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Ruiz-Aho, Elena Flores.
How to hear the unspoken :
b engaging cross-cultural communication through the Latin American testimonial narrative
h [electronic resource] /
by Elena Flores Ruiz-Aho.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: This project seeks to address issues in cultural politics brought on by difficulties in cross-cultural communication, particularly as these problems manifest themselves in twentieth century Latin American testimonial narratives. By developing a critical line of questioning drawn from Gayatri Spivak's influential article "Can the Subaltern Speak," one aim herein is to analyze and describe the ways in which the narrative, Me Llamo Rigoberta Mench Me Naci la Conciencia, translated into English as I, Rigoberta Mench: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, exemplifies the incommensurable nature of cross-cultural discursive attempts. This is done through a twofold method: one, by placing heavy emphasis on the role of the reader as constitutor of meaning in a (textual) discursive transaction between culturally-different agents, and two, by drawing attention to the role of historically-determined interpretive frameworks in the reception and interpretation of Subaltern ennunciative acts. The latter, I argue, is necessary for gaining an adequate understanding of receiving and conveying meaning within cross-cultural paradigms. To this end, as an example of the problems, contextual and methodological, that arise in such communicative attempts between cultures, I take up the academic controversy stirred up by the publication of David Stoll's Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Lastly, I investigate the socio-political implications of such failures in intercultural communication, giving rise to secondary lines of questioning such as finding ways to create favorable conditions for the possibility of genuine cross-cultural dialogue. One possibility, I suggest, is adopting a method of reading/listening which, borrowing from phenomenology, is continually on the way, always unfinished, and lets the life of the subaltern emerge by remaining open, not just to what is said, but to what is left unsaid.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2006.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Adviser: Ofelia Schutte, Ph.D.
x Liberal Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
How to Hear the Unspoken: Engaging Cross-Cultural Communication Through the Latin American Testimonial Narrative by Elena Flores Ruiz-Aho A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Liberal Arts Department of Humanities College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Ofelia Schutte, Ph.D. Charles Guignon, Ph.D. Madeline Camara, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 27, 2006 Keywords: Testimonio, Latin America, Rigoberta Mench, Subalternity, Spivak Copyright 2006, Elena Flores Ruiz-Aho
Acknowledgments I wish to thank the many individuals who have contributed towards the genesis and fruition of this project, both on a pers onal and a professional level. For their invaluable academic guidance and support, I wish to thank Dr. Charles Guignon, Dr. Madeline Camara and Dr. Stephen Turner. Above all, I extend my gratitude to Dr. Ofelia Schutte, whose capacities to nurture openings where a student may think freely, beyond the limits of convention, are th e bedrock of my successes. Fo r cultivating those successes through patience and a willingness to hear I thank my partner, Kevin Aho.
For Kevin, without reasons.
i Table of Contents Introduction..............................................................................................................1 Chapter One: Cross-Cultural Communication and the Principle of Incommensurability...................................................................10 Chapter Two: Letting Context Be : The Rigoberta Mench Controversy..............20 Chapter Three: Bearing Truthful W itness: David Stoll and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans..............................................................40 Chapter Four: The Small Voice of Hi story: Subalternity and the Latin American Narrative........................................................................52 Chapter Five: How to Hear (for) th e World of the Other: A response to the Problem of CrossCultural Communication........................62 Notes......................................................................................................................71 Bibliography..........................................................................................................77
ii How to Hear the Unspoken: Engaging Cross-Cultural Communication Through the Latin American Testimonial Narrative Elena Flores Ruiz-Aho ABSTRACT This project seeks to address issues in cultural politics br ought on by difficulties in cross-cultural communication particularly as these probl ems manifest themselves in twentieth century Latin American testimonial narratives. By developing a cri tical line of questioning drawn from Gayatri Spivaks influential article Can the Subaltern Speak, one aim herein is to analyze and descri be the ways in which the narrative, Me Llamo Rigoberta Mench y As Me Naci la Conciencia translated into English as I, Rigoberta Mench: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, exemplifies the incommensurable nature of cross-cultural discursive attempts. This is done through a twofold method: one, by placing heavy emphasis on the role of the reader as constituto r of meaning in a (textual) discursive transaction between culturally-different agents and two, by drawing attention to the role of historically-determined interpretive frameworks in the reception and interpretation of Subaltern ennunciative acts. The latter, I argue, is necessary for gaining an adequate understanding of receiving and conveying meaning within cross-cultural paradigms. To this end, as an example of the problems, contextual and methodological, that arise in such communicative attempts between cultures, I take up the academic controversy stirred up by the publication of David Stolls Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Lastly, I investigate the socio-political implications of such failures in intercultural communication, gi ving rise to secondary lines of questioning such as finding ways to create favorable condi tions for the possibility of genuine crosscultural dialogue. One possibili ty, I suggest, is adopting a method of reading/listening which, borrowing from phenomenology, is continually on the way always unfinished, and lets the life of the subaltern emerge by remaining open, not just to what is said, but to what is left unsaid
1 INTRODUCTION The question at the heart of this thesis is this: If, as the postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak has proposed, the rejoinder to the question can the subaltern 1 speak, is no because if she 2 could speak in a way that mattered to us she would cease to be subalternthen how can we, as readers of suba ltern texts, ever hope to hear what the Other is saying? In other words, how can we understand subaltern speaking practices as they are expressed from th e point of subalternity without necessarily having to decode such practices through our own conceptual orthodoxies (and in so doing, distort the message in our own image)? For what will be taken as having been understood then, to be sure, will bear far more resemblance to the worldview of the listener than to the speaker or, for our purposes, to the Western r eader than the subaltern narrator. To this end, if the meaning of subaltern discursive ac ts cannot be heard as such, but are always refracted through the lens of the interlocutors culture (often in disproportionate ways), how is equitable dialogue between culture s possible? This is the all-embracing predicament of my research. Instead of a fixed answer, I propose that the first step towards a continual, regenerative understanding of the question of cross cultural commensurability lies in grasping the very inescapability of our own interpretive fr ameworks, or what Heidegger refers to as our hermeneutic situation. 3 In short, the way we engage other worlds, in an effort to understand them, is at all times co lored by how we already make sense of our own world. Where world is seen as the soci o-historical background that we grow into, we pre-reflectively graft this background or sense of intelligibility onto the cultures we seek to understand, despite points of incompa tibility or incongruity. This interpretive reflex, in turn, has far reaching social and, more importantly, political ramifications insofar as it precludes the po ssibility of genuine dialogue between cultures, especially when it is deployed by Western cultures in th e form of what Weber calls instrumental rationality. 4 However, in disposing with the ficti on that a detached, completely neutral position exists which can yield something like controlled obj ective knowledge, one curative reply to cross-cultural incommensurability is to simply let be ; to become aware of our hermeneutic prejudices, from which we cannot escape, and to open ourselves up, as readers, to a kind of receptivity which re quires paying very careful attention not to what the narrator is saying (for as su baltern, it is incomm ensurable) but to what she cannot be heard as saying because our ears do not yet know how to reach for this silence. In short, we must learn to hear fo r the differences that make a difference (as in divergent historical tr aditions), grapple with the anxi ety this loss of meaning provokes an anxiety that emerges when we dont know what is going on and reconnect the
2 nexus of relations lost thr ough instrumental encounters with texts. We may do this, as the title suggests, by hearing carefully for the un said that is at all times nested in the Said: for the circumstantial patterns of the social fabric which let meaning emerge in culturally distinctive ways. Thus, in orde r to hear how it is the Other relates to herself it becomes necessary to point to those narr ative descriptions of everyday phenomena indicative of the subalterns way of life. In so doing, we can begin to familiarize ourselves with the color, texture, and le ngth of the threads used to weave narrative tapestries together; tapestries that express how social and historical patterns are entwined into a cohesive life story one already makes sense of. Broadly speaking, then, this thesis takes up issues in cultural politics brought on by problems in communication specifically between cultures stratified by the Colonial encounter (as in the creation of economica lly maldeveloped Third and modernized First worlds). It was forged, not as a res ponse to, but as an applie d effort to provide a concrete example of what Spivak meant in her landmark essay Can the Subaltern Speak? 5 Yet Spivaks provocative response that no, the Subaltern cannot speak is often misunderstood, even by her own account 6 by many critics to suggest political paralysis rather than a deepening of the que stion of subaltern agency and communication. It is easily misinterpreted, in part, becau se it is grounded on a difficult, even more primordial question of how intelligibility is possible in the first place. In other words, what makes it possible (or shows up as a barrier to the possibility) for the subaltern subject to speak is predicat ed on what makes it possible for the ennunciative acts of any human to effectively count as speaking, where speaking is seen as the ability to convey and receive meaning. The problem comes when s ubaltern subjects, under c onditions of historical duress, attempt to speak to other cultures in an effort to preserve life. As Spivak has shown, it is often the inaccessibility of, or unt ranslatability from, one mode of discourse in a dispute to another, 7 that results in points of inte lligibility nodes in the linguistic exchange that supplant meaning-full dialogue between cultures. This, in turn, opens up the possibility for delegitimizing subaltern speech acts; of reterritorializing their discourse on the basis of master modes of di scourse such as neutral, objective reason. Rather than point to the dest abilizing effects pr oduced by foreign ways of understanding, the Western interlocutor in particular 8 hears by picking out and listening for narrative inconsistencies in terms of departures from his own understanding, where his perspective is placed as a centrifuge that separates out vocal matter of different densitiesthat is, different from his own. Thus, the Western in terlocutor often res ponds to the subversion of his own ways of understanding with yet another life instinct-by imposing his own networks of signification as if they were universal truths. As Walter Benjamin has put it, truth seems to stand in the way of truth, or more exactly, truth and transmission get in each others way. 9 Thus, to approach the question of subaltern discursive practices, or the possibility of the effective existence of such practic es, I am simultaneously concerned with the production and reception of meaning as fashione d by culturally-different agents. In other words, I ask, by virtue of what cultural a nd historical conventions do we register and
3 convey expressions so that they make sense to us, materializing in the ways one is used to hearing them appear as intelligible? More over, the pre-re flective social activities of conveying and receiving meaning also imply the existence of a shared medium through which these actions can take place betw een speakers and through which a shared intelligibility is made possible: language. Meaning is conveyed though a language which both transmits meaning and constitutes it, thereby making communication possible. With the emphasis on articulating how intelligibility becomes possible, then, I draw from continental philosophy, and es peciallybut not solelyon Heideggers account of intelligibility throughout various points in the thesis. But to recall the subject matter at hand, it is subaltern speaking practices that are of present interest, not inte rpersonal communication. Thus far, what is being described (and needs to be described first) is how communication is made possible intra culturally, a task briefly undertaken within the thesis firs t chapter, entitled Cross-Cultural Communication and the Principle of Incommensurability. 10 The title emphasizes the cross cultural aspects of communication for the following reason: because the state of Subalternity seen by Ranajit Guha as a general name for the attribute of subordination 11 is created through the maintenance of subordinating conditions throughout the postcolonial world, Subalternit y is in my view a comparative term between culturally dominant and inferior cultures, where the subaltern are asymmetrically positioned 12 in the latter role. For this reason, I establish the parameters of the overall discussion stri ctly within the scope of cr oss-cultural communication, and, more specifically, as it is mani fested in subaltern texts; that is, those narrative practices which have been codified into a system of written representation for the purposes of communicating situations of bondage, oppressi on, or as oppositional supplements to Official colonial representa tions of subaltern history. For example, one of the most, if not the most, well-known example of subaltern texts to come from Latin America and also the one taken up thr oughout this thesis as an exemplar of Spivaks problematic is Me Llamo Rigoberta Mench y As Me Naci la Conciencia translated into English as I, Rigoberta Mench: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Edited and complied by the Venezuelan ethnographer Elizabeth BurgosDebray, it is the late twentieth-century testimonial na rrative of Rigoberta Mench, a Quich Mayan Indian woman who faces persecution, repression and discrimination by virtue of her peripheral position in histor y. As an indigenous peasant living in a postcolonial territory ravaged by racism agains t Indians, Mench can easily be seen as a Subaltern since her situation of enunciation is tied to a histori cal lack of access to official systems of representation. Told extemporaneously to Burgos-Debra y in several tape-recorded sessions beginning in January of 1982, Mench describe s the brutalizing repression of her indigenous community, including th e murder of her family, at the hands of a U.S. backed (and for which former president Clinton has publicly apologized 13 ) national government; a repression so widespread and totalizing that the United Nations termed it a holocaust in its official human rights report, Guatemala: Never Again 14 a report whose author, Bishop Gerardi, was assassinated only forty-eight hours after delivering it. 15
4 Insofar as the oral narrator of Me Llamo Rigoberta Mench, y As Me Naci la Conciencia is interpreted as actively denounci ng, objecting and decrying a specific situation and taking a concrete st and against it, it is a text of protest, one that seemed to have achieved its goals of effecting change by helping to bring a bout the signing of the peace accords which ended the violence against her community 16 Because of this, by the early nineties, it appeared as if despite being a subalt ern voice Mench was actually being heard, taken seriously, and reco gnized accordingly; in 1992, on the 500 th anniversary of the Conquest, Mench was aw arded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work and activism for indigenous rights. Coming at a time when multiculturalism and the debates over identity politics were transforming the landscapes of the No rth American academy, approbating cheers and applauses from many of its leading te nured radicals followed the broadcasting of the Peace Prize winner. The excitement gene rated by Menchs award soon materialized into a cottage industry of essays, books, conf erences, special topic journals and doctoral dissertations over the nature of subaltern narr atives, testimonial practice and the insurgent qualities testimonial texts of pr otest seemed to be capable of producing to effect change. Menchs narrative caught on as a concrete exam ple of the ways subaltern subjects can engage in the project of decolonization by as Edward Said called it in his landmark book, Orientalism unthinking Eurocentrism 17 As an oral narrative dictated to a professional interlocutor, typi cally a western ethnographer, Testimonio seemed to be able to bypass many of the literary conventions of humanist writing, namely, those of the bourgeois autobiographic novel and its depende nce on the Enlightenme nt conception of the Self, of the mentalistic I that narrates a life story. Furthermore, the interpretiv e response to Menchs na rrative was coming from a rather interdisciplinary consortium: Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, History, and not to me ntion heavy activity in Foreign Language Departments was taking place. Despite the exis tence of very real and, at times, heated contentions over the essential natu re and proper literary genre Testimonio should belong to, what emerged as the adopted gold standard for interpreting Testimonio became the socio-political theorist John Beverleys account of Testimonio as the powerful affirmation of the [subaltern] speaking subject 18 Beverley had as his example, at the time he first theorized Testimonio, the revolutionary victory of the Sandinistas in the Nicaraguan Revolution and their aesthetic experiments in the democratization of culture. It was the Nicaragua n and Cuban Revolutions, moreover, which proliferated the use of Testimonio as an insurgent cultural apparatus. In fact, by the late eighties the need to critically rethink the ge nre had waned due to its popul ar integration into postrevolutionary discourse and pr actice; in Nicaragua, for example, the period of socialdemocratic consolidation following the 1979 revolution saw Testimonio as a valuable populist tool for talking about ones revol utionary experiences. By 1996, with the Guatemalan war over, Mench a celebrated human and indigenous rights activist, and a new topic called Testimonial Literature to act as academic cannon fodder for years to come, the pedagogic need to reexamine Testimonio was held in abeyance 19 and so the cellar door closed.
5 Had what happened next not occurred, or at least come to my attention, perhaps this thesis might never have been writte n: the scandalous claim by an American anthropologist that Rigoberta lied and, owing to this accusation, the subsequent denouncement of Mench in the front page of the New York Times as a Tarnished Laureate. In Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans David Stoll argues that Menchs autobiogra phy is a series of fabri cations, lies, and mythic inflations manipulated to look like facts in order to serve the interests of the revolutionary vanguard organization she work ed for. Although almost a quarter of a million Guatemalan Indians were incontrove rtibly murdered, tortured, widowed or orphaned by the military repression, what is at st ake for Stoll is his ability to have reliable indigenous informants, ones that stick to ne utral facts so that he, the objective interpreter can do his job of interpreting their own situation back to them. In chapter two, called Letting Context Be: History and the Rigoberta Mench Controversy, I critique the reception of Menchs na rrative by Stoll through a threefold argument. First, I present Stolls reading of Mench as an example of how reading texts outside a historical context enables detached, instrument al encounters with texts; moreover, I address this tension by providing an in depth, though fundamentally limited description of the historical framework out of which Menchs narrative emerges. Secondly, in detailing the seman tics of the controversy (which is done in chapter three, To Bear Truthful Witness: David Sto ll and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans) I illustrate how in monopolizing the conditions for credibility (such as being a reliable witness capable of presenting corroborative empirical proof of her statements, which must never be contradictory) Stoll co-opts the m eans of the discursive exchange through which marginalized peoples can have their te stimonies taken serious ly; he does this by pre-reflectively grounding his own discourse within the framework of a naturalistic ontology. As a consequence, Stoll deploys what Ranajit Guha has termed the prose of counter-insurgency 20 as a symptom of the naturalistic prejudices that devalue sociohistorical contexts and culturally normative practices in favor of a positivist view of knowledge. Thirdly, what I wish to hi ghlight in this chapter is this: in deconstructing Menchs narrative, what is not often purveyed in the various academic interpretations of the text (especially by Stoll) is that it is also a painst akingly descriptive account of daily Quich life, customs, habits and rituals. They are practices and routines which at times sound so irrelevant to the ofte n preconceived political aim of the text, or are dissonant to our own way of life, that the tendency to skim over their significance by thinking of them as exotic particularities or foreign names arises in our reading practices. The books compiler herself notes: I initially gave [Mench] a schema tic outline, a chronology: childhood, adolescence, family, involvement in the st ruggleAs we continued, Rigoberta made more and more digressions, introduced descriptions of cultural practices into her story and generally upset my chronologythe chapte rs describing ceremonies relating to birth, marriage and harvests did cause some problems, as I somehow had to integrate them into the narrative. 21
6 Yet Menchs narrative descri ptions of ceremonial life constitute more than what is said or, more importantly, what the reader recognizes as having been said as chronological digressions of picturesque cultural quot idian unconnected with the human rights denouncement of the Guatemalan military and U.S. government. And yet these descriptions of daily life and ceremonial customs in fact point to something more subterranean in postcolonial na rratives of protest, something else that does not appear in surface readings as Said: the legacy of colonial ism as an ever-present understanding. It is there, between the lines, in the oral devi ces and the indomitable insistence on talking about everyday practicesbecause for Mench that is the I that is speaking that one can hear the silences which are always atte mpting to reach the articulated level of the said, but without an ear for it, fall back into the gaps of the text. Th ese gaps, in turn, are created by the very event of reading a culturally-different text; without shared histories or position in history, at the moment of reading/listening to th e Other we transcode their speech acts by treating it as a mirror to ourselves. Thus, Me nch points to th ese practices to orient the reader beyond these gaps and towards what she wishes to say since these practices are what orient her own life; to understand her words is thus to already be at home with her world. And because Stoll and well-meaning North American academics alike are historically positione d in advance in a world with different practices and habits, the world that gets articulated in their cri tiques and defenses of Mench is always nother-world; the subaltern cannot speak as herself To speak, she must becomelike us. In light of this quagmire, by attentively poi nting to these descriptions of daily life and oral conventions (such as repetition) in the narrative, I attempt to shift focus away from the runaway train that has become the Stoll-Mench controversy in academic circles, perhaps most poignantly seen in recent book-length treatments solely focused on the controversy 22 Staying close to the text will he lp clarify and situate many of the arguments about authorship, Truth, sp eaking for others, and reliability of witnesses central to the cont roversy. Furthermore, if thes e everyday descriptions (such as telling and retelling what sh e has for breakfast, what she eats for dinner) seem out of place in Menchs narrative it is because our own practices of reading have become conventionalized, organized according to an unde rstanding of text and narrative where the story begins in the first page and ends in the last, wit hout continuation in the social matrix that originally gave rise to it. But all narratives, to recall, are made possible in virtue of the history from which they arise. On this vi ew all autobiography is essentially a social autobiography, a perspectival narrative grounded on historical frameworks of reference. Moreover, it is important to note that before the controversy, virtually no philosophical engagement of testimonio existed 23 because, for the most part, no one saw a need for it. Because we tend to pay attention to what we already understand as mattering, until a controversy arose which mattered to the North American academy, little attention was paid to the holistic context and philos ophical implications of Menchs narrative, implications whose subtleties might have helped derail the polarized debate around I, Rigoberta Mench. The question becomes, then, why did our disciplinary interpretive frameworks however much they may have championed Menchs narrative and her
7 right to narrate itfail to pr ovide a hermeneutics capable of guarding her discursive acts from predictable attempts to delegitimize it? Clearly, as Mary Louise Pratt as argued in the wake of the controversy, we still lack well-developed theore tical frameworks for specifying what testimonio isthe lack of such interpretive and ethical frameworks has left the field open to the application of norms that are irrelevant or arbitrary. 24 This lack, in my opinion, was promul gated by our inability to, as it were, pay close attention to Menchs narrative outside th e boundaries of our respective academic projects, and how her text fit or didnt fit into such projects. With this thesis I attempt to address this gap, albeit paradoxi cally since I recognize my ow n interests derived from my own personal experiences as a transnat ional Latin American woman in the deep desire to express oneself verball y, to speak and be heard in ones own terms. As Lyotard has noted, when a plaintiff is derived of a means of arguing s/he thereby becomes a victim. 25 But I am aware of this tension, and c ontinue to reengage it again and again in the hopes of staying close to what I actually hear (as dissonant ) versus what I think I hear (as familiar) when I listen to the Other. Thus, in the fourth chapter, The Small Voice of History: Subalternity and the Latin American Testimonial Narrative I situate a more formal analysis of Testimonio on the belief that there is no such thing as a neutral or ahistorical standpoint, that understanding can come from anything less th an a deep connection with a historical background of social relations which we know, not on mentalistic terms, but prereflectively in our mundane, everyday acts and practices. In this part, I develop an interpretation of the historical dimension of discursive practices as foundational for any discussion of Testimonio, mainly as a way of reinvigora ting the conversation about the social and historical preconditi ons necessary for texts to be seen and interpreted in any one way or another. It is an attempt to rethink testimonial pr actice, not in the wake of the Stoll-Mench controversy, but in spite of it. What arises out of these first four chap ters then, collectivel y, is a tremendous emphasis on the incommensurable nature of cross-cultural exchange; a predicament grounded on the existence of ra dical differences between cultu res, where difference is seen as deep immersion into fundamentally di fferent customs, practices, and activities. All of which begs the question: if it is the case that those on the peripherythat is, those on the margins of the social fabric and unrep resented gaps in Official History cannot effectively communicate due to the incommens urable nature of divergent worldviews, how can culturally privileged agents possibly mobilize politically in response to subaltern attempts to vocalize oppression? How can one help, mobilize, act ? Mindful of the preeminent status given to political agency in cultural studies, this thesis breaks with the traditi onal demands of political praxis and bears the responsibility for doing so, in order to reconnect with certain aspects of existence which have been covered over by the hierarchical binaries of co lonialism. As a historical restructuring of social relations, colonialism has destroyed many, if not all, pre-co lonial resources of social expression. This loss of linguistic resources, in tu rn, is invariably reproduced when subaltern subjects attempt to speak th rough modern narratological conventions: In
8 short, in gliding between worlds, one with residual traces of understanding and the other with new, master tools for expression, slippage occursthis is a slippage of meaning. To be sure, by breaking with certain dema nds for political praxis in interpreting Testimonio I do not mean not concerned with the same wa y Spivak is certainly not disinterested in effecting material forces for change. To the contrary, creating conditions for the possibility of effective political agency is what I am most c oncerned with, but it is a task which I think can only be adequately addr essed when we come to grips with a background understanding of our own everyday practices, because these practices shape how we engage the Other we believe ourselves to be helping, or tr ying to help. Rather than hearing what the subaltern speaker is sa ying, we fall prey to the conventions of our time, our history, and end up affec ting their discursive attempts by resubalternizing them. The question of political agency is hence a question to be suspended from this thesis, but only in order to investigate what it is that makes the agency of the political agent possible to begin with. Furthermore, I take very serious ly the idea that social theori zing can be an impediment for change insofar as it is of ten jargony, hyper-specia lized, and remains at the level of talk, or worse, talk about talk . However, what I find odd is the idea that the urgency of the situation created by co lonialismthe situation that Mench finds herself inis a distinctly mode rn emergency. Yes, struggles ha ve intensified, the rise of authoritarian governments and escalations of sectarian violence are engulfing the world stage, with death tolls increasing by the day in Liberia, Chad, the Highlands of Guatemala as in the border city of Juarez, Mexico, where daily disappearances of women fail to make even the back page of our newspapers. Yet sometimes, in the midst of insurgency, an emergency meeting is needed to reorganize, to take new situations into account (and strategize acco rdingly), to reassess old assumptions, and converge on an idea whic h may have always been there, but we lacked the viewpoint to be able to see it as something worth seeing. This is part of oppression, I believe, the limiting of options, par ticularly with regard to viewpoints. To put it in perspective, t he struggle, as it stands, has been wagedand is still being waged-for some five hundred years now, and yet we are still at a point in our cultural relations that when an indigenous peas ant woman speaks of immense suffering, of Amerindian massacres, she is called a liar. The rifle can wait. A meeting must be called. And so the fifth chapter of this thesis atte mpts to do just that; to take a breath, a step back, not to disengage ourselves from our commitments, from the stands we have taken, but to reassess how we can engage the project of decolonization by dismantling the theoretical attitude of the disengaged spectator, paying caref ul attention instead to the descriptive accounts of subaltern life. I believe that we cannot stand outside of something we wish to understand; in fact, it is not possi ble. We must continually ask: can we hear the accounts of the subaltern on their own terms, and if we cannot, as Spivak has suggested, what can we do? Even more, what must one be like to be able to hear for the unsaid?
9 I suggest in chapter five, borrowi ng from phenomenology, that we adopt a method of reading subaltern texts which is continually on the way always unfinished, but pointing towards possible approaches or ope nings for equitable discursive practices between cultures. On this view, my sugges tion emphasizes the importance of continually reengaging our constitutive role as readers. Because, as readers, we actively participate in the constitution of creating openings a nd spaces in which meaning can emerge, we must recognize that both meaning and te xt are multiple, not monological. Cultivating multiplicity, that is, the open-ended perspectiv e that ought to orient our reading practices, lets the life of the subaltern be : in the way the stories, memories, narrative practices and customs are woven together in patte rns distinctive to Subalternity. And so, letting be on this view, entails more than a type of imaginative identification with the Other. It requires an applied phenomenology to the practice of reading and to our own understanding of what a text is. Pr incipally, we must understand what Spivak meant, following Heidegger, by the world ing of worlds that makes (im)possible genuine cross-cu ltural communication. In so doing, our goal then ought to be to hearken for, to hear how it is that the Other relates to herself by rethinking (and this is one way among many) our curr ent understanding of narratology, 26 not in terms of a static structure, but in te rms of a dynamic event or happening The very power of Testimonio, originally, was its abil ity to induce a certain degree of wakefulness in the reader by destab ilizing traditional expectations etched out by the canonical text. Narratology, when view ed through the lens of Western epistemic orthodoxies, has temporalized text s as static things, as petrif ied objects to be manipulated and dissected. Thus, in keeping with the need to pluralize models of engagement with texts, my methodology for this project is draw n from an interdisciplinary constellation of postcolonial and literary theory, history, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and feminism. To be sure, no answer is proposed, no academic dispute adjudicated. What is affirmed however, is a very specific methodology ; an approach to reading subaltern texts which resists giving answers, much less the right one, as it constitutes a continuous, active engagement with texts as living creati ons. The purpose is to not break contact with the movement of life but to pay at tention to the fluidity of life as it is happening, and in so doing, mitigate the influence of our Western objectifying tradition.
10 CHAPTER ONE Cross-Cultural Communicati on and the Principle of Incommensurability Amergo Vespucci the voyager arrives from the sea. A crusader standing erect, his body in armor, he bears the European weapons of meaning This is a writing that conquers. It will use the New World as if it were a blank, savage page on which Western desire will be written. It will transform the space of the other into a field of expansion for a system of production. -Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History Commensurability, it has been said, requires the attuned ear of the Other. In the context of interpersonal communication, comm ensurability implies that what is being said can be understood by the listener as a meaningful connection or asso ciation through the usage of a shared metric of conceptual ex change. In Western culture, for instance, this metric is the narrative logi c of non-contradiction as a regulatory minimum for communication. To this end, when speech acts are enacted in a culturally homogeneous situation, commensurability is generally made possible my mutual enculturation into collective normative frameworks and discur sive standards through which negotiation of differences can take place. And, although the nature of such a normative structure can, by privileging certain identities, itself limit the equitable conciliation or preservation of differences (disenfranchising subjects on the basis of sexual orientation, age, or gender), when the speaker and listener are positioned in separate cultures, commensurability becomes particularly difficult. Here, the shar ed metric of conceptu al exchange operative intra culturally ceases to function as the commonplace mechanism for signification; because the acts and practices of the foreign culture (which from the standpoint of ones own culture appears as uncanny) may develop resources of expression more at home with those practicessuch as paratactic linguistic structuresthe very mechanism of signification emerges to the foreground of cross-cultural discursive acts, not signification itself. For instance, when one attempts to communicate with a non-native speaker whose replies are in a foreign language, on e becomes attentiv e to the fact that language is being used as a communicative instrument. Subsequent to the unsuccessful transmission of meaning, what is being communicated surfaces to the listenr as someth ing altogether different: as an apparent collapse in the listeners fulfillm ent of an expected meaningthat what is being said has not been understood as something meani ngful, but dissonant, strange. And, because language is also informed by the everyday wo rld it names, mouths, and points to, the
11 more juxtaposed the everyday acts and pract ices of two cultures are, the more likely commensurability between them is (im)possiblecro ss-cultural communication becomes incommensurable Moreover, the problem of cross-cultura l incommensurability is exponentially intensified when material conditions accelerate the need to urgently communicate a situation of bondage or oppression marked by life and death consequences. In circumstances where the very cause of the oppr essive conditions can be traced to the hegemonic, imperialist practices of the domin ant culture with whom one is compelled to initiate dialogue in order to survive disequilibrium in the or iginating equality of speaking positions is created. Thus, the speech acts of the peripheral subject are always already situated in a subordinated relationship to the pr ivileged norms of the dominant culture. When this relationship is no longer dom inant, the subaltern subject is no longer speaking as a subaltern, and can therefore be heard in a meaningful way through a common metric of expressibility. 27 Spivaks famous question of whether the subaltern can speak is answered negatively because of this; if it is meaningful in the normative framework in which the ear of the other is used to listening, then the commensurable nature of the exchange effectively sublimates the differences endemic to the category of subaltern. When the voice of the speaker is conditioned by a foreign scaffolding of intelligibility, the unifixed ear of the other can only hear what is already intelligible through ones own historical epistemology. By this I simply mean that all of our purported knowledge, whether in the so-calle d objective sciences or common sense, originates in what is initially given to the knowing subject, th us coloring the subsequent nature of the subjects formulation of claims as a producer of knowledge in a culture. Consequently, whenever unanimity in a conceptual metric is lacking, the incommensurability of the message is what comes through. But this gap-in-knowledge, however influential a factor in the commensurab ility of ideas, is not often verbalized or adequately acknowledged in the context of Western communicativ e theory. In fact, it is so deeply rooted in the Enli ghtenment project of transhisto rical principles of rationality that modern confidence in the factual repr oducibility of culturally normative content (through the existence of what app ear to be shared discursive forms such as alphabetbased languages) can be misleading, fo r it does not follow that the normative value of the original concept can be perfectly replicat ed in the foreign epistemic framework of valuation. As a case in point, in the original Colonial encounter with Mayan culture, the lack of a common metric of expre ssibility induced in the colonial observer what Heidegger might refer to as a type of breakdown where a sudden fracture in everyday, quotidian familiarity with habitual practices lead s to an anxiety-provoking loss of meaning. 28 Here, meaning is framed as ones basic orientation in the worldthe ability to see an object or experience as what one is predisposed to see it as thus achieving the status of meaning through a fulfillment of expectation. An expe rience is meaningful because we understand it; we understand it because we have been us hered into a world where the experience in
12 question already makes sense and has not b een subject to experiences forcing critical deautomatization of our mode of engagement with our world. Thus, when colonial observers cast their first glance upon the Ma yan hieroglyphic codices carved in relief, their anthropological as sessment took the following form in the mid-sixteenth century: The forms of their letters are nothing li ke ours, but are much more crooked and entangled, like fishhooks, knots, snares, stars, dice; they are almost meaningless. 29 The narrative logic of Mayan language, if and in what way it would have been conceived by the Mayans, was not communicable to the first colonial observers because, for one thing, their hieroglyphics lacked a visi ble metric of translatability (perhaps a linear alphabet) for the Spaniards to see it as a narrative logic in the first place, much less as what Mayans actually purpor ted the codices to say. Howe ver, this misrecognition of meaning can have highly consequential ramifications for the misunderstood speaker, especially when the misrecognition is done by culturally privileged agents with access to the writing instruments of official history. In a recent influential article, Post/Colonial Toponymy: Writing Forward in Reverse the cu ltural anthropologist Quetzil Castaeda cites the naming of the Yucatn peninsular re gion as a prime example of cross-cultural misrecognition, but one with deep significance to the configuration of postcolonial power relations. He writes: The discourse on the naming of the Yucatn has become a topos not only of Yucatn but of Latin American colonial di scourse criticism, since it economically marks the complex textual inversion of alterity forged in the encounter between European and Indian. 30 The story of the naming of the Yucatan, he writes, constituted an arbitrary (because it was not seen by the Spaniards as arbitrary, but as universal truth) imposition of the Spaniards logic of interpretation on Indi an words and speech acts. He reproduces Tzvetan Todorovs (1984) c ongruent claim that when the Spaniards discovered this land, their leader asked the Indians how it was called; as they did not understand him, they said uuyik a taan which means, what do you say or what do you speak, that we do not understand you. And then the Spaniard ordered it set down that it be called Yucatan 31 Told in a slight variation, Castaeda writes: When the Spaniards landedlanded on this tierra del faisn y venado this land of pheasant and deerthe Indians called it u luum cutz, u luum ceh; and, when they met the natives who approached, they asked, what is the name of this land? Not understanding kastrantaan (i.e. Spanish), one Mayan turned to the other and exclaimed, Uuy ku taan! [Listen how they talk!] 32 As a major outcome of this violen t misappropriation of Mayan linguistic expressions, modern Mayans have had to re-make intelligible their own world back from colonial (mis)translations. Moreover, the Herculean task of unconcealing the resources of expression concealed by colonialism is partic ularly difficult for Mayans because current
13 expressionssuch as the widespread popular use of Yucatn to designate an ancestral Mayan dwelling rather than the original we do not understand you have been normativized by official representations of co lonial history as founda tional facts; namings vested by the Spaniards powerfu l claims of authority to be subsequently certified into timeless, encyclopedic form. What the Mayans can do, and have been doing through examples such as Rigoberta Menchs descriptions of ceremonial life and customs, is supplementing official representations of hist ory with what I refer to as hi storical memory; cultural acts and practicesi.e. a word, festival, dance, gaze, poem, food, or the oral recitation thereofwhich call up again and again the signi ficance of certain cultural values through built-in instructions necessary to preserve a culture: how to sing the names of the forefathers, never to step over cornhusks or discard Maize, eating lim e instead of fruit, telling the story of the White Man at every ceremony. Thus, for modern Mayans, the word Yucatan, or U-kal-peten is the name of the year when the foreigners arrived, the year one thousand five hundred and nineteen. This was the year when the foreigners arrived, here at our town, (the town) of us Itz, here in the land of Yucalpeten, Yucatan, in the Mayan Language of the Itzas This is the year which was curre nt when the foreigners prepared to seize Yucalpeten [Neck-of-the-Land] here. It was known by the priest, the prophet Ah Xupan as he is called 33 Whereas a dominant culture needs a certain degree of forgetfulness to regenerate, cultures all but dismembered by colonialism must canonize th e value of remembering if they are to survive. In this sense, narratives of the Jewish holocaust have a special point of congruence with Mayan narratives; they both serve to re-ca ll again and again a historical event which can never be wrested fr om near memory, lest their culture face it again. The metonymic value of Mayan narratives, moreover, re lies heavily on the force of repetition to facilitate memori zation of these value codes. When placed in this framework, as an event of great epistemic violence, the conquest was characterized by the intercontinen tal importation of instrumental logic, one that, at the sight of a foreign text with no preassigned meaning in the Spanish language of the colonizers, was set in motion for the purposes of breaking the code of the Mayans. This will towards authorial representation of the others sign and signifiers on our terms, although not unique to Western im perial hubris, is arguably a hi storical characteristic of the culture. Thus, although ther e exist those resilient codes su ch as the Naj Tunich glyphs of Guatemalan Mayan culture (which as of today remain undeciphered but for an eyeblink longer), of the texts which anthr opologists have successfully made suddenly intelligible, little can be made of their use, for, as one contem porary anthropologist notes, lamentably, the Mayan te xts we have deciphe red so far fail to speak of important things we wish very much to know fi rsthandrecords of trade and commerce, inventories of building materials, listings of agricultural products 34 in other words, things which can be calculated, quantifiabl y measured, and catalogued according to rules of taxonomical categorization apposite to scientific knowledge.
14 The history of Latin American narr ativity, since the colonial imposition onwards, has been marked by a struggle for reconciling the adequacy of the colonial discourse to address the pre-pr edicative indigenous world-view in the absence of viable alternatives (in the fo rm of surviving languages). Subalte rn discursive norms are always therefore predetermined in advance by a speak ing subjects historically marginalized situation of enunciation in what can be de scribed as a culturally asymmetrical power relation. 35 For those on the loosing side of the hi storical equation, then, as a name for the general attribut e of subordination, 36 Ranajit Guha refers to the subaltern as the peripherally constructed subjec ts of history, emphasizing the unbalanced nature of the relation between privileged and marginal decl arative authorities. For the post-colonial subject, then, the problem of self-constancy, taking a stand on your own self and culture in order to self-legitimate, is inextricably ti ed to the past imposition of western culture, the result of which is hybridi ty and frustration in efforts of decolonization. This is because in order to decolonize, the Latin Amer ican post-colonial subject is faced with the daunting task of mobilizing projects of liberation against colonial thinking using the very colonial epistemology which originally cons trained one. Some theorists such as Audre Lorde believe this to be the central problem of epistemic decolonization, insofar as the tools of the master will neve r dismantle the masters house. 37 Because effective communication requires at minimum, the mutual reciprocity of the acknowledgement that both discussants have the right to speak for themselves, whether in intersubjective communication or through representative ideological apparatuses such as texts, the problem of how the dominant culture engages, interprets, and defines the subaltern voice as an object of inquiry subject to rules and standards of culturally-dominant knowledge is of primary importance. Thus, when the anthropologist William Haviland, here referring specifically to the Guatemalan Mayan codices, reasserts that not even the glyps, as he ca lls the Mayans textual production, speak for themselves , and that we need to check out what they say against the archeological record, he is asserting his right, in the name of the anthropological disciplines scientific preeminence, to interpret Mayan cultural production on his own terms. 38 Such a practice is grounded on the belief in the existence of an objective referent, the archeological record, (itself a cultural construction of knowledge by the victors in the colonial imposition) against which the truth of the codices may exist as facts. However, as Ofelia Schutte has pointed out with respect to the guidi ng presuppositions of Western conceptual orthodoxies such as thos e underpinning Havilands claims, Knowledge is not culture-free but dete rmined by the methodologies and data legitimated by dominant cultures. In other wo rds, the scientific practices of a dominant culture are what determine not only the li mits of knowledge but who may legitimately participate in the language of science. 39 If what constitutes knowledge in the western hegemonic configuration of discourse is adherence to the methodological principles legitimate d by the rules of the dominant culture, then to what extent can those of the subalte rn culture, to use Schuttes phraseology, engage in bilateral (tha t is, equitable) discur sive practices across cultures? Surely negotiation cannot take place when one side holds all the cards by legitimating the nature of the instrument through which discussion can take place. But
15 this is exactly the claim I am making of Western communicati ve rationality operative in disciplinary frameworks; that it pillars the possibility of disciplinary discourse as a resubalternizing practice which can, in turn, be seen as the prevailing problem governing the declarative legitimacy of the La tin American narrative form known as Testimonio Testimonio first coined in the 1960s by the ethnologist Miguel Barnet 40 as a first person narrative ba sed on eye witness accounts 41 has been said to represent the powerful textual affirmation of the [subaltern] speaking subject 42 due principally to the genres unconventional disavowal of formalist literary devices; the prose is simple, drawing from popular conventions (i.e. the linguistic resources already at hand) in such a way as to produce an oral counter-formalist e ffect to canonical West ern literature. This effect, in turn, has proved helpful to advan ced literary theory in deconstructing the ubiquitous authority of master literary na rratives such as the bourgeois novel. And yet, according to Gugelberger, tes timonial narratives have been undergoing a reappropriative process; a transmutation wh erein the texts implicit socially situated urgency is supplanted by reducing its functional value to a counter-formalism 43 In wishing to develop more foundational articulations of Testimonio as a fixed form scholars of Testimonio attempted to establish its definition by ascribing general qualities, properties, and essential attri butes such as an implicit socially situated urgency. While this latter attribute may be generally agreeable to many a scholar, especially those concerned with mobilizing projects of liber ation, the very act of trying to ascribe permanent qualities to the mechanism through which testimonial istasnarrators of lifestories can legitimately speak opened the door for theorists to conflate the eye witness account feature with the modern legal connotation of giving testimony. This conflation resulted from the transposition of the theo rists own conceptual orthodoxies onto the object of study; to recall Certeaus eloquence, the desire to formalize Testimonio using the European tools of colonialism will transform the space of th e other into a field of expansion for a system of production. Hence, giving testimony, the anthropologist David Stoll will insist in his book Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, emphasizes what he sees as the fundamental reportage or documentary quality of the genre. Testimonialistas become givers of testimony in a subordinate relationship to those taking, recording, and evaluating their testimony fo r credibility and contradiction. Thus, what began as a way to tell a life story, ended up as a way to document Truthfrom a way of speaking to a standard for selective listening. As the descriptive telling of a story, it is gene rally agreed that traditional testimonial genre began with the chronicles of the conquest, gaining formal articulation only in the twentieth century due to the em ergence of the many projects of national liberation and state-building throughout the third world. 44 However, the difference between the original ch ronicles of the conquest and the textual production of testimonial literature centers on who is doing the speaking; thus the legitimacy of ones position of subjectivity becomes an important question of testimonial literature, and by association, Subaltern Studies. For example, Bartolome de Las Casas An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies, written in 1540, stands out as perhaps the most well-known chronicled account of the conquest. Here, Las Casas writes as a first person eye-witness, a direct informant to the King of Spain, Charles V, over the
16 destruction of the Amerindian peoples. As an already-credible European proxy, Las Casas bypasses the corralling placement of th e witness stand and can directly (albeit through rhetorical devices) bring suit agains t what he sees as the Spanish explorers rapturous violence unbecomi ng of Christian virtues. To be sure, his claims there were no souls left in the entire is lands of Cuba, San Juan [today Puerto Rico] and only about two hundred souls 45 which he and his men could verifi ably count, could today be seen as hyperbole; as mythic inflations employed as a rhetorical device to speak to the King of Spain in such a way as to get his attention, impress upon him the urgency of the situation, and enliven the Kings conscience to intervene in the vi olence out of duty to Christian mercy and benevolence. Despite the voluminous scholarship devot ed to Las Casas since the texts inception, no scholarly critic to date has impeached Las Casas entire account of the conquest by ascribing to him the purposeful inte ntion to deceive the people of Spain. And yet, four and a half centuries later, when a Guatemalan Mayan Indian woman, Rigoberta Mench, acting as an eye-witness to the dest ruction of her indigenous community, gives her testimony of the violent at rocities against her own people she is accused of mythic inflations of the very facts she purports to narrate, evoking a response from many critics to label her entire story a fraud 46 The most evident difference between Mench and Las Casas, then, is their cultural status as speakers; in I, Rigoberta Mench, Mench is speaking as the native informant herself To this end, what has become ossi fied since the conquest, mostly in ways which are no longer transparent, is th e operative logic of our discursive norms namely, the logic of Western conceptual or thodoxies as calcified through the victorious history of the West in the pa radigm of colonialism. The j ournalist-turned-a nthropologist David Stoll is shaped by this very framework of intelligibility to the extent that he is insisting on the supervenien ce of the verification theory over the claims made by subalterns; what is at stake is the prevai ling of ways to objectively verify truth, to distinguish between fact and fa lsehood through the use of res earch methods that seek out the empirically verifiable. What is largely lost, however, is the understanding that how it is a memory gets encoded depends largely on the penumbral juncture of psychological, material, and linguistic forces already present in the subjects framew ork of intelligibility, for Stoll as for Mench. Rather than striving for recognition that a subject in distress is urgently trying to communicate, asking us to pay attention, Stolls ear reaches for the fulfillment of expectation through the largely incommensurable textual representation of Menchs conceptual framework. He fails and in response flees from anxiety by retrofitting her testimony to f it his expectations. He does th is the only way he can: to point out what he sees as logical contradictions. Under such pressing circumstances, the context of inter-cultural communication in Latin America and the third world has tende d to take on a histor ically-deterministic (many times Marxist) framework of the political In an effort to avert inaction resulting from discourses which stay at the level of theory, of talk ab out talk, cultural theoreticians such as John Beverley res pond to the question who are we to believe, Menchs story or Stolls versionthe incriminating accusations of the oppressed or the exculpating evidence of the oppressorsnot with a critical evalua tion of culturally-
17 specific socio-historical fram eworks as grounds for understa nding the inequity of the relationship, but with a constr uction of subaltern discourse th at is structurally political. For this reason Beverley sees testimonial lit erature as a form of resistance, as an ideological apparatus which can act as a viab le force to effect material change. But change can take many forms aside from visibl e material change; structural change for instance may necessitate an unde rstanding of the nature of the many ideological forces which influence our self-identifi cation and psychological formation as political subjects. However, Beverleys resolute claim that the solution to the problems afflicting third world peripheral subjects w ill in the end be decided on political rather than epistemological grounds 47 is partly right; the auratization of epistemology as the essential backdrop against which our know ledge of the world, understanding of conditions, and ideas emerge makes possible the very stance of the detached, neutral spectator so injurious to our attentiveness of lived experience. But whereas settling a dispute on epistemic grounds is really not settling anything specific but rather transpositioning the discourse of the dispute according to one epistemic convention or another, what can be of assistance is a view of epistemic frameworks as products of particular historical paradigms su ch as humanism or colonialism. Such paradigms, like the principles of the Enlightenment, are never transcendental, but derivative of an eventful convergence of very specific social and political matrixes indicative of a cultur e. And while we can adopt many of these paradigms as useful, practical metaphors, if we understand political to mean taking a non-disinterested stand towards a desired ou tcomea stand that involves voicing support or opposition of ideas, policies or conditions through various cultural mechanisms then history, on this view, is always political, for it is already laden with all the stands that have been, or are capable of being taken. What does not exist, moreover, is a historical grand design; a teleological or deterministic truth to human history because history is itself contingent, drawn by flux to produce na rratives of slavery, colonialism, and holocausts as well as narratives of science, Renaissance humanism, or empire. But one is not to despair, for the pervasiveness of thes e narratives can be mitigated by unconcealing the set of assumptions which have made them viable possibilities in the first place: we can still ask; why this rather than that, to lead us to the most important question: what must a culture be like to find one narrative infinitely preferable, to make possible the grafting of one possibility over another and call it history? In this sense human agents are always at the foreground of historical processes. Yet what is still being lost is this sense of history as constitutive of our conceptual prejudices. Thus, if awareness is to precede liberation, we must understand ourselves in a manner which will entail accounting for the forces which act back on our choices. Furthermore, politics proper is itself deeply rooted in the disputation of difference; by privileging political engagement through the explicit exclusion of normative frameworks which guide and inform the nature of those differences, Beverley effaces the possibility of accepting different ways of being political. It is tantamoun t to forcing the other to speak only in ways we already find meaningf ul (by way of monopolizing what counts as discourse) and is itself an act that reproduces subalternity by legislating standards.
18 Caught in the midst of those standards, Menchs text has been a site for contention in the North American academy, acting as a polarized battleground over the possibilities, constrains, and politics of cross-cultural communication and multicultural principles. On the one side, David Stoll accu ses Beverley and his colleges have been promoting Testimonio in a way that does not allow questioning its reliability. 48 Gathering the naming of allies, Beverley responds as follows: Spivak is concerned with the way in which elite representation effaces the effective presence of the subaltern. Stolls case against Mench is precisely that: a way of, so to speak, resubalternizing a narrative that aspired to (and achieved) hegemony 49 But Beverley, as seen earlier, is complic it in this subalternizing practice, although at a much less superficial leve l than Stoll. Beverley, with all his good intentions (visible through the intensely self-critical nature of his writings) want s to transcend questions of reliability in order to concretize the possi bility of an ideological imaginary for international solidarity in liberation movement s. But what the patterns of attacking and defending what the subaltern voice really means, is capable of meaning, or incapable of communicating is, in a way, reproducing subalt ernity by legislating through theory how it is the subaltern can, cannot, or ought to speak. There is no way out of is, for every description, every narration, is in essence a selective account of what one chooses to listen for. What is to be done, then? A cura tive reply would be to affirm the Buberian dictum: you shall not withhol d yourself, and discharge what is best in us, our skepticism of universals, into the task of clarifying what is to be undone. In other words, what projects should we take up in order to demystify and fetch out of its state of normalcy the assumptions and prejudices operativ e when we talk to the other? This is what I take the project of phenomenology to entail; to emphasize the descriptive account over the editorialized narrativ e, the aggregative over the analytical, the holistic and contextual over the instrume ntal, yet without invoking bina ry relations in between. If hearing is something we let happen in contra distinction with something we will to do, as in listening, the opportunities for hearing the subaltern speaker on her own grounds, however dissonant to our ears, will be maximized. Using the debate crystallized by the emer gence of the Latin American testimonial narrative as a counter-hegemoni c practice in the twentieth century, one can better see how the imposition of the colonial metric of expressibility (understood herein as the instrumental aspect of Western scientific rationality and the importation of foreign linguistic frameworks) on the narrative logic of subaltern lived experience has provided a normative scaffolding in which cultural pract ices that create, sustain, and reinscribe subalternity can thrive. The disc ursive practices of the discip linary franchise of the North American academy, through the dialectic pendulum of pro and contra theses (summarily characteristic of the formalist, anthropological and politic al articulations of Testimonio) promulgate what I call a monopol y of legitimation with respect to the theoretical configurations of ideological a pparatuses. These disciplinary configurations, through the ossifying nature of their applied everyday prac tice (from which specialized vocabularies can emerge as the norm) can have the effect of monopolizing what constitutes as the right way, as a le gitimated cultural apparatus through which a subaltern subject can (or is mo st likely to) attain agency. Th e end result of which, it can
19 be argued, is the possible effacement or cultural concealment of alternate ways subaltern subjects may self-legitimate in resp onse to the condition of coloniality. Put in other words, if testimonial discur sive practice becomes established, as I argue it has been, as a domi nant tool for combating We stern cultural hegemony, what then becomes of subjects who cannot openly e ngage in testimonial discursive practice and must thereby be read for in-between th e lines; in the breat h, the caesura of the unsaid? In this sense, cro ss-cultural communication, whethe r through a narrative text or phonetic vocalization, is about power about how culturally asymmetrical speaker/listener relations are not created, but unconsciously inscribed through the nature and normative portent of our practices. For this reason, in keeping with the plurality of panoramic perspectives so important to phenomenology, my selective reading of Menchs narrative as descriptions of everyday Mayan life is not the right way to read her, but remains only one way among many, a flash amongst the stars. Let us begin.
20 CHAPTER TWO LETTING CONTEXT BE : HISTORY AND THE RIGOBERTA MENCH CONTROVERSY At a time when rumor, myth, representation and the construction of what we consider real pose fascinating issues, it has become all too easy to deprecate the task of separating truth from falsehood, deferring instead to the authority of fashionable forms of victimhood. --David Stoll, Rigoberta Mernch and he Story of All Poor Guatemalans Perhaps the proper question of someone who h as not been allowed to be the subject of history is to say: What is man that he was obliged to produce such a text of history? -Gayatri Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic In order to reconnect with a non-instrume ntal, contextual approach to reading Rigoberta Menchs narrative it is essential to come to grips with the historical terrain from which it emerges. This involves accounting for colonialisms effect on Mayan culture (an effect which shows up in her narrative as a constant concern with cultivating cultural practices) and secondly, for the more recent armed conflict in Guatemalan history a conflict that led to, among other thin gs, the murder of Menchs family. It is only when these conditions have come into focus for the reader that a clearer, more perspectival view of the Stoll-Me nch controversy can emerge. To begin, in Mesoamerica, which consists of the central a nd lower regions of modern Mexico and Central America, thre e ethnic groups prevailed during the precolonial period: The Aztecs, Mayans, and th e Olmecs, also the oldest. Although all three groups were stratified by great linguistic diversity and virtually no centralized systems of power, they shared a comm on narrative in colonialism 50 During what is known as the Classical Era (250 900 A.D.), these civi lizations coexisted through both stable and warring relations, producing cultur es steeped in social intera ctions and ceremonial life. As a resource of expression, one often us ed to codify official narratives, Mayan civilization also possess ed a paratactic system of writt en communication. Mayan codices, akin to Cuneiform or Sumerian, utilized a basic unit of writing known as a glyph; collectively, these glyphs expressed in de tail, among other things, Mayan cosmological descriptions, many of which an thropologists have struggled to decode insofar as they
21 resist translation into modern syntactical systems of language The difficulty also lies in that many of the codices were not read, but sung. However, near the end of the Post-Classic period (900 1540 ad), habitual PostClassic Mayan life and cultu re practically collapsed 51 in the wake of the colonial encounter. The Colonial Period in Mesoameri ca does not begin with the customary date of 1492 because, although Columbus first voy age to the New Wo rld took place that year, Hernan Cortez did not arrive in Me xico until 1519, conquering Mexico City two years later in 1521. It was this decade (1520s) that saw the invasion of Menchs ancestral Guatemala and Central America. In order to conquer over what they saw as a worldview deviating from the norms of the Western civilizing mi ssion, the raze-and-burn cultura l policy administered by the Spaniards saw to it that any visible eviden ce of habitual ways of Mayan life were uprooted: whether through the destruction of temples, murder of Mayan elite, or imposition of a monolithic, foreign language. Moreover, the execution of Mayan kings and elite signified, for the culture, the profound loss of a traditional point of reference in social relations, making it difficult for surviv ors to resituate their identity following the conquest. As the Guatemalan scholar Arturo Arias has noted, When the Spaniards conquered Guatemal a in the early sixteenth centurythey executed the entire Mayan elite. In one of hist orys first holocausts, it is estimated that as many as two and a half million Mayans died in the fifty years following the conquest. 52 Yet of those who survived, wit hout their language or rituals to practice, modern Mayans were, metaphorically speaking, already dead. It is this historical memory over the death of important cultural practices, as we shall see later, that becomes critical in understanding Menchs often-ci ted emphasis on secrets. During the colonial period, a new system of social relations emerged based on powerfully hierarchical and exclusionary structures. Unlike Mayan hierarchies and priestly cast systems of the Classical and Post-Classical Era, which required increasing degrees of self-sacrifice the higher up one stood in society, the Spanish system of identity classification rested on notions of biol ogical and, more im portantly, geographic origin Resting on a subject-object dichotomy, power structures in the New World were thus upturned from their traditional basis in obligation to others, to privilege over others; from communal obligation to the tribal unit, to respite from communal obligation based solely on a higher social standing. One of the lasting ramifications of this historical shift in communal relations and responsibility can be seen today in the culture of indemnity propagated by 20 th century Latin American dictators and the military. Thus, in the early sixteenth century, at the top of the totem pole, looking down, sat social groups composed of Spaniards bor n in Spain, followed by the first generation of New World-born Spaniards, called criollos. And, since women did not accompany the original conquerors to the New World, those born of the union between Spaniards and
22 Indians became known as mestizo(a)s, a mixed, lower-ranked race which became the biological foundation for Latin Americas non-Indian population, also known today as Ladinos After mestizos, were Indians, surv ivors of the conquest, followed only by African slaves imported by Spaniards for labor. At this same time the king of Sp ain began sending viceroys, colonial administrators, to look after the interests of the Spanish empire in the newly conquered territories. The administrative tools they br ought with them consisted of new political, religious, and linguistic systems, all of which became key in homogenizing the Amerindian diversity of the region. To this e nd, it has been said that to master a people you must take away their language. In this manner, the imposition of Castilian became a tool for oppression because it excluded other languages, other resources of expression more at home with lived Amerindian experience. To be clear, there is no such thing as an organic Spanish language native to La tin America; it is the Spanish crowns importation of Castilian, which was said to be made from a pure form of Latin, that gave the Americas Spanish. Thus, the Latinizati on of the Americas by colonialism gave way to the reconstitution of the region as Latin America. 53 The effect of this historical event on subaltern systems of signification, as will be seen, is often occluded from surface view, but is nonetheless profoundly present in subaltern discursive practices. Geopolitically, similar to Africas experi ence with Colonialism, regions were arbitrarily reorganized al ong the creation of viceroyalties, also known as audencias, or political districts. The Guatemalan audencia was first composed of contemporary Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Yet the political configuration of Guatemala, today, is shaped less by its geopol itical boundaries than by its demographics; of the surviving legions of Mayans (which now reside throughout Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peni nsula) the highest con centration live in the central and western highlands of Guatemala, the area where Mench is from. In fact, of the eleven million people living in Guatemala today, over half are Mayan. 54 Thus, the plight of indigenous peoples, of descendants from survivors of the colonial holocaust, is closely linked with the history and fate of Guatemala. In Guatemala, the period between th e conquest and state independencethe official date for the closing of the colonial period, and the beginning of the post-colonial era was marked by the institutionalizati on of racism and oppression against Mayans. Replacing African slave labor, after 1871, May ans were forced by Ladinos to work against their will in the coffee plantations, 55 despite the fact slavery had already been abolished in the region. Furthermore, from 1871 until the 1940s liberals governed Guatemala, albeit only on paper. In practi ce, however, it was just the opposite; under the guise of liberal reforms, pr esident Justino Rufino Barri os (1873 1885) expropriated large tracts of land from Maya ns to parcel out to private owners. As a fundamentally agrarian culture whose entire civilization cente red on agricultural practices (as evidenced by their astonishingly accurate calendars) the theft of land by Ladinos and Spaniards became a pivotal part of Mayan historical memory. The conflict over the land question, furthermore, underpins Menchs narrative and must therefore be explored in a historical perspective.
23 Under the new feudalist system of latifundium the haciendas where Indians had been forced to live also became the sole property of Ladinos Without land of their own, or property to their name, in order to live Mayans became indentured to the hacienda landowners, in effect creating a system of slavery. This structure then became ossified through successive governmental policies aimed at maintaining the current cast system in place. Particularly, during President Manuel Estrada Cabreras (1898-1920) term in office, Guatemalan wealth intensified due la rgely to the increased productivity in large farm holdings, called fincas; a feat made possible only throu gh the exploitation of Indian labor. Moreover, the transformation of Mayan labor from traditional collectivist frameworks to bonded labor, and finally, to wage-labor, set the stage for Indians receptivity towards ideologies based on social solidarity and organization. Unionization, in particular, became an increasingly impor tant part of the eco no-political landscape throughout the 1920s, culminating by the 1960s in the establishment of organized indigenous labor movements such as the P easant Unity Committee, of which Menchs father, Vicente Mench, is re ported to be the founder. In addition, the 1920s and 30s were pi votal periods in Guatemala for two reasons. First, the economic infrastructure bu ilt by profit-oriented Ladino elites during this time made the country highly susceptible to influence by foreign markets. Because of the topographical make-up and location of Gu atemala, the country was well-suited for agricultural production. However, rather than engaging in a diversified agricultural system landowners maximized profit by streamlining production along a single crop or two. Under pressure by the United States to produce raw, unfinishe d materials necessary for manufacturing refined goods (where most pr ofits lie), just as Cuba made sugar, Guatemala made coffee and bananas. In fact, an astonishing eighty pe rcent of the national economy was based on these two crops alone. This type of impor t substitution economy, where countries (usually those with a lower developmental standing, as in third world) concentrate resources in order to produce a few, if not a single crop for exportation to first world importers, acquired the econom ic term banana republic to designate national overdependence on a single crop. Most aptly suited to Guatemala, banana republics also became highly vulnerable to the economic whims of importers, w ho, as bulk buyers, set the price of goods. Furthermore, consolidating resources into a single national product meant that to obtain equipment and machinery necessary to support production, primary-good producing countries would have to import all of their refined goods back from abroad. Beginning in the 1940s, the dependency theory used to characterize Latin America by economists consisted in highlighting the subordinated role of the primary-good producing country to the import country, typically the United Stat es. According to dependency theory, while only a few elite and government officials grew rich in the banana republics, the import country reaped a disproportionate economic advantage. It maximized profits through several mechanisms, such a having a constant supply of cheap raw materials, a readymade market for exporting refined goods, and an expansive platform for expanding
24 private-sector interests. This included large, private business holdings of foreign capital, land, and infrastructure. As would be expected, in 1929, following the collapse of the American stock market, a severe unemployment crisis swep t through Latin America that set in motion certain material conditions ripe for protes t. The sudden drop in American purchasing power sent the price of crops crashing, cr eating massive agricultu ral lay-offs throughout the region. It was partly in response to this ec onomic crisis that the first ideological seeds of communism began to be harvested in Central America. The emergences of communist ideas in Gu atemala, however, were perceived as a direct threat to American business interest s and to the Guatemalan elite which supported their own social standing through those inte rests. For this reason, under the U.S.-backed presidency of Jorge Ubico (1931-1944) Guatemalan labor movements saw the most widespread repression since th e institutionalization of slav ery in colonial times. With the rapid intensification of labor protests, wide-spread calls for social reform and against the repression, Ubicos dictator ship was toppled only through a full-blown revolution (1944-1955). It was at this tumult uous moment in Guatemalan history that Jacobo Arbenz Guzmn (1950-54) entered the polit ical arena. It is also the point where the specific political conditions giving rise to three decades of internal war the war Menchs narrative depictsbegan. By the 1940s over forty percent of all arable land in Guatemala, as well as nearly all of the countrys railroads, were owne d by the United States. The American company, United Fruit, the largest produce company in the country, had amassed a fortune in foreign interests throughout the first half of the twentieth century in Central America, specifically in Guatemala. Its largest indivi dual shareholder also happened to be the brother of the sitting Americ an Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Jacobo Arbenz, Guatemalas first and only democratically-e lected president, was feared by the United Fruit Company to be a communist due to hi s campaign platform for agrarian reform. Understanding the long history of conflict over land in Gu atemala, and wishing to rectify the misappropriation of traditional lands from the Mayan Indian majority, Arbenz, in an unprecedented step, reclaimed and na tionalized all the land holdings of the UFC and was swiftly denounced by president Eisenho wer. Arbenz responded by legalizing the communist party. Then, in 1952, Arbenz ins tituted the regions first land reform acts since the conquest. Historians of Central America have sinc e tended to agree this move was perhaps the most progressive step towards reconciliation with the Indian communities shattered by colonialism; th e period between 1950-54 in Guatemala, however, is often referred to as the shattered hope, because, as will be quickly seen, it was not to last. In 1954, on Henry Kissingers or ders, and under the approval of President Eisenhower, the CIA led a coup in Guatemala th at overthrew Arbenz. Subsequently, the United States replaced him with a series of U.S.-financed and trained military regimes friendly to U.S. interests. Thus began the m ilitarization of the Guatemalan state, and with this shift towards a totalizing centrali zation of power, also came governmental
25 corruption, and, more importan tly, the institutionalization of repression. As Carol Smith has argued, the situational violence Mench depicts can be seen as a national tragedy that had been brewing since a military government took power in 1954. Military dictatorships motivated various forms of leftist protest, nonviolent as well as violent, and mark the period when death squads began to eliminate political activists, union leaders, indigenous leaders, and Christian Democrats... Racism accounts for the nature of the final solution in the 1980sthe huge massacres of indigenous peoples 56 Wishing to maintain the powerful politic al clout and standing created by the backing of the United States, after being cat apulted into power through the CIA coup, the Guatemalan military began to consolidate power through a counter-revolutionary campaign, persecuting political activists and anyone who looked like a communist, or as the military called them, subversives. In return, para-military and guerilla organizations (most notably the FARFu erzas Armadas Revolucionarias) only fought back harder, with the 1944 victory over the Um bico dictatorship still hovering as a near memory. With Arbenzs visionary land reform s revoked and returned to previous elite owners, rebel forces throughout the country began mobilizing and adopting Marxist ideologies. The government responded by depl oying the infamous death squads Smith alludes to throughout areas thought to be ripe for insurgency: namely, in the mountainous highland regions where Maya n villages were located. By the time General Efrain Montt came to power through an internal coup in 1982, the casualty tolls of Mayan Indians were increasing to the tens of thousands. It was at this time that the violence reached its height; by the close of 1983, almost one hundred thousand Mayan Indians had been assassinated by government forces. At precisely this same moment in history, sitting in a Paris apartment alongside a professional ethnographer, an Indian woman, a refugee from th e violence, is telling her story to a taperecorder: My name is Rigoberta Mench, I am twenty three years old. This is my testimony. I didnt learn it from a book and I didnt learn it alone. Id like to stress that its not only my life, its also the testimony of my peoplemy story is the story of all poor Guatemalans (1). 1 It is against the historic al backdrop of systematic repression, exploitation, and conflict that Menchs narrative emerges. It does not begin on page one, but some five hundred years earlier, when the struggle for su rvival of her culture began. Owing to the loss of traditional resources of expression and subsequent immersion in life-and-death struggles, Menchs narrative should ther efore be seen as a text produced always in the wake of a breakdown in context of a collapse in the internal relations definitive of a culture. Those relations, in turn, are synony mous with the cultural practices of a community. No one is more sensitive to this than those intimately affected by the 1 For practical purposes, I utilize the parenthetical numbering format specifically when referencing I, Rigoberta Mench. All added emphases are noted.
26 disintegration of world-defining practices: We survive because of our communities, says Mench (158), and caring for thos e communities means having to cultivate ceremonial and linguistic prac ticesthings that cannot be propagated by genetic codes alone since there are Indians who dont wear Indian clothes and have forgotten their languages, so they are not considered Indi ans (167). Dressing in indigenous garments may seem inconsequential to a foreign observer of Mayan culture, but their clothing is as significant to them as texts are to any ch irographic culture: W e express ourselves through our designs, though our dress, says Me nch our huipil for instance, is like an image of our ancestors (81). And, because every ethnic group has a particular ancestral history, then naturally, each ethnic group has its own forms of expression. Other groups have different customs from ours. The meaning of their weaving patterns, for example(16). Whereas the first colonial observers ardent ly tried to extract narrative continuity from structures that most resembled rec ognizable forms of writing, as in the carved codices, Mayans encoded their sense of hist ory in more practical, seemingly mundane places: their weaving, games, dances, songs, calendars and ceremonies. In the section entitled close to the human lifeworld form Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong cites the primacy of the practical, lived world, as the basis for expression in dominantly oral cultures: In the absence of elaborate analytic categories that depend on writing to structure knowledge at a distance from lived experience, oral cultures must conceptualize and verbalize all their knowledge with mo re or less close reference to the human lifeworld, assimilating the alien, objective worl d to more immediate, familiar interaction of human beings. A chirographic (writing) culture and even more a typographic (print) culture can distance and in a way denature even the human, itemizing such things as the names of leaders and political divisions in abstract, neutral lists entirely devoid of a human action context 57 Accordingly, when Mench makes remarks such as: Its like expressing ourselves through a tree, for example; we believ e that tree is a being (80), or that we dont actually have the word for God (13) but dozens of words for maize [corn], it is easy to see how the concrete life-world Ong sp eaks of could the conceptual basis for an oral, indigenous culture. More over, Ongs analysis also pr oves helpful in emphasizing difference in comparative cultural analyses. To gain insight into an Indian perspective on the conquest, for instance, one ought to consult not a text, but The Dance of the Conquest, which according to Mench gives an exact meaning to what Indians think about the Conquest (206). Of course, only an Indian can access that exact meaning by virtue of growing into an understanding of the dance, and through dancing it itself. What is more, developing a sense of communal closeness for Mayans does not happen by possessing identical belief syst ems with other Indians, as in the Catholic Actions religious tenets, but by sharing peculiar practices and habits; as Mench puts it, we can only love a person who eat s what we eat (203). Likewise, because of the importation of different colonial metrics of expressibility on Ameridinan linguistic pr actices, Mench contends, I came across
27 linguistic barriers over and over again. We [Indians of different groups] couldnt understand each other and I wanted so much to talk to everybody and feel closebut I couldnt talk to them because they didnt understand me and I didnt understand them(164). Mench attacked the problem in the following manner: I asked them: what do you eat? How do you make your breakfast? What do you have for lunch? What do you eat for supper? And yes, they said the same : Well, in the morning we eat tortillas and salt and a little pinol at night we eat chile with tortillas, and then we go to sleep, leading her to conclude so everything was the same (118). They understood each other, Mench recounts, by describing th ings close to the human lif eworld, to use Ongs term. Yet the descriptions would not have achie ved resonance in Menchs ear had she not already grown into the meaning of those descri ptions through everyday practice, through a lived understanding of what is being described. Additionally, for Mayans to consider themselves Mayans, they must not only dress in Indian costume but speak as Indians speak; in other wo rds, everything has to be in our language (81). This is why in the East [of Guatemala] there are no Indians now, not because indigenous bloodlines have dried out, but because the Indians there have forgotten their costumes, their languages. They no longer speak Indian languages (169). What's more, educating Mayan children meant teaching them to speak as we spoke in our language (120), connoting one should not only use the local dialect, but also employ conventional speaking practices, such as listeni ng attentively versus speaking only to hear ones own reply. Because oral cultures tr ansmit knowledge through memorization (made possible by repetition and mnemonic devices), li steners in a linguistic exchange must pay careful attention to what the speaker is saying in order to be able to repeat it. Whereas reciting ancestral prayers is trouble-free beca use they are prayers which have been known to us for a long timea very, very l ong time (57), learning new prayers is twice the work for us (81) since it requires more work; similarly, says Mench, we have a lot of problems playing new songs because we have to memorize them (85). Yet this emphasis on the memorization of prayers and song in not without context; it calls our attention to the handy function they serve in part, as a recalling [of] history, and, in part, a call to awareness (67) of the need to preserve Mayan culture. As an immutable way of keeping our ancestors intermediaries a live, (80) i.e. as handed-down instructions for the practice and maintenance of their cust oms, song and prayer became cornerstones of Mayan ceremonial life in the wake of the Colonial encounter. Without question, as with the Colonial era, the most significant effect of the Guatemalan civil war on Mayan Indians became the stoppage of cultural practices due to disruptive material conditions hostile to c onducting ceremonies and to the simultaneous loss of many expressive resources resultant from the imposition of foreign cultural tools as earlier outlined. Mench attests to the fact m any villages in El Quich were unable to perform their ceremonies because they were persecuted or because they were called subversives and communists ( 160). When the violence reach ed her home province of El Quich in the seventies and intensified into the early eighties, during all this time Mench recalls, we couldnt cel ebrate our culture; none of our ceremonies (107). This led to a profound state of anxiety for Mench because the concept our ancestors had was that our race must not die out and we must follow our traditio ns and customs as they did
28 (223). This concern with the ability to prac tice everyday customs is a principal (albeit overwhelmingly under-explored) theme of her narrative. She says, again: I was very concerned that everything handed down from our ancestors should still be practiced (149) because they provide a contextual dime nsion to experience, which in effect, makes experiences meaningful. Marriage, birth, and death ceremonies, to illu strate the point, were instrumental in carrying on meaningful Mayan pr actices as cultural and historical referents. The birth ceremonies, for instance, are a time to remind [children] that our ancestors were dishonored by the white man, by colonization. Bu t they [the communal parents] dont tell them the way that its written in books, becau se the majority of Indians cant read or write, and dont even know that they have th eir own texts. No, they learn it through oral recommendations, the way it has been hande d down through the generations (13). Books can be burned, destroyed, limestone codices toppled, but oral narrative practices need only be encoded in the memory, a device kept alive through reengaging narratives in the course of everyday practical encounters, including cyclical ritual observances. Mench explains these latter practices serve a dua l function, not only to pass prescriptive information along, but also [as] something of a criticism of huma nity, and the many people who have forsaken their traditions (12). Henceforth, to be an Indian in a recognizable way is to part ake in the many shared form s of practical understanding carried forth by ancestral teachings. This is why the death ceremonies are of particular importance. Mench notes, an Indian, at the moment he is going to diemakes his last recommendations [to their community]and at the same time gives them the secret of their ancestors, their own experiences, their refl ections. He tells them his secretsthat is, everything that is handed down through the gene rations to preserve Indian culture (201). Yet since the war began [death] rituals ca nnot be performed for a dying person in the mountains where conditions make it difficult (203), all leading to a violent disruption of centrifugal points of cultural reference. Th e eruption of seismic conditions in worlddefining practices induced survivalist responses from Menchs people; their objectives therefore turned from sustaining le vels of normalcy in daily life, in spite of turbulent conditions, to a new code: First, preserve li fe, preserve customs only if the former is attained. Thus, as Mench tells it, the h eart-rendering decision came down from her community: we would forget our customs, our ceremonies, for a while, and plan our security first (125). She follows: we broke with many of our cultural procedures by doing this, but we knew it was the only way to save ourselves (128). The aim of her struggle agai nst oppression, then, can be seen as even more elemental than a war against political repres sion, of respite from ma terial violence. No, We wanted change so that we could expr ess our feelings and conduct our ceremonies again the way we used to, because at the time there was no possibility of doing so (155). Without these ceremonies, the Mayans would liv e, but they would not survive beyond the present generation. That is, the survivors encoded with Mayan bloodlines would no longer be what it means to be a Mayan Indian. The notion of personal identity based on blood and spatial origin, to recall, came with the c onceptual framework of the European Spaniards and was not endemic to Mayan culture. Even their priestly cast systems and ancient royal bloodlines were determined by a multiplicity of factors
29 commensurate with what it meant to be of royal origin; erudite knowledge of ancestral heritage, the ability to recite traditional prayers, to accurate ly predict droughts foretold by astronomical calendars, interpret astral signs, eat the foods of the Roya ls, or even perform timely acts of self-bleeding and self-sacrifice. Unlike the Spaniards system of identity classification, one could easily become not -of-royal-blood in the Mayan world. With regards to the under-explored theme, to use literary terms, of everyday customs in her narrative, several political analyses of the text have tended to focus instead on Menchs articulation of material conditions of strife. For example,[the kingdom of god] will exist only when we all ha ve enough to eat (134), is frequently cited in studies of Menchs testimonio; it is also commonly appended to her proclamation: [Ive] been radicalized by the malnutrition which I, as an Indian, have seen and experienced. And by the exploitation and disc rimination which Ive felt in the flesh (247). The succeeding lines are all too ofte n omitted from citation: and by the oppression which prevents us from performing our ceremonies, and shows no respect for our way of life, the way we are(ibid). The ramifications of not integrating Me nchs concern for listening to the way we are can prove far reaching, especially in constructing an adequate answer to the question, what is to be our response, or, put otherwise, how can we help?. Because one tends to hear what one is already used to hearing, wh en formulating a response to Mench from the North, the ear of the disc iplinary paradigm one is accustomed to hearing with often prevails. This is to sa y, if the theoretical framework one has grown into privileges a hermeneutics based on mate rial economic conditions, as in classical Marxism, or in empirically verifiable, objective truth, as in journalism, such will be the fate of the narrative that is being appropr iatedthe lines according to which what is being said, will actually be heard. To be fair, listening for something other than what one is used to hearing (i.e. for the unsaid rather than the Said) is a relative ly difficult endeavor, particularly when even close readings of texts seem to point one along a familiar, well-worn path. For instance, the most typical way Menchs text has b een read prior to the Stoll controversy which we will develop in a moment is through the conjunctive paradigm of literature and politics (especially Marxism). Critics su ch as Beverley attempted to construct a working definition for the classifi cation of Menchs narrative as testimonio, a new form of narrative literature in which we can at the same time witness and be a part of the emerging culture of an in ternational proletarian/popula r-democratic subject in its period of ascendancy. 58 Beverley continues: Testimonio is implicitly or explicitlyresistance literature The complicity a testimonio establishes with its readers involves their identificationby engaging their sense of ethics and justicewith a popular cau se normally distant, not to say alien, from their immediate experience. Testimonio in th is sense has been important in maintaining and developing the practice of international human rights and solidarity movements. It is also a way of putting on the agenda, with in a given country, problems of poverty and oppression. 59
30 Consider how Beverley might have eas ily arrived at such conclusions (and justifiably so, since there is no single, monolithic or right way to hear her narrative); I was fighting for a people and for many ch ildren who hadnt anyt hing to eat (224), Mench declares. Her struggle is a struggle of hunger and povertyneither the government or imperialism can say: Dont be hungry, when we are all dying of hunger (135). Moreover, an analysis of the narrative based on reading for ma terial, exploitative conditions that exacerbate violence is not at all without merit; Mench often interjects that people die early becaus e of the conditions we live in (144). She gives the following illustration: we [Indians] sleep in the same clothes we work in. thats why society rejects us. Me, I felt this rejection very personally, deep inside me. They say we Indians are dirty, but its our circumstances which fo rce us to be like that (48). In addition, she goes on to say, it was not only now that we were being killed; they had been killing us since we were children, through malnut rition, hunger, poverty, (116) which led her to make the aforementi oned remark: [the kingdom of god] will exist only when we all have enough to eat, when our children, brothers, parents dont have to die from hunger and malnutrition (134). Regarding the Indians who died in the occupation of the Spanish embassy (her fa ther included), Mench explains: all they wanted was enough to live on (185). And so throughout her narrative she comes back to, again and again, the insistence on the subjugati ng nature of material conditions: as I said, and I say it again, it is not fate which makes us poor (133). To be sure, Menchs assertion that our dedication to the st ruggle is a reaction against it, against all the su ffering we endure (203) evokes a certain sense of continual physical strife, but it is due to the aggreg ate effect the repetition of hunger and poverty have on the reader since these are all concrete, already-r ecognizable ways of conceptualizing suffering. The reader expect s a sense of desperation to follow, and so one reads for that: What were we to do?, she says, this made me very angry and I asked myself what else could we do in life? I couldnt see any way of avoiding living as everyone else did, and suffering like they di d. I was very anxious (89). Mench then recalls the time she said, Mothe r, I dont want to live, why di dnt I die when I was little? How can we go on living? (ibid) Yet in these latter passages the connotation is not just the endurance of physical sufferi ng, but the absence of traditi onal points of reference for living that ground existence habits that inst ill a sense of normalcy and levity (in that one forgets what one is doing at the present moment and by virtue of that acts effortlessly). In the wake of this dis-orie ntation, one is suddenly aroused to what is actually going on around one, with the disorienta tion giving way to anxi ety. I had lost my energy with all the worries Id hadeve rything was piling up together: it was all on top of me (239), she says. If we selectively point to the parts of her narrative that fit preconceived articulations of the testimonial ge nre, such as the narra tive of hunger alone, perhaps the call to hear how one is what one isthe things that make up Indian identity and therefore must be preservedcan be lost, falling in deaf ears. She almost needs to
31 shout it: why dont outsiders accept Indian ways? This is where discrimination lies! (122). It is crucial to be able to see how reading a narrative w ithout a contextual backdrop of preexisting sociohistorical relations obfusca tes the way in which the narrator relates to herself, that is to say, how one produces meaningful patterns of association, as in what it means to be Indian. An outsider to this pre-existing nexus of relations in a culture will not be able to accept Indian ways because they will not even know to look for the differences which constitute Indian ways, meaning their understanding of difference is already construed as something intelligible, notuncanny, and manageable enough to weave effortlessly as a representative image of the native in academic debates and papers. If we actually understood the native as different, we would begin to talk about her by becoming silent. Another prime example of how outsiders have constructed in telligible accounts of the way of the native, i.e. as what the native actually means to say or do is through Menchs account of secrets. It is a difficult critique to embark upon, mainly due to the impeccable research methods and anal ytic rigor of the critics from whom they emanate, such as the Harvard literary cri tic, Doris Sommerwhose metacritical breadth is admirable, if not beyond reproach. Yet it can be of significant va lue to show how easy it is for Western interlocutors to listen selectively (because, to remember, the hermeneutic situation is inextricable from what it m eans to be humaneven for myself) for the already-familiar. By offering an instantiation of the interpretive instinct by even the most self-critical of academics, it is possible to deflate in advance many of David Stolls vitriolic attacks on Menchs text (insofar as they are symptoms of one particular way of looking at the world). In her article No Secrets for Rigoberta and in a later expanded version, Las Casass Lies and Other Language Games, Doris Sommer argues Menchs use of secrets in her narrative is a rhetorical technique aimed at keeping readers from knowing her too well; it is a decidedly fi ctional performance on Menchs part, an intentional ruse deployed so that she keeps reminding readers that we are too foreign to presume to analyze her world, certainly too ill-informed to solve its problems[it is] Rigobertas game of distancing readers to a point from which they cannot possibly offer advice. 60 She continues: keeping secrets is her most significant language game, I believe. Rigoberta Menchs secrets astonished me when I read her testimonial in the early 1980s.Her secrets stopped me then, and instruct me now, wh atever the validity of the information or the authenticity of the informant. Why should she make so much of keeping secrets instead of just keeping quiet? I wondered. And why do these cultural secrets matter, if they have no apparent military or strategic value in this denunciation of Indian removal politics in Guatemala? Here is an expose that refuses to share information. The dissonance raised a question about Rigobert a:was she being coy on the witness stand, excercising control over apparently irrelevant information, perhaps to produce her own strategic version of the truth? 61
32 And yet, as mentioned earlier, if we carry forth an understanding of I, Rigoberta Mench as a narrative produced always in the wake of a breakdown in context of a collapse of worldhood from the colonial enc ounter onwards then in our reading of Menchs narrative another inte rpretation of Menchs secrets can emerge, one that discounts the image of a coy Ri goberta. Firstly, Menchs s ecrets are not a rhetorical device to captivate the reader ; no, through secrets Mench is recording the history of a culture on the verge of extinction hence her insisten ce on talking about everyday cultural practices that preserve the Mayan worldview. Moreover, with the situation growing worse by the moment, she must do this by any means necessary, including utilizing foreign networks of expressions which are almost certain to distort the message. Sommer is right in that Mayans keep secrets from outsiders: We have hidden our identity because we needed to resist, we wanted to protect what governments have wanted to take away fro m us. They have tried to take our things away and impose others on us, be it thr ough religion, through dividing up the land, through schoolsthrough all things modern (171). And this is why Indians are thought to be st upid says Mench they cant think, they dont know anything, they say (ibid). But So mmers claim secrets have no apparent military or strategic value in this denunciation of Indian removal politics in Guatemala, I think, is misbegotten; it has everything to do with the denunciation. As we shall see momentarily, without the violence enacted upon the Mayans on behalf of Indan-removal politics, there would be no need to talk a bout secrets. This is because by secrets Mench is talking about customs about everyday practical knowledge: it is not, as Sommer contends, a rhetorical method on Menc hs part. Rather, it is a type of recipe, if you will, or instruction booklet for everyd ay Mayan cultural practices and values. Without these guidelines, the center of Mayan life begins to loosen. Keeping secrets, Mench tells, is part of the reserve that weve maintained to defend our customs and our culture. Indians have been very careful not to disclose any details of their communities, and the community does not allow them to talk about Indian things. I too must abide by this. This is because many religious peop le have come among us and drawn a false impression of the Indian worldAll this has meant that we kept a lot of things to ourselves and the community doesnt like us telling its secrets. This applies to all our customs (9, emphasis mine). Yet Sommer does not account for how, just a few sentences after this defensive litany by Mench, she inexplicably resumes telling the detailed narratives of her customsanyways, she says, calling attentio n to the above digression, when a baby is born such and such a thing is done, offe ring chapter-long details of the meaning of practical minutiae; why red strings are used to tie a newborns hands; why male boys have an extra day alone with the mother; why so-and-so must be present, and what that signifies, etc. Mench, after emphasizing the oa th to secrecy that applies to all our customs and applies to her as well goes on to explicate in nove lla-length detail many of her cultures most important pr actices. As an alternate explan ation, I believe she is being wholly consistent with the contextual framework from which she narrates; in other
33 words, she is simply fulfilling her responsib ility to keep ancestr al teachings alive: again, this is all bound up with our commitment to maintain our customs and pass on the secrets of our ancestorswe must conserve them (17), she says. Since the beginning, when a child is born, [the communal parents] promise to teach the child to keep the secrets of our people, so that our culture and customs will be preserved (12). By preserve she means to keep out of view fr om those capable of taking their culture away: Historically, Spaniards, and now, Ladinos and no n-Indian elites. Earlie r on, the subject of historical memory arose. The raze-and-burn cultural policy of the Spaniard colonizers left a lasting impression on Mayan historical me mory; the lesson learned: no one can steal what cannot be found, or even more, what no one knows to look for. To survive, the Mayans learned to speak by concealing : My father used to say there are many secrets we must not tell. We must keep our secrets. He said no rich man, no landowner, no priest or nun, must ever know our secrets. If we dont protect our ancestors secrets, well be responsible for killing them (188). The phrase well be responsible for kill ing them could not be more appropriate; for if what it means to be a Mayan Indian is embodied in their cultural practices, their linguistic resources, their costumes, if those resources of expression are taken away an Indian is no longer that; to go back to an earlier statement: there are Indians who dont wear Indian clothes and have forgotten their languages, so they are not considered Indians (167). To combat this possibility, t he village leaders come and offer their experience, their example, and their knowledge of our ancestors. They explain how to preserve traditions (12). Growing up, Mench recal ls the lessons of her parents, the insistence that it is our dut y as parents to keep our secrets safe generation after generation, to prevent the ladinos learning anything of our ances tors ways (68). It was, after all, the Western Christ ian civilizing mission that brought on the need for secrets. This is why we dont perform only Christian ceremonies. We dont want to because we know that they are weapons they use to take aw ay what is ours (171), she explains. The memory of colonialism heeds a powerful wa rning to all Mayans; we must not trust them, white men are all thieves. We must keep our secrets from them, say the Mayan elders (69). As seen, Sommers claim that Menchs use of secrets is purely rhetorical can be contrasted with a different account of her narrative. Throughout several points Mench openly reveals (though the message falls between the gaps) what she means, specifically by each secret: We have our secrets, she says, My mother had many little secrets that she taught us, just small th ings. For instance, what to do when a lot of dogs are barking or biting someone (190). Being able to calm a disruptive animal is important practical knowledge in her co mmunity given, as Mench tells it, the regimented and limited sleep patterns of working Mayans; one only has a couple hours to sleep before returning to work in the planta tions, so being woken by animals, she tells, would be injurious to their daily routines. She divulges another little secret: It was the community who taught me to respect all the things which must remain secret as long as we exist, and which future generations will keep secretwhen
34 we began to organize ourselves, we started by using all the things wed kept hidden our traps nobody knew about them because theyd been kept secret (139). Developing methods of self-defense, orga nizing the community in a clandestine matter was essential; if the military got wind of the mobilization of highland Mayans in El Quich, the implications would be life-th reatening. That is why no one must discover our communitys secretits a secret what we are doing here(125). To escape detection of soldiers, it was the organ ization of the village which was totally secret, the network of information the village had put into operation (128) became a secret a way of being discreet that ensured thei r survival. There is no coyness in this understanding of secrets, as Sommer suggests. In fact, when Menchs village outsmarted several soldiers, she recalls: I said: This is a great victory for our secrets, no-one has discovered them (147). But the question must be asked again: if one cannot perform ceremonies due to erupting violent conditions, how is Menchs culture to survive? How is the knowledge to be passed on without applied practices? The question of whether to reveal secrets or not is mimicked in an earlier decision, a pattern being woven under the surface. To recall that painful decision: we would forget our customs, our ceremonies, for a while, and plan our security first we broke with many of our cultural procedures by doing this, but we knew it was the only way to save ourselves (125, 128). Hence the following: and so we have to protect our lives, we are ready to defend them [ our lives, as in our ancestors] even if it means revealing our secrets. (170). In the wake of a breakdown in context, the rules of the game have cha nged, yet the nexus of relationsthe sociohistorical context that produ ced the conditions in which the game emerged does not. Mench still understands herself as the self she grew into an understanding of ; as a product of an ancestral commun ity commended with the task of preserving ones own way of life. Thus, in the midst of ( yet a nother) genocide we had to prevail over these times through the living memory of our an cestors (187). And it is through the living memory of her ancestors that Me nch speaks, the way she is most at home in speaking, when asked to give her testimony: I was asked to give my testimony about the situation in Guatemala, she recounts, and that is exac tly what she did. She explained the situation by narrating how it is her peoples world was dissolving; how Mayans were being exterminated by more than the current military regime, but also by the structural conditions underpinning it. For the violence to end, the latter must be brought out of concealment. This is what it means to denounce the regime and all that supports its very existence. An interesting claim Sommer makes, how ever, focuses on another aspect of Menchs narrative; the author-editor function played by the ethnologist who interviewed, tape-recorded, and compiled Me nchs narrative into a text. Sommer writes: we should notice that the audible protests of silence [the secrets] are responses to anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debrays line of questioning. If she were not asking possibly impertinent questions, the Quich informant would have no reason to resist. 62 And yet Im not so sure Mench is resi sting. Burgos-Debray would have to
35 have been asking nothing but impertinent questions in order to maintain the level of repetitive, cyclical continuity evidenced in Menchs verbalization of secrets. To call up the original frustratio n Burgos-Debrays expresses in the introduction to I, Rigoberta Mench, her narrative subject seemed bent on talking about marriage ceremonies, rituals, and customs rather than sticking to the assigned teleological outline suggested by BurgosDebray. Yet Menchs actions here are not to be interpreted as purposeful digressions, la Sommer, intent on derailing the ethnologist s project; Mench simply has a different conception of a telos : for her, projecting into the futu re means a simultaneous reaching backa sliding to and fro in order to talk about the present. This is why, to begin, Mench expresses her desire to begin in (what she recognizes for the European ethnographer to be) an unorthodox manner: Id lik e to start from when I was a little girl, or go back even further to when I was in my mothers womb (1). For Sommer, the appearance of withholdi ng secrets surely infuriates some traditional anthropologists. Perhaps they are deaf to the message of propriety, or they feel goaded to know more than she will tell 63 But is the message propriety? Because I am not Indian, I cannot say whether the alternative e xplanation I offer is any closer to what Mench means to say. Following Nietzsche, I too might be replacing one fiction for another. But I, like Sommer, believe in arri ving at our conclusions by taking very careful looks at the stories we study. She is apt to point out members of certain scientific communities will be jarred by the dissonance cr eated in reading Menchs text; where we differ is in the conclusionfor me, the effect is not one created purposefully by Mench in order to create distance, but rather is the result of how the Western interlocutor interprets her discursive attempts as distancing. To this end, the appearance of withholding secrets does, in fact, exist, but only for us To ask Mench to answer to this ploy, this ingenious ruse, could also be to say to Mench that we havent heard her at all, that weve been listening to ourselves inst ead. In spite of this, Sommers reading of Menchs narrative is highly complementary to my own, since it develops possible layers unconcealed by different interpretations, different ways of seeing what ostensibly appears to be the same thing, as in the canonical und erstanding of a text as a fixed object. In looking at the theme of secrets in this manner, we realize that as interpreters we can often come through different avenues, melodi es, and ways to share in the same coda; Sommers concludes her analysis of Mench s narrative by asserting what I, too, would affirm. In response to reading Mench, She writes: It is a lesson in the distinction betw een giving support and giving orders. Readers may feel moved to lobby against military aid to a cruel regime, perhaps to send medical supplies or food, and to reflect on the long history of slippages between wanting to know Indians and thinking you know enough to make policy for them. 64 To give Mench the last word: We Indians have always hidden our iden tity and kept our secrets to ourselves. This is why we are discriminated against we often find it hard to talk about ourselves because we know we must hide so much in order to preserve our Indian culture and prevent it being taken away from us. [but] w e can select what is truly relevant for our people. Our lives show us what this is. It has guaranteed our existence. Otherwise we
36 would not have survived we have selected what is relevant for us and have fought for this we dont do this or that so our neighbors can say, what good people they are! We do it for our ancestors (21,170,187, emphasis added). We do it for our ancestors, henceforth, becomes the navigational compass for actionthe prescriptive orientation coming dow n from her tradition; it is a view of agency fundamentally rooted in directi ng ones possible future actions through a synchronized retrieval of pre-existing traditions and cultural relations. Put in other words, for the Mayan subaltern speaker to talk explicitly about the future is to always speak implicitly about colonialism about the narrative that make s possible an u nderstanding of the current violence as inherently not-of-one s making. This is why she speaks about the military violence as derivative of an older s ituational matrix: our situation has nothing do with fate but was something which had been imposed on us (119), she says; if you think about it, Spain has a lot to do with our situation. They have a lot to do with the origins of the suffering of the people, especi ally of the Indians (186). To ask a Mayan Indian to try to be objective about the act ual situation in Guatemala during the 1970s and 1980s (that is, to try to give an account of history which paints the government and Ladino elites in a other way than as oppressor) is to denude Mayans of lived experience, of their sedimented, protestational stance towards official history. Keep in mind, Mench believes she is being asked to speak about the plight of her people, about the suffering of indigenous communities in Guatemala. Even when her Western interlocutor chooses to hear for palpable narratives of hunger and material strife, Mench points the way towards an understandin g of her narrative that is aggregative rather than analytic 65 ; in other words, as a privileging of the sum total, of the effect produced by pointing to passages the same wa y a flame passes candle to candle, gaining luminary value with each new descriptive flicker. In light of the rampart malnutrition, hunger, poverty faced by her people, she tells, we started thinking about the roots of the problem and came to the conclusion that ever ything stemmed from th e ownership of the land(116). To the economically-determinis tic ear, being able to ground the problem faced by indigenous peoples on ownership of the land, of having control of the means of production, is not misguided, nor without pr ecedent. But the point remains that for Mench this problem is rooted in an even older condition produced by coloniality: [the elders] refer back to the time of Co lumbus and say: Our forefathers were dishonored by the White Mansinners and murders; and it is not the fault of our ancestorsif they hadnt come, we would a ll be united, equal, and our children would not suffer. We would not have boundaries to our land (67). If the White Man had not arrived, for the Mayans, land ownership would still be understood as communal property, collectiv ized, and remain un-divided; by having boundaries to their land, Mench is refe rring to the phenomenon of parceling out measurable plots of land, first by colonial administrators, and subsequently by the Guatemalan government. For this reason, Mench explains, the most important form of communal education after the t eaching of daily customs and practices is a historical
37 education; being an educated Indian has nothing to do with sc hooling in humanistic knowledge, but with having a sense of ones own history She narrates: I was now an educated woman. Not in the sense of any schooling and even less in the sense of being well-read. But I knew the history of my people and the history of my companeros from other [Mayan] ethnic groups (169). This is what it means to have knowledge, to bring forward a collective, social autobiography written by a long lineage of communal experiences and ways of interpreting those experiences. Since the begi nning, she tells, [newborns] are told that the Spaniards dishonored our an cestors finest sons, and the most humble of them. And it is to honor these humble people that we must k eep our secrets(13). In the marriage rites, she makes a point to emphasize the community elders always say: This is what our ancestors were like; this is what the White Man did; its the fau lt of the White Manwho is to blame for all this? The White Man who came to our country (69). As we have seen, being able to grasp (and by grasp I mean becoming continually aware of) the contextual, histor ical framework operative in narratological practices of Mayan Indians is imperative on many levels. First, it neutralizes the positivist-minded social-scientists project of trying to establish a more objective historical referent for indige nous peoples outside of their ow n. The very idea of helping indigenous peoples cope with their situati on by helping them get clear on what are fundamentally Western ways of looking at hist orical events will not lead to genuine pathways for communication, but to exacerbating the sentiment that one is not being heard across the border (s). Secondly, what offi cial colonial constructions of history do is facilitate the maintenance of the colonial condition by reproducing the illusion of a neutral, value-free perspective that is always privileged over indigenous, biased perspectives. It instills a formal grounding, a se nse of predictability-of the ability to exercise control over flux by falling in line w ith linear narrative structures (facilitated by subject-predicate grammar). O fficial colonial hi story and the language of empirical science work in conjunction to re-conceal the Mayans lived unders tanding of the world as a historical breakdown, a collapse, as we have said earlie r, of worldhood. Specifically, the Stoll-Mench controve rsy covers over this world-defining collapse by engaging textual interpretation of Indian testimonies of survival based solely on the Western interpreters own criterion for credibility. In so doing so, the controversy reproduces certain Western cultural conventions rooted in a naturalistic ontology by devaluing indigenous worldviews based on human practices I take the anthropologist Victoria Sanfords advocacy of reading Menchs narrative through a meaning-centered interpretive met hod one step further. She writes: Survivor testimonies viewed in the context of the discourse and practice of the various phases of state terrorrepresent a living memory of the terror that continues to influence daily life. Under these circumstances, discrepancies encountered in testimonies taken in the field should not be taken to indi cate faulty memory, invention, or deception. Rather these contradictions should lead us through and beyond facts to their meaning as experienced by survivors and witnesses 66 (emphasis mine).
38 On this view, I suggest that the alle ged in-itself exis tence of the abovementioned discrepancies in Menchs narr ative exist only on culturally normativistic grounds. That is to say, Sanfords references to these contradicti ons and discrepancies exist only when testimonies are read fr om a Western perspective. For example, in the West, lived experience is filtered though an understanding of self as a relation betw een subjects and objects commensurate with a naturalistic ontology. Presently, and for some time now sin ce the arrival of postseventeenth century scientific thinking (ushered in by the likes of Newton, Copernicus, and Brahe), we have subscribed to a conception of the world that is purely scientific, one that holds up the structure and content of the world as solely governed by natural law. Historically, the overwhelming successes of modern science in rationally predicting, manipulating, and empirically verifying the existence of the ex ternal world though regimented calculability and standardized experimentation have led to a distinctively na turalistic account of human knowledge, one where obj ective science, not human practice is the measure of all things. Scientific naturalism, in particular, undervalues the foundational role human construction of standards underlying our world play in our knowledge of the world, where world is seen as a historical paradigm 67 Over time, naturalism has become synony mous with a reduc tivist non-normative account of the world that is purely scientific one mired in objectivity and philosophically committed to the physical world as fundamentally knowable. The social sciences and particularly the research methods of modern anthropology and ethnography are prime examples of this positivist bias. Thus, wh en David Stoll defends his research of uncovering possible lies told by Mench, he credits his project to the foundational need to differentiate truth from falsehood in defense of the scientific spirit. 68 Moreover, this insistence on factual ve racity is precisely why phenomenological reading practices pose threats to the totali zing, overarching influe nce of scientific naturalism in textual interpretationbecause phenomenological approaches disclose the authority justifying many of scientific naturalism s claims as relative; that is to say, they are based on a self-reflexive commitment to a picture of science that is paradigmatically modern and arose from the great su ccesses of post-seventeenth century scientific thought. In other words, naturalism is deeply rooted in certain historical trajectories descendant from the European Enlightenment; it is an atomistic viewpoint which, when grafted onto Mayan worldviews, masters over and conceals the role of human agency in indigenous ontol ogies. For example, when modern Mayans attempt to speak, what shows up to the Wester n listener, then, are inconsistencies and contradictions which are reclassified as f alsehoods, lies. Saying Rigoberta lied is also to say we dont understand what she is saying as something worth valuing, that is, we dont recognize the Morse code she is send ing us because it is not encoded through our language of empiricism, and is subse quently discarded. Thus, despite offering insightful alternatives as to how discr epancies and contradictions in survivor testimonies could be interpreted differently, Sanford still holds on to the assumption that
39 the contradictions do, in fact exist in themselves, rather than challenging them structurally by examining how such discrepancies exist for us. 69 Thus, it is important, if not crucial, to begin to rethink the accepted discrepancies and contradictions perceive d to be in Menchs narrative as products of Western cultural normative practices. Finally, let us now turn to the controversy itself, fleshing out its parameters so as to move past them; this, in an effort to hear Mench on her own terms a task which is always unfinishe d, on-the-way, and towards which we must continually reach. There is no getti ng it right with regards to interpreting Menchs narrative because reading practices ar e invariably framed through the readers own particular conceptual framework. However, when seen as an event, by taking the stance of repetition (that is, continuously reengaging th e act of trying to hear anew) we may create through our practices certain cond itions favorable to equitable discourse between culturally different agents.
40 CHAPTER THREE BEARING TRUTHFUL WITNESS: DAVID STOLL AND THE STORY OF ALL POOR GUATEMALANS After receiving a tip from an Ameri can anthropologist claiming to be in possession of corroborative evidence for his allegations (i.e., the academic book he had just written), on December 15 th 1998, the prestigious New York Times ran a front-page article headlined by Nobel Winner Finds Her Story Challenged in reference to Rigoberta Mench. The controversy was this: the American anthropologist in question seemed to have found evidence of contra dictions in Menchs testimony, thereby suggesting it should be impeached based on her now-tarnished credib ility. The article, written by one of the papers top Central Am erican correspondents, Larry Rohter, was quickly picked up by the internat ional press and reprinted the next morning as Tarnished Laureate. 70 Rohter writes: Key details of [Menchs] story ar e untrue, according to a new book written by an American anthropologist, Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans Based on nearly a decade of interviews with more than 120 people and archival research, the anthropologist, David Stoll, concludes that Ms. Menchs book cannot be the eyewitness account it purports to be because the Nobel laureate repeatedly describes experiences she never had herself 71 Having framed the polemic on the reliabil ity of first person eye-witness testimony to report only what one has borne witness to (versus hearsay), Rohters article went on to reproduce Stolls major assertions, all of which center on a direct contestation of Menchs version of the facts. According to Stoll, Mench (whom he only refers to as Rigoberta) misrepresents the situation of he r family and village life before the war 72 in an effort to fall in line with the revoluti onary ideology of the EG P, a militant peasant organization. Based on interviews and archival field work, Stoll claims the following: (1) Menchs brother Nicolas did not die of intoxi cation from pesticide fumes, as she claims in her narrative, but of simple malnutrition; (2) the land dispute Mench alludes to was not between evil Ladino elite landowners but a paltry quarrel over land between her father, Vicente, and another Mayan neighbor ; (3) Menchs Father, who died during the occupation of the Spanish Embassy in Guatem ala, served as the instigator for the skirmish between the peasants and the army, immolated himself, and may even have been personally responsible for the fire; (4) Mench lied about being an illiterate peasant who could not write or speak Spanish; based on c onversations with Belgian nuns in the region who remember Mench, Stoll claims Menc h attended a prestigious boarding school on
41 an academic scholarship, knew Spanish, how to write, and did not engage in manual labor in the fincas given her full-time enrollment in school. The nuns do not have records to prove this, but he believes them; (5) Stoll claims her brother, Petrochino, was not burned alive by the military, as she depicts in her narrative, but rather shot by the military and dumped in a common mass grave. 73 For Stoll, these are all inconsistencies that matter because he claims they reveal a deeper revolutionary agenda to cover over what cannot be corroborated in order to put forth pr opagandist versions of the facts as the one official story. In response to the allegations of filtering the truth to fit an ideological agenda, Mench countered in a Janurary 1999 interview in La Prensa Libre : There is no hidden agenda. Some people think that I have a hidden agenda, a hidden truth, and that therefore they must bring out that truth. Today I can tell you all these things because nobody will be assassinated tomorrow because of it. 74 Stolls overarching argument in Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans discredits Menchs detail ed descriptions of the state-sponsored terror in Guatemala as historically inaccurate. He contends Rigobertas version was so attractive to so many foreigners that Maya ns who repudiated the guerillas were often ignored or discounted 75 Stoll includes himself in the people ignored or discounted in the wake of worldwide attention focused on Menchs narrative. For instance, Stolls expert assessmentwhich he had articulate d years earlier in hi s Stanford doctoral dissertation but according to him went unnotic ed in the politically correct academic world owing to the fashionable popularity of Menchs book points blame for the violence at guerilla insurgents. Had th e guerillas, many of whom were Mayans themselves, not instigated violence agains t the armed forces, St oll suggests, perhaps Mayans would not have faced the same level of repression from the military. In other words, since hypothetically speaking Mayan in surgents could have acted differently, perhaps rebelling against the Guerillas who were fueling the violence (in his view), the massacres of Mayans could have been avoide d. In fact, the massacres of Mayan Indians were a result, in his expert opinion, of a cro ssfire between radicalized insurgents lulled by the romanticism of Guevarismo and a predictable anti-terro rist response by the state. Not surprisingly, Stolls controversial conclu sion brutality toward civilians is a predictable result 76 from insurrectional activity taken against a repressive government did not make it into the New York Times article, for it places blame on victims of violence for rebelling against their oppressors. Stoll discredits the assertion made by Mench, as well as by prominent historians of Central America, that guerilla groups formed in response to state repression. Although Mench s side of the story is echoed by United Nations reports, citing the army for over 95 percent of the killings, 77 Stoll contends revolutionary groups like the EGP (E jrcito Guerrillero do los Pobres) [Guerilla Army of the Poor] played a foundational role in the violence. The controversy, hence, is between contrasting versions of the same events; one from the victim (Mench) who lived though the terror and holds the military to blame, versus that of the professional academic (Stoll) who considers himself a neut ral scientist, and points the finger in the other direction, towards tensions caused by insurgencies from rebel forces, such as the predominantly indigenous EGP.
42 In interviews following the publication of Rohters article, Stoll reiterated his position that Menchs narrative became canoni zed in the 1980s by well-meaning leftist intellectuals as part of a concerted effort to construct an inte rnational human rights imaginary in reference to the work of John Beverley, whom Stoll cites as an expert in testimonio that is sacred and beyond question 78 He says, I wanted to encourage more survivors to share their experiences of violence 79 without mentioning why in his book he only offers accounts of the violence which, after being selectively compiled, bolster his own argument, discounting any which mi ght corroborate Menchs account. In a February 1999 interview with Di na Garcia, Stoll adds, when a book becomes almost sacred, it is a sign that it hi des contradictions that ought to see the light of day. 80 What Stoll meant by a book becoming al most sacred is this: by the time Mench received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her tireless defense of indigenous rights and peoples, her 1983 narrative de nouncing the violence in Guatemala had already been translated into half a dozen languages, placed on the multicultural reading lists of many university syllabi, and become an international best -seller. And, although the Nobel Prize committee responded to Roht ers article by reminding the international audience that the prize awarded was for peace, not literature, many critics claimed her autobiographys prominence p aved the way for her being awarded the Nobel Prize. 81 In spite of this, in the introduction to his book, Stoll makes the rhetoric al assertion that if the Nobel Prize resulted (whether directly or indirectly) from the international success Menchs narrative had achieved, what woul d happen, then, if much of Rigobertas story is not true? 82 Throughout Latin America, and especially in Guatemala, a bevy of editorial rejoinders to the Rohter article appeared in newspapers and journals in the days following the New York Times article publication. In a January 16, 1999 La Jornada editorial ironically titled Lets Shoot Rigoberta, Eduardo Galeano makes the following remark: [Stoll] came to Guatemala to study us as if we were insectsIn his book he invokes witnesses and archives. What archives can there possibly be about the recently concluded war? Did the Guatemalan army ope n their archives to him? Not too long ago, Congressman Barrios Kle tried to consult tho se same archives, and he was later found with a bullet hole in his head. 83 For many close to the situation in Guatemala, one columnist noted, the prominence of [Rohters] article came as a surprise, because the [New York Times] had downplayed other significant events that took place in Central America during 1998, including the assassination in Guat emala of Bishop Juan Gerardi, the head of the Recovery of Historical Memory commission (REMHI), forty-eight hours after he presented the printed version of the commissions human rights document, Guatemala, Never Again 84 . Commissioned by the United Nations, the a llusion in Bishop Gerardis report to the Jewish holocaust sought to emphasize th e worldwide apathetic diffidence towards the history of a whole peoplethe Mayan Indians, during the genocidal period in Guatemala.
43 The timely reference suggests an ethical quanda ry over narrative authority. If it is the case that witnesses of crimes cannot denoun ce violence firsthand because their voices have been snuffed out along with their live s, how is a story, one with life-and-death consequences, to be told? How can official history record the voices of the voiceless when they are no longer alive to represen t themselves? Journalists and forensic anthropologists may be of valuable aid in rec onstructing historical tr agedies, particularly in cases where intensive field work leads to the unearthing of clandestine cemeteries, as in Victoria Sanfords work. Yet if influe ntial journalists encapsulate cultural tragedies by reducing them to allusionial bi-lines, vi ctims will be hard pressed to accept any official version as an adequate account of their lived experience. For example, by omitting specific details or even official casualty figures by the United Nations 200,000 dead, 40,000 disappeared, 100,000 orphans, and a million and a half refugees-and simply calling it a civil war, Rohter su mmarized the force of Stolls accusations by noting, it is necessary for readers to disti nguish between what can be corroborated and what cannot, what is probable a nd what is highly improbable. 85 For Mench, what stood out as improbable would be the inability of the international press to corroborat e facts from a dead person; in explaining why she gave a first person account of her brother Petrocinios death despite not beari ng direct witness to it, she confides my mother saw it. And she can no longer speak about it. Since her mother suffered the same fate as so many Mayan Indians, Mench asks: How could I possibly have presented my mother as the numbe r one witness, when they have killed so many witnesses so they cant speak? 86 Dante Liano has responded to the charges brought against Mench by pointing out that what we have here is a classic campaign to rewrite history [by Stoll]it calls to mind the technique used to attack the verac ity of the Holocaust survivors: but you just said you were in that camp, whereas the documents prove you were in another camp; and if that concentration camp did not exist, pe rhaps no concentration camps ever existed at all. 87 And yet Stoll holds steady in his book to warnings against reliance in different perspectives in first-person testimonial na rratives without an objective mediator to test for accuracy; if, as academics, we rema in steadfast to the id ea of critical inquiry, then we must see to it that Mench, a quasi -religious figure, is compared to other forms of evidence 88 For some critics, including renowned anthropologists, this stressing of neutrality does not sit well in a field keenly aw are that documents or facts never speak for themselves, but always need interpreting. What seems to be really at stake, then, is a debate internal to discipli nary frameworks split between a polarization of postmodernist pedagogy inclusive of differen ce versus scientific naturalisms will towards a single neutral Truth. Carol Smith writes: Objective reportage, according to Stoll, is no longer appreciated in the social sciences, heavily influenced by literary th eory, postmodernity, and general postcolonial or multicultural uncertainty a bout the trustworthiness of white first-world men. Witnesses who represent the subalternpeople like Rigobertaare better sources on the oppressed and on the meaning of their lives than are outside reporters. This has given
44 Rigoberta an unfair advantage over Stollthe objective reporter, just trying to get at the truth. 89 Anticipating the possible polemic over inte rpretive power, Stoll argues in his own favor in his 1996 article, T o whom should we listen?. 90 According to Stoll, because the detached, anthropological perspective can he lp sort out prejudici al, biased accounts in field interviews from more reliable ones, he be lieves it is essential for native informants to engage field experts truthfu lly in order for the informant s community to have the best chance of understanding the actual historical nature of thei r situation. However, Stoll, who oddly considers himself a leftward leaning academic, does not blame informants who cannot (perhaps due to trauma, pressure fr om outside forces, faulty memory, or even duress) recount their lived expe riences in a truthful manner. Since for Stoll it is only natural for victims of intense violence to lapse into mythopoetic accounts of lived experience, rearranging historic al facts along ideologies more sympathetic to narratives of victimization, it becomes doubly important to employ the resources of a detached interpreter such as himself to help clarify and record official hi story. This line of reasoning leads John Beverley to ask whether it is possible to have a left politics with a right epistemology, as he views Stolls case to be. 91 The literary critic Elizbieta Sklodowska responds with an even more poi gnant observation; Stolls arguments evoke such strong opposition from contemporaries be cause they are at heart anachronistic, products of an anti-communist, bipolar Cold -War framework that is oddly out of place 92 in the late nineties. For our part it will not be necessary to develop a defense of Menchs account based on evidentiary corroboration of historical documents, as Stoll would perhaps insist on, for this has been extensively undertaken by field experts in both history and forensic anthropology. For example, since 1994, Victor ia Sanford, a Peace Fellow at the Bunting Institute and a forensic anthropologist, ha s headed the exhumati ons of clandestine cemeteries in rural Mayan villages in Guatemal a, serving as a research consultant to the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation for their final report on Mayan casualty tolls. In Deconstructing David Stolls History of Guatemala, Sanford offers point by point documentation, CIA briefs and memo randums, and empirical field evidence attesting to the Guatemalan military as the culprit of the violence. She also develops another factor for the war Stoll leaves largely unmentioned: US involvement and responsibility. Sanford, utilizing Allan Nair ns research, points to memorandums from the Unites States embassy in Guatemala to the Secretary of State, telegrams, and briefings as early as the 1962. She writes: These documents offer factual and evidentia ry corroboration of the context of the terror provided by the testimonies. A declassified CIA document from late February 1982 states that in mid-February 1982 the Guatemalan army had reinforced its existing forces and launched a sweep operation of the Ixil Triangle. The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and eliminate all sources of resistance 93
45 On this point, Stolls deemphasizing of Am erican involvement in the war struck many journalists and historians as also questionable, given his pers istence on approaching the facts of what actually happened. Journali st Margarita Carrera redirects attention to human rights reports which confirm how the Guatemalan government was at the service of capitalist interests and defended by the army (which received its orders from the Pentagon) and committed crimes against humanity impossible to either forgive or forget 94 But Carreras most consequential insi ght is not her disavowal of foreign intervention in domestic politics, but rather the formulation of the question: Why does the North American press give so much space to the findings made by this book? 95 A helpful reply to Carreras inquiry involves turning away from political semantics and directing our ga ze towards the people and cultur e behind it. As a narrative illustrative of an indigenous, worldly mode of being, Menchs narrative is steeped in ways of understanding lived experience that are culturally different from Western ones. In order to study different cu ltures, then, we must study ourselves. To use Spivaks phraseology, in other worlds , an investigator ha s to understand that logic 96 if he is to understand the culture. 97 With this in mind, let us now turn to Menchs narrative again, by paying close attention to how Mench relates to herself, as evidenced in the things she says and how she says them. Moreover, we must try to get better acquainted with the narrative logic she uses in an attempt to bri ng that logic out of concealment. Likewise, by retuning our ear for slightly ne wer and different frequencies we may begin to circumvent and bypass Stolls arguments. The central argument Stoll levies against Mench in an effort to impeach her testimony, keep in mind, is the alleged collec tivization of the firs t person voicethe I that speaks for allas eviden ced in the opening lines of I, Rigoberta Mench: My name is Rigoberta Menchmy story is the story of all poor Guatemalans. 98 This is because, for Stoll, the story of one person cannot be the story of everyone.unless in a non-literal sense. 99 For Mench, however, the cons truction of subjectivityhow she understands and deploys the fi rst-person pronoun, I-is r ooted in a communal versus an individualistic understanding of the self. She writes: I cant force them to understand. Everything, for me, that was the story of my community is also my own story. I did not come from the air, I am not a little bird who came alone from the mountains, from parents w ho were isolated from the world. I am the product of a community. 100 As evidenced throughout her narrative, Menchs understands herself to be the elected representative and voice for her co mmunity. When this self-understanding is compounded with a sense of urgency and instin ct towards survival, generalizations such as speaking for all poor Guatemalans o ccur. It is a dynamic often cited amongst Holocaust survivors who assert the vic tims of genocide can no longer speak for themselves because, to be frank, they are dead. Moreover, Mench carefully emphasizes at several points in her narrative that she does not speak for everyone, but such instances
46 are omitted from Stolls book in favor of the single quote my story is the story of all poor Guatemalans, which became the hook and title for his book. Part of my personal frustration in reading I, Rigoberta Mench in light of the controversy sparked by Stoll has to do with how Stolls respondent sa small army of renowned North American scholars and New Left intelligentsia pounced on Stolls accusations by conceding to his main asserti onsthat it appears as if yes, in fact, Mench actually misconstrued or drama tized many events but exculpated Mench from any blame by offering alternate disciplinary and interpretive frameworks to explain the uncontested, in-its elf existence of these discrepancies and contradictions. To be sure, in the course of analyzing Menc hs narrative, I am also wrapped up in a particular interpretive framework, whethe r we choose to call it phenomenological, postcolonial discourse analysis, or so forth, but the difference lies in that I maintain an altogether different conclusion about the re asons why Menchs narrative, as it is commonly cited, failed. In the wake of Stolls claims, the do minant explanatory positions such as pointing to the interventi on of the editor-compiler in any mediated narrative (Sklodowska); th e inadequacies of ea rlier definitions of testimonio (Beverley and Zimmerman); the privileging of certain kinds of models of Truth in traditional Journalism versus new journalism (Poniatowska); or as the result of intentional rhetorical devices aimed at keeping a safe dist ance from foreigners all pointed away form the text, albeit each for wildly different yet e xpertly-argued reasons. These critiques are not at all without rele vance; in fact, all of these interpretations are immensely helpful in thinking about testimonial practice and, by relation, about how different societies construct cultural-ideological apparatuses th rough contestational networks of power relations. However, in my view, to respond to Stolls allegations, the e xplanation, if we may call it that, was always already present throughout her narrative; only it was nested, peppered rather than overtly bolded in ways hasty readers would not see as evident. From this stance, we can make the follo wing counter-arguments regarding Stolls accusations: First, impeaching Menchs eye-w itness descriptions of the death of her brothers, which Stoll alleges she neve r bore direct witness too lies in a misunderstanding (a mis-listening) of wh at Mench meansand more importantly, says she meansby brother, which itself is predicated on Stoll s pre-reflective assumption that the Western notion of subjectivity and personal identity is universal and uncontested. Furthermore, Menchs authority to talk about the death of other Indians is pre -given in her culture; in fact, due to the explanation of the role he r parents play in the ancestral framework, it is almost her responsibility to speak for others, as will be shown. Also, the murder of an Indian is experi enced significantly different by the Mayans than the way the concept of murder is unde rstood in the West: as for killing someone: death lived by others , (202) the untimely death of any Mayan, she says, is always experienced by other people because death can only be ones own if one has been given a chance to own up to death during the traditional Death ceremony. It is only at that time an Indian can speak as himself and make recommendations to the whole community. The murder of an Indian is thus carried forward by a community as if it were
47 ones own murder, calling it up again and agai n in denunciations of the murderers since the murdered Indian was never able to speak as (what in the West is understood as ) ones self. Stolls claim that testimonies based on hearsay that is, testimony based on what other people saw, said, or experienced vi olates the aforementioned conditions for credibility of a witness (such as describing only experiences one had oneself) entirely misses what Mench is trying to say about th e nature of giving testimonynamely, that it is the product of a communal interpretation ve rsus an individuals. Specifically, (and this is perhaps the most noteworthy reversal of Stolls reading of Menchs narrative) if we read closely, we can see that hearsay turns out to be a privileged from of knowledge for Quiche Mayan Indians. Every one of Stolls allegations, such as his contentions that Mench failed to mention her schooling, her ability to read, writ e, and speak Spanish, or even the civic nature of the land dispute between her father and a neighbor is unfounded as a revelation or discovery since Mench talk s about every one of St olls allegations in her narrative, offering explanations which ha ve fallen on deaf ears. Had a more attuned reading of the narrative take n place, perhaps Stoll would have abandoned his project, since it is difficult to discover for the fi rst time, calling it groundbreaking news, what one has already said, hence eliminating the possibility of withholding facts. Let us examine. Mench succinctly summarizes the Maya n worldview on identity in the last pages of the book: my life does not belong to me (246), she says. But what, precisely, does one mean by that? Mench goes to great le ngths to give a descriptive account of her answer: the birth of a new member is very significant for the community, as it belongs to the community not just to the parents, and thats why three couples must be there to receive itthe child is the fruit of communal love (8). from the very first day, tells Mench, the baby belongs to the community, not only to the parents (15) and for this reason our customs do not allow single women to see a birthits a scandal if an I ndian woman goes to a hospital a nd gives birth there (8). This is because all the communal representatives ar e not allowed to be present to receive the child in a hospital birth-room, thus violating their ceremonial customs. Any child born to members of the community thus becomes the b rother or sister of other members of the community: they were Indians, our brot hers (180), Mench insists. When traveling through other communities which, as Mench obs erved, shared habitual practices with the Indians back home (such as sleeping on mats or eating tortilla with chile for breakfast), it was as if I were living with my brothers and sisters (163), she says. Because her biological family, as we understand the category of family to mean, was clearly not the only family to subscribe to t hose daily habits, what Mench signifies by brother and sisters are her communal brothers and sist ers. When, on May 29 th 1978, the army massacred 106 peasants in the near by village of Panzs, a community made up of Keckchi Indians that shared almost id entical daily practices, says Mench, we felt
48 this was a direct attack on us. It was as if theyd murdered us, as if we were being tortured when they killed those people (160). I loved all my people, and for me theyre all brothers and sisters whoeve r they are (243), she repeats. But to recall, her people are foremost Mayans-those who share the sa me habitual practices and customs. This pre-woven understanding of siblings, in part, explains why Mench seems to find it difficult to give an actual count, to the best of her abili ties, how many blood brothers and sisters she had: My mother already had five children, I think Yes, I had five brothers and sisters and Im the sixth (5, emphasis mine). Yet elsewhere she describes the count differently: Im the sixth in the family, with three brothers after me (48). The task here is not to cover up any tensions which, as hybrid identities battling with the legacy of colonialism within themselves, Mayan identities may have, but rather to listen to accounts of life th at are openly struggling with those very tensions, trying to place emphasis on how the world shows up for them in light of those tensions. For example, Mench gives an account of Indian identity which might mitigate the appearance of these tensions Stoll, on the other hand, clasps on to these surface-level appearances of tensions in order for him to base his claim that Mench is lying. 101 He does not take into consideration Menchs clai m that for the Mayans, a child is not born into a family but rather he very slowly becomes a member of it (10). This usually happens between by the age of 12; that is when a child is reintroduced into the community as a member of a particular family, but remains a brother or sister to all. To complicate matters, ones identity is not assumed to come with birth; Mayans grow into it and moreover posses a doubled sense of self. This other self is the nahual : the nahual is our double (6), Menc h explains. Younger children dont know the nahual of their elder brothe rs and sisters she later expa nds; they are only told all this when they are mature enough and this co uld be at any age be tween ten and twelve (20). Knowing the identity of ones biologica l brothers and sister s (which is always tertiary to the communal self and the nahuatl se lf), then, is something one must be told, because it is not pre-supposed in the cultu re. Consider, then, Menchs description of which brother died of malnut rition: his name was Nico ls. He died when I was eight He was the youngest of all of us, the one my mother used to carry about. He was two then (38). Consequently, Mench is trying to convey that she did not yet know her brothers identity according to Mayan understandings of self. Still, her situation of enunciation necessitated that she use whatever metric of expressibility she needed to use to relate her message and impress upon her interlocutor the urgency of her peoples situation trying to explain things, for instance, in ways she thought the European ear would understand if along the way things were lost in transl ation, it should not be occasion for impeaching the testimony of an indigenous plaintiff, not just an informant. On this point of giving testimony, Stoll makes much ado about Menchs account not being faithful of the genre it purport s to be an example oftestimoniobecause it is not based on a first-person eye witness account. Yet the constr uction of testimony Stoll is deploying is not of Menchs making: for her, testimony is a lived phenomenon: my mother used to say that through her life, through her living testimony (199).a
49 testimony as the Mayans understand it, is therefore the totality of a life; not the recounting of a single temporal event, a dot in a teleological timeline no, testimony is foremost embodied Thus, for her murdered brothers and sisters, we have to keep this grief as a testimony to them (ibid); it is something felt very personally. Yet on a more significant point, Mayans use hearsay to legitimize knowledge claims because through hearsay one invokes the memory of ancestors by calling them into the present: if an elderly person tells us this, then it must be true (123). Growing up, Menchs father didnt talk about himself, hed say: This is what my father did. And they knew the whole of our grandparents lives like a film (188). During the marriage rites, the grandmother tries to gi ve her granddaughter a general idea of what she feels about what is happening in the worldthey apply past experience to the present (76) through talking about their own parents. In turn: [my mother] taught me by talking about the experiences of her grandmothershe didnt pass on her own experiences, not that she hadnt had them but because she felt more comfortable teachi ng me through the experiences of others (210). But as I said, Mench reiterates ,sh e usually told me about my grandparents; not about herself (211). Hence, when Mench tries to narrate events she did not witness directly, she begins by saying: Im reme mbering something I saw, now that Im remembering things about other peoples lives (150) I remember my mothers life (88). Without question, the most reproduced of Stolls indictments against Menchs testimony is uncovering allegations she was not present at the allege d public burning of her eldest brother, Petrochino, because public burnings never occurred in the region Mench alleges the burning took place. The pr incipal reason Stoll s critics have not defended Mench on this specific claim other than by saying she had her own reasons for misrepresenting her brothe rs death, derives from the ex cruciatingly explicit account of the narration: [the soldiers] lined up the tortured a nd poured petrol on them; and then the soldiers set fire to each one of them. Many of them begged for mercy. Some of them screamed, many of them leapt but uttered no soundof course, that was because their breathing was cut off (178). Upon the publication of Rohters article, Mench admitted she was not there personally, but her mother was. Because Mench carries on her mothers life as a film, a long hieroglyphic reel she must pass on to her own daughter one day, the revelation of her mother being the first-person eye witne ss is no revelation at allit was always implicit in her narrative: I wasnt there at the time; I was in Huehuetenango when my brother was captured (173); My mother said : My son will be among those who are punished It was going to be done in public, that is, they were calling the peopl e out to witness the punishmentSo my mother said : Come along then, if theyre calling out everyone, well have to go (175) My mother was just about 100 percen t certain her son would be amongst those being brought in (176). My mother went closer to the lorry to see if
50 she could recognize her son; my mother recognized her son, my little brother, among them (176). Mench continues: If I remember alright from what her mother told her (177) My mother was weeping, she was looking at her son(178); my mother said he scarcely recognized us. Or perhaps My mother said he did, that he could still smile at her, but I, well, I didnt see that . (179). My mother was half dead with grief. She embraced her son, she spoke to himThen my mother said I cant stay here So we had to go, to leave it all behind and leave off looking (180). My mother She couldnt bear it, she remembered the whole thing. She cried from moment to moment, remembering (181). The tension Mench is faced with li es in trying to telling her story about communal experiences to an ear she already kno ws will hear for different thingsfor an I that is narrating hence, in trying to resolve the tension by placing herself at the scene of the crime, Mench tries to segue back into the familiar way of talking about lived experience, as in repeating what elders have said beforehand: My mother told me that one of my brothers died of intoxication (88), she divulges. Knowing the emphasis Western ways of thinking place on first-person narrations of events, If Mench were to simply have asked her interlocutor, why did they spray poison when people were working there? (89) without illustrating that Indians have died as a result of the practice, perhaps Mench worried her concerns (which are also her peoples concerns) would have not been heard, again. She says: her name was Maria. She was my friend (87) ; one day she di ed of poisoning when they were spraying cotton (87). That friend of mine had left me with many th ings to think about (88). But can the death of her one friend carry the wei ght it needed to call our attention to the practice? Mench reminds us of the following: you know, it wasnt just my brothers life. It was many lives, and you dont think that the grief is just for yourself but for all the relatives of the others; God knows if they found relatives of theirs there or not! Anyway, they were Indians, our brothers (180) And again: It angered me too not to have my older brothers with us, not to know them, because theyd died of hunger, of malnutr ition, of not having enough to eat in the finca (ibid). Regardless of which one of her many Indian brothers died, or of the way they died, the point is, at the close of day, they didnt die because they wanted to (118). At other moments, Mench discloses how she, herself, speaks through hearsay or about a specific event in a manner other than the expected one: of c ourse, in confiding with an Indian maid in the capital about her problem s back home, she says, I didnt tell her about my situation or any of my problems; I told it in a different way talking about my experiences in the finca. I found this a relief, there were less things on top of me (239). For Mench, the truth of an event can only be constructed when another member of her community, especially an elde r, says an event happened in a certain way. Knowing the truth of the community, she says, is the main purpose of the elected leaderto embody all the values handed down from our ancestors. He is the hearer of
51 the community a father to all our children, and he must lead an exemplary life. Above all, he has a commitment to the whole comm unity (17); the lead ers then pledge the support of the community and saywe will be the childs second parentsthey are known as abuelos,or forefathers (7). Menchs right to speak for other people in her community, she explains in her narrative, hence derives from the crucial fact my father was our communitys elected leader, and so was my mother (187). She continues: in our village, my father and mother were the representatives. Well, then the whole community becomes the children of the woman whos elected So, a mother, on her first day of pregnancy, goes w ith her husband to tell these elected leaders that shes going to have a child, because the child will not only belong to them but to the whole community (7) Mench frequently reminds her interlocutor that our people looked on my father as their own father (106) and so I felt re sponsible for many things (49); I began taking over my mothers role too. My mother was the woman who coordinated certain things in the community (79). As a result of the role her mother and father played in the community, she explains, my community always loved me very much, right from when I was very little. Theyd tell me all their sorrows and their joys, because my family had been there for a very long time (87). Because both her mother and father have been murdered, Mench invariably inhe rits the task of her parent s to carry on the memory of their ancestors, not just as a ny member of the community, but as the one traditionally in charge for hearing and speaking for the community In the Mayan world, she is now her peoples representative and she directs her actions acco rdingly: everything wed do, wed do it thinking of others: would they like this? Or w ouldnt they like that?. Mench could not have been more persiste nt in trying to communicate to us that her ways are different from ours, she says over and over again, Id like to say here, that I wasnt the only important onethe whole co mmunity was important (117). The eye of the eye-witness, for Mayans, is at all times the eye of the community : we know that not just one pair of eyes is watching us, but the eyes of the whole community are on us (49). And so the problem of incommensurab ility does not seem to lie with the projection of the subaltern message, of their attempts to speak up and communicate, but in the reception of the communication. Underpinning the space for the possibility of dialogue, then, there exist the particular conceptual orthodoxies derivative of ones own culture. Stoll, for example, is swathed under an Enli ghtenment model of th e self, echoed in the Cartesian dictum I think therefore I am, where one can presumably access universal structures of existence by turning inwards into mental categories and states. However, in the absence of such model, e xperience can be understood the way the Mayans seem to be articulating: as a fundamental ly non-reductive, non-mentalisti c continuum of practices, of everyday, lived agency. Yet to our detriment, awareness of this difference cannot be easily cultivated cross-culturally owing to th e peripheral status subaltern subjects have been relegated to in official hi story; theirs is a faint, small voice, one that echoes deeply as it trembles.
52 CHAPTER FOUR The Small Voice of History: Suba lternity and the Latin American Testimonial Narrative I do not know whether this text belongs, purely and properly and strictly and rigorously speaking, to the sp ace of literature, whether it is a fiction or a testimony, and above all, to wh at extent it calls these distinctions into question or causes them to tremble. -Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, 26 In order to unveil current neocolonialist strategies ai med at reterritorializing colonial discourse analysis from the mouths of the multitude, the historically voiceless (by delegitimizing their access), it is helpfu l to view the Latin American testimonial narratives attempts to decolonize the resources of expression from the standpoint of history (as that which determines the conditions for the possib ility of expression). In this manner, by disclosing the historically situ ated epistemic orthodoxi es underpinning the ennunciative acts of both the testimonialista and her academic interlocutors in the branches of ethnography, anth ropology, literature and politic s, it might be possible to point to conditions which facilitate the emer gence of neocolonialist contestations for power, and examine how this power is meted out through normative systems of representation. Furthermore, one may be led to ask, following Nietzsche, what such tendencies signify when viewed as a symptom of life; do they calcify or betray our methodologies of resistance, justifying the m eans or perhaps revealing the limitations of any discourse based on a fundamentally foreign metric of expressibilitythis re mains a tangential (so as not to disempower liberational projects based on limited methodologies) question of subaltern cultural production. Principally, it is the historical dimension of discursive practicesthat is, the normative ethos within which discursive practic es are at all times situatedthat provides the backdrop against which a cultures reso urces of expression may be understood and contextualized. For example, in the West, im parting narrative continuity to ones life is of relative ease given the precedence of th e European Enlightenment; from it, a certain model of the human subject as a contemplative, isolated consciousness materializes, one that supports the interp retation of lived experience as a progressive telos commensurate with a linear timescape. Continuity become s possible through the epistemic structures
53 underpinning culture; narrative forms that accommodate these conventions, such as autobiography and the bildungsroman (a novelistic account of ones own subjective development, especially childhood), in turn, became centerpieces in the Western literary canon. Consequently, since and in many ways owing to the Enlightenment, formalist reading practices were calcified according to an occidental conception of subjectivity that begins with the notion of a di sengaged subject trying to arrive at objective truths through mentalistic reflexivity. Conversely, in Latin America (as well as in the colonized, or so-called maldeveloped, third world) the historical dimensions of discursive practices involve not just the effects of mentalistic, positivis t epistemology but more markedly the lived consequences of a forced imposition of such standards. The Latin American critic, John Beverl ey, in particular, has attempted to demythologize the historical dimension of aut obiography in order to question the efficacy of the form to describe the experiences of th e marginalized, that is, experiences alien to representation in official history: [the] convention of the autobiographical formis an ideology built on the notion of a coherent, self-evident, self-con scious, commanding subject who appropriates literature precisely as a means of self-expressi on and who in turn constructs textually for the reader the liberal imaginary of a unique, free, autonomous ego as the natural form of being and public achievement. 102 In other words, from the standpoint of modernity, it makes sense to talk about ones life in the first person and w ith sequential organization because the autobiographical form rests on humanist notions already familiar to our understa nding of being. They are already familiar because th e history of the Westthe grand voice of History is also the history of the victors in colonial contes tations of power and as such has become ubiquitous In the case of Western concep tual orthodoxies that deploy binary oppositions (which make systems of exclusion possible), the multifarious, pre-colonial channels of verbalization ha ve been expunged from official history; orality, folktale, rumor and proverbial knowledge are covere d over as possible means of expression. But to recover what no longer exists, part icularly with regard to Amerindian languages, is not a viable possibility. What does remain a possibility, and an important one at that, is the ability to diagnose the malady which has continued to malnourish our perception of our selves, specifically th rough the apparatus of language. Because theoretical reflection domesticates expression by organizing it, thematizing along the grand narratives and essentialized structures of occidental history, becoming aware of this tendency in our own dealings with subaltern te xts will mean resisting tendencies to fall prey to these conventionsspecifically, by d eautomatizing our mode of engagement with subaltern texts, by not using their speech acts, agency, and embodiment as a mirror to ourselves.
54 If, according to Spivak, speaking as a suba ltern subject precludes the possibility of being heard as such (due primarily to a lack of access to the acknowledged system of representation), then the auto-referrential self -sufficiency that is the basis of formalist reading practices cannot adequately hear /read for voices which fall outside that standard for discourse. 103 Furthermore, if it is the case that testimony has as its goal the mental, physical, and spiritual decol onization of the third world 104 then it must be said that to self-legitimate presupposes a n ecessary degree of autonomy from the apparatus (be it state, cultural, or ideological) from whic h one is attempting to gain autonomy. Autonomy, from the Greek auto (self) and nomos (custom, law), gains literal expression as the ability to be a law unto ones self, as having the quality of independence by living through self-directive laws. In the case of Western history, the Law is seen as transcendent rational structures that fundamentally and inextricably condition discursive practices (insofar as practices are always predicated by a historical matrix). However, because the monolithic nature of Western history makes it difficult, if not impossible to self-legitimate from a position of exterioritythat is, from outsi de the sedimented structures of Western history, new discursive models therefore necessitate a new historiography To this end, given the constitutive view of language as engendere r of experience, new forms of linguistic exchange are also needed to support the conve ntions of a subterranean history surfacing from the crust of official history. In cases wh ere the official story si lences situations of bondage, repression, and the str uggle for survival, the emergence of new discursive models is not a theoretical commodity, but in many ways a method of survival; thus, testimonial writing is foremost an act, a tact ic by means of which people engage in the process of self-constitution and survival 105 Subaltern histories emerge from a corrective effort, material and intellectual, of the grand narratives that subsume their existence to the margins, where they cannot be read for without a magnifying glass, if at all. As a tactic de signed to provide emancipatory access to codified systems of representation by challenging hegemonic interpretations of history, testimonial literature signifies an attempt to decolo nize the resources expression in a manner advantageous to subjects positioned in historically non-dominant cultures. It is thus seen primarily as a tool; Geor ge Ydice, for example, notes that Testimonial writingcoincides with one of the fundamental tenets of postmodernity: the rejection of what Jean-Franc ois Lyotard (1984) calls grand or master narratives, which function to legitimize politi cal or historical teleologies,or the great actors and subjects of historythe nation-state, the proletariat, the party, the West, etc. 106 If there appears to be a disjuncture between the universal regulatory mechanisms the institution of Western literature espouses and the phenomenon of testimonial writing, it is incumbent upon us to examine the justificatory authority of literature to legitimize the discursive practices of subaltern subjects in situations where literacy and writing have themselves become uncontested, dominant na rratives. By contrast, as the voice of a singular subject, testimonio [is] almost by defi nition a petit rcit, or in Ranajit Guhas
55 phrase the small voice of history 107 It is this small voice, th is recalcitrant history, to which we now turn our attention. Etymologically, Testimonio, from the Latin testimonium, is derived from testis, meaning testes or, as a secondary (and telling) meaning, witness and monium a suffix signifying a state, action or condi tion. It bears a strong relationship to testamentum also Latin, for testament. The latte r, a noun, originates from the verbial forms of testari to make a will (which is also rooted in testis ) and facere to make (as in testificari ) 108 Testimony is therefore the public ation (in an older sense of oral vocalization) of an account of events, stat es, or conditions to which one has borne witness. The authority to testify is in part derived from the hist orical position of male privilege; reliability in w itnessing and male virility are synonymously complicit in the Latin root testis, and would be expected in keeping with the relative position of males in classical society. The confluence of the legal and religious connotations of testimony, as the term is used today, however, are not themselves rooted in the original meaning of testimonium, but rather are abstracted through the subjective structures of abstract (objective) legalism and Christianity characteristic of the co lonial importations of Western systems of signification. It is a historical event, the conquest of the Americas, which supported this framework and from which any discussion of testimonio must begin. As Beverley defines it, testimonio is a novel or novella-l ength narrative in book form or pamphlet (that is, printed as opposed to acoustic) form, told in the first person by a narrator who is also the real protagonist or witness of the events he or sh e recounts, and whose unit of narration is usually a life or a significan t life experience. 109 This articulation of testimonial literature as a genre, modeled after Miguel Barnets account of the form, has become st andard in critical readings of testimonio It is also a definition in collusion with Marx ist interpretations of discur sive strategy, interpretations which, as teleologically driven accounts of historically determ inist material forces, often overlook more nuanced historical precedents i nherent in the form, such as language. In 1492, a watershed year marking rapi d shifts in human relations and constructions of culture, a Un iversity of Salamanca scholar named Antonio Nebrija wrote a grammatical tract, Gramtica de la Lengua Castellana which had widespread implications for discursive practices in the colonies. As the first systematized compendium of a romance language, Nebrija s tract thematized th e Castillian language through rules in usage of expression. In her ar ticle, Language and Empire: the Vision of Nebrija La Rosa effectively argues for th e homogenizing aspects of colonial language policy by examining the imperialist tendencies inherent in Nebrijas works; to this effect, she quotes Nebrijas well-known dictum that language has always been the perfect instrument of empire. 110 Castilian, the official language of the Spanish crown and lingua franca for official business and mercantile re lations, was of course, not the only language operative in Spain; Catalonian, for example, was also predominantly spoken at the time. However, as the official language, it is the one imported to the colonies as a grammar,
56 chiefly for the purposes of consolidating th e unification (or should I say, domestication) process throughout the various, multi lingual Amerindian peoples. In this light, Spanish is the language of Spain, of European empire and is the most potent, homogenizing facet of conquest. It is the most powerful because it covers over forms of expression which grew organically alongside experiences Amerindian languages traditionally sought to represent. As a cultura l apparatus, language draws its forms from the traditional storytelling compositions existent in the cultural matrix of this speaker; if experience is narrated and understood as fragmentary, discontinuous events, it may for instance take the form of paratactic structur es of signification, as opposed to syntactical ones. However, when there exists a forei gn imposition of normative frameworks, it is language which houses and transm its those foreign conventions at the level of the unheard, giving off the false appearance of normalcy and domestic familiarity of those conventions. Nonetheless, in lieu of this, subaltern subjects are charged with the task of deploying the language of the coloni zer in anti-colonial struggles. This, perhaps, is one of the biggest difficulties testimonialistas experience in their disc ursive attempts, namely, that language reproduces certain conventions not easily seen by us, and thus creates the conditions ripe for feelings of frustr ation, disappointment, and co-optment by neocolonialsit forces at home with those conventions. It is in the context of this problematic that the methodologica l issues and problems surrounding testimonio arise: the role of the interlocutor, communal multivocality, reliability, contestations of authenticity, and interpretive authority. What we can be sure of at the present time is that more than any other form of writing in Latin America, the testimonio has contributed to the demise of the traditional role of the intellectual/artist as spokesperson for the voiceless 111 From the standpoint of literature, the c onceptualization of a new literary genre called testimonio in Latin America began officially in the second half of the twentieth century as discursive attempts to bear witness to the oppression and human rights abuses enacted by post-colonial reorganizations of gove rnment in the form of brutal military and dictatorial regimes. For example, in th e Guatemalan strain, states Zimmerman, beyond the chronicles of the Quichs and Cakchicals at the time of the Conquest and the countless ethnographic accounts over the years, modern testimonio in Guatemala had its first major stirrings in fictional an d autobiographical prose (Wyld Ospina, Arvalo Marnez, Asutrias, Cardoza y Aragn, Mont eforte Teledo, etc.) dealing with the dictatorships of Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico; and it had its early apogee with the accounts of the intervention of 1954, the United States and military maneuverings and the aftermath involving exile and imprisonment for so many national leaders. 112 Most significantly, it arose out of the ma ny projects of liberation which preceeded national independence movements in Latin Am erica. But perhaps the most significant epoch for the prolifieration and advocacy of the form as a genre arose from the ideological status afforded to it by the c onsolidators of the Nicaraguan revolution, the Sandinistas.
57 On July 20, 1979, immediately following its ascendancy to power, the new Sandinist government establis hed a Ministry of Culture with the intent to make decolonized forms of cultural expressi on not just more visible in the new administration, but also more accessible to the public at large. Decree number 6 of the FSLN manifesto articulated a sw eeping agenda in the arts und er the title Revolution in Culture and Education, which insisted that in order to take back the state which had oppressed them, Nicaraguans must also take back the culture which supported such a state. Raul Quintanilla, new di rector of the National School for the Visual Arts, observes: Through the revolution, we earned the right to freedom of expression, and thus set for ourselves the task of re-appropriating part of the heritage that had been taken from us throughout 500 years of colonialism as well as neo-colonialism with this in mind, we looked in a newly liberated way at the Eu rocentric nature of much contemporary art; we wanted to construct a new visual and poetic language that engaged everyone in everything. 113 The revolutionary government employed a new kind of socialist pluralism through a vast national system of Centros Populares de Cultura (national cultural centers for the people) where Nicaraguan peasants were taught by traine d officials how to express their feelings about the revolution, a changing cultur e, or about life in general through testimonial poetry. The new cultural centers represented an attempt by the new government to foster a collective sense of a national identity am ongst the rural masses. Most poignantly, the project was seen and marketed abroad as part of a larger attempt to democratize culture and the means of pr oducing it through socializing aesthetic production. This new aesthetic product would be free, according to the Sandinistas, of neocolonial penetration. 114 Hence, it was as an oppositional discourse to traditional interpretations of the postcolonial condition that testimonio first t ook roots. Subsequent to this, testimonio attempts to document situations of bonda ge and oppression, and, although it has its historical precedence in the chro nicles of the conquest it differs from the traditional testimonial genre [of the conquest] in its focus on the popular classes and the people without history. 115 Originally coined as a term by the ethnologist Miguel Barnet (1969, 1981) in a manifesto format, testimonio was first rigidly define d against a backdrop of conventionalist epistemic framew orks found most commonly in the natural sciences, that of realism. Of the many testimonial theori sts, most notably Gon zlez Echevarra (1980), Casas (1981), Fornet (1977), Foster(1984), Jara and Vidal (1986), and Beverley (1989, 2004) by employing the standa rds set forth by their re spective disc iplines of anthropology, literature, and poli tical science, none were able to construct a definition of testimonio which would protect the genre from the positivist attacks of David Stoll since the same epistemology was employed in the original construction of the term: therefore, it must answer to it or risk contradiction.
58 It was only until the Polish theorist and writer Elizabeta Skledowska (1992) criticized these approaches (specifically she critiques Barnet and Randall) that the constraining categories surroundi ng the formal articulation of testimonio began to loosen. With Lyotards notion of the differend in mind (where a dispute is carried out according to the terms and language of one of the parties to the dispute) 116 Skledowska unveils how it is becomes possible under such restrictio ns to carry out equitable discourse for the subaltern testimonial subject. If the task at hand is to stri p away the corralling standards of the witness box (appeals to truth) to acknowledge the right of the witness to speak as the plaintiff, we must also face the fragmenta ry nature of existence. Specifically, the critic and interpreter of testimonio must see that the discourse of a witness cannot be a reflection of his or her experi ence, but rather a refraction determined by the vicissitudes of memory, intention, ideology 117 and in so doing acknowledge how it that a plaintiff is deprived of the means of arguing a nd by this fact becomes a victim 118 When seen in this manner, interpretive practices of testimonial literature themselves reproduce subalternity by remaining uncritical of the normative epis temic frameworks employed in the process of interpretation. To this end, even in a project such as the one undertaken herein, which strives to clarify some of the methodological difficultie s faced by the subaltern speaker in crosscultural communication, it must be said that the conceptual m odels regulating the discursive norms of subaltern cultural produc tion are not easily extrac table; in order to speak with urgency, at times, it may be the ca se that normative language, in some form of another, is always going to have to be deployed in the effort However, the distinction lies on our level of awareness to this fact. Like the flaps of a manta ray sailing do wnstream, covering over with its shadow all that its wingspan can encompass, disc ursive practices modeled on privileged conceptual frameworks, although fluid in a ppearance, end up corralling the speaking subject inside the auspices of the epistemo logy in questioninside its shadow. It is a shadow from which one cannot escape, no salv ational light towards which it can crawl, but whose obfuscating effects can be effectively mitigated through an articulation and awareness of its existence. Rather than aski ng what does it mean for the subaltern subject to be the producer of knowledge, or can such an act be represented (and if so, by whom?), the question should be: where does that which is given to the knowing subject originate, and can those origins account fo r the epistemic subordination of the postcolonial subject as a producer of knowledge? Henceforth, the thrust towa rds a totalizing, rational a pprehension of the natural world, then, can be explained as one wher ein human beings recognize each other by virtue of being reasonable. The standard of ra tional deliberation, not that of cross-cultural recognition, is ultimately what binds together human beings from different cultures (Schutte, 1993: 137). However, as earlier stat ed, rational deliberati on can only grasp what is recognized as rational, as existing. In th e case where certain unrecorded histories are in question, then, what is to become of the subjec ts absent from the official story? Do they not find representational form in translation from one cultu re to another? How do you
59 begin to represent someone who is not ev en acknowledged as ex isting? And, without this understanding, how can one create the conditions favorab le for them to represent themselves ? You begin by reading for th e gaps in the story, the si lences. As Edward Said notes of the history of the Indian masses, those covered over by an official colonial history, subaltern history in literal fact is a narrative missing from the official story of Indiathus we find frequent reference to such things as gaps, absences, lapses, ellipses, all of them symbolic of the truths that historical writing is after all writing and not reality, and that as suba lterns their history as well as their historical documents are necessarily in the hands of others (Said, 1988: vii). The others in question are not so much th e colonial administrators but rather the tools of the colonial administrators: the lo gic of historiography. Thus, the gap-inknowledge now reemerges, but now in the context of contestations of power. In an effort to consolidate a cohesive rebraiding of a sh attered identity (one assigned with value), since the sixteenth century onwards Latin Am erica has been engaged in a normativized rebuttal, a reactive dial ogue grappling with th e legacy and imprint of coloniality. As we, the progeny of a colonized epistemology, have generation by genera tion, slowly grown into this logocentric understanding of our se lves and world as a way of making sense of things, something else has been lost, covered up, concealed. Yes, among the many consequences which the colonial importa tion of foreign epistemic and linguistic frameworks had on Amerindian cultural identity is the creation of an apparent normalcyof the inability to articulate suspicions, residual echoes of older understandings because our current worldview cannot easily accommodate their contradictory logic, especially if the task at hand is to communicate once again using colonial narrative logic in or der to survive. Everyday and for the most part, whilst attempting to telegraph urgent conditions of bondage, we abandon other projects, such as relating subtler states of cultural schizophrenia. Hence, in order to understand the pedagogi cal need for a novel approach to the problem of bridging culturally differentiated epistemic frameworks (especially within ones self, to fall on Kristevas notion of the stranger within), it is vital to adequately grasp the ways in which Latin Amer ican discursive acts are always already situated in a cross-cultural context, proj ecting meaning through ever yday communiqus only insofar as the intended message is laden with both colonial acculturation to world entities (i.e. thinking of speech acts reduc tively as thought content) and residual, underground traces of Amerinidian heritage. The tensi on between these phenomenon is manifested largely through a perpetual managing of stat es of anxiety, frustration, and a sense of dislocation. To date, unfortunately, nego tiating this tension effectively has come to mean sublimating the strange, unarticul able suspicion that what is being said is not all one wishes to say on a matterjust merely what makes sense to say given the tools were pre-given with which to make sense of thi ngs. I say unfortunately because rather than approximate what one means to say, the opportu nity of representing ones self on more equitable terms is lost, again, by sublima tion; by fleeing into co mforting metaphysical
60 narratives or mimetic stances such as rogue memorization of the c orrect interpretation, religious conviction, or thr ough deploying a psychology of defensive self-assiduity such as that taken up by many upper-class meztizo me n and women. To say to them they are not western, then, is many times taken up as an implicit suggestion that they are therefore Indiansa term which carries derogatory and offensive value in Latin America. And yet, in light of the claim that Latin American discursive practice begins from a stance of inequality, there can be no doubt that in the hierarchy of privileged speaking positions certain Latin American voices are sure to carry more declarative legitimacy than others (depending on the degree of successful deployments of western narrative logicthe side one is thought to be perpetually crossing over to), yet even those declarative stances are themselves circumscri bed within the cross-cultural context of Iberean influence and western cross-pollination. Speaking from the stance of subalte rnity, however, entails the inability to represent oneself due to a lack of access to systems of representation and thus acquiring a marginal declarative authority. Representing oneself, specifically to Western culture, then, becomes particularly difficult when the self is a hybrid derivative of an epistemological cross-pollination and also bears the double burden of a subaltern speaking position. This double burden is, in part, crea ted by the cultural denigration and negative value attached to devalued subjects: Indians. For example; while the upper-class mestiza woman may feel herself culturally s uperior to her indige nous maid, the mestiza womans situatedness within the ossified matrix of a cross-cultural context will not be readily evident to her because she does not feel herself different from the culturally dominant culture responsible for her epistemic oppression, but only from what she perceives to be the culturally inferior subculture: that of the Indian woman. It is a comfortable psychological stan ce which serves a pragmatic function; it etches out a semblance of an identity based on the ne gation of others, even though the upper-class mestiza woman may herself be the negate d identity against which North American women may situate themselves from above. When the mestiza woman, she is neither against the indigenous Indian woman nor the North American woman, but herself ; in engaging in an antagonistic re lation (for and against), the me stiza woman is perpetually tied to the binary system of representation which foils her identity from achieving selfconstancy. In the context of intercultural communi cation, then, these int ernal collisions appear, to the unifixed ear of western cu lture, as contradictions in the Latinas discursive attempts: as a seemingly entrenched inability to be, as it were, reasonable It must be maintained, however, that this c ontradiction is not sui generis, ungrounded in historicity, or subjective; no, it is the result of the inequi table and unjustified imposition of culturally dominant world views onto peri pheral cultures in the world stage. And, since practices of imposition are meted out by manifestations of power, it becomes necessary to unveil the operative conditions of power that ceaselessly intervene in the representation and dissemination of communication (Natter et al., 1995: 7). If it is the case that Latin America has not participated in decoloniza tion (Spivak, 1993: 57), a startling claim in light of flurried activity of various alleged projects of epistemic and cultural decolonization which followed movements of independence-we must take heed.
61 Unless the multidimensional nature of the exchange between culturally differentiated subjects is adequately acknowledged, attempts at intercultural communication will result in contradiction because Latin American discursivity is itself coming from a stance of contradiction. A nd, because cross-cultural communication has often come to mean, in the West, coming over to ones side (the side of the victors in colonial history), intercultural communicat ion has hereto been more a project of translation for the culturally dominant culture and, conversely, one of mimetic performance on the part of the recessive, colo nized culture. If the representational model of agency is underpinned by a dichotomous representability/ unrepresentability distinction, and if the problem is not just to represent [the subaltern subject] but to create conditions that would enable it to repres ent itself, out of two possible choices, a third way is needed (Coronil, 2004: 237). It is in part the failure of traditional models of critiquing intercultura l communication, ways which deploy dualistic systems of binaries (such as truth/falsity, cohate /inchoate, meaningful/meaningless) which now necessitate angiogenesis: the growth of altogether new bloodlines, new ways of (un)learning to pay attentionto let attention happen.
62 CHAPTER FIVE Hearing (for) the World of the Othe r: A Response to the Problem of Cross-Cultural Communication What does it mean for an ear (be) open? --Jacques Derrida, Heideggers Ear Leaping out from the starting gate, our guiding question since the beginning of this thesis has been can the subaltern speak, as illustrated through a close analysis of the subaltern narrative, I, Rigoberta Mench. In that careful reading, a response emerged synonymous with Spivaks way of appe nding her own question; namely, that no, the Indian cant speak up for what he wants ( 103). As subaltern, the Indian can only speak by becoming not-Indian; by giving up, whether by exhaustively surrendering or violent extraction, Indian practices and cultural ha bits. Whats more, their last bastion of rsistance, their language, cannot adequately si gnify what one means to say when forced to speak through a foreign metric of expressibi lity; that is to say, through the discursive mechanisms of a non-Indian culture. Rather than genuine dialogue, incommensurability is what emerges from cross-cu ltural communication attempts. Throughout the project I also operated under what in litera ry circles is known as a reader-oriented theory of interpretation. The distin ction is this: while literary criticism is equally concerned with making meaning, th e focus is generally more on extracting meaning from the text rather than making explicit the process by which readers, or the critic, make meaning, 119 Naturally, to prove my point, I could not have started out on the basis of this theory, for whereas we co mmenced by taking a magnifying glass to our subject of study the small voi ce of subaltern history and discursivity, what we found on the other side of that glasswas a mirror Yet this had to be brought out of concealment through an active process rather than assumed from the beginning, because, above all, my approach to reading is never fixed, finished, but rema ins open-ended: as a method, there is no right destination. Yet at th is point of our project we can confidently address this finding (of treat ing the other as mirrors to ourselves) by rephrasing the question can the subaltern speak into can the hegemonic ear hear anything other than the frequencies it already recognizes as recognizable frequencies? In effect, this shifts the object of study from the voice of the subaltern to how readers/ listeners constitute meaning in linguistic transactions. Because theoretical reflection, as we have seen, domesticates expr ession in the very act of reflection, gazing upon the subaltern voice in an effort to extr act meaning from it is tantamount to resilencing it; it obfuscates the ways in which the voice of the subaltern can be raised to the
63 level of the explicit by covering up the act of letting something happen to you, by letting meaning emerge on its own. This requires a certa in level of releasement, of letting go on the part of the listener so that one can hear for the first tim e frequencies that were always previously present, but for which our malt uned ears were unequipped. Nothing is more difficult to hear, after all, than disso nance. Nietzsche reminds us: hearing something new is embarrassing and difficult for the ear; foreign music we do not hear well. When we hear another language we try involuntarily to form the sounds we hear into words that sound more familiar and more like home to us. 120 But, as we have seen through our reading of I, Rigoberta Mench, we can also hear, metaphorically speaking, through our eyes: Our eye finds it more comfortable to respond to a given stimulus by reproducing once more an image that it has produced many times before, instead of registering what is different and new in an impression. Th e latter would require more strength 121 To understand one another, then, as Niet zsche says, it is not enough that one use the same words; one also has to use the same words for the same species of inner experiences; in the end one has to have ones experience in common 122 For Mench, as for Nietzsche, knowledge is experiential: we l earned all this by watching what has happened in our lives (134), by paying very careful attention to the lived world. The gap between the subaltern speaker and the We stern interlocutor thus widens immensely when one presumes to be able to unders tand the Others situation without actually having to live it. This is why Mench, who reserves the term friend for a very selective number of foreigners or Ladinos lauds so much admiration to an upper-class academic who taught Mench how to write and speak Spanish: He was someone whod been able to study, who had a profession and everythingHe preferred to help the CUC ra ther than become a member because he said: I dont deserve to be called peasant. Im an intellectual. He recognized his inability to do or know many things that peasants know, or the things poor people know. He said: I cant talk about hunger the way a peasant can(166). By contrast, those who assume to be able to know the other, to be able to translate what the subaltern means to say through the violence of translation, do not recognize their stance as distancingas polarizing rath er than magnetic. As a child, Mench recalls this bias when trying to speak to Belgia n nuns: The nun didnt notice, she went on talking. She was foreign, she wasnt Guatemal an (119). The point here is this: if one were to (hypothetically speaking) successfu lly cross-over into the normative framework of the foreign speaker simply through learning the foreigners language, this would not ensure meaning is achieved, for in learning a new la nguage one learns what is previously unconcealed for learning, what shows up as knowledge, language, vocabulary, and norms to learn. In actuality, the operative norms of a culture may very well be learned only through slowly growing into the culture, as Mench contends To recall, a child born to the natural world is not just born into the world of the community: he very slowly becomes a member of it (10). Trying to understand a foreign culture by assuming it
64 fundamentally converges with what we take all humans to beto share as universal attributesis perhaps a prejudice of an at omistic worldview that reduces lived human experience to physical states. The atomistic worldview does not acc ount for collapses in meaning, nor of what it means to be human outside of its own, limited construction of being; this is because, after all, like the ubiquity of humanism, it has prevailed in the current historical equation. Mench, by contrast, is more candid about recognizing the discordance produced by experiencing foreign cultures, which for her means encountering not ideas, but what a fore ign culture uses ev eryday. She says: When we reached the capital, I saw cars fo r the first time. I thought they were animals just going alongwhen I went to the ci ty for the first time, I saw it as a monster, as something alien, differentthose houses, I thought, this is the world of the ladinos (25, 28). Yet the Ladinos in popular Western understanding, are Guatemalans; little if no differentiation is often made between rural and urban Guatemalans, between Indians and Ladinos Yet for me it was the world of the ladinos We were different (32). What happens, then, when one is forcibly thrust into that world, whethe r through a language or physically? To fend off conditions of starvation at home, Mench, at thirteen, left her community to work as a maid in the capital, Guatemala City: My time working as a maid [in the capita l]made me very confused. Yes, I was very confused. I went through a sort of painful change within myself. It wasnt so difficult for the rest of them at home to unders tand what was real and what was false. But I found it very hard (122). The result of this experience on Menchs se nse of orientation in life is painfully frank: I was very ashamed at being so c onfused, (121) she tells us. Yet rather than respond to [the] stimulus by reproducing on ce more an image that it has produced many times before, as Nietzsche so poignantly put it, Mench does not flee the anxiety and confusion this experience provoked (by concealin g its effect on her) but rather tries to confront it as the painful experience that it is. She does this by trying to carefully describe it. In The Postcolonial Critic to frame the operation of the writing of the colony, Spivak explains how the determinati on of colony takes place through workday activities the civilizing mission of the world ing of the worlds based on a reading of Heideggers Origin of the Work of Art. 123 She writes: [The colonial administrator is] actually engaged in consolidating the Self of Europe by obliging the native to cathect the space of the Other on his home ground He is worlding their own world 124 Writing the colony through official coloni al history, Spivak tells us, became possible only by colonizing the workday activit ies, the everyday tasks of living. This became possible through the importations, as noted in the historical introduction to our second chapter, of the hom ogenizing mechanisms of col onial language, religion, and
65 politics as applied to daily activities. It is through the coloniza tion of the workday that the grafting of particular worl dviews onto foreign scaffolding in such a way as to cover over this very actionto conceal the im position through an apparent normalcywas made possible. This is why, after repeating her workday activities ( however exploitative) on a routine basis, and by living in the city, w hen I was older, she tells us, I didnt find it strange any more (25). In li ght of this, I view language in the same role as workday activities because it is an every-present, continual tool which itself constitutes meaning. This is partly what I take the expression decolonizing the resources of expression to mean for the subaltern Speakerthat speaking in the wake of the colonial encounter always entails a prior undertaking of unspeaking the colonialist representation of Speech proper, yet in so doing risk loosing the prac tical instrument, however inadequate, through which one can be legitimately heard at all as, for example, in learning Spanish and its syntactical conventions versus other native languages (and in Guatemala, there are twenty-four indigenous languages). But to go back to a reader -oriented theory, the task of helping decolonize the resources of expression also falls on the liste ners in a linguistic exchange, not just the speakers: in the postcolonial er a, we ought try and read a hi story as that which is not necessarily written in the text, but though which the text is written. It is the sociohistorical background weve placed so much emphasis on throughout this thesis. As Leo Stauss demonstrates in his powerful book, Persecution and the Art of Writing, throughout modern history even the authors of Wester n philosophical texts have had to write in Morse codes to avoid persecution, censorship, or death. It is no coincidence, he points out, that Descartes had to write from inside a cold, candle-lit cave. In light of this, Strauss argues, a different way of reading texts is needed, one that scans not the lines but between the lines The narrative that emerges from I, Rigoberta Mench, then, has less to do with what she said but with what she couldnt say By staying aware of the tremendous difficulty Mench faced in speaking (by virtue of the marginalized nature of her situation of enunciation), and by knowing my role as accomplice in making this difficulty possible through conventional reading practices, this is how the narrative emerged for me: When my mother needed help to bury my brother, we couldnt talk to anyone, we couldnt communicate, and she was desolate at the sight of my brothers body. I remember only being able to communicate with the others through signs. Most of time we have had the same experiences; every day were stuck in situations in which we cant call on help from outside I had a lot of ideas but I knew I couldnt express them allThe lawyer was a ladino and didnt understand our langua ge, so we had to get an intermediary to interpret for him. From the beginning the landowners paid the interpreters not to say what we said thats when I told myself: I must learn to speak Spanish, so that we dont need intermediariesThe ladino has many ways of making his voice heardhe doesnt need an intermediary. He has more channels of access the most distressing thing for us was not being able to speak. And so, if definitions of testimonio are indeed symptomatic of what we look for when we read with testimonio-seeing eyes, 125 it is incumbent upon us to try to see/hear differently, not by seeing with altogether different eyes (since to remember, the
66 hermeneutic situation is inescapable), but by destabilizing the assumption that ours is the only way of seeing, the only way that matters. The conventionalism of our reading practices today are perhaps best de scribed by Nietzsche. He writes: Just as little as a reader today reads all of the individual words (let alone syllables) on a pagerather he picks about five words at random out of twenty and guesses at the meaning that probably belongs to these five wordsjust as little do we see a tree exactly and completely with refere nce to leaves, twigs, color, and form; it is so much easier for us to simply improvise some approximation of a tree. Even in the midst of the strangest experiences we still do the same: we make up the major part of the experience and can scarcely be forced not to contemplate some event s its inventors. 126 We can now see how Stolls own way of seeing, of reading Mench, in its listening for his own world, covers over how it is hes al ready constructing a misbegotten picture of Menchus world. This is why I choose to call his reading of Mench neocolonialist, because it re-ins cribes the methods by which indigenous worldviews became deligitimized through (mis) appropriation. Stolls book makes sense only within an interpretive framework based on positivist notions of the existence of truth, of an errorfree position capable of achieving somethi ng like a correct interpretation of worldviews, however different from ones own. To remember, as a metaphysical scheme, it is a gods eye view, a view from nowhere that gives the signifier a sense of having justificatory authority to signif y, because it claims to be neutra l, objective. It is in this sense, instrumentalizing. Yet to recall our first chapte r, the interpretive reflex underpinning the possibility for intelligibility and understan ding of other cultures is itself culturally and historically conditioned. That is to say, with regard to Stolls viewpoint, the way in which he reappropriates Menchs discour se within a positivist scaffolding lends itself to scrutiny because it is a historical bias he himself fa ils to see or acknowledge. Yes, naturalistic thinking is what one does, the set of inst ructions one follows, when brought up into a specific Western understanding of the world wh ich privileges a logo centric account of being, yet the logocentric account is not the only account of being in the world, and it is in this sense of the word, perspectival. Since this hermeneutic prejudice is inescapable, it is a limitation when it is not acknowledged, but also a site for the possibility of dialogue when it is When deployed as a monologic, ubi quitous perspectiv e swathed over the speaking practices of differen t cultures, logocentric, natura listic frameworks become instrumentalizing. This quality of West ern communicative practice subverts crosscultural communication because, by virtue of its reappropriative practices, it holds all the cards on one side the way religious fundame ntalisms hold truth on theirs; with the essential nature of god as infallible, believers close themselves off to the possibility of engaging with nonbelievers, who, by definiti on, can never be right. Nonbelievers can come to represent themselves only at th e moment they speak the language of the godhead. Thus dialogue between them is pe rpetually stillborn. Correspondingly, under the auspices of Science proper, whichever si de of a dispute can cl aim adherence to the one true faith of neutral objectivity, wins. What is at st ake to be won is of great importance: the ability to be heard.
67 What is gained from this exchange se ems at first to be the justificatory authority to legislate and define the essential nature of the empirical world as that which remains constant through change, is knowable by minds, intelligible in its predictability, and to which we can attribute discernable pr operties and patterns. Life becomes controllable. When the scientific subject encounters uncontrollable s ituations, volcanic conditions which force the human eye to venture and how?how is this scenario possible? How could such carnage and human frailty stem from our enlightened era? The question therefore mutates into: how can I rescue the fu ndamental tenets of my faith in humanism, progress, and modernity? And moreover, how can I save myself in this equation, in these times of uncertainty and transmutation? As Nietzsche tells us, the values of a human begin betray something of the structure of his soul and where it finds its conditions of life, its true need. 127 Objective, foundational truth, in this sense, is perhaps another immortality scheme produced from the seduction of timelessness, a freedom from the contingencies of lived experience, of wh ich suffering is a part. Menchs worldview, rather than flee from contingency, embraces i t: if we didnt suffer, perhaps we wouldnt think of this as life, she sa ys, for there would be no points of resistance, no struggles definitive of lived experience (193). The detached, spectator attit ude of the contemplative scie ntist thus tries to analyze his way into an answer rather than let the grav ity of the questions seep into him; analytic looking into is thus a looking away, an attemp t to conceal the exis tence of interpretive monopolies through the intern ecine insistence on the universality of foundational narratives. It must be the case universals ex ist, otherwise, master y over the world falls away. And who could bear that bur den, of asking themselves: how could a quarter of a million Indians be dead from a war we started? A war ushered in by Empire, by colonialism, by indifference to any way of life different from our own? Subaltern histories implicate Stoll in th is equation. Perhaps this is w hy he so firmly heralds and upholds the right of the rational voice to prevail, for its the one voice that can say: what we did was justifiable, a way of life was at stake, capitalism had to perseverethe red threat of communism was met with justifia ble force even if communists only wanted land reform, surely it would have been a matter of time before their viewpoint crept into our borders, uprooting our everyday practices: Arbenz had to go. Only it was not only Arbenz, or Allende, or even Guevara. It was the historical infiltration and displacements of self-referential practices in the Americas by Empire; it was the loss of the right to self-govern, the right to self-legislate, which became characteristic of the postcolonial condition as seen in the Subalterns inability to be heard on their own terms. Moreover, official histor y, as exemplified in the document coffers of the Central Intelligence Agency, does not record accuracy, historical fidelity, but justifications ; instrumental rationales for the stances we take according to the perspectives our interpretative possibilities will buttress. CIA documents therefore can only tell us why we did what we did by giving explanations, ironically concealing that we did it. We need not answer to our actions as a nation since an answer already exists, in the Orwellian language of bureaucracy stitchi ng official memorandums together.
68 Hence, in the spectator attitude that is so detrimental to communicating with Others, we treat the Other as a mirror because we cannot bear to look at the alternative of staring elsewhere than at ourselves, to th e perhaps uncanny conti ngencies and struggles threading through a less developed world. This is why theoretical attitudes have a predilection for being deployed from more developed, first world countries; because the appearance of stability has been most succes sfully sold and cultivated there. In turn, positivist research methodologies displace more heuristic methods of describing phenomena insofar as flux cannot be accommodated by rule-following, by insistence on accuracy. When flux, which is always laden in the human condition, comes into the foreground of existence by way of viol ent eruptions in history, by profound destabilization of cultural pr actice la the colonial encounter, communiqus can no longer be sent, shouted, or written across bor ders: they must be smuggled. The disparity in the originating equality of speaking positions between subaltern narrators and Western interpreter/interlocutors hence necessitate s a strategy of speaking which may involve saying just what the Western ear is believed capable of hearing, what it will selectively reach for. This is not to be taken as mani pulative on the part of subaltern subjects, but rather the product of a long hi storical shift in indigenous systems of signification, from Mayan hieroglyphic codices to the linear subject-predicate grammar of chirographic cultures. Hence, in order to delegitimize entry into official discourse, as Mary Louise Pratt argues, Stoll deploys a reactive stance commended with the ta sk of resituating Western ways of understanding at the center of discourse again. The mushrooming of neocolonialist tendencies in social sciences, therefore, evidence the historical emergence of contestational forces seeking to displace occidental hegemonic narratives such as naturalism towards the margins of a new hist ory all of which suggests, perhaps, a testimonial reading of Rigoberta Mench and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, as the personal account of the trajectory of a part isan subject whose people are undergoing a painful historical transition. 128 Yet to recall, the existence of socially and historically situated interpretive frameworks within cultures ar e not the only structural dete rminants of narratological practices; it is also the collapse of those frameworks which influence how one says what one says. To this end, embro ilment in volatile material c onditions (such as war, armed struggle, or personal tragedy)t hat is, being thrust into a matrix of unstable relations where the preservation of life is the driving force of all actionwill fundamentally affect how a story gets told, what shows up or lig hts up with emphasis. What methodologies are employed in the undertaking also depends larg ely on concomitant aide from the graspable resources of memory from what is left of those un-grounding experiences that the nervous system has not yet refilled in unverbalizable form and labeled under incommensurable, lived understanding. Sometimes, it is enough to know one has lived though something to challenge ev en the most historically trustworthy account to the contrary. What naturalism fails to account for, then, is the veritable ways in which human
69 beings experience a loss in meaning, a collapse in traditional points of reference-some by grasping for the limited res ources of language to verbali ze the unnamable, others by responding to limit conditions th rough violent transgressions of normative scaffoldings. The subaltern speaker is always caught between these two stances--convention and transgressionbetween anxiety and the cr eative acclamation of cultures to seismic conditions. And so, to survive, one makes do with what is within reach: If to communicate lived understanding to other cultures, especially under urgent material conditions, one is given a set of criteria to fo llow under the rubric of language, one is consequently deprived of ones own customary means of deploying that language, of the patterns distinctive to ones own cultu re or memory of culture. The text thus becomes not a reflection of the self but of what the se lf must do in order to be recognized as a self by readers of social texts. Texts, as in word s, as in grammar, detemporalize the lived understanding of suffering through translation into stable networks of signification. The psychodynamics of linear storytelling and th e regulatory structuring of expression by cultural norms do violence to subaltern voice s by imposing the interiorization of an already-privileged metric of exchange in discourse. This is the hydra-headed nature of suffe ring. It is a dialogical struggle between what the self, in all its soci al and collective enfleshment, has borne witness to, and the ineffectual resources of social languag e to encapsulate that which resists disentanglement-repackaging for public consumption. It is trage dy, and it is mine, feels the victim, yet not without simultaneou sly wishing to verbalize experience, where verbalization constitutes a social system of representation, a codeword for access into political matrixes and where th e language of social change is meted out between parties internal to the discourse. And so then, in response to this st ruggle of incommensurability, reading Rigoberta Mench in context means coming to grips with a pre-woven social and historical scaffolding from which the text em erges. As difficult an endeavor as this may be (since it cannot be adduced from simple readings of official accounts but from careful readings), it is important since history is what lets context be: it lets meaning emerge in particular ways to particular cultures. Becau se, as we go forward we also carry with us our past, at the present moment it would be wise to return to where we first sat out from, from the proscriptions articulated as a response to the problem of cross-cultural communication: I said: And so, letting be on this view, entails more than a type of imaginative identification with the Other. It requires an applied phenomenology to the practice of reading and to our own understand ing of what a text is. Principally, we must understand what Spivak meant, following Heidegger, by the world ing of worlds that makes (im)possible genuin e cross-cultural communication. In so doing, our goal then ought to be to hear ken for, to hear how it is the Other relates to herself by rethinking (and this is on e way among many) our current
70 understanding of narratology, not in terms of a st atic structure, but in terms of a dynamic event or happening. Learning to let be is thus a precondition for cr eating openings favorable to equitable dialogue, since, as Mench reminds us, if [two people] dont discuss things they cant understand (216). The momentous occasion Menchs narr ative provides lies in its describing in explicit detail how she relates to herself and others not by what she thinks, but by what she does in her every day life. It would be a gr eat loss if we, due to the stubborn unifixity of our ears, missed su ch an opportunityan opportunity to set out on the way to dialogue with other cultures. As Mench teaches us, any element in nature can change man when he is ready for change (135). Becoming ready for change is thus a late-coming, yet not altogether ancillary theme of this thesis; it hasto prove our point of learning to hear for the un said of the Said been implicitly foretold in the negative critiques of Stolls ca lcified position, a stance in which Reason proper is the real interlocutor, not Stoll in the wa y he understands himself to be the interlocutor of Menchs discursive attempts. Opening up to other possibilities, other perspectives, will therefore require letting go, relinquishing a belief in the controllable nature of existence, of the many narratives and schemes we device to overcome the limitations of time, of flux. In closing, learning to hear for the un said that is at all times nested in the Said, through a careful attunement which brings the unsaid out of concealment, is the guiding claim of this thesis. It is thus the me thod I deploy when reading texts such as I, Rigoberta Mench; one that is without quest ion mediated through my ow n way of understanding her, or what it means to be unable to speak. Yet it is a method I believe most helpfully deautomatizes our everyday engagement with the text, engagements that through their normative portent, can be instrumentalizing. Fittingly, then, the last word belongs to Mench, from whomuntil the day I can eat what she eats, weave, dance, weep, or speak as she speaksIve yet to earn the right to call, Rigoberta : And so, you see, its a different world of course, I need a lot of time to tell you all about my people, because its not easy to understand just like that. And I think Ive given some idea of that in my account (57, 247).
71 NOTES 1 The phrace subaltern was first used by Antonio Gramsci in the notes on Italian History of his Prison Notebooks. There, he deployed the term as a stand-in for proletariat to escape prison censors; it also served to designate the cl ass of peasants in southern Italy unintegrated by the bourgeois-led resorgimento (see, for example, Beverley, 1999: 11-13). Subsequently, the term has been used in different manners by critics in the fields of history, politics, anthropology, and cultural studies, to name a fe w. The most well-developed uses of the term, however, are those of Gayatri Spivka, Homi Bhabha, and Ranajit Guhafunding members of what has come to be known as the Subaltern Studies group. Guha sees the term as a general attribute for subordination in South Asian society whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, gender, or any other way (Selected Subaltern Studies Reader, 1988: 43). Yet for Spivak the subaltern is that which always slides under or away from representationbecause simply by merging into representationit loo ses the character of Subalternity; she is concerned, moreover, with the way in whic h elite representation effaces the effective presence of the subaltern (Bever ley, 1999: 101104). 2 Due to historical (in)accessibility to systems of representation, my preference for using she derives, foremost, as an example of the need to de-automatize our unreflective practices and biases such as deploying he to signify both ge nders; it is a bias further sedimented by the conceptual model of Renaissance humanism a nd the leveling egalitarian tradition of the European Enlightenment. 3 See Heidegger, Being and Time 1964. 4 See Weber, Protestant Ethic 1958. 5 Spivaks essay has three versions; the first, which appeared in a 1985 edition of the journal Wedge, a second, more developed version wh ich appeared in the 1988 volume of Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, and finally, a vastly expanded (100 page plus) version in Spivakss 1999 publication of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. 6 For a candid discussion on the (mis)interpretation of Spivaks two most prominent ideas strategic essentialism and the (im)possibility of Subaltern discursivity, see Jenny Sharpes interview of her mentor, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society volume 28 (2003), pages 60924. 7 Spivak, 1988, p. 300. 8 One reason the Western interlocutor is more likely to place his discourse at the center (rather than see it as a perspective) is that Coloni al subjects, and most powerfully indigenous
72 (subaltern) subjects have a powerful reminder of the existence of a different perspective in colonization. 9 As quoted in Hartman, 1999, p. 347. 10 Although it is not made explicit in this chapter, for Schutte, the principle of (cross-cultural) incommensurability signifies an attempt to designate the lack of complete translatability of various expressions or blocks of meaning betw een two or more linguistic-cultural symbolic systems and may also refer to incommensura ble ways of thinking insofar as the differences are culturally determined (cf. note 12). My use of the term alludes to this concept, albeit in a way that emphasizes both the event of having (mis)understood s ubaltern discursive attempts and the pre-woven, historical sediment which gives rise to conditions for the possibility of such events. 11 Guha, 1988: 44. 12 I owe the use of the term culturally asy mmetrical position to Schutte, 1988: 54. 13 On March 10, 1999, during the Central American Summit held in Guatemala that year, Clinton gave the following remarks in response to a Guatemalan dignitary who brought up the issue of North American accountability for the internal wa r in Guatemala: For the United States it is important I state clearly that support for milit ary forces and intelligence units, which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong. And the United States must not repeat that mistakeDuring the Cold War, when we were so concerned about being in competition with the Soviet Union, very often we dealt with countries in African and in other parts of the world based more on how they stood in the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union than how they stood in the struggle for their own pe oples aspirations to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilitiesI am making great effo rts to change our historical relations with Central America (as qtd. in Lane, 1999: 8). This was the first time a sitting president had publicly conceded to a foreign country about being on the wrong side of a political and social struggle. 14 See Lutz. 2001: 60-89. 15 Ibid. 16 The peace accords signaled an o fficial cessation to the violence. In reality, however, Indian removal politics continue, albeit in a less inte nse manner than a decade earlier, throughout Guatemala. Lutz (2001) details the continua tion of human rights abuses and the struggle of Guatemalas Indigenous population. 17 See Said, 1979. 18 Beverley, 2004: 11. 19 In the introduction to Gugelbergers 1996 The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America, an anthology of critical essays on testimonio, Gugelberger describes the genre as a moment that has passed, suggesting a type of conventionalism has reemerged in the disciplinary juncture of literature and politics. In 1999, in the wake of Stolls allegations against Mench, the critical literature that em erged in response to the controversy (which sought to defend Mench) underplayed the he reto canonical status of Gugelbergers anthology, which itself was emblematic of critical trends towards seeing testimonio as a spinoff of postmodernist play (see Gorge Yudice, 1995, for example). 20 Guha, 1988: vii. 21 Burgos-Debray and Rigoberta Mench, 1983: preface. 22 See Arias, The Rigoberta Mench Controversy 2001. 23 The texts which did exits on testimonial practice (as in giving ones testimony), such as C.A.S. Coadys Testimony: A Philosophical Study stayed at the level of abstraction, that is, without social or historical contexts. 24 Pratt, Mary Louse. I, Rigoberta Mench and the Culture Wars. The Rigoberta Mench Controversy, ed. Arturo Arias. 2001: 29-30. (Henceforth RMC)
73 25 Lyotard, 1988: 24. 26 Narratology in the study of theories of narratives, particularly with regard to its structures and conventions. For this project, I am using the term generally in way, though many takes exist which differ significantly from one another. See, For example, Jahn, Manfred.. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative University of Cologne Press, 2005. 27 This concept is not formulated to endorse the existence of a single shared metric akin to Habbermas construction of what he calls co mmunicative rationality. The reservation lies in that the assigned nature of such a metric can itself produce oppressive qualities by subjugating all discussants to the totality of one monolithic standard. 28 An interesting question, one that cannot be adjudi cated in the limited scope of this thesis, but is nonetheless of value to our metacritical project, is whether one could strategically induce conditions for breakdown for the purposes of deautomatizing our familiar everydayness with cultural presuppositions, thereby creating an ope ning in the conceptual framework corralling cross-cultural incommensurability. The problem w ould be twofold; first, such a notion could lead to unjustifiable acts of terrorism, and secondly, the very notion of replicating rupture would, in time, neutralize the destabilizing power of difference by normativizing the occurrence; in other words, it would become just another form of expression. 29 As quoted in Carmack, 1988: 164. 30 Castaneda, 2002: 23. 31 Ibid, 24. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid, 25. 34 As qtd. in Carmack, 1988: 167. 35 Schutte, 1998: 54. 36 Guha, 1988: 47. 37 This Bridge Called My Back, edited C. Moraga and Glor ia Anzaldua. Watertown, MA: Persephone. 1981. 38 Carmack, 169, emphasis mine. 39 Schutte, 1988: 55. 40 William Luis has recently called attention to the socio-historical circumstances under which Barnett first theorized testimonio as a way to problematize the concretized nature of the genre. According to Luis, Barnett, whose artistic aspir ations lay in poetry, not theory, drew on his day-trade as an Ethnologist to conceptualize testimonial literature in the wake of government censorship. Prior to writing his Autobiography of a Runaway Slave Barnet had only written two books, both of poetry. William explains : Barnet was associated with the second generation group of poets known as El Puente, na med after a private publishing house of the same name which operated between 1960-65. In 1964, El Puente published [Barnets] second book of poetry, Isla de Gijes. But the El Puente group fell out of grace and was accused of stressing the aesthetic over the political. Regardless of their commitments to the Revolutionary movement, many group members were considered [by the Cuban governm ent] antisocials and homosexuals and were sent to rehabilitation camps known as Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producin. Those under detention, and othe rs, were excluded from cultural and literary activities. During this period, Barnet had gone unpublished in Cuba (Luis, 1989: 480-83). 41 Taylor, 44. 42 Beverley, 2004: 34. 43 Gugelberger, 1996: ii. 44 Taylor, 45 45 Las Casas, 26. 46 Horowitz, Salon Magazine internet page. 47 Beverley, 2004: 75, emphasis mine
74 48 Stoll, 1998: 242. 49 Beverley, 1999: 67. 50 Time: explain the usage (not Heideggarian sense); quote Mayas view of TIME in RMC 51 Contrary to popular belief, Maya civilization was not completely eradicated in the sixteenth century, but in the late seventeenth century. 52 Arias, 2001: 4-5. 53 First used in the nineteenth century, the Fren ch used the term Latin America to recognize non-Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) colonial te rritories in the Americas such as Guyana and Haiti, which were French holdings. 54 Ibid, 6. 55 Ibid, 27. 56 Smith, Carol. Why write and Expose of Rigoberta Mench? RMC, 155. 57 Ong, 1988: 44. 58 Beverley, Margin at the center, 2004: 43 59 Ibid 60 Sommer, Doris. Las Casas Lies and Other Language Games RMC, 243, 248. 61 Ibid, 242-43. 62 Ibid, 246. 63 ibid 64 Ibid, 248-249. 65 Ong, 1988: 38. 66 Sanford, 199: 38. 67 See Joseph Rouse, How Scientific Practices Matter: R eclaiming Philosophical Naturalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 68 Stoll, 1999: 341. 69 One reason Sanford, a highly regarded forens ic anthropoligst, may like to insist on the existence of material facts, and by relation, a use a notion of truth as objective, has to do with the nature of her work: since 1994, Sanford has been instrumental in uncovering and documenting (at risk to her personal safety) mass clandestine graves of murdered Mayas in Guatemala. The Governemnts culture of impun ity often bases itself on claims no such graves exist. Therefore, to initiate dialogue about the s ituation in Guatemala, Sa nfords work has been instrumental in bringing charges against officials for human rights violations. 70 Rohter, 1998: A1. 71 Ibid. 72 Stoll, 1999, vii. 73 Ibid, 130. 74 Mench, Those who attack me humiliate the victims. Interview with Juan Jesus Aznarez. RMC, 101. 75 Stoll, 1999: xiv. 76 Ibid, 155. 77 Lutz, 2001: 31. 78 David Stoll Breaks His Silence, Interview with Dina Ramirez, RMC, 118. 79 Ibid,119. 80 Ibid, 120. David Stoll presents the nature of his work in an overwhelmingly neutral and objective manner; his official homepage at Middl eburry College reads: Since 1987 I've been doing field research on political violence and the peace process in Guatemala. Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala (1993) started out as an ethnography of an area in northern Quich Department that suffered heav ily in the violence. Based on my interviews with survivors, I found it necessary to question the left's interpretation of the war, including assumptions that have been picked up by the human rights movement. Since 1993 I've been
75 focusing on contradictions facing the human rights movement in this same region, how human rights imagery is generated, and how it affect s local peacemaking. In terms of anthropology, my work involves debates over representation, au thority and identity, as well as wider debates over political correctness, identity politics and ideologies of victimization. The most recent product of this research is Rigoberta Mench and The Story of All Poor Guatemalans (1999). ( www.middleburry.edu/anthropology/faculty/stoll.htm emphasis mine). 81 Rohter, 1998. 82 Stoll, 1999: viii. 83 Repritned in RMC, 99. 84 Arias, 2001: 51. 85 Rohter, 1998. 86 Interview with Juan Jesus Azanrez, 111. 87 Liano, Dante the Anthropologist with the Old Hat, in RMC, 121. 88 Stolll, 1999: 401. 89 Smith, 143. 90 Stoll, 1996: 50. 91 Beverley, 2004: vii. 92 Skodowska, 2001: 251. 93 Sanford, 38. 94 Against Gerardi and Against Rigoberta: Attack s Are Continually Made to Make them Loose Some of their Luster, reprinted in RMC, 107. 95 Ibid, 108. 96 Mench, 103. 97 Spivak, 1999. 98 Mench, 1983: 1. 99 Stoll, Interview with D. Ramirez, 119. 100 Mench, Interview with Juan Jesus Aznares, 113. 101 Stoll, 1999: 200-1. 102 Beverley, 1989: 22. 103 Beverley, 2004: 42. 104 Subrino, 180; as quoted in Craft, 116. 105 Izziray, 55, emphasis mine. 106 Yudice, 16. 107 As qtd. in Beverley, 2004: xii. 108 Dictionary of Word Origins Random House, 1998. 109 Beverley, 2004: 30-31. 110 La Rosa, 1995: 11. 111 Ydice, 15. 112 Beverley and Zimmerman, 1989: 23. 113 Raul Quintanilla, as qtd. in Beverley and Zimmerman, 1989: 36. 114 Daniel Ortega, ibid. 115 Taylor, 30 116 As qtd. in Yudice, 15. 117 Sklodowska, 2001: 252. 118 Lyotard, 1988: 24. 119 Beach, i. 120 Nietzsche, 295. 121 Ibid, 295. 122 Ibid, 406.
76 123 See Mark Sanders, A review of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. In Postcolonial Reading. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. 124 Spivak, 1999: 211. 125 Skledowska, 198. 126 Nietzsche, 295. 127 Ibid, 407. 128 Mary Louse Pratt, RMC, 46.
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