Archive for December 30, 2006

Review: 1491 by Charles C. Mann

I had some memorable semi-epic lines laid out for my review of Charles C. Mann’s 1491, but as someone who has only recently discovered xenophobia and it’s joys reading a book about a distant culture and it’s achievements naturally made me feel great. While my inner xenophobia has generally not been taken fearful of American Indians 1491, at the very least, points to what’s wrong with the assumptions of those often in control, we forget that the other has a life too. 1491 consists of a series of semi-histories intended to summarize research on the North American Indians, The South American groups of Mexico and Peru and finally the Amazonian folks. What it shows is what we should naturally assume about any group, that were using their environment and pursuing pathways that often showed quite a bit of ingenuity. Perhaps most impressively, Amazonian Natives developed a form of fertilizer from charcoal and silt that managed to turn rainforest’s clay into farm able land while supplanting the rainforest’s natural plants orchards of cultivated trees and the occasional forest pathway. The multiple cultures of upper Amazonian to Middle America I was already familiar with their invention of zero, pyramids, and other things, but still reading about bolos and other things does make you aware of just how quickly folks have developed different strategies and employed them to good use. What Mann suggests towards the end is inline with contemporary academias ideas over the past 50 or so years, that the world doesn’t work in linear lines of developments, but clusters of blossoming that ultimately lead up to innovations. Hence it is possible the Native Americans didn’t lose their lands to technological unsophistication or cultural “backwardness” but instead of a lack of immunity to diseases and perhaps more likely a feeling that perhaps they could get along with the Europeans coming over the seas. Every story is more compliacted than it first appears, but Manns book isn’t one intended to counter racism (after all I’ve never even heard a genetic arguement about native americans floated in the U.S.)  but to make us aware of the realities of current anthropology and to remind us of the remarkable additions they made to world culture as a whole (corn, beans, and squash) and finally to point to their own innovations (the great alliance of North American Indians was a somewhat democratic enterprise). Perhaps if I wasn’t terribly xenophobic these days, I would have read this as a summary of anthropology these days, but as it stands it’s a good book and a rather interesting taken on what were some truly interesting cultures.

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December 30, 2006 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

Koki Tanaka Everything is Everything

Koki Tanaka (no not the pop star) uses short films to display small acts of well I don’t know pointlessness? Everything is Everything (which I couldn’t find a picture of) consists of a series of videos and the objects that comprise them. Each object then performs a small task… usually one that involves it’s collapse. Mops, blinds, and other objects lose their purpose and become part of a comic dialogue of slapstick like falls, meandering and never quite coming to a conclusion. Koki’s stuff reminds of childish pranks I used to perform like shaking up cokes to the point of explosion and them throwing them over the fence it our neighboring church where they would explode on suvs spraying sugar and all over cars, and it’s perhaps this exploration of the joy of destruction that motivates his work. Tanaka isn’t taken with the usefullness of objects, but rather the serene feeling we arrive at when we simply deny our will to construction usefullness from the everyday. Koki reminds us that objects only take on their usefullness when we decide use them for their accepted purposes, environments aren’t naturally taken with uses (trust me I teach a group of 5 year olds that are obsessed with racing chairs across the floor) but rather only take on the vestiges of civilization when we decide to use them correctly. Koki’s rebellion might be all the more vital becuase he reconnects with a world of objects before mothers and other figures kindly reminded us not to walk on chairs and sofas, bounce on the bed, play with the blinds, etc. Everything is Everything suggests that any object could be anything if only we could forget it’s rules and merely practice the art of destroying usefullness more often. The world can be play, it need not be as utiliarian of as usefull as we originally purposed it sometimes a spilled coke isn’t really a mess.

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December 30, 2006 at 2:06 pm Leave a comment


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