Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Charles Olson, from Mayan Letters

                        other constellations & zodiac
not to speak of
            &, above all
            human eyes


man as object in field of force declaring self as force because is force in exactly such relation & can accomplish expression of self as force by conjecture, & displacement in a context best, now, seen as space more than a time such; which, I take it, is precise contrary to, what we have had, as ‘humanism,’ with, man, out of all proportion of, relations, thus, so mis-centered, becomes, depdendent on, only, a whole series of ‘human’ references which, so made, make only anthropomorphism, and thus, make mush of, any reality, conspicuously, his own, not to speak of, how all other forces (ticks, water-lilies, or snails) becomes only descriptive objects…

LeAnn Howe, The Chaos of Angels (1994)

When the Upper and Lower Worlds of the Southeastern Indians collide in the Between World, there is a reaction in This World. Our ancestors called it "Huksuba." Today we say "chaos." Huksuba, or chaos, occurs when Indians and Non-Indians bang their heads together in search of cross-cultural understanding. The sound is often a dull thud, and the lesson leaves us all with a bad headache.
First there is the 2 am heartbeat. The sound of my own breathing keeps me from sleep. I leave my bed for the comfort of the heated outdoor swimming pool, and the relentless motion of water.
In New Orleans, during February, delicate lukewarm rain falls. Fog exists. The night sky, neon and purple fire, compete for the senses.
In the central courtyard of the old world hotel, green French shutters hang on eighteenth century windows. A black woman peers from behind a shuttered window. She stares at me floating alone in the heated outdoor pool.
This gilded black figure throws a red swatch of cloth tied with chicken feathers out the window. The cloth flies away.
I continue in silence, pretending to ignore the tease. Intrigued only by steaming water. Intimate with my own nakedness.
Again, there is a summons. A moment of red. A moment of deafness, and a crowless rooster flies from the arms of the black woman. She is craving attention. She will get it. Enough is enough.
Onto the courtyard with much ado, marched green-footed doormen, with blue-tattooed mouths. Heartbeat for heartbeat, two-by-two, they are turtles in disguise.
Ancient ones out of the mud of the Mississippi River, they stand ready and watching over me. They've come to remind her that the conquering hordes only thought the Choctaw camps were abandoned and the dogs were mute, and the stains on their hands, red-colored and blue, were sweet scent.
"After all," I whisper aloud. "Have you ever seen what a turtle does to the reckless fowl who lands in its water space?"
Soon the black woman departs, laughing. The joke is on her.

The next day, I catch a flight out of New Orleans bound for Dallas Texas. On the plane, a beautiful Haitian flight attendant offers me a strong red drink. Red again.
Her voice is lilting and mysterious. She cups her hands around my hands when she gives me the red drink. I swallow it without breathing.
In New Orleans, everyone I know is drunk fifty-percent of the time. I myself, am drunk fifty-percent of the time. Naw'lins people say "likkah" for liquor. Absolute for vodka.
I pass out thinking about the smoothness of the Haitian woman's hands and how her long, slender fingers remind me of the ancient Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Beinville. His hands are said to have helped shape the "New World."
Bienville still roams the streets of New Orleans, the city he platted out of swamp land in 1718. I saw him one night on d'Iberville street in the French Quarter. Ears back, eyes rolling in his head, he more resembled a tree frog hugging a lamppost than a jazzman fingering a saxophone. But it was him.
My Choctaw ancestors called Bienville, Filanchi, which is short for "Our Frenchman, the Nail Bitter." They liked him, although he was nervous and could never take a joke. The first time they invited him for dinner he started making problems that have continued until now.
Back in the old days, dining with the tribe was not at all like having dinner with your next-door neighbor. No, Choctaw dinners were meant to be experienced. These weeklong elaborately arranged soirees were evenings of collective communication. Dinner guest were always selected carefully, juxtaposing good jokers with good listeners. Guests were also expected to report in great detail about other tribal groups, gossip being one of our favorite sports. However, what Bienville did before the meal had begun was to toss some third rate glass beads on the ground and ask if my relatives would trade them for "un morceau de terre." (A morsel of land somewhere.)
This glitch in decorum put a damper on the cross-cultural understanding between the French and Choctaw peoples. Such was this breach of etiquette that my relatives decided to have some fun with him.
"You want us to exchange land for these flimsy discount beads? What kind of chicanery are you trying to pull on vos amis les sauvages." (Your friends, the savages?)
"Ne vendez pas la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tuée.' " Do not sell the bearskin before you've killed the bear." "N'est pas mon ami?" said my grandmother. She loved to mock his speech.
"Besides," she continued, "the English traders are giving us some terrific deals on black powder muskets." (You may or may not remember that the rivalry between the French and the English traders in the early eighteenth century was at a fever pitch at this time.)
At this point Bienville's expression underwent a complete and violent change. He started in on my relatives and would not let up.
"When zee English, and your friends, zee Chickasaws, were beating the shish kebob out of you in 1702, who came in with zee foreign policy muscle to save your corn, your potatoes, your tomatoes, your pumpkins, your beans, and your yellow-squashed asses? Just who?" shouted the little Frenchmen with confidence.
Bienville pointed to my relatives seated before him he continued. "Just who used zheir swag to provide you with weapons and gun powder, interest free? Tell me? Any one of you who zhinks t was zee English, raise your hands!
"Ah-h-h Ha, no takers! Bon. We are getting somewhere. Just who. . ."
My grandmother near went deaf from listening to this tirade. Before Filanchi could tune-up for another crybaby episode she called together a special session of all the men and women to decide what to do with him. Some wanted to kill him right on the spot, others thought of torture. Elder heads prevailed and they decided to have some fun with him. Sort of. They traded him the swampland that belonged to our cousins, the Bayougoulas. That's right. Swamp land.
In return, my relatives received some first rate axes, some metal pots, and a dozen used musket rifles. They also took the flimsy glass beads off his hands. When my relatives told the Bayougoulas what happened, they all went four-paws-up laughing because the land that had been traded was a huge flood plain. Six months out of every year it was knee deep in water, snakes and alligators. Nowhere were there more mosquitoes than on that piece of land. Most days of the year the air was so thick with them that you couldn't distinguish one person from another ten paces a way.
Naturally my relatives shared the trade goods with the Bayougoulas and the whole wheedling affair was largely forgotten by both peoples. Then one afternoon a group of Choctaws were tramping though the area and stumbled across Filanchi and his soldiers camping; now get this, in two feet of water. Imagine their surprise. My grandfather called to him from higher ground. (He was not an imbecile, after all.)
"Filanchi, what are you doing down there?"
Well, he started in on Grandfather just like he had Grandmother. He was flailing his hands like a lunatic and babbling on and on. The gist of his harangue, and I hope I'm not misquoting him, was that the land was his. The end.
"Messieurs Choctaws, as you remember, I have traded for zeese land fair and square, and by our Holy Reverend Father, I will defend it to zee death."
Filanchi then went on to say that the bayous had overflowed so furiously that he and his men had been four months in waist high water. My grandfather had to turn away to keep from laughing himself silly.
Filanchi staggered. "You're femmes assured me zhat zeese place was never inundated. Look at zeese mess! I don't understand? Zeese is all your fault."
Poor thing. He could barely see to curse my grandfather because the mosquitoes had stung him in both eyes, and he had tried to cover his swollen face with a sort of bandage-like-thing. It was in this sad moment that we realized the truth of the matter. Our Frenchman, The Nail Biter, did not have all his oars in the water. Since advice is the most repulsive of all faults, showing disrespect for the feathers of common sense in others, my relatives left him there soaked to the skin, standing in the middle of "New France." And it wasn't until much later that we realized the joke was on us.

Now, as I have said into eternity, there was a continual rhythm of give and take among Indian tribes in the southeast. We gave, they gave. That's how things had been done for about 2,000 years, until Filanchi showed up. I'm not kidding; no one had ever wanted land forever. This was an anomaly. This changed all rules of government-to-government cooperation. We had no idea how to proceed.
Oh, I take that back. My relatives had come across this kind of thing before. Grandmother loved to tell the story about these people, I think they were from Spain or Portugal, anyway, they ventured into our territory and just demanded all the tribe's gold. Choctaws never did have any. Not really. Occasionally they could trade for it down South, but my relatives never had any use for it. These spiritual shoppers however would not take no for an answer. First they begged, pestered, then threatened:
"O nos dais el maldito oro, o os cortamos el cuello!"
Finally our men gave in. They heated up the gold into a fiery red liquid and poured it down the tourist's throats.

As I chuckle to myself about Grandmother's story, I began to lose my concentration. I believe I am back at my writing desk, working on another chapter of my novel, or filming a scene of an avant-garde video I want to produce. But my mind is in chaos. Suddenly, Bienville steps into my brain with his saxophone hooked on his neck chain. He begins playing a little melody, but he stops long enough to deliver narration into an invisible microphone:
"It is morning. A young woman is window-shopping in zee French Quarter. In zee background zhere are other stores, other shops, but zhey are out of focus. Zhere are other people milling around, but zhey are in zee background and blurred.
"La femme stops in front of a large storefront window. She is wearing a white raincoat and carrying a white plastic umbrella.
"Our heroine stares into the bedroom shop window. She sees zhere are two intertwined, faceless figures lying on zee bed. Zee figures are covered completely by white cotton sheets and beneath the sheets zhey are wearing white full-body stockings. Zee white rain woman believes zhey are two murdered corpses, until zhey begin coupling as if by an automated timer."
He plays another riff on his saxophone, then continues his soliloquy:
"Zee stocking people begin to make love. One tenderly mounts zee other. Zhey hunch slowly in heartbeat rhythm. Zhe lover's faces and hair color remain anonymous to our heroine, her breathing quickens and she wets her lips with her tongue and chants in sync with the rhythmic lovers, fuck me. Fuck me."
"Oh God, zeese is good!" says Bienville.
"Help," I holler and sit straight up in my seat.
I'm confused. Maybe I'm drunk? Just as I think I've come to my senses someone shakes me awake.
It looks like a bug-eyed man, with thick wide lips, wearing cowboy clothes and an obnoxious leather belt with the capital letters B-u-l-l etched across the silver buckle.
"Are you practicing safe sex, gal? Holy Cow. Look out the window. The earth is much bigger than I guessed. Wait until Grandmother hears about this"
I slap myself in the face, but this thing is still seated next to me.
"Do I know you?" I ask. "And what do you mean was I practicing safe sex?"
"Of course you know me. But I don't know what I mean. Not anymore. Thoughts just pop in my head. I guess it's because you are thinking about sex and water, and power. I just say what pops in my head.
"Rivvit, rivvit . . . . . . . Oops."
This thing cups it'd slender hands over its mouth and shyly looks at me. Then it chatters on like I am an old friend. It isn't even speaking a language, although it is mimicking a language. Every few phrases are in English but they are gibberish.
"You know," it says, "I think cats and alligators are related. They have those same funny eyes. Slanted pupils. And, you know alligators and birds are related. Hollow bones. I think cats could fly once upon a time. You know how they're always climbing trees and they don't mind when you throw them off buildings. Wow! Look down zhere. Is that a lake?"
"Rivvit, rivvit. . . . . .ah, excuse me,"
I am alive. I am flying in an airplane somewhere over Louisiana and Texas. However, judging from this thing's obsession with cats, I realize I'm staring at an ancient French frog, a hold over from last night's spirit world rivalry.
You see, cats held great mystery to the eighteenth century French people. Cats appealed to poets like Baudelaire, and yet to the citizens of Aix-en-Provence, cats were used like baseballs before cheering crowds as they smacked kitten and tomcat alike into the nearest wall. But that's not the worst of it. They also ate their brains when they wanted to be invisible, provided the gray matter was still hot.
The French also made a mixed drink from cat feces and red wine that they called a tonic for colic. (And they called Indians, les sauvages.)
It was the French who coined the phrase, "Patient as a cat whose paws are being grilled." They also believed that cats were witches in disguise, so brave French men and women devised remedies to save themselves from danger by maiming, "Kitty-kitty."
They cut kitty's tails, clipped kitty's ears, smash kitty's legs, tore or burned kitty's fur, and hanged kitty until almost dead. The thinking in France, at the time was that a mutilated housecat would be too embarrassed to walk into a church and cast a spell. Go figure?
The cat was also symbolic of "Old World" sexual culture: Le chat, la chatte, le minuet, is short for the English expression, "pussy." If a Frenchman petted a kitten, he would have success in courting a mate. If a French woman stepped on a cat's tail she would not get her man.
Cats were strictly "Old World" thing. So were barnyard chickens. Both were foreign imports to the "New World." I am proud to say that the Indians never ate cats. We preferred deer, bear, buffalo, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peaches, pecans, and of course, the turkey. As far as the Choctaws were concerned, chickens were entirely too small to satisfy serious Choctaw diners.
After looking more closely at the French frog seated next to me, I recognized "it" for whom it was. Bienville, that big phony, was disguised as a bullfrog. I glance around the cabin for the Haitian woman, knowing she is in on this nightmare, but she's nowhere to be found.
Now he starts in on me, just like he had Grandmother. "You know I like flying," he says coyly. "Of course, this can't compare to riding in a red, 1963 Ford Galaxy convertible with the top down listening to Nancy Sinatra sing, "These Boots Are Made For Walking."
"I love my cowboy boots. Whadda you think of them?
"I sing myself electronic!
"You know why Sitting Bull was a star? It was because he had a good public relations man.
"Reality is a rubber band you can pull in any direction."
I clinched my fists and scream. "Shut up, shut up, shut up. I want you to shut up and go away. What do you want? Who sent you?"
A different flight attendant walked past us, and we both smiled at her as if nothing was wrong. He looks away, rueful and uneasy, and bites a loose fingernail. Finally he pulls his wide lips together, until his mouth resembles an egg. "You should have remembered that for every action there is a reaction. I don't know how much that vulgar display of alchemy in the swimming pool cost you last night. I think you've lost Grandmother's respect. She said you always act like 'Puss 'n Boots'."
"My grandmother told you no such thing. If you don't stop lying I'm going to put you in a mayonnaise jar and screw the lid on tight."
My threat has little impact. The banter finally stops because he pulls a tiny saxophone from underneath his seat and begins playing Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster. And I closed my eyes and try to dream him away.

The memories that will come back to me when I dream are so far removed by generations that the pain of them is no longer present. They roll forward like silent videos of something that happened, not to me, not to my bones that inhabit these memories, but to the part of me they are.
My first memories are of complete darkness. You would not call them memories, but something given by blood from her, while she still carried me in her body.
First, there is the sound of water and heartbeat. A call from the Upper World to the Lower World. Choctaws crawled up through the mud of the Nanih Waiya, and into the sun's light. We washed ourselves off and combed our long hairs. Some of us lived like crayfish. Some of us lived like turtles. Some of us lived like raccoons. Some of us lived like coiled snakes end to end. Some of us lived like people. We danced, prayed, practiced our songs, learned to hunt, and grew the tall green corn that balanced our lives for 2000 years before the whites forcibly removed us to Oklahoma. After the long walk on the trail of bad memories and tears to "Indian Territory" our past experiences seemed to change us.
I can still see my relatives now, walking west at sunset. Fireballs are bursting around their heads. Then my grandmother falls down. Something is wrong with her.
"Get up, Grandmother, get up. I pull at her shoulders but she doesn't move. "Somebody help her." Suddenly, I am running for help. In the next moment, someone shakes me awake. The frog has disappeared, but the woman from the hotel courtyard is sitting next to me.
"You called?" she asked. "Haven't you forgotten that the French took some of your relatives to Haiti where they continue to live, even today? How could you forget that we are sisters? Maybe the joke is on you, after all?
I start to laugh at myself.
"Are you finished with me?" I ask, trying to hide my embarrassment.
"Not yet," she answers. "Come with me."
I follow her to the first class section of the plane. Sitting in the front row was my Grandmother watching, "Star Wars" on the big screen. When she turns to look at me, her warm smile pulls me down beside her.
"I love this movie, don't you?" she whispers. "Darth Vader wears such wonderful headgear."
"Grandmother, what are you doing here?" I ask.
"First, she played a joke," she says pointing with her lips at my relative. "Then you forgot your sense of humor, and now I'm finishing this joke. We all must work hand in hand. Besides it was time for Bienville to return to his group. Enough's enough. Shu-u-sh-h, this is where they blow the Death Star to pieces," she says.
I look at her with wonder. "Grandmother, I don't know what to think about anything anymore."
She turns from the movie and continues whispering. "Never forget we are all alive! All people, all animals, all living things; and what you do here affects all of us everywhere. What we do affects you, too."
She pats my face and begins talking in a normal voice. "Our ancestors survived wars, the Europeans, diseases, and removal from our homelands. Now, my group, which is many generations older than your group, is learning how to survive the chaos of all these ethnocentric angels. It's what we've started to call, "a cross-cultural afterlife, living challenge."
She smiles and gently says, "It beats banging our heads together."
With that, she grabs my sister's hands and my hands, and the three of us watch Darth Vader alone zooming across the universe in a tiny spaceship. In the tribal ethos, being isolated form one's relatives is the worse horror we can imagine, so we hold each other tight in the scary parts and wonder what will happen next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charles Olson, Letter to Ezra Pound (1948)

Ya, I know, people don’t get time these days. And agreed: the only way to get a core is what you tell us. But brother: we get decomposed here. We are not decomposition via the Atlantic. The frontier here is where you are—also where my father arrived. And my grandfather, to get the date back before the post hoc fallacy…

The breakdown of the cells: the Indians of the Northwest used to call all whites “Boston men.” Yr gd damn Europeans (I speak of my ancestors) (and yrs) acted from the start like a fucking bunch of G.I.s on leave in invaded country. Holiday. (Exception: Cabeza de Vaca. He knew.
            His grandfather had conquered the
            Canaries, and C de V was raised by
            “colored” folk.)
Aristotelian VD bastards.

I’m with you. You got to start somewhere. Ok. We’re starting. But let’s you see what yr people are. Truculent ummugrunts.
                                                           Yes sir.
                                                                 one of em
                                                           CHARLES JOHN HINES OLSON

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chief Luther Standing Bear, from Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933)

The Lakota was a true naturist - a lover of nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tepees were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing.

That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.
Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakotas safe among them and so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.
In the Indian the spirit of the land is vested; it will be until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythm. Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers' bones.
[The Indian] was kin to all living things and he gave to all creatures equal rights with himself. Everything of earth was loved and reverenced.

As yet I know of no species that was exterminated until the coming of the white man … The white man considered animal life just as he did the natural man life upon this continent as "pests." There is no word in the Lakota vocabulary with the English meaning of this word … Forests were mown down, the buffalo exterminated, the beaver driven to extinction and his wonderfully constructed dams dynamited … and the very birds of the air silenced … The white man has come to be the symbol of extinction for all things natural in this continent. Between him and the animal there is no rapport and they have learned to flee from his approach, for they cannot live on the same ground.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chile Mapuche Music

Jaime de Angulo, from Indians in Overalls

“All right, Bill, but tell me just one thing now: there was a world now; then there were a lot of animals living on it, but there were no people then…”

“Whad’you mean there were no people? Ain’t animals people?”

“Yes, they are… but…”

“They are not Indians, but they are people, they are alive... Whad’you mean animal?”

“Well… how do you say ‘animal’ in Pit River?

“…I dunno…”

“But suppose you wanted to say it?”

“Well… I guess I would say something like tee-qaade-wade toolol aakaadsi (world-over all living)… I guess that means animals, Doc”

“I don’t see how Bill. That means people, also. People are living aren’t they?”

“Sure they are! That’s what I am telling you. Everything is living, even the rocks, even that bench you are sitting on. Somebody made that bench for a purpose, didn’t he? Well then it’s alive, isn’t it? Everything is alive. That’s what we Indians believe. White people think everything is dead…”

“Listen, Bill. How do you say ‘people’?”

“I don’t know… just is, I guess.”

“I thought that meant ‘Indian.’”

“Say… Ain’t we people?!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jaime de Angulo, from Indian Tales

The next morning while they were sitting around the fire eating acorn mush and rabbit ham and little round roasted balls made from the nuts of the laurel tree pounded into paste, Antelope and Bear started to argue. Bear said, “I don’t understand how Coyote could make people as something new that had never been before, since he himself and Hawk and Flint and the Ducks and all the others were already people. That’s too much for me.”
Coyote Old Man just squinted and smiled and went on eating laurel-nut balls and rabbit ham, but Antelope said, “Aaah, you don’t understand anything. He didn’t say last night that his great-grandfather’s grandfather made people, he said that Hawk complained because there were no people.”
“Well, isn’t that just what I was saying? I said that you said that Grandfather said—“
But Fox Boy interrupted, “Why don’t you listen to the stories instead of talking like two magpies?”
“Well, what does the story say then, you smart boy?”
“How can I tell after you two have mixed it all up?”
“At that Old Man Coyote burst out laughing and almost strangled on a rabbit bone.”
“That boy is clever all right,” he said. But Bear grumbled, “You are so clever yourself, Old Man, well then, tell me why you say that you made people when there were already people.”
“Because I am Coyote Old Man. I am a very old man. I am a thousand  years old. I KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENED AFTER THE BEFORE and before the after!”
Bear growled, “That doesn’t make sense what you say,” but Coyote shot back, “It doesn’t make sense to YOU because you are a young man yet, Mr. Bear. You are too young yet to understand.”
At that, Fox Boy started to dance. He whooped and yelled and sang, “Father is too young, Father is too young.” He took Antelope by the hand and they both danced around the fire singing, “Father is too young, Father is too young.”
Old Man Coyote got up and took the little baby Quail in his arms and he joined the dance around the fire. Bear growled, “Just a bunch of kids. I’m going to hunt rabbits. Somebody has got to do something useful in this camp.”
“Wait a minute Father, I’m going with you.”
Antelope took up her weaving material; she had commenced a new basket. Coyote was watching her. He said, “Why don’t you weave in the Quail pattern?”
“I don’t know how it goes. Do you?”
“Yes, I’ll show you how,” and old man Coyote took the basket from her. His fingers went fast, fast, fast. Pretty soon you could see all the Quail running around and around the basket, black figures on the white background.
“That’s beautiful,” said Antelope. Coyote gave her back the basket and she continued weaving, but she had to go slowly because it was a new pattern to her and she had often had to stop and ask instructions from the old man Coyote. Coyote was rocking the baby Quail in her cradle board.
“I’ll sing the Quail song for you.”
                        Daabo le eema ma a...

Native American Church, Old Peyote Music

Native American Church, Peyote Music

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, "The Notion of Species in History and Anthropology," trans. Frederico Santos Soares de Freitas and Zeb Tortorici, ed. Álvaro Fernández Bravo

I do not have the competence to speak about the history of the notion of  species in Western philosophy.  In the case of anthropology, the notion comes into play in two distinct conceptual contexts.
In the first place, and most importantly—as it involves the very definition of the object of the discipline—anthropology has, from its outset, clung to the postulate of the “psychic unity of the species,” which is equivalent to the defining of the human species by its “psychic” capacities, meaning, in this case, cognitive capacities. This, in turn, presupposes a foundational discontinuity between our species and all others, given that the “psychic unity” suggests that our species counter-unifies all others into a single sub-psychic (or a-psychic) realm, which is exhaustively determined by an extra-psychic corporeality. The idea of species, in this case, works in a somewhat paradoxical fashion, given that for anthropology there is, strictly speaking, only one species—the human—which cloaks itself in the nature of a genus or domain, as the “ontic” or “empiric” differences among myriad living species are neutralized by the greater “ontological” or “transcendental” difference between this special species and the other mundane species. Humanity works here as a collective angel, in the sense that, for some medieval thinkers, angels were thought of as being individuals who were each a species in their own regard. The analogy with angels is not accidental, since humanity was frequently thought of as an entity “halfway between ape and angel.” It is unnecessary to emphasize that here the aspect of the “ape” pertains to the body while the “angel” signifies the soul or the “psychic unity.” Anthropology is congenitally dualist, and because of that the idea of species is less a way of situating man among a natural multiplicity than of radically setting him apart as unically dual and dually unique.
On the other hand, any attempt at introducing anthropologically (i.e. “psychically”) relevant discontinuities to the animal realm, understood as the residual domain of the non-human, threatens the homogeneity, and thus the integrity of the human species as one of coherent unity. It is as if there existed a zero-sum game between internal unity and external counter-unity: every meaningful internal differentiation of the external domain of the non-human threatens to differentiate internally the domain of the human, externalizing part of this domain as something quasi- or sub-human. In other words, everything takes place as if the only mode of exorcising racism (internal speciesism) were through the strengthening of external speciesism (the theory of human exceptionality). However, Lévi-Strauss, in his famous homage to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1962), already warned that the relationship between racism and speciesism is not one of discontinuity, but rather one of continuity. Speciesism anticipates and prepares for racism:
Never in the course of the past four centuries has western man been in a better position to realize that by arrogating to himself the right to raise a wall dividing mankind from the beast in nature, and appropriating to himself all the qualities he denied the latter, he was setting in motion an infernal cycle. For this same wall was to be pulled steadily tighter, serving to set some men apart from other men and to justify in the minds of an ever-shrinking minority their claim to being the only civilization of men. Such a civilization, based as it was on the principle and notion of self-conceit, was corrupt from the very start.
Secondly, the concept of species was mobilized in anthropology to account for a phenomenon whose intellectual history is indissociable from that very discipline, namely, the so called “totemism” or, more generally, the innumerable devices for internal differentiation of a society that resorts to the perceptible differences between living species (or, more generally, the so-called “natural kinds”) to think the segmentation of the socius in categories that are articulated horizontally or vertically. The classical interpretation of totemic phenomena saw them as manifestations of an originary identity between humans, animals, and other forms of life. If not the first, once more Lévi-Strauss was the anthropologist who inverted the terms of the problem and called attention to the fact that the identity between two different genera (the human and the generic non-human) was subordinated to the contrast between two systems of difference; the differences between “natural” species; and the differences between “social” species or segments that are internal to human society. It is worth noting that the explanation, although it emphasizes the internal differences of the non-human domain, continues to think through the “natural chain” (série natural) of totems as globally discontinuous in relation to the “cultural chain” (série cultural) of social segments. The father of structuralism, in the end, would cast the notion of species into an absolutely central role within his image of the “savage mind”: species appears as the central operator of an essentially classificatory reason, located halfway between the individual and the category. Moreover, for Lévi-Strauss, species is the empirical equivalent of the complete sign (signo pleno), halfway between the sheer concrete ostentation (the individual) and the abstract category (the concept).  As a unit of a multiplicity, species appears as the very form of the Object to the savage mind. In this sense, the savage mind is Aristotelian (and vice-versa), as pointed by Scott Atran.
One should note that the first context of the use of the notion of species is anthropocentric—the human species is not a species like the others, for it expresses determinations that are inexistent in the other species, where taken as a whole. Indeed, it expresses a certain essential indetermination, an irreducibility towards those natural determinations that differentiate species among themselves. As we have seen, the human species is dual, being at the same time a species and a domain, an empirical entity and a transcendental subject who knows its own condition and, in this sense, frees him- or herself from it. The second context of use—totemic systems—remains anthropocentric to some extent, in that living species are thought of as being enmeshed in biunivocal relations with human sub-species (the totemic segments). Each totemic species corresponds to a “type” of human, it is a partial humanity; as if the universe, represented in miniature by the finite multiplicity of the totemic species, were in a projective homologic relationship with society. The relationship between society as microcosmos and cosmos as macro-society establishes a formal identity between internal and external relations.
The discovery of “multinatural perspectivism” as the presuppositional ground for the Amerindian cosmologies—and in many cases as a doctrine explicitly elaborated in shamanism and native mythologies—led to the conceptual position of a non-anthropocentric virtuality of the idea of species. Perspectivism is the name we have given to a formulation culturally characteristic of the so-called “animism,” a cosmological attitude that consists of refusing the psychic discontinuity between the different types of beings that populate the cosmos, imagining all the inter-species differences as a horizontal extension, analogic or metonymic, of intra-species differences (and not, as in the case of totemism, as their “vertical” repetition, homologic or metaphoric). The human species then ceases to be a separate domain and starts to define the “universe of discourse”: all the species-specific differences appear as modalities of the human. This causes the human condition to cease being “special” and to become, instead, the default mode or generic condition of any species. The domain of nature characterized as a province that is counter-unified by the eminent unity of the human domain, in essence, disappears. Animism is “anthropomorphic” to the exact extent that it is anti-anthropocentric.  The human form is, literally, the form from which all species emerge: each of the species is a finite mode of a humanity as universal substance. This includes the human species (as we understand it), which effectively becomes just another species: the differences between human sub-species (the social segments of a particular people or of different peoples) are of the same nature as the human “super-species,” i.e., those which we call natural species.
Perspectivism is the presupposition that each living species is human in its own department, human for itself (humano para si), or better, that everything is human for itself (todo para si é humano) or anthropogenic. This idea originates in indigenous cosmogonies, where the primordial form of the being is human: “in the beginning there was nothing,” say some Amazonian myths, “there were only people.” Thus, the different types of beings and phenomena that populate and wander the world are transformations of this primordial humanity.
Such an originary condition persists as a kind of “background anthropomorphic radiation,” making it so that all current species apprehend themselves more or less as intensely as humans. Insofar as they are not apprehended by the other species as humans, the distinction between reflexive or internal perspective and “third person” or external perspective is crucial.  The difference between species ceases to be merely an external distinction, as it comes to constitutively incorporate a change in any being’s point of view. What defines a species is the difference between the internal and the external point of view of the species on itself of all the other species on that species in particular. Thus, on the one hand, all species becomes “dual,” consisting of a spiritual dimension (the interior human “person” of each species) and a corporal dimension (the “clothing” or corporeal equipment that is distinctive of the capacities of each species). Upon universalizing itself, the invisible/visible, first-person/third-person duality stops singularizing one single species and begins to define every species as such. There is no longer a “definition” of species that can be made from a species-independent point of view. Every species is thus a point of view about (and in relation to) other species, and everything that exists is a species of species (uma espécie de espécie), in other words, a “subject.”
To the extent that every species is formally composed of a similar inside/outside, soul/body, human/non-human perspective oscillation—since every species apprehended from another species’ point of view is not apprehended as human, which includes our own species when considered, for example, from the point of view of jaguars, or of peccaries (to whom we are, respectively, peccaries and jaguars, or cannibal spirits)—the passing between species is much more fluid than in the case of our exceptionalist and anthropocentric cosmological vulgate. The species are fixed for Amazonian cosmologies in the sense that pertinent global transformations generally took place in one go in the pre-cosmological world of myth (myths are, in essence, narratives of the process of speciation)—there is not a continuist transformism  (transformismo continuísta), as our modern evolutionary biology would have it. But, at the same time the individuals of each species are able to “leap” from one species to another with relative ease, a process that is schematized principally in the imagery (imaginário) of alimentary predation: the incorporation by another species is frequently conceived as the integral transformation of the prey into a member of the predator’s own species. All of which seems to give meaning to Samuel Butler’s assertion that “there is no such persecutor of grain, as another grain when it has once fairly identified itself with a hen" (Life and Habit, 137). Another form of inter-species transformation is shamanism, which is the manifest capacity by certain individuals (of different species) to oscillate between the points of view of two (or more) species—being capable of seeing the members of both species as they see themselves, i.e., as humans, and thus being capable of communicating multiple points of view and rendering intelligible that which is noticeable only to them (the shamans), namely, the fact that each species appears to the other in a radically different way than it appears to itself.
The essential difference between this “perspectivism” and our own “multiculturalism” is that this variation of point of view does not only affect our “way of seeing” a world that would otherwise be objectively exterior to the point of view and larger than any possible point of view; it is an ontologically and epistemologically infinite world. In the first place, the perspectivist “world” is a world exhaustively composed of points of view: all beings and things in the world are potential subjects, hence the entities that “we see” are always seeing beings. That which we experiment is always a subject of a possible experience: every “object” is a type of “subject.” Secondly, the difference between species is not a difference of “opinion” or “culture” but rather a difference of “nature”: it is a difference in the way each species is experienced by others, i.e., as a body, as a collection of affections that are vulnerable to the senses, of capacities for modifying and being modified by agents of other species. The world as seen by another species is not the same world merely seen differently, rather, it is “another world” (“outro mundo”) that is seen in the same manner. Each species, by seeing itself as human, see the other species (that is, the world) as we—those who apprehend ourselves as human—see them. Every species see the world in the same way. There is only one point of view, the point of view of humanity. What changes is the point of view of this point of view: which species is seeing the world upon seeing itself as human? If it is the species of jaguars, then they will see (those we see as) humans as if they were peccaries, because human beings eat peccaries (and not other humans). All humans share the same culture—human culture. What changes is the nature of that which they see, according to the body these referential humans possess. The point of view is in the body. Perspectivism is not merely a theory of representation (of nature by the spirit), but rather a pragmatic of corporeal affection. It is the species-specific potency of each body that determines the correlative objective of universal cultural categories that are “applied” by all species in their human moment.
The living species, the difference between the species, therefore, is a fundamental concept in perspectivist worlds. But there species is not as much a principle of distinction as it is a principle of relation. To begin with, the difference between species is not anatomical or physiological, but behavioral or ethological (what distinguishes a species is much more its ethogram—what they eat, where they live, whether they live in group or not, etc.—than its morphology). In this sense, the differences between “species” do not lend themselves to be projected onto a homogenous ontological plane, unless we define corporeality as the constituent of such a plane; however, this corporeality is a heterogeneous and relational totality of affections rather than a substance endowed with attributes. Differences in the feeding habits of jaguars, peccaries, and humans, differences in feeding habits among human groups, the physical appearance of different animals and diverse peoples—all these differences are equally taken as differences that express diverse bodily affections. De jure, it is not more difficult for an Araweté to transform into a Kayapó than into a jaguar. The transformation processes implicate only qualitatively discrete affections.   Furthermore, inter-specific differences (diferenças inter-específicas) are blocs of relational virtualities, of modes of relative positioning of species among themselves. The difference between species is not a principle of segregation but of alternation: for what defines the specific difference is that two species (unlike two given individuals) cannot “be” both human at the same time, which means that both species cannot perceive themselves as human one for the other, or else they would cease to be two different species.

If we project perspectivism onto itself, and onto our own multiculturalism, we will be compelled to conclude that it is not possible to be at the same time perspectivist and multiculturalist. Nor is this even desirable. We must conclude, therefore, that these two anthropologies are inter-translatable (commensurable), but are incompatible (no dialectic synthesis is possible). I have been speaking in terms of “anthropologies” because I understand every cosmology to be an anthropology, not in the trivial sense that human beings are only able to think through human categories—the Indians would agree, but they would disagree that only our species is “human”— but in the sense that even our anthropocentrism is inevitably an anthropomorphism, and that every attempt to go beyond this “correlation” is merely an anthropocentrism in the negative, which still does and always will refer to the anthropos. Anthropomorphism, far from being a speciesism, as is anthropocentrism, be it Christian, Kantian, or neo-constructivist, expresses the originary “decision” to think the human as rooted within the world, not above it (even if at only one side of its dual being). In a world where every thing is human, humanity is an entirely different thing.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Barbara Tedlock, from Time and the Highland Maya

In addition to the counting and interpretation of the 260-day cycle, Momostecan divination employs another major technique: the interpretation of jumping or twitching movements in the blood and muscles of the diviner, movements that reflect, on a microcosmic level, the flashing of sheet lightning over the lakes of the macrocosm. The divinatory interpretation of blood movements has been reported over a wide area of Mesoamerica. In Chiapas and other parts of Mexico, and in Belize, the diviner feels such movements in the body of the client, but in Guatemala they occur in the diviner’s own body. My research demonstrates a clear and direct link between the speaking of the blood and the counting of the calendar within a single divinatory performance and also reveals that blood movements may occur anywhere in the entire body. The meanings of these movements are mapped according to a multidimensional scheme.
The systems of interpretation of the day names (among the Quiché in general) and for the blood movements (among Momostecans and perhaps more broadly) are dialectical rather than analytical in their logical patterns. Although some days are predominantly negative and others are predominantly positive, no one day name is totally negative or totally positive in its possibilities. In the blood system, the paired terms proximal/distal (with reference to the fingers) and flesh/bone are in analytical positive/negative opposition; however, the front-back, left-right, over-under, inside-outside, and rapid-slow pairs are in an interpenetrating, dialectical relationship. The center line of the body is not the place where ambiguity or mediation emerges, as it would be in an analytical scheme, but is rather the one vantage point from which differences appear to be in open conflict.
The interpretation of blood movements poses problems for the anthropological attempt to divide rituals for the exploration of nonpresent time into “divination,” which is a dualistic, analytical system that uncovers private illness within the public body, and “revelation,” which is a nondualistic, holistic system that emphasizes the health of society and nature at large.[1] From this point of view, the blood system would appear to be a species of divination insofar as it proceeds according to binary opposition and is directed to the investigation of private illness. Yet at the very same time, it incorporates dialectical complementarities (a holistic dualism whose possibility has not been seriously considered before), together with metaphors that tie it to the world directional system and thus raise it to a cosmic level. The red dwarf C’oxol, who strikes blood lightning into the bodies of diviners with his stone axe, is not merely an occupational divinity venerated by diagnosticians of illness, but is also a symbol of continuing Quiché resistance to spiritual conquest.
Quiché resistance to the replacement of old customs with new ones is based, in part, on Quiché conceptions of time. As in other matters, thought proceeds dialectically rather than analytically, which means that no given time, whether past, present, or future, can ever be totally isolated from the segments of time that precede or follow it. This does not mean that innovations must be resisted, but that they should be added to older things rather than replacing them…
Even such successive creations and cataclysmic destructions of the world as are described in the Popol Vuh involve no analytical compartmentalization of time; rather, each retains heritages from all previous ages. Deer and birds date from the first age, for example, and monkeys from the third; even gods overthrown in previous ages remain a part of later pantheons. Among the contemporary Quiché, the miniature stone animals and fruits collected for household shrines are regarded as relics of a previous age. On a smaller scale, this cumulative sense of time can be seen in the fact that a man who rises from the status of an ordinary daykeeper to that of a lineage, then a canton or ward, and finally a town priest-shaman does so not by passing from one job to another, but by piling one job on top of another.
Accumulation appears again the list of predecessors that a lineage priest-shaman recites before his shrines, or the statement of one such priest-shaman, that “these shrines are like a book where everything—all births, marriages, deaths, successes, and failures—is written down.” Theoretically, there is no limit to the potential length of such a book. This is an important point, because too much emphasis has been laid on the cyclical, or repeating, nature of the Mesoamerican concept of time, in order to contrast it with Western lineal, or historical, time. From the point of view of the 260-day  cycle and the blood movements, time and events certainly repeat themselves, but when the day Junajpu or a movement on the back of the body points to the deed of an ancestor, as they have pointed many times before, the questions next asked will be directed toward discovering the uniqueness of that deed and the actual name of the ancestor.
The investigation of the events of another time, then, involves a dialectic between the cyclical and the lineal aspects of time. The interaction of these same two forces in present time produces a strain along the localized boundaries where one named and measured segment of time must succeed and replace another. The strain is accommodated by treating that boundary as an imbrication, or overlap, rather than an instantaneous transition. The small-scale imbrication of two successive named days is illustrated by the problem of divining the meaning of a dream. Instead of attempting to determine whether the dream occurred before or after midnight, the diviner will question both of the days involved, since one of them “handed the dream over” to the other. In other words, night is a time when the influences of two “successive” Day Lords overlap. The series of permissions sought for the “mixing-pointing” of a novice daykeeper does not get underway all at once but has a partial beginning on 1 Quej and is not considered to be in full swing until twenty days later, on  8 Quej. Further, the end of this series is imbricated with the beginning of the series of permissions for the “work-service.” The latter begins when the “mixing-pointing” has partially, but not fully, come to an end, just as the end of the “work-service” series will be imbricated, in turn, with the time that follows it. A similar process occurs at the boundary between two solar years; the new year is not considered to have finished arriving until its Mam has occurred twice (twenty days apart). That imbrication was a general Mayan pattern is shown by an example (on a still larger scale) from Prehispanic Yucatán, where the idol that ruled a katun (a twenty-day period) had to share its first ten years in the temple with its predecessor; further, it remained ten years after the end of its own reign, to keep company with its successor.[2]
The intervals and imbrications of the 260-day and 365-day calendars are formal and fixed, requiring no ongoing observations of natural phenomena. To track the progress of the seasons, Momostecans watch the comings and goings of stars and the migrations of hawks. During the dry half of the year, achronic and cosmic risings and settings are observed and used in timing agricultural events. The date for sowing corn kernels is determined by a convergence of favorable agronomical, meteorological, and calendrical conditions. Each year, the change of season, from dry to wet and back again, is heralded by the migratory flight of huge flocks of Swainson’s hawks. Since the thermals they ride are created in the vicinity of thunderstorms, the observation of hawk migration accurately predicts changes in agricultural conditions. Swainson’s hawks are also cognitively associated with two important Mayan asterisms: the thieves’ cross in Sagittarius and the hawk, the latter corresponding to Aquila. Each year when Swainson’s hawks migrate southward, in late October or early November, the hawk constellation can be seen at the zenith soon after sunset, with the bent cross in Sagittarius just below it, toward the southwest. Between the disappearance of the actual hawks and the cross, on the one hand, and that of the hawk constellation, on the other, there is a period of imbrication, in which the hawk lingers on as a sign of what has passed.
High-altitude planting of maize begins in Momostenango during March, and in December it is harvested. Mountain maize is sown, as humans are conceived, on a particular day name and number, and plants or babies vegetate or gestate for nine months, ideally culminating on the same day name and number of the 260-day calendar as they got their start. Thus, the growing period of mountain maize, like the human gestation period, may help account for the length of the 260-day calendar. However, given the nature of seed selection and the doubling over of maize stalks, the 260-day calendar may have had a determining role in the development of agricultural practices. On the other hand, since the date for seeding a cornfield and for doubling over the cornstalks is timed by the migration of Swainson’s hawks, and since the southward migration can fall at any point either in October or November, the 260-day almanac can be overridden and the crop allowed time to mature properly. Since the hawks move according to local meteorological phenomena, they provide a mechanism for correcting the agricultural calendar according the actual weather conditions in a particular year…
Further evidence bearing on ancient Mayan astronomy is provided by Mayan directional systems, nearly all of which have both vertical and horizontal dimensions. In all Mayan languages, the terms for east and west indicate a line, or vector, along which the sun rises and sets, depending on the season of the year. The other two directional terms variously indicate the right and left hand of the sun god, the direction of prevailing or rain-bringing winds, highland and lowland, above and below, or zenith and nadir. Mayan directions are not discrete cardinal or intercardinal compass points frozen in space, but rather are horizontal and vertical  lines, sides, vectors, or trajectories that are inseparable from the passage of time. They not only map out the flat world of horizon astronomy, but open the sky to coordinate astronomy as well.
The multimetrical temporal and astronomical observations and rituals described here involve thought patterns that go beyond the simple dialectics of polarization, exemplified by Hegelian and Marxist thought, to include the dialectics of overlapping or mutual involvement. It appears that Mayan peoples once had differing systems of timekeeping for separate areas of their biological, astronomical, religious, and social realities, and that these systems underwent a process of totalization within the overlapping, intermeshing cycles of their calendar.

[1] The separation of divination from revelation has been laid out by Victor Turner, Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual.
[2] Alfred M. Tozzer, Landa’s Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán, p. 168.