Saturday, March 18, 2006

. . . .All Creatures Great And Gone. . . .

From today's Globe and Mail:

. . . Glavin's storytelling traverses the globe, from his home on Mayne Island in British Columbia to places as diverse as the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of Norway, the Amur River in Russia's Far East and the Patkai Range of the eastern Himalayas. Deceptively simple chapter subtitles — "A tiger," "A bird," "A flower" — serve as springboards for his roaming narrative.

Deceptively simple, too, is Glavin's description of his quest: "At a time when the world is filled with dread and foreboding, and when the great master narratives we've relied on to understand things are collapsing all around us, there should be some virtue in going for a walk through the hills and coming back at the end of the day with an account — a story — of what's out there."

One of the master narratives Glavin rejects is the one you'd expect to find in a book about extinctions: the language of environmentalism, which he characterizes as "wholly inadequate to the task" of describing the world's withering diversity. The key here, central to the book and the source of its exhilarating expansiveness, is that Glavin is talking not only of diversity lost at the level of wild plants and animals, but also at the cultural level of domesticated species, languages, traditions, human societies and local knowledge — in short, all the ways of seeing, knowing and being in the world.

That’s an excerpt from a review of Waiting for the Macaws, which appears in today’s Globe and Mail as the cover feature of the book section. I’d heard a big review was coming, so I was a bit nervous. Turned out just fine.

The reviewer is Lorraine Johnson, whose collection of essays about the Carolinian region of Ontario is due out this fall. Lorraine took the trouble to read my book and to think about it carefully, which writers of book reviews are not always so assiduous about doing. So thanks, Lorraine.

Also, the Globe and Mail online version today contains the book’s entire first chapter, Night of the Living Dead. Here’s an excerpt:

From Kublai Khan to the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, and from the thirteenth-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick II to American press baron William Randolph Hearst, bigshots of one stripe or another have always employed vast animal collections in dispensing and procuring loyalties and allegiances, favours, and alliances. Among the bears, monkeys, and other animals Charlemagne kept at his various residences was an elephant given to him by the Caliph of Baghdad. Phillip VI of France, Louis IX, and England's Henry II all kept extensive animal collections, trading specimens as tokens of esteem and fealty.

In the ostentatious display of animals what's often at work is something deeply rooted in power, conquest, prestige, and domination. It can be as benign as the corporate sponsorship by Chemical Industries (Far East Ltd.) of the Malayan tiger viewing shelter at the Singapore Zoo (which sells such corporate sponsorships for 4000 Singapore dollars a year) or as savage as the excesses of the Roman emperors, who never flinched from the vices of debauchery. The Romans took the fetish to its most barbaric extremes. A single festival could involve the torture, maiming, and massacre of thousands of animals—bears, lions, giraffes, crocodiles, elephants, and bulls. If a few human beings were thrown into the bloodbath, all the more grisly and better the spectacle.

But captive humans would also sometimes suffice. In the sixteenth century, to impress the menagerie-fancier Pope Leo X, a Catholic cardinal kept a collection of humans. Among them were Tartars, Africans, Indians, and Moors. The bestiary of Aztec emperor Montezuma, not long before, had included an array of dwarfs and "human monsters" among his animals at Tenochtitlán. Europe's medieval travelling menageries were often complemented by displays of humans, and as recently as the nineteenth century, English people were regularly coaxed out of a few pence to see collections of Laplanders, African bushmen, Ojibways, and Inuit. Such travelling shows routinely included even more exotic human specimens: bearded women, "boneless" children, giants, and even less fortunate people billed merely as "humanoids." The carnival, the freak show, the zoo . . .


Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

I don't get it.What exactly is Canada doing in Afgan.Other than providing security (very limited).Which in fact was done to take up the slack for the Americans.
For sure its nice to see canadians getting along with the locals,and providing some help with infrastructure.But it is all very very limited,indeed it does not even come close to meeting the needs.
Whats needed is:funds.Where are the millions that were promised by the international community?
The problems in Afgan are home grown,and that were severly excerbated by the US funding and arming of the most violent and fundamentalist of groups.What hope has Canada of disarming these groups.
In the end these problems will have to be solved by the people of Afgan.
Canada's role in Afgan has to be, more one of real aid,trade,investments etc etc.
Our troops are and were a stop gap measure.Little thought was given to what our role should be or what the long term objectives should be.It was Canada's way of showing the Americans that we were on board with their "war on terror".It was window dressing,a kiss and make up gesture for Canada not supporting the war in Iraq.
Until real meaningful aid worth,(supported by the whole "developed" world) hundreds of millions of $s is poured into Afgan.The stuation will change little.All the freedom in the world or security is meaningless if there is no viable economic system,and the country remains divided and in shambles.
The Afgans were severly repressed under the Tailiban which was an aberation and a creation of the Pakistan gov.
That said they have had just as much "freedom" as they have now at variuos times in their long and troubled history.
The point I am making is that the freedom of the people of Afgan does not depend on the presence of Canadians or Americans.It depends on them selves,on the common human aspiration to live within a semblance of peace and normality.
Most of the Afgan history has been one of,one power after the another meddeling and warring at the expence and suffering of the Afgan people.This is the tradgedy and cause of much of the suffering in Afgan.
I fail to see the noblity behind Canada's Afgan efforts.But I do agree something must be done.But long term real thinking and stratagies(which is whats needed) is beyond the capabilities or intrests of most Western governments.
We like the US are prone to short term quick fixs with no real thought beyond the length of a soundbite.
That some on the left doubt the sincertity or purpose of Western involvment in Afgan is based on a long history of Western double talk and oppurtunism.
Canada is still a country built on colonolism which it practices todate.One only need examine the situation of First Nations.
This is not to say what Canada is doing in Afgan is colonolism.
But looking at history and Canada latest actions in Haiti there is much reason to doubt.
Also who is this "left" you speak of.It don't believe its right to lump all those on the left under one labal.You must state who or what org you speak of.
Those on the "left" have many views and opinions and sure as hell are not one big homoganized group.
I also would be distrusting of anything organized by the Fraser Institite.They are not after all a non-partisian group,they do have an agenda.
Perhaps the Afgan Ambassador should reach out to the variuos groups that are opposed to Canadian troops in Afgan.Explain their position,if it is worthy of consideration I am sure there there are many on the "left" with open minds.
I have looked,but have yet to come across any thing from the Canadian govt explaining their purpose or goals in Afgan.
In closing I would just say do not dismiss the"left' for doubting government policies.Policies not even it self is sure of,policies it has put very little thought into.

3:11 PM  

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