Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s book Cannibal Metaphysics is one of the great books of our time. His inquiry, in book-form but also as essays, into the perspectivism of natives of Brazil is some of the most stunning writing on the thinking of humans who did not destroy the environment in order to inhabit this world. De Castro argues that natives thought of other plants and animals, jaguars for example, as having perspectives that could be lived alongside, that their societies were built (built used here unlike western use of the word built) on the premise that the joining of these perspectives, or at least the respect of perspectives, produced harmony in the world. The governing of their worlds included preserving the world around them, preservation that sought to respect instead of change.
Western societies have been enamored by the idea of civilization as opposed to barbarity for a long time. Barbarity is anything that is wild or other, including other cultures and other animals. The invention of institutions like zoos are quite simply technological innovation putting this idea of civilization into practice. The same goes for parks and botanical gardens. To produce civilization, westerners not only practice agriculture that destroys the natural environment, but also cities that clear out most hints of nature and wilderness. The industrial revolution, the furthering of this “civilization” ideal, has destroyed the natural world to the point where its destruction has led to a crisis for today’s humans, an environmental one that seems to have one solution: stop, before it’s too late. Western songs and dances, country or city music, are songs that have come with the idea of civilization. Whether in grocery stores in the south or patios where blues was played, or in concert halls in major cities, song and dance has limited itself to being performed and broadcasted in “sanitized” areas, however grungy these areas may get. Rock and roll, hip hop, classical music, and the rest of them, are music made for and by civilization with little respect for the lives of non-humans, according to the perspectivism of natives.
The green movement in France has produced a pretty cool school: l’ecole du colibri. There, school administrators ask themselves what people they will leave to the world, as opposed to only working with what world we will leave to our kids. It’s the future of education, and their experience should inform education around the world.
Song, dance, and gardens. The western garden has been produced by “civilization” as a sanitized version of wild nature. Gardens have been a place for song and dance (dancing in rounds) but are generally hosts to either quiet or conversation. They are first and foremost pure constructs of the western imagination, and the reason why they are not produced by the natural world; without other animals with pursuing a natural livelihood. That is perhaps the reason why they are not music venues.
Was it, and is it, the case for native gardens? Different natives had different gardens. Without getting into specifics, being that this is a meditation, we can say that a Hopi garden was more than likely not like a taino garden in the Caribbean. We do know, however, that the idea that gardens were purely aesthetic most likely was not a native idea outside of the west (being that Athenians or Romans were essentially just natives.)
We rarely play music in gardens or large parks. Instead, the venues for music are theatres, nightclubs, bars, homes, etc. For dancing, we attend these venues with the idea that we will never cross paths there with a hummingbird or a jaguar. What if westerner we were to cross a jaguar in a nightclub. We would run.
Perspectivism implies that natives did not only look to spoken language to build a society. The perspective of a jaguar, may it be silent or loud, belonged wholly to their society, as citizens’ expression. Song and dance would then include the jaguar, and perhaps the jaguar’s response to song and dance. Wtf? Songs are made with the entirety of a society in mind.
Consider the jaguar. A large animal with the ability to kill a human. What sort of rhythm or melody would do justice to both a human and a jaguar, not to mention offer itself as beauty to the divine world? Therein lies the invisible object of our meditation: what would song and dance be in a world that is a natural garden, where the perspective of animals, large and small, would be respected, alongside those of human society? I’d argue that it would very rhythmic and melodic, as music that identifies one as human, all the wild bringing pleasure to natural and divine world that one inhabits, much more than the rhythms and melodies of the genres we listen to today. I’d argue that one would want to dance in harmony with the web and flows of the natural world, that plants are soon to die and that they don’t have much time to listen to one’s music, so let it be as pretty as can be. I’d argue that it would be less about words, and more about sound.