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Four— Women, Literature, and National Brotherhood
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Women, Literature, and National Brotherhood

Mary Louise Pratt[*]

* The work presented here has been shaped by discussions with many people. My colleagues in the UC-Stanford Seminar have been an ongoing source of guidance and inspiration. I am also indebted to many graduate students in the Department of Spanish and Portugese at Stanford, who have been vital interlocutors on issues of gender and literary history over the past several years. In particular, this paper has benefited from discussions with Magali Roy (on women and nationalism), Nina Menéndez (on Gorriti), Marcela Prado (on Mercedes Marín del Solar), Elena Feder (on de la Parra), Efraín Kristal (on indigenismo ), and Linda Koski (on Brunet and Bombal).

Women and La Historia Oficial

The reader who picks up Javier Ocampo López's encyclopedic Historia de las ideas de integración de América Latina[1] encounters a rich and ambitious survey of three centuries of Spanish American political history and thought, encompassing the problematics of colonialism, independence, nation building, and transnational identity. In this impressive panorama, a lone woman makes her appearance: the cigarette seller Manuela Beltrán, who on March 16, 1781, in Socorro, Nueva Granada, tore down a tax edict imposed by the Spanish colonial government. Her act, cheered on by an angry crowd, triggered an insurrection (the conjuración de los alfaiates ) that then spread throughout the provinces, a prelude to Spanish American independence. The figure of Beltrán in Ocampo's book in many ways typifies the position women have occupied with respect to the official histories of modern times. For the most part they have been simply absent. When they are present, they are isolated figures, and they have no voice—one cannot help but notice that it is not Beltrán's "ideas de integración" that mark her place in history. Though she clearly did have the "right idea" at the time, it was never a question of recording her thoughts or words for posterity, only her gesture, as a prelude and metonymy for the larger drama.

For present purposes, it is of particular interest that this lone woman is a late-eighteenth-century popular revolutionary figure, a Marseillaise avant la lettre . She is conspicuously not a member of the criollo elites who claimed the American revolutions as their own and went on to fashion themselves into national bourgeoisies. While women have never been well represented by official histories in any age, it is worthwhile to recognize how particularly limited and repressive the bourgeois republican era has been in producing


and imagining women as historical, political, and cultural subjects. As Joan Landis put it, the democratization of politics in the nineteenth century brought with it the domestication of women, and the elision of women (along with most other people) as subjects of history.[2] Such elisions are part of the hegemonic project of the official story—as the Argentine film of that title (La historia oficial , 1985) reminds us. Indeed, that film exhibits some of the complexities and compromises involved in trying to insert women, especially women of privilege, into modern narratives of national history. At the same time, La historia oficial bears witness to the current emergence of new female political and historical subjects in Latin America, in mothers' movements and other powerfully innovative, often cross-class forms of female activism. The discussion to follow is offered in deliberate relation to these extraordinary contemporary developments.

After some general considerations of how women are situated and symbolized by masculinist ideologies of nation, this essay looks at how such ideologies are played out in some key Spanish American literary texts by men and women writers. Though somewhat loosely related, the examples all undertake to focus interest on the ways Spanish American women writers and intellectuals have symbolized themselves in this "socio-semantic field," and how they have problematized masculinist ideologies of nationhood and citizenship. Of necessity, the focus is on times and places for which texts by women are available to contemporary researchers, but also on times and places in which questions of national definition and identity are especially pressing. Thus, writings by José Mármol and Juana Manuela Gorriti from the Argentine independence period provide an initial comparative case; the second half of the essay is devoted to the period of the 1920s and 1930s, a time of rapid modernization, social and ideological upheaval, and national redefinition. Two rather different examples are considered: first the early women collaborators of the Peruvian Revista Amauta , and second the renowned Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, specifically in her unfinished, and widely unread, Poema de Chile .

The Nation As "Imagined Community"

In the previous section reference was made to the limitations within bourgeois republicanism for creating or imagining women as subjects of history. The term "imagining" is introduced here as it is used by Benedict Anderson in his stimulating book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism .[3] Anderson explores the idea of the nation as an imagined political community whose totality can never be experienced concretely: "The members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion" (15). In fact, Anderson argues, all


human communities tend to be imagined entities. Communities differ, he argues, "not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined" (15). Anderson introduces three useful terms to characterize the style in which the modern nation is imagined:

The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them . . . has finite, if elastic boundaries beyond which lie other nations. . . . It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical, dynastic realm. . . . Finally it is imagined as a community , because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship . Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.(16)

Anderson's analysis of the character of modern nationalism is of particular interest to Latin Americanists. One of his most radical, though not entirely convincing, suggestions is that the modern nation as a political idea arose not in Europe but in the Americas, in the republicanist movements that fought for independence. (Hence perhaps the stress on autonomy and sovereignty in ideologies of the nation.) As the nation-states of continental Europe sought to consolidate themselves and define national destinies in the nineteenth century, Anderson argues, it was to the American republics that they looked for guidance and example. Anderson's analysis is of considerable interest to literary scholars as well, because he singles out print culture, notably the novel and the newspaper, as the necessary condition for creating the invisible networks that form the basis of the imagined national community. This factor is of particular interest with respect to women.

The language of fraternity and comradeship used in the passages just quoted displays (without commenting on) the androcentrism of the modern national imaginings. Indeed, Anderson's three key features of nations (limited, sovereign, fraternal) are metonymically embodied in the finite, sovereign, and fraternal figure of the citizen-soldier. Anderson goes on in the book to discuss cenotaphs and tombs of the unknown soldier as some of the "most arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism" (17). Military service and electoral politics, domains originally limited to males, have been obvious central apparatuses for producing the imagined community of the modern nation-state, along with mass print culture, in which women have participated.

Though he does discuss the ways ethnic, racial, and class subgroups are incorporated into national self-understandings, Anderson does not take up the question of gender. His own terms make clear, however, that the issue is


not simply that women "don't fit" the descriptors of the imagined community. Rather, the nation by definition situates or "produces" women in permanent instability with respect to the imagined community, including, in very particular ways, the women of the dominant class. Women inhabitants of nations were neither imagined as nor invited to imagine themselves as part of the horizontal brotherhood. What bourgeois republicanism offered women by way of official existence was what Landis and others have called "republican motherhood," the role of the producer of citizens. So it is that women inhabitants of modern nations were not imagined as intrinsically possessing the rights of citizens; rather, their value was specifically attached to (and implicitly conditional on) their reproductive capacity. As mothers of the nation, they are precariously other to the nation. They are imagined as dependent rather than sovereign. They are practically forbidden to be limited and finite, being obsessively defined by their reproductive capacity. Their bodies are sites for many forms of intervention, penetration, and appropriation at the hands of the horizontal brotherhood.

In the case of Europe, Landis argues that such gender asymmetries were sharply resisted by late-eighteenth-century feminists as bourgeois challenges to absolutism unfolded. Ultimately, however, their resistance was either defeated or co-opted. In England, this historical shift is neatly borne out in the writings of the famous mother-daughter pair Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her famed Vindication of the Rights of Woman in a clear revolutionary spirit in which a much fuller recognition of women in society was an imaginable possibility. Thirty-some years later, in her daughter's book Frankenstein , what has become imaginable is a nightmarish world in which women are elided altogether as the man of science obsessively seeks, and finds, a way to reproduce on his own. In Shelley's story, it is the monster (associated often in the story with the wild Americas) who reasserts a "primitive" need for female companionship; the idea of female citizenship is nowhere to be found.

As bourgeois democracy consolidated itself, so the argument goes, women's legitimate political sphere was narrowed down to the home (regardless of where women were actually spending their time). The agenda of nineteenth-century feminism can be seen as both reflecting and resisting this domestication. Obviously, one cannot assume that this Europe-based argument holds identically for Spanish America; however, it is illuminating at certain points, as I hope the discussion below will show.

The fundamental instability accorded to women subjects may be one of the features that most distinguishes the modern nation from other forms of human community. But, of course, to say that women are situated in permanent instability in the nation is to say that nations exist in permanent instability. Gender hierarchy exists as a deep cleavage in the horizontal fraternity,


one that cannot easily be imagined away. While subaltern ethnic and class groups can sometimes be contained as separate regional entities or as distinct genetic kinds, women cannot readily be dealt with in these ways. They are, after all, expected to cohabit with men, not to live in separate parts of the city or national territory. The efforts of Dr. Frankenstein aside, it is through women that the horizontal brothers reproduce themselves. At the same time, the reproductive capacity so indispensable to the brotherhood is a source of peril, notably in the capacity of those nonfinite, all-too-elastic female bodies to reproduce themselves outside the control of the fraternity. It was no accident that modern nations denied full citizens' rights to illegitimate offspring, and that women's political platforms continuously demanded those rights.

Women remain especially anomalous with respect to the one right that for Anderson sums up the power of the imagined community: the right to die for one's country. On one hand, women have mainly been excluded from this privilege; on the other hand, and perhaps more important, they have never as a group sought it. In the face of their exclusion from the national fraternity, as the work of Francesca Miller has shown (this volume, for example), women's political and social engagement became heavily inter nationalist, and often anti nationalist. Elite women activists established a long-standing presence and commitment in such spheres as the Pan-Americanist movement, international pacifism, and syndicalism, and in transnational issues of health, education, and human rights. Perhaps it is the vociferous, relentless pacifism of these activists that expresses most clearly their dissociation from the fraternal, soldierly imaginings of nationhood.

Other ambiguities emerge in the domain of culture. In the eighteenth century, women of privilege had gained access to the all-important networks of print culture that "underwrote" the imagined national communities. As writers, readers, critics, salon-keepers, and members of literary circles, they were legitimate, though far from equal, participants in the sphere (republic?) of letters. In the nineteenth century, despite pressures toward domesticity, women retained their foothold in lettered culture (though they were constantly obliged to defend it). Hence, though lacking political rights, they remained able to assert themselves legitimately in national print networks, engage with national forms of self-understanding, maintain their own political and discursive agenda, and express demands on the system that denied them full status as citizens. To a great extent, this entitlement was anchored in class privilege, which the women of letters shared with their male counterparts. One might suggest four elements then, that in part came to define the conflicted space of women's writing and women's citizenship: access to print culture (class privilege); denial of access to public power (gender oppression); access to domesticity (gender privilege); and confinement to domesticity (gender oppression).


Women As National Icons: Mármol, Gorriti, and Manuela Rosas

The uneasy coexistence of nationhood and womanhood is played out in that paradoxical republican habit of using female icons as national symbols. For every Unknown Soldier there is a Statue of Liberty, a Britannia, a Marseillaise, a national virgin—in the Americas, the indigenous figures of La Malinche, Pocahontas, the violated Indian woman. In patriotic speeches, in sculpture, in poetry, novels, and plays, female icons are used to symbolize the nation—symbolizing, often enough, that which is at stake between warring groups of men. Such symbolizations played a conspicuous role in the extraordinary drama of national self-fashioning that took place in Argentina following independence from Spain. In its cultural and literary dimensions, that drama provides a vivid instance of the modern ideological tangle of nationalism, militarism, republicanism, fraternity, and womanhood.

In a configuration that has some points in common with the American Civil War, the battlelines in Argentina in the 1830s and 1840s were drawn between two camps, the unitarios and the federales . Roughly speaking, the unitarios were led by Buenos Aires-based, Europe-oriented liberal republicans advocating free trade and a centralized, secular, progressive republic centered in Buenos Aires. The federales who opposed them are generally seen as constituting an alliance of two groups: first, traditional land-based elites of the interior, defending local autonomy, traditional economies, trade protectionism, and church power; and second, a new wave of capitalists who had entered the cattle industry in Buenos Aires Province much more recently, after other forms of commerce with Europe failed to expand. Following independence from Spain, the unitarios had formed a centralized Argentine Republic, consecrated in the Constitution of 1826. The effort was short-lived, however. By 1830, power had been lost to the federales , and the two groups remained locked for twenty years in a devastating civil war. The unitarios called the federales barbarians, and the federales called the unitarios savages (both terms highly charged in the context of decolonization).

Until the victory of the unitarians in 1852, the dominant historical figure was the now-legendary federalist leader Juan Manuel de Rosas. Having become leader of the federalists (in part by assassinating the opposition), the politically talented and ruthless Rosas ruled Argentina from 1838 to 1852, with an iron hand and a secret police force that sent scores of Argentinians to their deaths or into exile. Debate still goes on in Argentina regarding whether Rosas was a crude leftover from the colonial era or the first great Argentine nationalist, but there is no question how the unitarios saw him. The unitario leaders were urban intellectuals deriving from the colonial bureaucracy and the colonial universities. They were prolific writers, passionately devoted to


the project of decolonizing their culture, of creating a enlightened republic of letters. Lacking control of the economy, one form of production they did control was print, and during the Rosas period they produced an immense body of writings, mainly journalistic, including a corpus devoted to Rosas himself, which must be one of the great literatures of denunciation of all time.

In 1844 José Mármol, a key unitarian intellectual, began publishing the serial novel Amalia , which became and has remained a canonical testimonial to the period. The title character is a young and beautiful upper-class Buenos Aires woman. Through family ties and her love for a unitarian militant, she becomes embroiled in political intrigue and exposed to Rosas's reign of terror. When an attempt to overthrow the dictator fails, she and her lover arrange to marry and flee the country. The novel ends minutes after the marriage, when Rosas's henchmen invade Amalia's house, killing her lover and leaving her in the hands of a benevolent, but federalist, uncle. Mármol's novel is not at all simplistic, but the national symbolics are clear. Amalia's initial situation allegorizes the moment of Spanish American independence: when she was a young woman, her father died and her mother married her to an old family friend for protection. After a year of passionless union, the friend dies, as does the mother, leaving Amalia (alias Argentina) a young, beautiful widow (a near virgin) of considerable resources, including her own house. At the end of the novel, Amalia is still an unexchanged woman, the frustration of her marriage reflecting the failure of the unitarian national project. The sexual and the domestic are homologous with the political and the military. No new national family has been founded to replace the already defunct colonial patriarchy. The entire drama takes place, of course, among the criollo elite.

Though republican ideals remain unfulfilled in the novel, they are not unexpressed; the language with which Mármol's characters describe their political aspirations echoes Anderson's account of the modern nation. In this passage from near the end of the novel, the hero, Daniel Bello, calls for a "spirit of association" and attributes the unitarian defeat to

nuestros hábitos de desunión, en la parte más culta de la sociedad; nuestra falta de asociación en todo y para todo; nuestra vida de individualismo; nuestra apatía; nuestro abandono; nuestro egoismo; nuestra ignorancia sobre lo que importa la fuerza colectiva de los hombres. . . . Aquel que sobreviva de nosotros, cuando la libertad sea conquistada, enseñe a nuestros hijos que esa libertad durará poco si la sociedad no es un solo hombre para defenderla, ni tendrán patria, libertad, ni leyes, ni religión, ni virtud pública, mientras el espíritu de asociación no mate al cáncer del individualismo, que se ha hecho y hace la desgracia de nuestra generación.[4]

[the habits of disunion among our cultured class; our want of association everyhere and in everything; our life of individualism; our apathy; our neglect; our selfishness; our ignorance regarding the value of the collective strength of


men. . . . Let him who survives among us when liberty has been won teach our children that this liberty will last for a very short time if the nation does not unite as one man to defend it; that they will have neither a country, nor liberty, nor laws, nor religion, nor public virtue until the spirit of association shall have destroyed the cancer of individualism, which has made and which still makes the misfortune of our generation.]

Since we are talking about a civil war, it is no surprise to find that Amalia, the unitarian national symbol, has a federalist counterpart in Mármol's novel. She was a real person—Manuela Rosas, daughter of the hated dictator. A woman the same age as Mármol himself, she too has been the subject of a sizable literature of praise and condemnation. Historically, Manuela Rosas became her father's confidante and a chief political agent after her mother's death in 1838. In Mármol's novel, she appears as a competent, appealing person victimized by her father's crude tyranny. Like Amalia, she remains an unexchanged woman at the end of the novel (as she did in real life, marrying in her thirties only after her father want into exile in England).

Apart from her fictionalization in Amalia , Manuela Rosas turns up elsewhere in Mármol's writings, as the pretext for prescribing the future of women in the new republic. In 1851 Mármol published an essay on Manuela Rosas analyzing her life and character.[5] It reads as a fairly straightforward exhortation to domesticity and republican motherhood. Mármol sees Manuela as "la víctima de esa imposición terrible de vivir soltera" [the victim of that terrible imposition to live unmarried]. With "otra educación y otro padre" [a different upbringing and a different father] she would become capable of falling in love with a suitable man and would no longer be found attending orgies, dancing "hasta con negros" [even with Negroes], or, in a particularly unladylike lapse, serving to an English naval officer the salted ears of a unitarian colonel. Thus, as I will suggest more fully below, Mármol's writings portray elite women as both symbols and historical agents in the ongoing drama of nation building; at the same time, their absorption into domesticity will be the very sign that the nation has indeed been born.

Juana Manuela Gorriti was also the same age as Mármol, and as engaged as anyone with the future of the emergent Argentine nation. She too left Argentina during the Rosas period, and around 1850 she wrote a very popular story about the civil conflict, titled "El guante negro" ("The Black Glove").[6] In this story, too, the drama of nation building is played out in love relations, and women are important both as symbols and agents in that process. Gorriti's story, however, presents a much less orderly symbolic structure than does Amalia . Here, the sexual and the domestic do not operate homologously with the political and the military. Love, politics, patriotism, and militarism tangle in complex fashion.

Like Amalia , "El guante negro" embodies the national conflict in two women, a unitarian named Isabel (note the courtly name) and Manuela


Rosas. They are in love with the same soldier, a young federalist named Wenceslaus (another courtly name), whose sincere affection for Manuela has been overwhelmed by a newfound passion for Isabel. Unlike Amalia, Isabel does not espouse her lover's political cause as her own. Rather, she places her politics above love and demands that Wenceslaus prove his faith to her by enlisting in the unitarian army. Placing love above family and politics, he does so. His father, a federalist colonel, hears this news and, placing his politics above family, arranges to murder his son for disloyalty. Wenceslaus's mother, placing family above politics and motherhood above marriage, murders her husband to prevent him from killing her son. Wenceslaus hears of his mother's deed and, reversing his earlier choice, decides that her sacrifice obliges him to return to the federalist army and the arms of Manuela Rosas. He does so and is promptly killed on a battlefield. The story ends with the unexchanged, unfulfilled unitarian Isabel—alias the still unformed nation—standing on the battlefield in the midst of a tangled pile of male corpses, among which she has found that of her beloved Wenceslaus. She loses on two counts: the unitarians have lost the battle, and her federalist lover has been killed. Manuela reaps a Pyrrhic victory, and it remains unclear in whose hands the national future ought to rest. The men in the story are all dead.

While in Amalia it is clear that the heroine's happiness and her lover's life have been sacrificed to the tyranny of Rosas, no such clear conclusion can be drawn from "El guante negro." Love, politics, and family weave in, through, and around one another in unpredictable ways. In Amalia , women characters are embedded in family structures that are weak, parentless, sometimes perverse; in "El guante negro," the family has disintegrated even further. Isabel and Manuela are without visible family ties in the story; for example, both are presented traveling alone to Wenceslaus's bedside. Wenceslaus's mother, far from being sheltered by her family men, finds herself murdering one to protect the other. While Amalia is often called upon to heroically defend the sentimental/domestic sphere of her house from political violence, in "El guante negro" both the house and the battlefield are sites for both sentimental/domestic and political action, by either sex.

It should be emphasized that I am presenting what one might call "preferred readings" of these texts—that is, I am for the most part interpreting them in the terms in which they seek to be interpreted. Deconstructive and other skeptical/approaches give rise to different and more textured readings; these go beyond my present purpose, which is simply to introduce literary uses of national iconographic conventions. In Amalia and "El guante negro," the abandoned fiancée left standing after the final shoot-out symbolizes the failure to consolidate the republic. At the same time, in neither text can the women be said to function solely as national symbols. They are also active protagonists in the political drama. They have not been domesticated;


republican motherhood has not been consolidated (though the stage is seemingly set for it). Amalia and, to an even greater extent, "El guante negro" support the suggestion that at least in some sectors of Spanish American society this postrevolutionary period marked a historical aperture for women, an experimental moment in which they could be imagined as players in the drama of nation building.

The 1920S and 1930S: The Country and The City

Like the 1830s and 1840s, the decades following Europe's first world war were a period of intense nationalisms and debates on nationalism in many parts of Latin America, this time in the context not of independence but of modernization (see Francine Masiello, this volume). Many countries had experienced internal economic expansion through the challenge of meeting Europe's needs during the war. Internal markets and small industry developed, creating in some countries national business classes and middle sectors strong enough to challenge land-based oligarchic interests. Urbanization and industrialization created conditions for the emergence of the first modern mass political movements. Industrial working classes developed and became a political force in some places. Challenges to traditional oligarchic orders were often expressed as internationalism, urban cosmopolitanism, Latin American continentalism, and a critique of nationalism. At the same time, in response to changing demographic and political landscapes, nationalist visions were formulated both by those seeking change (in Peru, for instance, the indigenous majority leaped into the foreground of national concern) and by those opposing it (in Argentina, Rosas was revindicated, for example).

Print culture, as Benedict Anderson's argument predicts, was active in formulating dramas of modernization and competing national self-understandings. In every capital city, cosmopolitan avant-garde movements undertook to create modern, urban high cultures. At the same time, regionalist literatures emerged, seeking to consolidate urban-based discourses about the countryside, affirming, rejecting, or parodying visions of rural progress. It is a symptom of the time that both regionalist and avant-garde movements operated to the complete, and often aggressive, exclusion of women. The great women poets of these decades—Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarbourou, Gabriela Mistral—were widely acclaimed but not accepted in avant-garde circles. Today they are benignly classified in literary typologies as posmodernistas distinct from the avant-garde. The experimentalism of their writing goes largely unrecognized by the literary establishment.

While the male avant-garde often combined a critical perspective with an eager radicalism and enthusiasm for modern urban life, equally cosmopolitan women writers tended to depict modern urban life as a source of confine-


ment, fear, or despair. While for some male poets the mobile figure of the urban flâneur became a vehicle for elaborating a vigorous aesthetic of the city, such an aesthetic seems to have lacked plausibility for many women writers. A critique of domesticity and suburban boredom emerged, consolidating itself in the 1940s in the work of such writers as Chilean María Luisa Bombal.

No women writers appear in the canons of regionalist literature either. This is not to say, however, that women did not write about rural life. No contrast could be more revealing than that between the two classic Venezueian texts that appeared in 1929: Rómulo Gallegos's Doña Bárbara and Teresa de la Parra's Las memorias de Mamá Blanca . Gallegos's novel became Venezuela's canonic epic of modernization, in which an enlightened, urban-educated man returns to the countryside, takes over a ranch owned by a crude and powerful woman rancher, and tames and marries her daughter, thus securing the future for reason, progress, and the patriarchal family. De la Parra, through the reminiscences of an elderly woman city-dweller, nostalgically depicts elite rural life as a feminocentric paradise of girls, women, and servants, still identified with the colonial era. Modernization is represented by a catastrophic move to the city, where the young female protagonists experience a drastic loss of liberty in the name of a highly repressive urban femininity.[7]

The schematic contrast between Doña Bárbara and Mamá Blanca should not obscure their common ground. Symbolically, gender operates similarly in the two works, though with contrasting value signs: both Mamá Blanca and Doña Bárbara stand for preindustrial social structures inherited from the colonial period and now seen to be passing. Both represent forms of female power and entitlement destroyed by modernization. Both remind us that, from a purely socioeconomic standpoint, the development of urban centers of power and elaborate state apparatuses threatened to deprive women heirs and property owners of an economic base for which there was no urban or industrial equivalent. Elite men could leave family estates to become lawyers, bankers, or businessmen, but the city held few such new beginnings for their female counterparts. Transposed to the house in the suburbs, class privilege realized itself in new ways that perhaps seemed narrow and small in comparison with the hacienda or the fundo . As literary creations, Doña Bárbara and Las memorias de Mamá Blanca register in contrasting ways the impact of feminism on the lettered imagination. De la Parra seeks to revindicate a lost oligarchic mother, while Gallegos feminizes and "barbarizes" a traditional figure in order to dispel it from the national landscape. In Peru at this same time, a very similar fate was being dealt to another traditional icon, the figure of the indigenous woman, to which I now turn.


Indigenismo , The Madre Indígena , and The Women of Amauta

One of the oldest and most durable myths of self-definition in Spanish America is that of the sexual appropriation of the indigenous woman by the European invader. It is a true narrative of origins, dating back to the tale of Cortés and the princess la Malinche (or, in North America, to Pocahontas and Captain John Smith). Endless repetitions and variants have mythified this figure, simultaneously victim and traitor, as the mother of the American mestizo peoples. At the same time, she has stood for all the indigenous peoples conquered (feminized) and co-opted (seduced) by the Spanish. Nowhere have such symbols been more active than in the Andean region.

In 1924 the Peruvian writer and francophile Ventura García Calderón published a short story, almost a vignette, titled "Amor indígena,"[8] which grotesquely reenacts the classic American drama of conquest as rape. Three Spanish (i.e., non-indigenous) Peruvians—a landowner, a businessman, and an anonymous but educated narrator—are traveling together on horseback in the Peruvian sierra. They stop for a midday meal in a town that is celebrating the feast of its patron saint. They spot a beautiful young Indian woman in the procession and playfully flip a coin to decide "whose she will be." The narrator wins the toss. Led by the feudal landlord Don Rosendo, the trio amuse themselves terrorizing the town at gunpoint and laughing at the desolation of the inhabitants as their prized possessions are destroyed. "Éramos ya los dueños de aquel poblado solitario, y la vida tenía el color dorado de las mañanas de otoño en tierra bárbara," exults the narrator [Now we were masters of that lonely village, and life had the golden color of autumn mornings in barbaric lands]. Deciding it is "a matter of duty" that they fulfill their intentions toward the young Indian woman, Don Rosendo with his horsewhip disperses the crowd of relatives around her and brings her by force to the narrator. The pair are left alone in the tambo (tavern). "Aquello fue salvaje," reports the narrator, "como en las historias de la Conquista" [It was savage, as in the times of the Conquest]:

Me encerré, despedí al chino aterrado, y la indiecita fue mía, sollozando palabras que yo no acertaba comprender. Estaba primorosa con su alucinado temor y su respeto servil al hombre blanco. Me alentaba por vez primera esa alegría de los abuelos españoles que derribaban a las mujeres in los caminos para solaz de una hora y se alejaban ufanos a caballo, sin remordimiento y sin amor. La linda niña me miraba sumisa como a su dueño.

[I shut myself in, dismissed the terrified mestizo, and the Indian girl was mine, sobbing words that I could not understand. She was exquisite in her hallucinated fear and her servile respect for the white man. For the first time I was animated by the joy of the Spanish forefathers who would knock over the


women on the road for the pleasure of an hour and ride off proudly, feeling neither love nor remorse. The lovely girl looked up at me submissively as if at her master.]

The group saddles up and leaves town, only to hear footsteps behind them. The narrator turns around to find "his little girl" ("mi chiquilla") following him, looking up "con tan desamparada súplica de esclava, que sentía un vuelco de orgullo en el corazón" [with such a helpless, slavish pleading, that I felt a burst of pride in my heart]. The narrator picks her up and places her on the back of his horse, concluding that he has found the best woman society will ever afford him:

¿ Quién iba a quererme así, pisando las huellas de mi caballo, en busca del Amado por los caminos, como en el excelso cantar de Salomón? ¿ Cuál otra me perseguiría también, desmelenada, olvidando a los suyos y entregándose para toda la vida? Resucitaban en mi sangre los abuelos magníficos, y obedecí a su atavismo.

[Who else would love me like that, following the hoofprints of my horse, searching the pathways for the Beloved, as in the holy song of Solomon? What other woman would follow me, disheveled, forgetting her family and giving herself for life? My lordly forefathers were reawakening in my blood, and I obeyed their atavism.]

As in Doña Bárbara , a stereotype of the rural, uneducated woman is presented as an erotic ideal for the urban, educated man. Again, one is justified in seeing such images in part as reactions to the feminist images of sexual equality to which these urban writers (Garía Calderón lived nearly all his life in Paris) were inevitably exposed.

García Calderón's contemporary version of the rape story is startling precisely because of the mechanical exactitude with which it simulates the ideology of conquest (right down to the guns and horses). It is as if nothing at all had happened in the nearly four hundred years between Pizarro and himself. Conscious but not critical of the drama's anachrony, the narrator sees himself as recuperating a lost self, and at the same time regards the contemporary colonial figure, Don Rosendo, with a parodic distance. It is this combination of conscious anachrony and a touch of parody that marks this brief text as the reactionary document that it is. Garía Calderón reaffirmed the image of the conquest precisely at the moment in which both were being intensely questioned in Peru. The "problema del indio" was coming to occupy the center of the political agenda, and a reworking of Peruvian national imaginings was in the making.

The status of the indigenous population in Peru fueled one of the great national dialogues of the 1920s and 1930s. Intensely exploited under semi-feudal conditions or withdrawn into marginal regions, the indigenous inhabitants had never been integrated into the imagined national fraternity—


despite the fact that they formed the great majority of the population, of the work force, and of the army. Indeed, it is usually argued that Peru's military defeat by Chile in the Guerra del Pacífico (1879–1884) first called attention to the need to make full-fledged citizens of the indigenes: the defeat was blamed on their lack of national identity and purpose. (One recalls Anderson's view of military sacrifice as the ultimate test of nationalist imaginings.)

Modernization in Peru produced great pressures on the semifeudal structure of the agricultural economy, based on exploitation of the indigenous labor force. Progressive urban middle sectors made it their goal to challenge the political hegemony of the landowning oligarchy, develop industrial and commercial potential, and further integrate and democratize the country. It was with these items at the top of the agenda that socialism took root in Peru in the 1920s, under the leadship of José Carlos Mariátegui. Again, literature and journalism were actively engaged in the ideological project of reformulating national self-understanding. Discussion of nationalism, the national future, and the "problema del indio" flourished on the pages of the magazine Amauta , founded by Mariátegui in 1926. Indigenismo became a full-fledged literary movement as urban-educated writers sought to engage imaginatively with the subaltern majority of which they were so woefully ignorant.

Writings about the Indian in this period display several kinds of ideological momentum. On one hand, there is a sincere effort to come to grips with the reality of indigenous life and incorporate it into national self-understanding. On the other hand, an exoticist tendency distances, objectifies, and dehumanizes the indigenous peoples in a decidedly nonfraternal way. At best they are seen as a national "problem" that new urban elites are called upon to solve. Yet in the symbolic realm a fraternal appropriation also occurs: the new intellectuals often identify with indigenous tradition, adopting a strong cult of authenticity toward Incaic culture and language. The very title of the magazine Amauta , for example, is a Quechua word that in Inca times referred, as the magazine tells us, to "un sabio que al ejercer función de maestro socializaba en cierto grado sus conocimientos y, formando así a los funcionarios que el imperio requería, se había convertido en pivote de la administración" (Amauta 1: 10) [a wise man who, in his capacity as teacher, socialized his knowledge to some extent and, as educator of the public servants required by the empire, had become the pivot of the administration]. And it is of course this iconic male figure who adorned the cover of the magazine when it first appeared (should one speak here of republican fatherhood?).

This elite intellectual in the service of the state readily sums up the Amauta group's aspirations for themselves. The "problema del indio" in their writings is a terrain on which the group works out its own self-identification as a national political force. It becomes a mirror for the self-understanding of a young, oppositional sector of the bourgeoisie committed to transforming a


national social structure and economy dominated by the landed oligarchy. Thus, at a time when nationalism itself was often questioned as retrogressive and provincial, the preoccupation with the Indian seems to operate as a kind of displaced nationalism. In identifying with the interests of the Indian, the new intellectuals identified themselves as authentic Peruvians, while distinguishing themselves from other sectors of Peruvian society and of their own class.

As an iconic figure, the amauta radically displaced the traditional icon of the indigenous woman violated by the Spanish conqueror. This displacement is often vividly dramatized in the indigenista poetry and fiction of the period (for which Amauta was also an important mouthpiece). One particularly memorable example is found in a story titled "El campeón de la muerte" by Enrique López Albújar. López Albújar was one of the early progressive indigenista writers, and this story was published in 1920 in a collection titled Cuentos andinos , which according to one critic "convulsed the literary scene" when it appeared.[9] As this story opens, an indigenous father is trying to locate his only daughter, who has been carried off by a renegade indio malvado . As he chews his coca, seeking a vision of her whereabouts, he hears a voice behind him. In the dark there appears the hand of the renegade, holding a bloody sack whose contents are dumped out on the ground. It is the dismembered corpse of the violated daughter, who has not appeared alive in the story. This almost allegorical scene of horror inaugurates a long tale of revenge in which the grieved father hires a mestizo professional gunman to join him in hunting down and methodically killing the rapist-murderer one bullet at a time.

Several key transformations occur here. First, the point of origin is an indigenous father, not a mother. Second, the rape is transferred from a gun-toting European conqueror to a knife-wielding (i.e., premodern) Indian. Third, the symbol of the raped woman is literally disposed of, in the most aggressive and misogynist fashion. It is substituted by a fraternal pair (the father and the hired gunman) who suggest a new masculinized and militarized symbolic space. This new fraternal pair is explicitly modern: they bear guns; their relation is horizontal; it is mediated by professionalism and cash. More important, they represent an alliance of mestizo and indigenous individuals, long-standing enemies in Andean society. López Albújar is credited as being one of the first Andean writers to create complex indigenous characters, literary candidates for full membership in the imagined national fraternity. At the same time, his narratives inaugurate an intensely masculinized universe in which images of female power and agency are virtually absent.

Given the masculinist thrust of nationalist and indigenist imaginings of the period, it is hardly surprising that women writers and intellectuals in this period seem not to join in them. For example, the early women collaborators


in the Revista Amauta , notably Dora Meyer de Zulen, Blanca Luz Brum, Magda Portal, and María Wiesse, tended to write on contemporary politics, art, and everyday life. Their lack of engagement with the "problema del indio" contrasts, however, with the activism of the previous century, when race was very much a women's issue. Antislavery movements were heavily female, for example, while in the literary sphere, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda's Sab (Cuba, 1841), Clorinda Matto de Turner's Aves sin nido (Peru, 1889) and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (United States, 1852) attest the engagement of women intellectuals with issues of racial oppression. In Peru, the torch apparently passed into the hands of men, and into mainstream politics. Indeed, this shift is explicitly ritualized in the opening issue of the Revista Amauta . The issue includes an article by Dora Meyer de Zulen, cofounder of the Asociación Pro-Indígena, one of the first public lobbies for indigenous rights. At the request of Mariátegui, she wrote the history of the organization, including its demise in 1915. Her article has the effect of an act of closure on the older movement and an acknowledgment that the initiative now lies elsewhere.

Gender equality has an important place in Meyer de Zulen's view of both Incaic society and her organization. Speaking of the superior civilization of the Incas, she notes that while most peoples furnish themselves with myths of a founding father, the enlightened Incas have a founding couple, Manco Capacc and Mama Occllo. She goes on to draw a parallel with herself and her spouse as the founding couple of the Asociación Pro-Indígena. One wonders whether she was trying to caution the new indigenistas against their own androcentrism.

When the women writers of Amauta did engage with the issues of identity, authenticity, and the indigenous majority in Peru, their work often contested conventional indigenista paradigms and located national problematics along lines other than race. One striking example is a text by short-story writer María Wiesse that appeared in issue 11 of Amauta magazine. The story, titled "El forastero" ("The Outsider"), opens on the figure of an aged indigenous woman receiving with joy the news that that young white aristocrat whom she cared for from birth is returning to the hacienda after a ten-year absence in Europe. The woman, so the genre might lead one to suspect, will represent a pole of cultural authenticity through which the Europeanized surrogate son might recover his true Peruvian identity. The story takes quite another turn, however. The maternal icon is invoked, only to be quickly moved offstage, and the problem of national identity is articulated in quite another set of terms. Conflict breaks out between the European-educated son, who indeed expected to return home to the "authentic" hacienda of his youth, and his "authentic" Peruvian brothers, whose way of life has been transformed by imported European goods and practices. The nostalgic returnee is heartbroken at the presence in the paternal home of English furniture and English


food, the change to single-crop agriculture, and the abandonment of paternalism in favor of intensified, rationalized exploitation of indigenous labor. The brothers have no patience with the returnee's longing for old, uncomfortable, and inefficient ways. The story ends on a bizarre but very real contradiction: the traveled, cosmopolitan brother aligns with colonial traditionalism and questions modernization, while the narrow provincials are the ardent partisans of the foreign and the modern.

Wiesse's story broaches a set of contradictions the indigenista discourse begs: what exactly can national identity be if the "authentic" values and practices of the dominant class are imported from outside? Is attachment to nonindustrial lifeways simply alienated nostalgia of the kind Europeans thrive on, or are things of real value being lost? Wiesse adroitly moves in on these questions from within conventional indigenista thematics, embodied in the figure of the Indian surrogate mother. This figure is invoked almost as a gesture, only to be declared anachronistic and irrelevant. Wiesse locates the problem of authenticity and national identity not in the indigenous majority but squarely within the nonindigenous ruling classes, within the national brotherhood long divided regarding issues of modernization and identity.

A similar contestation of indigenista discourse is made by the socialist writer and activist Magda Portal in the first issue of Amauta , where she published an avant-garde prose poem titled "Círculos violeta." Taken from a collection with the chilling title El derecho de matar [the right to kill], the poem follows the thoughts of an impoverished, infirm young woman bearing an unwanted pregnancy. Even today (or especially today), the poem sounds radically explicit: "& iquest; Para qué, pues, el hijo? ¿ La prolongación de las lágrimas mudas del abandono, del extravío? ¡ La prolongación de las miserias der mundo!" [Why, then, the child? To carry on the mute tears of abandonment, of wandering? To carry on the miseries of the world!]. In this mood of despair, the woman gives birth to a girl. Carrying the newborn child through the streets, she passes by the orphanage but rejects it as an "incubador de esclavos y de asesinos" [incubator of slaves and murderers]. She walks on till she reaches the river:

Después envolvió a la niña en su amplio abrigo, y sencillamente la arrojó.
El rio se abrió en un punto para dejar pasar a la huésped—y se volvió a cerrar.
Sólo un instante se quebraron las estrellas en sus ondas revueltas.
La MADRE tomó el regreso a su posada—bañada de indiferencia,—
Se insinuaba la aurora—como en los ojos de la niña.
Todos los pájaros lloraban.

[Then she wrapped up the child in her roomy overcoat, and simply threw her in.
The river opened itself in a spot for the guest to enter—then closed again.
Only for an instant did the stars break their rolling waves.
The MOTHER headed back to her lodgings—bathed in indifference,—
Dawn began to break—as in the eyes of the little girl.
All the birds wept.]


So ends the poem.

The scene of infanticide by drowning in a river is a commonplace of indigenista narrative and its antecedents, a scene often used to suggest either pathos or a brutal indifference to life. Portal appropriates and radically reworks this trope in her poem. Most noticeably, though the infanticide would suggest to any Peruvian reader an indigenous protagonist, the woman in Portal's poem is never identified by race. The issue of infanticide is posed in terms of gender and economics rather than ethnicity. Moreover, the setting in the poem is manifestly modern and urban rather than preindustrial and rural—the woman is even identified as suffering tuberculosis and neurasthenia, the two great urban diseases of the time. Thus the equation of infanticide with primitivism is rejected. The colonial figure of the violated indigenous woman is merged with that of the deracinated and impoverished urban worker. Among other things, the result implies a brutal indictment of the national iconography and of republican motherhood: here is a mother who has produced a new citizen nobody wants, not even herself, a citizen for whom the protection of the state consists only in the anomie of an orphanage and domestic servitude. Unlike many indigenista portrayals, Portal's poem contains complex emotional dynamics. On one hand, the woman is portrayed as "indiferente" to the death of her baby rather than brokenhearted; the river welcomes the child as a guest and not a victim. At the same time, the event is billed as tragic—the birds weep like a chorus—and as the result of social injustice.

In an uncanny but probably coincidental way, Portal's ending echoes and revises another mother/infant death scene from a half century earlier. In Zorrilla de San Martin's long narrative poem Tabaré (Uruguay, 1888, though the author's definitive edition appeared only in 1923), Tabaré's mother, a Spanish captive of the Charrúa Indians, dies weeping over her mestizo baby:

La madre le estrechó, dejó en su frente
Una lágrima inmensa, en ella un beso,
Y se acostó a morir. Lloró la selva,
Y, al entreabrirse, sonreía el cielo.[10]

[The mother held it, left on its forehead
An immense tear, and on that a kiss,
Then she lay down to die. The jungle wept,
And peeking through, the sky smiled.]

Here, the raped woman is a Spaniard, and as Bonnie Fredrick has pointed out,[11] having been contaminated by the Indians, she must die, in a paradigmatic and culturally threatening reversal of conquest. Again, Portal's protagonist makes no such sacrifice, nor will her offspring live, as Tabaré does, to become a hero who dies in the name of criollo hegemony.

Portal's poem takes the scene of infanticide out of the indigenist-nationalist-criollo context and relocates it in the context of patriarchy, class


struggle, and the modern state. The symbolics of indigenismo and republican motherhood are invoked, only to be substituted by the politics of gender and reproduction and the concrete figure of the female citizen. A rather similar substitution occurs in the final text to be examined here, Gabriela Mistral's Poema de Chile .

Gender, Race, and Nation in the Poema de Chile

Gabriela Mistral's Poema de Chile[12] is a collection that Mistral began in the 1920s and worked on for twenty years, much of the time living in Brazil and traveling widely as an international intellectual figure and educator. It is perhaps in keeping with the problematic relation between women and nation, and between women writers and nationalist writing, that the collection was never finished. It was edited posthumously by Doris Dana and is not always included in summaries and anthologies of Mistral's work. Though a work of major proportions (seventy-seven poems in 250 pages), the collection is quite marginalized in the critical legacy on Mistral. The Poema de Chile is problematic for patriarchal criticism in a way other writings of Mistral are not. Most of Mistral's writing has been subjected to the common critical strategy of reading women's texts as autobiographical or "personal," contained in a private sphere that is an appendage of the domestic. Nationalist or patriotic writings by women tend to confound this strategy. They cannot easily be read back into the domestic sphere, for they take as their very subject matter the impersonal entity of the nation-state; their authorial voice is that of the citizen. What follows is not an attempt to "rescue" the Poema de Chile from obscurity or to nominate it for admission into the poetic canon. Rather, it is an attempt to think about this remarkable and problematic work in connection with gender and traditions of nationalist and patriotic discourse.

From this perspective, one of the most conspicuous features of the Poema de Chile is that its author opts entirely out of a long-standing heroic tradition of patriotic poetry that celebrates official history, singing the glories of battles, generals, sons in service of the motherland, and the like. This is the tradition of such canonical works as Alonso de Ercilla's La Araucana or José Joaquín Olmedo's La victoria de Junín , revived in a radical, counterhegemonic guise by Pablo Neruda in his Canto general (1950).[13] In contrast with this historical, often militaristic tradition, Mistral writes about Chile exclusively as nature. The Poema de Chile consists entirely of titles like "Cobre" ("Copper"), "La chinchilla" ("The Chinchilla"), "Luz de Chile" ("Light of Chile"), and "Manzanos" ("Apple Trees"). The official or public history of Chile plays no role in the work; patriotism and nationalism in their political guise, affirming the imagined community, are absent. Rather, following another powerful criollo tradition, love of country is expressed through a passionate engagement with ecology and geography, America as primal paradise.


At first glance, one might see Mistral's focus on nature as a straightforward "feminine" choice. But to do so is simply to insert her poem into patriarchal meaning systems and to fail to see it also as an intervention in those systems. Within modern patriarchal forms of knowledge, nature is female and history male. With respect to the normative male subject, nature/woman is an Other, and the object which that subject appropriates. Nature is the woman-object on which men sow the deeds of history; on which men bestow the nomenclatures of science; which the explorer discovers and the colonizer develops or tames. In the case of the neo-Romantic poetic tradition, nature is that which the poet contemplates and appropriates as a correlate of his inner state. Men's dominance over nature in such writings is often expressed symbolically by the speaker's position on a high point or promontory (the "promontory poem" is recognized as a lyric subgenre) and through fantasy in which the landscape is transformed in the poet's imagination. One thinks of José Heredia at Niagara or atop the Teocalli; of Alexander von Humboldt's influential writings which sought to merge the poet and scientist into a single speaker-seer surveying the American landscape. This traditional configuration of the (male) poetic subject inspired by contemplation of the (female) landscape impinges heavily on Mistral and is one she reorganizes in her poem.

Though passivity is most often associated with the woman-landscape on which the male acts, it is important to note the equal passivity and immobility of the contemplating man-poet in neo-Romantic nature poetry. It is precisely this immobile observer that Mistral abandons. In a highly original gesture, she substitutes a mobile poetic voice and a narrative configuration. The speaking subject in the Poema de Chile is a woman who returns to Chile as a spirit after many years of absence and travels through the country on foot in the company of an Indian boy. In many respects Mistral's discourse abandons the dominance over nature that is traditionally expressed in the elevated stance of the promontory poem. The rejection of such a stance is explicit in the dramatic opening poem of the collection, titled "Hallazgo" ["Discovery"]. Here is its first stanza:

Bajé por espacio y aires
y más aires, descendiendo,
sin llamado y con llamada
por la fuerza del deseo,
y a más que yo caminaba
era el descender más recto
y era mi gozo más vivo
y mi adivinar más cierto,
y arribo como la flecha
éste mi segundo cuerpo
en el punto en que comienzan
Patria y Madre que me dieron.


Literally translated, this reads:

I came down through space and air
and more air, descending,
without calling, but being called
by the force of desire,
and the more I walked
the straighter was my descent
and the greater my joy
and the straighter my aim,
and like an arrow I land
this my second body
at the point where they begin,
Fatherland and Mother I was given.

The poetic "I" uses her strength to descend into the landscape rather than to climb up to a promontory from which an immutable, totalizing vision might be claimed. The play on grammatical gender ("sin llamado y con llamada") may be intended to foreground this choice as a female one. Yet the erotics of the stanza are intensely male—the phallic arrow impelled by its own desire, heading for its mark, its pleasure ("gozo") intensifying as it approaches. Conspicuously, the arrow's target is neither simply the fatherland nor the motherland, but the doublet Patria y Madre, a reverse of the conventional epithet "la madre patria." The speaker's desire is aimed at a parental couple; it is thus markedly not oedipal in character (one is reminded of de la Parra's figure of a founding mother and of Dora Meyer de Zulen's identification with the Inca founding couple).

The contrast between Mistral's practice in this opening and that of her contemporary Neruda is striking. Early in the Canto general , Neruda's famed "Alturas de Macchu Pichu" begins with a descent, but it is a descent into death, self-disintegration, and absence of desire, from which the poet emerges in the famous line "Entonces subí hasta ti, Macchu Picchu" [then I ascended to you, Macchu Picchu]. Neruda then recovers the traditional promontory stance in the heights of the Incaic ruins, from which he contemplates an overwhelmingly masculine march of history.

The traditional subject-object relation between man-poet and woman-landscape is substituted in Mistral's poem with an intersubjective one, the mother-child relation between the poetic "I" and the adoptive Indian child who accompanies her on her trek through Chile. Nearly all the poems in the collection are addressed to the child or are dialogues with the child. The speaker's project in many of the poems is to pass on her everyday knowledge of Chilean nature to her offspring, a mentoring activity quite distinct from both romantic self-expression and scientific classification. Indeed, the verb mentar —"to name" or "to mention"—is a key term throughout the work, as Mistral's "I" names the world for the accompanying child (see, for example, "El Mar" or "Salvia").


Historicity is thus present in the Poema de Chile not in the form of canonical history (battles, treaties, dates to be commemorated) but in the "micropractices" of social reproduction through which one generation continually shapes the next. Indeed, masculine heroics are explicitly set aside in poems like "Perdiz," ["Partridge"] where the poet-mother admonishes the child for wanting to catch birds:

—¡ Ay, tienes tiempo sobrado
para hacer la villanada!
Los hombres se sienten más
hombres cuando van de caza.
Yo, chiquito, soy mujer:
un absurdo que ama y ama
algo que alaba y no mata,
tampoco hace cosas grandes
de ésas que llaman "hazañas."

[—Ah, you have plenty of time
to make mischief!
Men feel more
manly when they go hunting.
I, little one, am a woman:
an absurdity who lives and loves
something that praises and does not kill,
nor does great things
of the kind they call "deeds."]

Equally, Mistral's engagement with Chile in the poem is not played out in any of the fraternal imaginings Anderson identifies with nationalism. There is no imagined community in Mistral's poem, only the national territory naturalized as an ecological entity, and a concrete maternal (not fraternal) relation. Though there is patriotism in the work, then, there are no politics, at least in conventional senses of that term.

Though Mistral's relation with her child interlocutor is one of dominance in which the poet-mother has authority, her addressee is anything but the silent recipient of her words. Their relation is dialogic, conflicted, continuously challenged—as in the poem just quoted—by the contentious, querying child. At times, it is quite unclear who is leading whom (see, for example, "A veces, Mamá, te digo" or "Boldo"). Mistral's mother-child dyad is in many ways true to life, capturing vividly the experience of women who move through their days from task to task in the company of a small child. At the same time, Mistral's dyad contrasts markedly with stereotypes of the mother-child pair: the silent motionless icon of Mary and the baby Jesus, both parties looking outward with no possibility of dialogue between them; the endlessly mobile Llorona, who, unlike Mistral's ghost mother, is moving in search of, not in company with, her children. In effect, Mistral puts republican motherhood in motion, generating an unusual apolitical


citizen-building project. Like Portal in the poem discussed earlier, Mistral pulls the mother-child dyad out into the street and makes it into a locus of social agency, power, and consciousness. Unlike Portal's poem, however, criollo racial hierarchy remains in place in the Poema de Chile , in the infantilized Indian dependent on the Euro-american for knowledge and understanding. This is an aspect also shared by Neruda's Canto General .

In addition to reworking established poetic stereotypes, Mistral in the Poema de Chile explicitly challenges the identification of women with the domestic. Hatred of houses is a recurrent theme in the collection, developed at greatest length in the poem "Flores" ["Flowers"]. This text opens with the child challenging his mother's habit of avoiding houses:

—No te entiendo, mamá, eso
de ir esquivando las casas
y buscando con los ojos
los pastos o las mollacas
¿ Nunca tuviste jardín
que como de largo pasas?

[I don't understand you, mama, this
thing of avoiding houses
and searching with your eyes
for pastures or groves
Did you never have a garden
so that you pass them right by?]

The mother replies at length: "No es que deteste las flores / es qe me ahogan las casas" [It's not that I hate flowers / but I am suffocated by houses]. Like the sinner, she says, she both loves and hates houses: "Me las quiero de rendida / las detesto de quedada" [I love them to rest in / I hate them to stay in]. She prefers "cerros y montañas" [hills and mountains] to "rosas y claveles" [roses and carnations], because "los cerros cuentan historias / y las casas poco o nada" [mountains tell stories / and houses few or none]—a clear, ironic inversion of established identifications of history with the human world.

This theme is picked up in a number of the poems, such as "A dónde es que tú me llevas" ("Where are you taking me"), in which the child wonders,

O es, di, que nunca tendremos
eso que llaman "la casa"
donde yo duerma sin miedo
de viento, rayo y nevadas.

[Or is it, tell me, that we will never have
this thing they call "home"
where I can sleep without fear
of wind, lightning or snow?]


The mother's reply is that what she seeks for her son is not a house, but racial justice and land:

Te voy llevando a lugar
donde al mirarte la cara
no te digan como nombre
lo de "indio pata rajada,"
sino que te den parcela
muy medida y muy contada.

[I am taking you to a place
where looking at your face
they do not call you
"split-footed Indian"
where they give you a piece of land
fully measured and reckoned.]

What she seeks for herself, however, is never stated. The "I" of this remarkable work remains a deracinated, dispossessed ghost in a national limbo, and at the same time a spokesperson with a sense of national identity and entitlement. Urbanization and industrialization, the realities of modernization, play no role in that mission. Not a single city, or even a town, is encountered by the wandering pair. No smokestacks or slag heaps besmirch the landscape. Modernization has no role in the future Mistral's "I" projects.

In sum, the Poema de Chile reorganizes the literary patrimony in a poetry of movement and action which is not, however, a poetry of heroics or transformation. Nationalism and amor patrio are deployed in the private domains of mother-child relations and personal reminiscence; yet these private domains are explicitly dissociated from a domestic sphere. They are transposed into an idealized outdoor world through which woman moves with freedom and authority in relations that are vertical and maternal, not horizontal and fraternal. The Chile Mistral celebrates contrasts to an extreme with Anderson's model of the modern nation. In her heart there lives no image of fraternal communion (to paraphrase Anderson), only a commitment directly to the national territory as a concrete and "natural" thing. In her Chile there is no fraternity, and in fact there are no men. It is an escapist vision of whose limits Mistral was perhaps aware when she abandoned the project in the 1940s. The image of a fully empowered female citizen was as inaccessible then as on the day she was born—more inaccessible, perhaps, than a hundred years before, when Gorriti's virgin Isabel stood up alone among the corpses of the fratricidal national brotherhood.

Conclusion: Literary History As Dialogue

This essay has sought to read a discontinuous series of texts, somewhat as if they were moments overheard in an ongoing dialogue among women and


men writers—Mármol and Gorriti in mid-nineteenth-century Argentina; in the 1920s and 1930s, de la Parra and Gallegos in Venezuela; Wiesse, García Calderón, López Albújar, and Portal in Peru; Chileans Mistral and Neruda in the 1930s and 1940s. A variety of instances have been taken up: the identity crisis of the Argentine Independence period; the reviewing of hacienda society from the perspective of modernization in Venezuela; the "nationalizing" of race problematics in Peru; the search for epic in Chile. All involve moments of crisis in nationhood and national self-understanding. The aim has been to observe the participation of women writers and intellectuals in these moments, placing them in dialogue with the dominant male voices of their contemporaries. All these writers and these instances have their own deep complexities, which discussion here has necessarily oversimplified. The goal in this essay has been less to elucidate the dialogue than simply to observe it, to establish that it existed.

Literary history can be told in many ways, of course, and to construct it as a dialogue across lines of gender and power is only one way. But it is a valid and important way: critical understanding, and literature itself, are impoverished and distorted when all is reduced to a monologue, or to a conversation exclusively among men. The principal strategy in this paper has been to read writings of the less powerful as contesting and reworking those of the more powerful. The challenge that remains is to achieve the reverse as well—that is, to understand the writings of the dominant as constituted by and in relation to the voices of subaltern groups that the dominant often like to think of as silent.

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