folklore, history, history of europe, history of nature and science, science and technology, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Peter Mancall, Nature and Culture in the Early Modern Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), Pp. 197.

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Much has been said by historians and scientists about the history of knowledge production in the United States and how that knowledge relates to the world at large. But most of those documents, that have something to say, are usually that of colonial rule. For Peter Mancall this isn’t necessarily the case. Mancall calls upon a plethora of differential source material. Using not only what he notes as “traditional sources,” but he also uses visual and oral histories as well (x). In doing so Mancall sets out to discuss “humans and nature in the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin” in a nuanced way (ix).  Mancall is arguing for an expansive more epistemological framework, within analysis, history, and knowledge production of the Atlantic basin in the sixteenth-century. Furthermore, Mancall looks at motivations and contextual circumstances to illustrate intentions for knowledge production in the first place. Using plenty of differing sources Mancall notes that economic, political, and technological motivations drove knowledge within the sixteenth-century to be constructed in a very particular way (xii). Methodologically, Mancall calls upon many different sources. Working a bit backwards, in favor of discussing methodology, the section entitled “Notes On Sources” discusses particularly how and why historians can use a more intersectional approach in utilizing sources. Mancall states, “The chapters in this book focus not on brad environmental changes but instead on specific relationships between nature and culture in the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin…[revealing] there was not a single moment of transition but instead myriad encounters” (140).

Chapter one entitled, “The Boundaries of Nature,” discusses “monsters.” What constituted a monster? What made a monster real rather than fake? Mancall notes monsters “were part of the real world, even if they were invisible or existed only in the stories told from an alleged eyewitness to credulous listeners” (6).  Mancall unearths the legacy of knowledge on monster in the region of Fréjus. It is here where the stories of monsters come to be. Out of painted panels Mancall notes, “Many panels feature iconography common across the continents in the late Middle Ages…A whole catalog of exotic beasts roamed above the heads of late medieval congregants” (7).  Dragons and mythical beasts were just some of the painted monstrosities on these panels that aided in a knowledge of non-human nature. Mancall discusses the influence of Mandevill’s work. In the fourteenth-century, Mandevill’s writing on monsters not only spread across Europe but one person in particular grabbed ahold of it…Christopher Columbus. Mancall speculates if Columbus may have been moved to write about monsters and men due to the exposure of  Mandevill’s work (13).  With literature, travel guides, and scientists in Europe producing the discourse of monsters it is safe to say that the New World was not the only place with supernatural understandings.

Just like the New World the Old World had their own set of monsters, but each place had their own relationship with “monsters.” Mancall notes, “While Europeans tried to understand monsters and demons in their own communities…Americans were not obviously concerned with how monstrous entities came to be” (27).  The obsession to know and control seemed relegated to the European documentation of monsters and demons. For Mancall, the Native communities possessed more knowledge to grow and work towards incorporating the spirit and material worlds. For example, Mancall discusses the Mandan cosmology in relation to North American beliefs about spirituality and the supernatural (29). Cosmology of the spirit world created the landscape and aided in explanations on ecology. Mancall does note, briefly, the stereotype of the Native environmentalist troupe, by discussing more of the “good relations with the deities” that Natives wanted to have for their own economic gains rather than the “conservationists” stereotypes that have become relegated to the Native body. Very similarly Europeans wanted to understand monsters to conquer or dispel them just as much as Natives wanted to understand the spirit world to avoid disrespecting and gain relations to it.

Chapter two entitled, “A New Ecology,” discusses the ways in which cartography aided in mobilizing knowledge production and depicted the ways in which maps “provide clues about the new ecology of the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin” (47).  Mancall discusses the ways in which map making was infused with not only the map makers ideas but also the political climate of the map makers time. This is the problematic feature of maps for Mancall. This theme also highlights the historical aspect of anxieties that played a part in European expansionist projects. Mancall states, “Maps, then, reflected their makers’ understanding of what they knew and imaginary depictions of what they did not. They also revealed what was important to their patrons” (55).  “Bountiful” is one of the narratives that comes out of the storytelling attributes of the map. Another narrative is the theological aspects and the stakes of body and soul saving. This is particularly true of the Spanish exploration and “conquest.” But for Europeans, Mancall notes, the New World was much more interested in projects of knowing, exploring, acquiring, and owning. This is indicative of a picture, that Mancall calls upon, wherein a man on a boat is in a body of water. The scene is portrayed as a bountiful and cornucopia of different fish in the waters around them and are all ripe for captured on his boat for a plentiful harvest (62). These illustrative narratives provided specific narratives about the New World to the Old world. This narrative was major theme at the heart of many of these map making motivations. The idea of the utopian landscape of abundance and bounty had to mobilize itself and what better way then maps.

Chapter Three entitled, “The Landscape of History,” notes the mass migration across the Atlantic Ocean from 1492-1600 (85).  This was impart to Europeans thinking that they had divine rights over the Americas. The example of John Winthrop illuminates this point in full. Mancall states, “English Puritan John Winthrop, shortly before sailing across the ocean where he would become the governor of Massachusetts, argued that the English has a legitimate right to settle where Natives lived” (86).  This claim to “legitimacy” would become the main argument for not only exploration and migration but as well as settlement and civilization. This is the start of European entitlement, for Mancall, not only for land but of people, nature, and knowledge. This chapter discusses more of the critical analysis in why Theodor de Bry depicted Natives and the Americas differently. The European gaze fell onto the objects with fascination and the spectacle in de By’s engravings read—bountiful/abundant. Mancall discusses this at length in the critique of the image labeled, “The manner of their fishing,” in which more of everything was added to add to the fantastical pictorial narrative of abundance. Mancall states, “Each revision of the images by de Bry’s workshop constituted a manipulation of the eyewitness visual information about coastal Carolina” (101).  What is clearly problematic is the natural history of the Americas and its representation. These images became more important than the authors realized. They would be representative “picture[s] of a haunted place whose inhabitants would soon succumb to the invisible bullets of European newcomers” (119).

Lastly the postscript entitled, “The Theater of Insects” discusses the English naturalist and physician Thomas Moffet’s work. This last section, of Mancalls monograph, discussed the importance of Moffet’s work as “spectacle” and its interpretations (121).  This work is important because it signified knowledge that was directed at specific peoples. Moffet’s book is written in Latin, originally, and was for European scholars. But the performative piece is much more interesting in the analysis of Moffet’s work by Mancall. Mancall discusses the ways in which nature is personified to have its own class and culture. For example the perforative element of transformation, or more specifically metamorphosis, becomes representative of  narratives in the possibilities of nature. Mancall discusses this by articulating on the ways metal becomes a vessel of these narratives (126).  Mancall demonstrates how Moffet’s work tantalizes the European mind towards explorative narratives of progress and expansion by way of science and discovery. In this way, insects would become linked not to monsters but to divinity. This brings Mancalls premies of this monograph full circle.  Mancall notes the ways in which “insects revealed the wondrous powers and infinite potential of God” for Moffet (128).  Insects would become economic producers in this sense and have their own labor to Europeans. This short but provocative narrative, on the illustrative powers of sixteenth-century work in the Atlantic basin, showcases the ways in which not only travel logs promoted ideology but so did pictures. Mancall also highlights how nature and humans were now in a state of hierarchy and categorical control by the ideological and pictorial construction.  Mancall brings up many interesting points that others have not in the field or history: science and nature. By illuminating different motivations and interpretations of nature, such as the “Theater of Insects” by Moffet, Mancall added a little something extra to the historiography on science and nature! I would recommend this to historians, scientists, and those interested in the transformation of fantastical narratives.

10/10

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feminist studies, feminist theory, history, history of sexuality, lgbtq, philosophy, political theory, queer history, queer studies, science and technology, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1 (New York, Vintage Books, 1990), Pp.169.

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One of the most influential scholars in gender theory and history is Micheal Foucault. Not only does Foucault speak to ideas of resistant but also to the making of nation-states regimes. In this way, Foucault is interested in documenting legacy of medical body politics, knowledge-production, and discourse of the bodies and their taxonomy in history. Foucault thesis states, “I would like to…search instead for instances of discursive production,” “of the production of power,” “of the propagation of knowledge…I would like to write the history of these instances and their transformations” (12). Individuals become tied to discourse. Discourse then is the main taproot of how bodies and their identities get created for Foucault. Thus, the nation uses these discourses to produce a norm and to create its subjects.

Foucault specifically speaks to sex and sexuality in this narrative; addressing power through tracing the chronicling of  sex throughout the emersion and aggrandizement of societies. Foucault’s literary project in this book is to discuss the arenas of power and not only how power is used but also where it is coming from. For Foucault, power is not a repressed or muted entity. Power for Foucault is through the vocal and expressive. Foucault states, “the central issue, then…is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex…but to account for the fact that it is spoken about” (11). This is fundamental to Foucault’s argument on power and thus sex. The importance of this, is in refuting the repressive hypothesis by Freud, and then moving forward looking/locating power from a different axis point. Foucault goes on to say, “to discover who does the speaking, the position and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said” (11).  Again the significance placed not only on what is being, how its being said, but also on what come of it—ideology. This ideology begins to differentiate category and hierarchy.

Ideology, producing power, is the main theoretical investigation Foucault sets out to discover. Foucault clearly explains the realms in which power is mediated in, then what and how power is mobilized. Foucault states, “a transformation into discourse, a technology of power, and a will to knowledge…” (12). This explanation Foucault gives is insightful and pushes the critique of power further. Foucault uses a specific example of a “technology of power” which he arraigns as the confession. Foucault addresses this “technology of power” by stating, “for telling the truth of sex which are geared to a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret: I have in mind the confession” (58). This being another central idea that Foucault presents is knows as the “knowledge-power” ideology. This “knowledge-power”  idea questions the ways power works to control through individuals through spoken words, categorization, and then the production of knowledge that is derived from linguistic expressions. Foucault uses sexuality to present a critical analysis of power, as well as a historical reverberation, that can be woven in and out of time and spaces to demonstrate the power of construction of bodies.

It is imperative to rely heavily on the text in understanding the articulation of “knowledge-power” given by Foucault. Foucault elucidates his prime example, the confession, and how power is dispersed through the immersion of terminology, that gets spoken and then transformed. Foucault states, “the confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship…the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console and reconcile…” (61-62). Foucault highlights how power relations are not only determined but then reappear.  Foucault states, “power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Within this sphere, the confession serves as a space where the speaking and the spoken swirl into a production of power through the construction and manufacturing of “truths.” This objectification, categorization, and simplification of bodies and their experience through articulation is the very point Foucault points out in moving into the calling into consciousness—sexuality.  

Foucault also proposes an unveiling into the acknowledgment of power through sexuality by stating, “the history of sexuality—that is, the history of what functioned in the nineteenth century as a s specific field of truth—must first be written from the viewpoint of a history of discourses” (69). Keeping this in mind one can now consider why and how Foucault uses sexuality to bring a rich and robust analysis of power to the forefront.

Turning back the hand of time, Foucault looks into the past for evidence of power stating, “power mechanisms are, at least in part, those that, beginning in the eighteenth century, took charge of men’s existence, men as living bodies…methods of power whose operations is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization” (89). A direct linkage to forms of power and domination is in the normalization of bodies and interpretations of acts. Again pointing out and falling back to the example Foucault uses, the confession, to really showcase that operation. Before one looks to the counterattack or if there is any agency in these matters it is important to point out once more, to make sure there is a clear understudying, of why again Foucault calls upon sex in the analysis of power. Foucault states, “sexuality…it appears rather as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power” (103). Again, Foucault allows for an opening of understanding into a form of power. Foucault points out the apertures in these power relations stating,“where there is power there is resistance” (95). It is paramount to point out Foucault’s statement about just how one can resist and recognize resistance.

In conclusion Foucault distinctly leaves the reader with a few answers on  general question about resistance. Foucault answers questions about resistance drawing on the importance of social construction and historical underpinnings. Foucault states: “sexuality is a very real historical formation, it is what gave rise to the notion of sex…The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasure (157).” This important articulations offer a new way at looking at the history of sex, deconstruction of bodies and their domination through sex and sexuality history. In conclusion,  Foucault touches upon the history of control, in critiquing  bodies politics, through gaining knowledge of acts that people do and the categorization of these acts. Foucault’s  history of sexuality becomes a road map in discussing not only how sex is used for building of empires but how race and gender get deployed as well in the making of the nation-state. I would most definitely recommend this monograph to academics, philosophers, and historians!

10/10

american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

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(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10

feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, postcolonial theory, subaltern studies

Essay Review: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader (London: Routledge, 1993), Pp. 66-111.

 

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       (photo credits to link provided: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [ India, USA ] Biography. Accessed August 31, 2018)

Historical narratives try to give agency and articulate the subjects in colonial contexts, but have they done justice to these subjects (as Judith Butler would say)? For Gayatri Spivak this has been an unsuccessful project of theoretical and historical narratives. In Spivak’s essay entitled, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” the provocative argument of injustice and reproductions of imperialism have been suggested to some of the most influential theorists and historians of our time. Spivak critiques ideology and the intellectuals obsession to categorize categories. In this sense the author is claiming that those who have tried to use deconstruction, post-modern, and intervening language have actually in turn reproduced imperial narratives. This critique the author gives critiques, as well as gives credence to, names such as Foucault, Deleuze and Guattarie etc. The author critiques the ways in which theorists and historians have reproduced terms of subject and citizen ultimately creating a type of violence in the form of narrative presence. Spivak’s thesis states, “I have argued that, in the Foucault-Deluze conversation, a postrepresentationlist vocabulary hides an essentialist agenda. In subaltern studies, because of the violence of imperialist epistemic, social and disciplinary inscription, a project understood in essentialist terms must traffic in a radical textual practice of difference” (80). This critique searches to illuminate if the subject of the state, nation, and empire is adequately represented. Spivak’s continual question, “can the subaltern speak,” is complicated by what the author demonstrates as absences in historical narratives of those termed as oppressed or subjugated bodies. Power is thus driven out of knowledge and the ways in which reproduction rears its ugly head is through historical and theoretical narratives about binary othering (82). Spivak notes, “Deleuze and Foucault ignore both the epistemic violence of imperialism…”(84). By discussing the gaps of theory and history Spivak is able to point to types of personage that is not intelligible or is rendered in a  “blind-spot” to the “privileging of the intellectual” discourse (86-87). For example Spivak spends time teasing out how sati, which is a cultural death of husband and female sacrifice to honor and loyalty aka “good wife” ritual, is read outside of the flattened imperial discourse (101). What Spivak calls attention to is that intellectual discourse does a disservice or does not give justice to the whole story go culture, race, context, and letting one speak from their own experience.

Spivak states, “the broader question of the constitution of the sexed subject is hidden by foregrounding the visible violence of sati…when the status of the legal subject as property-holder could be temperately bestowed on the female relict, the self-immolation of widows was stringently enforced” (99). What the author highlights is the deeper projects of reproducing racialize gendered subject bodies as victims for saving rather than free agent respectable of self-reporting. Spivak states, “between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the ‘third-world woman’ caught between tradition and modernization” (102). Reified bodies and histories is the crux of Spivak’s critique of historical and theoretical narration of bodies and the nation vis versa. In the end of this powerful essay Spivak answers her question, “can the subaltern speak?” with the answer— “the subaltern cannot speak” (104). Spivak calls for a more nuanced and self-reporting narration of history for those who are spoken for and spoken about. Wonderful read to expand your mind and theoretically challenge static historical narratives. 

10/10

 

american feminist literature, american literature, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, history of africa, history of europe, history of india, history of magic, history of the united states, literature, political theory, postcolonial theory, religious studies, science and technology, short story, subaltern studies, Uncategorized, witchcraft, world history

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“You ran away to find freedom, and you found it. You made it. Now you gotta tell it. You gotta figure out how to tell the story.” — Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha