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Without History

Without History: Subaltern Studies, the Zapatista Insurgency, and the Specter of History

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    Without History
    Book Description:

    On December 22, 1997, forty-five unarmed members of the indigenous organization Las Abejas (The Bees) were massacred during a prayer meeting in the village of Acteal, Mexico. The members of Las Abejas, who are pacifists, pledged their support to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a primarily indigenous group that has declared war on the state of Mexico. The massacre has been attributed to a paramilitary group composed of ordinary citizens acting on their own, although eyewitnesses claim the attack was planned ahead of time and that the Mexican government was complicit.InWithout History,José Rabasa contrasts indigenous accounts of the Acteal massacre and other events with state attempts to frame the past, control subaltern populations, and legitimatize its own authority. Rabasa offers new interpretations of the meaning of history from indigenous perspectives and develops the concept of a communal temporality that is not limited by time, but rather exists within the individual, community, and culture as a living knowledge that links both past and present.Due to a disconnection between indigenous and state accounts as well as the lack of archival materials (many of which were destroyed by missionaries), the indigenous remain outside of, or without, history, according to most of Western discourse. The continued practice of redefining native history perpetuates the subalternization of that history, and maintains the specter of fabrication over reality.Rabasa recalls the works of Marx, Lenin, and Gramsci, as well as contemporary south Asian subalternists Ranajit Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty, among others. He incorporates their conceptions of communality, insurgency, resistance to hegemonic governments, and the creation of autonomous spaces as strategies employed by indigenous groups around the globe, but goes further in defining these strategies as millennial and deeply rooted in Mesoamerican antiquity. For Rabasa, these methods and the continuum of ancient indigenous consciousness are evidenced in present day events such as the Zapatista insurrection.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7374-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  2. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book is a collection of essays I have written since the mid-1990s. I have decided to publish previously published pieces as they have appeared in different venues rather than updating them, aside from basic modifications in format and style. These essays share questions, theoretical approaches, and themes; in many ways, they converse with each other. They do not constitute a historical chronology; rather, they expand theoretical and thematic continuities across different temporalities. The pieces follow a chronological order, often reflecting the transformation, perhaps a refinement, of concepts both in my own work and in the literature I have engaged...

  3. 2 Pre-Columbian Pasts and Indian Presents in Mexican History
    (pp. 17-36)

    This essay is the first in a series of studies on how the pre-Columbian past has been collected in different moments in Mexican history and what has been the relationship between these forms of knowledge and policies toward Indians. On the one hand, these studies examine forms of ordering the pre-Columbian past (that is, modes of knowing, organizing, and interpreting artifacts). On the other, they study forms of containing disorder in the corresponding Indian presents (that is, modes of subordination, control, and counterinsurgency). Idealized perspectives of the pre-Columbian period have had contemporaneous views that denigrate and undermine historical Indians (the...

  4. 3 Of Zapatismo: Reflections on the Folkloric and the Impossible in a Subaltern Insurrection
    (pp. 37-61)

    One of the urgent tasks in the study of subaltern insurrections is to find ways of understanding the compatibility of modern and nonmodern cultural and political practices.¹ Although the “Carta a Zedillo” by the Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena, Comandancia General (CCRI-CG, the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee, General Command) reached me, in Ann Arbor, through the Internet (that most modern—perhaps, postmodern—form of communication), it manifests afolkloricunderstanding of revolutionary agency (“Zapata no ha muerto, vive y vivirá para siempre” [Zapata is not dead; he is alive and will live for ever]) and a willingness to taunt theimpossible...

  5. 4 Historical and Epistemological Limits in Subaltern Studies
    (pp. 62-73)

    According to one of the witnesses in the inquisitional trial of Don Carlos Ometochtzin, this cacique of Tezcoco exposed a plural worldview in speeches to his town. If a variety of Catholic perspectives exist, Ometochtzin asked, why shouldn’t they coexist with the multiple Mexican variants of the pre-Columbian period? This epistemological boldness led the Holy Office to judge and execute Ometochtzin for being a heretical dogmatizer. In the pages of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis (figure 4.1) corresponding to the years 1541–1543, atlacuilo(Indian painter and writer trained in a pre-Columbian pictorial tradition) manifests a similar perspective to Ometochtzin’s. Two...

  6. 5 Beyond Representation? The Impossibility of the Local (Notes on Subaltern Studies in Light of a Rebellion in Tepoztlán, Morelos)
    (pp. 74-91)

    This essay emphasizes thenowof the rebellion in Tepoztlán—a small village a forty-five minutes’ drive from Mexico City—with an update on the situation at the end. I wrote the essay in 1995 while in Tepoztlán, on leave from my U.S. academic institution. The rebellion in Tepoztlán began the morning of August 24, 1995, which I witnessed as I was getting on a bus to go to San Andrés Sacamch’en de los Pobres, Chiapas (officially named San Andrés Larráinzar) for the conversations that have become known as “Larráinzar VI” between the government and the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación...

  7. 6 Negri by Zapata: Constituent Power and the Limits of Autonomy
    (pp. 92-123)

    The muralVida y sueños de la cañada Perla(figure 6.1) in the community of Taniperla, Chiapas, was destroyed by the army on April 11, 1998, in an effort that sought to neutralize the constituent power that had materialized in the Municipio Autónomo Ricardo Flores Magón.¹ Next to Emiliano Zapata (the leader of the southern armies during the Mexican Revolution of 1910) stands an armed Ricardo Flores Magón, the anarcho-communist leader and theoretician of revolution, who represented the most radical wing of the insurrection of 1910. The words “Para la lucha actividad actividad actividad es lo que demanda el momento”...

  8. 7 The Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies
    (pp. 124-137)

    One can open just about any page in the work of Antonio Gramsci and find a vocabulary of progress and historical development that establishes teleology for comparative purposes. Gramsci’s terms include “historical places,” “emergence,” “conditions of transformations,” “levels of development,” “degrees of homogeneity,” “levels of political consciousness,” “historical maturity,” and so on. There is a vanguardism in his call for subaltern studies, if this is what Gramsci would have called his studies of dominance and subordination. Note that the terms of the teleology have more to do with the complexity of political organizations than with the stagist models characteristic of...

  9. 8 On the History of the History of Peoples Without History
    (pp. 138-147)

    Nowhere does one find the singularity of the Zapatista insurrection better expressed than in their consideration of Indians as ends in themselves. The Zapatistas articulate a process of social transformation in which indigenous languages and cultures ground the communities’ processes of autonomization. Indigenous knowledges and linguistic practices coexist and dialogue with life forms with radically different philosophical backgrounds that for reasons of expediency I refer to as “Western.” By “background” I mean the absolute presuppositionagainst whichandfrom whichthe members of a given culture make sense of each other and the world.¹ If inspired by the Zapatistas, I...

  10. 9 Revolutionary Spiritualities in Chiapas Today: Immanent History and the Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies
    (pp. 148-171)

    This chapter traces some of the signature concepts of the Zapatista insurrection of 1994 and the pacifism of Las Abejas back to native colonial pictorial articulations of the possibility of dwelling in a plurality of worlds, of the possibility of being modern and nonmodern without incurring contradiction. I prefer the notion of the “nonmodern” to the “pre-Modern” in that the latter carries a built-in teleology that posits modernity as a historical necessity. It has been argued that the Spanish invasion of the Americas in the sixteenth century should be considered as the beginning of modernity; we should take care not...

  11. 10 Without History? Apostasy as a Historical Category
    (pp. 172-204)

    In folio 46r of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis (ca. 1545–1563) we find a topology of conquest that illustrates what we may call awithouthistory (see figure 4.1).¹ As I have pointed out in chapter 1, “the term ‘without’ entails an amphibology: at once signifiesabsenceandoutside. The concept of history itself presupposes an absence and an outside in positing an origin or beginning that either assumes a nothing—that is, an outside that cannot be taken as a source and ground of history (out of nothing, its nonfoundation, ex nihilo); or posits an origin in mythical expressions—that...

  12. 11 In the Mesoamerican Archive: Speech, Script, and Time in Tezozomoc and Chimalpahin
    (pp. 205-229)

    One may rightly wonder if it is permissible to speak of a single Mesoamerican institution of historical writing given that the practice of history partakes of institutional rules that could very well exclude certain forms of remembering the past and telling stories. Paradoxically, the recognition of certain forms of memory by missionaries and lay officials could signal one more mode of appropriating and transforming Mesoamerican institutions. These historical accounts manifest a will to extract practical knowledge for administrative purposes but also the need to bury the pagan past for good by deploying the trope of resurrection to create a final...

  13. 12 On Documentary and Testimony: The Revisionists’ History, the Politics of Truth, and the Remembrance of the Massacre at Acteal, Chiapas
    (pp. 230-250)

    On December 22, 2007, the community of Acteal, Chiapas, celebrated the tenth anniversary of the massacre of forty-five defenseless, unarmed members of the pacifist civil organization Las Abejas (The Bees). For this occasion Las Abejas sponsored an Encuentro Nacional Contra la Impunidad (National Encounter Against Impunity), in which two documentaries were screened:A Massacre Foretold(2007), by the Scottish filmmaker Nick Higgins, andActeal: 10 Años de impunidad, ¿y cuantos más . . . ?(Acteal: 10 years of impunity. And how many more?) (2007), by the Tzotzil member of Las Abejas José Alfredo Jiménez. More than two thousand people...

  14. 13 Exception to the Political
    (pp. 251-280)

    We must stop feeling complacent about the return of the Left in Latin America. The list of left-leaning governments now includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela, but not yet Mexico—although intellectuals have spoken of a transition to democracy with the 2000 defeat of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)—and the ascent of the Left goes on and on. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the socialist specter is haunting Latin America and its nemesis, the United States of America. In reflecting on the new political status quo of the Left, we ought to...