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A Latin American Indian Re-reads the Canon Postcolonial Mimicry in El Sen ˜ or Presidente

A Latin American Indian Re-reads the Canon

Postcolonial Mimicry in El Sen˜or Presidente

Jorge J. Barrueto

As any Latin American of Indian extraction would testify, it is hard for an Indian to make his or her voice heard. Political and economical exclusion are the norm if not the unwritten law in many countries of the region. Even harder is to hear Indian input in economic, political, and social policies since elected politicians do not usually represent Indians. It is even difcult, almost an anomaly, for an Indian to give his opinion about cultural phenomena, especially art and literature since Latin American literature and subsequent criticism is done with a open pro-European bias not only in the regional praxis but also abroad. Therefore, and I think I speak for many Latin Ameri- cans of Indian extractionwho make up the majority in most of the coun- tries of the regionthanks for the Postcolonial. This approach has allowed me to re-read canonical works taking a new refreshing look at them and hoping to bring to light a new body of criticism and, most importantly, to

allow the underdogs to give their view about the celebrated and canonized narratives. I see El Sen˜or Presidente not in the vein of the traditional criticism (but not by all means gone) of the writer as the origin of meaning, but of the writer, as Heather Hirschfeld puts it, as ‘‘a discursive formation embedded in particular historical conditions and disciplinary needs’’ (). In this essay, I concentrate my efforts on the historical discourse that I discern in the work


of Miguel A ngel Asturias who, as we will see below, ascribed the problems of

Guatemala to the presence of the Indians.


In , Miguel A ngel Asturias went to France to thank the French writer

Hispanic Review (summer ) Copyright  Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania

j 

 i   : summer 

Paul Vale´ry for the letter which the latter had written praising Asturiass Leyendas de Guatemala (). One wonders what went on in Asturiass mind when Vale´ry suggested to him to return home to Guatemala. Vale´ry wanted Asturias to leave France, to go back to the Americas and to write about that effervescent, unknown wilderness that Guatemala offered to the European reader. Vale´ry wanted Asturias to write not as an imitator of European litera- ture, but as the indigenous voice of that primitive land in a state of forma- tion. For Vale´ry, who had been very supportive of Leyendas de Guatemala, where Asturias suggested that an atavistic mentality was the main feature of Guatemalan Indians, Asturias and Guatemala were a dual entity ‘‘ ‘en efer- vecencia como la tierra, los volcanes, la naturaleza.’ ’’ 1 Years later, when Astu- rias published El Sen˜or Presidente (), Vale´rys advice seemed to have had a strong inuence on the Guatemalan writer. Everything that Vale´ry dreamed of had come to life. Although I do not intend to dwell on Valerys ideas, his views t a pattern of thinking about the Latin American Other. In the pages of El Sen˜or Presi- dente there is that ‘‘efervecencia’’ that Vale´ry wanted, which seems to come alive in the nativesprimitivism, their misplaced passion and their corrupted persona. I, however, see this novel as the reection of an inherited ideology in Latin America that has produced specic patterns in the nativesOther- ness discernible in a rich body of literary imagery. This type of thinking, which thoroughly pervades Asturiass narrative, is the undying echo of the old and the new assumptions about the ontology of non-Europeans in the Americas. The Others basic traits are not only imbedded in personal behav- ior but its presence is also incarnated in the political body which is the ex- pression of the collective wish of the individual. 2 In this case, the Other is the Guatemalan society (and its inhabitants) which reveals an ideological think- ing proposing that primitivism and degeneration are inherent to Latin Amer- ican societies. This qualitative dimension in El Sen˜or Presidente has never been addressed. This novel, in fact, has been seen not as the formulation of a colonial dis- course persistent in literary production in the region, but, on the contrary, as the unique novel of political criticism. Asturiass novel has been heralded, in fact, as being the novel which epitomizes the dictadura, a phenomenon

. Cited in dAussenac . . I use Rey Chows denition of Otherness; she sees it as the ‘‘image and silent object’’ in Western discursive production ().

Barrueto :     -    j 

perceived to be a natural and inherent trait in the region. For Lanoel d

Aussenac, for instance, this novel conveys Asturiass ‘‘mensaje de denuncia’’ of the corruption in Guatemala (). This claim is echoed by Daniel Cam- pion who sees this novel as having a clear goal of ‘‘social protest’’ (). For Carlos Navarro, El Sen˜or Presidente is about the ‘‘realidades escalofriantes’’ which dominate Latin America (). Asturias, as well, complements this thinking claiming that his job and that of other Latin American writers is to

report on the ‘‘historias [

lismo de los sistemas dictatoriales latinoamericanos’’ (Bellini ). El Sen˜or Presidente is a great aesthetic achievement in the region and perhaps is, with merit, one primordial expression of cultural production in the rst half of twentieth-century Latin America. Yet the views rendered above about Asturiass novel do not address the ideological underpinnings, which rise to the surface throughout the narrative. They are in fact part of an Orientalist discourse to echo Edward Saids words that have constructed the Other, this time Latin America as the land of corruption and anarchy. For the above, Asturias points to political corruption as one of the problems in his country, and identies military dictatorships as sine qua non in the region, yet these same essentializing views fail to address this narrative as the expression of a particular historical moment, which served as the back- ground to Asturiass writing. I propose instead a postcolonial critique which, as Benita Parry points out, aims at deconstructing the ‘‘premises of a discur- sive apparatus which constructed the Third World’’ not only for Western consumption, but also for ‘‘the cultures so represented’’ (). It will be clear in my analysis that the ideological basis of this work does not reect the telos

of social critique, but the reafrmation of Eurocentric beliefs (and a body of knowledge) which sees Latin America as the land of primitivism and corrup- tion where the absurd predominates in social and political relations. I believe that El Sen˜or Presidente unwittingly provides evidence of how literature, as cultural praxis, exemplies that ideological necessity of labeling Latin America as the land where the said Otherness prevails, and where not only the native but even society does not evolve toward higher goals. This position conrms our claim that Asturiass novel is not a critique of political corrup- tion, but conveys the message that the Other cannot be a civilized entity, and that the Others nature should be recognized as a potential menace to West- ern civilization. Mimicry is a term borrowed from Natural Science used when studying animal behavior, such as the transformations a chameleon undergoes when

] de ca´rceles, persecusiones, barbarie y vanda-

 i   : summer 

it nds itself within changing environments. Homi Bhabha, however, has used this term to theorize the behavior of former colonized people who strive or are compelled to behave in a similar way to (European) models. He also sees mimicry as a psychological process in colonial relations which allows the unveiling of the colonial thinking that has constructed the Other as a reec- tion of its own desire. Bhabhass argument is that the Western mind sees the Other as trying to be like the norm, trying to resemble, to imitate Western ways, that is, an entity wanting to be civilized, democratic, individualistic, and rational. On the surface, these aspirations would appear to be normal and acceptable, especially because they mimic accepted models of social and political virtue. Yet, this process conveys a dual perception which betrays that lofty commiseration. This lionizing of the eagerness of the native to be like the European model also reveals, at the same time, civilized mans fear of the Others savage ways (). Mimicry, to be sure, responds to the Eurocen- tric discourse which contends that the Other, although engaging in imitation, is not like ‘‘us,’’ and his mere presence poses fear and anxiety in the colonial mind. For Bhabha, mimicry entails the notion that the Other is an ‘‘erratic, ec- centric, accidental’’ subject which cannot aspire to have full human presence. The Other is ‘‘almost the same, but not quite’’ (, ). Mimicry, however, is not a straight metaphor; it is not a direct comment on the native, but rather conveys its meaning through a subtle, repetitive rhetorical process. Colonial discourse usually restates its view of the native through ad innitum literary ‘‘exercises’’ of irony, mimicry, and repetition. Of these, mimicry is crucial for the understanding of that elusive, yet always omniscient Western wish. For Bhabha, mimicry is ‘‘constructed around an ambivalence,’’ which is the difference between the Self and the Other. For mimicry to be effective, it must continually imagine and produce both the Others ‘‘excess’’ and his ‘‘difference’’ while emphasizing a contrast between this immorality and the proper behavior of Western man (). On the exterior, it is the Others imitation of the European ways which seems to make mockery (or a serious reafrmation) of Western ways, yet this resemblance is what unveils the colonial discourses strategy while afrming its power. While showing the natives wishful engagement in imitation, colo- nial discourse acts as the witness to how this Other strives to imitate its betters (suggesting his need for leadership) and, at the same time, how the Other is intrinsically symbiotic to his excessive ways. Mimicry, in this way, is actually the triumph of colonial thinking, since it proves to itself that the

Barrueto :     -    j 

colonized subject might aspire to a civilized status, but will never be equal and will never reach full humanity. And history helps in this colonial bid, which is, in fact, the eternal punishment of colonized subjects. Because the natives original culture was wiped out or modied forever, the icon which serves as the unattainable object of his desires (the Western model) is always out of the natives reach. This phenomenon is not only a case of literary rhetoric, but also reects old patterns of thinking and provides the frame- work within which many Creole writers in Latin America work. 3 These writ- ers glorify European values, and always portray the Old World as the pinnacle of civilization and the model for Latin America. El Sen˜or Presidente is not different, and, in fact, it goes beyond simple mimicry. This novel is not a social critique of the political situation in Guatemala, as those critics mentioned before have pointed out, but actually is the powerful reafrma- tion of colonial ideology, which, through Asturiass pen, essentializes Guate- malas society within specic boundaries. Recalling Vale´rys words, Asturias succeeds in giving us a ctional land in ‘‘efervecencia’’ that can never be the embodiment of full presence. Without exception, the colonial discourses goal is clear. It tries to produce a recurring pattern in the Others personal behavior which elicits a civilized response (white mans burden) and becomes the ubiquitous evidence of the natives difference. As we can see in other canonical characters, the supersti- tious Don˜a Ba´rbara, Solima´n in El reino de este mundo, the languid Mar´ıa, and the barbaric Indians in Huasipungo, to name a few, are symbols of Oth- erness which trigger that response, and provide the evidence of the Others difference. Mimicry, as Bhabha comments, requires that the representation of the Other is ‘‘dependent upon some strategic limitation or prohibition within the authoritative discourse itself.’’ That is, the discourse makes sure that the Other is believed to be a convincing ‘‘failure.’’ The objective is to show to the world the natives basic essence: resemblance to the ideal Self (his aspirations to European ideals) and yet this persona as the potential menace (to those ideals) (). Again, colonial discourse, as seen in Asturiass novel, is about itself, not the colonial Other. It is the establishment, after all, which feels the fear of the menacing presence when confronted with the ‘‘deceitful’’ Other.

. In literature, this ideology reects basic tenets of the scientic narratives (Positivism and Social Darwinism) which have inuenced literary praxis since independent times. See Ben´ıtez-Rojo ().

 i   : summer 

The Other, however, is a complex subject in colonial discourse, since its own inception as the Western antithesis reects ambivalent feelings. The na- tive is perennially the incarnation of that dreadful entity of resemblance/ fear which is internal to the mechanics of colonial discourse; this dichotomy functions as a sign which constantly surfaces while under Western observa- tion and vigilance as seen in the never-ending reafrmation of the colonial imaginary. 4 This is, of course, embodied in the lack of civilization in the natives corporeal and mental disposition that elicits the need for order and reassurance in the Western mind. In El Sen˜or Presidente, Asturias constructs a world where the danger to the well-being of the society depicted in his story comes from the systematic behavior of the Other, which is perceived as the immanent threat because of its continuous uncivilized nature. The narrative conveys the message that the values of Modernity, them- selves the highest points of a civilized worldand the symbolic referents of the novelare ridiculed by the ‘‘incomplete’’ Guatemalans. This assumption about the Other, which fathoms a betrayal to the civilized world, renders the society in this novel as the nest of anarchy, immorality, and corruption which, although restricted to the Others being, is also of deep concern to the Western mind, since it could be the source of contamination. This evil Other, however, is intrinsic to how the colonial discourses complex imagery sees Latin America: the land of superstition, primitivism, and decay. In El Sen˜or Presidente we read, for example, that Indians are too ignorant to know what is good for them. The explicit example is given by Asturias, who has an Indian reacting to the promise of a better type of government. ‘‘[El] indio contemplaba al general como un fetiche raro, sin comprender las pocas pala- bras que dec´ıa’’ (). This is an illustration of the characteristics which are assumed to be the reection of the particular idiosyncrasies of the Latin American rooted in human and cultural elements. These elements are, of course, not only the incarnation of barbarism, but also, most importantly for contemporary times, the organic components of the nation/state. The notion of the aggregate social body as the expression of the collective will was an idea that dened the Romantic quest for nationhood in the nine- teenth century. The nation, that great modern panacea, seemed to be the

. Bhabha afrms that colonial discourse must always satisfy that ‘‘demand for narrative,’’ which embodies the tangible evidence of its own claims (Location ). The repetitive tropes of sav- agery, corruption, and timeless existence present in El Sen˜or Presidente reect that demand of the colonial wish while at the same time reafrming the ‘‘truth’’ about the native.

Barrueto :     -    j 

ultimate expression of peoples soul; the understanding was that a particular kind of psyche would express itself in an equally distinct type of nation. This innermost wish was assumed to be reected on how territory, ags, and holidays were imagined, and how the state was organized. The state, not just the nation, was considered an expression of the peoples will in a historical context. Johann Gottfried Herder, the patter familias of nationhood, synthe- sized the idea of culture and nation as reciprocal entities and used history as the referent for his ideas. He thought that modern man really owed his basic essence to past generations; that the ‘‘very being’’ of contemporary mankind was a ‘‘continuing dialogue between the generations’’ (Malik ). Extrapolating the idea of this dialogue to an inorganic body, Herder sanc- tioned the idea that this ongoing dialogue was actually something inexorable in the composition of the nation. He theorized that the characteristics of the national body were etched in time, and had an evolutionary component since the ‘‘spirit of the people’’ went through a process of renement and consoli- dation throughout ‘‘history.’’ It was this spirit which accounted for the cul- tural expressions seen in a determined country; the Volkgeist, as he called it, was expressed in myths, songs, and literary works which for Herder carried the peoples heritage through eternity. Those legends and myths, Herder as- sumed, were mimetic of earlier immemorial times which, he thought, had been the place where that national ‘‘spirit’’ was forged (Malik ). 5 These ideas, however, were not restricted to how Europeans saw their own political experience, but also how they saw non-European social groups. By the nineteenth century, with the political dominance of Europe over much of the world, it was not difcult to see how the idea of the nation took a foothold in political affairs in most of the world, especially in the new coun- tries of Latin America. The nation was believed to be the result of a peoples ‘‘conscious decision’’ to afrm its belief in a precise collective character, which reected their ‘‘cultural and historical heritage’’ (Malik ). Naturally, this very inuential idea provoked a quandary in the new countries which lacked a homogeneous ethnicity; this situation, however, produced a utilitar- ian silver lining for the Creoles in the Americas (Alfaro-Alexander ). This cultural heritage was not only restricted to Europe; it was, in fact, part of the cultural export which, either by imposition or inuence, had become

. Herders ideas were made known to the public in his Style and Art () and Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (; trans. ).

 i   : summer 

universal, and which, in the Latin American case, pervaded the relationships between the Creole and the non-European natives. By the second half of the nineteenth century, Europeans truly believed they were living a revolutionary moment in their history. In these circum- stances, deeply ethnocentric beliefs arose as Europe saw itself as the guiding light from which civilization would spring to the whole world. It was the time when the idea of primitive societies was dened to be, now on a ‘‘scien- tic’’ basis, the antithesis of this ascendant Europe. Kuper notes that this was also a time when Europe saw itself as the model for the world, and when primitivism was viewed as being a sine qua non for most non-European soci- eties. This was also the moment when Europes intellectual ideas were ex- pressed in a series of unchallengeable gospels; they gave birth to the notions of the Romantic quest for nationhood, the idea of History as a universal given, and the idea of the rational management of the state. For Kuper, the political discourse of the time was inuenced by Marxs class economics, Webbers rationalization of the state, and Durkheims claim about organic ‘‘forms of solidarity,’’ all of which saw as the antithesis of their theories the existence of the traditional (i.e., primitive, underdeveloped, irrational, infor- mal) society (). As mentioned before, it was also the time of the predomi- nance of Darwins ideas on man as the end-product of evolution. If the nation/state could be considered as the reection of peoples charac- ter, and not the reection of power politics, colonial thought was sowing the seeds of its own deconstruction. That fear of the native, although in the imaginary, loomed large in European consciousness. From the mere imag- ined personal characteristics of individual native behavior, native primitiv- ism became the overriding feature of the natives own collective community. This was the ultimate fear about the Other; the fear was not only about the individual Other, but also about what he might produce, like the collective Other (his society). As we will see in El Sen˜or Presidente, the Other, if left to his wild ways, might pose a formidable menace to the established culture. 6 This fear is seen in how similar and how different the Other was to Europes

. The fear, perhaps it should be claried, is not what European individuals or countries feared from the native subject, since political ties had long been broken. The fear in this novel is very representative of the political situation in many countries in the region. The settler communities (the Creoles) do indeed fear the ‘‘brown’’ masses over which they have political control. Asturias, a ladino (Creole from Guatemala) knew of this fear closely. Guatemala, an overwhelmingly Indian country, is controlled by a handful of people of Spanish descent who still rely on colonial struc- tures in their relationships with the Indians (Hawkins ).

Barrueto :     -    j 

eyes. This political unconscious, of course, was better expressed in aesthetic displays than in tangible reality. In any event, the fear of the Other, as mentioned earlier, was not a phe- nomenon in the real world, but actually reected a historical discourse in which particular modes of thinking predominated. The likelihood of exis- tence of this Otherness, of course, reected the philosophical inheritance of the Enlightenment (Dussel ), although it also responded to the aesthetic fads prevalent in Europe in the rst part of the twentieth century. One of the latter was Surrealism, an aesthetic movement very much in vogue in Europe, especially in France where Asturias made his home. He was familiar with those ideas about dreamlike worlds, the bizarre, and the primitive mind due to his long involvement in Parisian intellectual life. Although Surrealism seemed to challenge, on the surface at least, the surrounding traditional aes- thetics in Europe, it also appropriated Modern assumptions about the object of its preoccupation (the Other) in order to establish its characteristics. For Andre´ Breton, one of its main innovators, Surrealism would ourish if artistic production were approached in a manner not found in everyday life. For him, the bizarre and the primitive would only be found in spaces ‘‘released from the restraint of reason, morality and social convention’’ (Ma- thews ). Of course, this particular place was either found only in dream sequences or in the fantastic imagery assumed to be a rule in specic coun- tries. It was not a surprise that in a deeply Eurocentric France, places like Africa and other ‘‘wild’’ places would be the best locales for surrealist prac- titioners to nd characters tting those aesthetic prescriptions. Guatemala, we will see, tted the rationale as one of those anarchical places where peo- ples behavior was ‘‘beyond moral restraint,’’ and driven solely by the ‘‘pas- sion of desire’’ (Mathews ). 7 Asturias himself would nd logic in these explanations about surrealism and the Otherness of non-Europeans, espe- cially in people whom he ‘‘knew’’ closely. He thought, for example, that surrealist art echoed ‘‘somewhat the magical and primitive mentality of the Indians’’ (Prieto ). 8 This is the historical background on primitivism that

. According to Michel Carrouges, for Andre´ Breton, the foremost innovator of Surrealism, meaning was to be found in the world of dreams, that place without ‘‘conscious direction’’ (). . In Asturiass France, primitivism and the surreal were two concepts that shared many charac- teristics. Emery, commenting on Surrealism and the primitive, notes that in Europe there was a widespread belief which held that only in ‘‘primitive’’ settings the individual could reach that mental ‘‘paroxysm’’ that surrealists sought ().

 i   : summer 

allows the telos of mimicry to unfold in El Sen˜or Presidente, unveiling both the limited capacity and the potential threat of the Other. In this novel, there are many instances of the Others resemblance, to use one of the components of mimicry, to the European model; in its pages, we see the allusion to democracy, equality, and basic morality which cannot prosper because the state has been usurped by a dictator. The ideological component in this novel also expresses itself in the actions, individual and collective, of the members of this ctional polity, a behavior which unveils

the ontology of the native. The society in this novel, even though it has been seized by the dictator, is a site where ethical aspirations still reign, although primitivism prevails. This wish for democracy is represented by the actions

of Eusebio Canales, Doctor Barren˜o, Fedina, and to a degree by Cara de


A ngel and Camila, who are the most representative victims of the dictator- ship. They resemble the ideal Self, but only to a certain point. Their wishes mimic those of European standards, but only to a degree which never sur- passes mere wishful thinking. The democratic aspirations of General Canales, for example, elucidate this point. Canales wants to ght the dictatorship of El Presidente, and wishes to improve conditions in his country. Canaless aspirations are a reection of Modernitys ideals: respect for the individual, justice, and equality. He has, in fact, raised an army and is ready to march to the capital and claim the government for democracy. Yet even with a seemingly powerful army, Ca- nales does not follow through with his plans. He can dream of achieving, but cannot carry out his original objective. He can mimic, but only to a certain extent. His actions might resemble those of a European man, but his Other- ness prevents him from achieving his objectives. This Otherness is always lurking in the back, waiting to claim its own. When Canales dies, his follow- ers immediately revert to superstition, thus betraying Canaless wishes for a modern country and afrming the latent savagery of the native (). Super- stition, however, is not a passing allusion, and, in fact, prevails in the novel as the leitmotif pointing to the mental state of the native. The native, it seems, cannot trust science and his own mind in order to achieve his objectives in life; the native simply relies on superstitious devices which he believes will deliver his wishes. The native simply takes for granted the existence of an immanent power in which he must believe. It is interest- ing that from the start Asturias stresses the superstition which dominates the peoples minds in his novel, clearly seen when Patahueca swears off some bad omen which is preeminent in the inception of the plot (). Emphasiz-

Barrueto :     -    j 

ing hearsay and the unreal as characteristics of the natives mentality, Astu- rias seems to suggest that the natives would not relate to each other without these elements. Idolatry and superstition are necessary for Asturiass plot, and he identies specic cultural phenomenaEuropean idealsas the op- posite end to this debauchery. El Sen˜or Presidente underscores the notion that modern society was also dened as the place where the territorial state, the monogamous family and private property were the main characteristics which dened mans existence.

Primitive societies, therefore, did not have those features. The primitive did not have the notion of the marked territory as his home; his communities were a reection of personal, not consensual, ties and his sexual practices were highly promiscuous. Of course, the primitive would not, by denition, have respect for private property. In general, the idea that the native lacked a progression in mentality was widespread; primitive man was ‘‘illogical and given to magic,’’ unlike his European counterparts (Kuper ). In the colonial logic, the Other can only aspire to but never be like the master European blueprint. The Others action shows how the native strives for betterment, yet his basic persona denies him success. He can resemble, but cannot be European and his behavioral patterns always unveil his condi- tion as he makes a mockery of human values and institutions. Love, to give an example, is deled by the crude attitude of the native. In this primeval society love cannot ourish as a basic human emotion, and even the word madre is synonymous with torment rather than love (). The love be-


tween Cara de A ngel and Camila cannot be a success; the corrupted practices which abound around them forbid it. The Presidente, in fact, nds personal delight in separating the couple. Fedianas love for her son, in another in- stance, is made the focus of ridicule and, in fact, she is ordered not to feel anything for him (). The family, as well, is rendered as a remorseless unit which is not conducive to the fostering of love. Camila is repudiated by her blood relatives () and Benjam´ın and don˜a Venjamo´ n carry on an

incomprehensible caricature of marriage (). It is love, in fact, that triggers


the downfall of Cara de A ngel, as he is reminded that love is ‘‘fregado, la- mido, belitre y embustero’’ aluding not to the mechanics of personal rela- tionships, but to the political machinations of El Sen˜or Presidente (). Love, or the substitute for it, is only found in a house of ill repute. A signi- cant portion of the novel is developed around a brothel or the characters who frequent it; of course, a brothel is not conducive to renovation of life and the ourishing of real love, but points to the perversity of the characters.

 i   : summer 

In this situation, Farfa´n can only feel love when there is a monetary medium of exchange, and Va´ squez can only love somebody who actually hates him. The idea of Europe as the antithesis of primitive society had a component which was based on an unequivocal feature of the natives mind: primitivism. This feature prevailed in the life of the Other because it existed in the minds of the members of a determined society. 9 Ferguson claries the particularities of this thinking. He states that in the project of Modernity, European social constructs were believed to reect the rhythm of ‘‘an inner movement,’’ which marked the progress and development of civilized man; this character- istic, of course, was the dening point of difference with the Other whose inner spirit was considered to be lacking this type of motion (, ). This obsession with movement and the stagnant is crucial to understanding the society of El Sen˜or Presidente because society is supposed to be, at least in the Herderian way, the reection of the natives psyche. The effects of this type of movement (or the absence of it) were seen in how the state apparatus was administered. In an age where the idea of the nation state was taken to be the highest achievement of the progressive wish of the people, this idea was not difcult to accept. People were believed to collectively stamp their char- acter into the type of government they would produce. There was, however, a precondition for the formation of a modern nation. Movement (as in evo- lution and will) became linked to the ability to engage in abstract thought and reason. Josep Pico notes that the principles of Modernityindividual liberty, equality, and freedom from institutionalized oppressionwere be- lieved to be achievable objectives if behavior was mediated by reason (). Reason, however, was not, at least in the European mind, a universal feature, and for discursive and political practices not extended to non-Europeans. It was a de facto feature denied to the Other, so it was not difcult to guess what type of government the Other would produce. Movement, as in prog- ress; and reason, as the ability to think, were antithetical to the native. The absence of reason, of course, entailed the assumption that the Other would be engaging in primitive activities rather than constructive and progressive goals. The corruption of values is not limited to human feelings; degeneration

. As already mentioned, this is an old colonial idea which was alive and well in the th century, and in fact, it was reinforced by the preponderant anthropological knowledge of the mid-century. Claude Le´vi-Strauss, the ‘‘expert’’ on primitive minds, would later synthesize the view that the savage had ‘‘mental structures’’ that helped him understand the world ().

Barrueto :     -    j 

affects the symbol of progress, as well. Science, which conveys that sense of

objectivity, also suffers in this type of society. When Doctor Barren˜o dis- covers that adulterated medicine was the cause of the death of some patients, his reward is a reprimand by el Sen˜or Presidente (). Even time, a useful colonial trope, has seemingly stopped. For instance, besides the birth of Mi-


guel, the son of Cara de A ngel and Camila, there are no signs of life itself

being generated. Time has come to a standstill. This inalterable temporality seems to embrace most characters, especially el Sen˜or Presidente whose ori-

gins are unknown, and whose claim to power seems indenite. 10 He is the immortal monster that disturbs the civilized psyche; he is, correlatively, the undying representative of the endless dictatorships which Europeans see as idiosyncratic to Latin America. 11 Resemblance is, however, only one component of mimicry. Resemblance

is the ideal position of the Other that colonial discourse always extols. ‘‘Poor

natives they can only aspire’’ seems to be the slogan. Mimicry, as pointed out, actually conveys another element which poses instability in the colonial psyche: the fear of natives behavior. The fear of the Other is a long repetitive

nightmare. The world, however, is still a safe place; it is only in the mind of the colonizer where this fear makes its home. The natives deportment, as mentioned earlier, resembles that of the colonizer, but is characterized by the natives innate propensity to wild practices. It would appear that the native tries to imitate, and in fact does, but cannot hide his own being. The Presi- dent, for example, uses the fac¸ade of a modern nation, with civil institutions as the conveyors of democratic ideals, yet stamps the government with his own corrupted bias. Government ofcials such as the Auditor are engaged in

a distinctive truculent behavior, not in the monitoring of the march of the

state as it would be in a civilized nation (). Society, not just the gov- ernment, is so corrupted that even common citizens become informants for the dictator. Resembling or trying to imitate the master is only a mild symp- tom of the natives difference. Colonial narratives must reveal the native as a tangible menace, thus, to show the real fear that bothers the European psy-

. For Johannes Fabian, ‘‘denial of coevalness,’’ that is, the denial of the Other as a coequal being living in the same historical time, has been a very useful colonial device to deny the native a basic humanity (). Denying equal contemporaneousness, colonial thought makes sure to press for the idea that the Others historical time explains his atavistic nature. . It should be noted that Asturias lived in a Europe under the phantom of perhaps the two most unethical and violent dictatorships in history (Stalins Soviet Union and Hitlers Germany), yet he chose to place his perfect dictatorship in Guatemala.

 i   : summer 

che, the natives threat is magnied through allusion to undying features: the natives systematic violence and cruelty as the preeminent device of politics as demanded by ethnic traits and cultural beliefs. Sure enough, primitivism mirrors deep cultural elements particular to Guatemala due to the inuence of the native Indians. Echoing Herders view of culture, modern customs are the reection of some innate traits in people (the ongoing dialogue between the present and the past) which in this novel is clear in the idea of Mayan sacrices. The dictator is the embodiment of Tohil, believed to be the Mayan world of the underworld, and, as with the latter, the former demands a sacrice to appease his madness (dAussenac


). The victim is Cara de A ngel, the old comrade who has fallen out of his


grace (). The Presidente does not trust Cara de A ngel because of the

latters marriage to his old nemesiss daughter. Of course, the ‘‘sacrice’’ of


Cara de A ngel is part of a systematic pattern of behavior, common to bar- baric societies, something which, recalling Le´vi-Strauss, is an example of how

the savage mind works. This is what the civilized world fears (and imagines) the most, a savage Other engaged in his own agency. Of course, this fear is the epiphenomenon of the type of behavior which has allowed the Creole to


dominate political processes. The ‘‘sacrice’’ of Cara de A ngel is the end result of ruthless politics, and is carried out with the gusto for violence which

seems to pervade most human actions in this novel. 12 The savage mind and

violence come together as the dual perennial features attributed to the Other.


Even the sacricial victim (Cara de A ngel) has a hallucination which an- nounces his own upcoming demise and lifelong imprisonment. For Asturias, corruption is a timeless feature of Guatemala, and cultural

practices must be repetitive and always present in peoples activities. There is no qualitative change and corruption seems to repeat itself ad innitum. The


suffering of Cara de A ngel must be repetitive, like the continuous Mayan sacrices to Tohil; since the actions of the primitive are a replica of the past, which is continually repeated, the message is that primitivism is intrinsical

. For Torgovnick, the Western mind always tries to repress the primitives ‘‘excess, frenzy and potential violence’’ because the West recognizes those elements as part of its own experience (). After independence, as it happened in most Latin American countries with a sizable native population, the local e´lites ‘‘recast’’ the Indian and his culture as the ‘‘inverse image’’ of Spanish culture (Hawkins ). Today, this division is not just cultural but also political and economic. By denition, political corruption is blamed on the cultural inheritance of the Indians, even though Indians have no access to political power. It should be noted that Indian way of life is also blamed for economic underdevelopment in Latin America, especially within Marxist theoretical musings.

Barrueto :     -    j 

to his being in a cyclical history. For Asturias, after all, the Indians of Guate-

mala were ‘‘habitantes de mundos de otras categor´ıas [

vientes de soles prete´ritos, no de este sol en movimiento’’ (Hill ). It is not surprising then that immediately after the death of General Canales (of European extraction), the Indians disband and return to their old ways. To be sure, El Sen˜ or Presidente is a marvelous aesthetic achievement, which, in spite of its shortcomings, has been a staple in the cultural founda- tions of the region and has produced a unique blend of literature unique to Latin America. Asturiass preoccupations are not his, but those of many Latin Americans who want to nd an explanation for the regions problems. The unfortunate dimension of this reality is that it also reects the view of politi- cal e´lites who, in response to racial and strategic agendas, have labeled the Indians, as the antithesis to their interests. And, although Asturias shares these views as seen in the pages of El Sen˜or Presidente, his positivism should not, in the least, subtract any value from this aesthetic achievement. As Mario Morales notes, Asturias had two complementary ideas about Guatemalas politics. He wanted more European immigrants in Guatemala to improve Guatemalas future, yet Asturias himself recognized the bleak prospects of this goal, since his homeland was already a heterogeneous entity by the time he wrote El Sen˜or Presidente (). Asturiass achievement is perhaps the recognition of some of the problems of his country; regrettably, he overem- phasizes the Indian contribution to Guatemalas problems. Perhaps Astu- riass Eurocentrism is not his alone and it is found throughout Latin American writing; but he, at least, admitted his shortcomings. Asturias realized that another key problem in Guatemala was the inability of its ruling class to

integrate the majority of the countrys inhabitants into its society, leading to the logical social and political inequalities (Morales ). And, as Jack Himel- blau notes, El Sen˜or Presidente deeply indicts Guatemalas ruling class for allowing the Indian to become the prey in the political reality depicted in the novel (). Mimicry is a valuable tool to unveil many parameters within which Latin American praxis takes place. It provides the best explanation of what per- vades literary discourse in Latin America, especially the knee-jerk embrace of European ideals and the rejection of the native as an unwelcome presence. Mimicry can also be a useful vehicle to cast doubt on claims that works like El Sen˜or Presidente are somehow examples of social criticism. Mimicry, more than anything, is the conrmation of the dominance of metropolitan power which allows us to see that signiers like dictatorships and political corrup-

] Mayas sobrevi-

 i   : summer 

tion are not acts of denunciation, but the reication of the immanent power of colonial ideology as expressed in its undying teleology: calling for the Others difference as the basis for political action. This strategy has not been limited to individual behavior; it has been ex- trapolated to the macrocosm of the social collective, which contains the Oth- ers maximum expression of his soul: his primitive, corrupted, exotic, teeming nation. For colonial discourse, as seen in this novel, the nation and the native in Latin America have corrupted the ideals of democracy and equality, which are, in themselves, the highest objectives of nationhood. Mimicry provides evidence of the natives half-hearted wish to emulate Euro- pean models and his proclivity to antipodal behavior, which unveils his true condition. This novel, therefore, is the pinnacle of a cultural imposition, which seeks to afrm that the native shows in his own persona his condition and his difference. Difference cannot be erased easily, and is cloaked with acceptability because it is now afrmed by the native (Asturias), not by the old colonial authority. The essence of this discussion is not that a dictator would be corrupted; the point is that Latin America can only offer such a state of affairs. By denition, this narratives goal is to prove that Latin American societies, even though they are aware of the blueprint of Modernity, are unable to behave accordingly. On the surface, although engaged in never-ending exercises of mimicry, the Other is always revealed in his corrupted, primitive disposition, which makes a mockery of the project of Modernity. This impairment of the Other, however, is really about the colonial discourses conrmation of the Others unreliability, thus strengthening the belief in the natives difference and the need for his exclusion.

  .  (Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, ) is an Assis- tant Professor of Spanish at Walsh University. His main areas of interest are Postcolonial Theory, Cultural Studies, and Latin American Literature. Currently, he is working on Psychoanalytic Theory and the images of Indians in the Latin American canon.

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