Who was Oscar Masotta?

As Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s sardonic detective Pepe Carvalho ruefully observed, in a dictionary of Argentine clichés, psychoanalysis would have a crucial place, along with ‘tango and the disappeared’.1 ‘One’ knows that along with Paris, Buenos Aires is one of the centres of psychoanalytic practice, and one of the leading training centres for Lacanians. What is less well known is how this state of affairs came to be historically, and how it connects with the wider history of philosophy in Argentina, more especially with the extensive influence of Sartre there in the 1950s. One way of mapping this field is to look at the work of a maverick figure within Argentine letters, Oscar Masotta, whose intellectual trajectory shifts from a domesticated Sartrean position to exegesis of Lacan’s work within the context of a specifically Argentine concern with influence, modernization and praxis.

Oscar Masotta (1930–1979) has become the fons et origo of Lacanian analysis in Argentina. A recent volume on him in the series Founders of Argentine Psychoanalysis by the appropriately named publishing house Capital Intelectual in 2009, with the subtitle ‘A Legend at the Crossroads of Knowledge(s)’, bears the signs of this legacy and its repetitive figuration.2 Yet this later role as Lacan’s epigone overwrites and distorts an intellectual trajectory, which has little parallel in the anglophone world. Masotta was emblematic of the sorts of response that a whole generation of Argentine intellectuals made to the extended crisis of hegemony that characterized the years between Perón’s fall from power in 1955 and the return of the military in much bloodier and determined guise in 1976. Nevertheless, though constantly republished, in fact his work has had little philosophical impact, even as his figure has grown ever more mythified. He is thus a cultural symptom whose writings may be read as forms of reading from the periphery. The continuity in Masotta’s work has to do with a constant, if never systematically articulated, problematic of freedom and authority, which finds shifting conceptual approaches whose very production act out their thematic.

The argument of this article is that Masotta’s trajectory from Sartrean literary analysis to Lacanian exegesis exemplifies the dilemmas of a peripheral intelligentsia in relation to metropolitan theoretical production. Philosophical shifts on this reading are symptomatic rather than purely conceptual. I try to demonstrate this thesis by reading Masotta’s early writings with their indebtedness to Sartre, then a pivotal text where the ideas of betrayal and fidelity are foregrounded, and lastly the work on Lacan with its preoccupations with transmission and rivalry. The choice of themes constantly refers back to Masotta’s own existential and historical position and maps out a particular instance of intellectual dependency. I close with some more general remarks on the position of Lacanian analysis in Argentina now…


1. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, The Buenos Aires Quintet, trans. Nick Caistor, Serpents Tail, London, 2003.

2. Juan Andrade, Oscar Masotta – una leyenda en el cruce de los saberes, Capital Intelectual, Buenos Aires, 2009.

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