Research for this chapter took shape following a 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, “Mesoamerica and the Southwest: A New History for an Ancient Land.” The Institute linked Mesoamerica and the Southwest through Aztlán–the mythic site of origins for the Aztec people but also a site imbricated within the political, social and cultural history of two nations. On Aztlán and the Chicano movement see Rudolfo A. Anaya and Francisco A. Lomeli, Atzlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland (1989); this invaluable anthology reprints the 1969 “Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” and illuminates how cultural studies accomplish political work, how the Mexican War continues to effect Chicano people, and how the migration myth must be understood from within the mindset of the people who produced it. More discussion than is necessary has debated whether Aztlán is best classified as history or myth, and in “La Migración mexica: ¿invención o historia?” Federico Navarrete negotiates this impasse by emphasizing the role of myth within a social order. The Road to Aztlán: Art from a Mythic Homeland (2001), Virginia M. Fields and Victor Zamudio-Taylor (eds.), present art and essays by cultural commentators, historians, archaeologists; this magisterial volume accompanied an exhibit by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The cover of Road to Aztlán features the opening frame of the Tira de la Peregrinación, or Boturini Códice. The original Códice is at Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, though a current edition of the Tira is missing. The most commonly cited volume (published in 1944 with no cited editor) dates before the current boom in Nahua studies. Visitors to the Museo Nacional may purchase Para Leer [How to Read] La Tira de la Peregrinación (1999), by Joaquín Galarza and Krystyna M. Libura, which is charming in its design, though geared for non-specialists. The absence of an current edition surprises, in light of the strong scholarship on pictographic writing in the past decades. But definitive editions of the major works are available of several other, major works: Bernardino de Sahagún’s Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain (1950-82); and a multi-volume Codex Mendoza, which is available in a usefully distilled form as The Essential Codex Mendoza (1997), edited by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. Lori Boornazian Diel’s critical introduction to The Tira de Tepechpan: Negotiating Place under Aztec and Spanish Rule (2008) situates a lesser-known “painted manuscript” within a scholarly, historical and theoretical framework. María Castañeda de la Paz’s introduction to the Pintura de la Peregrinación de los Culhuaque-Mexitin (Mapa de Sigüenza): Analysis de un documento de origen tenochca (2006) shows in compelling ways how Itzcoatl sought to consolidate multiethnic Tenochtitlan through origin myths, and how scholars can read the different version in dialog.
Annals written in Nahuatl and translated into English were read in conversation with the painted manuscripts, and provide invaluable glosses to the graphic accounts. For texts and an introductions, see History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Codex Chimalpopoca (1992), translated by John Bierhorst, and Domingo de San Antón Muñon Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin’s Codex Chimapahin: Society and Politics in Mexico, Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Texcoco, Culhuacan and Other Nahua Altepetl in Central Mexico (1997). Fray Diego Duran details the Mexica migration in The History of the Indies of New Spain (1994). Miguel León-Portilla recovers Nahua verbal art in Pre-Columbia Literatures of Mexico (1969) and in The Aztec Image of Self and Society: An Introduction to Nahua Culture (1992); both volumes quote liberally and judiciously. An edition of the book-length manuscript cycle of poems, Cantares Mexicanos (1985), was translated by John Bierhorst, although León Portilla expressed dissatisfaction with the translation (Aztec Image 78).
Not an expert in Mesoamerica by any stretch, I was immersed during the NEH Institute. And at the suggestion of Institute scholar Eloise Quiñones Keber, I myself started with Davíd Carrasco, The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction (2011) and Serge Gruzinski, The Aztecs: Rise and Fall of an Empire (1992). The NEH seminar drew heavily from Carrasco, Lindsay Jones and Scott Sessions (eds.), Mesoamerica’s Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs (2000); Davíd Carrasco and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Moctezuma’s Mexico: Visions of the Aztec World (2003); Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Felipe Soís Olguín (eds.) Aztecs; and from single-author, interpretative studies by Inga Clendinnen, The Aztecs: An Interpretation (1991) and David Carrasco, City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Tradition (1991), two books that situate art and mythology within a social-political order. In reconstructing the Mexica migration and succession of rulers, I followed Nigel Davies’ overview The Aztecs: A History. Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s thought-provoking México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization treats false appropriations of Indian culture, with a discussion grounded in a reading of the Museo Nacional.
After the seminar, my research focused less on the culture itself and more on how to read the manuscripts as texts. Esther Pazstory provides a introduction to the major codices in the survey Aztec Art (1983), as does a catalogue produced by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Los códices de México (1979). Grounded in anthropology and archaeology, the research has evolved as philological work (including translation) as matured; it also has benefitted from cultural-literary theory. A generation of researchers used art, iconography or writing to “penetrate” or provide a “portrait” of ancient civilizations; see, for example, H.B. Nicholson, “The Late Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican (Aztec) Iconographic System (1983).” Walter Mignolo’s “Signs and their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World,” in the collection Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, outlines the production of Mesomaerican writing systems and raises Mignolo’s core questions of literacy and the colonial process. Charles E. Dibble’s short survey “Writing in Central Mexico” (1971), though this useful introductory guide closes with a nod toward the “evolutionary” model that Mignolo would later critique. More recently, Joyce Marcus’ Mesoamerican Writing Systems: Propaganda, Myth, and History in Four Ancient Civilizations maps similarities and differences in four pre-contact writing systems, and can be read strategically to focus on one group. In one of the few discussions of the last pages of the Códice Boturini, Patrick K. Johannson’s “De la imagen a la palabra: un análisis comparativo entre la imagen del Códice Boturini y el texto correspondiente del Códice Aubin” (2000), emphasizes how texts worked between verbal and visual modes. Elizabeth Hill Boone reviews rhetorical strategies and conventions in Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztec and Mixtecs (2008); for a more distilled version of this magisterial work, see also her “Aztec Writing and History” (1998).
Cultural histories of the Mexican War indicate how a poet like Walt Whitman reflected his time, though for reasons I cannot explain, literary critics have not given the war the attention it is due. Combing through religious, political and periodic and belletristic writings, tracts, Robert W. Johannsen maps out the nationalist ferment behind the war in To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (1985). Dueling Eagles: Reinterpreting the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-48 (2000), edited by Richard V. Francaviglia and Douglas W. Richmond, includes Mexican and U.S. perspectives on geography, journalism and the culture of war. From the moment John L. O’Sullivan coined “Manifest Destiny” in the 1845 Democratic Review, the term has generated endless commentary; but on expansionism and self-entitlement, and how a rapacious United followed the blueprint of European empires, I find volume two of D.W. Meinig’s Shaping of America, Continental America, 1800-1867, to be particularly helpful.
Despite the shorthand allusions to Manifest Destiny, Whitman’s poetics of Manifest Destiny and links to the Mexican War remains largely underexamined. Betsy Erkkila issued a bowshot with “Whitman and American Empire” (1994), yet critics seem reluctant to challenge a less-inviting side to a favorite author. The Chilean poet Fernando Alegria puzzled over Whitman’s bald imperialism, in Walt Whitman en Hispanoamerica (1954), while offering the apologist view that Whitman advocated a universal, democratic ideal. Critics once could claim a shortage of evidence; no longer. A two-volume set Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Journalism (2003), edited by Herbert Bergman, reprints hawkish editorials penned during Whitman’s tenure with the Brooklyn Eagle (1846-48). Thomas L. Brasher, Whitman as Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1970), reviews Whitman’s newspaper work in detail. Mention of Whitman and the Mexican War typically preface support of the 1847 Wilmot Proviso (a measure that did not pass, to ban slavery on any new western states), as slavery emerged as a central theme in his verse. David S. Reynolds reviews political contexts to the 1855 Leaves of Grass in Walt Whitman’s America (1995). Whitman biographer Gay Wilson Allen also provides short glosses in The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography (1967), and in The New Walt Whitman Handbook (1975). Thomas Shivey’s short entry, “Mexican War,” linked to related entries, in the 1998 Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (edited by J.R. LeMaster and Donald K. Kummings) connects the war, homoeroticism, Whitman’s stay in New Orleans, and the sois-spanish coinage, “camerado.”
The manuscript “Live Oak, with Moss,” in the Valentine-Barrett Papers at the University of Virginia, is reproduced on the Walt Whitman Archive, edited by Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. The history of this manuscript reveals as much about Whitman as studies of the author himself. Fredson Bowers first drew attention to the manuscript booklet with a 1954 article and later in a monograph; “Live Oak, with Moss” was ignored, however, as was the more sexually charged verse from 1855-60, as scholars approached Whitman with self-defeating prudery. More empirically-minded scholarship, or what Justin Kaplan calls “The Biographer’s Problem” (1989) continued the largely unsatisfying discussion. Jerome Loving includes a lengthy discussion of Whitman’s sexuality in Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (1994). David S. Reynolds cites oral accounts of Walter Whitman, as a school teacher in Southhold on rural Long Island, who was tarred-and-feathered for molesting students in Walt Whitman’s America (1995); Reynolds uses this episode then to frame questions about evidence and literary biography.
Scholarship since the 1990s has examined eroticism as textual production, as well as shifting mores during the mid-nineteenth century. Michael Moon details how the fluidity in Whitman would unsettle (while risking persecution from) sexual normalization; see Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in ‘Leaves of Grass’ (1991). M. Jimmie Killingsworth shows how fantasy could provide a means for calling into question staid, repressive categories in “Whitman and the Gay American Ethos” (2000). In The Erotic Whitman (2000), Vivian Pollak reads Whitman, similarly, within a challenging and potentially violent framework of unfulfilled desire. Alan Helms’ review of “Live Oak with Moss” (1992), in which Helms was castigated by one scholar for omitting the titular comma, argues that the “sonnet” cycle gives voice to desire and alienation felt by gay men in the century after Whitman.
The tidal shift in scholarship is remarkable. Where Whitman scholars once shunned the topic, critical consensus now make it impossible to look past the complex eroticism in the poems, as sexuality is now widely understood within a broader socio-political network: see Reynolds’ fascinating survey of nineteenth-century sexual culture, “’Sex Is the Root of It All’: Eroticism and Gender,” in Walt Whitman’s America; Betsy Erkkila, on erotically infused democracy in Whitman the Political Poet (1989), and more succinctly, “Whitman and the Homosexual Republic” (1994); Pollak, on sexuality and health in “’Bringing help for the Sick’: Whitman and Prophetic Biography” (2007); and Robert K. Martin whose “Whitman and the Politics of Identity” (1994) brings class and generational differences to bear–-arguing that the self-styled working class poet rejected the effete, Victorian sexual self. Once ignored, the subject is now traced in long footnote trails: see Erkkila, “Whitman and the Homosexual Republic” (notes 3-4); and Killingsworth, “Whitman and the Gay American Ethos” (note 5).
Scholarship on the Hopi and Southwestern archaeology is also daunting in scale. My limited understanding of archaeology and the Southwest comes from Stephen H. Lekson’s A History of the Ancient Southwest (2008), which makes a compelling case for dissolving narrow geographic borders in our study. It bears emphasis that Lekson’s point, that cultures travel, is not new: Elsie Clews Parsons remarked upon “Variation and Borrowing” in her Pueblo Indian Religions (1939). Peter Whiteley treats the ethics of aestheticization in Indian culture in his 1993 polemic article, “The End of Anthropology (at Hopi?),” and Sylvia Rodriguez historicizes the commodification of southwest Indian art in “Art, Tourism and Race Relations in Taos: Toward a Sociology of an Art Colony” (1989). Scholarship on Chaco Canyon has been accumulating for over a century. A useful shortcut is In Search of Chaco Canyon: New Approaches to an Archaeological Enigma (2004), edited by David Grant Noble, which presents archaeological research and includes several essays by native authors. Ann Sofaer’s 1996 documentary The Mystery of Chaco Canyon, which emphasizes solar alignments, also includes illuminating interviews with southwestern natives. On a more contemporary front, Susanne and Jake Page’s Hopi us the format of an illustrated travel essay to introduce Hopi culture.
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