The Grimace of Macho Ratón: Artisans, Identity, and Nation in Late-twentieth Century Western Nicaragua

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Duke University Press, 1999 - History - 282 pages
In this creative ethnography Les W. Field challenges a post-Sandinista national conception of identity, one that threatens to constrict the future of subaltern Nicaraguans. Drawing on the works and words of artisans and artisanas, Indians, and mestizos, Field critiques the national ideology of ethnic homogeneity and analyzes the new forms of social movement that have distinguished late-twentieth-century Nicaragua. As a framework for these analytic discussions, Field uses the colonial-era play El Güegüence o Macho Ratón and the literature relating to it.
Elite appropriations of El Güegüence construe it as an allegory of mestizo national identity in which mestizaje is defined as the production of a national majority of ethnically bounded non-Indians in active collaboration with the state. By contrast, Field interprets the play as a parable of cultural history and not a declaration of cultural identity, a scatological reflection on power and the state, and an evocation of collective loss and humor broadly associated with the national experience of disempowered social groups. By engaging with those most intimately involved in the performance of the play—and by including essays by some of these artisans—Field shows how El Güegüence tells a story about the passing of time, the absurdity of authority, and the contradictions of coping with inheritances of the past. Refusing essentialist notions of what it means to be Indian or artisan, Field explains the reemergence of politicized indigenous identity in western Nicaragua and relates this to the longer history of artisan political organization. Parting ways with many scholars who associate the notion of mestizaje with identity loss and hegemony, Field emphasizes its creative,
productive, and insightful meanings. With an emphasis on the particular struggles of women artisans, he explores the reasons why forms of collective identity have posed various kinds of predicaments for this marginalized class of western Nicaraguans.
This book will appeal to readers beyond the field of Latin American anthropology, including students and scholars of literature, intellectual history, women's studies, and the politics of ethnicity.


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Page 7 - Truth' is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.
Page 216 - The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode — nothing is thrust out, the good the bad and the ugly, nothing rejected, nothing abandoned. Not only does she sustain contradictions, she turns the ambivalence into something else.
Page 249 - Chinese encyclopaedia' in which it is written that 'animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
Page 216 - En unas pocas centurias, the future will belong to the mestiza. Because the future depends on the breaking down of paradigms, it depends on the straddling of two or more cultures. By creating a new mythos — that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave — la mestiza creates a new consciousness. The work of mestiza consciousness...
Page vii - All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter. Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.
Page vii - Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible...
Page 2 - Collective identity is an interactive and shared definition produced by several individuals and concerned with the orientations of action and the fields of opportunities and constraints in which the action takes place: by "interactive and shared" I mean a definition that must be conceived as a process, because it is constructed and negotiated through a repeated activation of the relationships that link individuals.
Page 8 - Gramsci, on the other hand, would find it uncongenial. He would certainly appreciate the fineness of Foucault's archeologies, but would find it odd that they make not even a nominal allowance for emergent movements, and none for revolutions, counterhegemony, or historical blocks. In human history there is always something beyond the reach of dominating systems, no matter how deeply they saturate society, and this is obviously what makes change possible, limits power in Foucault's sense, and hobbles...
Page vii - Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables, you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares. Another said: I bet that is also a parable. The first said: You have won. The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
Page 216 - As a result, the mestizo consciousness can serve as a model or prototype because "the future depends on the breaking down of paradigms, it depends on the straddling of two or more...

About the author (1999)

Les W. Field is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

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