Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cannibals and Kings

Cannibals and Kings provides a great deal of compelling anthropological thought; it focuses on a systemic view of the ebbs and flows of culture, and has been quite a mind-fuck for me, as I've been reading it in stops and starts alongside Manuel De Landa's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. Harris' style is dry but concise, and considering that dryness it is surprising what a quick read this is proving to be. (1000 Years of Nonlinear History, on the other hand, may take me about 1000 years to finish.)

I won't reiterate the central thesis of the book, as it is easy to find on the net. I will say this: a central conceit of this book, and many other works of (theoretical) anthropology that I've encountered, is the premise that there is some intention lying behind the large-scale endeavors of man. Though many of the ebbs and flows discussed in this book-- as one method of production and consumption is outmoded by population increases and so on-- can be understood to operate almost like a thermostat, lying underneath his arguments is the idea that there is something intelligible, something orderly, something sensible in macro- scale human behavior. I'm not saying I agree with this premise, or disagree. I don't honestly see a way that we can know one way or the other. But it's the invisible hook you have to swallow to follow him where he wants to take us. (I was going to say "implicit hook" but I really don't know how a hook can be implicit.)

Purchase book.

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