By Aileen Ford and Julia Duranti
Diane Nelson is a Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. Originally from the Midwestern United States, she received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and has been working in Guatemala since 1985. Her interests include how the state and violence intersect with ethnicity, gender, sexuality and nationalism to produce identities in Guatemala’s ongoing “post-war.” Some of her key theoretical frameworks are feminism, post-colonialism and biopolitics.
Diane Nelson video
Reckoning grapples with how networks and identities are produced by war—or, as Nelson writes in her Pre/face, “If people make war, war also makes people” (Nelson 2009: xiii). Duplicity, assumptions, accounting and hope (or lack thereof) in Guatemala’s ongoing “post-war” are key elements of subjectivity that Nelson explores in relation to diverse scenarios, beginning with religious festivals and guiding the reader through U.S. imperialism, the popularity of horror movies in Guatemala, the Rigoberta Menchú controversy, state formation/control and audit culture.
Peppered with double entendre and word play and interspliced with “Intertexts” of film discussions and theoretical questions, Reckoning employs what Nelson dubs a “Pink Freud” methodology. Political economy, Freudian psychoanalysis, film and gender theory and cultural studies all come together to guide Nelson’s discussion, which returns to two-facedness often, even as it also invokes Haraway’s (1991) “one is not enough but two is too many.” Nelson is clear that if she answers any of the many questions she poses at all, they will necessarily be both/and instead of either/or (Nelson 2009: xviii). She also explicitly positions herself as a white, middle-class woman from the U.S. who became a gringa when she arrived to Guatemala, and lays out her own process of questioning her prior (and naive) assumptions about her own identity.
How to reconcile these two faces? How to acknowledge power, responsibility, and guilt without assuming those are the only faces? How to avoid being duped into believing that resistance is futile and keep hope alive that economic, political, and social change is possible? (Nelson 2009: xix)
The long count of historical memory: Ixhil Maya ceremonial speech in Guatemala
By: María Luz García
(Full text is available online at UT Library catalog)
Expanding on Nelson’s Reckoning, an article by author María Luz García speaks about yet another type of specific reckoning—that of the genocidal violence that took place in the Maya-Ixhil region of Guatemala during the Civil War period of the 1980s and 90s. In particular, García’s ethnographic work reflects on the ways in which Ixhil members have engaged in ceremonial speech to begin accounting for their disappeared and murdered loved ones while reintegrating the latter’s physical bodies back into their living community. As “concrete form[s] of postviolence community reconstruction and a significant setting for the circulation of collective memory”, ceremonial exhumations and inhumations of massacred family, friends, and neighbors assume deep historic and spiritual importance for the Ixhil communities where García grounds her research (665).
Through an “ethnopoetic” analysis of the ceremonial speech of Maya priests as they rebury the war dead, García explores discourse traditions of local Ixhil that often fail to “match neatly with the dominant discourses of historical memory”, and that reveal ambiguities and ambivalences surrounding the meanings of political action in “postwar” Guatemala (665-6). With a keen eye, sensitive ear, and strong conviction, she includes many examples of how, through conventionalized speech and enduring relationships with the dead, the Ixhil stand as the protagonists of their own stories, conjuring their own communal priorities and understandings of violence, genocidal war, embodied suffering, and accountability.