Arguedas, José María (Vol. 18)
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. (See also CLC, Vol. 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 89-92.)
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...
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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...
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Antonio Cornejo Polar
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...
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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 prevent his going on with the novel. The first of them opens with his decision to kill himself, but it is evident that the act is being postponed by the novel that has imposed itself upon the writer and which, as a consequence of this fervent exorcism, is beginning to take form. The "Second Diary" … seems to indicate that the author has deferred his suicide because, in fact, he has in hand a novel, one that is growing despite his enormous difficulties….
The "Third Diary" … states that "suffocation" is detaining his work of fiction; nevertheless, his uneasiness does not demand suicide here either, but rather the recourse of travel…. [The "Last Diary?"] puts an end to this process: "I have struggled against death, or...
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Mario Vargas Llosa
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 sincerity. (pp. 53-4)
In his novels and short stories, José María Arguedas succeeds—the first to do so in Latin America—in replacing the abstract and subjective Indians created by the Modernists and Indigenists with real characters, that is, with concrete beings, portrayed objectively and situated both socially and historically…. The principal obstacle, certainly, was language itself…. Arguedas succeeded in bringing to Spanish-speaking readers a translation of the Indians' own language. In this way Arguedas simultaneously succeeded in recreating within Spanish the inner world of the Indian: his sensibility, his psychology, his mythology. And we all know that the emotional and spiritual qualities of a people are...
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