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  • Writing as Material Technology: Orientation within landscapes of the Classic Maya world

    Sarah E. Jackson

    Chapter from the book: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R. 2013. Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium.

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    This chapter considers how writing may be understood as a material technology. In this way, we can understand text as not only having an effect or impact because of its content, but also because of its material form and the ways that form is perceived and used. Textual objects — a phrase that emphasizes the simultaneously material and textual nature of the artifacts I discuss — accomplish certain types of work that draw upon both the content and the material nature of the text. By considering texts in an artifactual light, I argue that texts do important work in organizing the material world. Furthermore, the specific material forms that texts take impact the ways in which such work is carried out, and the ways in which their meanings are perceived and visually consumed. I explore these ideas in the context of three Maya text objects, all inscribed with Classic Maya writing: a stone monument, a painted ceramic vessel, and a set of incised bone needles; in each case, I suggest that an orientational technology is at work. That is, the perception and use of these text objects serve to locate people in culturally defined landscapes, and in particular, within socio- political landscapes that include both experiential and imagined aspects. The experience of these texts allowed ancient viewers to situate themselves along a series of axes, not all of which are obvious or visible through other modes of material analysis. In both modern and ancient instances, orientational technologies involve accessing content that shapes human actions in the world, and that is experienced in specific ways representative of particular, shared worldviews. The text objects that I examine encode perspectives that located Maya individuals in relative positions through expressions of the shape and nature of the realms in which they lived, including dimensions of territoriality, conceptions of temporality, and constructions of personal and institutional difference. Significantly, the text objects examined are not reified in their material state, but change both in form and in place and manner of use, yielding surprisingly dynamic characteristics.

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    Jackson, S. 2013. Writing as Material Technology: Orientation within landscapes of the Classic Maya world. In: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R (eds.), Writing as Material Practice. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.c

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Published on Dec. 18, 2013


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