Conquest of the Americas / The Invasion of the Turtle Island

Dennis Tedlock
The other reason for the refusal to oppose the Spaniards is that
they are taken for gods.
-Tzvetan Todorov

Two Lord is the name of the score of years when the pustules
broke out, the great sickness. It was brought by the anona-

-Book of the Jaguar's Spokesman Can the conquest/invasion of America/Turtle Island be seen/read/heard from both sides? We might at least retell/redescribe it, and with a greater multiplicity of voices and a better chance at avoiding the twin traps of metaphysics (somehow it was all meant to happen) and of self-congratulation (civilization [read European (read the author)]). And we might even catch some conquerors/invaders using the vocabulary and even poetics and rhetoric of Americans/Turtle Islanders. And reopen the question of (Saints preserve us!) idolatry.

We will read Tzvetan Todorov's Conquest of the Americas, where the conquest is rewritten as a contest between sign-systems, and William Prescott's Conquest of Mexico (ignored by Todorov, who went back to the "original" sources), and their sources, including the letters of Hernán Cortés and the book by his secretary, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, A True History of the Conquest of New Spain. But we will also read sources Todorov and others have used in support of arguments more than they have found arguments in them, including the encyclopedia of Aztec culture compiled by Bernardino de Sahagún, A General History of the Things of New Spain (the Florentine Codex), written by native speakers of Nahuatl (Aztec) but in the roman alphabet, with a section on the Spanish invasion. Sahagún also collected the text of a 1524 debate between twelve Franciscans (read the Twelve Apostles) and twelve Aztec priests (read Satanists).

The story of the invasion of Yucatán and Guatemala (both Mayan) is another matter altogether (and the principal and perhaps most embarrassing subtext in books of Todorov and others). Here we will read Diego de Landa's Account of the Matters of Yucatán, together with alphabetically written texts that were created by Mayans without Spanish supervision, including the Popol Vuh (Council Book), also called Account of Our Darkness and the Way to See the Dawn of Life, and Book of the Chilam Balam (Jaguar Priest) of Chumayel. Then we'll have a look at recent hieroglyphic decipherment (which Todorov has all wrong) and the intellectual consequences of the fact that New World WRITING and New World HISTORY (even in the strictest senses of those terms) now go back 1,000 years into what Europeans have been counting as the prehistory of preliterates. Not to mention the fact that Mayan script (even though it comes from the wrong side of the Atlantic) is a grammatologist's dream.