Jose Carlos Mariategui: An Anthology (a review)

Jose Carlos MariateguiJosé Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology, ed. and trans. by Harry E. Vanden and Marc Becker (Monthly Review Press, 2011).  Amazon.

I want to state from the outset that I’m glad this book is available.  As Vanden and Becker note, Mariátegui is still not well known in this country, and this collection aims to both remedy that and augment the other, best-known (in the United States) collection of his writings, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality I had first run into  Mariátegui’s thought in a book on Faulkner, Hosam Aboul-Ela’s  Other South: Faulkner, Coloniality, and the Mariátegui Tradition, and discuss at length Mariátegui’s idea that history is comprised of “stages that are not entirely linear in their development” as it might apply to Go Down, Moses’ narrative structure in  this old post.  Thanks to this anthology, I now know considerably more about Mariátegui’s thought than I had before.

Apart from his idea about history’s non-linear development, though, Mariátegui is fascinating to me more generally as an example of a thinker from Latin America (in his case, the Peru of the turn of the 20th century) who is drawn to a philosophy from Europe (in his case, Marxism) who, instead of slapping it on his country and region to use as a kind of one-size-fits-all template for making sense of its history and culture, does something almost like the reverse: he looks closely at his region and its people, its history and culture, and borrows and modifies elements from Marxism to make it a more-fitting tool for change.  As just one example: in several writings included in this anthology, Mariátegui implicitly notes the common root in the words communism and community and argues that Inca society had been its essence a communist society because of its communities’ agricultural lands had been held in common by the members of those communities: “Inca communism, which cannot be denied or disparaged, developed under the autocratic rule of the Incas, is therefore designated as an agrarian communism” (in “The Land Problem,” p. 73 of the present edition).  A kind of communism, thus, not only pre-dates Marx but is actually autochthonous to this hemisphere.  Mariátegui goes on to note that indigenous and mixed-race communities in Peru still retain this communal impulse as they tend to organize and work together to complete large-scale projects, and he concludes that Peru’s peasant class, with training and organizing led by people from those communities, would be receptive to those parts of communism that would lead to workers’ seeking to control the means of production (in most Peruvians’ case, this would mean controlling the land).  It is thinking like this, along with Mariátegui’s full-throated argument for the necessity of myth in a culture (thus rebutting orthodox Marxism’s rejection of religion), that explains simultaneously (for me) both Mariátegui’s continuing influence in Latin America and that he remains relatively unknown in this country.  And, indeed, Vanden and Becker write that  “Mariátegui’s writings . . . . represent the dynamic, creative vein in Marxist thought that can, we believe, best nourish cogent analyses and potent praxis” (9).

So, then, why is this book so frustrating at times?

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La Conquistadora–Some Concluding Thoughts


[Update: Here is the link to the review.]

I (finally!) finished reading Amy G. Remensynder’s book La Conquistadora: The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds, and have sent off a review of it to H-Net; I’ll post a link to it as soon as it’s published there.   Here, I thought I’d add some remarks that didn’t make it into the review but which have a bearing on the book project, at least some of which amount to editing my earlier remarks here.

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“A Marian geography of Christian Spain”: Some early comments on La Conquistadora


La Conquistadora: The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old and New Worlds, by Amy G. Remensnyder

La Conquistadora is the next book I will be reviewing for H-Net.  I’m not even halfway through this massive book–in its chronicling of the Reconquista of Iberia from the Moors, I have only just now reached the crucial year of 1492, only to see it backtrack a bit in Part II to talk about how Mary was an object of veneration for Muslims and Jews as well as Christians, even as she was also called upon by Spanish kings and aristocrats to fight on the side of Christian armies.  In the third section, Amy Remensnyder’s book will discuss Mary’s career in this hemisphere, which, given my book’s interest in discussing (New Spain’s) Virgen de Guadalupe, should make for engaging reading–not that it hasn’t been so far.  (What disappointment I feel is simply that I’m not further along in reading it than I am, and not with the book itself.)

Already, though, some of the claims Remensnyder has made about how Mary has been invoked and venerated during the Reconquista seem to mesh with observations made by Serge Gruzinski regarding miraculous apparitions of the Virgin in Tenochtitlan/Mexico City in his crucial book on Mexican iconology, Images at War: Mexico from Columbus to Blade Runner (1492-2019).  Below the fold, I want to talk my way through some of that without making an argument, seeing that, as I noted, I haven’t yet reached Remensnyder’s discussion of Mexico.  But I especially want to muse a little on her elegant phrase “Marian geography.”  I’m betting she will use it when discussing this hemisphere, but (again, without yet knowing what she”ll say) I’d like to try to put a New World spin on that phrase that differs from the one it has so far had in her book.

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First book review

NavigatingI am now officially in the book-reviewing business for H-Net, and the image you see here is the cover of the first book I have reviewed.  Here is the link to the review itself, in case you’re interested.  This isn’t the sort of book you’ll be foisting on other people as a test of whether you and they can be friends, but it does do what it says it will do: it seeks to alter historians’ prior assumptions about Spain’s control of the Pacific Ocean as having been pervasive and pretty much unchallenged at least until it lost control of its colonies in most of the Americas.  Its prose is serviceable but, as I note in the review, its goal of appearing to have been written by one author (three authors are credited on the cover) gets undermined by some editorial choices, which caused me to become distracted by the question of just who was most responsible for what chapters.

As these reviews get published, I will also be posting links to them under the “Reviews” tab on the blog’s home page.