- The proliferation of critical work on the networking logics that underwrite capitalism's global restructuring
suggests, quite mistakenly, that capitalism's rearticulation of the spaces of the world to suit it is something new.
Working immediately prior to these shifts, Henri Lefebvre, in The Production of Space, had already developed
his account of capitalism's "social space" as a dynamic "matrix of social action" that, in addition to providing an
infrastructure or backdrop for social relations, is itself the medium of material practices within which social
relationships are realized (Brenner 141). While not completely novel, these dramatic spatial transformations have led to a
"general revivial of interest in geographical knowledges" in social theory because, as David Harvey suggests, "from such a
perspective, in which history and dynamics cannot be evaded, geographical knowledges turn out not to be so banal as they
seem" (299, 300). This critical turn to render the "dead spatiality" of geographical knowledges dynamic, as "active aspects
or 'moments' in social processes," though, is just the beginning of serious inquiry into "geographical praxis" as "a vital
aspect of power and an object of political and social struggle" (Harvey, "Cosmopolitanism" 299, 300, 296). Thinking through
the social production of space, and the power of social space in turn, to shape social relations, theorists grappling with
these shifts typically differentiate global capitalist social spaces and their dynamic, flexible, deterritorializing logics
from the preexisting, territorial, place-based social spaces that paved the way for industrial capitalism and its modern
socio-spatial configurations. The network serves as the privileged sign of this difference. Yet the very visibility of
capitalism's restructuring, the ubiquity and apparent novelty of the spatial logic of its information networks, hides
remarkable continuities between emergent, networking logics and these divergent, though co-implicated social spaces. In
reading the spatial logic of networks as a sign of postmodernity's difference from modernity, as the distinguishing feature
of a post-Fordist as opposed to a Fordist economy, theorists such as sociologist Manuel Castells, Lefebvre's one-time
student, establish a set of rigid oppositions between the spatial logic of networks and the spatial logics structuring
modernity, leading them to overlook and underestimate continuities, even collaboration, in their functioning.
- This essay redirects Castells's exacting account of the networking logics informing the global information economy, opening up a line of inquiry into the
present co-articulation and co-implication of the emergent spatial logic of networks and existing modern spatial
formations such as the
nation-state. This reading reveals, in particular, their shared implication in colonialist, neo-colonialist, and
imperialist spatial practices, and it also identifies
significant differences between these social spaces and discrepancies in their spatial logics that enable a thoroughgoing, strategic rethinking of these
socio-spatial practices and the Euro-American epistemologies they further. Most remarkably, global capitalist networks' emphasis on simultaneous global spatial connections
has led to the breakdown of the three worlds system and its temporal differentiation of the spaces of the world. Although this shift signals an increasingly fine
segmentation and differentiation of the "markets" of the world, in undermining this crucial support for the colonial difference and acknowledging the presence of a variety
of subalterns in the progressive present of modernity, global capitalist social spaces unwittingly provide new opportunities for resistance. These emergent
social spaces facilitate critical rearticulations of hegemonic discourses and socio-spatial formations from the perspective of people in subaltern positions, what Walter
D. Mignolo describes as "border thinking."
- Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead (1991) rethinks the reciprocity of social and
spatial formations to develop a transformative politics of counter-networks. Almanac of the Dead exploits
the discontinuities between the deterritorializing logic of global capitalist networks and modernity's territorially
bounded political and economic forms to interrogate the historically specific spatiality of social relations. Reasserting
both the spatial and temporal dimensions to social space in its spatio-temporal mapping of the Americas,
Almanac of the Dead critiques global capitalism's "networking logic," a logic that privileges the spatial
dimension of social relations with its synchronous, "timeless time." It situates
and implicates these networks within a five hundred year system of colonial and imperial expansion. Subjecting global
capitalist networks to its own networking logic, the novel attempts to reverse the former's suppression of historical
time. It does so symbolically, on the level of its representational space, while also developing an analogous model of
transnational, subaltern political resistance that links this rethinking of the spatial and temporal dimensions of
social practices to more material modes of resistance. The novel's rethinking of networks, at both levels, exploits
the reciprocity between social and spatial formations, their "intercontingency," underscoring the fact that the
spatiality of social relations is "simultaneously contingent and conditioning," both "an outcome and a medium for the
making of history," as Edward Soja writes (58). Highlighting the inextricability of the material and symbolic
dimensions of both social relations and spatial formations, Almanac of the Dead also insists that as
material practices these social relations are limited and refigured by the spatial formations they help to realize.
The latter claim is the basis of the strategy of resistance offered by the novel. This transnational, subaltern model
of resistance adeptly circumnavigates both a nationalist, essentialized conception of identity as grounded in
place and a liberal multicultural identity politics whose wholly commodified, aestheticized identities are generated
by global capitalist markets that want precisely the local "style" they eradicate.
- Despite the novel's concerted rethinking of social space and politics in the age of global
capital, it is frequently (mis)read as a reactionary assertion of an ethnonationalist, place-bound, identitarian
politics unaware of the workings of global capital (and the latter's part in generating precisely such strains of
localism). Such readings, a byproduct of strict adherence to the theoretical opposition between the space of modern
political forms and global capitalism's networking logics, forestall much-needed inquiry into divergent,
competing geographical practices that might redescribe and redeploy these social spaces, as Almanac of the
Dead attempts to do, to craft a genuinely transformative politics of networks.
Refiguring the Network
- In The Rise of the Network Society, the first of a three volume work on The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture,
sociologist Manuel Castells connects the global restructuring of capitalism in the late 1970s and early 1980s to new
informational technologies that provide the "material, technological basis of economic activity and social organization" (Network 14). Castells
proposes that the interdependence of economies throughout the world has introduced "a new form of relationship between economy, state, and society, in a system of
variable geometry" (1). He attributes these reconfigurations to the "informational" mode of development enabled by new technologies, which is transforming the material
basis of our experience and reforming it according to the spatial logic of its information networks. Castells characterizes the present moment in terms of a series of
interdependencies and confrontations between this emergent spatial logic--the "space of flows"--and the existing spatial logic of territorially bounded political and cultural forms--the "space of places." Importantly, the "space of flows" is defined as a
social space, as "the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows," not simply
as an abstract logic or a solely physical space (442). The "space of places," likewise, describes material
organization of social practices though it
designates social practices whose "form, function, and meaning are self-contained within the boundaries of physical contiguity," historically rooted to a
particular, meaningful locale (453).
- Castells explains that the dominant spatial logic, the "space of flows," supercedes the "space of places"
by disembedding and reintegrating historically specific territories and social actors into a functional network. As
the figure of the network suggests, the "space of flows" establishes dynamic relations between these places, places
that are abstracted from their former, historical and geographical meaning and redefined in terms of their position
and function within this instrumental network. By deterritorializing places and reterritorializing them according to
its own functional logic, the "space of flows" ensures its flexibility and adaptability. It exploits the specific
resources of any one node or site and simultaneously renders that node, in its very specificity, secondary to the
network's organization; any specific site can be replaced by another equally capable of fulfilling this function. For
this reason, the "space of flows is not placeless, although its structural logic is" (443). Due to the flexibility of
its networks, which depend on the heightened mobility of new communications technologies, the "space of flows"
surpasses previous limits imposed by geographic distance. It surpasses territorial limits in another, more important
respect in that its networks supercede "territorially-based institutions of society," the mechanisms of social control
that might impede its circulation of capital, information, and technologies ("Informational City" 349).
- Castells argues that these flows of capital, information, technology, images, sounds, and symbols are "the
expression of processes dominating our economic, political, and symbolic life" (Network 442). Yet
he must acknowledge that while the "space of flows" expresses the dominant spatial logic of a global economy, this economy
"does not embrace all economic processes in the planet, it does not include all territories, and it does not include all
people in its workings, although it does affect directly or indirectly the livelihood of all humankind" (132). All
economic and social processes are influenced by, and relate to, the "structurally dominant logic of such an economy," but
the globalization realized through the "space of flows" has been highly selective not only in its strategic inclusion and
exclusion of places, but also in the very nature of its engagement of these places (135). Those places lucky enough
to be worth exploiting, as Castells describes their double-edged status, suffer the consequences of a loss of their
"cultural, historical, geographic meaning" as they are reintegrated into global, functional networks (406). The economic
system's "highly dynamic, highly selective, highly exclusionary" incorporation of certain localities reinforces a
"fundamental asymmetry" between developed and developing countries, allowing its key sites and an elite managerial class
to reap the benefits and share the mobility of its information, capital, and other resources at the expense of those
excluded from its networks (134-35). According to Castells, it is the "structural schizophrenia" between these opposing
spatial logics that must be addressed ("Informational City" 352). He advocates reconstructing "an alternative space of
flows on the basis of the space of places," which might "avoid the deconstruction of . . . locales by the placeless logic
of flows-based organizations" and, thereby, reverse the social, cultural, and political polarization resulting from these
opposing spatial logics ("Informational City" 352-53).
- It is possible to read Castells's work against the grain of its explicit aim, one of establishing and reckoning with the
difference between the "space of flows" and the "space of places." Taking into account the efficacy of the "space of flows" in extending and elaborating on
existing patterns of domination and forms of dependency, the discontinuities between these spatial logics and the novelty of the networks that sustain the "space of flows"
are quickly diminished. Their "variable geometry" enables a heightened sensitivity in the processes they use to differentiate the world's economies, resources,
and labor, which means that the apparent flexibility, fluidity, and open-ended mutability of these networks functions in the service of increasing segmentation and
differentiation. As Castells notes:
If, as he suggests, their "variable geometry" exacerbates and extends existing logics and practices of economic segmentation,
endowing them with unprecedented flexibility, then under closer scrutiny the continuities between the social spaces of the
"space of places" and the "space of flows" may very well outweigh the discontinuities.
on the one hand, valuable segments of territories and people are linked in the global
networks of value making and wealth appropriation. On the other hand, everything, and everyone, which does not have value, according
to what is valued in the networks, or ceases to have value, is switched off the networks, and ultimately discarded. (134)
- Castells's acknowledgement of, and engagement with, the interrelations between these spatial
logics is valuable, though frequently overshadowed by his emphasis on their differences. It counters accounts of globalization
that focus on global capitalism's deterritorializing, abstracting, and homogenizing tendencies and that credit the
latter's networks with the wholesale destruction of territorial forms such as the nation-state. Arguing that the
deterritorialized relations realized within the "space of flows" may supercede the "space of places," but that
their proliferation does not mark the end of territorially based relations within the "space of places," Castells's
work is motivated and informed by the partiality of, and by numerous inconsistencies surrounding, the purported
break between these spatio-temporal logics. Castells notes, for instance, that "most production, employment, and
firms are, and will remain, local and regional," and there is much evidence to suggest that global capitalism
profits from precisely such a discrepancy between increasingly global flows of capital and unskilled labor forces
that are "restricted by national barriers" (Network 101, 131). Such interdependencies point to the
possibility that the discontinuities between the spatial logic of the "space of places" and the "space of flows"
may be integral to the functioning of global capitalist networks.
An End to the Modern World System?
- The "complex interaction" between increasingly global economic circuits and territorially based,
historically rooted political institutions is evident in the shifting relation between global capitalism and the
nation-state. Nation-states have proven their resilience and reconfigurability in adapting to global capitalism's
flow-based spatial logic without relinquishing their territorial frame. The problematic refiguration of social and
political forms familiar to the "space of places" in relation to global capitalism's "space of flows,"
such as the G.W. Bush administration's reimagining and repurposing of a nationalist model of territorially-based
political claims in the United States since the September 11th attacks, complicate and compromise easy opposition
between these social spaces. The "increasing disjunction between a triumphant, global capitalism and all systems
of governance including those that had supported globalization," which Mohammed A. Bamyeh attributes to a
decoupling of the economic and the political in his essay on "The New Imperialism: Six Theses," has not interrupted
the functioning of nation-states (11). Bamyeh stresses that rather
than signaling the "end of politics," the result has been "a political field increasingly typified by symbolic
posturing, since the state is no longer expected to offer its constituents any tangible benefits" (16).
- This shift has had consequences for the meaning of nation-states, however. As Bamyeh stresses,
These discrepancies between nation-states' political rhetoric and their economic practices have not gone unnoticed
even if the United States and other nation-states continue to invoke various forms of symbolic and territorial
in an age of complex global networks through which "interests" of all kinds are exchanged, the idea of solidarity has no natural reference point in territoriality. And it
is fundamentally territoriality that has provided the existential basis for the modern expression of nationality and, subsequently, for its embodiment in statehood. More
importantly, however, the internal decline of the ability of the state to shield all of its constituents from the impact of global forces becomes a ground for the
rediscovery that in any complex society, the state can only be either a battleground of various special interests, if it were to be truly pluralist, or little more than a
representative of one of those interests against the others, if not. (11-12)
- One of the key differences between the current global economy and a world economy that has been in place since the
sixteenth century is that the former's "core components have the institutional, organizational, and technological capacity
to work as a unit in real time, or in chosen time, on a planetary scale" (Network 102). "Globally integrated
financial markets working in real time for the first time in history" are, Castells stresses, "the backbone of the new global
economy" (102, 106). Although this is just one manifestation of the social space global capitalist networks realize, it
foregrounds the challenge this spatial logic poses to a modern world system that has organized languages, peoples, and cultures
in a "chronological hierarchy," as Mignolo argues ("Globalization" 35). The modern world system projected time onto space,
arranging "cultural differences in a time frame having the European idea of civilization and Western Europe as a point of
arrival" (36). By temporalizing difference, these geopolitical mappings of the world established the colonial difference that
served to legitimate modernity and, in particular, the economic expansion carried out under the thin cover of its "civilizing"
- One of the most conspicuous effects of global capitalism has been the dismantling of the latest geopolitical
attempt to project time onto space--the Bretton Woods
treaties' division of the world into first, second, and third worlds at the end of World War II, a temporal
differentiation of the spaces of the world that located much of
the planet in a social space anterior to modernity. Whereas the end of the Cold War and the "triumph" of capitalism unmoored the ideological underpinnings of this
tripartite division, capitalism's restructuring has "imploded the Three Worlds into one another," collapsing them into "an increasingly smooth and planar world-space of
accumulation" (Dyer-Witheford 134). The collapse of the three-worlds system has dire consequences, as chronicled by Nick Dyer-Witheford in Cyber-Marx: Cycles and
Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism. Frequently described as the "Third-Worlding of the First World" and the "First-Worlding of the Third World,"
this shift signals global capitalism's dismantling of the economic and geopolitical distinctions between the three worlds in favor of more precise and more
variable networks of economic exploitation. It introduces "into the metropolis levels of insecurity and destitution previously relegated to the peripheries of capitalist
world economy" and simultaneously exploits the "immiserated labor of the periphery" in order to create "various growth sites [among] the newly industrializing countries and
other development zones" (134). "Affluence or abysmal misery . . . can be visited on any point in the planet according to the
movement of corporate investment" (134).
- The collapse of the three-worlds system, thus, reveals a supercession of temporal distinctions between national
spaces in favor of a more precise and exacting segmentation of the world's economies and populations. It also, though, brings
those societies formerly situated outside the progressive time of modernity into the present. Reading this shift as a critical
opportunity, Mignolo suggests that by "creating the conditions to think spatially rather than chronologically," globalization
"brings to the foreground the fact that there are no people in the present living in the past," and unintentionally facilitates
"the intellectual task of denying the 'denial of coevalness' . . . in the conceptualization of the civilizing process as one to
which the entire humanity contributed and is contributing" ("Globalization" 37). In his view, the dismantling of the modern
world system and the collapse of its temporal distinctions between spaces facilitates confrontations between different
epistemologies. This "border thinking" involves a "recognition and transformation of the hegemonic imaginary from the
perspectives of people in subaltern positions" (Mignolo, "Many Faces of Cosmo-polis" 736-37).
Reconceptualizing Geopolitical Space
- Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead practices a strain of "border thinking" in its strategic
rereading of global capitalist networks. Foregrounding the continuities between colonialist and imperialist practices of
spatial and cultural de- and rearticulation furthered by the "space of places" and "the space of flows," Almanac
of the Dead exploits global capitalism's recent transformation of social spaces. It develops new modes of critique and
resistance that circumvent the former's highly variable and flexible means of reconsolidating familiar structural inequities.
Taking advantage of the challenges global capitalism poses to the social, political, and territorial form of the nation-state,
the novel rethinks the relations between social and spatial formations. Its scrutiny of social space refuses both the
ideological link between people and places consolidated in relation to the nation-state (which functions to naturalize systems
of economic and political hegemony in the modern world system) and global capitalism's abstraction of social relations.
The novel's counter-logic of networks, instead, practices what Ranajit Guha of the Subaltern Studies Group describes as a
"writing in reverse" that is "inscribed in elite discourse" (Elementary Aspects 333). By inverting hegemonic
knowledges, or "writing in reverse," John Beverley stresses, "the subaltern represents the dominant subject to itself, and thus
unsettles that subject in the form of a negation or displacement" (26). This is a practice that is interested, as is subaltern
studies, in both "retrieving the presence of a subaltern subject and deconstructing the discourses that constitute the subaltern
as such" (Beverley 135). Understood as a "writing in reverse," the novel's rereading of hegemonic discourses and rearticulation
of hegemonic socio-spatial formations gains visibility as both a demand for economic, political, and social recognition
and an ingenious critique of the very social, political, and economic terms within which that recognition and the
rights that accompany it are imagined and, historically, withheld. The latter critique allows Almanac of the Dead
to anatomize and navigate the global capitalist dynamics that, otherwise, fuel wholly reactionary assertion of local,
place-based identities, what Samir Amin decries as "culturalist" social movements based on essentialized, transhistorical
cultural and/or ethnic identities (165).
- Almanac of the Dead seizes the increasingly visible discrepancies between geopolitical
spaces and social formations in the Americas as an opportunity to discover the historical erasures the modern world
system requires when it understands the social as isomorphic with, and grounded in, the territorial space of the
nation-state. Global capitalist networks unwittingly acknowledge these erasures due to their
dismantling of the formerly naturalized relation between the social and territorial space of the nation-state.
In the novel, "El Grupo Gun Club," a conglomerate of politicians, judges, governors, military and ex-military,
a former ambassador, friends of the CIA, and police chiefs on both sides of the U.S./Mexico
border give evidence of the flow-based logic of global capitalist networks. In their limitless search for profit,
they disregard the territorial and political distinctions between nation-states. Considering
themselves to be "chief executives of the future," these representatives of the state circulate money and cocaine
North into Tucson where they invest in real estate and exchange the drugs for arms and military aircraft
(292). The latter are used to stifle "political unrest" that might interfere with their
business interests throughout the Americas (292). Menardo, whose company, Universal
Insurance, amasses a private security force that is placed at the disposal of the group's business interests
acknowledges that "politics had no place in their common cause, which was survival, whatever their minor political
- The corruption of these figures of the state flags the inextricability of national political
interests and economic interests, locating both within a longstanding tradition of U.S. imperialism. Global
capitalist flows may striate the geopolitical space of the nation-state, the novel suggests, but such processes of
segmentation actually perpetuate, rather than pose a challenge to, the privilege accorded to these figures of the
state. El Grupo Gun Club's members are, in several important respects, no different from the "speculators,
confidence men, embezzlers, lawyers, judges, police and other criminals as well as addicts and pushers" that have
made Tucson their home since the "1880's and the Apache Wars" (Almanac 15). The activities of "El
Grupo Gun Club" also, though, mark the discrepancies between the socio-economic relations furthered by global
capitalist networks and the geopolitical space of the nation-state. Like global capitalism's transnational
networks, the activities of "El Grupo Gun Club" highlight the formative power of social relations to de- and
rearticulate the spaces of the world in terms that facilitate these exchanges. These social networks are,
therefore, the basis of the novel's interrogation of the production of social spaces and of the role
these socio-spatial formations, and the understandings of space they rely on, play in consolidating hegemonic
social and economic relations.
- Almanac of the Dead's table of contents provides the first evidence of its strategic
rethinking of the geopolitical space of the Americas as a means of challenging the social relations that these
hegemonic spatial formations secure. The titles of the first four of six sections refer to geopolitical
spaces--The United States of America, Mexico, Africa, and the Americas--that, rather than serving as the setting or
backdrop for the narrative's temporal development, as section titles, assume the status of the narrative's content,
instead. Deploying place names as section and book titles, taking these places as its subject, rather than taking
them for granted as its setting, the novel foregrounds its engagement with geopolitical spaces as one designed to
grapple with the production of these spaces, questioning the transparency they assume when considered to be stable
and, therefore, innocuous territorial designations. The abstraction of space
from time has functioned to secure the geopolitical distinctions of the modern world system, to mask the ongoing
production of this geopolitical system in and over time. The view of space as stasis, as "fixed and unproblematic
in its identity," which Doreen Massey thoroughly critiques in her groundbreaking work, Space, Place, and
Gender, enabled the modern world system to project its own temporal distinctions, with Europe as the point
of arrival or present, on the world and, subsequently, to disavow the productive work this mapping entailed (5).
The seeming transparency of geopolitical spaces such as the United States, their apparent innocence in designating
a geographic territory that preexists that denotation, is revealed to be a product of this and other nation-states'
ability to impose and enforce, to materially and symbolically instantiate, this decidedly social space.
- Almanac of the Dead counters this view of space as stasis by providing a spatio-temporal
mapping of the Americas. The "Almanac of the Dead Five Hundred Year Map," which precedes the narrative, foregrounds the novel's
intervention into the opposition between space and time on which this view of space as stasis relies (see Figure 1). Placing
Tucson, Arizona at its center, the map superimposes its own mapping of the movements of the characters in the novel and the
movements of commodities such as cocaine and military arms on top of the political border between the U.S. and Mexico. On the map and within the novel, the movements of characters comprise a mapping of these
spaces, materializing a network of social relations that cross-cuts and, in other respects, undermines the primacy of the
latter. Far from existing outside the social or existing as a mere backdrop to the social, outside time, these geopolitical
spaces are, the map suggests, inextricably tied to the social relations that inform and transform these spaces. The section
titles do not correspond to the geographical location of the events figured in them nor do the place names serve to denote a
preexisting, geographic space. Instead, these place names introduce sections that chart the movements of characters--their
sometimes overlapping trajectories and mutual participation in several key events. These movements call into question the
homogeneity, integrity, and coherence of national space and enact an alternative cartography based on competing understandings
and complex renegotiations of what the novel reinterprets as social spaces.
1: Endpaper Map from Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko |
© 1991 by Leslie Marmon
Reprinted with the permission of Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Click image for larger
- The "Five Hundred Year Map" recognizes the contributions of social actors in
the past as well as the present--of the communities and cultural identities that agents of colonization attempted to erase, but
never wholly succeeded in "razing," to
use Mary Pat Brady's term (13). It attempts to acknowledge and to intervene in the processes of spatial de- and rearticulation, processes of disarticulating communities
and cultural identities that Brady identifies in Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies as the source and target of interrogations into space within much Chicana
literature. Arizona, for instance, "began as a mistake. The United States government used a mistake on a map to take what is now southern Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, to
abscond with it," as Brady describes the "willful (mis)recognition" that was strategically deployed to extend the amount of territory ceded to the United States in the
Gadsden Purchase of 1856 (13).
- Almanac of the Dead's "Five Hundred Year Map" turns such a gesture of "willful (mis)recognition"
back on itself in order to highlight the productive power of mapping, which it then exploits to reveal the erasures
required to produce the United States. The "Five Hundred Year Map" includes references to the Maya, Azteca, and Inca
cultures that had "already built great cities and vast networks of roads" before the arrival of the Europeans and the
"sixty million Native Americans [who] died between 1500 and 1600" whose "defiance and resistance to all things European
continue[s] unabated" (Almanac 14-15). Far from disappearing or surviving as ineffectual legacies, the map
suggests that these historical conflicts and contestations continue to inform the present topography of the United States
and the social relations that reciprocally (re)construct that topography. The "Five Hundred Year Map" tracks the
production of the hegemonic social space of the United States, revealing its apparent closure, integrity, and homogeneity
to be the effect of an active disarticulation. Almanac of the Dead, by acknowledging the integral role the
histories, places, and people already inhabiting the "new world" have played and still play in the production of the
social space of the United States, reviews and reverses the erasures that allow the colonial difference to consolidate the
space of the nation-state.
Cutting Off the Power to the Five Hundred Year System and its "Supraterritorial" Flows
- Almanac of the Dead, then, foregrounds the productive power of hegemonic social practices by
underscoring the erasures necessary to produce the United States. This disrupts the naturalization of these socio-spatial
formations by reference to a geographic territory outside time. Its documentation of these erasures also marks the
limits to the productive power of global capitalist networks, which are frequently understood to function
supraterritorially, to wholly rearticulate the spaces of the world in accordance with their placeless, "variable geometry"
(Castells, Network 1). Global capitalism replaces the modern world system's
temporal perspective, which projected a single, progressive temporal continuum on the spaces of the world, with a spatial
perspective that privileges space and the instantaneous connections between things at one moment within a single plane of
accumulation. It thereby attempts to ground its networks in a social space wholly
abstracted from the historical time of the "space of places." Global capitalism's spatial view of social relations
nevertheless continues to rely, like the modern world system, on an opposition between time and space even if it privileges the
latter rather than the former term in this dualism. Almanac of the Dead's "Five Hundred Year Map," which insists,
to the contrary, on the inextricability of spatial and temporal dimensions, troubles this spatial view of social relations by
insisting that these simultaneous social relations are, in fact, a slice in time within a five hundred year system. Intervening
in the dualism between space and time, the novel reveals that, to use Doreen Massey's apt formulation, "the simultaneity that
makes a particular view [emphasis added] of social relations spatial is absolutely not stasis . . . when spatial
interconnections are constituted temporally, as well, they can be seen as "a moment in the intersection of configured social
- Located within a five hundred year system, global capitalism's "space of flows" is read as the latest
manifestation of a Eurocentric, rational management of the world-system. Tracing the emergence of this five hundred year
system to the "discovery, conquest, colonization and integration (subsumption) of Amerindia," which gave "to Europe,
center of the world-system, the definitive comparative advantage with respect to the Muslim, Indian, and Chinese worlds,"
as Enrique Dussel does, Almanac of the Dead contests the Eurocentric view that "Europe had exceptional
internal characteristics that allowed it to supercede, through its rationality, all other cultures" (5, 3). The
novel develops a "planetary" description of modernity that conceptualizes modernity as "the culture of the center of the
'world system'" rather than as the product of an independent Europe (as in the standard Eurocentric description of
modernity) (Dussel 9). This global description foregrounds the economic advantages resulting from (neo)colonial,
imperial, and other systematic economic and environmental exploitation, which (continue to) enable global capitalist
networks to impose their simplifying abstractions on the world.
- This rereading of modernity as informed by, if not wholly reliant on, colonialist and imperialist networks that are
global, not simply European, in scope, counters the five hundred year system's claims to transcend material complexity through a
simplifying rationalization of the world. The processes of abstraction that exemplify
this five hundred year system, in the novel's view, simplify and repress, not transcend, their reliance on material complexity.
In doing so, they actively disregard and disavow the destructive effects of the five hundred year system's instrumental logic on
the world. Within Almanac of the Dead, this five hundred year system is known as "Reign of the Death-Eye Dog" and
"Reign of the Fire-Eye Macaw" because "the sun had begun to burn with a deadly light, and the heat of this burning eye looking down on all the wretched humans and plants and animals had caused
the earth to speed up too" (Almanac 258). The "burning eye" references the scientific objectivism at the heart of
the Eurocentric management of the
world system. Attributing the speeding up of the earth to this rationalizing logic, this passage suggests that the increasing speed of the earth, an effect of the
circulation of commodities and people commodified as labor, is a product of the five hundred year system's objectifying
abstractions. These abstractions speed up circulation by reducing
the world to a set of general equivalents. The apparent triumph of such processes of abstraction over material complexity, their ability to facilitate exchange and
circulation through standardization, is only a triumph if one overlooks the simplification and reduction that the system's wholly shortsighted, instrumental engagement with
the world requires. Calabazas, a Yaqui Indian who operates a smuggling network through Tucson, insists that, in actual fact, the simplifying reductions that define this
White, Euro-American epistemology represent "a sort of blindness to the world," noting that to Europeans, "a 'rock' was just a 'rock' wherever they found it, despite
obvious differences in shape, density, color, or the position of the rock relative to all things around it" (Almanac 225). The problem, in his view, is that
"once whites had a name for a thing, they seemed unable ever again to recognize the thing itself" (224).
- Calabazas's critique draws attention to the material complexity that is suppressed and negated when the world is
approached only in terms of its uses, uses that are specified in advance by an instrumental logic that, in the name of
efficiency, substitutes an abstract value for the "thing itself." He refuses the unidirectional, wholesale substitutions
required by this logic in favor of acknowledging an ongoing, though necessarily selective, spatially and temporally contingent
engagement with the "thing itself." In his view, "there is no such thing" as "identical . . . Nowhere. At no time. All you
have to do is stop and think. Stop and take a look" (201). His references to "nowhere" and "at no time" underscore the
suppression of the contingencies of space and time required by a capitalist logic of standardization. Abstraction may
facilitate a certain kind of circulation, such as that realized by the "space of flows," but this is a circulation premised on
stasis; within the novel, flows that function according to a logic of abstraction are equated with destruction and death, with a
"worldwide network of Destroyers who fed off energy released by destruction" (336). Global capitalism's "space of flows" is,
from this vantage, far from new; it is the apogee and end point of the five hundred year system's logic of abstraction.
- In the corner of the "Almanac of the Dead Five Hundred Year Map" there is a "prophecy" that the arrival of
Europeans in the Americas was the beginning of a plague that would end in 500 years with "the disappearance of all things
European." The plot of the novel realizes this prophecy, concluding in 1991 (nearly five hundred years after Columbus
"discovered" America), at which time the end to the system is imminent, but the outcome unclear. It tracks the movements of its
large cast of characters to and from Tucson, movements that ultimately converge into an uprising led by a subaltern coalition of
Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, African Americans, Mexicans, Mexican Americans, homeless men, Vietnam veterans,
and a Korean American hacker, to "retake the land that has been stolen from them" (632). The subalterns
that comprise this coalition, in spite of the specificity of their respective experiences, share the experience of colonization,
what Eva Cherniavsky describes in an article that locates "Subaltern Studies in a U.S. Frame" as America's "systematic
displacement of indigenous peoples and non-white labor" (86). The colonial difference situates these subalterns outside the
symbolic space of the United States while exploiting them as a source of cheap labor, disavowing their constitutive role in
constructing, materially and symbolically, the spaces of the United States. To the extent that global capitalism resituates
these subalterns, Almanac of the Dead suggests that this is equally to misrecognize them in that
significant historical and epistemological differences survive these spatial
- It is by exploiting their misrecognition--a fortuitous product of White Euro-Americans' "blindness to the world"--that the novel's subalterns
eventually confront the five hundred year system with the consequences of its repression of material complexity: "the
ecological destruction of the planet," "the
destruction of humanity itself by poverty," and "the impossibility of the subsumption of populations, economies, nations, and
cultures that it has been attacking since its
origin and has excluded from its horizon and cornered into poverty" (Dussel 19-21). Fully aware that "any attempt to stabilize a positional identity--of nationality,
class, gender, race, or ethnicity--feeds into the logic of globalization itself, and that therefore resistance must take the form of a constant deconstruction of power
relations," the novel's emphasis on the subalterns' misrecognition cites and circumnavigates a liberal multicultural model of
identity politics (Beverley 142). A
thoroughly commodified "International Holistic Healers Convention" at which several characters conform to stereotypical roles as indigenous "healers" and "spiritualists"
serves the subalterns as a source of revenue and a cover. The novel's key protagonists all attend the
convention, which provides commodified "tribal" wares to White,
New Age yuppies. Lecha and Zeta, Yaqui Indian mixed blood twin sisters born in Sonora, Mexico and now living outside Phoenix
redirect their revenues from these economic networks to support their own covert political project.
On the sly, they develop a distinctly subaltern mode of resistance that, rather than asserting a single, stable, positive cultural or racial identity (which clearly falls
prey to the convention's politically defunct commodification of historical experience and aestheticization of identity) centers on the shared subordinate status of subjects
from a variety of disenfranchised social groups. Linking multiple, divergent forms of disenfranchisement, the novel engages subalternity as a structural category to
encompass "the general attribute of subordination . . . whether this is expressed in terms of class, age, gender, or office, or in any other way," rather than as the basis
for an identity politics (Guha, "Preface" 35). Its conception of "tribal subalternity" urges a reconsideration of "identificatory practices on the left and on the right,"
as Cherniavsky stresses in her adept reading of the qualifications Almanac of the Dead makes to the current
project(s) of whiteness studies ("Tribalism" 113).
- As the novel nears its conclusion, these tribal subalterns join forces with an "Army of the poor and
homeless" and ecoterrorists to bomb a dam and, thereby, to cut off the supply of electrical power that sustains the
economic and political infrastructure of the Southwestern United States (Almanac 424). In the words of Awa
Gee, the Korean-American hacker who infiltrates the information networks to accomplish the shutdown, the government "had
become deluded about their power. Because the giants were endlessly vulnerable, from their air traffic control systems to
their interstate power-transmission lines. Turn off the lights and see what they'd do" (683). This act highlights the
wholesale disavowal that allows the information economy's networks to be described as supraterritorial. It also marks Almanac of the Dead's rethinking of social and material networks as
modes of channeling energy. This rethinking of networks intervenes in the logics made operational by global
capitalist networks and their "space of flows" by juxtaposing and subjecting the former flows to a networking logic that,
to the contrary, acknowledges and exploits the reciprocity between spatial and social formations instead of attempting to
abstract social relations from particular places altogether. It also, more importantly, enlists the logic of networks in
the service of developing new modes of political resistance that acknowledge and exploit the reciprocity between the
social and the spatial, drawing on the social construction of the spatial and the spatial construction of the social in
time as a resource for a transformative politics.
Dead Spaces Revisited
- Insisting on the reciprocity between the social and the spatial, Almanac of the Dead enlists the
spatial and, importantly, that which has been disarticulated through its alignment with the spatial in the service of
transforming existing social relations. Reading global capitalist networks and the European epistemologies on which they rely
as embodying a networking logic predicated on stasis or death, the novel rejects the logic of stasis to which the spatial has
been assigned in order to contest the spatializations that have served to confine "premodern" Native American and other
indigenous cultures and people, as well as the natural world, within the realm of the dead. These spatializations, in
projecting indigenous subalterns into a space outside historical time, consign them to a similar status as material resource
for, an object of, or static backdrop to, the progressive time of modernity. The sections titled "Tundra Spirits" and "Eskimo
Television" focus on a group of Yupik townspeople in Bethel, Alaska who gather in "the village meeting hall where government
experiments with satellites had brought the people old movies and broadcasts from the University of Alaska" (151). While
marking the Yupik Eskimos' positioning as an audience to, or object of, transmissions enabled by government experiments--weather
broadcasts and programs such as "Love, American Style"--these sections introduce an old Yupik woman and her younger accomplice,
Rose, who have "realized the possibilities in the white man's gadgets" (155). As the television screen flashes "satellite
weather maps one after another," the old woman slides her finger across the glass, gathering
Using "natural electricity. Fields of forces," her "plane-crashing spell" scrambles the magnetic compasses on petroleum exploration companies' planes and causes them to
crash (155-6). Whereas "white people could fly circling objects in the sky that sent messages and images of nightmares and dreams . . . the old woman knew how to turn the
destruction back on its senders" (156).
great surges of energy out of the atmosphere, by summoning spirit beings through recitations of the stories that were also indictments of the greedy destroyers of the
land. With the stories the old woman was able to assemble powerful forces flowing from the spirits of the ancestors. (156)
- Figuring a genuinely interactive television, "Eskimo Television" refuses the positioning of the Yupik Eskimos as
a passive audience or object of these transmissions and the analogous objectification of the Alaskan tundra, which is
described by an insurance adjuster working for the petroleum companies as "frozen wastes" with "no life," "nothing of
value except what might be under the crust of snow and earth"--"oil, gas, uranium, and gold" (159). The narrator's
reference to "circling objects in the sky" invokes the speculators' planes, the communications satellites, the satellite
weather maps, and, more poignantly, the deterritorializing logic of abstraction that works to instrumentalize the spaces
of the world. The old Yupik woman's "plane crashing spell" challenges this logic of abstraction by highlighting the
"circling objects'" reliance on electromagnetic energy. This episode intimates playfully that satellite transmissions,
as material flows, cannot be controlled, cancelled, or reduced to mere objects or means to an end. More seriously, it
suggests that these material transmissions, always exceeding their instrumentalization, retain the power to transform the
former instrumental networks, to reciprocally "turn the destruction back on its senders" with consequences unforeseen and
unintended by the "subjects" wielding these technologies. Realizing that White Euro-Americans' technologies of
abstraction are not immaterial, and realizing possibilities in their materiality unrealized by these instrumental
capitalist flows, the old Yupik woman can be understood to redirect the electromagnetic waves on which these abstracting
technologies continue to rely. She remediates them according to an understanding of materiality that draws from the
"tundra spirits," from Yupik knowledges and historical experience, as well as from the socio-spatial relations they
perpetuate. Although the precise medium in which the Yupik woman stages this epistemological, electromagnetic resistance
remains ambiguous, at the core of this episode is a method, developed more fully elsewhere in the novel, that
aligns the Yupik woman with the "emergent powers" of the spatial, which she exploits to cross-purposes (Massey 268).
- Reimagining global capitalist techno-economic networks as means of channeling energy, Almanac of the
Dead focuses critical attention onto the
reciprocity between social relations and spatial formations. Spatial formations are not mere "outcomes" or "the endpoint" of social relations with "no material effect"
because the social is spatially constructed too, which means that spatial formations, as Massey argues, can have "unexpected consequences," and "effects on subsequent
events that alter the future course of the very histories which have produced" them (266, 268).
- The political consequence of this insistence on the co-implication of the social and the spatial (and the related refusal to sever their shared, simultaneously
symbolic and material, dimensions) is rendered more tangible by the "almanac of the dead" that the novel both doubles and figures. The "almanac of the dead" encapsulates
and elaborates the logics informing the novel's subaltern politics of networks. The "almanac of the dead" is a notebook of writings and
glyphs containing the stories of all "the days and years" of the tribes of the Americas. Journeying North with four young Indian slaves fleeing European slavery, this
"bundle of pages and scraps of paper with notes in Latin and Spanish" eventually makes its way to Lecha and Zeta's grandmother, old Yoeme, who left it in their care
(134). The circulation of the ancient almanac, its spatio-temporal movement, underscores its role in enacting a network of social relations.
Importantly, the almanac's journeying evidences a logic of flows or exchange that is premised on the mutual transformation of the almanac and the social relations it embeds
rather than a circulation premised on the stability of the almanac. The almanac bears witness to its material and figurative transformation as a result of these
spatio-temporal movements. It is torn, illegible in places, there are "notes scribbled on the sides," and "whole sections had been stolen from other books and from the
proliferation of 'farmer's almanacs' published by patent drug companies" (570). Also, "there was evidence that substantial portions of the original
manuscript had been lost or condensed into odd narratives which operated like codes" (569). The narratives act as codes that must be transcribed by
Lecha and Zeta who are typing the pages of the almanac into a computer. This transcription is a process
of transformation. Adding the first
entry in English and a number of highly idiosyncratic personal notes, Lecha reinterprets the almanac from her own perspective and, thereby, transforms the
almanac or, more precisely, resituates it in the present just as she rematerializes the almanac by typing it into the computer.
- This process of transcription is imagined as a means of channeling energy and explicitly likened to Lecha's
abilities as a psychic. Originally believing that the power she had to locate the bodies of the dead, abilities she
exploits with great success on the television talk show circuit, is as an "intermediary," Lecha soon realizes that "the
concept of intermediary and messenger was too simple" (142). She cannot "cut off the channel" of the flows of energy that
link her to the dead, yet she is not a mere medium, either (138). When a cable-television producer's girlfriend enlists
Lecha to exact revenge against her former lover, she begins
Identifying patterns in their lives, like transcribing the "codes" in the almanac, connects Lecha to flows that
precede her in a relation that allows, if not requires,
that she reinterpret these symbolic and material energies, that she, like the old Yupik woman, realize the possibilities in them. Lecha notes that her grandmother, old
Yoeme, and others believed that the almanac had a "living power within it, a power that would bring all the tribal people of the Americas together to retake the land"
(569). The almanac is alive in that it relies on, draws from, and extends the networks of socio-spatial relations that it materially instantiates and also, therefore,
refigures. "Those old almanacs," Lecha insists, "don't just tell you when to plant or harvest, they tell you about the days to come--drought or flood, plague, civil war
or invasion . . . Once the notebooks are transcribed, I will figure out how to use the old almanac. Then we will foresee the
months and years to come--everything" (137).
The almanac serves as the basis of Lecha and Zeta's interpretation of the past, which enables their construction of a future that is, as the Five Hundred Year Map suggests,
"encoded in arcane symbols and old narratives" (14). Described as "an analogue for the actual experience, which no longer exists; a mosaic of memory and imagination," narrative
within Almanac of the Dead is
conceptualized as a temporal network, as a means to actively instantiate a relationship between the past and the
present. Once narrativized, the past is a
combination of "imagination" and "memory" and is, therefore, alive (574).
to see patterns in the lives of the cinematographer and his immediate family. Their lives were 'stories-in-progress,' as Lecha saw them, and . . . she would realize
possible deadly turns the lives of the cinematographer and his close relatives might naturally take. (143-34)
- Imagined as an ongoing process of transcription in Almanac of the Dead, narrative is understood as a
process of reinterpreting and re-embedding these stories, a spatial as well as temporal resituating that draws from an existing
representational space, but also transforms that space and thus changes the stories. It is a process that is enabled as well
as constrained by the materiality of the almanac. Reimagining narrative as a means of channeling energy spatio-temporally, as a
socio-spatial network that produces an understanding of spaces and materially instantiates the epistemologies and spatial
relations it figures on the level of its representational space, "the almanac of the dead" marks the "shaping force of narrative
in the production of space" and the "spatiality of discourse," the fact that representational spaces are key to the production
of an understanding of space in that they evidence, embody, and enact materially the epistemologies and spatial relations they
figure (Brady 8). The pages of the almanac are believed to hold "many forces within them, countless physical and
spiritual properties to guide the people and make them strong" (252, emphasis added).
on three surviving Mayan codices, the almanac's spatial form operationalizes its spatial and temporal dimensions equally. Described as "loose squares of the old manuscript" bundled together with pages of notes, the
unbound pages of the almanac function as a multiplicity of spaces that are not subjugated to a single chronology or
temporal progression. Acknowledging a multiplicity of spaces, the almanac's spatial form does not subjugate the spatiality of
the text to a universalized, abstract, figurative meaning. Yet its spatial form does not solidify these spaces as absolute
locations and, thus, disavow their temporality, either. Conceptualized as fragments situated within a larger network of
relations, rather than as self-contained spaces, each page's meaning is a product of spatial relations that change as the
almanac is transcribed and reinterpreted. The almanac's "variable geometry" operates, in other words, according to a logic of
recombination or transcription that is constrained and enabled by the existing spaces, by the material existence of the pages.
Yoeme tells Lecha and Zeta that "nothing must be added [to the almanac] that was not already there. Only repairs are allowed"
(129), which seems a blatant contradiction when we find out Yoeme included an account of her survival of the Influenza epidemic
of 1918 within the almanac's pages. Yet her insistence on "repairs only" foregrounds the almanac's logic of transcription,
which requires that one draw from, rather than simply add on to, the existing pages.
- As a process of transcription, the almanac's transformation is predicated on a material and a figurative recombination, which extends and transforms the
almanac's networks spatially as well as temporally. Intervening in an instrumental logic of representation and linking this logic to a spatial politics that has been
central to European hegemony, the almanac's networking logic reimagines representational spaces in a dynamic, transformative relation to the social relations they
reconceive and reconsolidate. The transformative relation between the almanac's figurative meaning and its spatial form
recapitulates Lecha's transformative relation to the almanac as a representational space and, most importantly, both of these relations parallel the novel's transformative
understanding of the relation between social spaces and the social relations these spaces inform and help to instantiate.
A Transformative Politics of Networks
- Almanac of the Dead envisions social networks, like the ones resolidified by the circulation of
the almanac of the dead, to be spatio-temporally situated and materially embedded, but not determined. Acknowledging a
"simultaneous multiplicity of spaces: cross-cutting, intersecting, aligning with one another or existing in relations of
paradox or antagonism," Almanac of the Dead offers a view of social relations as participating within
broader networks of socio-spatial formations rather than as being, either spatially or temporally, self-contained (Massey
4). Situated within a broader socio-spatial network, these social relations, like the pages of the almanac, are privy and
subject to an ongoing process of recombination and rearticulation. The transformation of social relations is, therefore,
envisioned as a process that draws from and reworks existing socio-spatial formations, as a process that is materially
enabled and constrained, though not in any sense determined, by its history. This model for a transformative politics of
socio-spatial networks refigures the essentialized understanding of the relation between social and spatial formations,
people and place, proffered by the nationalist forms of the "space of places." It also redescribes global capitalism's
attempts to reconstruct that spatiality wholesale in its "space of flows," its devastating deconstruction of any necessary
relation between people and place, which overlooks the constraints that the historicity of the spatial poses to the
social. Engaging the "emergent powers" of the spatial, the subalterns in the novel develop a strategy of resistance that,
instead, exploits the socio-spatial formations supporting global capitalist networks and their "space of flows" to
- The strategies and methods the novel outlines share key similarities with contemporary transnational networks of resistance, the "unexpected currents of
opposition" emerging "from the transformed conditions created by transnationalization" (Dyer-Witheford 145). Dyer-Witheford notes that "capital's very success in creating
for itself a worldwide latitude of action is dissolving some of the barriers that separated oppositional movements geographically," introducing "forms of work,
dispossession, and struggle that were previously segregated (145). In addition to these far from desirable commonalities, "capital's own diffusion of the means of
communication has," "in creating the pathways for its own transnational circuit . . . unintentionally opened the routes for a global contraflow of news, dialogue,
controversy, and support between movements in different parts of the planet" (146). The most famous of these strategic redeployments is the Zapatista Army of National Liberation's 1994 uprising against the Mexican government, which deployed communication
s networks such as Peacenet and
Usenet to denounce "capitalist globalization as the culmination of a centuries-long dispossession of the people of Chiapas" (158). Silko herself speaks
to the connections between her 1991 novel and the Zapatista uprising in 1994, in the essay "An Expression of Profound Gratitude to the Maya Zapatistas,
January 1, 1994," in which she thanks the Zapatistas for realizing, within clear limits, the prophecies in her novel.
- In spite of its direct relevance to contemporary political movements, the novel's transformative politics of networks is frequently misread as
envisioning and asserting a reactionary, place-based ethnic identity that relies on a nationalist understanding of identity grounded in place rather than
politics of networks that, as I've argued, both responds to and renegotiates global capitalist spatial logics. This misreading completely elides the novel's
rethinking of the ongoing, reciprocal relations between social and spatial formations and, in particular, its wholesale refusal to ground social relations, as nationalisms
do, by reference to a space outside time. In his most recent book, The Shape of the Signifier, Walter Benn Michaels, for example, reads Silko's novel as
offering a "more or less straightforward ethnonationalism" (24). Michaels's characterization of Almanac of the
Dead as "ethnonationalist" evidences a wholesale
refusal to engage with the novel's reconceptualization of the relation between the social and the spatial, which Almanac
of the Dead stages, quite explicitly,
in terms of epistemological, not ethnic difference. This move to read the novel and the subaltern political movements it figures back into the terms established
by European national forms within the "space of places" enables its wholesale dismissal as an outmoded or reactionary response to the flow-based logics of global
capitalism. This reading refuses to register, let alone engage with, the novel's intervention in the "space of flows," its rethinking of global capitalism's networking
logic, and the transnational, rather than national, social networks the novel envisions. These social networks are not only transnational, including members living within
a variety of nations, they are multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and include members of several social classes as well. Joining forces with an army of the homeless, with
Vietnam veterans, and with ecoterrorists, the Native American and other indigenous characters in the novel comprise key nodes in what is explicitly envisioned as a broader
subaltern network of resistance to the structural inequities of global capitalism. Its engagement with and rethinking of global capitalism's networking logic identifies
possibilities for constructing "counternetworks [that], while drawing on the technologies and expertise diffused by the world market, reconstruct them into radically new
configurations" (Dyer-Witheford 146). In this respect, Almanac of the Dead provides a prescient mapping of emergent modes of resistance within the "space of
- The failure to register the novel's interrogations into the relation between social and spatial formations is, in large part, a product of a broader failure to
question the opposition between the "space of places" and the "space of flows." This very opposition forecloses a line of inquiry into socio-spatial relations by insisting
that the "space of flows" prompts a simple choice between an essentialist, nationalist relation to space or a wholly deterritorialized abstraction of the social from any
necessary relation to a particular, meaningful place. Closer inquiry into the complex interrelations between social and spatial formations,
such as that offered by
Almanac of the Dead, provides a means of recasting this choice so as to refuse global capitalism's self-description, which, otherwise,
functions in the service
of its instrumental networks and the ongoing disavowal of their limits. This is absolutely necessary to conceiving, evaluating, and pursuing alternatives to existing
nationalisms, to liberal multicultural identity politics, and to the transnationalisms so actively encouraged by global capitalism's "space of flows."
Department of English
Indiana University, Bloomington
COPYRIGHT © 2006 Laura Shackelford. READERS MAY USE
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1. In designating global capitalist economic networks as post-Fordist, I am following David Harvey's reading of contemporary global
capitalist strategies of "flexible accumulation"--characterized by a decentralized, mobile spatial organization that endows labor processes, products, markets, and
consumption with unprecedented flexibility--as a reaction against the rigidities of Fordism's hierarchical fragmentation of the spaces of production.
2. The phrase "timeless time" is borrowed from Manuel Castells, who uses it to
describe the network society's fracturing of linear, irreversible, measurable, predictable time through the use of
technologies to manage time as a resource, which results in an emphasis on simultaneity and timelessness, an
3. In this essay, I use "place" to designate a specific relation to space as a physical locale that is historically and culturally
meaningful for its inhabitants due to its distinct physical and symbolic qualities. Within nationalism, an understanding of social space as "place" is often naturalized and
the relation is understood to literally inhere in the geographic territory rather than in a socially, culturally, and historically specific relation to that locale. In the
latter case, I would argue place and the identity it grounds are essentialized.
4. Arguing in The New Imperialism that the logics of territory and the "open spatial dynamics of endless capital
accumulation" can be coupled in a number of ways, resulting in historically unique forms of imperialism, David Harvey updates and extends the questions that Bamyeh raises with regard to the shifting relation
between the political and the economic, drawing his own conclusions about the precise character and the consequences of this
"new imperialism" (33).
5. The latter tendency is rendered explicit by the World
Bank's redesignation of third world markets as "emerging markets" in 1985.
novel's attention to the temporality and, thus, historicity of spatial formations foregrounds conflicting conceptions of space.
Its rethinking of space in time draws on a tradition of Native Literature that locates itself within the conceptual
space of a "fourth world," as chronicled in Gordon Brotherston's Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas
through their Literature. The "fourth world" is commonly used to designate and acknowledge the indigenous peoples and
cultures that are dearticulated and displaced by a nationalist model, yet the novel complicates this conception of a "fourth world" of Native Literature by articulating it in relation to global capitalism's "space of flows," which it designates
as "The Fifth World." In this regard, Almanac of the Dead not only challenges the "particular concept of space as
bounded territory" that is naturalized by the "nationalist model dominant in the three-worlds theory," but also co-implicates
the "fourth world" and the "fifth world" in their status as "conceptual spaces," which, as Tom Foster suggests in his reading of Guillermo Gómez-Peña's "Five-Worlds Theory," tend to rethink the boundaries of territorially defined,
geopolitical space "in terms of motion, flux, and relationality" (46).
7. The title page notes that Leslie Marmon Silko was residing in Tucson, Arizona at the time of publication. In choosing to locate Tucson
at the center of the novel's spatio-temporal mapping of the Americas, the novel imagines itself as a situated mapping or "local history" in Mignolo's terms.
8. This reference to global capitalism's "supraterritorial" flows is intended to flag and to call into question, as this section of the
essay does, an ongoing practice of reading global capitalism primarily in terms of an increasing "emancipation from land," as Richard Rosencrance does, or solely in terms
of processes of deterritorialization, as an increasing detachment of social relations from geographical territories.
9. In describing this shift from a temporal to a spatial perspective, I am citing the "spatial turn" associated with global capitalism and
postmodernism, which has been described in some detail by theorists such as Fredric Jameson, Edward Soja, David Harvey, and Manuel Castells, as a cultural dominant. I do
not mean to suggest that it is either uncontested or unproblematic.
10. References to "material complexity" refer to an inaccessible "outside" or environment to social systems that nevertheless serves as
the basis for social systems' operations, as the concept is theorized by Niklas Luhmann and in related, systems theoretical models. Material complexity is both the
essential support for social systems and unapproachable, in its actual complexity, when unmediated by a particular social system's self-description. Dussel draws
on Luhmann's systems theory in characterizing modernity as involving a "simplification of complexity" ("Beyond Eurocentrism" 13).
11. Calabazas, and the novel more broadly, stage the difference between Euro-American and tribal knowledges as a confrontation between
epistemologies rather than presenting tribal knowledges in an "unmediated relation to the world of natural objects" as this reference to the "thing itself" might appear to
suggest. Calabazas's comments point to the difference between material complexity and any social system's description
of or engagement with that material complexity.
12. The electrical blackouts across the Eastern United States and Canada in August 2003, which left 60 million Americans without
electricity after a tree fell on a power transmission line in Ohio provide a recent example of the
vulnerability of the electrical power networks. The Internet, in spite of its decentralized structure of nodes, explicitly designed to protect the military's communication
infrastructure during a nuclear attack, is also susceptible to major shutdowns according to recent research.
13. The materiality of the almanac is integral, not incidental, to its meaning and to
the sustenance it provides, yet it delimits
possibilities for an ongoing process of meaning-production rather than determining that meaning. This point is quite clear when the young slave fugitives journeying North
with the almanac survive by eating pages of the almanac that are made out of pressed horse stomachs. They draw sustenance from the material form of the almanac, yet the
possibility of eating the pages is most likely one not foreseen by the former keepers of the almanac.
14. Involving and crediting the spatial dimensions of the text, equally, with the
production of meaning, the almanac refuses to privilege the narrative's temporal development at the expense of its material,
spatial form. Almanac of the Dead thereby marks the imbrication of hegemonic understandings of narrative in an
instrumental logic that abstracts the narrative's temporal progression, read as its "meaning," from its medium, its spatial
The subordination of the spatial aspects of texts to the narrative's figurative meaning was the basis of a wholesale discrediting of the glyphs, colors, and pictographs
that were central to the Mayan almanacs. This discrediting of Mayan representational forms was, furthermore, part and parcel of a broader subjugation of
non-European cultures to the narratives as well as the narrative forms of Europe.
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