Posted by: Johan Normark | April 17, 2010

Regimes of signs in the Maya area

In Mark Van Stone’s informative section on the 2012 phenomenon at FAMSI he has this to say about symbols: “The Maya understanding of Symbols is very different from ours, “Cultural icons” were not at all sacrosanct. Symbols were subject to revision, Symbols were “open‐source”, The Maya altered dates, interpretations, Whatever suited their purpose at hand. The Maya were not as restricted to specific interpretations or specific details as we are today. We live in a milieu permeated by Judeo‐Christian and Muslim tradition, whose Scriptures strictly define every aspect of, say, Good, Evil, the Deity, and Creation myth, etc. We forget what it is to have one’s cultural mythology be flexible, mutable, adaptable. Mesoamericans, like ancient Greeks and Romans, had no such God‐given Scripture, and consequently left us some very‐different, even contradictory, versions of their myths.”

This appears to fit the distinction that Deleuze and Guattari make between the paranoid and despotic signifying regime of signs (“the Mesoamerican tradition”) and the passional or subjective postsignifying regime of signs (“the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition”). However, Bonta and Protevi (2004) appear to see the indigenous people of Honduras (Bonta’s area of study) at the time of the conquest as largely presignifying. This is a semiotic that is not facialized but is corporeal and is indexed directly to the earth. Swidden agriculturalists belong to this category. However, all regimes of signs are in a mixture and there also existed signifying regimes of signs that striated space within the same area. Vernon Scarborough makes a similar distinction between labor intensive (“presignifying”) and technology intensive (“signifying”/”striating”) economic logics.

Richard Dawkins

In my view, the institution of kingship (ajawlel) was a signifying regime that overcoded the presignifying regime of swidden (and wetland) agriculturalists. The ruler’s use of signs was “open source” as it was his/her Face that was the center. As  Van Stone writes, no holy scripture like that of the Bible existed in the Maya area before the conquest. In the postsignifying regime the Book/Bible/The origin of species/Mein Kampf takes the place of the Despot’s (the ajaw’s) face. In Deleuze and Guattari’s own words: “The book becomes the body of passion, just as the face was the body of the signifier. It is now the book, the most deterritorialized of things, that fixes territories and genealogies.” (D & G 1987:140). The postsignifying regime mixes with the signifying regime to form for example State-Christianity and its Christ-face or State-Atheism and its Dawkins-face. The subjects of the postsignifying regime (priests, scientists, teachers, etc) transform presignifying regimes (swidden agriculturalists, first graders, etc) into subordinates of a signifying regime (the State, the Church, the Major Science, etc).

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