Livon-Grosman (2001) differentiates three stages in the construction of Patagonian representations through travel writing:
1. The compilation of data and classification of objects and peoples, meant to increase scientific knowledge and control the area by means of geographical and ethnographic mapping. This can be seen in the 18th and 19th century accounts by English travellers: Falkner, Fitz-Roy and Darwin. Their focus is imitated by Argentinians who are interested in scientific exploration, but they soon become involved in the construction of territorial integrity which will be one of the central aims of the ‘Conquest of the Desert’, the major military operation against the Indians led by General Roca in the 1870s.
Initially represented as a territory occupied by multiple Indian nations (Falkner) Patagonia is metaphorically constructed as an empty place where the origin of life can be found (Darwin).
1. The ‘Conquest of the Desert’ inaugurates the second stage, as the defeat of the Indians and their retreat from Northern Patagonian territory will create new circumstances for exploration. The Argentine government encourages and sponsors exploration and territorial occupation to ensure sovereignty. Several British travellers write accounts of their visits, with Darwin as a source: Musters, Dixie and Hudson himself, who contributes to building the mythical representation of Patagonia as ‘nature’.
2. This stage, which continues to the present day, involves the metaphorical construction of the Patagonian space as ‘nature’, the land where the future of Argentina lies. ‘The region is no longer represented as a barbaric, inexplored desert; instead, it is presented as a metaphor of the future, the territory where it is still possible to find the opportunities to realise what was not possible in other regions of Argentina’ (Livon-Grosman 2001: 5, my translation).
Hudson’s Idle Days in Patagonia is followed by works by Theroux and Chatwin in the late 20th century, as well as by Argentine narratives in response to the accounts in English. ‘It is possible to see a pendular movement which weaves, along several generations, a web made of narrations which is some cases have no other starting point than to revisit that of a previous traveller’ (Livon-Grosman 2001: 5, my translation).
The series of texts on Patagonia form a palimpsest (Livon-Grosman 2001: 1) that continues growing to the present day and is scrutinized in terms of discursive representations in the work of Livon-Grosman (2001, 2003) and López (2003). The web of intersecting citations, cross-references and responses deserves detailed study beyond the scope of this research, but the series offers relevant examples of the construction of a mythical landscape where the other can be controlled and subjected as part of that landscape, in the name of science, civilisation and progress.
Articles on individual texts:
FALKNER, Thomas (1774) A Description of Patagonia and the Adjoining Parts of South America, with a Grammar and a Short vocabulary, and Some Particulars Relating to Falkland's Islands.
FITZ-ROY, Robert (1839). Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle, Between the Years 1826 and 1836, Describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle’s Circumnavigation of the Globe. 3 Vols.
DARWIN, Charles (1839). Journal and Remarks. London: Henry Colburn.
DARWIN, Charles (1845 / 2001) The Voyage of the Beagle. New York: Modern Library.
MUSTERS, George Chaworth (1871). At Home with the Patagonians, a year’s wondering over untrodden ground from the Straits of Magellan to the Río Negro.
BEERBOHM, Julius (1881). Wanderings in Patagonia, or, Life among the Ostrich Hunters.
DIXIE, Florence (1880). Across Patagonia. London, Richard Bentley and Son / (1881)
HUDSON W.H. (1893) Idle Days in Patagonia.
PRICHARD, Hesketh (1902). Through the Heart of Patagonia.
BARCLAY, William Singer (1904 / 1926). The Land of Magellan.
BRIDGES, Thomas. Yamana-English Dictionary.
BRIDGES, Esteban Lucas (1948). Uttermost Part of the Earth.
CHATWIN, Bruce (1977). In Patagonia
THEROUX, P. (1979). The Old Patagonian Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
MACKINNON, N.B (1997 / 2003). An Estancia in Patagonia
POOL, Maggie (1997). Where the Devil Lost his Poncho.