<< . .

. 11
( : 27)



. . >>

wooden sculptures and some anthropological re¬‚ections on enchantment.


introducing the body
New Ireland, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, is famous for its intricately
carved and coloured sculptures called Malanggan. Indeed the possibilities of
92
93
THE PATENT AND THE MALANGGAN


their travelling beyond these islands is written into the technology. They are
by and large both portable and durable, while in the minds of the producers
they are also supremely ephemeral. Malanggan are produced to be discarded.
Created with great care they may be displayed for no more than a few days,
hours even, before they have to be destroyed or thrown away. One mode of
destruction is to put them into the hands of European traders: they are one of
the most collectible types of art object from any ethnographic region of the
world.
Malanggan come from northern New Ireland where they circulate across
several distinct language groups.1 We may imagine them as bodies, although
the body appears in many different shapes and forms. The most familiar (most
portable) take on the shapes of human and animal beings, a mask, say, with the
general appearance of a head, made up of numerous smaller ¬gures, snakes,
birds, ¬sh, parrot wings.2 Its purpose is to contain the life force of a deceased
person; New Irelanders say it provides the deceased with ˜body™ or ˜skin™ now
that their other body no longer exists.3 Present bodies may at once substitute
for absent bodies (New Ireland exegesis) and (exegesis mine) may be presented
as composed of other bodies, as a head is composed of birds and ¬sh. It is an
open question whether we should see the smaller bodies as inside the larger or
as attached to its surface; from either perspective, visually speaking, images are
composed of images. So what kind of space for dwelling is being created here?
Imagining entities ˜containing™ entities is one way of making notions of
habitation and dwelling concrete. But of course such a strategy literalises4 the
basic phenomenological understanding that one cannot describe the world as
it appears to people without describing the character of people™s being, which
makes the world what it is.5 It follows that people are as much within it as the
world is within them. Alongside this formulation comes the question: rather
than being surprised that there is anything special about inhabiting technol-
ogy, why do Euro-Americans think technology requires special techniques of
habitation, and thus why in effect do they distance it from themselves?6 From
that point of view, different cultural perceptions of worlds within worlds start
to become interesting. This mask is not the dead person™s spirit, it is a skin or
body for that person™s spirit. The spirit is about to become an ancestor, and
the body is carved into a form recognisable as ancestral to the person™s clan. A
transient container for ancestral power to be, it is also contained by ancestral
power. So what is so special about the working of this power that it must
be placed within a body before it can be released? Why, like Euro-Americans
thinking about technology, do New Irelanders go to such lengths to separate
themselves “ the contained by contrast with container “ from what they see
as otherwise enveloping them? We shall come back to this.
94 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


No doubt Euro-American observers would comment on the technical skill
that goes into making Malanggan.7 They might also be tempted to read the
animal motifs as referring to nature, apposite for Euro-American sensibili-
ties, which would place seemingly non-modern peoples closer to their envi-
ronment than themselves because they lack the intervening devices of high
technology. However, for New Irelanders that cannot be what the birds and
the ¬sh are about. These people would no more think that they were in nature
or nature in them8 than they would think there was some kind of opposition
between nature and the application of knowledge that Euro-Americans call
technology.


enchantment
Exactly this distinction is, on the other hand, thoroughly embedded in Euro-
American ways of thinking and is reinvented over and again, just as one of its
partners, the distinction between the social and the biological, is constantly
reinvented (Pottage 1998: 741)
Consider how ˜technology™ inhabits the English language. By pointing to a
substantive entity, it gathers numerous things together under the one rubric
so that English-speakers show to themselves the products of technology ev-
erywhere and distinguish them from other products. In common parlance, a
dishwasher is an artefact of a technological world in a way the kitchen sink
simply is not. Technology, in the culturally pervasive sense in which it inhabits
this language, does not just reify effort or production; it rei¬es, gives tangible
form to, a creativity regarded as rejuvenating. So technology embodies more
than the recognition of the techniques of human handiwork; it is evidence
of the continually creative mind that seeks to enlarge society™s capacities.9
Moreover, it mobilises agents whose efforts are socially extended, not just
as a tool extends human effort but as innovations substitute for old travails
(the dishwasher purportedly releasing the washer-upper for other ways of
spending time, an altogether friendlier image than Gell™s [1998] devastating
depiction of landmines as the dispersed agency of a military commander).
Put these together and we have enumerated some of the values attendant on
that particular kind of creativity Euro-Americans recognise in an invention.
For, of all the products of human creativity, inventions are de¬ned by the
power that technology has to give them life. Thinking about its foundation in
inventiveness, we might say that technology lives among us in an enchanted
state.
Here I take liberties with Gell™s (1999b: chapter 5) disquisition on the en-
chantment of technology. The enchantment of technology lies in ˜the power
95
THE PATENT AND THE MALANGGAN


that technical processes have of casting a spell over us™ (1999b: 163),10 the way
artefacts are construed as having come into being, and thus what makes us
marvel at the very ability to translate an idea into an invention and an in-
vention into a device that works. Power seems to end up in the artefacts
themselves, harnessing the human energy they augment.11 Above all, they are
physical manifestations of the technical virtuosity and creativity of the maker.
In an industrial world such makers may be known through trademarks that
weave their own spells (Coombe 1998), but they may equally well be lost in
anonymity. These nameless inventors could be named but, importantly, when
they are not known they can re¬‚ect back a diffuse or generalised aura of capac-
ity, enhancing people™s sense that they are all heirs to a collective creativity.12
Enchantment lies in a further dimension, the enlargement of social agency.
And here we encounter the technology of enchantment. An essential tech-
nique for creating an enchanted space is separation. I said that rather than
being surprised that there is anything special about inhabiting technology,
the interesting questions are about how one distances it. An obvious way is
by dividing technology from other aspects of life. The magico-puri¬catory
effect of conceptual separation (Latour 1993) suggests there is something spe-
cial about the inventiveness of human agency; access to technology is in turn
prized as extending such general capacities for the individual. How does the
puri¬catory divide work? If Technology inhabits the English language as a
substantive entity, it can also evoke other entities in opposition: sometimes
Society,13 sometimes Nature. When it is nature that is counterposed, technol-
ogy and society may roll together as jointly enlarging the sphere of human
endeavour at nature™s expense. Nature puts technology at a distance from its
own world. Thus whatever is categorised as nature simultaneously provides
a measure of the effectiveness of the technology; it re¬‚ects degrees of human
activity. Moreover, the magic of zero-sum logic makes measurement appear
to work automatically: the more human activity there is, the less untouched
nature or fewer natural processes there must be in the world. You can see it in
every medical advance or diminished bird count. Nature in this sense is the
ultimate envelope, containing technology and society within.
There are many ways in which English-speakers in particular and Euro-
Americans in general make all this obvious to themselves.14 I note one; Euro-
Americans may claim for their culture the special capacity of globalisation,
the ability that their information technology (IT) gives them to be in several
places at once,15 a spatially unmatched reach of ef¬cacy. The world shrinking
through communications and the retreat of untouched (natural) spaces are
measures of it. Euro-Americans may even describe themselves as inhabiting
a space enabled by technology that they alone are capable of making. In this
96 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


authorial claim, by a kind of reverse logic that assumes people without the
adjuncts of IT must live in a less expanded world, they may assume that
other peoples do a different kind of inhabiting. Think of all their stereotypes
of societies as communities. Take, for example, the people of Papua New
Guinea. Perhaps Papua New Guineans have no idea of nature, but surely they
have ideas of community, localities that stay put and a kind of dwelling that
together yield stable identities, roots and all the rest of it?


return to new ireland “ 1
The stereotype would be misleading for New Ireland. This is not only because
of the frequency of contact with European navigators, traders and labour
recruiters over the past 150 to 200 years16 but also because they have long had
their own ways of moving around, and in a dimension at once spatial, temporal
and virtual. Living people are never in just one place. And any one person
lives within a stream of persons who move from place to place over time,
remembered in some detail. Here the techniques of constructing Malanggan
bodies start assuming the characteristics of a technology.
Malanggan do not only take the form of masks; they may be poles, friezes or
standing displays.17 Nor do they only appear at death, although all Malanggan
involve the embodiment of deceased persons.18 What is constant is that such
artefacts are brie¬‚y displayed for the duration of ceremonies “ days, hours “
before being deliberately disposed of. The life force of the dead person is then
released from its container. But, as Gell remarked (1998: 226), we might as
well say the life of the person, for what is held momentarily in one place is
an identity composed of the person™s associations with many others, whether
through the garden lands that they worked or through the groups into which
they and their relatives have married. Moreover, the identity in question is
not only of the deceased but also of the living owner of the Malanggan who
has had it made in a particular way. The owner will produce the designs to
which his membership in a clan or a localised unit of the clan entitles him.19
But designs also travel, just as people do.
Malanggan are manufactured in such a way as to suggest multiple identities.
Lincoln (1987) shows a Malanggan (catalogue number 40) composed of chick-
ens and a frigate bird holding the tail of a snake that undulates through stylised
foliage, as the catalogue description has it. In another constellation of elements
(catalogue number 13) one sees clearly distinguishable snakes and birds “ in-
cluding chickens “ and foliage garlands topped by a hornbill. Variation is
necessary if people are not to trespass on one another™s designs, and no two
¬gures are identical. In certain Malanggan traditions, acceptable variation may
97
THE PATENT AND THE MALANGGAN


involve as little as two or three centimetres of carving (Gunn 1987: 81). Motifs
travel between these ¬gures, then, and each new Malanggan is a composite of
elements drawn from other Malanggan. It is a place that gathers places from
elsewhere to itself, a person (to which Malangan are likened) who gathers the
interests of other persons into him- or herself.20
The social space being modelled here is one of movement over time and
distance.21 For at death a person™s attachments are still scattered in several
locations.

The gardens and plantations of the deceased, scattered here and there, are still in
production, their wealth is held by various exchange-partners, their houses are still
standing. . . . The process of making the carving coincides with the [subsequent]
process of reorganisation and adjustment. . . .
Gell 1998: 225

At the same time the social space is a virtual one in which the deceased is
enveloped in the larger persona of clan connections. The clan is an always
present environment.22 If, however, we say that there is a sense in which a
person inhabits a clan and the clan inhabits the person, then we must include
those relationships beyond the clan that clanship also brings. Everyone has
active relationships with other groups, and a living person™s actions are ori-
ented in diverse directions. Gathering these in, Malanggan have been spoken
of as bringing together an otherwise dispersed agency.23
The crucial point about the destruction of the mortuary Malanggan is that
the gathered agency of the deceased has then to be redispersed, whether to
revitalise old relationships in new form or to return the deceased™s powers in a
more general way to the clan.24 When a ¬gure is assembled, it may recapitulate
¬gures created for past clan members, then, containing elements that have
travelled down the generations, whereas other motifs may have travelled across
local groups so that elements also come from ¬gures originating elsewhere.25
The dimensions are of both time and space, and here we stumble across what
can only be called a technology of enchantment. For the ¬gures are constructed
in such a way as to bring together in one place simultaneous reference to the
past, present and future.
The moment when the Malanggan is discarded is also the moment at which
it or its components may be dispersed to others, the moment people from other
localities looking at the sculpture pay for the ability to reproduce the parts
of the designs at some time in the future. K¨ chler (1992: 101 “2) argues that
u
Malanggan designs anticipate this; they are planned with the future owners
in mind. The past has already become the future. So what is the technology
that weaves such enchantment?
98 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


There are two distinct axes to Malaggan as carved ¬gures. Overlaying
the wooden three-dimensional framework with its carved motifs is a two-
dimensional surface integrated through the painted designs.

The carved planes refer to the exchange history of the sculptured image, or its
˜outer™ or ˜public™ identity, whereas the painted pattern signi¬es the present own-
ership of the image, or its ˜inner™ identity. . . . [These] together constitute what is
called the ˜skin™ (or tak) of the sculpture™.
K¨ chler 1992: 101
u

Strategic relationships between groups, above all through marriage, are cre-
ated by ties of ˜skin™. The container of the life force is also a map on which
participants in a Malanggan ceremony inscribe their anticipated alliances.
For the present owners already know who will want to make claims on the
designs, and the Malanggan is carved in such a way as to acknowledge the
owners-to-be.26 The carved container as a repository of social effectiveness
(Gell™s phrase) through time is then covered by the painted ˜inside™ of current
relationships now rendered on the ˜outside™. Enchantment is achieved through
the technique by which the form simultaneously extends into past and future
while holding it all at a single moment in time and space. It is not just that
the present encapsulates the past; the future is projected as a remembering
of the present. For while the new relationships move into operation straight
away, it will be many years before the motifs reappear in daylight; then they
will emerge as components dispersed among other Malanggan. They will be
brought to life in new sculptures looking back to this moment of acquisition.
The conjunction of paint and carving does that: each form carries the other
into and away from the present.
What the future owners receive is, they say, ˜knowledge™ of the Malanggan
(along with the re-arrangements of social relations that gives them land rights
and so forth). That knowledge makes them effective in the future, and this is
what turns Malanggan into a kind of technology. To use a phrase from Sykes
(2000; cf K¨ chler 1992: 101 also), they are transmitters or conduits, rather than
u
memorials or representations. They do not just work to make things work
or extend people™s reach; a Malanggan converts existing relationships into
virtual ones, matter into energy, and living into ancestral agency, heralding
the reversal of these transformations at a future stage in the reproductive cycle.
The technico-ritual process of carving and painting does not produce things as
we might think of artistic works; as a thing, the body is not allowed to remain in
existence. Rather, like technology, which combines knowledge, material form
and effectiveness, the reproduction of the Malanggan body makes it possible
to capture, condense and then release power back into the world.27
99
THE PATENT AND THE MALANGGAN


One might remark that this happens in social life all the time: we gather the
past into our various projects, and then ¬nd ways of seeking to in¬‚uence the
future. There is, however, a mode of presenting Euro-American technology
that weaves something of a comparable enchantment, enough to make people
feel that something momentous might be going on. This is where patents
come in.


patenting technology
If the very concept of technology creates a ¬eld of artefacts and expecta-
tions, the law “ as we encountered in Chapter One “ runs in parallel: it up-
holds as a generic category the industrial application of new ideas, so that all
such applications come to seem to be examples of human creativity.28 How?
Through patents. Patents are part of international intellectual property law,
which makes:

a vital contribution to mankind™s storehouse of technical information. Eighty
percent of the existing technical knowledge in the world is estimated to be available
in the patent literature, organized in an internationally recognized classi¬cation
system.
Tassy and Dambrine 1997: 196

The idea of being able to patent something has a double power. First, the
patenting procedure requires a body; the initating idea has to be manifest or
embodied in some artefact or device, a concrete invention that ˜contains™ the
idea, while what the patent protects is the idea itself, the creative impetus,
minimally an inventive step. Second, patents do not just recognise creativity
and originality; they transform creativity into usable knowledge by at once
attaching it to and detaching it from the inventor.
That transformative power appeals to the imagination. Indeed, intellec-
tual property systems as a whole have been written about in lyrical terms
as though they were part of a technology of enchantment. One writer refers
to genetic resources brought under the spell of intellectual property rights
(Khalil 1995: 232); another confessed that intellectual property has always
seemed ˜the Carmen of commercial law™ “ ˜a subject with charm, personality
and a force of character™ (Phillips in Phillips and Firth 1990: vii). And of all
IPR protocols, the patent is paradigmatic, ˜the form of intellectual property
par excellence™ (Bainbridge 1999: 7, my emphasis), for ˜intellectual property
law reserves a very special and powerful mode of protection for inventions™
(1999: 317). That mode is a property right that takes the form of monopoly:
the patent attaches the invention exclusively to the inventor. In doing so it
100 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


also detaches it in the form of knowledge: the patent agreement compels the
inventor to yield information to the world about how to re-create the arte-
fact. Patents simultaneously produce private property and public(ly available)
information.29
As part and parcel of the industrialising project of the West, intellectual
property regimes nowadays exert international pressure on countries such as
Papua New Guinea currently considering the implementation of copyright
and patent legislation (in response to World Intellectual Property Organi-
sation [WIPO] and under the aegis of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights [TRIPS]). In Britain, speci¬cally, patents began taking their
present form at the time of the industrial revolution, with the aim among
others of encouraging the development of ideas leading to innovation. They
grant a monopoly over the bene¬ts to be gained from an invention, provided
it is new and provided the details are put in the public domain. The philoso-
phy is that inventions in the long run should contribute to a general good. In
the interim, however, bene¬t is chanelled through the patent holder who is at
liberty to control access to it for a set period (until the patent expires).
Any one invention must build on numerous others:30

all inventions can be regarded as being comprised of units of information [infor-
mation is composed of information]. Under this view, that which appears to our
eyes to be an ˜invention™, a creation of something new, is no more than a synthesis
[a composite] of known bits of information, not really an invention at all.31
Phillips and Firth 1990: 21, after Pendleton

Behind these many inventions are of course numerous others involved in the
long process of development. At the point of patenting, an invention becomes
a place or passage point at which diverse expertise, all the knowledge that
went into creating it, is gathered together and condensed into a single entity
(cf Strathern 1996). In turn, precisely because it must meet the speci¬cation
of being an industrially applicable device, it is through its technological ap-
plication that the effect of that expertise is extended and dispersed, typically
in the form of a manufactured product. Patenting procedures speed up this
gathering and dispersal.
I deliberately echo the New Ireland analysis. The fabrication of Malanggan
results in a form that condenses a whole history of interactions and in the
process makes it possible to channel clan powers “ the clan and its relation-
ships with others “ for future bene¬t; we might say that the patent results in
a form “ the potency of information made product “ through which tech-
nological power is also channelled to the future. Depending on the point in
the reproductive cycle, Malanggan transform living and ancestral agency, the
101
THE PATENT AND THE MALANGGAN


one into the other. Patents imply a more linear series of conversions, intangible
ideas into enforceable property rights. In the place of the enveloping clan with
its ancestral potency, at once inside and outside everyone, English-speakers
instead accord nature a similar regenerative and recursive potential. Indeed
patenting is part of a process that continues to regenerate nature as fast as
it appears to consume it. A kind of technology within technology, patents
thereby augment the enchantment of technology.
First, patents perpetuate the very concept of nature. If technology in gen-
eral creates nature as a world of materials waiting to be used or of natural
processes that carry on without human intervention, then the law creates a
domain of nature in a very speci¬c sense. For the general rationale is that
patents cannot apply to any interpretation or manipulation of natural pro-
cesses that does not require the speci¬c input of human know-how, resulting
in things that did not previously exist. Invention modi¬es nature; discovery
does not. So objections to patents may be dismissed as the result of ˜technical
misunderstandings which arise from a wilful refusal to understand the dif-
ference between discovery and invention™ (Pottage 1998: 750). The rubric is
that nature cannot be patented. Ipso facto, anything patentable is already out
of the realm of nature. If it can be used as an exclusionary mechanism, the
issue then becomes what does or does not count as nature. Many patents deal
with re¬nements of other inventions already in the made world, and there
are numerous grounds on which applications for patents may be refused, for
example over the degree of innovation that an inventor has brought to ma-
terials already worked upon or over how realistic industrial exploitation may
be. But excluding anything that exists ˜naturally™ is a touchstone of patent
law that has come into particular prominence with recent developments in
biotechnology. ˜[M]erely to ¬nd a hitherto unknown substance which exists
in nature is not to make an invention™ (Phillips and Firth 1990: 35). Conversely,
Bainbridge (1999: 368) quotes Justice Whitford in 1987 (apropos recombinant
DNA technology), ˜you cannot patent a discovery, but if on the basis of that
discovery you can tell people how it can be usefully employed than a patent
of invention may result™. Nature is rede¬ned, re-invented, over and again by
such exclusions.
Second, there is the matter of knowledge about the natural world. Instead
of thinking of nature as an axiomatic measure of human endeavour, one may
regard it as a source of technological innovation added to as fast as it is taken
away. As fast as information is made product, new sources of information
about the world are uncovered. And they necessarily point to fresh under-
standings of natural elements or processes until these are transformed by
human ingenuity and lifted out of the natural realm.32 So nature continues
102 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


to grow in scope. The more it grows, the more it can be consumed, and the

<< . .

. 11
( : 27)



. . >>