I like Tim Ingold a lot. I loved Anthropology: Why it matters, and used three of his works for my master’s thesis. I discovered him through his text about “the church” that we read for Space and Place, and which kept surfacing in my mind. So I was very happy to be gifted Lines: A Brief History from S.
Like Ingold, I am very fascinated by lines. In fact, if the book was not so academical, I think it should have been titled I love lines, which would have covered both Ingold’s subjective approach and his passion. But sure, it’s also a history of them, the lines.
Lines was not what I had expected. It was more philosophical musings on lines than the sensorial aspect that I remember from Making, and which would have had more relevance for my own research.
Funnily enough, I found the first chapter, which is only tangentially related to lines, the most interesting. According to Ingold, singing and talking were earlier in history not seen as separate entities, as they are today in the modern West. Ingold’s interest is thereby to trace the line that separates them, and find out how it emerged.
To me, this quest reminded a lot of the theory of “the gap” in Tom Boellstorff’s research on virtual worlds, and of Deleuze’s “division”. Maybe this gap or division is so central in so many theories because we as humans are so attached to a binary way of thinking? This in itself is interesting.
A reader called Marc wrote on Goodreads:
What also always bothers me in the work of anthropologists is the antagonism they at all costs want to prove between Western modernity and traditional cultures, with usually a very negative undertone regarding modernity. Also Ingold follows that line a bit; at times I even had the impression that I was reading a downright anti-modernist manifesto.
I also found myself wanting to ask Ingold if he was suggesting we become the “wayfarers” that he seems to hail (but who are extinct today), rather than the “navigators” who use lines as pure transport links between connections. The book itself and my reading it are perfect examples of this so criticised modernity, aren’t they? (Come to think of it, Ingold’s style, in all his texts, are definitely leaning towards the “wayfarer” – maybe that is by design.)
Ingold writes on the last page:
If the straight line was an icon of modernity, then the fragmented line seems to be emerging as an equally powerful icon of postmodernity.P. 172
I think this is spot on, and shows how well the line analogy works for capturing our society. (Because in a way, that’s what this is all about.) The fragmented line made me think of Azuma Hiroki’s analysis in Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, which I read in Bahir Dar two years ago and which opened my eyes to what postmodernity (rather than postmodernism) really is. I would love to read a follow-up book on the postmodern line, since this book is focused on the pre-modern and modern ones.