Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lu... ---- (3. José Carlos Mariátegui Culture and the Nation)

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Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lu... ---- (3. José Carlos Mariátegui Culture and the Nation)
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  CHAPTER THREE  José Carlos Mariátegui: Culture and the Nation Patricia D’Allemand Queen Mary and Westeld College,University of London Discussing Mariátegui’s critical works in the context of a postcolonial approach to Spanish American and Lusophone cultures calls for a note of clarication. While the writings of the Peruvian undoubtedly constitute a major contribution to the dismantling of colonial perspectives within reections on literature and culture in Latin America, I am nevertheless somewhat sceptical about the legitimacy—and indeed the productivity—of attempts to assimilate Mariátegui into postcolonial studies. 1  Amongst my concerns vis-à-vis this type of reading strategy are the danger of dehistoricization of Latin American discourses, the dilution of their particular traits and multiplicity of meanings, and the consequent loss of sight of local traditions of thought, as well as the silencing of local debates. What worries me is the tendency to homogenize critiques of colonialism and modernity that have emerged from within very distinct colonial histories and societies. I am not denying the usefulness of locating afnities between the objectives of postcolonialism on the one hand, and those of either the critical thought of the Latin American Left, or of the region’s cultural criticism, on the other, but I am very wary of the effects of constructing new universalist theoretical approaches. 2  Such a construction and the imposition of such Fiddian, Robin. Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lusophone Cultures, edited by Robin Fiddian, Liverpool University Press, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/vuw/detail.action?docID=380655.Created from vuw on 2017-05-28 17:16:26.    C  o  p  y  r   i  g   h   t   ©   2   0   0   0 .   L   i  v  e  r  p  o  o   l   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   P  r  e  s  s .   A   l   l  r   i  g   h   t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e   d .  approaches upon Latin America bring with them, after all, the risk of erasing the very distinctiveness of those histories and societies, of possibly establishing single agendas, sometimes at the expense of local ones, and even of undermining the relevance of the thinkers of the region to contemporary debates on Latin American culture. 3  In the particular case of Mariátegui, whom I would place within this tradition of Latin American cultural criticism, I have a fear of new simplications of the multifaceted nature of his critical writings, all too reminiscent of the reductionism to which they were subjected by a rather dominant orthodox Marxist tendency amongst his critics, a reductionism that will be examined in this essay.There is an abundance of commentary on Mariátegui’s work,  yet relatively little attention has been paid to his aesthetic and cultural reections. When these are examined, the focus of the analysis tends to concentrate on ‘El proceso de la literatura’, the last of his Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana , an essay that covers only one aspect of his multiple enquiries into the processes of emancipation and renewal within the Latin American cultural sphere. 4  This narrow treatment of Mariátegui’s work, derived perhaps from a tendency to divorce art and politics in the discourse of the Peruvian thinker, is evident even in one of his best critics, Antonio Cornejo Polar, whose important work on Andean indigenismo  can be largely understood as a development of central aspects of ‘El proceso …’. With a few exceptions such as Antonio Melis and Alberto Flores Galindo, Mariátegui’s critics have not been disposed to engage in a positive reading of the unorthodox aspects of his writings, which have thereby been ignored or discounted as ‘irrational’ or ‘idealist’ deviations within his Marxism. This reticence on the part of Mariátegui’s critics to approach what in fact constitutes one of the creative aspects of the Peruvian’s Marxism has led to an incomplete reading of his proposals, which to a large extent distorts them. Such reluctance, on the other hand, is partly explained by the difculties which have traditionally accompanied Marxist thought when accounting for the creative phenomenon, and, on a more general level, is a consequence 80 Postcolonial Perspectives Fiddian, Robin. Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lusophone Cultures, edited by Robin Fiddian, Liverpool University Press, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/vuw/detail.action?docID=380655.Created from vuw on 2017-05-28 17:16:26.    C  o  p  y  r   i  g   h   t   ©   2   0   0   0 .   L   i  v  e  r  p  o  o   l   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   P  r  e  s  s .   A   l   l  r   i  g   h   t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e   d .  of the dominance of the scientist tendency within Latin American social sciences until a few years ago. 5  In many ways this narrow approach to Mariátegui’s critical discourse has impoverished its capacity to intervene in the current cultural debate. My essay discusses the reasons for this selective reading of Mariátegui’s critical project and proposes a reading that sets out to restore not only the complexity of his critical discourse but also its relevance to contemporary concerns within Latin American cultural criticism.The selective treatment of Mariátegui’s critical project can be understood to a certain extent in terms of the nationalist and anti-imperialist positions that have prevailed within intellectual production of the Latin American Left from the 1960s onwards. Within the region’s cultural criticism, these positions have led to a privileging of literatures articulated to local traditional cultures, in opposition to and in preference to urban literatures which are a part of the internationalized circuits of culture. This bi-polarization of Latin American literature is actually a perspective more typical of contemporary criticism than of Mariátegui’s proposals.In synthesis, although the image of Mariátegui’s discourse offered by critics may be valid, it is certainly incomplete; a good part of his reections on questions of art and culture are not included. Such reections do not merely constitute an appendix to his political discourse. In fact, contemporary Latin American criticism can nd alternative ways of dealing with some of its central problems by referring to both Mariátegui’s approach to the articulation of the two spheres without subordination of one to the other, and his treatment—derived from this approach—of the languages and formal experimentation of the avant-garde. Furthermore, an examination of the plurality of aesthetic projects which Mariátegui is able to handle is as useful for the current cultural debate as is an analysis of the ways in which his understanding of the national question brings him to vindicate Andean tradition and to retrieve it for modern Peruvian culture, without falling into sectarian or programmatic attitudes. The revolutionary and transforming potential of art is not the preserve of spaces articulated to traditional  José Carlos Mariátegui: Culture and the Nation  81 Fiddian, Robin. Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lusophone Cultures, edited by Robin Fiddian, Liverpool University Press, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/vuw/detail.action?docID=380655.Created from vuw on 2017-05-28 17:16:26.    C  o  p  y  r   i  g   h   t   ©   2   0   0   0 .   L   i  v  e  r  p  o  o   l   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   P  r  e  s  s .   A   l   l  r   i  g   h   t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e   d .  cultures; the innovation of Peruvian literature allows for a multiplicity of quests which does not exclude that of languages which are produced in the cities and become part of the internationalized circuits of culture. Finally, it would also be a great loss to the discipline to undervalue the importance of the very nature of Mariátegui’s approach to literature, an approach which keeps him from falling into either aprioristic ideological positions or readings centred on the content of works of art to the exclusion of formal aspects. Mariátegui’s enthusiasm for Martín Adán’s work, for example, demonstrates his integral conception of art and his awareness that form, and not just ideological content, is an object of criticism. This aspect of his aesthetic discourse has been either neglected or, more often, undervalued as part of his ‘idealist’ or ‘irrational’ outlook. I would argue that, on the contrary, Mariátegui does not abandon a Marxist and historical perspective but instead constructs a critical discourse that articulates the literary, the historical, and the ideological. His project avoids both ahistorical aestheticism on the one hand, and ideological readings where formal processes are swamped by content, on the other.Mariátegui’s literary criticism is an important part of his nationalist revolutionary project. The debate on culture and artistic activity constitutes a central axis of his discourse and is an integral component of his project of general transformation of Peruvian society, as is so eloquently illustrated by the politico-cultural work undertaken by his journal,  Amauta . 6  Basically, Mariátegui does not conceive of art as totally independent from politics, because for him politics is in fact ‘la trama misma de la historia’. 7  Although it is true that for Mariátegui the ‘mito de la Inteligencia pura’—the supposed autonomy of the intellectual in the face of political ideologies—is no more than the acceptance of the status quo, it is also true that he does not consider it possible to assimilate the work of the intellectual or artist to political discourses without some mediation. 8  Mariátegui states that no great artist can be apolitical. 9  This does not mean, however, that intellectual work is subordinated to political discourse. Referring to criticism, Mariátegui emphasizes the 82 Postcolonial Perspectives Fiddian, Robin. Postcolonial Perspectives on Latin American and Lusophone Cultures, edited by Robin Fiddian, Liverpool University Press, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/vuw/detail.action?docID=380655.Created from vuw on 2017-05-28 17:16:26.    C  o  p  y  r   i  g   h   t   ©   2   0   0   0 .   L   i  v  e  r  p  o  o   l   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   P  r  e  s  s .   A   l   l  r   i  g   h   t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e   d .
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