a passage in time

East of dreams.
Even responses to systemic crises

by Nastasja Martin

Editions La Découverte/The Preventers of thinking in circles, 304 p. 21 €

Reading Nastassja Martin’s book, To the east of dreams, one immediately thinks of the masterpiece by Claude Lévi-Strauss, who made it known to a very wide audience, Sad Tropics. To east of dreams is situated in this line of anthropology where the story of the ethnographer’s quest constantly dialogues with the scientific approach.

Are the main nature and culture categories the right ones? Can we believe in tricksters, those spirits that come in our dreams? Like the Sable, this Siberian animal that scrambles, erases its tracks, thus making the hunter/dreamer more intelligent because “connected” to the deep life that surrounds him, animal, vegetable or mineral. And finally, in this book, dazzling with clear intelligence and writing, this question arises: “How to do when the shamans are no longer there. » Because “there is always something one seeks to salvage by recording the cosmologies of others. »

A shared thought

Nastassja Martin has worked for many years in Alaska, with and with the people Gwinch’in. She studied there how their culture – but is that the right word? – their very existence, were able to cross the American intellectual, legal and philosophical frameworks of colonization and then decolonization. In return, it is our Western perception of nature, of the relationship to the “savage”, to life itself which is deeply questioned.

Crossing the Bering Strait, whose shores are barely 50 km apart at the narrowest point and which separates the former Soviet Union from the United States, the author then decides to devote herself to the study of Even, a nomadic people of reindeer herders settled in kolkhozes and employed today as herders on private farms. The transformation of their history into folkloric dances and cultural performances contemplated by the tourists who flock to them pushes a small group of them to go back to the forest to try to renew the thread of the infinite conversation with this living being of which we are only a part. Because there may be “a thought which exists in sharing among all beings”. As Lévi-Strauss wrote at the end of his career: “I would rather admit that thought begins before men. »

A passage in time

Whether sad tropics, published in the 1960s by this immense ethnologist, was strongly tinged with despair at the effects of our world on the one before, thus removing the possible sign of what we were deeply, To east of dreams opens a passage in time. The little group that goes back into the forest does not become once again the people of the past but a people, carried away by a magnificent female figure, where each succeeds in being a bridge, “in this precise place…, between heaven and earth, between animals and flow, in awareness of the intentions, the gaze and the words posed in the world”.

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