Sunday, November 28, 2021

Although Graeber and Wengrow concern themselves primarily with humanity’s early history, they begin by examining how Western thinkers have previously treated the subject, and in doing so they first turn to the French Enlightenment. This happens to be my own area of expertise, and I was curious to see what they would make of it. Quite frankly, I was appalled. 
The western romance of the other. David never understand culture because he denied that he had one. Utopianism is religious. The White Goddess, and Dungeons and Dragons. I'm not going to spend the money to read Appiah's review.

I forgot I have a second NYRB account that I can use to read recent articles. Once you start paying and then let it expire, you lose the option.

Then there’s Mashkan-shapir in Iraq, which flourished four thousand years ago. “Intensive archaeological survey,” we’re told, “revealed a strikingly even distribution of wealth” and “no obvious center of commercial or political power.” Here they’re summarizing an article by the archaeologists who excavated the site—an article that actually refers to disparities of household wealth and a “walled-off enclosure in the west, which we believe was an administrative center,” and, the archaeologists think, may have had an administrative function similar to that of palaces elsewhere. The article says that Mashkan-shapir’s commercial and administrative centers were separate; when Graeber and Wengrow present this as the claim that it may have lacked any commercial or political center, it’s as if a hairbrush has been tugged through tangled evidence to make it align with their thesis.

They spend much time on Çatalhöyük, an ancient Anatolian city, or proto-city, that was first settled around nine thousand years ago. They claim that the archaeological record yields no evidence that the place had any central authority but ample evidence that the role of women was recognized and honored. The fact that more figurines have been found representing women than men signals, they venture, “a new awareness of women’s status, which was surely based on their concrete achievements in binding together these new forms of society.” What they don’t say is that the vast majority of the figurines are of animals, including sheep, cattle, and pigs; it’s possible to be less sanguine, then, about whether female figurines establish female empowerment. You may still find yourself persuaded that a preponderance of nude women among depictions of gendered human bodies is, as Graeber and Wengrow think, evidence for a gynocentric society. Just be prepared to be flexible: when they discuss the Bronze Age culture of Minoan Crete, the fact that only males are depicted in the nude will be taken as evidence for a gynocentric society. Then there’s the fact that 95 percent of Çatalhöyük hasn’t even been excavated; any sweeping claim about its social structure is bound to be a hostage to the fortunes of the dig.

And so it goes, as we hopscotch our way around the planet....

Appiah pretty much disgusts me as a thinker. Graeber only annoys me, for reasons of loyalty if nothing else. Both of them, as "liberal" or "anarchist" are asocial, anti-cosmopolitan individualists. Graeber's model of community is a fantasy dreamed up by someone for whom actual communality, common culture, was impossible.

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