From the Edge: the Littoral in Visual and Literary Imaginaries of Mexico
The word littoral/litoral derives from the Latin litor, meaning ‘of or pertaining to the shore’ (OED). It entered usage in the mid-seventeenth century and has since accumulated a variety of referents, some cartographically or ecologically specific, others symbolic. The ‘littoral zone’ has most recently been defined as the space between the high and low water marks along a coastline. This thesis considers the Mexican littoral as a topographically bound and metaphorically loaded perspective from which to realign understandings of the country’s cultural and territorial development from the time of the Spanish conquest through to the twentieth century. Bringing decolonial principles and works of Cultural Geography to the analysis of visual and literary materials, and incorporating anthropological and ethnographic stances, the multimedia and interdisciplinary approach adopted here aims to develop modes of ‘thinking littorally’ about Mexican culture. Mobilising an innovative grouping of sources relating to the country’s edgelands – maps, photography, film, poetry, music, fishing logs, travelogues, ethnographic accounts – the thesis decentres dominant territorial imaginaries in pursuit of an understanding of the country that incorporates, rather than obliterates its vital margins, towards a recalibration of existing, principally inland-centric scholarship. Concerned chiefly with the coastal states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Nayarit and Veracruz as the matrix of Mexico’s global significance as incipient point of the conquest of the Americas, it begins with an examination of cartography as the visual artefact and index for understanding the imaginative consequences of colonial expansion and conquest. It then considers the racial and ethnographic repercussions of the colonial slave trade and lasting cultural and aesthetic implications of Mexico’s position at the heart of trade routes, particularly regarding primarily coastal dwelling Afro-descendant communities. Literature that adopts the littoral as an allegorical imaginary is probed, and the thesis attends to the role that the coastal environment plays in growing critique concerned with the ecological turn in Latin American art. Localised aspects of Mexico’s littoral and its cultural practices and artefacts are assessed to reformulate analytical perspectives and address transferrable questions relating to competing or forgotten histories associated with migration, race, slavery, climate change, and the perceptible intersections between them.