Animism. Hardly a new concept. Used here in the sense of, as Webster’s puts it, “attribution of conscious life to objects … or to inanimate objects.” Think of the dolls or action figures that you had as a child. Now think of your dolls and action figures thinking about you.
There has long been an effort on the part of many countries to repatriate their ancient art that has been dispersed by sale (sometimes legal, sometimes notl) or theft. Greeks, for example, want their marbles back—the Elgin marbles—and the Turks, as the New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky reported way back in 2012, are mounting an aggressive campaign to get back some of their own.
Many arguments have been advanced in support of the repatriation of antiquities, and lately there has been, for a variety of reasons, more cooperation on the part of European and American museums, but the Times article presented Turkey’s latest gambit (as of September 2012):
Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories,” said Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay. “When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”
Thus does animism rear it’s headless torso.
Gunay’s rationale for repatriating works of art is about as selfless as national self-interest gets. Because Minister Gunay cleverly suggests that Turkey wants their artifacts back not in the interest of Turkey nationalism or Turkish culture but in the interests of the statues and pottery themselves.
But tell me this: How are we know what a statue discovered, say, in eastern Turkey in 1898 thinks of as its homeland? Must it be returned to the site of the excavation, the mother lode? Does the statue or pottery shard recognize the political borders of its native province? Does it think of itself as Thracian—or Turkish?
If the marble was quarried in Roman Dacia or Illyria before it was sculpted in Cyprus and purchased by a Bythnian merchant in what is present-day Turkey, might the statue not yearn for contemporary Romania or Albania? And what if it has fonder memories of Cyprus or Bythnia?
Determining the allegiances of ancient stone and clay is going to complicate the repatriation of art considerably while continuing to make the lives of museum curators and Turkish ministers more intolerable than ever. And the Turkish annexation of Romania and Albania is a short-term solution at best.
Incidentally, readers interested in the sources of Minister Gunay’s feelings on the souls of objets d’art might be interested in the entry on animism in the Brill Encyclopedia of Islam, available in single-volume and multivolume editions. My library had the shorter version only. I was unable to consult the longer Brilllllll.
The second word to look for in 2014 is specific to animate objects.
Premastication. This is simply, as most of you know, a fancy way of describing the process of pre-chewing food for infants, something done, as far as we know, throughout the history of our species and still common in many human societies.
Premastication resurfaced in the news in 2012 after the actress Alicia Silverstone posted a video showing her 10-month-old son being fed pre-chewed food from his mother’s mouth. The video, appropriately for one on children’s health, went viral. Reporting on the Silverstone affair on the Christian Science Monitor site, Stephanie Hanes informed readers of the pros and cons of premastication. Researchers, she wrote, had recently made the case in Maternal & Child Nutrition
that premastication plays a crucial role in infant health, and that it’s relatively recent abandonment—particularly in poor societies—is a significant threat to infant nutrition. Pre-chewing food, many researchers say, helps give weaning infants iron, increased immunity and improved digestion. … Some critics, on the other hand, worry about the health impacts [of] premastication. They say pre-chewing food for babies could transmit disease–and worry, in particular, about the HIV virus.
I have not seen anyone premasticating in public nor have I have heard any anecdotal reports of the widespread adoption of the practice. But let’s pretend for the moment that premastication has become more vastly more popular and that in some neighborhoods parents extend the practice beyond weaning and further into childhood.
In that case, there are now more children accustomed to eating pre-chewed food, among whom we will posit a subset completely unaccustomed to eating food that has not been pre-chewed.
As these children become old enough to attend school, their eating requirements will have to be accommodated. And that’s when premastication will hit the news again, as parents in Park Slope, Prenzlauer Berg and various precincts of Berkeley insist on their right—and the right of premastication surrogates—to prechew food for their children at public schools.
I know. You’re wondering, like poor Alastair Sim, whether these words are “the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that might be.” Believe me, you can set a Google Alert on it./>/>
A note from the author for his colleagues at Forbes: I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed by the limited response to my recent post Special Offer to Forbes Writers, in which I offered, among other things, to lampoon other writers’ work for publicity purposes. I heard from two of you, but in one case the work in question was unintentionally funny to begin with—that’s bound to happen from time to time on a site as vast as the Forbes website—and not amenable to parody, and in the second case we were unable to come to terms, since remuneration was offered in Bitcoin. My virtual portfolio is already overweight Bitcoin, and I have no interest in beginning the year by virtually balancing it.
Did I mention that the offer was for a limited time only?