Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Another book about differences

A while back the folklorist Tok Thompson came to IU to give a couple of talks. He devoted one entirely to the book The Origin of the World's Mythologies by E.J. Michael Witzel. Thompson denounced it as a work of poor scholarship, of misguided ideas, and of racism. he reviewed the book for the Journal of Folklore Research Reviews. Here's the conclusion (spoiler alert, I guess):

To conclude: this book will no doubt prove exciting for the gullible and the racist, yet it is useless—and frustrating—for any serious scholar. This is a work which should never have reached book publication stage: a whole series of scholarly checks and balances—ranging from Harvard's venerable Folklore and Mythology Department, to the editors and reviewers at Oxford University Press—should have been in place to guide the scholarly inquiry, which would have prevented the socially irresponsible publication of such grandiose, brash, and explicitly racist claims based on ill-informed, highly problematic scholarship.

 I haven't read Witzel's book yet, but I intend to do so for this project. He lays out an argument that there are two large groups of people (Gondwana and Laurasia), and that they have differing mythologies. It's worth noting that the publisher is Oxford. Yes, the university. And Witzel teaches at Harvard.

Here's another, less critical review of the book. It was published by the Institute of social and cultural anthropology, at Oxford, for what it's worth. There's also something called the Laurasian Academy, with which Witzel is affiliated. More on this when I've had a chance to get through it. I just wanted to keep the links to these reviews handy.

Friday, September 16, 2016

New Project Time: Myths of Difference

Right now I'm in the middle of doing about a million different things. There's my full-time job at Indian University changing light bulbs and turning on computers. There are the two books and the one article I've got to edit for various publishers. There's the class on religion and/as fantasy that I'm taking because I get free tuition at IU for changing light bulbs (to be fair, they're really expensive light bulbs). There's the novel I really intend to finish very soon (I have about one thousand words left, right in the middle of it). There's the revision of the Superman book I'm probably supposed to get through soon. And there's the article I want to write on Santa Claus.

That's only eight things? Well, put the other 999,992 in the category Raising Three Kids.

So, on top of that, I'm going to start keeping track of potentially useful links and ideas for the book I plan to start researching next year. Right now it's called "Myths of Difference." You'll get the idea:

An article by Saladin Ahmed about the value in reading works by a variety of types of authors (i.e., authors of various color of skin, sexual orientation, religious background). Its title sums up an endless discussion on the internet that simply won't go away, no matter how hard writers try to argue it, and how logical the support for reading books not written by white men is. The Great Internet Debate about Not Reading Books by White Men. I scanned the comments section, and it's amazing just how far readers will twist what the writer wrote because they don't like it. Man, some people just can't understand the basic idea that some institutions are inherently racist. The youtube video linked to in Ahmed's article, featuring stand-up by Aamer Rahman, is worth a look, too.

And while we're at it, an earlier article about the same topic, by K.T. Bradford, is useful too. What both of these articles argue, and what's useful, is that the very idea of a meritocracy determining who gets published and supported by advertising campaigns and reviews is inherently problematic because it reflects centuries of established prejudices.

While we're on that topic, here's an article about a book called Human Achievement by Charles Murray, which appeared in the New York Times a while back. Yeah, I'm probably not going to spend money on a copy of that book.

I've been doing this in hard copy for a while now, in a file folder in my desk, but it's time to start expanding.