August 22, 2010

Like a bunch of post-it notes

This post is more like a collage of information, along the lines of a Peter Beard diary or a book of stories by William T Vollmann. Sure, long, cohesive narrative posts are great. But this isn't one of them. There are just too many ideas floating around, and instead of forgetting them I am just going to jam a bunch all into one post. Why not?

Since I already mentioned Beard, here is a photograph of one of his diaries, which are jam-packed, nonlinear, and completely fascinating:

"Astrid Heeren and Veruschka, April 7-8" Peter Beard, 1988

Beard is a long way from the ordered world of Ansel Adams, that's for sure. I found the above image on this site (scroll down for the post on collages). I first encountered the work of Peter Beard at the Fahey Klein gallery in Los Angeles about 10 years ago, and he has been one of my favorite photographers ever since. There is something to be said for letting loose, and Beard is certainly bound by few conventions. Beard's website is here.

Glenn Beck and archaeology (or pseudoarchaeology to be more accurate). So, Beck went on his show and demonstrated his absolute lack of understanding when it comes to archaeology. I seem to be a couple of days behind the curve, but I first found out about this via Matt's post over at Savage Minds. Here's the video (be prepared for some really lame understandings of archaeology):

I was about to break out my history of archaeology books by Willey and Sabloff and Bruce Trigger and start writing my response to this, complete with a thorough discussion of 19th century archaeological hoaxes, but then I realized that A Hot Cup of Joe and Johan Normark over at Archaeological Haecceities already covered the issue quite well. A quote from A Hot Cup of Joe:

In the 19th century, there was a prevailing myth of a “Moundbuilder society” that somehow vanished. This often became twisted into the agendas of certain religious and political causes but the credit couldn’t possibly go to the Native Americans. To recognize these people as the rightful designers and builders of such magnificent and detailed constructions would mean admitting that the Native Americans were something more than the “savages” and “heathens” they were characterized and marginalized as. Such characterizations made it far easier to force them off their lands, displace them, and treat them as less than white.

Fortunately, such beliefs and agendas have been forced out of academia early on by the likes of Cyrus Thomas, who had a Federal Government budget to find out the truth of the Moundbuilder mystery. His work was empirical and it concluded that the mounds “were built by the Indians.” In addition, he had the occasion to debunk some of the “tablets” that were cropping up here and there, including the Davenport tablet to which he launched a full, empirical investigation that discovered that it had been planted recently (to 1894) in a mound in Davenport, Iowa.

Hmmm. Why do we need some sort of public outreach in anthropology and archaeology? Well, Glenn Beck and his myopic, nationalistic uses of archaeology are Exhibit A. This kind of reminds me of an article written by Bettina Arnold about the nationalistic and political misuses of archaeology during the 20th century. The main point here is that archaeology has been manipulated for political purposes many times in the past, so it's not like Beck is inventing a new genre here.

Elizabeth Edwards on photography and anthropology:

"An anthropological photograph is any photograph from which an anthropologist could gain useful, meaningful visual information"

-from the 1992 publication Anthropology and Photography

Skaters and anthropologists. Check out this clip from a 1980s Bones Brigade skate video. It's humorous and right on the mark at the same time:

The "anthropologist" in the video is great. His words definitely seem to have a strong resemblance to the writings of Craig Stecyk:

"Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see that potential."

-CR Stecyk III, from his Facebook Page.

If you don't know about Stecyk or what he is known for, there is a fairly recent documentary called Dogtown and Z-Boys that will fill you in. The original Dogtown articles by Stecyk are archived here, and are well worth reading, especially for anyone interested in the history and culture of skateboarding and surfing in Southern California (and anywhere, really). Stecyk's writings, to me, are decidedly sociological and anthropological in some senses--and that's why the bookish anthropologist in the above video is both plausible and hilarious at the same time. It's strange when an "anti-establishement", counter-culture subgroup like skaters starts getting anthropologized. But that's exactly what's happening. Stecyk is a good writer, and his work is definitely an inspiring example for anyone who is interested in looking at current subcultures anthropologically. It's important to look at social groups like this, but it's also important to try to find ways of writing and talking about these groups in creative ways. Work like this gives me all kinds of ideas about how I want to approach ethnography.

Somewhat related, Emily Chivers Yochim has published new book out about Skateboarders. I haven't read it yet, so I can't really make any comments yet. I'm interested to see how she approaches the subject. But the coolest part is that the book is available online to read. Check it out here. Mimi Ito discusses this book and the larger project that it is part of, here.

Barbara Miller over at anthropologyworks has a great post about "Paul Farmer in the news." What I like about Miller's site is that she is always tracking when and where anthropology is mentioned in the media. This is a good antidote for some of my complaints about the relative obscurity of the discipline--I think it makes sense to go out and see who is talking about anthropology, what people are doing with anthropology, and how people are in fact engaging with the discipline. Related: check out this post from the AAA blog.

Since Walker Evans is probably my favorite photographer of all time, I decided that I should probably read the famous book that he made in collaboration with the writer James Agee, Let US Now Praise Famous Men. I have read parts, but never the whole book all the way through. Well, now that I am getting ready to start framing my own fieldwork (which will include a photographic component), it's time to read this classic text. It's another example of the kind of work that I find really appealing and inspiring. Just for fun, here's an Evans photo:

Garage, by Walker Evans. Atlanta, GA, 1936.

I also finally bought the book Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, because I have seen it cited so many times that I decided I need to read it. It goes up on the shelf next to books by Susan Sontag, David Levi Strauss, Elizabeth Edwards, John Berger, and others.

I found out about the 17 Magazine project from this post on Sociological Images. Yet another fascinating (and entertaining) project. This was conceived by 18 year old high school senior Jamie Keiles. Keiles has a new project and blog called Teenagerie, which is witty and critical look at adolescent life.

Here is the last note. I am reading David H. Price's book "Anthropological Intelligence," which is yet another book that I have wanted to read so far. I am on the fourth chapter now, and this book is definitely a good read for anyone who is interested in looking further into the relationship between anthropology, nation-states, and war. Some folks dismiss the concerns of contemporary anthropologists who are critical and resistant to programs like the Human Terrain Systems project, and Price's book provides some reasons to at least think twice about these issues.

Thanks for putting up with this. I will attempt to return to more cohesive posting in the near future. No guarantees though...


Sean said...

Since you grew up in San Diego and at the beginning of the post professed a love for Vollmann, I'm wondering if you've taken a look at "Imperial" yet.

Ryan Anderson said...

Hey Sean,

Ya, I want to buy that book. I have only seen excerpts from it so far (from a collection of his stuff that was published by SDSU). I have spent some time out around Imperial County, so that book looks like a good read.