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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