Can the term “postcolonial” be legitimately applied to Latin American literature such as "The Music Box" by Jorge Luis Borges?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (1899 – 1986) was an Argentine novelist. As his name illustrates, he is descended from the Spaniards that invaded and conquered Argentina. During the period from 1530 to 1810, the territory which become Argentina was ruled by the Spanish. The Revolution of 1810 was the beginning of the independence movement that culminated in the formation of the Republic of Argentina in 1852. This means two things: first, that all modern Argentinian literature is "postcolonial" in the sense that it is written in the context of a country that was once colonized by Europeans and is now independent. Second, though, is that Borges himself is as much a colonizer as one of the colonized. He was from a solidly middle-class and well educated family of Spanish descent, and spent much of his adolescence being educated in Switzerland. He was fluent in English and French as well as Spanish, and as much influenced by classical and European literary traditions as by the indigenous traditions of Argentina, although some of his works do reference pre-Columbian South American culture and artifacts.

Postcolonial literary theory can be applied to any work that is created within a context of colonialism or imperialism. Using a postcolonial theoretical perspective means reading works in light of the postcolonial experience, even if they do not explicitly address such issues. 

In this poem, the first thing we can note is that Borges is writing in Spanish, not an indigenous Argentinian language. We can also think about how both the Japanese music and the Spanish of Borges are alien to Argentina, and then analyze this alienation in light of colonialism. Neither Borges nor the music box are ever truly at home in South America, and thus the sense of melancholy and enigma in the poem.