Death and the Idea of Mexico

ISBN: 1890951536
ISBN 13: 9781890951535
By: Claudio Lomnitz-Adler

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts

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Sean Mccarrey

Well over all it was a good book. But I have to get one thing off my chest before I continue. The last part of the book talked a lot about Santa Muerte. Now, to give Lomnitz some credit, this book was written when Santa Muerte was hardly known, but I do have to say that almost everything he wrote about Santa Muerte is flat out wrong. The idea that Santa Muerte comes out of Ray Pascal is just bizarre. Not only does it ignore gender and placement in theological realms but it really just zooms past the giant Virgin de Guadelupe devotion that has contributed so much imagery to Santa Muerte (In fact, the entire book Lomnitz did not address devotionals or the Virgin). Then Lomnitz ignores Santa Muerte's role as a broker of romance and claims that She has been celebrated mostly by drug lords. I feel as though this is shoddy workmanship no matter when he wrote this. There is a strong and visible history of the Red devotional candle being used for these sorts of issues and to harp on the drug aspect of Santa Muerte is basically to give into media hype. The worst offender in this part of Lomnitz's book however was the part in which he claimed that Santa Muerte was a monotheistic practice, in which Santa Muerte would not allow any other devotion but to her. If you've ever seen a Santa Muerte shrine, you'll most likely notice a number of other deities around Santa Muerte. That is because She is fine with praying to whoever works, that's why She's so beloved, because She pragmatic. Rather than being a jealous saint, most people tend to view her as the ultimate form of intercession on your behalf to God. In this way, Santa Muerte aids other saints, but does not get upset. Fortunately, Santa Muerte was not the whole book, but it did make me question it. Over all though, I thought the history of Day of the Dead and the Mexican views on death were fascinating. I think this book could have easily have been several times longer, and still not run out of fascinating stuff to say.


Limnitz, an anthropologist, examines the history of death and death imagery in Mexico. The jury is still out on what it thinks of it.


Intimidating as the subject matter might be (at least to Americans-- who tend to shy away from death, if not deny it altogether), this book is never inscrutable and Lomnitz carefully lays out how death and Mexico coexist as concepts and reality. He begins by disregarding assumptions as to why death imagery is so unique to Mexico. Mexican deathways are not only connected to pre-Columbian death rituals, but also the trauma of the Spanish Conquest, post-Conquest emphasis on the idea of purgatory, the violence of the wars for independence and the 1910 Mexican Revolution, and the economic crisis of 1982 and the anti-neoliberalist/globalization sentiments that followed. The book concludes with a short analysis on the appeal of the curious cult of Santa Muerte.Lomnitz' dense research and masterful writing ensure that scholars and other readers will refer to its ideas on the subject for years to come.




I like how it's on everyone's to read list.

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