Nature, Nation and Animality in the Discourse of Literary Indigenismo: Case Studies in Peru, Mexico & the American Southwest, 1920-1974
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Nature, Nation and Animality in the Discourse of Literary Indigenismo: Case Studies in Peru, Mexico & the American Southwest, 1920-1974


This dissertation examines the ways that indigenista writers from Mexico and Peru used animals in their representation of indigenous peoples, particularly in proposing a “new type of being” as the privileged subject for the nation. Literary indigenismo is a genre of narrative fiction produced by non-indigenous writers interested in the place and condition of indigenous peoples in the context of larger concerns regarding nationhood and modernity. This dissertation underscores the role nature and animals can and did play in these literary representations of the "indigenous question," which is to say of integrating indigenous peoples or indigenous world-views into non-indigenous milieus. This dissertation argues that indigenista writers used animals in ways that exemplify a tension between perceptions of indigenous views on the inherent connections between nature and the human, and Western discourses on animality—as the attribution of animal traits—that presuppose the hierarchical superiority of the human over nature. I coin the term "indigenista animality" to propose a reinterpretation of literary indigenismo that pays as much attention to the literary representation of indigenous human-animal cosmologies as it does to Western discourses on race and species. Through an animal studies approach—an approach that questions the premise that animals are to be understood as “less than human”—this dissertation studies instructive cases in Peru, Mexico and the Southwest of the United States to explore some of the ways that indigenista literature engaged with animality in the contexts of national, international, and hemispheric tensions, in which discourses on indigenous peoples are central.

Chapter 1 analyzes the ways that Peruvian indigenista writers of the 1920s, Enrique L�pez Alb�jar and Jos� Carlos Mari�tegui, used animals in their discussions of modernization and indigenous peoples within the context of Fordism, industrialism shaped by mass production and consumption of automobiles. Mari�tegui's historical account of the apogee and retreat of the horse in human life contends with the emergence of a new indigenous type as the proletarian chauffeur. L�pez Alb�jar's allegory "El fin de un redentor" ironizes debates over indigenous liberation through disagreements between various species of livestock animals as to the revindicatory nature of the automobile. These works contest the “progress” of state-sponsored modernization policies, e.g. mass road expansion, in their concern over the emancipation and labor of indigenous peoples by way of animal representations. Chapter 2 examines Mauricio Magaleno's novel El resplandor and how its approach to nahualismo, as an indigenous world-view, according to which the human and the animal are co-essential, are central to his critique of the postrevolutionary Mexican state. Magdaleno’s literary approach to the indigenous is premised on a peculiar and negative synthesis of indigenous and Spanish lineages, in which his central mestizo character employs the powers of nahualismo (supernatural abilities to "possess" or shape-shift into an animal) against his indigenous brethren as a tool to grab state power. His representation of Otomie peoples as cattle bring into relief salient questions over indigenous political consciousness that echoes the "Enlightenment" semantics of the novel, while also signaling the environmental historical tensions between European livestock and indigenous populations in Central Mexico. Chapter 3 focuses on the ways that Carlos Castaneda advances the “man of knowledge” as a “new subject” in his series of books on the Yaqui teacher figure of don Juan. Evasive of his Peruvian origins, Castaneda nonetheless weaves Peruvian indigenista discourses and combines these with aspects of Mexican tropes such as nahualismo, making his exploration of Yaqui indigenous knowledge along the Arizona-Sonora borderlands a noteworthy example for the American Southwest. In his books, animals play an important role in the "inner journey" of Castaneda’s literary alter-ego, where encounters with animals aid him in becoming a "warrior." Castaneda reconfigures nahualismo in a way that erases the animal-human links of its Mesoamerican origins while infusing it with Eastern and Western philosophical traditions in his proposal of a new universality as a response to countercultural trends and U.S. military interventions.

This dissertation concludes with the suggestion that literary indigenismo is ripe for a more comprehensive reassessment based on the animal studies approach to literature, which offers us new ways of interpreting animals and animality that deepen our understanding of discourses that seek to "naturalize" the contours of the nation, revealing race and species tensions in regional and nationalist imaginaries.

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