|The fundamental difference between the relationship of human existence and nature in Western European civilization and the indigenous indio ancestors from which my mestizo culture has descended is very simply stated as this: In the Western European ontology man is believed to be able to control nature to produce goods for the betterment of humanity. This, to be sure, is the scientistic programmatic of the modernist world view and stands at the heart of subsequent theories of the social contract.
Alternatively, the indigenous indio ancestors of the mestizo sought to live in harmony with nature and to adapt to the rhythmic cycles of nature and the universe. In other words, it isn’t that the indigenous indio didn’t grasp or understand the difference between rationalism and empiricism as reconciled in the transcendental unity of apperception’s of Immanuel Kant. Instead, the indigenous indio simply took a different epistemological path in explaining the ontogenesis of our existence and this, too, can be described in relation to language.
Stated differently, if we look at the manner in which language was developed within both world views we will note that in Western European consciousness language evolved in a very scientistic fashion. That is, it became very categorical and descriptive for the purpose of serving the needs of science in its quest to control nature. Alternatively, the indigenous indio developed their language as a means of poetic expression, a more metaphorical, emotive and expressive use of language. Such a poetic use of language and the poetic form of consciousness to which it gave rise still exists in the mestizo today.
Let us begin by considering the linguistic turn which Pupo-Walker mentions, as it is expressed by Carlos Fuentes in his text, La Nueva Novela Hispanoamericana. Fuentes agrees with Octavio Paz that “poems and myths coincide in transmuting time into a special temporal category, a past always future which is always disposed to being present, to presenting itself”. In comparing such a view of contemporary Hispanic American literary expression with the rest of the Occident, Fuentes seems to agree with Pupo-Walker regarding its uniqueness. He states:
Paradojicamente, la necesidad mitica ha surgido en Occidente sobre las ruinas de la cultura que nego al mito (pero no nego tambien a su gemelo enemigo, la poesia, maldiciendola? … )
Paradoxically, the need to recapture the mythic element in the Occident has resurged over the very ruins of the culture that denied it, (and didn’t it also deny its twin enemy of the poetic, speaking badly of it? … )
Fuentes seems to believe that the predominant inability of the Occident to recuperate the mythological in their use of language, and even to deny it, has been the ruin of Occidental cultures in general. That is, without this ability to recuperate the past which is always future and always disposed to being present, to presenting itself, human structures will always necessarily lead to a state of anomie. If Pupo-Walker claims that the contemporary Hispanic American approach to language is not likely to be offered in other parts of the Occident and Fuentes, after characterizing the contemporary Hispanic American approach to language as capable of recuperating the mythological, concludes that the predominant inability of the Occident to do likewise has led to its current state of cultural anomie, what, then, is the basis for such a unique ability on the part of contemporary Hispanic Americans? As Francisco H. Vasquez has shown us in his article, “Aztec Epistemology,” there is historical precedence for such an approach to language in Aztec (indigenous) culture:
What Vasquez refers to as metaphysically oriented knowledge is the Aztec cosmology and spiritual beliefs, whereas the ideal of true knowledge was believed to be based on observation. Aztec epistemology, then, can be expressed in Western terms as a form of dualism. Thus, it was after a comparison between observation (facts) and ideology (beliefs) that the Aztec came to express ideology in terms of poetry (flower and song is a metaphor for poetry). In this view, observation takes on a functional role while ideology is believed to be essential for understanding the human condition and finding the way to truth. Given the fundamental role of language in the resolution of epistemological issues, then, we see that Aztec beliefs coincide with the description of contemporary Hispanic American literary expression as it is understood by Fuentes and Paz et al.; that is, in approaching language poetically. Although it is not exactly clear what, or how, indigenous ideological influences have served to shape the contemporary consciousness of Hispanic Americans, similarities, such as the turn to poetry as an approach to language, can easily be detected.
The Modernist Programmatic and French Literary Criticism
In the upper echelons of high Culture since the middle of the twentieth century and most heavily pronounced in the twenty year period between 1960 and 1980 the intellectual elite of our country bore witness to an onslaught of texts inherently proclaiming the transcendence of the modernist programmatic with such subject matter and titles as post-structuralism, post-post-structuralism and even post-post-post-structuralism. In this cultural ambiance of wanting to expose the emperor without his clothes which was fashionable at the time, I was very strongly drawn to French literary criticism and Jacques Lacan’s reworking of psychoanalysis as well as Jacques Derrida’s notion of deconstructionism.
For an anti-modernist thinker such as myself, Lacan’s reworking of psychoanalysis involved replacing the role of the father with a nondescript position of power. What this meant was that as we examined linguistic expressions we would expose the underlying relations of power that were being espoused and propagated in the societal context of the text. For a social activist of the same period this approach to entering a text or reading made it easy to reveal the oppressive relations under which Chicanos were held in this society. It was sheer joy and vindication for me to be able to show so convincingly how our less than exemplary Chicano scholarship of the 60’s such as Occupied America or Yo Soy Joaquin, at the very least gave expression to the real conditions of my people.
Deconstructionism appealed to my more philosophical nature, particularly to my love of epistemology as a field of study. What appealed to me the most was the fact that all modernist thinking was necessarily expressed in closed systems that derived their meaning from first principles that stood outside of the system and yet served to inform the system of its meaning. Here comes the good part. The first principle to which the system refers in its absence within the system is precisely what had been brought into question by W.V.O. Quine in his Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Stated differently, the structuralist’s were afforded meaning in their system precisely because it is taken for granted that the first principle that stands outside the system and yet informs the contents of the system share an absolute affinity. It is this absolute affinity that is undermined by the death of absolute certainty in science.
In Search of the Modern Hero
It’s time now to bring the story back to the point of my thesis. One of the more obvious ramifications of the intellectual climate of my college years entailed the ability to expose the weakness of closed systems. This, naturally, had the effect of announcing the death of the traditional hero. In other words, the enplotment of a hero quest represents a series of closed systems and thereby loses its sense of wonder and appeal. Stated differently, humanity could never again be free of signification. What we were finally realizing is that we are badly in need of a modern hero. Such a hero would have to be free of a structured identity within the text. It was in this contexts, then, that the cultural elite of the world set out in search of a modern hero.
It did not take long before the intellectual eyes of the world shifted their gaze to Latin American and a little understood literary theory called “Magical Realism”. As it was soon discovered, the Latin American literary movement known as Magical Realism was already decentered, deconstructed and without a first principle standing outside of the text informing the contents of the text. Ixca Cienfuegos, as a lead character in a novel by Carlos Fuentes entitled La Region Mas Transparente (Where the Air is Clear), was able to converse with all of the other characters in the novel and yet, as an individual he remained free of signification. He is, in the true sense a poetic hero, complete with the expression of poetic consciousness.
The point of all of this esoteric garb is that the ability of individuals in possession of a Western European Consciousness could only achieve true freedom if it is based in an ability to be free of the structures that the proponents of modernist ideology have created to define itself and it’s people. A poetic hero, complete with a poetic consciousness, is paradoxically the epitome of human freedom and such a consciousness is found in the Mestizo’s culture and world view rather than in the citizenry of Western European societies. Thus, those very same savages from whom their land and all of its natural wealth had been taken because they did not understand what is truly important in life as understood in Western European societies are now the characters Western European cultures most wish to be like.
Surviving Modernist Ideology
If I had a Western European consciousness and I had just discovered that I had been wronged all these years by a culture that unjustly claimed superiority over me, and that I, in fact, have subsequently been shown to possess the very form of consciousness most desired by my oppressor, what would I be feeling? In the entire history of Western European civilization the answer to this question is clear, the end result of my actions must constitute some form of exaltation of my being at the very least.
What do you suppose my feelings are like as a bilingual, bicultural Chicano? In the eyes of a Western European citizen of the United States it may be widely believed that I would seek some form of vengeance or revenge for what has been done to my people. After all, we have certainly shown ourselves to be prone to violence and criminal activities. Unfortunately, this perspective fails to acknowledge its own role in creating such ugly behavior through the oppressive conditions in which our people have been maintained.
In the final analysis, I feel a fleeting glimpse of pity as I release my breath and cleanse my soul. That is, as I look out over the horizon of human existence I am repelled by what I see and I believe, I feel, and in my heart’s eye I know, that I cannot condone or exist in this world. That is, the implications of my feelings run far deeper than a personal reaction to having been wronged. Instead, I stand on the brink of a great transformation that is about to occur in our universe. The futility of any desire to right previous wrongs makes my desire to help others find freedom from within nothing more than a shout in the wind. And yet, I say to you my reader, find the path that frees you in my words. Feel with your heart and rejoice in the impending ascension.