Advantages of a Low Sun

Where the sun doesn’t rise until 10 AM, one might worry about mood, and disorders of a seasonally affective kind. You notice the absence of light in winter in places like Helsinki, Finland. Models and scripts are available for how to ‘deal’ with such atmospherics: there is the diagnostic (lack of light makes you depressed, tired) and the folkloric (time for hibernation, winter anticipates rebirth). However, there are advantages to a low sun: perpetual twilight casts beautiful shadows and renders the urban landscape cinematic, warm, golden.

My semester has ended, and so I look forward to future explorations in teaching and knowledge: January will bring new seminars, new lectures, new discussions, new arguments.

Helsinki has hosted some dynamite scholars in the past few months. Among them are: Riwanto Tirtosudarno, Alexander Edmonds, Eva Berglund, Michael F. Brown, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Among my responsibilities as a junior (read: green) lecturer has been to organize our annual colloquia. I have ‘branded’ our colloquial inquiries this year under the theme “Indigeneity on the Global Scene.” We have been involved in discussions as diverse as: the government of culture (formal [state/economic] recognition of systems of meaning as a mode and means of assuring proper respect and recompense for the marginalized), forms through which indigenous activism appears vis-a-vis the nation-state, the problem of culture loss in the midst of globalization, and the earth itself as the ground on which people create and re-create themselves (as the surface that provides traction, and see Rex here on SM on Tsing).

Dr. Tsing’s visit was dynamite. Among other things, she tracked diverse ways that ‘indigenous voice’ attains recognition on the global scene, as a traveling trope of authenticity, resistance, mobilization. But she also talked about her present work on matsutake mushrooms, transnational migrant communities, the forest. Who could have imagined that mushrooms and humans might have had a remarkably fecund relationship through the ages? SM itself has hosted important discussions of Tsing’s work, which in densely allegorical writing I think illuminates (through the hazy smoke of the global) what social worlds look like today. You might imagine twilight for the native, but you might also imagine a blistery-red ‘carbon sun.’
And Dr. Brown presented his scintillating work on the perils and promises of legal title to symbolic constructs (viz., culture). I hate to sound overly sanguine, but Brown’s work on cultural property I think represents the very best vision of what an anthropology of an already globalized world can and is doing.

Forward: we will be visited soon by Bruce Kapferer, Elizabeth Povinelli, and others. The recent decision regarding entitlement to the Kalahari I hope will provoke further discussion of the forms of recognition and power (cunning as they are) that the “indigenous” enables.

Meanwhile, hibernation (aka, laziness). I prepare syllabi, read papers, and explore new ethnographies.

Among these: Joseph Masco’s utterly transfixing The Nuclear Borderlands. Much like Emily Martin’s The Woman in the Body, Masco’s work crosses the institutional boundaries of science and culture in ways that I find completely inspiring. In part, the world of atomic science that Masco pictures is one that is everywhere (not at all unlike pregnancy) and yet is one that I am largely unfamiliar with. For that reason (and others), it appears as exotic and enticing as Anga insemination rites. Masco mobilizes sophisticated interpretive tools: from Freud’s uncanny to Benjamin’s concern with the anaestheticization of modern life. It is a pleasure to read.

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