Powered Down And Decoded


L. Rhodes

For collectors of the usefully specific terms of foreign languages, Lithuanian gives us nugrybauti, the state of having lost one's way while foraging for wild mushrooms. That's the starting point for Joel Mowdy's Guernica essay about the stories his father would tell about the Vietnam War and its aftermath.


The Columbia Journalism Review has a worthwhile profile of Low-Tech Magazine, an online magazine I came across awhile back that uses a solar powered server and minimal, static design to minimize its own energy use.


You may have seen news reports lately of environmental groups working to secure legal protections for natural resources by arguing for the extension of personhood to non-human objects. The idea is that declaring a river a person, we would effectively grandfather it into the sort of legal regime that protects the human subjects of national laws. That may be the sort of contemporary issue anthropologist Sarah Jackson has in mind when she writes in an essay at Aeon that the Mayan notion of personhood included a great many non-human entities.

For the Maya of the Classic period, who lived in southern Mexico and Central America between 250 and 900 CE, the category of 'persons' was not coincident with human beings, as it is for us. That is, human beings were persons – but other, nonhuman entities could be persons, too. Scholars of Maya culture have been aware of this inclusive concept of personhood for some time, recognising that persons could include all sorts of entities: some of these look personish – a clay figurine, for example – while some, such as a rock, do not.

If I'm honest, though, I'm not sure I understand those claims. I think I can wrap my head around "the category of 'persons' was not coincident with human beings," but she goes on to say that the Mayan notion denotes a resource, that an object's status as person was seen as mutable, that personhood was non-exclusive, and so on. The more qualifiers Jackson adds, the less I see why the Mayan notion she's translating there should be understood as equivalent to our notion of personhood. The more a notion from another culture diverges from the ostensibly equivalent notion in our own culture, the more reasonable it seems to treat it as an entirely distinct category — one which may have no equivalent in the Western philosophical traditional at all.


Writing in the journal Romance Studies, a British researcher has decoded the infamous Voynich Manuscript. At least, that's what early buzz indicated, although, as Jennifer Ouellette at Ars Technica cautions, many scholars have made similar claims only to be later proven wrong. Medievalists are skeptical, to say the least.


Nate Powell has a dense and powerful comic at Popula about the relationship between childhood power fantasies and the iconography of a longing for fascism.


PSA, courtesy of Harper's Bazaar: Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden