Writing strangeness: disrupting meaning and making sense, a modern paradox in Miguel Angel Asturias's Leyendas de Guatemala.
Ma lecture me fut un philtre, car ce petit ouvrage se boit plus qu'il ne se lit. Il me fut l'agent d'un cauchemar tropical, vecu non sans un singulier delice. (10)
Beyond this poetics of reading, later epitomized by Roland Barthes's ruminations on textual pleasure, of particular interest, is the poet"s praise for the inventive and bizarre yet unsettling character of Asturias's work:
Quant aux legendes memes, j'en demeure assez ivre. Rien ne me parut plus etran ge,--je veux dire de plus etranger a mon esprit, a ma faculte d'attendre de l'inat tendu,--que ces histoires-reves-poemes ou se confondent si bizarrement les cro yances, les contes et les moeurs de toutes les ages d"un peuple composite [...] comme pretres a creer, entre deux Oceans, a coups de catastrophes, de nouvelles combinaisons et de nouveaux themes d'existence. Quel melange que ce melange de nature torride, de botanique aberrante, de magie indigene, de theologie de Salamanque, --oo le Volcan, les moines, l'Homme- Pavot, le Marchand de bijoux sans prix, les "bandes d'ivrogneses domincales", "les maitres-mages qui vont dans les villes enseigner la fabrication des tissus et la valeur du Zero", composent les plus delirants des songes. (9-10)
Struck by effect, form, and an ungraspable social synthesis, Valery"s remarks--later used as the preface to the 1932 French edition published in the Cahiers du Sud series, have noticeably defined Legendas de Guatemala as an exotically mystical, magical masterpiece. Further, his words have always been used as a validation of Asturias"s fine qualities as a writer; a gesture, incidentally, not only reflective of the tutelage often sought by young writers but also symptomatic of the dynamics of power traditionally present in the relationship between hegemonic centers of cultural production and the periphery. (2) Yet, what makes Valery"s words truly remarkable is not his authoritative corroboration of Asturias"s narrative and stylistic achievement but rather the recognition of his lack of understanding.
Baffled and adrift in a strange verbal composition, Valery does what poets do best. He does not shy away from bewildering encounters and carves meaning through poetic intuition and sensibility rather than reason alone. The value of his blessing then lies on his honesty about the limitations of the Cartesian recourse to make sense, and the interpretative truth that resonates in the description of his bemused state. By pinpointing the strangeness contained in Legendas de Guatemala, Valery, intuitively, provides a very valuable appraisal of the challenge of communicability that Asturias"s work represents at the onset of his career as a writer; i.e. the challenge to communicate the otherness of "all the ages of a composite people" whose principles and order differ from the European context in which he writes. Behind the outlandish evocations of the Mayan "mythical" past and Hispanic cultural symbols "oddly confused," as Valery puts it, there is a far more poignant aim, already inferable in Valery's words; that is, Asturias"s conscious effort to expand the literary perimeter by inserting in his work cultural referents no longer recognizable and easily rationalized by European intellectual categories. The irony of this aim, however, is that Asturias derives inspiration from his Parisian experience where he finds guidance in avant-garde poetics and ethnographic studies, which bears significant implications for modern Guatemalan and Latin American literature. Thus, Asturias's work functions as an "agent", not of a "tropical nightmare," but rather of a disruption of meaning--as defined by dominant discursive and cultural practices--so that the seemingly strange cultural norms and categories of subaltern identities become familiar or make sense, while highlighting the arbitrariness of imposed systems of thought in a highly complex postcolonial reality.
Stranded at the Crossroads of Surrealism and Science
In a rare synthesis of artistic and scientific domains, incited by ah illumination of some sort, between 1925 and 1929 Asturias carefully crafts a collection of legends in which ah enthralling fictionalization of ethnography sets the discursive mood while addressing the question of national ethnos. (3) This aesthetic and discursive achievement might not be as significant unless we take into consideration certain historical and intellectual paradigms that defined the way Latin American intelligentsia approached national identity.
Guided by a nineteenth and early twentieth century positivist mindset that viewed European cultural, intellectual, and political models as the key to solve Latin American underdevelopment; Asturias himself, a middle class Guatemalan mestizo, in his 1923 dissertation, El problema social del indio (The Social Problem of the Indian), deemed Indigenous populations as the impediment for development and proposed policy to promote European immigration to end Guatemala"s "backwardness". Asturias has been duly and strongly criticized for such racial diagnosis. More importantly, it seemed unlikely for him to step outside of the norms and modalities of his time--following Foueault"s theorization on historical epistemes; that is north-south of developed-underdeveloped knowledge productions about the other, Mayan ethnicity, and the nation at large.
Accordingly, shaped by this Eurocentric, developmentalist framework and fearing political persecution because of his blatant opposition to the de facto government that took power after the fall of dictator Rafael Estrada Cabrera, in 1924 the young Asturias boarded a German ship bound to London where he would study political economy. (4) While in Europe he made a living as a correspondent for the Guatemalan newspaper El imparcial until 1933. (5) Journalistic writings, one of the most respected forms of discourse about modernity in Latin America at the turn of the century, functioned as a medium to gain authorial legitimacy, especially if done from a privileged place of discourse, whether that was Paris, London, or any other European capital (Ramos 145). Asturias's experience is no exception to the rule. In his articles he evinces patronizing and modernizing discursive attitudes heightened by intellectual idealism and political commitment. Although Asturias is overtly bold in advancing specific political, economic, and cultural propositions pertaining to development of the nation, as the years passed by his ideological enthusiasm gradually cedes to more reflective and poised positions on national affairs and identity but not without political undertones (Paris 1924-33: Periodismo). Thus, it is precisely Asturias's parting from the epistemic confinement of his time that makes his intellectual and personal evolution remarkably groundbreaking, and one of the most exemplary cases of transformation among Latin Americans who traveled to Europe.
It behooves us then to examine the extraordinary circumstances that made Asturias's shift from an early twentieth century positivist intellectual to a writer that takes seriously the notion of cultural relativism. In an interview with Rita Guibert, the author revealed that while visiting Paris for Bastille Day in 1924 he saw an announcement of Professor Georges Raynaud's lectures on Indigenous Myths and Gods of Mesoamerica at Sorbonne University. The discovery of Raynaud's course and the "exhilarating energy" of Paris prompted Asturias to abandon his studies in London--where he had already been exposed to Mesoamerican art and artifacts at the British museum--and moved to Paris later that year (Archivos ALLCA 150; see interview with Guibert, Seven Voices). Given his arrival in Paris amidst the artistic and scientific effervescence of les annees folles, Asturias's challenge of communicability has relentlessly been attributed to his adherence to surrealist poetics, namely surrealists' attempt to de-emphasize rationality so that approaches to creativity via the unconscious, the imagination, oral discourse, dreams, fantasy and superstition might be considered valid and substantive mental processes. While this aesthetic choice, widely accepted, weighs a considerable presence in his work, overemphasis on Asturias's surrealistic explorations of the workings of the mind, often advanced by the writer himself, have thwarted a true understanding of the equal role of his ethnographic studies. Outstanding studies do exist, (6) and with this caveat in record, we would still suggest that not as much importante has been placed on the strong association between avant-garde discourse and ethnography as joint poetics and their implications in Asturias's work.
In his analysis of Surrealism in connection with ethnography in The Predicament of Culture, James Clifford purports that the development of French ethnography in the 1920s made it possible for the Parisian milieu fascinated with the "primitive" to experiment with the availability of "aesthetic, cosmological, and scientific resources" (120). The fascination with the primitive has its origin in a postwar context that questioned the roots of Western civilizations through what Clifford calls an ironic experience of culture: "to see culture and its norms--beauty, truth, reality-as artificial arrangements susceptible to detached analysis and comparison with other possible dispositions is crucial to an ethnographic attitude" (119). Based on this critical stance, it follows that, "for every local custom or truth there was always ah exotic alternative, a possible juxtaposition or incongruity. "Below (psychologically) and beyond (geographically) ordinary reality there existed another reality" (120-21). Clifford's analysis is significantly valuable because he links two concepts that have generally been treated separately, the "below" that Breton refers to in his Manifeste surrealiste and Aragon fleshes out in Le Paysan de Paris, and the "beyond" that ethnographers such as Marcel Mauss, Georges Raynaud or Marcel Griaule attempted to bring to the Parisian metropolis as they embarked upon anthropological missions to Asia, Mesoamerica and Sub-Sahara Africa, respectively. This is what Clifford identifies as a common experience in two different fields that attempted to expand the notion of cultural relativism. 'surrealism shared this ironic situation with relativist ethnography, "which, according to Clifford, made surrealists be interested in the "exotic" or the "beyond" and a certain unconventional Paris (121). If the ethnographer attempted to make the unfamiliar comprehensible, the surrealist tended to make the familiar strange. It is clear then, in Clifford's view, that the parallel emergence of ethnography and the avant-garde leads to an unprecedented cultural relativism and an ethnographic attitude that questions European cultural norms and embraces other cultural dispositions or "exotic alternatives. Ethnographic surrealism, as Clifford coins this juncture, is ultimately ah intellectual stance with regard to ethnographic data, and more specifically, toward principles of classification and order radically different.
Stranded at the crossroads of Surrealism and science, Asturias welcomes the challenge with the grand yet uncanny disposition so typical of avant-garde artists. Ample evidence a propos Asturias's engagement with and commitment to formal ethnographic studies in connection with his literary projects provides a clear indication of how he redefines the notion of cultural relativism with regard to Guatemalan identity. Studies on Indigenous cultures at Parisian universities, specialty schools, museums, and other independent entities were not anything new in the 1920s. La Societe Americaine de France, (7) for instance, existed since 1857, and functioned as an institution that supported and disseminated ethnological research through its publications. Hitherto, however, the first graduate student to receive a degree as an "Americanist" was in fact Georges Raynaud, author of a dissertation entitled Manuscrits precolombiens, published in 1893. (8) Georges Raynaud, who worked in close collaboration with Marcel Mauss--considered to be the father of modern French ethnography--at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes lectured on widely diverse subjects in relation to Indigenous cultures and religions of the Americas.
A brief look at the annual reports of the "Religious Sciences Program" from the Ecole de Hautes Etudes reveals the extraordinary wealth of learning, research, and analysis that Raynaud, as head of the division of Mesoamerican religions, delivered to students year after year. Between 1925 and 1929, years in which Asturias's attendance to the courses is registered in the annals, Prof. Raynaud lectured on multiple topics that ranged from pre-Hispanic poetic and dramatic texts (Ollantais and Rabinal Achi), Mayan, Aztec and Incan architecture, sculpture, history, agricultural rituals, Mayan calendars, deciphering methodologies of Mayan glyphs to Mesoamerican myths, Nahualism, and magic. Raynaud delivered lectures on myths so that, as he notes in the annals, Asturias and a fellow student named J. M. Gonzalez de Mendoza "could work on the preparation of the Spanish edition of the Popol Vuh and The Annals of Xahil based on [his] translations" (Ecole Pratique, 1926-1927 28). Further summaries of lectures provide informative updates on the excavations conducted in Chichen Itza by the Peabody Museum and the Carnegie Foundation under the direction of Sylvanus Morley, and the research carried out by Mayanist scholars Daniel Brinton, and M. Goodman (Ecole Pratique, 1925-1926 28). Other studies evolved around the Quipus in Peru as well as comparative approaches to the myths of creation, linguistics and decoding of the Mayan codices found in Madrid, Paris and Dresden (Ecole Pratique, 1926-1927 27-30). Studies of the Chilam Balam (Ecole Pratique, 1927-1928 33-34) and colonial chronicles written by the missionaries Sahagun, Diego de Landa, Fuentes y Guzman, Torquemada and Duran bring closure to Asturias's ethnographic studies (Ecole Pratique, 1928-1929 22-24). The list of lessons reported in the annals is far more extensive, but mindful of the value of brevity, the type advocated by Umberto Eco, (9) we will proceed to examine the implications of the availability of "aesthetic, cosmological, and scientific resources" as well as Asturias's intellectual position with respect to the use of this data.
Asturias's first response to his ethnographic studies is purely academic. His involvement in Raynaud's translation project, in cooperation with Gonzalez de Mendoza, of the Mayan texts Popol Vuh and the Rabinal Achi from French into Spanish is anthropological in nature but weighs much importance on its literary dimension. Establishing a strong connection between the two disciplines, viewed as literary anthropology by Brotherston (The American Genesis), makes is possible for Asturias to gain a unique access to Mesoamerican thought as it brings to the surface critical issues pertaining to the translatability of the Mayan ethos.
The rendition of cultural authenticity was one of Raynaud's fundamental tenets. Though modernist as a premise, Raynaud deemed translation accuracy and science as the most suitable methods to avoid past and contemporary Eurocentric categories and interpretations to approach otherness and disseminate pre-Columbian knowledge. Not surprisingly, Raynaud condemns the lack of scientific rigor and precision manifested in previous translations of the Popol Vuh and Rabinal Achi, explicitly Francisco Ximenez's (1701-1703) and Brasseur de Bourbourg's (1861); the latter judged to be too biblical and the former careless and unscientific. (10) It follows then that restitution and recognition of the value of Pre-Columbian cultural productions become intrinsic components of his translation endeavors. For instance, in his introduction to the Popol Vuh, Raynaud claims that it is enough <<D'etudier la grande civilisation centroamericaine et sa fille relativement inferieure, mexicaine, pour conclure a la haute valeur intellectuelle, a la superiorite peut-etre, des indigenes du Nouveau Monde>> (Les Dieux i). (11) To showcase such claim, Raynaud elaborates on the architectural monumentality of Uaxactum, Tikal, Copan, the artistic value of their sculptures, inscriptions, bas-reliefs, the complexity of time computation and advancement in astronomy, the social organization based on equality and equilibrium and autonomy of clans, and poetic finesse of their writings (as manifested in the structural and magical elements, anthropomorphism, recourse to the supernatural as well as technical usage of parallelism, alliteration, metaphor, ellipsis, onomatopoeia, and refrain [Les Dieux i]).
Placing unequivocal emphasis on cultural achievements of the Maya is a constitutive inflection of Raynaud's discourse. Yet, we must recognize that claiming the superiority of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, though minimized somewhat with caveats or cautionary words ('perhaps'), corresponds to performative positions in accordance with the cultural relativism and ethnographic attitude of the 1920s that seek to challenge European cultural norms. Although marking epistemic shifts in the way that Europeans read the cultural productions of the Americas is a pivotal element of that effort, the latter begs the question: to what extent translation and scientific methods are less Eurocentric intellectual categories that the ones that he characterizes as biblical or unscientific? A fair answer to this query requires a thorough examination of a substantial corpus of translation endeavors and scientific methodologies, which exceeds the scope of this essay. In the interim we may surmise that an evaluation of Mesoamerican studies may lead us to similar conclusions to those that Said purports in his landmark text, Orientalism; that is Orientalism, as a discipline, exists as a sign of European-Atlantic power and "superiority" over the Orient rather than a truthful discourse about it and it's greatly defined by distortions and misrepresentations. Accordingly, Said adds, "Orientalism responds more to the culture that produced it than to its putative object, which was also produced by the West (22)." Ostensible differences exist between these two disciplines with regard to their connection to imperialist projects in that the latter cannot necessarily be claimed for Mesoamerican studies at French institutions. Yet, a truthful discourse about Mesoamerican cultures, even when carried out under the most rigorous and self reflective methods, continues to be a concern as far as we are skeptic of reading the other based on our own, conscious or unconscious, referential framework.
Asturias does not necessarily engage with the issue of translatability or questions the potential of the most benevolent effort, as put by Spivak in reference to leftist intellectuals, to repeat the very misreading it aims to combat: leftist intellectuals who romanricize the oppressed essentialize the subaltern and thus replicate the colonists' discourse they purport to critique" (Spivak 2202). The resonance of Raynaud's lessons is perceptible in Asturias and Gonzalez de Mendoza's introduction to the translation of Raynaud's edition of the Popol Vuh. They stress the need for serious scientific method and precision in translating pre-Hispanic texts in order to remedy previous errors and misconceptions, facilitate their consultation, and, prepare the terrain for those who would engage in future research in the field of the "Americanist science" (Los dioses vii). Yet, Asturias's finest hour as ah ethnographer blooms when he turns to a less orthodox scientific method to meet the requirements of cultural translatability propounded by Raynaud as he recasts avant-garde aesthetics and the "exotic," well-documented cultural alternatives available to cosmopolitan Paris into fictional renditions to explore, not European culture, but his own. Thus, the transformative effect of Asturias's engagement with ethnographic research discloses a fruitful paradox: the Asturias who once disparaged Native culture, as he learns from European scientific methods, he distances himself from his most outright Eurocentric views, to explore, the cultural heterogeneity of Guatemala.
When Surrealism and Ethnography Meet, the Strange Becomes Familiar
Leyendas de Guatemala, initially published with interspersed drawings inspired in Maya codices (Dresdensis) and bas-reliefs found in cities of Maya antiquity (Barnabe xxix) reveals a macro-textual project, as Rene Prieto has advanced in Miguel Angel Asturias's Archaeology of Return, composed of an exordium followed by five legends. The exordium, which includes two introductory texts, "Guatemala" and "Ahora que me acuerdo" ("Now that I Remember") functions as a lyrical, spatial, and temporal exploration of the composite tableau of the cultural character of Guatemala. The following five short texts, "Leyenda del volcan," "Leyenda del Cadejo," "Leyenda de la Tatuana," "Leyenda del Sombreron," and "Leyenda del Tesoro del lugar Florido" (two more legends were added to the 1948 edition published by Editorial Losada in 1948) recover archetypal folktales to playfully tinker with revelatory identity qualities. Although these legends can be seen as a stunningly cryptic, poetic, and surrealistic, treatment of archetypal or formulaic folktales, Asturias transforms them to convey the continuity of Mayan philosophical underpinnings and a critique of prevailing notions of culture in modero Guatemala.
Counteracting the erosion of Mayan legacy and falsifications of history then becomes a leading force as the author inaugurates a reconstructive portrayal of national memory in the introductory text, "Guatemala." A more inclusive, we shall say, treatment of Native heritage addresses the omissions of official culture. Images of an elusive yet transpiring past will reinforce this resistance and reemergence of the indigenous subject, "Existe la creencia de que los arboles respiran el aliento de las personas que habitan las ciudades enterradas" (Cuentos y leyendas 9); and its indelible presence, "Poi" las calles desiertas vagan sombras perdidas y fantasmas con los ojos vacios" (Cuentos y leyendas 10). Central to this recounting of history is the introduction of an agent of memory: "tan honda repercusion tiene en el paisaje dormido una hoja que cae o un pajaro que canta, y despierta el alma del Cuco de los Suenos" (Cuentos y Leyendas 10). The Cuco, of the infantile capacity to dream (Morales 119), here used as the imaginary capacity, thrusts the narrator's ability to dream and recreate historical memory as a conduit to reflect upon the present. As Morales reminds us, "Faithful to his surrealist and psychoanalytic inclinations" (119), (12) Asturias exploits the Freudian notion that dreams and the unconscious could preserve the secret mechanisms and memory of our subjectivity. Hence, the Cuco, as agent, unfolds the dreams and unconscious of a collective memory, an encompassing effort that requires serious considerations pertaining to the aftermath of colonialism.
Conscious of the historical conditions, and the mutual influences of coexisting cultures in colonial crossroads, Asturias, unassumingly, sets in motion a symbolic reflection of the complex interaction of values of Spanish colonialism and Indigenous Guatemala. The capital city, Guatemala, provides the chief environment for this encounter and the narrator's subsequent rumination:
Es una ciudad formada de ciudades enterradas, superpuestas, como los pisos de una casa de altos. Piso sobre piso. Ciudad sobre ciudad. !Libro de estampas viejas, empastado en piedra con paginas de oro de Indias, de pergaminos espanoles de papel republicano!" [...] Dentro de esta ciudad de altos se conservan intactas las ciudades antiguas.
Asturias alludes to these cities superposed over others as a metaphor, as a 'cultural palimpsest," as coined by Prieto, of the Hispanic cultural imposition over the indigenous or, in a larger scope as "the American palimpsest," as formulated by Brotherston in his study of the resonance of Native American thought in modern Latin American literature (Book of the Fourth World). Imagery and key terms connote the cultural clash symbolized by the questionable legality of strong purveyors of colonial authority, 'stamps," 'spanish parchments," in clear opposition to the buried but "preserved intact" Mayan antiquity. What is ultimately at stake is the illusory character of victory and defeat despite the prevailing asymmetrical relations of power within the modern Guatemalan state. Dominance and superimposition, Asturias seems to suggest, is not a fait accompli. Dormancy and preservation, as vines in winter, are powerful forces of resistance of the subaltern culture, still legible under the colonial foundations and capable of infiltrating itself into and transforming the superposed culture: "Por las escaleras suben imagenes de sueno sin dejar huella, sin hacer ruido. De puerta en puerta van cambiando los siglos. En la luz de las ventanas parpadean las sombras. Los fantasmas son las palabras de la eternidad. El Cuco de los Suenos va hilando los cuentos" (Cuentos y Leyendas 10). Drawing upon the energy of poetic language and popular myth, Asturias ascertains, as it were, the phantasmagoric presence of the Mayan referent, a legacy still vital in spite of the unremitting menace of annihilation. Indefinable dreams and vague memories will in fact, following psychoanalytic precepts as Asturias and fellow surrealists knew them in the 1920s, make their way from the unconscious to the conscious. Silently and patiently the phantasms communicate the eternal wisdom of an ancient civilization. Thereby, through his agency, as Cuco threads the tales, he unfurls the cultural wealth preserved by the cities of Mayan antiquity inside the lethargic city of high rises, and celebrates its remarkable and visible imprint on this earth, in the heart of America.
Powerful and evocative images of Mayan achievements and resilience ensue as the author guides the reader through an imaginary ascent of memory, otherwise an inversion of Dante's descent to inferno, from the deep-rooted cities of Mayan golden antiquity to the Spanish cities. In an ethno-poetic state of exaltation Asturias pays tribute to the millenary architectural and artistic grandeur of the royal city-states that flourished in southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras in the years 600-900 (A.D.), Palenque, Copan, Quirigua, and Tikal (Tedlock 22). Buried amidst luxuriant rainforests, these "Ciudades sonoras como mares abiertos" exhale Maya life and cosmology encompassed in suggestive depictions of courtly life, decorative and functional art, rituals, warfare practices, and allusions to mythical topoi such as Xibalba and Tulan. Further allusions to Iximche and Utatlan emphasize emblems of modern Ethnic Maya political strongholds and resistance against the Spanish conquest (Cuentos y Leyendas 11). This praise and acknowledgment of an exemplary ancient civilization, inconsequential in appearance, becomes a narrative precedent that constitutes a radical epistemic shift. It not only relocates the hierarchical place given to European cultural accomplishments and conventions, but also highlights the value of Maya city-states reckoned as the foundation of Guatemala, an inerasable and outstanding legacy whose deeper layers and significance will be gradually unveiled.
Further disclosure of cultural legacy is advanced through performative storytelling to delve into the philosophical framework that informs modern Maya ethnicity, celebrated in its ancient texts and mirrored in the visual magnificence of its art and architecture. In the second introductory text, "Now that I remember," three storytellers, los gueguechos Jose and Agustina and Cuero de Oro, convene, allowing for an assembly and performance of multiple voices in reconstructing national history, a basic tenet of pluralism in modern states. The latter, presumably Cuco of Dreams, takes the lead in threading the tales while the others listen, avow, or comment. Unlike the text "Guatemala" in "Now that I remember" the narrative voice shifts from the third to the first person, a focalization technique that endows the narration with a more personal quality to tell a sort of transcendental initiation journey. Hence, Cuero de Oro recounts a journey into the past that functions as a subliminal encounter with Maya epistemic and discursive paradigms, an ambitious undertaking noticeably disserted by many other critics given its extraordinary implications. Viewed as Asturias" self appointed status as spokesman for Modern Maya ethnicity by Prieto (31), and as "Gran Lengua," or a modern version of Quetzalcoalt or Kukulkan by Arias, (13) this initiation journey constitutes an impressive scheme to reinscribe Mayan thought into modern literature. As he travels back in time through exuberant rainforests to reweave national memory, Cuero de Oro arrives at its roots, a replication of Asturias's own epiphany we might say, heightened by rhetorical strategies utilized to establish a relationship with Mayan texts, namely the Popol Vuh from which he quotes verbatim passages to kick-start his fictional rendition of the Maya belief system:
"!Salud, oh constructores, oh formadores! Vosotros veis. Vosotros escuchais, !Vosotros! No nos abandoneis, no nos dejeis, !oh, dioses!, en el cielo, sobre la tierra, Espiritu del cielo, Espiritu de la tierra. Dadnos nuestra descendencia, nuestra posteridad, mientras haya dias, mientras haya albas. Que la germinacion se haga, Que numerosos sean los verdes caminos, las verdes sendas que vosotros nos dais. Que tranquilas, muy tranquilas esten las tribus. Que perfectas, muy perfectas sean las tribus. Que perfecta sea la vida, la existencia que nos dais. !oh, Maestros gigante. Huella del relampago, Esplendor del relampago, Huella del Muy Sabio, Esplendor del Muy Sabio, Gavilan, Maestros-magos, Dominadores, Poderosos del cielo, Procreadores, Engendradores, Antiguo secreto, Antigua ocultadora, Abuela del dia, Abuela del alba!.. !Que la germinacion se haga, que el alba se haga! (Cuentos y leyendas 16) (14)
Quoting texts, a rhetorical device commonly used by renaissance humanists, here becomes a suitable method for Asturias to earn authorial legitimacy and manifest an explicit affiliation to Mayan principles of order as he delves into Mesoamerican texts, thereby embarking on a series of intertextual relationships between these texts and his own literary work. Mayan priests dictated the Popol Vuh or "Council Book" to Friar Francisco Ximenez in order to presumably build a case for the rights of land of the Quiche Mayan people, one of eight ethnic Mayan groups in modern Guatemala. (15) While making a case before the Spanish rule may have been the original intent, the Popol Vuh inevitably expounds the worldview and experience--namely the genesis, ethics, and exodus--of the Quiche Mayan people in far more significant ways. The quoted passage, subsequent to the final of a series of creation trials, showcases a dialogue between the recently created men of maize and their creators. It highlights a cultural ethos in that the conception of humans is inextricably considered in relation to a reflection about origin and the cultural beliefs that support them, namely concerted efforts of creation and a dialogical relationship between humans and the vital forces of creation, Sky and earth. In this fashion, unlike other renditions of creation, the passage does not surmise ah imaginary creation propelled by some powerful entity outside of this world, but rather it provides a symbolic representation that brings us back to the grand scheme of sources of life sustenance, air and earth. The force of the interaction carries or encompasses not only a particular view of creation and interconnectivity among humans and earth, but also one that grants a special status to the word. Temped to interpret this astonishing emphasis on words and signs as a universal notion of logos and reason according to western precepts, the reader may want to consider it as recognition of the importance of language in cultural continuity. To be precise, for a text that seeks to reestablish the rights of the Maya Quiche following the conquest and near extermination, it is only logical to want to communicate and preserve the very essence of its cultural history. Consequently, it is pertinent to consider Asturias's dialogue with the cultural implications that surround the conception of the written forro of the Popol Vuh and its ensuing privileged status as a source of guidance, of council for future Mayan generations.
Underscoring the guiding and intellectual value of the Popol Vuh is extremely significant in that Asturias engages with a tradition of knowledge whose complexity and dissemination through phonetic and pictorial signs continue to astound those involved in their decipherment, and the rest of world. Writing, a hallmark of Mayan civilization, more commonly known as hieroglyphic texts, according to anthropologists Michael Coe and Van Stone, "appears on a impressive array of materials, and in many places: on carved stones stelae, door lintels, and panels, in carved architectural stuccos, within painted murals, and carved or incised on pottery vases and bowls [as well as on] carved jades, bones, and shells" (14). Throughout the Classic (A.D. 250-900) and Post-Classic codices (900 to the arrival of the conquistadors), "pictures and texts were [...] closely linked" (14). Decipherment of the Mayan script, which has taken place in a significant scale since the 1950s, has shed light on the combined usage of logograms (meaning signs, which stand for whole words or word-stems) and syllabograms (phonetic signs, which represent syllables). Mayan writing is thus logosyllabic as scribes "attached signs known as phonetic complements (PC) to logograms (L) to help in their reading." (16) Concurring with this view Denis Ted lock, the translator of the Popol Vuh into English, adds that hieroglyphic texts, were "inked on long strips of paper that were folded like screens to make books" (Tedlock 22). Although most of these screen-fold books or codices were burned by Spanish missionaries to eradicate idolatry or perished over time, some survived and compliment the narratives found in architectural ruins and the array of objects described above. Given the strong correspondence between these inscriptions and the Popol Vuh, the latter is believed to derive from this hieroglyphic tradition, ah assertion or assumption that has not gone unchallenged. Edmonson and Tedlock, for instante, seem to have credible reasons to contend that the Popol Vuh was originally conceived in Mayan hieroglyphs. But, Gordon Brotherston points out that Quiche occupies an area --highland Maya--outside the Maya hieroglyphic zone. Maya hieroglyphic script, in his view, is "exclusively dedieated to the phonetics of lowland Maya (Chol-Yucatec)" (Book of 217). In addition, though the Popol Vuh is unquestionable in Quiche, Brotherston argues that it also "incorporates a large number of words of Nahuatl origin, which language has historically always been bound up with iconic seript rather that hieroglyphic script," ultimately suggesting "earlier horizons" of influences than what was originally thought (Book of 218). Despite the disagreements concerning the genealogy of the Popol Vuh, scholars acknowledge that the Book of Council, just like many other hieroglyphic texts, represents a continuity of pre-Columbian knowledge; an extension, as Bruce Love puts it, "of native learning spanning centuries" (Love 6). Asturias recognized this vital principle of continuity in a text that expounds conceptualization of cyclical time; astronomy and calendrical wisdom; epistemology, and ethics in astonishingly imaginative and symbolic representations. Brotherston even suggests that it is a text that advances evolutionary arguments in that its reflection of origin and creation encompasses a theoretieal stance a propos the age and formation of the earth. (17) But, for our purpose suffices to point that it is precisely the permanente of this intellectual tradition that Asturias wishes to establish when he quotes a passage that reveals further dimensions of the Mayan belief system.
Henceforth the philosophieal frames contained in Mayan manuscripts, namely but not limited to the Popol Vuh, and its verbal spin-offs become a central feature of Asturias's narrative. This intellectual disposition, as put by Clifford, entailed above all a serious engagement with the terms of the bizarre, the other, the subaltern, the disenfranchised Indian, and not a reproduction of cliched representations and paternalist defense of "poor Indians" as it was arguably the case in the literature of Indigenismo and his own polemic dissertation of 1923. (18) It required that Asturias, as Brotherston has remarked, 'structures bis written world on the native text," through its "grammatology or inner narrative" (Book of 345). With this reenactment of Mayan principles Asturias ultimately deploys a series of communicability challenges, previously mentioned, enhanced and complicated even more by his affiliation to surrealist poetics --producing a textual shock and defamiliarization that relies on techniques exploited by the surrealists, namely parallelism, polarity, ambiguity, doubling, dialectic as well as the aleatory, associative, and imaginary possibilities of language. Whereas signaling types and moments of surrealistic figurations is not the objective, (19) referencing their interfacing value with ethnography is essential to our argument. For, in spite of the text's complex and playful avant-garde flair, its native provenance leads us to persist, paradoxically, in trying to discern some kind of communicative intention. Therefore, a closer examination of the resultant elusive and unsettling prose, once intimated by Valery, reveals compelling pointers to the interpretation proposed above. That is, the exemplary rearticulation of Mayan portrayal of Ethics, which occurs as Cuero de Oro, in his journey through historical memory, finds himself amidst a dreamlike world that evokes the inner narrative structure of the Popol Vuh:
--Bailando como loco tope el camino negro donde la sombra dice: <!Camino rey es este y quien lo siga el rey sera!> Alli vide a mi espalda el camino verde, a mi derecha el rojo y a mi izquierda el blanco. Cuatro caminos se cruzan antes de Xibalba [...]. En la oscuridad fueron surgiendo imagenes fantasticas y absurdas: ojos, manos, estomagos, quijadas. Numerosas generaciones de hombres se arrancaron la piel para enfundar la selva. Inesperadamente me encontre en un bosque de arboles humanos: veian las piedras, hablaban las hojas, reian las aguas y movianse con voluntad propia el sol, la luna, las estrellas el cielo y la tierra. (Cuentos y leyendas 17)
These powerful juxtapositions of incongruous elements that shock the normal perception of reality may inadvertently pass as surrealistically inconsequential when in fact it is a strong resonance of the Popol Vuh, a text in which the superuatural, metamorphosis, anthropomorphous images, and personification of inanimate elements, and Native views of human connection to the earth and other species are common features. More importantly, the four colored roads (cardinal points) and dismembered body parts are associative references to the transformations of the twin brothers Hunahpu and Ixbalanque during their journey through underworld Xibalba. The twin's mission to subdue the Lords of evil ultimately signifies an emblematic nonmimetic and allegorical representation of Mayan ethics inasmuch as the tests of the journey become lessons of trial and error, good and evil, and the myriad of human struggles. The twin brothers vanquish the lords of evil, but the text is careful to establish that their complete eradicating from this earth is not possible. In this fashion, the Popol Vuh is a foundational text in that it showcases profound engagement with the symbolic functions of language and imaginative representations to provide ethical guidance while communicating a realistic understanding of the constant obstacles humans must face before reaching a desirable moral enlightenment. The ultimate significance of Cuero de oro's journey lies not only in his ability to unearth a cultural and philosophical system, but also in that he must undergo, like the pair of deities, transformative experiences, "Through the extent of my roots, incommensurable and nameless" (Cuentos y leyendas 18) before reaching true renovation and recognition of ancestry as reconstructive elements of origin and a profound cultural foundation.
As the author completes the two introductory texts Leyendas de Guatemala segues into what at first glace appears to be fanciful musing of Guatemalan folktales stemming from both Indigenous and Hispanic traditions, opening up and ending with the former as though enveloping three legends that belong to the latter but each one revealing structural unity and independent meaning. Apart from being ah impressive recast of archetypal folktales whose aesthetic significance and moral lessons have been so authoritatively discussed by other critics, two other legends, "Legend of the Volcano" and "Legend of the Treasure of the Exuberant Place," enable Asturias to further engage with and authenticate pre-Colombian tropes. But the remaining legends ate utilized to reassess and even undermine the social and cultural inequalities violently institutionalized by the colonial legacy, which through its structures of power has tended to dismiss Native culture. A radical epistemic shift is therefore established, and the outcome will forever change how Latin American writers view European values and how they define self in relation to their own reality.
Irreverent Skepticism Underscores the Strangeness of the Familiar
Whereas fleshing out the philosophical underpinnings of Mayan culture is central to Asturias's ethnographic attitude, undertaking profound assessments of Guatemalan Hispanic cultural norms becomes an inextricable counterpoint in his literary project. The author then expends to advance the notion of cultural relativism in such heterogeneous reality by highlighting the unduly privileged condition of, what Angel Rama called, the blueprint of peninsular society imposed on the Americas (Rama 47). Compelled largely by iconoclast avant-garde aesthetics and understanding of Europe's longstanding, undeconstructable authority, Asturias came to posit and resist European cultural appeal and superiority claims. Echoing the stance of relativist ethnography and surrealism, as discussed earlier, and carefully shifting back and forth between Mayan and European epistemologies and discourse, in Leyendas de Guatemala Asturias scrutinizes and questions Hispanic cultural hegemony through transgressive linguistic utterances and playful psychoanalytic representations of sexual desire aimed at deconstructing the very institution that imposes prohibitions and Christian morality: the Catholic church. Thus, Asturias adopts an authorial position, as insurrectional as it may have seem to the readers of his time, or even today's, to underscore, as I will try to demonstrate, the arbitrariness and incongruity of established notions of order and cultural rearrangements imposed on realities with radically different principles and structures.
Asturias sets out to expose, on its own terms, the inconsistence and profound contradictions of a scheme derivate of a staunch catholic tradition. We should then ask: Why the Church? And can Asturias's critical stance be considered essentialist as he deconstructs a dominant cultural system while highlighting the value of the subaltern one? Answering the first question requires a twofold treatment of the issue in terms of the author's motives as well as delivery of the critique. As Asturias conducts bis ethnographic studies he undergoes a transformation that makes him realize not only the depth and value of Mayan culture but also reassess the history and the legacy of the colonial experience. As our subsequent analysis of the legends will establish, the evaluation exposed a not so surprising condition: the end of the colonial period did not necessarily mean the end of colonialism and its various systems of control. Guatemala was not anymore a Spanish colony for over one hundred years by 1930 when Asturias publishes Leyendas de Guatemala, but the consequences of colonialism as still lived in Guatemala (and around the world) today inasmuch as the premises that have rendered European norms the aura of permanence and truth continue to be unchallenged. As put by Ranajit Guha in his discussion of the convergence of the South East Asian and Latin American subaltern studies group, "The colonial experience has outlived decolonization and continues to be related significantly to the concerns of our own time" ("Projects for Our Time and Their Convergence" 42). It is precisely this concern, initially dramatized by writers like Asturias, which has guided many current Latin American critics to examine the continuity of what Walter Mignolo calls the "coloniality of power."
While Mignolo and Guha recognize the differences of the colonial experience between India and Latin America, they concur in defining a conceptual framework that derives from the similarities of the experience. They begin by establishing the difference between colonialism and coloniality. The former is a direct reference to the period, whether hegemonic or not, of the colonial powers on the colonized territories around the globe, and the latter is a reference to the hegemonic versus subaltern conditions that prevail even after independence. Mignolo himself arrives at the conclusion that "Decolonization and nation building became a new form of articulation of the coloniality of power in the Americas (in the nineteenth century) and in Asia and Africa (in the second half of the twentieth century)" ("Coloniality of Power and Subalternity" 434). In sum, what interests us is not so much how Asturias's work confirms this argument, but rather how the author precedes it as he ponders the epistemic violence carried out by the very institution of authority that signifies a system of thought that largely controls values and norms in colonial and, debatably, postcolonial Guatemala. In doing so, Asturias adopts defiant or insubordinate discursive strategies. But does critiquing this particular system of signification (Catholieism) as incongruent and artificial make him essentialist? The answer is not a simply yes or no if approached from a critical perspective aimed at deconstructing a system that historically played a significant part in neutralizing the native belief system. Highlighting the supposed falsity and arbitrariness of such system, becomes a performative authorial position comparable to what Spivak calls 'strategic essentialism" (in reference to group alliances formed out of a common objective but without losing sight of the heterogeneity of the subaltern; see her essay "Can the Subaltern Speak"), as Asturias questions hegemonic values and rewrites a symbolic rendition of Guatemalan identity. Following this logic, Asturias frequently equates Catholicism with Spanish culture as he views the institution to be one of the most adamant purveyors of its legacy.
It is then not surprising to encounter in Leyendas de Guatemala, provocative representations of a system and ideas that yield prominent influence on establishing moral imperatives and normative behaviors not always possible to sustain. In his description of Antigua, the former seat of colonial rule in Central America, and thereby the symbol of Spanish culture, in the introductory text of the Leyendas, "Guatemala," Asturias connotes the pervasive presence of the church: "En Antigua la segunda ciudad de los conquistadores, de horizonte limpio y viejo vestido colonial, el espiritu religioso entristece el paisaje. En esta ciudad de iglesias se siente una gran necesidad de pecar" (Cuentos y leyendas 12). Thereafter, the visible provocation of religious zeal in this passage gradually turns into a desacralization of symbolic figures and icons of the Guatemalan catholic tradition. Pedro de Betancourt, a friar of Spanish lineage and emblem of sanctity and compassion, for instance, is portrayed providing guidance and consolation to a woman who, in confession, discloses the loss of her lover. But subsequent lines convey a playful and ambivalent portrayal of character and inner desire as he transforms himself into the man that the woman yearns for, and walks away with her: "Dos sombras felices salen de la iglesia --amada y amante-- y se pierden en la noche por las calles de la ciudad, torcidas como las costillas del infierno" (Cuentos y Leyendas 13). This striking contradiction between the representation of a mythical figure ofcatholic compassion and unrestrained lasciviousness is done to launch an outright assault of catholic morality by pinpointing the discrepancy between assumed, infallible conventions and sexual desire.
Accentuating the inner contradictions of a legitimized system entails disclosing what the author identifies as its most vulnerable principles. In this fashion, Asturias considered sexuality as a sensitive area, worthy of exploration. The choice, however, is not gratuitous. Feeding from Freudian analysis of repressed sexuality and an iconoclasm, once again, typical of avant-garde artists, Asturias counterpoints sexual desire and religious precepts as they pertain to celibacy among members of the clergy far beyond the subtle provocations previously discussed (there are, without doubt, literary antecedents in which Catholicism is questioned through symbolic representations of sexual desire, namely writers like Diderot in La religieuse and Valle-Inclan in Sonata de otono). This issue requires a careful consideration of Freud's proposition of the mechanisms of the tmconscious and its role in hiding and fulfilling ungratified desires given that Asturias himself spells it out in his lecture, "Arquitectura de la vida nueva I" in 1928, and elaborates symbolically in the legends (Asturias, Paris 1924-1933 257). (20) Whether Asturias accepted Freud's proposition as a universal truth, it is difficult to conclude but at the very least Asturias more likely sees psychoanalysis in the same light that surrealist saw it; that is, according to Balakian: "a convenient bridge between the scientific attitude of objective investigation anda literary mind's philosophical introspection" (125). (21) Further, what is important to consider is Asturias's willingness to draw from and play with European intellectual precepts to challenge, in its own terms, European notions of sexual abstinence when he speaks of characters that share that moral paradigm, even if their Spanish lineage is not concretely referenced.
In "Leyenda de Cadejo" Asturias reinvents the archetypical legend of the Guatemalan-Hispanic tradition about an individual with goat legs and devil like features who scares and protects dnmkards, and sometimes becomes a dog with luminous eyes. (22) The author inserts in his version another emblematic figure of Guatemalan Catholicism and one of the four devout founders of the Convent of Santa Catalina in 1606, Mother Elvira de San Francisco. In Asturias's rendition of the legend, she becomes Cadejo's object of desire, disguised in the body of a man called "hombre-adormidera" (Cuentos y leyendas 53). Subsequent actions occur in ah oneiric state in which sexual temptation reveals itself in sharp contrast to a morality of self-restrain supported by Christian conceptions of good and evil.
Understanding the antithetical relationship between sexual desire and pious life permits the author to exploit blasphemy and parody as a critical stand to further highlight the fallacy of religious zeal and fallibility of the structure that sustains it. It sets off with unequivocal defiance as hombre-adormidera--Cadejo-- approaches and persecutes Madre Elvira to tap on her inner desires while deriding one of the holiest rites of the catholic tradition, the Eucharist:
--!Nina, Dios sabe a sus manos cuando comulgo! ... --murmuro el del gaban, alargando sobre las brasas de sus ojos la parrilla de sus pestanas. La novicia retiro las manos de las hostias al oir la blasfemia ... !No, era tm sueno! ... Luego palpose los brazos, los hombros, el cuello, la cara, la trenza ... Detuvo la respiracion un momento, largo como un siglo al sentirse la trenza. !No, no era un sueno, bajo el manojo tibio de su pelo revivia dandose cuenta de sus adornos de mujer, acompanada en sus bodas diabolicas del hombre-adormidera y de una candela encendida en el extremo de la habitacion, oblonga como ataud! (Asturias, Cuentos y leyendas 29)
Captive of Cadejo's spell, Madre Elvira struggles, figuratively, between desire and denial. Afflicted with long-lived guilt with regard to 'sinful thoughts," the novice naturally attempts to divest herself from such diabolic image-reality, a psychological state seized by the author to illustrate the workings of the mind in repressing such "wicked" and terrifying thoughts. More importantly, using Freudian analysis as springboard, phallic symbols are exploited to further showcase the unwavering nature of desire and mock the symbols of catholic discourse:
La luz sostenia la imposible realidad del enamorado, que alargaba los brazos como un Cristo que en viatico se hubiese vuelto murcielago, !y era su propia Carne! Cerro los ojos para huir, envuelta en su ceguera, de aquella vision de infierno, del hombre que con solo ser hombre la acariciaba hasta donde ella era mujer --!la mas abominable de las concupiscencias!--; [...] sacudiendose entre el estertor de una agonia ajena que llevaba en los pies y el chorro de carbon vivo de su trenza retorcida en invisible llama que llevaba a la espalda [...] Y no supo mas de ella. Entre el cadaver y un hombre, con un sollozo de embrujada indesatable en la lengua, que sentia ponzonosa, como su corazon, medio loca, regando las hostias, arrebatose en busca de sus tijeras, y al encontrarlas se corto la trenza y, libre de su hechizo, huyo en busca del refugio seguro de la madre superiora, sin sentir mas sobre los pies los de la monja Pero, al caer su trenza, ya no era trenza: se movia, ondulaba sobre el colchoncito de las hostias regadas en el piso. (Asturias, Cuentos y leyendas 29)
Undoubtedly blasphemous as an image, meant to produce laughter and mockery, it is pivotal to consider the symbolic function of this irreverent representation of a phallic symbol twisting itself on the body of Christ. The above passage clearly suggests Asturias's attempt to scrutinize the issue of prohibition in opposition to sexual desire. In fact, vis-a-vis prohibition, in "Architecture of New Life" Asturias exposes the consequences of repressed desires and noticeably champions the pursuit of their fulfillment: "Every desire, my friends, must be satisfied or confessed; otherwise it will fall into that deep basement, and there, like a fungus, grows and explodes at its first opportunity" (Paris 1924-1933: periodismo 257). But, mindful of the limitations of simplistic endorsement, in "Legend of Cadejo," the author engages with the full complexity of the issue in a fashion that invites and could justify consideration of later developments in psychoanalytic discourse in spite of its ensuing implications. In other words, Asturias's choice to use European intellectual propositions may seem contradictory to his critique of Eurocentric norms back home. At the very least, it signals the ethos of postcolonial societies: the need to reassess and critique European norms with regards to power relations while maintaining the resort to selectively engage with European intellectual and cultural propositions, an unavoidable reflection of being part of and outside of it. The same may be true for Latin American criticism, but here a more prevalent issue is at stake. As critics, we are fully free to critically engage or dialogue with theoretical propositions, including European ones, so that important concepts are not dismissed. In an increasingly complex academic circuit of ideas, even the most formidable thinkers of Latin American Studies cannot, for instance, dismiss Derrida's own deconstruction of the center. His reflections are pivotal not only because of his critique of Europe's transcendental or privileged signifiers, (23) but also because he is emblematic of the center's ability to critique itself. The value of this intellectual exercise should lie on the productive and critical triangulation established between the text, the theoretical proposition, and the critic.
With this caveat in record, let us consider an additional intimation on the issue of prohibition. In a rearticulation of the principles of reality and pleasure, as posited by Freud, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan proposes that the principle of reality in our daily activity is fulfilled through the symbolic value that moral law exerts on us. Lacan writes, "the moral law or presence of the moral agency in our activity, in so far by the symbolic, is that through which the real is actualized. The real as such, the weight of the real. A thesis that may appear to be both a trivial truth and a paradox. Ir involves the idea that the moral law affirms itself in opposition to pleasure" (79). Lacan reframes the opposition between the reality and pleasure principles as the "antinomy of reality and pleasure" (20), but he is cautious to take into account the illusory character of the law's victory and the potential for unintended outcomes. (24) For, in Lacan's view, the law creates desire for what it's prohibited and temporarily creates a deferral, a substitution of "jouissance" 'joy, pleasure."
Based on this proposition, in "Legend of Cadejo" catholic morality could be read as the law that affirms itself in opposition to pleasure. Yet, in the passage above, the author treats the complexity of Madre Elvira's internal conflict to ultimately illustrate how she oscillates between the reality principle (commandments) and the pleasure principle (jouissance). In appearance, the novice's jouissance as such does not exist before the law that prohibits it. But, if we give credence to Lacan's assessment of deferral, far from reaffirming the moral law, prohibition triggers desire for transgression of the catholic moral code that governs or guides her. As axiomatic as ir may seem, Lacan's proposition is helpful in explaining what Asturias sets out to do in the legend, that is determining not only the real function of the moral law, which, in his view, is to keep the devout novice away from access to jouissance; but also its unconscious role. In other words, beneath moral restrictions, Lacan suggests, "the Thing" [jouissance] "finds a way by producing [...] all kinds of covetousness thanks to the commandment, for without the Law the Thing is dead" (83). Unambiguously, this covetousness, translated as sexual desire, signifies not justa psychological condition but also an irresoluble ethical problem for the novice as it bears profound consequences once she violates the moral law with her thoughts. Conscious of the difficulty to manage the internal ruptures produced by sexual desire pertaining to western notions of sexuality, Asturias's textual intentionality is skillfully accomplished, as formulaically
Freudian as if may seem to the modern and sophisticated reader. However, Asturias's intentions do not end with this playful psychoanalytical exploration to confront catholic morality as the function of blasphemy contains another noteworthy modality to enhance his overall project to challenge Hispanic-Guatemalan norms.
Asturias's skeptical stance towards privileged systems of thought, authority and, more specifically, prevailing notions of Guatemalan identity is also present in the subtleness of his use of humor and irony. The symbolic function of ironic representations of sexually charged icons of the church or the phallic symbol twisting itself on the body of Christ then requires an examination of laughter as an inextricable, deconstructive element in Asturias's parody of Catholic morality. In Rabelais and His World, the Russian theorist Mikhael Bakhtin states that through laughter and parody one can construct his/her world before the official culture. Laughter celebrates its own liturgy, corporeal life; confesses its faith; and it's unequivocally linked to liberty (quoted in Arias, La identidad de la palabra 194-97). The text, by virtue of its internal mechanisms, discloses an answer, an alternative. Like Mario de Andrade's Macunaima, A Hero Without Any Character (1928), but without the resolute guffaw of Macunaima, Asturias's use of blasphemy (an eternal sin according to the book of Mark 3:29), irony and humor are used as the ultimate mechanisms to further mock and erode the sacred symbols and normative authority of institutionalized religion. The erotization of Madre Elvira and sublime Catholic icons (holy wafer, Christ) is meant to disclose the rigidity, authoritarian, restrictive, and violent character of the institution. Laughter supposes, as it were, a triumph over fear. Its fearless and liberating force swathes the text, becoming uplifting authorial victory that removes prohibition of restriction. However, before this destruction there must be a creation, claims Bakhtin. In Asturias's legends, creation begins with subverting the religious apparatus as well as repressive institutions and correlative systems that support it while validating the native cultural and intellectual tradition. His challenge is to think critically about Guatemalan history and culture, and thereby produce compelling and encompassing new narratives to replace reductive images of identity and nation.
Feeding from a concurrent avant-garde and ethnographic poetics of relativism and its derivative will to play and paradox, Asturias transforms the exotic, outlandish, strange, untranslatable, and well-documented cultural alternatives available to cosmopolitan Paris into a malleable aesthetic matter to meditate the question of origin and national identity. Although Legends of Guatemala is not the most acclaimed--or artistically valued--of his works, it has an air of purpose and commitment to it, the sense of a transformed author ready to measure and weigh the profound consequences of colonialism and its discourse. It inaugurates the use of a fertile modern paradox that becomes a constant discursive resort in Asturias's work. That is, a symbolic disruption of established cultural norms and meaning so that the terms of subaltern identities can be revaluated and recognized as substantive cultural and intellectual alternatives to European signifiers. Asturias's greatest accomplishment is the production of a foundational text in which, by decentering discourse (the narrative voice) in favor of the intersection of multiple voices, he redefines authorial engagement with the cultural plurality of Guatemala, that incomprehensible "mixture of torrid nature, aberrant botany, Indian magic, theology from Salamanca" once intimated by Valery. Therefore, Asturias's 'small book" of legends is a magnificent treatment of the "competing claims of communities" (Hommi Bhaba's phrase), transculturated realities (Fernando Ortiz's), cultural heterogeneity (Antonio Cornejo-Polar's), (25) hybrid societies (Nestor Garcia Canclini's), or the contact zone (Mary Pratt's) well before the advent of postcolonial and subaltern studies. The proliferation of academic treatises and refined concepts of hybridity can certainly confirm the visionary analysis and representation of Guatemala pioneered by Asturias. This textual gesture becomes a lifetime endeavor as later works evince more elaborated inflections, namely El Senor Presidente (1946) Hombres de Maiz (1948), or Mulata de tal (1963). It is in these works that Asturias will fully develop the complexity of the asymmetrical relations of power, as put by Pratt, conflictive nature of disparate systems of thought, and epistemic violence institutionalized by the European colonial powers, in a highly transculturated reality. Asturias's Leyendas de Guatemala is ultimately an opening installment of textual explorations aimed at questioning Hispanic cultural hegemony, authenticating pre-Columbian tropes and ethnicity, and generating an alternative reflection of national identity as a system of cultural signification and postcolonial consciousness.
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Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles Etienne. Grammaire de la langue Quichee suivie d'un vocabulaire et du drame de Rabinal-Achi. Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1861.
--. Popol Vuh. Le Livre sacre et les mythes de l'antiquite americaine. Collection de documents dans les langues indigenes pour servir a l'etude de l'histoire et de la philologie de l'Amerique ancienne. Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1861.
Brotherston. Gordon. Book of the Fourth World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
--. Lecture on Popol Vuh. "The American Genesis: Indigenous Texts and Their Resonance." Stanford University, Stanford. 8 May 2003.
Cheymol, Marc. Miguel Angel Asturias dans le Paris des Annees Folles. Grenoble: Presses universitaires, 1987. Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.
Coe, Michael D. and Mark Van Stone. Reading the Maya Glyphs. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001.
Cornejo Polar, Antonio. Escribir en el aire. Lima: Editorial Horizonte, 1994.
Derrida, Jacques. 'structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Writing and Difference. London: Routledge, 1978. 278-95
Eco, Umberto. Interview. Le Nouvel Observateur. Sept. 2003: 97.
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Guibert, Rita. Archivos ALLCA XX. 1899/1999 Vida, obra y herencia de Miguel Angel Asturias. Paris: Archivos ALLCA XX, 1999.
Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices: Seven Latin American Writers Talk to Rita Guibert. New York: Vintage Books, 1972. The interview with Asturias appears 119-79.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminars of Jacques Lacan. Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York: Norton, 1992.
Love, Bruce. The Paris Codex- Handbook for a Maya Priest. Austin: U of Texas P, 1994.
Mariategui, Jose Carlos. Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana. Mexico: Ediciones Era, 1979.
Martin, Gerald. "Asturias y El Imparcial." Miguel Angel Asturias. Paris 1924-1933, Periodismo. Ed. Amos Segala. ALLCA XX 1. Madrid: Archivos, 1997. 644-45.
Mignolo, Walter. "Coloniality of Power and Subalternity." The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Ed. Iliana Rodriguez. Latin America Otherwise: Languages, Empires, Nations Ser. Durham: Duke UP, 2001. 424-44.
Montaigne, Michel de. "Of Cannibals." The Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Trans. Jacob Zeitlin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1936.
--. "Of Coaches." The Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Trans. Jacob Zeitlin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1936.
Morales, Mario Roberto. "La estetica y la politica de la interculturalidad. Miguel Angel Asturias. Cuentos y leyendas. Ed. Mario Roberto Morales. ALLCA XX 46. Madrid: Coleccion Archivos, 2000. 553-607.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Prieto, Rene. Miguel Angel Asturias's Archaeology of return. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
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Ramos, Julio. Desencuentros de la modernidad en America Latina: Literatura y politica en el siglo XIX. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1989.
Raynaud, Georges. Les Dieux, les heros et les hommes de l'aneien Guatemala d'apres le Livre du conseil. Paris: Leroux, 1924.
--. Manuscrits Precolombiens. Archives du Comite d' archeologie americaine, Societe americaine de France. Ser. III, Vol. I. Paris: Ernest Leroux, editeur, 1893.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
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Valery, Paul. Lettre-Preface. By Miguel Angel Asturias, Legendes du Guatemala, Trans. Francis de Miomandre. Marseille: Les cahiers du Sud, 1932. 9-10.
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Byron A. Barahoma
University of California, Santa Cruz
(1) In 1931, Francis de Miomandre's translation of Legends of Guatemala received the Silla Monsegur Prize, a literary award given to the best Spanish-American book published in France.
(2) In Gestos Ceremoniales, Arturo Arias provides a valuable assessment of the issue. Arias critiques how in Central America the attitude has been to think that "culture is something foreign, produced elsewhere. Thereby, anything produced in hegemonic centers has been traditionally thought to be superior, and a validation of local cultural production only occurs when it has been authorized by the metropolis" (24-25).
(3) Evidence of this process is found in the following manuscripts: Cahier # 1, 11 r.v. , 13-17 r.v., 19-25r.v., 26 r.v., 27r., 29-39 r.v., 42-54 v.r., 56v.r.-58v. Asturias, Cahier # 1, held at the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris.
(4) According to Julio Ramos, this educational journey, reflective of a residual nineteenth century tradition of Latin American intelligentsia which crossed the Atlantic to the European metropolis, was viewed as potential means to more effectively rationalize, organized, and govern the newly formed republics, or the space of the nation (Ramos 93).
(5) El imparcial was founded in 1922 upon a series of political upheavals that led to the overthrow of Estrada Cabrera after 22 years of dictatorship from 1899 to 1921. Its founder Alejando Cordova and his associates like Clemente Marroquin Rojas, gave the newspaper a liberal edge in clear opposition to the de facto government that took power after the fall of Estrada Cabrera. It was not until 1944 that El imparcial, after the death of its founder, shifted one hundred and eighty degrees to become a conservative newspaper. Martin, "Asturias y El imparcial" (644-45).
(6) Namely the seminal work carried out by Marc Cheymol in Miguel Angel Asturias dans le Paris des Annees Folles, a well documented source of Asturias's specific studies and suggestive of infinite and valuable venues of analysis. In the Book of the Fourth World, Gordon Brotherston offers an impressive appraisal of the specific resonance of Mayan philosophical frames in Asturias's work. Well established and recent critical editions published by Ediciones Archivos further advance engagement with Asturias's reenactment of Mayan epistemological frameworks: Men of Maize, and Mr. President under the direction of Gerald Marin provide a wealth of erudite annotations and intertextual references to Mayan cultural values. Mulata de Tal and Cuentos y Leyendas under the direction of Arturo Arias and Mario Roberto Morales respectively also provide impressive assessments and analysis of Asturias's work and its significance in Modern Latin American literature. Rene Prieto's Miguel Angel Asturias's Archaeology of Return offers an audacious interpretative approach and penetrating analysis of Asturias's work stemming from Asturias's experience in Paris and the wealth of information provided by Cheymol; see bibliography.
(7) This institution published the extensive investigations of the Abbot Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, one of the first French "Americanists" to translate the Maya-Quiche texts Popol Vuh and Rabinal Achi. Nevertheless, the investigations that were categorized under the title of "Americanism" entered French Higher Education on a relatively recent date in relationship to 1924, the year when Asturias arrived in Paris. It was not until 1880 that the results of this type of research appeared in the Program of Studies at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes added under the direction of Leon de Rosny, a Botanist and expert in Japanese language. He found the Mayan codex Peresianus in a garbage basket at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris in 1859. The first series of volumes published by this association date from 1857 to 1864 (I to IV). The first Dictionary of Americanisms, followed by an analytical index of the first two series of volumes published by the Comite d'archeologie americaine, was under preparation in 1893 when Raynaud's dissertation was published (Georges Raynaud, Manuscrits precolombiens, bibliographical note).
(8) In a notice to the published volume of Manuscrits precolombiens there is a bibliogrqaphical note that gives us a quantitative idea of Raynaud's extensive research: 1889. Etude sur le Codex Troano Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV, 49; 1889- Rapport annuel sur les travaux de la Societe Americaine de France pendant l'annee 1889, Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV, 83; 1990- Notes sur l'Ecriture Yucateque, Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV, 99; 1890-Le Walam Olum (livres des Legendes lenapes) Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV, 129; 1890-91- Le livre d'or et le Tresor Indien, traduit de l'espagnol, Annales de l'Alliance Scientifique, t. XII, 61; t. XIII, 17, 85; 1891- [Notice sur] Essays of ah Americanist. By Daniel G. Brinton, Bulletin de la Societe Americaine, t. XV; 145, t. XV, 35; 1891- Histoire Maya d'apres les document en langue Yucateque, nouvelle traduction, Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV; 145, t. XV, 35; 1891- Les Annales de Xahil (Annales des Cakchiquels) Archives de la Societe Americaine, t. XV, 183; 1891- Une ville disparue, Comptes-rendus des Seances de la Soeiete Amerieaine, t. 1, 14,17; 1891- Une Mission en Amerique Centrale, Comptes-rendus des Seances de la Societe Americaine, t. 1, 20; 1891 [Notice sur le] Smithsonian Report. U. S. National Museum, 1888, Comptes-rendus des Seances de la Societe Americaine, t. 1, 27; 1892 Paleographie Americaine, Comptes-rendus des Seances de la Societe Americaine, t. 1, 39, Ibid.
(9) In a recent interview, Eco declared that he has learned from Edgar Allan Poe's precept, "ars celandi artem" to "share the essential of [his] conclusions without forcing [his] readers to redo the entire process"(97). Needless to say that many other authors may have previously enunciated similar opinions on the issue of brevity, for instance Baltasar Gracian.
(10) Brasseur de Bourbourg translated the Popol Vuh in 1861 based on Father Ximenez's transcription and translation of the Popol Vuh. Brasseur's translation of this Mayan-Quiche text about the creation and exodus of the Mayan people was preceded by a 270 page commentary and published under the baroque title of: Dissertation sur les mythes de l'antiquite americaine, sur la probabilite des communications existant anciennement d'un continent a l'autre et sur les migrations de peuples indigenes de l'Amerique, etc., d'apres les documents originaux, servant d'introduction et de commentaire au livre sacre. This translation contains a transcription of the original version in Maya-Quiche in Roman alphabet on the left side of the text. On the right, it contains the translation with philological notes. At the end, the translator includes an analytical table of the subjects discussed in the commentary, the principal notions of the sacred text, a glossary of places and Maya-Quiche terms. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Popol Vuh. Le livre sacre. Brasseur de Bourbourg also published a volume entitled Grammar of Quiche language. This grammar is a unique text, for it does not only include studies of grammatical aspects of Quiche language but also a comparative study of Quiche, Cakchiquel and Tzutuhil languages. In addition, it contains a translation of the dramatic work Rabinal Achi preceded by an "essay on poetry and music, dance and dramatic art of ancient Mexican and Guatemalan Populations" as well as a manuscript of the music that accompanies the theatrical work. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Grammaire de la langue quichee.
(11) Like Michel de Montaigne, in his articulation of a critique of European civilization in contrast to his admiration of Aztec and Incan cultures a little bit more than three centuries earlier More explicitly, Montaigne makes reference to their artistic, cultural, and government achievements as evidenced in "the astonishing magnificence of the cities of Cuzco and Mexico" or the level of abstraction present in the Legend of the Suns (Montaigne 117).
(12) Morales adds, "Asturias turns to dreams and the unconscious as a space to articulate de inclusive and democratic nation" (Asturias, Cuentos y leyendas 119, n. 4).
(13) According to Arias, in "Now that I Remember" Asturias intends to reinvent Guatemalan identity. In order to achieve this goals Asturias sets out to use the imagination as agency (625). His analysis evolves around Asturias' self appointed status as Gran Lengua through narrative. Asturias, views himself as a modern version of Quetzalcoalt o Kukulkan, through Cuero de Oro (633). Therefore, Arias maintains that Legends of Guatemala is a fundamental text to understand the complex issue of Guatemalan ambiguous identity, for it reveals a kind of identity esquizofrenia; that is, to belong to two disparate racial and cultural origins and to prefer subjectively and unconsciously one over the other. Arias interprets "Now that I remember" as a symbolic psychosis in which the author externalizes by means of writing operations the duplicity of identity. Arias explains his reading in psychoanalytic terms as advanced by Zizek to suggest that it prevails a sort of psychotic absence in reference to a established conditions viewed as "normal" (634). He concludes that Asturias adds an interesting approach to subjectivity, a reevaluation of peripheral cultures, as a result of a juxtaposition of Pre-Colombian myths and Western modes of narration, from which ultimately emerges a new way of writing. However, Asturias deconstructs them because Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl are simply psychological excuse to approach his object of reflection through a symbolic recognition of paternal authority that validates the "masculine" function of the creator (640). Arturo Arias, Quetzalcoatl, la hibridacion. See also Morales's appraisal of initiation journey of Quetzalcoatl o Kukulkan in Maya and Nahuatl traditions. Morales, "La estetica y la politica de la interculturalidad" (Asturias, Cuentos y leyendas 553-607).
(14) See Tedlock's translation of this passage: Wait!/ Thou maker, thou Modeler,/look at us, listen to us,/don't let us fall, don't leave us aside,/though god in the sky, on the earth/Heart of Sky, Heart of earth,/give us our sign, our word,/as long as there is day, as long as there is light, /when it comes to the sowing, the dawning,/will it be a greening road, a greening path?/give us a steady light, a level place/a good light, a good place, /a good life and beginning. /Give us all of this, though Hurricane,/Newborn Thunderbolt, Sudden Thunderbolt/Newborn Nanahuac, sudden Nanahuac,/Falcon, Hunahpu,/Sovereign Plumed Serpent,/Bearer, Begetter,/Xpiyacoc, Xmucane, /Grandmother of Day, Grandmother of Light, /When it comes to the sowing, the dawning (Tedlock 150).
(15) "The Quiche people are an ethnic group in Guatemala, consisting of all those who speak the particular Mayan language that itself has come to be called Quiche; they represent a number close to a million and occupy most of the former territory of the kingdom whose development is described in the Popol Vuh. To the west and northwest of them are other Mayan peoples, speaking other Mayan languages, who extend across the Mexican border into the highlands of Chiapas and down into the Gulf coastal plain of Tabasco. To the east and northeast still other Mayans extend just across the borders of El Salvador and Honduras, down into the lowlands of Belize, and across the peninsula of Yucatan. These are the peoples, with a total population of more than six million today, whose ancestors developed what has become known to the outside world as Mayan civilization" (Tedlock 21-22).
(16) As maintained by Coe and Van Stone, there is no known script in the world, ancient or modero, which entirely consists of logograms--there would simply be far too many discrete signs for anyone to memorize, and too much ambiguity inherent to such a system" (18).
(17) In a lecture given at Stanford University, Brotherson argued that "the Western scientific community whose evolutionary arguments arguably date back only as far as the XVIII century may not give credence to a claim that derives from an intellectual tradition outside prevailing European scientific norms (Brotherston, "American Genesis," 8 May 2003).
(18) The debate on the authentic intentions of the movement is quite extensive. Mariategui states: "la mayor injusticia en que podria incurrir un critico, seria cualquier apresurada condena de la literatura indigenista por su falta de autoctonismo integral o la presencia, mas o menos acusada en sus obras, de elementos de artificio en la interpretacion y en la expresion." "La literatura indigenista no puede damos una version rigurosamente verista del indio. Tiene que idealizarlo y estilizarlo. [...]. Es todavia una literatura de mestizos. Por eso se llama indigenista y no indigena. Una literatura indigena, si debe venir, vendra a su tiempo. Cuando los propios indios esten en grado de producirla" (Siete ensayos 306).
(19) Prieto has done an excellent analysis of Asturias use of surrealistic figurations in the chapter "The Tales that Now No One Believes: Leyendas de Guatemala" (16-83).
(20) Asturias explains, "A este respecto Freud, el notable medico austriaco ha escrito paginas que arrojan mucha luz. Para Freud, el deseo actua sobre el inconsciente en esta forma todo deseo no satisfecho ni confesado se refulla, se refunde, quiere decir, aunque la traduccion no sea precisa, en el inconsciente. Los suenos los explica por medio de estos deseos inconfesados o insatisfechos que si perdimos de la memoria, del inconsciente, no; asi tambien explica las obsesiones, las locuras, los crimenes. Todo deseo, mis amigos, debe satisfacerse o confesarse; de otra suerte cae en ese sotano profundo y alli, como un hongo, prospera y explora en la primera oportunidad" (Asturias, Paris 1924-1933: periodismo 257).
(21) According to Anna Balakian Freud's further contributions to surrealism are: "Breton dedicated his "Les vases communicants" to Freud. In it he envisaged the dream and state of wakefulness connected with each other and contributing to each other's intensity" (127). "Automatic writing as expressed in a number of dream seances and publishing of such writings in la revolution surrealist" [...]. "Free associations between objects and through the representation of these he was to suggest a totally fluid universe shaped according to the artist's private specifications" (130). "Intentional stimulation of states of mental abnormality (as seen in Nadja) and the most flamboyant examples in the work of Dali" (131).
(22) Noted by Morales, in Cuentos y Leyendas 121. Asturias may have purposely fused two mythological figures, faun from Roman mythology and Satyr from Greek mythology.
(23) In "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Derrida purports a form of analysis that decentralizes this notion of center, for the center of totality is not a center despite its coherent appearance and also because it limits the play of the structure, i.e. a substitution of contents, elements or terms. Thus, Derrida proposes to think of structures in terms of rupture, for 'the domain or play of signification has no limit and likewise there is no transcendental or privileged signifier (Derrida 278-95).
(24) Lacan's discussion of the antinomy of reality and pleasure is further illustrated by presenting the dialectical opposition between two individuals who represent opposing positions on morality. Immanuel Kant's moral ethics of the Critique of Practical Reason appeared in 1789 which says: "act in such a way that the maxim of your action may be accepted as a universal maxim (76-77), And Sade's: "let's us take as the universal maxim of our conduct the right to enjoy any other person whatsoever as the instrument of our pleasure (79). Sade's stance is clearly in opposition to Kant's maxim and as such his position constitutes a kind of anti-morality. This conception, Lacan adds, opens the doors to imagination which he proposes as the horizon of our desire; everyone is invited to pursue to the limit the demands of his/her lust, and to realize it (Lacan 79).
(25) Cornejo Polar considered that Latin Americans are culturally diverse and by extrapolation the subject that emerges in narrative is equally plural. Latin American literature does not only provide a rich referent but also its most intrinsic nature; that is, its heterogeneity. Cornejo Polar concludes that "this heterogeneous literature shows us that the Latin American subject is made of that unstable fissure and intersection of disparate, oscillating and heteroclites identities" In a rhetorical mode, Cornejo Polar asks: "?o deberiamos atrevernos a hablar de un sujeto que efectivamente esta hecho de la inestable quiebra e interseccion de muchas identidades disimiles, oscilantes y heteroclitas?" (Cornejo Polar 18).
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|Author:||Barahona, Byron A.|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2007|
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