|The anthropologist as a young man.|
'Systematic derangement of the senses' is how Rimbaud's described his method to get himself psyched out into states of enlarged poetic awareness. "Long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet". William Burroughs cited this as his aim when he wrote Naked Luch, only later with the cut-up can he be said to have fully achieved it. And in mechanized form as well.
The following quote is from Philippe Descola's study of the Achuar Jivaro 'The Spears of Twilight'. It maps wonderfully well onto Rimbaud's sensual derangement as a beneficial state. French anthropologists tend to be erudite intellectuals rather than data-obsessed fieldworkers and in this context the influence of a poète maudit on an ethnologist are actually well rehearsed. James Clifford's Ethnographic Surrealism goes a long way to explain how French anthropology is almost a fully surrealist study with Debord and Bataille hovering over it with all their intellectual dominance. The quote itself affirms the connection by linking the psychogeographic, synaesthetic effects of twilight with Baudelaire, but what aesthetics was Descola thinking of exactly?
Submerged in its green monotones, nature here is not of the kind to inspire a painter. Only at twilight does it deploy its bad taste, in line with Baudelairean aesthetics, exceeding the artifice of the gaudiest of coloured images. The inhabitants of the forest become exceptionally agitated during this brief debauchery of colour. The animals of the daytime noisily prepare for sleep while the nocturnal species awaken for the hunt, their carnivorous appetites whetted. Smells are almost definable now, for the heat of the long late afternoon has given them a consistency that the sun can no longer dissipate. Dulled during the daytime by the uniformity of the of nature's stimulants, the sensual organs are suddenly assailed at dusk by a multiplicity of simultaneous perceptions that make it very difficult to discriminate between sight, sound, smell. Thanks to this brutal onslaught on the senses, the transition between day and night in the forest acquires a dimension of its own as if, for a brief moment just before the great void sleep takes over, the human body is no longer separate from its environment.Further commenting on the monotonous jungle where time seems to be non-existent Descola manages to write about the virtues of the bugs and pains as a form of home-making:
Time seems to be standing still, with neither depth nor rhythm, waiting for something to happen. Biological routines are all that lend a small measure of animation to our uneventful existence. The changes that they bring sometimes introduce a note of originality. An asphyxiating spice, a pretty caterpillar that inflicts an acid burn, mosquitoes that prevent you from sleeping, jiggers that eat your legs and abdomen, infected insect bites that suppurate, lice that infests your head, athlete's foot that makes your feet stink, colic that wrenches your entrails - in short, all the minor infirmities customary to the tropics combine to draw attention to, as it were, the alien nature of our own bodies in which these successive aches and pains find a home.