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Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon by Candace Slater

by on October 1, 2011

  In Candace Slater’s book Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon; she starts off the first chapter, titling it “The Meeting of the Waters”. She starts this section off with describing a personal experience in which she saw an IMAX movie in the National History Museum in Seattle. The author gives the reader a descriptive picture on what the short documentary displayed to the audience, in including basic and interesting facts about the Amazon, “Here, in what has become a threatened natural paradise, a typical four-square mile patch of forest contains up to 1,500 species of flowering plants, as many as 750 species of trees, 125 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 100 different reptiles, 60 amphibians, and 150 butterflies”(2).  Slater continues to share her thoughts on the video, saying the video struck her as very similar to every other Amazonian documentary she has seen, making the Amazon appear “as an exotic realm of nature”(3). Slater also described the movie as “simplistic” and not what she had in mind, “But where were the less-glamorous swamps, and brush lands, the big and little cities that account for more than half the population of 23 million people for whom the Amazon is home?” (3)

Slater proved to have very high expectations of the video she was watching, expecting it to have a much more in depth look and accurate historical information,“But where were the descendants of black slaves, the Sephardic Jews, the Japanese agricultural workers, the Arab merchants, and the mixed-blood rubber tappers who have helped create the rich, distinctive cultures of an immense and varied region?” (3). Slater then continues to explain to the reader that this concept is the main idea behind her book. She claims that “Entangled Edens” refers to the various images of this terrestrial paradise (The Amazon) (8). Slater’s main argument revolves around the idea that the Amazon, or Amazonia, culturally, physically, and geographically vary tremendously because of the variety and area of land, and the amount of people within this area. Slater also argues in order for us to preserve the rain forest, we must understand it better, “if we truly want to save the rain forest, then we have to learn to see and hear them too” (22), very similar to Sarkar and Montoya.  This section of the article related well to the class discussion in relation to our views and perceptions of society, and especially of indigenous people similar to Castro’s Amazonian ethnography article. Slater then continues to somewhat outline the structure of her book, she discusses how perception strongly influence and shape one’s ideas and thoughts about nature, touching on the idea of subjectivity, “The stories themselves make clear ways in which different groups and individuals use particular images to further their own interest.” (7) She also discusses how aspects of “outside” societies and cultures are hard for American culture to grasp, for instance, the idea of “Shape-Shifters” “Encantados” or “Enchanted Beings” having cursed or bewitched beings raising havoc for the tribe and how the indigenous people recognize this cross-cultural misunderstanding by telling Slater “These stories talk about a world you cannot know” (5).  This article raised a few questions in relation to class discussion:


1) Do you think Slater’s perspective on Amazonian research is too general, too narrow, or sufficient for reliable studying?

2)Do you think Slater’s own expectations of the detail of study of the Amazon are too high, possible reducing the validity of her argument?

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  1. Summer Rose W permalink

    I think Slater’s gives a good general overview of the history of the Amazon as well as tales from the Amazon and how people react to those stories and or tales. She does not provide enough information for reliable studying but her overview tells the main points about what she is saying.
    I liked the way she told her stories about her experiences because it made me feel like I could see what she was seeing and experiencing.

  2. amygraceaustin permalink

    I think that Slater’s reaction to this movie goes far beyond a simple critique of the director’s production and illuminates a greater frustration with much of our American society as a whole.

    The arguments that Slater arises in opposition with the portrayal of the film spread far beyond this example and even the portrayal of this region. What I believe all this boils down to is the impact of capitalism on the drive to produce that which will generate revenue.

    Depicting strong, intelligent individuals with agency over their situations simply does not spur Americans to donate to conservation efforts aimed at taking place in the environment inhabited by these very people. Instead, by depicting a poor and deprived, desolate and ignorant character, the human psyche feels “compelled” to reach out in assistance. This happens everywhere, across varied sectors of society. Is anyone safe from this way of thinking and responding? As Americans we are putting filthy bandaids on issues we only serve to perpetuate and we call it good. We’re doing SOMETHING after all, right? Wrong. I believe in a situation where we are not willing to be open to all points of view and strive to depict a more authentic image, devoid of our Western frameworks of meaning translation, we should LEAVE IT ALONE. A utilitarian framework is hard to measure, but I argue that through our inability or refusal to present a less biased picture we might have done more harm than good in a whole array of situations.

    I certainly experienced a similar reaction to Slater’s when I returned from Bolivia. The story we’re being fed does not match up to what’s actually happening on the ground. It’s a pathetic attempt at defining a complex and dynamic reality.

  3. I think Slater’s perspective on amazon research was extremely relevant to the current outsider’s perspective of the amazon. Slater’s perspective, though unique in that it underlies some of the more difficult and dark aspects of amazonian existence, is very true to the struggles of outsiders looking in today. Our knowledge of amazonian history, geography, and culture is greatly limited compared to the depth of it’s actual exisitence. I think that her method of comparing a popular, and easily viewable IMAX movie to other extremely contrasting and lesser known aspects of the amazon was a great way to get her point across to readers in a way that would make sense to them, by comparing a popular form of information transferal with other sides of amazonian characteristics. I also agree whole-heartedly with her idea that if we really want to be able to help others, such as those in the amazon, we have to better understand it. Without having a greater basis of real, in-depth knowledge of the Amazon, there is no way that we will be able to really make positive change in that vast area.

  4. janellekramer permalink

    I can see Slater’s point when she gets upset about the movie and how pristine it shows the Amazon. I also agree with her about how subjectivity and create a person’s story and it completely affects and audience differently depending on to whom one is catering. However, in the instance of the movie she watches with her friend in the museum, she may be taking the movie, and what it covers, a bit too personally. The movie is catering to the audience of white American suburbia, the people who have enough money to donate to saving the Amazon but who would not probably ever go there. I believe the intention of the video is to make the Amazon look like it’s beautiful and deserves to be saved. The author of this book focuses too much on what the movie doesn’t have and too little on what it could help to bring to her sacred “Eden.”

  5. Slater’s perspective on Amazonian research is not too general or narrow because her main argument is based on a holistic perspective. She argues that in order to help someone else in a place we have never been, we cannot rely on general and idealistic images that the media has ingrained in our brains. I think she believes that in order to understand a foreign concept, one must first understand the reality of the situation before just blindly diving in. For instance, there is so much media hype on how to save the rain forests, but there is seldom any focus on the individuals themselves who live in these environments. The forests are not the only ones who need protection, the indigenous people are just as affected by these factors on the environment as the plants and animals are. You cannot just take one image of a particular environment and expect to have a good grasp on what is actually going on in that place. We need to be able to immerse ourselves in the cultural, physical, an biological aspects of an environment before having an opinion on what should be done about it.

  6. Slater presents a very interesting perspective relating to the perceptions individuals form based off minimal information, often portrayed through the media, in which constructs what is aesthetically desirable to the human eye. This portrayal, as Slater describes, illustrates a simplistic view of the Amazonia region. Although she may be correct, the simple fact is she was attending an IMAX film, which was constructed to appeal to a particular audience. The film unfortunately wasn’t made to give people a all encompassing view of the Amazon, but rather allow people to get a quick glimpse into this foreign exotic region. Even if a more accurate portrayal was created, within the allotted time, is it even possible to convey Slater’s desired representation. Even Slater’s representation would merely illustrate the Amazon through her perspective leaving the public to draw conclusion based on her experiences or interpretations of the natives stories.

    While I personally don’t believe her expectations are too high, I think that when applied to the general American culture they are. I will admit, before studying abroad, my interest in truly understanding all the entities encapsulated within cultures worldwide, was minimal. I, like many individuals, found myself extremely entranced in my personal agenda, surrounding my interests around what directly affect my world. Ignorant, yes, but culturally Americans fast-pace, capitalistic lifestyles don’t typically allow much time for activities outside personal gain. I mean why are we all attending college? The majority of people will say, to have the opportunity to get a good job, purely illustrating the drive for personal gain.

  7. Sean Butler permalink

    I feel that Slater’s expectations for the documentary were too high and her argument for the inclusion of her perspective of the Amazon is not justified. Slater wants specific ideas and images of the Amazon to be presented, but the purpose of the video was not to present the images she wanted to see. In the rest of her book, she claims that the Amazon is much more vast and diverse than the common depictions of it. I believe that her ideas on forest preservation and in-depth research of the area are important, but they cannot be presented in a documentary intended for entertainment purposes.

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