The difference between a poem and an ethnographic poem is fieldwork. My ethnographic poems are written based on my field data, and sometimes as part of my field methods: they are attentive to the qualia of social life and the complexities of human experience as encountered in fieldwork.
What intrigued me about plasticity was that it was not yet tamed into something consistent: my fieldwork unfolded in a situation in which the old truth of cerebral fixity had already been dissolved by plasticity—but plasticity had not yet been stabilized. It still could be many different, in part mutually exclusive, things. To me, it was a bit as if the brain—and along with it the human—had been released from a form of knowledge that claimed to exhaust it. It was as if the brain and the human as constituted by the brain had broken free.
My daughter Luna is now eight months old, chubby, with a wide-mouthed smile and bright eyes. I’m here to study community responses to youth “return” from the United States and Mexico—return often, although not always, being a sanitized word for deportation. We have been in Guatemala eight weeks now, long enough to begin settling in, and slowly to understand the vastness of what I don’t understand.
A young anthropologist visits the reservation.
The big theme of the book is of course how the discovery of plasticity upset the classical concept of the brain as a fixed and immutable structure. But there is no overall core argument that would organize and arrange the stories assembled in Plastic Reason. In fact, I could say that one of the major points of Plastic Reason is precisely to not have a core argument.