Here is a review of a great anthropological novel that has us see the sameness and difference of human beings. It will be seen as a classic, like The Harmless People.
This novel--Gwe--teaches us to see the sameness and difference between ourselves and others as necessary as it is lovely and strengthening.
GWE, Young Man of New Guinea, a novel against racism by Arnold Perey, PhD, Anthropologist and Aesthetic Realism Consultant [Waverly Place Press, NY 2005]
Review by Meryl Simon and Devorah Tarrow
Gwe was born in Stone Age New Guinea.
Alan was born in New York City.
This is their story and the story of Gwe’s people.
Gwe is a stirring novel set in New Guinea and peopled by the Mengti, with whom the author, Dr. Arnold Perey, lived. When he returned to the U.S., he began to study Aesthetic Realism, founded by American philosopher Eli Siegel. Dr. Perey writes:
… “All beauty is a making one of opposites,” wrote Mr. Siegel, “and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves. To see the deep likeness of all people, the opposites are scientifically necessary. The people of New Guinea you'll meet in this story—are they concerned with respecting oneself and feeling guilty? … being angry and being pleased; being excited and being calm; being fair to people and being selfish—in circumstances unique to their island?
In every chapter, we see the answer is yes. The novel centers on Alan Hull, young anthropologist and Gwe, a young man of Stone Age culture who becomes Alan's interpreter and guide.
Through Alan, Arnold Perey courageously lays bare racism in himself and tells how he learned to see its cause as explained by Aesthetic Realism: "The addition to self through the lessening of something else," which is contempt for people and things, and is the most damaging drive in humanity—in us.
What is the opposition to that unjust state of mind? Aesthetic Realism shows it is in art! In the chapter titled “Sunset and a Poem,” Dr. Perey describes how educated he was by the response of Gwe to a magnificent sunset and also by his singing a poem his people sang at twilight. Here are lines of the New Guinea Insect Song.
The insect is singing,
It is nearly dark
The insect is singing
Dr. Perey writes:
Alan was stirred by this poem about sunset the way he was stirred by the carvings on the Divanna men's arrows. He saw they had art. …And now—poetry. His experiences were altering his conception of …people whose dark complexion he had felt, despite all his anthropological training, was associated with lesser minds and lesser sensitivity.
Dr. Perey takes us into the home of Gwe’s family.
Father of Gwe, seeing Alan walk into his dwelling in his stocking feet asks: "Are your feet like ours?" When Alan removes his socks, Gwe's father asks to touch his foot, which he does, and says, "Your feet are like baby's feet." Alan explains that his feet are always in shoes, and don't meet the rough earth barefoot. Then Alan pantomimes the tickling of his own foot and asks "If I tickle you, Father of Gwe, will you laugh?" The elder says, "Ah, yes." Perey writes, "Everyone in the little house was satisfied by the mood of mutual confidence mingled with a certain daring."
Then, they want to celebrate with a Singsing. Father of Gwe guides him:
Coming to Alan, he put one old hand on the young man's back, and the other on his pale upper arm, and he began rising and falling in time to an internal music. Back and forth across the length of the house they danced….Together the old father and the young, New York-born student danced the dance of New Guinea, centuries old, in a small dwelling on a rainy slope in the Victor Emanuel Mountains, 5 degrees south of the Equator in the Eastern half of the World.
The Mengti live by sweet potatoes, taro, and pigs. But because Gwe's selfish, brutal uncle, Yug-wek-kek, has taken possession by force of the best land, and the crops haven’t grown as well as they should, most of the people are starved for protein. Alan explains to Gwe that when a baby’s head is larger than his chest, it is a sign he is malnourished. Dr. Perey describes Gwe’s distress at the condition of the babies as Alan measures them.
Meanwhile, there is something else that is new, arising from Dr. Perey’s study of Aesthetic Realism: he goes into the feelings of Yug-wek-kek—showing how against himself he is for his ill will and the effects on himself of his own injustice. We read of how his guilt takes the form of a nightmare and an episode of insanity. We see new depths in a person and we are encouraged to ask ourselves: What are the effects on me when I am unjust?
In Gwe, Dr. Perey has us see and feel our kinship to people far away in place and in time. And he shows convincingly the cause of racism and how it can end.
Visit: "A New Perspective for Anthropology"
The authors are consultants on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation (www.aestheticrealism.org), where they study in professional classes taught by Class Chairman Ellen Reiss. Ms. Simon has an MA in Anthropology and Ms. Tarrow has an MA in Sociology.