Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rethinking Community from Peru. the Political Philosophy of José María Arguedas

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rethinking Community from Peru. the Political Philosophy of José María Arguedas

Article excerpt

IRINA ALEXANDRA FELDMAN, Rethinking Community from Peru. The Political Philosophy of José María Arguedas. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2014. 182 pp. ISBN 0822963078.

The literary trajectory ofJosé María Arguedas (1911-1969), Peru's foremost bi-cultural writer, charts a fraught, though highly productive, course, mirroring the vicissitudes of a life spent struggling to integrate into coastal society after a childhood lived in the Andean highlands. Merging autobiography with literary invention and ethnographic documentation, especially after studying anthropology in the 1950s, and writing in a subtly Quechuanized Castilian literary language, his fiction, and anthropology, challenge epistemological boundaries and attempts made by critics to interpret them. Steeped in ethnographic insight, his literature casts the indigenous community and, by extension Andean, and Peruvian, culture(s) and society, as radically mestizo. Exploring their diversity and conflicts, and resisting easy categorization as indigenista, it has inspired innovative contextual/ crossdisciplinary readings, highlighting its narrative 'transculturation' (Rama), 'heterogeneity' (Cornejo Polar) and anthropological aspects (Rowe, Lienhard, Moore, Lambright), and Arguedas as a non- or neo-indigenista writer. These readings recognize Arguedas' important premise: that (Peruvian) culture is fluid and multifarious. The writer's task is to elucidate this from inside and outside - an intellectual and cultural stance grasped by Feldman in her valuable study of the politicocultural aspects of his late literary work.

Implicitly starting with Arguedas' notion of a plural indigenous-Andean, Peruvian culture and society, and undertaking a selective reading of his literature, and ethnography, within their socio-cultural contexts, whilst referencing other anthropological works, Feldman's study has two main foci. These are his penultimate novel, Todas las sangres (1964), the subject of a heated roundtable discussion (1965) and still misunderstood, discussed in her introduction (and my 2003 monograph) and Arguedas' political conceptions, or 'philosophy', as extrapolated from this novel. Linking Arguedas' notion of a multi-ethnic Andean Peruvian culture to that of a diversified political field, Feldman shows how Todas contests (latter-day liberal) concepts of 'community' and 'nation', and 'widens the field of the political' (21). In four chapters she interrogates key political notions through readings of Todas, anthropological studies and European political philosophy (e.g. Derrida, Nancy, Žižek), underscoring the prescience of Arguedas' relativist Andeanist approach exploring the possibility of an alternative Marxist model of nationhood. Although unachieved in Peru, this, Feldman highlights, found fruition in Evo Morales' Bolivia, designated a 'plurinational state' in 2007.

Fittingly, Chapter 1 tackles Todas' contestation of the notions of 'sovereignty' and 'authority' (discussed vis-a-vis Agamben, Schmitt, Habermas) through its representation of a weak Peruvian sovereign state faced with co-existing, yet competing, local 'sovereignties' and authorities in the highlands (traditional hacendados; indigenous ayllusl communities; forces of transnational capital), with their own ideas about socio-political organization and governance. …

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