The Life Within


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Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence

Stephen Houston


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For the Classic Maya, who flourished in and around the Yucatan peninsula in the first millennium AD, artistic materials were endowed with an internal life. Far from being inert substances, jade, flint, obsidian, and wood held a vital essence, agency, and even personality. To work with these materials was to coax their life into full expression and to engage in witty play. Writing, too, could shift from hieroglyphic signs into vibrant glyphs that sprouted torsos, hands, and feet. Appearing to sing, grapple, and feed, they effectively blurred the distinction between text and image.
In this first full study of the nature of Maya materials and animism, renowned Mayanist scholar Stephen Houston provides startling insights into a Pre-Columbian worldview that dramatically contrasts with western perspectives. Illustrated with more than one hundred photographs, images, and drawings, this beautifully written book reveals the Maya quest for transcendence in the face of inevitable death and decay.
Stephen Houston is Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Brown University. He was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.
“Houston strives for deep understandings of Maya thought that allow us to see large-scale truths often overlooked. His unusual approach to materiality in ancient Maya culture will be pioneering.” –Andrea Stone, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
“A major contribution to the study of the ancient Maya and an important intervention in the growing body of scholarship about materiality.” –Claudia Brittenham, University of Chicago

Winner of the 2014 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) in the Art History & Criticism category.
ISBN: 9780300196023
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
208 pages, 8 x 10
43 color + 72 b/w illus.
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