Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0151
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0151
José María Arguedas (b. 1911–d. 1969) is by far the most important intellectual when it concerns notions of race and mestizaje in the Andes. He was born in Andayhuaylas, Peru, and was left at the care of his stepmother from an early age after his mother’s death during childbirth. This unfortunate event proved critical in Arguedas’s life since he was mainly limited to the servant quarters of the household; and as a result of being brought up by Indians/Native Americans, he thought of himself as an Indian as well. Therefore he grew up learning and speaking Quechua as his native tongue, and as he would repeatedly express in his fiction, anthropological work, and interviews, this Indian cosmology would be central to his understanding of himself, Peru, and the way he saw the world in general. This particular lived-in intimate conflict between an indigenous cosmology and a Western view superimposed as part of the colonial heritage would haunt his whole life, contributing to his final successful suicide attempt at fifty-eight and infuse his work with a unique manner of understanding the Andean region that had never been achieved or surpassed during his time. Arguedas embodied this racial, social, and cultural ambivalence in a unique manner that both impressed and intimidated many of his contemporaries. Unlike many other ostracized Andean intellectuals Arguedas never chose exile as a viable option, although he did travel abroad (including to the United States later in life) and visited Chile many times, which was the birthplace of his second wife (and later widow), Sybila Arredondo, as well as the place where he would undergo sporadic psychoanalytical treatment with his longtime therapist. However, his deep physical commitment to Peru, and his emotional obligation to a racial truth that most Andeanists were too scared to face make his writing incredibly raw testimonials of the harsh historical legacies of Indian communities being decimated, abused, and mistreated in a systematic manner. His work provides profound insight into the manner in which this racial exploitation was at the foundational core of the Western Andean nation-states and fed “deep rivers” (the title of one of his novels) of identification that refused to be whitewashed through the official erasure of an Indian identity.
As a result of his difficult life, José María Arguedas was able to produce a disturbing oeuvre. More than any of his contemporaries, Arguedas’s body of work marks the racial horror that defines the origins of western Andean history. Therefore, and not surprisingly, it was only decades after his death, and one hundred years after his birth, that he is finally being overwhelmingly recognized for his remarkable contribution to the study of race and culture in the Andes. Arguedas’s standing in Latin America’s intellectual canon is well established and the works below highlight some of the most noteworthy critical analyses and intellectual assessments on Arguedas’s legacy. In general one could argue that there were two major genres that comprised Arguedas’s world: his fiction writing and his ethnographic/anthropological work, which continuously overlapped not only in his publications but also in his lectures, performances (he was a competent singer in Quechua), and interviews. In this manner, Adorno 1983 and Rostworoski 1983 highlight the anthropological underpinnings of Arguedas’s work. Meanwhile, Castro-Klarén 1989 highlights the anthropological dimensions of his story, Rasu-Niti, and assesses the cultural context in which the history of the mythical Andean dancers gets to live forever, no matter how much they are ignored in the official retelling of the nation’s history. In another vein, Cornejo Polar 1973, Dorfman 1969, and Rowe 1979, engage Arguedas as the intellectual giant that he is, and the authors analyze his fiction and the manner in which it challenged the reigning ideological structures of an old feudal system of governance (e.g., large hacienda holdings, legacies of serfdom, etc.) that modernity had imposed upon the region. Finally, Quijano 1989 and Vargas Llosa 1978 are somewhat broader studies. Both engage Arguedas’s work in a more general theoretical sense: Quijano highlights Arguedas’s key critical insights, while Vargas-Llosa gives an appreciation of the supposed psychological traumas and social limitations present in Arguedas’s work.
Adorno, Rolena. “La soledad común de Wamán Poma de Ayala y José María Arguedas.” Revista Iberoamericana 122 (1983): 43–48.
Provides an insightful assessment of Arguedas’s literary legacy within the region, connecting his work with that of Waman Poma (several centuries old) and that also evokes the racially ambivalent world that both inhabited.
Castro-Klarén, Sara. “Dancing and the Sacred in the Andes: From the Tacqui-Oncoy to ‘Rasu-Niti.’” Dispositio 14.36–38 (1989): 169–185.
Extremely incisive piece that highlights the anthropological foundation of Arguedas, particularly his paradigmatic short story on the Andean ritual dancer, Rasu-Niti.
Cornejo Polar, Antonio. Los universos narrativos de José María Arguedas. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1973.
One of the most basic texts analyzing the differing interpretive narrative layers of Arguedas’s fiction.
Dorfman, Ariel. “Arguedas y la epopeya Americana.” Amaru 11 (1969): 18–26.
As one of South America’s most brilliant journalists and writers, Dorfman elaborates the place of Arguedas within the native landscape of the continent’s narrative history.
Quijano, Aníbal. “Arguedas: La sonora banda de la sociedad.” Hueso húmero 19 (1989): 157–162.
A short but rich article that assesses Arguedas’s contribution both within the great societal landscape of Peru and in general social theory.
Rostworoski, María de Diez Canseco. Estructuras andinas del poder: Ideología religiosa y política. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1983.
The classical text outlining the underlying ideological structure of Native American Andean forms of power. Although this does not mention Arguedas, it provides an essential reading of the central layers of the cultural basis for his scholarship and fiction.
Rowe, William. Mito e ideología en la obra de José María Arguedas. Lima, Peru: Instituto Nacional de Cultura, 1979.
This text is the most comprehensive literary assessment of Arguedas’s work. It goes a long way in outlining the central tenets of his contribution in fiction and its relationship to the wider regional intellectual context of the Andes.
Vargas Llosa, Mario. La utopía arcaica. Cambridge, UK: Center of Latin American Studies, 1978.
A very limited and bitter assessment of both the life and work of Arguedas. It is quite narrow in its understanding of Arguedas’s contribution but captures the enormous hostility Arguedas lived with and that ultimately fueled his writing.
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