Mary Louise Pratt on Guanman Poma's Text: Passage Analysis

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Jamie Schiller
English 114

Difficulty Paper 1

“If one thinks of cultures, or literatures, as discrete, coherently structured, monolingual edifices, Guaman Poma’s text, and indeed any autoethnographic work, appears anomalous or chaotic – as it apparently did to the European scholars Pietschmann spoke to in 1912. If one does not think of cultures this way, then Guanman Poma’s text is simply heterogeneous, as the Andean region was itself and remains today. Such a text is heterogeneous on the reception end as well as the production end: it will read very differently to people in different positions in the contact zone.” (page 492)

I found this passage difficult because it uses many terms that I was only introduced to when I started reading Mary Louise Pratt’s essay. It is hard to follow because it uses difficult terms and packs a lot of information into a small amount of writing. Mary Louise Pratt introduces several concepts in the same passage, which was both overwhelming and distracting. It was difficult to understand the passage in its entirety the first time I read it, but after rereading the passage several times and giving it some thought, I think I may have a better understanding of what the author was trying to convey to her audience.

I think that Mary Louise Pratt is saying that Guanman Poma’s text can be interpreted in more than one way. She uses the term “heterogeneous”, which means incongruous or unlike. This suggests that the text was complex and thus could easily be misinterpreted. If two people each have a different perspective of a certain society or culture is different from someone else’s, they probably will not share the same understanding of Poma’s work.

Guanman Poma’s letters to the king were written in two languages. This could be a reason why people who view cultures as “coherently structured, monolingual edifices” may find his work chaotic and confusing. The European scholars the Pietschmann spoke to in 1912 would not...
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