Academic journal article Chasqui

From Portrait of an Artist to Portrait of an Illa: Ernesto En Los Rios Profundos

Academic journal article Chasqui

From Portrait of an Artist to Portrait of an Illa: Ernesto En Los Rios Profundos

Article excerpt

Considered to be Jose Maria Arguedas's "most widely celebrated novel" (Tarica 88), Los rios profundos has stirred the imaginations of readers since its publication in 1958. (1) Although some critics have associated this novel of "simple wonder" (Kelley 76) with European Bildungsromcme--novels of formation in which child characters mature into adulthood--the novel actually parodies the genre. (2) From this perspective, the text does not merely detail the development of a young man. Instead, it transgresses conventional European literary norms and categorizations, thereby encouraging its readers to reevaluate the western model of development as outlined in the Bildungsroman and to think beyond this paradigm. The novel can only be read as a Bildungsroman when one fills in the gaps and ambiguities with his or her own expectations and pre-existing desires, forcing the literary into an ill-fitting trope marred by contradictions. However, if one reads the novel as engaged in a project of mimicry or parody, then Ernesto's position does not need to be resolved since his condition is exactly what marks the novel's "critical distance" (Hutcheon, A Theory 6) from the Bildungsroman, (3) This difference functions to jeopardize the stability of modernity's natural unfolding of history. Rather than working to resolve the uncertainties that unsettle an optimistic and conclusive ending, I recognize this ambiguity as integral to the structure of Los rios profundos. In such a reading, the novel challenges the legitimacy of a "social order" symbolically represented in the Bildungsroman (Moretti 16)--an order that ignores coloniality and that limits the terms of incorporation such that the indigenous subject appears always outside of modernity and the nation-state.

The traditional Bildungsroman tells a story beyond that of a man's journey to his own understanding and socialization. We can also read it allegorically to narrate the history of a national or global trajectory. In The Way of the World Franco Moretti notes that the Bildungsroman is a form born of modernity that incarnates modernity's values and ideals. Youth in these stories accentuates modernity's dynamism and instability and places meaning in the future, not the past (Moretti 5). But what often goes unnoticed is that in order to do so the Bildungsroman presents a particular western view of youth and growth. Modernity's tendency toward a set of supposedly universalized and transparent values and knowledge leads, in the Bildungsroman, to the universalization of a particular concept of childhood and development, which in the form of a national allegory expands to encompass the identity and growth not only of an individual, but of an entire "imagined community" (Anderson). While modernity purports to be "the natural unfolding of world history," it is really "the regional narrative of the Eurocentric worldview" (Mignolo, "Preamble" 13). This is the unspoken narrative that comes to life in the Bildungsroman.

Los rios profundos departs from the European Bildungsroman in two important ways. First, when the story ends, Ernesto remains a young fourteen-year-old boy. It is thus more of an Entwicklungsroman, or a novel of "mere growth," than a traditional Bildungsroman (Pratt 36). A look at the complications and contradictions that arise in readings that assert or refute categorizing Los rios profundos as a Bildungsroman indicates the difficulties of discussing the novel in such terms and the need for a new vocabulary. But considering the novel as an Entwicklungsroman is more than a question of taxonomy; it opens new avenues for interpretation and meaning. The distinction between terms highlights the power dynamics that inhibit the protagonist from gaining full (adult) authority and from being completely incorporated into dominant white culture. Ernesto's status as a child ties him to conceptions of the Indian and of America as underdeveloped. But his behavior works against the notion of the child (and thus Indian) as weak, inferior, and illogical. …

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