This article offers an interpretation of José María Arguedas’s engagement of the politics of the sensory body in his second novel, Los ríos profundos (1958). The article traces how, through unobtrusive moments of narrative description, Arguedas’s narrative voice reconfigures the reader’s sensory body so that she becomes receptive to the rich sensory experiences available through interaction with the purportedly abject: dirt, rot and excrement. I term the alternate sensibility developed through these passages “sensory complexity” and argue that sensory complexity functions as a daring narrative rejoinder to the image of the “dirty Indian,” a stereotype with a strong hold even on those fighting for indigenous rights in 1950s Peru. Arguedas’s positive reimagination of the abject goes beyond reappropriation; in Los ríos profundos, Arguedas connects sensory complexity to Quechua-speaking indigenous culture’s ecological sensibility, its valuing of the full cycle of life including not just the rose in full bloom but also the dirt that nurtures its growth and the insect and bacteria life that enable its decay. In a paradoxical yet important way that sets his work apart from other indigenista authors of the period, Arguedas uses abject representations to value indigenous culture and convey indigenous worldviews within the novel-form.


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pp. 73-89
Launched on MUSE
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