Otra cosa es con guitarra: Representation and Significance of the Guitar in Tango Literature
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Otra cosa es con guitarra: Representation and Significance of the Guitar in Tango Literature

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Tango histories situate the origins of the genre in the 1880s, with couples dancing to an ensemble of guitar, flute, and violin. These histories claim that the guitar disappears from the genre in the 1910s. While scholarly and popular writing on the tango is extensive, little work has focused on the guitar. Recent interventions by Lorena Burec have demonstrated the continous presence of tango guitar. However, these interventions have not attempted to explain why authors of tango history claim the guitar disappears from the genre. This dissertation interrogates the discursive disappearance of the instrument in the literature on tango history. This research reads tango histories published between 1955 and 1999, in and outside of Argentina, alongside archival research that challenges the dominant narratives and constructs a genealogy of the disappearance. Through critical historiography, this dissertation interrogates Argentine nationalism as globally constructed. Each chapter traces Argentine nationalism as a hegemonic force that emerges and shifts in transitional periods. The first chapter constructs an archaeology of the myth and its roots. The second approaches tango’s incorporation into the dominant gauchesca nationalism of the early twentieth century. This discourse connects the early tango to the gaucho figure thought to no longer exist. The third chapter builds upon this idea by demonstrating how discourses of modernity construct a vision of the tango that uses “European” instruments, relegating the guitar to be symbolic of a nostalgic past. The fourth chapter traces the connection between the guitar and the liminal space of the arrabal, or outskirts of Buenos Aires, which has disappeared with the city’s modernization. Due to this changing landscape, the guitar gains associations with the rural while the city center of Buenos Aires begins to represent the country metonymically. In the fifth chapter, I trace the process of invisibilization of Afrodescendant guitarists and how the tango literature reifies white supremacist narratives of a homogenously “white” Argentina. I demonstrate that by relegating the guitar and guitarists to a distant past outside of the city center, tango histories promote Argentina’s national imaginary vis-à-vis the tango as modern and European.

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