives, splendid, invincible, in a world in ruins. —Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-­Adam, La Tribune du Peuple (Paris, May 1871)

Conclusion  |  We Aren’t Afraid of Ruins


hen officials consecrated the adobe wall on that hilltop near El Galpón as “the ruins of San Francisco Solano,” they sought to exorcise the fear of oblivion that those ruins awakened in them by burying “a time capsule” next to the wall. The capsule consisted of a forty-­centimeter cylindrical tube that contained original copies of the documents that donated the plot to the municipality, a copy of that day’s El Tribuno, tourist brochures about El Galpón, the program of the San Francisco Solano celebration, and coins of Argentine pesos in circulation. After workers buried the tube and covered it with concrete, an official from the municipality said, pointing toward the cluster of rubble that had been turned into a ruin protected by the state: “In five hundred years, when this place is in ruins again like these ruins, the generations of the future will find the capsule and they will learn who we were, how we lived, and how we behaved.” “Time capsules” are intentional ruins: objects produced to transcend the present and become, sometime in the future, a positive, readable trace of the past. The positivity of the capsule thereby seeks to counter the void that haunts rubble. Intentional ruins are the ideal ruins of the state: tension-­free traces that exude positivity, objects shot out toward the future from a present that seeks to hide its ruptures. Yet as the speech on the hilltop made clear, the capsule buried that day also awakened anxieties about oblivion and the unpredictable nature of the affects generated by rubble, telling “the generations of the future” the way that functionaries and priests would like the people of

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El Galpón to be remembered: as obedient followers of San Francisco Solano. In this anxious search for transcendence, the time capsule was designed to outlive not only the ruins of San Francisco Solano but also the ruins of the building that was to be built to protect the ruins from oblivion. The capsule is a machine against oblivion that cannot admit that rubble, bones, and the void await us all, regardless. The landowner who donated that piece of land to the municipality of El Galpón also said a few words. The ruins should be preserved, he said, “to honor our origins and our identity, which we should not forget.” He concluded, “Thank God these ruins will be soon preserved so that they are no longer ruins.” I still find the clarity of that statement, and its truth, disarming: the ruins should be preserved so that they are no longer ruins. The fear of rubble seeks to transform material forms defined by ruptured multiplicity into something that is not rubble anymore, but a ruin-­fetish. And as Žižek put it, the fetish is “an object that conceals the void” (2012, 46). The void that the fetish of the ruin seeks to conceal from mainstream sensibilities is the perceived nothingness of rubble and, in general, of the haunting of a space devoid of the positivity cherished by the cult of full objects: skyscrapers, cars, malls, monuments, gadgets. This fear acquires its most microscopic expression in the fear of the crack, an attitude that sees the ruination of modern places “as the enemy of human beings” (Ginsberg 2004, 287). The scholarship on ruins has examined the modernist anxiety about ruins from multiple perspectives, yet its class components are often overlooked.1 Berman wrote that one of the features that distinguishes the bourgeoisie as a class is that it “cannot bear” to look into the moral, social, and physical “abyss” created by its own destructiveness (1982, 100–101). The fetishization of ruins is one of the ways in which the rubble created by capitalist and imperial expansion, and thereby the abyss generated by their destruction of space, is deflected and disregarded. The question of the fetishization of objects identified by Marx and extended by Benjamin to the study of spatial forms is unavoidable for any political examination of debris, ruins, and materiality under capitalism. Notably, most object-­oriented philosophers have either rejected or simply ignored the problem of fetishism for being, in their eyes, an anthropocentric concern.2 But the political and conceptual risk of this disregard is clear: to fall into a tacit complicity with, and erasure of, the affective and ideological fields in which objects operate, and are made to operate, in a profoundly capitalist

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world. Certainly, objects are not reducible to what humans make of them. Defetishization, therefore, does not mean lifting ideological veils in order to reveal a hidden truth of dead, passive entities ever manipulated by all-­ powerful human actors. The afterlife of rubble is a measure of the material persistence of debris yet it is also humanly mediated, in the sense that people can, willingly or not, be socially predisposed to glorify, fear, or ignore the same ruin. And how rubble can be turned into a fetish that conceals the void of destruction is not politically innocent. In the geographies of northern Argentina, many people living in rural areas counter the reification of ruins by disregarding their material integrity and form and by being more attentive to the presence of traces of destroyed human life. It is not a coincidence that the fetishistic search for historical transcendence through monumentalized ruins blossomed in Nazi Germany and was epitomized by “the theory of ruins” articulated by the chief Nazi architect, Albert Speer. Speer famously persuaded Hitler to remake Berlin by erecting massive buildings and monuments using stone, marble, and brick instead of concrete and steel. The goal was that “in a thousand years” the ruins of Berlin, and thereby of Nazi Germany, would look monumental and imposing like the ruins of Rome, which Hitler admired as “imperishable symbols of power” (Woodward 2001, 29–30; Hell 2010). The Nazi leadership imagined the transcendence of state power as the resilience of rubble with the power to impress the humans of the future because of its form and size. The irony is that this attitude attributes transcendence to rubble whose assumed “impressive” afterlife (a thousand years into the future) is imagined as controllable from the present. In their idealized fetishization of the ruins of Roman empire, Speer and Hitler abstracted that for a thousand years, at least until the Renaissance, the inhabitants of the city of Rome saw those broken objects simply as rubble. Residents did not look at those piles of debris in awe, were indifferent to their preservation, and used them as construction materials, manipulating their forms. This confirms that the Nazi abstractions about ruins were guided by an affective, pre-­discursive disposition to deflect the ruptured multiplicity of rubble. Not for nothing, Speer’s and Hitler’s love for monumental ruins made them express contempt for “mere rubble” (Hell 2010, 186). The Nazi celebration of fetishized ruins was inseparable from the disregard with which the Third Reich slaughtered millions of lives and reduced cities and nations to rubble.

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The spatial sensibilities I explored at the foot of the Argentine Andes and in the Chaco tend to confront the abyss of rubble and brush aside, with casual gestures of disregard, the fetish of the ruin. This disposition is not unique to this geography but is widespread all over the world, as the ethno­ graphic research on ruins illustrates. A case in point is the experience of indigenous people on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. They are as immersed in disjointed constellations of rubble as the people of southeast Salta are, but with one important difference: many of those piles of rubble have been rebuilt, fenced off, and turned into “Mayan ruins” that are revered as objects of transcendental importance. These ruins draw crowds of largely middle-­class tourists from all over the world, as well as scholars who claim to know better than locals what those nodes of rubble mean. Lisa Breglia (2009) reveals a notable fact: archaeologists have been puzzled by local indigenous people’s indifference toward those “Mayan ruins” and have tried to “explain” to them that the builders of those places are their own “Mayan ancestors.” But residents know better; they feel little attachment to rubble that is over a thousand years old. They see those places as “mounds” or “hills” that, while often a source of apprehension, were built by a race of dwarves (see Timoteo Rodriguez 2002). Residents are more affected by rubble that is disregarded by archaeologists, “the real ruins of Yucatán”: the many abandoned henequen haciendas where they worked as quasi-­slaves in the early 1900s (Breglia 2009). The relative brightness of these nodes of debris indicates that local indigenous people disregard allegedly important ruins while facing the negativity of rubble that elites cannot bear to confront. In southeast Salta, likewise, most residents were largely indifferent to scholarly views of “historic ruins” but attentive to traces of ruination and of destroyed human lives. Most people I met were, in this regard, often quick to note the imperial hubris and slavery haunting the rubble of Esteco, the destructive impact of the railroads on Piquete de Anta, the dislocation produced by the privatization of those same railroads, and the violence congealed in the debris of forts, in the Curu-­Curu, or in the detritus of steamships and human bones scattered around Rivadavia. Many residents, not surprisingly, drew on this spatial sedimentation of destruction to think reflexively about the present: Isabel evoking the slavery at Esteco to criticize her exploitative boss at the fruit-­packaging plant; pilgrims expressing nostalgia for what the El Piquete once was in order to question the inequalities created by soy farming; Wichí men seeing in the microscopic debris scattered in an outlying forest the suffering of their ancestors and the ongoing injustices shaping their lives.

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Deleuze wrote that a scar is the sign not of a “past wound,” but of “the present fact of having been wounded” (1994, 77). In the experience of most people I met, likewise, rubble is the present fact of places that were destroyed. The view that the past is “a foreign country” that is separate from the present, in sum, is less hegemonic globally than Lowenthal (1985) suggests. The class specificity of the sensibilities about rubble explored in this book does not mean that they are defined in autonomy from, or in a binary opposition to, elite narratives, affects, and values about ruins. They are produced in permanent dialogue with them, and through capillary, multi-­centered entanglements that often erode the very distinction between subaltern and elite positionings. Hegemonic fields woven by the regional elites, state agencies, and the Catholic Church have long shaped regional spatial and religious dispositions. The Church has been effective in encouraging residents to venerate the Miracle around Esteco, to fear the earthquakes petrified in its rubble, and to make them abide by obedience to figures of authority. Priests and officials have also been relatively successful in making residents pay attention to certain ruins and monuments, from the ruins of San Francisco Solano to the monoliths that mark the location of the battle of Río Piedras. The spatial reifications created by these topographies have contributed to partly erasing evocations of state violence, and some people — especially in towns — do look away from the debris of violence created by the conquest of the Chaco. In rural areas, in turn, many criollos tend to evoke the Indians of the past as violent, savage creatures and look down on contemporary indigenous people, an attitude that is particularly marked in Rivadavia. The dispositions of many working people, in short, are multifaceted and contextual, and cannot be neatly encapsulated within a “counter-­hegemonic” collective positioning. Yet, at the same time, the experience of most residents in regard to rubble is not reducible to the topographies cultivated by state agencies and institutional actors. What escapes capture is, first, a relative awareness, however inchoate and multilayered it may be, that there is a surplus of violence and destruction that official ceremonies and memorials do not account for. And this is a sensibility defined by class-­specific preoccupations as well as haunted by the absence of Indians and the presence of manifold, if often elusive patterns of debris of violence. This is why working-­class criollos sometimes challenge and contest what the local middle classes and elites say about ruins, as was clear in the disputes about the meaning of “the fort of Indians” in El Fuerte or about the bulldozing of the mounds of Esteco. These contestations acquire more indirect, performative expressions when many people — as part of the

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oscillations that constitute them as mestizo subjects — take to the streets to pay homage to the Indians that are otherwise silenced or demonized in official commemorations. These are tangential evocations of the armed insurgencies that once reduced sites of power to rubble on the Salta frontier. The defetishizing dispositions toward ruins that I describe in this book, lastly, do not mean that locals do not articulate other types of fetishism. The veneration of images of saints and Virgins as sources of miraculous power, after all, is widespread in the region. Yet this reification of sacred objects abstracts the power of human relations without losing sight of the patterns of disruption, suffering, and healing that constitute regional constellations. These forms of religious fetishism, therefore, contribute to revealing the historical ruptures silenced by elite fetishisms, even as they are entangled with them. After all, the miraculous images held in Huachana or amid the rubble of El Piquete attract multitudes because these bright objects are grounded in, and are committed to staying in, places either threatened or destroyed by progress. Because of this attentiveness to the ruptures that made the present in the name of progress, these sensibilities are not “pre-­modern” or defined in a relation of exteriority with modernity; they are as modern as those of the officials and scholars disturbed by the damage done to the rubble of Esteco. Furthermore, these dispositions disregard elite attitudes toward ruins because they have been historically constituted by the waves of ruination that have defined Argentine modernity at the foot of the Andes. These habits, in other words, denaturalize one of the elite tropes of modernity, “the ruin,” from within the void created by modernity.

The fact that in this region and elsewhere in the world many efforts to preserve ruins end up mummifying the past and severing it from the living geographies of the present certainly does not mean that all attempts to protect rubble follow the same paradigm. “There are no rules of place and space,” wrote Doreen Massey (2005, 163). We cannot, in other words, evaluate efforts to preserve ruins using a priori, abstract rules. This requires looking at what is at stake in each case, in relation to existing power inequalities and amid wider spatial constellations. In some cases, attempts to preserve rubble may, in fact, disturb the status quo. While in my fieldwork I did not encounter bottom-­up efforts to preserve ruins, I did come across a generalized disposition to see rubble as evidence of past forms of destruction. This is a disposition that in many parts of the world

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informs grassroots struggles to preserve nodes of rubble that reveal the destruction congealed in them. A notable example is the struggle of Israeli and Palestinian activists to preserve the ruins of the Palestinian village of Lifta, next to Jerusalem, which the Israeli government plans to turn into condos and a tourist resort.3 This mobilization is not guided by academic concerns for a historic site from a long-­dead past. This is an effort to protect the material evidence of the ongoing colonial nature of the Israeli nation-­state, which since its birth in 1948 has destroyed not only hundreds of Palestinian villages within its borders but also their ruins. As Abu El-­Haj (2001) shows, the goal of this ruin-­obliteration project has been to refashion Israeli space as authentically and exclusively Jewish. And this implies, as Léopold Lambert rightly put it, denying the Palestinian people even their “right to the ruin.” The grassroots campaign to protect the ruins of Lifta is therefore not focused on the ruins themselves but on the living spatial constellations they are entangled with. It is an effort, in short, to turn this node of rubble into “a symbol of the Israeli oppression” but more importantly into “a physical mark of existence of the Palestinian people” (Lambert 2012, 159). The plight of the Palestinian people involves not only the erasure of the ruins that are evidence of their prior existence on the land but also the erasure of the rubble that testifies to the destruction unleashed by the Israeli military on living Palestinian places. The latter case reveals yet another way in which ruins can be valued through a constellational lens that prevents their fetishization. The Israeli architect Eyal Weizman (2012) draws from the disposition to see ruins as evidence of destruction to propose a forensic analysis of rubble itself. He analyzes the work of forensic architects sent by Human Rights Watch (officially called experts on “battle damage assessment”) to assess whether Israel had committed war crimes in its invasion of Gaza in late December 2008 and January 2009. Some observers accused the forensic architects of “ruin-­fetishism” because of their detailed, careful observation of the ruins of Gaza. Yet Weizman shows that the opposite was the case. The forensics defetishized the ruins because they examined their forms not for the forms’ sake but in order to deduce the type of violence that created them. They concluded that most of the ruins of Gaza had been produced not by firepower but by Israeli military bulldozers to “shape the battle space” and facilitate a safer movement of troops, which under international law is a war crime (2012, 124).4 Weizman cites Hito Steyerl, who wrote, inspired by Benjamin, “The thing is never just an object, but a fossil in which a constellation of forces are petrified” (2012, 111).

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This constellational, object-­oriented, negative, and de-­reifying path toward materiality is the core principle of the politics of rubble. This is also a critical sensibility gaining traction in archaeology, what González-Ruibal (2008, 262) calls “the archaeology of the super-­destruction of life and matter.”5 This project requires, as Adorno (1983, 233) observed about Benjamin, a disposition to “metamorphose into a thing in order to break the catastrophic spell of things.” This also means breaking the spell of the ruin, which has long seduced much of the international Left. In 1983, Michael Taussig visited the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes, traveling south from Colombia with his friend and shamanic mentor Santiago Mutumbajoy, a central character in his ethnography Sha­ manism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man (1987). The ruins of Machu Picchu have long been bright objects for icons of Latin American socialism such as Pablo Neruda and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who celebrated the ruins as emblems of the ancient grandeur of indigenous South America. Like Neruda or Che before him, Taussig was in awe of the place. While admiring the view, he asked Santiago what he thought of the ruins. His friend and shaman was not impressed. He said, dismissively, that only “the rich” lived there. Taussig was puzzled, but continued admiring the ruins and wondered out loud how those blocks of rock could have been assembled. “That’s easy to explain,” Santiago replied. “They did it with whips.” He said that he saw in shamanic dreams that “the Spanish” had built that place with slave labor. As Taussig notes, his friend may have been wrong about the identity of those who held the whip and forced slaves to build Machu Picchu. But he was certainly right about the exploitative and imperial relations that produced that place now officially celebrated as an Inca ruin. In refusing to fall under the spell of the ruin-­as-­fetish, he revealed the historical truth hidden by that node of rubble turned into a heritage site. Santiago dissolved the fetish with a gesture of disregard that released the negativity of the rubble, revealing, as Taussig put it, that “these glorified ruins were monuments to racism” (Taussig 1992, 42, also 39–40). Santiago’s disregard for the alleged grandeur of the ruins of Machu Picchu takes us full circle to the type of sensibilities toward rubble that I have explored in this book, and that are embodied, for instance, in Alfredo casually punching the wall of the church of La Manga, in the people in Río Piedras disappointed that the bulldozers had not fully wiped out the mounds of Esteco, or in the pilgrims who grabbed bricks from the ruins of San Francisco Solano to sit on while drinking mate tea. These are subaltern expressions of

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disregard: the habits of people who are not particularly impressed by some of the objects venerated by elite sensibilities. This disregard asserts these people’s relative capacity to control how certain objects affect them. For their part, those who struggle to preserve rubble not for the sake of rubble but to reveal constellations of suffering and domination, as in Lifta and Gaza, draw from narratives on preservation only to turn them on their head, and show what the fetish tends to conceal: that rubble is evidence of destruction.

The political and generative dimensions of rubble are apparent in moments of revolt. For the women and men who contemplated the rubble of Concepción del Bermejo in the 1630s or the Spanish forts that were abandoned in the 1810s, those ruins embodied the end of oppressive structures and the opening of new horizons. This disregard for ruins created by the search for a future of collective emancipation has defined all insurrections in history, and entangles some of the nodes of rubble explored in this book with global constellations of debris. The insurgent indifference for ruins was clear during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, when Spain was immersed in revolutionary and counter-­ revolutionary turmoil. In the early days of the war, shortly after fascist forces rose up against the Spanish Republic, the anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti was interviewed in Barcelona by a journalist from the Toronto Daily Star. The journalist commented that even if the anarchist and socialist forces defeated fascism, they would inherit “a country in ruins.” Durruti was not intimidated by this evocation of vast fields of rubble. He replied, “We have always lived in extreme poverty, and we’ll accommodate for a while. . . . But don’t forget that we, the workers, are the ones who build cities. Why aren’t we going to build and replace what was destroyed, under even better conditions? We aren’t afraid of ruins.”6 Durruti’s swift reply disintegrated the ruin as a fear-­inducing fetish at various levels. In beginning his response by saying, “We have always lived in extreme poverty,” he first positioned himself as part of a class collective (“the workers”) that was already living amid rubble, highlighting that the unease with ruins is the product of a class experience unfamiliar with social suffering. More important, Durruti refused to be held captive by the fear of broken objects by emphasizing the creative power of human labor: the capacity to rebuild under better conditions. His disregard for ruins was also an implicit response to the fascist celebration of ruins and destruction, embodied in the then popular motto among Spanish fascists,

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“Long Live Death!” Durruti’s attitude toward ruins, while exuding a masculinist posturing of defiance against fascism, was a life-­affirming, class-­based negation of the elite fear of the void. “We aren’t afraid of ruins” has been the implicit rallying cry of all insurrections in history. The counterpoint between this disregard for ruins and the bourgeois fear of ruins was particularly apparent during the Paris Commune of March–May 1871, when the urban poor in alliance with sectors of the middle class rose up in arms and transformed Paris into a revolutionary commune. Benjamin viewed the Paris Commune as a collective awakening that briefly shattered the bourgeois phantasmagoria. Lefebvre (1965) and the Situationist International (2010) went further: the Paris Commune created a radically new type of urban geography in which public places were democratized and made festive. All observers noted the festive resonance that dominated Paris during the days of the Commune: “Our laughter comes easily. We feel quite at home in our childish and dangerous world of make-­believe” (Edwards 1973, 144). The effervescence did not subdue even when, by early May, people knew that the Commune was besieged, doomed, and about to be crushed by the French federal army. Just before the slaughter was unleashed on Paris, Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-­Adam published the following lines in one of the papers of the Commune, La Tribune du People: “Would you believe it? Paris is fighting and singing! Paris is about to be attacked by a ruthless and furious army and she laughs!” Villiers concluded, “Laughter alone, the eternal prerogative of man, survives, splendid, invincible, in a world in ruins” (quoted in Edwards 1973, 141–42). This is a Nietzschean laughter, celebrating the joyful power of life even amid widespread destruction. During the massacres known as “the bloody week,” flames engulfed Paris for several days, and much of the city was reduced to rubble. The federal troops, led by Adolphe Thiers, executed close to thirty thousand men, women, and children. The smoldering ruins of Paris marked, first, the destruction of a revolutionary city that for over two months had created a qualitatively novel type of place. Marx noted that Bismarck, who defeated the French army in 1870, only to collaborate with it to crush the Commune, “gloats over the ruins of Paris” (1988, 79). Shortly before the Commune was obliterated, the New York Herald pleaded, “Make Paris a heap of ruins if necessary, let its streets be made to run rivers of blood, let all within it perish” (Gluckstein 2011, 158). Yet the ruins of insurgent Paris were, at the same time, those of a bourgeois city. The elite that disregarded the blood-­drenched rubble of the Commune was therefore simultaneously horrified by the destruction of the architecture

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of its own city, the capital of the nineteenth century. Marx was quick to point out this hypocrisy: “The bourgeoisie of the whole world, which looks complacently upon the wholesale massacre after the battle, is convulsed by horror at the desecration of brick and mortar!” (1988, 77). Marx identified the affective nature of the bourgeois reaction at the sight of its ruins, which made them “convulse” in horror. The class that celebrated the destruction of human life was terrified of those ruins. The reconstruction of Paris and its orderly boulevards was thereby founded on the erasure of the fact that Paris was once reduced to rubble amid a powerful insurrection. This elite fear of ruins demanded making the mass graves invisible and relegating the memory of the Commune to oblivion. But the detritus of hueseríos is still part of the underground materiality of Paris. Some of the largest mass graves are currently underneath the Luxembourg Gardens, the Hôtel de Ville, and the cemetery of Montparnasse. The most famous mass grave is at the Père Lachaise cemetery, where the last 147 defenders of the Commune were executed against a wall, on 28 May 1871. The wall now holds a plaque “To the Dead of the Commune, May 21–28, 1871.” On the last Saturday of May, the plaque becomes a bright object that draws thousands of men and women who pay tribute to the debris of the Commune. The foot of the plaque is showered with flowers and messages of thankfulness to the dead. The people who annually converge on this place are attracted by the presence of those invisible piles of bones that official commemorations of French history have tried to turn into dark objects.

The constellations of rubble entangling the foot of the Argentine Andes, the Gran Chaco, Paris, Palestine, Spain, or the Yucatán Peninsula reveal that the history of the world could be revisited through the lens of an object-­ oriented negativity: as the history of the human creation, destruction, and silencing of rubble, as well as of the struggles over its afterlife. These planetary constellations also reveal that the destruction of space and its resulting rubble are constitutive of the materiality of space; they force us to look at space not simply positively but also negatively: through the traces of dislocation that are inseparable from any existing geography, even in those places that are seemingly positive and whole, like Paris. Rubble, in short, is the path toward further historicizing and politicizing our understanding of the materiality of space in its immanence: that is, of space as we know it in this world. The histories and the ethnography woven in this book, in this regard, are not just

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about rubble but about space as a physical and affective configuration defined by interruptions and ruptures. And as the ruins of Concepción del Bermejo and Esteco reveal, not all forms of rubble are created equal; sometimes, rubble may signal the start of a collective regeneration that points not toward the past but toward the future. Hollywood insists in presenting the image of a capitalist world in ruins as ominous and terrifying. But as Rebecca Solnit argues in A Paradise Built in Hell, the scholarship on disasters conclusively shows that it is the powerful who usually panic amid the rubble created by catastrophes (2009, 308). She shows that the Hobbesian Hollywood nightmare of hysterical masses panicking in wild stampedes and creating a war of “all against all” scenario is an elite fantasy. Most people are certainly shocked and disoriented at first but soon afterward generate forms of solidarity and cooperation and see the possibility of collective transformation and rebirth. In fact, the very fact that sites of power have been destroyed makes people less fearful of the powerful.7 History is full of examples of fields of rubble that awakened emancipatory sentiments, even if this effervescence was eventually contained. After the burning of Moscow in 1812 by the Napoleonic armies, for instance, Tolstoy wrote that the rubble of the city opened “unique possibilities of moral regeneration” (Schönle 2010, 89–96). In the case of Argentina, Healey (2011) shows that the rise to power of Perón in 1946 was inseparable from his role in the plans to reconstruct the city of San Juan, which had been reduced to rubble by an earthquake two years earlier. Perón turned the rubble of San Juan into a collective invitation to build a new, better, more inclusive Argentina.8 Henry Cobb noted in 1947 a similar enthusiasm for change amid the rubble of Warsaw, which made him realize, “in a strange way,” that “because of the destruction you could remake the world.”9 And this is at the core of the elite fear of rubble in moments of unrest: that the rubble, indeed, could be an invitation to remake the world differently. The wave of protests, mobilizations, and insurrections that in the early 2000s shook much of South America in response to the ruination created by neoliberalism the previous decade was tacitly guided by this collective disposition to push for change amid fields of rubble. In the most radical expressions of the continental Left turn, Venezuela, the empowerment of the poor has also made them appropriate the rubble of elite architectural forms. This appropriation has created one of the most notable ruins in the world: La Torre de David (the Tower of David). This is an unfinished forty-­five-­story skyscraper,

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one of the tallest in South America, which was abandoned in the mid-­1990s when Venezuela went through a profound financial crisis.10 Since 2007, two thousand people have colonized the abandoned skyscraper and turned it into their home. Jon Lee Anderson called the Tower of David “the tallest slum in the world.” Replicating U.S.-­centered, neoconservative narratives of “failed states,” he wrote, “Caracas is a failed city, and the Tower of David is perhaps the ultimate symbol of that failure.”11 The Venezuelan elites, likewise, see this appropriated skyscraper as everything that is wrong with the Bolivarian Revolution inaugurated by the late President Hugo Chávez in 1998. The hundreds of families who live there admit that the building is not an ideal home, as it is difficult to navigate because of its verticality and the lack of elevators. Many criticize the Chavista bureaucracy in its failure to provide proper housing. But all who live there agree they are better off in the Tower of David than where they were before. Most are proud of the homes they have made with their bare hands, building walls and setting up an electric grid and water hoses to make twenty-­ eight stories livable. They have, in short, appropriated a node of rubble and turned it into something else: a home they feel attached to. More important, they run the tower along collective principles and feel in control. As Lambert notes, this occupation is “a proletarian reclaim of territory.”12 Rubble is potentially disruptive of existing places and relations because it often turns what used to be private or state property into a de facto part of the commons. Rubble is matter that belongs to no one and to everyone and that radiates around it a collective spatiality. In Venezuela, the multitudes empowered by the Bolivarian Revolution, as George Cicciarello-­Maher (2013) has examined, have created forms of territorial control in which they often assert autonomy in relation to the state bureaucracy. This spatial expansiveness has been such that is has colonized the most emblematic architectural form of global capitalism: a skyscraper. The Tower of David has a significance that goes well beyond the case of Venezuela because it is the only skyscraper in the world that was abandoned only to be physically appropriated by the poor and turned into a collective place. The fact that anywhere else a similar occupation would have been immediately repressed by riot police speaks of the favorable political context in which it took place. While critics dismiss this subaltern appropriation of the Tower of David for betraying their abstract ideals of “progress” and “decent housing,” this dismissal reveals a visceral, class-­based discomfort at the

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colonization of an abandoned skyscraper by those who allegedly do not belong there. This colonization is unsettling because it disturbs the phantasmagoria of skyscrapers as tall objects made to dazzle and impress. Not surprisingly, many of those who demonize the Venezuelan Revolution idealize the corporate dictatorship that rules Dubai from the height of skyscrapers as their dreamlike class utopia, where the poor are kept in their place. Shortly after President Chávez died in March 2013, the Associated Press business reporter Pamela Sampson wrote that Chávez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth “into social programs including state-­run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs.” “But,” she added, those gains are “meager” compared “with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai.”13 This is a transparent admission of the priorities that guide neoliberalism as a system in which the construction of “spectacular” buildings is seen as more important than the improvement of the living conditions of millions. It also shows how the fetishization of skyscrapers built to attract and dazzle the gaze encourages a topographic disregard for the world’s poor, who are seen as so devoid of value that any alleviation of their suffering is dismissed as wasteful. This disregard also reveals the planetary constellations that entangle the skyscrapers of Dubai, the socialized skyscraper of Caracas, and the rubble strewn in northern Argentina. The fear of “the tallest slum in the world” is the fear of a distinctly unsettling, ominous, vertical ruin: an unfinished and abandoned skyscraper appropriated by a nonwhite multitude that is unafraid of rubble and is organized around egalitarian sentiments. The Tower of David is the tallest ruin in the world because it indexes a rupture and an assertive potentiality: the possibility that the crack may expand and shatter the surface of a space that seemed smooth.

What can a sensibility toward rubble teach us about anticapitalist struggles in the twenty-­first century, when the planetary machinery of spatial destruction is accelerating? In an essay entitled “Emergency Brake,” Noys reminds us that for Benjamin revolution implied “an organized interruption of capitalist temporality.” Using the allegory of capitalism as a train running amok at high speed, Benjamin wrote as a side note to his famous essay on progress as catastrophe, “Perhaps revolutions are an attempt by the passengers on this train — namely, the human race — to activate the emergency brake”

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(2003, 402). Noys adds, “We interrupt to prevent catastrophe, we destroy the tracks to prevent the greater destruction of acceleration.”14 The global insurrections that shook the world in 2011 have been pushed back, repressed, and contained; but they all sought, with their multiplicity of goals, to interrupt the ongoing catastrophe unleashed on the planet. And as Jacques Rancière (2009) notes, the interruption of the rhythms that regulate everyday life is the ultimate expression of insurgent politics. In South America, the insurrections of the early 2000s created their own massive and powerful interruptions of neoliberal rhythms, apparent today in the collective spatiality of places like the Tower of David. But these interruptions did not create a radical rupture. In much of the continent, otherwise progressive governments have pushed the accelerator of devastation in rural areas while disregarding their ruination. But this process of ruination is also creating political radicalizations. In the areas affected by the soy boom in northern Argentina, these struggles have many tactics and slogans but one immediate goal: to interrupt the advance of the bulldozers. By the time I completed my fieldwork in southeast Salta in 2007, the localized and initially scattered resistance to evictions that I had witnessed in various places was gaining momentum and had helped to start a national conversation about the destructive side of the soy boom. A growing number of criollos and indigenous people were setting aside their distinct ethnic positionings and highlighting their shared plight as what Rancière (2009) calls “the part of those who have no part”: that is, those people who “do not count” and, in this case, are seen as mere obstacles to progress. The largest grassroots organization fighting the expansion of agribusiness on the ground is the Movimiento Nacional Campesino-­Indígena (Peasant-­Indigenous National Movement), which is particularly strong in Santiago del Estero. But localized resistances independent of this organization were also sprouting along the western edge of the Chaco in Salta and Jujuy to fight off land grabs and deforestation. In several cases, residents were able to push the bulldozers back. I followed one such case in the lowlands of Jujuy bordering the limit with Salta, a few kilometers west of the ruins of the Esteban de Urizar train station — the same node of rubble that workers burning the debris of destroyed forests had turned into a temporary shelter. In August 2008, the Jujuy police and armed thugs evicted several families, destroyed their homes, and killed many of their animals at a site claimed by a soy farmer. The eviction triggered a momentous response. Supported by influential grassroots organizations, two thousand

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men and women arrived in a caravan of buses and trucks and invaded those disputed forests en masse, took the land back, and forced the farmer’s men to flee. This massive gesture of spatial affirmation forced the Jujuy government to grant land titles to residents (Gordillo 2011). This interruption of the advance of the bulldozers preserved relatively large sections of forests that were set to be wiped out. In other areas, residents threatened by evictions are engaged in more defensive actions, often reduced to preventing their homes from being reduced to rubble. In many cases, only the presence of bodies that refuse to move from the path of the machines puts limits to destruction. One unsettling place stood out among all of the places I visited in the region: Esquinero. I learned about it from Oscar, a notable activist I met in October 2006. In his thirties at the time, he tirelessly roamed the whole region documenting, and organizing against, la destrucción (the destruction), as he called the effects of agribusiness. He had personally stopped many bulldozers by putting his body in front of them and arguing with the drivers. A few days after we met, we went to check on the situation of an encampment, Esquinero, threatened by bulldozers eight kilometers from Apolinario Saravia, north of Las Lajitas. I was intrigued by this case, for Oscar mentioned this was “an indigenous community” in an area I had not visited before. We first met the leaders of the community, as well as most of its members, who lived in precarious conditions on the outskirts of Apolinario Saravia, crammed in shacks between a muddy street and the fence of a private farm. Most were families with children who had moved to the town because in Esquinero there was no school and no clean drinking water, only water from irrigation canals in an area with high use of agrichemicals. They said that about a dozen elders were holding their ground on the small piece of land they see as their own, a patch of forest of one hundred hectares that was also claimed by a sojero. Bulldozers, they said, had recently wiped out a forest nearby. Gustavo and Sixto, the two leaders of the group, guided Oscar and me to Esquinero in my car. We drove on a trail in very bad shape through an area of fields and soy farms. We reached an irrigation canal, left the car near the edge, and crossed a precarious wooden bridge that took us to the fenced perimeter of the forest, one of the last in the area. The place consisted of a relatively open, beautiful forest crisscrossed by trails that interconnected eight precarious huts. Except for one family with children, most of the people living there were elderly men and women, some of them over eighty years old. I learned from them, and from Gustavo and Sixto, that they were not unlike the

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urban aborígenes I had met in El Galpón and Quebrachal: descendants from fragments of Wichí groups that had experienced various phases of violence, spatial dislocation, fission, and reconstitution. They spoke Spanish among themselves. The Wichí language was for them a distant memory, although a few elders said they had spoken it in their youth. They descended in particular from the Wichí groups who once inhabited the margins of the Río Dorado and had been devastated by violence and land expropriations. “My great-­grandparents came from Rivadavia fleeing the war,” Sixto said. Like the aborígenes in Quebrachal, the older people in Esquinero had been the captive labor force of the most powerful landowner based in Apolinario Saravia, Manuel Medina. “He was dreadful with us,” a ninety-three-­year-­old man, Pedro, said of Medina. For several decades, they lived scattered on Medina’s huge property and in the 1980s they briefly congregated at a hamlet on the Río Dorado. But shortly thereafter they were evicted and scattered again. With nowhere to go, some families ended up in Apolinario Saravia. A few others settled in that forest in Esquinero. The forests around them had shrunk dramatically in the past decade. The farmer who wanted them out, and who already worked soy fields in surrounding areas, had threatened them a few times. Even though they lived in extreme poverty and their water was contaminated, they did not want to leave. A few said, next to their shacks, “We don’t like the town.” They preferred to live en el monte instead. Their presence exuded a strange calm, even when they said they had heard bulldozers nearby. The bulldozer has become one of the main machines of spatial destruction under globalized capitalism: a heavy, solid, high-­powered mass of steel that crushes objects in order to transform their form and smooth out space. The “attackers of the world” in the Paraguayan and Bolivian Chaco are the same machines attacking living places and homes in Argentina, Brazil, Palestine, and China. Those men and women holding their ground in Esquinero affirmed their refusal to be swept away by the violence of abstract space. And their presence confirms that for places to be destroyed, the bodies occupying them need to be removed first. As I write, they are still holding their ground. A handful of men and women living in shacks, defending precarious places of life, and interrupting — even if at a microscopic scale — the march of the bulldozers.


Introduction: Constellations 1. The term used to refer to faint debris without recognizable shape, such as bricks on the ground, is vestigios (vestiges). 2. See Roth 1997; Jusdanis 2004; Dawdy 2010; Castañeda 1996, 2001; Woodward 2001; and Schönle and Hell 2010a, among many others. 3. Ethnographic studies of ruins and heritage sites, pioneered by Michael Hertzfeld’s (1991) analysis of the conflicts created by the spatial reification of the past on Crete, have provided rich evidence of this fetishization and of the tensions and dissonance this creates with local experiences. See, among others, Castañeda 1996, 2001; Abu El-­Haj 2001; Breglia 2009; Mortensen 2009; Benavides 2009; Meskell 2011. 4. See Levi Bryant, “Hylomorphism: The Myth of Formlessness,” Larval Subjects (blog), 13 April 2012,­the-­myth -­of-­formlessness/. 5. See Bennett 2010; Bryant 2011; Harman 2002; Bryant, Srnicek, and Harman 2011. 6. Soy farming began in the area in the 1990s, but the devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002 created particularly favorable conditions for export-­oriented crops. 7. More importantly, Benjamin’s methodology was constellational, for it was based on the collection of multiple quotations and objects of all sorts. One of his favorite quotes by Baudelaire captured this constellational approach to debris and fragmentation: “Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day’s refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot, he catalogues and collects” (Benjamin 2007, 251). 8. In the last thesis (XVIII), Benjamin argued that historical analysis should avoid “telling a sequence of events like the beads of a rosary” and grasping, instead, “the constellation” that the present forms with the past. And this is a constellation in which the present is “shot through with chips of Messianic time” (1968, 263). “Messianic time” is how Benjamin named the rupturing of the linear narrative of progress, through an

272  |  Notes for Chapter One interruption that points both toward a future of (revolutionary) redemption and the unearthing of the hidden potentialities of the past. This constellational view of history is both temporal and spatial because it disrupts the fantasy of bounded, separate objects (“the beads of a rosary”) by seeing them as fragments defined by multiplicity. 9. Occasionally, residents said, priests from other towns came to preside over mass at the church, but would leave the area promptly afterward. 10. In the 1940s, I was told, the church deteriorated, and in the following decades the celebrants congregated around a neighbor’s home two hundred meters away, on a clearing next to a stream. Yet the celebration continued to include a procession to the ruins. 11. Various reports indicate that the ruins were already a node in the 1860s, when census officials found that a village existed next to them (as I discuss in chapter 1). 12. See Levi Bryant, “Five Type of Objects: Gravity and Onto-­cartography,” Larval Sub­ jects (blog), 17 June 2012,­t ypes-­of -­objects-­gravity-­and-­onto-­cartography/ 13. Affects are thereby born in the “in-­between-­ness” of encounters between objects and have a bodily yet elusive, hard-­to-­articulate materiality that is “presubjective without being presocial.” See Mazzarella 2009, 291; Massumi 202; Seigworth and Gregg 2010; Beasley-­Murray 2010a.

One. A Haunted Frontier 1. When criollos began moving to Buenos Aires in the 1930s, they were racialized in more markedly derogatory terms, such as cabecita negra (little black head) (Ratier 1972). 2. See also Ocampo 2004; Prieto 2006. 3. The criollos’ mestizaje became an officially acceptable racial mixture, opposed to the degrading mixture that created the “Kollas” of the highlands (Lanusse and Lazzari 2005, 236). 4. In 1963, the folklorist Bruno Jacovella articulated this idea when he wrote that “the criollo mentality . . . only perceives the Indian and his culture as something remote, strange, or barbaric, as mythical enemy” (cited in Ocampo 2004, 189). 5. Elsewhere in Argentina, few people self-­identify as mestizos, given the mainstream tendency to publicly disavow an indigenous background. 6. This gesturing has also been noted among rural residents in western Argentina, who present themselves as descendants of Indians yet different from them (Escolar 2007). 7. Marisol de la Cadena (2000), for instance, has analyzed how in the Andes mestizo market women (cholas) position themselves as mestizas who embrace indigeneity. She also shows, however, that this embrace is not unambiguous, for these “indigenous mestizas” distance themselves from “Indians” and from the savagery and rural poverty evoked by this term. See also, among many others, Nelson 1999; Hale 2006; Weismantel 2001; Tilley 2005.

Notes for Chapter One  |  273 8. Tapado is an adjective that means “covered,” but the word is used regionally as a noun to name a treasure buried underground. 9. At the end of each season, the archaeology team covers up what it has excavated, clear proof, I was told, that they want to keep the location of “the gold” secret. Thus, a practice that archaeologists pursue out of concern that treasure hunters could damage the site after their departure is for residents the proof that they are, in fact, treasure hunters. 10. This pull has had a deep impact on rubble all around the world. The Colosseum looks the way it does today, with huge sections missing, because it was for a long time used as a quarry: a source of stones used in the construction of new buildings all over Rome (Woodward 2001). 11. “Mataco,” a derogatory term historically used to name the Wichí people, is often used generically in southeast Salta, as a synonym for Indians in general. 12. This phrasing is peculiar to this region. Elsewhere in Argentina, people would say ese lugar da miedo (that place is frightening). 13. I discuss the criollos’ engagement with human bones in chapter 9. 14. Indigenous people have long stopped drinking aloja because of their allegiance to Protestant churches, and most of them remember it as a sinful, distant symbol of their ancestors’ pagan past (Gordillo 2004). 15. In Argentina, the term monte means (in addition to “hill” or “mountain”) a heavily forested area or “the bush.” In the Chaco, it is the standard word used to refer to the forests, five to ten meters high, that cover much of the region (see Gordillo 2004). 16. Other labor practices that define gaucho knowledge involve making sure cattle do not wander off, protecting them from predators and rustlers, lacing their front legs (pialar), and marking them. 17. This practice is organized in the winter, when cooler temperatures prevent wound infections. The patrón announces the date of the event and invites, in addition to his own workers, men living in the vicinity, who come “to help out” in exchange for barbecued meat and wine, therefore creating a space of sociality based on relations of reciprocity and hierarchy as well as the performance of gaucho skills. 18. The most visible protest in the national media involved a coalition between residents, activists, and Greenpeace Argentina to protect forests that were about to be bulldozed near the small town of General Pizarro, north of Las Lajitas. The media impact of the campaign and of the human chains to stop the machines was successful, and in 2005 the federal government was forced to intervene to create the Pizarro National Park. Yet this is a relatively small area (twenty thousand hectares, or fifty thousand acres) and the official opening of the park has been considerably delayed. 19. Gauchito is a diminutive term of endearment. A gaucho bandit from nineteenth-­ century Corrientes who was killed by the police, the Gauchito Gil is venerated by millions throughout northern Argentina. The shrines in honor of el gauchito, built by

274  |  Notes for Chapter Two devotees on their own initiative, regularly dot all roads in southeast Salta with their ubiquitous red flags. 20. On these relations of reciprocity in Latin American popular Catholicism, see Greenfield 1990; Gudeman 1976; Guss 2006; Turner and Turner 1978, Muehlmann 2013a. Frank Graziano (2007) has studied these relations in Argentina. 21. These promises take diverse forms; they range from lighting candles (alumbrar), leaving gifts at the shrine (candles, flags, figurines of afflicted body parts), or making strenuous bodily efforts (such as walking or biking) to reach the pilgrimage site. Given the reciprocity that structures their relationship, the common understanding is that the saint or the Virgin may “take back” a miracle if one does not follow through with her or his promise. 22. The Pentecostal groups that have a minority but sizable presence in some towns are highly critical of the fetishization of the object of veneration, and accuse their Catholic neighbors of adoring “a piece of plaster” as well as “pagan” figures unrelated to Jesus Christ. Orthodox Catholics are equally wary of these subaltern deviations from doctrine.

Two. On the Edge of the Void 1. See Torre Revello 1943, 17–21; González 2005, 22–23. 2. On Concepción del Bermejo, see Torre Revelo 1943; Zapata Gollan 1966. 3. No map of Concepción was produced, and the scant documents about it included imprecise, contradictory references about its distance to the Paraguay and Bermejo Rivers (Alumni 1951, 36; Torre Revelo 1943, 135 and n.1; Zapata Gollan 1966, 20, 61–65). 4. See Coronil 1996; Mignolo 2000. See also Stoler 1995 in relation to Southeast Asia. 5. Clastres became interested in the Chaco through his mentor Alfred Métraux, who did fieldwork there in the 1930s (see Métraux 1946). In 1966, Clastres spent six months in Nivaclé villages, where he interviewed men who in their youth had been combatants. He explicitly argued that he learned about “the savage warrior’s destiny” from these men (2010, 287), as well as from historical documents about warfare in the Chaco. 6. Clastres argued that in Amerindian societies, warfare was a generalized condition that forced leaders to continuously seek prestige in battle and eventually die in combat. This permanent state of war, he wrote, became a leveling mechanism that prevented the rise of hierarchical leaderships and hence the state. What Clastres’s analysis downplayed was that his Nivaclé informants fought the state not as a future and virtual potentiality but as an actual, fully armed state encroaching on their land. This generic abstraction generalized to “lowland South America” also means that Amazonian ethnologists tend to forget that Clastres’s thesis was intellectually forged in the Chaco. See, for instance, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s (2010) introduction to Clastres’s Archeology of Violence. 7. On other eighteenth-­century maps, the X stands next to “Concepción destroyed” or “Esteco destroyed” (Furlong 1936, map 18, see also map 23). 8. Fernández Cornejo (1970) visted the missions in 1790 and noted they were in a sorry

Notes for The Destruction of Space  |  275 state. Accounts by Pelleschi (1886) and Alumni (1948) indicate that the missions were attacked, overrun, and destroyed. 9. See Tomas de Matorras 1989, 404–5; Zapata Gollan 1966, 49, 59; Alumni 1951, 41. 10. After the Jesuits were expelled in 1767, most of the Vilela people from the Bermejo who had been brought by Jesuits to the stations on the Salado returned to the interior of the Chaco. But many people missionized by the Jesuits, particularly the Lule at Balbuena, continued living like “devoted Christians” in the area, even without the presence of missionaries or priests. See Furlong 1941, 113; Camaño 1955, 119, 130. 11. While the Chaco kept state power at bay, it attracted many individuals of European and mestizo background who — as all explorers noted — entered the region fleeing persecution by the state. These people lived among locals fully integrated with them — and as wary of officials as anybody else. 12. In 1865, a census collector visited the hamlet next to the ruins of San Juan Bautista de Balbuena and wrote that its residents were “Indians” (Ferrería 2009, 55). Half of the Anta population, notably, was registered as indios in that census (Teruel 2005, 53). A quarter was classified as decente or white, 5 percent as blacks and mulattos, and 20 percent were not classified (Teruel 2005). The use by officials of the category “Indian” to name rural workers and gauchos was at the time widespread in northwest Argentina, and the very distinction between “mestizos” and “Indians” was ambiguous at best. The introduction to the Salta census of 1865, for instance, argued that the poor in Salta were “mestizos who look a lot like Indians” (cited in Ferrería 2009, 44). See also Chamosa 2008; de la Fuente 2000; and Escolar 2007. 13. See also Arnaud 1889, 116, 140–41; de la Serna 1930, 88, 108, 112. 14. See de la Serna 1930, 75, 84; Carranza 1884, 54, 58, 63, 81; Garmendia 1885, 103, 107, 108. 15. The information produced in 1884 about the vestiges of the San Bernardo mission remained in the army archives and was mentioned only in obscure publications. 16. The rubble of Santiago del Guadalcázar is the one exception, partly because this town lasted for less than a decade. The site is still to be identified and located, but scholars agree that the town was north of Orán, in a region whose landscape has been thoroughly transformed by a century of sugarcane cultivation.

Interlude. The Destruction of Space 1. By the late 1900s, these forests were degraded and partly depleted places, where people lived a precarious existence, combining foraging with wage labor; but they were also places where bodies living in poverty could be partly healed with “bush food” (Gordillo 2004). 2. Hedges highlighted in an interview with Bill Moyers that the destruction that defines what he calls “sacrifice zones” has a tangible materiality: “We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed.”

276  |  Notes for Chapter Three 3. Léopold Lambert, “Designing Volumes of Energy: A Materialist Reading of the Explosion,” The Funambulist (blog), 15 May 2013. /weaponized-­architecture-­designing-­volumes-­of-­energy-­a-­materialist-­reading-­of-­the -­explosion/. 4. Eyal Weizman’s gripping analysis of the Israeli invasion of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 is, in my opinion, the best account of this type of spatial destruction. In Gaza, the destruction of space operated through unrelenting firepower and physical force, which created vast fields of ruins and 1,400 corpses, most of them unarmed civilians. Weizman highlights a notable fact: most people died by being crushed under the rubble of the buildings that fell upon them, which means that the built environment was turned “into the very things that killed” (2012, 100). 5. See Stuart Elden, “Terricide” Progressive Geographies (blog), 1 May 2013. http://­lefebvre-­geopolitics-­and-­the-­k illing -­of-­the-­earth/. As he notes, the word terricide was first used by Lefebvre to name the possibility of the destruction of the planet through nuclear war.

Three. Land of Curses and Miracles 1. The core area of most noticeable mounds (two to three meters high) covers about fifty hectares (123 acres), but in surrounding areas many other mounds have been leveled and reduced to smaller fragments of debris. 2. In 1636, a bishop argued that Esteco was “a town plagued by disease” and that God felt “anger” at the city due to “the gravity” of its faults, which the bishop blamed in part on a house of pleasures known as El Infiernillo (Little Hell). He also noted that the town was regularly shaken “by the greatest earthquakes I have seen” (Torre Revelo 1943, 57 n.1; González 2005, 52). In the 1670s, the local elites unsuccessfully requested that the town be moved. The conquest by the Spanish of the Calchaquí Valleys, the last anti-­imperial stronghold in the highlands, had opened up new trade routes that further isolated Esteco. In 1676, the Tucumán governor wrote of Esteco, “It is a known thing that some bad acts or planets predominate over this city” (cited in González 2005, 75). 3. Some criollos do not necessarily believe that the earthquake that led to the Miracle of Salta in 1692 was the same one that destroyed Esteco, for the latter city is often imagined as a mythical place that belonged in an altogether different epoch, prior to the existence of Salta. Yet the exact temporal coordinates of both earthquakes are for most people irrelevant in defining the bond between Esteco and Salta. What unites these towns is that seismic movements had opposite results on them, redemption and destruction, and that Salta was saved by what Esteco lacked: piety. These two places are also linked by the stone slowly moving from one place toward the other. 4. The earthquake of 1908 triggered the beginning of the annual celebrations of the Miracle in Río Piedras, and the earthquake of 1948 did the same in Metán. The celebration of the Miracle has since become in both towns the most important public celebration (the patron saint of Metán, however, continues to be San José, whose fiesta patronal

Notes for Chapter Three  |  277 on 19 March remains popular, with massive attendance). North of the ruins of Esteco, the Miracle is celebrated in Lumbreras, Campo Santo, and Piquete de Anta. I examine the celebration of the Miracle in Piquete de Anta, a town now in ruins, in chapter 6. 5. Likewise, annual media coverage of the ceremony never fails to mention that the salvation of Salta in 1692 was inseparable from the simultaneous demise of Esteco. See El Tribuno, special supplement on “El Milagro de la Fe,” 15 September 2006; La Nación, 15 September 2003. 6. Three years before the earthquake of 1692, the crown built Fort Cobos at the entrance of the valleys leading up to Salta to defend the city. Yet raids on Salta continued well into the mid-­eighteenth century, as demonstrated by the devastating attack of 1735, which left more than three hundred dead in the city (Lozano 1873, 311). 7. José Torre Revelo, in fact, begins his book about the history of Esteco with the bold claim that his historical analysis “destroys” the legend (1943, 11). 8. In previous years, the businessman who bought the farm at Esteco had cleared and leveled fifteen hectares (thirty acres) of forest in the eastern section of the ruins, to plant avocados. A couple of years later, frost killed all the plants, and the farmer feared that the curse of Esteco was the cause, for frosts are highly unusual in the area. The curse was now unsettling the capitalist appropriation of space, and the farmer responded by looking for an exorcist who could appease the ruins’ negativity. 9. La Nación, 24 July 1999. See Tomasini, Braunstein, and Calandra 2003; Tomasini and Alonso 2008. 10. The vestiges of Esteco El Viejo lie, in theory, on a patchwork of narrow and long private farms and on a small parcel of government land that run parallel to each other. This region was historically dominated by large cattle ranches that were gradually divided up among various heirs. But the fact that few people kept a record of titles and the absence of fences ended up creating a flexible system of land use. 11. When the holiday falls on weekends, the number rises to eighty thousand. 12. See Poole 1996; Taylor 1987; Turner and Turner 1978. 13. “Sobre el asesinato de Miguel Galván” Mocase-­Vía Campesina. 12 October 2012. http://mocase-­­el-­asesinato-­de-­miguel-­galvan.html. 14. Stories in which images of the Virgin Mary refuse to be moved elsewhere are common elsewhere in the world (Nolan 1991, 33). 15. The image of the Virgin is now in a chapel built in the 1970s two hundred meters away from the site of the apparition, which is now a small shrine. 16. This holiday is not celebrated in Huachana, because February is the rainy season, when heavy downpours can severely limit mobility on those dirt roads for weeks on end. 17. The most popular velada takes place at a site called Las Margaritas, south of Gaona, and attracts over two thousand people. “That’s the way it used to be in Huachana,” a man in Gaona told me in 2007, highlighting its egalitarian, participatory spirit.

278  |  Notes for Treks across Fields of Rubble

Four. The Ruins of Ruins 1. El Tribuno, 4 February 2005. 2. The farmer’s lawyers claimed in court that since he was not from Salta but from Tucumán, “he did not know” that the forest contained the remains of Esteco, a claim quickly contradicted by the many witnesses who saw him in 2004 at the religious ceremony to appease Esteco’s curse, which he had in fact helped organize. 3. In 1998, the Salta legislature declared the site “provincial historic patrimony,” and in 2000 the archaeology team that was already working in Esteco el Viejo (near El Vencido) signed an agreement with the provincial government and local municipalities to do research on this and other sites. But even though the archaeologists had conducted brief surveillance work at the site, it remained within the firm grip of the farmer (as the clearing crudely confirmed), and no signposts or fences identified it. 4. El Tribuno, 5 February 2005. 5. El Tribuno, 7 February 2005. 6. The bill passed five years later, in May 2012 (“Preservarán las ruinas de Esteco,” Resumen Salta, May 2012). Archaeological research on the site has continued, and the municipality of Río Piedras, which was initially lukewarm about the prospect, is expressing growing interest in turning the rubble of Esteco into a tourist attraction. See “Expectativas por el avance en la investigación de Esteco,” El Tribuno, 8 August 2011. 7. There is a long genealogy of noted authors who have highlighted the destructive nature of restoration. In one of his famous analogies between psychoanalysis and the excavation of memories preserved in the subconscious, Sigmund Freud wrote that only the burial of ruins guarantees their preservation, and that the destruction of the ruins of Pompeii began only after they were dug up (1955, 176). John Ruskin made a similar point when he said that “restoration” “means the total destruction which buildings can suffer: a destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered: a destruction accompanied with fake description of the thing destroyed” (1963, 134–35). The restoration of sites in ruins is “fake” because it frames its negativity, its destructive nature, as positivity. After all, as noted by Augustus Hare, when in the 1870s the Colosseum was turned into a heritage site and workers removed the massive number of trees and weeds that had taken root amid the rubble, “more of the building was destroyed than would have fallen naturally perhaps in five centuries” (cited in Macaulay 1984, 202).

Interlude. Treks across Fields of Rubble 1. In the eastern Chaco, the rapid and initially promising expansion of cotton cultivation in the 1920s led toward the end of the century to a sector that was largely bankrupt. In the western Chaco, the intrusion of capitalist relations adopted the form of a huge seasonal demand for cheap labor by the sugar plantations at the foot of the Andes in Jujuy and around Orán. Thousands of indigenous men, women, and children moved

Notes for Chapter Five  |  279 every year back and forth between their villages in the Chaco and the cane fields. But the plantations mechanized production in the late 1960s, and these people were left to reinvent their livelihoods from scratch in impoverished rural areas (Gordillo 2004). The selective logging of hardwoods (especially quebracho, Schinopsis balansae) was another sector that expanded only to crash in multiple areas (see Gori 1999). 2. See Gastón Gordillo, “Los árboles de la Argentina Blanca,” Space and Politics (blog), 25 February 2013.­arboles -­de-­la-­argentina-­blanca.html. 3. In South America, the massive antineoliberal insurrections of 2000–2003 created a domino effect that forced the resignation of the governments of Ecuador, Argentina, and Bolivia, and prevented the U.S.-­supported coup in Venezuela from succeeding. It was those multitudes — along with a wave of electoral victories that added the huge presence of Brazil — that tilted much of South America toward the more populist and socialist sentiments emerging from Venezuela since 1998, when Hugo Chávez was elected president. 4. Adorno was not enthused by Benjamin’s flirtation with Jewish Cabala, Brecht, and surrealism, and thought that his ideas needed more “historical exactitude” and “mediation,” rather than simply being presented as a constellational juxtaposition of objects without analytic scrutiny. Benjamin’s collection of hundreds of brief quotes about the myriad objects and forms that made up life in nineteenth-­century Paris was the clearest example of that gigantic, under-­analyzed constellational juxtaposition he created in his incomplete investigative work. Adorno insisted that this juxtaposition needed “dialectizing by theory” (cited in Coole 2000, 178). 5. The English translation of this lecture by Adorno, published in 1977 at Telos, reads “correct and just reality.” I have followed here Buck-­Morss’s translation (1977, 76).

Five. Ships Stranded in the Forest 1. See Salgado 2005; on Burtynsky’s work, see the film Manufactured Landscapes (2006). In South America, the classic examination of decaying industrial vehicles is Manoel Rodrigues Ferreiras’s (1960) analysis of the trains that in the early 1900s connected Porto Velho to the Bolivian border in Amazonia and are now overgrown with jungle. 2. The other two rivers flowing from the Andes into the Chaco, the Pilcomayo and the Salado, also attracted failed attempts at navigation, but they were much less viable options. The Salado was known for drying up almost completely in the dry season, and the Pilcomayo turns in its middle course into huge, shallow, impassable marshlands. I have examined the attempts to explore the Pilcomayo elsewhere (Gordillo 2001; Gordillo and Leguizamón 2002). 3. The first recorded navigation of the Bermejo took place in 1780–81. Juan Adrián Fernández Cornejo financed the expedition but had to abandon it before the boats entered the Chaco. The boats reached the Paraguay River led by Father Francisco Morillo.

280  |  Notes for Chapter Seven In 1790, Cornejo led a second expedition that also navigated the totality of the river. After the hiatus created by the wars of independence, in 1826 Pablo Soria, the owner of a sugarcane estate in Jujuy, completed the third navigation of the Bermejo (Arenales 1833). 4. See, for instance, Aráoz 1884, 28, 63; de la Serna 1930, 242; Pellichi 1995, 18, 32; Solá and Solá 1880, 24. 5. In 1876, for instance, the Río de las Piedras was overrun, and most of its crew members were killed (Fontana 1977, 121). See also Almeida 1976; Castro Boedo 1995; Page 1859; Aráoz 1872; and Pelleschi 1886. 6. See Chiericotti and Comenares 1982, 307; Teruel 2005. 7. See Castro Boedo 1995, 215–16; del Nieto 1969, 60–61. 8. The company mobilized a large Wichí workforce to construct dams and canals to redirect the water flow back to the Bermejo. The floods of late 1876, however, destroyed these works as well as the last two Franciscan stations that existed in the region. See del Nieto 1969, 58; Castro Boedo 1995, 117–18; Chiericotti and Comenares 1982, 318. 9. Nonetheless, the resilience of teleological views of progress associated with the Bermejo briefly resurrected plans to turn the river into a fluvial route in the following decades and even in the twentieth century, often erasing the memory of past failures (see, for instance, Clunie 1899; Henri 1917). 10. According to census figures, the population increased almost 70 percent between 1991 and 2001, from 953 to 1,608. 11. The making of charcoal was for decades a major source of income, but the depletion of hardwoods and the subsequent restriction of logging permits have constrained the availability of livelihood alternatives, and many men and women migrate annually to work in the bean harvest near Pichanal (two hundred kilometers to the west). 12. According to Aráoz (1884, 60), La Salteña entered the Bermejo in 1875 and reached Esquina Grande. Manned by a crew of ten, it remained around Rivadavia supervising the canalization works; soon afterward, it was stranded at Gorriti. 13. None of them associated this ship with the name La Salteña. Some people thought that the remains in Gorriti were those of the Orán or the Sol Argentino. 14. The largest was the rubble of Fort Pitos, which old criollos living south of Gaona said that they saw in their youth, before floods of the Juramento River washed it away. A cattle ranch in that area is currently called “the fort,” commemorating the past presence of the rubble nearby.

Seven. Railroads to Nowhere 1. The same happened to Metán, originally located a few kilometers south of the train station inaugurated in 1886. The opening of the train station shifted the local center of gravity, and a new urban grid expanded around the station. The original town became an outlying, forgotten cluster of homes now called Metán Viejo, or Old Metán (Poma 1995). 2. On the western edge of the Chaco, the rubble created by privatizations is not restricted to the railroads. In Campamento Vespucio, near Tartagal, the privatization of

Notes for Chapter Eight  |  281 the state-­run oil company ypf left behind a massive field of ruins: abandoned buildings, homes, and infrastructure. “This zone is dead,” a resident told a reporter, expressing nostalgia for the feeling of belonging in “a family” that, as Elana Shever (2012) has analyzed, ypf once created among its now laid-­off employees (see El Intransigente [Salta], 20 May 2011). 3. See Página/12, 17 May 2011. During my fieldwork, the movement of freight trains was practically nonexistent in other areas of the railroad line. 4. The station continued to function after the accident, but more precariously, for two more decades. A small concrete building of square angles, now also abandoned, was built next to the ruins to control the passing of trains.

Interlude. Bright Objects 1. Among others, Hardt and Negri (2000) and Beasley-­Murray (2010a) are examples of the first camp, whereas Noys (2010), Žižek (2012), and Badiou (2000) represent the latter. 2. Teju Cole, “The White Savior Industrial Complex,” Atlantic, 21 March 2012.

Eight. Topographies of Oblivion 1. An old wood engraving on the gate reveals it was reconstructed in 1733. 2. These constellations commemorating violent Indians entangle other places on the former edge of the void. The commemoration of violent Indians confronting the Virgin Mary reaches its climax in Palpalá, Jujuy (sixty kilometers north), which in the 1600s was the eastern frontier of the city of Jujuy. In contrast to the Virgin in the mural in Campo Santo, this Virgin in Palpalá did not passively fall victim to Indians. According to the legend, the Virgin of Río Blanco (as she is currently known) materialized several times in front of multitudes of Toba combatants who had set out to destroy Jujuy. She terrified them with her presence alone, causing them to run away in disarray. The terror felt by Indians, in other words, was pure affect devoid of physical harm. The Virgin of Río Blanco is now the patron saint of the province of Jujuy and is celebrated in October through a massive procession from the city of Jujuy to Palpalá, where she halted the Indians of the Chaco. In Piquete de Anta, it is worth noting, my interlocutor María also said that the Lord and the Virgin of the Miracle terrified and repelled hordes of attacking Indians, revealing that some of the major religious celebrations on the former frontier seek to exorcise the memory of the void. 3. On the trope of the violent Indian in South America, see Taussig 1987; Ramos 1998; Weismantel 2001; among others. 4. The power of the object is also clear in the fact that religious ceremonies in Salta include the act of tomar gracia, through which pilgrims briefly touch the religious image with the palm of one hand. This bodily contact, preceded and followed by the sign of the cross, thanks the object and re-­creates feelings of reciprocity. In El Galpón, the presence of the kneeling Indian next to San Francisco Solano means that, when the image is on display at the altar, many people touch both figures. While the saint is usually touched

282  |  Notes for Bright Objects first and requests for miracles are aimed at him, these bodily contacts reveal that people are not indifferent to the Indian and are affected by his presence. 5. In some cases, this reification is manipulated to deny rights to living populations. As Nadia Abu El-­Haj (2001) has analyzed, this is the case of the attempt by Israeli archaeologists and officials to reinterpret the palimpsests of rubble that exist in Israel and the West Bank as the product of an ancient and temporarily uninterrupted Jewish substratum. This requires downplaying, and often destroying, the presence of Muslim or Palestinian ruins in order to erase the colonial nature of the Israeli state (Abu El-­Haj 2001; Weizman 2007; Lambert 2012). 6. When the station was devastated by cholera and smallpox in 1885 and 1886, most people simply left. By 1890, San Miguel Arcángel de Miraflores had been abandoned. See Teruel 2005, 93. 7. While San Francisco Solano died in Peru eighty-­two years before the earthquake of 1692, in the 1590s he did live and work in the first town of Esteco, a hundred kilometers to the east. During the celebrations in El Galpón, announcers and priests often mention that “San Francisco Solano was in Esteco.” And since local people know of only one Esteco, the one whose ruins are a few kilometers away, these references contributes to further anchoring San Francisco Solano in the popular imaginary of the lost city. 8. Historians subsequently pointed out that the meeting actually took place at another lodge to the north. Therefore, Yatasto is now more modestly commemorated as the place where Belgrano was handed the patriot army in 1812, and where San Martín and Güemes rested a couple of years later. Most people in the region, however, continue referring to Yatasto as “the place where San Martín met Belgrano.” 9. The new name included the rest of the Salado River in the province of Salta. In the province of Santiago del Estero, the Salado River retains its old name to this day. 10. The battle involved the rear of the retreating patriot army and the vanguard of the royalist forces, which were forced to withdraw, leaving sixty dead behind.

Nine. Piles of Bones 1. While the Santa Bárbara range is in the province of Jujuy, the area was colonized by criollos from Salta and feels culturally closer to Anta and the Chaco than to the Jujuy tropical lowlands, where the Bolivian and Andean influences are more pronounced. 2. Guillermo Furlong (1939, 89) wrote that in 1938 he saw from a train the ruins of “Fort Valbuena,” which he described as being near the railroad tracks. But he was probably referring to other ruins that are still visible but seem much more recent. 3. Critics of the Jesuits accused them of using indigenous labor to create “a Jesuit empire.” The perception that this “empire” posed a threat to Spanish interests led to the expulsion of the order in 1767 (Vitar 1997, 265, 277). 4. Encuesta Nacional de Folkore 1921, inapl, Salta, rollo 62 Carpeta 45, El Tunal, Anta, escuela 112, Foja 2, “Puesto Curu-­Curu, relatado por el señor Enrique.” 5. Many people in El Galpón or Metán know of the Curu-­Curu without having been

Notes for Chapter Ten  |  283 there in person and often assume that it is either part of the much higher Colorado Mountains, a few kilometers to the south, or that “Curu-­Curu” is another name to refer to the latter. 6. In 1864, gaucho militias burned down one of the Franciscan missions, San Francisco de Las Conchas, and killed a missionary accused of protecting Wichí people (Teruel 2005, 90–91). When in 1875 floods destroyed La Purísima and the remaining stations, many criollo residents celebrated this destruction as “an act of God” (Pelleschi 1886, 156–78). 7. See Eduardo Rodríguez, “Genocidios indígenas, la historia enterrada,” El Ortiba, March 2006, See also La Mañana (Formosa), 18 March 2006. 8. A similar search for human remains involves the ongoing court cases and activism related to the Napalpí massacre, which took place in 1924 in the province of Chaco (Arengo 1996). 9. Episodes of violence also involved the road that leads from Salta to Metán. In July 1976, at the place called Las Palomitas, north of Metán, military officers executed eleven political prisoners by the side of the road, then mutilated their bodies with explosives to make it look like they had died in combat. Human-­rights groups have placed signs with the names of the victims, a plaque, and a cross by the road to commemorate the murders.

Ten. The Return of the Indians 1. Sebald opens up his book The Rings of Saturn with the following epigraph, a dictionary entry about the book’s title: “The rings of Saturn consist of ice crystals and probably meteorite particles describing circular orbits around the planet’s equator. In all likelihood these are fragments of a former moon that was too close to the planet and was destroyed by its tidal effect.” 2. Furlong (1941, 105) cites missionaries who denounced this practice in the 1700s. 3. See Arnaud (1889, 228–29) and de la Serna (1930, 166–71). Luis Jorge Fontana wrote critically of this practice, which, he said, on the pretext of giving these children “a good education” turned them into servants. Remarkably, on the following page Fontana admitted that he himself had at home “three little Indians” (1977, 136, 135 footnote). 4. See Anarchist Without Content (blog), 27 January 2012. https://anarchistwithout­is-­the-­oldest-­story-­of-­freedom-­it-­is-­a lso-­the -­simplest/. 5. For Noys, in Badiou’s subtraction the negative is neutralized by affirmation, “re-­ coded as affirmative.” Yet it can be argued that Badiou joins paths here with Adorno’s view of freedom as negation of oppression. In the words of Badiou, “The way of freedom is a subtractive one” (cited in Noys 2010, 146). 6. In Quebrachal and Rivadavia, for instance, carnival does not include public events and is restricted to water games among children. 7. We know of this insurrection thanks to the archival research by Alicia Poderti (1997), Sandra Sánchez (2002), and Enrique Cruz (2001, 2011).

284  |  Notes for Conclusion 8. In July 1976, the administration of Ledesma in conjunction with the military kidnapped hundreds of workers and union leaders from their homes amid “blackouts” over several nights in the towns of Libertador General San Martín and Calilegua (see map 9.1). The bodies of many of them were never found. Every year in late July, thirty thousand people march the five kilometers that separate both towns to commemorate this event. 9. The highly secluded and policed Sala Calilegua in the town of Calilegua includes a replica of Zegada’s tomb and has become a symbol of the continuity between the state and capitalist terror of the 1970s and that of 1781. 10. The only if vague memory evoked by that place was that of Pablo Soria, the French landowner who owned the property in the early 1800s. The name Chalicán is a phonetic version of Soria’s original last name in French, Sardicat. In 1826, Soria acquired relative fame by navigating the Bermejo with several men on two boats. He later donated his estate to the Jujuy government in order to fund the hospital of the city of Jujuy, today named after him. For this reason, Soria is often celebrated in public by the administration of Finca Río Negro. Some locals say that his home was also near “the fort.”

Conclusion. We Aren’t Afraid of Ruins 1. See, among others, Roth 1997; Woodward 2001; Hell and Schönle 2010b. 2. Levi Bryant (2011) and Graham Harman (2002) do not engage with this problem. Jane Bennett, for her part, argues that defetishization risks overemphasizing “human agency,” and therefore “should be used with caution and sparingly” (2010, xiv). Latour (2010), in turn, is particularly hostile to the idea of fetishism, which he caricatures as creating a crude separation between “real facts” and “constructed fetishes.” Latour’s critique of the concept of fetishism is both peculiar and revealing, for he never engages with Marx’s, Freud’s, or Benjamin’s writings on the subject or with the ideological dimensions of fetishism under capitalism: that is, that the reification of objects or concepts is often manipulated to reproduce relations of domination. 3. See Marc Kaminsky, “In the Midst of the Ruins: Activists Struggle to Save the Palestinian Village of Lifta,” Tikkun (2 May 2013). 4. Weizman shows that the “pancake form” of ruins, for instance, reveals that military engineers destroyed the building by putting explosives in internal columns. Once the columns collapse, “the floor slabs come down on top of each other like a pancake.” The ruins created by Israeli armored bulldozers, in contrast, adopt the form of “pyramids or collapsed houses of cards,” with the edges destroyed and “the central pillars left standing” (Weizman 2012, 119–20). 5. See Abu El-­Haj 2001; Breglia 2009; Mortensen 2009, among many others. 6. Toronto Daily Star, 5 August 1936. 7. Solnit criticizes Naomi Klein’s thesis of “the shock doctrine” for seeing disaster solely “as an opportunity of conquest from above rather than a contest of power whose outcome is sometimes populist or even revolutionary” (Solnit 2009, 107). While Solnit

Notes for Conclusion  |  285 makes a valid point, Klein’s analysis also reflects the current balance of power at a global scale, in which the corporate profiting from destruction has been able to neutralize and contain the critical sentiments that may be awakened by situations of catastrophe and ruination. 8. In just two years, Perón became a hugely popular president who, after his landslide victory in 1946, sought to change the nation by addressing its inequalities. When the city was eventually rebuilt after Perón’s overthrow in 1955, however, it was “a shadow of what it might have been, a ruin of the promise of a New Argentina” (Healey 2011, 220). 9. Quoted in the short film The Color of Ruins ( 10. Construction was interrupted when the tower’s owner, David Brillembourg, died in 1993 and his company went bankrupt the following year amid a deep financial crisis. The building is named after him. 11. Jon Lee Anderson, “Slumlord: What Has Hugo Chávez Brought in Venezuela?” New Yorker, 28 January 2013. _fact_anderson. 12. Léopold Lambert, “The Torre de David in Caracas as a Proletarian (re)Claim of Territory,” Funambulist (blog), 28 July 2011. architectures-­without-­architects-­the-­torre-­de-­david-­in-­caracas-­as-­a-­appropriation-of -­capitalisms-­structure/. See also the New York Times video “Squatters in the Skyline,” 1 March 2011; -­skyscraper.html; Virginia López, “Tallest Squat in the World Becomes Emblem of Venezuela Housing Crisis,” The Guardian, 20 July 2011. See also the trailer of the forthcoming documentary “Torre David” on YouTube. 13. Cited in Alex Hern, “Chávez Wasted His Money on Social Programmes When He Should Have Built Vanity Projects,” New Statesman, 7 March 2013. 14. Benjamin Noys, “Emergency Break,” No Useless Leniency (blog), 3 March 2013.­brake.html.


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Abipón people, 58–59 absence, 31–32, 36, 135, 152 abstractions, 5, 7–8, 79; concrete, 49–52. See also space: abstract Abu El-Haj, Nadia, 259, 282n5 Adorno, Theodor, 1, 14, 27, 191, 192, 260, 279n4, 279n5; on constellations, 20, 189; Deleuze and, 186–88; on freedom as negation of oppression, 234, 283n5; on negation of negation, 119, 120; on ruins, 6, 13, 128–29 Aesthetic of Ruins (Ginsberg), 128 affect/affective response, 10, 22, 41, 98, 122, 272n13; class-based differences in, 4–6, 111, 114–15, 122, 211, 257–58, 262–63; mass graves and, 186, 223, 225, 263; oblivion and, 192–93, 206–8, 257; void and, 10, 67, 69, 69, 254, 263. See also bright objects; haunting afterlife, 5, 20–23, 27, 36, 86, 255, 263; of Esteco, 74, 86, 87, 91, 98, 102–3, 122; impact of heritage industry on, 9; positive, absences and, 32; of ships stranded in forest, 149, 152; of violence, 219, 224, 227 agribusiness, 53, 87–90, 100, 111–12, 167, 174, 181, 213, 215, 250; expansion of, 1, 16–18, 24, 126, 129, 145, 157; locals

threatened by, 27, 45–46, 49, 166, 242; opposition to, 46, 47, 107, 267–68, 287n18. See also deforestation; soy farming Aguirre, Lope de, 55 Aguirre, the Wrath of God (film), 55 Alagastino, Leandro, 244 Alberdi, Juan Bautista, 140 Alumni, José, 275n8 Amazon, 53, 55, 129, 131, 138; indigenous people of, 57, 235, 274n6; railroad in, 173, 279n1; sacrifice zones in, 127 Anarchist without Content, 234 Anderson, Jon Lee, 265 Angkor Wat, 86 Anta, 16–18, 23, 65, 172, 275n12. See also individual cities and towns Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze and Guattari), 188 Apolinario Saravia, 167, 173, 235, 268, 269 archaeology, 73, 119, 120–21, 260, 273n9, 278n3; colonial, 51; ethnographic, 11 Argentine civil war, 66 Argentine Railroads. See Ferrocarriles Argentinos Arias, Francisco, 62–63, 69 Aristotle, 57 Arnaud, Leopoldo, 69, 143–44

304 | Index Augé, Marc, 206, 207 Ayoreo-speaking people, 78, 190 Badiou, Alain, 25, 53–54, 120, 174, 236, 281n1, 283n5 Balbuena (village), 3, 175, 189, 218, 275n10; Fort, 215–16, 216, 250. See also San Juan Bautista de Balbuena Baroque poets, 226 Barranqueras, 171 barrios aborígenes, 229–41, 231, 233, 245–46 Bastille (Paris), 120 Baudelaire, Charles, 271n7 Beasley-Murray, Jon, 13–14, 63, 152, 281n1 Behold the Black Caiman (Bessire), 78 Belaizán, Pancho, 242–43 Belgrano, General Manuel, 200–205, 282n8; monument to, 201, 202, 205, 207 Benjamin, Walter, 14, 129, 152, 186, 191, 192, 226, 259, 260, 279n4; on constel­ lations, 20, 189, 271n7, 271n8; on fetishi­ zation, 6, 35–36, 254; on microscopic gaze, 128, 221; on monuments of bour­ geoisie, 127; Paris and, 81, 120, 130, 262; on progress, 27, 127, 128, 266; on revolutionary destruction, 83–84, 120, 266–67; on ruins, 13, 123, 130, 152. See also titles of individual books and essays Bennett, Jane, 284n2 Berman, Marshall, 81, 254 Bermejo River, 38, 56, 66, 156, 219, 221, 279n3, 280n8, 280n9, 284n10; change of course of, 131, 134–36, 141, 221; indigenous peoples from areas near, 2, 229, 275n10; railroads and, 151, 170, 171; steamships on, 23, 27, 67, 125, 127–36, 138–42, 140, 146–48, 150, 198, 219. See also Rivadavia Bessire, Lucas, 78, 190 Bialet Massé, Juan, 126

Bismarck, Otto von, 262 Bolivia, 53, 71, 78, 136, 247–50, 279n3, 282n1; deforestation in, 53, 190, 269; indigenous resistance against, 58; music and dance styles of, 240, 242, 245; navigation of Bermejo and trade with, 141; tropical lowlands of, 2, 278n1 Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo, 35 Boquerón, 49–51, 103 Bourdieu, Pierre, 22 Boym, Svetlana, 137, 151 Brazil, 129, 173, 230, 269, 279n3 Brecht, Bertolt, 280n4 Breglia, Lisa, 256 bright objects, 22–23, 26, 185–90, 221, 223, 224 Brillembourg, David, 285n10 Britain, 72, 135, 138, 149, 172 Bryant, Levi, 10, 22, 185, 189, 284n2 Buck-Morss, Susan, 128, 187–88, 226, 279n5 Buenos Aires, 45, 66, 68, 71, 73, 126, 170, 272n1; navigation of Bermejo and, 139, 140, 149; soy boom and, 126, 174 Burtynsky, Edward, 132 Butler, Judith, 244 Calilegua, 248, 284n8, 284n9 Camaño, Joaquín, map of Chaco by, 60, 60 Cambodia, 86 Campamento Vespucio, 280–81n2 Campos, Daniel, 53, 59 Campo Santo, 192, 193, 193, 277n4, 281n2 capitalism, 6, 8, 13, 126–29, 132, 169, 174, 187; destruction by, 79–84, 90, 129–30, 177, 269; expansion under, 27, 66, 67, 71, 114, 126, 140; fetishization by, 189, 254; global, 10–11, 83, 127, 139, 149, 173, 235. See also agribusiness

Index | 305 Caracas, 265–66 carnival, 230, 240–46, 283n6 Carranza, Angel, 70 Casement, Roger, 235 Casey, Edward, 57, 59, 129 Castañeda, Quetzil, 9, 121 Castelli, 73 Castro Boedo, Emilio, 125 Catholic Church, 26, 27, 205, 225, 240, 274n22; Miracle of Salta celebrated by, 85–86, 94–101; obedience to, 95–99, 109, 257; pacification of  Indians cele­ brated by, 192, 194–96, 236; ruins celebrated by, 73, 196–200; wariness toward, 21, 105, 161–64, 277n17. See also Franciscans; Jesuits cattle ranches, 7, 13, 67, 77, 105, 156–57, 245, 277n10; on forested land, 2, 3, 16, 17, 42–46, 145, 167; Jesuit introduction of, 65; ruins on or near, 21–22, 39–41, 44, 50, 153, 197, 280n14 Center-Left governments, Latin American, 127 Césares, City of the, 55 Chaco region. See Gran Chaco Chaco province, 73, 103, 146, 169, 173 Chalicán, 131, 247–50 Chávez, Hugo, 265, 266, 279n3 Chichén Itzá, 9, 10, 121 China, 17, 45, 269 Chorroarín, 16, 17, 21–23, 46, 175–76, 176, 179 Christianity, 65, 66, 70, 100, 192, 196. See also Catholic Church Cicciarello-Maher, George, 265 Clastres, Pierre, 58, 193, 274n5, n6 Cobb, Henry, 264 Cobos, Fort, 191–93, 207, 277n6 Cole, Teju, 189 colonialism, Spanish. See Spanish empire Colorado Mountains, 218, 283n5

Colorado River (North America), 138 commodification, 79, 82, 123, 127; of human labor, 8. See also agribusiness; slavery Communist Manifesto, The (Marx and Engels), 79, 80 Company for the Steam Navigation of the Bermejo River, 140–41 Concepción del Bermejo, 56, 57, 60, 60– 62, 64, 68, 72, 73, 84, 236, 261, 264, 274n2, 274n3, 274n7 Congo, 235 Connerton, Paul, 192 constellations, 5, 9, 11–20, 28, 86, 99, 149, 167, 189, 212, 256, 259; global, 261, 263, 266; historical, 127, 129, 207; human, 59, 234; microscopic, 221, 222; regional, 101, 109, 219, 258; social, 74, 116, 207; of Spanish colonial ruins, 63, 65, 72; of violence, 27, 39, 281n2 Coole, Diana, 125, 188, 227, 229 Crete, 271n3 Crévaux, Jules, 53 criollos, 2, 32–35, 48, 239–41. See also gauchos Curu-Curu, 217–19, 218, 256, 282–83n5 Cuzco, 247 Dávalos, Juan Carlos, 16 Debord, Guy, 81 deforestation, 1, 11, 45–46, 47, 77–78, 130; destruction of debris left from, 130, 177, 178, 179, 208; impact on indigenous people of, 190; ruins destroyed by, 111– 13, 112, 118, 121, 277n8, 278n2; soy boom and, 1, 16–18, 45–46, 52, 78, 82, 103, 126, 130, 208, 269. See also agribusiness: opposition to de la Cadena, Marisol, 272n7 de la Serna, Gerónimo, 68–71, 142, 147, 148

306 | Index Deleuze, Gilles, 24–26, 35, 41, 57–59, 128, 185–90, 257; Badiou and, 53–54; on repetition, 166, 246 Deloria, Philip, 240 Del Valle River, 39, 153 Derrida, Jacques, 36, 227, 229, 246 destruction, 45, 77, 155–56, 173–74, 177, 275n2; creative, 80; production and, 81; of space, 2, 77–84, 127, 180–81, 254, 263. See also deforestation “Destructive Character, The” (Benjamin), 83–84 dialectic, 26, 38, 84, 128, 187–90 Difference and Repetition (Deleuze), 188, 246 disregard, 4, 80–81, 83, 192–93, 258; elitist, 81, 115–16, 126, 130, 189–90; fetishization and, 254–56, 260; subaltern and critical, 81, 256, 260–62 Dobrizhoffer, Martin, 58, 59 Dubai, 81, 266 Durruti, Buenaventura, 261–62 earthquakes, 19, 92, 94–95, 109, 122, 158, 257, 264, 285n6; Esteco destroyed by, 12, 56, 85, 86, 92, 156, 157, 191, 276n2, n3, 277n5; indigenous insurgencies and, 98–99, 159; San Francisco (California), 92, 120. See also Salta: Miracle of Ecuador, 179n3 Edensor, Tim, 41, 151, 164 Elden, Stuart, 77, 83, 265n5 El Dorado, 57 El Fuerte, 34–35, 209–13, 215, 257 El Galpón, 23, 99–100, 117, 122, 218, 253, 281n4, 282n5; barrio aborigen in, 229–30, 232–38, 233, 245–46, 269; carnival in, 240, 245; celebration of San Francisco Solano in, 193–200, 195, 197, 236–39, 253–54, 281n4, 282n7

El Piquete, fort, 65, 156, 158. See also Piquete de Anta El Rey National Park, 153 El Vencido, 37, 101–3, 107–9 Elzanowski, Jerzy, 120 Embarcación, 171 “Emergency Brake” (Noys), 266–67 encomienda, 55–56, 217, 236. See also slavery Engels, Friedrich, 79 Espinosa y Dávalos, Joaquín, 61–62 Esquina Grande, 139, 141, 198, 219–24, 222, 224, 226 Esquinero, 268, 269 Esteban de Urizar, 177–80, 178, 267 Esteco, 7–8, 32, 59, 74, 111, 155, 157, 178, 191–93, 250, 264; bulldozing of ruins of, 111–22, 112, 118, 205, 239, 257, 260, 278n2; curse of, 86, 90–94, 100, 112, 121–22, 179, 276n2, 277n7, 277n8; destruction of, 12, 26, 60, 64, 84, 85, 98, 156, 158, 274n7, 276n3, 277n5, 282n7; first city of, 26, 37, 55, 60, 73, 91, 101–3, 102, 109–10, 165, 277n10, 278n3, 282n7; labor exploitation and slavery in, 36– 37, 55–56, 91, 236–37, 256; overgrown rubble of, 12–15, 14, 87–90, 88, 90, 111; remains of tobacco farm near, 15, 15, 87; train station named Esteco, 86, 91, 125, 178–80, 180 Esteko people, 55–56, 87, 110 Ethics (Spinoza), 29, 111 Evangelicals, 106. See also Pentecostals Facundo (Sarmiento), 66–67 Faulkner, William, 85 Ferguson, James, 24 Fernández Cornejo, Juan Adrián, 274– 75n8, 279n3 Ferrocarriles Argentinos (Argentine

Index | 307 Railroads), 20, 169, 172, 173, 175. See also railroads fetishization, 14, 83–84, 127, 189, 237–38, 258–61, 271n3, 284n2; of  Indians, 35–36, 193; religious/subaltern, 237–38, 258, 274n22; of ruins, 5, 9, 71–74, 121, 196–98, 253–55; of skyscrapers, 81, 266. See also reification fincas. See cattle ranches Fitzcarraldo (film), 131–32 Fontana, Luis Jorge, 126, 283n3 Ford, Henry, 129 forests, 59, 69, 103, 153, 185, 273n15, 275n1; cattle raising in, 2, 3, 16, 17, 42–46, 167; ruins in or near, 38–39, 49, 50, 62, 71, 75, 87–90, 90, 197, 221, 248, 251; ships stranded in, 23, 131–37, 134, 135, 141–52, 174, 222, 256; traces of indigenous people in, 36, 223, 256. See also deforestization forgetting. See oblivion Formosa province, 171, 172, 224–25 Forty, Adrian, 207 Foucault, Michel, 189 Franciscans, 62, 65, 139, 194, 198, 280n8; refuge from violence provided by, 140, 199, 207, 237, 283n6; rubble of missions of, 38, 38, 198, 199, 221, 222, 224 Frankfurt Institute, 128, 187 French Revolution, 63, 120 Freud, Sigmund, 278n7 Funeral Casino, The (Klima), 186 Furlong, Guillermo, 282n2, 283n2 Gaona, 215, 240, 242, 243, 246, 277n17, 280n14 Gauchito Gil (patron saint of gauchos), 49, 107, 161, 273–74n19 gauchos, 2, 33, 42–49, 43, 44, 65–66, 117, 157, 166, 242, 273–74n9; parades of,

47–49, 98, 165, 166, 196, 243; soy farming as threat to, 42, 45, 48–49. See also criollos Gauchos, Los (Dávalos), 16 Germany, Nazi, 128, 255; ruins of, 120, 129, 255 Ghostly Matters (Gordon), 36 Ginsberg, Robert, 13, 32, 119–20, 128, 129, 225 globalization, 10–11, 83, 127, 139, 149, 173 González, Joaquín V., 16, 23, 31, 51, 155, 156, 167, 172, 175, 243 González-Ruibal, Alfredo, 132, 260 Gordon, Avery, 36 Gorriti, 146–48, 151, 280n12, 280n13 Graeber, David, 234, 238 Gran Chaco, 1–3, 11–13, 53–59, 189, 204, 226, 256, 263, 273n15, 275n11; agribusiness in, 17–18, 18, 103, 181; capitalist expansion in, 126–27, 278n1; conquest of, 54–56, 61–63, 67–73, 77, 86, 87, 125–26, 138–42, 178, 186, 200, 201, 209, 242, 257, 275n11; deforestation of, 77–78; indigenous peoples of, 78, 185, 190, 230, 236, 237, 274n5, 274n6; insurgencies in, 2, 26, 53–54, 56–59, 159, 192, 200, 247, 249; Jujuy frontier of, 247–48; maps of, xiv, 60, 60–61, 64; massacres in, 71–72, 198–99, 213–14, 283n8; missionaries in, 56–57; Salta frontier of, 31–32, 63–66, 192–93. See also Concepción del Bermejo; Esteco; Franciscans; Indians; Jesuits; war machine; individual mis­ sions; names of rivers; specific peoples Grandin, Greg, 129 Graziano, Frank, 274n20 Greece, ancient, 57, 114 Greenpeace Argentina, 273n18 Grundrisse (Marx), 78 Guatemala, 86, 239

308 | Index Guattari, Félix, 35, 57–59, 188 Guaycurú-speaking peoples, 58 Güemes, Martín Miguel de, 48, 282n8 Guevara, Ernesto “Che,” 260 Gupta, Akhil, 24 Guss, David, 190 Haiti, 192 Halperín Donghi, Tulio, 67 Hardt, Michael, 233, 236, 281n1 Hare, Augustus, 209, 278n7 Harman, Graham, 284n2 Harvey, David, 79–80, 144 haunting, 31–32, 126, 127, 152, 157, 230, 256; by absence of Indians, 26, 32, 35–36, 41, 240, 244, 245; by bodily traces of violence, 214, 220, 227; by negativity of Chaco, 59, 66, 124; spatially grounded forms of, 39–41, 53, 254 Healey, Mark, 82, 264 Hedges, Chris, 17, 28, 275n2 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 38, 119, 187–89 Heidegger, Martin, 21, 192 Henry IV, King of France, 205 Heredia, Diego de, 54, 55 heritage industry, 9–10, 113, 116, 278n6; destruction caused by, 120–21, 278n7; reification of rubble by, 21, 198, 260, 271n3 Hertzfeld, Michael, 198, 271n3 Herzog, Werner, 55, 131–32 Hitler, Adolf, 255 Holguín, Gerónimo de, 54, 55 Holloway, John, 188 Hong Kong, 81 How Modernity Forgets (Connerton), 192 Huachana, 103–8, 165, 252, 258, 277n16, n17. See also Virgin: of Huachana Human Rights Watch, 259 hueseríos (field of bones), 220–26, 263

Incas, 31, 54, 247, 260 India, 17 Indians, 31, 42, 54, 62, 69, 252, 257, 272n4, n7, 289n1; in carnival parades, 240–45; census of, 275n12; Christian, 66, 99; criollo descendants of, 27, 32–36, 272n6; enslavement of, 91, 92; fort used by, 209, 211, 211–12; ghosts of, 26, 33, 35, 36, 39–41, 186, 244–46; kneeling, image of, 194–97, 206, 236–38, 245, 281n4; mass graves of, 212–27, 216; of San Antonio, 242–43, 245; in urban barrios, 229–40, 231, 233; violence of, 58, 158–59, 191, 193, 274n6, 281n2. See also specific peoples indigenous people, 2, 32, 42–43, 63, 65, 77–78, 126, 132, 185, 190, 236, 237, 256–57, 274n5, 274n6; activism of, 193, 237, 267–68; descendants of, 33, 35, 48, 272n5, 272n7; insurgencies of, 2, 41, 54, 57, 59, 61, 156, 172, 200, 242, 244; mas­ sacres of, 71–72, 140, 186, 199, 212–13, 216, 219–22, 224–25, 247–48, 283n8. See also barrios aborígenes; Indians; slavery; war machine; specific peoples Indonesia, 45, 80, 130 International Monetary Fund, 169 Israel, 259, 276n4, 281–82n5, 284n4 Jacovella, Bruno, 272n4 Jesuits, 37, 49–52, 56, 58–59, 248; expulsion of, 65, 139, 275n10, 282n3; maps by, 60, 60–61, 64, 72; rubble of missions of, 36, 49, 50, 52, 64, 93, 199; treasures of, 37, 215–19; violence against Indians by, 51, 199, 216–19. See also Miraflores, tower of; San Juan Bautista de Balbuena Jujuy province, 23–24, 131, 138, 240, 249, 281n2, 282n1, 284n10; agribusiness in, 267–68, 278n1; gauchos of, 34, 209–13;

Index | 309 map of, 210; repression of insurrection in, 247–48; sugar plantations in, 67, 226, 246–47. See also individual towns and villages Juramento River, 3, 101, 156, 172, 196–98, 200, 201, 205, 218, 234, 235, 280n14. See also Salado River Kirchner, Néstor, 17, 174 Klein, Naomi, 82, 284n7 Klima, Alan, 186, 225, 227 Lacangayé, 62, 67; Santiago de, 62–63, 68, 72, 73 Laguna Blanca, 172, 242 La Manga, church of, 2–7, 4, 16, 24, 199, 214; local attitudes toward, 4–5, 52, 119, 260; religious celebrations at, 21–23, 51, 107, 165, 175. See also San Juan Bautista de Balbuena Lambert, Léopold, 81, 259, 265 Laplantine, François, 35 La Población de Ortega, 199 La Purísima, 38–39, 198, 222, 283n6 Las Lajitas, 23, 33, 39, 61, 131, 132, 155, 156, 161, 164, 175, 215, 243; carnival in, 240; deforestation around, 45, 47, 208; soy boom around, 11, 16, 44–45, 46, 145, 167 Las Margaritas, 277n17 Las Palomitas, 283n9 Latour, Bruno, 14, 41, 284n2 La Unión, 137, 149, 220, 221 Lazzari, Axel, 35 Ledesma, Fort, 247 Ledesma plantation, 247, 248, 250, 284n8, n9 Lefebvre, Henri, 8, 13, 78, 131, 151, 223, 276n5; on capitalist destruction, 77, 79, 81–82, 177; on monuments, 201, 203; on pace and the body, 11, 82, 129; on Paris Commune, 262; on rhythms, 162

Leopold II, King of Belgium, 235 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 58 Li, Tania, 54 Libertador General San Martín, 284n8 Lifta (Palestine), 259, 261 Lisbon earthquake (1755), 92 López y Planes, Vicente, 203–4 Los Angeles, Hollywood images of destruction of, 87 lost cities, 57. See also Concepción del Bermejo; Esteco Lowenthal, David, 8, 87, 257 Lozano, Pedro, 56, 57 Lule people, 275n10 Lumbreras, 277n4 Macapillo, 235 Macaulay, Rose, 9, 11, 75, 86, 121 Machu Picchu, 57, 260 Madeira-Mamoré rail line, 173, 278n1 Maká people, 71 Malabou, Catherine, 78 Marx, Karl, 8, 78–80, 254, 262–63 Massey, Doreen, 20, 258 mass graves, 23, 27, 72, 212–17, 219, 220–27; mounds marking, 36, 186, 212, 215–17, 216; of Paris Commune, 263 Matacos, 40, 229, 231–32, 234, 241, 244, 273n11. See also Wichí people Matamorros, Fernando, 188 Matorras, Jéronimo de, 61–62, 178 Mayan ruins, 8, 9, 256 Medina, Manuel, 235, 269 memory, 2, 98, 114, 135, 142, 148, 192, 206–7, 220, 227; embodied, 31, 95, 152, 243, 240–46. See also oblivion memorials, 15–16, 49, 134–35, 148–51, 186, 191–92, 201–7, 223, 251, 260. See also oblivion Menem, Carlos, 169 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 11, 183, 227

310 | Index mestizaje, 33–36, 48, 238–41, 244–45, 272n7. See also criollos Mestre (Spanish officer), 247 Metán, 12–13, 15–16, 23, 31, 117, 131, 132, 191, 220, 282n5, 283n9; barrio aborigen in, 229, 232, 234, 238–40; celebration of Miracle in, 157, 276–77n4; museum in, 91, 204; railroads in, 169, 171, 171, 180; response to bulldozing of Esteco in, 111, 113, 114; rubble of Esteco and, 86, 87, 100, 179 Métraux, Alfred, 274n5 Mexico, 8–10, 32, 231, 256 Miraflores, tower of, 7, 7, 16, 23, 198, 199 missionaries. See Franciscans; Jesuits; names of individual missions Mocoví people, 58–59, 62, 92 modernity, 8–9, 20, 25, 27, 114, 125, 127, 180, 254, 258; colonialism and, 57; industrial, 27, 132, 133, 170; neoliberal, 129 Moguls, 58 Moore, Donald, 223 Movimiento Nacional CampesinoIndígena (Peasant-Indigenous National Movement), 267 Moyers, Bill, 275n2 Muehlmann, Shaylih, 25, 231 multiplicity, 8, 19–20, 24–25, 35, 128, 246, 250, 267; of bones in mass graves, 220– 22; of rubble, 2, 6, 10, 128, 198, 254, 255; of war machine, 58, 72. See also constellations Musil, Robert, 149 Mutumbajoy, Santiago, 260 Nación, La, 101 Nación para el desierto argentino, Una (Halperín Donghi), 67 Nantes, Edict of, 205 Napalpí massacre, 283n8 Napoleonic wars, 264

nationalism, 72, 114, 137, 174, 191, 201–4 Navaro-Yashin, Yael, 41 Nazar, Bishop Francisco, 225 Nazis. See Germany, Nazi Negative Dialectic (Adorno), 1, 6, 20, 187, 188 negativity, 6, 25–26, 47, 80, 186–90, 227, 229, 233; as generativity, 32, 57, 187– 89; luminosity and, 186, 188–89, 225; object-oriented, 14, 81, 129, 149, 263; of rubble, 9–11, 121, 128, 182, 204, 246, 260, 277n8. See also constellations Negativity and Politics (Coole), 125 Negri, Antonio, 233, 236, 281n1 Nelson, Diane, 239 neoliberalism, 1, 80, 127, 266; destructiveness of, 16, 129, 145; insurrections against, 267, 279n3; ruins of, 27, 173–81, 264 Neruda, Pablo, 260 Netherlands Indies, 80 New Deal, 80 Newton, Isaac, 78 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 9, 187, 206, 227, 246, 262 New York City, 81, 87; debris of World Trade Center in, 120 New York Herald, 262 Nietzsche and Philosophy (Deleuze), 188 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell), 206–7 Nivaclé people, 58, 274n5, 274n6 Nora, Pierre, 114, 201, 207 nostalgia, 105, 119, 137, 151, 170, 174 Nouss, Alexis, 35 Noys, Benjamin, 188, 189, 236, 266–67, 281n1, 283n5 Nuestra Señora de Talavera, 55–56. See also Esteco oblivion, 23, 27, 55, 70, 71, 87, 143, 253–54; affective spatiality of, 192–93, 205–8;

Index | 311 as mandate, 200–205; topographies of, 191–208, 223, 242, 244, 251, 263 Oblivion (Augé), 206 Olmedo, Alfredo, 51–52 Orán, 131, 139, 145, 219, 240, 243, 244, 275n16, 278n1 Organs without Bodies (Žižek), 31, 189 Origin of Negative Dialectics, The (BuckMorss), 128 Orwell, George, 206–7 pachamama (Mother Earth) celebration, 249–52, 251 Page, Captain Thomas, 138, 150, 151 Paikín (Mocoví leader), 62, 178 Palenque, 121 Palestine, 259, 263, 269, 276n4, 282n5 Palpalá, 281n2 Paradise Built in Hell, A (Solnit), 264 Paraguay, 2, 56, 58, 71, 78, 190, 269 Paraguay River, 67, 77, 172, 274n3, 279n3 Paraná River, 61, 67, 77, 125, 138, 139, 172, 174 Paris, 6, 81, 120, 128, 130, 280n4; ruins of, 262–63 “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” (Benjamin), 123 Paris Commune, 262–63 Patagonia, 66, 67, 226 Paucke, Florian, 58 Payró, Roberto, 91, 125 Pelleschi, Giovanni, 143, 275n8 Pentecostals, 136, 223, 237, 274n22 Perón, Juan, 72, 172, 264, 285n8 Peronism, 234. See also Perón, Juan Peru, 54, 57, 131, 235, 260, 282n7. See also Bolivia Petacas, San José de, 49, 64, 65, 93 Pichanal, 156, 177, 180, 280n11 Pilagá people, 224–25

Pilcomayo River, 24, 42, 53, 58, 71, 171, 229, 231, 235, 279n2 Piquete de Anta, 18–19, 19, 27, 65, 127, 153–67, 174, 185, 258; celebration of the Miracle in, 157–67, 159, 161, 166, 252, 277n4, 281n2; destroyed by railroads, 155–57, 172, 256 Pitos, Fort, 280n14 Pizarro National Park, 273n18 Pleasure of Ruins, The (Macaulay), 75 Pompeii, 278n7 Porto Velho, 279n1 positivity, 6, 13, 16, 83–84, 125–26, 186–90, 201–2, 223, 233, 253–54; progress and, 125, 144; of rubble, 11, 13–14, 27–28, 32, 250–51 Posta de Yatasto, La (the Lodge of  Ya­ tasto), 201, 202, 282n8 privatization, 16, 23, 127, 169, 174, 256, 280n2 production, destructive, 81 Production of Space, The (Lefebvre), 13, 79, 131, 169 progress, 17, 20, 68, 73, 126, 129, 223, 271n8, 280n9; destructiveness of, 27, 126–30, 155, 162, 258, 266; people as disposable obstacles to, 42, 267; ruins of, 26, 142, 153, 155–57, 167, 170, 174–81 psychoanalysis, 188, 278n7 Puff, Helmut, 10 Quebrachal, 25, 229, 231–38, 240, 241, 269, 183n6 railroads, 2, 37, 125, 169–81; oil tanker crash and explosion on, 91; privatiza­ tion of, 16, 23, 127, 169, 173–74, 256, 280n2, 281n3; ruins of, 19, 27, 127, 173– 81, 176, 178, 180; terrain transformed for construction of, 235; towns impacted

312 | Index railroads (continued) by expansion of, 22, 155–56, 167, 169–73, 232. See also Ferrocarriles Argentinos Rancière, Jacques, 267 reification, 9, 23, 72–74, 191, 198, 199, 204, 257, 271n3; as affective disposition, 5, 10, 119, 255, 263; as forgetting, 98, 191, 192. See also fetishization Renaissance, 57, 114, 255 Requiem for a Nun (Faulkner), 85 Resistencia, 172 Ricoeur, Paul, 205–6 Riegl, Alois, 9–10, 116, 150 Rincón Bomba, massacre of, 224–25 Rings of Saturn, The (Sebald), 209, 283n1 Río Negro, Fort, 246–52, 284n10 Río Piedras, 23, 86, 87, 101, 108, 114–18, 239, 260, 278n6; celebration of the Miracle in, 93–99, 95, 97, 105, 118, 155, 164, 196, 276n4; commemoration of battle of, 43, 201–4, 202, 251, 257; curse of  Esteco and, 89–94, 122 Rivadavia, 133–37, 134, 143–45, 144, 221, 231, 236, 257, 269, 280n12, 283n6; boiler in plaza of, 134–35, 135, 146, 148–51, 222–23; founding of, 139; massacres near, 140, 198, 220, 219–21, 235; mass graves near, 23, 214, 219, 256. See also forest, ships stranded in Roca, Julio, 68 Rodrigues Ferreira, Manoel, 279n1 Roldán, Natalio, 140–41, 143 Rome, ancient, 57, 114, 255, 273n10, 278n7 Rosario, 45, 173, 174 rubble, 1–11, 253–68; afterlife of, 20–21; conceptualization of, 6–11, 27–28; the commons and, 38, 177, 265; destruction of, 119–21, 263; as evidence, 258–59; space and, 2, 11, 263; subaltern uses of, 21–23, 38, 161–62, 163, 175–76, 177, 181,

198, 250, 264–66; vanishing, 151–52. See also constellations; individual sites ruination, 10–11, 27, 81, 116, 126, 129, 142, 173, 254, 256, 258, 267. See also destruction ruins, 1–2, 5–7, 116, 254–60; viewed as different from rubble, 6–10, 120–21, 255; intentional, 253; modernity and, 8–9, 57, 68, 254–55, 258; preservation of, 51, 114–16, 119, 198, 255, 258–59, 278n7; romanticized, 9, 255, 260; rubble reified as, 9, 69, 72–74, 121. See also rubble Ruins, The (Volney), 53 Ruskin, John, 278n7 Sacco, Joe, 28 sacrifice zones, 17, 80, 81, 127 Saenz Peña, 73 Salado River, 3, 37, 49, 54, 60, 65, 66, 91, 102, 107, 217, 275, 279n2, 282n9. See also Juramento River Salta, city of, 12, 98, 155, 191–92, 281n4, 283n9; Miracle of, 85–86, 94–97, 99, 100, 103, 106–9, 196, 257, 276n3, 277n5. See also Piquete de Anta: celebration of the Miracle in Salta province, 1, 12, 14, 24, 26, 27, 38, 69, 127, 193, 202, 240, 267, 289n9; agribusiness and deforestation in, 44–47, 47, 51, 77, 78, 126, 130, 267; census of, 275n12; gauchos of, 2, 33, 42–49, 43, 44, 54, 66, 273–74n19; human rights activists in, 227; landed aristocracy of, 65, 138; map of, 12. See also Anta; individual cities and towns Salvatore, Ricardo, 138 Sampson, Pamela, 266 San Bernardo de Vértiz, 62, 69–73, 275n15

Index | 313 San Fernando del Río del Valle, Fort, 39– 41, 61, 62, 214, 215, 244–45 San Francisco (California) earthquake (1906), 92, 120 San Francisco River Valley, 209, 210, 246–48, 251 San Juan Bautista de Balbuena, 3, 5, 21– 23, 65, 215, 275n12. See also La Manga, church of San Juan province, 98 San Martín, General José de, 159, 201, 282n8 San Miguel Arcángel de Miraflores, 198, 282n6 San Pedro de Jujuy, 240 Santa Barbara, Fort, 209–12 Santa Rosa, 221, 223 Santiago del Estero province, 55, 66, 88, 101, 159, 172, 247, 282n9; opposition to agribusiness in, 107, 267; ruins of Jesuit mission in, 23, 49 Santiago del Guadalcázar, 56, 57, 60, 275n16 Sarmiento, Domingo, 66–67, 140, 141 Saravia, Robustiano, 232, 234, 235 Schumpeter, Joseph, 80 Scott, James, 54 Sebald, W. G., 129, 135, 207, 209, 223, 229, 283n1 Seed, Patricia, 61 Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man (Taussig), 260 Shever, Elana, 281n2 Shock Doctrine, The (Klein), 82 Signs (Merleau-Ponty), 183 Simmel, Georg, 9 Situationist International, 262 slavery, 37, 55–56, 84, 86, 91, 92, 232–35, 256, 260; of indigenous children, 199, 232, 235, 238n2, 238n3. See also encomienda

Smith, Neil, 80 Solano, San Francisco, 99–100, 193–96, 200, 236–38, 254, 281n4, 282n7; ruins of, 196–200, 195, 197, 239, 251, 253–54, 257, 260 Solnit, Rebecca, 82, 264, 284n7 Soria, Pablo, 280n3, 284n10 soy farming, 2, 18, 127, 103, 126, 269, 271n6; deforestation for, 1, 45–49, 47, 52, 78, 82, 103, 126, 130, 177, 208, 269; people displaced by, 42, 44–47, 78, 107, 242; progress attributed to, 126–27, 181; railroads and, 174–75, 179; resistance to, 46, 107, 267–69, 273n18; ruins near, 7, 14, 16, 18, 39, 51–52, 127, 129, 178; terrain unsuitable for, 2, 17. See also agribusiness space, 11, 8, 45, 55, 72, 98, 116, 129, 131, 132, 258, 263–64, 277n8; abstract, 8, 17, 113, 269; compression of time and, 144; monuments for fixing history in, 198, 203, 204; production of, 2, 13, 78–79, 82; spectacular, 81, 252; striated, 59; voiding of, 53–54, 56, 57, 66, 68– 69, 177, 254. See also destruction: of space Spanish Civil War, 261, 263 Spanish empire, 54–57, 59–63, 87, 98, 110, 191, 217, 232, 236, 246, 276n2; collapse of, 15, 63, 65, 139, 156, 261; commemo­ ration of, 72–73, 95, 98–99, 178, 180, 212; expulsion of Jesuits from, 65, 139, 275n10, 282n3; indigenous insurgencies against, 2, 16, 20, 26, 54, 247–48; slavery in, 55–56, 84, 91, 92, 260. See also indigenous people; war machine Specters of Marx (Derrida), 229 Speer, Albert, 255 Spinoza, Baruch, 26, 89, 95, 99, 187, 188, 225; on affect, 5–6, 22, 29, 41, 111, 122

314 | Index steamships. See Bermejo River: steamships on Stewart, Kathleen, 132 Steyerl, Hito, 259 Stoler, Ann, 11, 80, 81, 192, 196, 274n4 sugar plantations, 67, 226, 246–51, 275n16, 278n1, 280n3 surrealism, 127, 280n4 Talavera de Madrid. See Esteco tapados (buried treasures), 37, 92, 102, 215–19 Tartagal, 148 Taussig, Michael, 35–36, 215, 260 Teruel, Ana, 199 Teuco River, 134. See also Bermejo River: change of course of Thailand, 227 “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Benjamin), 20, 128, 271–72n8 Thiers, Adolphe, 262 Thousand Plateaus, A (Deleuze and Guattari), 58 Tikal, 86 Tineo, Martínez de, 178 Tischler, Sergio, 188 Toba people, 24, 58, 71, 229, 247, 281n2 Tolstoy, Leo, 264 Toronto Daily Star, 261 Torre de David, La (Tower of David), 264–67, 285n10 Torre Revelo, José, 277n7 Tribune du Peuple, La, 253, 262 Tribuno, El, 111, 113, 253 Trouillot, Michel-Ralph, 192, 207 Troy, 121 Tsing, Anna, 10, 45, 83, 130 Tucumán; city of, 194; province in Spanish colonial period, 54, 56, 59, 61, 178, 276n2; province, 175, 202, 217, 278n2 Tupac Amaru II, 247

Tupac Katari, 247 Turner, Victor, 104 United States, 127, 129, 150, 240, 265, 279n3 Universidad de La Plata, 73 Universidad Nacional del Nordeste, 73 Venezuela, 264–66, 279n3 Vergara, Camilo, 149 Victorica, General Benjamin, 67–69, 71, 73, 126, 142, 143 Vilela people, 50, 275n10 Villa del Carmen, 145 Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Auguste, 253, 262 violence, 27, 140, 101, 219–24, 234–38, 247–48, 281n2; debris of, 39, 72, 158, 185–86, 223, 256; destruction of space and, 79, 82, 84, 259; oblivion of, 172, 193, 196, 197, 199, 202, 203, 207–8, 223, 251–52, 257; perpetrated by indigenous people, 31, 54, 56–59, 191, 193, 274n5, n6, 281n2; wealth and, 36–37, 217, 219. See also Gran Chaco: insurgencies in; indigenous people: massacres of; mass graves Virgin, 21, 50, 51, 200, 274n21, 281n2; of Candelaria, 192; of Huachana, 50, 101, 103–10, 104, 108, 159, 161, 242, 277n15; of the Miracle, 85–86, 93–99, 106, 109, 154–65, 159; of Río Blanco, 281n2 Virilio, Paul, 129 void, the, 25, 53–54, 57, 59, 62, 68, 70, 121, 127, 139–42, 190, 205, 254–55; Christianity as negation of, 100, 158, 192, 281n2; created by capitalism and modernity, 142, 169, 177, 258; as “the desert,” 66–67; destruction of, 54, 71–72, 121, 172; maps produced to counter, 60,

Index | 315 60–61, 63, 64, 65–69; of oblivion, 207, 253–54; visceral responses to, 10, 24, 67, 99. See also Gran Chaco: conquest of; war machine Volney, Constantin de, 53, 63 war machine, 57–60, 65–67, 84, 92, 98– 99, 191, 242; banalization of, 193, 200, 238; destruction of, 71, 185 Warren, Jonathan, 54, 56–59, 191, 193, 230–31, 274n5, 274n6, 281n2 Warsaw, 120, 264 Weizman, Eyal, 79, 259, 276n4, 284n4 Wichí people, 67, 69, 198, 231, 247, 269; in barrios in southeast Salta, 27, 231, 234–35, 237; around Rivadavia, 133, 137,

139–41, 219–21, 223, 226, 256, 280n8, 283n6 Weismantel, Mary, 234 Wohlfarth, Irving, 84 Woodward, Christopher, 211 World Bank, 169 World Trade Center (New York City), 32, 120 World War II, 120, 128, 129 Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), 8, 256, 263 Yunká, Fort, 71 Zegada, Gregorio, 247–48, 284n9 Žižek, Slavoj, 31, 32, 120, 128, 188, 189, 254, 281n1