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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Interrupted Thought of Amerinidan Civilizations

The Mexican Dream, by J. M. G. Le Clézio. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 208 pages. 

What if the thought of Amerindian civilization had not been interrupted by the genocidal Conquest of the Spaniards who landed on America’s shores beginning in 1492? What if it had progressed to its fullest flower of philosophical, political and artistic possibility? Those are the kinds of questions that underlie Le Clézio’s fine little book, first published in 1993 and available in Japan only last year.

When my wife recommended this book to me earlier this year, I bought it, read it, and put it aside. For some reason, it just wasn’t quite what I expected. I even regretted having bought it. Then a few days ago, I picked it up again, re-read it, and discovered what I had missed. Right there in the subtitle “the interrupted thoughts of Amerindian civilizations, was the whole point of Le Clézio’s book. What if the Amerindian civilizations had not been destroyed? “The conception of cyclical time, the idea of a creation based upon [chaos] might have been the points of departure for a new scientific and humanist way of thinking. [T]he respect for natural forces, the search for an equilibrium between man and the world might have been the necessary braking of technological progress in the Western world. Only today we are measuring what that equilibrium might have brought to medicine and psychology” (page 208). What if … the possibilities are almost endless.

But this was not to be so. The Amerindians of Mexico and the Yucatan, whose cities were so beautiful that they were awe-inspiring, were far ahead of Europe’s greatest cities in terms of cleanliness, waste removal and clean water, and whose music, visual and poetic arts astounded the invading Europeans was “in the span of one generation … reduced to dust, to ashes.” How could this possibly happen? “The Conquest was not just a handful of men taking over … seizing the lands, the food reserves, the roads, the political organizations, the work force of the men and the genetic reserve of the women. It was the implementation of a project, conceived at the very beginning of the Renaissance, which aimed to dominate the entire world. Nothing that reflected the past and the glory of he indigenous nations was to survive: the religion, legends, customs, familial or tribal organizations, the arts, the language, and even the history – all was to disappear in order to leave room for the new mold Europe planned to impose upon them” (page 176). “All means, especially violence, were used to carry out the program of the destruction of the indigenous societies: these means formed the set of rules which were to govern the American colonies until Independence” (page 177).

The bulk of Le Clézio’s wonderful book is an exploration of the rich cultural heritage of these people as it was preserved by Mendieta, Bartolomé de Las Casas, Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, Fernando de Alva Ixtilxóchitl, and those Amerindian sources, such as the Mayan Popol Vuh that were not destroyed.

Some books just never let loose of my mind and imagination, and this is one of them. I give it a ***** rating. 

The author, J. M. G. Le Clézio, born in Nice, France in 1940, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.

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