Michael T. Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Originally published in 1980, I first heard of this book as a recommendation from Max Gladstone. It is an anthropological study – one might call it a Marxist anthropological synthesis – of certain cultural and social practices present in some areas of 1960s and 1970s South America. It focuses in particular on a practice of the “devil bargain” among male agricultural workers, and on practices involving a figure known as the “Tio,” or “uncle,” a devil-like figure, which are carried out by Bolivian tin-miners. Taussig strives to argue from historical cultural context, and makes a strong case for the continuity (and adaptation under new pressures) of historic cultural forms.
This is a complex book, with a strong theoretical focus drawing on Marx, which is not an area in which I’m competent to say much. But it is fascinating read, if at times a difficult one to follow.
Wilfrid Priest, William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012.
A biography of William Blackstone, most famous for his four-volume commentary on the English common law. An Oxford fellow, an MP, a judge, something of an academic reformer, his biography makes for interesting reading – and now I want to read more about English 18th-century law, too.
History! It’s fun! Recommended if you like the 18th century.
Robert R. Desjarlais, Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1992.
Some good, really readable, immensely interesting anthropology. Desjarlais does the difficult thing of trying to portray a cultural practice from inside and outside perspectives at once, while keeping his own position in the narrative, and the impossibility of outsiders ever achieving true inside perspectives, perfectly clear.
Elizabeth Bear on “I Love A Good Tragedy As Much As The Next Guy”:
I mean, we’ve all been fifteen and in love with death. Yours truly was a Goth before that was a thing; we were still adjectives back in my day, not even having graduated yet to nouns. That nihilistic view of the world is essentially a juvenile, sociopathic, self-justifying fetish, and most of us eventually grow out of it. We grow into a little responsibility, at least—the understanding that the only thing likely to make the world a more endurable place for the bulk of humanity is collective action. Even when we’re spending a significant amount of time selfishly looking out for number one.
Joe Abercrombie follows up his “Value of Grit” post with “Gritty Washback”:
Doubtless gritty fantasy (and I’d include my own) has not always covered itself in glory in its treatment of race and gender. Though I don’t see any reason why grit can’t be a powerful tool to investigate those issues, if wielded with skill, thought and responsibility (not by me, in other words).
Elizabeth Bear, again, with “I pity the fool”:
Every damned time the topic of diversity in SFF comes up, somebody says something about “Well, if the story demands that the character be queer/disabled/black/trans/female/postcolonial/feminist, that’s one thing. But if you’re just putting it in to be politically correct***, then you’re bound by ideology, and that’s bad art.”
… … …
…because able Western white cis het male is the default. Because the viewpoint character being an able Western white cis het male totally doesn’t inform the narrative, and has no influence in the way the world is presented, because that’s the only viewpoint that really exists, and the rest of us are all flavor text.
Sofia Samatar interviews Nalo Hopkinson at Strange Horizons.
Also at Strange Horizons, the results of the 2012 Readers’ Poll. Very personally flattering, and congratulations to everyone else who made the lists.
@fidelioscabinet has provided a transcript of a Twitter conversation about anthropology in SFF between Rose Lemberg, Kate Elliott, me, and a couple of others.
Politics: Feminist Ire on why childbirth should be on the feminist agenda in Ireland.
History: La Maupin:
She is said to have been “born with masculine inclinations” as well as having been educated in a very masculine way. Certainly, she often dressed as a man and when she did so could be mistaken for one. She also seemed to have at least as much an eye for members of her own sex as for men. Her skill with the sword, either in exhibition or duels fought in earnest, seems to have been exceptional.
Two audio lectures on ancient medicine from Vivian Nutton and G.E.R. Lloyd respectively.
Easing Into The Past: A Brief History of Being Comfortable:
As this new consumer class was born, philosophers and social commentators vented their frustrations at luxury, claiming it to be an agent of moral corruption. “Soft commerce” (doux commerce), as it was called, softened the men who partook of it, making them weak, effeminate, and more like an increasingly futile aristocracy. “Necessity,” on the other hand, was the realm of poverty and paupers, of peasants who lived on black bread and had little access to niceties. “Comfort,” a term that previously meant “aid” or “consolation” (as when one comforts one’s friend), now came into vogue as a term that inhabited a middle ground between luxury and necessity, connoting a form of consumption that increased the ease of one’s life without casting one into the moral danger posed by its more luxurious counterparts.