Edgar Garcia discusses his texts with the Concerning Violence Research Group
On November 13th, 2020, Dr. Edgar Garcia (University of Chicago) joined Concerning Violence: A Decolonial Collaborative Research Group for a workshop entitled, “Emergency and Emergence in the Signs of the Americas.”
In preparation for the conversation, participants read two pieces. The first of these two pieces, a chapter from his Signs of the Americas (University of Chicago Press, 2019), a study of the life of such indigenous sign systems as pictographs, hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, and khipu in the contemporary poetry, arts, legal philosophy, and environmental activism of the Americas. The second of these pieces, a short essay from a collection of essays on the K’iche’ Maya story of creation, the Popol Vuh. These essays were written during the stay-at-home orders of the current pandemic. They examine what the Popol Vuh has to teach its readers about emergencies. Specifically, the essays focus on the relation of the present public health crisis to the ongoing crisis of colonialism. And they also focus on how the authors of the Popol Vuh wish to teach their readers to reframe such ongoing emergency in terms of social, political, and intellectual emergence; to rethink crisis in terms of creativity and world creation.
Dr. Garcia began his presentation by demonstrating that peripheralized indigenous sign systems are central to the dynamics, politics, cultural flows, and spatial organizations of the interconnected American hemisphere. He pushes back on literary traditions which are narrowly concerned with the “lettered, capitalistic, urban, and singular” (5) and whose engagement with transnational comparisons remains limited to the cross-cultural and cross-national as it relates to “mestizo and hybrid cosmopolitanisms.” Dr. Garcia goes on to suggest that pictographic literacy and thinking can shape jurisprudence by producing multi-juridical legal cultures which can better accommodate interdependent societies and peoples in a manner which embraces difference as a creative tool for political organization. In discussing his pre-circulated essay, Dr. García joins the charge of thinkers such as Gerald Vizenor, John Borrows, and Louise Erdrich in deploying pictographic thinking and the literary imagination to understand contemporary problems. Most saliently, in forging an interpretation of the Popol Vuh which explores the relational engagement it has with the current situation faced by marginalized peoples and indigenous peoples in the context of U.S. imperialism, continued colonialism under nation-states, and a global pandemic.
As the respondent to Garcias’s lecture, J. Ruben Diaz Vasquez (Co-Coordinator of DCRG) posed the question: “taking up this notion of emergency that we learn from the Popol Vuh, how can non-indigenous scholars also consider the ways in which they themselves constitute the emergency for indigenous people, in the manner of appropriation, discrimination, and erasure? How can non-indigenous scholars learn from indigenous knowledges and forms of thinking while holding themselves and their works accountable?” Professor Garcia emphasized the need for scholars to acknowledge the widespread theft of indigenous land and knowledge and the Popol Vuh as a theory-bearing, intellectual force in and of itself. In the subsequent discussion, Dr. Garcia continued to build upon these critical interventions and more during the Q&A by reflecting on his more recent projects.
Thank you to our co-sponsors: the Department of English and the Center for Latin American Studies.
by Cynthia Garcia