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Geor G e


Fl A hert Y

Mediating the Third Culture at Tlatelolco: México 68

Aztec ruins, colo- nial church, and modern apartment buildings, Plaza de las Tres Cultu- ras, Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Pho- tograph: S e F / Art Resource,

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This project investigates the spatial dimensions of the massacre of Octo- ber 2, 1968, at Tlatelolco, in Mexico City, and the representation of this significant moment of state-sponsored violence as mediated by Mexican popular culture. My primary case study is the city’s Tlatelolco public housing complex, built in the early 1960s. The designer, Mario Pani (1911 – 1993), was the leading translator of European modernist architec- ture to Mexico and chief proponent of techno-rationalist urban planning schemes in Latin America. At the core of the housing complex is the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, a national heritage site developed concurrently, from which my project takes its title. The plaza is framed by pre-Hispanic ruins (the “first culture”) and an early colonial monastery (the “second culture”), which was the first library in the Americas. Tlatelolco stands for the “third culture,” the largest in what was to be a series of urban regeneration projects that would fundamentally transform Mexico City’s proletarian north and extend the limits of the modern city. The state sought to create a new type of citizen, a citizen-consumer, while displac- ing other constituencies, principally the disenfranchised migrant laborers who previously occupied the Tlatelolco site. The Mexican state offered hospitality to certain citizens but made perpetual “refugees” of others, a floating army of labor that was required to service the modern city but denied rights of permanent habitation and full-fledged citizenship. On October 2 Mexican military forces attacked several thousand striking university students who had gathered at the housing complex


on the eve of México 68, the Mexico City Olympic Games. They had spent the previous summer protesting the lack of democratization in Mexico commensurate with the country’s recent macroeconomic suc - cesses, known internationally as the “Mexican Miracle” — a disparity that the games symbolized and the development at Tlatelolco embod- ied. Tlatelolco’s modernist architecture and the slums it replaced are an uncanny presence in representations of the massacre, including film, literature, and poetry. Tlatelolco, I argue, offers writers and filmmakers an archive and an architectonics for dwelling in and on the massacre as well as an urban space that had been commodified and spectacularized by capitalist urbanization. To date, scholarly analysis has largely over- looked the event’s site-specificity, narrating it in terms of a historical rupture and the democratization that took place decades later. Focusing on popular culture and its urban milieu, my research identifies a recur- rent collapsing of time and space in these objects of memory, which bypass historicist accounts that turn mainly on a romanticized account of the student movement and accept a neoliberal fate. They thereby en- able us to trace longer-term and more complex processes and critiques of Mexico City’s uneven development. Jacques Derrida’s theorization of the ethics of hospitality has been useful in framing these tensions. Pani’s Tlatelolco offered hospitality to an emerging middle class in exchange for closer scrutiny of private space and the reproduction of labor — and by displacing the migrant population. Gestures of hospitality, Derrida argues, may obscure larger structures of inhospitality, which I link to Mexico’s tradition of “inclu- sionary authoritarianism,” the basis of its corporatist political structure. Derrida draws primarily from the experience of immigrants; my study focuses instead on a state’s conditional hospitality to its own citizens. In 2001 President Vicente Fox announced the creation of a special prosecutor’s office tasked with bringing criminal charges against those responsible for the massacre, many of them former and current govern- ment officials. This office closed in 2006 with no convictions, confirm- ing Mexico’s public culture of impunity. Additionally, the release of pertinent government documents has been slow and partial, hampering a conventional historical analysis. However, as the preponderance of popular publications and films narrating the events of 1968 indicate, a de facto juridical-historiographical process is already well under way,


narrating what the press and official histories could or would not. This process insists on taking into account activities and stakes beyond (often morally bankrupt) political institutions, macroeconomic development, and official national culture. Taking a step back, I consider the blurring boundary between built environment and mass media in Mexico since 1940, which has been characterized by the rise of the market and mass media as arenas for political identification and participation but also for disenfranchisement. In this way my project also engages emergent modes of cultural citizen- ship and civil society in contemporary Latin America. Recently scholars have begun to reevaluate the 1960s in general and 1968 in particular. However, this revision has for the most part focused on European and U.S. case studies, continuing to lump developments elsewhere into an undifferentiated “Third World.” My project posits a sustained Latin American case study and considers the global circulation and transla- tion of progressive politics and critiques of capital. From this viewpoint, events in Mexico were neither mimetic with regard to those occurring in the North Atlantic nor hermetic.

[University of California – Santa Barbara] Twenty-four-Month Chester Dale Fellow, 2008 – 2010

In fall 2010 George F. Flaherty will take up a position as assistant professor of Latin American art history in the department of art and design at Columbia College Chicago.