Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Jose Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930): Witness to an Age

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Jose Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930): Witness to an Age

Article excerpt

PERUVIANS called him--and still do--the Amauta, the Quechua language word for "master". In his lifetime, and after his untimely death at the age of thirty-five, he was regarded as a master not only in Peru but in many other parts of Latin America, and today, more than sixty years after his death, the influence of his life and work can still be felt thanks to the publication of several dozen of his books, his letters and much of his journalism.

Jose Carlos Mariategui was born in 1894 and died in 1930. His short life, in the last few years of which he was confined to a wheelchair and suffered the amputation of a leg, was remarkable for its richness and creativity. As one of his biographers has observed, his considerable output of work is "a triumph of intelligence over pain and an unceasing battle of the will to dominate a precarious destiny".

He stood apart from the Peruvian and Latin American intellectual landscape in the early part of the century. This landscape, which his tragic life and the powerful influence of his activities were to transform, was then dominated by the modernist movement in literature and by the early working-class and student struggles. A flail young man from a poor provincial family, he became an apprentice printer on the Lima daily, La Prensa, in 1909, and while still an adolescent contributed light pieces to the paper under the pen name Juan Chronicler. He soon founded and ran an opposition paper, La Razon, an act that forced him to leave for Europe where he spent three years and, as he said later, "got married and espoused the ideas I would later defend". Right to the end of his life he was publisher and editor of the cultural and literary journal Amauta, which had a crucial influence on Peru's intellectual development.

Mariategui showed remarkable insight as a witness and analyst of the spiritual and material crisis of his time and as a polemicist and popularizer of contemporary ideas, from surrealism and avant-garde literature (including the work of Joyce) to socialism (starting with Marx, although he also grasped the importance of Gramsci with astonishing intuition and was a lucid interpreter of Sorel and Croce) and psychoanalysis. One of his many noteworthy accomplishments was to discover and explore the affinity between Freudianism and Marxism.

The development of a theory of myth as a driving force in modern man's behaviour and a clear-sighted analysis of the spell cast on the European masses by their demagogical and populist leaders were important features of Mariategui's work in the 1920s, when he also organized a trade union and the first Peruvian Marxist party, which he called "socialist" rather than "communist". …

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