From Round to Square (and back)

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*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Endings (14)—The Death of Captain Cook (a)

[a] Cooked     RF
I just returned from Hawaii, and will report that things went well at the Tenth East-West Philosophers' Conference. The remonstrance paper was successful, and now I will set to work to solidify my argument over the coming weeks. You will see some of these things on Round and Square soon, especially in the July postings on Roles, Hierarchy, and Remonstrance (the heart of the business book entitled The Emperor's Teacher).

For now, though, let's take a look at an "ending" in Hawaii. My departure is but a tiny blip even in my own personal history.  Captain Cook's "departure"  on February 14, 1779 was anything but a blip, though, and it has resonated in historiographical and, indeed, anthropological arguments for many years. It has figured into the history and mythology of the islands, as well as the sometimes fanciful narratives of Western writers, who can't seem to resist its exotic lure.

One of the most able interpreters to wade into these waters is the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, and even he did not escape unscathed.  As I have said before, the Marshall Sahlins-Gananath Obyesekere debate is to be engaged at another time on this blog. It might be the most interesting (and nasty) fight in the history of anthropology, and (by chance) I had the strange fortune to be studying with Sahlins just as the crap began to hit the fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As much "fun" as it would be to tackle that topic here, it will have to wait for a "Theory Corner" (or maybe even a "Practice Corner") set of posts at a later date.

For today, though, I want to look at a relatively useful account of The Death of Cook, and leave it to readers to sort through the somewhat literary "tellings" at work here. Let's start with a BBC "news" dramatization that is actually fairly nicely connected to historical sources (the term is veridical—in accordance with the source materials—and it is vital for historical studies). The narrators spend a good deal of their nine minutes quoting from diaries and ship logs, so it has its uses. In any case, we'll return (again and again) to the Death of Cook on Round and Square, precisely because it is an absolutely classic example of east meeting west, and neither side really ever forgetting (nor, for that matter, really knowing exactly what "east" and "west" mean in this particular context). It is fascinating stuff, and this "ending" is only the beginning for us.
[b] Fateful    RF
For now, just listen to the B(ritish) B(roadcasting) C(ompany). Even when you have finished, you will not have heard the last of Cook, Hawaii, and images of kin(g)ship the world over. This is just a nice, literary way to get started with a very peculiar ending.

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