Mignolo Darker Side Introduction

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Mignolo. On Describing Ourselves Describing Ourselves: Comparatism, Differences, and Pluritopic Hermeneutics

Transcript of Mignolo Darker Side Introduction

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    xxii patience in the last stage of the book. Final ly, Anne Wylie, AndreaWylieMignolo, andAlexander WylieMignolo, the people with whom

    Preface I live,werekind in excessover the years,understanding that "Oh, he isstillwriting the book" when I had to leavehome to do research or stayaway to write.

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    2 ing systems alien to their own practices. Chapter 1 focuses on ElioAntonio de Nebrija's phi losophy of writ ing, developed during the latefifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and his influence on the writingof grammars of Amerindian languages; and on Jose de Aldrete 's essayson the origin of the Casti lian language, from the early seventeenth cen-tury. Nebrija, a pioneer man of letters credited with introducing theItalian Renaissance into Spain, articulated a philosophy of wr itingbased on the celebration ofthe let ter and the interrelations between al-phabetic writ ing and the writ ing ofhistory. He isless commonly knownfor the ideological program attached to histwo grammat ical t reat ises, aLatin grammar (1481) and a Casti lian grammar (1492). From Nebrija 'spol it ical philosophy oflanguage fol low, on the one hand, the necessityto trace the origins and the frontiers of the Spanish languages (aneffort entertained by Aldrete) and, on the other, the necessity , f irst, toteach Casti lian language and customs to Amerindians and, second, toconvert them to Christianity. The first task was in the hands of theCrown, the second in the hands of friars and missionaries.

    Chapter 2 revolves around concepts of writing and the book andexamines the Coloquios y doctrine christiana (a dialogue amongtwelve Franciscan fr iars and a handful of Mexican wise men that tookplace in 1524, was written down, and was transcribed by Bernardinode Sahagun around 1565). The Coloquios is a paradigmatic examplewith which to analyze the connections among the Renaissance phi-losophy oflanguage, the idea of the book, and the warranty of truthgrounded in writing. The argument moves from the question of theletter to the question of the book in colonial situations and explorescul tural assumptions behind the frustrat ions, misunderstandings, andpower relations established between persons with dif ferent writingsystems, different sign carriers (i.e., vehicles of inscriptions-books,Peruvian quipus, papyri), and, above all , different descriptions of writ-ing and sign carriers. I accent how people (Casti lians as well asAmcr-indians) described their own social interactions and cul tural produc-tion. I emphasize that Castilian descriptions of Amerindian inter-actions either suppressed Amer indians' own self-descriptions or,when the Casti lians did li sten to the Amerindians, incorporated Amer-indians ' self-descriptions in to their own (I wi ll return to the topics ofself-description and representation in this introduction, as well as inthe conclusion). The material ity of writ ing, together with it s concep-tualization across cultures, is brought into focus to spotlight its un-derpinning of the colonization of Amer indian languages. In this sec-ond chapter phi lo logical and comparative analysis is first tested. Themateriality of the sign carriers (such as textiles on the Peruvianquipus) are analyzed, together wi th the descrip tions the Amerindians

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    and Castilians built around their own writing systems and sign car -riers.

    The second part is devoted to the colonization of memory andbegins wbere the first par t left off. The celebration of the letter and itscomplicity with the book were not only a warranty of truth but alsooffered the foundations for Western assumptions about the necessaryrelations between alphabetic writ ing and history. People without let-ters were thought of as people without history, and oral narrativeswere looked at as incoherent and inconsistent. Chapter 3 focuses onhistory asone of the main discursive practices in the European Renais-sance and as a Western regional construct with pretensions to univer-sali ty . The chapter moves from the Western conceptualization of his-tory to the reevaluation of Amerindians ' means of recording the past,then into a detailed analysis of the contribution made by an Italianknight, Bernardo Boturin i Benaducci, who arrived in Mexico duringthe f ir st half of the eighteenth century, and to Francesco Patrizio Pa-tr iz i, a li tt le-remembered Ital ian rhetorician of the second half of thesixteenth century, is brought into the picture because of the sim-ilarities between his and Giambattista Vico's conception of recordingmemories by using visual means. Vico was also Boturini's inspiration.Boturini's main work, Ide a de una n ue va bistor ia ge ne ra l de la A me r-i ca Sep ten t riona l (1746), completed a process by which alphabeticwriting was elevated as the most desirable system but led to a debateon writing systems during the eighteenth century and opened thedoors for a reconsideration of the different writing systems of theworld. The writing of history, and the very concept ofhistoriograpby,however, was not challenged bysuch changes in the Western concep-t ion of writ ing and its history.

    Chapter 4 is concerned with genre and the organization of know 1-edge. The idea of history and of recording the pas~ is compared withletter writing (epistola), another crucia l d iscursive genre in the Euro-pean Renaissance, and with encyclopedic organization of knowledge.Then, both are compared with Amerindians' ways of organizingknowledge. The chapter opens wi th Peter Martyr 's Epistolary and Deorbe n o vo d e cad e s as early examples of the connivance between letterwri ting and history and fol lows with Bernardino de Sahagun 'S monu-mental work, the Fl or e nt in e C o de x (a three-volume manuscrip t fin-ished toward 1578, in Nahuatl and Spanish), and the H istor ia de laN ue va E sp a na , a work containing the text of the Fl or e nt in e C o de x inCastilian. Pr inted in the nineteenth century, it provides the main ex-ample by which to explore the compl ic itus among writing , discursivegenres, and the organization of knowledge. The encyclopedia as aWestern genre with similar examples in Chinese and Arab cultural

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    4 history;' whose influence on Sahagun's work has been well docu-mented, is explored to understand the colonization of memory ac-complished by rendering in alphabetic writing and in Renaissancediscursive genres the information Amerindians passed on to Sahagunbut had already organized in their own system of genres. Sahaguncaptured the content of information, but not its organizat ion. Tounderline both the mobility of the center and the histories of theperipheries, an Amerindian "encyclopedia" written during the six-teenth century is examined. The Booksof Chilam Balam (from theYucatan peninsula) istaken asthe main example to reflect on alterna-tive views of organizing knowledge and on the transformation ofAmerindian traditions during the colonial period.

    Thus, while chapter 3 discusses one case of colonization of mem-ory, highlighting the Spanish deed over Amerindian customs, chapter4 explores another, the suppression of the Amerindians' own catego-ries for organizing knowledge. The politicization of hermeneuticsproves to be necessary to account for the colonization of one systembyanother. Colonization does not imply a devouring march, bywhicheverything in Amerindian cultures was suppressed by Spanish ped-agogical, religious, and administrative institutions. I insist, first, onthe coexistence of languages, literacies, memories, and spaces; sec-ond, on the dominance that makes itpossible for one ofthe coexistingelements to occupy a position ofpower over the others asifit were theonly truth; and third, on the need ofthe politicization ofhermeneuticsto deal with these questions. Finally,the case of Sahagun also illus-trates the relevance of the locus of enunciation, a category that bringsto awareness the act ofunderstanding I amperforming and the act ofunderstanding performed in the past, which becomes the object to beunderstood inthe present. Thus, understanding the past and speakingthe present take a new twist with this example.

    The third part of the book examines the colonizat ion of space.Chapter 5 takes asits main example Mateo Ricci's mappamundi (ca.1584) and looks into the coexistence of differing geographical fram-ings during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Here issuesare again raised of the power relations between the organization andcolonization of space. Chapter 6 focuses on LOpez de Velasco's mapsof the West Indies (1574), which at the time included the Spanishcolonies and extended from Florida to the Philippines. Also examinedis the intellectual context of the emergence of a fourth part of theworld in both the European consciousness as a whole, and in theCouncil of the Indies in particular, with its need to administerthe newly "discovered" and colonized lands and people. Once again, Ibring into focus the issue of coexistence and power relations in con-

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    trolling and implementing a given conceptualization of space. Once 5again, my analysis does not imply that the colonization of spacedevours non-Western conceptualizations, but that it banishes them OnDescribingfrom the view of those who belong to the same culture as the map- Ourselvesmaker. The idea that what isdifferent iswrong or lessisperpetuated. DescribingThe colonization of space and the colonization of langua