The Problem of Space in Mariátegui’s "Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality"

Nicolas Lema Habash


In the “Author’s Note” to his Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality, Mariátegui writes that “I have served my best apprenticeship in Europe and I believe the only salvation for Indo-America lies in European and Western science and thought.” These words show, from the outset of his most famous work, Mariátegui’s acute consciousness about the problem of space. Research on Mariátegui has often—and fruitfully—analyzed his oeuvre from the perspective of time; a perspective that considers Mariátegui’s transformation of the notion of history as stemming from thinkers such as Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche (see, for example, Quijano, 2007). In this paper I propose to focus on Mariátegui’s treatment of space and geography, rather than on his view of time. I argue that Mariátegui’s notion of space is a key issue for understanding the Seven Interpretative Essays and the precise nature of his Marxism. The problem of space can be analyzed at two levels. First, it is one element among others that shows how Mariátegui was aware of his “location” as a theoretician. This “locational awareness,” I contend, plays a critical role in the need of transforming European thought. Second, space becomes an analytical category that serves, not simply as a passive background for analyzing Peruvian reality, but as an element playing an active role for molding and shaping economic and social realities. In this sense, the historical unity of Latin America in general, and that of Peru in particular, is not given by a series of events happening one after another in a chronological timeline (that is, as an event in time), but rather because its inhabitants share and inhabit a territory. By focusing on the material changes of the Latin American territory, Mariátegui was able to analyze people’s lived experience, beyond the conceptual straightjackets imposed by European conceptual apparatuses.

Aníbal Quijano (2007), “Prólogo: José Carlos Mariátegui: Reencuentro y Debate,” in José Carlos Mariátegui, 7 ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho).

Author’s Details:
Nicolas Lema Habash
University of Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne.
18 Rué de la Gaîte
Saint Ouen, 93400