Jennifer Balli
Professor Alvarez
English 363
20 December 2011

An Analysis of Ruben Ardila’s Theory of Political Psychology As Applied to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex

  Many literary works strive to depict an aesthetic world, which presents the struggles and efforts of man in order to relate to readers’ own trials and tribulations. In order to do so, some works establish a correlation between the internal conflicts of an individual and the external influences of changes in the political, social, or economic situation. Latin American literature proves to epitomize this idea, as it implores readers to address the influence of Latin American history on an individual.
  For the purpose of understanding the impact of Latin American history, we must first examine and familiarize ourselves with a fragment of the history. Mexico, for instance, despite having a respectable reputation as a country, often remained susceptible to the grasp of foreign countries. A closer look at the history would reveal that Mexico had once become a Spanish colony and often remained a possibility for conquest by the United States (Mexico, A Brief History). Furthermore, the fall of the Aztec empire came at the hands of a Spanish conqueror during the early 1500s (Aztec Timeline).
  Intending to deviate from political and social constraints imposed on by but not limited to foreign rule and influence, authors experiment with their own means of rebellion, their narrative discourse. In order to depict the influence of a greater, external force on a Latin American individual’s internal conflicts, authors attempt to appeal to their audiences by experimenting with narrative points of view and narrative voices. Through literary vices, works such as The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia and Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster explore how the greater political and social problems affect Latin Americans’ own individual conflicts, struggles, judgment, and behavior.

Identifying The Narrative Points of View and Focalization
  In order to gain a better understanding of how a Latin American text presents the small details of an individual’s everyday life in relation to the greater political, social, and economic situation, we must first understand ways in which authors utilize and experiment with their narrative instruments. For example, texts often experiment with the manner in which the narrative reveals itself. Experimenting with the narrative voices has become a common approach, in which the author attempts to evoke a certain response from readers.
  In “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative”, Manfred Jahn identifies and defines numerous terms that we can utilize to assess almost any text. For instance, he calls attention to the difference between a homodiegetic narrator and a heterodiegetic narrator. Manfred Jahn explains a homodiegetic narrative as “the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is also one of story’s acting characters” and a heterodiegetic narrative as “the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story” (Jahn N1.10). In essence, the homodiegetic narrator presents the events of the narrative for readers and appears as an active participant in them. A heterodiegetic narrator, however, does not appear during the events of the narrative but instead only recounts the events in respect to characters actively present during the narrative’s events.
  Manfred Jahn also defines focalization, an essential term needed to understand the relationship between one’s internal conflicts and the greater, external influences. Manfred Jahn explains a focalizer as “the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text” (Jahn N3.2.2). In other words, the voice of the narrator who tells the events of the narrative belongs to that of a focalizer. Focalizers often reveal details of their own psyche or that of other characters, deviating from their primary goal of recounting the events of a narrative.
  In order to take focalization to another level, authors tend to experiment with this element with the hopes of presenting readers with a distinct experience. While experimenting with focalization, authors establish and utilize multiple focalizers. Manfred Jahn defines multiple focalizers as a narrative that utilizes a “technique of presenting an episode repeatedly, each time seen through the eyes of a different (internal) focalizer. Typically, what is demonstrated by this technique is that different people tend to perceive or interpret the same event in radically different fashion” (Jahn N3.2.4). In essence, if a narrative contains the use of multiple focalizers, it presents readers with the perspectives of several different characters in the same situation. Therefore, readers not only gain insight to an individual’s perception but also how others perceive them during the same event.
  In his article, Political Psychology: The Latin American Perspective, Ruben Ardila argues that because of social needs, Latin Americans develop a political psychology in order to cope with their everyday struggles. Ardila theorizes that in order to understand his theory of political psychology, we must understand that the:

role of psychology in this process is well-recognized. It is emphasized
that persons adhere to one party or another due to psychological reasons.
That political socialization influences the way in which the person is going
to cope with the most important problems in his/her life. It is considered
that the processes of perception, learning, congnition and relationships
between groups, are altered by the dominant class in order to attain selfish
goals. (Ruben Ardila 340)

Ardila claims that in order to understand the Latin American political psychology, we must consider the relationship between the political situation and one’s individual conception and how the two affect each other. He further argues that one’s own ability to assess their environment allows them to decide how to behave in their society. In other words, Latin Americans become direct products of their society, acting in response to political stability or instability, social constraints, and economic turmoil. As readers, we can accept this theory as truth in relation to literature, which often projects one’s everyday difficulties as journeys or adventures in response to or even against a greater political, social, or economic adversary.
  For the purpose of understanding how a literary work demonstrates Ruben Ardila’s theory of political psychology, let us take a look at the following clip from Gregory Doran’s production of William Shakespeare of Hamlet.

In this scene, Hamlet excitedly welcomes the players who will soon perform a play (within a play) at the castle. Hamlet intends to utilize this new resource as a means of addressing his current dilemma as to whether or not the ghost of his father told the truth about his death and the justification of vengeance. Hamlet decides to experiment with players by having them act out the murder of his father in order to see if it will evoke a response from the new King Claudius, his uncle who supposedly killed his brother, King Hamlet, and married his wife in order to subtly usurp the throne.

In experimenting with the players, Hamlet comes to use this medium to confront the issues of his current state. If we relate this to writers, namely Latin American writers, and literature, we can identify that Latin American writers experiment with literature to combat their social, political, and economic constraints. Similarly, we can easily identify the correlation between the created characters in such a work and how the problems of a larger, external force impact their own conflicts, behavior, and reactions.

Political Psychology As Depicted In Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper
  Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper experiments with numerous literary techniques in order to explore the political psychology of Latin Americans. The narrative projects an abundance of voices, providing readers with multiple focalizers. The narrative follows the journey of Federico de la Fe, his daughter, and numerous rebels as they wage war against Saturn, once in California. Having moved to California from Mexico, such a change forces characters to come to grips with the reality that now others perceive them as an inferior minority. This perception results from the fact that many of them now work in the fields as lettuce pickers. As if this wasn’t a difficult burden already, the characters encounter a new adversary, whom they call Saturn.
  The voice of Saturn, although readers initially believe that it belongs to that of a heterodiegetic narrator who either begins a section by either establishing its premise or narrating the events of Federico de la Fe’s life, possesses a homodiegetic voice. This becomes apparent after the characters Federico de la Fe and Froggy lead a group of rebels into war against the external force Saturn, who reveals himself as the human, Salvador Plascencia. However, prior to this revelation, the dual nature of the narrative reveals itself as heavily revolving around the characters’ paranoia and fear that an outside source lingers in their every thought and action, possibly interfering or even influencing their behavior. However, Plascensia’s character remains caught up in his own melancholy, which arises from his position in a love triangle. Having become conscious of Saturn’s looming presence, the characters feel threatened, their thoughts which now become exposed through their behaviors. They resort to acting defensively, in spite of Saturn’s empowering gaze.
  The characters who wage war on Saturn, do so with the hopes that he will step back and allow them to regain their own freedom. From the many perspectives of the homodiegetic narrators, we gain insight into the political unrest that influence the characters’ own insecurities and vulnerabilities, or their own selfish needs. We gain insight into the psychology of characters such as Froggy and Federico de la Fe when they wage war on Saturn, whom they believe possesses too much power since he can voluntarily access their private thoughts. The war, which seems relentless at times and stagnant at others, constantly remains a one-sided war. The characters feel inclined to fight against Saturn, although he rarely shows any signs of reaction. It becomes apparent that in order to protect themselves from Saturn’s gaze, the characters have resorted to encasing themselves in “ lead, every thought protected, nothing left to hear or see” (Plascencia 96). To combat his watchful, unconscious or conscious eye, the characters resolve to encase themselves in the lead made from the mechanical turtles. This act not only establishes the characters as defiant beings but also reveals the dramatic lengths that they will go to in order to preserve their freedom and privacy. As readers, we can interpret this war in relation to Latin American political psychology. Readers have already learned that the characters, now mere lettuce pickers, exist according to new and different social constructions and constraints. With this in mind, we can assess that although Saturn exists either as a phantom or an entity, the characters use Saturn as a scapegoat for their own rage, anger, and bitterness that they’d otherwise channel towards a physical body. In essence, although Saturn may not appear as a physical force, he still embodies the influence of an otherwise abstract entity causes that influences the characters’ own conflicts, which causes him to become the target of such offense. While Froggy and Federico de la Fe wage war on Saturn, we also catch sight of another character, who appears from the opposite side of the political spectrum.
  As previously mentioned, from the points of view of the numerous homodiegetic narrators, two realities become established. In one reality, the rebels wage war against Saturn, while in the other, the discovery of Saturn or Salvador Plascencia as a character susceptible to human emotions becomes disclosed. Unlike the leaders of the rebellion, Froggy and Federico de la Fe, Smiley, content with Saturn’s position of power, would rather have more of his life exposed. He even goes so far as to visit Saturn, only to discover his human alter-ego, Salvador Plascencia. Although Smiley affiliates himself with the rebels, he discloses that:

I entered the war for volition, the revolution against tyranny, unwillingly —
obliged by my EMF membership. Had I a choice, it is Saturn who I would
join. (Salvador Plascencia 101)

Even prior to their interaction, his narration reveals that Saturn’s influence has shaped Smiley’s opinion of him and the political situation. Although Smiley argues that he no longer feels motivated to pursue the war and he only remains with the group because he had promised to do so, he states that he would easily join Saturn since he believes that Saturn holds a much more relaxed position in this war. This thought connects the two, since they would easily withdraw from the war. Unlike Federico de la Fe and Froggy, who epitomize the role of rebels during times of political unrest, Smiley appears unmoved and content with the current situation, if not hoping for Saturn to take a stronger interest in himself.

Political Psychology As Presented In Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex
  Like Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex’s experimentation with the narrative presents readers with a literary work that addresses Latin American political psychology. Narrated by the homodiegetic narrator, Zenzotli, we learn from him that he lives in between the realities of his real life and his visions.
  In one reality, Zenzotli works on the “Farmer John killing floor” in a meat-packing plant in Los Angeles (Foster 5). In this reality, Zenzotli often expresses his feelings of constraint and limitations. In his opening remarks, Zenzotli establishes his hatred towards Europeans or “Europians” who “planned genocide, wipe out our civilization, build cathedrals on TOP of our pyramidz” (Foster 3). From this initial statement, we gain insight into Zenzotli’s hatred for those that colonized and conquered the Aztex. In this reality, he encounters numerous reminders of the fall of the Aztek empire. While most people mindlessly go about their days, Zenzotli remains bounded to social constraints. Although Zenzotli rarely hesitates to comment on such injustices in this reality, he rarely acts based on his thoughts. Zenzotli’s reserves about acting based on his own ideology comes from his own internal conflicts in relation to the external political and social influences. Zenzotli frequently speaks with a satirical voice, commenting on the effects of blind American consumerism. For example, he believes that the killing floor serves as a microcosm of society, which strips employees of their liberties and encourages them to conform to modern limitations. He believes that such influences cause one to accept a subordinate position in society. Furthermore, Zenzotli argues that these social constraints result from mere social constructions, whose values become implemented in institutions such as the Farmer John meat-packing facility.
  From Zenzotli’s own point of view, his visions cause him to frequently get “fucked in the head” but “are better than aspirin and cheaper” (Foster 3). Zenzotli believes that his visions have medicating properties, as he finds a sense of comfort, discovery, and reality in them. In the reality governed by Zenzotli’s visions, the Aztek empire never fell and as a result, remained a powerful empire. In his introduction, Zenzotli establishes himself as the “Keeper of the House of Darkness of the Aztex” (Foster 3). This title, we later learn, establishes Zenzotli as a great leader of the Aztex. This idea, however, raises numerous questions. For instance, it raises the question as to how much of this alternate universe we can accept as truth and also what causes this reality to exist? Remembering the political and social constraints imposed upon Zenztoli in his first reality, we can believe that his desire to escape such limitations created this reality. This reality, like an author’s deviation from traditional narrative structure, provides Zenzotli with an escape from the political and social nightmare of foreign rule.
  From another perspective, we learn that Zenzotli’s visions, although they seem medicating, instead reveal themselves as rather disruptive and alarming. Amoxhuah, awakens Zenzotli during a vision, to tell him that he mumbled “‘things in your sleep, sir, stupid things, insensibilities, inanities, platitudes’” (Foster 59). Although Zenzotli believes that his visions have footholds in a greater reality, provide him with fearless adventures, and possess medicating images, Amoxhuah simply claims that he speaks foolish, cliché absurdities. This example not only provides readers with another focalizer but also draws attention to the lasting effects of political and social problems on an individual. As revealed by Zenzotli himself, America dominates the political situation and the Aztek empire has already fallen in his alternate reality. He conceives that these traumatic changes only exist in his alternate reality, despite the fact that this reality dominates his perception. In order to understand Zenzotli’s fears, we can assess them according to Rise Against’s music video for “Prayer Of The Refugee”.

The music video “Prayer Of The Refugee” by Rise Against depicts the realities of exploited manual laborers. The workers, namely minorities, children, and women, manufacture goods that later become available in American stores. The final moments of the video reveal two possible realities, that American workers have produced the goods or workers in foreign countries have done so and the products only bear the American label. Either interpretation easily prompts viewers to reconsider and address such realities. For example, viewers become inclined to think about the process of manufactured goods and those who made them. Secondly, viewers must consider the lifestyle of the laborers and their motivation for enduring the stress that their work encompasses.

The video relates back to theory of political psychology because the laborers must obviously have reasons for taking on such jobs, perhaps resulting from political and social unrest or economic turmoil. Although Zenzotli would prefer to live out his life in accordance to the reality in which the Aztex empire still flourishes, political and social constructions have forced him to become employed in Farmer John’s meat-packing plant.

Political Psychology In Retrospect
  Both Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex experiment with narrative voices and focalization in order to present readers with universes that depict Ruben Ardila’s theory of political psychology. Both texts use direct and subtle approaches to address political psychology. For instance, in The People of Paper, the war against Saturn demonstrates an explicit form of the affect of political and social changes on an individual. However, the subtle approach reveals itself through each character’s own motives and decisions, revealed through the almost polar opposite characters, Froggy and Smiley. In Atomik Aztex, the direct approach comes from Zenzotli’s commentary on America and Europe’s influence over the Aztek empire and the whole world, while the affects of such influence only becomes known from the blurred line that separates Zenzotli’s realities.
  Ruben Ardila gives further evidence for the relationship between Latin American psychology and the political situation. He states that:

Latin American social problems are multiple and multicausal. Violence,
poverty, unemployment, deterioration of the environment, changes in the
family structure, alcoholism, social conflicts, changes in the patterns of
child-rearing practices, women’s roles, national identity, dependence,
alienation, nationalism and internationalism have many implications and
psychological roots. On the other hand, they possess a benchmark that has
been recognized as clearly of a political character. Hence, political psychology in our region emerges mostly in response to
social needs. (Ruben Ardila 340)

In identifying the numerous political and social conflicts that affect Latin Americans, Ardila establishes a correlation between the individual psychology and the political situation. Because the individual uses their own perception and understanding of the political situation to confront their everyday challenges, Ardila argues that this interaction possesses political psychological qualities. We can accept this theory as truth because the individual bases their social needs in response to their political situation.
  For the purpose of understanding a character’s motives and psyche, we must also understand the greater, external political and social causes that impact the individual’s own judgment, behavior, and decisions. In understanding that Saturn made many of the characters of The People of Paper feel paranoid and vulnerable, we gain insight into what governed their own decisions and behavior. For example, because characters such as Froggy and Federico de la Fe felt threatened by Saturn and inferior in society as lettuce pickers, they came to believe that the only course of action to protect themselves against such an adversary would come from war. Similarly, in Atomik Aztex, the reality in which American consumerism prevails, causes traumatic damage to otherwise proud Aztek, Zenzotli. Because he cannot come to grips with a reality that strips him of his liberty and forces him into working in a mindless institution, he recoils into an alternate reality. In this reality, not only has he risen against European and other conquerors, but he retains a place of power in the ever flourishing Aztek empire.
  In understanding the influence of any political, social, or economic situation on an individual, we can always refer to literature. Works such as Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex provide readers with a glimpse into how political unrest, social changes, and economic chaos shape the individual conflicts of Latin Americans, as well as their responses, judgment and behavior. Ultimately, Ruben Ardila’s theory of political psychology allows readers to fundamentally assess characters’ motives and intentions in relation to external forces. In other words, we gain insight into the relationship between the big picture, or political situation, and its small details, or Latin Americans. In order to better understand this, we can consider the relationship as a mosaic.
The interactive mosaic, at first glance, looks like one large image. However, upon closer inspection, we learn that numerous images create the final image. In this case, we can perceive the relationship between the smaller images and the larger image as one parallel to that of the relationship between the political situation and the individual Latin American. The smaller images, or Latin Americans, rely on the final, larger image, or political situation, in order to cooperate together and create an interactive mosaic.

  The experimentation with any form of art can yield a variety of results. Literature often strives to provide readers with adventurous and daring plotlines, ultimately filled with relatable characters and settings. Experimenting with the narrative, however, may still provide readers with a glimpse into the relationship between the internal conflicts of an individual and the external influences of changes in the political, social, or economic situation. Ruben Ardila identifies this relationship as political psychology, which essentially shapes how a Latin American acts in response to political, social, or economic disorder, such as colonialism or the fall of an empire.
  With the intention of calling attention to the influence of greater political causes on an individual’s behavior and judgment, authors often experiment with the narrative voices and focalization. Both Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex experiment with narrative voices and focalization in order to present readers with dual universes that depict Ruben Ardila’s theory of political psychology.
  Interpreting these texts through a political psychological approach also raises questions for further research. One can easily assess these texts from a colonial theorist’s point a view. With the dual realities presented in both texts, one can also approach understanding these texts through an understanding of magical-realism and why Latin American writers seem susceptible to imploring such a mechanism in their work. Ultimately, we can assess these texts in a variety of ways with an infinite amount of results until the end of time.

Works Cited

Ardila, Ruben. “Political Psychology: The Latin American Perspective.” Political
  Psychology 17.2: 339-51. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“Aztec Timeline.” N.p., 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Foster, Sesshu. Atomik Aztex. San Francisco: City Lights, 2005. Print.

Hamlet – David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie. Act2, Scene 2. Pt.3. Dir.
Gregory Doran. Perf. David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, and Penny Downie. YouTube.
17 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English
Department, University of Cologne. 28 May 2005. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

“Mexico, A Brief History.” The International History Project. History World
International, 2007. Web. 16 Dec. 2011..

Plascencia, Salvador. The People of Paper. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2006. Print.

Prayer Of The Refugee. Perf. Rise Against. YouTube. 7 Oct. 2009. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“The Meow Mosaic.” Meow Mosaic., 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

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