Chapter 6. Argentine National Banknotes Conclusion

Paper money appeared in China in the tenth century for the sake of the convenience of the people and the economy of the government.Argentina, as well as other countries in the Americas, began to issue its own currency after Independence. The symbolic monetary emancipation contributed to national ideas and therefore to have a different connotation. Thus, even though the banknote was originally known for its exchange value, such a popular object was immediately seen as a medium of communication to support the requirements of a modern Nation. Therefore, paper money was useful as a nomothetic artifact of the social memory, national narratives and national identity. This is because banknotes are a resource that the nation used for incorporating national sentiments, articulating the logic of property, from which the state is translating values of thoughts. Besides, in addition to being an exchange token, it is a national sign of stability, a symbolic object that represents a totemic and meaningfully piece of land, the fatherland and the motherland of Argentinean people.

Banknotes make the social structure of the Nation tangible by transforming the matter of the visual representation into meaning. Banknotes, which from a simple white paper get transformed into a receipt, a promise of payment; further transforming itself into a discursive practice and a mandate about the nationality of the group who issued it. In this way, the narratives present on the banknote condition social memory, both of which are instrumental in forming the collective imagination of a nation.

The most important images of Argentine paper money, visual symbols that ideologically frame the banknotes’ message, are the images of San Martin, the representation of landscapes and of women. Through its analysis, it is possible to detect some features of the Argentine collective imagination. Thus, it is possible to identify first an European scheme of representing Argentina, through the Seducer’s state (1881) with the basic aim of the incorporation of the differences into a whole and then through the Institutional State (1908) which consolidated the newly established population. Second, a Regulator State was detected which was attempting to shape the Argentine symbolic matrix in a certain way, in order to harness the national identity (1935). Third, there was a breakdown of the conventional way of designing banknotes, while in 1949 the new constitution was promoted by the note, also showing the figure of the justice without blinded eyes. Last, the return to the Institutional State (1985) at the beginning of a new democratic period after the cruel military government in Argentina’s history.

In spite of the differences between the periods highlighted, some remarkable aspects of the Argentine collective imagination could be read, in most of the banknotes, as general characteristics of their implicit message. First, the only social group to be seen in the Argentine notes is the European one and in general there is no testimony of other cultures. The only image that makes reference to Indians was made to amplify the importance of white mythology in founding Buenos Aires.

The implicit importance of different social groups is related to the remarkable idealization of military action as a social activity. These actions are related to the war of Independence against Spain in the 19th century that still appear on current banknotes which denote the necessity of continuously reinforcing that the birth of the nation was due to military action.

Within this context, the widely used image of San Martin represents the break of the oedipal relationship with Spain, cutting Argentina from the dependency of the symbolic link with its «Mother Patrie». Besides, this image has been used because of the political interest of military groups to project the figure of one military with credibility, to legitimate military governments by transforming the meaning and the age of the image of San Martin according to their political strategies and social perceptions. As a consequence, a young and fighter soldier and captain San Martin is the model to be followed in the nationalist ideology and identity.

Moreover, the civilian presidents portrayed on the notes are presidents who governed the country before the beginning of the century such as Mitre, Sarmiento and Roca. They were first used to create and maintain a Republican identity even though by continuing the use of these images today they deny other important historical democratic presidents of this century, such as Yrigoyen, Alvear, Peron, among others. However, it could also be a sign of the disruption of democratic government through the XX century by military forces and also by the decreasing importanc attribute to the banknotes to create and design identity. Since democracy has not been interrupted from 1983 till now, in Argentina there has been continuos economic crisis, with periods of inflation and hyperinflation when the money loses value. Within this context, it is possible to assume that the symbolic value given to the paper money has decreased.

In some ways related to the former, the only gender present in the notes is male, especially white males. Women are never represented as complete human beings; they have no name or occupation and are mostly only idealizations for the sake of men’s imaginations. This could be seen as contrasting with some important real and mythical women in Argentina, such as Eva Peron.

Besides, during decades the banknote disseminated images of Argentinean landscapes and institutional places contributing to the visualization of the common ground of the Argentinean people, helping the spatial mental mapping of the country and promoted narcissistically the image of Argentina.
Last, in times of Peron, in the banknotes there appeared the figure of Justice without blinded eyes, the words Peron and workers, something that belongs to that period and part of the cultural apparatus to create and maintain the Peronist and worker’s identity.