Discovering the "Bizarre":
the Peruvian Indian, Travel Writing
and Temporal Distancing
in Vargas Llosa's Historia de Mayta


by

Jorge J. Barrueto

Walsh College, North Canton OH


Copyright © 2003 by Jorge J. Barrueto, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.


  1. In the last days of his 1990 campaign for the Peruvian presidency, Mario Vargas Llosa paid a visit to his closest adversary, Alberto Fujimori, the Japanese Peruvian who actually would end up as the winner. The novelist wanted to bow out of the race because polls were giving Fujimori a large lead, and he wanted Fujimori to support him in that decision. The novelist writes that he found a simple man living in a strange house, resembling a Chinese restaurant, somewhere between a gas station and a body shop. What most startled the author was that Fujimori was a rigid small man and had a range of problems with Spanish syntax; Vargas Llosa was so uneasy that he asked his host for a "trago de whiskey" [glass of whiskey]. Before leaving, the novelist made a reference to Fujimori's ancestry, something which the former admittedly found very gracious. Using the Japanese phrase "Arigato gosaimasu" [thank you], Vargas Llosa perplexed his host: Fujimori did not understand Japanese. Having been born and spent all his life in Peru, Fujimori's mother tongue was actually Spanish; he was as Peruvian as his departing guest. Fujimori simply extended his hand to the writer, without acknowledging Vargas Llosa's folly.[1]

  2. Anyone who does not know Peruvian culture might take Vargas Llosa's somewhat bizarre comment as offensive, yet invoking perceived social/ethnic differences is a common part of Peruvian social relations would testify. The questions arising from this incident are, however, suggestive. Why would the novelist use Japanese to address a Peruvian individual? Was he trying to be funny? Was he showing off his knowledge of Japanese? Or was he suggesting that Fujimori should reconsider his bid since his Asian background can cause him to be seen as a non-Peruvian? In any case, Vargas Llosa's action points to a far greater problem than simply lack of social grace. Asians, Blacks and - most frequently -- the Indians of Peru are targets of offensive language and labeling at all levels of society. Vargas Llosa, however unwittingly, rearticulated an ideological position rooted in a discourse about the Other predominant in Peru and in Latin America for centuries. This rhetoric makes a political instrument of those geographical and temporal binaries applied to New World nature, which Tzvetan Todorov believes resemble the labels applied to New World Indians (34-43), and to New World culture, identified with Spanish colonists and their descendents. It conveys the idea that non-white Peruvians do not deserve equal footing with white Peruvians, which leads to seeing the native's exclusion as natural and necessary. Not surprisingly, such thinking has also greatly influenced literary praxis. In particular, Vargas Llosa's 1984 novel, Historia de Mayta, demonstrates how these colonial assumptions mark a presumably postcolonial text. The novel's problematic depictions of indigeneity and rebellion suggest that in contemporary Peruvian culture and politics, the 'postness' that should separate an independent country from its colonial past is, at best, fragile and, at worst, under erasure.

  3. Many critics have approached Historia de Mayta from different directions. For Efrain Kristal, for instance, the book "explores the social environments and the psychological states of individuals who are prepared to legitimize violence as a political tool" (206). Although Kristal goes into detail to prove his point, he never explores how Vargas Llosa constructs Mayta's psychological state, and never questions the authorizing epistemology of this psychological state. Other critics, like Michel Rybalka, see this work as resembling a Sartrean approach to literature, especially Sartre's "theory of engagement" (122). Rybalka, however, fails to identify the political counterparts of this engagement as bourgeois and Eurocentric; he ignores Vargas Llosa's attempt to essentialize the Peruvian Indian. I agree more with Eduardo Urdanivia who thinks Historia de Mayta is intended to frame Peruvian reality in ideological terms that resemble the author's conservative views of politics (140). Ivan Silen goes further and claims that Vargas Llosa's goal is to prevent, at least in the imagination, a triumph of the leftist ideology represented by the character Mayta (274). Nonetheless, all these critics fail to see Historia de Mayta as a postcolonial phenomenon imbued with colonial ideology. Its outmoded anthropological assumptions about time and social development present Mayta as a fraud -- not because he has leftist inclinations but because he is an Indian, essentialized into an unchanging, and subordinate, relationship to the Peruvian state.

  4. With the onset of Spanish travel to the Americas in the fifteenth century, there was a unique literary process -- seen most clearly in travel writing, but also in letters, journals, and official documents -- through which the colonial mind revealed its ability to imagine specific physical and moral features of the Other. I argue that this practice has not disappeared and, in fact, has prevailed to the present as the source of meaning about Indians.[2] This epistemological process had two complementary features. On the one hand, colonial authorities' feverish imaginations resulted in defining a priori characteristics applied to Indians: they were the opposite of the European norm, namely pagan, savage, irrational, effeminate, childish, immoral, even physically deformed. Sometimes this assigned subjectivity was devoid of geographical referents, since Europeans simply applied their own beliefs to what they thought was different. The Other, whether in México or in Peru, suffered the same labeling -- Spain, one must admit, did not have a discriminating cast of mind. On the other hand, these antithetical characteristics assigned to the Other were not only devices for knowing; they also reflected the political ideology that dominated Spain's objectives.[3] This ideology materialized itself in a discourse continuously marked by two distinct elements.

  5. The first element was a particular conception of time. The Other was believed to be living within a different temporal frame, not in the same historical moment enjoyed by Europeans. The other element was space, i.e., the geographical boundaries where the Other was to be encountered, usually at or beyond the borders of what was considered the civilized world.[4] To bring (rhetorically) the unknown closer to home, and to incorporate him into European consciousness, Europeans relied on written accounts that helped bridge the distance between the Self and the Other while keeping the two spheres separate. Whether labeling for religious purposes or for political objectives, this writing process always began with an imaginary construct.

  6. This beginning reflected the overriding European wish: the grab of wealthy territory. The idea of finding riches and fabulous lands, however, was only the preamble in this narrative enterprise, and imagining El Dorado was a relatively easy task. But the subsequent step -- proving the existence of unknown (and rich) worlds -- was more challenging. In order to carry out this design, Europeans needed to produce acceptable evidence about these unknown peoples and faraway lands. The new Renaissance technology of printing was perfectly suited to circulate and preserve 'knowledge' of unknown people and faraway lands, to take accounts away from the realm of myth, associated with oral culture, and into the realm of fact, associated with written culture. Thus written and printed reports became self-authorizing evidence of newly discovered people and places.[5] It did not matter that exaggerations, embellishments and inventions were staples of written discourse about the New World; after all, writers themselves were less interested in accuracy than in entertainment and persuasion. Although even eager consumers questioned the truthfulness of much travel writing, this suspiciousness never matured since there was no way for armchair readers to disprove extravagant claims.[6] By the fifteenth century, this genre, previously the realm of the fabulist and the bard, had become the preferred narrative form for reporting about real people. Travel writing, as we will see below, has survived as a very useful genre, and it is not surprising that it still serves to fashion bizarre stories about the Other.

  7. Historia de Mayta has many features of travel writing,[7] the old genre practiced by Pliny the Elder, Marco Polo, Sir John de Mandeville and, of course, Columbus. In the works of the aforementioned, an active imagination about the unknown serves as a unifying characteristic, a feature found also in the Vargas Llosa's narrative. Travel writing in South America, in particular, goes back to the first moments of Spanish colonization, and it was within the boundaries of this genre itself that the Other's difference was established. Early travelers like Columbus and Cortez, for example, used the tropes of cannibalism and sodomy among the Indians as ways of knowing the Other in political and religious terms.[8] This type of knowledge had a dual function: first, it served to emphasize the difference between Spaniards and Indians, and second, the features attributed to the natives were not only how the Spaniards knew the Indians, but also how the Indians were distanced from what was considered the (European and thus universal) norm. The idea of traveling as a narrative and cognitive device is a consistent feature of works in the Latin American literary canon. For example, in Alejo Carpentier's Los pasos perdidos, the narrator travels to the unknown in order to find pleasure in the arms of the female Other; in Eustasio Rivera's La vorágine, the protagonist Cova has to travel to the jungle and meet the Other who makes impossible the reign of civilization in the Colombian jungle; in Romulo Gallegos' Doña Bárbara, travel (Luzardo's return to Altamira) is the preferred device through which the Other must be known, labeled and subsequently acted upon.

  8. Most traveling to the Americas, besides having economic and religious dimensions, was done in the spirit of the Renaissance where traveling was perceived as the unique mode in the search for knowledge.[9] What underpinned this assumption was that traveling was a process of discovery, a process which stressed the factuality of what was to be encountered. Coupled to this search for knowledge, the idea of the innocence of the traveler precluded the usual utilitarian objectives that characterized such travel. In short, emphasizing that all traveling was done in the quest for knowledge and stressing the innocence of the traveler, travel narratives precluded the temptation of revealing the philosophy underpinning its conclusions. These narrative structures seem to have survived integrally.[10] On the surface, travel writing today seems to be an innocent endeavor, yet it continues to use formal conventions to mask less-than-innocent ideological objectives.

  9. Michel de Certeau notes the common features of travel writing. First, the outbound journey begins; it is preceded by a fertile imagination nurtured at the home base of the narrator. At this stage, the goal is to look for the strange, which is presumed to be different from the reality where the narrator lives. In the second phase of the journey, the narrator is the inside witness to the reality akin to the Other. The final stage refers to the traveler's return home, or when the narrative offers a closure reinforcing its own claims. Sometimes, the traveler's findings are confirmed by either the savage himself or the narrator (70). Historia de Mayta testifies to all of these steps. The narrative's quest is to know who Mayta is and to elucidate what he did with his life. The first glimpses of him are vague recollections (by the narrator) about his physical characteristics and his stubborn personality. The quest begins, as all travel writing does, in the land where the wish is hatched; in this case, the imagination starts to flourish in a coffeeshop, located on a chestnut-lined boulevard in Paris. [11] First, the narrator must imagine Mayta, then he must imagine the social and natural environment as well. The narrator has some imprecise ideas about a Peruvian uprising that he and his coffeeshop companions have read about in the newspaper. As expected, the uprising must be categorized, set into a hierarchical system. The narrator and his friends wonder about that sudden, irrational Indian movement in this faraway land that, surprisingly, has gotten into the metropolitan news.

  10. The Indian is soon imagined as the noble savage in search of a long-forgotten justice, although, not surprisingly, it is the unorthodox search for justice that interests the narrator, not justice as a goal. The contrast between the Indian and his goals is foregrounded. Although fighting for justice, the Indian behaves in a way different from how the calm Parisian readers, who in the peaceful setting of the coffeeshop, imagine Indian life.[12] Of course, the Indian is the Other, the antithesis of the orderly world of Paris. The expectation of the coffee aficionados increases; the already-known will be confirmed by the narrator's findings in his approaching trip to Peru, the home of Mayta and his band of revolutionaries. "Nuestra imaginación reconstruía el emulsionante espectáculo" [our imagination was remaking the convulsed spectacle], the narrator exclaims, stressing his wishful thinking (145; here and elsewhere, my translations).

  11. Mary Louise Pratt notes that the rhetoric of discovery creates overcharged images ("density of meaning") reflecting that necessary exoticism of the described subject. For her, this rhetoric creates a "qualitative and quantitative value for the explorer's achievement," and it is couched in the relationship of "mastery" between the superior (European) and the inferior (native). Finally, the traveler is there more or less to "judge and appreciate" what he encounters (204-205). The Indian is described in terms that fit the European vision about the Other, namely his physical Otherness, his barbarism and his irrationality. Such rhetoric surfaces in Historia de Mayta. The coffee drinkers need to find out if the uprising of the Indians was a planned event, as if stressing the necessary intellectual (European) dimension of a politically purposeful insurrection. As expected, they read that the uprising was completely unplanned. It was "un movimiento espontáneo, surgido enteramente de la masa campesina" [a sudden uprising coming from the Indian masses (in Peru, Indian is the same as "campesino" [farmer], see Mariategui 28-47)] (146). The alterity of the Indian is set; he is wild and thoroughly irrational. Like the Indian, the convulsed land of Peru is immediately perceived as the antithesis of the peaceful metropolis.

  12. Once he has left France for Peru, the narrator must gives his readers the geographical context where he finds himself, where he goes to find the truth, the landscape that contains such a character as the yet-unencountered Mayta. The rhetorical distancing between the proper and the abnormal takes another dimension. The traveler's ideas prior to starting the trip were merely wishful conjectures; now this distancing takes the form of a personal experience (the traveler's) which makes the story more believable. The distance between the known metropolitan geography and the imagined land is immediately deemed to be a deviation from the norm; the land that contains the Other, now confirming the imagination prior to the trip, is simply dreadful (7). Everything is unsightly, and the narrator concludes that the lax attitude of the locals must have been behind the conversion of this otherwise clean place into a landfill. Pratt's "density of meaning" is recalled when the land which contains the Other is described. The narrator compares the unspoiled landscape (which he has imagined) with the rest of the garbage-filled scenery, and he regrets that the green, the flowery and the exotic, as Europeans once saw the New World, must exist side-by-side with the refuse. The dirty landscape somehow reflects the soul of the native, functioning as the mirror of his indolence. Therefore, the land predicts that its inhabitants will not be refined and noble; the land also 'factually' confirms the narrator's sketchy reminiscences of Mayta: that besides being stubborn, he had a greenish face and was flat-footed (9-10).

  13. This apparently candid description of the land where the Other lives is not devoid of ideological considerations. The purpose is to capture the Other in a specific, unilateral framework of understanding. For Julia Douthwaite, this view represents the European traveler's unique power when approaching his subject of interest. She points out that travel writing tends to reify non-European peoples through biased descriptions, because the narrator holds an unchallenged "omniscient authority and omnipresent vision" which respond to specific cultural values (16). This line of reasoning echoes Pratt's claim's about travelers' "mastery"; the narrator is in Peru looking from above, judging and attributing value to what he encounters. Limiting the social and geographical milieu where the Other lives and restricting the type of character representation proper to it, the text forms boundaries of significance, so it is not difficult to see what type of Mayta will be textualized. It is fitting that the Indian would be an irrational being not only in his uprising, but also in his everyday life. The goal of the narrative is complete: a chaotic and dirty land underscores and verifies Mayta's flawed life.

  14. Mayta's civic and personal flaws include the abandonment of his family, the betrayal of his political group, the inability to grasp Peruvian politics and, of course, his inverted sexuality. For the narrator, he is the typical Peruvian individual, used to absurdities and tragedies. The text's circular colonial logic blames Mayta's social and ethnic extraction for the bizarre community in which he lives (21), and vice versa. Everything Mayta does is incoherent and spontaneous. His early decision to identify himself with the poor is childish and not rational, and later in life, his decision to lead a pack of revolutionaries is doomed from the start. At one moment in the story, Mayta and his companions, due to their personal negligence, even forget the dynamite needed to bomb a bridge and secure their escape. And always the Indians are contrasted with Vallejos, a rational revolutionary and naturally not of Indian extraction. He actually knows his limitations and, of course, dies in battle. In contrast, Mayta -- not sure of himself and fearful -- surrenders to the police. Somehow these actions find their logical culmination in Mayta's inverted sexuality.

  15. In Western thinking, the Colonizer/Colonized Other dichotomy has been aligned frequently with Civilization/Nature and Male/Female dichotomies, all of which trail binaries of value - active/passive, rational/emotional, strong/weak, and the like - in their wake. Thus it is not surprising that colonizing Europeans assigned the same traits to non-European males as they had assigned to European females, thereby sexualizing the conquest of alien people and land while fortifying political programs of dominance.[13] In Historia de Mayta, the male/female dichotomy that characterized earlier colonial relationships between European and Indians repeats itself with the same objectives. Its role is to point out that the feminized Other requires the subjugation, even obliteration by the manly European. Colonization processes were, after all, a conflict "between competing virilities," of Europe on the one hand and the non-Europeans societies on the other. There was always the political need to rank societies according to a "dominant and warlike Europe" which resulted in the feminization of the Other (Boehmer 86).

  16. Historia de Mayta, however, is not content with feminizing its main character, just as it is not content with presenting him as an irrational politically neophyte who is physically deformed. He must also be a homosexual - that his, his sexuality threatens rather than challenges or entices conventional European masculinity. His homosexuality would be symptomatic of a compounded phenomenon primarily undermining the cohesiveness of the patriarchal family (he abandons his wife and child), but it is also linked to lewdness and to the stereotypical feminine features of emotionality, hastiness and stubbornness. In colonial narratives, it was always the feminine, the deformed, the sodomist, the pagan, and the Indian who were the opposite of the norm and deemed in need of control.[14] Historia de Mayta clusters the same images, and faithfully echoes those early chroniclers who distanced the Indian from the European by alluding to the basic immorality of the former.

  17. In the novel, the narrator gathers this information about Mayta by interviewing people who knew him; in so doing, he is "filling out" the information he needs in order to concoct a world which resembles the already known.[15] He is using distancing as a discursive element, which aims not at knowing the real person but at reproducing existing references about him. The distancing, of course, helps historicize the Other in a peculiar way. As de Certeau points out, distance is what makes the Other qualitatively and historically different, the opposite of the European world, and the proof of this allegation is the evidence gathered by the narrator. In the colonial imagination, to reiterate, the native - and the social aggregate that he represents -- behaves unlike a European man, not only irrational and savage, but also stranded in a different time frame. The native lives in a remote past, long abandoned by Europeans, so Mayta and the other Indians must be portrayed as the antithesis of that ever- evolving Western history. Just as they are part of the Peruvian landscape, natives, as the narrator characterizes them, are trapped by history. The Indians have not evolved and their daily living is frozen in time.

  18. For Johannes Fabian, the act of assigning the Other a different temporality has its roots in an old notion of Christian "sacred history," which depicted the differences between the chosen and the pagan in geographical terms. Christians move purposefully through space and time, whereas non-Christians stay in place, marking the destination of Christian travels. As Fabian indicates, "pilgrimages, crusades and missions" embodied that "dual telos of religious need and political necessity," thus providing the basis for European man's wisdom and self-attainment reached in the land of the Other (6, 26-27). In Vargas Llosa's novel, the narrator, in order to find out about Mayta, journeys through a number of adversities which resemble those in a hagiography. Before finding out anything about Mayta, the narrator must overcome the dangers the local inferno poses to his enterprise (81). He has to visit tenebrous neighborhoods, walk by unbearable landfills, go to inclement cold lands, search in illogical places, acquaint himself with incoherent people, and listen to macabre stories. His odyssey accentuates the probability of existence of such worlds, since it is the narrator's pathos that guarantees this contingency. Coupled to this suffering is also the trope of the innocent writer. Since ostensibly the narrator's sole purpose is finding out the "truth" about Mayta, his naïve and 'disinterested' condition while traveling increases the chances he will reach his elusive destination.[16] And he will do so in an innocent way: like a divinely guided knight-errant, he will just happen to wander across the Other in his authentic living.

  19. The narrator, for example, ends up in a small town in the Andes mountains. There he finds corroboration for his beliefs in the timeless life of that area's people. The narrator sees (just happens to notice) "campesinos antiqu’simos" (the archaic Indian) emerging from their shelters after a heavy rain (278). He not only identifies the collective "them," he also qualifies their existence. The primitivism of the Other is clear. The narrator wonders, for example, about how many years an Indian woman he sees has not taken a bath and whether she has ever taken off her skirt. He concludes that the skirt and the person have probably grown old together (282). The message, far from being a candid comment, is that Indians, besides being unhygienic, have not changed in centuries; they are the same old savages encountered by the Conquistadores. The distancing of the Other as always having been different from 'civilized' norms is reinforced by the living natives whom the traveler encounters. This finding is the classic "tableau vivant," the evidence that the narrator forefronts to strengthen the believability of his assertions.[17] The Other lives in a time long passed by the home culture from which the traveler hails; he represents the 'past' from which the traveler can post himself into the present and the future.

  20. In ways similar to how a narrator's 'innocence' is used strategically, the comic episode symptomatic of travel writing also elicits comparisons between bizarre alterity and the home culture of the traveler, thus reinforcing the narrative's verisimilitude. Both innocence and comedy are attached to the narrator's person, thus making any claim more immediate, more human. The traveler's naïve pathos and comic experiences become the way in which an understanding of the Other is constructed, providing a cover story for the narrative's larger ideological issues. The traveler's report unveils the fact that travel writing is more about the home culture of the writer rather than the subject of his interest.

  21. Humor in literature can to say what cannot be said with a straight face. Steve Clark notes that the goal of humor in travel narrative, especially when the emphasis is on cultural referents, is to provide a subtle epistemological base. He stresses that comic elements are ubiquitous in this genre since misunderstandings, presumptions and an "endemic lack of dignity" experienced by the traveler in faraway lands emphasize the differences between the traveler's home civilization (superior) and the Other's culture (inferior) (Travel Writing 14). In Mayta, for instance, the narrator insists on the estrangement he feels in Peru. He makes a number of awkward mistakes, endures garbled communication, continually asks the wrong questions, and describes the situation in Peru in a ludicrous yet hilarious way. He does the wrong things, courting the danger that lurks on the edges of comedy: for instance, he parks his car in a dangerous place and it is broken into (92). He also misjudges people, such as the political entrepreneur -- a part-time scholar, a part-time scholarship trafficker and part-time journalist -- who epitomizes the perennially corrupted Peruvian individual hiding behind a mask of geniality (34). The narrator, of course, also encounters the usual targets of racial mockery in Peru, namely the Japanese and the frustrated Indians.

  22. But humor does more than humanize the narrator. As in the funny episode of the forgotten dynamite, the native's behavior becomes an occasion for ridicule eliciting hilarity. The narrator uses the satiric technique of diminution when noting that the revolution is made up by no more than eight cadres, most of them Indian teenagers who do not know what they are doing. He also employs racial stereotypes for seemingly comic effect: there is also the Japanese-Peruvian (shopkeeper, of course) whose lack of social grace, attributed to his ethnic origin, compels him not to understand how other Peruvians think (252); there are incoherent highland Indians in the highlands who, when they are interviewed by the narrator for inside information about Mayta's incursions in that zone, return only foolish answers. Such comic innocence, however, has serious designs. The narrative stresses that Indians lack the common sense, the discipline and the rationality that characterize the socio-cultural position from where the narrator speaks. Of course, meeting these characteristics not only responds to the eternal biased characterization of non-Europeans in Peru, it also reflects the idea of the rite of passage through which the traveler achieves his objective: "faithfully reporting" the knowledge about the Other.

  23. The distancing of the Indian from the norm is, however, just the preamble to what the narrative ultimately suggests: the Peruvian Indian is not a trusted political force. In the narrative, the criticism of popular movements is coupled with the need to alienate the Indian from Peruvian politics. The characterization of Mayta and others gives the message that no attempt at changing Peru is viable if led by an Indian. The narrative not only diminishes the Indian as a likely vanguard in politics, it also denigrates any type of politics which may aim at changing the Indian situation. The confirmation of these assertions is provided by the narrative itself. As de Certeau describes, the third stage of travel writing has the narrator or the native himself confirming the findings of the traveler. In the novel, it is Mayta who claims that the future of Peru lies not in politics that help the majority but in politics that foster individualism. Faith in the goodness of capitalism is at the heart of the narrative.[18] At the end, even Mayta is disgusted about embracing popular political ideology and ends up as a shopkeeper discovering the benefits of a trade which he, ironically, has learned in prison. Later he becomes a salaried worker, hard-working and enthusiastically honest. Mayta is "convinced" that capitalism is better for him and by extension Peru. At least for the narrative, Mayta is not a revolutionary Indian anymore. It is not that he has changed: as representative of the "campesinos antiquísimos" he cannot, according to the novel's ideological economy. Instead, Mayta has disappeared, and in his place a pathetic would-be bourgeois has been substituted. His revolutionary days have dissolved into the vanished past, eliciting unfocused regret but no longer capable of generating political consequences. One gathers (probably despite Vargas Llosa's intentions), that everything is insolvable in Peru.

  24. This colonial way of thinking has not disappeared from Latin America. The conventions of travel writing show how the Other was imagined with specific political and economic objectives, ones that remain operative in governmental actions and directives today. As we see with Historia de Mayta, the genre's formal elements have survived as a handy way to portray the Peruvian -particularly, the Indian -- Other. Unveiling the policies and ideologies shaping these formal elements not only can expose fallacious assumptions about this Other in literature; it can also reveal the bizarre lie of the 'post' in postcolonial societies such as Peru.


Notes

  1. For more information on the episode and the political and racial connotations of this episode, see Morote 143-144. Back

  2. See Berkhofer 60 and Pagden, Encounters 103, 161. Also Saenz 87-94. Back

  3. Cf. Rabasa chap. 5. Back

  4. For the historical views of Western concepts of time and space, see Fabian 26-30. Back

  5. In Renaissance Europe, writing had become a "decisive mark" of civilized people. Coupled with this idea of civic transcendence, there was also the religious dimension about the origins of speech and reason (both bestowed by God). Writing, as the expression of both phenomena, had to be trusted as a divine wish. In those times, if a written document faithfully referred to an old source, the general belief was that it must have been telling the truth. See Greenblatt 10-11, 35. Back

  6. Marco Polo, one the first great travel writers, was considered in Europe to be a liar due to his extravagant exaggerations about the Orient. See Pagden, Encounters 11. Back

  7. Historia de Mayta is not travel writing per se yet it uses narrative mechanisms characteristic of the genre. Back

  8. It can be said that early epistemology of the Other in the Americas was exclusively the product of the imagination of travel writing. Columbus' textbooks of consult (found in his library) were prime examples of this genre. Specifically, they are Cardinal Pierre d' Ailly's Imago Mundi, Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, Aeneas Sylviu's Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum and the Latin edition of Marco Polo' travels. See Pastor 12-13. Back

  9. See Greenblatt 123, 129. Back

  10. Using the format of travel writing is not the transparent device of narration that it might seem. For Clark, travel writing today is a phenomenon in which re-enacting "earlier journeys" becomes the "feat" of ideological production (11). Back

  11. In El hablador, Vargas Llosa uses the same scheme as is seen in Historia de Mayta. In the former, the imaginative process begins in "Firenze" (together with Paris another cradle of European civilization) where also the narrator starts concocting, prior to his trip, the idiosyncrasies of the Indians in Peru; this time it is the Indian who inhabits the Amazon. Back

  12. The plot of the story is concomitant with the idea of justice. The message in this work is that justice as a democratic feature of the body politic can only be achieved in a capitalist society. Back

  13. The idea of "inversion" is similar to the idea of lack addressed elsewhere in this article. Spaniards, for instance, assigned female characteristics to the Indians based on their view that since the Indians lacked facial hair they were more woman-like. See Mason 58-60, 110. Back

  14. For Morris, the representation of females as having characteristics opposite to those attributed to males has been prominent in Western literature (33-34). Back

  15. "Filling out" for Fabian (8) is equal to producing meaning and imposing knowledge on what is considered different. Cf. Gayatry Spivak's "Othering" in "The Rani of Simur" (134-135). Back

  16. The innocence of the traveler with respect to what he encounters is an old rhetoric device of travel writing. Even today the same device is useful, and it is practiced widely across cultural encounters. See Steve Clark's "Transatlantic Crossings" 220. Back

  17. In travel reports, this idea of depicting a living community is carried out with the idea of showing an ethnic phenomenon as proof of difference. At the same time, temporary difference is emphasized. The message is that the Other under the gaze of the overseer is something different than the norm and the proof of this claim is the description of a living entity (Clark, Travel Writing 11). Back

  18. Historia de Mayta is an example of what Said calls a "consolidation of authority," a ubiquitous feature of the Orientalist novel. On the surface, this type of narrative deals with problems inherent to the natives' community, but whose ultimate goal is to rescue Western institutions like capitalism and the predominance of rule of law and Western ideology (77). Back


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Clark, Steve. "Transatlantic Crossings: Recent British Travel in the United States." Travel Writing and Empire: Postcolonial Theory in Transit. New York: St. Martin's, Press, 1999. 212-231.

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---. Historia de Mayta. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1984.


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