El Hablador / The Storyteller 2

Notes on section 5

Note how often this text uses the word “perhaps” and “eso es, por lo menos, lo que yo he sabido” — and the way it uses “diciendo.” Everything is always tentative and always in process, it seems. And the moon comes down and walks as a person — it is very poetic. Consider also the humor, the kinds of humor there are in these stories.

There is a lot of justification on why they must walk in this chapter.

The viracochas (the whites), by invading, are helping them fulfill this destiny, says the storyteller.

So, is the novel showing us that the storyteller is manipulating people, taking advantage of his role and of the to justify pushing a certain agenda of cultural purity?


A mischievous kamagarini (these are little evil spirits in Machiguenga mythology, apparently, who live in the jungle and dance and sing if anything bad happens) stung Tasurinchi, who did not die, and is walking. Or perhaps he was killed by the Yaminahua. But no, he is there with the Yaminahua woman he stole; she is learning to talk (or to speak Machiguenga).

Since the kamagarini bite Tasurinchi obeys this spirit who seems to be in him. And he (and apparently people in general) has several souls. The bite was cured by a serpigari, a kind of healer.

Story of Kashiri, the moon, marrying Tasurinchi’s daughter on earth — this was earlier … before Kashiri’s face got spotted and he returned to the sky (although the daughter was pregnant and would give birth to the sun). Another serpigari has another version of the story … and there is another.

Narrator (called Tasurinchi by a talking bird) saved from a flood by an alligator. Flies away on the back of a crane. (If this narrator had met a serpigari, he would have addressed him as Tasurinchi.) And: was all of this an ayahuasca dream?

Story of a comet (anger, which deregulates the world) … at this time the Machiguenga had not yet begun to walk, and the moon lived among them. He and his wife engendered the sun, but then had so much sex that the world lost its equilibrium. Tasurinchi blew on the moon, so its light grew less bright, and equilibrium returned. Walking will bring further equilibrium…

The narrator has a parrot (this is one sign that he is Mascarita) … and they are calling him a storyteller … and he is learning to be a Machiguenga. All alone the hablador listens to nature as it begins to speak. Everything has a voice and a story, and the hablador tells these stories again. And during the time of Creation, everything was spoken (breathed) into existence.

Historical stories: the rubber trade. And then, the temptation to stop walking: it deregulates the world.

Notes on section 6

The tv program, a project reminiscent of the work of a storyteller (and that involves rough travel) … [nota personal this was real, and when he came to Berkeley … which he says is in San Francisco … it was to interview Milosz, and I remember this]

He ends up visiting the jungle and the Linguistics Institute again, due to the program

The Machiguenga are now organized into villages. The narrator is not sure the change is good, and nobody will talk about the storytellers initially. But Edwin Schniel has seen two, the second an albino or “gringo.”

The gringo storyteller is anti-Schniel and has a birthmark

*The fact that the Schniels confirm that Mascarita is a storyteller lends a level of certainty to this supposition*

Moshe from the tv program confirms that Mascarita’s father did not go to Israel and Mascarita may have or not

Notes on section 7

This is where the storyteller retells the Kafka story … and calls his parrot Mascarita

Notes on section 8

Summing up. Saúl, to become a storyteller, has gone back in time, become a primitive man, joined the jungle absolutely, and our narrator is impressed and amazed.

Florence, where he is, begins more and more to resemble the jungle, and what the narrator hears is the voice of this Machiguenga storyteller.

So: is it that in spite of himself, this narrator is won over and impressed, by the pure possibility and by the importance of the storyteller in this culture?

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Vargas Llosa



On the Machiguenga

Academic article in online literary review from the University of Madrid, that talks about Carpentier, Arguedas and Vargas Llosa and elucidates some Machiguenga history – interesting (we find out about Tasurinchi and some reasons for walking)

From the NGO Shinai, in defense of the Amazon, brief cultural and political information on the Machiguenga

Dos Mitos Machiguengas – Gerhard Baer – 2001 academic paper

Interesting information in Spanish from Perú Ecológico

Machiguengas participating in the Amazon area general strike (2009)

Machiguenga glossed text by Betty Snell – Summer Linguistics Institute, 1976

Noches, cosmos. Claroscuros entre los Matsigenka
– Esteban Gabriel Arias Urízar – academic paper citing Baer and also Betty Snell (“Mrs. Schniel”)

Terry, video on 2007 cultural and political situation of Machiguengas. Very interesting (Spanish only). Part 2Part 3Part 4

Video of Machiguenga territory with English subtitles, from “Millenial Peru.”  Interesting

Video of representatives of native groups in the area where the Machiguenga also live, speaking at a 2009 hearing against Hunt Oil

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in News, Vargas Llosa


On Transculturated Narrators

In Spanish, for those who read Spanish, this is a blog post on The Storyteller by a PhD student at Colorado-Boulder and it is worth considering. I am not going to do it justice here, so read for yourself, but he is talking about the novel as a critique not just of Arguedas and indigenismo but of the idea of the “transculturated narrator” itself. Arguedas and other 20th century Latin American writers (Asturias, Castellanos) created bicultural narrators and the great critic Angel Rama wrote a famous 1982 study about this. I will say a little more about that below.

But this writer says The Storyteller alleges that the Latin American literary projects associated with indigenismo and the Boom, in which (in different ways) the writer is saying something of value — representing, signifying — are now irrelevant. Mascarita’s project (storytelling for the community) is shown to be solipsistic and futile. By extension, Western writing may be futile as well.

La radicalidad del proyecto novelístico de Vargas Llosa es extrema: sólo las formas narrativas fuertemente autocríticas, autorreflexivas, casi auto-deconstructivas, como esta misma novela, tendrán lugar en el futuro; aunque la suya sea, quizá, una supervivencia anémica y degradada.

The thing is this: writers like Arguedas posited bicultural identities in which the indigenous part could be the primary one, or if not primary, still a part which was not in the process of dying but was active, regenerative … and (I would say) was not necessarily nostalgic. Vargas Llosa sees that as outmoded. If it was ever nostalgic, is it still … given developments since this novel was written?

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Bibliography, Vargas Llosa


Nationalizing Exoticism

Pratt, M.L. “Nationalizing Exoticism: Spanish America After Independence.” Inscriptions 2 (1986): 29-36. Unrevised text of talk given at NY MLA, 1986.

I don’t know where she published a longer version of this, although it may be in one of her books (e.g. Imperial Eyes). I like this piece better than some of Pratt’s other work. It is related to the later Santiago Colás piece I like on Bello and the Latin American postcolonial moment, in a PMLA from the late 90s.

It is about literacy and voice, 1820s to 1840s, for the new Republics. Two sets of dynamics condition literate efforts to create a voice: changing relations between the new republics and Europe, and between SA intellectuals and other sectors of criollo society.

As A. Rama points out (in The Lettered City), intellectual and literary life in the colony was urban and yet the economic base was rural; the bourgeoisie identified with the land and not the city. Intellectuals were modernizers and writers; landowning elites were not.

Yet the rural people represented to the intellectuals their difference from Europe, which they wanted; Independence did not mean independence from Europe but freedom to associate with all of it.

These intellectuals were highly selective and inventive in their use of European cultural paradigms: they transculturate. Example: Bello’s poem “Agricultura de la zona tórrida.” He is writing against utilitarian British descriptions of America, which they see exclusively as the future object of industrial exploitation. (See Jean Franco, “Un viaje poco romántico: viajeros británicos hacia Sudamérica,” 1818-1828 (Escritura 7, 1979, p. 133.)

Pratt: “These accounts see creole society as indolent and ignorant; traveler after weary traveler complains of creole indifference to the consumer virtues of comfort, cleanliness, variety, and taste.” Bello is reacting against the industrializing, commodifying eye of the English engineers. He is not interested in mineral riches but in humble farmers; he does share the Britisher’s critique of the traditional inhabitants who have not domesticated the countryside.

In Sarmiento’s account of his 1845-47 voyage to Europe, in which he talks about what happens to him on the isle of Masafuera (where Crusoe had been set), he finds transculturated yet efficient North American castaways living there, with wild goats (a natural resourse Crusoe had left). Then goes to Paris and discovers how consumerist and so on the French are; he is amazed that they made the revolutions they made. Benedict Anderson points out that nation/nationalism is a transculturation that went in the other direction — America to Europe.

Pratt’s general point is that the exotic gets incorporated into 19C national visions in non imitative ways — ways that resist both colonialism and recolonization, although they aren’t always/aren’t necessarily “progressive” — and that this work on defining the nation state then gets exported to Europe. So, the nation is always about dealing with otherness, incorporating the primitive, and so on; that is interesting. This is part of why the nation is always about race; that is also interesting.


El hablador / The Storyteller 1

This is Vargas Llosa’s official website; even if you don’t read Spanish, you can see pictures of him when young. He married two relatives: an aunt-in-law (Julia Urquidi), and then his first cousin (Patricia Llosa). Our novel is dedicated to the Machiguenga storytellers and to his uncle and then father-in-law, Luis Llosa Ureta, who appears to be especially important to him given his poor relationship with his own father.

First section of the novel:

– The narrator has come to Florence – city par excellence of the European Renaissance – to forget Peru and all of its problems (of which it had very many in the 1980s when this novel was being written). But has seen in the window of an exposition the primitive tools and photographs of the Peruvian Amazon, and this disturbs his peace.

– The photographer proposed to photograph the Machiguengas “without demagogy or estheticism”

– The narrator feels terribly anxious and does not know why. He swears this is not a false memory (and there will be much in this novel about memory, rumor, projection, narration, what is “storytelling” if not these things, or as opposed to these things — one does want to know?)

– He recognizes some of the people in the photos, due to his earlier expeditions with the Linguistics Institute; he sees a picture of a child (with facial ulcers, common some parts of rural Peru) he has seen himself, and he is sure to see a picture of … someone … and there is the picture of a storyteller.

– The gallery must close and the photographer died of fever contracted on this trip.

Second section of the novel:

– Story of Saúl (“Mascarita”) with whom the narrator makes friends in college — “to the extent one can be friends with an archangel.”

– His mother was not originally Jewish, and was not of the right social class — and was not from Lima

– He is more involved with Amazonian cultures than meets the eye (note: this is discussed in the form of questions: did he? was he?)

– His pet parrot is named after Gregory Samsa, the Kafka character who turns into a cockroach (Metamorphosis)

– He says the Machiguenga artifacts are all written on in sacred writing

– For the Machiguengas the most important thing is to keep an even temper — if you don’t, you can cause accidents or storms

– He is more than professionally interested in this tribe (is “going native”) — his interest is “excessive”

– He is very concerned about the colonization of the jungle, which is pushing the Machiguengas off their traditional land

– Note: The Machiguenga are still worried about this kind of issue today.

– What does the narrator think of his friend’s attitudes and activities? How can we tell? What sort of words (in addition to “excessive”) does he use to describe them? How important is the survival of these tribes to him?

– They kill defective children, like the Spartans; Mascarita would not have been allowed to live

– The narrator tries to psychoanalyze his reasons for liking these Indians … and his father has done the same; Mascarita laughs

– He rejects a scholarship to France to do the PhD in this area; he has ethics related doubts about his field

– Porras Barrenechea (really a professor at the university at this time, playing himself in the novel): “Ethnology is a pseudoscience invented by the gringos to destroy the Humanities”

– There is a long meditation on how Mascarita may have decided to turn into a storyteller (and note: do we know for sure that he has?)

Third section of the novel

– Here, Mascarita is telling a story (the narrator is imagining him telling a story)

– What is he talking about, what is the structure of the story, what are its themes?

Fourth section of the novel

– Now we’re back to our first narrator, who is getting to go on a university-organized expedition to the jungle with the Linguistics Institute

– It’s like Paradise, a “recently created” world

– He is convinced that what Mascarita wants for the jungle is pre-Columbian purity. What were his own politics then, and what are they now?

– The Schniels have information on the culture (and problems) of the Machiguenga culture Mascarita had studied (they don’t have names and they die easily, and there is more)

– Returning, the narrator meets Mascarita, who is violently opposed to the Linguistics Institute (it will effectively kill the culture, he says, and perhaps the actual people)

– Then in Madrid, he finds the book by the Dominican missionary who had written about the Machiguengas [in the colonial period] … decides to write a novel about Machiguenga storytellers … writes Mascarita to ask for consultation … works on it but gets poor results … speaks with a friar who knows Machiguenga mythology, having lived in the Urubamba region … goes to Paris and tries to find out more in the anthropological museum … gives up …

– And Matos Mar, Mascarita’s thesis director, is in Paris for a conference, and the narrator looks him up; and Mascarita has allegedly emigrated to Israel.

– AT THIS POINT I am starting to wonder whether Mascarita isn’t an avatar of the narrator — who by now is doing a lot of his own research on Machiguenga culture.

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Vargas Llosa


Spring 2010

Honors 385 / Spanish 442 / Humanities 400G



Why do modernism and primitivism so often go hand in hand? What are modern people searching for when they go off into the wild? We will explore these questions as they appear in 19th and 20th century literature and cultural theory. Reading journal, one shorter paper (5-6 pp.), one longer one (8-10 pp.), two brief oral presentations, active participation in class discussion.




Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos/The Lost Steps
Gallegos, Doña Bárbara/Dona Barbara
Rivera, La vorágine/The Vortex
Sarmiento, Facundo/Civilization and Barbarism
Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives
Williams, The Country and the City


Poetry by R. Darío, O. de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto,” Les Blank’s film Burden of Dreams, Coco Fusco’s video The Couple in the Cage, lectures by Edward Said, film and tv versions of Doña Bárbara.


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Posted by on September 26, 2009 in News, Plans



Somewhat later – I have a scrap of paper here telling me to look at Torgovnick, p. 40, on carnival, and that the quotation is good. When I get to a location where the Torgovnick book is available (I am many miles from it now) I will look at that page and post it here or somewhere else relevant.

The scrap of paper also says: the question is what the rules of exchange are between the modern West, the postmodern West, and their versions of the primitive. What the rules of exchange are. We will all think about this.

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Posted by on June 23, 2008 in Ideas


Lagniappe and Coda

I just ran across this video clip of – surprise – MARTIN, talking about how modernity and technology have advanced us materially but not spiritually. The theme is everywhere, it seems, and in different ways modern people seek to heal the wounds of civilization by seeking authenticity and roots.

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Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Bibliography, News


Take Home Final

Rules: Two densely written, well argued, analytical essays of 500-700 words each. Each essay must include an extensive discussion of a different novel, although you may choose comparative topics and refer to other texts. You must, however, show serious work with and thought about two of the following three novels: Los pasos perdidos, La vorágine, La casa verde. You may narrow down these topics as you see fit. Please title each essay in such a way as to indicate your focus. What I am looking for are interesting, cogent explorations, not ultimate answers. Pueden escribir en el idioma que quieran, con tal de que yo lo sepa leer.


1. Mujer y selva. The jungle as woman / as the feminine. Woman and jungle as Other. Woman and jungle as “dark continents,” chthonic forces to be tamed. Is the jungle voyage, in our texts usually undertaken by men with women (ambivalently) by their side, a masculine enterprise or a drama about masculinity? Why is it that it in the jungle, the narrators of Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine focus so strongly on the struggles in their relationships with the lovers they have brought from town? What is at stake in the voyage to the jungle: civilization? manhood? identity? race? all of the above? how are they intertwined?

2. The jungle or the uncivilized – the primitive – is a constant theme in modern literary and cultural discourse because it is the apparent opposite of civilization (and it could, perhaps, remedy some of civilization’s discontents [Freud]). Yet in many of the texts we have read, the locations and characteristics of the “civilized” and the “barbaric,” the the modern and the primitive, become confused or blurred, as though these stark dichotomies had shorted out (so to speak). Discuss, using examples. Why and how does this happen? What do you think its implications are?

3. In any two of our novels, how does the jungle function as setting, character, symbol, metaphor? What does the jungle seem to mean, or, how does the idea of the “jungle” generate meaning?

4. Most characters in La casa verde are in some way, at the very least, inhabitants of the jungle, not city people who have traveled to it. How do their “jungle” experiences differ from those of Cova or the narrator of Los pasos perdidos? Do we see the jungle through their eyes? Do they describe it in ways that at all resemble the descriptions of the people from the city? Does anyone in the novel – or the narrator – use jungle tropes we have seen in other texts?

5. In both Los pasos perdidos and La vorágine the hero is seeking some form of authenticity – which in Los pasos perdidos is explicitly located in art, and in La vorágine, more obliquely, in poetry. How are art, authenticity, identity, and masculinity intertwined in these narratives? When does the “native” or the “primitive” resist consumption as art? How does this affect the experience of the hero and thus, the sense of the text?

6. La vorágine presents the jungle as a whirlpool, that pulls the “civilized” character in and ultimately (or so it is suggested) eats him up. La casa verde as text presents its narrative, national history, and the jungle itself as a kind of web. How do these images work to imbue the jungle, as it is presented in these texts, with the meaning it may have in each?

7. Many of our narrators and narrators present the jungle as being outside history. Does the material in the novels actually support this construction of the world? How do non-Western histories, or fragments of them, appear in these novels to push against the narratives of the West?

8. Both La vorágine and La casa verde engage, and perhaps criticize the discourse of civilization, barbarism and nation we saw articulated in Sarmiento. How do they do this?

9-10. DOUBLE QUESTION (you would have to do this in five pages). Many of the narratives we have studied focus on the story of a “civilized” character who, in the jungle and with either “barbaric” or utopian “primitives,” seeks liberation from the pressures and distortions of civilization. At the same time they seek to assert some form of power or control over the jungle, so that it will conform to their expectations and give them what they need. That is to say that they that they seek, simultaneously, to civilize what is “barbaric” in modernity through a reunion with the “primitive,” and also to control or defend against what seems to them to be chaotic, dissonant, or simply incomprehensible in their experience of the “primitive”.

Yet in several cases these characters lose, in different ways, the “restraint” and the focus on work which are the hallmarks of “civilization” and modernity. At other moments the apparent “disorder” of the jungle appears to win (whether the characters maintain their “civilized” focus or not). Another problem is that the “primitive” is often not a pure origin, but a colonized space which has already been deeply scarred by Western exploitation, so that it is in fact a product of Western culture – its source of wealth, but also the place where the West deposits its waste.

(Is the “horror” Marlow sees the horror of evil itself – or of an uncontrollable Otherness – or much more concretely, of what Belgian colonialism did to the Congo? Why is it important that this question is hard to answer? How does that apply to La vorágine and/or La casa verde?)

Consider: 1) What is at stake in this struggle with the jungle / the primitive / the “timeless”? What issues does it engage? Why are is the theme of the jungle so prevalent, and so compelling? 2) In these narratives, which often emphasize the standpoint of the urban or “civilized” character, is there also material which pushes against the Western view, and thus allows the jungle to be something more than a mere mirror of the Western self? Discuss, engaging at least two of our recent readings in some detail.

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Posted by on May 8, 2008 in News, Plans



This article on the novel as a “web of defeat” is old, but interesting, easy to read, and I think useful.

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Posted by on May 1, 2008 in Vargas Llosa


Dos buenos resúmenes de La Casa Verde

De Martín Lucas Pérez:

Mario Vargas Llosa narra en forma de rompecabezas espacio-temporal una historia en torno a una banda de contrabandistas de caucho, un prostíbulo que perdura sobre los alegatos y atentados del cura del pueblo, y una india que de recogida y educada por las monjas pasa a ser la esposa de un sargento del ejército y posteriormente prostituta del mencionado prostíbulo.

Es el personaje del sargento Lituma quien liga los dos escenarios fundamentales de la obra, la selva amazónica, donde se encuentra la misión de Santa María de Nieva y donde operan los contrabandistas, y la desértica llanura de Piura, donde se alza el prostíbulo llamado la Casa Verde. Natural de Piura, Lituma forma parte de las expediciones que buscan la captura de los contrabandistas de caucho que utilizan a los indios para sus actividades y al mismo tiempo los soliviantan con sus mezquindades. El jefe de la modesta pero persistente partida es un brasileño llamado Fushía, que nunca será detenido aunque acabará carcomido por una infección. Su compañera Lalita acabará siendo la esposa del navegante Nieves, que en cambio sí que irá a la cárcel. Además de los hijos propios, Lalita y Nieves cuidan a la joven india Bonifacia, a quien las monjas han expulsado de su misión, después de haberla criado desde muy pequeña, por haber permitido la huida de otras indias pupilas del lugar que echaban de menos la vida selvática.

El sargento Lituma se enamora de la modesta y encantadora Bonifacia, se casa con ella y se la lleva a Piura. Para aplacar la fanfarronería de uno de los notables del lugar, Lituma acepta jugar a la ruleta rusa y el otro muere en el juego, por lo que el sargento es encarcelado, y uno de sus amigos, Josefino, aprovecha la ocasión para caer sobre su esposa, corromperla, incitarla a abortar del embarazo con que había quedado y conseguir que responda a la falta de recursos en que ha quedado metiéndose a prostituta de la Casa Verde. Este prostíbulo, de larga historia en la ciudad, fue incendiado años atrás por el cura local y posteriormente reconstruido y dirigido con éxito por la joven Chunga, quien tras la muerte de su madre, venga los abusos que cometiera con ella su padre, don Anselmo, fundador del lugar, teniéndole como simple empleado como intérprete de arpa.

La novela se estructura en capítulos divididos a su vez en segmentos en los que la acción va avanzando en cada una de las localizaciones, aunque no en orden cronológico sino a lo largo de diferentes periodos que van desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial hasta más de veinte años después. Además, en cada uno de estos segmentos, se insertan breves flashbacks y flashforwards que amplian la información de lo que se va narrando.


Del Opus Dei, una organización que no apoyo, hay un buen resumen con un esbozo / esquema de la estructura de la novela.


Posted by on April 29, 2008 in Vargas Llosa


Jungle Feminism

We were talking about the voyage to the jungle as a masculine identity quest and now, it appears, someone has written about it as a feminIST one. I know about this from reading blogs, so excuse the informality of the writing in these posts – the material is interesting. The book in question is by Amanda Marcotte and it is a guide for women on how to survive the “jungle” of patriarchy. Except that all the women are white and all the scary, oppressive men are Black.

On this check out the images at:
The Field Negro, Black Male Savages
Holly at Feministe, I Guess It’s a Jungle In Here, Too
Jill at Feministe, On Those Pictures and on Privilege.

There is probably more on this book, and more of it available to read even without lighting out for Barnes & Noble.

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Posted by on April 28, 2008 in Torgovnick


La selva de La Casa Verde

+ See the Wikipedia page about Vargas Llosa’s essay “Historia secreta de una novela.” It is about how he came to write La casa verde, including research trips to the jungle. The descriptions in this essay of what he saw and went through as a traveler are fascinating (and somewhat harrowing).

+ On travel to the same jungle now: here is what it would be like on a deluxe tour from Iquitos to Manaus (“happy jungle”). Note the cost per day of that. Here’s another, similar tour description. Here, however, are some budget tourists’ descriptions of what it is like to go on the regular boats, that poor people ride on and the characters in La casa verde would ride on. I like this description of the trip from Pucallpa to Iquitos quite a lot. I read another more graphic description – about the smells on the boat and how crowded it was – but I cannot find it right now.

+ I notice that La casa verde uses some of the same language about the jungle we have seen elsewhere (e.g. in Heart of Darkness). Who is saying these things … the characters, the narrator, or both … ?

+ I reiterate: this novel is built like a mosaic. It’s a regular, systematic mosaic, and it gets easier to read after the first (unnumbered) section. But we keep jumping between threads of different stories, which are not woven together until the end. We have to accept that we’re jumping from place to place (usually in the same order, though) and get used to it.

+ Time in this novel jumps around, too, and overlaps. Sometimes characters are remembering, or telling each other what happened. Other times, new events are taking place in the present.

+ The narrative voice in this novel is also strange. The narrator is often representing or narrating the thoughts (or commentary) of a character, and blending his perspective with that of the character. The narrator is not, however, identified with the perspective of any particular character, and sometimes the narrator becomes a more distanced third person narrator.

So, hang on tight and just remember: we’re on an Amazonian boat trip, so things are supposed to be slightly strange!

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Posted by on April 20, 2008 in Vargas Llosa


Black Venus (and Madame Delphine)

For her presentation Katrice discovered this book: Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French and it promises to be very interesting.

She also brought our attention to Mme. Delphine Lalaurie. She is rumored to be a quadroon, but I am not yet sure Louisiana writer George Washington Cable’s novel Madame Delphine (in which the character is explicitly quadroon) is about Delphine Lalaurie or not.

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Posted by on April 17, 2008 in Bibliography, Torgovnick


Torgovnick 9

Notes on Torgovnick, Chapter 9, “Adventurers”

– Westerners seek the primitive so as to find a home: often having to do with their own needs, not those of the other, and not common needs. Examples: Blair getting to experience a cosmic dream (in the sixties, originally funded by Ringo Starr); Schneebaum among the Asmat, where homosexual practices are allowed. But note that among the Asmat the Blair had been terrified when the prospect of getting killed and eaten had reared its head! They went there to film and make money on the film, but when things got sticky, they wanted an airlift. That is why Blair had more fun in Bali, where he went subsequently and had his cosmic dream. “We had found a home,” he said.

– So “going primitive” means a search for home and origins. We seek in the primitive a time before our troubles arose. In doing so, we construct the primitive as less advanced than we. By saying the primitive is ahistorical we bring it into the circle of our needs. We cannot let it have its own history separate from ours – it has to occupy a place at the beginning of our history – because if we allowed it a separate history, it would not fulfill our desires. Also, the primitive must be available and accessible to us. If not, once again, it cannot meet our needs.

– People particularly interested in finding a home in the primitive tend to be or feel exiled from their own societies (e.g. Schneebaum, a homosexual; Boas, uncomfortable in Germany due to rising anti-Semitism there; Malinowski, caught in Australia due to WWI).

– The Marxist literary theorist Georg Lukács coined the term “transcendental homelessness” as descriptor of the modern condition. Georges Bataille, the 20th French philosopher, wanted to transcend the anxiety of selfhood through cannibalism, human sacrifice, suicide – the obliteration of self in otherness.

– Leaving the city for the jungle in these contexts is very attractive. Yet colonialism and modernization have, paradoxically, brought the city and the jungle into closer and closer contact – and often the jungle is not the “wild” in the sense of being “pure” but is rather the rough underside of “civilization.” To the cities flock destitute primitives, who there become the urban poor. And the jungle becomes a place of “wild” capitalism and exploitation. In this context primitive art objects are more and more important in urban and elite spaces – university galleries, museums, well-heeled houses.

Western discourse on the primitive is about control and domination, but also about desire, about seeking salve for wounds, and about fear of losing power. And yet not every version of the primitive is the same. “When versions of the primitive show specific historical and cultural variations, they expose different aspects of the West itself. Primitivism is thus not a ‘subtopic’ of modernism or postmodernism: to study primitivism’s manifold presence is to recontextualize modernity.” (193)

STUDY QUESTION: Consider the bolded sentence in relation to La vorágine.

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Posted by on April 14, 2008 in Rivera