Monday, November 26, 2007

Nature lover knowledge

I'm curious about Tsing's ideas of rural versus urban knowledge. Tsing's compelling description of Indonesian nature lovers describes a privileging of urban interpretations of nature to rural ones: "Some nature lovers come from rural backgrounds, but, whether urban or rural, they make themselves urbanites by re-learning nature as an object of modern technology, international standards of training, and transcendent romance" (135). Nature lovers learn to scorn and be "embarrassed by [the] countrymen" (137). Finally, they completely divorce the "local" from the "people" imagining rural people as "objects of scientific inquiry" (140).

I'm particularly interested by Tsing's description of rural mysticism in the case of the missing boy, Yudha. She notes that the nature lovers imply that they "knew better than to mix and confound the ordinary and the mystical" (138). Is this true? If we take the urbanized condition of nature lovers to be indicative of a wider cosmopolitan trend, what do we make of the Bre-X scandal? Wasn't it, too, a mixture of the ordinary and the mystical? The economy grew, "spurred on by fabulous dreams" (70). Furthermore, in one description of frontierism, Tsing points to the "magical vision" (68) of frontier regionality as an essential ingredient. Frontierism asks "participants to see a landscape that doesn't exist..." (68). Which is more ridiculous? The stock market frenzy over Bre-X or a healer throwing a decapitated chicken into the woods to find a missing boy?

On a loosely related train of thought: on page 202, in her discussion of the forest, Tsing notes that international discussion tends to equate indigenous people with the forests in which they reside. She credits European empire-building with this particular view of nature as "empty and wild" (202). I just find the nature lovers such a fascinating contrast; essentially wanting to connect to and find themselves within the natural world, they cover themselves so thoroughly with gear and rational thinking they end up distancing themselves more from nature and wishing they could one day hike in a simple sarong...

I suppose it's just a case of the grass is greener. When you have the knowledge and the gear, you wish you could climb in a sarong. When you're in the sarong, you would happily cut down your forests for a few extra dollars.

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