Exam List 1: The Colonization of Space and Place in Pre-1700 Colonial Latin America, Part 2

(This post continues my efforts from my previous post to write a revised and expanded version of my headnotes for my exam list on Colonial Latin America.)

Therefore, and in order to delimit the problem in relation to the concern for spatial experience expressed in my other exam topics, this list will follow Mignolo in investigating colonial semiosis in the Latin American context through the lens of the discourses of space and place. In addition to providing historical background for subsequent considerations of urban space in 19th century Buenos Aires, this list also anticipates the investigation of the relationship between orality and writing that constitutes a key modality of 20th century avant-garde movements and experiments in narrative form. Finally, by thematizing the limits of the hermeneutic principles invoked in asserting a connection between discursive practices and spatio-temporal experience, my analysis will draw on deconstruction’s questioning of the hermeneutic project.

Within the general problematic of the colonization of space, it is possible to distinguish several levels on which the transformations in spatial understanding might be registered, each corresponding to a distinct set of critical problems. At the global level, the colonial encounter entails a radical transformation of European and indigenous cosmology, as both cultures struggle to integrate the existence of unfamiliar lands and peoples into existing conceptual frameworks. According to O’Gorman, America could not be simply “discovered” as an already constituted object, but had to be “invented” and given a meaning within the European system of cosmology. O’Gorman traces the process through which this occurs from its roots in Greek cosmology and Christian theological debates through the voyages of Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. At the culmination of this process, Europe was eventually forced to admit that the Americas were a new geographical entity or “fourth part” of the world which did not easily fit into a preconceived worldview, and thus to abandon the notion of the world as a limited space assigned to man by God in favor of a limitless world over which man (and, in particular, European man) was sovereign. To an extent, then, what Mignolo calls “putting the Americas on the map,” constitutes a significant step in the shift, within the European worldview, away from a mythological or allegorical division of space into heterogeneous regions and towards the adoption of the homogenized, geometrical projection of space represented, according to Mundy, by the emergence of modern European cartography. Thus, by the beginning of the 17th century, El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega could without hesitation begin his Comentarios by insisting, “no hay más que un mundo,” ironizing the name “Nuevo Mundo” by identifying its discovery as the crucial experience in the collapse of a worldview divided into heterogeneous zones. Nonetheless, the subtle overlaying of Cuzco and Rome in Garcilaso’s account of pre-Columbian Peru bears witness to the persistence of a tropologically organized spatial ontology. Guaman Poma is even more explicit in projecting Peru into a European mythological cosmography, dividing both Christian and Indian history into five parallel ages marked by multiple intersections, including a account mapping St. Bartholomew’s evangelical mission to India on top of the Indies in order to legitimate Peruvian culture as the location of a more authentic Christianity only corrupted by the arrival of the Spanish. Thus, even as the “invention of America” contributes to the emergence of a uniform geometric European cosmography, the Americas themselves do not escape the grasp of a mythological cosmovision which organizes space in asymmetric ways. As Mundy notes, despite the best intentions of Spanish royal cosmographers like Santa Cruz and López de Velasco, the respondents to the geographical surveys of the Relaciones Geográficas rarely evidenced sufficient mastery of cartographic principles to produce maps usable for the larger project of a geometric uniform map of New Spain. Local geography and, as a consequence, global cartography, remained organized around human institutions. Nonetheless, the overarching mythological cosmology that allowed Columbus to envision the New World as the nipple shaped paradise of a pear shaped earth did not endure intact.

(More to follow…)

~ by Matt on September 14, 2007.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: