Latin-American liberation theology and the Neo-Baroque: a point of connection

This is one of those “I have more reading to do, but . . . ” posts.  Some context, first of all: as part of a chapter, on New World rhetoric(s), for the book project, I’ve been reading essays by the early 20th-century Peruvian socialist José Carlos Mariátegui and Latin American liberation theologians of the ’70s and ’80s.  The former was an important influence on the latter, in that each believed that socioeconomic theory and theology, respectively, had to have as their starting points the actual conditions of–and solidarity with–the people being witnessed to (that verb being as appropriate a description for Mariátegui’s arguments for a distinctly Latin American style of socialism as it is for describing clergy and laypeople engaged in making the arguments for a theology of liberation).  While my reading has so far confirmed all of this for me, the reason for this post is the diagram you see below and its strong evocation by analogy of Cuban theorist Severo Sarduy’s discussion of the Neo-Baroque.

Dussel The synchronic and diachronic dimensions of analogy in theology

from Enrique Dussel’s “Historical and Philosophical Presuppositions for Latin American Theology,” found here.

In this chart, Dussel seeks to illustrate his argument that, as represented by the shaded area of the chart, the Church throughout history has always held in common the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and that humankind finds its salvation through belief in him.  At the same time, however, “We can also have participation in that same catholicity in different historical epochs, thereby forming one and the same tradition through time (i.e., diachronically); but the “sameness” would not be of a univocal sort” due to the “analogical ‘distinctions’ that are characteristic of the metaphysical innovativeness of a given theologian or a given culture in all its inimitable uniqueness” (193; italics are Dussel’s).  This recognition that the Church is located in particular spaces and times may seem quite obvious, but theologians of liberation use as their starting point the recognition that European theologies would too often presume that their teachings have always and everywhere been true, which had the effect of marginalizing non-Europeans and the non-powerful.

All those ellipsoid shapes in Dussel’s diagram are where Sarduy and his discussions of the Baroque come in.  In his essay “Baroque Cosmology: Kepler,” Sarduy argues (and I’ll be quoting from an earlier post of mine),

“Though Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the cosmos (and Galileo’s confirmation of it) was indeed truer than Ptolemy’s description, it nevertheless retained the circle as its shape and thus, for Sarduy, implicitly continues to value a social politics in which power emanates from a single, clearly defined center.”

Kepler’s discovery that the planets orbit the Sun in ellipsoid orbits, by contrast, Sarduy says,

alter[s] the scientific foundation on which rested the entire knowledge of the age [and] create[s] a reference point in relation to which all symbolic activity, explicitly or not, is situated. Something is decentering itself, or rather, duplicating, dividing its center; now, the dominant figure is not the circle, with its single, radiating, luminous, paternal center, but the ellipse, which opposes this visible focal point with another, equally functional, equally real, albeit closed off, dead, nocturnal, the blind center, the other side of the Sun’s germinative yang, that which is absent. ( “Baroque Cosmology: Kepler” (trans. Christopher Winks), p. 293 in Baroque New Worlds.)

I have much to say in that earlier post about how the brute facts of the Americas’ landmasses, its indigenous flora, fauna, and peoples and, later, its mixed-race populations are the cause of the decentering that Sarduy describes.  For now, I’ll just add here that those theologians of liberation whose work I’ve read likewise note that, as Juan Carlos Scannone puts it, “it would be a completely new reworking and formulation of theological activity as a whole from a completely new standpoint: i.e., the kairos of salvation history now being lived on our continent” (215).  Dussel’s discussion of the various manifestations of the Church as having, in effect, dual centers of attention is a direct reflection of that new standpoint as well.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have more reading to do; moreover, what you see above is no more than a sketching-out of these links.  But it’s a good feeling to see some initial confirmation of some claims I’m making even when I’m not actively looking for something to confirm my biases.


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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