The Mexican Dream

In his complex meditation on the sixteenth century conquest of Mexico, the French novelist and essayist J.M.G. Le Clezio, author of more than twenty books, mourns the destruction of the pre-Columbian Indian civilizations of North America. Le Clezio provides vivid descriptions of the sophistication and cultural vulnerability of the great Amerindian groups: the Mexica, Maya, Purepecha, Mixteca, Zapotec, Cora, Seri, Yaqui, Otomi, and many others. He points out that at the time of the Spanish arrival in 1517, most of the great indigenous discoveries in irrigation, agriculture, and architecture were only a few centuries old and had not yet had time to develop into a coherent classical period. In many ways the Indian groups were more advanced than the Europeans who destroyed them. The “dream” of the title is his speculation that the arts and religious philosophies being developed by the Amerindians would have been of immeasurable importance to the Western world, and that Mexican concepts of harmony, cyclical time, and catastrophic creation might have provided points of departure for new scientific and humanistic thinking that would have led the modern world to greater equilibrium than it currently enjoys.

The book begins with a vivid retelling of the main events of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, with particular emphasis on the views of participants in this process: the soldier Bernal Diaz, and the priests Bartolome de las Casas and Bernardino de Sahagun. Le Clezio dramatizes the horrors of the disintegration of indigenous political and social structures with profound sympathy for the Indians. By scrutinizing and interconnecting a wide range of source materials about Indian cultures, Le Clezio assembles an eloquent overview of Indian philosophies and religious beliefs. These beliefs are analyzed in terms of the explanations they offer for why Indian groups were so vulnerable to assault by the Spanish.