Note on Jose Revueltas

I started reading José Revueltas today (1914-1976). I didn’t have a reason to do so: he’s not part of the Oxford project, nor is he one of the hiperiónes. I don’t know much about him. What I know of him is that he was a communist and leader of the student movements of ’68, that he wrote novels, poetry, and plays; that his theoretical leanings are Marxists. But I started reading Revueltas today, and I’m glad I did, as I was able to have an unexpected debate with his text regarding assumptions about Mexican philosophy that it behooves me to keep in check!

I admit, he’s hard to read. And, I’m noticing, he’s even harder to translate. He’s complicated and his Spanish flees my eyes more than I’m used to. I’m afraid of writers that flee from my totalizing grasp, that I can’t easily translate.

Revueltas and I argued about something simple: with an obvious Marxist accent, he reflects on what Emilio Uranga would otherwise characterize as the “ontology of Mexican being,” namely, the articulation of the manner of being belonging to Mexicans. He says: “When we speak of the existence of the Mexican [“el mexicano”] (which is nothing more than a manner of existence of man in general), we cannot conceive of that existence as produced outside of praxis, that is, outside of the reciprocity of relations that the subject establishes necessarily and forcibly with his circumstances” (Posibilidades y limitaciones del mexicano, 1985; 42). Revueltas’ point is that any characteristic that we attribute to the being of the Mexican can be traced back to that “reciprocity of relations,” to praxis, to the way that Mexican individuals (like all individuals everywhere) react and relate to their own material conditions. This means that there is no essential “being” or set of essential characteristics belonging to the Mexicans, as Uranga (zozobra), Portilla (relajo), or Paz (death) appear to suggest. According to Revueltas, when these characteristics appear as somehow attached to that being, this is just a result of the intensity, or lack of intensity, of a real reciprocity between man and his world. However, and against a Revueltas-inspired critique of a figure like Uranga or Portilla or Paz (whom I feel obligated to defend—again, for reasons I can’t clearly give), when the latter refer to characteristics attached to the being of “lo mexicano,” they are not blind to history, to circumstance, and to the force of praxis. In other words, both the Mexican existentialists and Revueltas the Marxist are taking a stand against the aggrandizing posture of a Western tradition that seeks to find its answers outside the economy of man/woman and his/her world. As of now, that’s where our argument stands…

carlos sanchez

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