Marc's Reviews > Lines: A Brief History

Lines by Tim Ingold
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bookshelves: anthropology, modernity

I have to admit that initially I had some problems with Ingold's approach: this is obviously not a history of "the line" (as the subtitle suggests). And his approach is so fragmentary and loose that I got lost a bit in his detailed analyses of musical notation, the technique of writing and printing, and the design of genealogical family trees, etc. What also always bothers me in the work of anthropologists is the antagonism they at all costs want to prove between Western modernity and traditional cultures, with usually a very negative undertone regarding modernity. Also Ingold follows that line a bit; at times I even had the impression that I was reading a downright anti-modernist manifesto. He often puts straight lines (connecting points, moving from one point to another, displaying evolutionary developments in line structures, etc.) on 1 line (pun intended) with rationalistic reductionism (read: straightness), and confronts them with the looser forms of gesture-singing-wandering in traditional societies, and suggesting that is a much richer way of approaching reality. As befits an anthropologist, he obviously illustrates this with examples of traditional peoples, but he also cites evidence from Western antiquity and the Middle Ages, and that is strange. For example, handwriting is compared to printing and machine-/computer writing as a completely different mental process.

Mind you: of course, it is a different mental process, but it seems to me that the historical reality is a lot more nuanced (in our modernist approach, many traditionalistic elements are included). Moreover, this modernist-straight-line rationalistic approach is not by definition negative: she made possible a scientific-technological approach that has made our world a whole lot more livable (with of course also important reverse-sides).

Now don’t misunderstand me: this is a really interesting book. Ingold's musings about lines and their influence on the way we look at reality are indeed relevant. And he is honest enough to bring on some nuances. But he also refuses to draw conclusions, deliberately so : “Lines are open-ended, and it is this open-endedness – of lives, relationships, histories and processes of thought – that I have wanted to celebrate. I hope that, in doing so, I have left plentiful loose ends for others to follow and to take in any ways they wish. Far from seeking closure, my aim has been to prise an opening. ” This is an enticing invitation, but it left me a bit unsatisfied. Maybe I should also try his next works.
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Reading Progress

July 26, 2017 – Shelved
March 31, 2018 – Started Reading
April 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Elzinus (new)

Elzinus Ingold is drawing the line by putting modernity on the spot?


Marc It’s more subtle than that, I have to concede. Let’s say he wants to draw our attention to other looks at lines than modernity does. But there’s always that slightly negative appreciation for the latter, between the lines. It’s something I’m very sensitive about, perhaps a bit too much.


message 3: by Elzinus (new)

Elzinus Marc wrote: "It’s more subtle than that, I have to concede. Let’s say he wants to draw our attention to other looks at lines than modernity does. But there’s always that slightly negative appreciation for the l..."

Makes me think of Deleuze Rhizom. Wondering: does Ingold say something about spreadsheets (databases) seems like an interesting case where lines can become two-dimensional?


Marc Jan wrote: "Marc wrote: "It’s more subtle than that, I have to concede. Let’s say he wants to draw our attention to other looks at lines than modernity does. But there’s always that slightly negative appreciat..."
Nothing about spreadsheets, no. Even the far reaching implications of the use of computers and the internet are only superficially touched upon, at the end of this book. And that's strange, indeed. Perhaps he gives more attention to them in his following books.


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