Publication news: The University of Hawaii Press has republished my (1976) Transactions in Kinship: Adoption and Fosterage in Oceania edited book as open access. That means it is now free, no charge. Know that it is scholarly research, not part of my novel and poetry collections. Follow this link and download it if you’re interested:
I’ve expressed my desert immersions in poetry, commentary, in The American West & Points South, and certainly in my Aaron McCaan novels. But I have also had more than one love affair with islands, some of which I have shared about Tuvalu and others in articles and poetry and in my book, The Time at Darwin’s Reef. I am hard at work on a new collection of poetry and related work called Language Tinder and have written a short narrative for it on one of my all-time favorite islands, exquisite and beautiful Tahiti. Here is a draft:
July 11, 1979
Eyes closed I envisioned what I had seen of the beach and interior in a drive around Pape’ete, Tahiti, earlier in the day. Now it was dark. I was on the outskirts of town, out of the car and standing barefoot on a stretch of damp sea grass. When I opened my eyes I could see the stars stretching down to the reef on the horizon. The surf was running its foamy fingers up and down the sand bars. Its moist and salty air wobbled around in my nose and ears, tempting me to join it. There is nothing like sea air on a warm night to inspire the soul. Lacing it with jungle perfume makes it all the more vivid and compelling. This whole island is a tropical garden. Dozens of flower species make sensory gold in the brain, an aroma anchored especially by the wild orchids that grow everywhere along the roadside here, dazzling with their colors in the daytime and ruling the atmosphere with odorifics every night. All of it was intoxicating, wrapping me up in a primordial humor, tugging at my humanity, pacing my heart with pure joy, embracing my whole being, the elixir and soul of my sensory-intellectual self. In this moment I was more aware of the nature of the world and my place in it than ever before. It couldn’t end. I laid on my back on the sand and drank deeply from the cocktail of life until dawn.
Sad news. Inspired by his amazing book, Social Stratification in Polynesia, I was spending the summer in Hawaii researching possible dissertation topics and met him while I was at the Bishop museum. We had hamburgers for lunch while he helped me focus my plans for research on Tuvalu. We met several times thereafter and he agreed to anchor the ASAO special publications series I was editing with his scintillatingly smart and widely cited Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities. One of the brightest and most original minds in the history of the discipline and a good friend, he will be missed, especially by those of us who tagged along for a lifetime and benefitted from his genius but did not always agree with him.
For a smart and informative “pre-mortem”review of the impact of some his earlier work on anthropology and history, see Michael Goldsmith’s “The Evolution of Marshall Sahlins” in Texts and Contexts, edited by Doug Munro and Brij V. Lal, University of Hawaii Press 2006: 76-86
Thinking about the recent passing of friends and staring down my upcoming birthday on April 13th, a list of my own personal vulnerabilities, aches, and stumbles pushed through the fog with taunting echoes of OLD AGE and the all too familiar question of how exactly time flies. The following words fell out of my reverie and assembled themselves on a page. There may be more but I haven’t seen (or dreamed) them yet.
Skull bulb’s dim
Hair’s caught leaving
Heart’s still grieving
Wrinkles line up
Like ropes in a cup
Covid’s in the air
Insects do not care
Clock hands spinning
Like props on a plane
slicing through memories
On the flight to my brain
There are many ways to see (experience) and to say (express) and therefore many ways of knowing the nature of the world and our place in it. Anthropologist Charles D. Laughlin has drawn on a world of travel, self-conscious studies, and anthropology’s umbrella spread as the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities to apply that principle to the development of what he describes as neuroanthropology. It is a path to knowing through participant observation and the observation of his own participation in that diverse and multi- faceted principle for most of his fieldwork with Africans, Navajos, including several years as a monk in Tibet, and a whole row of personal investments and investigations in the cognitive and neural sciences. It is hard to overestimate the range of his cross-cultural experiences as a traveling self. But the bulk of it is explored for theoretical and methodological implications in his new book, The Contemplative Brain: Meditation, Phenomenology, and Self-Discovery from a Neuroanthropological Point of View. He variously absorbs, expands and criticizes conventional wisdom on Jungian psychology, transcendental meditation, rituals, transpersonal anthropology, altered states of consciousness, consciousness itself, language, art and symbolism, methodological problems encountered by using the brain itself to study the brain, among other topics. The result is a large-minded tome that opens new pathways, or bravely points in their direction, from beginning to end.
One welcome curiosity is opening the book with a critical review by the American psychologist and parapsychologist Stanley Krippner, This is not a study that emulates and embraces in any sycophantic drumbeat the status quo ante of the disciplines and problems it engages. Krippner’s list of questions and doubts shows the breadth and scope of Laughlin’s inquiries and conclusions, all of which can be played out and evaluated in the particulars of their established academic and intellectual domains. Moreover, beyond the theoretical implications of the text, it has all the personal earmarks of a well-reasoned and penetrating memoir in which the experiences reported are strictly Laughlin’s and not subject to debate. Few if any other works in these areas offer comparable innovation or clarity of explanation. Even fewer shed their parochialisms enough to illustrate the power of studies of people, events, thinking, and things from all sides, body interiors and exteriors, dialogues of self and sidekick, deep dives into art and science, and comparative cross-cultural immersion—another hallmark of anthropological methods. Laughlin has kept his original disciplinary profile of interests while fueling it with passionate inquiry and applying the results to rich new opportunities of understanding of what makes us tick as human beings in a complicated sensuous and intellectual world. It’s fair to mark it as a milestone in the anthropology of our ‘selves’.
Glad sensitivities to and intolerance for hateful labels are increasing across the land. Inside the hideous cover poster on my new novel, No Kill Canyon, is a vicious assault on the ‘every stranger is a danger’ mentality. Never perhaps was there a better cover on a book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover. It’s bait for a timely argument on cross-cultural bigotry and ignorance. Please read through it and let me know what you think.
Ivan Brady’s latest contribution to his Aaron McCaan trilogy is a page-turner packed with action and suspense. Many murders and few love affairs keep the protagonist on his toes and as he somehow manages to survive the many dangers of the desert and the men roaming in it. As an extra, he regales the reader with beautiful and insightful descriptions of the region, its flora and fauna, the indigenous people who once cultivated the Colorado riverbanks before they were marginalized and criminalized by the white settler society.
The anthropology background of the author gives the series its special flavor. The indigenous protagonists and their magic are as credible as the white ex-Marine who solves all the problems. While the cartel boss and the politicians are only schemes in the background, the Mexican thugs of various kinds are more nuanced – one of them even has a lovely mamacita and children to complicate the black-and-white pattern.
The relativity of perception, experience, dreams, and other culturally learned realities, appears as a running theme through the series. In its third and last volume, No Kill Canyon, all the threads come to a closure. Does the hero ride off into the sunset with his bride? I will not spoil your fun.
Dr. Susanne Kuehling
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Regina, Canada
Had a conversation this morning with a friend about disproportionate pandemic death rates on the Navajo reservation and some of the characters and themes in my new novel, NO KILL CANYON. In the process I was reminded of two of my favorite novels involving urban Indians. Each provides inspiration for my laments about centuries of Native American deprivation and abuse. They are Sherman Alexie’s classic INDIAN KILLER and Tommy Orange’s deeply probing and enlightening, THERE THERE. The connection to NO KILL CANYON is the attention these authors pay to Native American pathologies underwriting murder and revenge knifed into modern and mostly white communities.
The principal bad guy in my novel is Max Deerthorn, a northern Paiute. Along with his Mojave cohort, Tom Jenkins, he seeks revenge and redress for the lost habitats, knowledge and magic of their ancestors, most immediately for the losses in their own families, by murdering what ails them in the oppressions of modern life. I made Max seriously talented and dangerous on a lesson I learned about fiction writing from the late great novelist, James W. Hall: make your bad guys really bad, repulsive, if possible. Readers should feel relieved if they get killed off in the story. But is that really a reason to hate Max? Some of his behavior reflects directly on a matter of conscience and understanding largely missing in modern society.
Don Wittington, my fictional editor of a daily newspaper in Needles, California, put it this way: “Deerthorn, if that is really who we’re aiming at here, seems to be as troubled as Tom was about the Great White Shark of culture change. Given all the trauma imposed on Native Americans over the past few centuries, why are we surprised to see current generations of their cross-cultural casualties produce individual pathologies? Why should we be shocked when the desperation of some individuals from marginalized cultures turns to bizarre, extravagant, or pathological methods for relief? Are we so naïve to believe that there are no psychological breaking points in that kind of conflict? Like Tom, the copycat killer is a special kind of serial killer: a missionary, out to eradicate what has hurt or beguiled him. He is a missionary working against missionaries or advocates of the people who have massacred his historical traditions, both in the larger sense and in terms of what it has taken away from him personally. It’s eye for an eye stuff, Aaron, and it has a definite pattern. I’m always amazed at the number of people who think Native Americans ought to be passive about their poverty, their loss of traditional identities, and their long history of abuse on so many fronts. Casinos be damned. They’re very popular because they provide entertainment for outsiders under the thinnest of veils covering guilt and charity for Indians. They make it possible to improve incomes for some tribal members, certainly not all. In a way they seem to me to be just another extension of our iron-willed abilities to look the other way when confronted by the homeless and downtrodden, on or off the reservations” (Brady 2020:256)
For eBook: https://amzn.to/3gAFodv For Paperback: https://amzn.to/38Aq2CP