Vital Voids: Cavities and Holes in Mesoamerican Material Culture (Hardcover)
The Resurrection Plate, a Late Classic Maya dish, is decorated with an arresting scene. The Maize God, assisted by two other deities, emerges reborn from a turtle shell. At the center of the plate, in the middle of the god’s body and aligned with the point of emergence, there is a curious sight: a small, neatly drilled hole.
Art historian Andrew Finegold explores the meanings attributed to this and other holes in Mesoamerican material culture, arguing that such spaces were broadly understood as conduits of vital forces and material abundance, prerequisites for the emergence of life. Beginning with, and repeatedly returning to, the Resurrection Plate, this study explores the generative potential attributed to a wide variety of cavities and holes in Mesoamerica, ranging from the perforated dishes placed in Classic Maya burials, to caves and architectural voids, to the piercing of human flesh. Holes are also discussed in relation to fire, based on the common means through which both were produced: drilling. Ultimately, by attending to what is not there, Vital Voids offers a fascinating approach to Mesoamerican cosmology and material culture.
About the Author
Andrew Finegold is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was founding president of the Pre-Columbian Society of New York. He is coeditor of Visual Culture of the Ancient Americas: Contemporary Perspectives and maintains the blog Ancient Americas, Appropriated: Modern Representations of the Pre-Columbian Past.
[Finegold] demonstrates—convincingly, and in engaging prose—that the sustained analysis of holes provides insight into the ways in which ancient Mesoamericans conceived of cavities as teeming with vital energies or pregnant with the possibility of emergence...there is a satisfying rhythm and structure to this book, which moves through an impressive array of ideas but keeps returning, almost poetically, to the place it started: a beautifully painted Late Classic Maya plate rife with meaning and replete with a small drilled hole. Finegold charts a new and productive path for thinking about voids as procreative spaces that were integral to Mesoamerican creation narratives, ritual behavior, individual identities, and expressions of social order. For this reason, this book should be of interest to readers beyond the confines of Mesoamerica who, like Finegold, see potential in a void.