Posted by: Johan Normark | August 28, 2012

Urban variation

Since I will be participating in Per Cornell’s project on the Early Modern Town next year I should mention that the project arranges a four days long symposium in February next year. I will probably present something regarding the early colonial congregations in the Cochuah region and how they relate to earlier Maya settlements, the “rotted towns“.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 24, 2012

2012: Public lecture

I will give at least one public lecture on the 2012-phenomenon. For long I have decided not to do so because my dealing with the phenomenon is supposed to result in a study about how to deal with “public archaeology” through the blog medium (i.e. my own blog). After some consideration I have decided that the lecture probably will not affect the study in a negative way. In any case, the one and a half hour long lecture will be held in Swedish, at 18:00 (6 PM), October 31, 2012. The location will be Stora Hörsalen, Humanisten, University of Gothenburg (I have not reserved it yet). Here is the title and “abstract” in Swedish:

2012 – årtalet som inte har mycket med mayakalendern att göra

De forna maya förutspådde varken jordens undergång, en medvetandehöjning, eller ankomsten av utomjordingar. Ändå tror många människor att när ”mayakalendern” når sitt påstådda slut den 21 december 2012 så kommer något av detta att hända. Vad är sant och falskt när det gäller de forna maya och deras kalendrar?

Translated into English it goes something like this:

2012 – the year that does not have much to do with the Maya calendar

The ancient Maya did not predict the end of the world, a transformation of consciousness, or the arrival of aliens. Still, many people believe that when the “Mayan calendar” reaches its supposed end on December 21, 2012, some of these things will happen. What is true and false when it comes to the ancient Maya and their calendars?

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 22, 2012

Interview and new studies on the Maya collapse

Later today I will be interviewed by Tobias Svanelid at Vetenskapsradion (“The Science Radio”) for my research on “water as an archaeological material/object”. I will also take the time to talk a bit about the 2012 phenomenon and relate it to apocalyptic fears regarding the impending ecological disaster. This gives me reason to relate to the Maya collapse.

Since my current research on water has developed out of my former research on climate change and cave use it is interesting to note that there are many new studies focusing on the Maya collapse. Most of these studies emphasizes droughts as the main cause, like this one where deforestation made the droughts worse. There is now a “new” study by Turner and Sabloff that uses a complex systems theory where climate change is one of several causes behind the collapse. Since both authors have been proposing the same ideas for at least 25 years there is probably not much new stuff in the study. Considering the amount of new studies focusing on the collapse I should probably send away my own articles and book manuscript a.s.a.p. while there still is interest in this kind of research. Instead of complex systems I use Manuel DeLanda’s assemblage approach (but there is a substantial amount of complex systems theory within his assemblage theory as well).

I wonder if the authors of these articles or the editors of the journals intentionally or not have aimed to publish these studies in the year of the fake apocalypse…?

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 17, 2012

What is it like to be a cave from a speleocentric perspective?

During the early part of my vacation I read Ian Bogost’s (2012) book Alien Phenomenology, or what it’s Like to be a Thing. Bogost is one of the four best known object-oriented philosophers (the others being Harman, Bryant and Morton). Like the others he is fighting a battle against correlationism and he does it primarily by using examples from his expertise in video games. If we wish to understand objects themselves we must set humans as subjects to the side since objects do not just exist for our amusement. Objects exist in their own right.

Bogost proposes a tiny ontology because being is simple. Instead of Bryant’s two-dimensional plane of a flat ontology, Bogost suggests that we can have a spaceless ontology, which is one-dimensional. He states that “if any one being exists no less than any other, then instead of scattering such beings all across the two-dimensional surface of flat ontology, we might also collapse them into the infinite density of a dot. Instead of the plane of flat ontology, I suggest the point of tiny ontology” (P 21, emphasis original). It contains everything entirely even though it spread and expand like a mess. A cave contains everything it needs, it is not lacking anything for its own existence.

Instead of the term object, Bogost uses unit which is anything “made up of a set of other units (again human or nonhuman), irrespective of scale” (P 19). Unit is an ambivalent term since it is indifferent to the being it names. It is isolated, unitary and specific. Unit operation is used to describe how units behave and interact. In systems theory an operation is what transform an input. Caves machinate within themselves and mesh with other objects, such as ceramic vessels, bats, guano, rain, archaeologists, spelunkers, spiders, etc. Caves act and react to properties but still keep secrets. A unit is always a set of other units and any unit operation is fractal. The unit operation is a process by which a unit attempts to make sense of another unit. It is a prehensive capability in Whitehead’s sense. So how does a cave make sense of water dripping inside it? It is not enough to simply observe this from our own human perspective. The traditional characterization of an experience through objective and external mechanisms leads us farther from understanding how and entity may experience. Understanding how something operates is not the same as understanding how that thing understands that operation.

Bogost’s alien phenomenology does not specifically refer to extraterrestrials but to the unknown found everywhere. The prehensive capabilities of a cave are as alien to us as E.T. and a Space Jockey. However, the “only way to perform alien phenomenology is by analogy” (P 64). Hence, the risk of falling into anthropocentrism is unavoidable but the same is true for any unit. If we remove the subject-object correlate and only correlates object with other objects we still need to resort to centricity that is not anthropocentric. Caves are speleocentric and water is hydrocentric. When we study these objects we can never reach the way them themselves prehend other objects. We have to allude to a thing, i.e. to talk about it without talking about it.  This is simply done through metaphors. We “never understand the alien experience, we only ever reach for it metaphorically” (P 66). Harman suggests that relation takes place as a metaphor. Bogost proposes that metaphor itself should be used to understand alien objects’ perceptions of one another. However, metaphorism is anthropomorphic (slightly better than being anthropocentric). Bogost uses Husserl’s concept of intuition to account for instincts that are not related to sense perception. Categorical intuitions can function in an “ideative” manner. Bogost applies this to speculative metaphorisms of object relations that are disconnected from the way we perceive them. Hopefully we have then reached a better understanding of how objects prehend other objects, not how humans perceive the same relation.

I wonder if we ever can reach an archaeology where the artifacts, ruins, etc. actually becomes the centers of research themselves? As long as we follow the practice of fitting artifacts into arborescent models, like “Maya culture”, “Maya cosmology”, etc. we are trapped in a narrow anthropocentric narrative. My project on water as an archaeological material/object aims to change this.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 15, 2012

Miscellaneous stuff from Java

These are probably my last photos and post about my vacation.

The largest turtle in the world? Pantai Kartini, Jepara.

Three lizards in the “welcome drink” on Karimunjawa.

You can swim with these sharks in the Karimunjawa archipelago.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 14, 2012

An onticological response to New Age nonsense

I make use of Levi Bryant’s onticology and his writings about apocalypticism and media ecology in an upcoming article and book on my blogging about the 2012-phenomenon. Apparently he has been busy dealing with a New Ager as well. I feel that his response to this individual can be applied to most 2012ers. However, they accuse me for misrepresenting them as well but that should not come as a surprise if we follow Bryant’s own work on communication.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 13, 2012

Colonial architecture in Semarang

Since I am affiliated with the project on the early modern town my family and I strolled through the old Dutch quarters of Semarang on the northern coast of Central Java.  Semarang came into Dutch control in 1678. The octagonal Blenduk church dominates this area. It was built in 1753 and is the oldest church in central Java.

There are a plenty of other colonial buildings in this part of the town. I am not sure how old they are.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 13, 2012

Sand dunes in Vietnam

If Java had the volcanoes, Vietnam had sand dunes, particularly those at Mui Ne.

Sunrise at the white sand dunes

Same, same but different

The red sand dunes, good for sledding

Wading in the Fairy Spring


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 11, 2012

2012: Information needed about the real galactic alignment

It has come to my attention that one of the proponents of the so-called galactic alignment theory, John Major Jenkins (JMJ), is putting together information about people that have different opinions than he has. It seems that he has gone from pseudoscience to pseudodetective work. JMJ will use these “dossiers” to publicly bash his opponents with details from their private life. As far as I know, he has not made one of me yet. I am rather disappointed, what does it take to be “honored” a dossier?

Anyway, for my future book on blogging about the 2012-phenomenon I will include a chapter on the galactic alignment idea(s). Who came up with it first for the Maya area? Was it the private investigator JMJ or was it the fortune-teller Mardyks? Who actually cares? Apart from describing various claims made in the “theory” itself I am also interested in describing how JMJ has publicly appeared while debating his position. I do have plenty of stuff from this blog, his “review” of David Stuart’s book, his facebook page, etc. If you, reader of this blog, has any additional information regarding the public debate of the galactic alignment, please send them to me. The “JMJ dossier” may appear on this blog in an extended version.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 10, 2012

Volcanoes on Java

During the vacation we visited a couple of volcanoes and their surroundings. Here are some pictures.

This is either Sindoro or Sumbing, seen from the road to the Dieng Plateau.

Sikidang crater on the Dieng Plateau

Telaga Warna on the Dieng Plateau. Lake with many colors.

Bromo and other volcanoes at sunrise (Bromo is the low “grey” crater on the left). In the background is Java’s highest peak/volcano, Semeru (3676 m.a.s.).

Bromo seen from the hotel. One of the best hotel views I have ever had.


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 7, 2012

Beaches in Vietnam and on Java

Whale Island, Vietnam

Mui Ne, Vietnam

Pantai Bandengan, Jepara, Java

Pantai Nirwana, Karimunjawa, Java

Pulau Cemara Kecil, Karimunjawa, Java

Pantai Tanjung Gelam, Karimunjawa, Java

Although Vietnam has loooonger beaches than Java, Java wins the competition of most beautiful and “unspoiled” beaches.


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 5, 2012

Hindu temples in Vietnam and on Java

During the past vacation my family and I visited a couple of Hindu temples in Vietnam and on Java. The first complex we visited was the Po Nagar Cham towers in Nha Trang, Vietnam. These brick temples were built by the Cham people between the 7th and 12th centuries.

A week or so later we decided to spend two nights at Ninh Chu Beach outside the twin cities of Phan Rang and Thap Cham. This is the site of four brick towers called Po Klong Garai, built at the end of the 13th century and the early 14th century.

The most impressive surroundings, however, are held by the Hindu temples in the Dieng Plateau in central Java. These temples are located 2093 m.a.s. They were built between the 8th and 9th centuries and around 400 temples are believed to have existed at the site. Only nine are visible today.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 3, 2012

Brief update

I am just back from a 6,5 weeks long vacation in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. That is the only reason why I have not posted anything during this period. I have only moderated the comments on the blog but I have not found time and energy to respond to them. On one occasion I did not have proper internet access for two weeks (in case you are one of the commentators). Next two weeks are busy as well so there will probably not be much activity on this blog until the end of August.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 18, 2012

2012: The cosmological trap

If there is some connection between academic Mayanist research and the New Age/pseudoscientific field that Hoopes calls “Mayanism” it is within the “cosmological field”. An academic would claim that Maya cosmology is a cultural or social construct, etc. A New Ager, like Jenkins, sees Maya cosmology as revealing some sort of truth, ancient wisdom, and file it under “perennial philosophy”, etc. I usually do not agree with any of these positions as they simply are mirror images of each other. New Agers undermine objects. Graham Harman describes undermining as a form of reductionism. It destroys objects in favor of something more fundamental, something spiritual that is more “true” or “real” than simple objects. Academic Mayanists more often overmines the object where it becomes a nickname for social or cultural relations. Neither approach really care about the objects themselves which actually interests me (and please do not make the mistake of labeling me “materialist” because of this since even an idea is an object). If we skip the object-oriented ontologies discussing these issues, how are objects treated among the Yucatec Maya today? Can we learn something from them (the ethnographic analogy problem set a side for this post)?

The part of Mayanist academia that focuses on cosmological issues has unfortunately been influenced by Eliade’s ideas, ideas that straddle the border to ideas prevalent in New Age literature. A good example here is “Maya Cosmos” from 1993, a book that has influenced Jenkins. In Mayanist and New Age literature alike Maya artefacts, buildings, places and calendars are described as divine, holy and sacred (from different perspectives I must add). Eliade set up a binary distinction between sacred and profane. However, the contemporary Maya make no such binary distinction. Their emphasis on location has to do with ritually quadripartioning everything. Yucatec words like kich, k’ul and k’uyen are glossed as sacred but actually mean “something good, of good character, pleasant, and well-behaved in humility and personality” (p 21). K’uyen refers to humans, objects and processions and is associated with the movement of the sun after passing zenith.

Eliade upheld an “incredible fixation on what he called sacred space, sacred time, sacred symbols, sacred myths, sacred this and sacred that, whereupon, according to him, all human actions concentrate on seeking divine hierophantic manifestations” (p 7). The baggage of Eliade’s armchair research and connection to fascist ideology is something one also should confront. Eliade’s “shamanism” is therefore seriously flawed. The Maya did not have any supernatural portals that corresponds to Eliade’s axial “doors of the gods”. In his model, shamans in an altered state of ecstasy master and control spirits through the cosmic portal that Eliade calls axis mundi. This view has been filtered through into Jenkins’s “galactic alignment” theory where Eliadean ideas remain strong. Given Jenkins’s aggressive attitude towards people disagreeing with him and demands that other people should be censored, we can sense how this particular form of Deleuzean microfascism works. Jenkins wants to be the only dictator in his own narrow territory. This may be the reason why Jenkins has misunderstood most of what “Maya cosmology” is about.

Contemporary ritual specialists communicate with non-corporeal persons by tethering them to objects. Astor-Aguilera describes a contemporary ritual in the Cochuah region in which pigs are sacrificed. The heads of the pigs are indexes of the sun, moon and Venus. During this ritual the sun person is brought down to earth whereas its physical part remains overhead.

The smashing of pottery or termination of buildings in the past were most likely the untethering of incorporeal persons. Some nonhumans are stronger and have better skills than others so for this reason it is no problem in discarding or breaking communicating objects that one seeks to disassociate oneself from. Thus, buildings, caves and perhaps even sites and timeperiods were “untethered” this way.

When Jenkins claims that December 21, 2012 involves transition to a new era, transformation and renewal, this is nothing new at all. Contemporary Maya do this all the time. Objects are transformed and are being renewed through the tethering of incorporeal persons. Transitions to new eras/periods occurred and still occur. When Jenkins claims that the transition demanded a sacrifice of a “deity”, what the Maya probably meant was the untethering of a incorporeal person (Bolon Yookte’ K’uh). Remember that the “deity” is said to descend. I suspect the people of Tortuguero expected Bolon Yookte’ K’uh to become tethered to an object (statue or human impersonator?) and perhaps sacrificed/untethered at some later point, perhaps during the same ritual. There is nothing particularly sacred or important with this event that make it different from the baktun ending in AD 830 (apart from the additional effects from centuries of Colonialism, capitalism, etc). Same, same but different. Jenkins is trapped in cosmology and cannot escape. He will not even chew his leg off.

Astor-Aguilera, Miguel Angel (2010). The Maya World of Communicating Objects: Quadripartite Crosses, Trees, and Stones. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 12, 2012

2012: It began with Columbus

2012 expert John Hoopes talks about the origins of the 2012-phenomenon and Mayanism in general. Misconceptions regarding the Maya and other Amerindian people goes back to none other than Columbus himself. Hoopes has written an article about this as well and I will cover it during the fall.

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