Philosophy Cafe: David Turnbull presents ‘Performing Rapa Nui the Island at the End of the World’

June Philosophy Café
David Turnbull presents ‘Performing Rapa Nui the Island at the End of the World: Contested Collapses, Cartographies, and Chronotopes’
Wednesday 30 November from 7-9pm at The Barking Dog hotel

At the Wednesday 30 November Philosophy Café, David Turnbull from the Victoria Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) at Melbourne University will discuss ‘Performing Rapa Nui the Island at the End of the World: Contested Collapses, Cartographies, and Chronotopes’.

Since its rediscovery in the 18th century Rapa Nui has played a central role in our cartographic imaginaries, as revealed for example, in the ‘Surrealist Map of the World’ (1929) In more recent times historical ecologists and archaeologists like John Flenley, Kevin Butler, Paul Bahn, and Jared Diamond have portrayed Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Ile de Paques) as the paradigmatic example of the dangers of cultural excess. In their unquenchable pursuit of superiority and dominance the islanders built ever-larger stone sculptures and in the process cut down all the trees, thereby marooning themselves and bringing about the collapse of their civilisation. Woe is us, the end of the world is nigh, because we unthinking consumers are heading down the same path. There is however a plausible counter narrative. For archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo it's a story of resilience and adaptation. The Rapa Nuians did indeed stop statue building, but they cut the trees down hoping to develop new forms of agriculture in support of an increased population.

Right from the beginning every aspect of Rapa Nui’s ecology has been contested. It has been invented, imagined, invaded, measured, mapped, monitored, discovered, deforested, despoiled, developed, deconstructed and yet the island somehow evades our grasp. It has been interpreted, investigated, interpolated, painted, sketched, filmed, and yet it is continuously framed and reframed as enigmatic, mysterious and conflicted. These invasions, evasions and framings occur very largely in the context of western colonial expansion and the accompanying canon of the arts and sciences. Photographers, painters, ecologists economists, anthropologists, poets, and musicians, along with whalers, slavers, and sheep farmers have all tried to capture Rapa Nui, but only very recently have the Rapa Nuians themselves had a voice, albeit a voice modulated by all the colonial geographic imaginaries and impacts. Treating these conflicting representations of Rapa Nui performatively allows an exploration of the ways in which they have been readily deployed in the articulation of chronotopic narratives that shape the island according to their assumed spatio-temporalities, but have not produced the definitive, unified synthesis, dreamed of by the archaeogeneticists. Such a performative approach cannot of itself aim for an overarching understanding, rather it can provide an alternative explanatory framework, and if it is held in tension with the various representational approaches while including itself and the indigenous positions it could provide a basis for the emergence of new ways of knowing and being in Rapa Nui.

David Turnbull is a Senior Research Fellow at the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) in the Architecture Faculty at Melbourne University. His research is currently focused on interpreting and understanding the ways in which indigenous and non-indigenous people come to know their environment in the processes of naming, narrating, mapping and moving.

His recent publications include:

  • Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge, 2nd ed. Routledge, London, 2003.
  • ‘On the Trails of Markers and Proxies: The Socio-cognitive Technologies of Human Movement, Knowledge Assemblage, and Their Relevance to the Etiology of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma in Special Issue NPC Genetics’, ed. M Simons, Chinese Journal of Cancer, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 85-95, 2011.
  • ‘Trails and Tales: Multiple Stories of Human Movement and Modernity’, in Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy, Arctic Perspective Cahier Series No. 2, edited by MT Bravo and N Triscott, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, pp. 71-87, 2010.
  • ‘Boundary-Crossings, Cultural Encounters and Knowledge Spaces in Early Australia’, in S Schaffer, L Roberts, K Raj & James Delbourgo eds, The Brokered World: Go-betweens and Global Intelligence 1770-1820, Science History Publications USA, Sagamore Beach, pp. 387-428, 2009.
  • ‘Introduction’ in David Turnbull ed. Special Issue on The Futures of Indigenous Knowledges, Futures, vol. 41, no. 1, Feb, pp. 1-5, 2009.
  • ‘Maps, Narratives and Trails: Performativity, Hodology, Distributed Knowledge in Complex Adaptive Systems—an Approach to Emergent Mapping’, Geographical Research, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 140-9, 2007.

Philosophy Café is held from 7-9pm on the last Wednesday of each month, February to November, in the ‘Kennel’ at The Barking Dog hotel, 126 Pakington st, Geelong West.

Entry is free and includes a glass of wine and nibbles.

Kind regards,

Dylan Nickelson,
Treasurer, Deakin Philosophical Society.

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