Writing Without Words

Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes

Writing Without Words

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 54 b&w photographs, 27 illustrations Published: May 1994

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Andes, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

The history of writing, or so the standard story goes, is an ascending process, evolving toward the alphabet and finally culminating in the "full writing" of recorded speech. Writing without Words challenges this orthodoxy, and with it widespread notions of literacy and dominant views of art and literature, history and geography. Asking how knowledge was encoded and preserved in Pre-Columbian and early colonial Mesoamerican cultures, the authors focus on systems of writing that did not strive to represent speech. Their work reveals the complicity of ideology in the history of literacy, and offers new insight into the history of writing.
The contributors--who include art historians, anthropologists, and literary theorists--examine the ways in which ancient Mesoamerican and Andean peoples conveyed meaning through hieroglyphic, pictorial, and coded systems, systems inseparable from the ideologies they were developed to serve. We see, then, how these systems changed with the European invasion, and how uniquely colonial writing systems came to embody the post-conquest American ideologies. The authors also explore the role of these early systems in religious discourse and their relation to later colonial writing.
Bringing the insights from Mesoamerica and the Andes to bear on a fundamental exchange among art history, literary theory, semiotics, and anthropology, the volume reveals the power contained in the medium of writing.

Contributors. Elizabeth Hill Boone, Tom Cummins, Stephen Houston, Mark B. King, Dana Leibsohn, Walter D. Mignolo, John Monaghan, John M. D. Pohl, Joanne Rappaport, Peter van der Loo


“Definitions of writing for the Old World are often a bad fit when applied to te recording and mnemonic systems of the Americas. This is a major point emerging from Writing without Words, a collection that balances theoretical expositions with analyses of particular exemplars. . . .Writing without Words is well-organized and original. It will be carefully studied by Mesoamericanists, and by people interested in the great intellectual enterprise of writing.” — Monica Barnes, The Americas

"Here are writing systems that are visual to their very core, free from the march of linguistic sounds. In showing us how to read such writing, these authors lead us across the boundaries of archaeology, linguistics, ethnology, history, and art history, and treat us to novel experiments along the way. Anyone who enjoys challenges to ordinary modes of textual interpretation and ordinary ideas about the nature of writing itself is in for quite a treat." — Dennis Tedlock, State University of New York, Buffalo

"This is an exceptionally comprehensive and informative work on Pre-Columbian and early colonial recording systems in Mesoamerica and the Andes. The various contributions focus on a range of hieroglyphic, logographic, and mnemonic recording systems, and there are also excellent discussions of the effects of the introduction of European writing on native recording systems. The articles touching on this latter topic all make clear the complexity of links, and the subtle interplay of changes, between record-keeping and ideology. An important and challenging book." — Gary Urton, Colgate University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth Hill Boone is Director of Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks.

Walter D. Mignolo is Professor in the Department of Romance Studies and the Program in Literature at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Writing and Recording Knowledge / Elizabeth Hill Boone 3

Literacy among the Pre-Columbian Maya: A Comparative / Stephen Houston 27

Aztec Pictorial Histories: Records without Words / Elizabeth Hill Boone 50

Voicing the Painted Image: A Suggestion for Reading the Reverse of the Codez Cospi / Peter L. van der Loo 77

The Text in the Body, the Body in the Text: The Embodied Sign in Mixtec Writing / John Monaghan 87

Hearing the Echoes of Verbal Art in Mixtec Writing / Mark B. King 102

Mexican Codices, Maps and Lienzos as Social Contracts / John M. D. Pohl 137

Primers for Memory: Cartographic Histories and Nahua Identity / Dana Leibsohn 161

Representation in the Sixteenth Century and the Colonial Image of the Inca / Tom Cummins 188

Signs and Their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World / Walter D. Mignolo 220

Object and Alphabet: Andean Indians and Documents in the Colonial Period / Joanne Rappaport 271

Afterword: Writing and Recorded Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Situations / Walter D. Mignolo 292

Index 313
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1388-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1377-9
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