Arguedas, José María
José María Arguedas 1911-1969
Peruvian novelist, short story writer, poet, ethnologist, and translator.
The following entry provides criticism of Arguedas's works from 1982 through 2002.
Arguedas is less well-known than contemporaries like Gabriel García Márquez or his friend Mario Vargas Llosa, but his deep understanding of Peru's indigenous people has established his place among Latin America's most respected writers. Arguedas chronicled the social, economic, cultural and linguistic transformations wrought by urbanization and the massive migrations of highland Indians to Peru's coastal cities. Arguedas's fiction drew heavily from his accomplishments in ethnography and his intimate knowledge of Peru's history and geography. His childhood as a sort of mestizo—a white child more fluent in Quechua than Spanish—also informed his work; he wrote his fiction first in Quechua and then translated it himself to Spanish. Arguedas was a major figure in Peruvian life, receiving important appointments to governmental and cultural organizations and holding several university positions. His writings were also influential with the Liberation Theologians of the 1960s and 1970s.
Arguedas was born on January 18, 1911, in Andahuaylas, Peru. His father was an itinerate lawyer who traveled the countryside, and Arguedas's mother died when he was three. His father remarried, and Arguedas spent most of his childhood on his stepmother's hacienda in the Peruvian highlands. Because his stepmother “despised and hated me as much as [her] Indians,” Arguedas wrote in Páginas escogidas (1972), “she decided that I was to live with them in the kitchen, eat and sleep there.” His stepmother intended it as punishment, but Arguedas considered his experiences among the Indians one of the most spiritually nourishing developments of his life. The Indians treated him as one of their own, and as he wrote in the introduction to Yawar fiesta (1941), “my protectors showered me with a deep and brave tenderness, … the purest love, which makes the individual who has acquired it absolutely immune to skepticism.” Soon he was more fluent in the Indians' Quechua language than he was in Spanish. As a teenager, he alternated study at boarding schools with travels accompanying his father across the Peruvian highlands and to the cities on the coast. In 1931 he enrolled at the University of San Marcos, but his literature studies were interrupted a year later; authorities closed the University during political unrest, and his father's death and the subsequent need to support himself led him to take a job working for the postal ministry. He started publishing articles in 1934, and when the University re-opened in 1935 he began his anthropological studies. That year he also published Agua. Los escoleros. Warma kukay, a collection of stories that won him second prize in an Argentine-sponsored competition. In 1937 Arguedas's political activity resulted in his spending eleven months in prison for protesting an event honoring an official of Mussolini's government and his firing from the postal ministry. In 1939 he married Celia Bustamante Vernal, wrote his dissertation on language differences between the Peruvian highlands and coast, and took a teaching position at a boys' school. He published his first novel, Yawar fiesta, in 1941, and he continued the steady output of works of ethnography, folklore, musicology, and studies of the Quechua language that would continue until his death. Despite being falsely denounced as a communist in 1947, Arguedas traveled often on behalf of Peruvian governmental agencies and cultural organizations, and he developed friendships with novelists Mario Vargas Llosa and Julio Cortazar. In the fifties Arguedas did extensive ethnographic work, earning him a professorship at the University of San Marcos in 1958, the same year he published his novel Los ríos profundos (Deep Rivers). Arguedas became prominent in Peruvian culture and politics, and he was appointed to many governmental and cultural positions, including director of the National History Museum. Despite his success, Arguedas was increasingly unhappy; he separated from his wife in 1965, and a year later he attempted suicide. He started a diary, which provided some material for his posthumously-published novel El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (1971; The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below). He remarried in 1966, traveled frequently, and published prolifically, but in 1969 he shot himself and died on December 2, 1969.
Arguedas believed much of his work was the product of a “bedeviled struggle with language.” His work reflects an attempt to bring forms of consciousness and reality he experienced and most easily expressed in Quechua to readers of Spanish, the language of the Quechua people's oppressors. Arguedas wrote Agua, his first collection of stories, in anger at the treatment of the Indians and out of disdain for the depictions of Indians in Peruvian literature. These stories lay out many of the themes and narrative patterns for all of Arguedas's stories and novels—the narrators are children struggling with their identity, the Indians are shown living in organic solidarity and in harmony with nature, but the lives and culture of the highland Indians are being threatened by the individual and rationalistic culture of the Spanish-speaking peoples on the Peruvian coast. Agua earned Arguedas second prize in an international contest sponsored by Revista Americana in Buenos Aires. Arguedas's first novel, Yawar fiesta, depicts an Indian community attempting to perform a ritual feast that is prohibited by the civil authorities of holding a bullfight. It is a sympathetic portrait of the Indians and their culture besieged by the cold brutality of the authorities acting in the name of civilization.
Yawar fiesta was followed by several years of writer's block, but in 1958 Arguedas published Deep Rivers, considered by many his masterpiece. It follows the young child Ernesto, like Arguedas, the white son of an itinerate lawyer who is raised by Indian servants. It begins by describing a wondrous world of magic and nature, viewed through the mythical perspective of the Indians. Eventually, however, Ernesto is sent away to school, where he encounters loneliness and sees how the rational and individualistic society of the Spanish-speaking dominant classes impinges on the freedom and dignity of the Indians, forcing them into futile rebellion against their military-backed oppressors. Arguedas's later works, including El sexto (1961) and Todas las sangres (1964) were more overtly socially and politically pointed. While critics generally do not hold these works in as high a regard as Deep Rivers, Liberation Theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez were inspired by these works to call for the Catholic Church to seek harmony with the indigenous peoples through respect for their forms of communal solidarity and pre-rational consciousness. Arguedas's last novel, The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below), takes place in a coastal town where the culture of the Indian migrants from the highlands clashes with rootless culture and urban poverty of Peru's teeming cities and contains diary entries from a despairing narrator. It was published posthumously.
Arguedas's engagement with the language, consciousness, and power are fundamental to almost all appraisals of his life and work. From his earliest stories, according to Christian Fernández's profile of Arguedas for the critical edition of The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below, “We see the beginning of the apprenticeship and representation of a reality that apparently was carefully planned from the beginning by Arguedas … Arguedas is already previewing the problems he will represent in subsequent works. In all of them, the narrator is a child with a problem of cultural identity …” Arguedas had an obvious affinity with the culture of the Quechua Indians. Alita Kelley sees Arguedas as a “translator” of Quechua culture, and Lucía Lockert has written in the Michigan Academician that “Arguedas captures the acculturated language that one hears in every Andean corner of Peru from the mouths of mestizos who speak Spanish.” In Modern Language Quarterly Walter D. Mignolo found in Arguedas's work the “legacies of the linguistic conflict created by migrations from the metropolitan centers to the colonial domains, and the fractures of local languages introduced by colonial ones” that date back to the sixteenth century. In GeoJournal, geographer César N. Caviedes praised The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below as “a synthesis of contemporary Peru” crafted by Arguedas “with perhaps more propriety and sensitivity than a historian, sociologist or geographer.” In his introduction to The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below, Ciro A. Sandoval went even further, declaring that “as an author, Arguedas's concern was the totality of human culture.” One of Arguedas's most engaged and perceptive critics is his friend, fellow Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. In Review of Contemporary Fiction Vargas Llosa wrote that Arguedas's first novel, Yawar fiesta, succeeds as fiction because the narrator presents the world of the novel “as an indivisible though heartbreaking totality” from an anti-rational perspective that Vargas Llosa nevertheless concludes is deeply conservative. But as his career progressed, Vargas Llosa believed Arguedas succumbed to the pressure to produce literature that supported his social and political commitments. In Harper's Vargas Llosa concluded that Todas las sangres was a “very ambition book, in which [Arguedas] tried, escaping from himself, to describe the social and political problems of his country. The novel is a total failure: the vision is simplistic and even a caricature … The book is the classic failure of an artistic talent as a result of the self-imposition of social commitment.”
Agua. Los escoleros. Warma kukay (short stories) 1935
Yawar fiesta (novel) 1941
Canciones y cuentos del pueblo quechua [The Singing Mountaineers: Songs and Tales of the Quechua People] [translator] (songs and short stories) 1949
Diamantes y pedernales. Agua (short stories) 1954
Los ríos profundos [Deep Rivers] (novel) 1958
El sexto (novel) 1961
La agonía de “Rasu-Niti” (novel) 1962
Túpac Amaru Kamaq taytanchisman; Haylli-taki. A nuestro padre creador Túpac Amaru; Himnocanción (poetry) 1962
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SOURCE: Muñoz, Braulio. “Indian of the Heart.” Americas 34, no. 3 (May-June 1982): 25-9.
[In the following essay, Muñoz examines Arguedas's struggle to describe a future for the Andean Indians that relies on neither liberalism nor western socialism and retains their sense of the magical.]
But if I die of life, and not of time, …
I first met José María Arguedas when he came to Chimbote, my native port in northern Peru. He came to write a novel about despair and hope—a novel about Peru. He was the first “Indian” I really knew. He was born in the Andean highlands, had learned the Indian worldview through...
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SOURCE: Lockert, Lucía. “Peruvian Social Realities in José María Arguedas.” Michigan Academician 19, no. 2 (spring 1987): 243-51.
[In the following essay, Lockert presents Arguedas's work as examples of the tensions in his thought between solidarity and individualism and acculturation and assimilation.]
The noted twentieth-century Peruvian author, José María Arguedas, once wrote of his homeland:
There isn't a country more diverse, more varied in its terrain and its people; every degree of heat and color, of love and hate, of manipulations and inspiring symbols. Not without reason, as the common people would say, were...
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SOURCE: Wall-Smith, Stephen B. “José María Arguedas: Godfather of Liberationism.” Christian Century 104, no. 34 (18 November 1987): 1034-39.
[In the following essay, Wall-Smith examines Arguedas's conceptualization of highland culture as a spiritual force under pressure from the materialist pressures of Peru's coastal areas, and he shows how this influenced the development of liberation theology.]
An underlying liberation philosophy to validate Latin American theologies of liberation has yet to be extracted from the popular culture. In time, some scholar will no doubt reconstruct it academically. Until then, the fiction of José María Arguedas provides some of...
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SOURCE: Columbus, Claudette Kemper. “Arguedas's De-Auto-Rized Biography: A Failed? Trickster's Tale.” Latin American Literary Review 21, no. 42 (July-December 1993): 21-33.
[In the following essay, Columbus likens Arguedas and his narrator in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo to a trickster who inhabits “compound characters who, like him, straddle several language worlds.”]
Individuality can no longer be contained within the terms of manifest personality traits. In a world of transition and revolution individuality has become a problem of historical and social relations, such as cannot be revealed by the mere characterizations of...
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SOURCE: Vargas Llosa, Mario. “The Real Life of the Latin American Novelist.” Harper's 287, no. 1720 (September 1993): 22-4.
[In the following essay, Vargas Llosa categorizes Arguedas's works as “literature meant for him” and the later works, such as Todas las Sangres, in which he succumbed to the pressures to produce works of social and political conscience, which Vargas Llosa found “a total failure.”]
The Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas killed himself the second day of December 1969 in a classroom at La Molina Agricultural University in Lima. He was a very discreet man, and so as not to disturb his colleagues and the students with his...
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SOURCE: Hawley, John C., S. J. “We Wretched of the Earth: The Search for a Language of Justice.” In Postcolonial Literature and the Biblical Call for Justice, edited by Susan VanZanten Gallagher, pp. 125-35. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
[In the following essay, Hawley draws on Bakhtin's claim that language shapes our self-definition to frame Arguedas's personal and literary development as a three-stage development of mythological consciousness: his childhood immersion in the language and culture of the Quechua Indians; his “agonistic and abstract phase” when he learned Spanish and received his formal education; and his years writing fiction when he tried to break...
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SOURCE: Mignolo, Walter D. “Linguistic Maps, Literary Geographies, and Cultural Landscapes: Languages, Languaging, and (Trans)nationalism.” Modern Language Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 1996): 181-96.
[In the following essay, Mignolo compares Arguedas's efforts to write in a transcultural language with the efforts of two other writers—a Mexican-American and Caribbean; where the other writers are seen facing the challenge of communicating the linguistic and cultural conflicts of a “Third World” immigrant living in the “First World,” Arguedas is seen as exploring the conflicts of hundreds of years ago, when the native peoples of America were confronted with the colonizing migrations...
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SOURCE: Caviedes, César N. “Tangible and Mythical Places in José M. Arguedas, Gabriel García Márquez, and Pablo Neruda.” GeoJournal 38, no. 1 (1996): 99-107.
[In the following essay, Caviedes explores Arguedas's allegorical depictions of the physical geography of Peru in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, a work he declares “a synthesis of contemporary Peru” crafted by Arguedas “with perhaps more propriety and sensitivity than a historian, sociologist or geographer.”]
The flight that Latin American literature has taken during the last three decades is to be considered as an intellectual revolution. From...
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SOURCE: Columbus, Claudette Kemper. “Oracular Foxes, Archaic Times, Twentieth-Century Peru: J. M. Arguedas's The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below.” Dispositio/n: American Journal of Cultural Histories and Theories 21, no. 48 (1996): 137-54.
[In the following essay, Columbus notes that the foxes symbolize art in The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below and are presented as symbols struggling against the bureaucratization of folk art and culture.]
In The Foxes (El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, 1969)1 the Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas conflates the myth of a failed Andean mountain-weather...
(The entire section is 8296 words.)
SOURCE: Moreiras, Alberto. “The End of Magical Realism: José María Arguedas's Passionate Signifier (El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo).” Journal of Narrative Technique 27, no. 1 (winter 1997): 84-112.
[In the following essay, Moreiras declares that the death of the author in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo symbolizes the death of Magical Realism, and with it “Latin American foundational utopianism comes to its end.”]
What would happiness be that is not measured by an immeasurable grief at what is?
I. TRANSCULTURATION: THE IMPLOSION OF MEANING...
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SOURCE: Vargas Llosa, Mario. “A Bullfight in the Andes.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (spring 1997): 35-51.
[In the following essay, Vargas Llosa argues that Arguedas's first novel, Yawar Fiesta, succeeds as fiction because the narrator presents the world of the novel “as an indivisible though heartbreaking totality” from an anti-rational perspective Vargas Llosa concludes is deeply conservative.]
Critics who praise José María Arguedas's first novel share the assumption that there is an essential correspondence between a work of fiction and the reality it “describes,” that a novel is successful to the extent that it faithfully...
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SOURCE: Sandoval, Ciro A. Introduction to José María Arguedas: Reconsiderations for Latin American Cultural Studies, edited by Ciro A. Sandoval and Sandra M. Boschetto-Sandoval, pp. xxi-xlii. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1998.
[In the following essay, Sandoval first describes the social and political setting of Arguedas's life, then depicts Arguedas's work as representing “a drama of the unspeakable, of the undecidable, of the culturally and linguistically untranslatable.”]
A writer, a man writing, is the scribe of all nature; he is the corn and the grass, and the atmosphere writing.
—H. D. Thoreau, A Writer's...
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SOURCE: Kelley, Alita. “The Persistence of Center: José María Arguedas and the Challenge to the Postmodern Outlook.” In José María Arguedas: Reconsiderations for Latin American Cultural Studies, edited by Ciro A. Sandoval and Sandra M. Boschetto-Sandoval, pp. 70-84. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1998.
[In the following essay, Kelley asserts that Arguedas, despite using post-modernist techniques to depict the world of modern man, could not be a post-modernist; post-modernism, she contends, accepts no redemptive or transcendent force, whereas for Arguedas writing was itself a transcendent act of communion with the still-vibrant culture of the Quechua.]...
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SOURCE: Rowe, William. “Reading Arguedas's Foxes.” In The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below, edited by Julio Ortega and Christian Fernandez, translated by Fred Fornoff, pp. 283-89. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Rowe describes “diaries” in The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below as “an erratic form of writing … that function as a threshold or multiple bridge between the fictional world, the sociocultural circumstance, the weave or Peruvian culture through many centuries, and the life of the author.”]
The initial reception of El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo was...
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SOURCE: Fernández, Christian. “The Death of the Author in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo.” In The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below, edited by Julio Ortega and Christian Fernández, translated by Fred Fornoff, pp. 290-306. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Fernández provides great detail about Arguedas's life, but ends by arguing that the diary entries included in The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below should be read as fiction and not as Arguedas's actual diaries.]
José María Arguedas was a man who lived between two worlds and two cultures: the indigenous world and the white...
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SOURCE: Castro-Klarén, Sara. ‘“Like a Pig, When He's Thinkin’: Arguedas on Affect and on Becoming an Animal.” In The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below, edited by Julio Ortega and Christian Fernandez, pp. 307-323. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Castro-Klarén argues that Arguedas's engagement with Quechua myths and his conclusion that there cannot be harmony between the consciousness of the Indian myths and the consciousness of the modern world.]
With the air he fights, Brother, with the darkness he boxes; he don't light the lamp. … Then in a little while he squeezes me like snake or punches me, givin' me...
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SOURCE: Archibald, Priscilla. “Gender and Mestizaje in the Andes.” In Mixing Race, Mixing Culture: Inter-American Literary Dialogues, edited by Monika Kemp and Debra J. Rosenthal, pp. 103-21. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.
[In the following excerpt, Archibald explores Arguedas's tendency to use mestizo characters as symbols of merging influences, and sexual lust and impropriety as symbolic of the Andean migration to the coast with a “redemptive anarchy” that was transforming Peru.]
JOSé MARíA ARGUEDAS: MESTIZAJE AND SEXUALITY
Increasingly, scholars look toward novelist and anthropologist José María Arguedas for help...
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Aponte, Barbara. “The Initiation Archetype in Arguedas, Roa Bastos and Ocampo.” Latin American Literary Review 11, no. 21 (fall-winter 1982): 45-55.
Arguedas's works and Peru itself are seen in tension between utopia and despair.
Beyersdorff, Margot. “Voice of the Runa: Quechua Substratum in the Narrative of José María Arguedas.” Latin American Indian Literatures Journal 2, no. 1 (spring 1986): 28-48.
Special attention is given to the role of the Quechua language in shaping Arguedas's narratives.
Castro-Klaren, Sara. “Dancing and the Sacred in the Andes: From the...
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Arguedas, José María (Vol. 10)
Arguedas, José María 1911–1969
Arguedas was a Peruvian novelist, short story writer, poet, and ethnologist. He began his literary career as a regionalist, writing in the "indigenista" tradition of Latin American writers who sought to create a native culture free of European intellectual domination. His later work, however, surpasses that of his fellow regionalists through his mastery of literary technique, particularly in the areas of point of view, language, and characterization. He took his own life in 1969.
For more than three decades José María Arguedas steadily wove new colors into his work. He produced a Peruvian mosaic which reflects the nuances of changing literary, sociological, and philosophical thought. It is this constantly flowing creative process which stands out in the total literary production of Arguedas….
The brooding presence of Arguedas's native Andean environment hovers over his first writings: Agua, 1935, a simple collection of three stories. At the same time his deep sensibility and his anger against feudal repression place him immediately with writers of social protest, even if his initial literary efforts could not keep pace with his determination to denounce the injustice. (p. 225)
The crest of Peru's regionalism belongs to the years 1930 to 1945, and in his initial stage of literary development, Arguedas struck the dominant chords of contemporary literature in his country. He used the primary elements of local settings and social protest, to which he added his own complete identification with the Quechua mind. His stories from Agua possess dramatic force, particularly because of the personal involvement of the narrator; at the same time these early attempts suffer from an overflow of intensity which the young Arguedas does not temper by control of the structure. In Yawar fiesta, written as a traditional exterior narrative, Arguedas holds the shuttle more firmly as the threads form their design. Dialogue is interspersed by descriptive passages; plot unfolds in measure; bitter anger at the Indians' plight is held in check so as to permit greater insight into the general picture. Based on local customs and life styles, Yawar fiesta is the Arguedas work which fits most easily into the mold of accepted regionalism.
Still cautious in assessing his own abilities, Arguedas proceeded on a slow and winding course. He carried along with him the seeds of his early regionalism, husbanding them during a long pause which lasted into the next decade…. Two decades have added polish and facility to the writing, and [Diamantes y pedernales] serves as a transition piece, as though the current is picking up momentum just before it flows into new environments.
After years of anticipation, Arguedas reached the culmination of his artistic creation in Los ríos profundos, 1958. Fundamentally autobiographical, the interior world of a sensitive boy is the author's main material, but he goes effortlessly from inner contemplation to participation in the erupting violence of the surroundings. (pp. 225-26)
The omnipresence of the Andean environment is fragmented through the style that Arguedas has developed. Making use of dissociation of time techniques, the novel flows easily. Free from structural difficulties, the dialogue, the action, and the fluid thoughts of the boy's nostalgia are kept in balance. (p. 226)
Los ríos profundos, while still an "indigenista"-regional novel, has moved at the same time into the realm of an interior novel…. No Peruvian work in this vein touches the fiber of Los ríos profundos with its interior vision, its constant flow of the subconscious that mingles with reality.
At the height of his artistic power Arguedas chose to deviate from this literary route and to shift to political deliberations. El Sexto, 1961, is a journalistic novel—like so many in Latin American literature—although Arguedas attempts to balance the reporter's details with art. (pp. 226-27)
In El Sexto Arguedas tried to paint a humanity capable of triumphing over surrounding brutality. Unfortunately, faceless...
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[El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo] refers to indio-mythology (cf. Dioses y hombres de Huarochiri, tr. by Arguedas, where this specific myth is given). "Above" and "below" are Coast and Sierra. "Below" is Chimbote, the fecund, mad, hectic, pernicious and crude new town, a harbor north of Lima where the fishmeal industry has come to have its capitalistic paroxysms. To it flock the unemployed indios from the Andes, as well as others who try, founder, die—or succeed—at the cost of losing what Arguedas considered their essential purity and goodness. "Above" is little touched upon (El zorro can be considered the counterpart of Arguedas's Yawar fiesta or Todas las sangres: the Coast reached up into the Sierra; here, the Sierra comes down). Ultimately, this novel describes the destruction of the very myths that have always been the substance of Arguedas's fiction: the noble indio who possesses a patria versus the rootless minor or major capitalist, domestic or foreign, mestizo or blanco.
The book alternates between diaries Arguedas kept—on the novel, his life, literature, Peru, et cetera (they contain the famous attack on Cortázar's cosmopolitanism)—and the narrative parts, some of them astounding in their fascination, scenes one could never have imagined. Yet, there are also incoherences that leave the reader blinking and groping in desperate attempts to follow, to understand. The novel is incomplete, of course—the last diary is called "Ultimo diario?"—yet I believe it to be the best Arguedas wrote (together with Yawar fiesta). An epilogue comprises his last letters, to publisher, university, friends and his acceptance speech when receiving the Inca Garcilaso Prize in 1968.
Julio Ortega has made the best observation: this is a novel written to defeat death; but death won. All in all, a novel replete with defects, as is all Arguedas's fiction, but defects one feels ashamed to point out, for one feels that by criticizing one again destroys life, that of the author's memory and perhaps of a vital myth. El zorro is in parts deeply moving and disturbing: it proves that writing can be living, or even death. Arguedas was a very great man, and this book proves it. (p. 630)
Wolfgang A. Luchting, in Books Abroad (copyright 1972 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 46, No. 4, Autumn, 1972.
The time spanned by [Relatos completos] reveals Arguedas perfecting the art of revealing contradictory emotions. The total effect of each story is the result of a series of antitheses stable throughout Arguedas's prose. Through the eyes of an orphaned child or alienated adolescent the reader participates in a reality at once magical and cruel. Although each Andean village is controlled by a vicious landowner, the Indians inject the consciousness of another mode of being in which the environment contains gods who are themselves artists. Just as Arguedas contrasts the beauty of music with death, he also presents a narrative world in which the consummation of love is as possible as its betrayal. (pp. 72-3)
M. E. Davis, in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 1, Winter, 1977.
Arguedas, José María (Vol. 18)
The principal feature of Arguedas' writing which distinguishes it most clearly from that of other indigenistas is the way in which he succeeded in penetrating the Indian mentality and capturing the essence of the Indian world-picture…. [The] indigenista novels of Arguedas are not works of denunciation, protest or propaganda; rather are they attempts to explore the cultural and social conflicts in Peru, and to reveal the significance of Indian values within Peruvian culture and society. (pp. 56-7)
[The] events of the narratives [in his first book Agua] are unimportant; they are almost incidental to Arguedas' main aims in writing these cuentos. One of those aims is to show the germination within the writer, as a child, of hatred…. (p. 57)
In addition to the bitterness of the collection, however, Agua reveals Arguedas' love of the Indians and the Sierra. (p. 58)
Another of Arguedas' aims in writing Agua was to attempt to achieve an adequate means of expression for works of fiction in which the Indian is a principal character. Both before and after Arguedas, the principal factor which has alienated the indigenista writers from their subject has been that of language: many indigenistas neither speak nor write in the language of their subjects, whether it be Aymara or Quechua. Even those who are in a position to write in the Indian tongue are discouraged from doing so by commercial and practical considerations, since both their readership and their status as writers would be restricted. By the very fact of their being indigenista, and not indígena writers, they are outsiders. Arguedas was in a position to choose between Quechua and Spanish, but if his aim was to correct the image of the Indian in the eyes of the non-Indian, he was obliged to write in the non-Indian's tongue. To compensate for this, and at the same time to reflect linguistically the internal view of the Indian's world, he sought [according to Mario Vargas Llosa] to 'encontrar en español un estilo que diera por su sintaxis, su ritmo y aun su vocabulario, el equivalente del idioma del indio' ['find in Spanish a style that would give through its syntax, its rhythm and even its vocabulary, the equivalent of the idiom of the Indian']…. (p. 59)
Despite the creation by Arguedas of a special Spanish for the Indians, however, the fact remains, as Arguedas was aware, that the Indians do not speak Spanish amongst themselves, and often not even with Spanish-speaking people…. When Arguedas opted for Spanish, he was inevitably making a compromise; the result is an artificial, literary language, even if different from the one from which he was trying to escape…. [It] is impossible, without a knowledge of Quechua, to say how far Arguedas has succeeded in capturing the peculiarities of that language; the writer himself admitted that on this score his word must be accepted….
[The stories in Agua contain an] underlying denunciation of feudalism, without dependence upon either rhetoric or ideology. Indigenismo for Arguedas does not mean militancy, but compassion. (p. 60)
[Los ríos profundos demonstrates] the confrontation that exists in Peru of two races and two cultures and the chasm that lies between them. This confrontation is demonstrated in the novel on an outward level—the hacendero of Patibamba and the colonos, the soldiers and the Indians who frequent the chicherías—but also on a deeper, more spiritual plane (and it is from this that the novel derives its strength) within one individual. Ernesto, the fourteen-year old mestizo narrator, is forced to live as a boarder at a school in Abancay. But everything that he encounters in reality seems alien to him, both at the school and in the town. Having been brought up in the company of Indians (like...
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To explore the culture of the ancient Andean society was for Arguedas a passionate work of the very roots of the complex Peruvian ethnicity; that is to say, a searching out of the social and cultural identity, not without confrontation with that other sector of Peruvian life: the Hispanic or occidental tradition in which, of course, are the dominant patterns of national identity and ethnicity. Despite appearances, we are not dealing with simple regionalism or typical indigenismo but are looking through the privileged perspective of Arguedas into the boundaries of the past, the cultural inheritances with which he shows a possible way for social change, a way that includes a need for social justice and recognition of the rights of the oppressed Indians as a part of cultural liberation. In his works Arguedas communicates this passionate concern, a strong appeal that transcends Peru and its social dilemmas….
In Deep Rivers Arguedas is at his best; the intensity of this novel is unique and has the rare force of its authenticity; it is not in vain that the book recalls a world that is elemental in its atrocious miseries and violence and at the same time carries a complexity of feeling and sensation in its capacity for a deeper life through a rich communication. This labyrinth of feelings is of course the opposite of Borges's labyrinths, but here we have the best case of a less cosmopolitan and more profoundly rooted side of the Latin American novel. In Deep Rivers … Arguedas projects a picture from inside, but his intention is not merely to give us a better picture; rather his aim, through literature, is to elucidate the drama and beauty of life as a common responsibility. (p. 484)
Julio Ortega, "Spanish: 'Deep Rivers'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 3, Summer, 1979, pp. 483-84.
The poetry of José María Arguedas is not widely known, although with remarkable unanimity critics have noted in his narrative prose the qualities characteristically found in poetry….
The basic explanation [for lack of attention to Arguedas' poetry is] that of language. All of Arguedas' poems were originally written in Quechua, and although in the majority of cases one has the Spanish versions written by Arguedas himself, in reading them in Spanish one encounters the limitations of translation, always major in the case of poetry. (p. 32)
José María Arguedas had a "realistic" concept of language. For him, "words are the names of things or of thoughts or of reflections that originate in things," and the highest quality of language, the blazing peak of creativity, is achieved only in those privileged moments when man can "transmit to words the matter of things," when he can make them vibrate with "all the weight of suffering, of conscience, of sacred lust, of manliness, of … human ash … and stone, and water, and the violent fermentation that leads to birth and song." For this to be possible, for language to be fully realized, man must bind himself closely to the roots of the world; he must be an "unconditional" part of the universe, "in order to be able to interpret chaos and order."
Guided by these assumptions, which constitute the basis of his literary art, Arguedas reflected upon the essence of Quechua and Spanish. It was a meditation that became a part of what he himself called "the heroic and beautiful via crucis of the bilingual artist." As a native speaker of Quechua … José María Arguedas, from the earliest stages of his career, defended the richness of his native tongue….
But the preference for Quechua of Arguedas the poet, in contrast to Arguedas the narrator who chooses Spanish as a "means of legitimate expression of the Peruvian world of the Andes," has a second significance. If in his fiction José María Arguedas struggles with the dual obligation of being faithful to his Indian world and intelligible to his Western readers, in his poetry he chooses the former; that is, he decides to submerge himself in the universe of the Indian, to be its authentic voice, and to find in it his legitimate audience…. (p. 33)
Much of Arguedas' poetry is based on the identification of the voice of the poet with the voice of the Quechua...
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El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (The Fox Above and The Fox Below …), José María Arguedas' posthumous novel, is a complex and extraordinary document. One must ask at the outset how to take this passionate book. (p. 39)
The book consists of three diaries and a "Last Diary?," in which, in effect, the author achieves the final balance and decides on his death [by suicide]. Between these diaries there has grown, with agonizing difficulty, a novel that is to remain unfinished. There are no fictional relations between these diaries and the novel as such; the relationship is more an internal one. Arguedas writes his diaries when the depression or the profound uneasiness he is suffering...
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Arguedas differs from other Peruvian writers who have taken up Andean themes, not only because of his knowledge of the sierra, but also because of his attitude toward the reality expressed in those themes. Arguedas does not show commiseration or charity for the Indian, nor any of those sentiments that ultimately express a distance between whoever is writing and whatever he writes about; rather, he reveals a prior and total identification: he speaks of the sierra as of himself. Therefore, although he points out vices and presents criticism, Arguedas never appears as a judge, always as an impartial witness. This attitude is reflected in the calm poise of his style, in its particular accent of...
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