Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

¿Sueñan los marxistas con revoluciones aztecas? Poéticas del náhuatl y el México de Karl Marx y Walter Benjamin

  • Author(s): Martínez Yépez, Heriberto
  • Advisor(s): Del Valle, Ivonne
  • et al.
Abstract

Walter Benjamin attempted to learn Nahuatl and studied Pre-Hispanic and Colonial sources with Walter Lehmann, a well-known German linguist, translator and scholar, whose work centered on Ancient America. Benjamin’s immersion into the Native American archive crystalized in two “Mexican” dreams published in One-Way Street (1928). These “Mexican” dreams are not mere literary curiosities, but key instances of a larger polemical discursive formation between Marxism and the Global South. A first analysis of Benjamin’s “Mexican” dreams soon demanded crossing several languages, national traditions and centuries in order to show the (dis)continuities between Nahua, Spanish (Colonial), Mexican and Karl Marx’s own intellectual history. Benjamin’s “dreams” revealed themselves as late versions of a dense dialectics dealing with America’s place in History and the ghost of non-European communism(s).

In order to answer what is the larger intellectual history of Marx and Benjamin’s ideas and images about Mexico, this dissertation works with two groups of sources. On one side, Colonial Nahua and Spanish sources on Nahuatl linguistics, Aztec culture, poetics, magic and dreamworlds. And on the other side, Marx-Engel’s works and Walter Benjamin’s writings, in constant conversation with critical theory and the wider Avant-Garde.

The dissertations begins by going back to ask what were the Aztecs’ understandings about dreaming. Here dream is explained in relation to popular resistance against the Aztec State and its hegemonic economic order. Close reading of sources in Spanish and Nahuatl also revealed how Colonial intellectual authorities tried to control Nahua language, memory and dissidence. Particular emphasis is put on what this multilateral struggle about dreams, rhetoric and magic says both about high culture imaginaries and popular desires for another economy.

Once the Aztec and Spanish Colonial archives and debates have been presented, the dissertation moves into the theoretical and poetic corpus that Karl Marx and Walter Benjamin constructed to deal and speculate about Ancient and Modern Southern America, particularly the Aztecs and the XIX Century Trans-American geopolitics. The political program that guides and shapes such archiving is systematically questioned.

At the end of the dissertation I return to indigenous heteroclite poetics, through the theoretical and literary work of Faustino Chimalpopoca, a Nahua scholar and experimental poet from 19th Century Mexico. Chimalpopoca challenged Colonial and Modern mestizo views on Nahuatl and the Aztecs, and built a non-normative (and masked) literary writing, that strangely accompanied his scribal and translation work, for which he became widely known, until his figure fell out of grace due to his political involvement and his disensual intellectual practices—which did not prevent for Chimalpopoca’s name and legacy to be part of Walter Lehmann’s sphere of references. Chimalpopoca’s work serves as another point of contrast between Marxist positions and Aztec popular poetics and discontent-via-dreamwork.

The starting point of this research was the question on what is the long intellectual history of Benjamin’s “Mexican” oneiric fragments. But its end point is an enquiry on how the (dis)encounter between (Marxist and Southern) communisms produces a dense world of poetic images and geopolitical schemes. And ultimately, this research desires to stimulate the discussion about the divergent models for transformation and world revolution.

Main Content
Current View