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  • Beyond Human: Vital Materialisms in the Andean Avant-Gardes by Tara Daly
  • Cinthya Torres

Andean Avant-Garde, Material Culture, Vital Materialism, César Vallejo, Alejandro Dorado, José María Arguedas, Julieta Paredes, Tara Daly, Cinthya Torres

Daly, Tara. Beyond Human: Vital Materialisms in the Andean Avant-Gardes. Bucknell UP, 2019, 238 pp.

In one of the opening scenes of Deep Rivers (1958) by José María Arguedas, the protagonist Ernesto describes the burning feeling he experiences on his palms when he touches the Incan walls, ancient blocks of stone that line one of the narrow alleys surrounding the Plaza Mayor in Cuzco. Ernesto recalls a Quechua song that reminds him of the living nature of stones and all material things, which are seemingly alive beneath their solid appearance. In Beyond Human: Vital Materialism in the Andean Avant-Gardes, Tara Daly recounts this episode to argue that a vital materialist philosophy informs the life and work of several Andean authors and artists, reorienting their relationship to different types of materials. By way of an avant-garde aesthetic orientation toward materiality, the author proposes that writers like Arguedas and Magda Portal challenge traditional ways of organizing life and relating to material culture by engaging with matter and the natural environment in more open, fluid, and nonbinary ways. In line with a postanthropocene theoretical turn that shifts from a human-centered ontology to redirect attention to matter, and more specifically in dialogue with Jane Bennet's vital materialism, the author explores the vibrancy of matter and its potential to not only diffuse stubborn dualisms, but also to explore how material objects affect human life.

An interesting argument the authors advances is that the avant-garde, far from [End Page 235] being an outdated historical movement that ends in the early twentieth century, continues across time and space, resurfacing in the Andes in aesthetic practices that are more fluid, inclusive, and humanizing than their European counterparts, and which reconfigure the relationship between humans and their ecosystem. The region's colonial history and neocolonial reality, the plurality of its cultures and indigenous philosophies like the buen vivir or the harmonious coexistence among beings, combined with an avant-garde stance, helped to nurture alternative ways of thinking about materiality and ways of being in the world with other species. This reconsideration of the human's positioning vis-à-vis other forces complicates an anthropocentric humanism while contributing to current discussions on new materialism.

Based on the idea of looking at materials beyond human control, as the title suggests, the book is organized into five chapters, bringing together an assembly of canonical and new authors and artists who, through different orientations and materials, offer creative ways to think about and interact with materiality beyond a Cartesian logic, recognizing the embedded nature of the human in the material environment.

In Chapter I, "Cesar Vallejo's Lithic Poetry," the author proposes a monistic materialist approach to Vallejo's work to discuss how the poet uses language to infuse materials with life while embedding the human body, in fact one material among others, into the natureculture [sic] web of worldly beings and things. The author observes that on numerous occasions Vallejo uses stones, pebbles, and bones to orient the reader's attention to the existence of life beyond the human body, at times as a prosthetic addition to the human body, and at other times to link human materiality to the surrounding world, which will outlast the transient human body. In Trilce "X" the last stone that "has just died with a soul and everything," charges the dull rock with a soul and a "geological memory" that precedes human life and endures after death, illuminating an interconnectedness between humans and other materials.

In Chapter II, "Alejandra Dorado's Installation Art," the author examines three installations by contemporary Bolivian visual artist Alejandra Dorado to explore through a feminist, queer, and transhuman viewpoint the bare materiality of the human body as a source of containment, but also of agency, and the representational possibilities that exist beyond the closed body and in the assemblage between humans, objects, and other forms of life. Similarly to Vallejo, the prosthetic addition of materials onto...


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pp. 235-238
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