Advances in Literary Study
2013. Vol.1, No.4, 43-49
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 43
Placing Place: Speech in José María Arguedas’ The Foxes
Lucas Izquierd o
Latin American & Iberia n Studies, University of Richmond, Richmond, USA
Received July 18th, 2013; revised August 23rd, 2013; accepted October 10th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Lucas Izquierdo. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Critical approximations carried out from the global south entail spatial and epistemological challenges to
the hegemony of western modernity. This article argues that José María Arguedas’ The Fox from Up
Above and the Fox from Down Below (1971) produces a language that embodies and transforms an Aris-
totelian conception of speech. Written in an avant-garde vernacular, the novel congeals a multiplicity of
worldviews, utopias, and mercantile discourses that converge in Chimbote-Peru. Guided by Jacques Ran-
ciere’s Disagreement (1998) and Dissensus (2010), the analysis is divided in two stages. The first stage
examines the notion of speech and a constitutive wrong that establishes a community. The second stage
addresses the symbiotic relationship of speech, its place of enunciation, and the conception of an alternate
social order. The analysis places Arguedas in critical dialogue with Aristotelian speech, Ranciere’s notion
of wrong, and the emergence or failure of claiming speech in canonical history.
Keywords: Arguedas; Speech; Ranciere; Aristotle; Castro-Klaren; Mignolo
Yo soy torero del Dios, soy mendigo de su cariño, no
del cari ño fa l so de las a ut o rida de s, de l a human id ad t ambié n.
¡Miren! (Arguedas, 1992: p. 53)
[I’m God’s toreador. I’m a beggar for His affection, not
for the false affection of the authorities, of humanity too.
Look here! (Arguedas, 2000: p. 56)]
Critical initiatives carried out from the global south entail
spatial and epistemological challenges to the hegemony of
western modernity. Decolonial enterprises since the sixteenth
century have produced “responses to the oppressive and impe-
rial bent of modern European ideals projected to and enacted by,
the non-European world” (Mignolo, 2012: p. 3). In a Peruvian
context, Sara Castro-Klaren perceives a “liberating potential
when engaged in critical dialogue, as Mariátegui did with
Marxism, and Garcilaso de la Vega, Inca, did earlier with Spa-
nish historiography, for nothing is pristine and autochthonous
after contact” (2011: p. 475). In dialogue with the theoretical
work of Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto and French syndi-
calist George Sorel, José Carlos Mariátegui’s (1894-1930) in-
terpretation of 1920’s Peruvian reality accounted for the Mexi-
can Revolution, the 1927 Chinese Crises, the fall of European
Empires, and the emergence of capitalist monopolies. Multiple
sets of critical epistemologies, for instance, produced his map-
ping of Peru as a permeable space with “alternating and trans-
formative ruptures and continuities” (Castro-Klaren, 2011: p.
Following the path proposed by Mariátegui’s seminal work
on Peru’s structural inequalities, the literary fiction of ethnog-
rapher and author José María Arguedas (1911-1969) traverses
Quechua and Spanish vocabulary and syntax to establish places
of enunciation to be claimed by emerging political subjects at
the periphery of the world market. Viewed from anthropologi-
cal theory, Arguedas’ language provides the foundation for two
key paradigms of Latin American literary criticism, Angel
Rama’s concept of transculturation and Antonio Cornejo Po-
lar’s notion of cultural heterogeneity (Rama, 2012; Cornejo
Polar, 1992). Writing across cultures, Arguedas’ literary genius
lies in producing a kaleidoscopic vision of the centuries’ old
contact between indigenous, African, and European cultural
systems that presently converge in the uneven flow of global
This article argues that Arguedas’ posthumously published
novel The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below
(1971) produces a language that embodies and transforms an
Aristotelian conception of speech. Guided by Jacques Ranci-
ere’s Disagreement (1998) and Dissensus (2010), the analysis
is divided in two stages. The first stage examines the concep-
tion of speech and a constitutive wrong that underlies the social
and economic hierarchy in The Foxes. The second stage ad-
dresses the symbiotic relationship of speech, its place of enun-
ciation, and the emergence of an alternate social order. Close
readings in each section will engage with historical episodes
significant to the acquisition of speech, namely Scythian and
Roman, which underscore the interdependence of speech and
the place of its inception. The analysis places Arguedas in
critical dialogue with Aristotle’s notion of speech, Ranciere’s
conception of wrong, and the emergence or failure of claiming
speech in canonical history. To regenerate the present and de-
feat the historical project of modernity Arguedas first assimi-
lated its achievements (Gutiérrez, 2003: p. 14). Decolonizing
the logic of western modernity entails that “modernity has to be
assumed in both its glories and its crimes” (Mignolo, 2012: p.
Written in an avant-garde vernacular, The Foxes congeals a
multiplicity of worldviews, utopias, and mercantile discourses
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
that converge in Chimbote-Peru. The historical Chimbote was
in the nineteen forties a fishing hamlet located south of Trujillo.
Twenty years later an unrestrained capitalist growth fuelled by
a nascent fishing industry attracted thousands of foreign and
national migrants. The urban landscape depicted by The Foxes
results from the social layering produced in Chimbote’s force-
ful economic conversion. The seaport is crammed with markets,
paths, and edifices that subsume a multiplicity of oral and writ-
ten languages, along with ritual practices and cosmologies
originating from the Andean regions of Peru.
The Foxes is structured by dialogic interplay of diaries and
tales that conceive the systems that configure everyday life. The
narrative incorporate s t he h eteroglossia that defines the novel as
a cultural form associated with urban living. In Bakhtinean
terms “Arguedas’ texts are located in and about the combat
zone in which all the aspects of daily life are interconnected
with the struggle between the Andean cultures and the succes-
sive waves of European forms of life and thought” (Castro-
Klaren, 2000: p. 308). Neither the Indian nor the European
descendant is deemed homogenous and complete but emerge as
problematic and unresolved characters living in conditions that
far exceed a normative interpretation.
Martin Lienhard notes that The Foxes evolves in contact with
a plurality of socio-dialects specific to Chimbote’s migrants
(1992: p. 329). William Rowe addresses the multiplicity of
linguistic structures as a variable swarm of discourses and so-
ciolects, from messianic Andean vernaculars to capitalist and
corporeal speeches, which are “characterized by disintegrations
and extraordinarily fertile interconnections” (2000: p. 285). The
discursive swarms transverse Huarochirí cosmologies, revolu-
tionary utopias, and the brute force of capital. Edmundo Gómez
Mango suggests that The Foxes could be baptized a Babylonian
“All Languages [Tongues]” (1992: p. 366—my translation).
Adrift in a multitude “each character is essentially a voice that
speaks” (1992: p. 366). The novel oscillates from producing
panoramic visions of Chimbote to spotlight a migrant worker,
fisherman, or prostitute that claims, if only for an ephemeral
instant, a place of enunciation.
Martín Oyata cautions us against reading The Foxes solely in
an ethnographic register. Oyata judiciously observes that an
ethnographic-reception of the text by literary critics may be due
to urban or foreign readers’ spatial-temporal distance from
Andean objects and subjects of representation. While it is un-
deniable that Arguedas wrote the novel based on prior ethno-
graphic fieldwork, the author himself asserts to have crafted an
“artificial language” (Oyata, 2012: p. 45). What concerns this
article is how does Arguedas’ artificial language produce the
effect of witnessing mental operations that conjure a right to
speech at the fringes of global capital?
As Virgil guided Dante to the depths of hell, afro-Peruvian
Crazy Moncada is a central figure that leads us through Chim-
bote’s apocalyptic labyrinths. Moncada is not our exclusive
guide, as human and mythic figures appear in turns to escort us
and then abruptly metamorphose and disappear. The complex-
ity of Arguedas’ language brings to mind authors such as
Guamán Poma, César Vallejo, James Joyce, or John Dos Passos.
Analogous to a Shakespearean jester, Crazy Moncada speaks
truths that unsettle most city dwellers: “Moncada’s well known;
nobody bothers him. He’s tellin’ the truth—that’s the way crazy
people talk” (Arguedas, 2000: p. 57). Moncada’s speech at the
Modelo marketplace emerges in the second tale of the novel.
Belaúnde, presidente de la República, Víctor Raúl Haya
de la Torre, padre madre de presidentes, senador Kennedy
muerto; pobrecito madre de Belaúnde, del General Doige,
del Almirante Zamoras, del Perú América. ¡Yo, yo, yo! Se
acuerdan de la peste bubónica que salió de Talara-Tumbes?
Yo soy esa pestilencia, aquí estoy sudando la bubónica de
Talara-Tumbes International Petrolium Company, Esso,
Lobitos, libra esterlina, dólar (Arguedas, 1992: p. 54).
[Belaúnde, president of the Republic, Víctor Raúl Haya
de la Torre, father mother of presidents, dead Senator
Kennedy; poor little man mother of Belaúnde, of General
Doige, of Almirante Zamoras, of Perú América. Me, me,
me! Do you remember the bubonic plague that came out
of Talara-Tumbes? I am that plague, and here I am
sweating out the bubonic plague of Talara-Tumbes Inter-
national Petrolium Company, Esso, Lobitos, pound ster-
ling, dollar (Arguedas, 2000: p. 57)].
Moncada’s initial utterance speaks of past and present Peru-
vian dignitaries and dead US senator Kennedy (whom to a
lesser degree than Haya de la Torre signifies a leftist political
tradition). The utterance produces a collage of personal names
punctuated by a place called “Peru-America”. The last utter-
ance in contrast summons a transnational petroleum corporation
and monetary nomenclature. Petrol is unmistakably a key en-
ergy resource that nourishes the development of our modern
world, and Moncada references the fuel that springs from Ta-
lara-Tumbes as a plague. His speech is metaphorically aligned
with the fuel, the speech is that plague, and cannibalizes the
political and commercial forces responsible for the uneven
economic development of the seaport. In the midst of these
clusters a starling event occurs, Moncada claims a place of
enunciation “Me, me, me”. The first person interjection no-
ticeably emerges in-between established discourses as strug-
gling to capture a place that belonged to none. The self-refer-
ential pronoun is an energy source that, as the petroleum,
plagues the place it inhabits.
The right to speech is central to Arguedas’ literary fiction. In
earlier novels such as Yawar Fiesta (1941) or Todas las san-
gres (1964) and short stories such as El sueño del pongo (1965),
Arguedas examines the social order of Andean communities.
The texts partly reflect on semi-feudal protocols of domination
that give reason for the exploitation of the workforce in the
Andean region. From the perspective of the landowners, the
oppressed do not posses speech and must battle for the right to
establish an alternate communal logos. Arguedas’ writing
across cultures, as Mariátegui years’ prior, was unquestionably
committed to societal transformation. In a political context, a
fictional language does not denote “an imaginary world, and
even more that its Aristotelian sense as ‘arrangement of ac-
tions.’ It [fiction] is not a term that designates the imaginary as
opposed to the real; it involves a reframing of the ‘real’” (Ran-
ciere, 2010: p. 141). The literary fiction, as the genuine po-
litical endeavor, may initiate modes of being that tear bodies
and speeches from assigned spaces that restrain “them to pri-
vate or public lives, pinning them down to a certain time and
space, to specific ‘bodies’, that is to specific ways of being,
seeing and saying” (p. 139).
Moncada’s plague is a sample of numerous speeches that as-
sault the underlying political structure of Chimbote and expose
the economic woes fashioned by transnational corporations.
The plague discharges a constellation of empty (or floating)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 45
signifiers that emerge if “there is a structural impossibility in
signification as such, and only if this impossibility can signify
itself as an interruption (subversion, distortion, etc.) of the
structure of the sign” (Laclau, 2007: p. 37). The plague I sug-
gest points towards a primal interruption at the core of west-
ern political philosophy: the demarcation of speech and voice.
In classical Greece, men endowed with speech governed the
conventions that made an object an object and validated the
authority of those who recognized what object was worth dis-
puting upon. Walter Mignolo observes a corresponding episte-
mological structure in the Americas, when he argues that the
logic of coloniality ascertains that the control and management
of “actors and institutions engineering the game were estab-
lishing its rules on which the struggles for decision making
would unfold” (2011: p. 8). The acquisition of speech intro-
duces a conceptual node that precedes the colonial matrix, and
once enunciated, may be helpful to decolonize the project of
western modernity in reference to Arguedas’ fiction . Ranciere
asserts, in reference to Aristotle’s Politics, “The supremely
political destiny of man is attested by a sign, the possession of
logos, that is, of speech, which expresses, while the voice sim-
ply indicates” (1999: p. 2).
Nature, as we say, does nothing without some purpose;
and she has endowed man alone among animals with the
power of speech. Speech is something different from
voice, which is possessed by other animals also and used
by them to express pain or pleasure … Speech, on the
other hand, serves to indicate what is useful and what is
harmful, and so also what is just and unjust ... It is sharing
a common view in these matters that makes a household
and a state (Aristotle, Politics, Book I, quoted by Ranciere,
1999: p. 1).
Speech signifies logos and in the process produces the place
of its inception. The relationship concerning speech and the
place of its enunciation is not causal. It is a simultaneous phe-
nomenon predicated on the communal consolidation of logos
(of a household or state). Speech and the order of a community
are inextricably coupled by “sharing a common view on these
matters”. The order of the community is never immaterial, as it
establishes the distribution of parts, property, and persons that
make up the communal whole. The intersection of speech and
the place were it belongs is vital to decipher the systems that
converge in The Foxes. Moncada’s plague, for instance, seeks
to unhinge a communal order to give life to an emerging place
of enunciation. The speechless being’s claim to speech implies
and demands a reorganization of a communal order.
The political nature of humans unfortunately exceeds a sim-
ple desire to attain speech. Simple desires belong to the animal
realm of voice. Speech is neither the fulfillment of desire nor
the immaterial conception of logos, but the embodiment of a
communal order. An animal existence attains speech only when
it becomes recognized as a being that has meaning for a house-
hold or state. To clarify the spatial dimension of speech, Gior-
gio Agamben quotes the abovementioned Aristotelian passage
and translates the word “speech” as “language”. Agamben
points out that the query “In what way does bare life dwell in
the polis?” corresponds to the question “In what way does the
living being have language [speech]?” (1998: p. 8). The acqui-
sition of language [speech] embodies the spatial frontier that
inaugurates the order of a polis.
Moncada’s speech reveals the reigning logos, political and
corporate, that nurtures Chimbote. The speech-plague estab-
lishes a place of enunciation at the Modelo market and simul-
taneously embodies the forces that underscore Chimbote’s vio-
lent process of modernization. To establish the speech as speech,
Moncada’s first person enunciation must have meaning for a
community, household, or state. In this context his speech, the
place of its enunciation, and the order of the community are
The multiplicity of logos embodied in the speeches that in-
habit The Foxes make the task of analyzing the conceptualiza-
tion of speech, the place of its enunciation, and the order of the
community remarkably challenging. There are a number of
foundational narratives, however. The first tale of The Foxes
establishes an order of domination that manages the seaport’s
resources. Captain Chaucato is an agent of the economic forces
that produce and unevenly permeate the peripheral metropolis.
His speech embodies the implicit hierarchy that dominates
Chimbote. Along with Braschi, he is a founder of the fishing
Fábricas, bolicheras, muelles, fierros, cada año menos
obreros y más tragones ellos, pa’comer en la mar. Yo
comencé a miar primero en la bahía pa’Braschi; el agua
limpita le metimos huevo. ¡Braschi es grande! Tiene más
potencia que la dinamita en la cabeza, en el culo, en la
firma. Braschi ¡putamadre!, tú has hecho la pesca. Ahora
comes gente (Arguedas, 1992: p. 28).
[Factories, trawlers, wharves, cash; every year they are
bigger gluttons for gobblin’ up what’s in the ocean; every
year there’s less workmen. When I first started out pissin’
in the bay for Braschi we were messin’ up nice clear wa-
ter. Braschi’s big! He’s got more power than dynamite in
his head, in his ass, in his company. Hell, Braschi—
you’re the one that made the fishery what it is. Now yo’re
gobblin’ people up (Arguedas, 2000: p. 30)].
The captain introduces the readers to the history of the fish-
ing industry. While out at sea, his speech is uttered to El Mudo
[the speechless] from the bridge of his trawler Sanson I. His
speech conceives a symbiotic relationship between industry and
workforce; the fisheries digest the fish while the industry can-
nibalizes the workforce. Mignolo observes that in the twentieth
century the “dispensability (or expendability) of human life and
of life in general” surfaces in the spheres of economics and
knowledge (2011: p. 6). Human and natural resources are ex-
ploited equally. Chaucato then visualizes the day he pissed on
the virgin-like waters of the bay, and the reflection of literal and
figurative humiliation introduces Braschi, a spectral capitalist
baron. We visualize the economic configuration of Chimbote
from the epicenter of the local industry, Chimbote’s bay. For
the readers, the speech produces the place of its inception. Chau-
cato’s speech, the place of its enunciation, and the order of the
community embodied in it [speech] are fused.
The hills that oversee the bay produce a counterpoint to
Chaucato’s speech. Roughly at the same time Chaucato is navi-
gating the bay, three prostitutes are walking up to the slums
after a long night at the brothels. From looked-at commodities
on display at the Stable brothel, the prostitutes are transfigured
into observers of the industrial spectacle that evolves at their
feet. The scenery comes to life by means of apocalyptic visions
partly representing the processes of modernity active in Chim-
bote. From the trail the port glows “like a barbecue pit” (Ar-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
guedas, 2000: p. 48). If Chaucato’s speech embodies an order
of domination, the prostitutes’ speech establishes their subor-
dination to that order.
-Hijo de chuchumeca es maldición. ¡Ahistá! –gritó …
¡Ahistá infierno –y señaló el puerto- cocinando pescado,
cacana de pescado también! Ahistá candela. Su hijo de
infierno, hijo de Tinoco, es el hijo de Orfa.
-Hijo de chuchumeca, hijo nomás. Tinoco es chancho, con
lani demoniado, loco –replicó la primera
-¡Tinoco, putamadreééé! ¡Pior que infierno, hijo de can-
dela pestosa! (Arguedas, 1992: p. 45)
[“Hooker’s child is curse! So there!” she screamed. …
“Down there’s hell”, and she pointed to the port. “Cook-
ing fish, fish turds too! Down there’s fire. Orfa’s child is
Tinoco’s child outa Hell.”
“Hooker’s child’s a child, that’s all. Tinoco’s a pig with
lani (penis) possessed by devil, crazy,” the first replied.
“Tinoco, son of a bitch! Worse than hell, son of stink-
ing fire.” (Arguedas, 2000: pp. 48-49)]
The affiliation between Orfa and pimp Tinoco precludes a
communal foundation. In an extreme rendering of the Christian
original sin, the newborn is dammed by the sins of the parents.
From the hills the prostitutes observe the bay, Chaucato’s place
of enunciation, to construct an alienated sense of self. The pros-
titutes’ self-perceived identity, “cursed” beings out of hell, is
fused with the visualization of the place they inhabit, the “hell”
down there. The apocalyptic visions of the port establish the
prostitutes’ sense of belonging in a place that has them trapped
like animals. The prostitutes visualize the order of the commu-
nity but do not produce logos except as a confirmation of the
place assigned to them. In a radical re-interpretation of Sisy-
phus’ myth, the prostitutes face life sentenced to a cyclical
reiteration of anguish in a place they are free to leave.
The playing field of politics regrettably is never equal and
only select citizens are endowed with speech, while others
merely listen. The distribution of the communal parts, the order
of the community, is partitioned in accordance with the posses-
sion of wealth. In general terms, a minority possesses a major-
ity of property and thus decides who is endowed with speech.
The place of the dispossessed majority comes into being in the
“declaration that they are counted as those of no account”
(Ranciere, 1999: p. 38). Chaucato, for instance, counts the la-
borers as those of no account (as the workforce is literarily
eaten by the industry).
Speech in this sense inevitably implies an unequal distribu-
tion of the parts of the community. The genuine political act
emerges in the deployment of a primary dispute that short cir-
cuits the logic of property, the distribution of the parts that
comprise the communal whole. In a democracy, the community
becomes whole by masking the logic of inequality in the name
of freedom. In the original structure of politics, the wrong “is
simply the mode of subjectification in which the assertion of
equality takes its political shape” (Ranciere, 1999: p. 39). Ora-
tors enshrined freedom at the Greek forums to tame the great
animal: the people. Freedom however is never synonymous to
equality. It is the effect of granting a part in the community to
those who have no part. The wrong “institutes a singular uni-
versal, a polemical universal, by tying the presentation of
equality, as part of those who have no part, to the conflict be-
tween parts of the city” (p. 39). In The Foxes, the prostitutes are
free to leave but do not have the means to do so, the political
logic of equality collides with the unequal logic of property.
The wrong embodied in the prostitutes’ speech should not be
interpreted as a well-intended theater of victimization staged in
The Foxes. The trap is also a point of departure that deserves
historical examination. In regards to Herodotus’ Histories,
Ranciere examines how a slave revolt contested the Scythian’s
“normal order of things” (1999: p. 12). In ancient times, Scy-
thian slaves were blinded to ensure their loyalty to the warrior
order. The slaves’ economic function, milking cows, defined
their place in the order of the community. The masters blinded
the slaves to ensure they solely perform that economic activity.
To modify the distribution of the community in order to aid the
slaves would literally signify the economic collapse and the
death of the Scythian society. The unequal distribution of the
parts of the collective is critical for the survival of the whole.
Scythian expeditions, however, compelled the warriors to
spend a generation away from the homeland. At home, the
natural order of things altered and the ensuing generation of
slaves was born “and raised with their eyes open” (Ranciere,
1999: p. 12). The enlightened slaves concluded that they were
equal to their masters and would fight for their newly envisaged
rights. When the warriors ret urned, they saw what they consid-
ered a minor nuisance and attacked the slaves. To everyone’s
surprise, the enlightened slaves repelled the warriors. A shrewd
warrior gave pause to his peers and, at a critical moment in the
battle, he spoke.
Take my advice—lay spear and bow aside, and let each
man fetch his horsewhip, and go boldly up to them. So
long as they see us with arms in our hands, they imagine
themselves our equals in birth and bravery; but let them
behold us with no other weapon than the whip, and they
will feel that they are our slaves, and flee before us (He-
rodotus, The Histories quoted by Ranciere, 1999: p. 12).
Shocked by the vision of the horsewhip the slaves fled. Al-
though the principle of equality was “literally mapped out over
the territory and defended by force of arms” (p. 13), the slaves
were not able to institute their leveling logos into a speech that
had meaning for a community. In counterintuitive fashion,
since all the slaves were equal they could not establish a politi-
cal subject—which emerges by the miscount [wrong] of the
part of those who have no business in establishing the partitions
of the community. When the Scythian warriors cease to recog-
nize the slaves as antagonists, the speech of the conquering
warriors defines a place that deemed the slaves’ claim to logos
Chaucato, as the Scythian warriors, establishes a place of
enunciation by establishing a right to domination. The prosti-
tutes, as the Scythian slaves, have the “capacity to understand
logos without having the capacity of the logos” (Ranciere, 1999:
p. 17). They can visualize the place that has them enslaved but
cannot produce a speech that re-defines the distribution of parts
in the community. The wrong imbedded in Chimbote, as it was
for the Scythian slaves, traps the prostitutes in a place defined
as hell. In contrast to the Scythian slaves, however, the prosti-
tutes are free to depart but cannot escape a global system of
economic exploitation.
The discursive swarms that inhabit Chimbote, however, mo-
dify the relationship of speech, the place of its enunciation, and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 47
the order of the community by conceiving the death of a domi-
nant social order. In this sense, Arguedas’ fiction transcends
Herodotus’ account of the Scythian slaves, which concludes by
confirming a dominant Scythian social order. Decay and re-
newal are vital to The Foxes, and the cycle of life and death is
personified, for instance, in the abovementioned speech-plague
proclaimed by crazy Moncada. Where there is death in the no-
vel we may find rebirth and a thousand and one dead ends may
yield a multitude of overtures. Fisherman Asto, for example,
grew up in the Andes where landlords termed gamonales enact
the law. The relationship of parts in the Andean communities is
comparable to the Scythian distribution of society. The Andean
laborers only have value in so far as they reproduce a semi-
feudal hierarchy inherited from colonial times. The abovemen-
tioned prostitutes presumably escaped a semi-feudal Andean
order and migrated to the coast searching for a modern life.
Asto undoubtedly migrated to Chimbote to establish a new
life. To get his fisherman’s license, he tied himself to a dock
until he learnt how to swim. The emergence of his speech in the
novel may follow Jurgen Habermas’ canonical narrative about
how disenfranchised populations become meaningful subjects
of modern societies (Habermas, 1991). In the following quote,
Asto is drunk and walking from the brothels, constructed over
putrid roadside dunes, towards the Pan-American Highway.
-Pa-pa-para los se-se-serranos de tierra. La-la mar i-i-
iguala, o-o-oye pa-pa-paseante.
Asto se dio cuenta que silbaba sólo cuando llegó al
final del callejón rosado y se acabó la luz neón. Pasó al
campo de arena. “Yu…criollo, carajo; argentino, carajo.
¿Quién Serrano, ahura?” hablando se acercó a uno de los
automóviles de la plaza (Arguedas, 1992: p. 39).
[“Fo-fo-for the highlanders on land. Th-th-the ocean
ma-ma-makes e-e-everyone equal, ya-ya-ya hear me pa-
Asto realized he was whistling when he came to the end
of the pink alleyway and the neon lighting. He stepped out
onto the sandy field. “Me criollo … from the coast, god-
damnit; me from Argentina, goddamnit. Who highlander
now?” still talking [with a high Andes accent] he went up
to one of the cars in the lot (Arguedas, 2000: p. 42)].
The speech is made possible by the fishing economy, “the
ocean makes everyone equal”. The proclaimed equality is in
great measure the effect of living an altered distribution of the
parts of a community. The fluidity of Chimbote’s markets would
undoubtedly appear as a space from which an Andean migrant
could feel liberated and aspire for equality. Challenging the
subjugation of the Peruvian interior from an alternate place of
enunciation Asto declares: “Who highlander now?”
The modernizing process embodied in Asto’s speech how-
ever fails to recognize underlying social categories prevalent in
coastal Peru. Later that night, while walking to the highway,
Asto flags a taxi. We will observe that the cab driver defines
the order of the community in Chimbote by negating the equal-
ity of highlanders.
-Oe, chofir –le dijo-, a me casa, carajo. Hasta me casa.
-¿Adónde vas, jefe?
-Acero, barrio Acero. Pescador lancha zambo Mendieta, yo.
-Barriada dirás, serrano –le corrigió el chofer (Arguedas,
1992: p. 39).
[“Hey driver,” he said. “To the house, damnit. As far as
me house.”
“Where you goin’, boss?”
“Acero, Acero suburb. Fisherman zambo Mendieta
trawler, me.”
“Acero slum you must be sayin’, highlander,” the taxi
driver corrected h i m (Argu e da s , 2 0 0 0: pp. 42-43)].
The men have never met and have neither prior knowledge
nor history of each other. The partition of the communal that
deems Asto equal to non-highlanders, nonetheless, is simply
unthinkable within the logos embodied by the taxi driver’s
speech. The logos that underlies the taxi driver’s implicit dis-
tribution of the seaport equates highlanders with slum dwellers.
The taxi driver declares that Asto could not possibly live in the
suburb because he is a highlander. Fortunately for the taxi
driver, the confrontation occurs in between the brothels and the
Pan-American Highway. The driver would presumably be in
great danger if he uttered his discriminatory speech at the
brothels or from a fishing vessel.
The problem for Asto lies in putting into place a visible rela-
tionship in a space in which this was considered a non-rela-
tionship. For Asto’s emancipatory speech to succeed, its recep-
tion essentially implies a modification of the relationship of the
parts to the communal whole. In this context, “Politics consists
in interpreting this relationship, which means first setting it up
as theatre, inventing the argument, in the double logical and
dramatic sense of the term, connecting the unconnected” (Ran-
ciere, 2010: p. 88).
In The Foxes, Don Gregorio Bazalar connects the uncon-
nected by establishing a community in a place that does not yet
exist, a new cemetery. Due to a local edict the disenfranchised
must relocate the crosses of their relatives from the official
Progreso burial ground to a new cemetery located by the port’s
trash mounds. Don Gregorio is a minor political figure in
charge of organizing the pilgrimage. The cemetery is a place
that counterpoints the hellish-bay revealed to the readers by
Chaucato and the prostitutes. The pilgrims gaze at a deserted
land that disappears from view and into the distant Andean
mountains, bringing to mind highland cosmologies. The ceme-
tery is a locus that has no closure, “‘Here it is; here’s where it
begins. There’s no end to it,’ said the grave keeper” (Arguedas,
2000: p. 72). It is a place abou t t o exist .
Conciudadanos que cargáis las cruces de vuestros
muertos –habló don Gregorio Bazalar, de la barriada de
San Pedro, delegado-. Conciudadanos: aquí hemos lle-
gado en nombre del Padre, del Hijo, del Monicipio, y del
Subprefecto, pues. ¡A enterrar las cruces pues que esta-
mos trayendo, fúnebres! En cualquier partecita … Lo que
hay en el corazón es el campo donde tranquilo está el
muerto, acompañado de su comunidad pueblo. Así es
señor guardián, representante del Obispo, Gobiernos. ¿No
quieren que estemos en cementerio moderno, norteameri-
cano? Gracias sean dadas; para nosotros este hondonada
del montaña está bien. La moralla se tomba; la flor, feo, se
achicharra. El montaña no se acaba pues. Aquí, nadies
llora, sea dicho, Amén (Arguedas, 1992: p. 69).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
[“Fellow citizens who bear the crosses of your dead,”
Don Gregorio Bazalar, delegate from the Shantytown of
San Pedro, held forth. “Fellow citizens: well, here we’ve
come in the name of the Father, the Son, the Monicipality,
and the Subprefect. To bury our crosses that we’re bring-
ing, funeral ones! Just anywhere … What’s in our hearts
is the field where the dead one’s at peace, accompanyin’
his town community. That the way it is, Señor grave-
keeper, representative of the Señor Bishop, Goverments.
They don’t want us to be in the modern American ceme-
tery? Thanks be; this hollow in the foothills suits us fine.
The walls tumble down,” he went onto say [in his high-
land accent]; the flower gets burnt to a ugly crisp. The
mountain doesn’t come to an end, then. Here nobodies
weep, so it be said. Amen.” (Arguedas, 2000: p. 73)]
Bazalar speaks to them about us, utilizing the first person
plural to emphasize a communal we. The new burial ground is a
locus that has no closure, a place existing here and ending
there-somewhere. The subject position chosen by don Gregorio,
first person plural, acts much the same way. It is a speech acted
here yet constituted there, an e nunciating I acting-o ut us.
The speech challenges figures of authority, establishes a com-
munal language, and decrees a foundational place. Bazalar
frames his community in opposition to a negatively imagined
outside, the authorities who have given us these lands. The
pronoun “they” designates another being with whom the con-
flict ensues and with whom the situation as beings with names
is under question. It delivers the dispute by addressing a third
person and “sets up the first person, the ‘I’ or ‘We’ of the
speaker, as representative of a community” (Ranciere, 1999: p.
48). The use of third person is key to political speech, “It is
always both less and more: less for it is always in the form of a
monologue that the dispute, the gap internal to the logos, de-
clares itself, and more, for commentary sets of a multiplication
of persons” (p. 48). Bazalar’s speech names amorphous space
and establishes a community from a place that is in the process
of becoming. In contrast to Chaucato, the prostitutes, or Asto,
the speech governs its place of enunciation.
The process by which Bazalar claims speech has a long-
standing history. For instance, Ranciere assesses nineteenth
century French Pierre-Simon Ballanche’s re-write of Livy’s tale
on a dispute that occurred shortly after the end of the Vols-
cian’s war, between plebeians at Aventine Hill and the roman
ambassadorship of Menenius Agrippa. In his re-write of the
event, Ballanche challenges Livy’s understanding of the dis-
agreement. The Latin historian describes the conflict in terms of
a revolt of the body’s members, body as a metaphor for society,
which is eventually tamed by the intervention of Menenius
Agrippa. In Livy’s appreciation the revolt does not have a
meaning of its own except by confirming a prior order of soci-
ety. Ballanche asserts that Livy fails to identify the fable’s “real
context: that of a quarrel over the issue of speech itself” (Ran-
ciere, 1999: p. 23).
Ballanche, Ranciere observes, “performs a restaging of the
conflict in which the entire issue at stake involves finding out
whether there exists a common stage where plebeians and pa-
tricians can debate anything” (Ranciere, 1999: p. 23). For the
Roman patricians there was “no place for discussion with the
plebes for the simple reasons that plebes do not speak. They do
not speak because they are beings without a name, deprived of
logos—meaning, of symbolic enrollment in the city” (p. 23).
The plebeians live an existence that except for their reproduc-
tive capacity does not have any transcendence for the state.
From the Roman citizens’ perspective Menenius Agrippa’s
fatal mistake was “imagining that words were issuing from the
plebs when logically the only thing that could issue forth was
noise” (p. 24).
In stark contrast with Chaucato or the prostitutes, Bazalar’s
speech proclaims a new distribution of the parts of the commu-
nity. Don Gregorio Bazalar’s speech comes into being in a
place without boundaries. The community of pilgrims may
ratify his speech and in the process constitute an alternate logos.
Shaping the place of its inception within an emerging commu-
nal framework, the speech has the potential to radically trans-
form Chimbote. The problem at hand is establishing a distribu-
tion of the parts of a community that was previously unthinka-
bly, such as aforementioned afro-Peruvian Moncada. The lat-
ter’s speech-plague energizes, renews, and splinters the domi-
nant communal order, “The modern political animal is first a
literary animal, caught in a circuit of a literariness that undoes
the relationship between the order of words and the order of
bodies that determine the place of each” (Ranciere, 1999: p. 37).
The struggle for speechless beings that pursue emancipation
lies in managing the critical nexus between speech, its place of
enunciation, and the conception and eventful materialization of
an alternate social order.
The establishment of a place of enunciation is always con-
crete. For something to be (or become) it must exist (or occur)
someplace. Edward Casey observes that the conceptualization
of place originates from times immemorial to Aristotle’s phys-
ics, Hegel’s logic, and Heidegger’s being-in-the-world (1998: p.
6). To think of something, indeed anything in particular, is to
think of the place it comes into being. The conception of place
is weaved into the delicate fabric of being, and in origin myths
such as the Judeo Christian genesis or the Mayan Popul Vuh
celestial creation is established by a godly differentiation of
places. The divine word shapes amorphous space by naming the
place of its creation. Bazalar’s speech, in this sense, shapes
[names] the place of its inception. His emerging communal
identity is placed in-between “we” [disenfranchised] and “they”
[authorities] at the new cemetery, a place in the process of be-
Alain Badiou invites us to consider, “What is the meaning of
the something-in-itself and the something-for-the-other? Pure
identity and placed identity; the letter and the space in which is
marked; theory and practice” (2000: p. 7). The characters in
The Foxes become, if only for an ephemeral instant, actors in a
place split amidst their pure identities and their placed beings.
If a character steps out and speaks in the novel, such as the
prostitutes, Chaucato, Asto, Moncada, or Bazalar, it “comes down
to a dispute over the object of discussion and over the capacity
of those who are making an object of it” (Ranciere, 1999: p.
XII). The seemingly inconsequential contradiction of pure
identity and placed identity in effect founds being as scission.
The partition of the communal embodied in Aristotelian speech
effectively demarcates the place of each subject in lived space.
Speech’s performance-effect, the embodiment of lived com-
munal logos, may subvert the monotonous pessimism that has
permeated our present day. Roberto Esposito notes, “It has been
widely accepted that contemporary philosophy has been show-
ing signs of uncertainty and even weariness for some time now”
(2012: p. 4). By enshrining the sphere of language in detriment
of history and lived space, German critical theory, French de-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 49
construction, and the analytic tradition converge in an entropic
vortex in which the philosophical task is “apparently a self-
critical refutation of its own hegemonic claims to a Real that is
located outside its reach” (p. 5). The countercurrent embodied
by Italian living thought (from Vico, Machiavelli to Gramsci
and Pasolini), argues that language is “so constitutive of the
human being that it can be identified as the point of suture be-
tween nature and mutation, invariance and difference, biology
and history” (p. 8). Rather than converging on the impossibility
of signifying the Real, language’s aporia participates in the
flow and antinomies of history and life. José María Arguedas’
fictional language in this sense points towards activating an
affirmative mode of being embodied in speech, a process of
exhaustion and renewal at the crossroads of aesthetics, politics,
and history.
Placing The Foxes in a timeline or spatial dimension is per-
ilous. The novel unquestionably maps capitalism’s uneven geo-
graphical development of space, a link in an economic chain
that connects Peru’s urban periphery with transnational markets.
Around the time The Foxes was published in 1971, Henri Le-
febvre observed that few people “would reject the idea that
capital and capitalism ‘influence’ practical matters relating to
space, from the construction of buildings to the distribution of
investments and the worldwide division of labor” (1991: pp.
9-10). However, a key hermeneutical challenge imposed by The
Foxes is how to decode the multiple epistemologies or cos-
mologies that conceive dissimilar notions of community and
communal space. Castro-Klaren, for instance, observes that the
novel produces “a geography” in which a Huarochirí cosmog-
ony introduces a material conception of space that mediates
with the multiple forces that inhabit the text (2000: p. 314).
Martin Lienhard perceives a spatial distribution of the novel
“that is divided, as the Tawantinsuyo, in an up above, the sandy
hilltops, and a down below: the seaport” (1992: p. 328—my
In the process of claiming speech, the characters in The
Foxes transform or confirm a place of enunciation and a com-
munal order. While The Foxes and its characters comprise a
rhizomatic node in a global transformation driven by capitalism,
they simultaneously inherit and reproduce non-capitalist con-
ceptualizations of space. From the perspective of disenfran-
chised subjects at the margins of the world market, politics
becomes a matter of “modes of subjectification. By subjectifi-
cation I mean the production through a series of actions of a
body and a capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable
with a given field of experience” (Ranciere, 1999: p. 35). If
validated by a community, it is at this seemingly mundane node
of speech and place that Arguedas’ fictional language shows us
a path by which alternate notions of community may be de-
Founder of Peruvian liberation theology Gustavo Gutiérrez
recollects that José María Arguedas’ own voice was heard in
the middle of the boisterous national debates “as the voice of
‘crazy ’ Moncada in Chimbote’s markets” (20 03: p. 1—my trans-
lation). Only time will determine if the speech-plague will pro-
duce a place of enunciation validated by a community as having
meaning for a household or state. Gustavo Gutiérrez indeed
sought to establish Arguedas’ voice as speech by dedicating A
Theology of Liberation (1971) to the ethnographer and literary
author. I suggest that to decolonize western modernity from the
global south, while assuming its virtues and sins, it is vital to
manage and uphold the critical nexus between speech, its place
of enunciation, and the conception and eventful materialization
of alternate social orders.
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