Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Frontier and the People without Culture

I was also very intrigued by Tsing's discussion of the Frontier, especially when she focuses on the penyingsos, who she describes as "so human, yet so transiently identified" (p. 35). In her discussion of them she uses them to challenge the idea of culture in an interesting way, saying that they had no "ordinary culture" (p. 35). At the same time, these people are dangerous. The questions that arose for me is why?
There seem to be two things at work here. One is the physical frontier where everything goes and there is no law. This is the same thing at work in movies about the Wild West or even Orientalist travel literature. These are places where danger lurks around every corner, where there is no order and where nature still dominates in one way or another. This is an interesting way to think about the allegorical package of the frontier being transported and moved in other parts of the world and it shows us that the frontier is not a static progression, but rather creates ones of intense flux and interaction. But there is something else, a point about culture, since there is immense danger coming from these thiefs who have "names but no houses, families, work schedule, or ordinary time" (p.53). They are "without ordinary culture" (p. 35).
In this way, these chainsaw men are similar to the diseases that we have discussed. They move around without being tied down, taking what they need and leaving when they have exhausted the area. This is interesting, since the rest of her books emphasizes networks, communities and personal ties and the connection between people outside of culture and people within networks is an interesting one to pursue further. It challenges in this way not only culture, but also networks. I really liked the book, because there were many such moments when the author offers other ways to think about concepts we take for granted.

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