*Lima la horrible, by Sebastián Salazar Bondy
Lima la horrible
by Sebastián Salazar Bondy, 1964
Lima la horrible (1964; Lima the horrible) represents the epitome of Sebastián Salazar Bondy’s literary and journalistic career. During his short but productive life, Salazar Bondy (1924–65) focused on two concerns: the literary activity and development of Peru, and its political and social situation. Lima la horrible is an essay in book form, consisting of 11 chapters. It belongs to a wave of essays with the objective of defining the ethos of a nation and its peoples through introspective analysis. Psychoanalysis provided the apparatus with which Spanish American essayists scrutinized their continent, though most limited themselves to one country in their analysis. Only two well-known essays focused on cities: Salazar Bondy’s Lima la horrible and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada’s La cabeza de Goliat (1940; The head of Goliath). These essays attempt to define the idiosyncrasy of Lima and Buenos Aires, both nonrepresentative capitals of their respective countries.
Within the Peruvian ambit, Lima la horrible belongs to a minority left-oriented movement whose most distinctive figure, José Carlos Mariátegui, was the founder of the Peruvian Socialist Party (1895–1930). After its publication, Lima la horrible was used by the leftist factions to awaken a social consciousness in Peru. It represents the harshest criticism ever undertaken against the Peruvian oligarchy. Salazar Bondy dissects, step by step, each facet of what he designates the Limean deceit, denouncing the ideology underlying the pyramidal system wherein the poor are throttled and the rich swell.
According to Salazar Bondy, Lima has successfully perpetuated the historical period in which, as the capital of a viceroyalty, it took delight in its exquisite luxuries, realized by the exploitation and ostracism of the native Peruvians. The aristocracy of yesterday (“hawkers who would buy titles”) has become today’s oligarchy. The caste that holds the economic and political reins of power in Peru has adopted and imposed as a national ideology a chimera that Salazar Bondy calls “Colonial Arcadia,” in order to preserve its hegemony, denying a voice to both Indian and mestizo in the historical dialogue.
Consequently, the Limean lacks authenticity. Salazar Bondy believes tbat, based on the invention of an archetype, Lima has fabricated a system of values and traditions that constitutes the Limean identity or criollismo. The criollo is an amalgam of appearances: he is so enmeshed in this act of representation that his true being has been all but lost.
If Lima’s apogee was the vice-royal period, it successfully survives as a nostalgic reproduction, still overlooking the abysmal difference between the privileged and the indigent, the incongruity between myth and reality. Salazar Bondy demythologizes famous Limean figures such as Ricardo Palma, Saint Rosa de Lima, and Saint Martin de Porres. Ricardo Palma, a renowned realistic writer, was the author, perhaps unintentionally, of the colonial chimera. By fusing fiction and history, Palma created the literary apparatus that asserts yesterday’s glory and denies the present. As to the inherited image of the saints, it has been adulterated and transformed. The embellishment of their iconography is repeated in the Limean folklore as an affirmation of the beauty and luxury of a period, and not as an anomaly of the times, which would be what the two saints truly denote.
Another Peruvian source of pride Salazar Bondy deconstructs is the Cuzco School of Painting, the most famous in colonial times. According to the author, this school represents another mode used by the Spaniards to impose their own reality onto the Indians, in order to erase their native identity. If what was native and telluric formed part of a painting, it appeared to replace the European icons that signified evil. The psychological consequences were devastating. The identity crisis caused by this imposition is still reflected in two Peruvian expressions: perricholista and huachafo. Both embody the obsession with Otherness. The former refers to the lowermiddle-class individual who foolishly assumes a disguise in real life in imitation of the upper class, rendering himself ridiculous and the target of endless derision. The latter defines the person who sells his mind and soul as an answer to the imperative desire to belong to the aristocracy. The difference between the two expressions is that the huachafo is too low in the social hierarchy ever to become an aristocrat, while the perricholista can become one if he pays the price.
A third figure from the Colonial Arcadia that Salazar Bondy analyzes is the tapada, or the mysterious colonial lady (she hides behind a shawl, exposing only one eye), the ironic pillar of a conservative society. She is repressed and almost illiterate, and her role in society was to be beautiful. She lived behind the shadow of a most desirable husband, rich and influential, vicariously enjoying his power. Salazar Bondy argues that the modern Limean woman has kept this role despite her education, mundane manners, and profession. Her goal has remained to achieve a marriage of convenience. This woman has not come to be an independent and emancipated individual because the chains from the past have not been broken; her situation represents another remnant of the colonial chimera.
Salazar Bondy begins and ends his essay by emphasizing the dramatic disjunction of Peru. The exploitation of and discrimination against ethnic groups, the growing belt of pauperization strangling Lima, make unbearable the prolongation of the Colonial Arcadia. The vote against the past, which Mariategui would once have cast, becomes Salazar Bondy’s. The antithesis of the Arcadia belongs to the youth who can and should initiate a dialogue between the present and its true reality.
Lima la horrible, 1964
Fox, Lucia, “Sebastián Salazar Bondy y las facetas de la tradición y cambio,” in her Ensayos hispano-americanos, Caracas, 1966: 73–81
Fox, Lucia, El rostro de la patria en la literatura peruana, Buenos Aires: Continente, 1970:31–37
Puccini, D., “Un libro escrito con rabia Lima la horrible,” Unión 4, no. 4 (1965):167–69
Tauro, Alberto, editor, Enciclopedia ilustrada del Perú, Lima: PEISA, 1987:1861
Vargas Llosa, Mario, “Elogio de Sebastián Salazar Bondy,” Letras 74–75 (1965):187–89
Vargas Llosa, Mario, “Un mito, un libro y una casta Lima la horrible” Revista de la Universidad de Mexico 19–12 (1965): 12–13
Vargas Llosa, Mario, “Sebastián Salazar Bondy y la vocación del escritor en el Perú,” Revista Peruana de Cultura 7–8 (1966): 25–54
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