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The Devil's Book of Culture

The Devil's Book of Culture

Benjamin Feinberg
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    The Devil's Book of Culture
    Book Description:

    Since the 1950s, the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico, has drawn a strange assortment of visitors and pilgrims-schoolteachers and government workers, North American and European spelunkers exploring the region's vast cave system, and counterculturalists from hippies (John Lennon and other celebrities supposedly among them) to New Age seekers, all chasing a firsthand experience of transcendence and otherness through the ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms "in context" with a Mazatec shaman. Over time, this steady incursion of the outside world has significantly influenced the Mazatec sense of identity, giving rise to an ongoing discourse about what it means to be "us" and "them."

    In this highly original ethnography, Benjamin Feinberg investigates how different understandings of Mazatec identity and culture emerge through talk that circulates within and among various groups, including Mazatec-speaking businessmen, curers, peasants, intellectuals, anthropologists, bureaucrats, cavers, and mushroom-seeking tourists. Specifically, he traces how these groups express their sense of culture and identity through narratives about three nearby yet strange discursive "worlds"-the "magic world" of psychedelic mushrooms and shamanic practices, the underground world of caves and its associated folklore of supernatural beings and magical wealth, and the world of the past or the past/present relationship. Feinberg's research refutes the notion of a static Mazatec identity now changed by contact with the outside world, showing instead that identity forms at the intersection of multiple transnational discourses.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79874-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction: A TOYOTA IN HUAUTLA
    (pp. 1-34)

    A few weeks later, as I settled into the lovely, rainy town of Huautla de Jiménez in the highlands of Oaxaca’s Sierra Mazateca, I was reminded of an old British television show,The Prisoner, which originally aired in 1967, just as the wave of hippies in Huautla was cresting. In those first days in Huautla as I tried to get my bearings—both as a traveler and as an anthropologist—various aspects of this TV show floated into my consciousness. Later I would realize thatThe Prisonerwas an apt metaphor for my situation.

    You may remember the basic plot...

  6. 2 Historical and Geographical Overview: THE MASTER NARRATIVE OF THE PAST
    (pp. 35-58)

    When entering a strange country, travelers need a map to guide their way. However, as Number 6 learned to his great dismay, the “simple facts” do not always speak unambiguously to clear the path of troubling and confusing obstacles. All maps are embedded in conventional cultural frames of understanding space and time. The word “overview” in the chapter title is used ironically: the overview is a particular, historically defined strategy of controlling space and time that claims a distanced, objective sight that subsumes all other apprehensions of the landscape and the past under its neutral, classifying gaze. But the sky...

  7. 3 From Indians to Hillbillies: EXPLICIT STORIES ABOUT THE MAZATEC PAST
    (pp. 59-97)

    The Past is always a particularly important space for would-be hegemonic discourses to colonize. It represents a world that is over, that happened, that is often read through the frame of objective, unchangeable Truth, even though memory, our primary vehicle for reaching the past, is almost infinitely malleable. In this chapter and in the two that follow, I will describe some of the ways in which dominant and subaltern discourses intersect in the terrain of the Mexican and Mazatec pasts.

    After taking a close look at the way the revolution is represented in stories and on the landscape, this chapter...

  8. 4 “Like Rock, but Mazatec”: FIESTAS IN HUAUTLA
    (pp. 98-114)

    The spectacles of village and town fiestas, particularly celebrations of patron saints’ days and occasions like Holy Week, have long fascinated observers of rural Mexican life. The fiestas, which probably began in the late colonial period (De la Peña 1981), have been variously described as leveling mechanisms, in which the rich pay for everybody’s pleasure, or as a sort of consolidation of the wealth of the privileged—the occasion when material riches are converted into status and prestige. García Canclini, in his exhaustive study of fiestas and rural craft production in Tarascan villages in western Mexico, combines these two positions:...

  9. 5 The Secret Past
    (pp. 115-125)

    Several factors come together to create the possibilities for another charged historical space floating around the Sierra Mazateca: the secret past. The Sierra is a place in which the idea of the past is very important; it is one of those places where Mexicans can visit their own past, their own heritage. As a “remote” and “indigenous” area, it is also a location of the ideas of “specificity” and the power of particular places which have been lost by the modern world. But the idea of this specific past is represented generically. Huautla and the Sierra Mazateca constitute a place...

  10. 6 “¿Quiere Hierba? ¿Quiere Hongo?” MUSHROOMS, CULTURE, EXPERTS, AND DRUGS
    (pp. 126-190)

    This ethnography focuses on the particular webs of politics and poetics that infuse three different discursive spaces with a kind of meaning that comments upon culture and identity. The first of these spaces—history, the past, the movement of time, chronotope—only refers to an actual geographical space through the Einsteinian identity between space and time. The last of these spaces—the underground—refers more directly to a physical location that stores and emits another kind of geographical/cultural knowledge. The space that I deal with in this chapter is also couched in geographical terms; it refers to a parallel “world,”...

  11. 7 The Underground World
    (pp. 191-228)

    Since the 1960s, two types of travelers have constituted the bulk of the foreigners who make their way to Huautla. First and foremost, there are the tourists who come for the recreational or transcendent value extracted from hallucinogenic mushrooms taken “in context.” But there is also a second group: cave explorers drawn by the lure of the Sierra’s vast limestone underbelly. Members of Canadian, British, Dutch, Polish, and American expeditions have all crawled and climbed down into the interior of the Huautla Plateau.

    The first cavers to enter the region often ran into problems: harassment from local authorities and others...

  12. 8 Conclusion: THE DEVIL’S BOOK
    (pp. 229-238)

    One foggy evening, a figure that may or may not have been human offered me possession of all of Huautla’s history in the form of a magical, historical book. I had been feeling a little homesick and sorry for myself. Despite the effects of a lingering cold I worked myself out of my room and down the street to La Fogata, a late-nighttaqueríain downtown Huautla across the street from the bus terminal.

    La Fogata, I now realize, is a perfect place to encounter the Devil. It is the most “classy” taco joint in town, meaning: it has a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 239-250)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-266)
  15. Index
    (pp. 267-272)