Tag Archives: Golden Bough

Harvey M. Bricker and the Passing of the Great Race’s Memory of Facts: the Culture of Traditional Education

Memories of Memorization, Traditional Education, and the Old Archaeology that came from WASPY Old “Traditional” Harvard.  Education of a kind that almost no one has anymore, from an Educator without fair modern parallels, because of my Memories of a serious man with a wry and dry sense of humor who wore bow-ties and proudly (if somewhat ironically and daringly) sported a Hitler-style “toothbrush” mustache….

Word has come to me second-hand via HSC from the desk of my old honors’ thesis advisor E. Wyllys Andrews V that Professor Harvey M. Bricker of Tulane University passed on, joining his professors and other “Dead White Men” of Academic History in the the Great Symposium in the Sky last Sunday January 15, 2017.  I rarely have occasion to write  or even think about my undergraduate college professors in the 1970s, but Harvey without any doubt was one of my two top favorites out of a faculty of Archaeology and Historical Anthropology that I simply loved, really idolized, and almost worshipped as a younger than average teenager in New Orleans.

It is hard to believe that he must have been 76 or 77 when he died.  Harvey and his wife Victoria R. were among the young generation of professors who totally remade Tulane as a modern university in the 1970s.  (Vicky Bricker was, in fact, my very first professor of Anthropology, and the reason I switched from Political Science to Anthropology as my freshman declaration of major).  

Harvey was an uncompromising traditionalist, an “Old Archaeologist” of the Hallam L. Movius (Harvard) and Francois Bordes/Bordeaux French Palaeoloithic School of careful excavation and stone tool typologies.  Harvey made no attempt to conceal his contempt for the “New Archaeology” of the “Processualists” and for that I absolutely loved him.

He was a great classroom professor, although I’m sad to say I apparently only managed to take two classes from him, namely “Man in the Pleistocene” and “Rise of Civilization”, then catalog numbered Anthropology 625-626.

Today, I am most grateful to him for emphasizing a much maligned feature of learning: memorization.  “Memorization of Facts” is denigrated in the modern world as almost beneath contempt.  “Give me Big Problems; Teach me how to think outside the box; don’t try to lock me in” whine the modern millennial students.

I have always wondered how you ever think outside of the box if you don’t know what’s IN the box.  It’s a serious question.  I firmly believe that thought unanchored in knowledge of all that came before is pretty much worthless.  But that is the way and the story of the modern world: “let’s forget everything that the Dead White Men thought day before yesterday” and “let’s just think whatever we want to think and do whatever we want to do”—that’s a surefire strategy for disaster, and it’s what the cultural marxists are doing with modern education at all levels. 

Harvey Bricker awarded high grades ONLY for recitation of facts.  “Facts are low level observations” which do not require much in the way of comparative thought, while “Theories are Higher Level, synthetic observations.”  Or so I learned another (much  more “Processual”, “New”) Archaeologist, Columbia’s Barbara J. Price, who herself died in New York City, February 18, 2016, at the age of 75.  

To look at the forest or the trees, that is the question.  Except it is really no kind of question: if you don’t look up very close, you won’t, you can’t possibly, know what kind of trees are in the forest, what is the mix of species.  And to really study forest ecology you need a pretty exact census of each tree, vine, and bush in your study area, together with the contents and depths of the soil, the worm and insect population, not to mention the birds and mammals.

So Harvey M. Bricker taught like they did back in my grandparents’ days, back in the time of Madison Grant (the one who wrote of “The Passing of the Great Race”), and Harvey expected students to learn the names of local site phases and radio-carbon dates and the typological contents of tool assemblages.

I was fortunate because my grandparents had required me to memorize lists since I was a kid, and to recite them and test my memory was our family’s version of fun and game time.  My grandfather’s practical point was simple: “Memorization is the key to any kind of business success. I have companies (H.B. Meyer & Son’s, Al Meyer Company, Bell Chemical Company) that depend on sales to very sophisticated corporate and government customers who have “procurement departments” whose employees do nothing but look at the available products’ cost benefits all day long.  If my salesmen can’t remember every single product we have without consulting a catalog, they won’t be able to push the right product to the right customer.  If they can’t remember every chemical component of every product, when it was patented, by us or someone else, and how it was used, they won’t be effective in presenting the substance of what we offer. So these are the same games we play at the office: who can remember the most detail. You’ll never regret learning how to memorize.”

So the attack on memorization of facts is part of the modern “dumbing down” of people to serve computers.  Computers are based on memory, but can a computer really sell a product, or an idea, as effectively, or with as much flare and enthusiasm, as a personal conversation can do?

Academics, of course, both creates and consists of (at least theoretically, ideally) the great marketplace of ideas.  Harvey Miller Bricker belonged to this old school that an archaeologist needed to be (in essence) as good a salesman for his ideas as anyone on my grandfather’s well-disciplined sales team.  In the modern world of “safe spaces” and “trigger words” and political correctness gone mad, well, forcing people to memorize facts is tantamount to forcing them to work, and to accept the world as it is.

But if we haven’t studied the world as it REALLY is, how can we even know for sure that we don’t like it?

I remember my big bulging blue spiral ring notebooks with gold embossed “Tulane University” on the covers, chocked with page after page of notes in my fair-to-awful handwriting and internal manila “pocket” containers stuffed with class handouts, quizzes, and graded tests and papers.

For Anthro 625, “Man in the Pleistocene” (a survey of Old Stone Age/Palaeolithic Archaeology) from the first choppers below the bottom of the earliest floors at Olduvai Gorge to the final end of the ice age and dawn of the Mesolithic, Harvey’s lectures were filled with facts, and I basically couldn’t write down the facts he gave in those speeches fast enough.  I wrote my paper for that course, “Comment Vivaient les Rennes a l’Age de l’homme Préhistorique” hypothesizing that the Later Magdalenian people of Upper Palaeolithic France had domesticated the reindeer, at least to the same degree that the Lapp of Finland have done so in modern times.  (It was at least two years before the release of the Christmas kids’ song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”… but “L’Age du Rennes” or “the Reindeer Age” is an old-fashioned French expression naming the Upper Palaeolithic.  Harvey made me rewrite it about four times.  It was a great experience.  I remember reading and criticizing the work of an English archaeologist named D.A. Sturdy, and Harvey told me (wrote on one version of my paper) I shouldn’t be so hard on him, that Sturdy wasn’t necessarily “that stupid.”  I was only 17 but Harvey spent a great deal of time with me.

For “Rise of Civilization”, Harvey required us to memorize the local sequence of Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age in each sector of Europe, including the infamous “Reinecke” series.  Thanks to Harvey, names like “Starčevo-Körös-Cris”, Vinča, Vinitsa,  Lepenski-Vir, Dolni Vestonice, Dunaújváros, were fixed in my mind and remained ready to resuscitate talking to archaeologists in 1989-90 when my former Greek wife and I toured Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe during and after the fall of the Iron Curtain while I had a Volkswagenwerk Fellowship at the University of Bonn….  In essence, Harvey  in New Orleans had taught us about local sequences as well as and as thoroughly  as locally specialized archaeologists learn about their own backyards in (the former) Czechoslovakia, Hungary, (the former) Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria.

I never got to go on a dig with Harvey at the Châtelperronian site of Les Tambourets in the Pyrenees in southern France or ever even to see him in action, except in the classroom, but I heard so much from him, and found him so inspiring, that I feel like I did.  

http://www.worldcat.org/title/chatelperronian-of-les-tambourets-haute-garonne-france/oclc/907679210

http://www.paleoanthro.org/media/dissertations/Scandiuzzi2008-abstract.pdf

I don’t know how it is now, but in those days the Anthropology Professors at Tulane all ate at the University Cafeteria with the students, and so we got to spend lots of time with them out of class.  Harvey at a table with students was always funny in his stern dry way, twitching his mustache  meaningfully in ways that the Führer himself could never have matched.  He and Vicky had their share of the Anthro Department parties, including the annual Ritual of the Passing of the Golden Bough, at their home on Cherokee Street.  I miss those days…. they were so carefree and fine and fun…. and so very interesting.

The passing of a great old fashioned professor like Harvey is a very sad moment.  He and Vicky, starting 42-40 years in the past, so long ago, played a major role in shaping my life, my mind and intellect, such as it is….and they definitely formed a large part of how I look at the world…. through their very conservative lenses of cultural evolution and archaeological prehistory, the evolution of civilization and the development of cultures.  I did not know them when they were focused on Maya astronomy and all that has remained pretty much beyond my grasp until the present day anyhow…. I am ashamed that I do not even own their magnum opus as of today, although I plan on buying it immediately:

https://www.amazon.com/Astronomy-Codices-Memoirs-American-Philosophical/dp/0871692651

But above all I remember them walking across the Tulane campus together looking so dedicated, so serious, and determined.

America in general, Tulane in particular, was different back then.  But if we remember and rebuild, mixing memory and desire, as T.S. Eliot wrote in the Wasteland, perhaps it could be that way again.  Perhaps students will rediscover the joys of memorization and building knowledge carefully and slowly, one brick, one stone tool, one Palaeolithic burin or type of clay at a time…. and both our theories and the world may be better for this.

SEE ALSO:

http://obits.nola.com/obituaries/nola/obituary.aspx?n=Harvey-Miller-Bricker&pid=183715426

http://www.legacy.com/memorial-sites/tulane-university/

Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire; Are Lies and Murder the Essential Elements of Human Culture?

The late Anthropologist “Cultural Evolutionist” Leslie A. White, is justly famous for his antecedent definition of “culture”, which may be loosely paraphrased as “man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment, dependent upon symboling.”   The late “Conservative” British PM during WWII, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (he had a great-grand niece named “Lady Diana Spencer”), is for his part justly famous for commenting something to the effect that men are the only creatures who periodically set out on campaigns of mass murder against their conspecifics for reasons only tangentially related to food and mating, the essential building blocks of evolution, if at all.

Preceding both White and Churchill was Sir James G. Frazer, the author of the 12 volume Golden Bough, “the mother of all” anthropology encyclopedias.

This week the beauteous Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire premiered in Los Angeles and happy I could be here to see it happen.  Suzanne Collins second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy is but poorly abstracted in the movie.  I’m not sure that anyone who had not read the book could really make sense of the plot.  The first Hunger Games movie provided a much more coherent summary of the written text, but luckily or unluckily that’s just not the point at all.  In some ways, spending two hours or so gazing at Jennifer Lawrence’s unique and unending deliciosity is quite enough but, after seeing the first movie some 17-20 times and reading and studying the trilogy intently for the entire summer thereafter, I have concluded and still believe that

The Hunger Games Trilogy is a brilliantly allegorical Revolutionary Text designed as a protest against the De Facto Reality of Modern American Statist (Degenerate Communist Realpolitik) “political reality.”    

Suzanne Collins officially states that her original inspiration for the story of the Hunger Games Tributes was the story of the Minotaur in Ancient Crete’s Labyrinth.  And this is quite on point and consistent with my own analysis.  The Minotaur mythically and allegorically recounted the historical transition from  rituals of human sacrifice to bull sacrifice to “game” among the ancient Hellenes.  Earlier this evening I was discussing Francisco Goya’s Tauromaquia series, and how this related to the story of the Minotaur and the Hunger Games.  (“Tauromaquia = tavromachia = “bull fighting”).  I feel I grew up with bullfighting in the Opera Carmen, in my years in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras,  Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Spain….although to be honest in all those years I never once attended a real live bull fight—call me a stuck up WASPY Prude, go ahead, I dare you…. but I think I understand that there is a strong emotional and psychological connection between games which involve ritualized murder and the risk of death…..the very story of the Golden Bough….

Or is it the story of humanity?  Are lies and murder the essential elements of human culture?  “Man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment dependent upon symboling… In that all symbols by necessity abstract reality in an arbitrary manner, are all symbolic expressions essentially lies?  Does all linguistic expression inherently falsify the real world?

Or are some lies worse than others?  The movie does not manage to portray the deviousness or the oppression of President Snow’s regime in Panem, or of the role the Hunger Games play in that reality.  But every element of politics in Panem is false and deceitful.  And the magic of Katniss Everdeen is that she possesses an emotional will to surmount the ritual combat, murder, and sacrifice for the sake of love…. So the Hunger Games seems to reduce life (by and with a marvelous array of symbols) to Freud’s abstractions of the forces of Eros and Thanatos—“Love and Death” (also the title of a marvelous movie by Woody Allen and Calvert Watkins’ selection of the primary elementary themes of all ancient myths and epics…)

Earlier this month I commented on Human Sacrifice in Africa—why indeed is Human Sacrifice—MURDER, so absolutely essential to human life and society?  If it is not essential, then why is it everywhere, universally and diachronically omnipresent?  In both Frazer’s original works and all spinoff commentaries, from Jessie Laidley Weston’s From Ritual to Romance to Gillian Feely-Harnik’s more recent commentaries, the question: WHY IS MURDER SO IMPORTANT TO HUMAN CULTURE? Remains unanswered, and yet clearly it is. 

Hollywood may be disgusting and degenerate in a thousand commercially successful ways (ok, possibly several million, actually), but it seems to reflect something real and genuine about the (quite possibly disgusting and degenerate) essence of human nature.  Hollywood could not make it through one week of television or cinema without killing off hundreds of people in more-or-less “true life crime” scenarios.  Why is that?   Why are all or nearly all religions, including everything from Christianity to Aztec Idolatry to the post-World War II “secular religion” based on the memory (or imagination) of the Nazi Holocaust, why are all human religions based on murder?  How many (if any) great stories can you think of which do not either focus on or center around one or more murders, unjust killings, senseless wars?  Can human culture exist without murder and deception?  Can human language exist without lies?

In Thomas Stearns Eliot’s Voice: “And still we call this Friday Good”—a reading from East Coker, part IV

The Dripping Blood our Only Drink, The Bloody Flesh our Only Food, In Spite of which we like to think, that we are sound, substantial flesh and blood.  Again–in spite of that, we call this Friday Good….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-9gcauuboc

Does Comparative Religion show the Gospel of Christ to be false, or to be true? If there are variants of his history in many corners of the world, is this evidence of depth or shallowness?  I beg of you, my friends, whether you are Atheists, Christians, Pagans, or Scientists to read and repeat this to yourself and to read it out loud to your family today.  There is no escape from the basic truth that we feed on death in order to live.  That is renewal, that is rebirth. Pull out a copy of the Bible and Read from the Book of Ecclesiastes, The Preacher.  Read and Meditate on the universal truths that we celebrate on Good Friday, throughout Holy Week—the universal facts underlying how we live: that we are fed and sustained and renewed by death.  The Spanish were mystified and shocked by what they saw when they arrived at the Aztec Capital, what is now Mexico City.  There on the skull racks (as on the hill called Golgotha?) were a people who knew of the Seven Sacraments, and of the divine communion of the Flesh.   As it was at Chichén Itzá and in Tenochtitlán, it is now and ever shall be.  As it was among the Ancient Romans at Diana’s Wood in Aricia by Lake Nemi, it is now and ever shall be.  As it was in so many sacrificial bogs among our ancestors across Northern Europe, it is now and ever shall be.  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be: World Without End, Amen.

  The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

T. S. Eliot 


“East Coker,” from *The Four Quartets*

I.  

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

  In my beginning is my end.  Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane 
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction 
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotized. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not reflected, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.
                       In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music 
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman 
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts.  Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking.  Dung and death.
  Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

II.

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns

  That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle 
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hope for calm, the autumnal serenity 
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us 
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebitude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire 
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

  The houses are all gone under the sea.

  The dancers are all gone under the hill.

III.

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre, 
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony 
Of death and birth.

                         You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

IV.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

  Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

  The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

  The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

  The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

V.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt 
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

  Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.