AT HOME IN THE WORLD by Michael Jackson

AT HOME IN THE WORLD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A disconcerting blend of ethnography, poetry, and philosophy that attempts to answer the question of what it means to be at home in the world. In order to answer this question, Jackson (Anthropology/Indiana Univ.) journeys to Central Australia to work among the Warlpiri people of the Tanami desert. His ethnography is stark and photographic and reeks of the ``alienated anthropologist'' syndrome; urban images of winos swigging from bottles and ``scabrous'' dogs licking their genitals intermingle with the rugged faces of aboriginal informants. A genuine rapport seems to form between the ethnographer and his subjects: They share with him fairly detailed accounts of the ``dreamings''--aboriginal creation journeys (or ``songlines'') that trace the mythical journeys of original beings believed to have formed many of the physical structures of the landscape. Home for the aboriginal is unique in the sense that the place of conception is considered to play a role in procreation. One is related not only to one's parents, but also to the specific mythic geography attributed to the site where one was conceived. The complexity of the relationship between the land and individuals helps to explain the devastating effect that displacement from traditional land has had on the cultural psyche of many aboriginal groups. Jackson deplores the negative stereotypes used to justify stealing and developing native lands, and he discusses the land rights movement in terms of a ``politics of freedom.'' When a tree is destroyed by miners, the Warlpiri are enraged: The tree is a dreaming site and is also considered to be the reincarnation of the spirit of one woman's grandfather. The concept of land exploitation is impossible to balance with the notion of ``belonging'' to the land as expressed in the songlines. Jackson's ethnography stands on its own as an exploration of the main theme, but his poetry and his philosophizing are often arbitrary and a bit invasive.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8223-1561-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Duke Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995