Gary Y. Okihiro

 

On his book Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones

Cover Interview of August 12, 2009

The wide angle

Places are human geographies of space.  They name and attribute natures to spaces, marking them and frequently ranking them as self or other, desirable or undesirable, masculine or feminine.  “Home” and “nation” are examples of places, as are “islands” and “continents,” the “tropics” and the “temperate zone.”  In our everyday lives, we often assume and forget that places are human inventions, and we treat them as if they were real, which in turn gives them materiality and substance.  Places are thereby made real.

The “tropics” was created by some in the temperate zone who named the band and described its lush vegetation, soft and fleshy peoples, and recumbent societies as having been shaped by the moisture and heat.  They composed a tropical hermeneutics of place.  Climate, the ancient Greeks contended, shaped the bodies and natures of peoples.  Accordingly, they maintained, the tropics bred slavish and womanly races while the temperate zones conditioned hard, lean, masculine races.  Geographical determinism, which connects places (climates) with races (bodily constitutions) and which ranks them as superior and inferior, remains a key fallacy of our age.

The pineapple’s migrations reveal the falsity of those distinctions of lands and peoples.  The fruit, as a trophy and object of empire, appears in its natural state, sized and boxed for the traditionalist and in its clipped, dissected, and sweetened state for the modernist.  The fruit reaches both markets and tastes year-round in disregard of seasons and places and advances a global, material culture and signification that qualifies and diminishes the contrived distances between the polarities of West and East, continents and islands, temperate and tropical zones.