In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Banal, Familiar, and Enrapturing:Financial Enchantment After Guatemala's Genocide
  • Diane M. Nelson (bio)

Maybe I should start with the world that has made conspiracy theory not only possible (and popular) but ever present, unavoidable, pervasive, compulsive, fun, frightening, and fascinating. . . . The networked world of system and power. . . . The burgeoning new world order of starkly divided camps where haves and have-nots have become, more simply and efficiently and finally, winners and losers. . . . The sure knowledge (and experience) that everything is interconnected and merging—a seduction, a dreaming . . . coupled with the . . . moment of terror when something whispers in our ear that the inter-connectedness is all controlled by a dark and monolithic Other and we are in it, no exit.

Kathleen Stewart, Paranoia Within Reason: A Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation

Pervasive, Compulsive, Fun, Frightening

Enchantment is close by for many in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala. Working the fields frequently turns up enigmatic ancestral stones and charismatic zoomorphic figures of clay. The past hugs near. Agriculture's risks are hedged by Monsanto products as well as careful rituals around the seeds, sexual abstention, and eating only traditional foods (nothing associated with the Spanish occupiers) before planting. It is very important that domestic life be calm and a man's heart be right, happy, and balanced, when he furrows the earth to prepare new crops.1 Families make pagos—vegetable food or animals buried in the corners of fields—offerings to telluric deities to reciprocate for what they will take with the harvest (López García 2010; [End Page 205] Wilson 1995). In the same way, everyone knows that the great cuts into the earth made by the state's road-making machinery and World Bank-supported gold mines require human sacrifice. If heads are not laid in the ground at night, "accidents" will ensure payment.

At night, after supper, people tell each other stories about wondrous worlds that lay under the mountains, overseen by the dueño, the earth owner (Lara Figueroa 2002). But the tales are also horrifying, of kingdoms full of souls traded for wealth in the mortal world, now working off the debt for untold centuries underground. Others tell of a great three-headed horned snake that appears to those making the right incantations, bringing baskets full of money if you can brave their satanic vermilion eyes. More quotidian, everyone knows that a local moneylender (dueño de dinero) has a pig's tail within his pants, a sign of his deal with devil. A collective of Mayan scholars calls this "the enchantment of reality, Mayan knowledges in the social practices of daily life," promising a "great harvest of emancipatory understandings arising from the peoples of the semio-sphere [meaning-space] of corn" (Instituto 2007).

Yet enchantment may hug near those considered modernity's others in a too-tight embrace, marking them the losers in the tribunals of reason. Those sexed and raced via colonial stereotypes afford simultaneous shivers of delight and terror (Said 1978) and the condescension of self constituting othering for those who attempt to account for enchantment. Poor chaps, in thrall to such nonsense! Postcolonial feminists can offer carefully researched analyses about how such a magically productive divide was made. For example, Mary Poovey's (1998) history of accounting and the "modern fact" shows how, through the development of double-entry bookkeeping, the representation of reality moved through a series of four books. The first, in which women could write, was full of homely details. These are gradually excised till the fourth book, for men only, that shows only debit and credit: the world reduced to numbers, Weber's disenchanted modernity. Yet tales of a magically productive divide remain enticing, offering an essential difference between us and them (though spiced with the tempting possibilities that we also may be seduced and enchanted). So I begin by trying to honor the experiences and stories I've shared over twenty-five years of fieldwork in Guatemala, but deeply wary of how they fit so smoothly into the savage slot that "the West" so obligingly keeps open for those unliberal subjects, insufficiently differentiated from each other and from "nature" (Escobar 2011; Trouillot 1991). [End Page...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 205-225
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.