NOW FINISHED: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
NOW READING: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Ishmael, for all its silly contrived gorilla-ness, made me seriously consider a thing or two. Among the thing(s) was the very notion of agriculture. As he interrogates the narrator, Ishmael opens our eyes to the fact that everything we've grown up learning about the agricultural revolution is the mythology of our culture. We learn about the cradles of 'civilization' as the beginning of it all. But of all of what? There were peoples before that, and some peoples continued living the old ways without dominating the land for years after that. There are even some such peoples around today, though fewer and farther between, and we civilized folk tend to call them "primitive."
Now, one of the things that Ishmael helps the narrator realize is that we defy the laws of nature with our agriculture. As opposed to hunting and gathering, if you will, we have ceased accepting that this or that food will be available in limited amounts, and we store it up and more importantly we insist that we have X amount available for ourselves at all times. Do you ever see the lion kill more than one gazelle, putting some aside for tomorrow?
Whether you are into the touchy-feely earthy-crunchy stuff or not, it is interesting to ponder agriculture. A few days after I finished Ishmael, Brian and I were eating dinner at our neighborhood Peruvian restaurant and pondering many things and he was talking about Anthony Bourdain, whom we love to watch (who doesn't love Anthony Bourdain?) Brian was saying how much he loves the way Bourdain gets at the heart of a culture by eating the food there, and it suddenly dawned on me in that way things will dawn on you when you are munching and pondering things, that that's the whole point. The whole point of Ishmael and of us. Agri-culture. Field cultivation. Our whole concept of "culture" IS a concept of dominance, but also creation. It's as if producing food gave us cultures, and that is in fact why each culture has representative food. Meanwhile, the "primitive" peoples are handing down over the millennia the ways of their ancestors and all kinds of wisdom and guidance about the right way to live. Did we lose that wisdom by turning the focus to food? Is it possible to pass down both?