Language and nature: Perceptions and expressions of environmental change

This is part of the Sadler seminar series
Speakers: Charles Pigott, Cambridge; Rebecca Jarman, Alice Deignan
Charles M. Pigott
Ecological Visions in Mayan and Quechua Literature
This talk explores a cultural phenomenon that is taking place across Latin America: the rebirth of indigenous literature. After centuries of decline, the ancient literatures of the Mayas and Incas are finding a new voice. Over a hundred authors are now writing in their ancestral languages. By analysing and comparing texts written by contemporary authors in the Yucatec Mayan and Quechua languages (from Mexico and Peru, respectively), I shall demonstrate that the recent literary renaissance of these languages is equally an ecological renaissance. In the majority of cases, the indigenous authors express their traditional culture through forms of engagement with other species. Maya and Quechua cultural and linguistic revitalization cannot be separated from concerns about ecological diversity, since it is largely through contact with the ‘non-human’ that these cultures are enacted. This fact echoes a number of scholars who have problematized the division between a ‘cultured’ humanity and an ‘uncultured’ nature (e.g. Philippe Descola, Tim Ingold, Eduardo Kohn, Gisli Palsson, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro). As contemporary indigenous authors revitalize their language, they also offer hope for the revitalization of endangered ecosystems and the cultural systems of knowledge that, for millennia, have ensured the preservation of those ecosystems.

Dr Rebecca Jarman, Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies
The Afterlives of Landslides: Archiving Responses to Catastrophes in Cultural Production from the Andes
What happens to places and communities that are destroyed by landslides? Who determines the form, duration and geographies of their afterlives? How do they evolve after the event of their eradication? To answer these questions, this work-in-progress presentation offers an overview of film and literature produced in the aftermath of two major Andean landslides: the first in Armero (Colombia, 1985) and the second in Venezuela (Caracas, 1999). In so doing, I seek to identify trends in cultural perceptions and expressions of ‘sudden-onset’ environmental change that extend to narrative form, aesthetics, character and genre. Simultaneously, I account for significant variables that shape these responses, including demographics, historical specificity and the political economies of Colombia and Venezuela. I end by bringing into conversation two contemporary texts, El barro y el silencio by Juan David Correa (2010) and El bululú de las ninfas by José Pulido (2007), to compare and contrast their strategies of resilience, resistance, and recuperation.

Language and Nature_Pigott_abstract