Reading Report

No real reviews here, but a short list on what I’ve been reading this Summer, and how I generally feel about the books or articles.  What have you been reading?  Anything I should know about?  Let me know in the comments.

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“…now that the living outnumber the dead…”

“Daddy daddy, it was just like you said….now that the living outnumber the dead.”
-Laurie Anderson, Stories from the nerve bible.

Well, Laurie apparently didn’t get it quite right, though the notion alone is pretty spooky. Somebody finally visualized the numbers on this classic question.

Visualization of the Population of the Quick and the Dead

Population of the Dead.


The Dead as the Enemy, Plus Metaphorization, from Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

The Arawaté would compare this aggressive reception of the gods to what they themselves used to do when they came across white hunters in the forest before contact. And they would elaborate for my sake (note my hosts’ ironic subliminal propaganda): the Ma’i do to us what we do to you every time you arrive here–ask for things, shout excitedly, snatch things for yourselves. But since the ha’o we are stingy (the female souls are “overprotective of their vaginas”), they are killed. The dead soul in the sky is therefore a stranger, an enemy. On the other side of the mirror of death, the gods are the “we” and humans are the “other”–a variation of the theme “the dead are the enemy” found in societies that consider death to be a desertion to the other side, the enemy camp (Carneiro da Cunha 1978:143f.; H. Clastres 1968; Lévi-Strauss 1974:234ff.).

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, From the Enemy’s Point of View. Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society. p. 211.


Lewis Mumford – The City and the Dead

A great quote from Mumford’s classic work on the City:

Mid the uneasy wanderings of paleolithic man, the dead were the first to have a permanent dwelling: a cavern, a mound marked by a cairn, a collective barrow. These were the landmarks to which the living probably returned at intervals, to commune with or placate the ancestral spirits. Though food-gathering and hunting do not encourage the permanent occupation of a single site, the dead at least claim that privilege. Long ago the Jews claimed as their patrimony the land where the graves of their forefathers were situated; and that well-attested claim seems a primordial on. The city of the dead antedates the city of the living. In one sense, indeed, the city of the dead is the forerunner, almost the core, of every living city. Urban life spans the historic space between the earliest burial ground for dawn man and the final cemetery, the Necropolis, in which one civilization after another has met its end.

From Lewis Mumford, The city in history., p. 7, emphasis mine.


Eveline Porée-Maspero on Pchum Ben

More French-language sources on Pchum Ben, the “Hungry Ghost Festival,” following on yesterday’s short piece from Marcel Zago on the related festival in Laos. Enjoy after the jump.

Taken from Porée-Maspero, E. (1950). Cérémonies des douze mois. Fetes annuelles Cambodgiennes. Phnom Penh, Institut Bouddhique. pp. 47-58. Continue reading


Marcel Zago, on Boun Ho Khao Padap Din and Boun Khao Salak

I received a nice email from Patrice Ladwig in Bristol today; we’d met at the IABS where we shared space on an excellent panel concerning death practices in Buddhist Southeast Asia. He concentrated on two ceremonies in Laos that closely resemble the Cambodian Pchum Ben, and of which I was almost completely ignorant. He also sent me a few pages from Macel Zago’s  Rites et Ceremonies en Milieu Bouddhistes Lao. Pp. 315-318. Since this work is difficult to find, I’ve posted it here for those who are interested. (sorry, it’s in French). Find it after the break. Continue reading


If religion is based on anything, it is the dead.

I was trying this concept out on someone this afternoon. I think the idea has merit. The theory runs like this:

If religion can be defined at all, it seems that it must include a central reference to non-materially-experienced entities and powers. We have to be so vague about what these entities are and aren’t, since some ‘religions’ are largely atheistic, and animism challenges the entire notion of gods and spirits by making them ubiquitous. All religions of which I am aware exert special authority over the rituals of death. Indeed, for Buddhism, that’s the only ritual at which Buddhist monks must be present. It is at this point – religion’s special authority over the dead – that religions separate themselves dramatically from almost all other forms of collective social action. The necrophiliac memorial cultures of nationalism (and, it should be pointed out constantly, many pre-‘modern’ cultures) are something of an exception to this generalized statement, but in precisely a way that tends to confirm the logic of the idea. Why is this important? Because it indicates something crucial about religion: religion, and the clerical classes, derive their authority from the dead, and the dead provide them precisely with the imaginative and creative possibilities of talking about that which is not currently in evidence.

In short, religion is based on the dead.

Jolly Roger Image Ganked from the very cool Anthropik Site - Go visit now.