• Trusting the imago and failing differently: Taking an iterative approach to history in Arkady Martine’s “A Memory Called Empire”

    Alex Claman (see profile)
    Science fiction
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    41st Annual Conference of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association
    Conf. Org.:
    Southwest Popular/American Culture Association
    Conf. Loc.:
    Albuquerque, NM
    Conf. Date:
    February 19-22, 2020
    novel, Reception of Antiquity
    Permanent URL:
    Spacefaring empires are a staple trope of science fiction. There has recently been a proliferation of novels, novellas, and short stories that interrogate how such empires would actually function, challenging and interrogating long-standing and unexamined assumptions about the form(s) such empires take. To these I would add Arkady Martine’s ongoing Teixcalaan series. Teixcalaan bears many Byzantine hallmarks, even as it is deliberately exoticized through Aztec-inspired terminology. This necessarily brings with it the imprint of both Roman and Greek social and political institutions. Teixcalaan defines itself in much the same way that Byzantium, Rome, Athens, and all other empires defined themselves: creation of a barbarian other, and the expectation/presumption of deep cultural knowledge – in particular poetry. As a result, Teixcalaan is ossified under the weight of its history. This entire cultural mode and existence is the opposite of that of protagonist Mahit Dzmare. She is the ambassador from Lsel Station, a state bordering Teixcalaan that nevertheless retains a tenuous independence. Certain qualified members of Lsel use imagos, recording devices that store the entire personality and memories of their users, to ensure continuity and preservation of knowledge and expertise. The imagos do not preserve the past as a monolithic, imposing entity; they are the past as a living, breathing, and changing thing, informing and advising the present to help chart the way into a better future. In effect, bearers of imagos become human versions of Le Guin’s Carrier Bags. Mahit models this approach to history as she tries, fails, and tries again. Such a fundamentally iterative approach allows for a holistic, complete understanding of history, memory, and time. Mahit’s willingness to use the past as a foundation for building a new, brighter future provides a template for constructive knowledge and resistance.
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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