07 May 2012

My impulse to cite Kafka in a discussion of political poetry may have come from a conference speech by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1963, when he said "Kafka wrote slim books which are only concerned with specific, petit bourgeois problems. But if one reads them in depth and discovers that totality which a modern, new novel must always aspire to attain. The totality is what the writers and readers have in common. Society produces both of us, so we must be able to recognize and understand each other through this common context, which makes it possible for us at every instant to speak to each other. So it does not matter very much if literature is called committed or not..."

In a similar vein, César Vallejo wrote in 1930 in his reflections on Mayakovsky that Bach, Beethoven, the Pyramids, Chaplin are "socialist" because "they answer to a universal concept of the masses and to feelings, ideas and interest common to.. all human beings without exception."  Vallejo decried the emotional manipulation of Maxime Gorky's novels: "The socialist poet does not reduce his socialism to the themes or technique of the poem. He does not reduce it to the inserting of fashionable words on economy, dialectics or Marxist law, to mobilizing ideas and political requisitions from invoices or communist sources, nor to characterizing the actions of nature and the spirit with epithets taken from the proletarian revolution." It is at times a confused essay, especially as he was concurrently writing the socialist realist novel Tungsten, with clear demarcations of good and evil, which was the primary influence on José Maria Arguedas' first prose work Agua, which Arguedas said was "written with hatred, with the fury of a pure hatred, the kind that springs from universal loves up there in the regions of the world where two factions confront each other with inplacable cruelty - one group that bleeds and another that squeezes out the last drop of blood," the stark economic divisions of provincial South American towns affecting literary form, contrasted in Vallejo's mind with Mayakovsky's demise and European modernism.

Speaking of Arguedas, there is some footage of the Yawar (bloody) Fiestas from Cotabambas province, Peru: the tradition of tying a condor to the back of a bull on Independence Day to celebrate the joining of the Spanish and the Incan. The winged animal suggests a dragon figure joining earth and sky like the Mayan Q'uq'umatz, but for the Incans the sky was an empty space to be filled by Viracocha, whose top attendants assumed the forms of the cougar, condor, falcon and snake. This well edited 95 seconds is embed-disabled, but this has more footage of the type of bullfighting Arguedas depicted:

Here the condor rituals lead to it taking flight while a woman reads a poem:

1 comment:

Ian Keenan said...

Just getting into Claudio Lomnitz' Death and the Idea of Mexico and there's an inaccurate citation of Arguedas on to prove a larger point which I may or may not agree with:

"The association between evolutionary inferiority and intimacy with death was also commonly deployed within nascent nation-states of the nineteenth century, in a fashion that parallels its usage by the great colonial powers... In the case of Peru, the writer and ethnographer Jose Maria Arguedas wrote a novel, Yawar Fiesta (Blood Fiesta), on the clash between indigenous and urban society that turned entirely on differential attitudes and practices toward death and sport." (37)

Academics love to allege a complicity between the Modernists and the patriarchal heads of the town, like Arguedas was being contracted in a smoke filled room to show the Indians were bloody. Arguedas lived for the Indians, changed his prose style to approximate Indian syntax and made it his legacy to preserve for posterity Indian culture. That's how you get a soccer team named after you. You could credibly make that allegation about Mario Vargas Llosa, Arguedas' student who has recently been promoting Arguedas with a book tour, who wrote a popular, inaccurate book The Green House about Peruvian Indian culture that toed the demeaning, Europeanizing line, who has gotten involved in politics in support of global finance's shock therapy and covering up government atrocities he was picked to investigate, but for Lomnitz' purposes the Green House isn't so much about death and it's author is alive. This doesn't negate the larger point that Lomnitz is making which I will return to now that I have defended Arguedas here.