Monday, November 26, 2007


El canibal es el Otro coverOf the three texts studied in Victor Vich's El caníbal es el Otro, there's no doubt that the first is the most interesting. What more need be said, after all, about Mario Vargas Llosa's Lituma en los Andes? The elite discourse of letrado stupefaction and condescension towards the indigenous is hardly a topic that has gone unexplored. And the other text, a testimonio of state-sponsored brutality, is likewise sadly all too familiar. Even Vich himself wonders if his account adds anything: "I ask myself therefore if there's any sense continuing to comment on this testimonio" (55).

But the text with which Vich begins his analysis of "violence and culture in contemporary Peru" is both fascinating and challenging. It's a Senderista text, and frankly the guerrilleros' discourse remains as stubbornly opaque now as ever, despite the reams of interpretation to which it has been subjected. But perhaps that's precisely the problem. Perhaps the point of Senderismo is the way in which it resists interpretation. Indeed, I suggest that nothing shows this better than the text that Vich chooses to examine.

Rosa Murinache's Tiempos de Guerra ("Time of War" or, more loosely and with other resonances, "Life During Wartime") is, as Vich explains,
a clandestine book of poetry that circulated during the harshest years of Peru's dirty war. It comprises a set of poems whose particular aim is to expound the necessity for armed struggle and for a radically revolutionary change in the structure of the country. The curious thing is that Rosa is the author of the book but not of the poems, which are rather the product of an "editing" operation performed on the political discourse of [Sendero leader] Abimael Guzmán. (13-14)
Indeed, as Vich underlines, Murinache goes to some pains to point out that she has neither added nor subtracted a single word from Guzmán's work. "All" she has done is to rearrange it on the page, introducing line breaks, indentations, and stanza divisions. So we get verses such as the following:
is worth nothing
The mass
is everything.
If we are to be anything
it will be
as part
of the mass. (28-29)
Murinache's intervention, then, is purely formal: she has changed the form of Guzmán's speeches and exhortations from prose to poetry.

Vich is clearly fascinated by what this (presumably) pseudonymous editor has done, and rightly so, and he asks about the subjectivity that the poems reveal, or rather the way in which the subjectivity of the Senderista cadre presents itself as almost completely in sync with the subjectivity of the movement's leader and grand ideologue. But there are times when Vich also appears somewhat frustrated by this coincidence or confluence between the two subjects. For the challenge of Murinache's over-respectful editing is its apparent superfluousness. Finally, Vich concludes, what we have here is "a gesture at best, a simple movement, the useless attempt to arrange the words (of the Other) in some other way" (35; emphasis added).

But this "useless[ness]" deserves further examination. Indeed, it's rather surprising that a literary critic such as Vich should have such little use for form. (Camilo Fernández Cozman makes a similar observation.) For what Murinache has done is to draw out the formal properties of Guzmán's political discourse. She challenges us to read Senderista ideology as form rather than as content; indeed as a mode of aesthetics or (posthegemonic) affect rather than as politics or (hegemonizing) ideology.

In short, by recasting Guzmán as poet, surely Murinache is warning us against precisely the kinds of political interpretation, engrossed with content and signification, that has dominated and also perplexed all readings of Sendero, Vich's included. She suggests that Guzmán's followers were less interested in what their leader meant than in the ways in which Senderista ideology allowed them to find form, to construct their own forms (habits, if you like) from the affective building blocks supplied by a discourse of blood and revolution, reorganization and (literally) reformation.

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