Composting the Empire, Part 1: 5 Suns + 3 Dialectic Stages = 1 Queer Theory By Staci Everheart
The Aztec poet Nezahualcoyotl and the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel are on a date! Let’s listen in:
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: What do you call this delicious dish again? I’m as hungry as Cipactli it seems; I can’t get enough of it!
HEGEL: It’s called strudel. I’m happy you like it. Mm! I’m also happy this restaurant allows corkage, because this drink you brought — pulque is it? — is simply enchanting!
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Oh, I know! You have to be careful, though. Too much and you’ll be running through the streets like a pack of rabbits.
HEGEL: Oh, that’s a funny image! Thank you. It’s been a while since I’ve laughed hard enough for tears to come to my eyes.
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: No problem. What was the name of that dish that nice waiter– or maybe waitress? — said e’d give us, on the house, ‘cause e thought we were such a cute couple?
HEGEL: I couldn’t quite tell. It was either the idiocy or theodicy. E kept switching back and forth before the two. Oh well, e may not have been able to say it correctly, but e did say that it’s the chef’s specialty. I know I’m certainly looking forward to it!
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Yeah, I’m certainly happy I live in the Fifth Sun (Ollintonatiuh). The middle of it, anyway, not the end.
HEGEL: What do you mean?
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Well, my people say that the earth has five various foundations, or ages or suns, and that this is the fifth, the Sun of Motion.
HEGEL: Oh, kind of like the dispensations of our Christian theologians or Crowley’s Aeons, eh?
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: No, our beliefs must be viewed on their own merits and in their own contexts, not as some sort of variation on those ideas with which you’re already comfortable.
HEGEL: Well, yes, of course, but–
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Just drop it. Anyway, we say about each age: “And what they used to eat was our nourishment”. See, in each sun, the people of that time ate different foods. In the first sun (Ocelotonatiuh, the Jaguar Sun), they ate acorns. In the second (Ehecatonatiuh, the Wind Sun), their food was piñon nuts. They ate some sort of seed called acicintli — maybe a variety of water lily? — in the third sun (Quiauhtonatiuh, the Rain Sun) and something called cincocopi which was kinda like corn but not in the fourth (Atonatiuh, the Water Sun). And, finally, here in the Fifth Sun, we finally were gifted with maize, which my people call, our flesh.
HEGEL: Wow. So your people have an oral record of the advance of food technologies, then?
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Not quite. The suns each ended in catastrophe, and the people, the macehuales, who inhabited them were almost entirely killed. What few survivors there were became animals. The Ocelotonatiuhmacehuales were killed to a man, eaten by jaguars without survivors. After the Ehecatonatiuhmacehuales were carried away by the wind, they became monkeys, and the Quiauhtonatiuhmacehuales became turkeys after it rained fire one day. Fish are the descendants of the Atonatiuhmacehuales, who were drowned. The latter two, I must say, are quite delicious.
HEGEL: Why so many disasters? Even our Old Testament has but a single worldwide catastrophe of that sort, that being Noah’s Flood.
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: The disasters were caused by the underlying reality of the ages. Ometeotl/Omecihuatl, who is both male and female, the Lord/Lady of Duality, the Lord/Lady of the Near and Close, sired and gave birth four children: the Red, Black, and Yellow Tezcatlipocas and their brother Quetzalcoatl. 600 years after that, Quetzalcoatl and the hummingbird warriorgod of the Mexicas, Huitzilopochtli, created many things, including the frog raingod Tlaloc and his wife Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Skirt Woman). The suns are the result of the struggle between Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and Chalchiuhtlicue, each sun being the manifestation of one or another’s elemental dominion over the earth, and the disasters between are the result of their dethroning by the others.
HEGEL: Oh my! And the Fifth Sun?
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: The Fifth Sun is the result of the concerted action of a group of gods, primarily Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. These two, who had been enemies came together to lift the sky from the earth and cause the great crocodile-fish-toad monster Cipactli (who is the Earth) to give forth all fine things humans need to live. Tezcatlipoca even lost his foot to Cipactli in the process! The sun was created when the pimply-faced Nanahuatzin burned himself in a great bonfire, shaming the haughty Tecuciztecatl (Lord of Snails) into following him and becoming the moon.
HEGEL: That’s fascinating! It quite resembles my theories —
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: I’m not done yet, sweetheart. There was a problem still, you see: the sun and the moon did not move, and none of the gods believed this sun would last any longer than the previous ones. It wasn’t until all the gods asked Ehecatl, Lord of the Wind, to slay them and give their teyolia (the vital energy in their blood) and their yollotl (their heart) to these new planets that they would move and the world function properly. Recall the name of this sun — Ollin is the important part; it means “motion” and it shares a root with both teyolia and yollotl.
HEGEL: So this Sun is stable, perhaps where the previous ones have not been, because of motion? I don’t understand.
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Good. Thank you for not trying to fit us into your cultural notions. No, that wasn’t snide or sarcastic or snotty; it was serious. I deeply appreciate it. The idea is that, in this Fifth Sun, dominion over reality shifts from one god to another, each in its turn. This cyclical transformation of the world, this fluidity and changing, allow the gods to exist in relative peace!
HEGEL: Good. Hmm, here, pass that blood sausage over there. Mmm, that’s good. That sounds fascinatingly like my own ideas, actually.
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Does it now?
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Tell me all about it.
HEGEL: Well, you see, I raised dialectics to its absolute significance, making it into a Science. I posited the trinity of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, my own sort of historical analysis, not like your people’s or the Christian dispensations or Crowley’s Aeons but in the same conceptual category.
HEGEL: Yeah. The idea is that things start out one way, describable with two qualities. Say, Spirit starts out unconscious (without the human mind present to give it awareness and thought) and with all its subjects unified (as they are unaware of their difference and so are one). At some point — in this example, perhaps, when humanity shows up with its cognition and language — both qualities become their opposites. Thus, Spirit now is conscious and alienated. This is because the various subjects of Spirit have now become aware of the existence of all these objects, but these viewers don’t recognize the objects of their perception as themself.
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: It sounds as if both states have value. Unity in the first and awareness in the second.
HEGEL: Exactly! Which is why the last stage in my dialectics is the antithesis stage, when you take the better quality from each pair of qualities and combine them. Accordingly, when I showed up in Spirit, I recognized that these objects of my perception were essentially myself. I brought a conscious unity to Spirit, which is whither the driving forces of reality had been driving the system all along!
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: I don’t want to sound insulting, Georg, especially because this date has been going really well, but I fail to see the point. How does any of this provide a stable foundation for life?
HEGEL: It gives you an ethical direction, don’t you see? In any given situation, you will inevitably be in either the thesis or the antithesis stage. If the latter, the guide for your action will be to take the appropriate antithetical position. To find an opposite to whatever’s going on, an opposite that contains within itself some quality of value and embody it or otherwise push the situation toward that state. If the latter, then you do something similar, only instead of finding some way to be the opposite of the situation in which you find yourself, you find the synthesis of its current state and the one prior. We are like rowers on the boat of history, constantly propelling it by the power of our metaphorical muscles towards ultimate synthesis. NEZAHUALCOYOTL: It’s all about motion again! Like our sacrifice!
HEGEL: Yeah, exactly. Gotta keep the universe moving, of course! And speaking of moving, here comes the waiter . . . waitress . . . um, person with that dish e promised us!
WAITRON: Here you go, fellas! Just like I promised, one dish of the idiocy, er, theodicy, on the house! With two spoons, even!
NEZAHUALCOYOTL: Excuse me, and I do hope I’m not being terriby rude at the moment, but we couldn’t quite tell if you’re a boy or a girl.
WAITRON: Yeah, see, ‘cause by combining the aspects of both in an additive, rather than a subtractive manner, unlike androgyny) I’m struggling to simultaneously embody the opposite of the binary gender system and also to combine the two genders thus presented and resolve the tensions therein! Meanwhile, my gender identity and expression change like a liquid, flowing a little here and a little there, never quite the same from moment to moment. I’m queer, see?
HEGEL: Have you been eavesdropping on our conversation?
WAITRON: No, ‘cause if I had, I would have had to tell you that you’ve been missing something: the being outside the system. But then my friend Goedel would have had to butt in and we totally would have taken over and you two are so cute together that I think I’d rather just let you get back to your date!
Some Useful Reading on These Topics:
Aztec Thought and Culture, Miguel Léon-Portilla
Gender Outlaws, Kate Bornstein
Phenomenology of Spirit, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel