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From Land Reform to Data-Mining: A Panel on Literature and Accumulation

January 22, 2018 - 5:45pm


A panel with Monica VanBladel  (Ph.D. candidate, Stanford University) and Zac Zimmer (UC Santa Cruz)

A Liturgy of Land Reform

This presentation takes up the question of liturgy and duty in Rosario Castellanos’s 1962 novel Oficio de tinieblas (literally, “office of darkness,” or Catholicism’s Good Friday liturgy of Tenebrae). The novel has been canonized as a great work of indigenista literature, humanizing the Tzotzil Maya and denouncing their exploitation – both within impoverished, regionally networked rural communities, and the emerging national framework of revolutionary popular democracy. Beyond mere critique, VanBladel shows how Castellanos’s novel assesses the revolution (secular and secularizing) through a religious conception of duty. Attending to this idea of a proper social relationality brings into focus a new understanding of agrarian reform, shifting the emphasis from the nature of the object and manner of its distribution (egalitarian repartition of land) to the subjectivity of administrator and recipient.  

Bitcoin and Potosí Silver: Historical Perspectives on Cryptocurrency 

 Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency, has been celebrated as the future of money on the Internet. Although Bitcoin does present several forward-looking innovations, it also integrates a very old concept into its digital architecture: the mining of precious metals. Even though Bitcoin explicitly invokes mining as a metaphor and gold as an example for understanding the cryptocurrency, there has been little critical work on the connections between Bitcoin and previous metalist currency regimes. The following essay proposes a historical comparison with colonial South American silver mining and the global currency regime based on the New World silver peso it created as a way to interrogate Bitcoin. The comparison with colonial South America, and specifically the silver mining economy around the Cerro Rico de Potosí, will help to develop a historical and political understanding of Bitcoin’s stakes, including questions of resources, labor, energy, and ecology. Mining and the extractive apparatus that accompanies it always imply massive-scale earthworks that reshape the planet itself, a process known as terraforming. The Potosí comparison will reveal Bitcoin to form part of a similar process of digital primitive accumulation we can provisionally name cryptoforming.