1: Opening up to knowledge work as gaming through stories, histories, and conversations
2: Starting to play with pastpresents: writing technology ecologies and Inka strings
3: Contexts for gaming: distributed knowledges, academic capitalism and television
4: Here we are now, embarked on Cat's Cradle with a range of other actors
Opening up to knowledge work as gaming through stories, histories, and conversations
All of Donna Haraway's work takes us on travels to the unfamiliar. We students, colleagues and enthusiasts have each and all found our various ways to travel to the unfamiliar with Donna Haraway. In this web-book we share our journeys to and with her, modeling how to do this and offering examples of why these travels matter.
This essay demonstrates using Haraway as a model for a certain kind of thinking around pivotal cultural binaries. It plays with an idea of pastpresents, modeled on Haraway's use of the term naturecultures. Postulating that pastpresents are a species of naturecultures, it offers many linked, or in this essay, knotted, examples of how the past and the present continually converge, collapse and co-invent each other. The Andean recording device made of strings, knots and colors used by the Inka in imperial administration, the Inka khipu, provides an object to think with, a richly layered technoscientific artifact, whose timeframes, infrastructures, and scale-making possibilities allow us to explore how we learn about and travel to the unfamiliar. A new non-Western history of writing itself may be in the making here.
Haraway has offered as a metaphor for knowledge making the game cat's cradle, and this essay demonstrates how one might play cat's cradle with Donna Haraway. We can begin such gaming with Haraway, even without having yet read her work or knowing the particular essays it employs, by sharing both chucks and bits of Haraway's unique style of speaking, writing, thinking, explaining and enjoying word-play, all engaged in simultaneously. More than most essays, this one relies upon many quotations. The point is to include other worlds in their own words in our game of cat's cradle.
In our opening foray here, launching the first pattern of cat's cradle, Haraway shares with us a story about what work this term naturecultures does, and why she loves working this way:
I am in love with biology—the discourse and the beings, the way of knowing and the world known through those practices. Biology is relentlessly historical, all the way down. There is no border where evolution ends, where genes stop and environment takes up, where culture rules and nature submits, or vice versa. Instead, there are turtles upon turtles of naturecultures all the way down.... All of my writing is committed to swerving and tripping over these bipartite, dualist traps rather than trying to reverse them or resolve them into supposedly larger wholes.... I have a perverse love of words, which have always seemed like tart physical beings to me.[i]
So, to begin co-creating with Haraway and others in cat's cradle I take my term, pastpresents, as a species or kind of naturecultures that also swerve and trip. I understand them now as quite palpable evidences that the past and the present cannot be purified each from the other—they confront me with interruptions, obstacles, new/old forms of organization, bridges, shifts in direction, spinning dynamics.
Starting to play with Pastpresents: writing technology ecologies and Inka strings
In Knots. Literally. Donna Haraway was my teacher and advisor in the History of Consciousness, a graduate program in and a laboratory for ranging interdisciplinary practices. My own interdisciplinary work there became an example of how a project expands and elaborates during a particular moment in knowledge making to become and declare a new field. The field I thus embarked upon in what those of us call affectionately "HistCon" is "feminism and writing technologies," and one book I am working on now is a framework for participation in this field, Speaking with Things.
As I do in that book, here I begin my explorations of writing technology ecologies in knots, with new stories wondering about old things. (Here's the first shift, a cross-over to encounter Haraway on "imploded objects": "I think of these as balls of yarn, as gravity wells, as points of intense implosion or as knots. They lead out into worlds...."[iii]) Haraway's work is full of mini-lectures and histories about various scholars and their worlds. I like to share these too. So these opening gambits in the game start with some stories that intertwine the academy and other sites of knowledge making, some histories making history, and some conversations among folks who think about this thing "writing" or who think about knowledge making practices among sciences and technologies.
Speculating, theorizing, stringing along with Gary Urton. Ethnomathematician, ancient historian and current ethnographer of Peru, Gary Urton works with pastpresents in several layers in his MacArthur Fellow book, Signs of the Inka Khipu, binary coding in the Andean knotted-string records.[iv] This experimental and speculative book draws out an extended analogy between the binary codes of computers and those of pre-conquest Inka strings. His are speculations about what counts as writing, a point of fascination in my own research. More specifically, Urton asks what forms of decoding eventually will tell us whether these knotted strings contain not only accountings of empire tribute and maps of Inka imperialism, but also if they contain narratives and histories we cannot yet read.
Considering Urton's investigations of the Inka khipu string records as bits of pastpresents acknowledges that right now we know more about khipu in their unique past precisely as we learn to string them together with the computers of our present, and the way we know how to attach and move these strings connecting them is intimately related to our experiences with the products and processes of contemporary globalization. By writing technologies I mean both the material technologies of writing and also practices of knowledge making. These knowledge making practices at several levels are those we bring to our analyses and those we know to analyze or we discover in the course of analysis. As we begin the gaming process with Haraway we consider the computer games that train some kinds of thinking and knowing. How do they affect how we think today and what resources do they offer for understanding something like this string record of the Andean past, the Inka khipu?
I take Urton's project as an experimental site to wonder about our current knowledge making practices around what we variously understand under the apparently simple terms "reading" and "writing." Rather than those often internally collapsed terms, Urton works with several somethings in between the written and some concluding reading, drawn out or telescoped in what we might imagine in analogy with today's software "decompiler." Between machine language and "high-level" language a decompiler produces a finite set of transformations, beginning with one and ending with the other (either compiling or decompiling, telescoping in either direction).
Urton explores what materials we have on Andean string records, looking for something(s) like this decompiler to make transformations from the seven-bit binary codes of the string records themselves to the high-level Quechua language of administration in the Inka empire, in order to begin an extended collective process in which he hopes with others to translate the quantity of information he argues knotted string records hold in a range of binary code possibilities. At least 1536 unique units, he calculates, comparable to the sign capacities of early cuneiform, Shang Chinese ideograms, and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs.[v] Urton believes this alternate set of transformations—comparable and contrasting with those analogic ones that translate string records into numerical accounts or into maps—might reveal histories and narratives. And the seven-bit binary codes of the khipu would not be read directly, not even if we had the code book to the meanings of the 0/1 choices of material (cotton or wool), color class (red or dark rainbow), spin/ply relations (z-clockwise/s-counterclockwise or s/z), pendant attachment (recto or verso ties), knot directionality (z or s), number class (ch'ulla-odd or chi'ullantin-even), and information type (decimal or nondecimal).[vi] Urton muses: "How could one 'write' using strings, knots, and colors, rather than pen, paper, and graphemes?"[vii] Stringing along with Urton we find out that binary coding is especially meaningful because Andean social organization and conceptual systems are structured within moieties and dualities. Urton thus makes it possible to use both operations specific to digital understanding (in either/or choices) and operations specific to analogic understanding (more like maps which draw analogies between territories and representations), not privileging one over the other or needlessly polarizing them. It is this kind of action that the game of cat's cradle is good for engaging. Theorists such as Walter Mignolo have properly criticized too easy, facile analogies with the Book in investigating New World "sign carriers."[viii] But this kind of particularism, being locally very specific, is not the only corrective for such errors; scholars still need analogically global terms in order to translate and theorize across and beyond communities of scholarly practice, between and beyond disciplines. Local and global do not have to be either/or intellectual choices; instead they can be disclosed and used as multiple and relational, layered and distributed.[ix] Cat's cradle is a game that encourages us to think this way too. The khipu might be both binary/digital and analogical. Using cat's cradle we include the analogical or complementary as primary patterns without playing only with them, indeed adding to our repertoire the crossing of other patterns and maybe even the making of new ones.
In the game of cat's cradle, our hands splay and telescope out and move and nest together. I prefer to work within such telescoping and nesting "layers of locals and globals," noting, teaching and learning movement across or within discourses, disciplines, politics and knowledges, movement always working with great and sometimes beautiful difficulty, with gains and losses of importance. Translations that acknowledge knowledge/power relations are not transparent, easy ones. They require all elements or participants of semiotic communities to struggle for understanding, that is, to play the game with us, not putting the only or even the primary responsibility upon "authors."[x] (Here is a movement out, then in, from Haraway: "Sometimes people ask me 'Why aren't you clear?' and I always feel puzzled, or hurt, when that happens, thinking 'God, I do the best I can! It's not like I'm being deliberately unclear! I'm really trying to be clear!' But, you know, there is the tyranny of clarity and all these analyses of why clarity is politically correct. However, I like layered meanings, and I like to write a sentence in such a way that—by the time you get to the end of it—it has at some level questioned itself."[xi])
Writing in 3D. After receiving his MacArthur Award Urton first was awarded the Dana Chair while continuing to teach at Colgate, then was lured to Harvard to become Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies there. Lines of infrastructure radiate out here—Inka roads radiated out from the imperial center at Cuzco, and khipu are often displayed with their primary cords curled and their subsidiary strings radiating out, as if maps of the Inka empire. Some of these lines of knowledge making infrastructure include the conferences, symposia, institutes, libraries, museums and research centers named in Urton's acknowledgements; the friendship and professional networks named as persons and events, readers and students, family members and publication professionals; the fieldwork sites and folks, donors and facilitators, informants and NGOs; not to mention the money: organizations, foundations, individuals, and that $500,000 from the MacArthur award. Making knowledge is expensive and collective. Who pays and how is in flux under academic capitalism today.[xii]
At Harvard Urton now heads the Harvard Khipu Database Project, its database administrator and web manager Carrie Brezine, a mathematician, spinner and weaver, and Cuzco ethnographer.[xiii] Generating and valuing textiles was primary at all levels of the Inka empire—households, regional communities, court and army. The great anthropologist and ethnohistorian of the Andes John Murra has put it especially clearly: "At the time of the European invasion, state warehouses were located throughout the kingdom, and virtually every witness has indicated his amazement at their number and size....the startling and peculiarly Andean aspect was the large number holding wool and cotton, cloth and garments....there were houses filled to the ceiling with clothes tied into bundles.... A primary source of state revenues, an annual chore among peasant obligations, a common sacrificial offering, cloth could also serve at different times and occasions as a status symbol or a token of enforced citizenship, as burial furniture, bride-wealth, or armistice sealer. No political, military, social or religious event was complete without textiles volunteered or bestowed, burned, exchanged, or sacrificed."[xiv] (This pivotal pattern is now disclosed for play.)
With all this in mind Urton shifts his own string out: "Clearly, cloth was not just any medium among the Inka, it was the medium of choice, and as such, the records of state were, not surprisingly, fabricated of this material.... Thus the system we're considering here should not be conceived of as non-graphic and non-two-dimensional, as though the khipu can or should be defined by what it is not; rather, the khipu was (positively) three-dimensional and tactile." "...there was a high degree of continuity between khipu and textiles in the manufacturing of cloth products in the empire. Thus, the khipu were not aberrant products of this fabric technology."[xv] So it is not surprising that in 1993 Urton would apprentice himself to the weavers of Candelaria, called the Mothers, in order to investigate how colors are classified in binary groupings during his field research into Quechua numbers and mathematical conceptualizations.[xvi]
Pastpresents are wedded to theory. Urton is adamant that theory is not optional or a deflection from working with these objects of analysis, khipu themselves. Instead, as Haraway might put it, objects and theory co-constitute each other. Looking for a new way into these objects, these Inka khipu, Urton alters the strings this way: "those of us—the 'script-poor' cousins of Mayanists who work in the Andes—pursuing research on the khipu do not have the luxury of being a- or nontheoretical. This is because if we do not develop a productive theory of khipu signs, then, I contend, we have nowhere to go and will continue (as we've done over the past seventy-five years) endlessly massaging the numbers, trying to find meaning in a body of data already well analyzed by experts in numerical analysis."[xvii]
Pastpresents are, then, both a theory and a methodology of choice, a recurring pattern in cat's cradle when scattered historical, anthropological and other evidence must be gathered across disciplinary and other boundaries and timeframes.[xviii] The search for possible "transcriptions" of khipu (some khipu "Rosetta stone") by colonials and colonialized descendants after the conquest in Spanish language archives is one gathering tack. Even when found, such transcriptions would have to be used indirectly (as I say, decompiled), as Urton demonstrates, to gather ethnocategories, nouns and verbs, since a direct one-to-one correspondence is unlikely given the incommensurability of this binary system with "Colombian" Spanish language and culture.[xix] Positing cultural continuities over time in particular areas, unevenly distributed, means conducting contemporary fieldwork in the Andes: these are quite literally pastpresents. Such necessary speculation in the face of sparse evidence means theorizing across cultures over several timeframes, to posit ranges of possibility, social patternings, dynamic paradigmatic sets. Cat's cradle is a great game for this. This is what Urton calls Khipu Sign Theory, a collapsed telescoped "glocalization" that adds to the richness of what counts as writing. (A string in movement: glocalization is "the localization and indigenization of globally mobile understandings...."[xx])
Mobilizing the contemporary technologies of gaming, of practices in new media popular culture, drawing out the very elements of the knowledge environment in which all this makes sense to us, we position gaming now as a resource and model for academic and other intellectual inquiry. Variously strung with these practices, for example, are websites, used for the transmission of knowledge about the khipu and to display or curate such knowledge; for encouraging research networks by the display of partial knowledges; as laboratory sites for bringing together instrumentations of inscription and rearrangements of things studied; for inviting support—financial, institutional, political, public, in various locals and globals; for honoring and creating historical, regional and national identities, and for play, amazement and entertainment. Websites mix times as elements are differentially and relationally stable and flexible, as pastpresents. [xxi] (Science journalist Steven Johnson remarks on these gaming aspects: "I call the mental labor of managing all these simultaneous objectives [in a computer game] 'telescoping' because of the way the objectives nest inside one another like a collapsed telescope.... You can't progress far in a game if you simply deal with the puzzles you stumble across; you have to coordinate them with the ultimate objectives on the horizon. Talented gamers have the ability to keep all these varied objectives in their heads simultaneously. ...telescoping represent[s]...the emergence of forms that encourage participatory thinking and analysis, forms that challenge the mind to make sense of an environment...."[xxii])
These are all elements of writing technology ecologies, knotted as these studies of Inka khipu are and tied in closely with their "things," which are always simultaneously objects, assemblages and processes. (Analyst of technoscientific objects and colleague of Haraway, Bruno Latour plays them out and renames them together this way: "'objects' which had been conceived as wholly exterior to the social and political realm, have become 'things' again, that is, in the sense of the mixture of assemblies, issues, causes for concerns, data, law suits, controversies which the words res, causa, chose, aitia, ding have designated in all the European languages."[xxiii])
Writing technology ecologies are thus dynamic and layered assemblages of people, skills, devices, with an emphasis on relationality, co-constitution and context, granulated in structure today materially and conceptually by globalization processes themselves. That is to say, we know about them and thus are part of them too, through layers of complex contemporary mediations, of which we take account in layers of locals and globals. (Haraway: "...a four-part composition, in which co-constitution, finitude, impurity, and complexity are what is.... Networks of co-constitution, co-evolution, communication, collaboration abound to help us rethink issues of communication and control...."[xxiv])
Contexts for gaming: distributed knowledges, academic capitalism and television
Knowledge environments comparing the seemingly incomparable as pastpresents. Where do we see the evidences of these globalized products and processes? How do we know them when we see them? How do we participate in making and being made ourselves by the very contexts in which we think, in which we play various games of knowledge production in the act of being made visible to ourselves and others? Like Haraway, we tell more stories, open up histories, work out conversations. Shifting now between patterns, over and back, I play with timeframes and pastpresents, all the layerings of time in these stories I am about to tell. I write of today, but it was two years ago too. Writing, storytelling and thinking things out are accretions of times, timeframes, assemblages of events and contexts. These befores and afters are intertwined in pastpresents.
This afternoon, summer 2004, after reading the cover story of July's Smithsonian magazine over lunch, I hurriedly ran down to the National Gallery of Art because I mistakenly thought this was the last day of the exhibition "Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya."[xxv] Mayan and other Mesoamerican writing systems, compared in contrast to Andean ones, are subjects of Writing Without Words: alternative literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, a book which keeps inspiring me as I interrogate writing technologies.[xxvi] I could not help but notice that the primary sponsor of this Maya exhibition was Virginia real estate developer Catherine B. Reynolds, who, in 2002, spectacularly withdrew her $35 million gift to the National Museum of American History, in the course of controversies over donor control over exhibitions at the Smithsonian.[xxvii] This exhibition is also sponsored by Televisa: "the largest media group in the Spanish-speaking world...as part of its commitment to promote and share its Mexican heritage."[xxviii] (Connections with global television advance some of my outlying strings.)
As I walked from the last section of the exhibition, "Palenque, the exemplary court," to an adjoining room in the east wing containing art from Diego Rivera's cubist period, I could hear the resonant tones of PBS's Ray Suarez, narrating a film for the exhibit.[xxix] I also could not help but notice that no allusions were made in exhibition materials, despite Palenque's Chiapas location, to the present-day revolutionary Zapatistas, or to contemporary Mayan peasant politics.[xxx] But, of course, this is the National Gallery of Art, displaying "courtly art" and being "historical." However, I could and did in a gift site buy small woven wallets made by the Chichicastenango Weaver's Group, distributed by Maya Traditions, a member of the Fair Trade Federation (one of which I intend to give to Donna Haraway when I see her at an dog agility meet in California in a week or so, summer 2004).
Last August 2003, while I was working on another book, Networked Reenactments, I saved the Washington Post Magazine article on Don Nazario Turpo, "a Quechua-speaking Indian from the high mountain valley near Cuzco in Peru" who had spoken at a conference at my institution, the University of Maryland, College Park, and who is an intermittently visiting consultant for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled to open September 2004.[xxxi] The article by Edgardo Krebs is filled with examples of complex communications with, using and among globalized and glocalized things, people, networks. It ends with discussion of New Age tourism to Cuzco and of a poncho, maybe Inka, explained to curators at the NMAI. "The yarns in the fringes that are plied to the right appear in ponchos used by ordinary people; those plied to the left appear only in ponchos used by pacus [shamen, like Don Nazario himself]."[xxxii]
In Networked Reenactments I use the term reenactments inclusively to examine global action adventure television, experimental historiographies, living history sites, heritage websites, "time traveling" documentary television, and museums, in order to think about changes in the materialities that "write" histories of technologies under globalization. With anthropologist and HistCon alum Sharon Traweek "I have become interested in how these massive shifts in political economy affect the kinds of questions intellectuals begin to find interesting..., the kinds of resources assessed to investigate their questions, the kinds of curricular and pedagogical changes generated, and the new modes of investigation. That is, what else is going on when there is a change in what counts as a good question, an interesting mode of inquiry, way of teaching and learning, and the infrastructure needed for pursuing these emerging forms of knowledge making...."[xxxiii] I examine both authoritative and alternate sites for such writing technologies in productions of knowledge and the crossing and moving of boundaries between them.
Converging technologies and distributed agencies. Listening to Ray Suarez' narration for the National Gallery's Mayan exhibit on the summer day I am writing on reenactments provokes me to tie them together with khipu investigations as I point out then and now that television too is a writing technology. At first glance it may seem rather silly to call the various TV technologies writing technologies, especially to those who privilege inscription as "writing" and for whom writing is the very opposite of the aural and the photographic. (Such exclusive definitions of writing are challenged by the "limit" cases described in Boone's Writing without Words and in Andean ethnographies such as those of Frank Salomon.)[xxxiv] But even for those who resist the largest meanings of writing technologies, as particular formalized processes of meaning-making embodied in specific cultural skills and devices, a second look in an age following WebTV may give them pause. Satellite and cable television are converging with telephone, computer and internet technologies in ways that only this largest meaning of writing can apprehend.[xxxv] These convergences are explicitly commercial, political and technological in ways that are highly visible right now.[xxxvi] This makes TV an extremely interesting example for description and analysis, one that calls upon and creates new intuitions about writing technologies. TV helps us draw out and upon products and processes of globalization and is part of the knowledge making environment we play along with today whether we like it or not.
Television is also a necessary site for thinking about distributed agencies of knowledge production: such commercial production-delivery-consumption (the word "production" telescopes and collapses the whole webbed range here) is characterized by unstable, distributed or nonexistent author-functions. Users are elements in such "production" too, sometimes proleptically fanaticized in extrapolations from viewer data, sometimes included in focus groups, sometimes interacting in fandoms with production people in on-going viewing and franchise development. In documentary production using scholarly "talking heads" one shocking reality for the scholars involved is how little impression their particular contribution may make in the overall event/product itself, as well as how decontextualized or recontextualized its appropriation may be. Then again TV becomes one material reality of as well as metaphor for scholarly labor itself in academic capitalism, the distributed and commercial production agencies of which are more and more uncomfortably visible today, belying stereotypes of solitary, disinterested practice.Who counts as, say, a historian and what counts as a primary source—let alone their relationships to narration and period recreations—are especially various creatively and commercially. Imaginations and conventions of "living history"—practiced in academically recognized if peripheral forms in places like Colonial Williamsburg or by the National Park Service, sometimes with costumed history performers—are similarly and differently layered together in enactment with other public histories, such as the playful work of historical reenactors, and the lively identifications of historical "reality" shows on TV. These are all topics I am writing about summer 2004 when I break off to visit the National Gallery.
So as I travel to the Smithsonian I am thinking about how the historical "reality" shows on TV are one part soap-opera, one part period recreation—and with folks from our time who invite audience identification as "us," viewers mentally enacting too, playing at, reenacting, experimenting, speculating, trying to provide evidence for, various understandings of the "past." Their chronological anachronisms interweave pastpresents in participatory identifications. When I arrive at the installation at the National Gallery I notice immediately elements in common with these TV shows. Media and viewers often call the participants in these TV shows "time travelers" and the installation at the National Gallery arranges fantasy archeological sites in restoration for us to walk within as pastpresent time travelers.
Compare this with, say, BBC shows such as "Surviving the Iron Age," or Nova's do-it-yourself ancient technologies shows, "Secrets of Lost Empires," both shown in the US on PBS.[xxxvii] Sharing strategies similar to those implemented at the increasingly commercialized Smithsonian Institution, these "public" TV shows mix commercial products of various sorts: the PBS ones are broadcast, but there are also commercial cable ones such as those on the US History Channel or the Discovery Channel, sometimes recorded on video tape or DVD along with companion books sold to private viewers.[xxxviii] The public ones pay for themselves with a mixture of small profits from such products, corporate money and TV station money, private donations, small grants from federal, state or city cultural funding and/or in the UK from BBC licence fees, and supportive relationships with other public history sites and actors. Their web sites, interconnected to the BBC or Canadian History Television or PBS and/or Nova, are intended for educational use for schools and viewers, for internet entertainment in a range of forms, and to sell these products.[xxxix] The Smithsonian more and more remixes such privatizing publics too. Its narrative dramas and gaming strategies are innovative and collective forms and styles implemented by curators today. Now we discover that we are playing cat's cradle with them too.
So here we are now, embarked on Cat's Cradle with a range of other actors
Considering how and why we play this game. I like to notice how Haraway performs the game while she explains it to us. This is our opportunity also to reflect on what we are doing here and notice our own promising knots:
"All that is needed for a game of cat's cradle is now in play. Drawn into patterns taught me by a myriad of other practitioners in technoscience worlds, I would like to make an elementary string figure in the form of a cartoon outline of the interknitted discourses named (1) cultural studies; (2) feminist, multicultural, antiracist science projects; and (3) science studies. Like other worldly entities, these discourses do not exist entirely outside each other. They are not preconstituted, nicely bounded scholarly practices or doctrines that confront each other in debate or exchange, pursuing wars of words or cashing in on academic markets, and at best hoping to form uneasy scholarly or political alliances and deals. Rather, the three names are place markers, emphases, or tool kits—knots, if you will—in a constitutively interactive, collaborative process of trying to make sense of the natural worlds we inhabit and that inhabit us; i.e., the worlds of technoscience. I will barely sketch what draws me into the three interlocked webs. My intention is that readers will pick up the patterns, remember what others have learned how to do, invent promising knots, and suggest other figures that will make us swerve from the established disorder of finished, deadly worlds.[xl]"
(At that summer 2004 dog agility meet, a place where people and dogs play together, Donna tells me that nowadays she would change this phrase "natural worlds we inhabit and that inhabit us" to "naturalcultural worlds...." Indeed, she thought at first I had mistranscribed her words. Collapsing later thinking and earlier thinking is an important element in the knowledge making game cat's cradle.)
[xli] The second set of five episodes, "Secrets of Lost Empires II," produced by WGBH in 2000 in association with Channel 4 in Britain and La Cinquième in France, focused on additional do-it-yourself ancient technologies fashioning a Chinese Rainbow Bridge and a medieval trebuchet, revisited the question of raising an obelisk, explored how the moas of Easter Island were moved, and experimented with and fought over how a Roman Bath was built.[xlii] Each series has its companion book, Secrets of Lost Empires (1996) and Mysteries of Lost Empires (2000) respectively, and home video versions.[xliii] Each series has connecting websites, although the second series site (2000) is a substantive integrated system with gaming attributes, while the first series site (1997) is more like a set of concatenated web pages.[xliv] These websites are conspicuously educational, with teaching plans and such; the second series site includes its transcripts of each episode as well as video clips and other graphically sophisticated elements.[xlv]
In 1997 the episode "Inca" (another, earlier transliteration now usually represented instead as Inka) was broadcast in the US "stacked" with the episode "Stonehenge" (that is to say, shown back to back) on the second of three days of "Secrets."[xlvi] This episode links the large building technologies usually focused on in the two "Secrets" series—here the "woven" rock walls of the citadel overlooking the town of Ollantaytambo—with cultural and social technologies—here Inka labor organization, road use, and khipu making—via the collective construction of a grass suspension bridge by the people of the village of Huinchiri. Such bridge building is not one of the "lost" building arts usually tackled in the "Secrets" series, but rather an example of unbroken cultural knowledges still used by Andean people today. The section essay for "Inca" in the first "Secrets" companion book is by Andrea von Hagen, author, Peruvian historian and archeologist; as well as journalist and photographer now associated with the Museo Leymebamba and its celebrated "Mummies of the Laguna de los Cóndores." On Urton's website we are informed: "In 1997 the Bioanthropology Foundation of Peru-Centro Mallqui under the direction of Dr. Sonia Guillén and Adriana von Hagen and the community of Leymebamba staged a rescue effort and moved all of the [recently discovered but immediately vandalized mummies and artifacts] from the lakeside to the town. They are now housed safely in the Museo Leymebamba. The cache of khipu from this find is one of the most important collections of khipu extant."[xlvii]
As with the other episodes of the "Secrets" series, "Inca" is peopled with folks from a variety of communities of practice: academics and professionals, craftspeople and artists, indeed, whole communities, not to mention the camera crew and production people making the documentary. Four "experts" are introduced to us early in the documentary and set into both competition and cooperation, all of them knotted together from out of their alternative worlds: "NARRATOR (KEACH): Professor of architecture Jean-Pierre Protzen studies the Incas' use of stone. He has written a book about Inca architecture and has some definite ideas about their construction methods. Ed Franquemont is both an anthropologist and a building contractor who lived in a Peruvian village for several years. His particular interest is how the Inca builders organized their labor force. Philippe Petit is the man who walked a tight rope between the towers of the World Trade Center. He wants to know how the Inca builders used grass to make the strong ropes that support their high suspension bridges. And he has come here to help build one.[xlviii] Vince Lee is an architect and explorer who has traveled extensively in the Andes looking for lost Inca sites. He has a theory about how the Inca stonemasons made such precise joints with such giant stones."[xlix]
Putting claims to the test as competitive gaming. BBC producer Robin Brightwell strings the programs together as "a series of experiments on screen" in which the disagreements among experts provide the drama: "Our archeological experts did not always agree with the historical accuracy of the stonemasons' or engineers' schemes. The engineers, it turned out, were often less practically minded than they liked to admit. We...always brought along as close as a modern equivalent as we could find to an ancient foreman. The result was not welcomed by our building teams, but was a bonus for us film-makers: disagreement is always a good ingredient in a documentary."[l] So the drama of each episode of "Secrets"—its "soap-opera" hook and also its competitive game is created out of the incommensurability of knowledges, worlds, languages, forms of evidence, emotional valances and cultural meanings across these communities of practice. Expertise is valued in many forms and its hierarchies in the TV show are often more dependent on "good TV" (that is to say, melodrama) than on conventional academic standards. What counts as authoritative and its alternatives are both deliberately and inadvertently remixed, interknitted, played out in their own variations of cat's cradle.
Thus architecture professor Protzen from UC-Berkeley is later joined by two more academics, archeologist Helaine Silverman from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and geoscientist Ivan Watkins from St. Cloud University, Minnesota. Protzen is positioned with the greatest status in the action of the documentary, but as one whose own theories are bested by those of architecture professional and intellectual entrepreneur Vince Lee. [li] Independent scholar, consultant and treasurer for the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Ed Franquemont probably gets the most airtime of all the "talking heads," filling in bits of history, contextualizing action, stringing it all together with other artifacts and speculations. An accomplished scholarly tour leader Franquemont is adept at such public communication.[lii] Philippe Petit, Helaine Silverman and Ivan Watkins end up as peripheral to the documentary in action, editing and scripting. The "respectable" competing theories of Protzen and Lee are made so in contrast to those of Watkins, who fails to demonstrate stone cut by light concentrated in parabolic mirrors. His attempt is played to the absurd in the documentary, dismissed by Silverman and ridiculed by Protzen. Petit appears periodically entertaining crowds of villagers, failing to interest a bull as if a bullfighter, and finally walking the woven suspension bridge with its makers. Silverman is edited to display her emotional reactions: afraid to walk the bridge but overcoming that, fastidious about eating guinea pig, rhapsodizing over Inka roads and communication rapidity, speaking in "time travel" reenactment language the amazements of Inka social organization. (A reenacting pastpresent string runs through the transcript: "HELAINE SILVERMAN: In terms of labor organization, I feel as though I've been transported back five hundred years to the Inca times. I can just imagine the native leaders doing the census, saying, 'OK, guys, ladies, you make the rope. Men, you lay out the strands. We are going to build the bridge. This is your labor tax.'"[liii])
Relationally, in academic circles Silverman would probably have the most prestige among these experts: author or editor of nine scholarly books and collections, her communities are those of Urton, Boone, Salomon: she describes herself on her faculty website: "I am a representative and enthusiastic advocate of the 'lo andino' school of Andean studies, exemplified by scholars such as John Murra, Richard Schaedel, Tom Zuidema, Gary Urton, Billie Jean Isbell, Frank Salomon and Enrique Mayer, among others. In my archaeological research I have been especially interested in the range and limits of variation in Andean societies across time, and in comparative social complexity, urbanism, mortuary behavior, material culture, and landscape and the built environment." (The "lo andino" school has been described by others "to argue that in any interpretation of Andean landscapes, nature and culture cannot be separated. This unity of nature/culture Daniel Gade calls the culture/nature gestalt, a term chosen 'to communicate a mutually interactive skein of human and nonhuman components rather than opposing polarities or separate entities.'[liv] Seen through this gestalt, most ecological formations must be understood as culturally transformed or modified, and social formations have to be understood as mediated through ecological processes. Understanding this skein of relationships, Gade argues, requires a mix of empirical research, intuition and...some theory."[lv])
The spectacle of production. Silverman also comments in a section of her website entitled "Media Attention": "My archaeological research, especially concerning the 'mysterious' Nazca Lines, has attracted the attention of newspaper reporters, talk radio information programs, and documentary filmmakers. With regard to the latter, I've appeared in various television programs produced by National Geographic Explorer, NOVA, BBC, and independents. My experience on these shoots and my appraisal of the final product has been varied and raises ethical issues of concern to professionals. I refer you to a brief article I wrote on this subject, 'Anthropologist as Film Star,' in Anthropology Newsletter...."[lvi]
Out of Silverman's experiences we could ask What might trouble academic participants? Distributed agencies not only characterize the production of each documentary itself, but also, at the next level, each "spectacle of production"—that is to say, their "dramas" contrived from setting communities of practice together, both staged and gamed in unexpected ways, with the lines of authoritative and alternate knowledges played out and recombined. Professional knowledges are elevated while their boundaries are threatened; they are valorized and even democratized but within melodramas of reenactment and experimentation. They are opened up for inspection by those not sharing their professional objects and values, languages and rules for membership. Professionals both long for and fear "accessibility" and the concomitant (mis)understandings of their "others."
Meanwhile versions of each series' project exist in different media interwoven and sensorially redundant—video and DVD, companion book and website—in the kind of remediation cybertheorists David Bolter and Richard Grusin call repurposing. "The entertainment industry defines repurposing as pouring a familiar content into another media form; a comic book series is repurposed as a live-action movie, a televised cartoon, a video game, and a set of action toys. The goal is not to replace the earlier forms, to which the company may own the rights, but rather to spread the content over as many markets as possible.... For the repurposing of blockbuster movies such as the Batman series, the goal is to have the child watching a Batman video while wearing a Batman cape, eating a fast-food meal with a Batman promotional wrapper, and playing with a Batman toy. The goal is literally to engage all of the child's senses."[lvii] The khipu is a kind of writing that depends on physical texture: from our timepoint this remixes which sensory experiences are attached to which information, collectively skilled and shared.
Similarly here, varieties of intellectual knowledges are played upon various media in multiple sensory modalities. For example, the book is the venue in which the television production teams become narrated players too: "bridge builders" "nominated our associate producer, Julia Cort, as 'godmother' of the bridge, with the honor of being the first across."[lviii] Von Hagen's essay in the book differentially emphasizes those folks not so clearly positioned in the TV show as "experts." She emphasizes communities involved and some individuals within them: "David Canal, head of the local community" who "assembled a group of some sixty-five men from Ollantaytambo and from Kachiqata"[lix] is matched by "Donato Tapia, head of the community of Huninchiri."[lx] She points out how altered states of consciousness are pivotal resources for production in these indigenous knowledges, played together with television production: "...there was one unwavering presence: the misayoc, or ritual specialist, charged with keeping the project upright in the spiritual realm....By noon the misayoc and his attendants were all quite drunk, which is precisely the altered state they were trying to achieve. The misayoc's power of the work flow sometimes frustrated the film crew, who would just get set up for a difficult shot only to find that work had stopped, while at other times the miayoc's commands to go ahead seemed to override the need to set up equipment or change positions."[lxi] Von Hagen interprets within her modality: "we were very close to the heart of the genius of Andean technology....we understood that...the bridge was more about bringing people together than about crossing a river."[lxii]
Reintroducing khipu patterns. Ed Franquemont demonstrates the making of a khipu in a similar context; remediating the khipu as a object that differentially engages particular senses aligned with pastpresents. His khipu is a venue for translation across these pastpresents. In other words, the khipu is a "thing" in Latour's sense, in which processes and devices are co-constitutive and time matters. Recall Latour's phrasing: "'objects' which had been conceived as wholly exterior to the social and political realm, have become 'things' again, that is, in the sense of the mixture of assemblies, issues, causes for concerns, data, law suits, controversies which the words res, causa, chose, aitia, ding have designated in all the European languages."[lxiii]
The multiply-plied khipu illustrates pastpresents for us today precisely as its presence requires the resources of all these remediated possibilities: "ED FRANQUEMONT: Well, the Incas never had a written system, but it wasn't anywhere near as much of a disadvantage as you might think. Because they were able to store really abstract and complicated information using textiles as a medium. Right here, what I'm making is a small Inca textile, a quipu [an alternative transliteration of khipu], a series of knots that keeps records on events that happened. In this case, I'm talking about how many people it took to build the bridge, how much it cost, the records we might keep. This is a "read only" document. After it's all done, what I'm going to be able to do is put on the finished records of what's going on here. It's not a counting device like an abacus, that counts as you go. Here, I've recorded how many people there were from the community of Huinchiri, who showed up to work for those six days. And here is how much we paid all their workers. And over here is how much we paid the authorities and the bridgemaster who did the bridge for us. We want to get back records years from now on how this bridge was made, how long it took, how many people it took, and what it cost. We'll be able to code them and keep them forever in a knotted string like this."[lxiv] The skills in narration and explanation Franquemont employs are trained and mobilized within "sustainable tourism," a term which positively names the context for self-employment that an independent scholar's like Franquemont's work exemplifies under globalization.[lxv] The khipu/quipu and Inka/Inca variants are also radiating points in spacetime.
Playing the game with others: relative and relational presentisms
So here you have my game of "cat's cradle" interknitted from mixtures of antiracist cultural studies, transnational knowledge making activisms, and feminist technoscience studies. I hold between my fingers the knotted strands of Inka khipu in their pastpresents to gather and then play out more sets of writing technology ecologies. Other strands are the many heterogeneous intellectual worlds, authoritative and alternative relatively and relationally; they are resources in globalized and glocalized forms, sometimes democratized but rarely simply "accessible." My pastiche of quotations is intended to include these other worlds in their own words.
Meanwhile in my own worlds globalized and glocalized cat's cradle crossovers are ubiquitous and casual: my vineyard friend Cynthia reports to her Portland spinning guild of craftswomen on Urton's work on Inka khipu. I scour the web hunting for traces of Thelma Rowell, my friend Mischa's primatology teacher at Berkeley in the 70s, now ethologist of rare sheep breeds in the UK, finding only in Swedish quotations of her speeches noted by Bruno Latour. Cynthia sends me a subscription to Spin-off magazine, to which Urton's footnotes on ply direction are references. My small apartment overflows with baskets of wool, cotton and alpaca, spinning wheel and spindles, knitting needles and rare fiber samples. My study table is littered with video tapes and DVDs, computer, telephone and TV, books on web design and ethnomathematics, and museum catalogs. I prepare for a trip to an alpaca farm in northern Maryland this weekend 2004, arranging to buy fiber preparations from small business people supporting naturecultures. I bring woven wallets from Mayan Traditions to friends in California, and in California buy Merino and Corriedale wool spun and dyed by Manos del Uruguay rural women's cooperatives.
Why do we play cat's cradle as one form of critical cultural engagement? Practices of critique which focus on debunking academic capitalism, reality TV, heritage tourism or globalization are only one piece of our crucial partial accounts engaging these composite realities around us, in us, as us—however important it is always to continue to confound "finished, deadly worlds." This is Latour's point when he works to renumber alternatives to modernism, that is to say, by noting and adding ways in which "we have never been modern."[lxvi] There is more than one way to break "the Enlightenment Contract" under which, say, we might only purify and separate pasts and presents in a critique of "presentism." A critique of presentism valorizes "alterity," that "otherness of the past," a crucial ethical scaling but one not able by itself to dynamically describe how such pasts and othernesses are necessarily mediated within various relative and relational presentisms and their processes: what Traweek calls "...the infrastructure needed for pursuing these emerging forms of knowledge making...."[lxvii]
When Latour calls for a "parliament of things" honoring the hybrid entities and humans who co-create, along with our intra-actions among them, ourselves and other beings and worldly processes, he and his translator are indulging in a bit of etymological punning. But we might consider these historical "reality" technology documentaries with and as parliaments of our things, among them the Inka khipu: assemblages of entities and beings, living and not, conscious and not, individual and not. Their crossover intra-actions among themselves and with worldly processes is a game of cat's cradle, one we might play with Haraway in what she calls naturecultures and what we could also call pastpresents.
Haraway: "Cat's cradle invites a sense of collective work, of one person not being able to make all the patterns alone. One does not 'win' at cat's cradle; the goal is more interesting and more open-ended than that. It is not always possible to repeat interesting patterns, and figuring out what happened to result in intriguing patterns is an embodied analytic skill. The game is played around the world and can have considerable cultural significance. Cat's cradle is both local and global, distributed and knotted together....Attention to the agencies and knowledges crafted from the vantage point of nonstandard positions (positions that don't fit but within which one must live)...are at the heart of feminist science studies....Yearning in technoscience is for knowledge projects as freedom projects...."[lxviii]
[i] (Haraway, 2004a: 2)
[i] (Haraway, 2004a: 2)
[ii] My illustration and elaboration of pastpresents here participates in a critique of the modernist critique of presentism and also shares a feminist epistemology in which, along with Haraway and Bruno Latour, we "break the Enlightenment Contract" that requires us to keep separate our purifications and our hybridities as the condition for practicing both. (Haraway, 1997, 2003c; Haraway & Goodeve, 2000; Latour, 1993 , 2002a, 2002b)
[v] (2003b: 118)
[vi] (2003b: 120)
[vii] (2003b: 37)
[viii] (Mignolo, 1994)
[ix] (Turnbull, 2000: esp. 26-32)
[x] (Bowker & Star, 1999; Culler & Lamb, 2003; Suchman, 2000; Traweek, 2000)
[xi] (Haraway, 2004b: 333))
[xii] (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997)
[xiii] (Urton & Brezine, 2003-2004b)
[xiv] (Murra, 1989 )
[xv] (2003b : 41, 63)
[xvi] (Urton & Llanos, 1997: 108-110
[xvii] (2003b: 139)
[xviii] (Klein, 1996)
[xix] (Urton, 2003b: 106-8) (Urton, 1998)
[xx] (Berry et al., 2003 : 7)
[xxi] (Ascher & Ascher, 1978; Guillen, 2004; Salomon, 1998; Urton, 2003a; Urton & Brezine, 2003-2004b)
[xxii] (Johnson, 2005: 54, 61)
[xxiii] (2002b: 21)
[xxiv] (Haraway, 2003b: 302, 315)
[xxv] (Meisler, 2004; Miller, 2004; Roberts, 2004)
[xxvi] (Boone & Mignolo, 1994)
[xxvii] (Craig, 2002; Organization of American Historians, 2001; Wallace, 2002.
[xxviii] (National Gallery of Art et al., 2004). "With its television, radio, and publishing interests, Grupo Televisa is número uno in the Latin media world. The firm is Mexico's #1 TV broadcaster with four networks and almost 230 affiliated stations (about 190 are company-owned). It also has a 51% stake in cable joint venture Cablevisión and a 60% stake in Innova, which operates the SKY direct-to-home satellite system (of which Televisa owns 30%). The company's publishing unit, Editorial Televisa, is a leading producer of Spanish-language magazines. Televisa also owns three soccer teams, a sports stadium, and 50% of 17 Mexican radio stations. Through a trust, the chairman and CEO Emilio Azcárraga Jean owns 42% of Televisa." (Hoover's, 2004)
[xxix] (National Gallery of Art, 2004)
[xxx] (Zapatista Network, 2003)
[xxxi] (Smithsonian, 2004)
[xxxii] (2003: 22)
[xxxiii] (2000: 39)
[xxxiv] (1994) (2001) (Such exclusive definitions of writing are challenged by the "limit" cases described in Boone's Writing without Words (1994) and in Andean ethnographies such as those of Frank Salomon (2001)
[xxxv] (Owen, 1999) (Baldwin & McVoy, 1996)
[xxxvi] (Noam, 1991) (Yoffie, 1997)
[xxxvii] (Barnes et al., 2000; Barnes et al., 1992-1997; BBC & Firstbrook, 2000)
[xxxviii] (Barnes, 1997b; Fisher & Fisher, 2000)
[xxxix] (NOVA, 2000, 2003b)
[xl] (Haraway, 1994)
[xli] (Barnes et al., 1992-1997)
[xlii] (Barnes et al., 2000)
[xliii] (Barnes, 1996; Fisher & Fisher, 2000) (Barnes, 1997a; Barnes & Linde, 2000)
[xliv] (NOVA, 2000, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2003d)
[xlv] Transcriptions of the first series are also available, but you have to know to go to the general transcripts section for NOVA. Each transcript is linked to the companion website, but the website does not have an obvious reverse link to those transcripts. (NOVA, 2003e)
[xlvi] "This Old Pyramid" first, followed a week later by "Inca" and "Stonehenge" and the very next day by "Obelisk" and "Coliseum." As a BBC producer explained to me at a recent conference on reenactment, such stacking is intended to hook viewers who might not be habituated to watching in that time frame. (Extreme and sentimental history: A conference on the re-enactment of historical events, 2004)
[xlvii] (Urton & Brezine, 2003-2004a)
[xlviii] A children's book describing Petit's World Trade Center walk won the 2004 Caldecott Medal. (Gerstein, 2003) His exploit was also chronicled in a PBS American Experience series in an episode about New York City's World Trade Center towers, "The Center of the World." (Burns, 2003)
[xlix] (NOVA, 1997)
[l] (Brightwell, 1997: 4, 7)
[li] (Lee, 2003)
[lii] (CTTC, 1999-2000; Textile Society of America, 2003)
[liii] (NOVA, 1997)
[liv] (Gade, 1999: 5)
[lv] (Bebbington, 2000)
[lvi] (Silverman, 2003)
[lvii] (Bolter & Grusin, 1999: 68)
[lviii] (Von Hagen, 1996: 206)
[lix] (Von Hagen, 1996: 197)
[lx] (Von Hagen, 1996: 202)
[lxi] (Von Hagen, 1996: 204)
[lxii] (Von Hagen, 1996: 199)
[lxiii] (2002b: 21)
[lxiv] (NOVA, 1997: my emphasis)
[lxv] (Aracari Travel, 2003) (Cross, 2004) (CTTC, 1999-2000 2000) (Dusenbury, 2004)
[lxvi] (1993 )
[lxvii] (2000: 39)
[lxviii] (1996: 268-9)
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