Mimesis Tropical

Plan der Jesuitenreduktion von São Miguel Arcanjo, 1756.

Plan der Jesuitenreduktion von São Miguel Arcanjo, 1756.

Mimesis Tropical. Jesuit Styles of Imitation in Colonial Brazil

The project deals with the interplay of mimetic practices within the Jesuit missionary project in 16th and 17th Century Brazil. On the one hand, it is interested in the functioning of what can be called ‘mimetic mode’ of colonial government; on the other hand, it addresses the more general question of how different forms or articulations of mimesis communicate with and transform each other.
For analytical purposes one may distinguish five layers of mimetic activity within the Jesuit colonial enterprise: Firstly the mimetic techniques of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education which constituted the basic ideological equipment of any missionary sent to the provinces of Brazil; secondly the Jesuit contributions to the “política católica” of the Portuguese colonial regime; thirdly the „Machiavellian moment“ of Jesuit policy allowing not only for the use of simulation and secrecy in the propagation of belief but also for a refined missionary strategy that recommended the accommodation of habits, lifestyle and rites to non-European cultures; fourthly the local implementation of this mimetic program within the Jesuit mission villages (aldeias) which can be described as complex apparatuses of subjectivation based on a mix of discipline and seduction; and, fifthly, the interferences and repercussions caused by the challenge of ‚other‘, indigenous mimetic systems.
So, obviously one has to do here with a great variety of mimetic activities. Yet, instead of confining analysis to a certain conception of mimesis, the project focusses on the relationships between all these disparate forms of similarity, representation, incorporation, assimilation, simulation, expression, becoming, etc. It starts from the assumption that their nexus is not constituted by intellectual proximity but by practical interaction. The ‘family resemblance’ of Jesuit mimetic practices is not so much that of a “’family’ of ideas” (Stephen Halliwell), it is rather based on the elective affinity (“Wahlverwandtschaft”) of practices. Heuristically, a practice can be looked upon as “mimetic” if it reacts upon, interferes with, or transforms another mimetic practice.
Using the rich material offered by the Jesuit Mission in Brazil the project tries to explore how different registers of the mimetic are related, what kinds of “strange and creative translations” (Deleuze & Guattari), or what kinds of destructive effects can result from the transsemiotical concatenation of different mimetic systems. The notion of the “tropical” seems to be well suited to lead this investigation. As Roland Barthes has pointed out, in ancient rhetoric a trope was understood as a movement of replacement (“substitution”) and transformation (“conversion”). Thus, the title „Mimesis Tropical” does not only refer to a Mimesis that is situated in the tropics; it also refers to the ‘tropes’, the transformations or conversions that take place between different forms or figures of mimesis.