Roberto Castillo uses La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos to criticize modernity in various ways. For example, he criticizes how indigenous people are considered invisible and how they struggle with others acknowledging their identity; thus, considering them as “other” for not conforming to modernity. I argue that this is because modernity is constructed through Spanish influence and ideals since the time of the conquest. For example, while being considered as other, modernity destroys indigenous identity. It portrays an image far from their reality. In addition, the complexity of the way that Roberto Castillo wrote La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos seeks to decolonize the reader’s mind. In addition, the novel is used to mock modernity by showcasing a character that is ignorant of indigenous cultures. Lastly, it is important to understand that Roberto Castillo uses the Lenca people’s invisibility to demonstrate the effects on the trauma they have experienced in their own country. Ultimately, I argue that indigenous people are largely unknown in the western world and because of that they are left as othered victims of the violence of the universal western beliefs, such as modernity as a form of progress.
The novel I will discuss is La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos, by Roberto Castillo. The novel is about a person who is known as El Buscador, who is in search for the last Lenca speaker. While on his venture, he is committed with the idea that if he does not see the Lenca people or they do not fall under his idea what they should be, then they do not exist. El Buscador is a symbol of modernity, and in the modern world it is common to ignore the existence of indigenous people. What El Buscador does not ever consider while on his search throughout the novel is the concept that the Lenca people may not want to be found. I argue that indigenous people are largely unknown in the western world and because of that they are left as othered victims of the violence of the universal western beliefs, such as modernity as a form of progress.
In “Los Discursos Dominates Sobre la Diversidad Cultural en Guatemala: Naturalizando el Multiculturalismo,” the author, Edgar Esquit, criticizes multiculturalism in Guatemala. For example, even though indigenous people have been part of Guatemala’s history, they are not recognized as a part of their society. This then renders indigenous people as invisible. As Esquit states, “Perhaps one of the most important elements that define a greater culturalization of ethnicity was the use of the Mayan concept for designate the cultural difference of the group in the country” (284). In other words, culturalization claims that there is culture diversity in Guatemala, however, it excludes indigenous people. While questioning multiculturalism in Guatemala, Esquit comes across the idea that indigenous people have always been seen as “other.” Because El Buscador is the symbol of modernity and is in search of the last Lenca speaker, it demonstrates indigenous’
invisibility in the modern world. In other words, La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos reveals how in modern society it is assumed that indigenous people do not exist. However, it can be said that they are among us but just do not want to be found due to past trauma. Lastly, while being considered as other, the novel illustrates how indigenous people are only accepted when they are being studied.
To further explain the history of why indigenous still have trauma from post-conflict in Central America, “La Relevancia Local de Procesos de Justicia Transicional. Voces de Sobrevivientes Indigenas sobre Justicia y Reconciliancion de Guatemala Posconflicto,” Liesollete Viane explains in her article, through a time span of 36 years- 1960 to 1996- Guatemala suffered from the most violent civil war in Latin America. For example, 200 thousand people were assassinated or disappeared. The civil war included 626 massacres, about 400 towns were destroyed, and 1, 500, 00 people fled to Mexico or to the United States (Viane 8). Due to this genocide, indigenous people are in all their rights to be fearful of their lives. Therefore, La Guerra de Los Sentidos illustrates how indigenous people would rather be invisible for their safety. Besides, El Buscador shows how indigenous people just want to be found to be studied and not to be helped. It would be different if El Buscador wanted to be part of the solution and wanted to help them recover from their past trauma. Although, wanting to be invisible for the sake of their lives is not a solution, it will at least keep their culture alive for generations to come.
To reveal how indigenous cultures were jeopardized during the civil war, Lieselotte Vianene explains in her article that indigenous owned lands were taken away and destroyed by bombs and grenades (11). It is important to understand how indigenous cultures value their land spiritually and culturally. So, for them to lose their lands, was them losing who they are and what they value as a community. This example to further explain why indigenous people rather be in the shadows, then in the light of Central America.
According to Hector Leyva’s article “El Discrete Encanto del Cuerpo Social Corrupto: Violencia, Literatura, y Medios de Communication,” “it can be said that the traumatic experiences are configured, endowed with a certain ideological figure and sensitivity. Since there are emotional and affective elements and notions and fragmentary assessments, these figures could be considered pre-ideological and yet, be contributing to reaffirm certain latent prejudices and animosities in society” (9). For indigenous people, this trauma can be traced back since the beginning of the colonization. Therefore, it has created a mistrust and fear with modern society. In relations to La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos, violence is constructed by El Buscador’s agenda to find the last Lenca speaker. For example, he sets up his search as a way to prove a point that the Lenca people are non-existing. Thus, being violent towards indigenous identity by destroying it with his concept of being indigenous. In addition, this sets up the idea that they are a social experiment to him, and not human. As a result, the Lenca community does not want to be found by El Buscador. Therefore, it can be interpreted that they do not want to build relationship with El Buscador. This is common in modern society because indigenous people secluded themselves to preserve their identity and cultures.
The article, “La Relevancia Local de Procesos de Justicia Transicional. Voces de Sobrevivientes Indigenas Sobre Justicia y Reconciliacion en Guatemala Posconflicto,” by Lieselotte Viaene, states that “la premisa subyacente es que un proceso de justicia transicional debe responder a las necesidades de las victimas” (4). In other words, the damages that were made towards indigenous people still need to be fixed and addressed. For example, in La Guerra Mortal de Los Sentidos, indigenous people are not offered a solution to their trauma. On the other hand, it continues by El Buscador seeing them as an experiment. This idea is violent and does not progress to solving the damage because it shows how indigenous people are still invisible in their country. If this continues then a solution will never be brought up because modernity does not recognize any damages.
As a whole, Roberto Castillo uses La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos as a social movement for several reasons, such as for decolonization and to advocate for indigenous people.
In addition, the article recognizes that the victims, or survivors, of violence deserve justice as part of their human rights by stating “Un dogma clave en el derecho internacional de derechos humanos es que todas las victimas tiene derecho a la justicia. Inherentemente relacionada con esto, el credo predicado por los defensores de derechos humanos- como parte del discurso dominante de justicia transicional- es que todas las victimas de violacion de derechos humanos desean la justicia de los responsables de las atrocidadses, y ademas, en los terminus de investigacion…” (Viaene 6). Although indigenous people deserve justice, the novel is to show that they yet need to receive it. For example, the novel was written years after the end of the civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador and Roberto Castillo uses it to demonstrate that indigenous people are dealing with post- conflict. Since the Lenca people do not want to be found by El Buscador, it shows how indigenous people rather continue be considered invisible, than putting their lives and culture at risk.
According to the article, “El Derecho de la Ficcion,” by Beatriz Cortez, national identity is invented and can be re-invented. Its construction is a decanter of memories made by domination, resistance, and oppression. As a result, Roberto Castillo’s purpose on writing La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos is to question expectations in modern society and decolonize the reader’s mind. Guatemala has adapted Spanish writing as its state tool to colonize its people’s minds, causing it to be problematic because Guatemala uses literature as a tool. However, Castillo uses the novel as a tool to fight against the state and wrote it in an arrangement that does not conform to modern writing. For example, the novel is meant to be impossible to comprehend. It uses many voices and perspectives. Symbolically, none of the voices are of the Lenca people. As one would expect, La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos is the complete opposite of what the Guatemalan state would want citizens to be consuming.
In “Does Multiculturalism Menace? Governance, Cultural Rights and the Politics of Identity in Guatemala,” by Charles R. Hale, the article analyses what neoliberal multiculturalism is and its points to the most effective means to confront its danger. For example, “Social movements that simultaneously contest the relations of representation and the distribution of resources on which the neoliberal establishments rests” (14). As a whole, Roberto Castillo uses La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos as a social movement for several reasons, such as for decolonization and to advocate for indigenous people. Unfortunately, indigenous people have a limited voice in their governments’ politics. One, they are not heard because their social issues and violated human rights go unacknowledged and unresolved. Secondly, if they come together to protest their current issues and injustices they run the risk of jeopardizing their lives and the lives of their loved ones. For example, Hale states, “Maya cultural rights activism, for example, may invert dominant relations of representation, while remaining at the margins, resource starved, without the power to influence decisions taken by the state and powerful institutions” (14). Therefore, it is common that non-indigenous people are the voice or advocate for indigenous populations’ human and civil rights. Although, in some occasions their lives are also at risk for exposing or going against their government.
In the article “Frustrated Political ‘Modernity’ in Latin America,” by Joseph M. Colomer, the author focuses on defining modernity as “legacies of the Spanish colony… (3). In other words, modernity is due to Spanish influence. This is a reason why modernity has always excluded indigenous people, it was constructed with no intentions of including or accommodating to them. Modernity was brought up to only include non-indigenous people. In addition, Colomer states that “social life was structured” since the beginning of the conquest (3). La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos demonstrates this claim throughout the novel. For example, El Buscador’s search shows how there is a separate relationship between indigenous and non- indigenous people. If modernity was not so exclusive, indigenous people could have been welcomed and their relationship would be very different. However, the situation came out to be different and as a result there are ethnic conflicts. For example, Colomer states in his article “especially in Central America…, racial and economic strain also developed in the form of miscommunication and confrontation with substantial portions of the native Indian population” (8). As a result, during the independence, “loyal Spanish and colonial rebels had competed in trying to mobilize Indians…” (9). As a result, to this mobilization, El Buscador cannot find the Lenca people. Roberto Castillo used the search to illustrate how indigenous people have always been marginalized and move away from society. However, most importantly Colomer states how indigenous people have never been included in politics of their country due modernity. He states, “in fact, wide sectors of the indigenous population in Latin America were never incorporated into the new political communities” (9).
Furthermore, La Guerra Mortal de Los Sentidos mentions how the Lenca have their own language, thus, El Buscador claims to know what it sounds like although he does not speak it himself. This language barrier is explained in Josep Colomer’s “Frustrated Political ‘Modernity’ in Latin America.” For example, the article states that indigenous people have a limited voice due to a language barrier. This become problematic when they try to reach to other indigenous community as solidarity and stand together in the fight for their rights. The author states, indigenous communities “cannot communicate beyond their small local communities because they only speak unwritten local tongues” (9). As a result, as seen in La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos, “in general, racial segregation, discrimination, exclusion, rebellion, and conflict have remained very-long term features across the continent” (9).
In “Mestizaje, sexualidad y organicidad en La Guerra mortal de los sentidos de Roberto Castillo y El tiempo principia en Xibalba de Luis de Lios. Una comparacion,” by Amanda Alfaro Cordoba, expands on the idea of indigenous people are not seen as equal and how La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos illustrates this idea. For example, Alfaro states “sí, te abren las puertas pero en cuanto miran tu color, tu cara, tu pelo piensan que no sos hombre sino su remedo….” (57). In other words, if El Buscador were to find the Lenca people and they were to welcome them into their home, he would still not see them as people but as a worthless reflection of a human being. Therefore, it is best for them not to be found. El Buscador has no intentions of finding indigenous people equal, just as modern society. Furthermore, the article states, “El indio no se refugia en el alcoholismo más atroz por ser indio, sino porque le han quitado todas las opciones que un hombre puede tener en la vida” (57). Metaphorically, this statement is to illustrate that indigenous are in the circumstances they are in by violence, oppression, and resistance. However, it is far from where they want to be. For example, due to decades of domination, indigenous people feel their safest being invisible and isolated. In addition, Amanda Alfaro compares how in other countries similar situations have occurred, where certain groups in a country are targets of discrimination and violence. However, there is a pattern that scholars and people realized violence, but nothing done and if so, it takes decades. By writing La Guerra de los Sentidos, Roberto Castillo shares the same idea as Amanda Alfaro. For example, he is aware that the genocides in Guatemala and in El Salvador are well known. However, even though the civil wars ended decades ago, the post-violent damage is still there. In addition, the book take place in the year 2999, meaning that even a little over a hundred years after the civil war indigenous people still have not received just nor are comfortable to show invisibility and safely show their culture to the world. On the other hand, they are still avoiding modern society for their safety.
In La Guerra moral de los Sentidos, El Buscador has an image of what indigenous people should look like in order to fulfill his believe. In his article, Edgar Esquit gives a descriptive image of it being a cold morning in Guatemala, where one can see young peasants washing vegetables. While in the afternoon, others are sowing or harvesting the same product. Then, it is sold in the wholesale center of the capital of Guatemala (290). This is an important visual because it allows to imagine that this type of hard labor increases long working hours of those and leaves visible marks on their bodies. However, when advertising, “the relationship between multiculturalism is promoted by subliminally officials and as capitalist development” (290). For example, “a very special [advertisement Esquit mentions] was the one was announcing the chemical fertilizer that the government sells to farmers… this…appears the image of two young indigenous women very well dressed, less tired, traditional costumes, very clean with baskets full of vegetables, as representation of the indigenous producer and worker” (290). The stories of these women are hidden under those that idealize multiculturalism in state documents, in the press or in the spoken discourses” (291). Moreover, the images of multiculturalism show very little of indigenous reality. In other words, behind those images are the hidden truth of those peasants. Consequently, just as El buscador in La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos, modernization have a vision of what indigenous are supposed to look like, but in reality it is something else.
Since the time of colonization, the new world has been uniformed in coordination based on European point of time. In La Guerra mortal de los Sentidos, El Buscador does not think that Lenca people exist in modern times. Although it is clear that they do, El Buscador’s mind set illustrates that indigenous people do not exist in Western time due to modernization. For example, in “Modernity: A Different Time,” Peter Osborne argues that “…the sociological concept of modernity was extended beyond its original reference to European and North American societies… notoriously presumes a homogenous continuum of historical time across which comparative judgments about social development may be made in abstraction from all qualitative temporal differences” (1). The judgments about social development cause indigenous people to be seen as backwards because they do not conform to a more progress driven idea of modernity. The concepts enforced by western societies have become universal, therefore encouraging most societies to see indigenous people as a thing of the past and as if they no longer exist in the current world. This is problematic because El Buscador assumes there are no Lenca people if he cannot find them, when in the academic world it is easy to recognize the existence of many indigenous cultures around the world. Therefore, through the novel, Roberto Castillo uses El Buscador’s character to make fun of modernity because if it was so advanced then it would know that indigenous are still present in modern day.
All the past trauma and violence the indigenous people have gone through deserves recognition and should be apologized for. According to Lieselotte Vianene, it is important to emphasize that within the Mayan worldview the concepts of harmony and equilibrium are dynamic (13). As part of their culture, the transgression that they have gone through cannot be repaired because it is impossible to return to the original situation. In other words, the harm that modernity and their government has caused them can repair the damages. However, recognizing the government’s wrongdoing and their faults will at least show responsibility. Although it may be in the far future, acknowledging and asking for forgiveness is a step towards accepting indigenous communities.
Overall, Roberto Castillo uses La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos to criticize modernity in various ways. For example, he criticizes how indigenous people are considered to be invisible and struggle with others acknowledging their identity, thus considering them as “other” for not conforming to modernity. That is because modernity is constructed through Spanish influence and ideals since the time of the conquest. While being considered as other, modernity destroys indigenous identity. It portrays an image far from their reality. In addition, the complexity of the way that Roberto Castillo wrote La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos seeks to decolonize the reader’s mind. In addition, the novel is used to mock modernity by showcasing a character that is ignorant of indigenous cultures. Lastly, it is important to understand that Roberto Castillo uses the Lenca people’s invisibility to demonstrate the effects on the trauma they have experienced in their own country. As Lieselotte explains, after all the years of oppression and violence towards indigenous people the problem has still not been addressed. For example, due to the violent civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador, indigenous people have been in a state of post- conflict violence. This means that there was severe damage done to indigenous communities that has left them weak. Although it has been decades after the civil war, indigenous people have yet to reserve the help they need to be able to recover. To begin with, they are still not represented in their government politics, thus they are not being represented. In addition, during the civil war indigenous people were forced to relocate because their homes were destroyed or because of mobilization. As a result, they have marginalized themselves from modern society. All these outcomes are demonstrated in La Guerra Mortal de los Sentidos. For example, indigenous people are not part of El Buscador’s modern society, therefore, he has to look for them. In addition, the novel was written in a future time. This indicates that Roberto Castillo wanted to use the novel to bring up the awareness that if indigenous people are not acknowledged and do not receive the political attention they need then they will remain invisible. Indigenous people deserve the attention and healing they need in order to recuperate from the damages of the civil war. However, unfortunately, El Buscador’s character demonstrates that instead of helping indigenous communities stand up, the discrimination, violence, and stereotypes still continue.
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