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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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II. Pedia Sapiens: A Planetary Progeny Comes to Her/His Own Actual Factual Knowledge

1. Indigenous Intimation: Mythic Animism

Doniger, Wendy. The Implied Spider. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. In this study of mythologies, the University of Chicago theologian sets aside the postmodern denial of common themes. Rather it is obvious that just as all languages can be translated one into another, so the mythic versions and testimonies should equally be comparable and commensurable. Microscope, telescope and our human kaleidoscope necessarily reflect the same story.

Translation requires a leap of faith very much like the leap that, I will soon argue, is required by comparison. We are always moving between worlds, trying to make sense of and orient our lives, and the trick of comparison is the trick of translating between these worlds. (4)

Edinger, Edward. The Creation of Consciousness. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1984. On Jung’s lifelong endeavor to find a cosmological connection and purpose for human beings. As he searched in this regard, Pueblo Indian elders in Taos, New Mexico in 1925 told him that by their daily ritual they helped the sun cross the sky each day. (which is also an ancient Egyptian belief.) Jung said this was the example of what he was looking for and went on to advise that a current version should involve the human act of bringing the universe to conscious self-awareness.

Eglash, Ronald. African Fractals. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999. On the discovery that indigenous settlements in Africa exhibit in their architecture, artifacts, graphics and society exhibit a recursive, self-similar scaling that is fractal in kind. By this insight a hidden, self-organizing analogic order is revealed as opposed to the digital West. Accordingly, Eglash advises that there is much to learn for our fragmented world from such a natural aesthetic.

Eglash, Ron and Audrey Bennett. Fractals in Global Africa. Critical Interventions. Issue 9/10, 2012. In this Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute multidisciplinary science, technology, culture, and media scholars introduce a special issue on the once and future self-organizing invariant geometries and recursive liveliness of pre-colonial African traditions from sculpture and adornments to dwellings and villages. A typical article is “Creating Again and Again: Fractal Patterns and Process in Improvisational African-American Quilts” by artist Judy Bales, where this feminine gift is an ideal microcosm whence intrinsic mathematical patterns repeat with colorful creativities. A fractal theme within the contributions is that these modern dynamical theories can evoke and reconfirm the ancient wisdom of ubuntu community (search) as an “immanent moral justice.” The closing entry is “Fractals of Knowledge: Melaku Center and Central Highlands University” (Ethopia). It also bears notice that a parallel comparison across Asian millennia between indigenous evocative wisdom and the latest nonlinear sciences is averred in the 2012 volume Systems Science (search Xiaojun Duan).

Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves at many scales. In the context of African art and design, that simple characterization takes on profound meanings that can move across disciplines and geographic boundaries. Fractal patterns can be found in African architecture, textiles, sculpture, music, and many other places. The means by which computers generate fractal graphics, recursive loops which allow structures to “unfold” or self-generate from an initial state, find parallels in African cultural traditions that might seem distant from math or computing: stories of spiritual rebirth, trickster narratives, the social dynamics of communalism, the “repetition with revision” linking music with oral history, and other ineluctable aspects of lived experience. Rather than imposing an alien analysis from afar, the eclectic mix of contributions in this special issue allow the rich complexity of African culture, in all its global diversity, to enter into dialogue with nonlinear dynamics, complexity theory, and other mathematical and computational frameworks in which fractals occupy a central role. (4)

Benoit Mandelbrot, best known as the founder of fractal geometry, described the acclaimed Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika as having “an extraordinarily refined ‘eye for fractals,’” even though Hokusai could not have been aware of the formal mathematical concept of fractals. I do not know if Mandelbrot was familiar with the work of African-American quilters, such as Rosie Lee Tompkins or the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, but I believe he also would have thought that these artists had a very good eye for fractals. Mandelbrot wrote, “For me, the most important instrument of thought is the eye. It sees similarities before a formula has been created to identify them.” As a visual artist, I have been fascinated by Afro-traditional quilts for more than 25 years and, in recent years, with fractal geometry. Once I discovered fractals, I began to see the patterns in improvisational African- American quilts with more refined eyes and I began to understand my strong attraction to this art form. (Judy Bales)

Critical Interventions is a forum for advanced research and writing on global African arts that investigates African and African Diaspora identities in the age of globalization. As an arena for rethinking African art history and interrogating the value of African art/cultural knowledge in the global economy and how that knowledge is transmitted, Critical Interventions is particularly interested in dissecting how such value is created, and the politics of the commodification of African artworks and of their reception. The journal inaugurates a formal discourse on the aesthetics, politics and economics of African cultural patrimony as it affects African ownership of the intellectual property rights of its indigenous systems of knowledge and cultural practices.

Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967. An entry to the vast corpus of comparative mythology and religions studies from cosmogony to eschatology by the Romanian scholar. In a typical example, Eliade considers the tradition of placing a newborn upon the ground.

We can easily grasp the religious meaning of this custom: giving birth and parturition are the microcosmic version of an exemplary action accomplished by the Earth; every human mother is but imating and repeating that primordial act by which Life appeared in the womb of the Earth. (166)

Erny, Pierre. Childhood and Cosmos. London: Black Orpheus Press, 1973. Children hold a central place in African mythologies as the divinely ordained purpose of an animate, complementary gendered creation.

The formation and birth of the child repeat the primordial and exemplary act of the birth of humanity. In this way the history of the person coincides with that of the species as reported by myth. (26)

Ford, Clyde. The Hero with an African Face. New York: Bantam, 1999. The perennial mythological odyssey as it is conveyed in traditional Kongo cosmologies.

Foster, Mary LeCron and Lucy Jayne Botscharow, eds. The Life of Symbols. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1990. The role of analogy in forming symbolic and mythic representations. For one example, the progress of a Neolithic ability to depict faces and people seems to be recapitulated in the artwork of children.

Gillette, Douglas. The Shaman’s Secret. New York: Bantam, 1997. A prolific, iterative, animate creation is exemplified throughout the wisdom of traditional Mayan culture.

For the Maya, the Universe was an exuberant celebration of fractals. Everything repeated itself in an endless variety of forms and sizes and all things were mirror-image transformations of the same underlying life force. (37)

Gregor, Thomas and Donald Tuzin, eds. Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Papers from a Wenner-Gren international symposium which considered how feminine and masculine reciprocities serve as the guiding social and cultural distinction of these primal environs. This geographic confluence forms the Gondwanan milieu as seen by Michael Witzel above, along with an African affinity. Again a “gender-inflicted, sexualized, procreative” cosmos is found to suffuse this milieu and early age. A typical chapter might be “The Genres of Gender: Local Models and Global Paradigms in the Comparison of Amazonia and Melanesia” by Philippe Descola.

For us and many of our colleagues, however, the resemblance among the societies in Melazonia (a meld of each) that stands out most dramatically is gender. This is a useful basis for a comparative study, since gender is a topic at the forefront of anthropology. It is an inherently integrative subject, bringing together intellectual perspectives derived from such diverse areas as human biology, environmental studies, psychology, social anthropology, and the humanities. Above all, the territory of Melazonia, when its frontiers are defined by patterns of gender, seems to provoke fascinating insights about the cultures studies by our contributors and, more generally, about the human condition. (Editors, 8)

Grim, John A., ed. Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. This edition in the Religions of the World and Ecology series provides a good survey of and a deep sensitivity to the earthwise communion of native peoples on every continent.

Harvey, Graham, ed. The Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Durham, UK: Acumen Publishing, 2013. Harvey is a Reader in Religious Studies at the Open University and author/editor of works on this perennial sense of a natural earthly abide much more alive, integral, enspirited and personified than western scientific and religious culture could ever imagine or admit. Wise women Nurit Bird-David and Linda Hogan set the fertile scene, some chapters are Metamorphosis and Identity: Chewong Animistic Ontology by Signe Howell, “The One-All:” The Animist High-God by Rane Willerslev, and The Animal Versus the Social: Rethinking Individual and Community in Western Cosmology by Priscilla Stuckey which evokes this same reciprocity as Baird Callicott in Thinking Like a Planet (2014), see quote next.

Many indigenous cultures…are sustained by stories that join individual and community into a whole that neither erases the individual nor sets individual well-being in tension with that of the community. If the animist cultural stories touched on here provide models of stories and cultures that are sustainable over time, they indicate that revisions to the Western story will need to center on similarly joining interests of individual and community into a more harmonious whole. The animist cultures we touched on here accomplish this through (a) recognizing subjectivity in and kinship with the more-than-human world and (b) promoting practices of affection and nurturing as the medium of affection and nurturing as the medium of reciprocity that promotes social…and ecological stability. It is interesting that current scientific challenges to the Western story also promote models of interrelationship, co-creation and intersubjectivity. (Stuckey, 206) OK

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