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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

THE OTHER AND THE SAME Miguel Angel Asturias, Men of Maize, translated by Gerald Martin, Verso, £12.95

The novels of Miguel Angel Asturias embody the dazzlingly double-edged links between the Old World and the New. A Guatemalan, he revealed the tragic reversibility of André Breton's contention that Mexico was 'le pays du suréel': he had to go to Europe and fall under the spell of Parisian surrealism in order to discover the religions and comologies of his native land. It is (superficially) ironic that Asturias, in his novel Men of Maize (1949), used the techniques of the European experimental novel and the illogicism of the surrealists to articulate the world-vision of the Amerindian peoples. The pluralism of the narrative voice in the modern European novel became in Asturias's hands an apposite vehicle to express the Amerindian religious notion of the transmigration of souls. An Eagletonian (mis)reading might see such devices as an act of capitulation before the enemy, the oppressed using the language of the oppressor and thereby covertly accepting the epistemological rules underwriting the former's mental univers. Yet, what seems to be the voice of the exotic European Other is simply the artistic hybrid created as a result of the West's prior fascination with non-Europoean discourses - witness the African sub-plot in Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1908), for example. The voice of the Other is nothing more than the discourse of the Same - Ouroboros!

Men of Maize encapsulates many of these epistemological and cultural dilemmas, shifting between the voice of the everyday (the whites burning down the Indians' trees for capital gain) ...


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