Multispecies Salon

Here’s a passage from the intro to the book, Multispecies Salon, by Eben Kirksey, Craig Schuetze, and Stefan Helmreich…

 

As cultural anthropologists became focused on issues of representation and interpretation, ethnographers interested in plants, animals, and microbes began asking: Who should be speaking for other species? Arjun Appadurai has raised similar questions about the ability of anthropologists to represent other people. “The problem of voice (‘speaking for’ and ‘speaking to’),” he writes, “intersects with the problem of place (speaking ‘from’ and speaking ‘of’). . . . Anthropology survives by its claim to capture other places (and other voices) through its special brand of ventriloquism. It is this claim that needs constant examination.”10 Such critical scrutiny should be redoubled when anthropologists speak with biologists, nature lovers, or land man agers about the creatures they represent.

As multispecies ethnographers speak for members of other species—or even attempt to speak with them, in some cases—we certainly still run the risk of becoming ventriloquists.11 Bruno Latour seems unaware of this risk with his playful call for scholars in the humanities and social sciences to build new speech prosthetics: “subtle mechanisms capable of adding new voices to the chorus.”

Echoing Lewis Henry Morgan’s early writing about clever animal mutes, Latour suggests that “nonhumans” have “speech impedimenta” that must be overcome so that they might more fully participate in human society. In Politics of Nature, he proposes bringing democracy to nonhumans by drawing them into parliamentary assemblies, where they will be represented by human “spokespeople.”12 Questioning the ability of other organisms to hold their human representatives accountable initially led us to ask, rhetorically, “Can the nonhuman speak?”13 But after further reflection, we realized that this question was not quite right.

“Nonhuman is like non white,” says Susan Leigh Star. “It implies a lack of something.”14 While lacking speech should not be the defining characteristic of a broad category of beings, Latour’s notion of the nonhuman has another problem: It assumes too much about the very thing it opposes—that is, the human.”

Lenape Animism

I’ve started trying to find out more about the history of the land where I’m going to build the shrines. Looks like it’s part of Croxton Yard, and near the Hackensack River and Penhorn Creek. Before Europeans pushed them out, Lenape Indians lived here. They had a belief system that was animistic, which works perfectly with my project. To read more about how Animism relates to my shrine projects, check out my 2008 thesis paper.

The Lenape believed that there were spirits – called manetu – all around them.  They believed that the great spirit Kishelemukong created the world and that evil spirits, known as manetuwak, were responsible for sickness and death.  They felt there was a spirit in every wild storm and in each new bud on the trees in spring.

“The Lenape believed that spirits could be helpful or harmful and so they had to be treated with respect.  To gain a spirit’s favor, people left small offerings in the place where they thought it lived – for example, near a huge tree, a waterfall, or a strange and lonely rock.  The gifts might be a handful of leaves or flowers, carved stick, or some pipe smoke.  The Indians were careful not to offend the spirits.”

LenapeLifeWays.org

Also:

Certain localities, it is said, were thought to be the dwellings of local genii, to whom offerings were occasionally made, especially such places as displayed curious or unusual natural features, while even certain stones were said to have an animate principle or indwelling spirit.”

Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenape, Issue 19, by Mark Raymond Harrington

Personhood & Legal Rights

Why are corporations given the legal rights of persons, and ecosystems are not?

This could make for a very interesting conversation, especially when considered from an animistic worldview.

“Christopher D. Stone’s 1972 essay, “Should trees have standing?” addressed the question of whether natural objects themselves should have legal rights. In the essay, Stone suggests that his argument is valid because many current rights-holders (women, children) were once seen as objects.” — Wikipedia

Looking forward to checking out these books.

Eye Contact

Thinking of using these on my Elastic City walk. They’re leftover from a sculpture I made in college. Little did I know that 8 years later I’d be using them for an entirely different purpose. Here is some context:

Viveiros de Castro was quoted by Graham Harvey:

‘Personhood and ‘perspectivity’—the capacity to occupy a point of view—is a question of degree and context, rather than an absolute, diacritical property of a particular species.'”

Diana Eck has written:

The central act of Hindu worship, from the point of view of the lay person, is to stand in the presence of the deity and to behold the image with one’s own eyes, to see and be seen by the deity… through the eyes one gains the blessings of the divine.”

In fact, a god is understood to be embodied by an image only when the eyes are added. Shops sell plastic eyes that can be attached to holy objects such as rocks, or to replace old eyes on existing statues.

Here are some holy rocks with eyes:

Here is a dung sculpture of Krishna at the moment when the artist is adding the eyes.

Here also is a remarkable earthwork by Shreyas Karle in which giant eyes were added to a mountain using stones and paint. With this action, Karle literally transformed the mountain itself into a god, or awakened the latent god within the mountain. Here, an object becomes a subject.

Animism

From my 2008 thesis paper:

An animistic approach to space and substance is defined, according to Graham Harvey, by the extension of personhood to “other-than-human” entities, including animals, plants, rocks, weather systems, places, and “artefacts” (objects made by humans). Harvey quotes Viveiros de Castro: “Personhood and ‘perspectivity’—the capacity to occupy a point of view—is a question of degree and context, rather than an absolute, diacritical property of a particular species.”

I understand the term “personhood” as referring to entities that exhibit social behavior, defined by receptivity and responsiveness. A water supply can certainly be considered as such. This idea—that objects and places have responsive characters—resonates with the use of found materials. Furthermore, if this idea is taken seriously, it follows that one should treat places and things as one would persons: with respect.

For more on Animism, check out Harvey’s great book on the subject.

 

And a few excerpts from his rambling Animist Manifesto:

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The world is full of persons (people if you prefer), but few of them are human

The world is full of other-than-human persons

The world is full of other-than-oak persons

The world is full of other-than-hedgehog persons

The world is full of other-than-salmon persons

The world is full of other-than-kingfisher persons

The world is full of other-than-rock persons…

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Respect means being cautious and constructive

It is cautiously approaching others — and our own wishes,

It is constructing relationships, constructing opportunities to talk, to relate, to listen, to spend time in the face-to-face presence and company of others

It is taking care of, caring for, caring about, being careful about…

It can be shown by leaving alone and by giving gifts

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Hugging trees that you don’t know may be rude – try introducing yourself first