landscape

topographic map of area near PuquioArguedas portrays the Peruvian landscape as thoroughly imbued with affect. Indeed, he provides an affective topography of the highlands, and is concerned above all with gradients or folds, with charting the more or less sudden switches between different affective states: from sadness to happiness, fear to pride, cowardice to bravery, and so on.

Nature, human structures, groups, and individuals all variously affect and are affected. And in the contagion or influence that connects these different bodies, their distinctions come to seem less important than ever. So, for instance, in “Los escoleros” we see how as the schoolboys play, “fearing nobody [. . .] we filled the heavens with our happiness” (Relatos completos 67); but vice versa, equally “during the night, the sky cleared up a little and the stars happily lit up the village” (61). Or, as the narrator recounts earlier on, “the whole world seemed at peace. [. . .] The freshness of the morning and the happiness of the maternal stream consoled me once more” (53-54).

As the above reference to a “maternal stream” implies, some of this emphasis on affect being common to geographical features as much as to human individuals is due to the indigenous belief that the hills have personalities and character traits. But it’s not so much a personification or humanization of nature as, by contrast, a recognition of a common, impersonal but responsive, substrate that underlies the human and the inhuman alike.

This recognition of commonality can be joyous, and vivifying; it can also be threatening, especially when (staying with “Los escoleros”) young Juancha believes that he might literally be absorbed by the large rock, Jatunrami, that in a fit of exuberance he had climbed but from which he finds himself unable to descend: “I lost hope. Truly, Jatunrami did not want to let me go. I felt that at any moment a huge black mouth might open up in Jatunrami’s head and that it would swallow me up” (51).

It’s at this point that Juancha, like Arguedas himself child of a mestizo lawyer, in panicked Peter-like denial insists on his difference: “I’m not for you; I’m son of a white lawyer [. . .] my hair like corn, my eyes are blue; I’m not for you!” (52). The irony being that Juancha uses Quechua expressions (“Tayta”; “mak’tillo”) and sentence forms in his address, showing the extent of what Angel Rama would term his transculturation.

Though it is not as though the mistis (whites or mestizos) are absent from this affective landscape. “El vengativo,” one of the less characteristic of Arguedas’s stories, in epistolary form and told from the perspective of a “principal,” makes clear the emotions that course through the veins of the dominant: “how happy man can become through rage as much as through love” (Obras completas 33); “my heart was engorged with rage” (35).

Nor is it quite that the indigenous feel only happiness while the principals are defined solely by their rage: the common people (“comuneros”) too have learned to hate, if often ineffectively and impotently, while in “Yawar (Fiesta)” the mistis soon repent of the rationalizing innovations that they themselves have imposed upon traditional Indian celebrations. As the drunken native bullfighters replace the refined but cowardly imported Spaniard, the misti spectators’ “hearts jumped with elation. And as they could not resist the force of their contentment, they broke out into nervous applause, shook each others’ hands; they congratulated themselves. ‘At last!'” (133-134).

It’s in these twists and turns, this scarred and unpredictable landscape, these affective dependencies and openings, that much of the interest and motivation of Arguedas’s stories reside.

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