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Without History

Subaltern Studies, the Zapatista Insurgency, and the Specter of History

José Rabasa

Publication Year: 2010

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. Eyewitnesses claim the attack was planned ahead of time and that the Mexican government was complicit. In Without 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.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas

Front Cover

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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...

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Chapter 2. Pre-Columbian Pasts and Indian Presents in Mexican History

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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 ...

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Chapter 3. Of Zapatismo: Reflections on the Folkloric and the Impossible in a Subaltern Insurrection

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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 ...

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Chapter 4. Historical and Epistemological Limits in Subaltern Studies

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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 ...

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Chapter 5. Beyond Representation?: The Impossibility of the Local (Notes on Subaltern Studies in Light of a Rebellion in Tepoztl

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pp. 74-91

This essay emphasizes the now of 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 ...

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Chapter 6. Negri by Zapata: Constituent Power and the Limits of Autonomy

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pp. 92-123

The mural Vida y sue

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Chapter 7. The Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies

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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 ...

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Chapter 8. On the History of the History of Peoples Without History

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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. ...

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Chapter 9. Revolutionary Spiritualities in Chiapas Today: Immanent History and the Comparative Frame in Subaltern Studies

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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 ...

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Chapter 10. Without History?: Apostasy as a Historical Category

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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 a without history (see figure 4.1).1 As I have pointed out in chapter 1, “the term ‘without’ entails an amphibology: at once signifies absence and outside. The concept of history itself presupposes an absence and an outside in positing an origin or beginning that ...

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Chapter 11. In the Mesoamerican Archive: Speech, Script, and Time in Tezozomoc and Chimalpahin

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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 ...

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Chapter 12. On Documentary and Testimony: The Revisionists’ History, the Politics of Truth, and the Remembrance of the Massacre at Acteal, Chiapas

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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 ...

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Chapter 13. Exception to the Political

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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 ...


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pp. 281-324


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pp. 325-344


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pp. 345-358


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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822973744
E-ISBN-10: 082297374X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960652
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960656

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 17 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas
Series Editor Byline: John Beverley and Sarah Castro-Klaren, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794925550
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Without History

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historiography -- Political aspects -- Mexico.
  • Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Mexico).
  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1988-2000 -- Historiography.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Study and teaching.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Historiography.
  • Acteal Massacre, Acteal, Mexico, 1997 -- Historiography.
  • Mexico -- Ethnic relations -- Historiography.
  • Acteal Massacre, Acteal, Mexico, 1997 -- Personal narratives.
  • Chiapas (Mexico) -- History -- Peasant Uprising, 1994- -- Historiography.
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