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Diffracting Butler and Arendt Through Incan Astronomy

jmorgant's picture

Tonight at Bryn Mawr College, Judith Butler, in her second lecture of the Flexner Lecture series, responded to Hannah Arendt’s assertion that action and speech create a political space between participants; such spaces are not constituted by individuals, but rather by the interactions between many of them. The body provides the means to see one’s own perspective but also displaces the singular perspective because bodies do not act alone; rather, action (and meaning) emerges from the “between.” We appear to others in ways that we do not know, and are politically constituted by perspectives unbeknownst to us. Butler responded by acknowledging the truth in Arendt’s conception of political space, but also that material supports are necessary for action. In the spirit of striving to be interdisciplinary, I found myself relating Arendt and Butler’s ideas about political space to Incan astronomy. As I learned upon visiting Inca ruins in Cusco, Peru during my semester abroad last spring, our tour guide taught us that the Inca looked for constellations not by imagining shapes around the stars, as the Greeks did, but rather by seeing the black space between the stars. The pinpoints of light acted as the “supports,” but the image could not be seen through just one single star. Rather, through the existence and placement of many individual stars, the Inca saw meaningful images between them.


a painting in a museum depicting Inca consellations - most notably a jaguar