Sunday, February 12, 2012

Teotihucan at the museum

A second visit to the anthropological museum in Mexico City and an opportunity to fill out the history of Teotihucan , subject of yesterday's actual visit.

The first thing that strikes you is how colourful it must have been (in contrast to the stony reality of today). The reconstruction of the facade of the Temple of the Plumed Serpent and of the interior of personal homes demonstrate this. They are highly vivid, in primary colours, and saturate space in meaning. This is especially true in the villas: how extraordinary to live one's domestic life wholly surrounded by images of your religious mythology, with no apparent space for anything 'secular'. Myth was the corpus of your living space.

Secondly, though living with it so closely is alien, it is a starkly familiar mythology, not only in its intensity but in its obvious reliance on actual sacrifice. Two hundred deaths, bound hands behind the back, were required in the foundations of the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, to consecrate it, make it vibrant and whole. The bound hands suggest no voluntary immolation.We are tempted to imagine this as alien - a religion that requires force and blood - but, sadly, it is not so. The appeal to the sacrifice of others to achieve 'religious' ends appears unyielding.

Sitting at dinner last night, I overheard two Americans loudly declaiming a world separated between 'good' and 'evil' people and the necessity of the former to fight, and sacrifice, for the defeat of the latter. You wonder how this fantasy might ever end - in the hoped for, but distant, illumination that the division between good and evil passes through each individual heart, and the responsibility of transformation is interior and individual. I will not hold my breath!

Third is the sense of a sophisticated civilization that disintegrates in apparent interior conflict: one that shows evidence of conflict between elites and the populace. It was a world that imploded on internal tensions sponsored by external forces. That we disintegrate is something we happily imagine is a feature of the past - except in the possibly prophetic haunting of literature.

All week it was the question that we did not face. In our discussions of the 'urban' and 'the city' (except in a neglected late intervention), we did not consider the fundamental sustainability of the, any city in a world of growing resource constraint. It was an unasked question.

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