While the philosophy of our ancient indigenous ancestors of the Southwestern region of the United States is not exactly a worldview that one can discover by going to their nearest bookstore and purchasing a book to read first hand accounts of the Aztec or Mayan worldviews, there are a considerable number of secondary sources one can turn to in scholarly text. Unfortunately, these text agree on little among themselves and have no first hand point of reference upon which to call for verification. In my own approach to understanding indigenous philosophy I make no effort to interpret the first hand evidence that exists for our subjective interpretations. Instead, I have chosen to examine primary and secondary sources regarding the linguistic and literary expressions of the descendants of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Stated differently, I believe that we can come to understand indigenous philosophy based on the way the descendants of our ancient civilizations see the world and behave in the world. In describing the Hispanic American mode of expression, Enrique Pupo-Walker states:
“Hoy, esa orientación revolucionaria o iconoclasta frente al lenguaje es rasgo primordial de casi toda la narrativa hispanoamericana. . . . Es una critica que, si a primera vista se dirige al hecho linguistico como tal, a la postre denuncia también los valores caducos o falsos en que se apoya la estructura social y política de muchos países americanos”.
“Today, this revolutionary or iconoclastic orientation towards language is a primordial trait of almost all Spanish-American narrative. . . . It is a criticism that, if at first sight is directed to the linguistic fact as such, in the end it also denounces the outdated or false social and political structures of many American countries.”
What is interesting about Pupo-Walker’s view of Hispanic American expression is that, in being iconoclastic, it questions the very value structure of many American countries. I say this because Hispanic American countries have, for the most part, been unsuccessful in their efforts to assimilate into their borrowed Western European socio-political structures. Pupo-Walker goes on to describe contemporary Hispanic American literature as expressing such originality that it is not likely to be offered in other parts of the Occident. What I propose is a comparative ideological consideration of Hispanic American literature and indigenous beliefs, within the context of the aforementioned claim. That is, in what sense can we say that the Hispanic American mode of expression is unique with respect to the rest of the Occident, and how might this affect our understanding of Hispanic America’s mode of expression in relation to indigenous beliefs?
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 Hispanic American literary expression with the rest of the Occident, Fuentes seems to agree with Pupo-Walker regarding its uniqueness. He states:
“Paradójicamente, la necesidad mítica ha surgido en Occidente sobre las ruinas de la cultura que negó al mito (pero no negó también a su gemelo enemigo, la poesía, maldiciéndola? ”
“Paradoxically, the need for myth has arisen in the West over the ruins of the very culture that denied it, but did it not also deny its twin enemy, poetry, cursing it as well?”
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 Hispanic American approach to language is not likely to be offered in other parts of the Occident and Fuentes, after characterizing the 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 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:
The tlamatinime (wisemen) compared their metaphysically oriented knowledge with the ideal of true knowledge to the extent that man is able to grasp it, and their doubts about the possibility of finding truth grew. . . The tlamatinime then presented their theory of metaphysical knowledge in terms of poetry. . . The Aztec epistemological conception was crystallized in a meeting of poets and wisemen. A particular poem was recited which embodies the concept of “flower and song” as the way to find truth”.
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 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 consciousness of Hispanic Americans, similarities, such as the turn to poetry as an approach to language, can easily be detected. The coincidence between the Aztec and the Hispanic American approach to language does not, by itself, explain the unique character of Hispanic America in relation to the rest of the Occident. It would be helpful if we could attempt to bridge the gap between indigenous and modern Hispanic American beliefs and consciousness. To this end, then, let us consider an article written by Picón-Salas, entitled “El Legado Indio.” In this article, Picón Salas offers us an examination of our indigenous legacy which has led him to contend that the approach to language taken by the indigenous (Aztec, Maya, and Inca et al.) is both symbolic and poetic. Further, he believes that this also represents the structure of indigenous consciousness:
“Simbólico, y a la vez poético, es todo el sistema mental del aborigen. Frente a la logica, el realismo y el sentido antropocéntrico de la cultura de occidente el indio erige su mundo de afinidades misteriosas. . . La “palabra disfrazada” era la formula ininteligible al no iniciado con que el sacerdote y el hechicero conjuraban las fuerzas misteriosas.”
“Symbolic, and at the same time, poetic, that is the entire Aboriginal mental system. Against the logic, realism and anthropocentric sense of Western Occidental culture, the Indian erects his world of mysterious affinities. . . The “disguised word” was the formula unintelligible to the uninitiated with which the priest and the sorcerer conjured up the mysterious forces. ”
In describing indigenous consciousness, it is interesting that Picón-Salas would choose to establish a contrast between them and the logic, realism and anthropocentrism of Occidental ideology. Picón-Salas’ view seems at least to ignore the Aztec sense of dualism for the sake of emphasizing the realm of consciousness (the ideological) at the expense of the scientific (observational). The more accurate distinction at least between the Aztec and modern Hispanic American ideology, and the rest of the occident, does not consist in a rejection of such notions as logic or realism. As we have already seen, the Aztecs would not have been able to develop their poetic philosophy without such epistemological sophistication. Rather; it consists in the subordination of such concepts as functional notions, as opposed to the essential nature of the poetic, in their search for truth and the understanding of the human condition.
What is interesting about Picón-Salas’ observations of indigenous consciousness is his acknowledgment of its poetic and symbolic nature. He emphasizes this point by reference to the use of disguised words. What is being alluded to here is the fact that the indigenous approach to language is a non-representational mode and lacks any necessary correspondence with external reality. The very same point can be made of modern Hispanic American literary expression, as well as poetics in general. Now that we have considered Picón-Salas’ description of the nature of indigenous culture and consciousness, we should seek to determine the extent to which it has influenced Hispanic American consciousness. I turn now to a text written by Braulio Muñoz entitled, Sons of the Wind: The Search for Identity in Spanish American Indian Literature. Muñoz is interested in showing us that indigenous beliefs have indeed influenced Hispanic American consciousness and that our acceptance of our new found ability to express this socially and intellectually latent (latent, here, refers to the expression of indigenous ideology by the colonizers rather than to a psychological state) characteristic of Hispanic American consciousness may well lead to our salvation from the alienation of contemporary Occidental ideology. To explain the evolution between indigenous and contemporary Hispanic American consciousness, Muñoz states:
“Just how far old Indian myths and legends have penetrated mestizo culture to stir emotions and shape approaches toward life and world is revealed in a passage where an old woman discusses the creation of legends with a young man who claims to have invented one. ‘We often think we’ve invented things that other people have forgotten,’ she tells the young man.”
“When you tell a story that no one else tells anymore, you say: I invented this, its mine. But what you’re really doing is remembering - you, in your drunkenness, remembered what the memory of your forefathers left in your blood”.
The old woman, who is herself a mestiza, explains the creation of legends in such a way that she denies the anthropocentrism of Occidental ideology. That is, in her view of life, the individual is ontologically subservient to the spiritual which is rejuvenated through the blood. In the anthropocentrism of the Occident the spiritual is subservient to the individual; the individuals’ spirit is uniquely theirs. It also follows from her view of life that the temporal realm is a past which is always future and always disposed to being present. In the Occidental view, an individual’s lifetime is uniquely their own and is created and extinguished with the birth and death of the individual. Another point worth mentioning about this quote is the analogy which can be drawn “between the poetic triggering of the transmutation of time and the drunkenness with which the young man’s memory is triggered. We see, then, that the evolution and fusion of indigenous and Spanish cultures as expressed by mestizo consciousness, may change into a heterogeneous mode of linguistic expression, yet the underlying poetic structure of indigenous consciousness remains the same since Hispanic America can also be said to exhibit Occidental beliefs, even if, as I have already stated, they may be understood more limitedly as functions. How does Munoz characterize the relation between indigenous and Occidental conceptions of human existence? Quite simply, now that contemporary Hispanic Americans have regained a voice with which to express their latent indigenous beliefs, Munoz sees the potential salvation of Hispanic America from the alienation of Occidental beliefs, in the indigenous’ world-view. He explains:
“The Indian’s moral values and religious fervor, which are ultimately based on magicomythical conceptions of the world, give him a sense of perspective, affording a respite from oppressive conditions and serving as a bulwark against total dehumanization in a capitalist system. The increasing rationalization and impersonality of the mestizo world, the iron cage forged around the world by capitalism and science, finds its antidote in this trait of the Indians’ culture. . . . This is the new role that the Indian has been called on to play in Spanish America; his messianic function has not been exhausted after all. He might still save the mestizo from alienation in the modern world”.
Muñoz approaches an understanding of the mestizos’ sociocultural reality by conceptually placing indigenous and Spanish beliefs in direct ideological opposition. Thus, those elements of the mestizos’ world which directly reflect Occidental ideology, with whatever degree of success they may have been transplanted in Hispanic America, are understood as a result of Spanish influences. Further, such influences are characterized as oppressive, dehumanizing, capitalistic, rationalistic, alienating and impersonal. Alternatively, indigenous influences are characterized as moralistic, spiritualistic, magicomythical and messianic. Muñoz also seems to believe that the mestizos’ world will ultimately come to reflect more than a mere synthesis of these opposing ideological views. Instead, it will come to reflect the resolution of a spiritualistic struggle for dominance. Additionally, these ideological influences are still engaged in their struggle and their battle ground is the contemporary consciousness of the mestizo. It is in this context that Muñoz feels indigenous beliefs may still save the mestizo from alienation in the modern world. To support such an optimistic prognostication, Muñoz contends that the magicomythical world-view of the indigenous is a bulwark against total dehumanization which cannot be corrupted by Occidental beliefs.
The final outcome of the mestizos’ ideological struggles seems to rest on the destiny of the Indian or, rather, on whether or not the indigenous peoples and beliefs of Hispanic America will be successfully assimilated. Of course, the process of assimilation has already been underway since the birth of the first mestizo. It seems as though Muñoz collapses the distinction between Indian and Indian ideology into the notion of “element.” That is, Muñoz believes that if the indigenous element is not assimilated into the mestizo’s culture, the mestizo will eventually lose all traces of his indigenous cultural roots and take his place within Occidental sensibilities. If the indigenous element is assimilated, their magicomythical influence will eventually save the mestizo from the ills of Occidental ideology. It would be helpful to consider what Muñoz thinks of the mestizos’ ideological struggle to this point in their evolution. It was not until after independence from Spanish rule that the indigenous were transformed from their conceptual status as “other” to the status of “our other.” Prior to independence, or course, the Spanish colonizer saw himself as an extension of Spain and the Indian as “other.” After independence, political hierarchies were still controlled by people of Spanish blood but their focus was changed from being an extension of Spain to assuming the control of their newly won independence and land. In this context, the mestizo presence was already being felt within Hispanic American social structures and the pure-blooded indigenous were conceptually transformed into “our other” and seen as a factor which must be included in the schemes for national development.
Up to this point, the presence of the indigenous in literature was expressed as an object of study and investigation which was approached from outside indigenous cultural sensibilities. One of the consequences of independence which is of major importance for understanding the fusion of indigenous and Spanish influences was the question of identity. Separation from Spanish rule entailed the necessary establishment of a uniquely Hispanic American identity. By the first part of the twentieth century Hispanic American authors began to reveal a desire to assert their own sense of cultural integrity and identity apart from Spanish influences. This desire led to a literary reacquaintance with indigenous roots and culture. Although the indigenist novel was only one of various types of modernist Hispanic American literary expressions, its presence was significant enough to transform the way in which the indigenous were conceptualized. Within the literary expressions of the indigenist novel the conceptualization of the Indian was ultimately transformed from “our other” to “us,” and finally dropped as a point of focus altogether. Of course, the process of such a transformation entails its own literary history and evolution as a result of the diversity of views and perspectives among those writing indigenist novels. For Muñoz, however, this transformation signals a major occurrence in Hispanic American consciousness.
The mestizos have never fully assimilated into their borrowed Western European political structures and the assimilation of indigenous cultural influences has only recently begun to be felt as such. That is, the political history of Hispanic America between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries was dominated by Spanish rule. Throughout this period the pecking order of the social hierarchy was established along bloodlines with those of pure Spanish blood at the top and those of pure Indian blood at the bottom. Independence could not have been expected to change this hierarchy overnight. While it is true that, in terms of sheer numbers, those of pure Spanish blood have always been in the minority, it was the Spaniard at the top of the social hierarchy that controlled the ideological apparatus of society in terms of religion, education and communication, including, among other things, literary and artistic expression. Even after independence the social hierarchy remained virtually intact. In less than two hundred years since independence (and even less since the entrenched hierarchy at the beginning of independence has been transformed) the substrata of mestizo consciousness, more highly influenced by indigenous beliefs and more representative of the Hispanic American masses, has finally gained its voice.
Muñoz believes that it was not until the indigenist novel underwent its own transformation, from offering descriptions of indigenous elements to offering an Americanist description of the Hispanic American social topography (where the indigenous influence is portrayed in its various levels of assimilation) that the mestizo gained his own voice and thereby gained the capacity to truly express the indigenous influences in Hispanic American mestizo consciousness. Thus, I believe, Muñoz would say that Pupo-Walker’s description of contemporary Hispanic American expression as revolutionary or iconoclastic, which brings into question the very values of occidental ideology, is a result of the emergence of indigenous influences in contemporary Hispanic American mestizo consciousness.
From what we have considered thus far, we can better understand what is meant by saying that the contemporary Hispanic American mode of expression finds its roots in indigenous beliefs. However, does it follow from this that Hispanic American authors have not been influenced by international literary greats such as Poe or Joyce? If such influences can indeed be detected in the literature of Hispanic America, in what sense can we still maintain that the Hispanic American mode of expression is unique with respect to the rest of the Occident? It is a well established fact that Hispanic American authors have been influenced by authors such as Poe and Joyce. We have only to turn to the essays on literature to discover that such influences are readily admitted. These influences, though, are generally of a stylistic nature and have affected the form rather than the content of contemporary Hispanic American literature. Thus, the unique character of contemporary Hispanic American literature is identifiable in terms of its poetic structure, not so much because of its form or style of literary expression, but rather because of the poetic consciousness to which it gives expression and the fact that such a consciousness represents the mestizo’s emerging world-view.