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How Forests Think

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

Eduardo Kohn
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    How Forests Think
    Book Description:

    Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human-and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among the Runa of Ecuador's Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn draws on his rich ethnography to explore how Amazonians interact with the many creatures that inhabit one of the world's most complex ecosystems. Whether or not we recognize it, our anthropological tools hinge on those capacities that make us distinctly human. However, when we turn our ethnographic attention to how we relate to other kinds of beings, these tools (which have the effect of divorcing us from the rest of the world) break down.How Forests Thinkseizes on this breakdown as an opportunity. Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself. In this groundbreaking work, Kohn takes anthropology in a new and exciting direction-one that offers a more capacious way to think about the world we share with other kinds of beings.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95686-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-xiii)
  4. Introduction: Runa Puma
    (pp. 1-25)

    Settling down to sleep under our hunting camp’s thatch lean-to in the foothills of Sumaco Volcano, Juanicu warned me, “Sleep faceup! If a jaguar comes he’ll see you can look back at him and he won’t bother you. If you sleep facedown he’ll think you’reaicha[prey; lit., “meat” in Quichua] and he’ll attack.” If, Juanicu was saying, a jaguar sees you as a being capable of looking back—a self like himself, ayou—he’ll leave you alone. But if he should come to see you as prey—anit—you may well become dead meat.¹

    How other kinds...

  5. ONE The Open Whole
    (pp. 27-69)

    One evening while the grown-ups gathered around the hearth drinking manioc beer, Maxi, settling back to a quieter corner of the house, began to tell his teenage neighbor Luis and me about some of his recent adventures and mishaps. Fifteen or so and just beginning to hunt on his own, he told us of the day he stood out in the forest for what seemed an eternity, waiting for something to happen, and how, all of a sudden, he found himself close to a herd of collared peccaries moving through the underbrush. Frightened, he hoisted himself into the safety of...

  6. TWO The Living Thought
    (pp. 71-101)

    Harvesting fish poison roots¹ in the woody thickets that used to be their gardens, Amériga and Luisa were within earshot when it happened. Back at home, as they talked with Delia over bowls of manioc beer, Luisa imitated how through the brush she had heard the family’s dogs—Pucaña, or Red Face, their favorite; Cuqui, her aging companion; and Huiqui—barking excitedly,“‘hua’ hua’ hua’ hua’ hua’ hua’ hua’ hua’ hua,’”the way they do when they’re following game. Then she heard them barking,“‘ya ya ya ya,’”poised to attack. But then something very disturbing happened. The dogs started...

  7. THREE Soul Blindness
    (pp. 103-129)

    Ramun, the schoolteacher’s ten-year-old brother in-law, pitched his skinny mass out of Hilario’s doorframe and called out earnestly, “Pucaña!” By now we were pretty sure that something had gone wrong. Pucaña and Cuqui still hadn’t come home. We didn’t yet know that they had been killed by a feline, but that was what we were starting to suspect. Huiqui had straggled in moments earlier with a gaping hole at the back of her head. Hilario was patiently cleaning her wound with some rubbing alcohol from my first-aid kit. Ramun still harbored some hope that Pucaña would turn up. And so...

  8. FOUR Trans-Species Pidgins
    (pp. 131-151)

    The dogs should have known what was to befall them in the forest that day they were killed. In a conversation she had with Delia and Luisa, back at the house shortly after we buried the dogs’ bodies, Amériga wondered aloud why her family’s canine companions were unable to augur their own deaths and, by extension, why she, their master, was caught unaware of the fate that would befall them: “While I was by the fire, they didn’t dream,” she said. “They just slept, those dogs, and they’re usually real dreamers. Normally while sleeping by the fire they’ll bark,‘hua...

  9. FIVE Form’s Effortless Efficacy
    (pp. 153-189)

    One night, while staying at Ventura’s house, I dreamed I stood outside of a pen on a large cattle ranch like the one that belongs to a burly colonist, located just beyond Ávila territory on the way to Loreto. Inside, a collared peccary was running around. Suddenly, it stopped right in front of me. We both just stood there, looking at each other. Our intimacy overwhelmed me with a strange and novel feeling, an unexpected sense of resonance with this distant creature. I had an epiphany. I grasped something. I discovered, I think, a kind of love for that pig....

  10. SIX The Living Future (and the Imponderable Weight of the Dead)
    (pp. 191-219)

    A tuft of fur snagged on a spine was the final clue that led us to the body of the peccary that Oswaldo shot several hours before. We were on Basaqui Urcu, a steep foothill of Sumaco Volcano northwest of Ávila. Swatting at the swarm of blood-sucking flies¹ inherited from our quarry we sat down to rest. As we caught our breath Oswaldo began to tell me what he had dreamed the night before. “I was visiting my compadre in Loreto,” he said, referring to the market town and center of colonist expansion half a day’s walk from Ávila, “when...

  11. EPILOGUE: Beyond
    (pp. 221-228)

    Beyond the horizon there lies a Lion, a Lion more Lion than any mere lion. And beyond saying “lion,” which calls forth that Lion, lies yet another, who might just look back. And beyond this eyeing one, lies an undying one, one we call “Lion” because she is a kind.

    Why ask anthropology to look beyond the human? And why look to animals to do so? Looking at animals, who look back at us, and who look with us, and who are also, ultimately, part of us, even though their lives extend well beyond us, can tell us something. It...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 229-242)
    (pp. 243-258)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 259-267)