Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A field guide to hokum

I really wanted to like A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. And in some ways I did. But it's quotes like this

Yiddish can describe defects of character with the precision that Inuit describes ice or Japanese rain

and more importantly this
Malcom, apropos of nothing at all, brought up the Wintu in north-central Calfornia, who don't use the words left and right to describe their own bodies but use the cardinal directions. I was enraptured by this description of a language and behind it a cultural imagination in which the self only exists in reference to the rest of the world.

that put me off.
I'm constantly amazed at the kind of armchair comparative anthropology people are capable of based on the measly evidence of a few lexical items.
But maybe I should give Solnit the benefit of the doubt. Maybe books like this are meant to be read more in the spirit of poetry than prose.
Right now I'm reading another one of her books, Wanderlust that I'm really enjoying--mostly because the writing is more straightforward.

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