Huaycán, Lima, Perú
Huaycán, Lima, Perú

José María Arguedas’ Epics of Expropriation

A False Start

In José María Arguedas’ posthumously published novel El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, set in the fishmeal boomtown of Chimbote, Peru at the end of the 1960s, a factory manager gives a tour of the facility to a strange guest. The manager, Don Ángel, gestures toward a single worker and pronounces: “Empecemos por el principio (…) esos cinco ciclones los maneja un solo cholo” (2013, 141) [“Let’s begin at the beginning. Those five cyclones are run by a single cholo” (2000, 120)]. Don Angel purports to start from the beginning by positing a single cholo (a derogatory name for an acculturated indigenous person from the Peruvian highlands) operating five machines. Of course, as Arguedas well knew, it is only from the viewpoint of capital that this staging might be considered a beginning, erasing as it does all of the previous acts of dispossession and dislocation that made the encounter between worker and machine possible in the first place. As Marx writes in the Grundrisse, the appearance of the worker under capitalism “(m)eans [the] separation of [the] worker from objective conditions of labour; the exchange with the capitalist hence presupposes a historic process” (1993, 489, emphasis in original).

As a first approximation, the very use of term “cholo” already attests to this “historic process,” marking a set of transformations encoded through race, geography and culture: “indio” into “cholo”; sierra to coastal city; and Quechua to Spanish language. Further, the image of a single cholo operating five machines presupposes a shift from agriculture to industry; and, more specifically, from the communal labor of the indigenous agrarian commune or ayllu so often represented in Arguedas’ earlier fiction, to alienated labor under a capitalist system.

Thus, Don Ángel’s statement, while presenting itself a “beginning” is nothing of the sort. Rather, as Arguedas knew, this purported beginning presupposes a much longer story of expropriation and uneven proletarianization. Indeed, as I explore in this essay, Arguedas’ fiction marks a monumental attempt to give narrative form to these complex processes in 20th-century Peru. But if the cholo operating a machine is not a beginning, neither does it mark the end of the story; rather, it is a transitory moment in which indigenous former peasants are cut off from their means of subsistence in land and proletarianized. At the same time, however, capital is unable to absorb their labor. The encounter between one worker and five machines signals a process through which the living labor of the cholo worker was at some point replaced by the congealed, dead labor embedded within the five machines he operates. Capital attracts labor from the highlands, at the same time as capital’s own laws of operation repel labor to produce a relative surplus population, which, though now dependent on commodities for survival, has scant access to a wage. This is a tendency of capital identified by Marx in Capital in the 1860s, one that reached outsized proportions across the formerly colonial and Third World in the mid-20th-century. Along these lines, Geoffrey Bertram argues that the two most significant changes in the Peruvian economy between 1930 and 1960 were the recovery of export trade, together with the creation of “a huge reserve army of labour” (1995, 387).

El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo is organized around both of these shifts: the recovery of exports in the form of fishmeal (exported as animal feed in an expanding global industrial food system), and the transformation of indigenous peasants into proletarianized, but largely jobless, subjects. And indeed, if we zoom out of the factory scene cited above, we find that the novel is not one about factory workers. Instead, it tracks the extensively disconnected lives of indigenous former peasants who are called to the booming port of Chimbote with the promise of waged work in factories, but whose labor the factories cannot absorb. Separated from their means of subsistence in the land, these migrants must find ways to reproduce their daily existence in the city’s market stalls, canteens, and brothels.

I begin with the factory manager’s pronouncement in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de arriba to introduce two epoch-making moments of expulsion at the center of Arguedas’ fictional oeuvre. The first moment is, in broad terms, an expulsion from subsistence agriculture and communal lifeways as a historical presupposition for the encounter between worker and capital; the second, expulsion from the very labor markets upon which people have come to depend.

Though distinctly Peruvian and Andean in their inscriptions in Arguedas’ works, I want to note from the outset that these expulsions constitute one of the central shifts of the 20th-century, especially in what was known as the Third World. At the dawn of the century, the vast majority of the earth’s population was formed by peasants laboring on small plots and/or large estates. This began to shift only in the mid-2th-century, with what Farshad Araghi has called “global depeasantization” after WWII. Eric Hobsbawm puts it plainly: “(t)he most dramatic and far-reaching social change of the second half of the twentieth century, and the one that cuts us off forever from the world of the past, is the death of the peasantry” (1996, 289).[1] Hobsbawm’s claim is overblown—the peasantry is far from “dead” in Peru or in many other parts of the world; indeed, peasant and indigenous movements remain at the heart of contemporary struggles against capitalism in Latin America and beyond, from the Zapatistas to the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) and Via Campesina, to ongoing struggles against mining and other forms of resource extraction. At the same time, however, it is undeniable that a major shift has taken place. In Peru, oft-cited census numbers show, for example, that in 1940, two-thirds of the country’s population lived in rural areas, and one-third in cities; by 1980, these percentages had flipped in exact proportions (Manrique 2014, 163).

The urban to rural shift, in turn, implied significant processes of de-agrarianization and proletarianization, which, as Aaron Benanav has recently argued, created the conditions for current mass un- and under-employment on a world scale from 1950 onward.[2] During the mid-20th-century era of “development,” the proletarianization of peasants could be viewed as laying the ground for a new era of national prosperity and growth. The St. Lucian economist Arthur Lewis, for example, waxed enthusiastic about the “unlimited supplies of labor” lying idle in the countryside, whose cheapness, he predicted, would spark industrialization. And yet newly proletarianized subjects did not, for the most part, become factory workers. Instead, they joined the ranks of what the Argentine sociologist José Nun termed the “masa marginal” or marginal mass in 1969 to name recently proletarianized populations that could not be exploited by capital, even during the golden era of mid-twentieth-century growth.

The tendency of capital to create a reserve army of workers redundant to its operations, observed by Arguedas in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, has reached crisis proportions today. In the wake of global economic stagnation after 1973, de-industrialization, and structural adjustment programs, the accelerated expulsion of people from the countryside after 1950 has reached new heights, giving rise to a “planet of slums” (Davis 2006), “wageless life” (Denning 2010), and “monetary subjects without money” (Kurz 2008) on an unprecedented scale.[3] Across the former Third World today, immiserated majorities seek survival through (under)employment in the informal sector, or through forced migration.[4]

As I hope to show in this essay, Arguedas’ literary project—produced between the 1930s and late 1960s—points to the multiple earlier beginnings of such present-day crises. To recall the words of the factory manager in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, who purported to “start from the beginning” by pointing to the single cholo operating five machines, the story of capitalist modernity in Peru neither begins nor ends on the factory floor but passes through locations such as the highland village and the urban market stall. In what follows, I attempt to reframe some of Arguedas’ fictional works as “epics of expropriation” that trace and give narrative form to the expulsions that undergird the present.

At the same time, Arguedas’ epics transmit a sense of progressive movement that is scarcely available to us in the present moment, if nothing else because the shifts he represents no longer remain on our immediate horizon. In this manner, the non-contemporaneity of Arguedas’ fiction might help us denaturalize historical transformations we now take for granted, and, from that vantage, uncover new utopian dimensions within his literary project.

Afueras de la estación del ferrocarril en la avenida José Gálvez. Photo by José María Arguedas. Chimbote, 1966.
Afueras de la estación del ferrocarril en la avenida José Gálvez. Photo by José María Arguedas. Chimbote, 1966

Epics of Expropriation

Arguedas was born in 1911 in the highland province of Andahuaylas, Peru, and was raised by indigenous servants on his stepmother’s estate; he committed suicide in 1969 in Lima, the same year as a major land reform put an end to the hacienda system. His life and death serve as bookends for a particularly tumultuous period of historical change in 20th-century Peru. Yet at least since his unfortunate polemic with the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar in the late 1960s, Arguedas’ writing has been associated largely with tradition in opposition with modernity, and with the regional against the cosmopolitan.[5] To no small degree, precisely because Arguedas wrote about rural indigenous peoples and lifeways, his fiction has been associated frequently with the past rather than the present, and with the particular rather than the universal.[6] In similar fashion, his realist literary project often has been viewed as outmoded when compared with the high modernism of the Boom generation. But these assumptions, which retain some commonsense currency today, downplay the startling modernity of Arguedas’ literary project. Granted, Arguedas was deeply interested in the past, and in tradition, but always in tension with the present; the same is true of his sense of Andean particularity, which always operated within a larger social totality.[7]

Arguedas’ literary works situate themselves in the midst of historical processes of indigenous peasant dispossession that themselves became constitutive of the modern in 20th-century Latin America. I am speaking here of the forcible separation of people from their means of subsistence in land, and their transformation into “rightless proletarians,” as part of the long and drawn-out process Marx called “primitive accumulation” ([1867] 1990, 876).[8] Primitive accumulation in Peru had of course begun with the Conquest and continued in waves ever since, generating fierce resistance at every turn. Though often subjected to forced labor, debt peonage or outright slavery in mining and agriculture, people retained some access to subsistence throughout the colonial and into the republican period. But this began to change after the first decades of the 20th-century, when new attempts at enclosure, together with demographic and economic pressures, brought peasant dispossession to a new tipping point.

Arguedas’ fiction constitutes a monumental attempt to visibilize this historical transition through narrative form. Along these lines, it is not accidental, as other critics have noted, that Arguedas’ works expand in both geographical scope and social complexity between the 1930s and 1960s. Antonio Cornejo Polar, for example, notes that Arguedas’ fictional universe expands to include ever-larger social units: a small Andean pueblo in his first collection of stories, Agua; the capital of a province in his first novel, Yawar fiesta; a department capital, Abancay, in Los ríos profundos; all of Peru in his realist opus Todas las sangres; to, I would add, the space of the global market in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo. Through this expansive movement, Alberto Flores Galindo contends, Arguedas fictional oeuvre charts “el itinerario de la expansión del mercado interno (…) siguiendo la incorporación de la gente al mercado” [“the itinerary of the expansion of the internal market (…) following the incorporation of people into the market” (1992, 15, my translation)].

It is fitting, in this regard, that early critics of Arguedas noted a distinctly epic impulse in his representation of a wide-scale social processes, a focus that has long since been sidelined in favor of topics such as orality, language, and (via postcolonial and subaltern studies) alterity.[9] I want to reassert this epic quality especially with respect to Arguedas’ attempt to tell a progressive and deepening--though always uneven and unpredictable--story of social transformation under capitalism. In this sense, Arguedas’ novels might be considered “modern epics,” in the sense that the literary critic György Lukács employed the term. Unlike classical epics, the 19th-century European realist novel represented middling characters whose lives were swept up in the tumult of historical change. Through such characters, the novel aimed to grasp “an entire society in movement” (1983, 139). Unlike epics of the classical era, the 19th-century European realist novels were unable to transmit a sense of immanent wholeness (for this had been shattered under capitalism); nonetheless, in representing “a limited section of reality”, the 19th-century realist novel aimed “to evoke the totality of the process of social development” (1983, 139) in the new era.

Lukács’ periodization of realism is of course limited to 19th-century Western and Eastern Europe, moving from 18th-century England (Scott), pre-1848 France (Balzac), to Russia on the cusp of revolution (Tolstoy and Gorki). But, just as the world trajectory of primitive accumulation did not end in England, there is no reason to expect that realism or any other literary genre should correspond neatly with European periodizations, even as metropolitan forms exert an undeniable influence on peripheral ones.[10] Arguedas, as we will see below, constantly tested the boundaries of realism, attempting, for example, to represent indigenous collectivities in a form that assumes the existence of atomized individuals. It is even more noteworthy, then, that given this basic difficulty, Arguedas returned over and again to the realist novel as a means of capturing historical movement in 20th-century Peru. In this regard, it is important to note that it was in his novels—and not in his anthropological texts—that he made his most sustained efforts to understand wide-scale historical transformation. Or as Arguedas himself put it, the novel allowed him to explore “la forma cómo la marea de su actual destino los desconcierta incesantemente; cómo tal marea, bajo una aparente definición de límites, los obliga a un constante esfuerzo de acomodación, de reajuste, de permanente drama” (2001, 273) [“how people are constantly being disconcerted by the ebb and flow of their day-to-day destiny. Such a tide, under a definition of limits that is only apparent beneath the surface, forces them to make a constant effort to accommodate, to readjust to a permanent drama” (1985, xv)].

Arguedas’ realist apparatus, designed to examine this "permanent drama," is far from anachronistic. Instead, in a fashion comparable to the 19th-century European authors studied by Lukács, realism allowed Arguedas to explore historical forces in motion during a particularly intense moment of capitalist transition. Once we loosen the teleological assumption that 19th-century realism should be superseded by 20th-century modernism, as Jed Esty and Colleen Lye have recently argued, we are in a better position to appreciate the flourishing of what they name 20th-century “peripheral realisms” and the historical transitions they attempt to visibilize.[11]

“Agua”: Stasis and Movement

As a baseline for the epic transformations at the center of Arguedas’ oeuvre, we might begin with the titular story of his collection Agua. Set entirely in a small town, the “smallest cell” of Andean society (Cornejo Polar 1973, 29), “Agua” focuses on independent indigenous communities or ayllus locked in battle with a powerful landowner or gamonal or over access to water. The gamonal, Don Braulio, steals water from the communities, allowing his corn to grow fat while the communities starve. Pantaleón, a member of an ayllu, explains this to the story’s narrator, Ernesto, a non-indigenous or misti boy who functions as Arguedas’ literary alter-ego. The injustice of this usurpation leads Pantaleón to defy Don Braulio, who in turn kills Pantaleón with impunity.

“Agua” represents the hacienda system in the 1920s, characterized by the overweening power of the gamonal, and the absence of centralized state power. As the foundational Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui was the first to observe, the hacienda system killed and expropriated indigenous people at the same time as it preserved the ayllu, and with it, the communal character of indigenous life (1971, 36-37). Even as Don Braulio usurps water, he does so in a context in which indigenous councils retain the customary right to distribute it, a fact that fundamentally shapes (neo)colonial social structures.

The expropriation of indigenous peasants is in this story driven by the hacienda system, a social structure often marked as feudal. While the term “feudal” accurately indexes the coercive and relatively closed economic structure of the Andean hacienda (especially in contrast with capitalist farming on the coast), its transposition from earlier European contexts might incorrectly lead us to view Andean society as a stagnant remnant of the past. Arguedas’ fiction, in contrast, allows us to appreciate Andean society as a living history, the result of vast historical change, not stasis. As a concrete example, Arguedas historicizes the hacienda system in “Agua” through the image of an abandoned mine on the outskirts of the village: “Gran mina antes, ahora servía de casa de cita a los cholos enamorados” [Once a great mine, it was now used as a meeting spot for cholo sweethearts, (2001, 86, my translation]. Here and elsewhere in his fiction, Arguedas points to the creation of the hacienda system as the result of the collapse of the colonial mining system. As Andre Gunder Frank would later argue in his foundational essay of dependency theory, the hacienda is not anterior to, but a product of nascent capitalism on a world scale: the Andean village, from this perspective, is not outside of history; instead, it was underdeveloped by the world economy it served (1966 31). From the perspective of indigenous people, the abandoned mine carries memories of the catastrophe of the Conquest, followed by over four centuries of colonization. It also transmits a sense of the ecological imbalance unleashed by colonial environment-making, in the form of a landscape leached of water, a life-giving resource the gamonal usurps in the present.

“Agua” thus treats Andean social formations as simultaneously old and new; they are both preserved and transformed by colonialism, mining, and hacienda agriculture. At the same time, however, the story opens, in a very incipient manner, to a society on the verge of transformation by forces that draw people out of the indigenous community. Many of the male comuneros in the ayllu, we learn, travel to work as a seasonal laborer on sugar and cotton plantations on the coast. It is at least in part this experience that emboldens Pantaleón to defy don Braulio, at the cost of his life.

Just as “Agua” functions as a baseline for Arguedas’ representation of historical transition, it also functions as a baseline for the formal breaks evident in his later literary works. Paradoxically, “Agua” is the work by Arguedas in which indigenous communities are most intact, but in which Quechua language and indigenous world-views—elements Arguedas’ fiction is famous for—are the least present. The appearance of these elements is most often explained as a maturation of Arguedas’ style, as he finds a way to render Quechua syntax in Spanish, and to incorporate mythic belief structures into realist plots. While this is no doubt true, I want to propose that the intensification of Andean cultural elements also expresses the quickening and deepening pace of violent expropriation, coupled with processes of commodification, and their contradictory outcomes.

Yawar fiesta and the Internal Market

Set in the 1930s in Puquio, Ayacucho, Yawar fiesta tells the story of how indigenous communities navigate the first stirrings up historical upheaval in the Andes. This upheaval is signaled by an uptick in the expropriation of land from indigenous communities; this expropriation is no longer driven by the internal needs of the hacienda system, as it was in “Agua”, however, but instead by intensified commodity relations that link the hacienda to agricultural markets in Lima.

In formal terms, it is important that the novel’s first two chapters recount the progressive expropriation of the four ayllus of Puquio from the colonial period onward. Here something like epic form asserts itself for the first time, as what Antonio Cornejo Polar called the “adición de despojos” [mounting dispossessions (1973, 65)] that characterizes the literary style known as indigenismo, an early 20th-century intellectual current that was itself directly inspired by new rounds of indigenous enclosures in the 1920s.

In the first chapter, “Pueblo indio” [Indian Town] an omniscient narrator tells the story of how after the after mines give out, mistis plundered communal lands for agriculture, pushing their inhabitants higher and higher up the mountain until they came to possess nearly all the good cropland. The second chapter, titled “El despojo” [The Dispossession], outlines the second stage of expropriation, closer to the present, in which mistis plunder even the mountaintops in a crazed search for grazing lands for cattle. This is because, the omniscient narrator relates

Casi de repente solicitaron ganado en cantidad de la costa, especialmente de Lima; entonces los mistis empezaron a quitar a los indios sus chacras para sembrar alfalfa. Pero no fue suficiente; de la costa pedían más y más ganado. Los mistis que llevaban reses a la costa regresaron platudos. Y casi se desesperaron los principales; se quitaban a los indios para arrancarles sus terrenos; e hicieron sudar otra vez a los notarios, a los escribanos… (1974, 17-18).

[(a)ll of a sudden, there was a great demand for cattle on the coast, especially in Lima; then the mistis began to take over the Indians’ wheat fields to plant alfalfa in them. But that was not enough; from the coast came more and more calls for cattle. The mistis who took beef cattle to the coast came back loaded with money. And the important people were almost frantic; they ran the Indians off to grab their land, and once again they made the judges, notaries, and court clerks sweat… ]"(1985, 11).

After relating these two successive phases of expropriation, one driven by the hacienda (as in “Agua”), and another by the internal market, the novel must “start again,” as Horacio Legras notes (2008, 206), to tell a different story about a struggle over culture. This struggle is not extraneous to historical upheaval, but where its contradictions and unintended consequences can be most clearly observed. The plot is straightforward: a subprefect arrives from Ica, the coast, and tries to prohibit the yawar fiesta, or ‘blood festival’, a style of highland bullfighting in which comuneros tarry with a bull and finally blow it up with dynamite. The subprefect wants to prohibit the practice on the grounds it is barbaric. He enters into contradictory alliance with a group of chalos or cholos who have migrated from Puquio to Lima, who want to stop comuneros from getting killed for the entertainment of mistis. The chalos want to liberate their fellow puquianos from domination (in one memorable scene, one of the chalos speaks to a portrait of José Carlos Mariátegui, calling him taita or father in Quechua). But the comuneros from the town’s four ayllus want none of this: instead, they want to continue the yawar fiesta because it represents an important display of (masculine) strength to the people who subjugate them. One landowner, in turn, allies himself with the comuneros to preserve the practice, while other misti characters oppose it to ingratiate themselves with the subprefect.

As other scholars have shown, two new historical elements assert themselves in Yawar fiesta to create these contradictory alliances and misalliances: first, the incursion of state authority into the highlands after the 1920s under the Leguía government; and, as a consequence, the waning authority of gamonales. Second, we see the permanent migration from the Andes to the coast, a transformation that expands the representational sphere of the novel. As Misha Kokotovic notes, Yawar fiesta is possibly the first Peruvian novel to represent Andean migration to Lima (2006, 53). As an important plot point, the migration of puquianos had itself been made possible by a highway built by the Indians in an astonishing twenty-eight days, as a friendly competition between ayllus, and show of communal strength.

But in contradictory fashion, the highway shows the strength of the community, at the same time as it opens, in dialectical fashion, the possibility of its disintegration. This occurs through migration, and the contradictory alliances it creates; it also occurs, as has been less often discussed, through the road’s facilitation of commodity production and exchange. For it cannot be accidental the bullfighting plot develops against the backdrop, established in the second chapter, of the expropriation of ayllus as grazing land for cattle sent to Lima on the same highway.

One the one hand, the mistis, now “loaded with money” (1985, 11) from selling cattle, introduce a logic of equivalence in which all bulls can be rendered equal according to their exchange-value, and not use-value (whether ceremonial or prosaic). This nascent logic of equivalence is countered, in turn, in the bullfighting plot, in the form of a bull with possibly mystical powers. The bull the comuneros from one ayllu capture for the bullfight, nicknamed Misitu (“little cat” in Quechua), is considered by the mountain herders to have been created by an auki or mountain deity, and born of the lake.[12] Whether this bull is indeed magical, or simply escaped from a herd and returned to the wild, Misitu is a singular bull that emerges against a backdrop of all bulls being made exchangeable. Misitu as a possibly mystical being indexes a radically different way of thinking about the relationship of humans to animals and other living beings, in vivid contrast with an emerging social logic centered on the commodity. At the same time, Misitu as auki is bound up with the magic of the commodity form, the invisible but palpable stirrings of the internal market that drive indigenous expropriation in the present.

In the end, the subprefect brings a Spanish bullfighter to show puquianos how civilized bullfighting done, a moment treated with fine irony by Arguedas. But the Spanish bullfighter is no match for Misitu, and he runs from the ring in terror. The comuneros, waiting impatiently on the sidelines, rush in to fight the bull. As one man, Wallpa, is mortally wounded, another, Honrao, places dynamite under Misitu. This is a provisional and contradictory victory won by the comuneros: they show strength, but some die in the process. At the same time, one ayllu defends its tradition (itself the product of earlier colonial encounters), but in so doing kill a possibly mystical being, in a gesture of literal de-mythologization. Like the highway the comuneros built in 28 days, the struggle to preserve the yawar fiesta marks the strength of the community at the same time as, in dialectical fashion, it opens the possibility of its disintegration.

Notably, the omniscient narrator neither celebrates nor condemns these transformations. Rather, the last line of the novel, after Wallpa is gored, and Honrao blows up Misitu’s chest with dynamite, the town’s mayor whispers to the stunned subprefect: “¿Ve usted, Señor Subprefecto? Estas son nuestras corridas. El yawar punchay verdadero!” (1974, 164). [“You see, Señor Subprefect? This is how our bullfights are. The real yawar punchay!” (1985, 147)]. The story ends on a note of suspension, as if to be continued. In this sense, Yawar fiesta represents but one round in a much longer story of the uneven transformation of the sierra under capitalism and its wholly contradictory outcomes.

La estación del Ferrocarril. Photo by José María Arguedas. Chimbote, 1966.
La estación del Ferrocarril. Photo by José María Arguedas. Chimbote, 1966.

Todas las sangres and Imperialism

In the 1940s and 1950s, Arguedas published historical novels that looked back to the decades of the 1920s (Diamantes y pedregales, Los ríos profundos) and 1930s (Yawar fiesta, El sexto). But by the time we arrive to the 1960s, Arguedas’ fiction is transformed by the tumult of the present as it unfolds.

In 1960, writing in the Gaceta de Lima, Arguedas had contended: “La estructura tradicional que se había organizado durante varios siglos de la colonia y que continuó en la República, está siendo removida […] El Perú actual es un remolino y lo será más dentro de pocos años” [“The traditional structure forged during the colonial period and which continued into the Republican era is being shaken […] Today’s Peru today is a whirlpool, and will be even more so in a few years”, my translation]. These shifts marked nothing less than “la gesta más importante del Perú desde la Conquista [Peru’s most important feat since the Conquest” (quoted in Rowe 1979, 132-3)].

Whether or not exaggerated, Arguedas’ invocation of the Conquest tells us something about the speed and intensity of transformations in the sierra on the cusp of the 1960s. The sense of epochal shift reaches its maximum expression in Arguedas’ controversial opus, Todas las sangres [All the Bloods (1964)], a massive realist novel that sets out to do nothing less than represent the destruction of the old order in the sierra and its replacement with something new. Though set in this region, the novel—as implicit in its title—tries to tell the story of all of Peru. Beyond this, as he later noted in a speech, this novel aims to tell the story of “all small countries” under imperialism.[13] This will to totality is also evident in the finely drawn social strata from which characters hail: to name but a sample, large and small landowners; non-indigenous townspeople or vecinos; arriviste cholos; mestizo artisans; indigenous serfs on haciendas (colonos); and members of independent ayllus.[14] All these characters, to recall an earlier text by Arguedas, are forced to “readjust to a permanent drama.” (1985, xv).

As the novel opens, the hacienda system is in a state of free fall. The attempt to expand the hacienda through domestic commodity production, explored in Yawar fiesta, has clearly failed by novel’s present in the mid-1960s. In a vivid first scene, the alcoholic patriarch of a landowning family climbs up the church bell tower in the center of town, cursing his sons in Spanish and Quechua for usurping his patrimony.[15] After vowing to give his remaining lands to impoverished señores and indigenous serfs alike, he returns home to poison himself. The rest of the novel, in broad strokes, traces how the patriarch’s two sons navigate the collapse of the hacienda system: pious Bruno, an exaggerated representation of the old order, tries to preserve his authority by reaching into a mystically-inflected Catholic embrace of moral purity. He does this under changing circumstances, however, and through twists and turns of events ends up defending an impoverished indigenous community from expropriation by poorer landowners. On the other hand, Bruno’s brother Fermín, the owner of a mine on the family’s property and a budding national bourgeois, becomes locked in battle with a foreign mining consortium. Bruno “lends” Fermín two hundred indigenous serfs from his hacienda to work in his mine. In spite of his access to unpaid indigenous labor—the only competitive advantage the peripheral capitalist seems to have—Fermín loses to the consortium. Undaunted, he turns instead to ventures centered on capitalist agriculture in the sierra, and fishmeal enterprise on the coast (the latter being, not coincidentally, the economic sector represented in Arguedas’ final novel, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo). Meanwhile, a third main character, Demetrio Rendón Willka, an acculturated member of an ayllu who has studied in Lima, mediates between the two brothers and their projects. First, Demetrio leads Bruno’s serfs to work in Fermín’s the mine; second, after the mine has been acquired by the consortium, he returns with them to create a new community on Bruno’s estate. Amidst accusations that he is a communist, Rendón Willka is finally killed by the police, an institution aligned with the victorious imperialist interests.

At the end of the novel, the foreign mining company prepares to raze the surrounding plain to build an electric plant, ejecting mistis and indigenous peasants alike. This ejection is signaled through a series of apocalyptic images. Asunta, an impoverished vecina, shoots and kills the engineer who spied for the mining consortium. The remaining townspeople set fire to the church and begin to walk to Lima, finding temporary refuge in one of the indigenous communities they had earlier attempted to dispossess.

The full force of the expropriation is expressed when an indigenous peasant, Anto, dynamites a bulldozer (and himself) as it bears down on him. The liberation of the indigenous serf—an unequivocally positive outcome of the collapse of the hacienda system—is cut short, as the liberated subject literally comes face-to-face with a new expropriating force: capital. Whether or not this representation is heavy-handed (a constant critique of this novel), it is important to note how the realist apparatus itself stages a new moment in history. Whereas in Yawar fiesta, the dynamiting of the bull Misitu signaled an ambiguous victory, in Todas las sangres, Anto’s defiant act seems to mark a final stage in the centuries-long expropriation of indigenous peasants.

And yet if Todas las sangres marks the most advanced stage of expropriation in Arguedas’ fictional oeuvre, it also marks the strongest possibility of indigenous rebellion against expropriation, inspired by massive peasant unrest and land invasions in the mid-1960s.[16] Read in formal terms, this is simultaneously the most classically realist of Arguedas’ novels, and the one that incorporates indigenous myth into its realist apparatus to the largest degree. Going far beyond Yawar fiesta’s representation of indigenous beliefs, the narrator of Todas las sangres allows indigenous myth to assert itself as reality. In the moment the police shoot Demetrio Rendón Willka, for example, they hear “un sonido de grandes torrentes que sacudían el subsuelo, como que si las montañas empezaran a caminar” [“the sound of a great deluge that shook the ground beneath, as if the mountains had begun to walk”, my translation (1985, 455)]. Here and elsewhere in the novel, Arguedas gestures toward the yawar mayu or river of blood as a millenarian indigenous image signaling the liminal space between life and death, and with it the possibility of a new (in this case, revolutionary, cycle). As the novel ends, different characters in different parts of Peru—from landlords in the highlands to capitalists in Lima—hear the rumblings of the yawar mayu, in what amounts to an indigenous millenarian vision of the potential reversal of expropriation.

Arguedas’ incorporation of indigenous myth to signal revolutionary possibility was roundly rejected as such by the social scientists at the infamous roundtable convened at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos in 1965 to discuss Todas las sangres. The young French sociologist Henri Favre, for example, contended that socialist rationality was confounded by Arguedas’ insistence upon mystical beliefs, “valores por un lado creo no existentes, y por otro lado creo que están superados” [“values that on one hand I don’t think still exist, and on the other I think have been overcome”, my translation (1985, 42)]. Favre’s statement reeks of paternalism (in which certain indigenous beliefs are on schedule to be “overcome” by rationality), and, like the other sociologists in attendance, imputes an excessively mimetic character to fiction, sidelining Arguedas’ attempt to identify utopian potential in the unfolding of the present. A much more sophisticated and sympathetic reader of Arguedas, William Rowe, has argued that the mystical resolution of Todas las sangres constitutes an act of voluntarism that flies in the face of the material forces of history the novel itself calls forth to examine.[17] This is perhaps true. At the same time, it seems justified to say that recourse to the yawar mayu is the only way that the realist novel—as a form that demands individuation—can express indigenous collectivity as a utopian political horizon. Along these lines, Arguedas himself said that “El personaje principal son los indios de hacienda” (2012, 531). The awkward grammatical structure—“the main character are the Indians belonging to the hacienda”—attests to the difficulty (and perhaps undesirability) of transforming indigenous collectivities into the individuals demanded by European realist form. In the analysis I am advancing here, the yawar mayu blasts open the traditional realist apparatus to offer a collective utopian image of what Marx, writing in a different historical context, imagined as the moment in which “the expropriators are expropriated” ([1867] 1990, 929). Exactly what shape this would take in reality is, of course, left open.

Expropriation and Un(der)employment

The utopian horizon of Todas las sangres seems to narrow considerably in Arguedas’ final novel, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (hereafter, Los zorros), the novel with which I began this essay, and to which I return in this final section. This was Arguedas’ final novel, left incomplete when he committed suicide in 1969. Los zorros is, among other things, the novel that tries to understand what Arguedas saw as an epochal shift: the separation of indigenous peasants from their means of production in the land through means both economic and violent in mid-1960s Peru, and their sudden, if always uneven, proletarianization in coastal cities. Even in the midst of land invasions and land reforms (in 1964, but more radically in 1969), Arguedas sensed that the forces pushing indigenous people out of the countryside were so entrenched that there was no turning back from them. Already in 1961, he wrote that there were two roads for indigenous peasants: on the one hand, communities able to conserve enough land after centuries of dispossession might adapt to capitalism and continue to farm; land-poor communities, however, subjected to monetary and demographic pressures on an unprecedented scale, were being forced to leave the sierra: “No tienen ante sí otro camino que el de emigrar (…) El indio de las comunidades desintegradas está obligado a salir para siempre” [“They don’t have any path except to migrate (…) The indio from the dissolved communities is compelled to leave forever,” (2012, 303 my translation)].

To this end, Los zorros takes leave of Arguedas’ preferred setting, the Andes, to travel to the industrialized port city of Chimbote, then the world’s leading producer of fishmeal. This shift in location, in turn, occasions an oft-commented break in literary realist form. Whereas both Yawar fiesta and Todas las sangres employed realist form to represent progressive moments in a longer history of expropriation, Los zorros is a highly fragmentary and non-linear novel, with little even resembling a plot. Loosely structured, it does not follow communities, but rather newly atomized individuals who appear and disappear, sometimes without warning, from the novel. This formal breakdown is compounded by the personal diaries Arguedas interweaves with the narrative portions of the novel, in which he reflects on his childhood, his relationship with other writers, and the crippling depression that drove him to end his novel with a series of suicide notes. Finally, the realist structure is disturbed by the appearance of the eponymous foxes from above and from below. Taken from the seventeenth-century Quechua text Dioses y hombres del Huarochiri, which Arguedas had translated into Spanish, the two foxes meet up after thousands of years to chatter about the jarring new world coming into being in Chimbote. Myth, no longer a unifying force in Andean communities—because these communities no longer exist—migrates to the meta-structure of a novel dedicated to understanding an epochal shift in social organization.

Significantly, the place in the narrative in which the mythical foxes are most active in the novel is in the one and only chapter of the novel dedicated to the fishmeal factory (the rest of the chapters take place at sea, in brothels, markets, etc.). I gestured toward this scene at the beginning of this essay: A factory manager, Don Ángel, takes a strange visitor, Don Diego, on a tour of the factory, showing him how five cyclone separators are operated by “un solo cholo.” It is in this eerie, de-peopled and unnatural space that a new form of magic emerges. At one moment, Don Ángel goes into a kind of trance and sings a yunsa, an Andean harvest dance. Later, when faced with the centrifuges that separate fish oil from water, Don Diego begins to spin like a top, his rhythm recalling “las cataratas de los ríos y torrentes andinas” (2013, 151-152) [“the waterfalls in Andean rivers and ravines carved out by torrents”, 130]. Later, Diego shows distinct signs of turning into a fox, with “pequeña cabeza alargada” [“little elongated head”] and “orejas algo puntiagudas y como afelpadas” (2013, 153) [“pointy, velvety ears”, 2000, 132].

Andean mythic referents do not disappear in Los zorros; instead, they are put to audacious work by Arguedas to capture the strange irreality created by capitalism in Chimbote. This is a world dead labor dances with living labor, and tons of fish extracted from the sea produce “gold” twenty-four hours a day. This irreality is compounded by the fact that the factory actively sheds labor to create a surplus army of workers. Don Ángel puts it plainly: “Más obreros largamos de las fábricas más llegan de la sierra. Y las barriadas crecen y crecen, y aparecen plazas de mercado en las barriadas con más moscas que comida” (2013, 112) [“The more workers we chase away from the factories, the more come down out of the Andes. And the shantytowns grow and grow and marketplaces appear in the shantytowns with more fleas than food”, (2000, 91-92)].

The less factories need labor, the more Andean peasants are called to Chimbote. As Marx writes, the more the scale of production extends, “there is also an extension of the scale on which greater attraction of workers by capital is accompanied by their greater repulsion” (1990, 783), producing what he calls a relative surplus population. In Chimbote, Andean migrants become proletarians at precisely the moment the factories don’t need them. And as noted, though the factory is the animating force of the social world represented in Los zorros, the majority of characters do not work in them. On the heels of a long trajectory of expropriation represented in earlier fiction, former indigenous peasants become members of an outsized urban surplus population eking out a living in barriadas and market stalls.

The emerging social order, founded on the ruins of the old, can be grasped partially in the song a chola prostitute sings to the factories belching smoke in the distance upon return from a night’s work in a brothel:

culebra Chimbote
culebra asfalto
culebra Zavala
culebra Braschi
cerro arena culebra
juábrica harina culebra
challwa, pejerrey, anchovita, culebra
carritera culebra
camino de bolichera en la mar, culebra,
fila alcatraz, fila huanay, culebra" (2013, 66)
[serpent Chimbote
serpent asphalt
serpent Zavala
serpent Braschi
sand mountain serpent
fish-meal factory serpent
pejerrey challwa, little anchovy, serpent
highway serpent
trawler road in sea, serpent
pelican line, huanay, serpent] (2000, 51).

Over and again, the prostitute invokes a culebra or serpent, which in its absent Quechua incarnation (amaru) signifies catastrophe. All the names invoked in the song—“carritera,” “juábrica,” “Braschi” (the name of the capitalist who controls Chimbote in the novel)—point to this catastrophe, and at the same time maintain implicit references to a previous form of social organization. We might contrast the celebration of the highway, for example, built with indigenous communities as a sign of strength in Yawar fiesta, with the “carritera culebra” referred to in the prostitute’s song. In Los zorros, the Panamerican highway that appears in the distance functions as an abstract and alien referent, no longer integrated into social life. In similar fashion, challwa, the Quechua word for fish, signals a confrontation between an Andean conception of the unity of all living things to a social logic in which “anchovitas” (anchovetas, or little anchovies) acquire grotesque significance as bearers of exchange value.

All of these shifts correspond fundamentally to the separation of indigenous peasants from their direct access to means of production, and a new reliance on monetary relations to meet their needs. The female prostitute personifies this separation in ways that are both problematic and critically potent. On the one hand, the prostitute’s commodified body (metonymized as her zorra or “pussy”) signals a moral degradation for Arguedas, much in the highly ideological way as he persistently identifies capitalists as homosexuals. On the other, the prostitute, her own body a site of accumulation, announces new social truths in the emerging world.

Some critics have interpreted the post-catastrophic world of Chimbote as signaling a death of meaning, or at least of the capacity of literature to transmit it.[18] To be sure, we no longer get the sense of forward-propelling historical movement evoked in his earlier fiction. And yet Los zorros depicts a world in which stories continue to unfold, even after the catastrophe.[19] As the fox from above, in the manner of a wise old Andean dialectician, says: “Pero ahora es peor y mejor. Hay mundos de más arriba y de más abajo” (2013, 69) [“But now it is both worse and better. There are worlds higher up and lower down,” (2000, 54)]. In similar manner, the revolutionary possibility sensed in Arguedas’ earlier narratives is submerged, but still remains very much on the horizon in the form of references to Che Guevara, Liberation Theology, and—in the final diary entry that appears in the novel— “la fuerza liberadora invencible del hombre de Vietnam” (2013, 292) [“the indomitable, liberating strength of Vietnamese man” [2000, 259]). This revolutionary possibility is also alive, I would venture, in the form of the chola prostitute for whom the reorganization of social life under capitalism is not a normal and natural state of affairs.

Approaching works in Arguedas’ literary oeuvre as epics of appropriation allows us to excavate some of the social processes that give shape to what Robert Kurz has termed “post-catastrophic societies,” (2008, 179) in which misery is visited upon millions of “monetary subjects without money,” (2008, 223) with no promise of what used to be called “development”. Read today, these works alert us to epochal shifts that have largely receded from view, and as such, can be taken for granted. This does not mean, of course, that we might entertain the idea of returning to a previous era. As Arguedas well knew, there is no going back; but as he also knew, traces of the past always remain alive in the present. The task, as Evan Calder Williams has put it, is to salvage those remains in order to imagine—and create—something better.[20] It is thus that reading Arguedas’ epics of expropriations long past might constitute a utopian intervention into our present.

Ericka Beckman is Associate Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. She is author of Capital Fictions: The Literature of Latin America's Export Age (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), and is writing a book tentatively titled Agrarian Questions: Latin American Literature in the Age of Development.


*The author would like to thank Marcial Godoy, along with audiences at the Universities of Michigan, Chicago, Notre Dame, and Warwick, for comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

    [1] Though Hobsbawm’s (1996) obituary for the peasantry is too sweeping to be accepted at face value, it is indicative of a larger trend, in which ardent debates over the ‘peasant’ and ‘agrarian’ questions in the 1960s and 1970s have given way to polemics as to whether or not the peasantry continues to exist.

    [2] Benanav writes: “Before 1950, and even for some decades after, the bulk of the world’s population did not sell labor in labor markets, in order to survive. Instead, people mostly produced to meet their own needs; they were mainly subsistence farmers. The story of the expansion of the surplus population is in large part a story of how so many people came to depend on markets, in a short period of time, in spite of the fact that those markets were already massively oversupplied” (2014, 33). The story Benavav offers centers on overlapping processes of de-agrarianization, demographic expansion, and de-industrialization in the years following 1950.

    [3] The proletarianization of peasants aross the Third World plays a key role in both Davis and Kurz’s explanations of the genesis of global surplus populations. For Davis, the ejection of people from the global countryside was most salient under structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s (2016, 174). For Kurz, the history goes further back, to the mid-20th-century period of what he terms “recuperative modernization,” in which peasants were proletarianized in excess of capital’s ability to absorb their labor, producing catastrophic results in the ensuing period of de-industrialization and financialization (2008, 177).

    [4] As the Endnotes collective notes, the problem becomes particularly grave because the two main safety valves that relieved pressures on European surplus armies in earlier periods—return to the countryside and migration—have been cut off or severely restricted in the current era (21).

    [5] In broad strokes, the polemic, which played out in three journals, consisted in Cortázar’s defense of a “supranational” position for the Latin American writer (a position, tellingly, aligned with Europe), against the “parochial” sensibility of the national writer. Arguedas countered that all writers are provincial, even when writing from the heights of the supranational. Cortázar, in turn, responded that one thing was to be a provincial like the Cuban writer José Lezama Lima, who knows “más de Ulises que la misma Penélope” (more about Ulysses than Penelope herself), and another to be one of those “provincianos de obediencia folklórica para quienes las músicas de este mundo empiezan y terminan en las cinco notas de una quena” (provincials obedient to folklore for whom the music of this world begins and ends with the five notes of an Andean flute (quoted in Ostria González 2002, 344). Cortázar assumes that Greek myth is “universal” while the Andean quena (a clear jab at Arguedas) is folkloric and self-enclosed, revealing the particularist, not to mention racist, assumptions embedded within his vision of universality. On the polemic, see Ostria González (2002).

    [6] The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa infamously characterized Arguedas’ literary project as an “archaic utopia” (utopía arcaica) on the grounds that it evades modernity. To no small degree, this corresponds with Vargas Llosa’s understanding of indigenous people as recalcitrantly backward and premodern. For an illustrative reading of Vargas Llosa and Arguedas as representing two poles of intellectual production in twentieth-century Peru, (Moraña 2016, 14-16). Attempts to (re)valorize Arguedas’ works (and the cultures represented in them) have also tended to emphasize their hyper-particular character. Emblematic in this regard is Ángel Rama’s theory of transculturation, which posits a theory of literature in which regional authors like Arguedas preserve traditional aspects of cultures faced with the onslaught of modernization. Granted, Arguedas often spoke of his literary project in similar terms, but Rama’s model tends to occlude the ways in which so-called regional literatures encode processes of capitalist transformation themselves. More recent approaches to Arguedas, inflected principally through postcolonial and subaltern studies, have focused on questions of identity, heterogeneity, migrancy (as metaphor), and alternative modernities. While these works have succeeded in highlighting the richness of Arguedas’ ouevre, they have done so within a culturalist framework that tends to occlude connections between the literary works and a wider capitalist system. This essay, by contrast, self-consciously returns to the materialist tradition in Latin American literary studies, largely abandoned in the wake of the poststructuralist turn.

    [7] At the same time, I hasten to add, my analysis also seeks to foment new dialogue between Arguedas and Marxist critique, terms that have stood in vexed relation since at least the infamous 1965 roundtable convened to discuss Arguedas’ novel Todas las sangres. At that roundtable, the sociologists in attendance roundly criticized the author for seeing “Indians” where there were only “peasants” (Favre 1985, 38) and for embracing forms of “magic” that should be overcome by scientific reason (42). Such statements surely buttress the commonsense notion today that Marxist categories of analysis produce teleologies that flatten cultural particularities and local histories. This essay is written with the conviction that this not the only possible dialogue between Arguedas and Marxism, especially when we distance ourselves from the teleologies of orthodox Marxism to consider the intensely variegated and uneven trajectories taken by capitalism outside of Europe.

    [8] Marx defines primitive accumulation as “those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labor market as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians. “The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil is the basis of the whole process necessary for capital accumulation to begin” ([1865]1990, 876). Even as Marx’s analysis focuses on 17th and 18th century England as the locus classicus of the genesis of capital (and thereby the prehistory of capital), he stresses that the need to expropriate peasants continues well after the capital relation is established: “The history of this expropriation assumes different aspects in different countries, and runs through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different historical epochs.” As Harry Harootunian has recently argued regarding this passage, Marx’s comments open pathways for understanding “other forms of expropriation outside of Europe” (2015, 7), where primitive accumulation does not have to take place in the same manner or at the same time as it did in England in order to be considered part of the coming into being of capitalism. Many recent discussions have revived the concept of primitive accumulation to highlight either capital’s continued reliance on violent (extra-economic) means in the process of accumulation or the expansion of the horizons of dispossession through market mechanisms [as in David Harvey’s notion of “accumulation by dispossession” (2003)]. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I want to underline a key element of Marx’s original formulation: the violent separation of peasants—indigenous or otherwise— from their means of subsistence in the land. I do so not because I do not think that primitive accumulation acquires new guises in the present (it surely does), but rather because I want to retain the historical specificity of the separation of people from their means of subsistence in land in 2th-century Peru and other parts of the world as a key, indeed epoch-making shift, one that forever transformed the ways in which societies were organized.

    [9] On the epic character of Arguedas’ fiction, see, for example, Spina (1986).

    [10] Critics such as Ángel Rama have viewed realism as a foreign (and by the early twentieth century, outmoded) form that was imposed upon Arguedas by earlier indigenista novels and with which the author had to break (2012, 150). While this is partially true, I want to suggest that Arguedas’ attachment to realism might not have only been an imposition; instead, realism—as a genre concerned with the movement of society—might have opened rather than merely closed possibilities. Along similar lines, it might very well be that his realist project shares things in common with those undertaken elsewhere at different moments, even as Arguedas’ treatment of the cultural, linguistic and historical particularities of the Peruvian Andes create highly original works. This argument, of course, extends beyond Arguedas’ fiction. As Roberto Schwarz (2012) has masterfully shown, the adoption of foreign forms on the periphery necessarily a formal transmutation to express the particular contradictions of social life outside of Europe.

    [11] Esty and Lye propose that “peripheral realisms approach the world- system as partially, potentially describable in its concrete reality,” and invite their readers “to grasp the world-system, via its local appearances or epiphenomenal effects, and not to imagine it as a foreclosed or fully narrativized entity” (2012, 285). This reading helps us to reframe not just Arguedas’ works, but also the novelistic cycles that cropped up across Latin America to narrate processes of capitalist transformation in the early to mid- 20th-century. Here I am thinking, for example, of the Brazilian writer José Lins do Rego’s “sugar cane cycle,” which in a series of novels narrates the transformation of the engenho (plantation) to the usina (factory), or Jorge Amado’s cacao cycle, which chronicles the rise and fall of cacao “colonels.” We might also point to epic novels that attempt to represent the progressive expropriation of peasants and/or indigenous people, ranging from the indigenista novels of the 1930s [such as Icaza’s Huasipungo (1934), to Ciro Alegría’s Ancho y ajeno es el mundo (1941)] to the fiction by Arguedas studied here. Such a grouping might also include novels such as Miguel Angel Asturias’ Hombres de maíz (1949), which narrates the deepening incorporation of Guatemalan indigenous peasants into market society. This last novel, readers will object, is surrealist and hence belongs to the camp of the Spanish American avant-gardes. But like Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967), a paragon of magical realism, Asturias’ novel has roots in realist forms that attempted to narrate capitalist transitions in twentieth-century Latin America. The precise manner in which they do so, of course, merits a case-by-case analysis.

    [12] This plot point is treated with care by Arguedas: the mountain herders from the K’ollana ayllu believe Misitu is an auki; the chief staffbearer from the K’ayau ayllu however, disavows this belief to the Vicar, saying he is just a big wild bull (1974, 108/ 1985, 96). In this moment, we see divisions not only between comuneros and chalos/government officials, but also among comuneros themselves.

    [13] Arguedas said his novel represented not only Peru, but also “los grandes poderes que manejan al Perú y todos los países pequeños en todas partes del mundo” [the great powers that control Peru and all small countries all over the world], (cited Alegría 1986, 240).

    [14] For a thorough reading of the social strata that interact in the novel, see Melisa Moore, (2003, 53-103).

    [15] See Cornejo Polar for a magisterial reading of this first scene (1973, 196-7).

    [16] Nelson Manrique explains this context: “La vasta migración de millones de campesinos hacia las ciudades no fue suficiente para aliviar la presión social por la falta de tierras. Una gran oleada de movilizaciones campesinas comenzó a fines de los años cuarenta y alcanzó su clímax entre los años 1956 y 1964. A diferencia de las movilizaciones campesinas anteriores, todos los departamentos del Perú —con la aparente excepción de Madre de Dios— se vieron involucrados” (2014, 182).

    [17] Rowe writes: “En realidad, el ayllu rescata el lado mágico de la cultura quechua al preservar sus bases en las tradicionales relaciones socio-económicas. Pero como estas relaciones no pueden reemplazar al capitalismo, el mito no puede ser sobrepasado en esta forma y viene a ser una justificación del nacionalismo populista. En vez de trascenderlo, se lo mantiene de una manera que en realidad lo condena a su extinción. Es probable que Arguedas fuese consciente de este acto” (1979, 186).

    [18] In his well-known critique of Rama’s model of transculturation, Alberto Moreiras argues that El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, in staging the author's suicide, marks the end of “Latin American foundational utopianism” (1997, 104) and the birth of “an antimodern writing whereby his text comes to present itself as a passionate signifier of the end of signification” (1997, 102). While I appreciate Moreiras’ critique of the conciliatory character of Rama’s model, I disagree with his pronouncement that El zorro spells an end to signification, as well as with his continued focus on culture as the ultimate terrain of social struggle. As Neil Larsen notes regarding theories of transculturation (which might be extended to poststructuralist critiques of transculturation such as Moreiras’): “The essential point here…is to grasp the cultural duality that separates rich and poor, city and country, etc. as a problem that cannot be solved on its own cultural terms. Its solution must be social, historical—and ultimately political” (2001, 139).

    [19] My thought is informed by William Rowe’s analysis of Los zorros as staging a metaphorical yawar mayu or death process of the Andean symbolic world, in order to reveal its redemption in the present: “La redención no consiste en la restitución del pasado, sino en aquella negación del discurso histórico que permite que, parafraseando a Benjamin, el pasado pueda irrumpir como imagen en el presente.” (2010, 80)

    [20] I am inspired here by Evan Calder Williams’ reading of zombie films and other “apocalyptic fantasies of late capitalism” (2001, 1), in which “the cataclysmic catastrophe (figured as a potential apocalypse whose revelations have been forgotten) has already happened. The work is to uncover the revelations that never showed themselves: they are buried in all the rubble” (2001, 11). Such work is guided by the conviction that “the thought of something better and fairer, something that doesn’t systematically hinge on the destruction and forestalled development of whole zones and populations, is something to be salvaged, brought back from its shallow grave, and made part not of our lost opportunities but of our daily life” (2001, 13).

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