Latin American Studies José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Political Theories
by
Tara Daly, Irina Feldman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0221

Introduction

José María Arguedas (born in Andahuaylas, Peru, in 1911; died in Lima, Peru, in 1969) was an important novelist, ethnographer, cultural advocate, and teacher. In the first two decades of the 21st century, the cultural and political depth of his work has been brought to further light through emergent research areas. Scholars now situate Arguedas’s work under the broader umbrellas of cultural and political theories. In the realm of political philosophy, Arguedas was influenced by the Marxist legacies of 1920s and 1960s Peru, and by such thinkers and activists as José Carlos Mariátegui and Hugo Blanco. Arguedas’s politics, and particularly his challenges to 1960s developmental discourse, anticipates some of the ideas behind the principle of “buen vivir / vivir bien,” a concept developed from indigenous worldviews that has been incorporated into the new Bolivian and Ecuadorian constitutions in the first decade of the 21st century. Arguedas’s insights into the possibilities of dialogue and collaboration between national politics and indigenous cosmologies prove relevant for the Andean contexts of the early 21st century. His potential contributions to ecocriticism, particularly via the intimate connection his novels express toward the natural environment, are also being recognized. In the realm of cultural theory and history, new studies on traditional modes of expression in Peru, such as music, dance, and performance, look back on Arguedas and his pioneer appreciation and preservation of oral traditions as well as his prescience around the impact of migration on the same. The early-21st-century adaptations of his works and ideas into plays or film for children attest to the cultural education that his work continues to promote. Arguedas was recognized in his lifetime as a brilliant teacher, and he personally conceived of teaching and cultural advocacy as one of his main cultural practices. His multifaceted teaching missions—to bring the Andean cultures to the attention of the elites, and to offer the indigenous students access to the necessary tools to navigate the landscape of national modernity—have been vigorously carried out after his death by cultural promoters, artists, and cultural critics with the same idea in mind: to exercise pedagogy to further emancipation. This article reviews both the scholarship on Arguedas and early-21st-century literary, philosophical, anthropological, and historical scholarship on the Andean world inspired by his ideas, as well as artistic productions in the Andean countries in the first two decades of the 21st century, which revisit Arguedas’s oeuvre and give it renewed relevance for the new century.

Biographies

Arguedas’s biographical material is usually treated in conjunction with his artistic production, due to the fact that he made his life experience into the very stuff of his intellectual inquiry. As Castro-Klarén 1992 notes, a comprehensive biography of Arguedas is yet to be written, and his biographical information is often derived either from his speeches and autobiographical aspects of his fiction, or from interviews. Fernández 2000 offers a concise yet complete biographical sketch specifically geared toward a better understanding of Arguedas’s last and posthumous novel, while Castro-Klarén 1992 offers a more extensive and detailed biographical sketch that encompasses all of Arguedas’s life work. Metz-Cherné 2014 offers a biographically referenced interpretation of Arguedas’s Ernesto in the novel Los ríos profundos, while Pinilla 2012 compiles a visual archive of Arguedas’s personal and professional life.

  • Castro-Klarén, Sara. “José María Arguedas (18 January 1911–28 November 1969).” In Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: First Series. Edited by William Luis, 18–29. Dictionary of Literary Biography 113. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

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    A comprehensive bio-bibliography that traces Arguedas’s life and his lifework. Also available through World Scholar: Latin America & the Caribbean online.

  • Fernández, Christian. “The Death of the Author in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo.” Translated by Fred Fornoff. In The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below. Critical ed. Edited by Julio Ortega, 290–306. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

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    Not explicitly a biography, this critical article questions the degree of autobiographical reference in The Fox . . . In order to do this, the article offers a concise and complete biographical sketch of Arguedas’s life and a survey of his creative output in the first seven pages. Excellent source, both as a biography and as criticism on The Foxes.

  • Metz-Cherné, Emily. “From Portrait of an Artist to Portrait of an ‘Illa’: Ernesto en Los ríos profundos.” Chasqui 43.1 (2014): 103–118.

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    This article reads Los ríos profundos (1958) as a biographically inspired novel, where Arguedas, in a gesture typical for him, uses his own experience to ask questions about the spaces of interaction and power relations between the indigenous and white Peruvians. The article shows how the novel creatively departs from the Western models of Bildungsroman to comment on a specifically Peruvian reality.

  • Pinilla, Carmen María. Arguedas: Perú infinito. Cusco, Peru: Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección Regional de Cultura, Cusco, 2012.

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    This book is based on an exhibit that Pinilla organized at the Cultural Center at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima to mark the centennial of Arguedas’s birth. The book includes 120 photographs and graphic materials that document Arguedas’s infancy and adolescence, and serves as a visual archive of Arguedas’s life and work.

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