From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Beginnings (16)—Captain Cook in Hawaii (and Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr)

[a] From Here to Eternity (Beach)    RF
I am heading for the islands today (Monday morning), and will give a paper on Chinese management ideas—remonstrance, actually—at the East-West Center on Saturday. My travel schedule will mean that I will probably not be able to post again until Thursday 5/19 (my "Seinfeld Ethnography" post, possibly a day late). In the meantime, I am showing the rolling waves just outside of my favorite beach on Oahu—the very same location where a famous love scene in the 1953 movie From Here to Eternity was filmed.

[b] Whale Chart    RF
233 years ago—and a few islands over—Captain James Cook arrived in what he thought of as the Sandwich Islands. It didn't turn out so well for the old guy, but in a fascinating and peculiarly "cultural" sort of way. One of my University of Chicago professors, Marshall Sahlins, has had a great deal to say about Cook, Hawaii, and structural theory. He is perhaps the most important American anthropological theorist in the last half century. I would say "ever."

Very few anthropologists have rigorously examined the dimensions of historical change in social and cultural life. Sahlins has, and it is truly contemptible that historians have not read him thoroughly. As more than one critic has noted, it is because of the narrowness of many historical readers, who will not deign to read outside of their geographical areas of specialty (why would an early modern European historian read about Hawaii?...or so the academically xenophobic reasoning goes).

Sahlins's [1] approach to time and change is deeply innovative, and historians need to read him. He is the most important philosopher of history ever to walk the earth (yup, really). Here is a key quotation from the introduction to Islands of History.
Anthropology has something to contribute to the discipline of history. The converse also goes without saying. Yet I am not arguing simply for more collaboration between the disciplines. As I put it at one point, “the problem now is to explode the concept of history by the anthropological experience of culture.” Nor again will the consequences be one-sided: an historical experience will as surely explode the anthropological concept of culture—structure included. [2]
For us, though, it will be enough to read a little bit further in Marshall Sahlins's masterwork Islands of History. For our purposes, let's think of it as a kind of "beginning," with Cook and his crew starting to get to know the eighteenth century Hawaiians. We'll discuss his death in an "endings" post later on this week. For now, let's take a look at Sahlins's take on Cook's visit to Hawaii, and how being received as a god (not so bad, really) turned dark.

Many weeks from now, I will examine the greatest debate in the history of anthropology (Sahlins-Obeyesekere). If you have not spent much time in the discipline (and that is certainly understandable), let me just say that it comes out of the sentiments in the statement below. This is volatile stuff. 

[c] Islands
Marshall Sahlins
Islands of History
The ritual makes another curious juncture with European history: in the death of Captain Cook, whom Hawaiians had identified as their lost god/king, Lono. The next chapter will document the event in detail; here we may be content with a brief synopsis. Cook's first visit, to Kaua'i Island in January 1778, fell within the traditional months of the New Year rite (Makahiki). He returned to the Islands late in the same year, very near the recommencement of the Makahiki ceremonies. Arriving now off northern Maui, Cook proceeded to make a grand circumnavigation of Hawai'i Island in the prescribed clockwise direction of Lono's yearly procession, to land at the temple in Kealakekua Bay where Lono begins and ends his own circuit. The British captain took his leave in early February 1779, almost precisely on the day the Makahiki ceremonies definitively close. But on his way out of Kahiki, the Resolution sprung a mast, and Cook committed the ritual fault of returning unexpectedly and unintelligibly. The Great Navigator was now hors catégorie, a dangerous condition as Leach and Douglas have taught us, and within a few days he was really dead—though certain priests of Lono did afterward ask when he would come back. It was a ritual demise: hundreds of Hawaiians, many of them chiefs, pressed in upon the fallen god to have a part in his death. [3]

[1] If the "s's" seems strange, just look at the first entry in Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Disagree if you like, but just think of Charles's throne and Jesus's compassion. S's. Deal with it (they're "right," actually).  LaFleur's point. Bierman's speech. Sturtz's archival research. Deal.
[2] Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 17.
[3] Sahlins, Islands, 93-94.

Sahlins, Marshall. Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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