11 October 2012

Conquest, hidden things, regeneration

Sixth in a series of notes and comments on The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Tlatilco mask
Chapter 1: Axolotl

page 18: there is an error in the printed text of the UK edition.  The correct name of the environmentalist and philosopher mentioned in the marginal note is Paul Shepard.

page 18: the high point of European global expansion and conquest. See a recent comment piece by George Monbiot: Colonised and coloniser, empire's poison infects us all.

page 20: contemporary accounts are harrowing. A short passage edited out of the book refers to a story that has fascinated me since I first came across it more than 25 years ago: La Relación by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, first published 1542 and available in a 1986 English edition as Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. (There is still, inadvertently, a reference to it in the bibliography.) Shipwrecked on the coast of Florida in 1528, de Vaca was one of three men, from an expedition of more than three hundred, to survive. He walked all the way to Mexico in search of other Spaniards. It took him eight years, and on the way he was, first, enslaved and, later, made his way as a trader and shaman famed for his powers of healing. De Vaca developed something like sympathy for indigenous people that was rare among Europeans. His account of the first traces of other Spaniards after nearly a decade in the 'wilderness':
We traveled over a great part of the country, and found it all deserted, as the people had fled to the mountains, leaving houses and fields out of fear of the Christians. This filled our hearts with sorrow, seeing the land so fertile and beautiful, so full of water and streams, but abandoned and the places burned down, and the people, so thin and wan, fleeing and hiding; and as they did not raise any crops their destitution had become so great that they ate tree-bark and roots. Of this distress we had our share all the way along, because they could provide little for us in their indigence, and it looked as if they were going to die. They brought us blankets, which they had been concealing from the Christians, and gave them to us, and told us how the Christians had penetrated into the country before, and had destroyed and burnt the villages, taking with them half of the men and all the women and children, and how those who could escaped.
In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit notes Eduardo Galeano's observation: "America was conquered but not discovered."

page 21: continued survival. See Mythic Salamander Faces Crucial Test: Survival in the Wild . "In their only home, the canals of Xochimilco in the far south of [Mexico city], the axolotls’ decline has been precipitous. For every 60 of them counted in 1998, researchers could find only one a decade later." (Added on 31 Oct)

page 22: regenerative biology. A huge topic which I will not go into now. Among recent general articles on the topic are these:

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