rebel dignityParallel to the struggle between PRI, PAN, and PRD for votes in the upcoming (July) Mexican presidential elections, the Zapatistas are conducting what they term an “Other Campaign”. They launched this campaign last year with their “Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona” (Spanish text here).

In the midst of all the regional excitement about the Left’s victories in successive elections–Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile–here, then, is one group that is continuing, and indeed stepping up, its extra-parliamentary activism.

Not that this is any coincidence. The Colectivo Situaciones hit the nail on the head when they write:

In effect, the Sixth Declaration is a much-needed text that aims to interrupt a definite tendency [deriva]: a tendency that orients the energies and victories of the past few years’ struggles towards a revitalization of forms of sovereignty that are still trapped within traditional modes of representation, and that has succeeded, in line with the movement of the times, to construct a hypothesis appropriating the potential of the present situation by means of an affirmation of and from insurgent movements. (Bienvenidos a la selva 22-23)

In other words, if Chávez, Lula, Morales, and Bachelet are, in their different ways, instances of the conversion of constituent into constituted power, a constituted power that by definition blocks an analysis and critique of the form of power itself, the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration is intended to derail that mechanism, and to rethink a politics that would extend rather than halt the process of constitution.

Hence the Zapatistas’ stress on autonomy, self-government, and even their self-critique, suggesting that they themselves had subordinated grassroots empowerment to the politico-military structure of the EZLN.

Rather than vertical consolidation, the Sixth Declaration insists on the importance of undoing all residual or incipient transcendence. It envisages, indeed, the dissolution of the EZLN itself, its subsumption into a plane of immanence: “perhaps it would be better with nothing below, just completely level [puro planito todo], without any military, and that is why the zapatistas are soldiers so that there will not be any soldiers” (332). Instead of building up, the Zapatistas are expanding outwards.

And John Holloway is right to note that this expansion is not envisaged in terms of solidarity, though “this has always been an element of the response to the Zapatistas: admiration for them, solidarity with them” (317; emphasis in original). Holloway continues:

The pro-Zapatista movement has always included two elements: the element of solidarity with an indigenous struggle, on the one hand, and taking on the struggle for humanity and dignity as our own struggle, on the other. My feeling is that with the Sixth Declaration and the abandonment of indigenous rights as principal focus of the EZLN’s struggle, they are telling us “We’ve always said that behind the ski-masks we are in fact you, but perhaps you didn’t understand this so well, so we’ll say it to you more directly and in another way.” (317)

The Zapatistas make this point playfully, joking with the conventions of solidarity. They promise to send a lorryload of maize to Cuba, in a lorry called “Chompiras,” so long as a convenient place can be found for the transaction, and so long as the Cubans can wait until harvest. They suggest sending crafts and coffee to Europe. They debate doing more:

And perhaps we might also send you some pozol, which gives much strength in the resistance, but who knows if we will send it to you, because pozol is more our way, and what if it were to hurt your bellies and weaken your struggles and the neoliberals defeat you. (345)

The Zapatistas seek to expand and intensify their network, playfully, creatively, and performatively. And despite certain populist resonances in their vocabulary, it’s this deterritorializing and excessive (because symbolic?) tendency that marks their break from such state fetishism.

Zapatista sign
(Crossposted to an ungrammatical multitude.)


Art Matters cover“It occurs to me,” Peter de Bolla writes in Art Matters, “that closing one’s eyes the better to see is no bad thing” (52). Later, de Bolla will suggest we “close our ears” the better to hear (81). Aesthetic appreciation cannot be reduced to a single sense: it must be affective; it must be tactile. Indeed, the aesthetic is here defined precisely as an affective response to a work of art. And art? Art is any object that provokes such affect, since “the quality of being ‘art’ lies not, in any sense susceptible of description or analysis, in the object but in the response it elicits” (18).

Yet de Bolla’s book concentrates, too predictably, on “high” art and, what is more, on “difficult” art: Marc Quinn’s Self; Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis; a Glenn Gould performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; and William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven.” De Bolla states that to have chosen otherwise would have been to pander to the “politically correct” or to fashionability (132). And these difficult works have been stepping stones in his “own ongoing aesthetic education” (21). Might it not, however, have been illuminating–not simply tokenism–to have asked what one learns, about “high” art as much as about “low,” from a rock concert or a sports game?

De Bolla makes the democratic gesture of admitting that the “simple, trivial, or roughly worked up” can provoke a “strong” or “deep” affective, and so aesthetic, response. But, as his chapter titles indicate, there are certain forms of strength, certain modes of depth, that de Bolla favours over others: “Serenity”; “Clarity”; “Equanimity”; and “Fragility.” A limited palette, no? He has, in short, other criteria for aesthetic evaluation that he is less keen to articulate. And though he avoids using the term, surely these criteria come under the rubric of “Refinement.”

For despite its absence from these pages, the concept of refinement is suggested immediately that the “simple” or “trivial” are equated with the “roughly worked up.” It is also present in the book’s emphasis on preparation: “How can one prepare for art?” (24). And it is, further, insistently indicated in the stress de Bolla puts on aesthetic appreciation as hard work, “hard won” (130). For is not refinement the work of preparation that transforms the rough hewn into a commodity fit for “civilized” use, be that commodity oil or sugar, art or aesthete.

And I wouldn’t be the first to observe that Sir Henry Tate’s transfer of capital from the sugar business to the art business was merely another refining process, another purification, a laundering of money still reeking of blood and slave labour in Caribbean plantations.

De Bolla, however, wants to excise all traces of the social from his account of aesthetics: it is not that history, ideology, and so on do not matter, he tells us; it is that they are not properly aesthetic aspects of the artwork. But such an excision is more easily said than done. And rather than continue to berate the book for its attempts to repress the social and historical, it is more worthwhile to focus on the points at which they return.

For though the book’s grand narrative ends up being “the slow but finally telling realization of the acceptance of solitude” (145), its most interesting and persuasive chapter tells a rather different story. This is de Bolla’s account of Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis, a work that is (as de Bolla himself notes) inescapably public.

Vir Heroicus Sublimis
De Bolla argues that the size and scale of Newman’s painting, the fact that there can never be any one good position from which it can be viewed,

demands that the viewer resist a particular form of looking, traverse the reflective stare of looking at oneself looking in order to enter a shared space in which the nakedness of presentation asks one to face up to being here, in the visibility of a communally constructed presence. (40)

De Bolla goes on to term this “the hushed sublimity of a shared world” (40), but I’m at a loss to see why it should be hushed, and also believe that we can resist this “vir heroicus”‘s construction of sublimity.

Why not the noisy immanence of a shared world?

It’s true that New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in which this canvas is hung (and in which it has to be hung, in that it’s clearly unsuitable for private possession), is a secular temple to the aesthetic. But it’s also one of the most-visited museums in the world, a bustling frenzy of school parties, tourists, and day trippers. If this painting incites “the presentation of the body to vision–and not just my body, but the somatic in general, the social body constructed in the practice of viewing in public” (41), why should we accede to what de Bolla himself terms the “virtual effect of transcendence” (28)?

To put this another way: the affective (for de Bolla, therefore, aesthetic) experience that this painting evokes is necessarily social. It is, in this sense, indeed dehumanizing, both in that it undoes the subjective mastery of the humanist individual, and in that what de Bolla rightly notes as its timeliness, its sense “of being in the moment, of being now” (45), makes a mockery of those overdetermined narratives invoking some Western “shared culture [. . .] shared humanity” (28). Before this painting, in this museum, we are bodies in motion: our relation to each other is affective rather than simply cognitive; in fact, our sense of our distinctiveness is dissolved, if only slightly, in the wonderment and distraction, attentive inattention, that de Bolla (again, convincingly) argues is the domain of the aesthetic.

Here art is a catalyst for unrefinement: mixing up what had previously been separated out; accepting, indeed welcoming, impurity.

Cannot the aesthetic then be considered, not merely as a mode of bondage in the machine age, but also as an experience of rapport suitable for an age still to come? This is where a trip to a concert or the football might have been instructive.

In the meantime, we should note that sublimity and sovereignty are not merely virtual effects. They’re secured by the guard lurking around the corner…


Despite, or perhaps because of, my aversion to meta-blogging…

I am due this weekend to contribute to a conference on blogging, as part of a panel on “Blogging in Education”. I think my role will involve some devil’s advocacy, especially in the context of self-selected blog enthusiasts.

Here is the abstract I submitted:

“Blogs and Research: Synergy or Distraction? Diffusion or Challenge?”

Can blogs be a place of intellectual and academic production, or do they provide no more than the quick fix of evanescent publicity, a grandiose mode of procrastination? Alternatively, can they be a means by which intellectuals connect with a broader public, diffusing academic work more widely than is usual? Or, conversely, does the blog form, and the consequent interaction with a new audience, perhaps challenge the ways in which we have been thinking and doing research?

I am not sure of the answers to these questions, but in my presentation I will explore them, drawing on my experience both writing and reading (and commenting on) blogs.

And frankly, as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out regarding the role of blogs in either research or indeed teaching.

On the former, for instance, I note that my friend Idelber, whose interests are very close to mine (combining Area Studies and Critical Theory), and who has presented a conference paper describing blogging as an “amazingly innovative experience” in something like public intellectuality, has now stopped blogging, most likely permanently.

On the latter, my former Milwaukee colleague Donna is teaching a course on “Blogging in Theory and Practice”, which naturally enough has its own blog, but I can’t say that my own attempts to integrate blogs into courses (see these links, for instance, or these) have yet quite got off the ground. (Though I did see a rush of hits from local domains in the week leading up to the exam for a class I taught last semester. The last of these visits was at gone 3am the morning of the [8:30am] exam itself.)

And in any case, oh look: as I write, Technorati, on which my pedagogic blogging relies, is once more down.

A blog does, after all, take a fair amount of time, especially if you want to have any readers–and if not, then though there is still some point to the exercise, there is rather less than there could be. Moreover, the worry is that the few readers you do attract will be unsympathetic. Anonymous blogging is also fairly hard work, as far as I can see.

Blogs do, however, provide a space to try out some ideas in a semi-public, semi-permanent forum. Last week, for instance, I gave a talk on ruins, some small parts of which were first tried out here and here. And I’ve given two papers in which I’ve drawn on the notes written up at my other blog, Latin America on Screen. Plus, of course, this very post now brings together preliminary thoughts towards what I might say on Saturday.

But if blog entries in a research context are in effect very early first drafts towards what will only later become more polished pieces, well… first drafts are usually soon erased, and for good reason.

Comments welcomed.

factory revisited

Another guest post from my friend Jeremy, in response to a previous post here, on Simone Weil…

I was a bit perplexed by the original post in that you argued, understandably, that Weil was attempting to hegemonize the power relations within the factory, by making the workers give their reasoned consent to the production process, through greater knowledge of its overall purpose and greater involvement in decision-making as a result. At the same time, however, you see in Weil a precursor of today’s “take your kid to work” day, complete subsumption, affective labour etc., which, if I’ve understood you, you take to be characteristic of posthegemony, of the end of any hegemonic relation. So by instituting hegemonic relations Weil brings them to an end and heralds posthegemony. . . I don’t quite get this.

For me, a possible answer to this apparent contradiction lies in the detail of what Weil is actually proposing, since I read this slightly differently from you, as follows:

Yes, it’s certainly true that Weil bemoans the brutalising and debasing nature of factory work, arguing for the need for workers to have a rational grasp of what they’re doing by being made aware of the purpose (the use value) of the components they produce. However, this is only one part of the story.

For all her criticisms of the dehumanising realities of factory labour, Weil is not entirely insensitive to the “moments d’euphorie [moments of euphoria]” that factory work affords her (Weil 1951, 52), to what she terms “une certaine joie de l’effort musculaire [a certain joy in physical effort]” (76). In a kind of dialectic of euphoria and debasement, the joy Weil derives from her labours relates directly to way in which the repetitive rhythms of factory work “brutalise” workers by reducing them to a more primitive, animalistic state, to the state of unthinking beasts of burden. As she puts it in one of her diary entries: “7h-10h40: continué * rythme rapide, malgré malaise. Effort, mais aussi après quelque temps sorte de bonheur machinal, plutôt avilissant [7am-10.40am: continued * rapid rate, despite unease. Effort, but also after a while a sort of machine-like happiness, more or less debasing]” (61).

Model T assembly lineThus, even in Weil’s account of the working conditions in a Fordist factory, the apparently unnatural rhythms of modern factory labour are taken to reduce or return the worker to a more primitive state that, although debasing or “avilissant”–or rather, precisely because it is “avilissant”–elicits a strange “bonheur machinal.”

In her suggestions for the reform of working conditions in French factories, Weil proposes to mitigate the brutalising, debasing effects of routinised factory labour by increasing the extent to which workers are made aware of the purpose of their efforts, reconnected with the products of their labours, at least intellectually, and hence included in the decision-making process.

However, this strengthening of reason and intellect in the face of the debasement of purely physical labour does not imply rejecting outright the “joy”, “euphoria”, or “happiness” Weil experienced through submitting herself to Fordism’s repetitive rhythms. Rather, as she puts it, “la condition d’un bonheur plein [the precondition for complete happiness]” in the factory is the achievement of a harmonious “union entre un ouvrier et sa machine [union between a worker and her machine],” since it this union alone that “fait du travail un équivalent de l’art [makes of work an equivalent of art]” (168).

Weil’s suggestion reflects what appears to be an adherence to a Kantian conception of art and the aesthetic. As Terry Eagleton has explained, for Kant the aesthetic offers a way of mediating between the realms of pure sensuality and disembodied intellect, representing “an elusive third way between the vagaries of subjective feeling and the bloodless rigour of the understanding” (The Ideology of the Aesthetic 17). As such, the aesthetic holds out the promise of healing “the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination” (20).

In Weil’s proposed reforms of working conditions, then, the initially disruptive, debasing rhythms of factory labour will, when leavened with an increased emphasis on the intellectual component of labour, ultimately prove essential to a harmonious working experience, in which abstract duty, in the form of the orders of the time and motion man, and pleasurable inclination, the “bonheur machinal”, will be reconciled.

It is because of its ability to heal the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination that Eagleton attributes a particular role to the aesthetic in bourgeois ideology:

The ultimate binding force of the bourgeois social order, in contrast to the coercive apparatus of absolutism, will be habits, pieties, sentiments, and affections. And this is equivalent to saying that power in such an order has become aestheticized. It is at one with the body’s spontaneous impulses, entwined with sensibility and the affections, lived out in unreflective custom. Power is now inscribed in the minutiae of subjective experience, and the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination is accordingly healed. To dissolve the law to custom, to sheer unthinking habit, is to identify it with the human subject’s own pleasurable well-being, so that to transgress the law would signify a deep self-violation. The new subject, which bestows on itself self-referentially a law at one with its immediate experience, finding its freedom in its necessity, is modelled on the aesthetic artefact. (20)

Now, isn’t this precisely a definition of the functioning of habitus in Bourdieu, of the “amor fati”, of the way objective necessity (working class kids don’t go to university) becomes internalised, allied with subjective inclination, so that to even imagine going to university becomes “a deep self-violation” of the collective ethos (“who do you think you are?”).

The habitus, after all, generates “actions which are reasonable without being the product of reasoned design [. . .] informed by a kind of objective finality without being consciously organized in relation to an explicitly constituted end” (Logic of Practice 50-51). In other words, practice is endowed with the very “purposefulness without purpose” that defines the Kantian aesthetic object. Hence Bourdieu can describe practice in unmistakably aesthetic terms as containing “something ineffable, something [. . .] which pleases (or displeases) without concepts” (Outline 1-2). Hence also Bourdieu’s constant recourse to poetic and musical motifs to communicate how practice and habitus function: Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, Mallarme’s poem “Le Demon de l’analogie” as title of the final chapter of The Logic of Practice, allusions to musical improvisation, Kabyle habitus endowed with “the eternal charm of Greek art, of which Marx spoke,” and so on.

cubiclesTo return to Weil, then, and to shifting relations of power and forms of sovereignty. . . Consider Bourdieu’s narrative of a shift from the “gentle” forms of domination under pre-capitalism (“disinterested” gift exchange, relations of fealty and honour) to outright coercion (the brutal conditions Weil experiences in the factory) followed by a “return” to a modernised version of those earlier “gentle” forms of domination. Wouldn’t this be useful here?

(Bourdieu’s is, of course, an inflection and extension of Marx’s description of the shift from feudalism, with its relations of fealty, loyalty, and personal honour between lord and serf, to the “naked exploitation” of capitalist relations: viz. both The Communist Manifesto and the 1844 Manuscripts.)

If we apply Bourdieu’s narrative to this case, then we get not the institution of hegemony which, paradoxically, leads to posthegemony. Rather we get the institution of an aestheticized relation of power, which mediates between reasoned consent and let’s call it affect or sensibility, yes by involving a greater dose of intellect or reason, but not by that alone and hence anticipating our current world of affective labour, “take your kid to work,” and so on. This seems to me to get you out of the problem I identified at the beginning, of seeing posthegemony as being created by hegemony.

This has been a guest post from Jeremy.


Juan Goytisolo“I went [to Sarajevo] with many ideas,” Juan Goytisolo is quoted as saying in Ben Ehrenreich’s “Me and the Major”. “I came out only with doubts, no certainties at all.” It’s not clear, however, whether he is talking of his first visit to the city, in 1993, or his subsequent, 1994, trip.

In 1993, if his “Sarajevo Notebook” is any guide, Goytisolo finds that his experience of the city under siege leaves him little time for such doubts:

Life there acquires a vertiginous rhythm and intensity. [. . .] New friendships become deep and long-lived. Sincerity and a longing for truth take hold. One’s sense of morality is refined and improved. Discarded concepts hurriedly cast on the dungheap of history are reborn with a new richness and strength: the need for commitment, the urgency of solidarity. Things that previously seemed important wane and lose substances; others slight in appearance suddenly acquire greatness and stand out as self-evident truths. (51)

Even so, and despite this insistence on “experiences and images that don’t fade from the mind” (51), in practice what emerges from Goytisolo’s account of his trip is how heavily mediated he found his encounter with war.

His first dispatch for El País, for instance, opens with a mediation on an advert glanced in Paris as he is en route to the airport. These feature “the blackened manly face of an actor (Tom Berenger?) beneath capital letters of a film title: SNIPER, CRACK MARKSMAN” (3). This “true grit face of the Crack Marksman” is, Goytisolo suggests, “the sublimated ideal and ineffable model of those shooting for real in Sarajevo” (3). But how to distinguish the ideal from the real?

For, however much he lambastes the indifference of the European public, and particularly the reticence of other intellectuals to visit the city (“Attempts by Susan Sontag and myself to bring writers of renown to Sarajevo have ended in fiasco” [47]), the Spanish novelist is continually aware that he himself also remains at one remove from what’s going on. His bullet-proof vest, for instance, “compulsory to board UN planes [. . .] privileges me and separates me out from the rest of the besieged” (50).

And at the airport in Rome, headed to Split, though Goytisolo casts an eye askance at his fellow travellers who are, he imagines, on some kind of war tourism thrill, “on their way to the land of Bosnia in their search for a succulent repast, a huge repertoire of genuine horror scenes” (4), is he not reflecting on his own motivations? For is he not, too, but another of these “seekers after such singular encounters” (4)?

Madrid posterMoreover, this account of violence in the Balkans, and international indifference, is continually framed in terms of Goytisolo’s own obsessions with the prelude to fascism in the 1930s, and above all the fate of the Spanish Republic. He has prepared for his experience of Sarajevo by re-reading Antonio Machado’s account of Madrid under siege: “Whoever heard the first shells fired over Madrid by the rebel batteries, set up in the Casa de Campo, will always remember one of the most distasteful, distressing emotions . . . that can ever be experienced in life” (49).

Goytisolo (born, Barcelona, 1931) surely never heard those shells over Madrid. Is he now, “profoundly reliving the feelings of the poet canonized by our socialist politicians” (49), finding in Sarajevo an aide mémoire to reconstruct an intangible scene of Spanish trauma?

But is this not too easy a critique? Despite his claims to experience and the authenticity of his encounter with the Balkan conflict, Goytisolo hardly hides or shies away from the multiple mediations that frame his account. His point, indeed, is not that there has been silence about the fate of Sarajevo, or even that much obfuscation: he asks rhetorically whether the tourists, who he has later decided are in fact off to a beach holiday on the Dalmatian coast, can “be unaware of what is happening only a hundred kilometers away?” (6). Of course not. “We cannot plead ignorance: the journalists and photographers dispatched to Sarajevo and the war fronts have generally ‘covered’ the news with exemplary honesty and courage” (47). It is not that we do not know. It is that we do not do anything about our knowledge.

The difference between Sarajevo in the 1990s and Madrid in the 1930s, then, is properly posthegemonic. The issue is not ideology or truth, but affect and habit. For some reason, Europe in the 1990s is no longer affected by what happens at or within its borders. The problem is not doubt–if only it were–or the unreliability of the media. It is a question of habituation.

Finally, then, if we lack solidarity, it is not because we lack imagination. What’s required, rather, is an affective rapport, a resonance that is felt physically. We need to be moved, immediately if without resort to ideologies of authenticity.


Los rios profundosArguedas’s Los ríos profundos often repeats many of its central concerns, producing a series of doubled or multiple figures that show different sides to or perspectives on very similar issues.

For instance, there is a complex relation between the novel’s various paternal figures: el viejo; the narrator’s father; and Father Linares. El viejo demonstrates authority without tenderness; Ernesto’s father, tenderness without authority; and Linares, the director of the boarding school in which much of the book is set, combines authoritarianism with, at times, genuine care for his charges.

In the end, as part of his progress into adulthood, Ernesto will reject all three, at the point at which they coincide in insisting that he stay at the Abancay school. He therefore rejects all paternalism, though not without having seen its benefits and seductions.

In this regard, I now think I was wrong in my last entry to identify so quickly the son’s attitude to Cuzco’s ruins with that of his father. Whereas the father expects a transcendent judgement at the end of time, and is prepared to wait for messianic justice when the archangel finally blows his trumpet, Ernesto perceives an immanent disturbance already alive in the Inca stones. Moreover, this difference also defines the ways in which the two move through social space: the father is solitary and nomadic, refusing commitment; the son wants always to participate, to submerge himself in the activity all around him.

And it is paternalism that’s at stake in perhaps the most important of the novel’s doublings: the two insurrections, first on the part of the mestizas, the chicheras who raid the store of salt hoarded by the landlords; the second by the colonos, the indigenous peasants who enter the town at the novel’s climax.

Both insurrections are ultimately failures, but in rather different ways. The first fails because of the inadequacy of a model of political action premised on solidarity. The failure of the second (if it is indeed a failure) is much harder to explain, but precisely its inexplicability also indicates the limits of solidarity.

The chicheras‘ rebellion founders because it becomes a paternalistic exercise in solidarity with a social subject that remains stubbornly subaltern. The women march down to Patibamba with the intention of distributing salt among its indigenous inhabitants. In the process, they also constitute themselves as a people. What was once the “movement of the multitude, like a swelling river [oleaje]” (272) is regularized, regimented: “It was now a people that was following behind the mules, advancing at the pace of a dance [a paso de danza]” (280). And on reaching the colonos‘ residences, they attempt to integrate these people, the most oppressed of the oppressed, into what is now a popular uprising.

But the subalterns to whom this call to solidarity is addressed stubbornly refuse any such articulation. Just as Ernesto, in semi-anthropological guise, was greeted with little more than silence when he first explored the area, so likewise the hitherto triumphant chicheras here reach the limit of their hegemonic project:

“Come on out, mothers! We’ve brought you salt!” shouted one of the chicheras in Quechua.

Mamakachuna! Mamakachuna!” called another.

The silence continued. [. . .]

“This is the people’s salt, for you, mother!” exclaimed the chichera, gesturing to the bags of salt. Her voice turned tender and sweet. (281, 282)

Eventually the indigenous women are prised out of their houses to receive the salt in their skirts, but no sooner has it been given out than they scurry back inside and shut themselves in. And it’s not long after the townsfolk have departed from whence they came that the landlord orders his men to raid the colonos’ houses and ensures that the salt is returned to the store.

The popular uprising turns out to be the most temporary of affairs, whose chief result is that in response the army are sent to Abancay, to bring order and root out the ringleaders. All the good intentions of solidarity leave but a fleeting sense of satisfaction and a more sustained resumption of repression.

No wonder that when the colonos themselves take matters into their own hands, in response to the threat of plague, it causes such astonishment: “It’s a lie! They can’t! They can’t!” (450). The puzzle remains, therefore, as to what kind of rapport can be established in the absence of meaningful communication.

Los rios profundos

yawar mayu

Church of Santo Domingo, CuzcoTo return to ruins… In the Americas, the Spaniards habitually built on ruins. Recoding or overcoding indigenous space, and with it also the geography of power, they would build churches on the sites of temples that they had (only partially) destroyed, or on top of pyramids, using the existing stones in their construction, the indigenous ruin as foundation. The colonial church lording it over the remains of the native temple served as a history lesson, a constant reminder of indigenous defeat and Spanish dominance.

But in this appropriation the invaders also thereby fixed those ruins: keeping them in place, confirming not only the fact of colonization, but the durability and strength of what had it purported to displace. So the church perched on indigenous ruins enabled a counter-history that could appeal to the ongoing presence of those pre-colonial foundations beneath the precarious veneer of Spanish cultural imposition. This would be a reading emphasizing transculturation and hybridity, and the subterranean persistence of alternative traditions (alternative modernities?) within and beneath imposed cultural forms.

A classic statement of (in this case) the Inca walls’ continued vivacity and power is found in José María Arguedas’s novel Deep Rivers (Los ríos profundos), which opens with its child narrator’s arrival in Cuzco, where he is entranced by the indigenous stonework on which the town’s Spanish churches and mansions are built: “The lines of the wall frolicked in the sun; the stones had neither angles nor straight lines; each one was like a beast that moved in the sunlight, making me want to rejoice, to run shouting with joy” (18-19 / 164). The stonework is explicitly compared to a river, “undulating and unpredictable [. . .]. The wall was stationary but all its lines were seething and its surface was as changeable as that of the flooding summer rivers” (6, 7 / 143, 144). Implicitly, the contrast between the vibrant indigenous foundations and the sterile colonial structures (whitewashed and windowless, silent and regimented) built over them, is also compared to the colonial and neocolonial elite’s dependency on indigenous labor power.

Even the cathedral, towering incarnation of Spanish force and inculcator of European custom, is built “with the Inca stones and the hands of the Indians” (10 / 149), for as the father observes “what other stones would the Spaniards have used in Cuzco, son?” (11 / 152). The Spaniards imposed form upon these indigenous raw materials, chiseling them to remove their “enchantment.” But that neutralization could never be fully successful. The power contained in these remnants of Inca civilization might still one day threaten those who appropriate its strength: the image of the ruins as “flooding summer rivers,” as “yawar mayu” or “bloody river” (7 / 144), anticipates the social uprising described at the novel’s conclusion, which is described in a chapter entitled, precisely, “Yawar Mayu.” No wonder the narrator asks of these structures’ inhabitants: “Aren’t the people who live in there afraid?” (9 / 147).

For in Arguedas’s vision, far from indicating a judgment already pronounced, these vibrant residues of an inextinguishable cultural power foretell a reckoning still to come. As the narrator and his father leave Cuzco, fleeing their humiliation at the hands of a heartless, landowning uncle, they contemplate the remains of Sascayhuamán, the ancient fortress overlooking the town. At first sight these walls seem to blend into their natural surroundings:

In broken ranks the walls settled into the gray, grassy slope. [. . .] My father saw me contemplating the ruins and did not speak to me. Farther up, when Sacsayhuaman appeared, encircling the mountains, and I could distinguish the rounded, blunt profile of the angles of the walls, he said to me, “They are like the Inca Roca’s stones. They say they will last until Judgment Day, and that the archangel will blow his trumpet here.” (21 / 169)

In this reading, what we might term a postmodern celebration of hybridity is conjoined with what we might more tentatively describe as a premodern Andean messianism. Modernity is an interruption, but only temporarily so; the persistence of the Inca ruins, the fact that they are never fully obliterated, indicates the possibility of their future fulfilment, and so (re-)completion.