Book review: Lines - Tim Ingold

Aug 10
2010

In Lines Tim Ingold retraces the contours of a momentous techno-cultural evolution by investigating the status and role of an element that is so pervasive in our lifeworld that it becomes invisible: lines and surfaces. This evolution can be described as a movement from a topian, circuitous `line of wayfaring’ to the utopian, straight line of modernity to the dystopian, fragmented line of postmodernity (quoting K. Olwig). From this central premise, Ingold spins an argument that goes in different directions, connecting practices as diverse as writing, reading, singing, drawing, weaving, building, dwelling, mapping and travelling. His anthropological lens draws in examples from cultures and ethnicities around the world. Ingold observes, hypotheses, connects. Although it is clear that the author deplores our dwindling capacity for establishing life-giving connections with places that give us sustenance - in favour of a more opportunistic, functional way of being in the world - he is careful not too take a too strong position. The purpose of the argument is not make a point, but to establish a contingent, evolving meshwork of ideas. Ingold: “Lines are open-ended, and it is this open-endedness - of lives, relationships, histories, and processes of thought - that I wanted to celebrate.” Even so, Ingold’s way of building an argument is careful, sober and scholarly. A more spiritual side to the discussion shines through in his accessible and humane style of writing. In the themes and concepts surveyed, particularly also in the pivotal role assigned to technology (the printing press, the typewriter, the computer), Ingold’s `Lines’ connects to the (arguably more polemic) work of media theorist Vilem Flusser. There are also obvious connections to the work of Deleuze and De Landa. This is a book that by its very nature could connect to a wide range of interdisciplinary research efforts. It is also recommended to a more casual reader in search of unusual and inspiring ideas.

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