Death and the Idea of Mexico
Death and the Idea of Mexico is the first social, cultural, and political history of death in a nation that has made death its tutelary sign. Examining the history of death and of the death sign from sixteenth-century holocaust to contemporary Mexican-American identity politics, anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz's innovative study marks a turning point in understanding Mexico's rich and unique use of death imagery. Unlike contemporary Europeans and Americans, whose denial of death permeates their cultures, the Mexican people display and cultivate a jovial familiarity with death. This intimacy with death has become the cornerstone of Mexico's national identity.
Death and Idea of Mexico focuses on the dialectical relationship between dying, killing, and the administration of death, and the very formation of the colonial state, of a rich and variegated popular culture, and of the Mexican nation itself. The elevation of Mexican intimacy with death to the center of national identity is but a moment within that history—within a history in which the key institutions of society are built around the claims of the fallen.
Based on a stunning range of sources—from missionary testimonies to newspaper cartoons, from masterpieces of artistic vanguards to accounts of public executions and political assassinations—Death and the Idea of Mexico moves beyond the limited methodology of traditional historiographies of death to probe the depths of a people and a country whose fearless acquaintance with death shapes the very terms of its social compact.
About the Author
Claudio Lomnitz is Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of Death and the Idea of Mexico (Zone Books); Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthropology of Nationalism; and Exits from the Labyrinth: Culture and Ideology in the Mexican Space.
"Lomnitz's masterful Death and the Idea of Mexico places him in the company of Octavio Paz and Carlos Monsivais as both critic and champion of Mexico culture. This study of death makes Mexico come alive."—William H. Beezley, Bookforum
"Death and the Idea of Mexico is, in every sense, a stunning volume.... Lomnitz has produced a magisterial work of enormous depth, sensitivity, and scope. Its scholarly value will endure for decades, all the more so because it is written in a thoroughly accessible, at times lyrical, style."—American Ethnologist
"Easily ranks as the most sophisticated, well-documented, and thought-provoking treatment of Mexico's unique national totem." —American Historical Review
"This outstanding work was written by an author with a Renaissance mind. It examines the Mexican people's in many respects unique relationship to death throughout several centuries. It brilliantly straddles the fields of history, anthropology, and religion."