- José Carlos Mariátegui’s Unfinished Revolution by Melisa Moore
Melisa Moore’s José Carlos Mariátegui’s Unfinished Revolution is a thorough and well-researched study into the titular intellectual’s management and theorization of the vanguard cultural milieu in 1920s Peru. The study provides a fresh look at a period and figure about which a great deal of scholarship has been written since the 1960s. It does so by refocusing Mariátegui in relationship to his intellectual and cultural management as seen primarily through Amauta, the premier Andean vanguard journal that was published from 1926–30; through scrutiny of how his influence was exercised in, for example, the publishing of Martín Adán’s prose-poetic work La casa de cartón; as well as, naturally, through the many writings in which he conceptualized cultural practices and addressed contemporary politics. Moore’s dexterity with the materials as well as her careful understandings of them greatly enrich the study.
The book is composed of six chapters as well as an Introduction and Conclusion. Of the six central chapters, one provides a historical contextualization of the Oncenio (1919–30) or eleven-year period in which Augusto Leguía was last in power as president, two focus centrally on Mariátegui’s thought as expressed in his essays, and the remaining three focus on cultural practices that include poetry, narrative, and, unusually, visual art. While the readings of poetry are much more detailed and enriching than those of visual cultural artifacts produced by artists, this is understandable given that no reproductions of the visual works discussed are provided. This is disappointing, as surely it would have greatly enriched the study and would have allowed Moore’s keen critical eye a wider field in which to operate.
A notable and praiseworthy aspect of the study is the focus on women’s agency as cultural producers during the period. In all, four grossly understudied women (with the notable exceptions of scholarship by Unruh, Reedy, Gonzales Smith, and a few others) begin to get their due in Moore’s study. These include: Magda Portal, Ángela Ramos, Julia Codesido, and Elena Izcue. Moore’s probing readings of Ramos’s fiction and Portal’s poetry stand out in particular. In both cases, Moore convincingly reads the diversity of political affiliations and positions in the poetry itself, and moreover she buttresses these interpretations with ample and revealing biographical and historical information. Indeed, Mariátegui’s influence here seems to be less ideological and more managerial and it is perhaps not as necessary [End Page 595] to stress Mariátegui’s shaping of the discursive field as it is to signal the space that he created wherein these women were able to establish their voices.
In this vein, one drawback in the study is the very centrality of Mariátegui that is reflected in the title. There is no doubt that the essayist and Marxist thinker was the most important intellectual in the first half of the twentieth century, with only Vallejo nearing him in the areas of literary practice. But it is as important to note that Mariátegui’s thought was developed much further away from literature than the study suggests. That is, while Mariátegui engaged culture and especially literary practice as one of the terrains on which the most pressing national, regional, and global problems of the day needed to be addressed, the development and circulation of his thought is also deeply connected to his political activism and the practical, day-to-day problems that it presented. For example, his elaboration of myth, and a mythic view of the indigenous and their possible agency, arises from that reality and is rife with contradictions and fecundities that characterize a critical thought formed sobre la marcha. In this way, Moore’s reading of Mariátegui’s poetic language about revolution in the Andean context can be read to much benefit along other sociologically- and historically-oriented studies in order to provide a fuller account of Mariátegui’s complex and complicated renderings of the Andes...