clifford-writing-culture

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Anthropology/Literary Theory
" T h i s is a distinguished, original, and highly significant collection. For
some years now there have been signs of a critique of ethnographic and
anthropological texts as texts. . . . But the critique has been scattered. . . .
Writing Culture is the most important and sustained attempt to pass
beyond isolated gestures to a set of shared concerns. . . . In their explorations
of the ways in which ethnographic discourse is generated and sustained,
these essays raise important questions about other intellectual disciplines
and representational practices as well. " —Stephen G r e e n b l a t t
" T h e collection of essays is richly suggestive, regarding not only the cur­
rent condition of anthropology, but the condition of the entire span of
the 'human sciences' as well. . . . T h e book is certain to cause contro­
versy. . . . Humanists and social scientists alike will profit from reflection
on the efforts of the contributors to reimagine anthropology in terms,
not only of methodology, but also of politics, ethics, and historical
relevance. Every discipline in the human and social sciences could use
such a b o o k . " — H a y d e n W h i t e
" Writing Culture is the most thorough and penetrating interpretation to
date of ethnography as literature. . . . Social scientists of every persuasion
will want to thoroughly consider the ideas raised in Writing Culture; they
cannot afford the luxury of doing otherwise." —Jean-Paul D u m o n t
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
BERKELEY 94720
W h y have ethnographic accounts recently lost so
much of their authority? W h y were they ever
believable? W h o has the right to challenge an
"objective" cultural description? W a s Margaret
M e a d simply w r o n g about S a m o a as has recently
been claimed? O r w a s her i m a g e of a n exotic land
a partial truth reflecting the concerns of her time
and a complex encounter with Samoans? Are not
all ethnographies rhetorical performances deter­
m i n e d by the need to tell an effective story? C a n
the claims of ideology and desire ever b e fully
reconciled with the needs of theory a n d
observation?
T h e s e are s o m e of the questions raised by
Writing Culture, n e w essays by a group of experi­
enced ethnographers, a literary critic, and a
historian of anthropology. All the authors arc
known for advanced analytic work on ethno­
graphic writing. T h e i r preoccupation is both
theoretical and practical: they see the writing of
cultural accounts as a crucial form of knowl­
e d g e — t h e troubled, experimental knowledge of a
self in jeopardy a m o n g others.
T h e s e essays place ethnography at the center of
a n e w intersection of social history, interpretive
anthropology, travel writing, discourse theory, and
textual criticism. T h e y analyze classic examples of
cultural description, from G o e t h e and Catlin to
Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, and Le R o y
Ladurie, s h o w i n g the persistence of allegorical
patterns a n d rhetorical tropes. T h e y assess recent
experimental trends and explore the functions of
orality, ethnicity, and power in ethnographic
composition.
Writing Culture argues that ethnography is in the
midst of a political and epistemological crisis:
Western writers no longer portray non-Western
peoples with unchallenged authority; the process
of cultural representation is n o w inescapably con­
tingent, historical, and contestable. T h e essays in
this v o l u m e help us imagine a fully dialectical
ethnography acting powerfully in the postmodern
world system. T h e y challenge all writers in the
humanities and social sciences to rethink the
poetics and politics of cultural invention.
Writing Culture
Writing
Culture
T h e Poetics and Politics
of Ethnography
EDITED BY JAMES CLIFFORD
A N D G E O R G E E. M A R C U S
A School of American Research
Advanced Seminar
University o f California Press
BERKELEY
Stephen Tyler in the Field. Photography by Martha G, Tyler.
LOS
ANGELES
LONDON
Contents
Preface
JAMES
vii
CLIFFORD
Introduction: Partial Truths
MARY LOUISE
PRATT
Field work in Common Places
VINCENT
Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Main entry u n d e r title:
Writing Culture.
Seminar held in Santa Fe, N.M., April 1984.
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Ethnology—Authorship—Congresses.
2. Ethnology—Methodology—Congresses. I. Clifford, James,
1945II. Marcus, George E. III. School o f American
Research (Santa Fe, N.M.)
G N 3 0 7 . 7 . W 7 5 1986
306'.01'8
85-14860
ISBN 0-520-05729-5 (alk. paper)
RENATO
51
ROSALDO
From the Door of His Tent:
The Fieldworker and the Inquisitor
JAMES
27
CRAPANZANO
Hermes' Dilemma: The Masking of
Subversion in Ethnographic Description
University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California
University of California Press, Ltd.
L o n d o n , England
© 1986 by
T h e Regents of the University o f California
Printed in the United States of America
4 5 6 7 8 9
1
77
CLIFFORD
On Ethnographic Allegory
98
S T E P H E N A. TYLER
Post-Modern Ethnography:
From Document of the Occult
to Occult Document
TALAL
122
ASAD
The Concept of Cultural Translation
in British Social Anthropology
141
G E O R G E E. M A R C U S
Contemporary Problems of Ethnography
in the Modern World System
165
Contents
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts
of Memory
PAUL
194
Preface
RABINOW
Representations Are Social Facts:
Modernity and Post-Modernity in
Anthropology
234
GEORGE E. M A R C U S
Afterword: Ethnographic Writing and
Anthropological Careers
262
Bibliography
267
Notes on Contributors
295
Index
297
T h e s e essays are the p r o d u c t o f intensive discussions h e l d at
t h e S c h o o l o f A m e r i c a n R e s e a r c h in Santa Fe, N e w M e x i c o , d u r i n g
A p r i l 1 9 8 4 . F o l l o w i n g the school's f o r m a t for " a d v a n c e d s e m i n a r s , "
c o n v e r s a t i o n s c o n t i n u e d o v e r a w e e k , a n d the n u m b e r o f p a r t i c i p a n t s
was strictly l i m i t e d to ten. T h e g r o u p discussed p a p e r s c i r c u l a t e d in
a d v a n c e a n d e x p l o r e d a w i d e r a n g e o f topics r e l e v a n t to the seminar's
f o c u s o n "the m a k i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c texts." S o m e o f the p a r t i c i p a n t s
h a d b e e n r e c e n t i n n o v a t o r s in the w r i t i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y (Paul
Rabinow, V i n c e n t Crapanzano, Renato Rosaldo, Michael Fischer);
o t h e r s h a d b e e n systematically d e v e l o p i n g critiques o f its history,
r h e t o r i c , a n d c u r r e n t p r o s p e c t s (Mary L o u i s e Pratt, R o b e r t T h o r n t o n ,
Stephen Tyler, Talal Asad, G e o r g e Marcus, James Clifford). All w e r e
i n v o l v e d w i t h a d v a n c e d , o n g o i n g w o r k in textual criticism a n d c u l ­
t u r a l t h e o r y . E i g h t o f the ten participants h a d b a c k g r o u n d s in a n t h r o ­
p o l o g y , o n e in history, o n e in literary studies. T h e g r o u p ' s c e n t e r o f
g r a v i t y in o n e h e l d , c u l t u r a l a n t h r o p o l o g y , e n s u r e d a c o m m o n lan­
g u a g e a n d r a n g e o f r e f e r e n c e , t h u s a l l o w i n g the e x c h a n g e s to t a k e
p l a c e at a n a d v a n c e d level. B u t the seminar's s c o p e was interdisciplin­
ary. A l l t h e p a r t i c i p a n t s h a d q u e s t i o n e d disciplines a n d g e n r e s in t h e i r
r e c e n t w o r k , d r a w i n g as n e e d e d f r o m historical, literary, a n t h r o p o l o g ­
ical, political, a n d p h i l o s o p h i c a l s o u r c e s . M o r e i n f o r m a t i o n is c o n ­
t a i n e d in t h e " N o t e s o n C o n t r i b u t o r s " ( p p . 295—96 b e l o w ) , a n d the
v o l u m e ' s c o m m o n B i b l i o g r a p h y gives full citations o f r e l e v a n t w o r k s
by e a c h i n d i v i d u a l . O f the ten essays p r e s e n t e d at the s e m i n a r , n i n e
a r e i n c l u d e d h e r e . (For c o n t i n g e n t r e a s o n s , R o b e r t T h o r n t o n c o u l d
n o t r e v i s e his i n t i m e to m e e t t h e d e a d l i n e . )
B y l o o k i n g critically at o n e o f the p r i n c i p a l things e t h n o g r a p h e r s
do—that is, w r i t e — t h e s e m i n a r s o u g h t b o t h to r e i n t e r p r e t c u l t u r a l
a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s r e c e n t past a n d to o p e n u p its f u t u r e possibilities. B u t
w h i l e p u r s u i n g t e x t u a l a n d literary analyses, the s e m i n a r also c o n s i d ­
e r e d t h e limitations o f s u c h a p p r o a c h e s . S e v e r a l p a p e r s stressed, a n d
the d i s c u s s i o n s r e p e a t e d l y r e t u r n e d to, l a r g e r c o n t e x t s o f systematic
viii
Preface
p o w e r inequality, w o r l d - s y s t e m s constraints, a n d institutional f o r m a ­
tions t h a t c o u l d o n l y partly b e a c c o u n t e d f o r by a f o c u s o n t e x t u a l p r o ­
d u c t i o n . T h e s e m i n a r thus p u r s u e d a limited set o f e m p h a s e s selfcritically in a n a t t e m p t to c o m e to t e r m s with the politics a n d p o e t i c s
o f c u l t u r a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . For a fuller a c c o u n t o f the S a n t a Fe discus­
sions ( i n c l u d i n g topics that h a v e n o t f o u n d their w a y into this v o l u m e ) ,
see t h e r e p o r t p u b l i s h e d in Current Anthropology 26 ( A p r i l 1 9 8 5 ) :
2 6 7 — 7 1 . S o m e o f the m o r e blatant exclusions p r o d u c e d by the o r g a ­
n i z a t i o n a n d f o c u s o f the s e m i n a r are discussed t h e r e , as well as in the
I n t r o d u c t i o n that i m m e d i a t e l y follows this P r e f a c e .
T h e essays in this v o l u m e a r e all revised versions o f the w o r k i n g
p a p e r s p r e s e n t e d at t h e s e m i n a r . S o m e are n o w quite d i f f e r e n t . A s
e d i t o r s w e h a v e n o t p r o d d e d t h e m t o w a r d thematic unity o r tried to
c o n t r i v e artificial " c o n v e r s a t i o n s " b e t w e e n t h e m . R e a d e r s will d o u b t ­
less find friction as well as a g r e e m e n t . N o r h a v e w e tried to i m p o s e a
u n i f o r m i t y o f style o n the essays; o n the c o n t r a r y , w e h a v e e n c o u r a g e d
diversity. T h e s e q u e n t i a l o r d e r i n g o f the v o l u m e ' s parts d o e s n o t h o l d
a n y g r e a t significance. T h e r e is a g e n e r a l p r o g r e s s i o n f r o m studies
w i t h a literary b e n t t o w a r d t h o s e that question this emphasis—for e x ­
ample, R a b i n o w ' s critical framing o f the entire "textualist" approach.
T h e essays t e n d , also, to move from r e t r o s p e c t i v e critiques o f e t h n o ­
graphic c o n v e n t i o n s to discussions o f c u r r e n t possibilities f o r e x p e r i ­
m e n t a l w o r k . B y this logic, T y l e r ' s e v o c a t i o n o f a " p o s t - m o d e r n e t h ­
n o g r a p h y " m i g h t h a v e b e e n p l a c e d at the e n d . B u t in fact his essay
l o o k s to p r e - m o d e r n s o u r c e s for the p o s t - m o d e r n a n d is g e n e r a l l y u n classifiable. W e d i d n o t wish to leave the i m p r e s s i o n that the v o l u m e as
a w h o l e points in any Utopian o r p r o p h e t i c d i r e c t i o n .
A s e d i t o r s , w e w o u l d particularly like to t h a n k the s e m i n a r partici­
p a n t s f o r t h e i r c o o p e r a t i o n a n d g o o d h u m o r ; the S c h o o l o f A m e r i c a n
R e s e a r c h (notably its president, D o u g l a s S c h w a r t z , a n d its d i r e c t o r o f
p u b l i c a t i o n s , J a n e K e p p ) for hospitality a n d e n c o u r a g e m e n t ; the H u ­
manities D i v i s i o n at the U n i v e r s i t y o f C a l i f o r n i a , Santa C r u z ; a n d es­
pecially B a r b a r a P o d r a t z , with the h e l p o f M a r g i W a l d , at R i c e U n i ­
versity, f o r assistance in p r e p a r i n g the m a n u s c r i p t . A t the U n i v e r s i t y
o f C a l i f o r n i a Press, N a o m i S c h n e i d e r a n d J a m e s C l a r k o f f e r e d e d i ­
torial h e l p a n d e n c o u r a g e m e n t . W e are grateful, also, to m o r e t h a n a
few p r e s s a n d n o n p r e s s r e a d e r s o f the m a n u s c r i p t , n o t o n l y f o r t h e i r
specific s u g g e s t i o n s , b u t especially f o r their g e n e r a l e n t h u s i a s m . T h e y
c o n f i r m e d o u r h o p e that the b o o k w o u l d strike an i m p o r t a n t , c o n t r o ­
versial c h o r d in all those fields w h e r e e t h n o g r a p h y a n d c u l t u r a l criti­
cism are b e c o m i n g i m p o r t a n t . M a n y o f these r e a d e r s a r e fully as quali­
fied to c o n t r i b u t e to a v o l u m e o n this topic as are the ten i n d i v i d u a l s
w h o g a t h e r e d at Santa Fe. T h e questions raised in t h e p a g e s that: fol-
Preface
ix
low a r e b e i n g w i d e l y d e b a t e d ; w e d i d not i n v e n t t h e m . W e trust t h a t
t h o s e w h o h a v e a l r e a d y c o n t r i b u t e d to the d e b a t e will find t h e m s e l v e s
a p p r o p r i a t e l y t h a n k e d , o r at least e n g a g e d .
Finally, as a n I n v o c a t i o n , w e offer the f o l l o w i n g verses c o m p o s e d
in m o c k d e s p a i r by o u r first editorial r e a d e r , J a n e K e p p , d i c t i o n a r y
in h a n d .
The Hermeneut's Dilemma, or, A Jargon Poem
Twas prelapsarian, and the hermeneut
Sat h u d d l e d with his faithful trope,
Sunk in thaumasmus, idly strumming his lute,
Lost in subversion with nary a hope.
T h e n with heartfelt apoplanesis h e cried,
O come, interlocutor, give m e your ear!
In my pathopoeia I've slandered and lied;
N o w o f my grim project this discourse you'll hear.
I've dabbled in vile phenomenological rites,
A n d j o i n e d in a secret synecdoche,
Squandered my received knowledge in bibulous nights,
A n d embraced epistemologica! heresy.
O, but n o w my metonymy is t o o great t o bear!
This ecphonesis has become too deictic to hide!
I've lost all the poesis I once held so dear . . .
A n d , with typical hypotyposis, he died.
James Clifford
University of California,
G e o r g e E. Marcus
Rice University
Santa
Cruz
JAMES CLIFFORD
Introduction: Partial Truths
Interdisciplinary
work, so much discussed these days, is not
about confronting
already constituted disciplines (none of
which, in fact, is willing to let itself go). To do something
in­
terdisciplinary
it's not enough to choose a "subject" (a theme)
and gather around it two or three sciences.
Interdisciplinary
consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one.
R O L A N D B A R T H E S , "Jeunes Chercheurs"
You'll need more tables than you
think.
E L E N O R E S M I T H B O W E N , advice for fieldworkers,
in Return to Laughter
O u r frontispiece s h o w s S t e p h e n T y l e r , o n e o f this v o l u m e ' s
c o n t r i b u t o r s , at w o r k in I n d i a in 1 9 6 3 . T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is a b s o r b e d
in w r i t i n g — t a k i n g dictation? fleshing o u t an i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ? r e c o r d ­
i n g a n i m p o r t a n t o b s e r v a t i o n ? d a s h i n g o f f a p o e m ? H u n c h e d o v e r in
t h e h e a t , h e has d r a p e d a w e t cloth o v e r his glasses. H i s e x p r e s s i o n is
o b s c u r e d . A n i n t e r l o c u t o r l o o k s o v e r his s h o u l d e r — w i t h b o r e d o m ?
p a t i e n c e ? a m u s e m e n t ? In this i m a g e the e t h n o g r a p h e r h o v e r s at t h e
e d g e o f t h e f r a m e — f a c e l e s s , almost extraterrestrial, a h a n d t h a t
w r i t e s . It is n o t the usual portrait o f a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l fieldwork. W e a r e
m o r e a c c u s t o m e d to pictures o f M a r g a r e t M e a d e x u b e r a n t l y p l a y i n g
w i t h c h i l d r e n in M a n u s o r q u e s t i o n i n g villagers in Bali. Participanto b s e r v a t i o n , t h e classic f o r m u l a for e t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k , leaves little
r o o m f o r texts. B u t still, s o m e w h e r e lost in his a c c o u n t o f h e l d w o r k
a m o n g t h e M b u t i p y g m i e s — r u n n i n g a l o n g j u n g l e paths, sitting u p at
n i g h t s i n g i n g , s l e e p i n g in a c r o w d e d leaf h u t — C o l i n T u r n b u l l m e n ­
tions that h e l u g g e d a r o u n d a t y p e w r i t e r .
I n B r o n i s l a w Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific, w h e r e a
p h o t o g r a p h o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s tent a m o n g K i r i w i n a n d w e l l i n g s is
p r o m i n e n t l y d i s p l a y e d , t h e r e is n o r e v e l a t i o n o f the tent's interior. B u t
in a n o t h e r p h o t o , carefully p o s e d , M a l i n o w s k i r e c o r d e d h i m s e l f writ-
JAMES CLIFFORD
2
i n g at a table. ( T h e tent flaps are p u l l e d b a c k ; h e sits in p r o h l e , a n d
s o m e T r o b r i a n d e r s stand o u t s i d e , o b s e r v i n g the c u r i o u s rite.) T h i s r e ­
m a r k a b l e p i c t u r e w a s only p u b l i s h e d two years a g o — a s i g n o f o u r
times, n o t his. W e b e g i n , n o t with p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n o r w i t h cul­
t u r a l texts (suitable f o r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ) , b u t with w r i t i n g , the m a k i n g
o f texts. N o l o n g e r a m a r g i n a l , o r o c c u l t e d , d i m e n s i o n , w r i t i n g has
e m e r g e d as c e n t r a l to w h a t a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s d o b o t h in the h e l d a n d
t h e r e a f t e r . T h e fact that it has n o t until recently b e e n p o r t r a y e d o r
s e r i o u s l y d i s c u s s e d reflects the persistence o f an i d e o l o g y c l a i m i n g
transparency o f representation and immediacy o f experience. Writ­
i n g r e d u c e d to m e t h o d : k e e p i n g g o o d field notes, m a k i n g a c c u r a t e
m a p s , " w r i t i n g u p " results.
1
T h e essays collected h e r e assert that this i d e o l o g y has c r u m b l e d .
T h e y see c u l t u r e as c o m p o s e d o f seriously c o n t e s t e d c o d e s a n d r e p r e ­
s e n t a t i o n s ; they a s s u m e that the poetic a n d the political a r e i n s e p a r ­
a b l e , t h a t science is in, n o t a b o v e , historical a n d linguistic p r o c e s s e s .
T h e y a s s u m e that a c a d e m i c a n d literary g e n r e s i n t e r p e n e t r a t e a n d
t h a t the w r i t i n g o f c u l t u r a l descriptions is p r o p e r l y e x p e r i m e n t a l a n d
ethical. T h e i r f o c u s o n text m a k i n g a n d rhetoric serves to h i g h l i g h t
t h e c o n s t r u c t e d , artificial n a t u r e o f cultural a c c o u n t s . It u n d e r m i n e s
o v e r l y t r a n s p a r e n t m o d e s o f authority, a n d it d r a w s a t t e n t i o n to the
historical p r e d i c a m e n t o f e t h n o g r a p h y , the fact that it is always c a u g h t
u p in t h e i n v e n t i o n , n o t the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , o f c u l t u r e s ( W a g n e r
1 9 7 5 ) . A s will s o o n be a p p a r e n t , the r a n g e o f issues raised is n o t liter­
ary in a n y traditional sense. M o s t o f the essays, w h i l e f o c u s i n g o n t e x ­
t u a l p r a c t i c e s , r e a c h b e y o n d texts to c o n t e x t s o f p o w e r , resistance, in­
stitutional constraint, a n d i n n o v a t i o n .
E t h n o g r a p h y ' s tradition is that o f H e r o d o t u s a n d o f M o n t e s q u i e u ' s
Persian. It l o o k s o b l i q u e l y at all collective a r r a n g e m e n t s , distant o r
n e a r b y . It m a k e s the familiar s t r a n g e , the exotic q u o t i d i a n . E t h n o g ­
r a p h y cultivates a n e n g a g e d clarity like that u r g e d by V i r g i n i a W o o l f :
" L e t us n e v e r cease f r o m t h i n k i n g — w h a t is this 'civilization' in w h i c h
w e find o u r s e l v e s ? W h a t are these c e r e m o n i e s a n d w h y s h o u l d w e t a k e
p a r t in t h e m ? W h a t are these professions a n d w h y s h o u l d w e m a k e
m o n e y o u t o f t h e m ? W h e r e in short is it l e a d i n g us, the p r o c e s s i o n o f
t h e sons o f e d u c a t e d m e n ? " ( 1 9 3 6 : 6 2 - 6 3 ) . E t h n o g r a p h y is actively
situated between p o w e r f u l systems o f m e a n i n g . It poses its q u e s t i o n s at
the b o u n d a r i e s o f civilizations, cultures, classes, races, a n d g e n d e r s .
E t h n o g r a p h y d e c o d e s a n d r e c o d e s , telling the g r o u n d s o f collective
o r d e r a n d diversity, inclusion a n d e x c l u s i o n . It describes p r o c e s s e s o f
1. Malinowski 1 9 6 1 : 1 7 . T h e photograph inside the tent was published in 1983 by
George Stocking in History of Anthropology 1: 101. This volume contains other telling
scenes o f ethnographic writing.
Introduction
3
i n n o v a t i o n a n d structuration, a n d is itself p a r t o f these p r o c e s s e s .
E t h n o g r a p h y is an e m e r g e n t interdisciplinary p h e n o m e n o n . Its
a u t h o r i t y a n d r h e t o r i c h a v e s p r e a d to m a n y fields w h e r e " c u l t u r e " is
a n e w l y p r o b l e m a t i c object o f d e s c r i p t i o n a n d critique. T h e p r e s e n t
b o o k , t h o u g h b e g i n n i n g with fieldwork a n d its texts, o p e n s o n t o t h e
w i d e r practice o f w r i t i n g a b o u t , against, a n d a m o n g c u l t u r e s . T h i s
b l u r r e d p u r v i e w i n c l u d e s , to n a m e only a few d e v e l o p i n g p e r s p e c ­
tives, historical e t h n o g r a p h y ( E m m a n u e l L e R o y L a d u r i e , Natalie
D a v i s , C a r l o G i n z b u r g ) , c u l t u r a l poetics ( S t e p h e n G r e e n b l a t t ) , c u l t u r a l
criticism ( H a y d e n W h i t e , E d w a r d Said, Fredric J a m e s o n ) , the analysis
o f implicit k n o w l e d g e a n d e v e r y d a y practices (Pierre B o u r d i e u , M i c h e l
d e C e r t e a u ) , the critique o f h e g e m o n i c structures o f f e e l i n g ( R a y m o n d
W i l l i a m s ) , t h e s t u d y o f scientific c o m m u n i t i e s ( f o l l o w i n g T h o m a s
K u h n ) , t h e semiotics o f exotic w o r l d s a n d fantastic spaces ( T z v e t a n
T o d o r o v , L o u i s M a r i n ) , a n d all those studies that f o c u s o n m e a n i n g
s y s t e m s , d i s p u t e d traditions, o r c u l t u r a l artifacts.
T h i s c o m p l e x interdisciplinary a r e a , a p p r o a c h e d h e r e f r o m the
s t a r t i n g p o i n t o f a crisis in a n t h r o p o l o g y , is c h a n g i n g a n d d i v e r s e .
T h u s I d o n o t w a n t to i m p o s e a false unity o n the e x p l o r a t o r y essays
t h a t follow. T h o u g h s h a r i n g a g e n e r a l s y m p a t h y for a p p r o a c h e s c o m ­
b i n i n g p o e t i c s , politics, a n d history, they frequently d i s a g r e e . M a n y
o f t h e c o n t r i b u t i o n s fuse literary t h e o r y a n d e t h n o g r a p h y . S o m e
p r o b e t h e limits o f s u c h a p p r o a c h e s , stressing the d a n g e r s o f estheticism a n d the constraints o f institutional p o w e r . O t h e r s enthusiastically
a d v o c a t e e x p e r i m e n t a l f o r m s o f w r i t i n g . B u t in their d i f f e r e n t ways
t h e y all a n a l y z e past a n d p r e s e n t practices o u t o f a c o m m i t m e n t to fu­
t u r e possibilities. T h e y see e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g as c h a n g i n g , i n v e n ­
tive: " H i s t o r y , " in W i l l i a m C a r l o s Williams's w o r d s , "that s h o u l d b e a
left h a n d to us, as o f a violinist."
" L i t e r a r y " a p p r o a c h e s h a v e recently e n j o y e d s o m e p o p u l a r i t y
in t h e h u m a n sciences. In a n t h r o p o l o g y influential writers s u c h as
Clifford Geertz, Victor T u r n e r , Mary Douglas, Claude Lévi-Strauss,
J e a n D u v i g n a u d , a n d E d m u n d L e a c h , to m e n t i o n only a few, h a v e
s h o w n a n i n t e r e s t in literary t h e o r y a n d practice. I n their quite differ­
e n t w a y s t h e y h a v e b l u r r e d the b o u n d a r y s e p a r a t i n g art f r o m s c i e n c e .
N o r is t h e i r s a n e w attraction. Malinowski's a u t h o r i a l identifications
( C o n r a d , F r a z e r ) a r e well k n o w n . M a r g a r e t M e a d , E d w a r d S a p i r ,
a n d R u t h B e n e d i c t saw t h e m s e l v e s as b o t h a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s a n d liter­
ary artists. I n Paris s u r r e a l i s m a n d professional e t h n o g r a p h y r e g u ­
larly e x c h a n g e d b o t h ideas a n d p e r s o n n e l . B u t until recently literary
i n f l u e n c e s h a v e b e e n h e l d at a distance f r o m the " r i g o r o u s " c o r e o f
JAMES CLIFFORD
4
t h e discipline. S a p i r a n d B e n e d i c t h a d , after all, to h i d e their p o e t r y
f r o m t h e scientific g a z e o f F r a n z B o a s . A n d t h o u g h e t h n o g r a p h e r s
h a v e o f t e n b e e n c a l l e d novelists m a n q u é (especially t h o s e w h o w r i t e a
little t o o well), the n o t i o n that literary p r o c e d u r e s p e r v a d e a n y w o r k
o f c u l t u r a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is a r e c e n t i d e a in the discipline. T o a g r o w ­
i n g n u m b e r , h o w e v e r , t h e "literariness" o f a n t h r o p o l o g y — a n d e s p e ­
cially o f e t h n o g r a p h y — a p p e a r s as m u c h m o r e t h a n a m a t t e r o f g o o d
w r i t i n g o r distinctive style. L i t e r a r y p r o c e s s e s — m e t a p h o r ,
figuration,
n a r r a t i v e — a f f e c t the ways c u l t u r a l p h e n o m e n a are r e g i s t e r e d , f r o m
t h e first j o t t e d " o b s e r v a t i o n s , " to the c o m p l e t e d b o o k , to the w a y s
t h e s e c o n f i g u r a t i o n s " m a k e sense" in d e t e r m i n e d acts o f r e a d i n g .
2
3
It h a s l o n g b e e n asserted that scientific a n t h r o p o l o g y is also a n
"art," t h a t e t h n o g r a p h i e s h a v e literary qualities. W e o f t e n h e a r that a n
a u t h o r writes w i t h style, that certain d e s c r i p t i o n s a r e vivid o r c o n v i n c ­
i n g ( s h o u l d n o t e v e r y a c c u r a t e d e s c r i p t i o n b e c o n v i n c i n g ? ) . A w o r k is
d e e m e d e v o c a t i v e o r artfully c o m p o s e d in a d d i t i o n to b e i n g f a c t u a l ;
e x p r e s s i v e , r h e t o r i c a l functions are c o n c e i v e d as d e c o r a t i v e o r m e r e l y
as w a y s to p r e s e n t an objective analysis o r d e s c r i p t i o n m o r e effectively.
T h u s t h e facts o f t h e m a t t e r m a y be k e p t separate, at least in p r i n c i p l e ,
f r o m t h e i r m e a n s o f c o m m u n i c a t i o n . B u t the literary o r r h e t o r i c a l di­
m e n s i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h y c a n n o l o n g e r b e so easily c o m p a r t m e n t a l ­
i z e d . T h e y a r e active at e v e r y level o f cultural science. I n d e e d , the v e r y
n o t i o n o f a "literary" a p p r o a c h to a discipline, " a n t h r o p o l o g y , " is seri­
ously misleading.
T h e p r e s e n t essays d o n o t r e p r e s e n t a t e n d e n c y o r p e r s p e c t i v e
w i t h i n a c o h e r e n t " a n t h r o p o l o g y " (pace W o l f 1980). T h e " f o u r - f i e l d "
d e f i n i t i o n o f the discipline, o f w h i c h B o a s was p e r h a p s t h e last vir­
t u o s o , i n c l u d e d p h y s i c a l (or biological) a n t h r o p o l o g y , a r c h a e o l o g y , cul­
t u r a l (or social) a n t h r o p o l o g y , a n d linguistics. Few today c a n s e r i o u s l y
c l a i m t h a t these fields share a unified a p p r o a c h o r object, t h o u g h t h e
d r e a m persists, t h a n k s l a r g e l y to institutional a r r a n g e m e n t s . T h e es­
says in this v o l u m e o c c u p y a n e w space o p e n e d u p by t h e d i s i n t e g r a ­
t i o n o f " M a n " as telos f o r a w h o l e discipline, a n d t h e y d r a w o n r e c e n t
d e v e l o p m e n t s i n the fields o f textual criticism, c u l t u r a l history, s e m i o ­
tics, h e r m e n e u t i c p h i l o s o p h y , a n d psychoanalysis. S o m e y e a r s a g o , in
2. A partial list o f works exploring this expanded field of the "literary" in anthro­
pology includes (not mentioning contributors to the present volume): Boon 1972,
1977, 1982; Geertz 1973, 1983; Turner 1974, 1975; Fernandez 1974; Diamond 1974;
Duvignaud 1970, 1973; Favret-Saada 1980; Favret-Saada and Contreras 1981; D u m o n t
1978; Tedlock 1983; Jamin 1979, 1980, 1985; Webster 1982; T h o r n t o n 1983, 1984.
3. See the work o f Hayden White (1973, 1978) for a tropological theory of "pre­
figured" realities; also Latour and Woolgar (1979) for a view o f scientific activity as
"inscription."
Introduction
5
a t r e n c h a n t essay, R o d n e y N e e d h a m s u r v e y e d the theoretical i n c o h e r ­
e n c e , t a n g l e d roots, impossible b e d f e l l o w s , a n d d i v e r g e n t specializa­
tions that s e e m e d to be l e a d i n g to a c a d e m i c a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s intellectual
d i s i n t e g r a t i o n . H e s u g g e s t e d with ironic e q u a n i m i t y t h a t t h e field
m i g h t s o o n b e r e d i s t r i b u t e d a m o n g a variety o f n e i g h b o r i n g disci­
plines. A n t h r o p o l o g y in its p r e s e n t f o r m w o u l d u n d e r g o "an irides­
c e n t m e t a m o r p h o s i s " ( 1 9 7 0 : 4 6 ) . T h e p r e s e n t essays a r e p a r t o f t h e
metamorphosis.
B u t i f t h e y are p o s t - a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l , they a r e also post-literary.
Michel Foucault (1973), Michel de Certeau (1983), and T e r r y Eagleton
( 1 9 8 3 ) h a v e r e c e n t l y a r g u e d that "literature" itself is a t r a n s i e n t cate­
g o r y . S i n c e t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , they s u g g e s t , W e s t e r n science has
e x c l u d e d c e r t a i n e x p r e s s i v e m o d e s f r o m its legitimate r e p e r t o i r e :
r h e t o r i c (in t h e n a m e o f "plain," t r a n s p a r e n t signification), fiction (in
t h e n a m e o f fact), a n d subjectivity (in the n a m e o f objectivity). T h e
q u a l i t i e s e l i m i n a t e d f r o m science w e r e localized in t h e c a t e g o r y o f "lit­
e r a t u r e . " L i t e r a r y texts w e r e d e e m e d to be m e t a p h o r i c a n d a l l e g o r i ­
cal, c o m p o s e d o f i n v e n t i o n s r a t h e r t h a n o b s e r v e d facts; they a l l o w e d a
w i d e l a t i t u d e to the e m o t i o n s , speculations, a n d subjective " g e n i u s " o f
t h e i r a u t h o r s . D e C e r t e a u notes that the fictions o f literary l a n g u a g e
w e r e scientifically c o n d e m n e d (and esthetically a p p r e c i a t e d ) f o r lack­
i n g " u n i v o c i t y , " the p u r p o r t e d l y u n a m b i g u o u s a c c o u n t i n g o f n a t u r a l
s c i e n c e a n d p r o f e s s i o n a l history. In this s c h e m a , the d i s c o u r s e o f liter­
a t u r e a n d fiction is i n h e r e n t l y unstable; it "plays o n the stratification
o f m e a n i n g ; it n a r r a t e s o n e t h i n g in o r d e r to tell s o m e t h i n g e l s e ; it
d e l i n e a t e s itself in a l a n g u a g e f r o m w h i c h it c o n t i n u o u s l y d r a w s
effects o f m e a n i n g t h a t c a n n o t b e c i r c u m s c r i b e d o r c h e c k e d " ( 1 9 8 3 :
128). T h i s d i s c o u r s e , r e p e a t e d l y b a n i s h e d f r o m science, b u t w i t h u n ­
e v e n success, is i n c u r a b l y figurative a n d p o l y s e m o u s . ( W h e n e v e r its
effects b e g i n to b e felt too o p e n l y , a scientific t e x t will a p p e a r "liter­
a r y " ; it will s e e m to be u s i n g too m a n y m e t a p h o r s , to be r e l y i n g o n
style, e v o c a t i o n , a n d so o n . )
4
B y the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , literature h a d e m e r g e d as a b o u r g e o i s
institution closely allied with " c u l t u r e " a n d "art." R a y m o n d W i l l i a m s
( 1 9 6 6 ) s h o w s h o w this special, r e f i n e d sensibility f u n c t i o n e d as a k i n d
o f c o u r t o f a p p e a l s in r e s p o n s e to the p e r c e i v e d dislocations a n d v u l ­
g a r i t y o f i n d u s t r i a l , class society. L i t e r a t u r e a n d art w e r e , in effect, cir4. "It might be objected that figurative style is not the only style, or even the only
poetic style, and that rhetoric also takes cognizance o f what is called simple style. But in
fact this is merely a less decorated style, or rather, a style decorated more simply, and it,
too, like the lyric and the epic, has its own special figures. A style in which figure is
strictly absent does not exist," writes Gérard Genette (1982 :47).
6
J A M E S CLIFFORD
c u m s c r i b e d z o n e s in w h i c h nonutilitarian, " h i g h e r " v a l u e s w e r e m a i n ­
t a i n e d . A t t h e s a m e t i m e they w e r e d o m a i n s for the p l a y i n g o u t o f
e x p e r i m e n t a l , a v a n t - g a r d e transgressions. S e e n in this light, t h e i d e o ­
logical f o r m a t i o n s o f art a n d c u l t u r e h a v e n o essential o r e t e r n a l sta­
tus. T h e y a r e c h a n g i n g a n d contestable, like t h e special r h e t o r i c o f
" l i t e r a t u r e . " T h e essays that follow d o not, in fact, a p p e a l to a literary
p r a c t i c e m a r k e d o f f in an esthetic, creative, o r h u m a n i z i n g d o m a i n .
T h e y s t r u g g l e , in their d i f f e r e n t ways, against the r e c e i v e d definitions
o f art, l i t e r a t u r e , s c i e n c e , a n d history. A n d if they s o m e t i m e s s u g g e s t
t h a t e t h n o g r a p h y is an "art," they r e t u r n the w o r d to a n o l d e r u s a g e —
b e f o r e it h a d b e c o m e associated with a h i g h e r o r r e b e l l i o u s sensibil­
i t y — t o the e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y m e a n i n g Williams recalls: art as t h e
skillful f a s h i o n i n g o f useful artifacts. T h e m a k i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y is
artisanal, tied t o t h e w o r l d l y w o r k o f w r i t i n g .
E t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g is d e t e r m i n e d in at least six ways: (1) c o n t e x t u a l l y (it d r a w s f r o m a n d creates m e a n i n g f u l social m i l i e u x ) ; (2)
r h e t o r i c a l l y (it uses a n d is u s e d by e x p r e s s i v e c o n v e n t i o n s ) ; (3) institu­
tionally ( o n e writes within, a n d against, specific traditions, disciplines,
a u d i e n c e s ) ; (4) g e n e r i c a l l y (an e t h n o g r a p h y is usually d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e
f r o m a n o v e l o r a travel a c c o u n t ) ; (5) politically (the a u t h o r i t y to r e p ­
r e s e n t c u l t u r a l realities is u n e q u a l l y s h a r e d a n d at times c o n t e s t e d ) ;
(6) historically (all t h e a b o v e c o n v e n t i o n s a n d constraints a r e c h a n g ­
i n g ) . T h e s e d e t e r m i n a t i o n s g o v e r n the inscription o f c o h e r e n t e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c fictions.
T o call e t h n o g r a p h i e s fictions m a y raise empiricist h a c k l e s . B u t
t h e w o r d as c o m m o n l y u s e d in r e c e n t t e x t u a l t h e o r y has lost its c o n ­
n o t a t i o n o f f a l s e h o o d , o f s o m e t h i n g m e r e l y o p p o s e d to t r u t h . It s u g ­
gests the partiality o f cultural a n d historical truths, the ways t h e y are
systematic a n d e x c l u s i v e . E t h n o g r a p h i c writings c a n p r o p e r l y b e
c a l l e d fictions in t h e sense o f " s o m e t h i n g m a d e o r f a s h i o n e d , " t h e
p r i n c i p a l b u r d e n o f the word's L a t i n root, fingere. B u t it is i m p o r t a n t
to p r e s e r v e t h e m e a n i n g n o t m e r e l y o f m a k i n g , b u t also o f m a k i n g u p ,
o f i n v e n t i n g t h i n g s n o t actually r e a l . (Fingere, in s o m e o f its uses, i m ­
p l i e d a d e g r e e o f f a l s e h o o d . ) I n t e r p r e t i v e social scientists h a v e r e ­
cently c o m e to view g o o d e t h n o g r a p h i e s as "true fictions," b u t u s u a l l y
at t h e cost o f w e a k e n i n g the o x y m o r o n , r e d u c i n g it to the b a n a l c l a i m
t h a t all t r u t h s are c o n s t r u c t e d . T h e essays collected h e r e k e e p t h e o x y ­
m o r o n sharp. For example, Vincent C r a p a n z a n o portrays ethnog­
r a p h e r s as tricksters, p r o m i s i n g , like H e r m e s , n o t to lie, b u t n e v e r u n ­
d e r t a k i n g to tell the w h o l e t r u t h either. T h e i r rhetoric e m p o w e r s and
subverts t h e i r m e s s a g e . O t h e r essays r e i n f o r c e t h e p o i n t by stressing
t h a t c u l t u r a l fictions are b a s e d on systematic, a n d c o n t e s t a b l e , e x c l u ­
sions. T h e s e m a y i n v o l v e silencing i n c o n g r u e n t voices ( " T w o C r o w s
Introduction
7
d e n i e s it!") o r d e p l o y i n g a consistent m a n n e r o f q u o t i n g , " s p e a k i n g
f o r , " t r a n s l a t i n g the reality o f o t h e r s . P u r p o r t e d l y i r r e l e v a n t p e r s o n a l
o r historical c i r c u m s t a n c e s will also be e x c l u d e d ( o n e c a n n o t tell all).
M o r e o v e r , the m a k e r (but w h y only one?) o f e t h n o g r a p h i c texts c a n ­
n o t a v o i d e x p r e s s i v e t r o p e s , figures, a n d a l l e g o r i e s t h a t select a n d i m ­
p o s e m e a n i n g as they translate it. In this view, m o r e N i e t z s c h e a n t h a n
realist o r h e r m e n e u t i c , all c o n s t r u c t e d truths a r e m a d e possible b y
p o w e r f u l "lies" o f e x c l u s i o n a n d r h e t o r i c . E v e n t h e b e s t e t h n o g r a p h i c
t e x t s — s e r i o u s , t r u e fictions—are systems, o r e c o n o m i e s , o f t r u t h .
P o w e r a n d history w o r k t h r o u g h t h e m , in ways their a u t h o r s c a n n o t
fully c o n t r o l .
E t h n o g r a p h i c t r u t h s are t h u s i n h e r e n t l y partial—committed
and
i n c o m p l e t e . T h i s p o i n t is n o w w i d e l y a s s e r t e d — a n d resisted at strate­
gic p o i n t s b y t h o s e w h o fear the collapse o f clear s t a n d a r d s o f verifica­
tion. B u t o n c e a c c e p t e d a n d built into e t h n o g r a p h i c art, a r i g o r o u s
sense o f partiality c a n be a s o u r c e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l tact. A r e c e n t
w o r k by R i c h a r d Price, First-Time: The Historical Vision of an AfroAmerican People ( 1 9 8 3 ) , offers a g o o d e x a m p l e o f self-conscious, se­
r i o u s partiality. Price r e c o u n t s the specific c o n d i t i o n s o f his fieldwork
a m o n g the S a r a m a k a s , a M a r o o n society o f S u r i n a m e . W e l e a r n a b o u t
e x t e r n a l a n d s e l f - i m p o s e d limits to the r e s e a r c h , a b o u t i n d i v i d u a l in­
f o r m a n t s , a n d a b o u t the c o n s t r u c t i o n o f the final w r i t t e n artifact.
( T h e b o o k a v o i d s a s m o o t h e d - o v e r , m o n o l o g i c a l f o r m , p r e s e n t i n g it­
self as literally p i e c e d - t o g e t h e r , full o f holes.) First-Time is e v i d e n c e o f
the fact that a c u t e political a n d e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l self-consciousness
n e e d n o t l e a d to e t h n o g r a p h i c self-absorption, o r to t h e c o n c l u s i o n
t h a t it is i m p o s s i b l e to k n o w a n y t h i n g certain a b o u t o t h e r p e o p l e .
R a t h e r , it l e a d s to a c o n c r e t e sense o f w h y a S a r a m a k a folktale, fea­
t u r e d by Price, t e a c h e s that " k n o w l e d g e is p o w e r , a n d that o n e m u s t
n e v e r r e v e a l all o f w h a t o n e k n o w s " ( 1 9 8 3 : 1 4 ) .
A c o m p l e x t e c h n i q u e o f r e v e l a t i o n a n d secrecy g o v e r n s t h e c o m ­
munication (reinvention) o f "First-Time" k n o w l e d g e , lore about the
society's c r u c i a l s t r u g g l e s for survival in the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y . U s i n g
t e c h n i q u e s o f d e l i b e r a t e frustration, digression, a n d i n c o m p l e t e n e s s ,
o l d m e n i m p a r t t h e i r historical k n o w l e d g e to y o u n g e r k i n s m e n , pref­
e r a b l y at c o c k ' s c r o w , the h o u r b e f o r e d a w n . T h e s e strategies o f el­
lipsis, c o n c e a l m e n t , a n d partial disclosure d e t e r m i n e e t h n o g r a p h i c
r e l a t i o n s as m u c h as they d o the transmission o f stories b e t w e e n g e n ­
e r a t i o n s . P r i c e has to a c c e p t t h e p a r a d o x i c a l fact t h a t " a n y S a r a m a k a
n a r r a t i v e ( i n c l u d i n g those told at cock's c r o w with the ostensible i n t e n t
o f c o m m u n i c a t i n g k n o w l e d g e ) will leave o u t m o s t o f w h a t the teller
k n o w s a b o u t t h e i n c i d e n t in q u e s t i o n . A person's k n o w l e d g e is s u p ­
p o s e d to g r o w o n l y in small i n c r e m e n t s , a n d in any a s p e c t o f life
8
J A M E S CLIFFORD
p e o p l e a r e d e l i b e r a t e l y told o n l y a little bit m o r e t h a n the s p e a k e r
t h i n k s t h e y a l r e a d y k n o w " (10).
It s o o n b e c o m e s a p p a r e n t that t h e r e is n o " c o m p l e t e " c o r p u s o f
F i r s t - T i m e k n o w l e d g e , that n o o n e — l e a s t o f all the visiting e t h n o g ­
r a p h e r — c a n k n o w this l o r e e x c e p t t h r o u g h an o p e n - e n d e d series o f
c o n t i n g e n t , p o w e r - l a d e n e n c o u n t e r s . "It is a c c e p t e d t h a t d i f f e r e n t
S a r a m a k a historians will h a v e different versions, a n d it is u p to t h e
l i s t e n e r to p i e c e t o g e t h e r f o r h i m s e l f the v e r s i o n o f a n e v e n t that h e ,
f o r t h e t i m e b e i n g , a c c e p t s " (28). T h o u g h Price, the s c r u p u l o u s fieldw o r k e r a n d historian, a r m e d with w r i t i n g , has g a t h e r e d a t e x t t h a t
s u r p a s s e s in e x t e n t w h a t i n d i v i d u a l s k n o w o r tell, it still " r e p r e s e n t s
o n l y t h e tip o f t h e i c e b e r g that S a r a m a k a s collectively p r e s e r v e a b o u t
F i r s t - T i m e " (25).
T h e ethical q u e s t i o n s raised b y f o r m i n g a w r i t t e n a r c h i v e o f se­
cret, o r a l l o r e are c o n s i d e r a b l e , a n d Price wrestles with t h e m o p e n l y .
Part o f his s o l u t i o n has b e e n to u n d e r m i n e the c o m p l e t e n e s s o f his
o w n a c c o u n t (but n o t its seriousness) by p u b l i s h i n g a b o o k that is
a series o f f r a g m e n t s . T h e a i m is not to indicate u n f o r t u n a t e g a p s
r e m a i n i n g i n o u r k n o w l e d g e o f e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y S a r a m a k a life,
b u t r a t h e r to p r e s e n t an i n h e r e n t l y i m p e r f e c t m o d e o f k n o w l e d g e ,
w h i c h p r o d u c e s g a p s as it fills t h e m . T h o u g h Price h i m s e l f is n o t f r e e
o f t h e d e s i r e to w r i t e a c o m p l e t e e t h n o g r a p h y o r history, to p o r t r a y a
" w h o l e w a y o f life" (24), the m e s s a g e o f partiality r e s o n a t e s t h r o u g h ­
o u t First-Time.
E t h n o g r a p h e r s a r e m o r e a n d m o r e like the C r é e h u n t e r w h o (the
story goes) c a m e to M o n t r e a l to testify in c o u r t c o n c e r n i n g the fate o f
his h u n t i n g l a n d s i n the n e w J a m e s B a y h y d r o e l e c t r i c s c h e m e . H e
w o u l d d e s c r i b e his w a y o f life. B u t w h e n a d m i n i s t e r e d the o a t h h e
h e s i t a t e d : " I ' m n o t s u r e I c a n tell the t r u t h . . . . I c a n o n l y tell w h a t
I know."
It is useful to recall that the witness w a s s p e a k i n g artfully, in a
d e t e r m i n i n g c o n t e x t o f p o w e r . S i n c e M i c h e l Leiris's early essay o f
1 9 5 0 , " L ' E t h n o g r a p h e d e v a n t le c o l o n i a l i s m e " (but w h y so late?), a n ­
t h r o p o l o g y h a s h a d to r e c k o n with historical d e t e r m i n a t i o n a n d politi­
cal conflict in its midst. A r a p i d d e c a d e , f r o m 1 9 5 0 to i 9 6 0 , saw t h e
e n d o f e m p i r e b e c o m e a w i d e l y a c c e p t e d project, i f n o t a n a c c o m ­
p l i s h e d fact. G e o r g e s Balandier's "situation coloniale" was s u d d e n l y
visible ( 1 9 5 5 ) . I m p e r i a l relations, f o r m a l a n d i n f o r m a l , w e r e n o l o n g e r
the a c c e p t e d r u l e o f t h e g a m e — t o b e r e f o r m e d p i e c e m e a l , o r ironically
d i s t a n c e d in v a r i o u s ways. E n d u r i n g p o w e r inequalities h a d clearly
c o n s t r a i n e d e t h n o g r a p h i c practice. T h i s "situation" was felt earliest in
Introduction
9
F r a n c e , l a r g e l y b e c a u s e o f the V i e t n a m e s e a n d A l g e r i a n conflicts a n d
t h r o u g h t h e w r i t i n g s o f an e t h n o g r a p h i c a l l y a w a r e g r o u p o f b l a c k
intellectuals a n d p o e t s , the négritude m o v e m e n t o f A i m é C é s a i r e ,
Léopold S e n g h o r , R e n é M é n i l , a n d L é o n D a m a s . T h e p a g e s o f Pres­
ence Africaine i n t h e e a r l y fifties o f f e r e d a n u n u s u a l f o r u m f o r c o l l a b o ­
r a t i o n b e t w e e n these writers a n d social scientists like B a l a n d i e r , L e i r i s ,
M a r c e l G r i a u l e , E d m o n d O r t i g u e s , a n d Paul Rivet. I n o t h e r c o u n t r i e s
t h e crise de conscience c a m e s o m e w h a t later. O n e thinks o f J a c q u e s
M a q u e t ' s influential essay "Objectivity in A n t h r o p o l o g y " ( 1 9 6 4 ) , D e l l
H y m e s ' s Reinventing Anthropology ( 1 9 7 3 ) , the w o r k o f S t a n l e y D i a m o n d
( 1 9 7 4 ) , B o b Scholte ( 1 9 7 1 , 1 9 7 2 , 1978), G é r a r d L e c l e r c ( 1 9 7 2 ) , a n d
p a r t i c u l a r l y o f T a l a l A s a d ' s collection Anthropology and the Colonial En­
counter ( 1 9 7 3 ) , w h i c h has stimulated m u c h c l a r i f y i n g d e b a t e (Firth
e t al. 1 9 7 7 ) .
I n p o p u l a r i m a g e r y the e t h n o g r a p h e r has shifted f r o m a s y m p a ­
thetic, a u t h o r i t a t i v e o b s e r v e r (best i n c a r n a t e d , p e r h a p s , by M a r g a r e t
M e a d ) to t h e u n f l a t t e r i n g figure p o r t r a y e d by V i n e D e l o r i a in Custer
Died for Your Sins ( 1 9 6 9 ) . I n d e e d , the n e g a t i v e p o r t r a i t has s o m e t i m e s
h a r d e n e d into c a r i c a t u r e — t h e a m b i t i o u s social scientist m a k i n g o f f
w i t h tribal l o r e a n d g i v i n g n o t h i n g in r e t u r n , i m p o s i n g c r u d e p o r t r a i t s
o n s u b t l e p e o p l e s , o r (most r e c e n t l y ) s e r v i n g as d u p e for s o p h i s t i c a t e d
i n f o r m a n t s . S u c h portraits are a b o u t as realistic as the e a r l i e r h e r o i c
v e r s i o n s o f p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n . E t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k has i n d e e d
b e e n e n m e s h e d in a w o r l d o f e n d u r i n g a n d c h a n g i n g p o w e r i n e q u a l i ­
ties, a n d it c o n t i n u e s to be i m p l i c a t e d . It enacts p o w e r relations. B u t
its f u n c t i o n within these relations is c o m p l e x , often a m b i v a l e n t , p o ­
tentially c o u n t e r - h e g e m o n i c .
D i f f e r e n t rules o f the g a m e for e t h n o g r a p h y a r e n o w e m e r g i n g in
m a n y p a r t s o f t h e w o r l d . A n o u t s i d e r s t u d y i n g N a t i v e A m e r i c a n cul­
t u r e s m a y e x p e c t , p e r h a p s as a r e q u i r e m e n t for c o n t i n u i n g r e s e a r c h ,
to testify in s u p p o r t o f l a n d claim litigation. A n d a variety o f f o r m a l
restrictions a r e n o w p l a c e d on f i e l d w o r k by i n d i g e n o u s g o v e r n m e n t s
at n a t i o n a l a n d local levels. T h e s e c o n d i t i o n in n e w ways w h a t c a n , a n d
e s p e c i a l l y c a n n o t , b e said a b o u t p a r t i c u l a r p e o p l e s . A n e w figure h a s
e n t e r e d t h e scene, the " i n d i g e n o u s e t h n o g r a p h e r " (Fahim, e d . 1 9 8 2 ;
O h n u k i - T i e r n e y 1984). Insiders s t u d y i n g their o w n c u l t u r e s o f f e r
n e w a n g l e s o f vision a n d d e p t h s o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g . T h e i r a c c o u n t s a r e
e m p o w e r e d a n d restricted in u n i q u e ways. T h e d i v e r s e post- a n d n e o c o l o n i a l r u l e s f o r e t h n o g r a p h i c practice d o n o t necessarily e n c o u r a g e
" b e t t e r " c u l t u r a l a c c o u n t s . T h e criteria for j u d g i n g a g o o d a c c o u n t
h a v e n e v e r b e e n settled a n d are c h a n g i n g . B u t w h a t ' h a s e m e r g e d
f r o m all these i d e o l o g i c a l shifts, r u l e c h a n g e s , a n d n e w c o m p r o m i s e s
is the fact that a series o f historical p r e s s u r e s have b e g u n to r e p o s i t i o n
JAMES CLIFFORD
Introduction
11
IO
a n t h r o p o l o g y with r e s p e c t to its "objects" o f study. A n t h r o p o l o g y n o
l o n g e r s p e a k s w i t h a u t o m a t i c a u t h o r i t y for o t h e r s d e f i n e d as u n a b l e to
s p e a k f o r t h e m s e l v e s ("primitive," "pre-literate," " w i t h o u t h i s t o r y " ) .
O t h e r g r o u p s c a n less easily b e d i s t a n c e d in special, almost always past
o r p a s s i n g , t i m e s — r e p r e s e n t e d as if they w e r e n o t i n v o l v e d in t h e
p r e s e n t w o r l d systems that implicate e t h n o g r a p h e r s a l o n g w i t h t h e
p e o p l e s t h e y study. " C u l t u r e s " d o n o t h o l d still for their portraits. A t ­
t e m p t s to m a k e t h e m d o so always i n v o l v e simplification a n d e x c l u ­
sion, selection o f a t e m p o r a l focus, the c o n s t r u c t i o n o f a p a r t i c u l a r
s e l f - o t h e r r e l a t i o n s h i p , a n d the imposition or n e g o t i a t i o n o f a p o w e r
relationship.
T h e c r i t i q u e o f c o l o n i a l i s m in the p o s t w a r p e r i o d — a n u n d e r ­
m i n i n g o f " T h e West's" ability to r e p r e s e n t o t h e r s o c i e t i e s — h a s b e e n
r e i n f o r c e d b y an i m p o r t a n t p r o c e s s o f t h e o r i z i n g a b o u t the limits o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself. T h e r e is n o way a d e q u a t e l y to s u r v e y this multi­
f a r i o u s c r i t i q u e o f w h a t V i c o called the "serious p o e m " o f c u l t u r a l his­
tory. Positions p r o l i f e r a t e : " h e r m e n e u t i c s , " "structuralism," " h i s t o r y
o f mentalities," " n e o - M a r x i s m , " " g e n e a l o g y , " "post-structuralism,"
" p o s t - m o d e r n i s m , " " p r a g m a t i s m " ; also a spate o f " a l t e r n a t e e p i s t e m o l o g i e s " — f e m i n i s t , ethnic, a n d n o n - W e s t e r n . W h a t is at stake, b u t n o t
always r e c o g n i z e d , is an o n g o i n g critique o f the West's m o s t c o n f i d e n t ,
characteristic d i s c o u r s e s . D i v e r s e p h i l o s o p h i e s m a y implicitly h a v e this
critical stance in c o m m o n . For e x a m p l e , J a c q u e s Derrida's u n r a v e l i n g
o f l o g o c e n t r i s m , f r o m t h e G r e e k s t o F r e u d , a n d W a l t e r J. O n g ' s q u i t e
d i f f e r e n t d i a g n o s i s o f t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f literacy s h a r e a n o v e r a r c h ­
i n g r e j e c t i o n o f the institutionalized ways o n e l a r g e g r o u p o f h u m a n ­
ity has f o r m i l l e n n i a c o n s t r u e d its w o r l d . N e w historical studies o f h e ­
g e m o n i c p a t t e r n s o f t h o u g h t (Marxist, A n n a l i s t e , Foucaultian) h a v e
in c o m m o n w i t h r e c e n t styles o f t e x t u a l criticism (semiotic, r e a d e r r e s p o n s e , post-structural) the c o n v i c t i o n that w h a t a p p e a r s as " r e a l "
i n history, t h e social sciences, t h e arts, e v e n in c o m m o n sense, is
always a n a l y z a b l e as a restrictive a n d e x p r e s s i v e set o f social c o d e s
a n d c o n v e n t i o n s . H e r m e n e u t i c p h i l o s o p h y in its v a r y i n g styles, f r o m
W i l h e l m D i l t h e y a n d Paul R i c o e u r to H e i d e g g e r , r e m i n d s us that t h e
simplest c u l t u r a l a c c o u n t s are intentional creations, that i n t e r p r e t ­
e r s c o n s t a n t l y c o n s t r u c t t h e m s e l v e s t h r o u g h the o t h e r s t h e y study.
T h e t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y sciences o f " l a n g u a g e , " f r o m F e r d i n a n d d e
S a u s s u r e a n d R o m a n J a c o b s o n to B e n j a m i n L e e W h o r f , S a p i r , a n d
W i t t g e n s t e i n , h a v e m a d e i n e s c a p a b l e the systematic a n d situational
v e r b a l s t r u c t u r e s that d e t e r m i n e all r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f reality. Finally,
t h e r e t u r n o f r h e t o r i c to a n i m p o r t a n t place in m a n y fields o f s t u d y (it
h a d f o r m i l l e n n i a b e e n at the c o r e o f W e s t e r n e d u c a t i o n ) has m a d e
possible a d e t a i l e d a n a t o m y o f c o n v e n t i o n a l e x p r e s s i v e m o d e s . A l l i e d
w i t h semiotics a n d d i s c o u r s e analysis, the n e w r h e t o r i c is c o n c e r n e d
w i t h w h a t K e n n e t h B u r k e called "strategies for the e n c o m p a s s i n g o f
situations" ( 1 9 6 9 : 3). It is less a b o u t h o w to s p e a k well t h a n a b o u t h o w
to s p e a k at all, a n d to act m e a n i n g f u l l y , in the w o r l d o f p u b l i c c u l t u r a l
symbols.
T h e i m p a c t o f these critiques is b e g i n n i n g to be felt in e t h n o g r a ­
phy's sense o f its o w n d e v e l o p m e n t . N o n c e l e b r a t o r y histories a r e be­
c o m i n g c o m m o n . T h e n e w histories try to avoid c h a r t i n g the discov­
e r y o f s o m e c u r r e n t w i s d o m (origins o f t h e c u l t u r e c o n c e p t , a n d so
f o r t h ) ; a n d they are suspicious o f p r o m o t i n g a n d d e m o t i n g intellec­
tual p r e c u r s o r s in o r d e r to c o n f i r m a particular p a r a d i g m . (For t h e
latter a p p r o a c h , see H a r r i s 1968 a n d E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d 1 9 8 1 ) . R a t h e r ,
t h e n e w histories treat a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l ideas as e n m e s h e d in local
p r a c t i c e s a n d institutional constraints, as c o n t i n g e n t a n d often "politi­
c a l " solutions to c u l t u r a l p r o b l e m s . T h e y c o n s t r u e science as a social
p r o c e s s . T h e y stress the historical discontinuities, as well as c o n t i n u i ­
ties, o f past a n d p r e s e n t practices, as often as n o t m a k i n g p r e s e n t
k n o w l e d g e s e e m t e m p o r a r y , in m o t i o n . T h e a u t h o r i t y o f a scientific
discipline, in this k i n d o f historical account, will always be m e d i a t e d by
the claims o f rhetoric and p o w e r . '
A n o t h e r m a j o r i m p a c t o f the a c c u m u l a t i n g political/theoretical
c r i t i q u e o f a n t h r o p o l o g y m a y be briefly s u m m a r i z e d as a r e j e c t i o n o f
" v i s u a l i s m . " O n g ( 1 9 6 7 , 1 9 7 7 ) , a m o n g o t h e r s , has s t u d i e d ways in
w h i c h t h e senses a r e h i e r a r c h i c a l l y o r d e r e d in d i f f e r e n t c u l t u r e s a n d
e p o c h s . H e a r g u e s that the t r u t h o f vision in W e s t e r n , literate c u l t u r e s
has p r e d o m i n a t e d o v e r the e v i d e n c e s o f s o u n d a n d i n t e r l o c u t i o n , o f
t o u c h , smell, a n d taste. ( M a r y Pratt has o b s e r v e d that r e f e r e n c e s to
o d o r , v e r y p r o m i n e n t in travel w r i t i n g , are virtually absent f r o m eth­
n o g r a p h i e s . ) T h e p r e d o m i n a n t m e t a p h o r s in a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l re­
s e a r c h h a v e b e e n participant-observation, data collection, a n d c u l t u r a l
d e s c r i p t i o n , all o f w h i c h p r e s u p p o s e a s t a n d p o i n t o u t s i d e — l o o k i n g
at, o b j e c t i f y i n g , or, s o m e w h a t closer, " r e a d i n g , " a g i v e n reality. O n g ' s
6
5. I exclude from this category the various histories o f "anthropological" ideas,
which must always have a Whiggish cast. I include the strong historicism o f George
Stocking, which often has the effect o f questioning disciplinary genealogies (for ex­
ample, 1968:69—90). T h e work o f Terry Clark on the institutionalization o f social sci­
ence (1973) and o f Foucault on the sociopolitical constitution of "discursive formations"
(1973) points in the direction I am indicating. See also: Hartog (1980), Duchet (1971),
many works by De Certeau (e.g., 1980), Boon (1982), Rupp-Eisenreich (1984), and the
yearly volume History of Anthropology, edited by Stocking, whose approach goes well be­
yond the history o f ideas or theory. A n allied approach can be found in recent social
studies o f science research: e.g., Knorr-Cetina (1981), Latour (1984), Knorr-Cetina and
Mulkay (1983).
0. A n observation by Pratt at the Santa Fe seminar. T h e relative inattention to
sound is beginning to be corrected in recent ethnographic writing (e.g., Feld 1982).
l'or examples o f work unusually attentive to the sensorium, see Stoller (1984a, b).
12
JAMES CLIFFORD.
w o r k h a s b e e n m o b i l i z e d as a critique o f e t h n o g r a p h y b y J o h a n n e s
Fabian (1983), w h o explores the consequences o f positing cultural
facts as t h i n g s o b s e r v e d , r a t h e r than, for e x a m p l e , h e a r d , i n v e n t e d i n
d i a l o g u e , o r t r a n s c r i b e d . F o l l o w i n g F r a n c e s Yates ( 1 9 6 6 ) , h e a r g u e s
t h a t t h e t a x o n o m i c i m a g i n a t i o n in the W e s t is s t r o n g l y visualist i n
n a t u r e , c o n s t i t u t i n g c u l t u r e s as i f they w e r e t h e a t e r s o f m e m o r y , o r
spatialized arrays.
I n a r e l a t e d p o l e m i c against " O r i e n t a l i s m " E d w a r d S a i d ( 1 9 7 8 )
identifies persistent t r o p e s by w h i c h E u r o p e a n s a n d A m e r i c a n s h a v e
v i s u a l i z e d E a s t e r n a n d A r a b c u l t u r e s . T h e O r i e n t f u n c t i o n s as a the­
a t e r , a s t a g e o n w h i c h a p e r f o r m a n c e is r e p e a t e d , to b e s e e n f r o m a
p r i v i l e g e d s t a n d p o i n t . ( B a r t h e s [ 1 9 7 7 ] locates a similar " p e r s p e c t i v e "
in t h e e m e r g i n g b o u r g e o i s esthetics o f D i d e r o t . ) For Said, t h e O r i e n t
is " t e x t u a l i z e d " ; its m u l t i p l e , d i v e r g e n t stories a n d existential p r e d i c a ­
m e n t s a r e c o h e r e n t l y w o v e n as a b o d y o f signs susceptible o f v i r t u o s o
r e a d i n g . T h i s O r i e n t , o c c u l t e d a n d fragile, is b r o u g h t l o v i n g l y to l i g h t ,
s a l v a g e d i n t h e w o r k o f t h e o u t s i d e scholar. T h e effect of d o m i n a t i o n
in s u c h s p a t i a l / t e m p o r a l d e p l o y m e n t s (not limited, o f c o u r s e , to O r i ­
e n t a l i s m p r o p e r ) is t h a t they c o n f e r on the o t h e r a d i s c r e t e identity,
w h i l e also p r o v i d i n g the k n o w i n g o b s e r v e r with a s t a n d p o i n t f r o m
w h i c h t o see w i t h o u t b e i n g seen, to r e a d w i t h o u t i n t e r r u p t i o n .
O n c e c u l t u r e s a r e n o l o n g e r p r e f i g u r e d v i s u a l l y — a s objects, t h e ­
aters, t e x t s — i t b e c o m e s possible to think o f a c u l t u r a l poetics t h a t is
a n i n t e r p l a y o f voices, o f p o s i t i o n e d u t t e r a n c e s . I n a d i s c u r s i v e r a t h e r
t h a n a visual p a r a d i g m , the d o m i n a n t m e t a p h o r s for e t h n o g r a p h y
shift a w a y f r o m the o b s e r v i n g e y e a n d t o w a r d e x p r e s s i v e s p e e c h ( a n d
g e s t u r e ) . T h e writer's " v o i c e " p e r v a d e s a n d situates the analysis, a n d
o b j e c t i v e , d i s t a n c i n g r h e t o r i c is r e n o u n c e d . R e n a t o R o s a l d o h a s r e ­
c e n t l y a r g u e d , a n d e x e m p l i f i e d , these points ( 1 9 8 4 , 1 9 8 5 ) . O t h e r
c h a n g e s o f t e x t u a l e n a c t m e n t are u r g e d by S t e p h e n T y l e r in this v o l ­
u m e . ( S e e also T e d l o c k 1983.) T h e evocative, p e r f o r m a t i v e e l e m e n t s
o f e t h n o g r a p h y a r e l e g i t i m a t e d . A n d the crucial poetic p r o b l e m f o r
a d i s c u r s i v e e t h n o g r a p h y b e c o m e s h o w "to a c h i e v e b y w r i t t e n m e a n s
w h a t s p e e c h creates, a n d to d o it w i t h o u t s i m p l y i m i t a t i n g s p e e c h "
( T y l e r 1 9 8 4 c : 25). F r o m a n o t h e r a n g l e w e notice h o w m u c h has b e e n
said, in criticism a n d praise, o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c g a z e . B u t w h a t o f t h e
e t h n o g r a p h i c ear? T h i s is w h a t N a t h a n i e l T a r n is g e t t i n g at i n a n i n t e r ­
view, s p e a k i n g o f his e x p e r i e n c e as a tricultural F r e n c h / E n g l i s h m a n
endlessly b e c o m i n g an A m e r i c a n .
It may b e the ethnographer or the anthropologist again having his ears wider
o p e n to what he considers the exotic as opposed to the familiar, but I still feel
I'm discovering something new in the use o f language here almost every day.
Introduction
13
I'm getting n e w expressions almost every day, as if the language were growing
from every conceivable shoot. (1975 :9)
A n interest in the discursive aspects o f c u l t u r a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
d r a w s a t t e n t i o n n o t to the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f c u l t u r a l " t e x t s " b u t to
t h e i r relations o f p r o d u c t i o n . D i v e r g e n t styles o f w r i t i n g a r e , w i t h
v a r y i n g d e g r e e s o f success, g r a p p l i n g with these n e w o r d e r s o f c o m ­
p l e x i t y — d i f f e r e n t rules a n d possibilities within the h o r i z o n o f a his­
torical m o m e n t . T h e m a i n e x p e r i m e n t a l t r e n d s h a v e b e e n r e v i e w e d in
d e t a i l e l s e w h e r e ( M a r c u s a n d C u s h m a n 1 9 8 2 ; C l i f f o r d 1 9 8 3 a ) . It is
e n o u g h to m e n t i o n h e r e the g e n e r a l t r e n d t o w a r d a specification of dis­
courses in e t h n o g r a p h y : w h o speaks? w h o writes? w h e n a n d w h e r e ?
w i t h o r to w h o m ? u n d e r w h a t institutional a n d historical constraints?
S i n c e Malinowski's time, the " m e t h o d " o f p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n
h a s e n a c t e d a d e l i c a t e b a l a n c e o f subjectivity a n d objectivity. T h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r ' s p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e s , especially those o f p a r t i c i p a t i o n
a n d e m p a t h y , a r e r e c o g n i z e d as central to the r e s e a r c h p r o c e s s , b u t
t h e y a r e firmly r e s t r a i n e d b y the i m p e r s o n a l s t a n d a r d s o f o b s e r v a t i o n
a n d " o b j e c t i v e " distance. I n classical e t h n o g r a p h i e s the voice o f the
a u t h o r w a s a l w a y s manifest, b u t the c o n v e n t i o n s o f t e x t u a l p r e s e n t a ­
tion a n d r e a d i n g f o r b a d e t o o close a c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n a u t h o r i a l
style a n d t h e reality r e p r e s e n t e d . T h o u g h w e d i s c e r n i m m e d i a t e l y t h e
distinctive a c c e n t o f M a r g a r e t M e a d , R a y m o n d Firth, o r Paul R a d i n ,
w e still c a n n o t r e f e r to S a m o a n s as " M e a d i a n " o r call T i k o p i a a " F i r t h i a n " c u l t u r e as freely as w e s p e a k o f D i c k e n s i a n o r F l a u b e r t i a n w o r l d s .
T h e subjectivity o f t h e a u t h o r is s e p a r a t e d f r o m t h e objective r e f e r e n t
o f t h e text. A t best, the author's p e r s o n a l voice is s e e n as a style in t h e
w e a k s e n s e : a t o n e , o r e m b e l l i s h m e n t o f the facts. M o r e o v e r , the ac­
t u a l field e x p e r i e n c e o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is p r e s e n t e d only in v e r y
stylized ways (the "arrival stories" discussed b e l o w by M a r y Pratt, f o r
e x a m p l e ) . States o f serious c o n f u s i o n , v i o l e n t feelings o r acts, c e n s o r ­
ships, i m p o r t a n t failures, c h a n g e s o f c o u r s e , a n d e x c e s s i v e p l e a s u r e s
are e x c l u d e d from the published account.
I n t h e sixties this set o f e x p o s i t o r y c o n v e n t i o n s c r a c k e d . E t h n o g ­
r a p h e r s b e g a n to w r i t e a b o u t their field e x p e r i e n c e in ways that dis­
t u r b e d t h e p r e v a i l i n g subjective/objective b a l a n c e . T h e r e h a d b e e n
e a r l i e r d i s t u r b a n c e s , b u t t h e y w e r e k e p t m a r g i n a l : Leiris's a b e r r a n t
L'Afrique fantôme ( 1 9 3 4 ) ; Tristes Tropiques (whose s t r o n g e s t i m p a c t o u t ­
side F r a n c e c a m e o n l y after i 9 6 0 ) ; a n d E l e n o r e S m i t h B o w e n ' s i m p o r ­
tant Return to Laughter ( 1 9 5 4 ) . T h a t L a u r a B o h a n n a n in the e a r l y
sixties h a d to d i s g u i s e h e r s e l f as B o w e n , and h e r fieldwork n a r r a ­
tive as a " n o v e l , " is s y m p t o m a t i c . B u t things w e r e c h a n g i n g r a p i d l y ,
14
JAMES CLIFFORD
a n d o t h e r s — G e o r g e s B a l a n d i e r (L'Afrique ambiguë 1 9 5 7 ) , D a v i d
M a y b u r y - L e w i s (The Savage and the Innocent 1965), J e a n B r i g g s (Never
in Anger 1 9 7 0 ) , J e a n - P a u l D u m o n t (The Headman and I 1 9 7 8 ) , a n d Paul
R a b i n o w (Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco 1 9 7 7 ) — w e r e s o o n w r i t i n g
" f a c t u a l l y " u n d e r their o w n n a m e s . T h e p u b l i c a t i o n o f Malinowski's
M a i l u a n d T r o b r i a n d diaries ( 1 9 6 7 ) publicly u p s e t t h e a p p l e c a r t .
H e n c e f o r t h a n implicit m a r k o f i n t e r r o g a t i o n was p l a c e d b e s i d e a n y
o v e r l y c o n f i d e n t a n d consistent e t h n o g r a p h i c voice. W h a t d e s i r e s a n d
c o n f u s i o n s w a s it s m o o t h i n g o v e r ? H o w w a s its "objectivity" t e x t u a l l y
constructed?
A s u b g e n r e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g e m e r g e d , the self-reflexive
" f i e l d w o r k a c c o u n t . " V a r i o u s l y sophisticated a n d n a i v e , c o n f e s s i o n a l
a n d analytic, these a c c o u n t s p r o v i d e an i m p o r t a n t f o r u m f o r the dis­
c u s s i o n o f a w i d e r a n g e o f issues, e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l , existential, a n d p o ­
litical. T h e d i s c o u r s e o f the c u l t u r a l analyst c a n n o l o n g e r b e s i m p l y
that o f the "experienced" observer, describing and interpreting cus­
t o m . E t h n o g r a p h i c e x p e r i e n c e a n d the p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n i d e a l
a r e s h o w n to b e p r o b l e m a t i c . Different t e x t u a l strategies a r e at­
t e m p t e d . For e x a m p l e , the first p e r s o n s i n g u l a r ( n e v e r b a n n e d f r o m
e t h n o g r a p h i e s , w h i c h w e r e always p e r s o n a l in stylized ways) is d e ­
p l o y e d a c c o r d i n g to n e w c o n v e n t i o n s . W i t h the " f i e l d w o r k a c c o u n t "
t h e r h e t o r i c o f e x p e r i e n c e d objectivity yields to that o f the a u t o b i o g r a ­
p h y a n d the ironic self-portrait. (See B e a u j o u r 1980, L e j e u n e 1 9 7 5 . )
T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r , a c h a r a c t e r in a fiction, is at c e n t e r stage. H e o r
she c a n s p e a k o f p r e v i o u s l y "irrelevant" topics: v i o l e n c e a n d d e s i r e ,
c o n f u s i o n s , s t r u g g l e s a n d e c o n o m i c transactions with i n f o r m a n t s .
T h e s e m a t t e r s ( l o n g discussed i n f o r m a l l y within the discipline) h a v e
m o v e d a w a y f r o m the m a r g i n s o f e t h n o g r a p h y , to b e s e e n as constitu­
tive, i n e s c a p a b l e ( H o n i g m a n 1 9 7 6 ) .
7
S o m e r e f l e x i v e a c c o u n t s h a v e w o r k e d to specify the d i s c o u r s e o f
i n f o r m a n t s , as well as that o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r , by s t a g i n g d i a l o g u e s
or narrating interpersonal confrontations (Lacoste-Dujardin 1 9 7 7 ,
C r a p a n z a n o 1980, D w y e r 1 9 8 2 , Shostak 1 9 8 1 , Mernissi 1984). T h e s e
fictions o f d i a l o g u e h a v e the effect o f t r a n s f o r m i n g the " c u l t u r a l " t e x t
(a ritual, a n institution, a life history, o r a n y unit o f typical b e h a v i o r to
b e d e s c r i b e d o r i n t e r p r e t e d ) into a s p e a k i n g subject, w h o sees as w e l l
as is s e e n , w h o e v a d e s , a r g u e s , p r o b e s b a c k . In this view o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y t h e p r o p e r r e f e r e n t o f a n y a c c o u n t is n o t a r e p r e s e n t e d " w o r l d " ;
n o w it is specific instances o f discourse. B u t the p r i n c i p l e of d i a l o g i c a l
t e x t u a l p r o d u c t i o n g o e s well b e y o n d the m o r e o r less artful p r e s e n t a 7. I have explored the relation of personal subjectivity and authoritative cultural
accounts, seen as mutually reinforcing fictions, in an essay on Malinowski and C o n r a d
(Clifford 1985a).
Introduction
1
5
t i o n o f " a c t u a l " e n c o u n t e r s . It locates cultural i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s in m a n y
sorts o f r e c i p r o c a l c o n t e x t s , a n d it o b l i g e s writers t o find d i v e r s e w a y s
o f r e n d e r i n g n e g o t i a t e d realities as multisubjective, p o w e r - l a d e n , a n d
i n c o n g r u e n t . I n this view, " c u l t u r e " is always relational, an i n s c r i p t i o n
o f c o m m u n i c a t i v e p r o c e s s e s that exist, historically, between subjects in
relations o f p o w e r (Dwyer 1 9 7 7 , Tedlock 1979).
D i a l o g i c a l m o d e s are not, in p r i n c i p l e , a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l ; t h e y
n e e d n o t lead to h y p e r self-consciousness o r s e l f - a b s o r p t i o n . A s
B a k h t i n ( 1 9 8 1 ) has s h o w n , dialogical processes p r o l i f e r a t e in a n y
c o m p l e x l y r e p r e s e n t e d discursive space (that o f an e t h n o g r a p h y , o r ,
in his case, a realist n o v e l ) . M a n y voices c l a m o r for e x p r e s s i o n . Polyvocality w a s r e s t r a i n e d a n d o r c h e s t r a t e d in traditional e t h n o g r a p h i e s
b y g i v i n g to o n e v o i c e a p e r v a s i v e a u t h o r i a l function a n d to o t h e r s t h e
r o l e o f s o u r c e s , " i n f o r m a n t s , " to b e q u o t e d o r p a r a p h r a s e d . O n c e dia­
logismi a n d p o l y p h o n y are r e c o g n i z e d as m o d e s o f t e x t u a l p r o d u c t i o n ,
m o n o p h o n i e a u t h o r i t y is q u e s t i o n e d , r e v e a l e d to b e characteristic o f
a s c i e n c e t h a t has c l a i m e d to represent cultures. T h e t e n d e n c y to spec­
ify d i s c o u r s e s — h i s t o r i c a l l y a n d i n t e r s u b j e c t i v e l y — r e c a s t s this a u ­
thority, a n d in t h e p r o c e s s alters the questions w e p u t to c u l t u r a l d e ­
s c r i p t i o n s . T w o r e c e n t e x a m p l e s m u s t suffice. T h e first i n v o l v e s the
voices a n d r e a d i n g s o f N a t i v e A m e r i c a n s , the s e c o n d those o f w o m e n .
J a m e s W a l k e r is w i d e l y k n o w n for his classic m o n o g r a p h The
Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of the Teton Sioux
( 1 9 1 7 ) . It is a carefully o b s e r v e d a n d d o c u m e n t e d w o r k o f i n t e r p r e ­
tation. B u t o u r r e a d i n g o f it m u s t n o w be c o m p l e m e n t e d — a n d al­
t e r e d — b y a n e x t r a o r d i n a r y g l i m p s e of its " m a k i n g s . " T h r e e titles
h a v e n o w a p p e a r e d in a f o u r - v o l u m e edition o f d o c u m e n t s h e col­
l e c t e d w h i l e a p h y s i c i a n a n d e t h n o g r a p h e r o n the Pine R i d g e S i o u x
R e s e r v a t i o n b e t w e e n 1896 a n d 1 9 1 4 . T h e first (Walker, Lakota Belief
and Ritual 1 9 8 2 a , e d i t e d by R a y m o n d D e M a l l i e a n d Elaine J a h n e r ) is a
c o l l a g e o f n o t e s , i n t e r v i e w s , texts, a n d essay f r a g m e n t s w r i t t e n o r
s p o k e n by Walker and n u m e r o u s Oglala collaborators. T h i s v o l u m e
lists m o r e t h a n thirty "authorities," a n d w h e r e v e r possible e a c h c o n t r i ­
b u t i o n is m a r k e d with t h e n a m e o f its e n u n c i a t o r , writer, o r tran­
scriber. T h e s e i n d i v i d u a l s a r e not e t h n o g r a p h i c " i n f o r m a n t s . " Lakota
Belief is a c o l l a b o r a t i v e w o r k o f d o c u m e n t a t i o n , e d i t e d in a m a n n e r
t h a t g i v e s e q u a l r h e t o r i c a l w e i g h t to d i v e r s e r e n d i t i o n s o f t r a d i t i o n .
W a l k e r ' s o w n d e s c r i p t i o n s a n d glosses are f r a g m e n t s a m o n g f r a g m e n t s .
T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r w o r k e d closely with i n t e r p r e t e r s C h a r l e s a n d
R i c h a r d N i n e s , a n d with T h o m a s T y o n a n d G e o r g e S w o r d , b o t h o f
w h o m c o m p o s e d e x t e n d e d essays in O l d L a k o t a . T h e s e h a v e n o w
b e e n translated a n d p u b l i s h e d for the first time. I n a l o n g section o f
Lakota licliej'Tyon
p r e s e n t s e x p l a n a t i o n s he o b t a i n e d f r o m a n u m b e r
l6
JAMES CLIFFORD
o f P i n e R i d g e s h a m a n s ; a n d it is r e v e a l i n g to see q u e s t i o n s o f b e l i e f
(for e x a m p l e the crucial a n d elusive quality o f "wakan") i n t e r p r e t e d i n
d i f f e r i n g , idiosyncratic styles. T h e result is a v e r s i o n o f c u l t u r e in p r o ­
cess t h a t resists a n y final s u m m a t i o n . I n Lakota Belief the editors p r o ­
v i d e b i o g r a p h i c a l details o n W a l k e r , with hints a b o u t the i n d i v i d u a l
s o u r c e s o f the writings in his collection, b r o u g h t t o g e t h e r f r o m t h e
C o l o r a d o Historical Society, the A m e r i c a n M u s e u m o f N a t u r a l H i s ­
tory, a n d the A m e r i c a n P h i l o s o p h i c a l Society.
T h e s e c o n d v o l u m e to h a v e a p p e a r e d is Lakota Society ( 1 9 8 2 b ) ,
w h i c h a s s e m b l e s d o c u m e n t s r o u g h l y relating to aspects o f social o r g a ­
n i z a t i o n , as well as c o n c e p t s o f time a n d history. T h e inclusion o f e x ­
tensive W i n t e r C o u n t s ( L a k o t a annals) a n d p e r s o n a l r e c o l l e c t i o n s o f
historical e v e n t s c o n f i r m s r e c e n t t e n d e n c i e s to q u e s t i o n o v e r l y c l e a r
distinctions b e t w e e n p e o p l e s " w i t h " a n d " w i t h o u t " history ( R o s a l d o
1 9 8 0 ; P r i c e 1983). V o l u m e t h r e e is Lakota Myth ( 1 9 8 3 ) . A n d t h e last
will c o n t a i n t h e translated writings o f G e o r g e S w o r d . S w o r d was a n
O g l a l a w a r r i o r , later a j u d g e o f the C o u r t o f I n d i a n O f f e n s e s at P i n e
R i d g e . W i t h Walker's e n c o u r a g e m e n t , h e w r o t e a d e t a i l e d v e r n a c u l a r
r e c o r d o f c u s t o m a r y life, c o v e r i n g m y t h , ritual, w a r f a r e a n d g a m e s ,
c o m p l e m e n t e d by an a u t o b i o g r a p h y .
T a k e n t o g e t h e r , these w o r k s offer an u n u s u a l , m u l t i p l y articula­
t e d r e c o r d o f L a k o t a life at a crucial m o m e n t in its h i s t o r y — a t h r e e v o l u m e a n t h o l o g y o f ad h o c interpretations a n d transcriptions b y
m o r e t h a n a s c o r e o f i n d i v i d u a l s o c c u p y i n g a s p e c t r u m o f positions
w i t h r e s p e c t to "tradition," plus an e l a b o r a t e d view o f the e n s e m b l e b y
a w e l l - p l a c e d O g l a l a writer. It b e c o m e s possible to assess critically t h e
s y n t h e s i s W a l k e r m a d e o f these diverse materials. W h e n c o m p l e t e , t h e
five v o l u m e s ( i n c l u d i n g The Sun Dance) will constitute an e x p a n d e d
( d i s p e r s e d , n o t total) text r e p r e s e n t i n g a particular moment o f e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c p r o d u c t i o n (not " L a k o t a c u l t u r e " ) . It is this e x p a n d e d t e x t ,
r a t h e r t h a n W a l k e r ' s m o n o g r a p h , that w e m u s t n o w l e a r n to r e a d .
S u c h an e n s e m b l e o p e n s u p n e w m e a n i n g s a n d desires in an o n ­
g o i n g c u l t u r a l poesis. T h e decision to p u b l i s h these texts w a s p r o v o k e d
b y r e q u e s t s to the C o l o r a d o Historical Society f r o m c o m m u n i t y m e m ­
b e r s at P i n e R i d g e , w h e r e c o p i e s w e r e n e e d e d in O g l a l a h i s t o r y
classes. For o t h e r r e a d e r s the " W a l k e r C o l l e c t i o n " offers d i f f e r e n t
lessons, providing, a m o n g other things, a m o c k - u p for an e t h n o ¬
p o e t i c s w i t h history (and individuals) in it. O n e has difficulty g i v i n g
t h e s e m a t e r i a l s ( m a n y o f w h i c h a r e v e r y beautiful) t h e timeless, i m p e r ­
s o n a l identity of, say, " S i o u x m y t h . " M o r e o v e r , the q u e s t i o n o f who
writes ( p e r f o r m s ? transcribes? translates? edits?) c u l t u r a l s t a t e m e n t s is
i n e s c a p a b l e in an e x p a n d e d text o f this sort. H e r e t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r
n o l o n g e r h o l d s u n q u e s t i o n e d rights o f s a l v a g e : t h e a u t h o r i t y l o n g a s -
Introduction
17
s o c i a t e d w i t h b r i n g i n g elusive, " d i s a p p e a r i n g " o r a l l o r e into l e g i b l e
t e x t u a l f o r m . It is u n c l e a r w h e t h e r J a m e s W a l k e r (or a n y o n e ) c a n a p ­
p e a r as a u t h o r o f these writings. S u c h lack o f clarity is a s i g n o f the
times.
W e s t e r n texts c o n v e n t i o n a l l y c o m e with a u t h o r s a t t a c h e d . T h u s it
is p e r h a p s inevitable that Lakota Belief, Lakota Society, a n d Lakota Myth
s h o u l d b e p u b l i s h e d u n d e r Walker's n a m e . B u t as e t h n o g r a p h y ' s c o m ­
p l e x , p l u r a l poesis b e c o m e s m o r e a p p a r e n t — a n d politically c h a r g e d —
c o n v e n t i o n s b e g i n , in small ways, to slip. Walker's w o r k m a y b e a n u n ­
u s u a l case o f t e x t u a l c o l l a b o r a t i o n . B u t it helps us see b e h i n d t h e
s c e n e s . O n c e " i n f o r m a n t s " b e g i n to be c o n s i d e r e d as c o - a u t h o r s , a n d
t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r as scribe a n d archivist as well as i n t e r p r e t i n g o b ­
s e r v e r , w e c a n ask new, critical questions o f all e t h n o g r a p h i e s . H o w ­
e v e r m o n o l o g i c a l , dialogical, o r p o l y p h o n i c their f o r m , t h e y a r e hier­
a r c h i c a l a r r a n g e m e n t s o f discourses.
A s e c o n d e x a m p l e o f the specification o f discourses c o n c e r n s g e n ­
d e r . I shall first t o u c h o n ways in w h i c h it can i m p i n g e o n the r e a d i n g
o f e t h n o g r a p h i c texts a n d t h e n e x p l o r e h o w the e x c l u s i o n o f feminist
p e r s p e c t i v e s f r o m the p r e s e n t v o l u m e limits a n d focuses its d i s c u r ­
sive s t a n d p o i n t . M y first e x a m p l e , o f the m a n y possible, is G o d f r e y
L i e n h a r d t ' s Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka ( 1 9 6 1 ) ,
s u r e l y a m o n g t h e m o s t finely a r g u e d e t h n o g r a p h i e s in r e c e n t a n t h r o ­
p o l o g i c a l l i t e r a t u r e . Its p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l r e n d i t i o n o f D i n k a senses
o f t h e self, o f t i m e , space, a n d "the P o w e r s " is u n p a r a l l e l e d . T h u s it
c o m e s as a s h o c k to r e c o g n i z e that L i e n h a r d t ' s p o r t r a y a l c o n c e r n s , al­
m o s t e x c l u s i v e l y , the e x p e r i e n c e o f D i n k a m e n . W h e n s p e a k i n g o f
"the D i n k a " h e m a y o r m a y n o t be e x t e n d i n g the p o i n t to w o m e n . W e
o f t e n c a n n o t k n o w f r o m the p u b l i s h e d text. T h e e x a m p l e s h e c h o o s e s
a r e , in a n y case, o v e r w h e l m i n g l y c e n t e r e d o n males. A r a p i d p e r u s a l
o f t h e b o o k ' s i n t r o d u c t o r y c h a p t e r on D i n k a a n d their cattle c o n f i r m s
t h e p o i n t . O n l y o n c e is a w o m a n ' s view m e n t i o n e d , a n d it is in affirma­
tion o f men's r e l a t i o n to c o w s , saying n o t h i n g o f h o w w o m e n e x p e r i ­
e n c e cattle. T h i s o b s e r v a t i o n i n t r o d u c e s an e q u i v o c a t i o n in p a s s a g e s
s u c h as " D i n k a o f t e n i n t e r p r e t accidents o r c o i n c i d e n c e s as acts o f D i ­
vinity d i s t i n g u i s h i n g t r u t h f r o m f a l s e h o o d by signs w h i c h a p p e a r to
m e n " (p. 4 7 ) . T h e i n t e n d e d sense o f the w o r d " m e n " is certainly g e ­
n e r i c , y e t s u r r o u n d e d e x c l u s i v e l y by e x a m p l e s f r o m m a l e e x p e r i e n c e
it slides t o w a r d a g e n d e r e d m e a n i n g . ( D o signs a p p e a r to w o m e n ? in
significantly d i f f e r e n t ways?) T e r m s such as "the D i n k a , " o r " D i n k a , "
u s e d t h r o u g h o u t the b o o k , b e c o m e similarly e q u i v o c a l .
T h e p o i n t is n o t to c o n v i c t L i e n h a r d t o f duplicity; his b o o k specifies
g e n d e r to a n u n u s u a l e x t e n t . W h a t e m e r g e s , instead, are the history
a n d politics that i n t e r v e n e in o u r r e a d i n g . British a c a d e m i c s o f a c e r -
JAMES C L I F F O R D
i8
tain caste a n d e r a say " m e n " w h e n t h e y m e a n " p e o p l e " m o r e o f t e n
t h a n d o o t h e r g r o u p s , a cultural a n d historical c o n t e x t t h a t is n o w less
invisible t h a n it o n c e was. T h e partiality o f g e n d e r in q u e s t i o n h e r e
w a s n o t at issue w h e n t h e b o o k was p u b l i s h e d in 1 9 6 1 . I f it w e r e ,
L i e n h a r d t w o u l d h a v e directly a d d r e s s e d the p r o b l e m , as m o r e r e c e n t
e t h n o g r a p h e r s n o w feel o b l i g e d to (for e x a m p l e , M e i g s 1 9 8 4 : x i x ) .
O n e d i d n o t r e a d " T h e R e l i g i o n o f the D i n k a " t h e n as o n e n o w m u s t ,
as t h e r e l i g i o n o f D i n k a m e n a n d o n l y p e r h a p s D i n k a w o m e n . O u r
task is to t h i n k historically a b o u t L i e n h a r d t ' s text a n d its possible r e a d ­
i n g s , i n c l u d i n g o u r o w n , as w e r e a d .
S y s t e m a t i c d o u b t s a b o u t g e n d e r in c u l t u r a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n h a v e
b e c o m e w i d e s p r e a d o n l y in the past d e c a d e o r so, in c e r t a i n m i l i e u x ,
u n d e r p r e s s u r e o f f e m i n i s m . A g r e a t m a n y portrayals o f " c u l t u r a l "
t r u t h s n o w a p p e a r to reflect m a l e d o m a i n s o f e x p e r i e n c e . ( A n d t h e r e
a r e , o f c o u r s e , i n v e r s e , t h o u g h m u c h less c o m m o n cases: f o r e x a m p l e ,
M e a d ' s w o r k , w h i c h often f o c u s e d o n f e m a l e d o m a i n s a n d g e n e r a l i z e d
o n this basis a b o u t the c u l t u r e as a whole.) In r e c o g n i z i n g s u c h biases,
h o w e v e r , it is well to recall that o u r o w n "full" v e r s i o n s will t h e m s e l v e s
i n e v i t a b l y a p p e a r partial; a n d if m a n y c u l t u r a l p o r t r a y a l s n o w s e e m
m o r e limited t h a n t h e y o n c e d i d , this is a n i n d e x o f the c o n t i n g e n c y
a n d historical m o v e m e n t o f all r e a d i n g s . N o o n e r e a d s f r o m a n e u t r a l
o r final position. T h i s r a t h e r o b v i o u s c a u t i o n is o f t e n v i o l a t e d in n e w
a c c o u n t s that p u r p o r t to set the r e c o r d straight o r to fill a g a p in " o u r "
knowledge.
W h e n is a g a p in k n o w l e d g e p e r c e i v e d , a n d by w h o m ? W h e r e d o
" p r o b l e m s " c o m e f r o m ? It is o b v i o u s l y m o r e t h a n a s i m p l e m a t t e r o f
n o t i c i n g a n e r r o r , bias, o r omission. I h a v e c h o s e n e x a m p l e s ( W a l k e r
a n d L i e n h a r d t ) t h a t u n d e r l i n e the role o f political a n d historical fac­
tors i n t h e d i s c o v e r y o f d i s c u r s i v e partiality. T h e e p i s t e m o l o g y this i m ­
plies c a n n o t b e r e c o n c i l e d with a notion o f c u m u l a t i v e scientific p r o g ­
ress, a n d the partiality at stake is s t r o n g e r t h a n the n o r m a l scientific
d i c t a t e s t h a t w e s t u d y p r o b l e m s p i e c e m e a l , that w e m u s t n o t o v e r g e n e r a l i z e , that the best p i c t u r e is built u p by a n a c c r e t i o n o f r i g o r o u s
e v i d e n c e . C u l t u r e s a r e n o t scientific " o b j e c t s " ( a s s u m i n g s u c h t h i n g s
exist, e v e n in the n a t u r a l sciences). C u l t u r e , and o u r v i e w s o f "it," a r e
p r o d u c e d historically, a n d a r e actively c o n t e s t e d . T h e r e is n o w h o l e
p i c t u r e t h a t c a n b e "filled in," since the p e r c e p t i o n a n d filling o f a g a p
l e a d to t h e a w a r e n e s s o f o t h e r g a p s . I f w o m e n ' s e x p e r i e n c e has b e e n
significantly e x c l u d e d f r o m e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t s , the r e c o g n i t i o n o f
this a b s e n c e , a n d its c o r r e c t i o n in m a n y r e c e n t studies, n o w h i g h l i g h t s
8
8. " T h e stork didn't bring them!" (David Schneider, in conversation). Foucault de­
scribed his approach as a "history o f problematics" (1984).
Introduction
19
t h e fact t h a t men's e x p e r i e n c e (as g e n d e r e d subjects, n o t c u l t u r a l
t y p e s — " D i n k a " o r " T r o b r i a n d e r s " ) is itself l a r g e l y u n s t u d i e d . A s ca­
n o n i c a l topics like " k i n s h i p " c o m e u n d e r critical scrutiny ( N e e d h a m
1 9 7 4 ; S c h n e i d e r 1 9 7 2 , 1984), n e w p r o b l e m s c o n c e r n i n g " s e x u a l i t y "
a r e m a d e visible. A n d so f o r t h w i t h o u t e n d . It is e v i d e n t t h a t w e k n o w
m o r e a b o u t t h e T r o b r i a n d I s l a n d e r s t h a n was k n o w n in 1900. B u t t h e
" w e " r e q u i r e s historical identification. (Talal A s a d a r g u e s in this vol­
u m e that the fact that this k n o w l e d g e is r o u t i n e l y i n s c r i b e d in c e r t a i n
" s t r o n g " l a n g u a g e s is n o t scientifically neutral.) I f " c u l t u r e " is n o t a n
object to b e d e s c r i b e d , n e i t h e r is it a unified c o r p u s o f s y m b o l s a n d
m e a n i n g s t h a t c a n b e definitively i n t e r p r e t e d . C u l t u r e is c o n t e s t e d ,
temporal, a n d emergent. Representation and explanation—both by
i n s i d e r s a n d o u t s i d e r s — i s i m p l i c a t e d in this e m e r g e n c e . T h e specifi­
c a t i o n o f d i s c o u r s e s I h a v e b e e n t r a c i n g is thus m o r e t h a n a m a t t e r o f
m a k i n g c a r e f u l l y limited claims. It is t h o r o u g h l y historicist a n d selfreflexive.
I n this spirit, let m e t u r n to the p r e s e n t v o l u m e . E v e r y o n e will be
a b l e to t h i n k o f i n d i v i d u a l s o r p e r s p e c t i v e s that s h o u l d h a v e b e e n in­
c l u d e d . T h e v o l u m e ' s f o c u s limits it in ways its a u t h o r s a n d e d i t o r s c a n
o n l y b e g i n to m a k e a p p a r e n t . R e a d e r s m a y note that its a n t h r o p o l o g i ­
cal bias n e g l e c t s p h o t o g r a p h y , film, p e r f o r m a n c e theory, d o c u m e n ­
tary art, t h e n o n f i c t i o n n o v e l , "the n e w j o u r n a l i s m , " oral history, a n d
v a r i o u s f o r m s o f sociology. T h e b o o k gives relatively little a t t e n t i o n t o
n e w e t h n o g r a p h i c possibilities e m e r g i n g f r o m n o n - W e s t e r n e x p e r i ­
e n c e a n d f r o m feminist t h e o r y a n d politics. L e t m e d w e l l o n this last
e x c l u s i o n , f o r it c o n c e r n s a n especially s t r o n g intellectual a n d m o r a l
i n f l u e n c e in the university m i l i e u x f r o m w h i c h these essays h a v e
s p r u n g . T h u s its a b s e n c e cries o u t f o r c o m m e n t . ( B u t by a d d r e s s i n g
this o n e e x c l u s i o n I d o not m e a n to i m p l y that it offers any p r i v i l e g e d
s t a n d p o i n t f r o m w h i c h to p e r c e i v e the partiality o f the b o o k . ) F e m i n i s t
t h e o r i z i n g is o b v i o u s l y o f g r e a t potential significance f o r r e t h i n k i n g
e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . It d e b a t e s the historical, political c o n s t r u c t i o n
o f identities a n d self/other relations, a n d it p r o b e s the g e n d e r e d posi­
tions t h a t m a k e all a c c o u n t s of, o r by, o t h e r p e o p l e i n e s c a p a b l y p a r ­
tial. W h y , t h e n , a r e t h e r e n o essays in this b o o k written f r o m pri­
marily feminist standpoints?
9
9. Many o f the themes I have been stressing above are supported by recent femi­
nist work. Some theorists have problematized all totalizing, Archimedian perspectives
(Jehlen 1981). Many have seriously rethought the social construction of relationship
and difference (Chodorow 1978, Rich 1976, Keller 1985). Much feminist practice
questions the strict separation of subjective and objective, emphasizing processual
modes of knowledge, closely connecting personal, political, and representational pro­
cesses. Other strands deepen the critique of visually based modes of surveillance and
poilrayal, linking them lo domination and masculine desire (Mulvey 1975, K u h n
20
JAMES C L I F F O R D
T h e v o l u m e w a s p l a n n e d as the publication o f a s e m i n a r l i m i t e d
b y its s p o n s o r i n g b o d y to ten participants. It was institutionally d e ­
fined as a n " a d v a n c e d s e m i n a r , " a n d its o r g a n i z e r s , G e o r g e M a r c u s
a n d myself, a c c e p t e d this f o r m a t w i t h o u t serious q u e s t i o n . W e d e ­
c i d e d to invite p e o p l e d o i n g " a d v a n c e d " w o r k o n o u r topic, b y w h i c h
w e u n d e r s t o o d p e o p l e w h o h a d a l r e a d y c o n t r i b u t e d significantly t o
t h e analysis o f e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t u a l f o r m . For the sake o f c o h e r e n c e ,
w e l o c a t e d the s e m i n a r w i t h i n , a n d at t h e b o u n d a r i e s of, the d i s c i p l i n e
o f a n t h r o p o l o g y . W e i n v i t e d participants well k n o w n for their r e c e n t
c o n t r i b u t i o n s to t h e o p e n i n g u p o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g possibilities,
o r w h o m w e k n e w to b e well a l o n g o n r e s e a r c h r e l e v a n t to o u r f o c u s .
T h e s e m i n a r w a s small a n d its f o r m a t i o n a d h o c , r e f l e c t i n g o u r s p e ­
cific p e r s o n a l a n d intellectual n e t w o r k s , o u r limited k n o w l e d g e o f a p ­
p r o p r i a t e w o r k in p r o g r e s s . (I shall n o t g o into i n d i v i d u a l p e r s o n a l i ­
ties, f r i e n d s h i p s , a n d so f o r t h , t h o u g h they are clearly relevant.)
P l a n n i n g the s e m i n a r , w e w e r e c o n f r o n t e d by w h a t s e e m e d to
us a n o b v i o u s — i m p o r t a n t a n d r e g r e t t a b l e — f a c t . F e m i n i s m h a d n o t
c o n t r i b u t e d m u c h to the theoretical analysis o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s as
texts. W h e r e w o m e n had m a d e textual innovations ( B o w e n 1 9 5 4 ,
B r i g g s 1 9 7 0 , F a v r e t - S a a d a 1980, 1 9 8 1 ) they h a d n o t d o n e so o n f e m i ­
nist g r o u n d s . A few quite r e c e n t w o r k s (Shostak 1 9 8 1 , C e s a r a 1 9 8 2 ,
M e r n i s s i 1984) h a d reflected in their f o r m feminist claims a b o u t s u b ­
j e c t i v i t y , relationality, a n d f e m a l e e x p e r i e n c e , b u t t h e s e s a m e t e x t u a l
forms were shared by other, nonfeminist, experimental works. M o r e ­
o v e r , t h e i r a u t h o r s d i d n o t s e e m c o n v e r s a n t with t h e r h e t o r i c a l a n d
t e x t u a l t h e o r y that w e w a n t e d to b r i n g to b e a r o n e t h n o g r a p h y . O u r
f o c u s w a s t h u s o n t e x t u a l t h e o r y as well as o n textual f o r m : a d e f e n ­
sible, p r o d u c t i v e f o c u s .
W i t h i n this f o c u s w e c o u l d not d r a w o n any d e v e l o p e d d e b a t e s
g e n e r a t e d by f e m i n i s m o n e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t u a l practices. A f e w v e r y
initial indications (for e x a m p l e , A t k i n s o n 1 9 8 2 ; R o b e r t s , e d . 1 9 8 1 )
w e r e all t h a t h a d b e e n p u b l i s h e d . A n d the situation has n o t c h a n g e d
d r a m a t i c a l l y since. F e m i n i s m clearly has c o n t r i b u t e d to a n t h r o p o l o g i ­
cal t h e o r y . A n d v a r i o u s f e m a l e e t h n o g r a p h e r s , like A n n e t t e W e i n e r
( 1 9 7 6 ) , a r e actively r e w r i t i n g the masculinist c a n o n . B u t f e m i n i s t e t h -
1982). Narrative forms o f representation are analyzed with regard to the gendered
positions they reenact (de Lauretis 1984). Some feminist writing has worked to politi­
cize and subvert all natural essences and identities, including "femininity" and "woman"
(Wittig 1975, Irigaray 1977, Russ 1975, Haraway 1985). "Anthropological" categories
such as nature and culture, public and private, sex and gender have been brought into
question (Ortner 1974, MacCormack and Strathern 1980, Rosaldo and Lamphere
1974, Rosaldo 1980, Rubin 1975).
Introduction
21
n o g r a p h y has f o c u s e d e i t h e r o n setting the r e c o r d s t r a i g h t a b o u t
w o m e n o r o n r e v i s i n g a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l c a t e g o r i e s (for e x a m p l e , t h e
n a t u r e / c u l t u r e o p p o s i t i o n ) . It has n o t p r o d u c e d e i t h e r u n c o n v e n ­
t i o n a l f o r m s o f w r i t i n g o r a d e v e l o p e d reflection o n e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x tuality as s u c h .
T h e r e a s o n s f o r this g e n e r a l situation n e e d c a r e f u l e x p l o r a t i o n ,
a n d this is n o t t h e p l a c e f o r it. In the case o f o u r s e m i n a r a n d vol­
u m e , by stressing t e x t u a l f o r m a n d by p r i v i l e g i n g t e x t u a l t h e o r y ,
w e f o c u s e d the topic in w a y s that e x c l u d e d c e r t a i n f o r m s o f e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c i n n o v a t i o n . T h i s fact e m e r g e d in the s e m i n a r discussions,
d u r i n g w h i c h it b e c a m e clear that c o n c r e t e institutional f o r c e s — t e n ­
u r e p a t t e r n s , c a n o n s , the influence o f disciplinary authorities, g l o b a l
i n e q u a l i t i e s o f p o w e r — c o u l d n o t be e v a d e d . F r o m this p e r s p e c t i v e , is­
s u e s o f c o n t e n t in e t h n o g r a p h y (the e x c l u s i o n a n d i n c l u s i o n o f differ­
e n t e x p e r i e n c e s in the a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l a r c h i v e , the r e w r i t i n g o f estab­
l i s h e d traditions) b e c a m e directly r e l e v a n t . A n d this is w h e r e f e m i n i s t
a n d n o n - W e s t e r n writings have m a d e their g r e a t e s t i m p a c t . " C l e a r l y
o u r sharp separation o f form from content—and o u r fetishizing o f
f o r m — w a s , a n d is, contestable. It is a bias that m a y well be implicit in
m o d e r n i s t " t e x t u a l i s m . " (Most o f u s at the s e m i n a r , e x c l u d i n g S t e p h e n
T y l e r , w e r e n o t yet t h o r o u g h l y " p o s t - m o d e r n " ! )
10
W e see these t h i n g s better, o f c o u r s e , n o w that the d e e d is d o n e ,
t h e b o o k finished. B u t e v e n early o n , in S a n t a Fe, i n t e n s e d i s c u s s i o n s
t u r n e d o n the e x c l u s i o n o f several i m p o r t a n t p e r s p e c t i v e s a n d w h a t to
d o a b o u t t h e m . A s e d i t o r s , w e d e c i d e d not to try a n d "fill o u t " t h e vol­
u m e b y s e e k i n g a d d i t i o n a l essays. T h i s s e e m e d t o b e t o k e n i s m a n d to
reflect a n a s p i r a t i o n to false c o m p l e t e n e s s . O u r r e s p o n s e to the p r o b ­
l e m o f e x c l u d e d s t a n d p o i n t s has b e e n to leave t h e m blatant. T h e
p r e s e n t v o l u m e r e m a i n s a l i m i t e d i n t e r v e n t i o n , w i t h n o a s p i r a t i o n to
b e c o m p r e h e n s i v e o r to c o v e r the territory. It s h e d s a s t r o n g , partial
light.
10. Marilyn Strathern's unpublished essay "Dislodging a World View" (1984), also
discussed by Paul Rabinow in this volume, begins the investigation. A fuller analysis is
being worked out by Deborah Gordon in a dissertation for the History o f Consciousness
program, University of California, Santa Cruz. 1 am indebted to conversations with her.
1 1 . It may generally be true that groups long excluded from positions o f institu­
tional power, like women or people of color, have less concrete freedom to indulge in
textual experimentations. T o write in an unorthodox way, Paul Rabinow suggests in this
volume, one must first have tenure. In specific contexts a preoccupation with selfreflexivity and style may be an index of privileged estheticism. For if one does not have
to worry about the exclusion or true representation of one's experience, one is freer to
undermine ways o f telling, to focus on form over content. But I am uneasy with a gen­
eral notion that privileged discourse indulges in esthetic or epistemological subtleties,
whereas marginal discourse "tells it like it is." T h e reverse is too often the case. (See
Michael Fischer's essay in this volume.)
22
JAMES CLIFFORD
A m a j o r c o n s e q u e n c e o f the historical a n d theoretical m o v e ­
m e n t s t r a c e d in this I n t r o d u c t i o n has b e e n to d i s l o d g e the g r o u n d
f r o m w h i c h p e r s o n s a n d g r o u p s securely r e p r e s e n t o t h e r s . A c o n c e p ­
tual shift, "tectonic" in its implications, has t a k e n place. W e g r o u n d
t h i n g s , now, o n a m o v i n g e a r t h . T h e r e is n o l o n g e r any p l a c e o f o v e r ­
v i e w ( m o u n t a i n t o p ) f r o m w h i c h to m a p h u m a n ways o f life, n o A r c h i m e d i a n p o i n t f r o m w h i c h to r e p r e s e n t the w o r l d . M o u n t a i n s a r e in
c o n s t a n t m o t i o n . S o are islands: for o n e c a n n o t o c c u p y , u n a m b i g u ­
ously, a b o u n d e d c u l t u r a l w o r l d f r o m w h i c h to j o u r n e y o u t a n d a n a ­
lyze o t h e r c u l t u r e s . H u m a n ways o f life increasingly i n f l u e n c e , d o m i ­
n a t e , p a r o d y , translate, a n d subvert o n e a n o t h e r . C u l t u r a l analysis is
always e n m e s h e d in g l o b a l m o v e m e n t s o f d i f f e r e n c e a n d p o w e r . H o w ­
e v e r o n e defines it, a n d the p h r a s e is h e r e u s e d loosely, a " w o r l d sys­
t e m " n o w links t h e planet's societies in a c o m m o n historical p r o c e s s .
A n u m b e r o f the essays that follow g r a p p l e with this p r e d i c a m e n t .
T h e i r e m p h a s e s differ. H o w , G e o r g e M a r c u s asks, can e t h n o g r a p h y —
at h o m e o r a b r o a d — d e f i n e its object o f study in w a y s that p e r m i t d e ­
tailed, local, c o n t e x t u a l analysis a n d s i m u l t a n e o u s l y the p o r t r a y a l o f
g l o b a l i m p l i c a t i n g forces? A c c e p t e d t e x t u a l strategies for d e f i n i n g cul­
t u r a l d o m a i n s , s e p a r a t i n g m i c r o a n d m a c r o levels, a r e n o l o n g e r a d e ­
q u a t e to the c h a l l e n g e . H e e x p l o r e s n e w w r i t i n g possibilities t h a t b l u r
t h e distinction b e t w e e n a n t h r o p o l o g y a n d sociology, s u b v e r t i n g an u n ­
p r o d u c t i v e division o f labor. T a l a l A s a d . a l s o c o n f r o n t s the systematic
i n t e r c o n n e c t i o n o f the planet's societies. B u t he finds persistent, gla­
cial inequalities i m p o s i n g a l l - t o o - c o h e r e n t f o r m s o n the world's d i v e r ­
sity a n d firmly p o s i t i o n i n g any e t h n o g r a p h i c practice. " T r a n s l a t i o n s "
o f c u l t u r e , h o w e v e r subtle o r inventive in t e x t u a l f o r m , take p l a c e
w i t h i n relations o f " w e a k " a n d " s t r o n g " l a n g u a g e s that g o v e r n the in­
t e r n a t i o n a l flow o f k n o w l e d g e . E t h n o g r a p h y is still y e r y m u c h a o n e ­
w a y street. M i c h a e l Fischer's essay suggests that notions o f g l o b a l
h e g e m o n y m a y miss t h e r e f l e x i v e , i n v e n t i v e d i m e n s i o n s o f ethnicity
a n d c u l t u r a l c o n t a c t . ( A n d in a similar v e i n , m y o w n c o n t r i b u t i o n
t r e a t s all n a r r a t i v e s o f lost authenticity a n d v a n i s h i n g diversity as selfc o n f i r m i n g a l l e g o r i e s , until p r o v e n otherwise.) Fischer locates e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c w r i t i n g in a syncretic w o r l d o f ethnicity r a t h e r t h a n a w o r l d o f
d i s c r e t e c u l t u r e s a n d traditions. P o s t - m o d e r n i s m , in his analysis, is
m o r e t h a n a literary, p h i l o s o p h i c a l , o r artistic t r e n d . It is a g e n e r a l
12
12. T h e term is, o f course, Wallerstein's (1976). I find, however, his strong sense o f
a unitary direction to the global historical process problematic, and agree with Ortner's
reservations (1984: 1 4 2 - 4 3 ) .
Introduction
23
c o n d i t i o n o f m u l t i c u l t u r a l life d e m a n d i n g n e w f o r m s o f i n v e n t i v e n e s s
a n d subtlety f r o m a fully reflexive e t h n o g r a p h y .
E t h n o g r a p h y in the service o f a n t h r o p o l o g y o n c e l o o k e d o u t at
c l e a r l y d e f i n e d o t h e r s , d e f i n e d as primitive, o r tribal, o r n o n - W e s t e r n ,
o r pre-literate, o r n o n h i s t o r i c a l — t h e list, if e x t e n d e d , s o o n b e c o m e s
i n c o h e r e n t . N o w e t h n o g r a p h y e n c o u n t e r s o t h e r s in relation to itself,
w h i l e s e e i n g itself as o t h e r . T h u s an " e t h n o g r a p h i c " p e r s p e c t i v e is
b e i n g d e p l o y e d in d i v e r s e a n d n o v e l c i r c u m s t a n c e s . R e n a t o R o s a l d o
p r o b e s t h e way its r h e t o r i c has b e e n a p p r o p r i a t e d by social history
a n d h o w this m a k e s visible certain d i s t u r b i n g a s s u m p t i o n s t h a t h a v e
e m p o w e r e d fieldwork. T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s distinctively intimate, in­
quisitive p e r s p e c t i v e t u r n s u p in history, literature, a d v e r t i s i n g , a n d
m a n y o t h e r u n l i k e l y places. T h e science of the e x o t i c is b e i n g " r e p a t r i ­
a t e d " (Fischer a n d M a r c u s 1986).
E t h n o g r a p h y ' s traditional v o c a t i o n o f c u l t u r a l criticism ( M o n ­
taigne's " O n C a n n i b a l s , " Montesquieu's Persian Letters) has r e e m e r g e d
w i t h n e w e x p l i c i t n e s s a n d v i g o r . A n t h r o p o l o g i c a l fieldworkers c a n
n o w r e a l i g n t h e i r w o r k with p i o n e e r s like H e n r y M a y h e w in t h e n i n e ­
t e e n t h c e n t u r y a n d , m o r e recently, with the C h i c a g o s c h o o l o f u r b a n
s o c i o l o g y ( L l o y d W a r n e r , W i l l i a m F. W h y t e , R o b e r t Park). S o c i o l o g i c a l
d e s c r i p t i o n o f e v e r y d a y practices has recently b e e n c o m p l i c a t e d b y
e t h n o m e t h o d o l o g y (Leiter 1980): the w o r k o f H a r o l d G a r f i n k e l ,
H a r v e y S a c k s , a n d A a r o n C i c o u r e l (also n e g l e c t e d in the p r e s e n t v o l ­
u m e ) reflects a crisis in s o c i o l o g y similar to that in a n t h r o p o l o g y .
M e a n w h i l e a different r a p p r o c h e m e n t between anthropological a n d
s o c i o l o g i c a l e t h n o g r a p h y has b e e n t a k i n g place u n d e r the i n f l u e n c e o f
M a r x i s t c u l t u r a l t h e o r y at the B i r m i n g h a m C e n t r e f o r C o n t e m p o r a r y
C u l t u r a l S t u d i e s (Stuart H a l l , Paul Willis). In A m e r i c a
fieldworkers
a r e t u r n i n g t h e i r attention to laboratory biologists a n d physicists
( L a t o u r a n d W o o l g a r 1 9 7 9 , T r a w e e k 1982), to A m e r i c a n " k i n s h i p "
( S c h n e i d e r 1980), to the dynastic rich ( M a r c u s 1983), to t r u c k e r s
( A g a r 1 9 8 5 ) , to psychiatric clients (Estroff 1985), to n e w u r b a n c o m ­
m u n i t i e s ( K r i e g e r 1983), to p r o b l e m a t i c traditional identities ( B l u
1980). T h i s is o n l y t h e b e g i n n i n g o f a g r o w i n g list.
W h a t is at stake is m o r e t h a n a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l m e t h o d s b e i n g d e ­
p l o y e d at h o m e , o r s t u d y i n g n e w g r o u p s ( N a d e r 1 9 6 9 ) . E t h n o g r a p h y
is m o v i n g into areas l o n g o c c u p i e d by sociology, the n o v e l , o r avantg a r d e c u l t u r a l critique (Clifford 1 9 8 1 ) , r e d i s c o v e r i n g o t h e r n e s s a n d
d i f f e r e n c e w i t h i n the c u l t u r e s o f the West. It has b e c o m e c l e a r t h a t
e v e r y v e r s i o n o f a n "other," w h e r e v e r f o u n d , is also t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n
o f a "self," a n d the m a k i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c texts, as M i c h a e l F i s c h e r ,
V i n c e n t C r a p a n z a n o , a n d o t h e r s in this v o l u m e show, has always in-
24
JAMES CLIFFORD
v o l v e d a p r o c e s s o f " s e l f - f a s h i o n i n g " ( G r e e n b l a t t 1980). C u l t u r a l
poesis—and
politics—is the constant reconstitution o f selves a n d
o t h e r s t h r o u g h specific e x c l u s i o n s , c o n v e n t i o n s , a n d d i s c u r s i v e p r a c ­
tices. T h e essays that follow p r o v i d e tools for t h e analysis o f these p r o ­
cesses, at h o m e a n d a b r o a d .
T h e s e essays d o n o t p r o p h e s y . T a k e n as a w h o l e , t h e y p o r t r a y his­
torical constraints o n the m a k i n g of e t h n o g r a p h i e s , as well as areas o f
t e x t u a l e x p e r i m e n t a n d e m e r g e n c e . Talal A s a d ' s t o n e is sober, p r e ­
o c c u p i e d (like P a u l R a b i n o w ) with institutional limits o n i n t e r p r e ­
tive f r e e d o m . G e o r g e M a r c u s a n d M i c h a e l F i s c h e r e x p l o r e c o n c r e t e
e x a m p l e s o f alternative w r i t i n g . S t e p h e n T y l e r e v o k e s w h a t d o e s
n o t (cannot?) yet exist, b u t m u s t be i m a g i n e d — o r , better, s o u n d e d .
M a n y o f the essays (especially those o f R e n a t o R o s a l d o , V i n c e n t
C r a p a n z a n o , M a r y Pratt, a n d Talal A s a d ) are o c c u p i e d with critical
g r o u n d c l e a r i n g — d i s l o d g i n g c a n o n s to m a k e space for alternatives.
R a b i n o w identifies a n e w c a n o n , p o s t - m o d e r n i s m . O t h e r essays ( T y l e r
on oral a n d performative modes, m y o w n treatment o f allegory) re­
c a p t u r e o l d r h e t o r i c s a n d projects for use n o w . "For use n o w ! " C h a r l e s
O l s o n ' s p o e t i c r u l e s h o u l d g u i d e the r e a d i n g o f these essays: t h e y a r e
r e s p o n s e s to a c u r r e n t , c h a n g i n g situation, i n t e r v e n t i o n s r a t h e r t h a n
p o s i t i o n s . T o place this v o l u m e in a historical c o n j u n c t u r e , as I h a v e
tried to d o h e r e , is to r e v e a l the m o v i n g g r o u n d on w h i c h it stands,
a n d to d o so w i t h o u t benefit o f a master n a r r a t i v e o f historical d e v e l o p ­
m e n t t h a t c a n offer a c o h e r e n t direction, o r f u t u r e , for e t h n o g r a p h y .
13
O n e l a u n c h e s a controversial collection like this with s o m e trepi­
d a t i o n , h o p i n g it will b e seriously e n g a g e d — n o t simply r e j e c t e d , f o r
e x a m p l e , as a n o t h e r attack o n science o r an i n c i t e m e n t to relativism.
R e j e c t i o n s o f this k i n d s h o u l d at least m a k e clear w h y close analysis o f
o n e o f t h e p r i n c i p a l things e t h n o g r a p h e r s d o — t h a t is, w r i t e — s h o u l d
n o t b e c e n t r a l to e v a l u a t i o n o f the results o f scientific r e s e a r c h . T h e
a u t h o r s in this v o l u m e d o not s u g g e s t that o n e cultural a c c o u n t is as
g o o d as any o t h e r . I f t h e y e s p o u s e d so trivial a n d s e l f - r e f u t i n g a rela­
tivism, t h e y w o u l d n o t h a v e g o n e to the t r o u b l e o f w r i t i n g d e t a i l e d ,
c o m m i t t e d , critical studies.
O t h e r , m o r e subtle, objections h a v e recently b e e n raised to the lit­
e r a r y , t h e o r e t i c a l reflexivity r e p r e s e n t e d h e r e . T e x t u a l , e p i s t e m o 13. My notion o f historicism owes a great deal to the recent work of Fredric
Jameson (1980, 1981, 1984a, b). I am not, however, persuaded by the master narrative
(a global sequence o f modes of production) he invokes from time to time as an alter­
native to post-modern fragmentation (the sense that history is composed o f various
local narratives). T h e partiality I have been urging in this introduction always presup­
poses a local historical predicament. This historicist partiality is not the unsituated "par­
tiality and flux" with which Rabinow (see p. 3 5 2 ) taxes a somewhat rigidly defined
"post-modernism."
Introduction
25
l o g i c a l q u e s t i o n s are s o m e t i m e s t h o u g h t to be p a r a l y z i n g , abstract,
d a n g e r o u s l y solipsistic—in short, a b a r r i e r to the task o f w r i t i n g
" g r o u n d e d " o r " u n i f i e d " cultural a n d historical s t u d i e s . I n p r a c t i c e ,
h o w e v e r , s u c h q u e s t i o n s d o n o t necessarily inhibit those w h o e n t e r t a i n
t h e m f r o m p r o d u c i n g truthful, realistic a c c o u n t s . A l l o f the essays col­
l e c t e d h e r e p o i n t t o w a r d new, better m o d e s o f w r i t i n g . O n e n e e d n o t
a g r e e w i t h t h e i r p a r t i c u l a r s t a n d a r d s to take seriously the fact t h a t in
e t h n o g r a p h y , as in literary a n d historical studies, w h a t c o u n t s as "real­
ist" is n o w a m a t t e r o f both theoretical d e b a t e a n d practical e x p e r i ­
mentation.
14
T h e w r i t i n g a n d r e a d i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y are o v e r d e t e r m i n e d b y
f o r c e s u l t i m a t e l y b e y o n d the c o n t r o l o f e i t h e r an a u t h o r o r a n in­
terpretive community. T h e s e contingencies—of language, rhetoric,
p o w e r , a n d h i s t o r y — m u s t n o w be o p e n l y c o n f r o n t e d in the p r o c e s s o f
w r i t i n g . T h e y c a n n o l o n g e r be e v a d e d . B u t the c o n f r o n t a t i o n raises
t h o r n y p r o b l e m s o f verification: h o w are the truths o f cultural a c c o u n t s
e v a l u a t e d ? W h o has the authority to separate science f r o m art? r e a l i s m
f r o m fantasy? k n o w l e d g e f r o m i d e o l o g y ? O f c o u r s e such s e p a r a t i o n s
will c o n t i n u e to b e m a i n t a i n e d , a n d r e d r a w n ; b u t their c h a n g i n g p o e t i c
a n d political g r o u n d s will be less easily i g n o r e d . In c u l t u r a l studies at
least, w e c a n n o l o n g e r k n o w the w h o l e t r u t h , o r e v e n claim to a p p r o a c h
it. T h e r i g o r o u s partiality I h a v e b e e n stressing h e r e m a y be a s o u r c e o f
p e s s i m i s m f o r s o m e r e a d e r s . B u t is t h e r e n o t a liberation, too, in r e c o g ­
n i z i n g that n o o n e c a n write a b o u t o t h e r s any l o n g e r as if t h e y w e r e
d i s c r e t e objects o r texts? A n d m a y n o t t h e vision o f a c o m p l e x , p r o b ­
l e m a t i c , partial e t h n o g r a p h y lead, not to its a b a n d o n m e n t , b u t to m o r e
s u b t l e , c o n c r e t e w a y s o f w r i t i n g a n d r e a d i n g , to n e w c o n c e p t i o n s o f
c u l t u r e as i n t e r a c t i v e a n d historical? M o s t o f the essays in this v o l u m e ,
f o r all t h e i r t r e n c h a n t critiques, a r e optimistic a b o u t e t h n o g r a p h i c writ­
i n g . T h e p r o b l e m s they raise are incitements, n o t barriers.
T h e s e essays will b e a c c u s e d o f h a v i n g g o n e too far: p o e t r y will
a g a i n b e b a n n e d f r o m the city, p o w e r f r o m the halls o f science. A n d
e x t r e m e s e l f - c o n s c i o u s n e s s certainly h a s its d a n g e r s — o f irony, o f elit­
i s m , o f solipsism, o f p u t t i n g the w h o l e w o r l d in q u o t a t i o n m a r k s . B u t I
t r u s t t h a t r e a d e r s w h o signal these d a n g e r s will d o so (like s o m e o f t h e
essays b e l o w ) after t h e y h a v e c o n f r o n t e d the c h a n g i n g history, r h e t o ­
ric, a n d politics o f e s t a b l i s h e d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l f o r m s . I n t h e w a k e o f
semiotics, post-structuralism, h e r m e n e u t i c s , a n d d e c o n s t r u c t i o n t h e r e
has b e e n c o n s i d e r a b l e talk a b o u t a r e t u r n to plain s p e a k i n g a n d to re­
a l i s m . B u t to r e t u r n to realism o n e m u s t first h a v e left it! M o r e o v e r , to
14. The response is frequently expressed informally. It appears in different forms
in Randall (1984), Rosen (1984), Ortner (1984:143), Pullum (1984), and Darnton
O9H5).
26
JAMES CLIFFORD
r e c o g n i z e t h e poetic d i m e n s i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h y d o e s not r e q u i r e that
o n e g i v e u p facts a n d a c c u r a t e a c c o u n t i n g for the s u p p o s e d free play
o f p o e t r y . " P o e t r y " is n o t limited to r o m a n t i c o r m o d e r n i s t subjectiv­
i s m : it c a n b e historical, precise, objective. A n d o f c o u r s e it is j u s t as
c o n v e n t i o n a l a n d institutionally d e t e r m i n e d as " p r o s e . " E t h n o g r a p h y
is h y b r i d t e x t u a l activity: it traverses g e n r e s a n d disciplines. T h e es­
says in this v o l u m e d o n o t claim e t h n o g r a p h y is "only literature."
T h e y d o insist it is always w r i t i n g .
I would like to thank the members o f the Santa Fe seminar for their many sugges­
tions incorporated in, or left out of, this Introduction. (I have certainly not tried to rep­
resent the "native point o f view" of that small group.) In graduate seminars co-taught
with Paul Rabinow at the University o f California at Berkeley and Santa C r u z , many o f
my ideas on these topics have been agreeably assaulted. My special thanks to him and to
the students in those classes. A t Santa Cruz, Deborah Gordon, Donna Haraway, and
Ruth Frankenberg have helped me with this essay, and I have had important encour­
agement and stimulus from Hayden White and the members o f the Research C r o u p on
Colonial Discourse. Various press readers made important suggestions, particularly
Barbara Babcock. G e o r g e Marcus, who got the whole project rolling, has been an in­
estimable ally and friend.
MARY LOUISE PRATT
Fieldwork in Common Places
In his i n t r o d u c t i o n to Argonauts of the Western Pacific ( 1 9 2 2 )
B r o n i s l a w M a l i n o w s k i celebrates the a d v e n t o f p r o f e s s i o n a l , scientific
e t h n o g r a p h y : " T h e t i m e w h e n w e c o u l d tolerate a c c o u n t s p r e s e n t i n g
us the native as a distorted, childish c a r i c a t u r e o f a h u m a n b e i n g a r e
g o n e , " h e d e c l a r e s . " T h i s p i c t u r e is false, a n d like m a n y o t h e r false­
h o o d s , it has b e e n killed by S c i e n c e " (Malinowski 1 9 6 1 : 1 1 ) . T h e state­
m e n t is s y m p t o m a t i c o f a well-established habit a m o n g e t h n o g r a p h e r s
o f d e f i n i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g o v e r a n d against o l d e r , less s p e c i a l ­
i z e d g e n r e s , s u c h as travel b o o k s , p e r s o n a l m e m o i r s , j o u r n a l i s m , a n d
a c c o u n t s b y missionaries, settlers, c o l o n i a l officials, a n d the like. A l ­
t h o u g h it will n o t s u p p l a n t these g e n r e s a l t o g e t h e r , p r o f e s s i o n a l eth­
n o g r a p h y , it is u n d e r s t o o d , will u s u r p their authority a n d c o r r e c t t h e i r
a b u s e s . In a l m o s t any e t h n o g r a p h y d u l l - l o o k i n g figures c a l l e d " m e r e
t r a v e l e r s " o r "casual o b s e r v e r s " show u p f r o m time to time, o n l y to
h a v e t h e i r superficial p e r c e p t i o n s either c o r r e c t e d o r c o r r o b o r a t e d by
t h e s e r i o u s scientist.
T h i s strategy o f d e f i n i n g itself by contrast to adjacent a n d ante­
c e d e n t d i s c o u r s e s limits e t h n o g r a p h y ' s ability to e x p l a i n o r e x a m i n e
itself as a k i n d o f w r i t i n g . T o the e x t e n t that it legitimates itself by o p ­
p o s i t i o n to o t h e r k i n d s o f writing, e t h n o g r a p h y blinds itself to the fact
that its o w n d i s c u r s i v e practices w e r e o f t e n i n h e r i t e d f r o m these o t h e r
g e n r e s a n d a r e still s h a r e d w i t h t h e m today. A t times o n e still h e a r s
e x p r e s s e d as an ideal for e t h n o g r a p h y a neutral, tropeless d i s c o u r s e
t h a t w o u l d r e n d e r o t h e r realities "exactly as they a r e , " n o t filtered
t h r o u g h o u r o w n v a l u e s a n d interpretive s c h e m a . For the m o s t part,
h o w e v e r , that wild g o o s e is n o l o n g e r b e i n g c h a s e d , a n d it is possible
to s u g g e s t t h a t e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g is as t r o p e - g o v e r n e d as any o t h e r
d i s c u r s i v e f o r m a t i o n . T h i s r e c o g n i t i o n is o b v i o u s l y f u n d a m e n t a l for
those w h o a r e i n t e r e s t e d in c h a n g i n g o r e n r i c h i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c writ­
i n g o r s i m p l y in i n c r e a s i n g the discipline's s e l f - u n d e r s t a n d i n g . I n this
essay I p r o p o s e to e x a m i n e h o w s o m e t r o p e s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g
a r e d e p l o y e d a n d h o w they d e r i v e f r o m earlier discursive traditions.
In particular, 1 p r o p o s e to focus on the v e x e d but i m p o r t a n t relation-
28
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
s h i p b e t w e e n p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e a n d i m p e r s o n a l d e s c r i p t i o n in e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c w r i t i n g a n d to l o o k at s o m e o f the history o f this discursive
c o n f i g u r a t i o n , n o t a b l y its history in travel w r i t i n g .
A r e c e n t c o n t r o v e r s y in the American Anthropologist
underscores
t h e difficulties e t h n o g r a p h y has h a d in establishing its relations to ad­
j a c e n t discourses. T h e controversy surrounded Florinda Donner's
Shabono: A True Adventure in the Remote and Magical Heart of the South
American fungle ( 1 9 8 2 ) . T h e b o o k is a p e r s o n a l a c c o u n t o f the e x p e r i ­
e n c e o f a g r a d u a t e s t u d e n t in a n t h r o p o l o g y w h o , while d o i n g fieldw o r k in V e n e z u e l a , is c h o s e n by m e m b e r s o f a r e m o t e g r o u p o f Y a n o m a m o to live with t h e m a n d learn their lifeways. T h e b o o k has b e e n a
g r e a t success. O n the c o v e r o f the p a p e r b a c k C a r l o s C a s t a n e d a hails it
as "at o n c e art, m a g i c a n d s u p e r b social science"; a Q u e e n s C o l l e g e
a n t h r o p o l o g i s t calls it "a r a r e a n d beautiful b o o k . . . [that] i l l u m i n a t e s
t h e w o r l d o f the Y a n o m a m o I n d i a n s [and] c o n v e y s a sense o f t h e m y s ­
tery a n d p o w e r still to b e f o u n d in ritual"; Newsweek praises it f o r
g o i n g " w a y b e y o n d a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l questions a n d c a t e g o r i e s into t h e
far r e a c h e s o f a fascinating alien culture."
C o n t r o v e r s y a b o u t Shabono b r o k e o u t w h e n the S e p t e m b e r 1 9 8 3
issue o f the American Anthropologist p u b l i s h e d a c o m m e n t a c c u s i n g
D o n n e r o f p l a g i a r i s m a n d f r a u d . "Frankly," says R e b e c c a B . D e H o l m e s ,
" I find it h a r d to b e l i e v e that D o n n e r spent any l e n g t h o f time with t h e
Y a n o m a m o " ( D e H o l m e s 1 9 8 3 : 6 6 5 ) . D o n n e r ' s e t h n o g r a p h i c d a t a , she
s u g g e s t s , w e r e " r a t h e r e x p e r t l y b o r r o w e d f r o m o t h e r s o u r c e s a n d as­
s e m b l e d in a k i n d o f m e l a n g e o f fact a n d fantasy for w h i c h C a s t a n e d a
is so f a m o u s " (ibid.). D e H o l m e s ' s most serious accusation is that m u c h
o f D o n n e r ' s b o r r o w i n g was o u t r i g h t plagiarism from a n o t h e r e x t r a o r ­
d i n a r y b o o k , a c o n t e m p o r a r y captivity narrative called Yanoama: The
Narrative of a. White Girl Kidnapped by Amazonian Indians, w h i c h a p ­
p e a r e d in Italian in 1 9 6 5 a n d in E n g l i s h translation in 1 9 6 9 . T h i s
b o o k , w h o s e authenticity n o o n e has q u e s t i o n e d , p r e s e n t s t h e life
story o f a B r a z i l i a n , H e l e n a V a l e r o , w h o lived f r o m c h i l d h o o d t o
a d u l t h o o d w i t h a g r o u p o f Y a n o m a m o w h o k e p t h e r f o l l o w i n g a n at­
tack o n h e r family.
1
D e H o l m e s ' s accusation o f plagiarism is s u p p o r t e d b y a series o f
s a m p l e p a s s a g e s f r o m the t w o b o o k s a n d a sizeable list o f w h a t s h e calls
" p a r a l l e l a c c o u n t s o f the same events, plus similar o r identical t i m e
1. T h i s book, incidentally, should have generated a scandal o f its own, for its
editor-transcriber, Ettore Biocca, claims it as his own and inexcusably fails to credit
Valero adequately for her own story. Her name appears nowhere on the cover, and one
hopes that, in addition to getting editorial credit, Biocca is not also collecting the royal­
ties. A t story's end, Valero is on her own in a Brazilian city, struggling to get her children
through school.
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
29
s e q u e n c e s . " T h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s with w h o m I s p o k e h a d f o u n d this
e v i d e n c e i m m e d i a t e l y c o n v i n c i n g . T h e y h a d a g r e e d with D e H o l m e s
t h a t D o n n e r ' s w h o l e b o o k m u s t b e a fabrication a n d that D o n n e r h a d
p r o b a b l y n e v e r lived with the Y a n o m a m o .
I was s u r p r i s e d b o t h by h o w q u i c k l y p e o p l e r u s h e d to this e x ­
t r e m e c o n c l u s i o n a n d by h o w schematic the t e r m s in w h i c h t h e issue
w a s d i s c u s s e d w e r e . D o n n e r ' s b o o k was e i t h e r t r u e o r false, m e a n i n g ,
a p p a r e n t l y , that she h a d e i t h e r lived with the Y a n o m a m o o r h a d not,
a n d n o t h i n g m o r e was at issue. I was also suspicious, especially at t h e
e a g e r n e s s to settle t h e m a t t e r q u i c k l y a n d at D o n n e r ' s e x p e n s e , d e s p i t e
t h e fact that m a n y a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s h a d a p p a r e n t l y r e a d a n d a p p r e c i ­
a t e d D o n n e r ' s b o o k , a n d f o u n d it believable. Shabono, it l o o k e d to m e ,
w a s b e i n g " k i l l e d by s c i e n c e , " in Malinowski's w o r d s , a n d w i t h o u t
m u c h in t h e w a y o f a trial. T h e case o b v i o u s l y t h r e a t e n e d s o m e deli­
c a t e d i s c i p l i n a r y b o u n d a r i e s . M o s t pointedly, it b r o u g h t to t h e s u r f a c e
t h e a n g u i s h e d a n d messy tangle o f c o n t r a d i c t i o n s a n d u n c e r t a i n t i e s
s u r r o u n d i n g the interrelations o f p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e , p e r s o n a l n a r ­
r a t i v e , scientism, a n d professionalism in e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . B y w a y
o f e x p l a n a t i o n , let m e p u s h the e x a m p l e a little f u r t h e r .
T o a n o u t s i d e r , o n e o f the m o s t interesting p u z z l e s in the sin­
g u l a r l y i m p o v e r i s h e d d e b a t e o n Shabono was that the book's factual ac­
c u r a c y d i d not s e e m to b e at issue. D e H o l m e s ' s m e t i c u l o u s scrutiny
h a d p r o d u c e d o n l y a single e t h n o g r a p h i c e r r o r in 300 p a g e s (a r e f e r ­
e n c e to r u n n i n g b e t w e e n rows o f m a n i o c ) . Implicitly it was a c c e p t e d
t h a t g i v e n a c e r t a i n quantity o f s e c o n d a r y material, o n e in fact c o u l d
c o n s t r u c t a c o n v i n c i n g , vivid, e t h n o g r a p h i c a l l y a c c u r a t e a c c o u n t o f
life in a n o t h e r c u l t u r e without personal experience in the. field. W h y , I
w o n d e r e d , w o u l d e t h n o g r a p h e r s b e so willing to c o n c e d e s u c h a
t h i n g ? I f it w e r e so, exactly w h a t sort o f public threat w o u l d D o n n e r ' s
( a l l e g e d ) d e c e p t i o n be?
W h a t w a s at issue was not e t h n o g r a p h i c accuracy, but a set o f
p r o b l e m a t i c links b e t w e e n e t h n o g r a p h i c authority, p e r s o n a l e x p e r i ­
e n c e , scientism, a n d originality o f e x p r e s s i o n . I f D o n n e r really d i d live
w i t h t h e Y a n o m a m o , w h y w o u l d h e r text so r e s e m b l e Valero's? B u t b y
t h e s t a n d a r d s o f e t h n o g r a p h y , the o p p o s i t e question also arises: H o w
c o u l d h e r a c c o u n t not r e s e m b l e Valero's? T h e a l l e g e d l y p l a g i a r i z e d
p a s s a g e s D e H o l m e s cites are i n d e e d v e r y similar to Valero's text,
t h o u g h n e v e r e x a c t repetitions. T h e first five cases listed i n c l u d e :
(a) N a b r u s h i c l u b fight b e t w e e n m e n , (b) w o m e n ' s fishing t e c h n i q u e s ,
(c) girl's c o m i n g - o f - a g e c o n f i n e m e n t a n d s u b s e q u e n t p r e s e n t a t i o n to
g r o u p as a w o m a n , (d) p r e p a r a t i o n o f c u r a r e a n d testing o n a m o n k e y ,
(e) invitation to a feast ( D e H o l m e s 1 9 8 3 : 6 6 5 ) . O f these, o n e d e s c r i b e s
a g e n e r a l i z e d practice o r c u s t o m (fishing techniques), the o t h e r f o u r
30
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
a r e r i t u a l s — e v e n t s a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s h a v e always specialized in t r e a t i n g
as c o d i h a b l e , r e p e a t a b l e f o r m s , r a t h e r t h a n u n i q u e events. I f D o n n e r ' s
a c c o u n t o f these rituals h a d not c o i n c i d e d in detail with Valero's, f r a u d
b y a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s o w n lights w o u l d h a v e b e e n certain. B u t w h a t was
b e i n g a r g u e d was the e x a c t o p p o s i t e .
I n t h e e n d , for D e H o l m e s , the authority o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c text
is d i r e c t l y constituted by the writer's p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e , in t u r n at­
tested b y originality o f e x p r e s s i o n : " I f D o n n e r ' s Shabono is to b e c a l l e d
' s u p e r b social science,' as C a s t a n e d a claims, it m u s t be s h o w n that the
e t h n o g r a p h i c d a t a o n w h i c h she bases h e r story w e r e actually g a t h ­
e r e d p e r s o n a l l y by h e r w h i l e living a m o n g the Y a n o m a m a a n d n o t re­
written from previously published works."
B y contrast, f o r D e b r a Picchi, w h o r e v i e w e d t h e b o o k in t h e s a m e
j o u r n a l , Shabono's failure to be science arises r a t h e r f r o m its "narcis­
sistic f o c u s " o n D o n n e r ' s " p e r s o n a l g r o w t h in the h e l d . " " T o c o n f i n e
a n t h r o p o l o g y to the p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e s o f specific a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s
is to d e n y its status as a social science" a n d " r e n d e r s the discipline triv­
ial a n d i n c o n s e q u e n t i a l " (Picchi 1 9 8 3 : 6 7 4 ) . D o n n e r fails to d i s p l a y
w h a t f o r Picchi is the d i s t i n g u i s h i n g characteristic o f a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s
p r o j e c t , n a m e l y a " c o m m i t m e n t to the d o c u m e n t a t i o n o f r e l a t i o n s h i p s
b e t w e e n b e h a v i o r a l variables o n a cross-cultural basis." For Picchi, t h e
i d e a o f b o r r o w i n g a n d r e w r i t i n g is not a p r o b l e m . S i n c e D o n n e r re­
j e c t e d f o r m a l field m e t h o d s , d e s t r o y i n g h e r n o t e b o o k s early in the
g a m e , " o n e assumes," Picchi says, "that the s t a n d a r d a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l
i n f o r m a t i o n i n c l u d e d in t h e b o o k is t h e result of t h e r e c o n s t r u c t i o n
f r o m m e m o r y o r r e s e a r c h o f the n o w e x t e n s i v e literature o n t h e
Y a n o m a m o I n d i a n s " (ibid.). Picchi takes the b o o k to b e a b o n a fide
" e t h n o g r a p h y o f the Y a n o m a m o Indians . . . based o n 12 m o n t h s
of
fieldwork"
a n d r e c o m m e n d s it to teachers o f i n t r o d u c t o r y
anthropology.
W h y are D o n n e r ' s fairly explicit claims N O T to be w r i t i n g a w o r k o f
a n t h r o p o l o g y o r social science i r r e l e v a n t to this discussion? T h o u g h it
is n o t w r i t t e n in the s t a n d a r d i d i o m o f e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n , w h a t
places h e r p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e within a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s p u r v i e w ? O n c e
t h e r e , w h y is t h e r e s u c h c o n f u s i o n a b o u t h o w it s h o u l d b e e v a l u a t e d ?
F o r s o m e r e a s o n , it all m a d e m e think o f a t e e n a g e r h a n g i n g
a r o u n d o u t s i d e a strip j o i n t w h o gets d r a g g e d inside in o r d e r to b e
t u r n e d o v e r to the police a n d k i c k e d o u t a g a i n — t h a t ' l l t e a c h h i m . S o
" d i s c i p l i n i n g " is o f t e n d o n e , if not at strip j o i n t s , t h e n certainly in aca­
d e m i e s . W h a t D o n n e r clearly d i d was write a n infuriatingly a m b i g u ­
o u s b o o k , w h i c h m a y o r m a y not b e "true," is a n d is not e t h n o g r a p h y ,
is a n d is n o t a u t o b i o g r a p h y , d o e s a n d d o e s not claim p r o f e s s i o n a l a n d
a c a d e m i c authority, is a n d is not based o n fieldwork, a n d so o n . A n
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
31
u n g r a t e f u l a p p r e n t i c e can d o n o w o r s e than this. For i f F l o r i n d a
D o n n e r d i d fabricate m u c h o f h e r story (as she m a y h a v e ) , s h e has dis­
g r a c e d t h e p r o f e s s i o n by lying, a n d l y i n g so well no o n e c o u l d tell. I f
s h e d i d n o t fabricate h e r story, she s c o r e d o n e o f the a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l
s c o o p s o f the c e n t u r y . For h e r e x p e r i e n c e , as she r e c o u n t s it, is in
m a n y respects an e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s d r e a m . S h e is invited by t h e g r o u p
to s t u d y their lifeways; instead o f sessions in w h i c h she i n t e r v i e w s
t h e m , it is they w h o sit d o w n to teach her. S h e is s p a r e d the a n g u i s h
a n d g u i l t o f p a y i n g h e r way by distributing W e s t e r n g o o d s ; the g r o u p
h a s c h o s e n to stay so r e m o t e that it is a n e a r first e n c o u n t e r . T o realize
this e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s d r e a m , a n d t h e n to refuse to c o n v e r t it i n t o t h e
c u r r e n c y o f t h e discipline that m a d e it all possible, this is i n d e e d a
m o n u m e n t a l betrayal.
I h a v e d w e l t o n the case o f Shabono b e c a u s e it illustrates s o m e
o f the c o n f u s i o n a n d a m b i g u i t y that p e r s o n a l narrative, not h a v i n g
b e e n killed by science, raises in the "discursive s p a c e " o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y . P e r s o n a l narratives like D o n n e r ' s are not u n k n o w n w i t h i n aca­
d e m i c a n t h r o p o l o g y . I n d e e d , p e r s o n a l accounts o f h e l d e x p e r i e n c e s
a r e a r e c o g n i z a b l e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l s u b g e n r e , but they always c o m e ac­
c o m p a n i e d — u s u a l l y p r e c e d e d — b y a formal ethnography, the b o o k
D o n n e r has not (yet?) written. O n e thinks o f s u c h p a i r e d b o o k s as
D a v i d M a y b u r y - L e w i s ' s Savage and the Innocent a n d Akwe-Shavante Soci­
ety; J e a n - P a u l D u m o n t ' s Under the Rainbow a n d The Headman and I;
N a p o l e o n C h a g n o n ' s Yanomamo: The Fierce People a n d Studying the
Yanomamo; Paul R a b i n o w ' s Symbolic Domination a n d Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. E a r l i e r e x a m p l e s i n c l u d e the writings o f C l y d e
K l u c k h o h n a n d R o y - F r a n k l i n B a r t o n ; this p e r s o n a l s u b g e n r e is also
the c o n v e n t i o n a l t e x t u a l space into w h i c h Malinowski's diaries w e r e
published.
O f t h e s e pairs o f b o o k s , t h e f o r m a l e t h n o g r a p h y is the o n e t h a t
c o u n t s as p r o f e s s i o n a l capital a n d as an authoritative r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ;
t h e p e r s o n a l narratives are often d e e m e d self-indulgent, trivial, o r h e ­
retical in o t h e r ways. B u t d e s p i t e s u c h "disciplining," t h e y h a v e k e p t
a p p e a r i n g , k e p t b e i n g r e a d , a n d a b o v e all k e p t b e i n g t a u g h t w i t h i n
the b o r d e r s o f the discipline, for w h a t o n e must a s s u m e are p o w e r f u l
reasons.
E v e n in the a b s e n c e o f a separate a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l v o l u m e , p e r ­
s o n a l n a r r a t i v e is a c o n v e n t i o n a l c o m p o n e n t o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s . It
t u r n s u p a l m o s t invariably in i n t r o d u c t i o n s o r first c h a p t e r s , w h e r e
o p e n i n g n a r r a t i v e s c o m m o n l y r e c o u n t the writer's arrival at t h e h e l d
site, for instance, the initial r e c e p t i o n by the inhabitants, the slow, a g o ­
n i z i n g p r o c e s s o f l e a r n i n g the l a n g u a g e a n d o v e r c o m i n g rejection, t h e
a n g u i s h a n d loss at l e a v i n g . T h o u g h they exist only o n the m a r g i n s o f
32
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
t h e f o r m a l e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n , these c o n v e n t i o n a l o p e n i n g n a r r a t i v e s a r e n o t trivial. T h e y play the crucial role o f a n c h o r i n g that d e s c r i p t i o n in t h e intense a n d a u t h o r i t y - g i v i n g p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e o f
f i e l d w o r k . S y m b o l i c a l l y a n d ideologically rich, they o f t e n t u r n o u t to
b e t h e m o s t m e m o r a b l e s e g m e n t s o f an e t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k — n o b o d y
f o r g e t s the f r u s t r a t i o n - r i d d e n i n t r o d u c t i o n to Evans-Pritchards's The
Nuer. A l w a y s t h e y a r e r e s p o n s i b l e for setting u p the initial positioni n g s o f the subjects o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c text: the e t h n o g r a p h e r , t h e
native, and the reader.
I find it q u i t e significant that this k i n d o f p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e , in
t h e f o r m b o t h o f b o o k s a n d o p e n i n g a n e c d o t e s , has in fact n o t b e e n
"killed b y s c i e n c e , " that it persists as a c o n v e n t i o n a l f o r m in e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . T h i s fact is particularly n o t e w o r t h y g i v e n t h e m u l tiple p r e s s u r e s o n e t h n o g r a p h y that militate against n a r r a t i v e ( " m e r e
a n e c d o t e " ) a n d d e v a l u e it as a vehicle o f usable k n o w l e d g e . A g a i n s t
these p r e s s u r e s o p e r a t e s an u r g e n t sense that e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p tion is s o m e h o w n o t e n o u g h o n its o w n . T h e fact that p e r s o n a l n a r rative has this c o n v e n t i o n a l place in e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e s u g g e s t s
w h y Shabono, r e g a r d l e s s o f its author's o w n wishes, d o e s fall w i t h i n ant h r o p o l o g y ' s p u r v i e w a n d m u s t be r e c k o n e d with. T h e fact that p e r sonal n a r r a t i v e is m a r g i n a l a n d stigmatized e x p l a i n s w h y a b o o k like
Shabono h a s to be r e c o g n i z e d only to be rejected.
I think it is fairly c l e a r that p e r s o n a l narrative persists a l o n g s i d e
o b j e c t i f y i n g d e s c r i p t i o n in e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g b e c a u s e it m e d i a t e s a
c o n t r a d i c t i o n w i t h i n the discipline b e t w e e n p e r s o n a l a n d scientific authority, a c o n t r a d i c t i o n that has b e c o m e especially acute since t h e a d v e n t o f fieldwork as a m e t h o d o l o g i c a l n o r m . J a m e s Clifford s p e a k s o f
it as "the discipline's impossible a t t e m p t to fuse objective a n d subjective p r a c t i c e s " (see p . 109 b e l o w ) . F i e l d w o r k p r o d u c e s a k i n d o f aut h o r i t y t h a t is a n c h o r e d to a l a r g e e x t e n t in subjective, s e n s u o u s e x p e r i e n c e . O n e e x p e r i e n c e s the i n d i g e n o u s e n v i r o n m e n t a n d lifeways for
oneself, sees w i t h one's o w n eyes, e v e n plays s o m e roles, albeit c o n trived o n e s , in t h e daily life o f t h e c o m m u n i t y . B u t the p r o f e s s i o n a l
t e x t to result f r o m such a n e n c o u n t e r is s u p p o s e d to c o n f o r m to the
n o r m s o f a scientific d i s c o u r s e w h o s e authority resides in t h e a b s o l u t e
e f f a c e m e n t of t h e s p e a k i n g a n d e x p e r i e n c i n g subject.
I n t e r m s o f its o w n m e t a p h o r s , the scientific position o f s p e e c h is
that o f an o b s e r v e r fixed o n the e d g e o f a space, l o o k i n g in a n d / o r
d o w n u p o n w h a t is o t h e r . Subjective e x p e r i e n c e , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , is
s p o k e n f r o m a m o v i n g position a l r e a d y within o r d o w n in the m i d d l e
o f t h i n g s , l o o k i n g a n d b e i n g l o o k e d at, t a l k i n g a n d b e i n g t a l k e d at. T o
c o n v e r t f i e l d w o r k , via field notes, into f o r m a l e t h n o g r a p h y r e q u i r e s a
t r e m e n d o u s l y difficult shift f r o m the latter discursive position ( l a c e to
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
33
face w i t h the o t h e r ) to the f o r m e r . M u c h m u s t b e left b e h i n d in t h e
p r o c e s s . J o h a n n e s Fabian characterizes the t e m p o r a l a s p e c t o f this
c o n t r a d i c t i o n w h e n he speaks o f "an aporetic split b e t w e e n r e c o g n i tion o f c o e v a l n e s s in s o m e e t h n o g r a p h i c r e s e a r c h a n d d e n i a l o f c o e v a l n e s s in m o s t a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l t h e o r i z i n g a n d w r i t i n g " (Fabian
1 9 8 3 : 3 6 ) . In o t h e r w o r d s , the f a m o u s " e t h n o g r a p h i c p r e s e n t " locates
the o t h e r in a time o r d e r different f r o m that o f the s p e a k i n g subject;
field r e s e a r c h o n the o t h e r h a n d locates b o t h self a n d o t h e r in the
s a m e t e m p o r a l o r d e r . T h e r e are s t r o n g reasons w h y field e t h n o g r a p h e r s so o f t e n l a m e n t that their e t h n o g r a p h i c writings leave o u t o r
h o p e l e s s l y i m p o v e r i s h s o m e o f the most i m p o r t a n t k n o w l e d g e t h e y
h a v e a c h i e v e d , i n c l u d i n g t h e s e l f - k n o w l e d g e . For the lay p e r s o n , s u c h
as myself, the m a i n e v i d e n c e o f a p r o b l e m is the s i m p l e fact that ethn o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g t e n d s to be surprisingly b o r i n g . H o w , o n e asks c o n stantly, c o u l d s u c h interesting p e o p l e d o i n g s u c h i n t e r e s t i n g t h i n g s
p r o d u c e s u c h d u l l b o o k s ? W h a t did they h a v e to d o to t h e m s e l v e s ?
P e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e m e d i a t e s this c o n t r a d i c t i o n b e t w e e n the e n g a g e m e n t c a l l e d for in fieldwork a n d the self-effacement c a l l e d for in
f o r m a l e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n , o r at least mitigates s o m e o f its ang u i s h , by i n s e r t i n g into the e t h n o g r a p h i c text the authority o f the p e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e o u t o f w h i c h the e t h n o g r a p h y is m a d e . It t h u s r e c u p e r a t e s at least a few s h r e d s o f w h a t was e x o r c i s e d in t h e c o n v e r s i o n
f r o m t h e face-to-face field e n c o u n t e r to objectified science. T h a t is
w h y s u c h n a r r a t i v e s h a v e n o t b e e n killed by science, a n d w h y they a r e
w o r t h l o o k i n g at, especially to p e o p l e interested in c o u n t e r i n g t h e tend e n c y t o w a r d alienation a n d d e h u m a n i z a t i o n i n ' m u c h c o n v e n t i o n a l
ethnographic description.
T h e p r a c t i c e o f c o m b i n i n g p e r s o n a l narrative a n d objectified d e scription is h a r d l y the i n v e n t i o n o f m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y , h o w e v e r . It
has a l o n g history in those k i n d s o f w r i t i n g f r o m w h i c h e t h n o g r a p h y
h a s traditionally d i s t i n g u i s h e d itself. B y the early s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y in
E u r o p e , it was c o n v e n t i o n a l for travel a c c o u n t s to consist o f a c o m b i n a t i o n o f first-person n a r r a t i o n , r e c o u n t i n g one's trip, a n d d e s c r i p tion o f t h e flora a n d f a u n a o f r e g i o n s passed t h r o u g h a n d the m a n n e r s a n d c u s t o m s o f the inhabitants. T h e s e t w o discourses w e r e q u i t e
clearly d i s t i n g u i s h e d in travel b o o k s , narrative p r e d o m i n a t i n g o v e r
d e s c r i p t i o n . T h è d e s c r i p t i v e portions w e r e s o m e t i m e s seen as d u m p i n g g r o u n d s f o r the " s u r p l u s data" that c o u l d n o t b e fitted into the
narrative.
T o g i v e a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e e x a m p l e , a b o o k called The Captivity of
Hans Stade of Hesse in A.D. 1547—1$$$ among the Wild Tribes of Eastern
lixtzil a c h i e v e d a w i d e r e a d e r s h i p in the s i x t e e n t h a n d s e v e n t e e n t h
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
34
35
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
c e n t u r i e s . Stade's a c c o u n t was d i v i d e d i n t o t w o s u c h parts, t h e first
s o m e t o o p a g e s l o n g , r e c o u n t i n g his captivity a m o n g the T u pi N a m bas, a n d t h e s e c o n d s o m e 50 p a g e s l o n g , g i v i n g a "veritable a n d s h o r t
a c c o u n t o f all the b y m e e x p e r i e n c e d m a n n e r s and c u s t o m s o f t h e
T u p p i n - I m b a s , w h o s e p r i s o n e r I w a s " (Stade 1 8 7 4 : 1 1 7 ) . I n this latter
section, Stade's d e s c r i p t i v e a g e n d a has m u c h in c o m m o n w i t h t h a t o f
m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y , i n c l u d i n g c h a p t e r s o n " w h a t their d w e l l i n g s are
l i k e , " " h o w t h e y m a k e fire," "the places w h e r e i n they s l e e p , " " h o w
skilful t h e y a r e in s h o o t i n g wild animals a n d fish w i t h a r r o w s , " " h o w
t h e y c o o k t h e i r f o o d , " " w h a t k i n d o f r e g i m e n a n d o r d e r they h a v e in
g o v e r n m e n t a n d laws," " w h a t they believe in," " h o w m a n y wives e a c h
o f t h e m h a s , a n d h o w h e m a n a g e s t h e m , " " h o w they a r e b e t r o t h e d , "
" h o w t h e y m a k e t h e i r b e v e r a g e s w h e r e w i t h they d r i n k t h e m s e l v e s
d r u n k , a n d h o w t h e y o r d e r their d r i n k i n g , " a n d so forth. M o r e o v e r
Stade's d e s c r i p t i o n s r e s e m b l e those o f m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y in t h e i r
specificity, their s e a r c h f o r neutrality a n d e v e n h a n d e d n e s s , t h e i r link­
a g e o f social a n d m a t e r i a l o r d e r s , as in this d e s c r i p t i o n o f a h o u s e ,
w h e r e spatial o r g a n i z a t i o n is seen as d e t e r m i n e d by social r e l a t i o n s :
T h e y prefer erecting their dwellings in spots where they are not far from
wood and water, nor from game and fish. After they have destroyed all in one
district, they migrate to other places; and when they want to build their huts,
a chief among them assembles a party of men and women (some forty couples),
or as many as he can get, and these live together as friends and relations.
T h e y build a kind of hut, which is about fourteen feet wide, and perhaps
a hundred and fifty feet long, according to their number. T h e tenements are
about two fathoms high, and round at the top like a vaulted cellar; they thatch
them thickly with palm leaves, so that it may not rain therein, and the hut is all
open inside. No one has his specially-prepared chamber; each couple, man
and woman, has a space of twelve feet on one side; whilst on the other, in the
same manner, lives another pair. T h u s their huts are full, and each couple has
its own fire. T h e chief of the huts has also his lodging within the dwelling.
T h e y all have commonly three entrances, one on each side, and one in the
middle; these are low, so that they must stoop when they go in and out. Few of
their villages have more than seven huts. (ibid. : 125)
I u s e the e x a m p l e o f H a n s S t a d e deliberately to u n d e r s c o r e the p o i n t
t h a t this d i s c u r s i v e c o n f i g u r a t i o n I a m talking a b o u t is the p r o d u c t
n e i t h e r o f a n e r u d i t e tradition n o r o f the rise o f m o d e r n s c i e n c e , d e ­
spite its similarities w i t h c o n t e m p o r a r y e t h n o g r a p h y . H a n s S t a d e w a s
a ship's g u n n e r w i t h little f o r m a l e d u c a t i o n ; his b o o k was a v e r y p o p u ­
lar o n e , a n d it p r e d a t e s the rise of "natural history" in the e i g h t e e n t h
century.
I n s o m e cases, in travel w r i t i n g , the d e s c r i p t i v e d i s c o u r s e is f o u n d
e n m e s h e d in the n a r r a t i v e , as illustrated by this e x c e r p t f r o m M u n g o
Park's Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa ( 1 7 9 9 ) :
We stopped a little at a village called Dangali; a n d in the evening arrived at
Dalli. We saw u p o n the road two large herds of camels feeding. W h e n the
Moors turn their camels to feed, they tie u p o n e of their fore legs, to prevent
their straying. . . . T h e people were dancing before the Dooty's house. B u t
w h e n they were informed that a white man was come into the town, they left
off dancing and came to the place where I lodged, walking in regular order,
two and two, with the music before them. T h e y play u p o n a sort o f flute; but
instead o f blowing into a hole in the side, they blow obliquely over the e n d .
(Park 1 8 6 0 : 4 6 )
T h o u g h interwoven, particularized narrative and generalized d e ­
scription r e m a i n d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e h e r e , a n d shifts f r o m o n e to t h e
o t h e r a r e clear, the m o s t c o n s p i c u o u s signs b e i n g , o f c o u r s e , the shift
f r o m past tense to p r e s e n t tense a n d f r o m specific p e r s o n s to tribal
labels. ( A s I shall b e illustrating below, this is the c o n f i g u r a t i o n t h a t
t u r n s u p in the w o r k of M a l i n o w s k i a n d R a y m o n d Firth.)
I n its v a r i o u s g u i s e s the n a r r a t i o n - d e s c r i p t i o n duality has re­
m a i n e d r e m a r k a b l y stable in travel w r i t i n g r i g h t d o w n to the p r e s e n t ,
as has t h e c o n v e n t i o n a l o r d e r i n g — - n a r r a t i o n first, d e s c r i p t i o n s e c o n d ;
o r n a r r a t i o n s u p e r o r d i n a t e , d e s c r i p t i o n s u b o r d i n a t e . B y the late n i n e ­
t e e n t h c e n t u r y , h o w e v e r , the two m o d e s o f t e n h a d a b o u t e q u a l w e i g h t
in travel b o o k s , a n d it w a s c o m m o n f o r a trip to result in t w o s e p a r a t e
v o l u m e s , s u c h as M a r y Kingsley's m a s t e r p i e c e Travels in West Africa
( 1 8 9 7 ) a n d West African Studies (1899). R i c h a r d B u r t o n ' s The Lake Re­
gions of Central Africa (1868) alternates c h a p t e r s o f n a r r a t i o n w i t h
c h a p t e r s d e s c r i b i n g the " g e o g r a p h y a n d e t h n o l o g y " o f e a c h r e g i o n
passed t h r o u g h .
M o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y o b v i o u s l y lies in direct c o n t i n u i t y w i t h this
t r a d i t i o n , d e s p i t e the disciplinary b o u n d a r y by w h i c h it s e p a r a t e s itself
o f f f r o m travel w r i t i n g . E t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g as a r u l e s u b o r d i n a t e s
n a r r a t i v e to d e s c r i p t i o n , b u t p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e is still c o n v e n t i o n a l l y
f o u n d , e i t h e r in t h e s e p a r a t e p e r s o n a l v o l u m e s o r in vestigial f o r m at
the b e g i n n i n g o f t h e b o o k , setting the stage for w h a t follows.
It is n o s u r p r i s e , t h e n , to find that the o p e n i n g narratives in e t h ­
n o g r a p h i e s d i s p l a y c l e a r continuities with travel w r i t i n g . For instance,
F i r t h in We, the Tikopia ( 1 9 3 6 ) i n t r o d u c e s h i m s e l f via the classic Poly­
n e s i a n a r r i v a l s c e n e . T h i s scene b e c a m e a c o m m o n p l a c e in t h e litera­
t u r e o f the S o u t h S e a e x p l o r a t i o n s o f C o o k , B o u g a i n v i l l e a n d o t h e r s
in t h e 1 7 6 0 s a n d 70s. It is a m e m o r a b l e p a s s a g e , to w h i c h C l i f f o r d
G e e r t z has also r e c e n t l y t u r n e d his attention ( G e e r t z 1983c).
36
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
In the cool of the early morning, just before sunrise, the bow o f the
S o u t h e r n Cross h e a d e d towards the eastern horizon, o n which a tiny dark
blue outline was faintly visible. Slowly it grew into a r u g g e d mountain mass,
standing u p sheer from the ocean. . . . In an hour or so we were close inshore,
and could see canoes c o m i n g round from the south, outside the reef, o n
which the tide was low. T h e outrigger-fitted craft drew near, the m e n in them
bare to the waist, girdled with bark-cloth, large fans stuck in the backs of their
belts, tortoise-shell rings or rolls of leaf in the ear-lobes and nose, bearded,
and with long hair flowing loosely over their shoulders. Some plied the r o u g h
heavy paddles, some had finely plaited pandanus-leaf mats resting o n the
thwarts beside them, some had large clubs or spears in their hands. T h e ship
a n c h o r e d o n a short cable in the o p e n bay off the coral reef. Almost before
the chain was d o w n the natives began to scramble aboard, c o m i n g over the
side by any m e a n s that offered, shouting fiercely to each other and to us in a
t o n g u e o f which not a word was understood by the Mota-speaking folk o f t h e
mission vessel. I w o n d e r e d how such turbulent h u m a n material could ever be
i n d u c e d to submit to scientific study. . . .
We slipped overboard o n to the coral rock and began to wade ashore
h a n d in h a n d with o u r hosts, like children at a party, exchanging smiles in lieu
o f anything m o r e intelligible or tangible at the moment. We were s u r r o u n d e d
by crowds o f naked chattering youngsters. . . . At last the long wade e n d e d ,
we climbed u p the steeply shelving beach, crossed the soft, dry sand strewn
with the brown needles of the Casuarina trees—a home-like touch; it was like
a pine a v e n u e — a n d were led to an old chief clad with great dignity in a white
coat a n d a loin-cloth, w h o awaited us on his stool under a large shady tree.
(Firth 1 9 3 6 : 1 - 2 )
F i r t h r e p r o d u c e s in a r e m a r k a b l y s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d w a y a Utopian s c e n e
o f first c o n t a c t that a c q u i r e d m y t h i c status in the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
a n d c o n t i n u e s w i t h us t o d a y in the p o p u l a r m y t h o l o g y o f the S o u t h
S e a p a r a d i s e (alias C l u b M é d i t e r r a n é e / F a n t a s y Island). Far f r o m b e i n g
t a k e n f o r a s u s p i c i o u s a l i e n , the E u r o p e a n visitor is w e l c o m e d l i k e
a m e s s i a h b y a t r u s t i n g p o p u l a c e r e a d y to d o his o r h e r b i d d i n g . F o r
c o m p a r i s o n , c o n s i d e r L o u i s d e B o u g a i n v i l l e ' s a r r i v a l in T a h i t i in 1 7 6 7 :
We run with all sails set towards the land, standing to windward o f this bay,
w h e n we perceived a pariagua coming from the offing, and standing for the
land, and making use of her sail and paddles. She passed athwart us, and
j o i n e d a number of others, which sailed ahead of us, from all parts o f the is­
land. O n e of them went before all the rest; it was manned by twelve naked
m e n , w h o presented us with branches of bananas; and their demonstrations
signified that this was their olive branch. We answered them with all the signs
of friendship we could imagine; and they then came along side o f o u r ship;
and o n e o f them, remarkable for his prodigious growth o f hair, which stood
like bristles divergent o n his head, offered us, together with his branch o f
peace, a little pig, and a cluster o f bananas. . . .
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
37
T h e two ships were soon surrounded with more than an h u n d r e d periaguas of different sizes, all which had outriggers. T h e y were laden with
cocoa-nuts, bananas, and other fruits of the country. T h e e x c h a n g e o f these
fruits, which were delicious to us, was made very honestly for all sorts o f tri­
fles. (Bougainville 1 9 6 7 : 2 1 3 )
B o u g a i n v i l l e has a lot m o r e t r o u b l e t h a n Firth in g e t t i n g his s h i p a n ­
c h o r e d , b u t o n c e h e d o e s , the s a m e d r a m a r e s u m e s :
W h e n we were m o o r e d , I went o n shore with several officers, to survey the
watering-place. A n i m m e n s e crowd of m e n and w o m e n received us there, and
could not be tired with looking at us; the boldest came to touch us; they e v e n
p u s h e d aside o u r clothes with their hands, in order to see whether we were
m a d e exactly like them: n o n e of them wore any arms, not so much as a stick.
T h e y sufficiently expressed their joy at o u r arrival. T h e chief of this district
conducted and introduced us into his house, in which we found five or six
w o m e n , a n d a venerable old man. (ibid. : 220)
T h e similarities b e t w e e n the t w o scenes a r e o b v i o u s . T h e r e a r e s o m e
i n t e r e s t i n g d i f f e r e n c e s too. B o u g a i n v i l l e ' s v e r s i o n o f the s c e n e uses
o n e t r o p e Firth d o e s n o t r e p r o d u c e , the s e n t i m e n t a l c o m m o n p l a c e
w h e r e b y t h e natives try to u n d r e s s the f o r e i g n e r s to d e t e r m i n e t h e i r
h u m a n i t y a n d , symbolically, level the d i f f e r e n c e b e t w e e n t h e m . F i r t h
stays d r e s s e d , like the k i n g h e is to m e e t . B o u g a i n v i l l e also c a r e f u l l y
m e n t i o n s t h e m a t e r i a l r e l a t i o n s h i p that is i m m e d i a t e l y e s t a b l i s h e d
b e t w e e n E u r o p e a n s a n d natives, a n e x c h a n g e w h o s e s p o n t a n e o u s
e q u a l i t y h e stresses. I n F i r t h this o p e n i n g e x c h a n g e is p r e s e n t , b u t d e m a t e r i a l i z e d , a n e x c h a n g e o f "smiles, in lieu o f a n y t h i n g m o r e intel­
ligible o r t a n g i b l e at t h e m o m e n t " a n d l e a v i n g u n c l e a r w h a t his m a t e ­
rial r e l a t i o n to t h e s e p e o p l e is g o i n g to b e . A t the s a m e t i m e , F i r t h
d e m y s t i f i e s t h e e g a l i t a r i a n i s m o f the c o n v e n t i o n a l vision w i t h his n o t e
o f i r o n y a b o u t h o w all this h u m a n material " c o u l d be m a d e to s u b m i t
to scientific study." I n d e e d , his i r o n y h e r e lightly m a r k s t h e r o y a l a r r i v a l t r o p e as a t r o p e , a n d as p a r t of a l a n g u a g e o f c o n q u e s t . T h e
fact t h a t his o w n p r o j e c t is also a n assertion o f p o w e r is tacitly ac­
k n o w l e d g e d . Firth's o p e n i n g p r e s e n t a t i o n o f self s u g g e s t s t h e story o f
T i k o p i a ' s b e c o m i n g "his little island," as M a l i n o w s k i was later to call it
(Firth 1 9 3 7 : 1 ) .
M a l i n o w s k i in Argonauts i n t r o d u c e s a q u i t e d i f f e r e n t s e l f - i m a g e ,
also f r o m the a n n a l s o f travel w r i t i n g . His " b r i e f o u t l i n e o f a n E t h ­
n o g r a p h e r ' s t r i b u l a t i o n s " o p e n s with the n o w f a m o u s line: " I m a g i n e
y o u r s e l f s u d d e n l y set d o w n s u r r o u n d e d by y o u r g e a r , a l o n e o n a
t r o p i c a l b e a c h close to a native village w h i l e t h e l a u n c h o r d i n g h y
w h i c h has b r o u g h t y o u sails away o u t o f s i g h t " ( M a l i n o w s k i 1 9 6 1 '.4).
38
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
T h i s is u n m i s t a k a b l y the i m a g e o f an o l d - f a s h i o n e d castaway. T h a t it
t u r n s u p h e r e is especially apt, since it c o r r e s p o n d s to Malinowski's
o w n situation at t h e time. A n A u s t r i a n citizen living in A u s t r a l i a , h e
h a d b e e n sent to sit o u t the w a r in the T r o b r i a n d Islands r a t h e r t h a n
risk reprisals o r d e p o r t a t i o n .
T h e r e a r e o t h e r r e a s o n s w h y t h e i m a g e o f the castaway is an e v o c a ­
tive a n d Utopian s e l f - i m a g e for the e t h n o g r a p h e r . For as the figures
o f H e l e n a V a l e r o , F l o r i n d a D o n n e r , a n d H a n s S t a d e s u g g e s t , cast­
a w a y s a n d c a p t i v e s in m a n y ways realize the ideal o f the participanto b s e r v e r . T h e a u t h o r i t y o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r o v e r the " m e r e t r a v e l e r "
rests chiefly o n the i d e a that the traveler j u s t passes t h r o u g h , w h e r e a s
t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r lives with the g r o u p u n d e r study. B u t o f c o u r s e this
is w h a t c a p t i v e s a n d castaways often d o too, living in a n o t h e r c u l t u r e
in e v e r y capacity f r o m p r i n c e to slave, l e a r n i n g i n d i g e n o u s l a n g u a g e s
a n d lifeways w i t h a p r o h c i e n c y any e t h n o g r a p h e r w o u l d e n v y , a n d
o f t e n p r o d u c i n g a c c o u n t s that are i n d e e d full, rich, a n d a c c u r a t e b y
e t h n o g r a p h y ' s o w n standards. A t the s a m e time, the e x p e r i e n c e o f
captivity r e s o n a t e s a lot with aspects o f the e x p e r i e n c e o f
fieldwork—
the sense o f d e p e n d e n c y , lack o f control, the vulnerability to b e i n g ei­
t h e r isolated c o m p l e t e l y o r n e v e r left a l o n e .
T h e n a g a i n , the i m a g e o f the castaway mystifies the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s
situation in ways m e n t i o n e d earlier. C a s t a w a y a n d e t h n o g r a p h e r dif­
f e r f u n d a m e n t a l l y in their material relation to the i n d i g e n o u s g r o u p .
C a s t a w a y s take u p a place within the i n d i g e n o u s social a n d e c o n o m i c
o r g a n i z a t i o n ; that is h o w they s u r v i v e — i f , i n d e e d , they d o s u r v i v e ,
f o r captivity is a r a t h e r h i g h e r - r i s k business t h a n fieldwork. A n t h r o ­
p o l o g i s t s c u s t o m a r i l y establish a relationship o f e x c h a n g e w i t h the
g r o u p b a s e d o n W e s t e r n c o m m o d i t i e s . T h a t is h o w they s u r v i v e a n d
try to m a k e their relations with i n f o r m a n t s n o n e x p l o i t i v e . B u t o f
c o u r s e this strategy is e n o r m o u s l y contradictory, for it m a k e s a n t h r o ­
p o l o g i s t s c o n s t a n t c o n t r i b u t o r s to w h a t they t h e m s e l v e s see as t h e d e ­
struction o f their object o f study. T h e status o f the captive o r castaway,
b y contrast, is i n n o c e n t , a n d o n e can see w h y it w o u l d be a c o m p e l l i n g
i m a g e to t h e c o n t r a d i c t i o n - r i d d e n e t h n o g r a p h e r ( t h o u g h actually
g o i n g native, as captives o f t e n did, is t a b o o for a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s ) .
Firth a n d M a l i n o w s k i , t h e n , b o t h i n v o k e well-established i m a g e s
f r o m travel literature in their o p e n i n g view o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r . T h e
b o d i e s o f their e t h n o g r a p h i e s are also similar, at least in their d e p l o y ­
m e n t o f n a r r a t i v e a n d descriptive d i s c o u r s e . B o t h writers m o v e freely
a n d fluidly b e t w e e n the t w o , i n t r o d u c i n g a n e c d o t e constantly to illus­
trate o r e l a b o r a t e o n the e t h n o g r a p h i c g e n e r a l i z a t i o n s , in a way s o m e ­
w h a t r e m i n i s c e n t o f the text f r o m M u n g o Park cited a b o v e (p. 3 5 ) .
F i r t h is full o f c o m p l e x passages like this o n e , w h e r e his e t h n o g r a p h i c
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
39
g e n e r a l i z a t i o n s , his e y e w i t n e s s a n e c d o t e s , a n d his p e r s o n a l
interweave:
irony
Relatives by marriage do occasionally get in sly digs at each other without ab­
solutely transgressing the bounds of good manners. Pa Ranifuri told me with
great glee of how the Ariki Taumako spoke to him of his classificatory son-inlaw Pa-Panisi as "Matua i te sosipani"—sosipani being the native pronunciation
of saucepan, o f which sooty vessel this man was as far as I recollect the only
possessor in the island. As a dark-skinned foreigner he was slightly sneered at
(behind his back) by the Tikopia. Scolding, I was told, though not permitted
by convention directly, may take place at a distance. (Firth 1936 : 274)
W h a t Firth a n d M a l i n o w s k i (his teacher) s e e m to be after is a k i n d o f
summa, a h i g h l y t e x t u r e d , totalizing p i c t u r e a n c h o r e d in t h e m s e l v e s ,
w h e r e " s e l f " is u n d e r s t o o d n o t as a monolithic scientist-observer, b u t
as a m u l t i f a c e t e d entity w h o participates, o b s e r v e s , a n d writes f r o m
m u l t i p l e , constantly shifting positions. S u c h are the reflective c a p a c i ­
ties o f this versatile, larger-than-life subject that it can a b s o r b a n d
t r a n s m i t the richness o f a w h o l e c u l t u r e . In this subject is also a n ­
c h o r e d t h e h e a d y o p t i m i s m b o t h Firth a n d M a l i n o w s k i c o n v e y a b o u t
t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c e n t e r p r i s e . T h e r e is a significant i r o n y in the fact
that the s p e a k i n g subject in the w o r k o f these f o u n d e r s o f "scientific
e t h n o g r a p h y , " as M a l i n o w s k i called it, is a n y t h i n g but the self-effaced,
passive subject o f scientific d i s c o u r s e .
2
T h e richly p e r c e p t i v e , b u t terribly unsystematic, t e x t u a l b e i n g
that is the e t h n o g r a p h e r in M a l i n o w s k i a n d Firth contrasts s h a r p l y
w i t h t h e frustrated a n d d e p r e s s e d figure that a p p e a r s in s o m e subse­
q u e n t classic e t h n o g r a p h i e s , s u c h as those o f E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d a n d
M a y b u r y - L e w i s . I f Firth shows u p as a b e n e v o l e n t e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y
scientist-king, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d c o m e s o n stage in the later g u i s e o f t h e
g r u f f V i c t o r i a n e x p l o r e r - a d v e n t u r e r w h o e x p o s e s h i m s e l f to all sorts
o f d a n g e r s a n d d i s c o m f o r t s in the n a m e of a h i g h e r (national) mis­
sion. I n his f a m e d o p e n i n g d e s c r i p t i o n of field c o n d i t i o n s in The Nuer
( 1 9 4 0 ) , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d j o i n s a c e n t u r y - l o n g line of A f r i c a n travelers
w h o lose t h e i r s u p p l i e s a n d c a n n o t c o n t r o l their b e a r e r s . His initial
s e l f - r e p r e s e n t a t i o n r e a d s thus:
I arrived in Nuerland early in 1930. Stormy weather prevented my luggage
from joining me at Marseilles, and owing to errors, for which I was not re­
sponsible, my food stores were not forwarded from Malakal and my Zande
servants were not instructed to meet me. I proceeded to Nuerland (Leek
country) with my tent, some equipment, and a few stores bought at Malakal,
ü. James Clifford has made similar observations about Malinowski, and I am indcbled lo his work here (see Clifford 1985a).
4
o
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
and t w o servants, an Atwot and a Bellanda, picked u p hastily at the same
place.
W h e n I landed at Yoahuang o n the Bahr el Ghazal the catholic mission­
aries there showed m e m u c h kindness. I waited for nine days o n the river
bank for the carriers I had been promised. By the tenth day only four o f them
had arrived. . . . O n the following morning I set out for the neighbouring vil­
lage o f Pakur, where my carriers d r o p p e d tent and stores in the centre o f a
treeless plain, near some homesteads, and refused to bear them to the shade
about half a mile further. Next day was devoted to erecting my tent and trying
to persuade t h e N u e r . . . to remove my abode to the vicinity o f shade a n d
water, which they refused to do. (Evans-Pritchard 1940:5)
S u c h e p i s o d e s a r e a c o m m o n p l a c e o f t h e A f r i c a n travel a n d e x p l o r a ­
t i o n w r i t e r s o f t h e last c e n t u r y . H e r e f o r i n s t a n c e is t h e e t e r n a l l y
c r a n k y S i r R i c h a r d B u r t o n , w h o s e e x p e d i t i o n r e c o u n t e d i n The Lake
Regions of Central Africa (1868) is g i v e n m u c h t h e s a m e i n a u s p i c i o u s
beginning:
We were delayed ten days off Wale Point by various preliminaries to depar­
ture. Said bin Salini, a half-caste Arab of Zanzibar, who, sorely against his will,
was ordered by the prince to act as Ras Kafilah, or caravan-guide, had, after
ceaseless and fruitless prayers for delay, preceded us about a fortnight, for the
purpose o f collecting porters. . . . H e had crossed over, o n the ist of J u n e , to
the mainland, and had hired a gang o f porters, who, however, hearing that
their e m p l o y e r was a M u z u n g u , "white man", at once dispersed, forgetting to
return their hire. A b o u t o n e h u n d r e d and seventy m e n were required; only
thirty-six were procurable. . . . It was necessary to leave behind, till a full g a n g
of porters could be engaged, the greater part o f the ammunition, t h e iron
boat which had proved so useful o n the coasting voyage to Mombasah, a n d
the reserve supply of cloth, wire and beads, valued at 359 dollars. T h e H i n d u s
promised faithfully to forward these articles. . . . Nearly eleven months, how­
ever, elapsed before they appeared. (Burton 1 9 6 1 : 1 2 )
A n d s o it g o e s , o v e r a n d o v e r , till B u r t o n ' s n a r r a t i v e , l i k e E v a n s P r i t c h a r d ' s i n t r o d u c t i o n , r e a d s like o n e l o n g , f r u s t r a t i n g m a s t e r s e r v a n t f e u d . E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s c h o i c e o f this p a r t i c u l a r selfr e p r e s e n t a t i o n is n o t h a p h a z a r d . C l i f f o r d Geertz's r e c e n t a n a l y s i s o f
a n o l d m i l i t a r y m e m o i r o f E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s ( G e e r t z 1983a) c o n n e c t s
Evans-Pritchard directly with t h e tradition o f African colonial e x p l o ­
ration a n d writing.
W i t h respect t o d i s c u r s i v e c o n v e n t i o n s , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d m u s t a l s o
b e t h o u g h t o f as p r o d u c i n g a h u g e l y d e g r a d e d v e r s i o n o f t h e Utopian
arrival s c e n e e x e m p l i f i e d i n B o u g a i n v i l l e a n d Firth. T h i s is first c o n ­
tact i n a f a l l e n w o r l d w h e r e E u r o p e a n c o l o n i a l i s m is a g i v e n a n d n a t i v e
a n d white m a n approach each other with joyless suspicion. MayburyL e w i s g i v e s a s i m i l a r l y d e g r a d e d v e r s i o n o f t h e s c e n e i n Akwe-Shavante
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
41
Society. H e d o e s find h e l p w i t h h i s l u g g a g e , b u t t h e c h i e f w h o awaits
h i m is n o t r e c o g n i z a b l y r e g a l , t h e o p e n i n g e x c h a n g e o f g o o d s n o t
reciprocal:
A n u m b e r o f Shavante from the village had come to the airstrip w h e n o u r
plane landed and helped to carry our baggage to the post. T h e y set it d o w n at
the feet o f an elderly man, who we discovered was the chief o f the village. H e
clearly e x p e c t e d us to o p e n the trunks then and there and distribute their
contents. (Maybury-Lewis i967:xxiii)
T h e p r o b l e m h e r e , it t u r n s o u t , is c o n t a m i n a t i o n f r o m o u t s i d e . T h e
S h a v a n t e h a v e b e e n s p o i l e d b y B r a z i l i a n a r m y officers w h o fly i n t o s e e
t h e m a s a c u r i o s i t y a n d b r i n g " e l a b o r a t e gifts." L i k e E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d
(his t e a c h e r ) , M a y b u r y - L e w i s c o m p l a i n s a t l e n g t h a b o u t h i s i n f o r ­
m a n t s ' h o s t i l i t y a n d u n c o o p e r a t i v e n e s s , t h e i r r e f u s a l t o talk t o h i m i n
private, their refusal t o leave h i m alone, his problems with t h e lan­
guage, and so on.
I n b o t h t h e s e a n t i - u t o p i a n i n s t a n c e s , t h e o p e n i n g n a r r a t i v e is
g i v e n b y w a y o f e x p l a i n i n g t h e l i m i t a t i o n s o n t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s abil­
ity t o c a r r y o u t h i s scientific m i s s i o n . P a r a d o x i c a l l y e n o u g h , t h e c o n d i ­
t i o n s o f fieldwork a r e e x p r e s s e d a s a n i m p e d i m e n t t o t h e task o f d o i n g
fieldwork,
r a t h e r t h a n a s p a r t o f w h a t is t o b e a c c o u n t e d f o r i n fieldw o r k . T h e c o n t r a s t w i t h t h e t o n e o f Firth a n d M a l i n o w s k i is o b v i o u s .
Evans-Pritchard a n d Maybury-Lewis a r e t h e heirs o f t h e scientific,
p r o f e s s i o n a l e t h n o g r a p h y M a l i n o w s k i i n v e n t e d . T h e scientific i d e a l
s e e m s t o p r e s s o n t h e m a c u t e l y , c a l l i n g f o r c o d i f i e d field m e t h o d o l o g y ,
professional d e t a c h m e n t , a systematic write-up. Whatever about t h e
o t h e r c u l t u r e i m p e d e s t h e s e tasks is a n e t h n o g r a p h i c o b s t a c l e , a s w e l l
as a n e t h n o g r a p h i c fact. B o t h w r i t e r s c o m p l a i n , f o r i n s t a n c e , a b o u t
t h e i m p o s s i b i l i t y o f h a v i n g p r i v a t e c o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h i n f o r m a n t s , as i f
p r i v a t e c o n v e r s a t i o n , o n c e b a p t i z e d a s a field m e t h o d , o u g h t t o b e c u l ­
turally possible e v e r y w h e r e . A s m e t h o d o l o g y gets increasingly codi­
fied, t h e c l a s h b e t w e e n "objective a n d s u b j e c t i v e p r a c t i c e s " b e c o m e s
increasingly acute.
I n E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s c a s e , t h e difficulties t r a n s l a t e i n t o a r i g i d s e p a ­
ration b e t w e e n p e r s o n a l narrative (his l o n g a n d vivid i n t r o d u c t i o n )
a n d i m p e r s o n a l d e s c r i p t i o n (the. rest o f his a c c o u n t ) . G o n e is t h e c o n ­
s t a n t l y s h i f t i n g p o s i t i o n o f s p e e c h o f Firth o r M a l i n o w s k i , a n d g o n e is
t h e s e n s e o f a u t h o r i t y , t h e possibility o f r e l i a b l e t o t a l i z i n g . E v a n s Pritchard strives for a totalizing picture o f the N u e r , c e n t e r e d o n cattle,
but feels h e m u s t b e e m p h a t i c , b o t h at t h e b e g i n n i n g a n d t h e e n d o f
his b o o k , a b o u t t h e limitations o n his capacities a n d his a c h i e v e m e n t .
M a y b u r y - L e w i s ' s r e s p o n s e , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , is t o try t o r e a f f i r m t h e
a u t h o r i t y a n d l e g i t i m a c y o f p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e , a n d t o m a k e it e x p l i c i t
42
as a s u b g e n r e . H e
the Innocent 1 9 6 5 ) ,
a n d s u g g e s t s that
r o u n d s field-work
the circumstances
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
p u b l i s h e s his p e r s o n a l a c c o u n t first (The Savage and
fills his e t h n o g r a p h i c b o o k with p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e ,
"it is time w e a b a n d o n e d the m y s t i q u e w h i c h sur­
a n d m a d e it c o n v e n t i o n a l to d e s c r i b e in s o m e detail
o f data-collecting" (Maybury-Lewis 1967 : x x ) .
E a c h o f these o p e n i n g narrative self-portraits ( M a l i n o w s k i , F i r t h ,
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d , M a y b u r y - L e w i s ) c o m e s straight o u t o f the t r o p o l o g y
o f travel w r i t i n g . I n t r i g u i n g l y , they often c o m e o u t o f the specific tra­
d i t i o n o f w r i t i n g o n the r e g i o n in w h i c h the e t h n o g r a p h e r is w o r k i n g
( C e n t r a l A f r i c a , t h e S o u t h Pacific). A t the s a m e time, e a c h e x p r e s s e s
i n a n o n l y slightly m e d i a t e d fashion s o m e specifics o f t h e p a r t i c u l a r
situation in w h i c h e a c h e t h n o g r a p h e r finds himself. T h e y are e m ­
b l e m a t i c self-portraits, w h i c h o p e r a t e as a p r e l u d e to, a n d c o m m e n ­
tary o n , w h a t follows. I n this r e s p e c t t h e y a r e n o t trivial, f o r o n e
o f t h e i r tasks is to position the r e a d e r with r e s p e c t to the f o r m a l d e ­
s c r i p t i o n . A s often as n o t in m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h i e s s u c h p a s s a g e s
u n d e r t a k e to p r o b l e m a t i z e the reader's position, as they d o in E v a n s P r i t c h a r d a n d M a y b u r y - L e w i s . T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s trials in w o r k i n g
to k n o w a n o t h e r p e o p l e n o w b e c o m e the reader's trials in m a k i n g
sense o f the text.
I n all t h e cases I h a v e discussed, m u c h is mystified in the e t h n o g ­
r a p h e r ' s self-portrait. M u c h is i r o n i z e d , indirectly q u e s t i o n e d , b u t
n e v e r n a m e d — n o t a b l y the s h e e r inexplicability a n d unjustifiability o f
t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s p r e s e n c e f r o m the s t a n d p o i n t o f the o t h e r . E v a n s Pritchard's d o g g e d m i s r e a d i n g o f a c o n v e r s a t i o n with an i n f o r m a n t in
his p r e f a c e c o u l d p r o v i d e n o c l e a r e r e x a m p l e . E q u a l l y m y s t i h e d is the
l a r g e r a g e n d a o f E u r o p e a n e x p a n s i o n in w h i c h the e t h n o g r a p h e r , r e ­
g a r d l e s s o f his o r h e r o w n attitudes to it, is c a u g h t u p , a n d t h a t d e t e r ­
m i n e s the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s o w n material r e l a t i o n s h i p to the g r o u p
u n d e r study. T h i s r e l a t i o n s h i p is o n e o f the g r e a t silences in the m i d s t
o f e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n itself. It is the silence that s h a p e s t h e tra­
d i t i o n a l e t h n o g r a p h i c project o f t r y i n g to d e s c r i b e the c u l t u r e as it was
before Western intervention.
I h a v e b e e n m a k i n g a loose g e n e r a t i o n a l a r g u m e n t in this essay,
a n d p r o p o s e to e n d u p with o n e final e x a m p l e f r o m a y e t m o r e r e c e n t
g e n e r a t i o n o f e t h n o g r a p h e r s . M a r j o r i e Shostak's Nisa: The Life and
Words of a !Kung Woman ( 1 9 8 1 ) is w i d e l y r e g a r d e d as o n e o f the m o r e
successful r e c e n t e x p e r i m e n t s in r e h u m a n i z i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g .
T h e arrival t r o p e is only o n e o f m a n y c o n v e n t i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c
w r i t i n g t h a t g e t r e m o l d e d i n h e r text. T h e i n t r o d u c t i o n to Nisa c o n ­
tains t w o v e r s i o n s o f the c o n v e n t i o n a l arrival s c e n e . H e r e is the first:
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
43
Walking into a traditional !Kung village, a visitor would be struck by how frag­
ile it s e e m e d beneath the expanse of sky and how unobtrusively it stood amid
the tall grass and sparse tree growth of the surrounding bush. . . . A visitor
w h o arrived in the middle of the cold season—June and J u l y — a n d just at
sunrise would see m o u n d s o f blankets and animal skins in front o f the huts,
covering people still asleep beside their fires. T h o s e w h o had already awak­
e n e d would be stoking the coals, rebuilding the fire, and warming themselves
in the chilly m o r n i n g air. . . . A visitor on another morning, in the hot, dry
months o f October and November, would find people moving about, even at
dawn, u p early to d o a few hours o f gathering or hunting before the midday
heat would force them to rest in the thickest shade. (Shostak 1 9 8 1 : 7—8)
A s in F i r t h , this h y p o t h e t i c a l arrival is at d a w n — n e w day, n e w p l a c e .
A n d , in a slightly d i f f e r e n t way, it presents an e t h n o g r a p h i c u t o p i a :
h e r e is a t r a d i t i o n a l society d o i n g its traditional thing, o b l i v i o u s to t h e
a l i e n o b s e r v i n g p r e s e n c e . U n l i k e the o t h e r arrival s c e n e s c o n s i d e r e d
a b o v e , this o n e is h y p o t h e t i c a l a n d n o r m a l i z e d . It r e p r e s e n t s w h a t
"a visitor (not a n a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ) w o u l d e x p e r i e n c e if. . . ." T h e status
o f this fantasy is m a d e a p p a r e n t s e v e r a l p a g e s later w h e n S h o s t a k
r e c o u n t s at g r e a t l e n g t h h e r o w n arrival e x p e r i e n c e , the. n i g h t s h e
meets Nisa:
By the time we arrived at Gausha, from Goshi, where we had our main camp,
it had l o n g since been dark. We drove the Land Rover past o n e !Kung village
and stopped at a deserted village site farther down the road. T h e full m o o n ,
high in the sky, appeared small and gave off a cold light. . . . Kxoma a n d
T u m a , two ! K u n g m e n traveling with us, suggested we make our camp at this
site where Richard Lee and Nancy Howell, other anthropologists, had set their
camp four years earlier. Living where someone had lived before was right,
they said: it connected you to the past. T h e slender stick shell of Richard and
Nancy's hut was still there. It stood out in the moonlight, a bizarre skeleton set
apart from the surrounding bush . . . a traditional !Kung frame. T h e grass
had l o n g since been taken and used in Nisa's village. As it stood, the hut
offered n o protection from the weather, nor any privacy. (Shostak 1 9 8 1 : 23)
To b e g i n w i t h , this is a n o c t u r n a l arrival, relatively r a r e in b o t h travel
w r i t i n g a n d e t h n o g r a p h y . For the a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , this is the l a n d o f
the d e a d — t h e m o o n is small a n d c o l d , a n d i n e x p l i c a b l y t h e y take
t h e m s e l v e s past the village o f the living, to a d e s e r t e d o n e , a n d set
t h e m s e l v e s u p in t h e s k e l e t o n o f a hut. Shostak's o w n s y m b o l i s m c o n ­
trasts s h a r p l y w i t h the !Kung's u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f w h a t they are d o i n g .
For t h e m , t h e link w i t h the past is a h a v e n , a c o m f o r t . S h o s t a k a n d
h e r c o m p a n i o n a r e h a u n t e d by the g h o s t s o f their a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l
predecessors.
T h e r e is n o s p o n t a n e o u s native w e l c o m e in Shostak's a c c o u n t , b u t
44
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
u n l i k e b o t h Firth a n d E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d , these a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s d o n o t
w a n t o r n e e d o n e : "It w a s t o o late f o r visiting. T h e y k n e w u s b y t h e n ;
w e w o u l d still b e t h e r e i n t h e m o r n i n g . " T h e y u n p a c k b y t h e m s e l v e s
("I t h o u g h t o f t h e t i m e N a n c y h a d f o u n d a p u f f a d d e r in h e r s l e e p i n g
b a g " ) . W h a t is b i t i n g t h e dust h e r e , o f c o u r s e , is e v e n t h e p r e t e n s e o r
fantasy o f a first e n c o u n t e r . Far f r o m b e i n g the first E u r o p e a n o n t h e
s c e n e , S h o s t a k is e v e n a l o n g w a y f r o m b e i n g t h e first a n t h r o p o l o g i s t .
A n d this p o i n t gets w o e f u l l y d r a m a t i z e d w h e n t h e i n d i g e n o u s w e l c o m e r s , t h e m s e l v e s u n w e l c o m e , b e l a t e d l y a p p e a r after t h e l u g g a g e
w o r k is d o n e a n d t h e p a r t y is r e a d y f o r b e d : " N i s a w o r e a n o l d b l a n k e t
l o o s e l y d r a p e d o v e r t h e r e m n a n t s o f a f a d e d , f l o w e r - p r i n t d r e s s , sizes
t o o b i g . B o w a s w e a r i n g a p a i r o f shorts, e v e n the p a t c h e s o f w h i c h
w e r e w o r n t h r o u g h in places." T h e r e they a r e , i n E u r o p e a n c l o t h e s
t h e y h a v e o b v i o u s l y b e e n w e a r i n g f o r a l o n g time. A n d instead o f
a s o n g o f w e l c o m e to S h o s t a k a n d h e r p a r t n e r , w h a t N i s a sings is a
p r a i s e s o n g f o r their p r e d e c e s s o r s . " R i c h a r d a n d N a n c y ! I really l i k e d
t h e m ! T h e y l i k e d u s t o o — t h e y g a v e us beautiful p r e s e n t s a n d t o o k u s
e v e r y w h e r e with them. B o and I w o r k e d hard for them. . . . O h h o w I
wish t h e y w e r e h e r e ! "
It is a n awful s c e n e , a real r e t u r n o f t h e r e p r e s s e d . T h e s e o t h e r s
a r e fallen, c o r r u p t e d n o t o n l y as n o n - E u r o p e a n s , b u t specifically as
e t h n o g r a p h i c i n f o r m a n t s . B o a n d Nisa arrive p r a i s i n g t h e guilty rela­
t i o n s h i p o f e x c h a n g e b a s e d o n W e s t e r n c o m m o d i t i e s , t h e p o i n t at
w h i c h t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t p r e s e r v e r - o f - t h e - c u l t u r e is the i n t e r v e n t i o n ­
ist c o r r u p t e r - o f - t h e - c u l t u r e . It is t h e naive i n f o r m a n t t u r n e d h u s t l e r .
I n s h o r t , this arrival scene c o n t e m p l a t e s , reluctantly a n d in t h e d a r k
o f n i g h t , t h e a f t e r m a t h o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c e p i s o d e : the i n d i g e n o u s
p e o p l e w h o , specifically t h r o u g h t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c contact, h a v e ac­
q u i r e d a v e s t e d interest in w e s t e r n i z a t i o n a n d a c o n c r e t e d a y - t o - d a y
link w i t h t h e l a r g e r structures o f e x p l o i t a t i o n . It is like a b a d d r e a m ,
a n d Shostak's r e a c t i o n , as s h e describes it, is to try to p r e t e n d it is n o t
h a p p e n i n g a n d wait f o r a m o r e s t a n d a r d arrival scene in t h e m o r n i n g ,
c o m p l e t e w i t h t h e ritual e x c h a n g e o f g o o d s : " T h a t w a s w h e n w e
w o u l d g i v e [tobacco] to t h e rest o f t h e ! K u n g with w h o m w e p l a n n e d
to w o r k " (Shostak 1 9 8 1 : 25).
A f t e r l o n g resistance, S h o s t a k ultimately capitulates to this d e ­
g r a d e d a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l w o r l d , consents to b e h u s t l e d / s e d u c e d b y
N i s a , a n d t h e n a n d o n l y t h e n finds a fieldwork r e l a t i o n s h i p t h a t is i n
fact e n o r m o u s l y p r o d u c t i v e f o r e t h n o g r a p h i c p u r p o s e s . F o r N i s a is
a d v e r t i s i n g a g e n u i n e talent f o r story telling a n d f o r r e f l e c t i n g o n h e r
own culture and experience.
O u t o f that e n c o u n t e r , S h o s t a k p r o d u c e s a t e x t that, i n a w a y v e r y
d i f f e r e n t f r o m M a l i n o w s k i a n d Firth, a g a i n seeks to r e c o g n i z e t h e a u -
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
45
t h o r i t y o f p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e w i t h i n the e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n .
Shostak's o w n story is c o n c e n t r a t e d at t h e b e g i n n i n g a n d e n d o f t h e
b o o k . I n b e t w e e n , Nisa's n a r r a t i v e p r e d o m i n a t e s , e d i t e d into a life
story b y S h o s t a k , w h o i n t r o d u c e s e a c h section with a f e w p a g e s o f eth­
n o g r a p h i c g e n e r a l i z i n g a n d c o m m e n t a r y . S o this b o o k tries to m e d i a t e
t h e c o n t r a d i c t i o n b e t w e e n objectifying e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ,
in w h i c h all natives a r e e q u i v a l e n t a n d e q u a l , a n d t h e subjective e x p e ­
r i e n c e o f fieldwork, i n w h i c h all i n f o r m a n t s a r e n o t e q u i v a l e n t o r
e q u a l . W h a t is s o u g h t h e r e as a n alternative is not, h o w e v e r , a total­
ity o r a synthesis a n c h o r e d in the m u l t i f a c e t e d subjectivity o f t h e
fieldworker/traveler/scientist,
b u t s o m e t h i n g less unified a n d m o r e
polyphonous.
3
A Utopian e l e m e n t persists, h o w e v e r , f o r the p o l y p h o n y S h o s t a k
c r e a t e s is s t r i k i n g l y h a r m o n i o u s . O n e finds little e v i d e n c e o f s t r u g g l e
a m o n g t h e v a r i o u s voices, d e s p i t e Shostak's a w a r e n e s s o f t h e intoler­
a b l e c o n t r a d i c t o r i n e s s o f h e r position. C u r r e n t W e s t e r n c o n c e p t i o n s
o f f e m a l e solidarity a n d intimacy s e e m to b e part o f w h a t p r o d u c e s
this c r o s s - c u l t u r a l h a r m o n y : s h e a n d N i s a a r e b o u n d t o g e t h e r in w a y s
t h a t p e r h a p s t r a n s c e n d c u l t u r e . It is to Shostak's c r e d i t that t h e last
lines o f t h e b o o k c h a l l e n g e that h a r m o n y . Nisa's final w o r d s in t h e t e x t
a r e : " M y n i e c e . . . m y n i e c e . . . y o u a r e s o m e o n e w h o truly t h i n k s
a b o u t m e . " Shostak's a r e : "I will always think o f h e r a n d I h o p e s h e will
t h i n k o f m e , as a distant sister." E a c h assigns the o t h e r a d i f f e r e n t h o n ­
orary kinship.
I n t h e d a r k n e s s that s h r o u d s Shostak's arrival s c e n e , W e s t e r n
r e a d e r s will r e c o g n i z e t h e s y m b o l i s m o f guilt. I n p a r t t h e r e is g u i l t
l i n k e d to t h e particularities o f Shostak's situation as t h e last in a series
o f a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s w o r k i n g a m o n g the ! K u n g . A n d i n p a r t it is g u i l t
t h a t c o m e s d o w n t o h e r f r o m m u c h f a r t h e r in the past. F o r as w i t h t h e
o t h e r e x a m p l e s I h a v e discussed, Shostak's text, a n d those o f h e r fel­
low p a r t i c i p a n t s i n the H a r v a r d K a l a h a r i Project, displays direct c o n t i ­
nuities w i t h a l o n g tradition o f w r i t i n g a b o u t the ! K u n g — t h r e e c e n ­
turies o f it i n fact. It is a n o n p r o f e s s i o n a l "lay" tradition f r o m w h i c h
the H a r v a r d a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s e n e r g e t i c a l l y dissociate t h e m s e l v e s (most
explicitly b y r e p l a c i n g t h e earlier E u r o p e a n n a m e f o r the g r o u p , t h e
B u s h m e n ) . W h a t that tradition d o c u m e n t s is a l o n g a n d v i o l e n t his­
tory o f persecution, enslavement, and extermination. T h e c o n t e m p o ­
r a r y ! K u n g a r e t h e s u r v i v o r s o f that history; t h e c o n t e m p o r a r y a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s t h e heirs to its guilt. A f e w details will clarify this p o i n t .
3. See also James Clifford's review of Nisa in The Times Literary Supplement (Lon­
don), September 17, 1982,994—95.
46
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
It is at t h e e n d o f the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y that the B u s h m e n start
t u r n i n g u p in E u r o p e a n a c c o u n t s as objects o f (a) e t h n o g r a p h i c inter­
est a n d (b) p a t h o s a n d guilt. N o t surprisingly, this was also the p o i n t at
w h i c h the B u s h m e n d e h n i t i v e l y lost their s t r u g g l e against E u r o p e a n
e n c r o a c h m e n t o n t h e i r l a n d a n d lifeways. For the p r e v i o u s c e n t u r y ,
t h e y h a d e x i s t e d in E u r o p e a n writings as h o r d e s o f wild, b l o o d t h i r s t y
m a r a u d e r s fiercely resisting the a d v a n c i n g colonists, r a i d i n g t h e i r
f a r m s at n i g h t , t u r n i n g loose o r stealing cattle, a n d s o m e t i m e s m u r ­
d e r i n g colonists o r l a b o r e r s . G i v e n a free h a n d by colonial authorities,
t h e settlers e m b a r k e d o n a w a r o f e x t e r m i n a t i o n . C o m m a n d o s d e ­
s c e n d e d o n B u s h m a n kraals, often at night, killing m e n a n d e i t h e r
killing o r e n s l a v i n g w o m e n a n d c h i l d r e n . G r a d u a l l y the settlers w o n
this w a r , so that by the 1790s "the B u s h m e n w e r e still n u m e r o u s a l o n g
t h e i n t e r i o r m o u n t a i n r a n g e , b u t in o t h e r parts o f the c o l o n y t h e r e
w e r e h a r d l v a n y left" ( T h e a l 1 8 9 7 : 1 , 1 9 8 - 2 0 1 ) . '
1
It is at this p o i n t that the discourse o n the B u s h m e n c h a n g e s . L a t e
e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y travelers, like the S w e d e A n d e r s S p a r r m a n (Voy­
age to the Cape of Good Hope 1 7 8 5 ) a n d E n g l i s h m a n J o h n B a r r o w
(Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa 1 8 0 1 ) , v o c i f e r o u s l y d e p l o r e the
brutality o f the colonists a n d the injustice o f the e x t e r m i n a t i o n c a m ­
p a i g n . T h e s a m e writers construct a n e w e t h n o g r a p h i c p o r t r a i t o f t h e
B u s h m e n . N o l o n g e r s e e n as militant w a r r i o r s o r b l o o d t h i r s t y m a ­
r a u d e r s , they a c q u i r e the characteristics that the p o w e r f u l c o m m o n l y
h n d in t h o s e they h a v e s u b j u g a t e d : m e e k n e s s , i n n o c e n c e , passivity, in­
d o l e n c e c o u p l e d w i t h physical s t r e n g t h a n d stamina, c h e e r f u l n e s s , ab­
s e n c e o f g r e e d o r i n d e e d desires o f any k i n d , internal e g a l i t a r i a n i s m ,
a p e n c h a n t for l i v i n g in the present, inability to take initiatives o n
t h e i r o w n b e h a l f . T h u s S p a r r m a n describes the B u s h m e n as " f r e e
f r o m m a n y w a n t s a n d desires, that t o r m e n t the rest o f m a n k i n d , " " d e ­
testing all m a n n e r o f l a b o u r , " yet easily i n d u c e d into slavery by a little
m e a t a n d t o b a c c o ( S p a r r m a n 1 9 7 5 : 1 9 8 — 201). B a r r o w finds t h e y a r e
" m i l d a n d m a n a g e a b l e in the h i g h e s t d e g r e e , a n d by g e n t l e u s a g e m a y
b e m o u l d e d into any s h a p e . " "In his disposition," says B a r r o w , "[the
B u s h m a n ] is lively a n d c h e e r f u l ; in his p e r s o n active. His talents are
far a b o v e m e d i o c r i t y . " T h e i r constitutions are " m u c h s t r o n g e r a n d
t h e i r lives o f l o n g e r d u r a t i o n , t h a n those o f the H o t t e n t o t s " ; " u n i v e r ­
sal e q u a l i t y prevails in his h o r d e . . . they take n o t h o u g h t for t h e m o r ­
r o w . T h e y h a v e n o sort o f m a n a g e m e n t o r e c o n o m y with r e g a r d to
p r o v i s i o n s " ( B a r r o w 1 8 0 1 : 287).
P r e s e n t e d as objectified e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n o f the (eternal)
4'. My remarks here on the history of Bushman-European contact are based
mainly on Theal's History of South Africa (1892—1919).
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
47
B u s h m a n a n d his (natural) disposition, this is a p o r t r a i t o f a c o n ­
q u e r e d p e o p l e , s i m u l t a n e o u s l y a c k n o w l e d g i n g the i n n o c e n c e a n d pa­
thos o f t h e i r c o n d i t i o n , e v a l u a t i n g their potential as a l a b o r p o o l , a n d
l e g i t i m a t i n g t h e i r d o m i n a t i o n o n the g r o u n d s that they d o n o t k n o w
h o w to m a n a g e t h e m s e l v e s .
C a u g h t between celebrating and deploring, historicizing a n d natu­
r a l i z i n g the B u s h m e n ' s c o n d i t i o n , B a r r o w e x p r e s s e s the g u i l t a n d a n ­
g u i s h o f his p o s i t i o n in a n o c t u r n a l arrival scene that has n u m e r o u s
p o i n t s in c o m m o n w i t h Shostak's, despite b e i n g written 180 y e a r s ear­
lier. In B a r r o w ' s a c c o u n t , too, the all-important p e r s o n a l c o n t a c t w i t h
t h e o t h e r is a c h i e v e d only t h r o u g h a k i n d o f d e s c e n t into hell. T h o u g h
his m o t i v e s are entirely b e n e v o l e n t , the only way B a r r o w c a n m a k e
c o n t a c t w i t h the t e r r i h e d B u s h m e n is by h i r i n g a g r o u p o f B o e r f a r m ­
ers to h e l p h i m a m b u s h a g r o u p at n i g h t . A s with Shostak, the result is
a n i g h t m a r e o f c o n t r a d i c t i o n , o n e o f the few e p i s o d e s o f p e r s o n a l n a r ­
r a t i v e in B a r r o w ' s b o o k . B a r r o w describes the r a i d i n g party d e s c e n d ­
i n g f r o m the hillsides d o w n o n t o the s l e e p i n g c a m p : " O u r ears w e r e
s t u n n e d with a h o r r i d s c r e a m like the w a r - h o o p o f s a v a g e s ; the shriek­
i n g o f w o m e n a n d the cries o f c h i l d r e n p r o c e e d e d f r o m e v e r y s i d e "
( B a r r o w 1 8 0 1 : 2 7 2 ) . D e s p i t e B a r r o w ' s instructions, his B o e r g u i d e s
b e g i n s h o o t i n g d o w n the fleeing p e o p l e ; B a r r o w ' s protests a r e i g ­
n o r e d . ' " G o o d G o d ! ' [the B o e r f a r m e r ] e x c l a i m e d , ' H a v e y o u n o t
s e e n a s h o w e r o f a r r o w s falling a m o n g us?' I certainly h a d s e e n nei­
t h e r a r r o w s o r p e o p l e , b u t h a d h e a r d e n o u g h to p i e r c e t h e h a r d e s t
h e a r t " (272). L a t e r B a r r o w r e m a r k s in s h a m e that " n o t h i n g c o u l d b e
m o r e u n w a r r a n t a b l e . . . t h a n the attack m a d e by o u r party u p o n t h e
kraal" (291).
T h i s s c e n e t h a t d i s r u p t s B a r r o w ' s h i g h l y i m p e r s o n a l a c c o u n t is an
e x p l i c i t r e v e r s a l n o t o n l y o f the Utopian arrival scene a la B o u g a i n v i l l e ,
b u t also o f t h e traditional i m a g e o f the B u s h m a n h o r d e d e s c e n d i n g
o n E u r o p e a n r a n c h e s . Its s y m b o l i s m a n d position in B a r r o w ' s t e x t a r e
similar to t h o s e in Shostak's, a n d the two share the s a m e d i s c u r s i v e his­
tory. (Interestingly, Shostak's p r e d e c e s s o r a n d c o l l e a g u e R i c h a r d L e e
also uses a n o c t u r n a l arrival scene to i n t r o d u c e his third visit to t h e
!Kung [ L e e i g 7 9 : x v i i ] . )
B u t it is n o t o n l y arrival scenes that c o n t e m p o r a r y a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s
s h a r e with e a r l i e r writers o n the B u s h m e n . T h e i r e t h n o g r a p h i c d e ­
scriptions l i k e w i s e r e p r o d u c e the discursive legacy, e v e n as t h e y
o p e n l y r e p u d i a t e it. O n e is struck b y the e x t e n t to w h i c h t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l a n d j o u r n a l i s t i c writers h a v e c o n t i n u e d to
c e l e b r a t e a n d n a t u r a l i z e in the B u s h m e n m a n y o f the s a m e c h a r a c t e r ­
istics s i n g l e d o u t by B a r r o w , S p a r r m a n , a n d the rest. C h e e r f u l n e s s ,
h u m o r , e g a l i t a r i a n i s m , n o n v i o l e n c e , disinterest in material g o o d s ,
48
MARY LOUISE P R A T T
l o n g e v i t y , a n d s t a m i n a a r e all u n d e r s c o r e d with a d m i r a t i o n a n d affec­
tion in b o t h j o u r n a l i s t i c writings like those o f L a u r e n s v a n d e r Post
(The Lost World of the Kalahari 1958) a n d e t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k f r o m
E l i z a b e t h M a r s h a l l T h o m a s ' s The Harmless People ( 1 9 5 9 ) to the w r i t e r s
o f t h e H a r v a r d K a l a h a r i Project ( 1 9 6 3 — 70). W h a t t u r n s u p t h r o u g h ­
o u t this l i t e r a t u r e is the s a m e b l a z i n g c o n t r a d i c t i o n b e t w e e n a ten­
d e n c y o n t h e o n e h a n d to historicize the !Kung as s u r v i v o r - v i c t i m s o f
E u r o p e a n i m p e r i a l i s m , a n d a t e n d e n c y o n the o t h e r to n a t u r a l i z e a n d
objectify t h e m as p r i m a l b e i n g s virtually u n t o u c h e d by history. (In
b o t h cases, t h e y s t a n d d o o m e d to extinction.) D e t a i l e d discussion o f
the e x t e n s i v e c o n t e m p o r a r y literature o n the !Kung/Bushmen is i m ­
possible h e r e , b u t Shostak's o w n text c a n e x e m p l i f y the a m b i v a l e n c e I
a m talking about.
B y i n t r o d u c i n g Nisa to us clad in a dress a n d selling h e r talents o n
the a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l free m a r k e t , Shostak r e p u d i a t e s the i m a g e o f t h e
p u r e p r i m i t i v e so often associated with the ! K u n g . Y e t it is u l t i m a t e l y
t h a t i m a g e o f the p r i m i t i v e that motivates Shostak's inquiry. For h e r , as
for t h e H a r v a r d K a l a h a r i g r o u p as a w h o l e , the !Kung are o f interest
as e v i d e n c e c o n c e r n i n g o u r h u m a n a n d p r e h u m a n ancestors. S h o s t a k
h o p e s !Kung w o m e n will b e able to "clarify s o m e o f the issues raised
by t h e A m e r i c a n w o m e n ' s m o v e m e n t , " especially b e c a u s e , she says,
their culture, unlike ours, was not being continuously disrupted by social a n d
political factions telling them first that w o m e n were o n e way, then another.
A l t h o u g h the !Kung were experiencing cultural change, it was still quite re­
cent a n d subtle and had thus far left their traditional value system mostly in­
tact. A study revealing what !Kung women's lives were like today might reflect
what their lives had been like for generations, possibly even for thousands of
years. (Shostak 1 9 8 1 : 6 )
" R e c e n t " a n d "subtle" are n o t the adjectives that c o m e to m i n d w h e n
o n e p o n d e r s t h e g r i m history o f the B u s h m a n c o n q u e s t . T h i s is a his­
tory o f w h i c h S h o s t a k a n d h e r c o l l e a g u e s s e e m at times d e e p l y a w a r e ,
at t i m e s totally o b l i v i o u s . R e p e a t e d l y , R i c h a r d L e e a n d o t h e r s w a r n
that the !Kung a r e n o t to be treated as " l i v i n g fossils" o r " m i s s i n g
l i n k s " ( L e e i 9 7 g : x v i i ) , that their colonial past a n d c h a n g i n g p r e s e n t
m u s t b e g i v e n full r e c o g n i t i o n to avoid d e h u m a n i z a t i o n a n d dis­
t o r t i o n . Y e t the i n q u i r y the g r o u p p r o p o s e s is explicitly a n e v o l u t i o n ­
ary o n e (initiated b y primatologists) in w h i c h the ! K u n g are i m p o r ­
tant as " e v i d e n c e w h i c h will h e l p in u n d e r s t a n d i n g h u m a n h i s t o r y "
(S. W a s h b u r n in L e e a n d D e v o r e 1 9 7 6 : xv) as e x a m p l e s o f a n e c o l o g i ­
cal a d a p t a t i o n "that was until ten t h o u s a n d years a g o , a h u m a n u n i ­
v e r s a l " ( L e e 1 9 7 9 : i ) . F o c u s i n g heavily o n physical a n d b i o l o g i c a l is­
sues like diet, p h y s i o l o g y , u s e o f time, settlement patterns, s p a c i n g o f
Fieldwork in C o m m o n Places
49
births, u s e o f f o o d r e s o u r c e s , disease, a g i n g , a n d so o n , this l i t e r a t u r e
n a t u r a l i z e s c u r r e n t !Kung lifeways with a v e n g e a n c e . T h e r e s e a r c h e r s '
s i n c e r e d e s i r e to b e sensitive to the !Kung's situation in p r e s e n t histori­
cal c i r c u m s t a n c e s is simply i n c o m p a t i b l e with their p r o j e c t o f v i e w i n g
t h e !Kung as a c o m p l e x a d a p t a t i o n to the e c o l o g y o f the K a l a h a r i d e s ­
ert, a n d a n e x a m p l e o f h o w o u r ancestors lived. T h e use o f p r i m a r i l y
q u a n t i t a t i v e m e t h o d s ( p r o d u c i n g tables like " A v e r a g e n u m b e r o f c h i l d c a r i n g acts b y a subject p e r child p e r h o u r o f o b s e r v a t i o n " [P. D r a p e r in
L e e a n d D e v o r e 1 9 7 6 : 214]) intensifies the reification.
A n o u t s i d e r , o n r e a d i n g the history o f E u r o p e a n c o n t a c t w i t h t h e
!Kung/Bushmen,
inevitably questions this i m a g e o f t h e m as r e p r e s e n ­
tatives o f h u n t i n g - g a t h e r i n g life as it w a s lived 10,000 y e a r s a g o . Is it
n o t w o r t h e v e n a s k i n g the q u e s t i o n w h e t h e r 300 y e a r s o f w a r f a r e a n d
p e r s e c u t i o n at the h a n d s o f white settlers (to say n o t h i n g o f t h e c o m ­
petition with i n d i g e n o u s pastoralists) h a v e h a d an i m p a c t o n the lifew a y s , t h e c o n s c i o u s n e s s , the social o r g a n i z a t i o n , e v e n the p h y s i o l o g y
o f the g r o u p u n d e r g o i n g these traumas? D i d the l o n g - t e r m p r a c t i c e
o f massacring m e n and enslaving w o m e n have no impact o n "what
w o m e n ' s lives w e r e like" o r h o w w o m e n saw t h e m s e l v e s ? W h a t p i c t u r e
o f t h e !Kung w o u l d o n e d r a w if instead o f d e f i n i n g t h e m as s u r v i v o r s
o f t h e s t o n e a g e a n d a delicate a n d c o m p l e x a d a p t a t i o n to t h e K a ­
l a h a r i d e s e r t , o n e l o o k e d at t h e m as s u r v i v o r s o f capitalist e x p a n s i o n ,
a n d a d e l i c a t e a n d c o m p l e x a d a p t a t i o n to t h r e e c e n t u r i e s o f v i o l e n c e
a n d i n t i m i d a t i o n ? T h e r e a r e times w h e n s u c h a p e r s p e c t i v e d o e s s e e m
to b e i m p l i e d , ever-so-indirectly, as in Shostak's c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n o f a
!Kung v i l l a g e as l o o k i n g " f r a g i l e " a n d " u n o b t r u s i v e " (see q u o t a t i o n o n
p. 4 3 a b o v e ) .
T o m a k e sense o f the conflicting c o n c e r n s o f the H a r v a r d g r o u p ,
o n e m u s t locate t h e m o n the o n e h a n d in the c o n t e x t o f the A m e r i c a n
c o u n t e r c u l t u r e o f t h e 1960s, m a n y o f w h o s e social ideals s e e m t o real­
ize t h e m s e l v e s in t h e !Kung, and on the o t h e r h a n d , in the c o n t e x t o f
the e x p a n s i o n o f the b i o l o g i c a l , " h a r d s c i e n c e " sector o f a n t h r o p o l o g y
that has m a d e H a r v a r d the c e n t e r for s o c i o b i o l o g y in the 1980s. A t
the s a m e time, o n e m u s t also r e c o g n i z e their continuities with t h e dis­
c u r s i v e h i s t o r y c o m i n g d o w n f r o m S p a r r m a n , B a r r o w , a n d the rest, a
d i s c u r s i v e h i s t o r y they s o m e t i m e s wish to "kill by science."
A s I h a v e b e e n a r g u i n g t h r o u g h o u t this p a p e r , a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s
stand to g a i n f r o m l o o k i n g at t h e m s e l v e s as w r i t i n g inside as well as
o u t s i d e t h e d i s c u r s i v e traditions that p r e c e d e t h e m ; inside as well as
o u t s i d e the histories o f contact o n w h i c h they follow. S u c h a p e r s p e c ­
tive is p a r t i c u l a r l y v a l u a b l e for p e o p l e w h o w o u l d like to c h a n g e o r
e n r i c h the d i s c u r s i v e r e p e r t o i r e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g — e s p e c i a l l y
that " i m p o s s i b l e a t t e m p t to fuse objective a n d subjective p r a c t i c e s . "
5o
MARY L O U I S E P R A T T
S u r e l y a first step t o w a r d s u c h c h a n g e is to r e c o g n i z e that one's t r o p e s
a r e n e i t h e r n a t u r a l n o r , in m a n y cases, native to the discipline. T h e n it
b e c o m e s possible, if o n e wishes, to liberate o n e s e l f f r o m t h e m , n o t b y
d o i n g away w i t h t r o p e s (which is n o t possible) b u t by a p p r o p r i a t i n g
a n d i n v e n t i n g n e w o n e s (which is).
VINCENT
CRAPANZANO
Hermes' Dilemma:
T h e Masking of Subversion
in Ethnographic Description
" A l l translation," Walter B e n j a m i n ( 1 9 6 9 : 75) w r o t e , "is o n l y a
s o m e w h a t p r o v i s i o n a l way o f c o m i n g to t e r m s with the f o r e i g n n e s s o f
l a n g u a g e s . " L i k e translation, e t h n o g r a p h y is also a s o m e w h a t p r o v i ­
sional w a y o f c o m i n g to t e r m s with the f o r e i g n n e s s o f l a n g u a g e s — o f
c u l t u r e s a n d societies. T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r d o e s not, h o w e v e r , translate
texts the way t h e translator d o e s . H e m u s t first p r o d u c e t h e m . T e x t
m e t a p h o r s f o r c u l t u r e a n d society n o t w i t h s t a n d i n g , the e t h n o g r a p h e r
has n o p r i m a r y a n d i n d e p e n d e n t text that can b e r e a d a n d translated
by o t h e r s . N o t e x t survives h i m o t h e r t h a n his o w n . D e s p i t e its fre­
q u e n t ahistorical—its s y n c h r o n i c — p r e t e n s e , e t h n o g r a p h y is histori­
cally d e t e r m i n e d by the m o m e n t o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s e n c o u n t e r
with w h o m e v e r h e is s t u d y i n g .
T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is a little like H e r m e s : a m e s s e n g e r w h o , g i v e n
m e t h o d o l o g i e s f o r u n c o v e r i n g the m a s k e d , the latent, the u n c o n ­
scious, m a y e v e n o b t a i n his m e s s a g e t h r o u g h stealth. H e p r e s e n t s lan­
g u a g e s , c u l t u r e s , a n d societies in all their opacity, their f o r e i g n n e s s ,
their m e a n i n g l e s s n e s s ; t h e n like the m a g i c i a n , the h e r m e n e u t , H e r m e s
himself, h e clarifies the o p a q u e , r e n d e r s the f o r e i g n familiar, a n d
gives m e a n i n g to t h e m e a n i n g l e s s . H e d e c o d e s the m e s s a g e . H e
interprets.
T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r c o n v e n t i o n a l l y a c k n o w l e d g e s the p r o v i s i o n a l
n a t u r e o f his i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s . Y e t he assumes a final i n t e r p r e t a t i o n — a
definitive r e a d i n g . "I h a v e finally c r a c k e d the K a r i e r a section s y s t e m , "
we h e a r h i m say. "I finally g o t to the r o o t o f all their fuss a b o u t t h e
mudyi tree." H e resents the literary critic's assertion that t h e r e is n e v e r
a final r e a d i n g . H e simply has n o t g o t to it yet.
The e t h n o g r a p h e r d o e s n o t r e c o g n i z e the p r o v i s i o n a l n a t u r e o f
his p r e s e n t a t i o n s . T h e y are definitive. H e d o e s n o t a c c e p t as a p a r a ­
d o x that his " p r o v i s i o n a l interpretations" s u p p o r t his "definitive
52
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
p r e s e n t a t i o n s . " (It is p e r h a p s for this r e a s o n that h e insists o n a final
r e a d i n g . ) E m b e d d e d in i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , his p r e s e n t a t i o n s limit rei n t e r p r e t a t i o n . E t h n o g r a p h y closes in o n itself. It is e v e n possible t h a t
t h e m o r e g e n e r a l t h e o r i e s the e t h n o l o g i s t g e n e r a t e s f r o m e t h n o g r a ­
p h y a r e o n l y r e f r a c t i o n s , d i s t o r t e d repetitions in a n o t h e r register, o f
the p r o v i s i o n a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s that s u p p o r t the p r e s e n t a t i o n o f data.
T h e possibility m u s t b e e n t e r t a i n e d . H e r m e s was the tutelary g o d o f
s p e e c h a n d w r i t i n g , a n d s p e e c h a n d w r i t i n g , w e k n o w , are t h e m s e l v e s
interpretations.
H e r m e s , e t y m o l o g i c a l l y " h e o f the stone h e a p , " w a s associated
w i t h b o u n d a r y stones (Nilsson 1 9 4 9 ; B r o w n 1969). T h e h e r m , a h e a d
a n d a p h a l l u s o n a pillar, later r e p l a c e d the stone h e a p . T h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r , if I m a y c o n t i n u e m y conceit, also m a r k s a b o u n d a r y : his
e t h n o g r a p h y d e c l a r e s the limits o f his a n d his r e a d e r s ' c u l t u r e . It also
attests to h i s — a n d his c u l t u r e ' s — i n t e r p r e t i v e p o w e r . H e r m e s w a s a
phallic g o d a n d a g o d o f fertility. I n t e r p r e t a t i o n has b e e n u n d e r s t o o d
as a phallic, a p h a l l i c - a g g r e s s i v e , a c r u e l a n d violent, a d e s t r u c t i v e act,
a n d as a fertile, a fertilizing, a fruitful, a n d a creative o n e . W e say a
text, a c u l t u r e e v e n , is p r e g n a n t with m e a n i n g . D o the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s
p r e s e n t a t i o n s b e c o m e p r e g n a n t with m e a n i n g b e c a u s e o f his inter­
p r e t i v e , his phallic fertilizations? (I h a v e insisted h e r e o n u s i n g t h e
m a s c u l i n e p r o n o u n to r e f e r to the e t h n o g r a p h e r , d e s p i t e his o r h e r
s e x u a l identity, f o r I a m w r i t i n g o f a stance a n d n o t o f the p e r s o n . )
T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is c a u g h t in a s e c o n d p a r a d o x . H e has to m a k e
sense o f the f o r e i g n . L i k e Benjamin's translator, h e aims at a s o l u t i o n
to the p r o b l e m o f f o r e i g n n e s s , a n d like the translator (a p o i n t m i s s e d
b y B e n j a m i n ) h e m u s t also c o m m u n i c a t e the v e r y f o r e i g n n e s s t h a t his
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s (the translator's translations) d e n y , at least i n t h e i r
c l a i m to universality. H e m u s t r e n d e r the f o r e i g n familiar a n d p r e ­
s e r v e its v e r y f o r e i g n n e s s at o n e a n d the s a m e time. T h e t r a n s l a t o r
a c c o m p l i s h e s this t h r o u g h style, the e t h n o g r a p h e r t h r o u g h the c o u p ­
l i n g o f a p r e s e n t a t i o n that asserts the f o r e i g n a n d a n i n t e r p r e t a t i o n
t h a t m a k e s it all familiar.
H e r m e s w a s a trickster: a g o d o f c u n n i n g a n d tricks. T h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r is n o trickster. H e , so h e says, has n o c u n n i n g a n d n o
tricks. B u t h e s h a r e s a p r o b l e m with H e r m e s . He must make his message
convincing. It treats o f the f o r e i g n , the s t r a n g e , the u n f a m i l i a r , t h e e x ­
otic, t h e u n k n o w n — t h a t , in short, w h i c h c h a l l e n g e s belief. T h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r m u s t m a k e use o f all the p e r s u a s i v e d e v i c e s at his d i s p o s a l
to c o n v i n c e his r e a d e r s o f the t r u t h o f his m e s s a g e , but, as t h o u g h t h e s e
r h e t o r i c a l s t r a t e g i e s w e r e c u n n i n g tricks, h e gives t h e m scant r e c o g ­
n i t i o n . H i s texts a s s u m e a t r u t h that speaks for itself—a w h o l e t r u t h
t h a t n e e d s n o r h e t o r i c a l s u p p o r t . His w o r d s are t r a n s p a r e n t . H e d o e s
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
53
not share H e r m e s ' confidence. W h e n H e r m e s took the post o f mes­
s e n g e r o f t h e g o d s , h e p r o m i s e d Z e u s n o t to lie. H e d i d n o t p r o m i s e to
tell the w h o l e t r u t h . Z e u s u n d e r s t o o d . T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r has not.
I n this p a p e r I shall p r e s e n t a r e a d i n g o f t h r e e e t h n o g r a p h i c
texts, o n l y o n e o f w h i c h was w r i t t e n by a n a n t h r o p o l o g i s t , to l o o k at
s o m e o f t h e ways t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r tries to m a k e his m e s s a g e c o n v i n c ­
i n g . T h e y a r e G e o r g e Catlin's ( 1 8 4 1 ; 1867) a c c o u n t o f t h e M a n d a n In­
dians' O-Kee-Pa ceremony, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's (1976a;
1982) d e s c r i p t i o n o f the R o m a n carnival in his Italienische Reise o f
1 7 8 9 , a n d C l i f f o r d G e e r t z ' s ( 1 9 7 3 ) study o f the B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t .
T h e e v e n t s d e s c r i b e d in the t h r e e texts are e x p l o s i v e , t e a s i n g i f n o t the
performers' then the authors' assumptions o f m e a n i n g and order.
T h e a u t h o r s are c h a l l e n g e d , a n d all m a k e u s e o f m a n y d i f f e r e n t r h e ­
torical strategies for c o n v i n c i n g the r e a d e r , a n d p r e s u m a b l y t h e m ­
selves, o f t h e a c c u r a c y o f their d e s c r i p t i o n s (see M a r c u s 1980).
F o r e m o s t a m o n g these strategies is the constitution o f t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r ' s a u t h o r i t y : his p r e s e n c e at the events d e s c r i b e d , his p e r ­
c e p t u a l ability, his "disinterested" p e r s p e c t i v e , his objectivity, a n d his
sincerity (see C l i f f o r d 1983a). In all t h r e e cases, the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s
p l a c e in his text is p u r e l y rhetorical. It is deictically, o r b e t t e r p e r h a p s ,
p s e u d o - d e i c t i c a l l y , c o n s t r u c t e d . It is impossible to fix his v a n t a g e p o i n t .
His is a r o v i n g p e r s p e c t i v e , necessitated by his "totalistic" p r e s e n t a t i o n
o f t h e e v e n t s h e is d e s c r i b i n g . His p r e s e n c e d o e s n o t alter the w a y
t h i n g s h a p p e n o r , f o r that matter, the way t h e y are o b s e r v e d o r inter­
p r e t e d . H e a s s u m e s an invisibility that, u n l i k e H e r m e s , a g o d , h e c a n ­
not, o f c o u r s e , h a v e . His "disinterest," his objectivity, his n e u t r a l i t y a r e
in fact u n d e r c u t by his self-interest—his n e e d to constitute his a u t h o r ­
ity, to establish a b o n d with his r e a d e r s , o r , m o r e accurately, his inter­
l o c u t o r s , a n d to c r e a t e a n a p p r o p r i a t e distance b e t w e e n h i m s e l f a n d
the " f o r e i g n " e v e n t s h e witnesses.
A s i d e f r o m t h e d e v i c e s the e t h n o g r a p h e r uses to constitute his au­
thority, h e uses o t h e r s to establish the validity o f his e t h n o g r a p h i c p r e ­
sentations directly. I single o u t t h r e e o f these, w h i c h are u s e d to v a r i ­
o u s e x t e n t s a n d w i t h variable success by C a t l i n , G o e t h e , a n d G e e r t z .
In C a t l i n it is a h y p o t y p o s i s that p r e d o m i n a t e s . In G o e t h e it is an e x ­
ternal ( n o n m e t a p h o r i c a l ) theatrical narrativity. G e e r t z d e p e n d s pri­
marily o n i n t e r p r e t i v e virtuosity. In all t h r e e cases, as w e shall see, t h e
very figures the a u t h o r s use to c o n v i n c e their r e a d e r s — a n d t h e m ­
s e l v e s — o f t h e i r d e s c r i p t i o n s in fact r e n d e r t h e m suspect, a n d in all
t li i c e cases this f a i l u r e to c o n v i n c e is c o v e r e d b y a n institutionally le­
g i t i m a t e d c o n c e r n for " m e a n i n g . " Catlin a n d G o e t h e g i v e the c e r e ­
m o n i e s I hey d e s c r i b e an allegorical (moral) significance. G e e r t z claims
54
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
a p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l - h e r m e n e u t i c a l p e r s p e c t i v e o n m e a n i n g that is, at
least rhetorically, insufficient. His essay b e c o m e s e x e m p l a r y , a n d the
c o c k f i g h t itself takes o n n o t o n l y m e t a p h o r i c a l b u t m e t h o d o l o g i c a l sig­
nificance. T h e O - K e e - P a , the carnival, a n d the c o c k f i g h t all b e c o m e
figures o f d i s o r d e r — o f arbitrary v i o l e n c e , u n r u l i n e s s , a n d m e a n i n g l e s s n e s s — i n a t r a n s c e n d i n g story in w h i c h precisely this d i s o r d e r , this
v i o l e n c e , u n r u l i n e s s , a n d m e a n i n g l e s s n e s s are o v e r c o m e . T h e c e r e ­
m o n i e s a r e s h o w n to h a v e , if n o t o r d e r a n d m e a n i n g , t h e n at least sig­
nificance. B u t , ironically, as figures that mask an initial r h e t o r i c a l sub­
v e r s i o n — a failure to c o n v i n c e — t h e descriptions a r e a g a i n s u b v e r t e d .
T h e O - K e e - P a , the R o m a n carnival, a n d the B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t
b e c o m e the " O - K e e - P a , " the " R o m a n carnival," a n d the " B a l i n e s e
cockfight."
" W i t h this v e r y h o n o u r a b l e d e g r e e w h i c h h a d j u s t b e e n c o n f e r r e d
u p o n m e , I was s t a n d i n g in front o f t h e m e d i c i n e - l o d g e e a r l y in the
m o r n i n g , w i t h m y c o m p a n i o n s by m y side, e n d e a v o u r i n g to g e t a
p e e p , i f possible, into its sacred interior; w h e n the master of ceremonies,
g u a r d i n g a n d c o n d u c t i n g its secrets, as I b e f o r e d e s c r i b e d , c a m e o u t
o f t h e d o o r a n d t a k i n g m e with a firm professional affection by t h e a r m ,
l e d m e into this sanctum sanctorum, w h i c h was strictly g u a r d e d f r o m ,
e v e n a p e e p o r a g a z e f r o m the v u l g a r , by a vestibule o f e i g h t o r ten
feet in l e n g t h , g u a r d e d with a d o u b l e screen o r d o o r , a n d t w o o r t h r e e
d a r k a n d f r o w n i n g centinels with spears o r w a r clubs in their h a n d s . I
g a v e t h e w i n k to m y c o m p a n i o n s as I was p a s s i n g in, a n d t h e p o t e n c y
o f m y medicine was s u c h as to g a i n t h e m quiet admission, a n d all o f us
w e r e c o m f o r t a b l y p l a c e d on e l e v a t e d seats, w h i c h o u r c o n d u c t o r s o o n
p r e p a r e d f o r us."
W i t h these w o r d s , G e o r g e C a t l i n ( 1 8 4 1 : 1 6 1 — 6 2 ) , the r o m a n t i c realist p a i n t e r o f t h e A m e r i c a n I n d i a n s , d e s c r i b e s his e n t r a n c e i n t o a
m e d i c i n e l o d g e in w h i c h h e was to witness w h a t is surely o n e o f the
m o s t s a n g u i n a r y rites in the annals o f e t h n o g r a p h y , the M a n d a n O K e e - P a — " a n o r d e a l o f p r i v a t i o n a n d t o r t u r e " in w h i c h y o u n g M a n d a n m e n , " e m a c i a t e d with fasting, a n d thirsting, a n d w a k i n g , f o r
n e a r l y f o u r d a y s a n d nights," w e r e h u n g b y r a w h i d e passed t h r o u g h
t h e s k e w e r e d flesh o f their s h o u l d e r s a n d breasts f r o m the l o d g e ' s r o o f
until t h e y w e r e "lifeless." T h e O - K e e - P a was c e l e b r a t e d a n n u a l l y , ac­
c o r d i n g to C a t l i n , to c o m m e m o r a t e the s u b s i d i n g o f a g r e a t f l o o d that
t h e M a n d a n b e l i e v e d o n c e c o v e r e d the w o r l d , to e n s u r e the c o m i n g o f
the b u f f a l o , a n d to initiate the y o u n g m e n o f the tribe into m a n h o o d
t h r o u g h an o r d e a l " w h i c h , while it is s u p p o s e d to h a r d e n t h e i r m u s c l e s
a n d p r e p a r e t h e m for e x t r e m e e n d u r a n c e , enables the c h i e f s w h o
are spectators to the s c e n e to d e c i d e u p o n their c o m p a r a t i v e b o d i l y
Hermes' Dilemma
55
s t r e n g t h a n d ability to e n d u r e the e x t r e m e privations a n d s u f f e r i n g s
t h a t o f t e n fall to the lots o f I n d i a n w a r r i o r s " ( 1 8 4 1 : 1 5 7 ) .
It w a s t h e s u m m e r o f 1 8 3 2 — s i x years b e f o r e the M a n d a n w e r e
d e c i m a t e d by an e p i d e m i c o f s m a l l p o x . Catlin h a d s p e n t s e v e r a l w e e k s
w i t h t h e m . H e f o u n d that "they are a p e o p l e o f d e c i d e d l y a d i f f e r e n t
o r i g i n f r o m that o f a n y o t h e r tribe in these r e g i o n s , " a n d later h e ar­
g u e d that t h e y w e r e d e s c e n d e n t s o f Welsh sailors w h o u n d e r the d i r e c ­
tion o f P r i n c e M a d o c h a d set sail in the f o u r t e e n t h c e n t u r y (actually in
the t w e l f t h c e n t u r y ) a n d w e r e t h o u g h t to h a v e settled s o m e w h e r e in
N o r t h A m e r i c a (Catlin 1 8 6 7 ; E w e r s 1 9 6 7 ) . T h e day b e f o r e his a d m i s ­
sion to t h e m e d i c i n e l o d g e , C a t l i n p a i n t e d the m a s t e r o f c e r e m o n i e s ,
a n d so p l e a s e d was this g r e a t m a g i c i a n with his p o r t r a i t — " h e c o u l d
see its e y e s m o v e " — t h a t he a n d the o t h e r " d o c t o r s " u n a n i m o u s l y ele­
v a t e d C a t l i n to a " r e s p e c t a b l e r a n k in the craft" o f m a g i c a n d m y s t e ­
ries a n d g a v e h i m the n a m e " W h i t e M e d i c i n e Painter." It was this
h o n o r that a l l o w e d h i m to e n t e r the l o d g e , a n d it was his r e p u t e d
m e d i c i n e that e n a b l e d his c o m p a n i o n s — J . K i p p , an a g e n t o f t h e
A m e r i c a n F u r T r a d e w h o h a d l o n g b e e n familiar with the M a n d a n
a n d s p o k e their l a n g u a g e ; L. C r a w f o r d , K i p p ' s clerk; a n d A b r a h a m
B o g a r d , w h o s e identity I h a v e not b e e n able to d e t e r m i n e — t o a c c o m ­
p a n y h i m . T h e y w e r e a p p a r e n t l y the first w h i t e m e n to witness t h e O K e e - P a , a n d C a t l i n was the first to describe it: o n J a n u a r y 1 0 , 1 8 3 3
( t h o u g h w r i t t e n o n A u g u s t 1 2 , 1832), in the New-York Commercial Ad­
vertiser; t h e n in 1841 in his Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North
American Indians; a n d , finally, in 1867 in a little b o o k (with a Folium
Reservatum for scholars) entirely d e v o t e d to t h e c e r e m o n y .
C a t l i n asserts m e l o d r a m a t i c a l l y that h e s h u d d e r s a n d e v e n s h r i n k s
from t h e task o f r e c i t i n g w h a t h e has seen. "I e n t e r e d the medicinehouse o f t h e s e s c e n e s , " h e writes
as I would have entered a church, and expected to see something extraordi­
nary and strange, but yet in the form of worship or devotion; but, alas! little
did I expect to see the interior of their holy temple turned into a slaughter­
house, and its floor strewed with the blood of its fanatic devotees. Little did I
lliink that I was entering a house of God, where His blinded worshippers
were to pollute its sacred interior with their blood, and propitiatory suffering
and tortures—surpassing, if possible, the cruelty of the rack or the inquisi­
tion; but such the scene has been, and as such I will endeavour to describe it.
(1841:156)
I )espite all o f Catlin's s h u d d e r i n g a n d s h r i n k i n g , h e a n d his c o m p a n ­
ions m a n a g e d to w a t c h the spectacle f r o m the seats they w e r e as­
s i g n e d . " W e w e r e t h e n in full view o f e v e r y t h i n g that t r a n s p i r e d in t h e
l o d g e , h a v i n g b e f o r e us the scene exactly, w h i c h is r e p r e s e n t e d in t h e
56
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
Hermes' Dilemma
57
first o f t h e f o u r p i c t u r e s [that Catlin p a i n t e d o f the c e r e m o n y a n d that
illustrated his s e c o n d a n d third a c c o u n t s ] . T o this seat w e r e t u r n e d
e v e r y m o r n i n g until s u n - d o w n for f o u r days, the w h o l e t i m e w h i c h
these s t r a n g e scenes o c c u p i e d " ( 1 8 4 1 : 162). T h e y w e r e n o t e v e n p e r m i t t e d to m o v e f r o m their assigned places. O n c e w h e n C a t l i n g o t u p
to take a c l o s e r l o o k at w h a t h e calls the central m y s t e r y o f t h e r i t e —
"the sanctissimus sanctorum, f r o m w h i c h s e e m e d to e m a n a t e all the
sanctity o f t h e i r p r o c e e d i n g s " — h e was sent back to his seat.
( 1 8 4 6 ) c a l l e d t h e m terrifying, m y s t e r i o u s — o f his I n d i a n p a i n t i n g s . '
T h e y r i n g t r u e n e i t h e r to his p r e s u m e d e x p e r i e n c e o f the e v e n t n o r to
t h a t o f t h e M a n d a n participants. T h e two e x p e r i e n c e s a r e stylistically
b l u r r e d — s a c r i f i c e d ultimately t o t h e e x p e r i e n c e Catlin wishes to e n g e n d e r in his r e a d e r s . T h i s p a t h o p o e t i c sacrifice o f the participant's
subjectivity to that o f his r e a d e r s o c c u r s e v e n w h e n C a t l i n claims to
t a k e the participant's point o f view. H e describes, for e x a m p l e , o n e o f
the h a n g i n g victims o f torture, a c o n d e n s a t i o n a p p a r e n t l y o f s e v e r a l .
I started several times from my seat to approach it, but all eyes were instantly
upon me, and every mouth in the assembly sent forth a hush—sh—! which
brought me back to my seat again; and I at length quieted my stifled curiosity
as well as I could, upon learning the fact, that so sacred was that object, and
so important its secrets or mysteries, that not / alone, but even the young
men, who were passing the ordeal, and all the village, save the conductor of
the mysteries, were stopped from approaching it, or knowing what it was.
( 1 8 4 1 : 162)
Surrounded by imps and demons as they appear, a dozen or more, who seem
to be concerting and devising means for his exquisite agony, gather around
him, when one o f the number advances toward him in a sneering manner,
and commences turning him around with a pole which h e brings in his hand
for the purpose. This is done in a gentle manner at first; but gradually increased, when the brave fellow, whose proud spirit can control its anger no
longer, burst out in the most lamentable and heart rendering cries that the
human voice is capable of producing, crying forth a prayer to the Great Spirit
to support and protect him in this dreadful trial; and continually repeating his confidence in his protection. In this condition he is continued to be
turned, faster and faster—and there is no hope of escape from it, nor chance
for the slightest relief, until by fainting, his voice falters, and his struggling
ceases, and he hangs, apparently, a still and lifeless corpse! ( 1 8 4 1 : 171)
L i k e an artist s t a n d i n g b e f o r e his easel, Catlin's v a n t a g e p o i n t is fixed.
S o at least h e asserts. And yet, he is in fact n o objectivist, n o R o b b e Grillet, d e s c r i b i n g t h e c e r e m o n y laboriously, m e t o n y m o u s s t e p b y
m e t o n y m o u s step, f r o m the fixed position o f his c o n s c i o u s n e s s . His
vision is l a r g e r , c o n s t r u c t e d , e x a g g e r a t e d , u n e v e n — m e t a p h o r i c a l . His
e y e c o n s t a n t l y betrays itself. H e describes the arrival o f t h e evil o n e ,
O-kee-hee-de.
But alas! in the last of these dances, on the fourth day, in the midst of all their
mirth and joy, and about noon, and in the height of all these exultations, an
instant scream burst forth from the tops of the lodges!—men, women, dogs
and all, seemed actually to howl and shudder with alarm, as they fixed their
glaring eyeballs upon the prairie bluff, about a mile in the west, down the side
of which a man was seen descending at full speed toward the village. This
strange character darted about in a zig-zag course in all directions on the prairie, like a boy in pursuit of a butterfly, until he approached the piquets o f the
village, when it was discovered that his body was entirely naked, and painted
as black as a negro, with pounded charcoal and bear's grease. . . . ( 1 8 4 1 : 1 6 6 )
C a t l i n r a m b l e s , repeats, g e n e r a l i z e s , simplifies, e x a g g e r a t e s , a n d e m bellishes. H e r e f e r s indiscriminately to w h a t h e has s e e n b e f o r e o r
l e a r n e d a f t e r w a r d . A m i d s t a p u r p o r t e d l y realistic d e s c r i p t i o n , m a s k e d
h e r e as e l s e w h e r e in Manners, Customs, and Conditions by m e a s u r e m e n t
("about a m i l e in the west," "a vestibule o f e i g h t o r ten feet"), are m e t a p h o r i c a l t u r n s o f p h r a s e , similes in t h e a b o v e e x a m p l e ("like a b o y in
p u r s u i t o f a butterfly," " p a i n t e d as black as a n e g r o " ) that s e e m as
i n a p p r o p r i a t e to the e v e n t h e describes as the c o l o r s — B a u d e l a i r e
H e r e C a t l i n m o v e s f r o m his (objectifying) m e t a p h o r i c a l p e r s p e c t i v e to
that o f t h e t o r t u r e d ; d e s p i t e this m o v e , his intention is n o t p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l , b u t r h e t o r i c a l : H e d o e s n o t describe either the Indian's o r
his o w n e x p e r i e n c e o f the t o r t u r e . T h e " i m p s a n d d e m o n s as they a p p e a r " (to w h o m ? to C a t l i n ? to the M a n d a n ? ) is stylistically e q u i v a l e n t
to " t h e r e is n o h o p e o f e s c a p e f r o m it." T h e y are d i r e c t e d to the r e a d e r ,
a n d it is the reader's reaction that will g u a r a n t e e Catlin's p e r c e p t i o n s .
I n t h e s e p a s s a g e s a n d t h r o u g h o u t his Manners, Customs, and Condilions of the North American Indians, Catlin's principal stylistic figure is h y p o t y p o s i s . H i s a i m is to i m p r e s s his e x p e r i e n c e o f w h a t h e has seen so
s t r o n g l y , so vividly, o n his r e a d e r s that they c a n n o t d o u b t its veracity.
It is t h e v i s u a l that gives authority. T h e realistic tradition, A l e x a n d e r
G e l l e y ( 1 9 7 9 : 4 2 0 ) o b s e r v e s , " s o u g h t to r e e n f o r c e the d e s c r i p t i o n o f
things a n d places by m a k i n g the object o f the d e s c r i p t i o n c o i n c i d e
1. In his commentaries on the Salon of 1846, Baudelaire (1846:634), who admired Catlin's work, wrote: "Le rouge, la couleur de la vie, abondait tellement dans ce
.sombre musée, que c'était une ivresse; quant aux paysages,—montagnes boisées, savanes
immenses, rivières désertes,—ils étaient monotonement, éternellement verts; le rouge,
celle couleur si obscure, si épaisse, plus difficile à pénétrer que les yeux d'un serpent—
Ir vert, celle couleur calme et gaie et souriante de la nature, je les retrouve chantant
leur antithèse mélodique." T h e r e is of course something o f this melodic antithesis in
( '.al tin's prose.
58
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
w i t h t h e o b j e c t o f a s p e c u l a r act, i m a g e , o r p r o c e s s . " Catlin's assertion
o f a f i x e d v a n t a g e p o i n t , o f an a s s i g n e d s e a t — t h e r e are similar asser­
tions e l s e w h e r e in Manners, Customs, and Conditions—must
be under­
s t o o d r h e t o r i c a l l y . It attests deictically to his p r e s e n c e . It gives h i m the
a u t h o r i t y o f t h e p a i n t e r b e f o r e his easel. It e n a b l e s h i m to l e a d his
r e a d e r s into the v i s u a l i z e d scene a n d to c o n v i n c e t h e m (and h i m s e l f )
o f its t r u t h .
Catlin's vision is not, h o w e v e r , s e c u r e . U n l i k e today's social scien­
tists w h o s e t h e o r i e s (regardless o f their merit) s e r v e t h e i r e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c credibility, Catlin's credibility has ultimately to rest o n the
p o w e r o f his d e s c r i p t i o n s . Just as his p a i n t i n g is n o t p a r t i c u l a r l y be­
lievable, n o r is his p r o s e . It u n d e r m i n e s itself. His intention is realistic,
b u t his style is r o m a n t i c . T h r o u g h m e t a p h o r , o f t e n e x t r a v a g a n t m e t a ­
p h o r , e c p h o n e s i s , the p r o m i s c u o u s use o f the vocative, h y p e r b o l e , pathopoeia, apoplanesis, interruption, suspense, subjectivism—to n a m e
o n l y a f e w o f his stylistic s t r a t e g i e s — C a t l i n tries to give to his d e s c r i p ­
tions a c o m p e l l i n g veracity, b u t it is precisely these strategies t h a t sub­
v e r t his i n t e n t i o n . R e a l i s m d e m a n d s stylistic sobriety. For C a t l i n s u c h
sobriety p r e c l u d e s the h y p o t y p o s i s u p o n w h i c h his credibility rests.
2
I n Manners, Customs, and Conditions h e b e g i n s the letter in w h i c h
h e d e s c r i b e s t h e O - K e e - P a c e r e m o n y with these w o r d s :
O h ! "horrible visu—et mirabile dictul" Thank God, it is over, that I have seen it,
and a m able to tell it to the world. ( 1 8 4 1 : 1 5 5 )
B u t w h y see it? W h y tell it to the w o r l d ? Catlin has n o f r a m e w o r k f o r
his e x p e r i e n c e — n o justification for his r e p o r t a g e . H i s i n t e n t i o n is
d o c u m e n t a r y , b u t d o e s this intention justify w i t n e s s i n g a n d d e s c r i b i n g
a " s h o c k i n g a n d d i s g u s t i n g c u s t o m " that "sickens the h e a r t a n d e v e n
t h e s t o m a c h o f a traveller in the c o u n t r y " (182 — 83) a n d yet t h a t fills
s u c h a t r a v e l e r with pity?
C a t l i n rationalizes his d e s c r i p t i o n in a c o n f u s e d m a n n e r . ( H e w a s
n e v e r a systematic thinker.) H e writes that the c e r e m o n y "will b e n e w
to t h e civilized w o r l d , a n d t h e r e f o r e w o r t h k n o w i n g " ( 1 5 7 ) . H e s u g ­
gests t h a t parts o f the c e r e m o n y are g r o t e s q u e a n d a m u s i n g a n d
o t h e r s , h a v i n g to d o w i t h the d e l u g e , are " h a r m l e s s a n d full o f inter­
est" ( 1 7 7 ) . H e has n o theoretical justification. N a t i v e e x e g e s i s is n o t
satisfactory. T h e c e r e m o n y c a n n o t b e historically situated. H e a r g u e s
t h a t e v e n i f h e h a d time to e l a b o r a t e a disquisition o n the c e r e m o n y ,
2. Gelley (1979:420) argues that ways o f seeing in the realist novel can be under­
stood "as a type o f deictic at a phenomenological level, a sign important not so much on
account of its content but because it is capable of identifying the instance of observation
and tracing its modifications."
Hermes' Dilemma
59
h e w o u l d p r o b a b l y fail b e c a u s e s i m p l e p e o p l e like the M a n d a n " h a v e
n o h i s t o r y to save facts a n d systems f r o m falling into the m o s t a b s u r d
a n d d i s j o i n t e d fable a n d i g n o r a n t fiction" ( 1 7 7 ) .
C a t l i n shares h e r e the distinctly n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y c o n v i c t i o n
t h a t e x p l a n a t i o n is e m b e d d e d in o r i g i n . In Manners, Customs, and Con­
ditions h e relates M a n d a n beliefs a n d tales to biblical stories o f t h e
f l o o d , Eve's t r a n s g r e s s i o n , a n d the birth a n d d e a t h o f C h r i s t . ( S u c h a n
e q u a t i o n p u t s a stop fundamentalisticaily to the quest for b o t h o r i g i n s
a n d m e a n i n g . ) N o t i n g the M a n d a n s ' distinctive ("white") a p p e a r a n c e ,
n o t i n g t o o that their c u l t u r e h e r o is w h i t e , C a t l i n a s s u m e s C h r i s t i a n
c o n t a c t , a n d , as w e h a v e seen, twenty-six y e a r s later, h e a r g u e d that
the M a n d a n w e r e d e s c e n d e d f r o m the W e l s h . B u t to a c k n o w l e d g e
C h r i s t i a n i n f l u e n c e or, for that m a t t e r , W e l s h d e s c e n t h a r d l y e x p l a i n s
the O - K e e - P a t o r t u r e s . C a t l i n shifts a b r u p t l y — h i s i n f o r m a l letter style
p e r m i t s t h i s — a n d he discusses the M a n d a n s ' potential f o r salvation.
"I d e e m it n o t folly n o r idle to say that these p e o p l e can be saved," h e
c o n c l u d e s his letter,
3
nor officious to suggest to some of the very many excellent and pious m e n ,
w h o are almost throwing away the best energies of their lives along the
debased frontier, that if they would introduce the ploughshare a n d their
prayers amongst these people, who are so far separated from the taints a n d
contaminating vices of the frontier, they would soon see their most ardent de­
sires accomplished and be able to solve to the world the perplexing enigma,
by presenting a nation o f savages, civilized and Christianized (and conse­
quently saved), in the heart of the American wilderness. ( 1 8 4 1 : 1 8 4 )
Catlin's u l t i m a t e j u s t i f i c a t i o n — a j u s t i f i c a t i o n that r u n s t h r o u g h A m e r i ­
c a n a n t h r o p o l o g y — i s p r a g m a t i c ; a p p l i e d , as w e say; e v a n g e l i c a l in t h e
case in p o i n t . T h e p r a g m a t i c , the a p p l i e d , a n d the e v a n g e l i c a l m u s t
also b e u n d e r s t o o d rhetorically.
D e s p i t e his figurative l a n g u a g e , his speculations a b o u t m e a n i n g ,
a n d his c o n c e r n f o r t h e I n d i a n s ' salvation, C a t l i n was in fact h a u n t e d
by this p r o b l e m o f credibility. "I t o o k m y s k e t c h - b o o k w i t h m e , "
he w r i t e s t o w a r d the b e g i n n i n g o f his d e s c r i p t i o n o f the O - K e e - P a
ceremony,
and have m a d e many and faithful drawings of what we saw, and full notes o f
everything as translated to me by the interpreter; and since the close of that
horrid a n d frightful scene, which was a week ago or more, I have been closely
ensconced in an earthcovered wigwam, with a fine sky-light over my head,
with my pallette and brushes, endeavouring faithfully to put the whole o f
3. There is a revealing parallel between Catlin's disjunctive style and his j u m p y
spéculations about the meaning o f the ceremony.
6o
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
what we saw u p o n canvas, which my companions all agree to be critically cor­
rect, and o f the fidelity o f which they have attached their certificates to the
backs o f the paintings. (1841: 155)
A s i f p r o p h e t i c a l l y , C a t l i n also h a d K i p p , C r a w f o r d , a n d B o g a r d at­
t a c h a certificate o f authenticity to his a c c o u n t o f t h e c e r e m o n y in
Manners, Customs, and Conditions; for his r e p o r t w a s to b e q u e s t i o n e d
by n o less a figure in A m e r i c a n e t h n o l o g y t h a n H e n r y R o w e S c h o o l ­
craft. In the t h i r d v o l u m e o f his Historical and Statistical Information Re­
specting the Histmy, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the
United, States, S c h o o l c r a f t ( 1 8 5 1 — 5 7 ) i n c l u d e d a t w o - p a g e article o n the
M a n d a n b y D a v i d D . M i t c h e l l , t h e n s u p e r i n t e n d e n t o f I n d i a n affairs
in St. L o u i s , w h o h a d b e e n in the I n d i a n t r a d e in M a n d a n territory in
u p p e r M i s s o u r i in the 1830s. Mitchell's article c o n c l u d e d : " I n f o r m a ­
t i o n a b o u t their [the M a n d a n s ' ] p e c u l i a r c u s t o m s c a n b e f o u n d in t h e
J o u r n a l o f L e w i s a n d C l a r k . T h e s c e n e s d e s c r i b e d by C a t l i n , e x i s t e d
a l m o s t e n t i r e l y in the fertile i m a g i n a t i o n o f that g e n t l e m a n " (254).
W h e n h e w a s in S o u t h A m e r i c a , C a t l i n l e a r n e d o f Schoolcraft's a n d
Mitchell's r e p u d i a t i o n o f his w o r k in a letter f r o m A l e x a n d e r v o n
H u m b o l d t , w h o u r g e d h i m to write to P r i n c e M a x i m i l i a n o f N e u w i e d ,
w h o h a d also s p e n t a w i n t e r a m o n g the M a n d a n . B e f o r e C a t l i n w a s
able to o b t a i n a letter of vindication f r o m the p r i n c e — h e e v e n t u a l l y
d i d in 1 8 6 6 — b o t h S c h o o l c r a f t a n d Mitchell d i e d . A l t h o u g h Catlin's
d e s c r i p t i o n is n o w m o r e o r less a c c e p t e d as an a c c u r a t e p o r t r a y a l
o f t h e O - K e e - P a c e r e m o n y ( B o w e r s 1 9 5 0 ; see also M a t t h e w s 1 8 7 3 ) ,
C a t l i n h i m s e l f w a s p l a g u e d by the doubt cast o n the a c c u r a c y o f his
a c c o u n t s f o r t h e rest o f his life.
O n F e b r u a r y 20, 1 7 8 7 , A s h W e d n e s d a y , G o e t h e w r o t e :
At last the foolishness is over. T h e innumerable lights last night were another
m a d spectacle. O n e has only to see the Roman carnival to lose all desire ever
to see it again. It is not worth writing about. If need be, it might make a n
a m u s i n g conversation piece.
( N u n ist d e r Narrheit ein Ende. Die unzähligen Lichter gestern abend waren
n o c h ein toller Spektakel. Das Karneval in Rom muss m a n gesehen haben, u m
d e n W u n s c h völlig loszuwerden, es je wieder zu sehen. Zu schreiben ist davon
gar nichts, bei einer mündlichen Darstellung möchte es allenfalls unter­
haltend sein.)"
1
Ironically, a y e a r later G o e t h e saw the carnival a g a i n , a n d in 1 7 8 9 ,
u p o n his r e t u r n to W e i m a r , h e p u b l i s h e d an a c c o u n t o f it with c o l o r e d
4. 19763:228. All translations are my own. T h e Auden and Mayer translation
(Goethe 1982) is often very inaccurate.
Hermes' Dilemma
61
e n g r a v i n g s . H e later i n c o r p o r a t e d this little b o o k , Das Römische Kar­
neval, i n t o his Italienische Reise, w h i c h is essentially a n a r r a n g e m e n t o f
letters a n d d i a r y e n t r i e s the p o e t e d i t e d twenty-five y e a r s after his Ital­
ian t r i p .
G o e t h e o n l y loosely follows t h e c h r o n o l o g i c a l o r d e r o f t h e R o m a n
c a r n i v a l , w h i c h b e g i n s , g r a d u a l l y , w i t h t h e o p e n i n g of t h e t h e a t e r s
in R o m e after t h e N e w Y e a r a n d c u l m i n a t e s o n A s h W e d n e s d a y . H e
stresses t h e fact that the c a r n i v a l fits in naturally w i t h the R o m a n life­
style. It is really n o t that d i f f e r e n t f r o m S u n d a y a n d h o l i d a y m e r r i ­
m e n t in R o m e . E v e n the c o s t u m e s a n d masks a r e familiar sights,
G o e t h e a r g u e s , citing t h e h o o d e d m o n k s w h o a c c o m p a n y f u n e r a l s
t h r o u g h o u t t h e y e a r . H e carefully locates the c a r n i v a l , at least t h e
p a r t s h e t h i n k s w o r t h y o f d e s c r i b i n g , o n the C o r s o . ( L i k e C a t l i n , h e is
c a r e f u l to g i v e p r e c i s e m e a s u r e m e n t s o f the location o f t h e c e r e m o n y . )
5
6
T h e C o r s o b e c o m e s the carnival's theater. T h e stage is t h e street
itself. T h e a u d i e n c e stand o r a r e seated a l o n g its sides, o n t h e side­
w a l k , o n b a l c o n i e s , o r in front o f w i n d o w s . G o e t h e d e s c r i b e s t h e cos­
t u m e s , m a s k s , c a r r i a g e s , horses (for the r a c e w i t h w h i c h the c a r n i v a l
e n d s e a c h e v e n i n g ) , as t h o u g h h e w e r e d e s c r i b i n g c o s t u m e s a n d p r o p s
for a theatrical p r o d u c t i o n . T h e c h a r a c t e r s — g u a r d s , P u l c i n e l l e , quac­
cheri ( " Q u a k e r s " ) in o l d - f a s h i o n e d , richly e m b r o i d e r e d clothes, sbirri,
N e a p o l i t a n b o a t m e n , peasants, w o m e n f r o m Frascati, G e r m a n b a k e r
a p p r e n t i c e s , w h o h a v e a r e p u t a t i o n for d r u n k e n n e s s — a r e like c h a r a c ­
ters f r o m t h e commedia dell'arte. ( T h e quacchero, G o e t h e h i m s e l f re­
m a r k s , is like t h e buffo caricato o f t h e c o m i c o p e r a ; h e plays e i t h e r a
v u l g a r f o p o r the silly, i n f a t u a t e d , a n d b e t r a y e d o l d fool.) T h e c h a r a c ­
ters h a v e n o d e p t h . T h e y are e m b l e m a t i c , as a r e their skits. T h e o v e r ­
all m o v e m e n t — t h e a c t i o n — o f the c a r n i v a l leads e a c h d a y to a m a d ,
riderless h o r s e r a c e , a n d the carnival itself e n d s d r a m a t i c a l l y o n t h e
e v e n i n g b e f o r e A s h W e d n e s d a y . E v e r y o n e carries a l i g h t e d c a n d l e .
E v e r y o n e tries to blow o u t o t h e r people's c a n d l e s , s h o u t i n g , Sia am­
mazzato chi non porta moccola ("Death to a n y o n e w h o is n o t c a r r y i n g a
c a n d l e " ) . E v e r y o n e tries to p r o t e c t his o r h e r o w n c a n d l e .
N o o n e can m o v e m u c h from the spot where he is standing or sitting; the heat
o f so many h u m a n beings and so many lights, the smoke from so many can­
dles, blown o u t again a n d again, the noise o f so many people, w h o only yell all
I IH* louder, the less they can move a limb, make the sanest head swim. It seems
5. See Michel (1976) for publication details.
(i. It. "tits in naturally with the Roman life style." (Das Karneval ist, wie wir bald
I iriiiei ken können, eigentlich nur eine Fortsetzung oder vielmehr der Gipfel jener
H< wöhnlii hen sonn- und festtägigen Freuden; es ist nichts Neues, nichts Fremdes,
im Ins Kinxigcs, sondern es schliefst sich nur an die römische Lebensweise ganz natürlich
,n\ I 1976a : 6.1 y I).
62
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
impossible that n o accident will occur, that the carriage horses will not g o
wild, that many will n o t be bruised, crushed, or otherwise injured.
( N i e m a n d vermag sich mehr von d e m Platze, wo er steht oder sitzt, zu rühren;
die Wärme so vieler Menschen, so vieler Lichter, der Dampf so vieler immer
wieder ausgeblasenen Kerzen, das Geschrei so vieler Menschen, die nur
u m desto heftiger brüllen, j e weniger sie ein Glied rühren können, machen
zuletzt selbst d e n gesundesten Sinn schwindeln; es scheint unmöglich,
dass nicht manches Unglück geschehen, dass die Kutschpferde nicht wild,
nicht m a n c h e gequetscht, gedrückt oder sonst beschädigt werden sollten.)
(19763:675)
T h e c r o w d finally disperses, the c o m m o n p e o p l e to relish their
last m e a t d i s h b e f o r e L e n t , the fashionable to the last p e r f o r m a n c e o f
the theater. T h e "madness" ends on A s h Wednesday. " H o w h a p p y I
shall b e w h e n the fools are silenced n e x t T u e s d a y , " G o e t h e writes in a
letter o n F e b r u a r y 1, 1 7 7 8 . "It is terribly a n n o y i n g to w a t c h o t h e r s g o
m a d w h e n o n e has n o t c a u g h t the infection o n e s e l f " ("Wie f r o h will
ich sein, w e n n die N a r r e n k ü n f t i g e n D i e n s t a g a b e n d z u r R u h e g e ­
b r a c h t w e r d e n . Es ist e i n e entsetzliche S e k k a t u r , a n d e r e toll z u s e h e n ,
w e n n m a n nicht selbst a n g e s t e c k t ist" [ 1 9 7 6 a : 6 8 1 ] ) . A s w e shall see,
A s h W e d n e s d a y g a v e G o e t h e occasion to c o n t e m p l a t e the m e a n i n g o f
this folly, this S a t u r n a l i a n m e r r i m e n t , with its role reversals, its v u l g a r
g e s t u r e s , its transvestitism, its libertinism, a n d w h a t o f f e n d e d h i m
m o s t , its d i s o r d e r .
I n c o n t r a s t to Catlin's a c c o u n t o f the O - K e e - P a c e r e m o n y , w i t h
its subjectivism, its m e t a p h o r s a n d h y p e r b o l e s , a n d i n d e e d in c o n ­
trast to G o e t h e ' s o w n Sturm und Drang writings, with their e x u b e r a n t
subjectivism a n d insistent c o n c e r n with Innerlichkeit, i n n e r n e s s , the
Italian Journey, i n c l u d i n g The Roman Carnival, treats the e x t e r n a l , das
Äussere, w i t h a n e m o t i o n a l c a l m that m u s t surely h a v e b e e n d i s a p ­
p o i n t i n g to the r e a d e r s o f Werther. ( T h e r e are in fact few " e x t r a v a ­
g a n t " m e t a p h o r s in G o e t h e ' s text, a n d the few t h e r e are d o n o t s u b v e r t
his " r e a l i s m " as Catlin's do.) O n N o v e m b e r 10, 1 7 8 6 , G o e t h e w r o t e
from Rome:
I live here now with a clarity and calm that 1 have not felt for a long time. My
habit o f looking at and reading all things as they are, my conscientious [effort]
to keep my eyes o p e n , my complete renunciation of all pretension again stand
m e in g o o d stead and make me privately very happy. Each day a new remark­
able object; daily, vast singular new pictures—a whole that, however long o n e
thinks and dreams, is never accessible through the imagination.
(Ich lebe n u n hier mit Klarheit u n d Ruhe, von der ich lange kein Gefühl
hatte. Meine Ü b u n g , alle Dinge, wie sie sind, zu sehen u n d abzulesen, m e i n e
T r e u e , das A u g e licht sein zu lassen, meine völlige Entaüsserung von aller Prä­
tention k o m m e n mir einmal wieder recht zustatten u n d machen mich im stil-
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
63
len höchst glücklich. Alle Tage ein neuer merkwürdiger Gegenstand, täglich
frische, grosse, seltsame Bilder und ein Ganzes, das man sich lange denkt u n d
träumt, nie mit d e r Einbildungskraft erreicht.) (1976a: 178—79)
T h e r e is s o m e t h i n g salubrious in G o e t h e ' s " n e w " a p p r o a c h to real­
ity. It s h o u l d b e r e m e m b e r e d that his Italian trip h a d a t h e r a p e u t i c
i n t e n t i o n , to r e a n i m a t e h i m , a n d that h e often s p o k e o f it as a r e b i r t h
(Fairley 1 9 4 7 ) . " I n this p l a c e , " he writes o n the s a m e day, " w h o e v e r
l o o k s seriously a b o u t h i m a n d has eyes to see m u s t b e c o m e s t r o n g ; h e
is b o u n d to a c q u i r e an i d e a o f s t r e n g t h that was n e v e r so alive for h i m "
("Wer sich mit E r n s t h i e r u m s i e h t u n d A u g e n hat z u s e h e n , m u s s solid
w e r d e n , e r m u s s e i n e n B e g r i f f v o n Solidität fassen, d e r i h m nie so le­
b e n d i g w a r d " [ 1 9 7 6 a : 17g]). H e insists o n s e e i n g a g a i n a n d a g a i n to
a v o i d t h e m i x t u r e o f t r u t h a n d lies that m a k e s u p first i m p r e s s i o n s
( G o e t h e 1 9 7 6 b : 86; Staiger 1 9 5 6 : 14). U n d e r the t u t e l a g e o f A n g e l i k a
K a u f f m a n n h e d r a w s to d e e p e n his p e r c e p t i o n o f the objects a r o u n d
h i m . A s E m i l S t a i g e r ( 1 9 5 6 : 15—16) s h o w s , it is the idea ( " B e g r i f f e , "
" a n s c h a u e n d e r B e g r i f f , " " l e b e n d i g e s B e g r i f f " in G o e t h e ' s w r i t i n g )
that u n i t e s t h e c h a n g i n g a n d the u n c h a n g i n g , the m u l t i p l e p e r c e p ­
tions o f an object. G o e t h e ' s objectivity r e m a i n s always the objectivity o f
a subject. H i s " o b j e c t i v e " is not the o p p o s i t e o f the "subjective." A c ­
c o r d i n g to S t a i g e r ( 1 9 5 6 : 1 8 ) , the contrast is b e t w e e n i n n e r c o m p r e ­
h e n s i o n o f t h e t h i n g ("ein ' i n n e r l i c h e s ' Erfassen d e r D i n g e " ) a n d its
o b j e c t i v e (sachlich) c o m p r e h e n s i o n . Distance, u n d e r s t o o d b o t h literally
a n d figuratively, is necessary for this "objectivity," b u t as S t a i g e r ( 1 9 5 6 :
18) n o t e s , G o e t h e is less c o n c e r n e d with a specific p e r s p e c t i v e t h a n
with s h o w i n g an eternal truth.
7
A l t h o u g h G o e t h e , like C a t l i n , occasionally situates h i m s e l f as if
b e f o r e a n easel in his d e s c r i p t i o n s in the Italian Journey (e.g., 1982 :
30), h e d o e s n o t a s s u m e a fixed p e r s p e c t i v e in The Roman
Carnival.
I n d e e d , in t h e v e r y first p a r a g r a p h o f his w o r k h e writes c o n v e n t i o n ­
ally o f t h e impossibility o f d e s c r i b i n g the carnival a n d t h e r e b y t u r n s
the c a r n i v a l itself into a figure o f m a d n e s s a n d d i s o r d e r .
In undertaking to write a description o f the Roman Carnival, we must fear
the objection that such a festivity cannot really be described. A huge, lively
7. Auch wer nur die Dinge will und sonst nichts, erfasst sie in einer bestimmten
Hinsicht, von einem bestimmten Gesichtspunkt aus. Dessen wird Goethe sich nicht
licwusst. Er ist überzeugt, die ewig gültige Wahrheit entdeckt und begriffen zu haben,
und traut sich zu, siejedem, der Augen hat and sehen will, zeigen zu können. Da es sich
um objektive Erkenntnisse handelt, gelingt das auch. Was Goethe darlegt, ist tatsächlich
den wechselvollen Launen, der Stimmung, der Willkür der einzelnen Menschen ent­
rückt und insofern zeitlos und überall gültig. Es fragt sich aber, ob jedermann sich für
diese Wahrheit interessiert, ob nicht mancher es vorzieht, die Dinge von einem andern
( iesichlspunkt aus, in anderer Hinsicht wahrzunehmen. Darüber haben wir nicht zu
iei Inen und ist ein Streit überhaupl nicht möglich (Staiger 1956: 1 7 - 1 8 ) .
6
VINCENT
4
CRAPANZANO
Hermes' Dilemma
65
mass o f sensuous beings moves immediately before one's eyes and will b e s e e n
and grasped by everyone in his o w n way. T h e objection is still m o r e serious
w h e n we admit that the R o m a n carnival gives neither a whole nor pleasing
impression neither particularly delights the eyes nor gratifies the mind o f the
foreign spectator w h o sees it for the first time and wants only to watch, i n d e e d
can only watch. T h e r e is n o overview of the long and narrow street in which
i n n u m e r a b l e people m o v e about; o n e hardly distinguishes in the midst o f the
tumult anything the e y e can grasp. T h e m o v e m e n t is m o n o t o n o u s , the noise
is d e a f e n i n g , the e n d o f each day unsatisfactory. T h e s e doubts alone are soon
raised w h e n we e x a m i n e the matter more closely; and above all the question
will be w h e t h e r or not any description is warranted.
in S t r a s b o u r g ( L e w e s 1 9 4 9 1 6 7 ) . H e m o v e s i n d i f f e r e n t l y u p a n d d o w n
t h e C o r s o . H e m o v e s as i n d i f f e r e n t l y t h r o u g h t i m e . W i t h t h e e x c e p ­
tion o f the lighting o f candles on the e v e n i n g before A s h W e d n e s d a y ,
t h e o n l y n o n r e p e t i t i v e e v e n t in G o e t h e ' s c a r n i v a l , h e d o e s n o t s p e c i f y
t h e t i m e o f t h e e v e n t s h e d e s c r i b e s . H e writes in t h e " p r e s e n t " t e n s e —
a tenseless t e n s e , i f y o u will, w h i c h s e r v e s at o n c e to g i v e a f e e l i n g o f
t i m e l e s s flow a n d to p e r m i t g e n e r a l i z a t i o n s . L i k e C a t l i n , G o e t h e c o n ­
flates-—and g e n e r a l i z e s — c h a r a c t e r s a n d e v e n t s , a n d o n l y r a r e l y , to
a d d life a n d a u t h e n t i c i t y to his d e s c r i p t i o n s , d o e s h e specify his rela­
t i o n s h i p to p a r t i c u l a r e v e n t s a n d c h a r a c t e r s .
( I n d e m wir eine Beschreibung des Römischen Karnevals u n t e r n e h m e n , müs­
sen wir d e n Einwurf befürchten, dass eine solche Feierlichkeit eigentlich nicht
beschrieben w e r d e n könne. Eine so grosse lebendige Masse sinnlicher G e g e n ­
stände sollte sich unmittelbar vor d e m A u g e bewegen u n d v o n einem j e d e n
nach seiner Art angeschaut u n d gefasst werden. Noch bedenklicher wird
diese E i n w e n d u n g , w e n n wir selbst gestehen müssen, dass das Römische Kar­
neval e i n e m f r e m d e n Zuschauer, der es z u m erstenmal sieht u n d nur s e h e n
will u n d kann, w e d e r einen ganzen noch ein erfreulichen Eindruck gebe,
w e d e r das A u g e sonderlich ergötze, noch das Gemüt befriedige. Die lange
u n d schmale Strasse, in welcher sich unzählige Menschen hin u n d wider wäl­
zen, ist nicht zu übersehen; kaum unterscheidet man etwas in d e m Bezirk des
G e t ü m m e l s , d e n das A u g e fassen kann. Die B e w e g u n g ist einförmig, d e r
Lärm betäubend, das Ende d e r Tage unbefriedigend. Allein diese Bedenk­
lichkeiten sind bald g e h o b e n , w e n n wir uns näher erklären; u n d vorzüglich
wird die Frage sein, o b uns die Beschreibung selbst rechtfertigt.) (1976a : 639)
We r e m e m b e r a m o n g others o n e y o u n g man w h o played perfectly the part o f
a passionate, quarrelsome, and in no way to be calmed w o m a n . H e argued the
length o f the Corso, grabbing everyone while his companions appeared to be
taking great pains to calm h i m d o w n .
T h e a b s e n c e o f a single p e r s p e c t i v e o v e r the c a r n i v a l is associated w i t h
t u m u l t (Getümmel), d e a f e n i n g s o u n d (der Lärm betäubend), m a s s e s o f
sensuous beings, undifferentiated m o v e m e n t , ultimately with an un­
p l e a s a n t a n d u n s a t i s f a c t o r y e x p e r i e n c e — a t least f o r t h e f o r e i g n o b ­
s e r v e r . ( T h r o u g h o u t t h e Italian Journey, G o e t h e r e f e r s to t h e f o r ­
e i g n e r , t h e f o r e i g n o b s e r v e r , as t h o u g h t h e r e w e r e a s i n g l e " f o r e i g n "
v a n t a g e p o i n t o n Italy a n d its c a r n i v a l . ) It will b e G o e t h e ' s task to
b r i n g o r d e r to this d i s o r d e r t h r o u g h his d e s c r i p t i o n — a d e s c r i p t i o n ,
h e says, t h a t will c o n v e y t h e e n j o y m e n t a n d t u m u l t (Freude und Taumel)
o f t h e o c c a s i o n to t h e reader's i m a g i n a t i o n .
8
G o e t h e h i m s e l f d o e s n o t take a specific spatial v a n t a g e p o i n t — a l ­
w a y s a possibility e v e n w h e n t h e r e is n o o v e r v i e w , n o Übersicht, n o c a ­
t h e d r a l t o w e r , w h i c h p l a y e d s u c h a n i m p o r t a n t r o l e in his s t u d e n t d a y s
8. If there is no difference between actors and spectators in the carnival—a point
made by Bakhtin ( 1970)—then any vantage point on the carnival would have to be "for­
eign"—outside the carnival itself. I doubt, however, that there is no differentiation be­
tween actors and spectators—Goethe's "theatrical" description suggests there is—and I
would argue that the absence of differentiation is, in fact, ideological—an expression o f
a defining alterity.
(Wir erinnern u n s unter andern eines j u n g e n Menschen, der die Rolle einer
leidenschaftlichen, zanksüchtigen u n d auf keine Weise zu b e r u h i g e n d e n Frau
vortrefflich spielte u n d so d e n ganzen Corso hinab zankte, j e d e m etwas
anhängte, indes seine Begleiter sich alle Mühe zu geben schienen, i h n zu be­
sänftigen.) (19763:647)
O r , d e s c r i b i n g a battle o f c o n f e t t i , h e w r i t e s :
We ourselves saw o n e such battle at close quarters. W h e n the combatants ran
out o f ammunition, they threw the little gilded baskets at o n e another's heads.
(Wir h a b e n selbst e i n e n solchen Streit in der N ä h e g e s e h n , w o zuletzt d i e
Streitenden aus Mangel an Munition, sich die vergoldeten Körbchen an d i e
Köpfe warfen.) (1976a: 660)
M o r e o f t e n , h o w e v e r , G o e t h e d o e s n o t indicate his r e l a t i o n s h i p to
t h e e v e n t t h r o u g h t h e first p e r s o n p r o n o u n ("stands o u t in my m e m ­
o r y " ; "we o u r s e l v e s saw") b u t b y m e a n s o f v a r i o u s spatial a n d t e m p o r a l
d e i c t i c l o c u t i o n s that g i v e t h e e v e n t a n d c h a r a c t e r s a n illusory s p e c i ­
ficity. I n a s e c t i o n in w h i c h h e d e s c r i b e s the m a s k s a n d f a n c y d r e s s e s o f
t h e c a r n i v a l g e n e r a l l y , h e writes, f o r e x a m p l e :
Here a Pulcinella comes r u n n i n g along with a large horn dangling from col­
o r e d strings a r o u n d his waist. . . . A n d here comes another o f his kind, . . .
more m o d e s t a n d m o r e satisfied.
(Hier k o m m t e i n Pulcinell gelaufen, d e m e i n grosses H o r n an bunten Schnü­
ren u m d i e H ü f t e n gaukelt. . . . Hier kommt ein anderer seinesgleichen . . .
bescheidner u n d zufriedner.) (1976a: 647; emphasis added)
Despite the "here's," we have no coordinates other than o u r general
k n o w l e d g e that w e are "with G o e t h e " s o m e w h e r e along the C o r s o
d u r i n g t h e c a r n i v a l . G o e t h e in fact b e g i n s this p a r t o f his d e s c r i p t i o n
66
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
w i t h t h e r i n g i n g o f the n o o n d a y bells o n the C a p i t o l , w h i c h a n n o u n c e s
t h e p e r i o d of license, b u t w e d o not k n o w which day o f the c a r n i v a l it
is. In o t h e r sections h e uses t e m p o r a l d e i x i s . H e begins a d e s c r i p t i o n
o f e v e n i n g , b e f o r e the r a c e s : " N o w as e v e n i n g a p p r o a c h e s " ( " N u n
g e h t es n a c h d e m A b e n d z u " [ 1 9 7 6 a : 664]). A g a i n w e have n o i d e a
w h i c h e v e n i n g . A n d at still o t h e r times, in the midst o f a g e n e r a l i z e d ,
spatially a n d t e m p o r a l l y d e c o n t e x t u a l i z e d d e s c r i p t i o n o f an e v e n t , h e
will s u d d e n l y m a k e use o f a " m e a n w h i l e , " an inzwischen, that has n o
c o o r d i n a t e s . A s I h a v e said, the function o f these deictics is p u r e l y
r h e t o r i c a l , to a d d life to his d e s c r i p t i o n s a n d m a k e t h e m m o r e c o n ­
v i n c i n g . T h e y attest to G o e t h e ' s p r e s e n c e , a n d they a p p e a l to t h e
r e a d e r to "join" h i m . T h e r e is an a p p e l l a t i v e d i m e n s i o n to G o e t h e ' s
deictics, p e r h a p s to all deictics. H e d r a w s his r e a d e r s into a s e e m i n g l y
real m o m e n t o f o b s e r v a t i o n that is in fact only an artifice o f his text.
H e o f f e r s t h e m the security o f his p r e s e n c e as they witness the tan­
talizing d i s o r d e r o f the e v e n t s that take place in the C o r s o .
G o e t h e b e c o m e s the reader's m e d i a t o r — a sort o f t o u r g u i d e to
t h e c a r n i v a l . H e stands o u t s i d e it, t h o u g h , particularly o u t s i d e the tu­
m u l t u o u s c r o w d — t h e c o m m o n p e o p l e — m i l l i n g u p a n d d o w n the
C o r s o . H e is aloof, a f o r e i g n e r , at times c o n d e s c e n d i n g . H e sees little
j o y in the c a r n i v a l a n d , like H a w t h o r n e a n d H e n r y J a m e s after h i m ,
h e d o e s not s h a r e in any o f its m e r r i m e n t . H e p r e s e r v e s his d i s t a n c e ,
an o r d e r - b e s t o w i n g theatrical distance, a n d only occasionally d o e s h e
identify with the s p e c t a t o r s — n o t with the h u g e lively mass o f sen­
s u o u s b e i n g s , b u t with an elite w h o watch the c r o w d f r o m their b e n c h e s
a n d chairs. H e describes the h o m e y f e e l i n g p r o d u c e d by the r u g s
h a n g i n g f r o m balconies a n d w i n d o w s , by the e m b r o i d e r e d tapestries
d r a p e d o v e r the stands, a n d by the chairs b r o u g h t o u t f r o m inside the
h o u s e s a n d palaces a l o n g the C o r s o . W h e n y o u leave the h o u s e , y o u
d o n o t b e l i e v e y o u are outside, a m o n g strangers, b u t in a r o o m full o f
a c q u a i n t a n c e s ( " I n d e m m a n aus d e m H a u s e tritt, g l a u b t m a n nicht i m
F r e i e n u n d u n t e r F r e m d e n , s o n d e r n in e i n e m Saale u n t e r B e k a n n t e n
z u sein" [ 1 9 7 6 3 : 6 4 6 ] ) . H e d o e s n o t a b a n d o n his class. H e d o e s not
p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l l y o r rhetorically a s s u m e the subjectivity o f t h e p a r ­
ticipants. I n d e e d , in his first m e n t i o n o f the carnival the y e a r b e f o r e ,
h e w a s m o r e sensitive to the participants' e x p e r i e n c e .
What o n e finds unpleasant about it is the absence of inner gaiety in the
people, w h o lack the money to gratify the few desires they may still have. . . .
O n the last days the noise was incredible, but there was no heartfelt joy.
(Was m a n dabei u n a n g e n e h m empfindet, dass die innere Fröhlichkeit d e n
Menschen fehlt u n d es ihnen an Gelde mangelt, das bisschen Lust, was sie
n o c h haben m ö g e n , auszulassen. . . . An d e n letzten Tagen war ein unglaub­
licher Lärm, aber keine Herzensfreude.) ( 1 9 7 6 3 : 2 2 8 — 2 9 )
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
67
I n t h e Roman Carnival, G o e t h e is interested in display, t h e e x t e r n a l ,
das Äussere, in w h a t he can s e e — a n d not in the Innerlichkeit o f t h e
participants.
And yet it is precisely with t h e " i n n e r m e a n i n g " o f the c a r n i v a l that
G o e t h e c o n c l u d e s his essay. It passes like a d r e a m o r a fairytale, h e
says, l e a v i n g p e r h a p s f e w e r traces o n the soul o f the participant (Teil­
nehmer) t h a n o n G o e t h e ' s r e a d e r s . H e has b r o u g h t to their i m a g i n a t i o n
a n d u n d e r s t a n d i n g a c o h e r e n t w h o l e ("vor d e r e n E i n b i l d u n g s k r a f t
u n d V e r s t a n d wir das G a n z e in seinem Z u s a m m e n h a n g e g e b r a c h t
h a b e n " ) . Is G o e t h e s u g g e s t i n g that for an e x p e r i e n c e to be m o r e t h a n
e p h e m e r a l it m u s t b e d e s c r i b e d — g i v e n c o h e r e n c e a n d o r d e r ? H e
g o e s o n to o b s e r v e that "the c o u r s e o f these follies" d r a w s o u r atten­
tion to the most i m p o r t a n t stages o f h u m a n life
when a vulgar Pulcinella indecently reminds us o f the pleasures o f love to
which we o w e o u r existence, when a Baubo profanes the mysteries of birth in
public places, when so many lighted candles at night remind us o f the ulti­
mate ceremony.
(wenn uns . . . der rohe Pulcinell ungebührlich an die Freuden der Liebe erin­
nert, d e n e n wir unser Dasein zu danken haben, wenn eine Baubo auf öffent­
lichem Platze die Ceheimnisse der Gebärerin entweiht, wenn so viele nächtlich
a n g e z ü n d e t e Kerzen uns an die letzte Feierlichkeit erinnern.) ( 1 9 7 6 3 : 6 7 6 )
H e sees the C o r s o itself as the r o a d o f earthly life w h e r e o n e is b o t h
s p e c t a t o r a n d a c t o r a n d w h e r e o n e has little r o o m to m o v e freely b e ­
c a u s e o f e x t e r n a l forces. T h e horses r a c i n g past are like fleeting d e ­
lights "that l e a v e o n l y a trace o n o u r soul." C a r r i e d away by the f o r c e
o f his i m a g e r y , G o e t h e r e m a r k s
that freedom and equality can only be enjoyed in the intoxication of madness
and that the greatest desire rises to its highest pitch when it approaches close
to d a n g e r and relishes in voluptuous, sweet-anxious sensations.
(dass Freiheit u n d Gleichheit nur in d e m Taumel des Wahnsinns genossen
werden k ö n n e n , und dass die grösste Lust nur dann am höchsten reizt, wenn
sie sich ganz nahe an die Gefahr drängt und lüstern ängstlich-süsse Empfin­
d u n g e n in ihrer Nähe geniesset.) ( 1 9 7 6 3 : 6 7 7 )
R e m i n i s c e n t o f his u n r e s t r a i n e d Sturm und Drang p e r i o d , these last
o b s e r v a t i o n s s e e m r e m o v e d f r o m any specific r e f e r e n t in the c a r n i v a l .
T h e c a r n i v a l is a n e x c u s e for G o e t h e ' s m e d i t a t i o n . His c o n c e r n is with
ils m e a n i n g n o t for the participants, b u t for h i m s e l f and his r e a d e r s .
I g n o r i n g t h e historical a n d the collective, the link, as B a k h t i n ( 1 9 6 5 )
stresses, b e t w e e n p o p u l a r destiny, p e n e t r a t e d by the c o m i c p r i n c i p l e ,
a n d t h e e a r t h , G o e t h e r e d u c e s the carnival to a c o n v e n t i o n a l a l l e g o r y
o f i n d i v i d u a l destiny. Its m e a n i n g lies in a t r a n s c e n d e n t s t o r y — t h e
kind C a t l i n s o u g h t for the O - K e e - P a c e r e m o n y b u t c o u l d n e v e r really
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VINCENT CRAPANZANO
find. T h r o u g h G o e t h e ' s a l l e g o r y , the i n d i v i d u a l is, so to s p e a k , r e s u r ­
rected from the milling, seething, tumultuous—the unindividuated—
c r o w d . G o e t h e , a k i n d o f trickster, a m a g i c i a n o f w o r d s , a H e r m e s
r e p o r t i n g t h e c a r n i v a l to t h o s e u p n o r t h , across the b o r d e r , r e s t o r e s
o r d e r at this reflective level to an e v e n t that, d e s p i t e t h e e x p o s i t o r y ,
t h e t h e a t r i c a l i z e d o r d e r h e has a l r e a d y g i v e n it in his d e s c r i p t i o n , m u s t
rhetorically remain a symbol o f madness and disorder. Like Catlin,
G o e t h e seeks m o r a l significance (albeit trivial) in c e r e m o n y — i n t h e
carnival.
9
A n d so without even thinking about it, we have also concluded with an Ash
Wednesday meditation, which we trust has not saddened our readers. Rather,
since life as a whole remains like the Roman Carnival, without an overview,
unsavory, and precarious, we wish that through this carefree crowd of mask­
ers everyone will be reminded with us of the importance of every one o f the
momentary and often seemingly trivial pleasures of life.
(Und so hätten wir, ohne selbst daran zu denken, auch unser Karneval mit
einer Aschermittwochsbetrachtung geschlossen, wodurch wir keinen unsrer
Leser traurig zu machen fürchten. Vielmehr wünschen wir, dass j e d e r mit
uns, da das Leben im ganzen wie das Römische Karneval unübersehlich,
ungeniessbar, ja bedenklich bleibt, durch diese unbekümmerte Mask­
engesellschaft an die Wichtigkeit jedes augenblicklichen, oft gering schei­
nenden Lebensgenusses erinnert werden möge.) ( 1 9 7 6 3 : 6 7 7 )
A conventional A s h Wednesday meditation, perhaps, Goethe's conclu­
sion m a r k s a r e t u r n to c o n t e m p l a t i o n , i n t r o s p e c t i o n , a n d c o n c e r n f o r
t h e m e a n i n g o f w h a t w e d o . His " r e t u r n " parallels a r e t u r n in t h e
c e r e m o n y h e d e s c r i b e s . D u r i n g the carnival t h e r e is n o reflection, j u s t
play, m a s q u e r a d i n g , a n d , as w e say n o w a d a y s , a c t i n g o u t . W i t h A s h
Wednesday begins a period o f penitence, and, we must presume, a re­
t u r n to i n t r o s p e c t i o n , o r d e r , a n d individuality.
1 0
T h e title o f C l i f f o r d G e e r t z ' s essay " D e e p Play: N o t e s o n a B a l i n e s e
C o c k f i g h t , " written a b o u t t h e time the film Deep Throat w a s all t h e
9. It is interesting to note that Henry James (1873: 139 et seq.) also includes an
Ash Wednesday meditation, "a Lenten peroration," in his description o f the carnival in
1873. It is inspired by the view of a young priest praying by himself in a little church on
the Palatine hill and continues as James, alone, keeps carnival "by strolling perversely
along the silent circumference o f Rome."
10. By his addressing the reader, the reader's function becomes, as Michael A n d r é
Bernstein (1983) remarks, "akin to the function o f the next day in a 'real' Saturnalia,
the instant when everyone resumes his conventional roles, with the important distinc­
tion, however, that the reader's position represents a continuously present source o f au­
thority which even the most anarchic moments o f the festival day do not succeed in
suspending." T h o u g h I acknowledge the authoritative role o f the reader in Goethe's
Römische Karneval, Goethe's own authoritative position, far stronger than Catlin's, seems
to be quite independent o f his reader's.
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
69
r a g e , a n n o u n c e s a series o f erotic p u n s — p u n s , G e e r t z m a i n t a i n s , t h e
B a l i n e s e t h e m s e l v e s w o u l d u n d e r s t a n d — u s e d t h r o u g h o u t his essay.
P u n s a r e f r e q u e n t in e t h n o g r a p h y . T h e y position t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r
b e t w e e n his w o r l d o f p r i m a r y orientation, his reader's w o r l d , a n d t h e
w o r l d o f t h o s e o t h e r s , t h e p e o p l e h e has studied, w h o m at s o m e level,
I b e l i e v e , h e is also a d d r e s s i n g ( C r a p a n z a n o 1 9 7 7 a ) . T h r o u g h t h e p u n
h e a p p e a l s collusively to the m e m b e r s o f o n e o r t h e o t h e r w o r l d , u s u ­
ally t h e w o r l d o f his r e a d e r s h i p , t h e r e b y c r e a t i n g a h i e r a r c h i c a l rela­
t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n t h e m . H e himself, the p u n s t e r , m e d i a t e s b e t w e e n
these worlds.
G e e r t z ' s essay is d i v i d e d into s e v e n sections, a n d the titles o f these
s e c t i o n s — " T h e Raid," " O f Cocks and Men," " T h e Fight," " O d d s and
E v e n M o n e y , " " P l a y i n g with Fire," "Feathers, B l o o d , C r o w d s , a n d
M o n e y , " a n d " S a y i n g S o m e t h i n g o f S o m e t h i n g " — a r e all s u g g e s t i v e
o f a distinctly u r b a n e n v i r o n m e n t , o f a s e x - a n d - v i o l e n c e w h o d u n i t ,
s o m e t h i n g o u t o f M i c k e y Spillane, p e r h a p s , w h i c h , u n l i k e G e e r t z ' s
e r o t i c p u n s , t h e villagers c o u l d n o t possibly h a v e u n d e r s t o o d , at least
in 1 9 5 8 . T h e titles d o little to c h a r a c t e r i z e the ethos o f a B a l i n e s e vil­
l a g e o r c o c k f i g h t , but, like p u n s , t h e y create a collusive r e l a t i o n s h i p
b e t w e e n t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r a n d , in this case, his r e a d e r s . T h e y also at­
test to the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s stylistic virtuosity. H e a n d his r e a d e r s c o m e
o u t o n t o p o f the h i e r a r c h y o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g .
G e e r t z ' s essay b e g i n s with a h u m o r o u s tale o f e n t r y — b y n o w , in its
o w n r i g h t , a g e n r e o r s u b g e n r e o f e t h n o g r a p h y . T h e h e r o , the a n t h r o ­
p o l o g i s t , is cast stereotypically as a naif, an a w k w a r d s i m p l e t o n , n o t at
all s u r e o f his identity, o f t e n s u f f e r i n g f r o m s o m e sort o f e x o t i c m a l ­
a d y , w h o is c a u g h t in a b e t w i x t a n d b e t w e e n w o r l d . W e c o u l d see h i m
at G o e t h e ' s R o m a n C a r n i v a l . H e is n o l o n g e r in his o w n w o r l d , a n d
h e has n o t y e t m a s t e r e d his n e w w o r l d — t h e w o r l d h e will c o n s t i t u t e
t h r o u g h his e t h n o g r a p h y .
Early in April o f 1958, my wife and I arrived, malarial and diffident, in a Bali­
nese village we intended, as anthropologists, to study. A small place, about five
h u n d r e d people, a n d relatively remote, it was its own world. We were intrud­
ers, professional ones, and the villagers dealt with us as Balinese seem always
to deal with p e o p l e not part o f their life w h o yet press themselves u p o n them:
as t h o u g h w e were not there. For them, and to a degree for ourselves, we were
nonpersons, specters, invisible m e n . (1973:412)
H e r e in t h e first p a r a g r a p h o f " D e e p Play," G e e r t z establishes a n o p ­
position b e t w e e n h i m s e l f a n d his wife a n d the B a l i n e s e w h o live in
their o w n r e m o t e little w o r l d . G e e r t z a n d his wife a r e " a n t h r o p o l o ­
gists," " p r o f e s s i o n a l s , " a n d " i n t r u d e r s . " T h e tale o f e n t r y is, as I h a v e
n o t e d , c a l l e d " T h e R a i d , " r e f e r r i n g manifestly to a police raid o f a vil-
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VINCENT CRAPANZANO
l a g e c o c k f i g h t . It m a y also reflect Geertz's attitude t o w a r d his a n d his
wife's p r e s e n c e , their mission, in the village. H e claims d r a m a t i c a l l y
t h a t h e a n d his wife w e r e " n o n p e r s o n s , specters, invisible m e n " f o r t h e
v i l l a g e r s a n d "to a d e g r e e for o u r s e l v e s " — t h a t is, until like the o t h e r
v i l l a g e r s a t t e n d i n g t h e cockfight, they fled the police. T h e n t h e y w e r e
r e c o g n i z e d . G e e r t z offers n o e v i d e n c e for this c o n t e n t i o n , a n d in the
v e r y n e x t p a r a g r a p h h e contradicts himself.
But except for our landlord and the village chief, whose cousin and brotherin-law h e was, everyone ignored us only as the Balinese can do. As we wan­
d e r e d around, uncertain, wistful, eager to please, people seemed to look right
t h r o u g h us with a gaze focused several yards behind us o n some more actual
stone or tree. Almost nobody greeted us; but nobody scowled or said anything
unpleasant to us either which would have been almost as satisfactory. . . . T h e
indifference, o f course, was studied; the villagers were watching every move
we m a d e , and they had an enormous amount of quite accurate information
about w h o we were and what we were going to be doing. But they acted as if
we simply did not exist, which, in fact, as this behavior was designed to inform
us, w e did not, or anyway not yet. (412 —13)
T h e r e is o f c o u r s e a d i f f e r e n c e b e t w e e n b e i n g a n o n p e r s o n , a s p e c t e r ,
a n invisible m a n — a collection o f n o n e q u i v a l e n t statuses in any c a s e —
a n d b e i n g t r e a t e d with "studied i n d i f f e r e n c e . " T h e G e e r t z e s m a y h a v e
b e e n t r e a t e d as t h o u g h they w e r e not there, but they w e r e s u r e l y
t h e r e . H o w else c o u l d they be i n f o r m e d o f their " n o n e x i s t e n c e " ?
I call attention h e r e to w h a t m i g h t simply b e dismissed as a n o t
a l t o g e t h e r successful storytelling ruse, w e r e it n o t indicative o f a m o r e
s e r i o u s p r o b l e m that flaws Geertz's essay. H e r e , at a d e s c r i p t i v e level,
h e b l u r s his o w n subjectivity—his e x p e r i e n c e o f h i m s e l f in those e a r l y
B a l i n e s e d a y s — w i t h the subjectivity a n d the intentionality o f the vil­
l a g e r s . (His wife's e x p e r i e n c e presents still a n o t h e r p r o b l e m as well as
s o m e t h i n g o f a c o n c e p t u a l e m b a r r a s s m e n t : she is dismissed f r o m this
tale o f m e n a n d c o c k s — a dismissal a l r e a d y h e r a l d e d in the first p a r a ­
g r a p h b y the u s e o f " m e n " in the p h r a s e "invisible men.") L a t e r , at t h e
level o f i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , w e d i s c o v e r the same c o n f u s i o n (see C r a p a n z a n o 1 9 8 1 a ; L i e b e r s o n 1984). W e m u s t ask w h e t h e r this i n t e r p r e t i v e
c o n f u s i o n is facilitated by Geertz's p a r t i c u l a r d e s c r i p t i v e tack.
T h r o u g h p u n s , titles, subtitles, a n d simple d e c l a r a t i o n s , t h e "an­
t h r o p o l o g i s t " a n d his " B a l i n e s e " are s e p a r a t e d f r o m o n e a n o t h e r . I n
t h e o p e n i n g section o f " D e e p Play" G e e r t z a n d his wife a r e cast, h o w ­
e v e r c o n v e n t i o n a l l y , as individuals. T h e B a l i n e s e are not. T h e y a r e
g e n e r a l i z e d . T u r n s o f p h r a s e like "as B a l i n e s e always d o , " r e m i n i s c e n t
if n o t o f superficial travel a c c o u n t s , t h e n o f national c h a r a c t e r studies,
r u n t h r o u g h " D e e p Play": "in a w a y only a B a l i n e s e c a n d o " ( 4 1 2 ) ;
"the d e e p p s y c h o l o g i c a l identification o f B a l i n e s e m e n with t h e i r
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
71
c o c k s " ( 4 1 7 ) ; "the B a l i n e s e n e v e r d o a n y t h i n g in a s i m p l e way w h e n
t h e y c a n c o n t r i v e to d o it in a c o m p l i c a t e d w a y " (425); "the B a l i n e s e
a r e shy t o t h e p o i n t o f obsessiveness o f o p e n conflict" (446). T h e " B a l i ­
n e s e " — s u r e l y n o t the B a l i n e s e — b e c o m e s a foil for Geertz's d e s c r i b ­
i n g , i n t e r p r e t i n g , a n d t h e o r i z i n g — f o r his s e l f - p r e s e n t i n g .
G e e r t z likens his n o n p e r s o n h o o d to b e i n g "a c l o u d o r a g u s t o f
w i n d " : " M y wife a n d I w e r e still v e r y m u c h in the g u s t o f w i n d stage, a
m o s t f r u s t r a t i n g , a n d e v e n , as y o u b e g i n to d o u b t w h e t h e r y o u are
r e a l l y r e a l after all, u n n e r v i n g o n e w h e n . . ." ( 4 1 3 ) . A n d h e g o e s o n
to d e s c r i b e the police raid t h r o u g h w h i c h h e a c h i e v e d his " p e r s o n h o o d . " T h i s p a s s a g e is significant n o t so m u c h b e c a u s e o f w h a t G e e r t z
has to say a b o u t h i m s e l f a n d his wife as b e c a u s e o f a p r o n o u n switch
f r o m " I / w e , " o r m o r e a c c u r a t e l y f r o m "I + n o u n " ("my wife a n d I")
to " y o u . " T h i s switch anticipates his d i s a p p e a r a n c e in the sections
to c o m e . T h e " y o u " serves as m o r e , I s u g g e s t , t h a n an a p p e a l to the
r e a d e r to e m p a t h i z e with h i m . It d e c e n t e r s the n a r r a t o r in t h e s p a c e
o f i n t e r s u b j e c t i v e u n d e r s t a n d i n g . H e e n g a g e s in d i a l o g u e w i t h his
r e a d e r in a way, at least in his p r e s e n t a t i o n , that h e d o e s n o t e n g a g e
w i t h t h e B a l i n e s e . They r e m a i n c a r d b o a r d figures.
D e s p i t e p o p u l a r g r a m m a t i c a l u n d e r s t a n d i n g that a p r o n o u n is
s i m p l y a n o u n substitute, t h e r e is, as E m i l e B e n v e n i s t e ( 1 9 6 6 ) a n d
o t h e r s h a v e o b s e r v e d , a f u n d a m e n t a l d i f f e r e n c e b e t w e e n first a n d sec­
o n d p e r s o n p e r s o n a l p r o n o u n s ("I" a n d " y o u " a n d their plurals) a n d
t h i r d p e r s o n p r o n o u n s ("he," "she," "it," "they"). T h e first a n d s e c o n d
a r e p r o p e r l y i n d e x i c a l : they "relate" to the c o n t e x t o f u t t e r a n c e . T h e
t h i r d p e r s o n p r o n o u n s r e f e r b a c k a n a p h o r i c a l l y to an a n t e c e d e n t , a
n o u n , o f t e n e n o u g h a p r o p e r n o u n , in the text. T h e y are l i b e r a t e d , so
to s p e a k , f r o m the c o n t e x t o f u t t e r a n c e , b u t they are e m b e d d e d in t h e
t e x t u a l c o n t e x t . T h e y are intratextual a n d d e r i v e their m e a n i n g f r o m
t h e i r t e x t u a l l y d e s c r i b e d a n t e c e d e n t s . T h u s , in Geertz's essay, a n d in
m o s t e t h n o g r a p h y , the " I / y o u " o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r a n d the " I / y o u " o f
the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s i n t e r l o c u t o r s in the field are c o n v e r t e d a s y m m e t r i ­
cally into a n a n a p h o r i c a l l y free " I " a n d an a n a p h o r i c — a c u m u l a t i v e
"they." I n d e e d , in m o s t e t h n o g r a p h i c texts, i n c l u d i n g G e e r t z ' s , the
" I " itself d i s a p p e a r s e x c e p t in c o n v e n t i o n a l tales o f entry o r i n t e x t e v a l u a t i o n shifters a n d b e c o m e s simply a stylistically b o r n e "invisible"
v o i c e . S y m p t o m a t i c a l l y , " w e " s e l d o m occurs in e t h n o g r a p h y .
11
" T h e R a i d " r e p r e s e n t s a delicate, unstable m o m e n t . G e e r t z , t h e
11. I am simplifying here. T h e ethnographer's "I" must be carefully examined in
ils specific occurrences, for it can serve multiple functions, even simultaneously. It may,
lor example, be descriptive, referring to a grammatically distorted interlocution ("I
said'V'hi' said" or "I observed") or it may in fact refer to the context of writing. T h e r e is
also, as I have argued elsewhere (1981b), an anaphoric potential to first and second per­
son indexicals, particularly in "authored" texts.
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VINCENT CRAPANZANO
a u t h o r / n a r r a t o r , is a n " I . " T h e B a l i n e s e a r e referentially d e s c r i b e d : a
"they." J u s t as the B a l i n e s e r e c o g n i z e G e e r t z after his flight f r o m t h e
p o l i c e , h e , at least as an I, flees f r o m the t e x t in a section r e v e a l i n g l y
e n t i t l e d " O f C o c k s a n d M e n . " D o e s the l i n g e r i n g " I " o f " T h e R a i d "
c o m p e n s a t e f o r G e e r t z ' s n o n p e r s o n h o o d in those first d a y s o f fieldw o r k h e is d e s c r i b i n g ?
T h r o u g h o u t the r e m a i n d e r o f " D e e p Play" t h e r e is a c o n t i n u a l
b l u r r i n g o f G e e r t z ' s u n d e r s t a n d i n g a n d the u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f the B a l i ­
n e s e as h e d e s c r i b e s t h e m . W i t h o u t a n y e v i d e n c e h e a t t r i b u t e s to t h e
B a l i n e s e all sorts o f e x p e r i e n c e s , m e a n i n g s , intentions, m o t i v a t i o n s ,
d i s p o s i t i o n s , a n d u n d e r s t a n d i n g s . H e writes, for e x a m p l e :
In the cockfight man and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power
of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse
in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death. It is little wonder
that when, as is the invariable rule, the owner of the winning cock takes the
carcass of the loser—often torn limb from limb by its enraged owner—home
to eat, he does so with a mixture of social embarrassment, moral satisfaction,
aesthetic disgust, and cannibal joy. (430—21)
W e m u s t n o t b e c a r r i e d away b y G e e r t z ' s G r a n d G u i g n o l sensibility. W e
m u s t a s k : o n w h a t g r o u n d s d o e s h e attribute "social e m b a r r a s s m e n t , "
" m o r a l satisfaction," "aesthetic disgust" ( w h a t e v e r that m e a n s ) , a n d
" c a n n i b a l j o y " to the B a l i n e s e ? to all B a l i n e s e m e n ? to a n y B a l i n e s e
m a n in p a r t i c u l a r ? C l e a r l y G e e r t z ' s aim, like Catlin's, is to r e n d e r t h e
m o m e n t vivid, b u t u n l i k e C a t l i n , w h o m a k e s n o p r e t e n s e o f u n c o v e r ­
i n g t h e subjective m e a n i n g — t h e e x p e r i e n c e — o f the O - K e e - P a c e r e ­
m o n y f o r the M a n d a n , G e e r t z d o e s m a k e s u c h a claim o f t h e B a l i n e s e .
T o w a r d the e n d o f his essay, as t h o u g h p u l l i n g a rabbit o u t o f a
hat, G e e r t z s u d d e n l y d e c l a r e s the c o c k f i g h t to be an art f o r m , w h i c h
h e u n d e r s t a n d s i n a v e r y W e s t e r n w a y : " A s a n y art f o r m — f o r that,
finally, is w h a t w e are d e a l i n g w i t h — t h e c o c k f i g h t r e n d e r s o r d i n a r y ,
e v e r y d a y e x p e r i e n c e c o m p r e h e n s i b l e by p r e s e n t i n g it in t e r m s o f acts
a n d objects w h i c h h a v e h a d their practical c o n s e q u e n c e s r e m o v e d a n d
b e e n r e d u c e d (or, if y o u p r e f e r , raised) to the level o f s h e e r a p p e a r ­
a n c e , w h e r e their m e a n i n g c a n be m o r e p o w e r f u l l y a r t i c u l a t e d a n d
m o r e e x a c t l y p e r c e i v e d " (443). W e m u s t ask: for w h o m d o e s the c o c k ­
fight articulate e v e r y d a y e x p e r i e n c e — t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f status h i e r a r ­
c h y — a n d r e n d e r it m o r e p e r c e p t i b l e ? A f t e r l i k e n i n g t h e c o c k f i g h t to
King Lear a n d Crime and Punishment, G e e r t z g o e s o n to assert that it
catches u p these themes—death, masculinity, rage, pride, loss, beneficence,
change—and ordering them into an encompassing structure, presents them
in such a way as to throw into relief a particular view of their essential nature.
It puts a construction on them, makes them, to those historically positioned to
H e r m e s ' Dilemma
73
appreciate the construction, meaningful—visible, tangible, graspable—"real"
in an ideational sense. A n image, fiction, a model, a metaphor, the cockfight is
a means of expression; its function is neither to assuage social passions nor
to heighten them (though, in its playing-with-fire way it does a bit o f both),
but, in a medium of feathers, blood, crowds, and money, to display them.
(443-44)
W e m u s t ask: w h o is historically p o s i t i o n e d to a p p r e c i a t e the c o n s t r u c ­
tion? G e e r t z c o m p l e t e l y i g n o r e s the fact t h a t King Lear a n d Crime and
Punishment a r e c u l t u r a l l y a n d linguistically m a r k e d as a t r a g e d y a n d a
n o v e l ; as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f a p a r t i c u l a r o r d e r ; as fictions to b e r e a d in
a special w a y — i n d e e d , to b e r e a d . H e offers n o p r o o f a n y w h e r e t h a t
t h e c o c k f i g h t is so m a r k e d f o r his B a l i n e s e . Piling i m a g e o n i m a g e —
" i m a g e , " "fiction," a n d " m e t a p h o r " — m a y a s s u a g e Geertz's o w n t h e o ­
retical a n x i e t y , b u t it h a r d l y gets rid of the p r o b l e m . ( I m a g e , fiction,
m o d e l , a n d m e t a p h o r are o f c o u r s e n o m o r e e q u i v a l e n t t h a n n o n p e r s o n , s p e c t e r , a n d invisible man.) C o c k f i g h t s a r e surely c o c k f i g h t s
f o r the B a l i n e s e — a n d not i m a g e s , fictions, m o d e l s , a n d m e t a p h o r s .
T h e y a r e n o t m a r k e d as s u c h , t h o u g h they m a y be r e a d as s u c h by a
f o r e i g n e r f o r w h o m " i m a g e s , fictions, m o d e l s , a n d m e t a p h o r s " h a v e
i n t e r p r e t i v e v a l u e . It is p e r h a p s n o a c c i d e n t that in a f o l l o w i n g p a r a ­
g r a p h G e e r t z d e s c r i b e s the c o c k f i g h t as "disquietful": " T h e r e a s o n it is
d i s q u i e t f u l is that, j o i n i n g p r i d e to s e l f h o o d , s e l f h o o d to cocks, a n d
c o c k s to d e s t r u c t i o n , it b r i n g s to i m a g i n a t i v e realization a d i m e n s i o n
o f B a l i n e s e e x p e r i e n c e n o r m a l l y w e l l - o b s c u r e d f r o m v i e w " (444)- W e
m u s t ask y e t a g a i n : for w h o m is the c o c k f i g h t disquietful?
12
I n the final p a g e s o f " D e e p Play" G e e r t z likens the c o c k f i g h t to a
text. H e also r e f e r s to it as "a B a l i n e s e r e a d i n g o f B a l i n e s e e x p e r i ­
e n c e , " "a story they tell the natives a b o u t t h e m s e l v e s , " a " m e t a c o m m e n t a r y . " "It is a m e a n s o f s a y i n g s o m e t h i n g a b o u t s o m e t h i n g . " It re­
q u i r e s the a n t h r o p o l o g i s t to " p e n e t r a t e " it, j u s t as a critic " p e n e t r a t e s "
a t e x t . F o r G e e r t z t h e i n t e r p r e t e d text, t h e c o c k f i g h t , is a d r a m a o f sta­
tus h i e r a r c h y , a n d in blatantly intentional l a n g u a g e h e s u g g e s t s t h a t is
w h y B a l i n e s e g o to c o c k f i g h t s : " B a l i n e s e g o to c o c k f i g h t s to find o u t
w h a t a m a n , u s u a l l y c o m p o s e d , aloof, almost obsessively s e l f - a b s o r b e d ,
a k i n d o f m o r a l a u t o c o s m , feels like w h e n attacked, t o r m e n t e d , c h a l ­
l e n g e d , i n s u l t e d , a n d d r i v e n in result to the e x t r e m e s o f fury, h e has
totally t r i u m p h e d o r b e e n b r o u g h t l o w " (450).
E l s e w h e r e , h e asserts B a l i n e s e subjectivity at c o c k f i g h t s .
Enacted and re-enacted, so far without end the cockfight enables the Bali­
nese, as, read and reread, Macbeth enables us, to see a dimension of his own
ii>. (Ine would ultimately have to consider the ontological status o f Balinese
c(|iiivalcnis (il' there are any) of these Western categories.
74
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
subjectivity. As h e watches fight after fight, with the active watching o f an
o w n e r a n d a bettor (for cockfighting has no more interest as a pure spectator
sport than does croquet or dog-racing), h e grows familiar with it and what it
has to say to him m u c h as the attentive listener to a string quartet or the ab­
sorbed viewer of still life grows slowly more familiar with them in a way which
o p e n s his objectivity to himself. (450—51)
W h o t o l d G e e r t z ? H o w c a n a w h o l e p e o p l e s h a r e a single subjectivity?
A r e t h e r e n o t d i f f e r e n c e s b e t w e e n texts, c o m m e n t a r i e s , m e t a c o m m e n t a r i e s , d r a m a s , sports, string quartets, a n d still lifes? H a s P r o ­
f e s s o r G e e r t z a b a n d o n e d all o f the analytic distinctions that h a v e c h a r ­
a c t e r i z e d the success (and the failure) o f his civilization? L i k e Catlin's
c o l o r f u l , c o n c r e t e m e t a p h o r s , Geertz's colorless, abstract m e t a p h o r s
s u b v e r t b o t h his d e s c r i p t i o n a n d his i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . I n d e e d , t h e y s u b ­
v e r t his a u t h o r i t y . H i s m e s s a g e is simply n o t c o n v i n c i n g .
D e s p i t e his p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l - h e r m e n e u t i c a l p r e t e n s i o n s , t h e r e
is in fact in " D e e p Play" n o u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f t h e native f r o m the na­
tive's p o i n t o f view. T h e r e is o n l y the c o n s t r u c t e d u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f t h e
c o n s t r u c t e d native's c o n s t r u c t e d point o f view. G e e r t z offers n o speci­
fiable e v i d e n c e for his attributions o f intention, his assertions o f sub­
j e c t i v i t y , his d e c l a r a t i o n s o f e x p e r i e n c e . His c o n s t r u c t i o n s o f c o n s t r u c ­
tions o f c o n s t r u c t i o n s a p p e a r to b e little m o r e t h a n p r o j e c t i o n s , o r at
least b l u r r i n g s , o f his p o i n t o f view, his subjectivity, w i t h t h a t o f t h e
n a t i v e , o r , m o r e accurately, o f the c o n s t r u c t e d native.
Finally, as if to g i v e his, o r any anthropologist's, c o n s t r u c t i o n s a
c e r t a i n , if y o u will, substantialized authority, G e e r t z r e f e r s in " D e e p
P l a y " to c u l t u r e "as an e n s e m b l e o f texts, t h e m s e l v e s e n s e m b l e s ,
w h i c h t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t strains to r e a d o v e r the s h o u l d e r o f t h o s e
to w h o m t h e y p r o p e r l y b e l o n g " (452—53)- T h e i m a g e is s t r i k i n g :
s h a r i n g a n d n o t s h a r i n g a text. It r e p r e s e n t s a sort o f a s y m m e t r i c a l
w e - r e l a t i o n s h i p with the a n t h r o p o l o g i s t b e h i n d a n d a b o v e t h e native,
h i d d e n b u t at t h e t o p o f the h i e r a r c h y o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g . It reflects,
I b e l i e v e , t h e i n d e x i c a l d r a m a o f " T h e R a i d " in w h i c h t h e parties to
t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c e n c o u n t e r are b r o u g h t t o g e t h e r in the n a r r a t i o n as
t h e y a r e s e p a r a t e d t h r o u g h style. T h e r e is n e v e r an I-you relation­
s h i p , a d i a l o g u e , t w o p e o p l e n e x t to e a c h o t h e r r e a d i n g the s a m e t e x t
a n d d i s c u s s i n g it face-to-face, b u t o n l y a n I-they r e l a t i o n s h i p . A n d ,
as w e h a v e s e e n , e v e n the I d i s a p p e a r s — r e p l a c e d by an invisible
v o i c e o f a u t h o r i t y w h o d e c l a r e s w h a t the y o u - t r a n s f o r m e d - t o - a - t h e y
experience.
13
13. See my discussion (Crapanzano i g 8 i c ) of text and text metaphors. I argue
that despite a certain literary critical penchant to view texts abstractly, their rhetorical
force rests on the concreteness, the tangible existence, o f the text.
Hermes' Dilemma
75
I n traditional e t h n o g r a p h y t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s e n c o u n t e r w i t h t h e
p e o p l e he has s t u d i e d is rarely d e s c r i b e d . O f t e n , as in the c a s e o f
G e e r t z ' s " D e e p Play," h a r d l y a traditional e t h n o g r a p h y , e v e n t h e ac­
tivity t h a t is d e s c r i b e d a n d i n t e r p r e t e d — a c o c k f i g h t , a c a r n i v a l , a test
o f p r o w e s s , o r , f o r that m a t t e r , the w e a v i n g o f a basket o r t h e p r e p a r a ­
tion o f a m e a l — i s n o t p r e s e n t e d in its particularity as a single, a n d in
s o m e w a y s u n i q u e , p e r f o r m a n c e . W e are usually g i v e n a g e n e r a l pic­
ture. Presumably m a n y observations, taken from m a n y vantage points,
a r e c o n f l a t e d into a single, c o n s t r u c t e d p e r f o r m a n c e , w h i c h b e c o m e s
a sort o f i d e a l , a Platonic p e r f o r m a n c e . C a t l i n a n d G o e t h e d e s c r i b e a
single p e r f o r m a n c e , but, d e s p i t e deictic a n d o t h e r p a r t i c u l a r i z i n g
l o c u t i o n s , they d o it in a g e n e r a l i z i n g way. G e e r t z , w h o a p p a r e n t l y at­
t e n d e d m a n y c o c k f i g h t s , n e v e r describes a specific c o c k f i g h t . H e c o n ­
structs the B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t a n d i n t e r p r e t s his c o n s t r u c t i o n : "the
B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t . " H i s c o n v e n t i o n a l tale o f e n t r y s e r v e s a d e i c t i c
f u n c t i o n n o t t h a t d i f f e r e n t f r o m Catlin's assigned p l a c e o r G o e t h e ' s
" h e r e ' s " a n d " n o w ' s . " It gives the illusion o f specificity w h e n t h e r e is n o
specific t e m p o r a l o r spatial v a n t a g e point. It attests to the e t h n o g ­
r a p h e r ' s h a v i n g b e e n t h e r e a n d gives h i m w h a t e v e r a u t h o r i t y arises
from that presence.
I n " D e e p Play" the p r o b l e m o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s a u t h o r i t a t i v e
c o n s t r u c t i o n s is f u r t h e r c o m p l i c a t e d by the author's p h e n o m e n o l o g i cal a n d h e r m e n e u t i c a l p r e t e n t i o n s . N e i t h e r C a t l i n n o r G o e t h e m a k e
a n y s u s t a i n e d effort to d e s c r i b e the e x p e r i e n c e for the p a r t i c i p a n t s o f
the c e r e m o n i e s they o b s e r v e d . C a t l i n a s s u m e s the p e r s p e c t i v e o f t h e
M a n d a n o n l y rhetorically. For h i m , the O - K e e - P a was a " s h o c k e r "
( " T h i s p a r t o f the c e r e m o n y [the t o r t u r e ] , as I h a v e j u s t w i t n e s s e d it, is
truly s h o c k i n g to b e h o l d , a n d will s t a g g e r t h e b e l i e f o f t h e w o r l d w h e n
t h e y r e a d o f it" [ 1 8 5 7 : 1 5 7 ] ) ; a n d h e s t r u g g l e d unsuccessfully to g i v e it
m e a n i n g . H e c o u l d find n o familiar story in w h i c h to fit it in m o r e
t h a n a f r a g m e n t e d way. T h e R o m a n carnival b e c a m e for G o e t h e a n
a l l e g o r y o f i n d i v i d u a l destiny. It was o f c o u r s e n o t that u n f a m i l i a r . H e
was able to o r g a n i z e it a l o n g familiar theatrical—commedia dell'arte—
lines a n d to s y n c h r o n i z e his descriptive r h y t h m with the carnival's
r h y t h m . W e m a y find G o e t h e ' s a l l e g o r y a r c h , m o r i b u n d e v e n , b u t it is
s u b s u m i n g . F o r G e e r t z , the c o c k f i g h t itself b e c o m e s a g r a n d m e t a p h o r
l o r B a l i n e s e social o r g a n i z a t i o n , a n d , as such, closes in o n itself. D e ­
spite G e e r t z ' s ostensible c o n c e r n for the u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f the native's
p o i n t o f view, his essay is less a disquisition o n B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t i n g ,
subjectively o r objectively u n d e r s t o o d , t h a n o n i n t e r p r e t i n g — r e a d ­
i n g — c u l t u r a l data. His analysis is e x e m p l a r y , a n d this e x e m p l a r y
quality, G e e r t z ' s i n t e r p r e t i v e virtuosity, helps r e n d e r it e t h n o g r a p h i -
76
VINCENT CRAPANZANO
cally c o n v i n c i n g . Its ultimate significance is n o t m o r a l b u t m e t h o d o logical. C a t l i n m a k e s a plea f o r t h e salvation o f t h e M a n d a n ; G o e t h e
f o r t h e full a p p r e c i a t i o n o f fleeting m o m e n t s o f j o y ; G e e r t z f o r h e r m e n e u t i c s . I n all t h r e e instances the events d e s c r i b e d are s u b v e r t e d b y
t h e t r a n s c e n d i n g stories in w h i c h they a r e cast. T h e y a r e sacrificed to
t h e i r r h e t o r i c a l f u n c t i o n in a literary d i s c o u r s e that is far r e m o v e d
f r o m t h e i n d i g e n o u s d i s c o u r s e o f their o c c u r r e n c e . T h e sacrihce, t h e
s u b v e r s i o n o f t h e e v e n t d e s c r i b e d , is in t h e final analysis m a s k e d neit h e r b y r h e t o r i c , h y p o t y p o s i s , theatricality, a n d i n t e r p r e t i v e virtuosity
n o r b y t h e i r m e t a p h o r i z a t i o n — s a l v a t i o n , life, s o c i e t y — b u t b y t h e aut h o r i t y o f t h e a u t h o r , w h o , at least in m u c h e t h n o g r a p h y , stands a b o v e
a n d b e h i n d those w h o s e e x p e r i e n c e he p u r p o r t s to d e s c r i b e . A l l
t o o o f t e n , t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r forgets that the native, like E d u a r d i n
G o e t h e ' s Elective Affinities, c a n n o t a b i d e s o m e o n e r e a d i n g - o v e r his
s h o u l d e r . I f he d o e s n o t close his b o o k , h e will cast his s h a d o w o v e r it.
O f c o u r s e , t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r will also cast his s h a d o w o v e r it. It is p e r h a p s f o r this r e a s o n , i f I m a y c o n c l u d e with the c o n c e i t o f m y o w n tale
o f e n t r y into this p a p e r , that Z e u s u n d e r s t o o d w h e n H e r m e s p r o m ised to tell n o lies b u t d i d n o t p r o m i s e to tell the w h o l e t r u t h .
RENATO ROSALDO
From the Door of His Tent:
T h e Fieldworker
and the Inquisitor
T h i s p a p e r attempts to d e v e l o p an a n a t o m y o f e t h n o g r a p h i c
r h e t o r i c by e x p l o r i n g m o d e s o f authority a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n in t w o
d e s e r v e d l y classic b o o k s : E. E. Evans-Pritchard's The Nuer a n d E m m a n u e l L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s Montaillou. T h e f o r m e r , p u b l i s h e d in 1 9 4 0 ,
has l o n g b e e n r e c o g n i z e d , a l o n g w i t h two o t h e r b o o k s a n d v a r i o u s articles o n t h e s a m e p e o p l e , as a n e x e m p l a r y e t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k . T h e
latter, p u b l i s h e d in 1 9 7 5 by a n o t e d F r e n c h social historian, has rec e i v e d w i d e a c c l a i m f o r its i n n o v a t i v e use o f an inquisition r e g i s t e r to
c o n s t r u c t a n " e t h n o g r a p h i c " analysis o f a f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y F r e n c h
village. L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s i n t e r v e n t i o n , a m o n g o t h e r e x p e r i m e n t a l
w o r k s o f history a n d a n t h r o p o l o g y , has b e e n hailed as o p e n i n g t h e
possibility o f a m o r e e t h n o g r a p h i c history a n d a m o r e historical
ethnography.
1
Y e t in c e r t a i n respects L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s e x p e r i m e n t r e d e p l o y s a n
artifact a l r e a d y o l d - f a s h i o n e d in its h o m e l a n d — a s so o f t e n h a p p e n s
with b o r r o w i n g s b o t h intercultural a n d interdisciplinary. A n a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l w o r k that a i m e d at s u c h a total e t h n o g r a p h i c analysis as is
f o u n d in Montaillou c o u l d b e called classic in style, b u t m o r e o u t m o d e d t h a n i n n o v a t i v e . F r o m this p e r s p e c t i v e L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s w o r k
has a distinctive v a l u e . It p r o v i d e s a m i r r o r for critical reflection o n
m o d e s o f a u t h o r i t y a n d descriptive rhetorics in e t h n o g r a p h y , p a r t i c u larly in t h e influential w r i t i n g o f E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d . T h e latter's w o r k
s h o u l d b e u n d e r s t o o d in this c o n t e x t as a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e e x a m p l e o f
the discipline's r h e t o r i c a l c o n v e n t i o n s . A close r e a d i n g o f these t w o
b o o k s , r a t h e r t h a n a m o r e superficial review o f a w i d e r r a n g e o f cases,
1. T h i s doubling o f history and anthropology has a genealogy that extends back
in Herodotus and Thucydides. Evans-Pritchard himself wrote on history and anthropology, and Le Roy Ladurie has taught a course at the Collège de France called Ethnographic History. T h i s reemerging field of inquiry has recently been reviewed in essays by Bernard C o h n (1980, 1981) and Natalie Davis (1981).
7
8
RENATO ROSALDO
e n a b l e s t h e d e v e l o p m e n t o f a g e n e r a l a r g u m e n t that c a n b e a p p r a i s e d
by s t u d y i n g e x t e n d e d n a r r a t i v e passages in circumstantial detail.
W h a t the a r g u m e n t loses in s c o p e , it gains in intensity.
B y l o o k i n g at The Nuer f r o m the distinctive a n g l e o f vision o f f e r e d
b y Montaillou, w e d i s c o v e r that the figure o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c fieldw o r k e r in t r o u b l i n g ways r e s e m b l e s the f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y i n q u i s i t o r
w h o c r e a t e d the d o c u m e n t u s e d by L e R o y L a d u r i e . T h e historian's
w o r k a p p r o p r i a t e s ways o f establishing authority a n d c o n s t r u c t i n g o b j e c t i v e d e s c r i p t i o n s a l r e a d y d e v e l o p e d in the e t h n o g r a p h i c l i t e r a t u r e .
I n d e e d , the historian at times nearly caricatures his e t h n o g r a p h i c
m o d e l s . Y e t in the m a n n e r o f an i l l u m i n a t i n g objectification, p r e c i s e l y
this e l e m e n t o f e x a g g e r a t i o n at o n c e m a k e s s t r a n g e a n d r e v e a l s an array o f d i s c u r s i v e practices that in their a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l h o m e l a n d
h a v e b e e n t a k e n for g r a n t e d . T h e y h a v e a p p e a r e d , n o t p e c u l i a r , b u t
n o r m a t i v e f o r w r i t i n g in the discipline. In m a k i n g a d e t o u r t h r o u g h
L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s w o r k , I h o p e to d e v e l o p a critical p e r s p e c t i v e o n e t h n o g r a p h y , b o t h as fieldwork a n d as d e s c r i p t i v e r h e t o r i c .
M y r e a d i n g o f Evans-Pritchard's e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g is g u i d e d
b o t h b y Santayana's d i c t u m that those w h o f o r g e t their past are c o n d e m n e d to r e p e a t it a n d by the n o t i o n that critical r e a p p r a i s a l s , the
active r e a p p r o p r i a t i o n o f past w o r k s , s h o u l d play a significant r o l e in
s h a p i n g f u t u r e analyses. S u c h historical critiques, as tales b o t h ins p i r a t i o n a l a n d c a u t i o n a r y , can direct f u t u r e c h a n g e s in e t h n o g r a p h i c
discourse.
The Use and Abuse of Ethnographic Authority
E m m a n u e l L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s w o r k b o r r o w s e t h n o g r a p h y ' s disc i p l i n a r y a u t h o r i t y to t r a n s f o r m f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p e a s a n t s ' " d i r e c t
t e s t i m o n y " (as r e c o r d e d in the inquisition register o f J a c q u e s F o u r nier) into a d o c u m e n t a r y a c c o u n t o f village life in s o u t h e r n F r a n c e at
t h e t i m e . T h e b o o k is d i v i d e d into two parts, an e c o l o g y a n d a n a r c h e o l o g y . T h e f o r m e r d e l i n e a t e s structures that r e m a i n u n c h a n g e d o v e r
t h e l o n g t i m e s p a n (longue durée) a n d the latter discusses c u l t u r a l f o r m s
(mentalités) that often s h o w c o m p a r a b l e l o n g e v i t y .
2
T h e e c o l o g y b e g i n s with the physical e n v i r o n m e n t a n d s t r u c t u r e s
o f d o m i n a t i o n ( c h a p t e r 1), m o v e s o n to the h o u s e h o l d as the f o u n d a tion o f village life (chapters 2 a n d 3), a n d c o n c l u d e s with an e x t e n d e d
p o r t r a i t o f t r a n s h u m a n t pastoralism (chapters 4, 5, 6, a n d 7 ) . L e R o y
L a d u r i e o p p o s e s village life in households, exemplified by the C l e r g u e s ,
2. T h e problem o f ethnographic authority has been delineated in a fine essay by
James Clifford (1983a).
From the D o o r of His Tent
79
to s h e p h e r d life in the hills, e p i t o m i z e d in the p e r s o n o f P i e r r e M a u r y .
( T h e latter, in a n a n o m a l o u s m a n n e r discussed below, r e c e i v e s b o t h
m o r e e x t e n s i v e a n d m o r e idealized t r e a t m e n t t h a n the f o r m e r . ) T h e
m o r e loosely o r g a n i z e d a r c h e o l o g y b e g i n s with b o d y l a n g u a g e a n d
e n d s w i t h m y t h . I n b e t w e e n L e R o y L a d u r i e discusses, o f t e n in titillati n g t o n e s , s e x , libido, the life cycle ( m a r r i a g e , c h i l d h o o d , d e a t h ) , t i m e
a n d s p a c e , m a g i c , r e l i g i o n , morality, a n d the o t h e r w o r l d . T h r o u g h o u t , t h e n a r r a t o r p u n c t u a t e s his text with italicized citations, the p u r p o r t e d l y f r e e d i r e c t s p e e c h o f the peasants, verbally p r e s e n t e d as i f
o n e w e r e e a v e s d r o p p i n g in the village itself.
L e R o y L a d u r i e b e g i n s by d e s c r i b i n g his d o c u m e n t a r y s o u r c e in
these terms:
T h o u g h there are extensive historical studies concerning peasant c o m m u nities there is very little material available that can be considered the direct
testimony of the peasants themselves. It is for this reason that the Inquisition
Register o f Jacques Fournier, Bishop o f Pamiers in Ariège in the Comté d e
Foix (now southern France) from 1318 to 1325, is o f such exceptional interest, (vii)
T h i s b e g i n n i n g m a k e s it clear that the r e a d e r will l e a r n , in a r e m a r k ably e v o c a t i v e way, a b o u t the t e x t u r e o f f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p e a s a n t
life. T h e rich, vivid descriptions, quite u n l i k e those in o t h e r historical
w o r k s c o n c e r n e d w i t h m e d i e v a l villagers, d o i n d e e d m a k e c o m p e l l i n g
" e t h n o g r a p h i c " r e a d i n g . T h e peasants h a v e b e e n t e x t u a l i z e d in ways
t h a t c h a r a c t e r i z e the s p e a k e r s as articulate a n d insightful a b o u t t h e
c o n d i t i o n s o f t h e i r o w n e x i s t e n c e . Yet the historian's t r o p e o f m a k i n g
late m e d i e v a l p e a s a n t voices directly a u d i b l e to r e a d e r s in the p r e s e n t
a r o u s e s m o r e s k e p t i c i s m t h a n a p p r e c i a t i o n a m o n g e t h n o g r a p h e r s acc u s t o m e d to p o n d e r i n g difficulties in the translation o f c u l t u r e s .
F r o m the o u t s e t the historian's i n n o c e n t tone gives r e a s o n to p a u s e .
H o w c a n his d a t a ("the d i r e c t testimony o f the peasants t h e m s e l v e s " )
h a v e r e m a i n e d u n t a i n t e d by the c o n t e x t o f d o m i n a t i o n ("the I n q u i s i tion R e g i s t e r " ) ? A f t e r all, the inquisitor e x t r a c t e d the t e s t i m o n i e s as
c o n f e s s i o n s ; h e d i d n o t o v e r h e a r t h e m as c o n v e r s a t i o n s in e v e r y d a y
life. W h a t c o u l d m o t i v a t e the historian to separate t h e d a t a f r o m t h e
i n s t r u m e n t t h r o u g h w h i c h they w e r e collected?
L e R o y L a d u r i e g o e s o n to buttress the authority o f his d o c u m e n t
t h r o u g h the s t r a t e g y o f novelistic realism c a r r i e d to e x t r e m e s . H e
n a m e s n a m e s , p r o v i d e s titles, cites specific places, a n d r e f e r s to e x a c t
d a t e s . H e e v e n g o e s o n to give an i m p r e s s i v e sketch o f J a c q u e s F o u r 3
3. For a characterization of realism, see Culler 1 9 7 5 : 1 3 t —60. For an insightful review of Montaillou that, among other things, highlights its conventions of realism, see
CliHord 1979.
8o
RENATO ROSALDO
nier's c a r e e r , f r o m h u m b l e birth t h r o u g h positions as b i s h o p a n d car­
d i n a l to his e l e c t i o n in 1 3 3 4 as B e n e d i c t X I I , p o p e at A v i g n o n . F o u r n i e r , in L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s a c c o u n t , a p p e a r s a m b i t i o u s , i n d u s t r i o u s , a n d
t a l e n t e d . T h e r e a d e r is s u p p o s e d to b e l i e v e that the inquisitor p r o ­
d u c e d a d e t a i l e d reliable d o c u m e n t f o r the historian's c o n f i d e n t , at
t i m e s u n c r i t i c a l , u s e o v e r six c e n t u r i e s later.
C o n s i d e r , f o r e x a m p l e , the f o l l o w i n g p a s s a g e in w h i c h L e R o y
L a d u r i e p o r t r a y s F o u r n i e r as a tireless inquisitorial s e e k e r o f in­
formation:
A few details will suggest h o w our dossier was built u p . T h e inquisition court
at Pamiers worked for 370 days between 1318 and 1325. T h e s e 370 days in­
cluded 578 interrogations. O f these, 418 were examinations o f the accused
and 160 examinations o f witnesses. In all these hundreds of sessions dealt
with ninety-eight cases. T h e court set a record for hard work in 1320, with
106 days; it worked ninety-three days in 1321, fifty-five in 1323, forty-three in
1322, forty-two in 1324, and twenty-two in 1325. (xiv)
T h e i m p o s i n g n u m b e r s , h e a p e d o n e u p o n the o t h e r in a m a n n e r fa­
m i l i a r to sports fans, a t t e m p t to p e r s u a d e r e a d e r s that they c o n s t i t u t e
a n a u t h o r i t a t i v e e x a c t m e a s u r e o f the inquisition's d e g r e e o f t h o r o u g h ­
n e s s . T h e q u a n t i f i e d s u m m a r y c o n c l u d e s with a y e a r - b y - y e a r c o u n t o f
t h e i n q u i s i t i o n court's w o r k i n g days o r d e r e d by r a n k f r o m the r e c o r d
h i g h o f 1 0 6 o n d o w n . L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s p i l i n g u p o f statistics r h e t o r i ­
cally m a k e s it a p p e a r that Fournier's investigation w a s e x h a u s t i v e a n d
definitive. T h e inquisitor, a c c o r d i n g to the historian, was m o r e a n in­
s t r u m e n t f o r g a t h e r i n g i n f o r m a t i o n t h a n a m a n b e n t o n m a k i n g the
g u i l t y c o n f e s s their h e r e s i e s .
L e R o y L a d u r i e e n d s his i n t r o d u c t i o n , h o w e v e r , b y f r a n k l y affirm­
i n g t h e f u n d a m e n t a l inequality o f the i n t e r c h a n g e s b e t w e e n t h e in­
q u i s i t o r F o u r n i e r a n d his subjects, as follows: " T h e accused's a p p e a r ­
a n c e b e f o r e the B i s h o p ' s tribunal b e g a n with a n o a t h s w o r n o n t h e
G o s p e l s . It c o n t i n u e d in the f o r m o f an u n e q u a l d i a l o g u e " (xv). H e n o
s o o n e r a d m i t s to t h e " u n e q u a l d i a l o g u e " t h a n h e d e n i e s it, as if b y say­
i n g " s o r r y " h e c o u l d g o o n to o t h e r t h i n g s . H e s i m p l y closes this o p e n ­
i n g to t h e i n t e r p l a y o f p o w e r a n d k n o w l e d g e b y stressing, m o r e
e m p h a t i c a l l y t h a n b e f o r e , the s c r u p u l o u s will to t r u t h that d r o v e F o u r ­
n i e r in his i n t e r r o g a t i o n s , as follows:
I n all the other cases which provide the material of this book, the Bishop con­
fined himself to tracking d o w n real deviants (often minor from o u r point o f
view). T h e confessions are rounded out by the accuseds' descriptions o f their
o w n daily lives. T h e y usually corroborated each other, but when they contra­
dicted, Fournier tried to reduce the discrepancies, asking the various pris­
oners for m o r e details. What drove him o n was the desire (hateful though it
was in this form) to know the truth, (xv)
From the Door of His Tent
81
T h e d o c u m e n t , t a k e n at face v a l u e , p u r p o r t e d l y p r o v i d e s r e l i a b l e d e ­
p i c t i o n s o f e v e r y d a y life a m o n g f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p e a s a n t s . I n this
c o n t e x t L e R o y L a d u r i e uses a half-serious, half-ironic p h r a s e a n d
m a k e s the i n q u i s i t o r into a fellow scholar b y d e s c r i b i n g h i m as s o m e ­
o n e w h o is as " p e d a n t i c as a s c h o o l m a n " (xv). D e p l o y i n g a tactic m a d e
f a m i l i a r b y M i c h e l Foucault, the n a r r a t o r i n v o k e s the will to t r u t h in
o r d e r to s u p p r e s s t h e d o c u m e n t ' s equally p r e s e n t will to p o w e r . H i s
c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n o f Fournier's m e t i c u l o u s scholarly close a t t e n t i o n to
daily life serves the i d e o l o g i c a l p u r p o s e o f entitling h i m to r e m o v e t h e
c o n t e x t o f i n t e r r o g a t i o n f r o m the " d o c u m e n t a r y " findings t h e r e b y
extracted.
4
L e R o y L a d u r i e has neatly liberated the d o c u m e n t f r o m t h e his­
torical c o n t e x t that p r o d u c e d it. His i n t r o d u c t i o n thus m a k e s the in­
quisitor's i n v e s t i g a t i o n a u t h o r i t a t i v e a n d r e m o v e s the d o c u m e n t f r o m
t h e politics o f d o m i n a t i o n . T h e inquisition register's t r u t h t h u s b e ­
c o m e s m o r e a m a t t e r o f objective r e p o r t i n g t h a n a series o f s t a t e m e n t s
m a d e b y c e r t a i n p e o p l e (peasant villagers) to a p a r t i c u l a r p e r s o n
( F o u r n i e r ) in a specific situation (the inquisition). T h e historian's d o c u ­
m e n t has r h e t o r i c a l l y b e e n t r e a t e d as if it w e r e the c r e a t i o n o f a dis­
i n t e r e s t e d science. N o t u n l i k e his d o c u m e n t a r y r e c o r d , the h i s t o r i a n
h i m s e l f has a c h i e v e d the d e t a c h e d observer's i n n o c e n c e . N e e d l e s s to
say, t h e introduction's c e n t r a l figure, the inquisitor J a c q u e s F o u r n i e r ,
d o e s n o t a g a i n m a k e a significant a p p e a r a n c e in the rest o f the b o o k .
The Use and Abuse of Descriptive Rhetoric
I n the b o d y o f his b o o k L e R o y L a d u r i e cloaks h i m s e l f w i t h
the b o r r o w e d a u t h o r i t y o f e t h n o g r a p h i c science. I n d e e d (as will b e
s e e n b e l o w ) h e e v e n follows the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s tactic o f c o n f i n i n g to
a n i n t r o d u c t i o n discussion o f the politics o f d o m i n a t i o n t h a t s h a p e d
the investigator's k n o w l e d g e a b o u t the p e o p l e u n d e r study. T h u s t h e
historian's m a i n t e x t n e v e r r e t u r n s to the o p e n i n g discussion a b o u t
h o w his d o c u m e n t w a s p r o d u c e d . In c r e a t i n g his authority, L e R o y
L a d u r i e c o v e r s o v e r the i n t r o d u c t o r y r e v e l a t i o n o f Montaillou's, o r i g i n s
in a d o c u m e n t o f r e l i g i o u s r e p r e s s i o n . T h e f o l l o w i n g , f o r e x a m p l e ,
s t a n d s as a n e x t r e m e instance o f r e p r e s e n t i n g the inquisitorial r e c o r d
as if it w e r e a n e u t r a l e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p o r t :
4. Le Roy Ladurie's view of inquisition truth probably emerges from the views o f
legal historians who see the inquisition as a step forward in the development of rational
inquiry. For an incisive critique of the historians' views, see Asad 1983b. My views on
I his subject, like those of Asad, have been shaped by the work of Michel Foucault (1977,
I..,78a).'
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RENATO ROSALDO
In very rare cases the record does speak of young w o m e n w h o married ac­
cording to the dictates of their heart. T h e Register, however, speaks o f quite a
n u m b e r o f y o u n g m e n w h o did so. But in the institution o f marriage as it then
was, the w o m a n was regarded as an object—an object loved or an object
beaten, as the case might be. T h e historian finds himself faced with an area o f
cultural silence o n this subject. (189)
T h e historian, it s e e m s , has b e e n t r a p p e d by the e t h n o g r a p h i c m y t h
o f his o w n a p p r o p r i a t i o n . N e i t h e r the inquisitor F o u r n i e r n o r , f o r t h a t
m a t t e r , a n actual e t h n o g r a p h e r c o u l d possibly b e s u c h an i d e a l i z e d ,
n e u t r a l , o m n i s c i e n t i n s t r u m e n t for collecting i n f o r m a t i o n . W h a t the
i n q u i s i t i o n r e c o r d r e v e a l s is that peasant w o m e n in M o n t a i l l o u d i d
n o t tell t h e i r i n t e r r o g a t o r s m u c h a b o u t their passions in c o u r t s h i p .
W h e t h e r t h e issue w a s skirted b e c a u s e o f the w o m e n ' s r e l u c t a n c e to
talk a b o u t possibly heretical love m a g i c , o u t o f m u t u a l r e t i c e n c e b e ­
t w e e n w o m e n a n d their m a l e inquisitors, o r o w i n g to the historian's
i m p u t e d "cultural silence," simply c a n n o t be d e c i d e d o n t h e basis o f
available evidence. Nonetheless, L e Roy L a d u r i e simply declares that
t h e t h i n g s w o m e n fail to tell their inquisitor r e p r e s e n t areas o f cul­
t u r a l silence.
T h e historian a d o p t s e t h n o g r a p h i c authority to e n a b l e h i m to a p ­
p r e h e n d , in u n m e d i a t e d fashion, late m e d i e v a l p e a s a n t f o r m s o f life.
H i s s e n s e o f e n t i t l e m e n t allows t h e direct a p p r e h e n s i o n o f historically
distant institutions a n d c u l t u r a l m e a n i n g s . R a t h e r t h a n w o r r y i n g o v e r
p r o b l e m s o f translation, L e R o y L a d u r i e d e p l o y s the false e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c a u t h o r i t y o f p o l y p h o n y , his voice a n d p e a s a n t voices e q u a l l y
h e a r d , by c i t i n g in italics p a s s a g e s that r e p r e s e n t d i r e c t q u o t a t i o n s
t r a n s m i t t e d d i r e c t l y f r o m the past ( t h o u g h the p e a s a n t s — w h o w e r e , it
m u s t b e k e p t in m i n d , c o n f e s s i n g b e f o r e an inquisition c o u r t — u s u a l l y
s p o k e O c c i t a n , w h i c h scribes t h e n translated into L a t i n , w h i c h the his­
t o r i a n has t r a n s l a t e d into m o d e r n F r e n c h ) . T h e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n
t h e h i s t o r i a n a n d his subjects c a n only strike the e t h n o g r a p h i c r e a d e r
as p e c u l i a r l y insensitive to p o w e r relations a n d c u l t u r a l d i f f e r e n c e s .
I m p l i c i t in t h e Annales p a r a d i g m is a notion, a n a l o g o u s to the eth­
n o g r a p h e r ' s t e r m social structure, as will be seen below, that e n a b l e s t h e
h i s t o r i a n to assert that his subjects r e s e m b l e h i m b e c a u s e o f d e m o n ­
strable s t r u c t u r a l continuities that e n d u r e o v e r a l o n g t i m e s p a n (longue
durée). In the f o l l o w i n g d e s c r i p t i o n o f M o n t a i l l o u , for e x a m p l e , o n e
c a n see h o w L e R o y L a d u r i e e v o k e s in his r e a d e r s a sense o f c o n t i n u i t y
b e t w e e n the m e d i e v a l a n d the m o d e r n village o n that site:
T h e village o f Montaillou, looking out over the plateau, was built in tiers. . . .
In more recent times the village has moved away from the shadow o f the cha­
teau and is n o w situated lower down the slope. In the fourteenth century, as
today, the curving village street led down to the parish church, built below the
From the Door of His Tent
83
village itself. . . . In the time of Jacques Fournier, as today, Montaillou was too
high a n d too cold for vine-growing. (3—4)
I n a p a s s a g e that t h e m a t i z e s continuity m o r e t h a n c h a n g e , L e R o y
L a d u r i e spatializes the t h e n a n d the now. H e sees c o n t i n u i t y in a c u r v ­
i n g street a n d , m o r e peculiarly, in the altitude a n d the c l i m a t e . C o u l d
t h e village's e l e v a t i o n a n d w e a t h e r have c h a n g e d m u c h since t h e e a r l y
fourteenth century?
Y e t this v e r y sense o f l o n g - t e r m c o n t i n u i t y t e m p t s t h e h i s t o r i a n
into c o m m i t t i n g his discipline's c a r d i n a l sin: a n a c h r o n i s m . L e R o y
L a d u r i e , for e x a m p l e , finds the f o l l o w i n g social s t r u c t u r a l f o u n d a t i o n
for his analysis:
This basic cell was none other than the peasant family, embodied in the per­
m a n e n c e o f a house and in the daily life o f a group co-resident under the
same roof. In local language this entity was called an ostai; and in the Latin o f
the Inquisition files it was called a hospicium or, more often, a domus. It should
be n o t e d that the words, ostai, domus and hospicium all and inextricably m e a n
both family and house. (24)
D o u b t l e s s t h e m a t e r i a l substantiality of t h e h o u s e e n c o u r a g e s t h e his­
t o r i a n to m a k e it the basic b u i l d i n g block o f the village. H e feels f r e e
to c o l l a p s e the h o u s e h o l d a n d the family, as if both w e r e a single e n ­
tity, s i m p l y b e c a u s e native t e r m s r e f e r to b o t h . In a particularly strik­
i n g i n s t a n c e h e e v e n recoils w h e n o n e o f his texts s h o w s , as h e p u t s it,
a m a n " u s i n g the t e r m domus in a d e r i v e d a n d s o m e w h a t d i s t o r t e d
sense, that o f r e l a t i o n s h i p s (parentela)" (25). H o w can the m o d e r n nar­
rator presume, without providing evidence from fourteenth-century
s o u r c e s , to d i s t i n g u i s h c o r r e c t f r o m distorted usages? I n a t t e m p t i n g t o
follow the lead o f e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e by g e t t i n g into the natives'
h e a d s a n d a l l o w i n g t h e m to s p e a k , the historian n o n e t h e l e s s c a n n o t
c o n t a i n a s c h o o l m a s t e r l y i m p u l s e to c o r r e c t their s p e e c h . H e t h e r e b y
violates the e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s d e e p sense (consider, for e x a m p l e , E v a n s Pritchard's subtle e x p l i c a t i o n s o f the N u e r w o r d cieng) that i n d i g e n o u s
u s a g e is a l w a y s c o r r e c t in its o w n setting.
3
I n a similar v e i n the peasants at times s e e m p e c u l i a r l y m o d e r n ,
e v e n u r b a n , p a r t i c u l a r l y in their sexuality (as Natalie Davis [ 1 9 7 9 ] h a s
p o i n t e d o u t ) . T h e f o l l o w i n g passage is r e p r e s e n t a t i v e o f the n a r r a t o r ' s
m o d e r n i z a t i o n o f m e d i e v a l h o m o s e x u a l acts: " T o save b e d d i n g , M a s ­
ter P o n s slept w i t h t w o o f his pupils. N o o n e n o w m a d e any a t t e m p t o n
y o u n g Verniolles's v i r t u e . B u t the h a r m was d o n e . A latent t e n d e n c y
was a w a k e n e d , a n d A r n a u d d e V e r n i o l l e s was d o o m e d to b e c o m e a
h o m o s e x u a l " ( 1 4 5 ) . T h e m e d i e v a l peasant voices r e p r e s e n t e d in t h e
5. T h e problem of conflating household and family has been lucidly discussed in
Yanagisako 1979.
8
4
RENATO ROSALDO
italicized t e x t s s p e a k n o t o f h o m o s e x u a l c h a r a c t e r , h o w e v e r , b u t o f
acts r e g a r d e d as " s i n n i n g . " T h u s w h e n A r n a u d d e V e r n i o l l e s tells t h e
i n q u i s i t o r a b o u t his f o r m e r practices h e d e s c r i b e s telling o n e o f his
p a r t n e r s "in p e r f e c t l y g o o d faith, t h a t the sin o f s o d o m y a n d t h o s e o f
f o r n i c a t i o n a n d d e l i b e r a t e m a s t u r b a t i o n w e r e , in p o i n t o f gravity, j u s t
t h e s a m e " ( 1 4 6 ) . T h e n a r r a t o r n o n e t h e l e s s has seized u p o n o n e act
taken from a bundle o f sins—sodomy, fornication, and deliberate
m a s t u r b a t i o n — a n d c o n f l a t e d it with m o d e r n p s y c h o a n a l y t i c n o t i o n s
o f latent t e n d e n c i e s a n d p s y c h o s e x u a l c h a r a c t e r f o r m a t i o n . T h i s is
p r e c i s e l y t h e p o i n t at w h i c h e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e , in c o n t r a s t w i t h
t h e historian's, i n v o k e s d i f f e r e n c e , as it d e s c r i b e s (culturally c o n ­
s t r u c t e d ) s e x u a l i t y a n d p e r s o n a l identity.
T h e h i s t o r i a n f u r t h e r r e i n f o r c e s his sense, b a s e d o n the c o n t i n u ­
ity o f t h e l o n g t i m e s p a n , that h e a n d his subjects i n h a b i t similar psy­
c h o l o g i c a l w o r l d s by i n v o k i n g the tacit n o t i o n that M o n t a i l l o u is a n an­
cestral n a t i o n a l c o m m u n i t y . A p p a r e n t l y , by v i r t u e o f their nationality,
F r e n c h r e a d e r s c u l t u r a l l y s h a r e e n o u g h with f o u r t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p e a s ­
a n t s to g r a s p d i r e c t l y w h a t t h e y m e a n by w h a t t h e y say. C o n s i d e r , f o r
e x a m p l e , t h e f o l l o w i n g passages s p r e a d o v e r b u t five p a g e s o f t e x t :
We have n o statistics o n the subject, but it may be that the people o f Mon­
taillou wept slightly more easily than we do, both in happiness a n d m
sorrow. (139)
T h e joys o f revenge were accompanied by the lifting o f both arms u p to
heaven, a gesture o f thanksgiving with different connotations from those it
has today. (139)
T h e Montaillou documents show in passing that certain gestures o f politeness
still used today are very ancient and to a certain extent of peasant origin.
People like the inhabitants o f Montaillou used to raise their hoods a n d stand
up, even m o r e automatically than people d o today. (140)
In order to mock some apocalyptic prophecy heard o n the bridge at Tarascon,
A r n a u d d e Savignan, a stonemason and bold thinker, gave a flick o f the wrist
such as w e still make today. (144)
L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s r e a d e r s a r e thus e n c o u r a g e d to k n o w t h e p e a s a n t s o f
M o n t a i l l o u w i t h the p r i v i l e g e d intimacy by w h i c h t h e y k n o w t h e i r o w n
a n c e s t o r s . I n this c o n t e x t , by v i r t u e o f p u t a t i v e l y s h a r e d b l o o d a n d
c u l t u r a l i n h e r i t a n c e , national ancestry symbolically n e u t r a l i z e s t h e
distance separating "us" from "them."
T h e s y m b o l o f national ancestry, h o w e v e r , implies d i f f e r e n c e as
w e l l as s a m e n e s s . I n t h e text, d e s c e n d e n t s r e c k o n the n a t i o n a l an­
cestral c o m m u n i t y as a d o u b l e r e f e r e n c e point. It stands a l o n g a c o n ­
t i n u o u s s t r a i g h t line o f s a m e n e s s a n d a p r o g r e s s i v e u p w a r d l y s l o p i n g
c u r v e o f d i f f e r e n c e . T h e straight line entitles r e a d e r s , as m e m b e r s o f
t h e s a m e l a r g e r c o m m u n i t y , to k n o w the peasants directly. T h e c u r v e d
From the D o o r o f His Tent
85
line e n a b l e s r e a d e r s , as p e o p l e w h o h a v e d e v e l o p e d f u r t h e r a l o n g t h e
s a m e trajectory, to k n o w better t h a n the peasants.
I n a similar v e i n , the historian dwells m o r e o n w h a t t h e v i l l a g e r s
o f M o n t a i l l o u lack (usually relative to l o w l a n d villages o r c e n t e r s o f
f e u d a l h i e r a r c h y ) t h a n o n w h a t they possess. T h i s p e c u l i a r d e s c r i p t i v e
r h e t o r i c , d e p i c t i n g t h r o u g h e m p t y n e g a t i v e s r a t h e r t h a n positive fea­
t u r e s , a p p e a r s f r e q u e n t l y in e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e , as will b e s e e n in
the w o r k o f E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d . T h e f o l l o w i n g p a s s a g e s i n d i c a t e h o w L e
R o y L a d u r i e c h a r a c t e r i z e s his subjects, not by d e f i n i n g t h e i r f o r m o f
life, b u t b y h i g h l i g h t i n g a b s e n c e s , the t e c h n o l o g y a n d f o r m s o f social
stratification t h e y h a v e failed to d e v e l o p :
Despite the presence of the shoemaker, Montaillou was u n d e r d e v e l o p e d as
far as the crafts were concerned, compared with the lowland villages. (6)
It should be remembered that there was no absolute distinction between ar­
tisan and peasant or artisan and ordinary citizen, or even between artisan a n d
noble. In this part o f the world, everybody worked with his hands, and often
very skilfully too. (6)
It would be w r o n g to try to explain this comparative absence o f class struggle
by weakness pure and simple o n the part of the nobility. (18)
In these circumstances, history was absent or almost absent from Montaillou
culture. (281)
T h e relative a b s e n c e s o f t e c h n o l o g y a n d d i f f e r e n t i a t e d social f o r m s
m a k e t h e s e w o r l d s a n d t h e p e o p l e w h o inhabit t h e m a p p e a r less d e ­
v e l o p e d , less fully f o r m e d , less well d e f i n e d t h a n their l o w l a n d n e i g h ­
b o r s , n o t to m e n t i o n m o d e r n F r e n c h m e n .
W h e n L e R o y L a d u r i e deftly c h a r a c t e r i z e s the c o m p l e x d o u b l e d e a l i n g a n d shifting alliances that e n l i v e n local politics in M o n t a i l l o u
u n d e r t h e inquisition, it a p p e a r s that the a b s e n c e o f social distinctions
leaves o n l y the v e n d e t t a as a m e a n s o f settling d i f f e r e n c e s . T h e histo­
rian's c o n s t r u c t e d w o r l d r e s e m b l e s a m i n i a t u r e village o p e r a with all its
a b s u r d i t i e s . It b r e a k s d o w n in parts, a n d it i n v o k e s individuality m o r e
t h a n p a t t e r n s a n d laws. I n this c o n t e x t the d e s c r i p t i o n s o f m e d i e v a l
p e a s a n t c h a r a c t e r a p p e a r consistent with the a c c o u n t s o f t e c h n o l o g y ,
class, politics, a n d history in the village. W i t h a s t r o n g d i s p o s i t i o n to
b e l i e v e t h a t h u m a n n a t u r e , i n c l u d i n g its capacities f o r g o o d a n d evil
a n d d e g r e e s o f i m p u l s i v e n e s s a n d maturity, s h o w s little v a r i a t i o n
t h r o u g h h i s t o r y a n d across c u l t u r e s , the e t h n o g r a p h e r c a n n o t h e l p
b u t b e s k e p t i c a l w h e n L e R o y L a d u r i e asserts that the p e a s a n t s (not
u n l i k e t h e nobility in H u i z i n g a ' s w a n i n g M i d d l e A g e s ) w e r e m o r e vio­
lent a n d i m p u l s i v e t h a n m o d e r n F r e n c h m e n .
T h e historian's claim that the peasants t o o k s a v a g e d e l i g h t in w h a t
h e calls the "joys o f r e v e n g e " s e e m s simply u n c o n v i n c i n g . I n a t t e m p t ­
ing to m a r s h a l e v i d e n c e s u p p o r t i n g his g e n e r a l i z a t i o n a b o u t p e a s a n t
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RENATO ROSALDO
c h a r a c t e r , the n a r r a t o r cites v e r b a t i m the testimony of G u i l l a u m e
M a u r s as h e c o n f e s s e s to the inquisitor a b o u t h o w h e told a w o m a n
t h a t t h e priest P i e r r e C l e r g u e h a d b e e n a r r e s t e d for h e r e s y ( 1 3 9 ) . T h e
w o m a n , a c c o r d i n g to Maurs's testimony, h e a r d his story a n d "lifted u p
h e r h a n d s to h e a v e n , s a y i n g ' D e o g r a t i a s ' " (139—40). M u c h e a r l i e r in
his b o o k , h o w e v e r , the n a r r a t o r p r o v i d e d the c o n t e x t for u n d e r s t a n d i n g w h y G u i l l a u m e M a u r s a n d his friends c o u l d so e x u b e r a n t l y celeb r a t e the priest's arrest. G u i l l a u m e M a u r s , his father, a n d his b r o t h e r
w e r e a r r e s t e d in 1308, o w i n g to the priest's d e n u n c i a t i o n s ; later Maurs's
m o t h e r ' s t o n g u e was cut out, b e c a u s e the priest u r g e d his b r o t h e r t h e
bayle (bailiff) to d o so (50). E v e n this f r a g m e n t , f r o m a l o n g e r story o f
t h e g r i e v a n c e s he s u f f e r e d , suffices to indicate that g o o d r e a s o n s ,
r a t h e r t h a n i m p u l s i v e "joys o f r e v e n g e , " m i g h t h a v e led G u i l l a u m e
M a u r s to act as h e d i d .
L e R o y L a d u r i e , h o w e v e r , constructs a n o t h e r , m o r e U t o p i a n
d o m a i n b e y o n d the confines o f sordid, deceitful village life u n d e r t h e
i n q u i s i t i o n ( d e s c r i b e d in a m a n n e r that e v o k e s F r e n c h resistance, coll a b o r a t i o n , a n d d o u b l e - d e a l i n g u n d e r the V i c h y r e g i m e ) . T h o u g h in
g e n e r a l h e u n d e r m i n e s typifications, for this p u r p o s e t h e historian
c r e a t e s a social t y p e : P i e r r e M a u r y the f r e e d o m - l o v i n g i n d e p e n d e n t
s h e p h e r d . T h e s h e p h e r d figure g r o w s so e l e v a t e d , p a r t i c u l a r l y in c o n trast to the p e a s a n t s , that the n a r r a t o r confidently asserts that, " F o r
P i e r r e M a u r y , p o v e r t y was n o t only a f r e q u e n t fact a n d a c h e e r f u l l y
a c c e p t e d c o m p a n i o n , b u t also an ideal a n d a system o f v a l u e s " ( 1 2 0 ) .
L e R o y L a d u r i e so identifies with his pastoral f i g u r e that he d o e s
n o t hesitate to e x a g g e r a t e his o w n n o t i o n o f the l o n g t i m e s p a n b y
p l a c i n g s h e p h e r d lifeways o n a c o n t i n u u m that d e r i v e s f r o m the N e o lithic, finds its f u n d a m e n t a l f o r m s l o n g b e f o r e the m e d i e v a l p e r i o d ,
a n d in its h o u s e h o l d o r g a n i z a t i o n r e a c h e s into the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
as in t h e f o l l o w i n g :
T h o u g h there is no need to talk of modernity (we must not forget that this
pastoral world derived from the early Neolithic age, and its basic principles
were laid down well before the fourteenth century). . . . ( 1 2 4 )
So far we have been dealing with long-term tendencies, transhistorical trends,
during which, from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, the cabane
[shepherd's hut] remained unmoved, a living institution. ( 110)
In so vividly e v o k i n g s h e p h e r d lifeways, the historian follows the practices o f e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e by verbally e n d o w i n g his subjects with
a pristine, relatively u n c h a n g i n g f o r m o f life.
T h e c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n o f p r o u d , f r e e d o m - l o v i n g s h e p h e r d s , as o p p o s e d to r a p a c i o u s , o p p r e s s e d peasants, a p p e a r s in the f o l l o w i n g
passages:
From the Door of His Tent
87
T h e shepherd from Ariège or Cerdagne in the fourteenth century was as
free as the mountain air he breathed, at least as far as feudalism was concerned. (114)
H e r e we are chiefly concerned with the itinerant shepherds who m o v e d about
the country. T h e y formed a rural nomad semi-proletariat, without hearth or
h o m e but with their own traditions, their own pride and their o w n special
conceptions o f mountain liberty and fate. (69)
As far as o n e could be in the fourteenth century, Pierre Maury was a d e m o crat through and through. . . . This egalitarian ideal is a h u n d r e d miles away
from the rapacity of people like Pierre Clergue or Arnaud Sicre, m e n w h o
wanted to promote or to recover their domus at any price. Pierre Maury
laughed at such greed: he had n o house, he lived anywhere, detached from
the goods o f this world. . . . We can guess o n e of the reasons for the shepherds' attitude to poverty, acquired through experience and accepted quite
simply. This reason lay in the fact that they were nomads. . . . Basically the
shepherds carried their fortunes o n their o w n hacks. (121)
T h e s h e p h e r d s ' d e m o c r a t i c , f r e e d o m - l o v i n g c h a r a c t e r thus d e r i v e s
f r o m , as it is d e t e r m i n e d by, their n o m a d i c m o d e o f subsistence. T h e
h i s t o r i a n in this m a n n e r e n d o w s his subjects with a c h a r a c t e r to b e
r e v e r e d . T h e s h e p h e r d s reside within a p u r e l y m a s c u l i n e p a s t o r a l
w o r l d , w h e r e t h e y are p r o u d , free, u n e n c u m b e r e d by w o r l d l y g o o d s ,
a n d w i t h o u t a t t a c h m e n t s to w o m e n o r h o u s e h o l d s . T h o u g h l i n k e d to
t h e m a r k e t as a " r u r a l n o m a d semi-proletariat," these m e n p u r p o r tedly m o v e at liberty b e y o n d the r e a c h o f f e u d a l o p p r e s s i o n . T h e hist o r i a n e n c a p s u l a t e s his Utopian vision by saying, w i t h o u t qualification:
" P i e r r e M a u r y w a s a h a p p y s h e p h e r d " (135).
L e R o y L a d u r i e so idealizes his portrait o f the p o o r b u t " h a p p y
s h e p h e r d " t h a t an e x p l a n a t i o n s e e m s in o r d e r . Yet I shall d e f e r e x p l a n a t i o n b e c a u s e c o m p a r i s o n with the w o r k of E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d c a n best
clarify this a n d o t h e r issues that h a v e s u r f a c e d in the historian's t e x t .
T h e c o m p a r i s o n m o v e s in b o t h directions by s h o w i n g h o w t h e inquisitorial r e c o r d c a n b e c o m e e t h n o g r a p h i c , a n d the r e v e r s e . T h e d e f a m i l i a r i z a t i o n i n v o l v e d in m a k i n g e v i d e n t the d i s c o m f o r t i n g r e s e m b l a n c e s b e t w e e n E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d a n d the inquisitor has the critical
p u r p o s e o f q u e s t i o n i n g n o r m s that o f t e n g u i d e the c o n s t r u c t i o n o f a u t h o r i t a t i v e d e s c r i p t i o n s in e t h n o g r a p h y .
Ethnographic Authority Reviewed
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s b o o k The Nuer r o u g h l y falls into t w o parts,
t h e first d e a l i n g with e c o l o g y a n d the s e c o n d with social s t r u c t u r e .
The d i s c u s s i o n o f e c o l o g y b e g i n s with a vivid, detailed d e s c r i p t i o n o f
88
RENATO ROSALDO
cattle a n d their relations to the h u m a n p o p u l a t i o n that adjusts to
b o v i n e lifeways in its t r a n s h u m a n t pastoral e c o n o m y . T h e n e x t c h a p ­
ter, a s t u d y in h u m a n g e o g r a p h y , analyzes the habitat a n d its s e a s o n a l
v a r i a t i o n s . A t h i r d transitional c h a p t e r d e p i c t s notions o f time a n d
s p a c e as t h e i n t e r p l a y o f e c o l o g y a n d socially o r g a n i z e d activities. T h e
last t h r e e c h a p t e r s in t h e b o o k c o n s i d e r in t u r n the political, the lin­
e a g e , a n d t h e age-set systems. T h r o u g h o u t the latter discussion t h e
d o m i n a n t i m a g e o f social structure is that o f s e g m e n t a r y o p p o s i t i o n
w h e r e t w o g r o u p s c a n b e o p p o s e d in certain c o n t e x t s a n d stand
u n i t e d at a h i g h e r level in t h e i r o p p o s i t i o n to y e t o t h e r g r o u p s . T h i s
n o t i o n o f s t r u c t u r a l relativity g u i d e s a subtle discussion o f N u e r politi­
cal o r d e r . T h r o u g h this lucid, y e t s u p p l e , analysis the r e a d e r g a i n s a
vivid sense o f N u e r lifeways.
B o t h The Nuer a n d Montaillou b e g i n with i n t r o d u c t i o n s that r e v e a l
t h e i r i n v e s t i g a t o r s ' close links to c o n t e x t s o f d o m i n a t i o n , a n d simulta­
n e o u s l y a t t e m p t to d e n y the c o n n e c t i o n s b e t w e e n p o w e r a n d k n o w l ­
e d g e . T h e i r ultimately u n c o n v i n c i n g o p e n i n g project is to b r a c k e t t h e
p u r i t y o f t h e i r d a t a ("My study o f the N u e r " a n d "the d i r e c t t e s t i m o n y
o f t h e p e a s a n t s t h e m s e l v e s " ) f r o m the c o n t a m i n a t i n g c o n t e x t s t h r o u g h
which they were extracted.
I n e x p l o r i n g the p o w e r / k n o w l e d g e interplay it is useful to distin­
g u i s h tripartite a u t h o r functions s e p a r a t i n g (a) the i n d i v i d u a l w h o
w r o t e t h e w o r k , (b) the t e x t u a l i z e d p e r s o n a o f the n a r r a t o r , a n d (c) t h e
t e x t u a l i z e d p e r s o n a o f the field investigator. In The Nuer the "nar­
r a t o r " p o r t r a y e d d o i n g the analysis is distinct f r o m the " f i e l d w o r k e r "
d e p i c t e d d o i n g p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n . In Montaillou t h e "historian"
L e R o y L a d u r i e is m o r e literally distinct f r o m the "inquisitor" J a c q u e s
F o u r n i e r , j u s t visible d o i n g his investigation. In w h a t follows I c o m ­
p a r e E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d , in his t w o t e x t u a l i z e d p e r s o n a e , at times w i t h
L e R o y L a d u r i e (the n a r r a t o r ) a n d at times w i t h F o u r n i e r (the inves­
tigator) w i t h a view to a n a t o m i z i n g aspects o f d i s c o u r s e in the classic
Nuer ethnography.
I n The Nuer the n a r r a t o r i m m e d i a t e l y a n n o u n c e s t h e c o n n e c t i o n
b e t w e e n t h e fieldworker's r e s e a r c h a n d the colonial r e g i m e by s a y i n g ,
i n t h e b o o k ' s initial s e n t e n c e : " M y study o f the N u e r was u n d e r t a k e n
at t h e r e q u e s t of, a n d was m a i n l y financed by, the G o v e r n m e n t o f t h e
A n g l o - E g y p t i a n S u d a n , w h i c h also c o n t r i b u t e d g e n e r o u s l y t o w a r d t h e
p u b l i c a t i o n o f its results" (vii). E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d d i s a r m s his r e a d e r s
w i t h his s t u d i e d casualness. W h y d i d the g o v e r n m e n t o f t h e A n g l o E g y p t i a n S u d a n r e q u e s t his r e p o r t ? H o w m u c h d i d it pay f o r t h e re­
s e a r c h a n d t h e p u b l i c a t i o n o f its results? T h e s e questions a r e offset by
t h e c o n f i d e n c e the narrator's c a l m lucidity inspires in his r e a d e r .
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s authority initially is c o n s t r u c t e d in his
fieldwork
From the D o o r o f His Tent
89
n a r r a t i v e , a story o f h o w t h e fieldworker s u f f e r e d as h e c r o s s e d c u l ­
t u r a l b o u n d a r i e s . I n contrast with the historian's portrait o f F o u r n i e r ,
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d c o m m e n t s o n his m e m o r a b l e i n t r o d u c t o r y
fieldwork
a c c o u n t b y m a k i n g the f o l l o w i n g m o d e s t claim f o r his k n o w l e d g e o f
t h e N u e r : " M y total r e s i d e n c e a m o n g the N u e r was thus a b o u t a y e a r .
I d o n o t c o n s i d e r a y e a r a d e q u a t e t i m e in w h i c h to m a k e a s o c i o l o g i c a l
s t u d y o f a p e o p l e , especially o f a difficult p e o p l e in a d v e r s e c i r c u m ­
stances, b u t serious sickness o n b o t h the 1 9 3 5 a n d 1 9 3 6 e x p e d i t i o n s
closed investigations p r e m a t u r e l y " ( 1 4 ) . R a t h e r t h a n p a r a d e his suc­
cesses, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d p u n c t u a t e s his fieldwork n a r r a t i v e b y flatly
d e s c r i b i n g r e p e a t e d l y r u i n e d bucolic i n t e r l u d e s . S t u d i e d m o d e s t y ,
e x e c u t e d w i t h t o n g u e - i n - c h e e k u n d e r s t a t e m e n t , thus sets the t o n e o f
t h e n a r r a t o r ' s tale. His p o s t u r e r e s e m b l e s w h a t Paul Fussell, in The
Great War and Modern Memory, has called British p h l e g m : " T h e trick
h e r e is to a f f e c t to b e entirely u n f l a p p a b l e ; o n e s p e a k s as if the w a r
w e r e e n t i r e l y n o r m a l a n d matter-of-fact" ( 1 9 7 5 : 1 8 1 ) .
T h e fieldworker initially r e a c h e s N u e r l a n d in 1 9 3 0 a n d o n a r r i v a l
loses first his l u g g a g e , t h e n his servants. I n time h e r e a c h e s M u o t dit,
w h e r e h e finds h i m s e l f h a p p i l y m a k i n g friends a n d r e g a i n i n g his c o n ­
fidence. H e describes this interlude's i n t e r r u p t i o n in these t e r m s :
A g o v e r n m e n t force surrounded our camp o n e morning at sunrise, searched
for two prophets w h o had been leaders in a recent revolt, took hostages, a n d
threatened to take many more if the prophets were not handed over. I felt
that I was in an equivocal position, since such incidents might recur, a n d
shortly afterwards returned to my h o m e in Zandeland, having accomplished
only three a n d a half months' work a m o n g the Nuer. ( 1 1 )
I n 1 9 3 1 E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d tries a g a i n a n d finds p e o p l e e v e n m o r e h o s ­
tile t h a n b e f o r e . H e n o n e t h e l e s s a g a i n enjoys a p e r i o d o f a c c e p t a n c e :
"I at last b e g a n to feel m y s e l f a m e m b e r o f the c o m m u n i t y a n d to b e
a c c e p t e d as s u c h " ( 1 3 ) . O n c e a g a i n his pastoral i n t e r l u d e e n d s a b r u p t l y
w h e n h e falls to a n attack o f malaria. His 1 9 3 5 a n d 1 9 3 6 e x p e d i t i o n s
e a c h last a b o u t s e v e n w e e k s , a n d b o t h d r a w to a halt b e c a u s e o f s e r i o u s
illness.
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d t h e n a r r a t o r d e p i c t s h i m s e l f the fieldworker as a
m a n e n d o w e d w i t h c a l m p r e s e n c e o f m i n d u n d e r the m o s t a r d u o u s
c o n d i t i o n s . H e s p e a k s w i t h o u t p r e s u m p t i o n a n d p o k e s f u n at t h e
fieldworker.
T h e r e a d e r trusts h i m as a m a n w h o n e v e r says m o r e
(and u s u a l l y says less) t h a n he k n o w s : o n e w h o d e l i v e r s m o r e t h a n h e
p r o m i s e s . M o r e o v e r , t h e r e a d e r t e n d s to a c c e p t E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s
story o f adversities m o r e e n d u r e d t h a n o v e r c o m e , a v e r s i o n o f the h e ­
roic cast in a l o w m i m e t i c m o d e r a t h e r t h a n in the g r a n d e r e p i c m o d e
o f g r e a t d e e d s . 'I'he n a r r a t o r s u g g e s t s to his r e a d e r that h e , t h e field-
90
RENATO ROSALDO
w o r k e r , l i v e d t h r o u g h physical a n d p s y c h o l o g i c a l c o n d i t i o n s m o s t
p e o p l e c o u l d n o t h a v e s u r v i v e d . E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d p o i n t e d l y b e g i n s his
fieldwork n a r r a t i v e in this m a n n e r :
I, unlike most readers, know the Nuer, and must j u d g e my work more se­
verely than they, and I can say that if this book reveals many insufficiencies I
am amazed that it has ever appeared at all. A man must j u d g e his labours by
the obstacles he has overcome and the hardships he has endured, and by
these standards I am not ashamed of the results. (9)
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s m o d e v e r g e s o n the c o m i c , for the r e a d e r k n o w s
that, d e s p i t e all his trials a n d tribulations, t h e fieldworker l i v e d t o tell,
a n d e v e n w r i t e u p , the' tale. Put bluntly, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d w a s t h e r e
a n d his r e a d e r w a s not; h e a l o n e can d e s c r i b e N u e r lifeways. I r o n i c
a n d u n d e r s t a t e d , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d has p r e s e n t e d his fieldworker's c r e ­
d e n t i a l s in a m a n n e r as authoritative as L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s was f o r
Fournier.
T h e n a r r a t o r f u r t h e r buttresses his a u t h o r i t y by c l a i m i n g that t h e
fieldworker
a n d his h u m a n subjects e n j o y e d a certain intimacy, p e r ­
h a p s c o m p a r a b l e to the historian's sense o f e n t i t l e m e n t g a i n e d t h r o u g h
the s y m b o l o f n a t i o n a l ancestry. E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d bases his claim o f in­
t i m a c y o n the w a y t h e N u e r f o r c e d an egalitarian r e l a t i o n s h i p o n h i m
(especially as c o n t r a s t e d with his earlier field e x p e r i e n c e a m o n g t h e
A z a n d e ) , d e s c r i b e d as follows:
Because I had to live in such close contact with the Nuer I knew them more
intimately than the Azande, about whom I am able to write a much more de­
tailed account. Azande would not allow me to live as one of themselves; N u e r
would not allow me to live otherwise. A m o n g Azande I was compelled to live
outside the community; among Nuer 1 was compelled to be a member o f it.
Azande treated me as a superior; Nuer as an equal. (15)
O n c e a g a i n , t h e r e a d e r c a n justifiably m a i n t a i n a c e r t a i n s k e p t i c i s m ,
r a t h e r t h a n t a k i n g Evans-Pritchard's m o d e s t y as the plain literal
t r u t h . A l t h o u g h the n a r r a t o r may g e n u i n e l y h a v e felt h e c o u l d w r i t e
a m o r e d e t a i l e d a c c o u n t a b o u t the A z a n d e t h a n t h e N u e r , h e d i d , i n
t h e e n d , w r i t e n o t only The Nuer b u t also Nuer Kinship and Marriage
a n d Nuer Religion.
6
T h e n a r r a t o r ' s assertions a b o u t the fieldworker's relations o f inti­
m a c y a n d e q u a l i t y stand in u n e a s y tension with the w a y s in w h i c h t h e
N u e r o f t e n t r e a t e d h i m as a s t r a n g e r a n d an e n e m y . I n the t e x t t h e
N u e r a p p e a r c h a r a c t e r i z e d , variously, as u n u s u a l l y hostile, r e f u s i n g to
6. In the appendix to an abridged edition of Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among
the Azande, Evans-Pritchard ( 1 9 7 6 : 2 4 0 - 5 4 ) characterizes his Zande fieldwork much
more in terms of participant-observation. Probably he overstated the case to highlight
the contrast with his N u e r research.
From the D o o r o f His Tent
9
1
a n s w e r g r e e t i n g s a n d e v e n t u r n i n g away w h e n a d d r e s s e d , e x p e r t at
s a b o t a g i n g a n inquiry, stultifying all efforts to elicit the simplest facts,
b l o c k i n g q u e s t i o n s a b o u t t h e i r c u s t o m s , a n d u n w i l l i n g to discuss se­
r i o u s m a t t e r s o r e v e n to r e c e i v e the fieldworker in their w i n d s c r e e n s
( 1 1 — 12). T h a t t h e fieldworker s h o u l d h a v e b e e n t r e a t e d w i t h suspi­
c i o u s r e s e r v e h a r d l y s e e m s p e r p l e x i n g to a p r e s e n t - d a y r e a d e r . A f t e r
all t h e N u e r , in g o o d m e a s u r e correctly, identified h i m with the c o l o ­
nial r e g i m e , w h i c h at the time was c o n d u c t i n g a c a m p a i g n o f military
repression against them.
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s s i m u l t a n e o u s a c c o u n t of, a n d lack o f a c c o u n t ­
ability to, t h e political c o n t e x t o f his fieldwork a p p e a r s p a r t i c u l a r l y
d i s c o n c e r t i n g in the o n e instance w h e r e he a n d a N u e r m a n n a m e d
C u o i e n t e r a t e x t u a l i z e d d i a l o g u e . T h e fieldworker a t t e m p t s a B r i t i s h
i n t r o d u c t i o n by a s k i n g C u o i his n a m e a n d the n a m e o f his l i n e a g e .
C u o i in r e s p o n s e uses a series o f m a n e u v e r s to resist g i v i n g b o t h n a m e s
a n d in t h e p r o c e s s asks: " W h y d o y o u w a n t to k n o w the n a m e o f m y
l i n e a g e ? " a n d " W h a t will y o u d o with it if I tell y o u ? Will y o u take it to
y o u r c o u n t r y ? " T h e n a r r a t o r i n t e r p r e t s t h e c o n v e r s a t i o n in t h e fol­
l o w i n g t e r m s : "I defy the m o s t patient e t h n o l o g i s t to m a k e h e a d w a y
a g a i n s t this k i n d o f o p p o s i t i o n . O n e is j u s t d r i v e n c r a z y by it. I n d e e d ,
after a few w e e k s o f associating solely with N u e r o n e displays, i f t h e
p u n b e a l l o w e d , t h e m o s t e v i d e n t s y m p t o m s o f ' N u e r o s i s ' " (13)- T h e
n a r r a t o r d e p i c t s C u o l ' s " o p p o s i t i o n " c o m p l e x l y . It is at o n c e b u l l h e a d e d , a d m i r a b l e , a n d p e r v e r s e . His o p p o s i t i o n is e n j o y e d as a n
assertion o f N u e r v a l u e s o f f r e e d o m a n d a u t o n o m y , a n d it a p p e a r s
p e r v e r s e b e c a u s e it s u b v e r t s " i n n o c e n t " e t h n o g r a p h i c i n q u i r y . F u r ­
t h e r m o r e , it is m e a s u r e d against a n o r m (which p r o b a b l y is alien to
t h e N u e r ) o f c o u r t e o u s c o n d u c t that r e q u i r e s s t r a n g e r s , o n first m e e t ­
i n g , to i n t r o d u c e t h e m s e l v e s b y g i v i n g their n a m e s . T h e n a r r a t o r finds
t h a t the fault in this u n h a p p y e n c o u n t e r lies with N u e r c h a r a c t e r ,
r a t h e r t h a n w i t h historically specific c i r c u m s t a n c e s . Yet the r e a d e r
s h o u l d c o n s i d e r that, j u s t t w o p a g e s b e f o r e , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d has
described h o w a g o v e r n m e n t force raided a N u e r camp, "took hos­
t a g e s , a n d t h r e a t e n e d to take m a n y m o r e " ( 1 1 ) . C u o i h a d , n o t a c h a r ­
a c t e r d i s o r d e r , b u t g o o d reasons for resisting i n q u i r y a n d a s k i n g w h o
w a n t e d to k n o w his n a m e a n d the n a m e o f his l i n e a g e .
7
T h e n a r r a t o r ' s c o m p l a i n t s a b o u t h o w the h e l d w o r k e r w a s t r e a t e d
h a v e to d o w i t h f u n d a m e n t a l difficulties the N u e r f o r m o f life p o s e d
f o r a n y o n e b e n t o n g a t h e r i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c i n f o r m a t i o n , as d e s c r i b e d
in t h e f o l l o w i n g :
7. This discursive tactic of eternalizing and universalizing (as "timeless" and "ho­
mogeneous" N u e r culture) much more specifically motivated human conduct has, o f
course, been studied in ils political context by Edward Said (1978).
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RENATO ROSALDO
As soon as I began to discuss a custom with o n e m a n another would interrupt
the conversation in pursuance of some affair of his o w n or by an exchange o f
pleasantries and jokes. T h e m e n came at milking-time and some o f them re­
mained till mid-day. T h e n the girls, w h o had just finished dairy-work, arrived
and insisted o n attention. . . . T h e s e endless visits entailed constant badinage
and interruption and, although they offered opportunity for improving my
k n o w l e d g e o f the N u e r language, imposed a severe strain. (14)
I n d e p i c t i n g the play o f p o w e r relations b e t w e e n i n v e s t i g a t o r a n d
i n f o r m a n t s , t h e fieldworker c o m b i n e s a p e r c e p t i o n that t h e N u e r
s u b v e r t e d his efforts to i n t e r v i e w t h e m with a strangely e t h n o c e n t r i c
y e a r n i n g to have h a d private conversations with them. A l t h o u g h the
f i e l d w o r k e r ' s h a r d s h i p s a p p e a r c o n v i n c i n g , his c o m p l a i n t s ( w h i c h in
r e t r o s p e c t s e e m a e u p h e m i s t i c f o r e s h a d o w i n g o f Malinowski's a l r e a d y
w r i t t e n , b u t n o t y e t p u b l i s h e d , diary) also s e r v e to l e n d his a c c o u n t a n
air o f f o r t h r i g h t realism. T h e n a r r a t o r has a s s u m e d the p e r s o n a o f a n
honest man.
I n t h e e n d , far f r o m u n d e r m i n i n g his a c c o u n t , the n a r r a t o r ' s
o f t e n c o n t r a d i c t o r y confessions e n h a n c e his credibility b y c r e a t i n g a
sense o f his reliability as a fieldworker. C o n s i d e r , for e x a m p l e , the fol­
l o w i n g p a s s a g e : " A s I c o u l d n o t u s e the easier a n d s h o r t e r m e t h o d o f
w o r k i n g t h o u g h r e g u l a r i n f o r m a n t s I h a d to fall b a c k o n d i r e c t o b s e r ­
v a t i o n of, a n d p a r t i c i p a t i o n in, the e v e r y d a y life o f the p e o p l e . F r o m
t h e d o o r o f m y tent I c o u l d see w h a t was h a p p e n i n g in c a m p o r village
a n d e v e r y m o m e n t was s p e n t in N u e r c o m p a n y " ( 1 5 ) . T h e N u e r , in
o t h e r w o r d s , f o r c e d h i m to b e c o m e a p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v e r . T h e fieldw o r k e r , t u r n i n g a d v e r s i t y to his a d v a n t a g e , c o u l d always, by l o o k i n g
f r o m the d o o r o f his tent, s u r v e y the N u e r as they w e n t a b o u t t h e i r
d a i l y lives.
8
I n r e t r o s p e c t , t h e fieldworker's m o d e o f surveillance u n c o m f o r t ­
ably r e s e m b l e s M i c h e l Foucault's P a n o p t i c o n , the site f r o m w h i c h t h e
(disciplining) disciplines enjoy g a z i n g u p o n (and subjecting) their s u b ­
j e c t s . Y e t E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d , as suited his historical c i r c u m s t a n c e s , s e p a ­
r a t e d p o w e r a n d surveillance f r o m the g a t h e r i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c in­
f o r m a t i o n . T h e g r e a t e s t i m p e r i a l a d v a n t a g e g r a n t e d the
fieldworker,
o f c o u r s e , w a s a c e r t a i n g u a r a n t e e o f his physical safety as h e w e n t
a b o u t t h e business o f c o l l e c t i n g data. His " i n f o r m a t i o n " w a s g a t h e r e d ,
as h e p u t it, in "particles" f r o m " e a c h N u e r I m e t b e i n g u s e d as a
8. Stocking (1983) has discussed the tent as a topos o f anthropology. For Mali­
nowski, however, the tent was an ambivalent site from which the ethnographer looked
in two directions: outward, gazing on the village, and inward, escaping to read novels
and simply to be alone. Stocking characterizes Malinowski's turning inward in these
terms: "Pulling its flaps behind him, he could to some extent shut out the native world
and retire to his novels when the strain of the very intensive study of a very limited area
became too great" (1983 :g7).
From the Door of His Tent
93
s o u r c e o f k n o w l e d g e , " r a t h e r t h a n h a v i n g b e e n c o l l e c t e d (as it w a s
a m o n g the A z a n d e ) "in c h u n k s s u p p l i e d by selected a n d t r a i n e d in­
f o r m a n t s " ( 1 5 ) . B e n e a t h t h e self-irony, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d b o l d l y as­
serts that his m e t h o d o l o g y is m o r e p o w e r f u l t h a n w o r k i n g w i t h p a i d
informants.
B y this p o i n t , as the i n t r o d u c t i o n d r a w s to a close, the n a r r a t o r
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d says the f o l l o w i n g :
I d o not make far-reaching claims. I believe that I have understood the chief
values o f the N u e r and a m able to present a true outline o f their social struc­
ture, but I regard, and have designed, this volume as a contribution to the
ethnology o f a particular area rather than as a detailed sociological study, a n d
I shall be content if it is accepted as such. (15)
I n his i n t r o d u c t o r y p e r s o n a the n a r r a t o r asks his r e a d e r s to set aside
t h e c o n t e x t o f colonial d o m i n a t i o n a n d view his study as a " t r u e o u t ­
line," a n i n c o m p l e t e , y e t objective, scientific a c c o u n t .
T h e i n t r o d u c t o r y section o f The Nuer parallels that o f Montaillou
in d o i n g the r h e t o r i c a l w o r k o f s e p a r a t i n g the c o n t e x t o f c o l o n i a l
d o m i n a t i o n f r o m the p r o d u c t i o n o f e t h n o g r a p h i c k n o w l e d g e . In­
d e e d , j u s t as F o u r n i e r d i s a p p e a r s f r o m the text after the i n t r o d u c t i o n ,
t h e fieldworker w h o e n g a g e s his i n f o r m a n t s in d i a l o g u e plays n o r o l e
in the analysis o f N u e r m o d e s o f l i v e l i h o o d a n d political institutions.
I f L e R o y L a d u r i e c o n v e r t s i n t e r r o g a t i o n into o v e r h e a r i n g a n d cata­
l o g u i n g , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d t r a n s f o r m s lively d i a l o g u e into listening a n d
e n v i s i o n i n g . T h e tale o f the fieldworker as l o n e h e r o i c victim estab• lishes his i n n o c e n c e f r o m colonial d o m i n a t i o n a n d validates his c r e ­
d e n t i a l s as a disinterested scientist. O t h e r t h a n his interest in discov­
e r i n g t h e t r u t h , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d a p p e a r s in the p e r s o n a o f a m a n
w i t h o u t a n a x e to g r i n d : the d e t a c h e d ironic o b s e r v e r .
The Rhetoric of Objectivity Reviewed
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s object o f scientific k n o w l e d g e is social struc­
t u r e r a t h e r t h a n historical c o n t i n g e n c i e s a n d political action. H i s l u c i d
m o d e s o f d i s c o u r s e ( w h i c h C l i f f o r d G e e r t z [1983a] has called A f r i c a n
t r a n s p a r e n c i e s ) r e n d e r the social o r d e r s i n g u l a r l y visible. T h i s e x ­
p o s i t o r y e l e g a n c e d e r i v e s f r o m the w e l l - d e f i n e d project o f d e v e l o p i n g
a " b o d y o f scientific t h e o r y " a b o u t "primitive p e o p l e s " ( 2 6 1 ) . E v a n s P r i t c h a r d d e f i n e s this project's master c o n c e p t , social s t r u c t u r e , as
follows:
By social structure we mean relations between groups which have a high d e ­
gree o f consistency and constancy. T h e groups remain the same irrespective
94
RENATO ROSALDO
of their specific content o f individuals at any particular moment, so that gen­
eration after generation o f people pass through them. M e n are born into
t h e m , or enter them later in life and move out of them at death; the structure
e n d u r e s . (262)
B y this d e f i n i t i o n , social structure r e s e m b l e s a h o u s e w i t h m a n y r o o m s
t h a t p e o p l e pass t h r o u g h o v e r the c o u r s e o f their lifetimes: the p e o p l e
c o m e a n d g o , b u t the h o u s e r e m a i n s the s a m e . B o t h E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d
a n d L e R o y L a d u r i e e q u a t e the structures that last the l o n g e s t w i t h
t h o s e t h a t m a t t e r the most. Y e t the l o n g t i m e s p a n directly links t h e his­
t o r i a n a n d his subjects, w h e r e a s social structure creates d i f f e r e n c e s
t h a t s e p a r a t e the e t h n o g r a p h e r f r o m the N u e r .
N o t i o n s o f N u e r c h a r a c t e r often e m e r g e t h r o u g h the analysis o f
social s t r u c t u r e . T h u s the p e o p l e a p p e a r p o r t r a y e d as " p r i m i t i v e " in
t h e i r social c o n f o r m i t y a n d their lack o f individuality. T h e n a r r a t o r ,
f o l l o w i n g a disciplinary n o r m , verbally r e p r e s e n t s t h e p e o p l e w i t h t h e
g r o u p n o u n (the N u e r ) o r the m a s c u l i n e p r o n o u n (he) r a t h e r t h a n
with m o r e individuating personal names. O n e frequently, for ex­
a m p l e , e n c o u n t e r s statements in the distanced n o r m a l i z i n g m o d e of
d i s c o u r s e , s u c h as the f o l l o w i n g : " W h e n a m a n feels that h e has suf­
f e r e d a n injury t h e r e is n o authority to w h o m h e c a n m a k e a c o m ­
p l a i n t a n d f r o m w h o m h e c a n obtain r e d r e s s , so h e at o n c e c h a l l e n g e s
t h e m a n w h o has w r o n g e d h i m to a d u e l a n d the c h a l l e n g e m u s t b e
a c c e p t e d " ( 1 5 1 ) - E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d fails to discuss, f o r e x a m p l e , w h a t
h a p p e n s w h e n , o r h o w it h a p p e n s that, a m a n d o e s n o t take u p the
c h a l l e n g e . S u r e l y a N u e r m a n has a certain l e e w a y in d e c i d i n g w h e t h e r
o r n o t h e has b e e n w r o n g e d . O n l y s o m e o n e p a t h o l o g i c a l l y o v e r s o c i a l i z e d c o u l d follow s u c h p r o g r a m m e d n o r m a t i v e c o m m a n d s w i t h o u t
e x c e p t i o n o r c o n t e x t u a l qualification.
W h e n E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d characterizes N u e r society, h e o f t e n re­
s e m b l e s L e R o y L a d u r i e in s p e a k i n g o f absences r a t h e r t h a n p r e s ­
e n c e s . C o n s i d e r , for e x a m p l e , the f o l l o w i n g passages:
T h e N u e r cannot be said to be stratified into classes. (7)
I n d e e d , the N u e r have n o government, and their state might be described as
an ordered anarchy. Likewise they lack law, if we understand by the term
j u d g m e n t s delivered by an independent and impartial authority which has,
also, power to enforce its decisions. (6)
T h e lack o f governmental organs a m o n g the Nuer, the absence o f legal in­
stitutions, of developed leadership, and, generally, o f organized political life is
remarkable. (181)
T h e N u e r , in o t h e r w o r d s , lack the o b v i o u s (to a W e s t e r n e y e ) institu­
tions o f political o r d e r . T h e y h a v e n o social classes, n o state, n o law, n o
leadership.
From the Door o f His Tent
95
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d g o e s o n to d e s c r i b e the N u e r as close to n a t u r e
b e c a u s e o f their s i m p l e m a t e r i a l c u l t u r e , as s e e n in t h e f o l l o w i n g :
It will be seen that the N u e r political system is consistent with their oecology- (4)
A p e o p l e whose material culture is as simple as that of the N u e r are highly
d e p e n d e n t o n their environment. (16)
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d o v e r e x t e n d s his assertions a n d v e r b a l l y locates t h e
N u e r i n a m y t h i c (past?) a g e o f i m p l e m e n t s m a d e n e i t h e r o f i r o n n o r
o f stone, b u t o f flora a n d f a u n a : " T a k e n with the e a r l i e r list o f uses o f
cattle w e c a n say t h a t the N u e r d o n o t live in an i r o n a g e o r e v e n a
s t o n e a g e , b u t in a n a g e , w h a t e v e r it m a y be called, in w h i c h plants a n d
beasts f u r n i s h t e c h n o l o g i c a l necessities" (87). T h e N u e r r e m a i n p u t a tively m o r e e n m e s h e d in their p r i m i t i v e pre—Stone A g e n i c h e t h a n w e
in o u r s . D e s p i t e the f o r m a l e l e g a n c e o f their social s t r u c t u r e , t h e y also
a p p e a r closer to n a t u r e t h a n w e are.
I n a m a n n e r c o m p a r a b l e to L e R o y L a d u r i e ' s assertions a b o u t t h e
s h e p h e r d P i e r r e M a u r y , the n a r r a t o r claims that N u e r c h a r a c t e r is
c o n s i s t e n t w i t h t h e i r e n v i r o n m e n t , their m o d e o f subsistence, a n d
t h e i r political system, as in the f o l l o w i n g passages:
Such a life nurtures the qualities of the shepherd—courage, love o f fighting,
and contempt o f h u n g e r and hardship—rather than shapes the industrious
character of the peasant. (26)
S o m e outstanding traits in N u e r character may be said to be consistent with
their low technology and scanty food-supply. . . . T h e qualities which have
been m e n t i o n e d , courage, generosity, patience, pride, loyalty, stubborness,
and i n d e p e n d e n c e , are the virtues the N u e r themselves extol, and these val­
ues can be shown to be very appropriate to their simple m o d e o f life and to
the simple set o f social relations it engenders. (90)
T h e ordered anarchy in which they live accords well with their character, for
it is impossible to live a m o n g N u e r and conceive o f rulers ruling over them.
T h e N u e r is a product of hard and egalitarian upbringing, is deeply d e m o ­
cratic, and is easily roused to violence. His turbulent spirit finds any restraint
irksome and n o m a n recognizes a superior. (181)
N u e r c h a r a c t e r c o r r e s p o n d s all too e l e g a n t l y with their p a s t o r a l w a y
o f l i f e . T h e i r p a s t o r a l c h a r a c t e r is also d e f i n e d b y contrast w i t h t h e i r
p u t a t i v e o p p o s i t e s : s e d e n t a r y peasants. Peasants, it s h o u l d be n o t e d ,
d o n o t o t h e r w i s e a p p e a r in Evans-Pritchard's text. Y e t their p r e s e n c e
in this c o n t e x t , as foils for c h a r a c t e r i z i n g "the qualities o f the s h e p ­
h e r d , " c u r i o u s l y e c h o e s o n e o f their r h e t o r i c a l uses in Montaillou.
9
9. Elsewhere I have called generalizing through series of such questionable corre­
spondences the rhetoric o f control (Rosaldo 1978). It surprised me to find the device,
common among colonial officials, used by Evans-Pritchard.
Q6
RENATO ROSALDO
Pastoral Modes of Domination
C u r i o u s l y e n o u g h , the e t h n o g r a p h e r a n d the historian c o m e
t o g e t h e r in a s s e r t i n g that t r a n s h u m a n t pastoralism e n g e n d e r s d e m o ­
cratic v a l u e s , r u g g e d i n d i v i d u a l i s m , fierce p r i d e , a n d a w a r r i o r spirit.
N o t u n l i k e c o w b o y s a n d o t h e r self-sufficient m a l e h e r o e s , t h e N u e r
a p p e a r to e m b o d y i d e a l i z e d characteristics o f a certain m a s c u l i n e
i m a g i n a t i o n . A l t h o u g h militarily " p a c i f i e d " by c o l o n i a l t r o o p s , t h e
N u e r r e m a i n , as initially s u g g e s t e d by their resistance to e t h n o g r a p h i c
i n q u i r y , i n d o m i t a b l e in c h a r a c t e r . Symbolically, t h e y r e p r e s e n t a n i d e a l
o f h u m a n liberty, e v e n in the midst o f colonial d o m i n a t i o n .
T h e distinctive subjectivity attributed to pastoralists p e r h a p s r e ­
s e m b l e s that o f fieldworkers w h o travel, y e t stay in o n e p l a c e . S p e a k ­
i n g f r o m a p o s i t i o n o f culturally r o o t e d mobility, e t h n o g r a p h e r s o f t e n
i n v o k e " m y p e o p l e " o r " m y village," m e a n i n g , o f c o u r s e , the p e o p l e
a m o n g w h o m , o r the p l a c e w h e r e , t h e y d i d their field r e s e a r c h . I n as­
s e r t i n g their a u t h o r i t y to r e p r e s e n t the lives o f their subjects, e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r s t a k e g r e a t pains to d i s t i n g u i s h t h e m s e l v e s , o n the o n e
h a n d , f r o m tourists a n d , o n the o t h e r , f r o m stationary m i s s i o n a r i e s
a n d c o l o n i a l officials. E t h n o g r a p h e r s ' c a r e e r itineraries c a n halfseriously, half-playfully b e l i k e n e d to the p a t t e r n e d m o v e m e n t s o f
t r a n s h u m a n t pastoralists, r a t h e r t h a n o f n o m a d s (tourists) o r p e a s a n t s
(missionaries a n d c o l o n i a l officials). It s e e m s fitting that a d i s c o u r s e
t h a t d e n i e s the d o m i n a t i o n that m a k e s its k n o w l e d g e possible i d e a l ­
izes, as alter e g o s , s h e p h e r d s r a t h e r t h a n peasants. Pastoralists, like in­
d i v i d u a l tourists (not to be c o n f u s e d with the tourist i n d u s t r y ) , e x e r ­
cise d o m i n a t i o n less r e a d i l y t h a n peasants, missionaries, o r c o l o n i a l
officials.
Yet a q u e s t i o n r e m a i n s . W h y use the literary pastoral to r e p r e s e n t ,
p r e s u m a b l y in a d o c u m e n t a r y r a t h e r t h a n fictional m o d e , t h e lives o f
a c t u a l s h e p h e r d s ? T h e pastoral m o d e , after all, d e r i v e s f r o m t h e
c o u r t , a n d its s h e p h e r d s usually t u r n o u t to h a v e b e e n r o y a l t y d r e s s e d
in rustic g a r b . A s a literary m o d e , it stands far r e m o v e d f r o m e i t h e r
late m e d i e v a l F r e n c h s h e p h e r d s o r c o n t e m p o r a r y Nilotic cattle h e r d ­
e r s . I n s t e a d it e m b o d i e s a distinctive sense o f c o u r t e s y t h a t K e n n e t h
B u r k e has aptly c h a r a c t e r i z e d as "the r h e t o r i c o f c o u r t s h i p b e t w e e n
c o n t r a s t e d social classes" ( 1 9 6 9 : 1 2 3 ) . In earlier literary e p o c h s this
c o u r t s h i p o c c u r r e d b e t w e e n n o b l e s a n d c o m m o n e r s , l o r d s a n d vassals,
a n d m a s t e r s a n d servants. T h e d i s p l a c e d m o d e r n pastoral a n a l o ­
g o u s l y e m e r g e s in interactions b e t w e e n t o w n a n d c o u n t r y , m i d d l e
class a n d w o r k i n g class, a n d c o l o n i z e r a n d c o l o n i z e d .
10
10. Northorp Frye has asserted that the displaced modern pastoral "preserves the
theme o f escape from society to the extent of idealizing a simplified life in llie country
From the D o o r o f His T e n t
97
T h e pastoral m a k e s possible a p e c u l i a r civility in r e l a t i o n s h i p s t h a t
c r o s s social b o u n d a r i e s . It p e r m i t s a polite t e n d e r n e s s t h a t m o r e d i r e c t
w a y s o f a c k n o w l e d g i n g inequality c o u l d inhibit. Its c o u r t e s y b e c o m e s
respect, even admiration. Evans-Pritchard and L e Roy Ladurie clearly
e s t e e m e d "their s h e p h e r d s . " Y e t the pastoral also licences p a t r o n ­
i z i n g attitudes o f c o n d e s c e n s i o n , s u c h as r e v e r e n c e f o r a simplicity
" w e " h a v e lost ( c o m p a r e Clifford's p a p e r in this v o l u m e ) . F o r E v a n s P r i t c h a r d a n d L e R o y L a d u r i e t h e pastoral m o d e b e c o m e s s e l f - s e r v i n g
b e c a u s e the s h e p h e r d s y m b o l i z e s that p o i n t b e y o n d d o m i n a t i o n w h e r e
n e u t r a l e t h n o g r a p h i c truth c a n collect itself.
T h e u s e o f t h e pastoral at o n c e justifies a n d b e t r a y s t h e i n t r o d u c ­
t o r y efforts to s u p p r e s s t h e interplay o f p o w e r a n d k n o w l e d g e . T h u s
t h e n a r r a t o r s c a n enjoy relations suffused with a t e n d e r c o u r t e s y t h a t
a p p e a r s to t r a n s c e n d inequality a n d d o m i n a t i o n . Y e t the pastoral m o d e
o b l i q u e l y r e v e a l s inequalities in the relations that p r o d u c e d e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c k n o w l e d g e . R e p r e s s e d in i n t r o d u c t o r y n a r r a t i v e s , c o n t e x t s o f
d o m i n a t i o n r e t u r n in c o u r t l y d i s g u i s e . T h e quality o f h u m a n r e l a t i o n s
e m b o d i e d in t h e figures o f the inquisitor a n d the fieldworker still
h a u n t the a u t h o r s . T h r o u g h a literary m e t a m o r p h o s i s , the figures o f
d o m i n a t i o n r e a p p e a r , n e i t h e r as inquisitor n o r as fieldworker, b u t
n o w as " n a t i v e s " in s h e p h e r d s ' c l o t h i n g .
or on the frontier" ( 1 9 7 1 : 4 3 ) . This version o f the pastoral often informs ethnographic
writing. In reading The Nuer and Montaillou I have been concerned with the content o f
idealization, and its purposes.
T h i s paper has benefited from comments by Talal Asad, A m y Burce, James Clif­
ford, Vincent Crapanzano, Michael Fischer, George Marcus, Kirin Narayan, Mary
Pratt, Paul Rabinow, Robert T h o r n t o n , Stephen Tyler, and Sylvia Yanagisako.
O n Ethnographic Allegory
JAMES CLIFFORD
O n Ethnographic Allegory
1 . a story in which people, things and happenings
have
another meaning, as in a fable or parable: allegories are used
for teaching or
explaining.
2.
the presentation
of ideas by means of such stories.
..."
I n a r e c e n t essay o n narrative V i c t o r T u r n e r a r g u e s t h a t social
performances enact powerful stories—mythic and commonsensical—
t h a t p r o v i d e the social process " w i t h a rhetoric, a m o d e o f e m p l o t m e n t , a n d a m e a n i n g " ( 1 9 8 0 : 1 5 3 ) . In w h a t follows I treat e t h n o g r a ­
p h y itself as a p e r f o r m a n c e e m p l o t t e d by p o w e r f u l stories. E m b o d i e d
in w r i t t e n r e p o r t s , these stories s i m u l t a n e o u s l y d e s c r i b e real c u l t u r a l
e v e n t s a n d m a k e additional, m o r a l , i d e o l o g i c a l , a n d e v e n c o s m o l o g i c a l
s t a t e m e n t s . E t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g is allegorical at the level b o t h o f its
c o n t e n t (what it says a b o u t cultures a n d their histories) a n d o f its f o r m
( w h a t is i m p l i e d b y its m o d e o f textualization).
A n a p p a r e n t l y s i m p l e e x a m p l e will i n t r o d u c e m y a p p r o a c h . M a r j o r i e S h o s t a k b e g i n s h e r b o o k Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung
Woman w i t h a story o f c h i l d b i r t h the ! K u n g w a y — o u t s i d e t h e v i l l a g e ,
alone. H e r e are some excerpts:
I lay there and felt the pains as they came, over and over again. T h e n I felt
s o m e t h i n g wet, the beginning of the childbirth. I thought, "Eh hey, maybe it is
1. Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 2 n d ed. In literary studies definitions
of allegory have ranged from Angus Fletcher's (1964:2) loose characterization ("In the
simplest terms, allegory says one thing and means another") to Todorov's reassertion
(1973:63) o f a stricter sense: "First of all, allegory implies the existence o f at least two
meanings for the same words; according to some critics, the first meaning must disap­
pear, while others require that the two be present together. Secondly, this double mean­
ing is indicated in the work in an explicit fashion: it does not proceed from the reader's
interpretation (whether arbitrary or not)." According to Quintilian, any continuous or
extended metaphor develops into allegory; and as Northrop Frye ( 1 9 7 1 : 9 t ) observes,
"Within the boundaries o f literature we find a kind of sliding scale, ranging from the
most explicitly allegorical, consistent with being literature at all, at one extreme, to the
most elusive, anti-explicit and anti-allegorical at the other." T h e various "second mean­
ings" o f ethnographic allegory I shall be tracing here are all textually explicit. But eth­
nographies slide along Frye's scale, exhibiting strong allegorical features, usually with­
out marking themselves as allegories.
99
the child." I got u p , took a blanket and covered Tashay with it; h e was still
sleeping. T h e n I took another blanket and my smaller duiker skin covering
and I left. Was I not the only one? T h e only other woman was Tashay's grand­
mother, and she was asleep in her hut. So, just as I was, I left. I walked a short
distance from the village and sat down beside a tree. . . . After she was born, I
sat there; I didn't know what to d o . I had n o sense. She lay there, m o v i n g her
arms about, trying to suck her fingers. She started to cry. I just sat there, look­
ing at her. I thought, "Is this my child? W h o gave birth to this child?" T h e n
I thought, "A big thing like that? H o w could it possibly have c o m e o u t from
my genitals?" I sat there and looked at her, looked and looked a n d looked.
(1981:1-3)
T h e story h a s g r e a t i m m e d i a c y . Nisa's voice is u n m i s t a k a b l e , t h e
e x p e r i e n c e s h a r p l y e v o k e d : " S h e lay t h e r e , m o v i n g h e r a r m s a b o u t ,
t r y i n g to s u c k h e r fingers." B u t as r e a d e r s w e d o m o r e t h a n r e g i s t e r a
u n i q u e e v e n t . T h e story's u n f o l d i n g r e q u i r e s us, first, to i m a g i n e a dif­
f e r e n t cultural n o r m ( ! K u n g birth, a l o n e in the bush) a n d t h e n to r e c ­
o g n i z e a c o m m o n human e x p e r i e n c e (the q u i e t h e r o i s m o f c h i l d b i r t h ,
f e e l i n g s o f p o s t p a r t u m w o n d e r a n d d o u b t ) . T h e story o f an o c c u r ­
r e n c e s o m e w h e r e in the K a l a h a r i D e s e r t c a n n o t r e m a i n j u s t that. It
i m p l i e s b o t h local c u l t u r a l m e a n i n g s a n d a g e n e r a l story o f b i r t h .
A d i f f e r e n c e is p o s i t e d a n d t r a n s c e n d e d . M o r e o v e r , Nisa's story tells
us ( h o w c o u l d it not?) s o m e t h i n g basic a b o u t w o m a n ' s e x p e r i e n c e .
Shostak's life o f a !Kung i n d i v i d u a l inevitably b e c o m e s a n a l l e g o r y o f
(female) humanity.
I a r g u e b e l o w that these kinds o f t r a n s c e n d e n t m e a n i n g s a r e n o t
a b s t r a c t i o n s o r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s " a d d e d " to the o r i g i n a l " s i m p l e " ac­
c o u n t . R a t h e r , t h e y are the c o n d i t i o n s o f its m e a n i n g f u l n e s s . E t h n o ­
g r a p h i c texts are i n e s c a p a b l y allegorical, a n d a serious a c c e p t a n c e o f
this fact c h a n g e s the ways they c a n be written a n d r e a d . U s i n g Shostak's
e x p e r i m e n t as a case study I e x a m i n e a r e c e n t t e n d e n c y to d i s t i n g u i s h
a l l e g o r i c a l levels as specific " v o i c e s " within the text. I a r g u e , finally,
t h a t t h e v e r y activity o f e t h n o g r a p h i c writing—seen
as inscription o r
t e x t u a l i z a t i o n — e n a c t s a r e d e m p t i v e W e s t e r n allegory. T h i s p e r v a s i v e
s t r u c t u r e n e e d s to b e p e r c e i v e d a n d w e i g h e d against o t h e r possible
emplotments for the performance o f ethnography.
AAA
Literary description always opens onto another scene set, so to speak,
"behind" the this-worldly things it purports to depict.
MICHEL BEAUJOUR, "Some Paradoxes of Description"
A l l e g o r y ( G r . alios, "other," a n d agoreuein, "to speak") usually
d e n o t e s a p r a c t i c e in w h i c h a n a r r a t i v e fiction c o n t i n u o u s l y refers to
a n o t h e r p a t t e r n of ideas o r events. It is a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n that "inter­
p r e t s " itself. I a m u s i n g the t e r m a l l e g o r y in the e x p a n d e d sense r e -
JAMES CLIFFORD
lOO
O n Ethnographic Allegory
101
c l a i m e d f o r it b y r e c e n t critical d i s c u s s i o n s , n o t a b l y t h o s e o f A n g u s
F l e t c h e r ( 1 9 6 4 ) a n d Paul D e M a n ( 1 9 7 9 ) . A n y s t o r y h a s a p r o p e n s i t y
t o g e n e r a t e a n o t h e r s t o r y i n t h e m i n d o f its r e a d e r ( o r h e a r e r ) , t o r e ­
p e a t a n d d i s p l a c e s o m e p r i o r story. T o f o c u s o n e t h n o g r a p h i c a l l e g o r y
i n p r e f e r e n c e , say, t o e t h n o g r a p h i c " i d e o l o g y " — a l t h o u g h t h e p o l i t i c a l
d i m e n s i o n s are always p r e s e n t ( J a m e s o n 1 9 8 1 ) — d r a w s attention to
aspects o f cultural description that have until recently b e e n m i n i ­
m i z e d . A r e c o g n i t i o n o f a l l e g o r y e m p h a s i z e s t h e fact t h a t realistic p o r ­
traits, t o t h e e x t e n t t h a t t h e y a r e " c o n v i n c i n g " o r "rich," a r e e x t e n d e d
m e t a p h o r s , patterns o f associations that point to c o h e r e n t (theoreti­
cal, e s t h e t i c , m o r a l ) a d d i t i o n a l m e a n i n g s . A l l e g o r y ( m o r e s t r o n g l y
t h a n " i n t e r p r e t a t i o n " ) calls t o m i n d t h e p o e t i c , t r a d i t i o n a l , c o s m o l o g i cal n a t u r e o f s u c h w r i t i n g p r o c e s s e s .
T h e specific a c c o u n t s c o n t a i n e d in e t h n o g r a p h i e s c a n n e v e r b e
l i m i t e d t o a p r o j e c t o f scientific d e s c r i p t i o n s o l o n g as t h e g u i d i n g task
o f t h e w o r k is t o m a k e t h e ( o f t e n s t r a n g e ) b e h a v i o r o f a d i f f e r e n t w a y
o f life h u m a n l y c o m p r e h e n s i b l e . T o say t h a t e x o t i c b e h a v i o r a n d s y m ­
b o l s m a k e s e n s e e i t h e r i n " h u m a n " o r "cultural" t e r m s is t o s u p p l y t h e
s a m e sorts o f allegorical a d d e d m e a n i n g s that a p p e a r in o l d e r narra­
t i v e s t h a t s a w a c t i o n s as "spiritually" s i g n i f i c a n t . C u l t u r a l i s t a n d h u ­
m a n i s t a l l e g o r i e s s t a n d b e h i n d t h e c o n t r o l l e d fictions o f d i f f e r e n c e
a n d s i m i l i t u d e t h a t w e call e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t s . W h a t is m a i n t a i n e d
i n t h e s e t e x t s is a d o u b l e a t t e n t i o n t o t h e d e s c r i p t i v e s u r f a c e a n d t o
m o r e abstract, c o m p a r a t i v e , a n d explanatory levels o f m e a n i n g . T h i s
t w o f o l d s t r u c t u r e is s e t o u t b y C o l e r i d g e i n a classic d e f i n i t i o n .
A l l e g o r y d r a w s s p e c i a l a t t e n t i o n t o t h e narrative c h a r a c t e r o f c u l ­
tural r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , to the stories built into t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l
p r o c e s s itself. I t a l s o b r e a k s d o w n t h e s e a m l e s s q u a l i t y o f c u l t u r a l d e ­
scription by a d d i n g a temporal aspect to the process o f reading. O n e
l e v e l o f m e a n i n g i n a t e x t will a l w a y s g e n e r a t e o t h e r l e v e l s . T h u s t h e
rhetoric o f p r e s e n c e that has prevailed in m u c h post-romantic litera­
t u r e ( a n d i n m u c h " s y m b o l i c a n t h r o p o l o g y " ) is i n t e r r u p t e d . D e M a n ' s
critique o f t h e valorization o f symbols over allegory in romantic es­
thetics also questions the project o f realism (De M a n 1969). T h e claim
that nonallegorical description was possible—a position u n d e r l y i n g
b o t h p o s i t i v i s t l i t e r a l i s m a n d realist s y n e c d o c h e ( t h e o r g a n i c , f u n c ­
t i o n a l , o r "typical" r e l a t i o n s h i p o f p a r t s t o w h o l e s ) — w a s c l o s e l y a l l i e d
to t h e r o m a n t i c search for u n m e d i a t e d m e a n i n g i n t h e event. Positiv­
ism, realism, a n d romanticism—nineteenth-century ingredients o f
t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y a n t h r o p o l o g y — a l l r e j e c t e d t h e "false" artifice o f
r h e t o r i c a l o n g w i t h allegory's s u p p o s e d abstractness. A l l e g o r y violated
t h e c a n o n s b o t h o f e m p i r i c a l s c i e n c e a n d o f artistic s p o n t a n e i t y ( O n g
1 9 7 1 : 6 — 9 ) . It w a s t o o d e d u c t i v e , t o o m u c h a n o p e n i m p o s i t i o n o f
m e a n i n g o n s e n s i b l e e v i d e n c e . T h e r e c e n t "revival" o f r h e t o r i c b y
a d i v e r s e g r o u p o f literary a n d cultural theorists ( R o l a n d B a r t h e s ,
K e n n e t h Burke, Gerard Genette, Michel d e Certeau, H a y d e n White,
Paul D e M a n , a n d Michel Beaujour a m o n g others) has t h r o w n serious
d o u b t o n t h e positivist-romantic-realist consensus. I n e t h n o g r a p h y
t h e c u r r e n t t u r n to rhetoric coincides with a p e r i o d o f political a n d
epistemological réévaluation in which the constructed, i m p o s e d na­
t u r e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l authority h a s b e c o m e u n u s u a l l y visible a n d
c o n t e s t e d . A l l e g o r y p r o m p t s u s t o say o f a n y c u l t u r a l d e s c r i p t i o n n o t
"this r e p r e s e n t s , o r s y m b o l i z e s , that" b u t r a t h e r , "this is a ( m o r a l l y
c h a r g e d ) story a b o u t t h a t . "
We may then safely define allegorical writing as the employment of one set o f
agents and images with actions and accompaniments correspondent, so as to
convey, while in disguise, either moral qualities or conceptions of the mind
that are not in themselves objects of the senses, or other images, agents, for­
tunes, and circumstances so that the difference is everywhere presented to the
eye or imagination, while the likeness is suggested to the mind; and this con­
nectedly, so that the parts combine to form a consistent whole. (1936 :30)
2
2. A n "allegorical anthropology" is suggested fairly explicitly in recent works by
Boon (1977, 1982), Crapanzano (1980), Taussig (1984), and Tyler (1984a).
W h a t o n e sees i n a c o h e r e n t e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t , t h e i m a g e d c o n ­
s t r u c t o f t h e o t h e r , is c o n n e c t e d i n a c o n t i n u o u s d o u b l e s t r u c t u r e w i t h
w h a t o n e understands. A t t i m e s , t h e s t r u c t u r e is t o o b l a t a n t : " D u r i n g
the ceramic m a n u f a c t u r i n g process, w o m e n converse gently, quietly,
a l w a y s w i t h o u t c o n f l i c t , a b o u t e c o s y s t e m d y n a m i c s . . ." ( W h i t t e n
1 9 7 8 : 8 4 7 ) . U s u a l l y it is l e s s o b v i o u s a n d t h u s m o r e realistic. A d a p t i n g
Coleridge's f o r m u l a , w h a t a p p e a r s descriptively to t h e senses ( a n d pri­
marily, as h e suggests, to t h e observing eye) s e e m s to b e "other," while
w h a t is s u g g e s t e d b y t h e c o h e r e n t s e r i e s o f p e r c e p t i o n s is a n u n d e r ­
l y i n g s i m i l i t u d e . S t r a n g e b e h a v i o r is p o r t r a y e d as m e a n i n g f u l w i t h i n a
c o m m o n network of symbols—a c o m m o n ground of understandable
activity valid for b o t h o b s e r v e r a n d o b s e r v e d , a n d by i m p l i c a t i o n f o r
all h u m a n g r o u p s . T h u s e t h n o g r a p h y ' s n a r r a t i v e o f specific d i f f e r e n c e s
p r e s u p p o s e s , a n d a l w a y s r e f e r s t o , a n abstract p l a n e o f s i m i l a r i t y .
It is w o r t h n o t i n g , t h o u g h I c a n n o t p u r s u e t h e t h e m e h e r e , t h a t
b e f o r e t h e e m e r g e n c e o f s e c u l a r a n t h r o p o l o g y as a s c i e n c e o f human
a n d cultural p h e n o m e n a , e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t s w e r e c o n n e c t e d t o
d i f f e r e n t a l l e g o r i c a l r e f e r e n t s . F a t h e r Lafitau's f a m o u s c o m p a r i s o n
(1724) o f Native A m e r i c a n customs with those o f the ancient H e b r e w s
a n d E g y p t i a n s e x e m p l i f i e s a n earlier t e n d e n c y to m a p descriptions o f
t h e o t h e r o n t o c o n c e p t i o n s o f t h e "premiers temps." M o r e o r less e x p l i c i t
biblical o r classical a l l e g o r i e s a b o u n d i n t h e e a r l y d e s c r i p t i o n s o f t h e
N e w W o r l d . For as J o h a n n e s F a b i a n (1983) a r g u e s , t h e r e h a s b e e n a
p e r v a s i v i : IcndriK y l o p r e l i g u r e o t h e r s in a t e m p o r a l l y d i s t i n c t , bui l o -
JAMES CLIFFORD
102
c a t a b l e , s p a c e (earlier) w i t h i n an a s s u m e d p r o g r e s s o f W e s t e r n history.
C u l t u r a l a n t h r o p o l o g y in the twentieth c e n t u r y has t e n d e d to r e p l a c e
( t h o u g h n e v e r c o m p l e t e l y ) these historical allegories with h u m a n i s t all e g o r i e s . It has e s c h e w e d a search for origins in f a v o r o f s e e k i n g h u m a n similarities a n d c u l t u r a l d i f f e r e n c e s . B u t the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l
p r o c e s s itself has n o t essentially c h a n g e d . M o s t d e s c r i p t i o n s o f o t h e r s
c o n t i n u e to a s s u m e a n d r e f e r to e l e m e n t a l o r t r a n s c e n d e n t levels o f
truth.
T h i s c o n c l u s i o n e m e r g e s clearly f r o m the r e c e n t M e a d - F r e e m a n
c o n t r o v e r s y . T w o c o m p e t i n g portrayals o f S a m o a n life are cast as scientific p r o j e c t s ; b u t b o t h c o n f i g u r e the o t h e r as a m o r a l l y c h a r g e d alter e g o . M e a d c l a i m e d to b e c o n d u c t i n g a c o n t r o l l e d " e x p e r i m e n t " in
t h e field, "testing" the universality o f stressful a d o l e s c e n c e by e x a m i n i n g a c o u n t e r instance empirically. B u t d e s p i t e B o a s i a n r h e t o r i c a b o u t
t h e " l a b o r a t o r y " o f fieldwork, M e a d ' s e x p e r i m e n t p r o d u c e d a m e s s a g e
o f b r o a d ethical a n d political significance. L i k e R u t h B e n e d i c t in Patterns of Culture ( 1 9 3 4 ) , she h e l d a liberal, pluralist vision, r e s p o n d i n g
to t h e d i l e m m a s o f a " c o m p l e x " A m e r i c a n society. T h e e t h n o g r a p h i c
stories M e a d a n d B e n e d i c t told w e r e manifestly l i n k e d to t h e situation
o f a c u l t u r e s t r u g g l i n g with d i v e r s e values, with an a p p a r e n t b r e a k d o w n o f established traditions, with Utopian visions o f h u m a n m a l l e ability a n d fears o f d i s a g g r e g a t i o n . T h e i r e t h n o g r a p h i e s w e r e "fables
o f identity," to a d a p t N o r t h r o p Frye's title ( 1 9 6 3 ) . T h e i r o p e n l y allegorical p u r p o s e was not a kind o f moral or expository frame for e m pirical d e s c r i p t i o n s , s o m e t h i n g a d d e d o n in p r e f a c e s a n d c o n c l u s i o n s .
T h e entire project o f inventing and representing "cultures" was, for
M e a d a n d B e n e d i c t , a p e d a g o g i c a l , ethical u n d e r t a k i n g .
3
M e a d ' s " e x p e r i m e n t " in c o n t r o l l e d c u l t u r a l v a r i a t i o n n o w l o o k s
less like science t h a n a l l e g o r y — a too sharply f o c u s e d story o f S a m o a
s u g g e s t i n g a possible A m e r i c a . D e r e k Freeman's critique i g n o r e s a n y
p r o p e r l y literary d i m e n s i o n s in e t h n o g r a p h i c w o r k , h o w e v e r , a n d instead a p p l i e s its o w n b r a n d o f scientism, i n s p i r e d by r e c e n t d e v e l o p m e n t s in s o c i o b i o l o g y . A s F r e e m a n sees it, M e a d w a s simply w r o n g
a b o u t S a m o a n s . T h e y a r e not the casual, p e r m i s s i v e p e o p l e she m a d e
f a m o u s , b u t a r e beset b y all the u s u a l h u m a n tensions. T h e y a r e v i o lent. T h e y g e t ulcers. T h e m a i n b o d y o f his critique is a m a s s i n g o f
c o u n t e r e x a m p l e s d r a w n f r o m the historical r e c o r d a n d f r o m his o w n
fieldwork.
I n 1 7 0 p a g e s o f e m p i r i c a l o v e r k i l l , h e successfully s h o w s
w h a t w a s a l r e a d y e x p l i c i t for an alert r e a d e r o f Coming of Age in Samoa:
t h a t M e a d c o n s t r u c t e d a f o r e s h o r t e n e d p i c t u r e , d e s i g n e d to p r o p o s e
3. Mead (1923), Freeman (1983). I have drawn on my review of Freeman in the
Times Literary Supplement, May 13, 1983, 4 7 5 - 7 6 , which explores the literary dimensions of the controversy. For another treatment in this vein, see Porter 1984.
O n Ethnographic Allegory
m o r a l , practical lessons for A m e r i c a n society. B u t as F r e e m a n h e a p s
u p instances o f S a m o a n a n x i e t y a n d v i o l e n c e , the a l l e g o r i c a l f r a m e f o r
his o w n u n d e r t a k i n g b e g i n s to e m e r g e . C l e a r l y s o m e t h i n g m o r e is g e t t i n g e x p r e s s e d t h a n simply the " d a r k e r side," as F r e e m a n p u t s it,
o f S a m o a n life. I n a r e v e a l i n g h n a l p a g e h e admits as m u c h , c o u n t e r i n g M e a d ' s " A p o l l o n i a n " sense o f cultural b a l a n c e with biology's " D i o n y s i a n " h u m a n n a t u r e (essential, e m o t i o n a l , etc.). B u t w h a t is the scientific status o f a "refutation" that c a n be s u b s u m e d so neatly b y a
W e s t e r n m y t h i c o p p o s i t i o n ? O n e is left with a stark contrast: M e a d ' s
attractive, s e x u a l l y l i b e r a t e d , c a l m Pacific w o r l d , a n d n o w F r e e m a n ' s
S a m o a o f s e e t h i n g tensions, strict controls, a n d violent o u t b u r s t s . Ind e e d M e a d and Freeman form a kind o f diptych, whose opposing panels signify a r e c u r r e n t W e s t e r n a m b i v a l e n c e a b o u t the " p r i m i t i v e . " O n e
is r e m i n d e d o f Melville's Typee, a s e n s u o u s paradise w o v e n t h r o u g h
w i t h d r e a d , the t h r e a t o f v i o l e n c e .
AAA
Le transfert de l'Empire de la Chine à l'Empire de soi-même est constant.
VICTOR SEGALEN
A scientific e t h n o g r a p h y n o r m a l l y establishes a p r i v i l e g e d all e g o r i c a l r e g i s t e r it identifies as "theory," "interpretation," o r " e x p l a n a t i o n . " B u t o n c e all m e a n i n g f u l levels in a text, i n c l u d i n g t h e o r i e s
a n d i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s , a r e r e c o g n i z e d as allegorical, it b e c o m e s difficult
to v i e w o n e o f t h e m as p r i v i l e g e d , a c c o u n t i n g for the rest. O n c e this
a n c h o r is d i s l o d g e d , the s t a g i n g a n d v a l u i n g o f m u l t i p l e a l l e g o r i c a l
r e g i s t e r s , o r " v o i c e s , " b e c o m e s an i m p o r t a n t a r e a o f c o n c e r n for ethn o g r a p h i c w r i t e r s . R e c e n t l y this has s o m e t i m e s m e a n t g i v i n g i n d i g e n o u s d i s c o u r s e a s e m i - i n d e p e n d e n t status in the t e x t u a l w h o l e , int e r r u p t i n g t h e p r i v i l e g e d m o n o t o n e o f "scientific" r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
M u c h e t h n o g r a p h y , t a k i n g its distance f r o m totalizing a n t h r o p o l o g y ,
seeks to e v o k e m u l t i p l e (but not limitless) a l l e g o r i e s .
4
M a r j o r i e Shostak's Nisa e x e m p l i f i e s , a n d wrestles with, t h e p r o b l e m o f p r e s e n t i n g a n d m e d i a t i n g m u l t i p l e s t o r i e s . 1 shall d w e l l o n it at
s o m e l e n g t h . S h o s t a k explicitly stages t h r e e a l l e g o r i c a l r e g i s t e r s : (1)
the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f a c o h e r e n t cultural subject as s o u r c e o f scientific
k n o w l e d g e (Nisa is a " ! K u n g w o m a n " ) ; (2) the c o n s t r u c t i o n o f a g e n d e r e d subject ( S h o s t a k asks: w h a t is it to b e a w o m a n ? ) ; (3) t h e story o f
a m o d e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c p r o d u c t i o n a n d r e l a t i o n s h i p (an intimate dia5
4. O n the origins of this "monotone," see De Certeau 1983:128.
5. T h e rest of this section is an expanded version of my review of Nisa in the Times
Literary Supplement, September 17, 1982, 9 9 4 - 9 5 .
104
JAMES CLIFFORD
l o g u e ) . N i s a is the p s e u d o n y m o f a fifty-year-old w o m a n w h o has l i v e d
m o s t o f h e r life in s e m i - n o m a d i c c o n d i t i o n s . M a r j o r i e S h o s t a k b e l o n g s
to a H a r v a r d - b a s e d r e s e a r c h g r o u p that has studied t h e !Kung S a n
h u n t e r - g a t h e r e r s since the 1950s. T h e c o m p l e x t r u t h s t h a t e m e r g e
f r o m this "life a n d w o r d s " are n o t limited to an i n d i v i d u a l o r to h e r
s u r r o u n d i n g cultural world.
T h e book's t h r e e registers a r e in crucial respects d i s c r e p a n t . First,
t h e a u t o b i o g r a p h y , c r o s s - c h e c k e d against o t h e r !Kung w o m e n ' s lives, is
i n s e r t e d w i t h i n an o n g o i n g c u l t u r a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n (to w h i c h it a d d s
" d e p t h " ) . S e c o n d , this s h a p e d e x p e r i e n c e s o o n b e c o m e s a story o f
" w o m e n ' s " e x i s t e n c e , a story that r h y m e s closely with m a n y o f the e x ­
p e r i e n c e s a n d issues h i g h l i g h t e d in r e c e n t feminist t h o u g h t . T h i r d ,
Nisa n a r r a t e s a n i n t e r c u l t u r a l e n c o u n t e r in w h i c h t w o i n d i v i d u a l s col­
l a b o r a t e to p r o d u c e a specific d o m a i n o f t r u t h . T h e e t h n o g r a p h i c e n ­
c o u n t e r itself b e c o m e s , h e r e , t h e subject o f t h e b o o k , a fable o f c o m ­
m u n i c a t i o n , r a p p o r t , a n d , finally, a k i n d o f fictional, b u t p o t e n t ,
k i n s h i p . Nisa is t h u s manifestly an a l l e g o r y o f scientific c o m p r e ­
h e n s i o n , o p e r a t i n g at t h e levels b o t h o f c u l t u r a l d e s c r i p t i o n a n d o f a
s e a r c h f o r h u m a n o r i g i n s . ( A l o n g with o t h e r s t u d e n t s o f g a t h e r e r h u n t e r s , the H a r v a r d p r o j e c t — S h o s t a k i n c l u d e d — t e n d to see in this
l o n g e s t stage o f h u m a n cultural d e v e l o p m e n t a baseline f o r h u m a n
n a t u r e . ) Nisa is a W e s t e r n feminist allegory, p a r t o f the r e i n v e n t i o n o f
t h e g e n e r a l c a t e g o r y " w o m a n " in the 1970s a n d 80s. Nisa is an a l l e g o r y
o f e t h n o g r a p h y , o f contact a n d c o m p r e h e n s i o n .
A b r a i d e d n a r r a t i v e , the b o o k m o v e s constantly, at times a w k ­
w a r d l y , b e t w e e n its t h r e e m e a n i n g f u l registers. Nisa is like m a n y
w o r k s t h a t p o r t r a y c o m m o n h u m a n e x p e r i e n c e s , conflicts, j o y s , w o r k ,
a n d so o n . B u t t h e t e x t S h o s t a k has m a d e is o r i g i n a l in t h e w a y it r e ­
fuses to b l e n d its t h r e e registers into a seamless, "full" r e p r e s e n t a ­
tion. T h e y r e m a i n s e p a r a t e , in d r a m a t i c tension. T h i s p o l y v o c a l i t y is
a p p r o p r i a t e to t h e book's p r e d i c a m e n t , that o f m a n y self-conscious
e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t e r s w h o find it difficult to s p e a k o f w e l l - d e f i n e d
" o t h e r s " f r o m a stable, distanced position. D i f f e r e n c e i n v a d e s t h e text;
it c a n n o l o n g e r be r e p r e s e n t e d ; it m u s t b e e n a c t e d .
Nisa's first r e g i s t e r , that o f cultural science, holds its subject in f i r m
r e l a t i o n to a social w o r l d . It e x p l a i n s Nisa's p e r s o n a l i t y in t e r m s o f
!Kung w a y s , a n d it uses h e r e x p e r i e n c e to n u a n c e a n d c o r r e c t g e n e r ­
alizations a b o u t h e r g r o u p . I f Nisa reveals intersubjective m e c h a n i s m s
in u n u s u a l d e p t h , its p o l y v o c a l c o n s t r u c t i o n s h o w s , t o o , t h a t t h e tran­
sition to scientific k n o w l e d g e is n o t s m o o t h . T h e p e r s o n a l d o e s n o t
y i e l d t o t h e g e n e r a l w i t h o u t loss. Shostak's r e s e a r c h was b a s e d o n sys­
t e m a t i c i n t e r v i e w s with m o r e t h a n a s c o r e o f !Kung w o m e n . F r o m
t h e s e c o n v e r s a t i o n s she a m a s s e d a b o d y o f data l a r g e e n o u g h to r e v e a l
O n Ethnographic Allegory
typical attitudes, activities, a n d e x p e r i e n c e s . B u t S h o s t a k w a s dissatis­
fied b y the lack o f d e p t h in h e r interviews, a n d this l e d h e r to s e e k o u t
a n i n f o r m a n t able to p r o v i d e a detailed p e r s o n a l n a r r a t i v e . Nisa w a s
q u i t e u n u s u a l in h e r ability to recall a n d e x p l a i n h e r life; m o r e o v e r
t h e r e d e v e l o p e d a s t r o n g r e s o n a n c e b e t w e e n h e r stories a n d Shostak's
p e r s o n a l c o n c e r n s . T h i s p o s e d a p r o b l e m for the e x p e c t a t i o n s o f a
g e n e r a l i z i n g social science.
A t t h e e n d o f h e r first s o j o u r n in the field, S h o s t a k w a s t r o u b l e d
b y a s u s p i c i o n that h e r i n t e r l o c u t o r m i g h t b e t o o i d i o s y n c r a t i c . N i s a
h a d k n o w n s e v e r e p a i n ; h e r life as she recalled it w a s o f t e n v i o l e n t .
M o s t p r e v i o u s a c c o u n t s o f the !Kung, like Elizabeth M a r s h a l l T h o m a s ' s
The Harmless People ( 1 9 5 9 ) , h a d s h o w n t h e m to b e p e a c e - l o v i n g . " D i d I
really w a n t to b e the o n e to b a l a n c e the p i c t u r e ? " (350). O n a r e t u r n
t r i p to t h e K a l a h a r i , S h o s t a k f o u n d r e a s s u r a n c e . T h o u g h N i s a still
e x e r t e d a special fascination, she n o w a p p e a r e d less u n u s u a l . A n d t h e
e t h n o g r a p h e r b e c a m e " m o r e s u r e t h a n e v e r that o u r w o r k t o g e t h e r
c o u l d a n d s h o u l d m o v e f o r w a r d . T h e i n t e r v i e w s I was c o n d u c t i n g
w i t h o t h e r w o m e n w e r e p r o v i n g to m e that Nisa was f u n d a m e n t a l l y
similar to t h o s e a r o u n d h e r . S h e was u n u s u a l l y articulate, a n d s h e h a d
s u f f e r e d g r e a t e r t h a n a v e r a g e loss, b u t in most o t h e r i m p o r t a n t r e ­
spects she w a s a typical ! K u n g w o m a n " (358).
R o l a n d B a r t h e s ( 1 9 8 1 ) has written p o i g n a n t l y o f a n i m p o s s i b l e
science o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l . A n insistent t u g t o w a r d the g e n e r a l is felt
t h r o u g h o u t Nisa, a n d it is n o t w i t h o u t pain that w e find N i s a g e n e r ­
a l i z e d , tied to "an i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f !Kung life" (350). T h e b o o k ' s sci­
entific d i s c o u r s e , tirelessly c o n t e x t u a l , t y p i f y i n g , is b r a i d e d t h r o u g h
t h e o t h e r t w o voices, i n t r o d u c i n g e a c h o f the fifteen t h e m a t i c sections
o f t h e life w i t h a few p a g e s o f b a c k g r o u n d . ( " O n c e a m a r r i a g e has s u r ­
v i v e d a few y e a r s b e y o n d the y o u n g wife's first m e n s t r u a t i o n , the rela­
t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n t h e s p o u s e s b e c o m e s m o r e e q u a l " [ 1 6 9 ] . A n d so
forth.) I n d e e d , o n e s o m e t i m e s feels that the scientific d i s c o u r s e f u n c ­
tions in t h e t e x t as a k i n d o f b r a k e o n the book's o t h e r voices, w h o s e
m e a n i n g s a r e excessively p e r s o n a l a n d intersubjective. T h e r e is a r e a l
d i s c r e p a n c y . F o r at the s a m e time that Nisa's story c o n t r i b u t e s to b e t t e r
g e n e r a l i z a t i o n s a b o u t t h e !Kung, its v e r y specificity, a n d t h e p a r t i c u l a r
c i r c u m s t a n c e s o f its m a k i n g , create m e a n i n g s that are resistant to t h e
d e m a n d s o f a t y p i f y i n g science.
T h e b o o k ' s s e c o n d a n d t h i r d registers are s h a r p l y distinct f r o m
t h e first. T h e i r s t r u c t u r e is dialogical, a n d at times e a c h s e e m s to exist
p r i m a r i l y in r e s p o n s e to the o t h e r . Nisa's life has its o w n t e x t u a l a u t o n ­
o m y , as a distinct n a r r a t i v e s p o k e n in characteristic, b e l i e v a b l e t o n e s .
B u t it is m a n i f e s t l y the p r o d u c t o f a c o l l a b o r a t i o n . T h i s is p a r t i c u l a r l y
t r u e o f its o v e r a l l s h a p e , a full l i f e s p a n — f i f t e e n c h a p t e r s i n c l u d i n g
io6
JAMES CLIFFORD
"Earliest M e m o r i e s , " "Family L i f e , " " D i s c o v e r i n g S e x , " " T r i a l M a r ­
riages," "Marriage," "Motherhood and Loss," " W o m e n and Men,"
" T a k i n g L o v e r s , " " A H e a l i n g Ritual," " G r o w i n g O l d e r . " A l t h o u g h at
t h e start o f t h e i n t e r v i e w s N i s a h a d m a p p e d o u t h e r life, s k e t c h i n g the
m a i n a r e a s to b e c o v e r e d , the thematic roster a p p e a r s to b e Shostak's.
I n d e e d , b y casting Nisa's d i s c o u r s e in the s h a p e o f a "life," S h o s t a k a d ­
d r e s s e s t w o r a t h e r d i f f e r e n t a u d i e n c e s . O n o n e side, this intensely
p e r s o n a l c o l l e c t i o n o f m e m o r i e s is m a d e suitable for scientific typificat i o n as a "life-history" o r "life-cycle." O n t h e o t h e r , Nisa's life b r i n g s
i n t o play a p o t e n t a n d p e r v a s i v e m e c h a n i s m for the p r o d u c t i o n o f
m e a n i n g in t h e W e s t — t h e e x e m p l a r y , c o h e r e n t self (or r a t h e r , the self
p u l l i n g itself t o g e t h e r in a u t o b i o g r a p h y ) . T h e r e is n o t h i n g u n i v e r s a l
o r n a t u r a l a b o u t the fictional processes o f b i o g r a p h y a n d a u t o b i o g r a ­
p h y ( G u s d o r f 1 9 5 6 ; O l n e y 1 9 7 2 ; L e j e u n e 1975)- L i v i n g d o e s n o t
easily o r g a n i z e itself into a c o n t i n u o u s narrative. W h e n Nisa says, as
she o f t e n d o e s , " W e lived in that place, e a t i n g things. T h e n w e left a n d
w e n t s o m e w h e r e else," o r simply, " w e lived a n d l i v e d " (69), the h u m o f
u n m a r k e d , i m p e r s o n a l e x i s t e n c e c a n be h e a r d . F r o m this b l u r r e d
b a c k g r o u n d , a n a r r a t i v e s h a p e e m e r g e s in the occasion o f s p e a k i n g ,
s i m u l t a n e o u s l y to o n e s e l f a n d a n o t h e r . Nisa tells h e r life, a p r o c e s s
t e x t u a l l y d r a m a t i z e d in Shostak's b o o k .
O n Ethnographic Allegory
107
she a s k e d o f h e r i n f o r m a n t s (349). I f Nisa r e s p o n d e d w i t h p e c u l i a r
a p t n e s s , h e r w o r d s also s e e m e d to a n s w e r a n o t h e r q u e s t i o n , " W h a t is
it to b e a w o m a n ? " Shostak told h e r i n f o r m a n t s "that I w a n t e d to l e a r n
w h a t it m e a n t to b e a w o m a n in their c u l t u r e so I c o u l d b e t t e r u n d e r ­
s t a n d w h a t it m e a n t in my o w n . " W i t h Nisa, the r e l a t i o n s h i p b e c a m e ,
in !Kung t e r m s , that o f an a u n t talking to a y o u n g n i e c e , to "a girlw o m a n , r e c e n t l y m a r r i e d , s t r u g g l i n g with t h e issues o f l o v e , m a r r i a g e ,
sexuality, w o r k a n d identity" (4). T h e y o u n g e r w o m a n ("niece," s o m e ­
times " d a u g h t e r " ) is instructed b y an e x p e r i e n c e d e l d e r in t h e arts a n d
p a i n s o f w o m a n h o o d . T h e t r a n s f o r m i n g relationship e n d s with a n
equality in affection a n d respect, a n d with a final w o r d , p o t e n t in
feminist m e a n i n g : "sister" ( 3 7 1 ) . Nisa speaks, t h r o u g h o u t , n o t as a
n e u t r a l witness b u t as a p e r s o n g i v i n g specific kinds o f a d v i c e to s o m e ­
o n e o f a p a r t i c u l a r a g e with manifest questions a n d desires. S h e is n o t
an " i n f o r m a n t " s p e a k i n g cultural truths, as if to e v e r y o n e a n d n o o n e ,
p r o v i d i n g i n f o r m a t i o n r a t h e r t h a n circumstantial r e s p o n s e s .
A s alter e g o , p r o v o k e r , a n d e d i t o r o f the d i s c o u r s e , S h o s t a k m a k e s
a n u m b e r o f significant i n t e r v e n t i o n s . A g o o d d e a l o f c u t t i n g a n d re­
a r r a n g i n g t r a n s f o r m s o v e r l a p p i n g stories into "a life" t h a t d o e s n o t
r e p e a t itself u n d u l y a n d that d e v e l o p s by r e c o g n i z a b l e steps a n d pas­
sages. Nisa's distinct voice e m e r g e s . B u t Shostak has systematically re­
m o v e d h e r o w n i n t e r v e n t i o n s ( t h o u g h they can often b e s e n s e d in
Nisa's r e s p o n s e ) . S h e has also taken o u t a variety o f n a r r a t i v e m a r k e r s :
h e r friend's habitual c o m m e n t at the e n d o f a story, "the w i n d has
t a k e n t h a t away," o r at t h e start, "I will b r e a k o p e n t h e story a n d tell
y o u what's t h e r e " ; o r in t h e m i d d l e , " W h a t a m I t r y i n g to d o ? H e r e I
a m sitting, t a l k i n g a b o u t o n e story, a n d a n o t h e r r u n s r i g h t into m y
h e a d a n d into m y t h o u g h t s ! " (40). Shostak has clearly t h o u g h t c a r e ­
fully a b o u t t h e f r a m i n g o f h e r transcripts, a n d o n e c a n n o t h a v e e v e r y ­
t h i n g — t h e p e r f o r m a n c e with all its d i v a g a t i o n s , a n d also an easily u n ­
d e r s t a n d a b l e story. I f Nisa's w o r d s w e r e to be widely r e a d , c o n c e s s i o n s
h a d to b e m a d e to t h e r e q u i r e m e n t s o f b i o g r a p h i c a l a l l e g o r y , to a
r e a d e r s h i p p r a c t i c e d in the ethical i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f selves. B y t h e s e
f o r m a l m e a n s the book's s e c o n d d i s c o u r s e , Nisa's s p o k e n life, is b r o u g h t
close to its r e a d e r s , b e c o m i n g a n a r r a t i o n that m a k e s e l o q u e n t " h u ­
m a n " sense.
I n h e r a c c o u n t , S h o s t a k describes a search for p e r s o n a l k n o w l ­
e d g e , f o r s o m e t h i n g g o i n g b e y o n d the usual e t h n o g r a p h i c r a p p o r t .
S h e h o p e s that i n t i m a c y with a !Kung w o m a n will, s o m e h o w , e n l a r g e
o r d e e p e n h e r sense o f b e i n g a m o d e r n W e s t e r n w o m a n . W i t h ­
o u t d r a w i n g e x p l i c i t lessons f r o m Nisa's e x p e r i e n c e , she d r a m a t i z e s
t h r o u g h h e r o w n q u e s t the w a y a n a r r a t e d life m a k e s sense, a l l e g o r i cally, for another. Nisa's story is r e v e a l e d as a j o i n t p r o d u c t i o n , the o u t ­
c o m e o f a n e n c o u n t e r that c a n n o t be r e w r i t t e n as a subject-object di­
c h o t o m y . S o m e t h i n g m o r e t h a n e x p l a i n i n g o r r e p r e s e n t i n g the life
a n d w o r d s o f a n o t h e r is g o i n g o n — s o m e t h i n g m o r e o p e n - e n d e d . T h e
b o o k is p a r t o f a n e w interest in r e v a l u i n g subjective ( m o r e accurately,
in ter subjective) aspects o f r e s e a r c h . It e m e r g e s f r o m a crucial m o m e n t
o f f e m i n i s t politics a n d e p i s t e m o l o g y : consciousness r a i s i n g a n d the
s h a r i n g o f e x p e r i e n c e s by w o m e n . A c o m m o n a l i t y is p r o d u c e d that,
by b r i n g i n g s e p a r a t e lives t o g e t h e r , e m p o w e r s p e r s o n a l action, r e c o g ­
nizes a c o m m o n estate. T h i s m o m e n t o f r e c e n t feminist c o n s c i o u s n e s s
is a l l e g o r i z e d in Nisa's fable o f its o w n relationality. (In o t h e r eth­
n o g r a p h i e s , traditionally m a s c u l i n e stories o f initiation a n d p e n e t r a ­
tion d i f f e r e n t l y stage the p r o d u c t i v e e n c o u n t e r o f self a n d o t h e r . )
Shostak's e x p l i c i t feminist a l l e g o r y thus reflects a specific m o m e n t in
w h i c h t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f " w o m a n ' s " e x p e r i e n c e is g i v e n c e n t e r s t a g e .
It is a m o m e n t o f c o n t i n u i n g i m p o r t a n c e ; b u t it has b e e n c h a l l e n g e d
b y r e c e n t c o u n t e r c u r r e n t s within feminist theory. T h e assertion o f
c o m m o n f e m a l e qualities (and oppressions) across racial, ethnic, a n d
class lines is n e w l y p r o b l e m a t i c . A n d in s o m e q u a r t e r s " w o m a n " is
T h e b o o k ' s t h i r d distinct r e g i s t e r is Shostak's p e r s o n a l a c c o u n t o f
fieldwork. " T e a c h m e w h a t it is to b e a !Kung w o m a n " was the q u e s t i o n
0. O n ethnography as an allegory of conquest and initiation, see Clifford 1983b.
6
io8
JAMES CLIFFORD
s e e n , n o t as a l o c u s o f e x p e r i e n c e , b u t as a shifting subjective p o s i t i o n
n o t r e d u c i b l e to a n y e s s e n c e .
S h o s t a k ' s a l l e g o r y s e e m s to r e g i s t e r t h e s e c o u n t e r c u r r e n t s in its oc­
c a s i o n a l l y c o m p l e x a c c o u n t s o f the p r o c e s s e s o f play a n d t r a n s f e r e n c e ,
w h i c h p r o d u c e t h e final inscription o f c o m m o n a l i t y . For the book's in­
t i m a t e r e l a t i o n s h i p s are based o n subtle, r e c i p r o c a l m o v e m e n t s o f
d o u b l i n g , i m a g i n a t i o n , a n d desire, m o v e m e n t s a l l e g o r i z e d in o n e o f
t h e stories S h o s t a k tells in c o u n t e r p o i n t to Nisa's n a r r a t i v e — a n inci­
d e n t t u r n i n g o n t h e v a l u e o f a girl-woman's b o d y .
7
O n e day I noticed a twelve-year-old girl, whose breasts had just started to de­
velop, looking into the small mirror beside the driver's window o f our Land
Rover. S h e looked intently at her face, then, o n tiptoe, examined her breasts
and as m u c h o f her body as she could see, then went to her face again. She
stepped back to see more, moved in again for a closer look. She was a lovely
girl, although not outstanding in any way except being in the full health a n d
beauty o f youth. S h e saw m e watching. I teased in the !Kung manner I had by
then thoroughly learned, "So ugly! H o w is such a young girl already so ugly?"
She laughed. I asked, "You don't agree?" She beamed, "No, not at all. I'm beau­
tiful!" She continued to look at herself. I said, "Beautiful? Perhaps my eyes have
b e c o m e broken with age that I can't see where it is?" She said, "Everywhere—
my face, my body. T h e r e is no ugliness at all." T h e s e remarks were said easily,
with a broad smile, but without arrogance. T h e pleasure she felt in her chang­
ing body was as evident as the absence of conflict about it. (270)
A g r e a t d e a l o f t h e b o o k is h e r e : an old voice, a y o u n g voice, a m i r r o r
. . . talk o f self-possession. Narcissism, a t e r m o f d e v i a n c e a p p l i e d to
w o m e n o f the West, is t r a n s f i g u r e d . W e notice, too, that it is t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r , a s s u m i n g a voice o f a g e , w h o has b r o u g h t a m i r r o r , j u s t as
N i s a p r o v i d e s an allegorical m i r r o r w h e n Shostak takes t h e r o l e o f
y o u t h . E t h n o g r a p h y gains subjective " d e p t h " t h r o u g h the sorts o f
r o l e s , reflections, a n d reversals d r a m a t i z e d h e r e . T h e w r i t e r , a n d h e r
r e a d e r s , c a n b e b o t h y o u n g (learning) a n d o l d ( k n o w i n g ) . T h e y c a n
s i m u l t a n e o u s l y listen, a n d " g i v e voice to," the other." Nisa's r e a d e r s
f o l l o w — a n d p r o l o n g — t h e play o f a desire. T h e y i m a g i n e , in t h e m i r 7. O n racial and class divisions within feminism, see the rethinking of Rich ( 1979),
and the work o f Hull, Scott, and Smith (1982), Hooks (1981), and Moraga (1983).
Strong feminist critiques o f essentialism may be found in Wittig (1981) and Haraway
(1985)8. Ethnographies often present themselves as fictions of learning, the acquisition
of knowledge, and finally of authority to understand and represent another culture.
T h e researcher begins in a child's relationship to adult culture, and ends by speaking
with the wisdom o f experience. It is interesting to observe how, in the text, an author's
enunciative modes may shift back and forth between learning from and speaking for
the other. This fictional freedom is crucial to ethnography's allegorical appeal: the si­
multaneous reconstruction o f a culture and a knowing self, a double "coming o f age
in Samoa."
O n Ethnographic Allegory
109
r o r o f t h e o t h e r , a guileless self-possession, an u n c o m p l i c a t e d f e e l i n g
o f " a t t r a c t i v e n e s s " that S h o s t a k translates as "I h a v e w o r k , " "I a m p r o ­
d u c t i v e , " "I h a v e w o r t h " (270).
A n t h r o p o l o g i c a l fieldwork has b e e n r e p r e s e n t e d as b o t h a s c i e n ­
tific " l a b o r a t o r y " a n d a p e r s o n a l "rite o f p a s s a g e . " T h e t w o m e t a p h o r s
c a p t u r e n i c e l y t h e discipline's impossible a t t e m p t to fuse objective a n d
subjective practices. U n t i l recently, this impossibility w a s m a s k e d b y
m a r g i n a l i z i n g t h e intersubjective f o u n d a t i o n s o f fieldwork, b y e x c l u d ­
i n g t h e m f r o m serious e t h n o g r a p h i c texts, r e l e g a t i n g t h e m to pref­
aces, m e m o i r s , a n e c d o t e s , confessions, a n d so forth. L a t e l y this set o f
d i s c i p l i n a r y r u l e s is g i v i n g way. T h e n e w t e n d e n c y to n a m e a n d q u o t e
i n f o r m a n t s m o r e fully a n d to i n t r o d u c e p e r s o n a l e l e m e n t s i n t o t h e
t e x t is a l t e r i n g e t h n o g r a p h y ' s discursive strategy a n d m o d e o f a u t h o r ­
ity. M u c h o f o u r k n o w l e d g e a b o u t o t h e r c u l t u r e s m u s t n o w b e s e e n as
c o n t i n g e n t , t h e p r o b l e m a t i c o u t c o m e o f intersubjective d i a l o g u e ,
translation, a n d p r o j e c t i o n . T h i s poses f u n d a m e n t a l p r o b l e m s f o r a n y
s c i e n c e t h a t m o v e s p r e d o m i n a n t l y f r o m the particular to t h e g e n e r a l ,
that c a n m a k e u s e o f p e r s o n a l truths o n l y as e x a m p l e s o f typical p h e ­
n o m e n a o r as e x c e p t i o n s to collective patterns.
O n c e t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c process is a c c o r d e d its full c o m p l e x i t y o f
h i s t o r i c i z e d d i a l o g i c a l relations, w h a t f o r m e r l y s e e m e d to be e m p i r i ­
c a l / i n t e r p r e t i v e a c c o u n t s o f g e n e r a l i z e d cultural facts (statements a n d
attributions c o n c e r n i n g "the !Kung," "the S a m o a n s , " etc.) n o w a p p e a r
as j u s t o n e level o f a l l e g o r y . S u c h a c c o u n t s m a y , b e c o m p l e x a n d t r u t h ­
ful; a n d t h e y a r e , in p r i n c i p l e , susceptible to refutation, a s s u m i n g ac­
cess to the s a m e p o o l o f c u l t u r a l facts. B u t as written v e r s i o n s b a s e d o n
fieldwork,
these a c c o u n t s a r e clearly n o l o n g e r the story, b u t a story
a m o n g o t h e r stories. Nisa's d i s c o r d a n t allegorical r e g i s t e r s — t h e b o o k ' s
three, never quite manageable, "voices"—reflect a troubled, inventive
m o m e n t in t h e history o f cross-cultural r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
AAA
Welcome o f Tears is a beautiful book, combining the stories of a vanishing
people and the growth of an anthropologist.
MARGARET MEAD, blurb for the paperback edition
of Charles Wagley's Welcome of Tears
E t h n o g r a p h i c texts are n o t only, o r p r e d o m i n a n t l y , a l l e g o r i e s .
I n d e e d , as w e h a v e s e e n , they s t r u g g l e to limit the play o f their " e x t r a "
m e a n i n g s , s u b o r d i n a t i n g t h e m to m i m e t i c , r e f e r e n t i a l f u n c t i o n s . T h i s
s t r u g g l e ( w h i c h o f t e n i n v o l v e s disputes o v e r w h a t will c o u n t as "scien­
tific" t h e o r y a n d w h a t as "literary" i n v e n t i o n o r " i d e o l o g i c a l " p r o j e c ­
tion) m a i n t a i n s disciplinary a n d g e n e r i c c o n v e n t i o n s . I f e t h n o g r a p h y
as a tool for positive science is to be p r e s e r v e d , such c o n v e n t i o n s m u s t
1 IO
JAMES CLIFFORD
mask, or direct, multiple allegorical processes. For m a y n o t every ex­
t e n d e d d e s c r i p t i o n , stylistic t u r n , story, o r m e t a p h o r b e r e a d t o m e a n
s o m e t h i n g else? ( N e e d w e accept the three explicit levels o f allegory in
a b o o k l i k e Nisa} W h a t a b o u t its p h o t o g r a p h s , w h i c h tell t h e i r o w n
s t o r y ? ) A r e n o t r e a d i n g s t h e m s e l v e s u n d e c i d a b l e ? Critics l i k e D e M a n
(1979) rigorously a d o p t such a position, a r g u i n g that the choice o f a
d o m i n a n t r h e t o r i c , figure, o r n a r r a t i v e m o d e i n a t e x t is a l w a y s a n i m ­
perfect attempt to i m p o s e a reading or range o f readings o n a n inter­
p r e t i v e p r o c e s s t h a t is o p e n - e n d e d , a s e r i e s o f d i s p l a c e d " m e a n i n g s "
w i t h n o full s t o p . B u t w h e r e a s t h e f r e e play o f r e a d i n g s m a y i n t h e o r y
b e i n f i n i t e , t h e r e a r e , at a n y historical m o m e n t , a l i m i t e d r a n g e o f c a ­
n o n i c a l a n d e m e r g e n t a l l e g o r i e s available t o t h e c o m p e t e n t r e a d e r
( t h e r e a d e r w h o s e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n will b e d e e m e d p l a u s i b l e b y a specific
c o m m u n i t y ) . T h e s e structures o f m e a n i n g are historically b o u n d e d
a n d c o e r c i v e . T h e r e is, i n p r a c t i c e , n o "free play."
W i t h i n this h i s t o r i c a l p r e d i c a m e n t , t h e c r i t i q u e o f s t o r i e s a n d p a t ­
terns that persistently i n f o r m cross-cultural accounts r e m a i n s a n i m ­
p o r t a n t political as w e l l a s scientific task. I n t h e r e m a i n d e r o f this e s s a y
I e x p l o r e a b r o a d , orienting allegory (or m o r e accurately, a pattern o f
p o s s i b l e a l l e g o r i e s ) t h a t h a s r e c e n t l y e m e r g e d as a c o n t e s t e d a r e a — a
structure o f retrospection that m a y b e called "ethnographic pastoral."
Shostak's b o o k a n d the Harvard hunter-gatherer studies, to the e x t e n t
t h a t t h e y e n g a g e i n a s e a r c h f o r f u n d a m e n t a l , d e s i r a b l e h u m a n traits,
a r e e n m e s h e d i n this s t r u c t u r e .
I n a t r e n c h a n t article, " T h e U s e a n d A b u s e o f A n t h r o p o l o g y : R e ­
flections o n Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understanding," Michelle
R o s a l d o h a s q u e s t i o n e d a p e r s i s t e n t t e n d e n c y to a p p r o p r i a t e e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c d a t a i n t h e f o r m o f a s e a r c h f o r o r i g i n s . A n a l y s e s o f social
" g i v e n s " s u c h as g e n d e r a n d s e x u a l i t y s h o w a n a l m o s t r e f l e x i v e
n e e d for anthropological just-so-stories. B e g i n n i n g with S i m o n e d e
B e a u v o i r ' s f o u n d i n g q u e s t i o n , " W h a t is w o m a n ? " s c h o l a r l y d i s c u s s i o n s
"move . . . to a diagnosis o f contemporary subordination a n d f r o m
t h e n o n to t h e q u e r i e s 'Were things always as they are today?' a n d t h e n
' W h e n d i d "it" start?'" ( 1 9 8 0 : 3 9 1 ) . E n t e r e x a m p l e s d r a w n f r o m e t h ­
n o g r a p h y . In a practice n o t essentially different f r o m that o f H e r b e r t
S p e n c e r , H e n r y M a i n e , D u r k h e i m , E n g e l s , o r F r e u d , it is a s s u m e d
t h a t e v i d e n c e f r o m " s i m p l e " s o c i e t i e s will i l l u m i n a t e t h e o r i g i n s
a n d structure o f c o n t e m p o r a r y cultural patterns. Rosaldo notes that
m o s t scientific a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s h a v e , s i n c e t h e early t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y ,
a b a n d o n e d t h e evolutionary search for origins, b u t h e r essay s u g g e s t s
t h a t t h e r e f l e x is p e r v a s i v e a n d e n d u r i n g . M o r e o v e r , e v e n s c i e n t i f i c
e t h n o g r a p h e r s c a n n o t fully c o n t r o l t h e m e a n i n g s — r e a d i n g s — p r o ­
v o k e d b y t h e i r a c c o u n t s . T h i s is e s p e c i a l l y t r u e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s that
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have n o t historicized their objects, portraying exotic societies in a n
" e t h n o g r a p h i c p r e s e n t " ( w h i c h is always, i n fact, a past). T h i s s y n ­
c h r o n i c s u s p e n s i o n effectively textualizes the other, a n d gives t h e
s e n s e o f a reality n o t i n t e m p o r a l f l u x , n o t i n t h e s a m e a m b i g u o u s ,
m o v i n g historical p r e s e n t t h a t i n c l u d e s a n d s i t u a t e s t h e o t h e r , t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r , a n d the reader. "Allochronic" representations, to u s e
J o h a n n e s Fabian's t e r m , h a v e b e e n p e r v a s i v e i n t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y sci­
entific e t h n o g r a p h y . T h e y invite allegorical a p p r o p r i a t i o n s in t h e
mythologizing m o d e Rosaldo repudiates.
E v e n t h e m o s t c o o l l y a n a l y t i c a c c o u n t s m a y b e b u i l t o n this r e t r o ­
s p e c t i v e a p p r o p r i a t i o n . E. E. E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s The Nuer (1940) is a
c a s e i n p o i n t , f o r it p o r t r a y s a n a p p e a l i n g l y h a r m o n i o u s a n a r c h y , a s o ­
c i e t y u n c o r r u p t e d b y a Fall. H e n r i k a K u k l i c k (1984) h a s a n a l y z e d The
Nuer ( i n t h e c o n t e x t o f a b r o a d t r e n d i n B r i t i s h political a n t h r o p o l o g y
c o n c e r n e d w i t h a c e p h a l o u s "tribal" s o c i e t i e s ) as a political a l l e g o r y r e i n s c r i b i n g a r e c u r r e n t "folk m o d e l " o f A n g l o - S a x o n d e m o c r a c y . W h e n
E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d w r i t e s , " T h e r e is n o m a s t e r a n d n o s e r v a n t i n t h e i r
s o c i e t y , b u t o n l y e q u a l s w h o r e g a r d t h e m s e l v e s as G o d ' s n o b l e s t c r e a ­
t i o n , " it is n o t difficult t o h e a r e c h o e s o f a l o n g political t r a d i t i o n o f
n o s t a l g i a f o r "an e g a l i t a r i a n , c o n t r a c t u a l u n i o n " o f f r e e i n d i v i d u a l s .
E d e n i c o v e r t o n e s a r e o c c a s i o n a l l y u n d e r s c o r e d , as a l w a y s w i t h E v a n s P r i t c h a r d , drily.
T h o u g h I have spoken of time and units o f time the N u e r have n o expression
equivalent to "time" in our language, and they cannot, therefore, as we can,
speak of time as t h o u g h it were something actual, which passes, can be wasted,
can be saved, and so forth. I do not think that they ever experience the same
feeling of fighting against time or o f having to coordinate activities with an
abstract passage of time, because their points o f reference are mainly the ac­
tivities themselves, which are generally o f a leisurely character. Events follow
a logical order, but they are not controlled by an abstract system, there being
n o a u t o n o m o u s points o f reference to which activities have to conform with
precision. N u e r are fortunate. ( 1 0 3 )
For a r e a d e r s h i p c a u g h t u p in t h e post-Darwinian b o u r g e o i s e x p e r i ­
e n c e o f t i m e — a linear, relentless progress leading n o w h e r e certain
a n d p e r m i t t i n g n o p a u s e o r cyclic r e t u r n , t h e c u l t u r a l i s l a n d s o u t o f
t i m e ( o r " w i t h o u t history") d e s c r i b e d by m a n y e t h n o g r a p h e r s h a v e a
persistent prelapsarian appeal. W e note, however, the ironic structure
( w h i c h n e e d n o t i m p l y a n i r o n i c t o n e ) o f s u c h a l l e g o r i e s . For t h e y a r e
p r e s e n t e d t h r o u g h t h e d e t o u r o f a n e t h n o g r a p h i c subjectivity w h o s e
a t t i t u d e t o w a r d t h e o t h e r is o n e o f p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n , o r b e t t e r
perhaps, belief-skepticism (See Webster 1982:93). N u e r are fortu­
n a t e . ( W e a r e u n f o r t u n a t e . ) T h e a p p e a l is fictional, t h e t e m p o r a l e a s e
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a n d attractive anarchy o f N u e r society are distant, irretrievable. T h e y
are lost qualities, textually recovered.
T h i s ironic appeal belongs to a broad ideological pattern that has
o r i e n t e d m u c h , p e r h a p s most, twentieth century cross-cultural repre­
s e n t a t i o n . "For u s , p r i m i t i v e s o c i e t i e s [Naturvölker] a r e e p h e m e r a l . . . .
A t t h e very instant they b e c o m e k n o w n to us they are d o o m e d . " T h u s ,
A d o l p h B a s t i a n i n 1881 ( q u o t e d i n Fabian 1 9 8 3 : 1 2 2 ) . I n 1 9 2 1 , B r o n i s l a w M a l i n o w s k i : " E t h n o l o g y is i n t h e s a d l y l u d i c r o u s , n o t t o say
t r a g i c p o s i t i o n , t h a t at t h e v e r y m o m e n t w h e n it b e g i n s t o p u t its w o r k ­
s h o p i n o r d e r , t o f o r g e its p r o p e r t o o l s , t o start r e a d y f o r w o r k o n its
a p p o i n t e d task, t h e m a t e r i a l o f its s t u d y m e l t s away w i t h h o p e l e s s
r a p i d i t y " ( 1 9 6 1 : x v ) . A u t h e n t i c T r o b r i a n d society, h e i m p l i e d , w a s n o t
l o n g f o r this w o r l d . Writing in t h e 1950s, C l a u d e Lévi-Strauss saw a
g l o b a l p r o c e s s o f e n t r o p y . Tristes Tropiques s a d l y p o r t r a y s d i f f e r e n t i ­
a t e d social structures disintegrating into global h o m o g e n e i t y u n d e r
the shock o f contact with a potent monoculture. A Rousseauian quest
f o r " e l e m e n t a r y " f o r m s o f h u m a n collectivity l e a d s L é v i - S t r a u s s t o t h e
N a m b i k w a r a . B u t t h e i r w o r l d is f a l l i n g a p a r t . "I h a d b e e n l o o k i n g f o r
a s o c i e t y r e d u c e d t o its s i m p l e s t e x p r e s s i o n . T h a t o f t h e N a m b i k w a r a
w a s s o t r u l y s i m p l e t h a t all I c o u l d find i n it w a s i n d i v i d u a l h u m a n
beings" (1975:317).
T h e t h e m e o f t h e vanishing primitive, o f t h e e n d o f traditional
s o c i e t y ( t h e v e r y a c t o f n a m i n g it "traditional" i m p l i e s a r u p t u r e ) , is
p e r v a s i v e i n e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . It is, i n R a y m o n d Williams's p h r a s e ,
a " s t r u c t u r e o f f e e l i n g " ( 1 9 7 3 : 1 2 ) . U n d e n i a b l y , w a y s o f life c a n , i n
a m e a n i n g f u l s e n s e , "die"; p o p u l a t i o n s a r e r e g u l a r l y v i o l e n t l y d i s ­
r u p t e d , s o m e t i m e s e x t e r m i n a t e d . T r a d i t i o n s a r e c o n s t a n t l y b e i n g lost.
B u t t h e persistent a n d repetitious "disappearance" o f social f o r m s at
t h e m o m e n t o f their e t h n o g r a p h i c representation d e m a n d s analysis
as a n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . A f e w y e a r s a g o t h e American
Ethnologist
p r i n t e d a n a r t i c l e b a s e d o n r e c e n t fieldwork a m o n g t h e N a m b i k ­
w a r a — w h o a r e still s o m e t h i n g m o r e t h a n " i n d i v i d u a l h u m a n b e i n g s . "
A n d l i v i n g T r o b r i a n d c u l t u r e h a s b e e n t h e o b j e c t o f r e c e n t field s t u d y
( W e i n e r 1 9 7 6 ) . T h e n o w - f a m i l i a r film Trobriand Cricket s h o w s a v e r y
d i s t i n c t w a y o f life, r e i n v e n t i n g itself u n d e r t h e c o n d i t i o n s o f c o l o ­
nialism a n d early n a t i o n h o o d .
E t h n o g r a p h y ' s d i s a p p e a r i n g o b j e c t is, t h e n , i n s i g n i f i c a n t d e g r e e ,
a r h e t o r i c a l c o n s t r u c t l e g i t i m a t i n g a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l p r a c t i c e : "sal­
v a g e " e t h n o g r a p h y i n its w i d e s t s e n s e . T h e o t h e r is lost, i n d i s i n t e g r a t ­
i n g time a n d space, b u t saved in t h e text. T h e rationale f o r f o c u s i n g
one's attention o n vanishing lore, for rescuing in writing t h e knowl­
e d g e o f o l d p e o p l e , m a y b e s t r o n g ( t h o u g h it d e p e n d s o n l o c a l c i r c u m ­
stances a n d c a n n o t a n y l o n g e r b e generalized). I d o n o t wish to d e n y
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specific cases o f d i s a p p e a r i n g c u s t o m s a n d l a n g u a g e s , or to c h a l l e n g e
the value of recording such phenomena. I do, however, question the
a s s u m p t i o n t h a t w i t h r a p i d c h a n g e s o m e t h i n g e s s e n t i a l ("culture"), a
c o h e r e n t differential identity, vanishes. A n d I question, t o o , t h e m o d e
o f scientific a n d m o r a l a u t h o r i t y a s s o c i a t e d w i t h s a l v a g e , o r r e d e m p ­
t i v e , e t h n o g r a p h y . It is a s s u m e d t h a t t h e o t h e r s o c i e t y is w e a k a n d
" n e e d s " t o b e r e p r e s e n t e d b y a n o u t s i d e r ( a n d t h a t w h a t m a t t e r s i n its
life is its p a s t , n o t p r e s e n t o r f u t u r e ) . T h e r e c o r d e r a n d i n t e r p r e t e r o f
f r a g i l e c u s t o m is c u s t o d i a n o f a n e s s e n c e , u n i m p e a c h a b l e w i t n e s s t o a n
a u t h e n t i c i t y . ( M o r e o v e r , s i n c e t h e "true" c u l t u r e h a s a l w a y s v a n i s h e d ,
t h e s a l v a g e d v e r s i o n c a n n o t b e easily r e f u t e d . )
S u c h attitudes, t h o u g h they persist, are d i m i n i s h i n g . Few a n t h r o ­
pologists today would e m b r a c e the logic o f e t h n o g r a p h y in t h e terms
i n w h i c h it w a s e n u n c i a t e d i n F r a n z Boas's t i m e , as a l a s t - c h a n c e r e s c u e
o p e r a t i o n . B u t t h e a l l e g o r y o f s a l v a g e is d e e p l y i n g r a i n e d . I n d e e d , I
s h a l l a r g u e i n a m o m e n t t h a t it is built i n t o t h e c o n c e p t i o n a n d p r a c ­
t i c e o f e t h n o g r a p h y a s a p r o c e s s o f w r i t i n g , specifically o f t e x t u a l i z a t i o n . E v e r y d e s c r i p t i o n o r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n t h a t c o n c e i v e s i t s e l f as
"bringing a culture into writing," m o v i n g from oral-discursive experi­
e n c e ( t h e "native's," t h e fieldworker's) t o a w r i t t e n v e r s i o n o f t h a t e x p e ­
r i e n c e ( t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c text) is e n a c t i n g t h e s t r u c t u r e o f " s a l v a g e . "
T o t h e e x t e n t t h a t t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c p r o c e s s is s e e n as i n s c r i p t i o n
( r a t h e r t h a n , f o r e x a m p l e , as t r a n s c r i p t i o n , o r d i a l o g u e ) t h e r e p r e s e n ­
t a t i o n will c o n t i n u e t o e n a c t a p o t e n t , a n d q u e s t i o n a b l e , a l l e g o r i c a l
structure.
T h i s s t r u c t u r e is a p p r o p r i a t e l y l o c a t e d w i t h i n a l o n g W e s t e r n tra­
d i t i o n o f p a s t o r a l (a t o p i c a l s o d e v e l o p e d b y R e n a t o R o s a l d o i n this
v o l u m e ) . R a y m o n d Williams's The Country and the City ( 1 9 7 3 ) , w h i l e
d r a w i n g o n an established tradition o f scholarship o n pastoral ( E m p s o n 1950, K e r m o d e 1952, Frye 1 9 7 1 , Poggioli 1 9 7 5 , a m o n g others)
strains t o w a r d a global scope wide e n o u g h to a c c o m m o d a t e e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . H e s h o w s h o w a f u n d a m e n t a l c o n t r a s t b e t w e e n city
a n d c o u n t r y a l i g n s itself w i t h o t h e r p e r v a s i v e o p p o s i t i o n s : c i v i l i z e d a n d
p r i m i t i v e , W e s t a n d " n o n - W e s t , " f u t u r e a n d past. H e a n a l y z e s a c o m ­
p l e x , i n v e n t i v e , strongly p a t t e r n e d set o f r e s p o n s e s to social dislocation
a n d c h a n g e , s t r e t c h i n g f r o m classical a n t i q u i t y t o t h e p r e s e n t . W i l l i a m s
traces t h e constant r e e m e r g e n c e o f a conventionalized pattern o f retro­
s p e c t i o n that l a m e n t s the loss o f a " g o o d " country, a place w h e r e a u ­
thentic social a n d natural contacts w e r e o n c e possible. H e s o o n , h o w ­
e v e r , n o t e s a n u n s e t t l i n g r e g r e s s i o n . F o r e a c h t i m e o n e finds a w r i t e r
l o o k i n g b a c k t o a h a p p i e r p l a c e , t o a lost, " o r g a n i c " m o m e n t , o n e finds
a n o t h e r w r i t e r o f t h a t e a r l i e r p e r i o d l a m e n t i n g a similar, p r e v i o u s d i s ­
a p p e a r a n c e . T h e u l t i m a t e r e f e r e n t is, o f c o u r s e , E d e n (9—12).
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W i l l i a m s d o e s n o t d i s m i s s this s t r u c t u r e as s i m p l y n o s t a l g i c , w h i c h
it m a n i f e s t l y is; b u t r a t h e r f o l l o w s o u t a v e r y c o m p l e x set o f t e m p o r a l ,
spatial, a n d m o r a l positions. H e notes that pastoral frequently in­
v o l v e s a critical nostalgia, a w a y (as D i a m o n d [ 1 9 7 4 ] a r g u e s f o r a c o n ­
cept o f t h e primitive) to break with the h e g e m o n i c , corrupt present by
a s s e r t i n g t h e r e a l i t y o f a r a d i c a l a l t e r n a t i v e . E d w a r d Sapir's " C u l t u r e ,
G e n u i n e a n d S p u r i o u s " (1966) r e c a p i t u l a t e s t h e s e critical p a s t o r a l
values. A n d i n d e e d every imagined authenticity presupposes, a n d
is p r o d u c e d by, a p r e s e n t c i r c u m s t a n c e o f felt i n a u t h e n t i c i t y . B u t
Williams's t r e a t m e n t suggests that such projections n e e d n o t be consis­
tently located in t h e past; or, w h a t a m o u n t s to t h e s a m e thing, that t h e
" g e n u i n e " e l e m e n t s o f c u l t u r a l life n e e d n o t b e r e p e t i t i o u s l y e n c o d e d
as f r a g i l e , t h r e a t e n e d , a n d t r a n s i e n t . T h i s s e n s e o f p e r v a s i v e s o c i a l
f r a g m e n t a t i o n , o f a c o n s t a n t d i s r u p t i o n o f "natural" r e l a t i o n s , is c h a r ­
a c t e r i s t i c o f a s u b j e c t i v i t y W i l l i a m s l o o s e l y c o n n e c t s w i t h city l i f e a n d
w i t h r o m a n t i c i s m . T h e self, c u t l o o s e f r o m viable c o l l e c t i v e ties, is a n
identity in search o f w h o l e n e s s , having internalized loss a n d e m ­
b a r k e d o n an endless search for authenticity. W h o l e n e s s by definition
b e c o m e s a t h i n g o f t h e p a s t (rural, p r i m i t i v e , c h i l d l i k e ) a c c e s s i b l e o n l y
as a fiction, g r a s p e d f r o m a s t a n c e o f i n c o m p l e t e i n v o l v e m e n t . G e o r g e
Eliot's n o v e l s e p i t o m i z e this s i t u a t i o n o f p a r t i c i p a n t - o b s e r v a t i o n i n a
" c o m m o n condition . . . a knowable c o m m u n i t y , belong[ing] ideally in
t h e past." Middlemarch,
f o r e x a m p l e , is p r o j e c t e d a g e n e r a t i o n b a c k
f r o m t h e t i m e o f its w r i t i n g t o 1830. A n d this is a p p r o x i m a t e l y t h e
t e m p o r a l distance that m a n y conventional e t h n o g r a p h i e s a s s u m e
w h e n t h e y d e s c r i b e a p a s s i n g reality, "traditional" life, i n t h e p r e s e n t
t e n s e . T h e fiction o f a k n o w a b l e c o m m u n i t y "can b e r e c r e a t e d t h e r e
for a widely r a n g i n g moral action. B u t the real step that h a s b e e n
t a k e n is w i t h d r a w a l f r o m a n y full r e s p o n s e t o a n e x i s t i n g s o c i e t y . V a l u e
is i n t h e p a s t , a s a g e n e r a l r e t r o s p e c t i v e c o n d i t i o n , a n d is i n t h e p r e s e n t o n l y as a p a r t i c u l a r a n d p r i v a t e sensibility, t h e i n d i v i d u a l m o r a l
a c t i o n " (180).
I n G e o r g e E l i o t w e c a n s e e t h e d e v e l o p m e n t o f a style o f s o c i o l o g i ­
cal w r i t i n g t h a t will d e s c r i b e w h o l e c u l t u r e s ( k n o w a b l e w o r l d s ) f r o m a
specific temporal distance a n d with a p r e s u m p t i o n o f their transience.
T h i s will b e a c c o m p l i s h e d f r o m a l o v i n g , d e t a i l e d , b u t u l t i m a t e l y d i s e n g a g e d , s t a n d p o i n t . H i s t o r i c a l w o r l d s will b e s a l v a g e d as t e x t u a l f a b rications d i s c o n n e c t e d from o n g o i n g lived milieux a n d suitable for
moral, allegorical appropriation by individual readers. I n properly
ethnographic p a s t o r a l this t e x t u a l i z i n g s t r u c t u r e is g e n e r a l i z e d b e y o n d
t h e d i s s o c i a t i o n s o f n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y E n g l a n d t o a w i d e r capitalist
t o p o g r a p h y o f W e s t e r n / n o n - W e s t e r n , city/country oppositions. "Prim­
itive," n o n l i t e r a t e , u n d e r d e v e l o p e d , tribal s o c i e t i e s a r e c o n s t a n t l y y i e l d -
115
i n g to p r o g r e s s , "losing" their traditions. "In t h e n a m e o f science, w e
a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s c o m p o s e r e q u i e m s , " writes Robert M u r p h y (1984).
B u t t h e m o s t p r o b l e m a t i c , a n d politically c h a r g e d , a s p e c t o f t h i s " p a s ­
t o r a l " e n c o d a t i o n is its r e l e n t l e s s p l a c e m e n t o f o t h e r s i n a p r e s e n t b e c o m i n g - p a s t . W h a t w o u l d it r e q u i r e , f o r e x a m p l e , c o n s i s t e n t l y t o
associate t h e inventive, resilient, e n o r m o u s l y varied societies o f
M e l a n e s i a w i t h t h e c u l t u r a l future o f t h e p l a n e t ? H o w m i g h t e t h n o ­
g r a p h i e s b e d i f f e r e n t l y c o n c e i v e d i f this s t a n d p o i n t c o u l d b e s e r i o u s l y
a d o p t e d ? P a s t o r a l a l l e g o r i e s o f c u l t u r a l loss a n d t e x t u a l r e s c u e w o u l d ,
in any event, have to be transformed.
9
J
jl
1
!
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!
Pervasive a s s u m p t i o n s about e t h n o g r a p h y as writing w o u l d also
have to b e altered. For allegories o f salvage are implied by t h e very
p r a c t i c e o f t e x t u a l i z a t i o n t h a t is g e n e r a l l y a s s u m e d t o b e at t h e c o r e o f
c u l t u r a l d e s c r i p t i o n . W h a t e v e r e l s e a n e t h n o g r a p h y d o e s , it t r a n s l a t e s
e x p e r i e n c e into text. T h e r e are various ways o f effecting this transla­
t i o n , w a y s t h a t h a v e s i g n i f i c a n t e t h i c a l a n d political c o n s e q u e n c e s . O n e
c a n "write u p " t h e r e s u l t s o f a n i n d i v i d u a l e x p e r i e n c e o f r e s e a r c h .
T h i s m a y g e n e r a t e a realistic a c c o u n t o f t h e u n w r i t t e n e x p e r i e n c e o f
a n o t h e r g r o u p o r p e r s o n . O n e c a n p r e s e n t this t e x t u a l i z a t i o n as t h e
o u t c o m e o f observation, of interpretation, of dialogue. O n e can con­
struct an e t h n o g r a p h y c o m p o s e d o f dialogues. O n e can feature mul­
t i p l e v o i c e s , o r a s i n g l e v o i c e . O n e c a n p o r t r a y t h e o t h e r as a s t a b l e ,
e s s e n t i a l w h o l e , o r o n e c a n s h o w it t o b e t h e p r o d u c t o f a n a r r a t i v e o f
discovery, in specific historical circumstances. I have d i s c u s s e d s o m e
o f t h e s e c h o i c e s e l s e w h e r e ( 1 9 8 3 a ) . W h a t is i r r e d u c i b l e , i n all o f t h e m ,
is t h e a s s u m p t i o n t h a t e t h n o g r a p h y b r i n g s e x p e r i e n c e a n d d i s c o u r s e
into writing.
T h o u g h t h i s is m a n i f e s t l y t h e c a s e , a n d i n d e e d r e f l e c t s a k i n d o f
c o m m o n s e n s e , it is n o t a n i n n o c e n t c o m m o n s e n s e . S i n c e a n t i q u i t y
the story o f a passage from the oral/aural into writing has b e e n a c o m ­
p l e x a n d c h a r g e d o n e . Every ethnography enacts such a m o v e m e n t ,
a n d t h i s is o n e s o u r c e o f t h e p e c u l i a r a u t h o r i t y t h a t finds b o t h r e s c u e
a n d irretrievable l o s s — a kind o f death in life—in the m a k i n g o f texts
f r o m events a n d dialogues. Words a n d deeds are transient (and au-
9. I n my reading, the most powerful attempt to unthink this temporal setup, by
means of an ethnographic invention of Melanesia, is the work of Roy Wagner (1979,
1980). H e opposes, perhaps too sharply, Western "anticipations of the past" with
Melanesian "anticipations of the future." T h e former are associated with the idea of
culture as a structuring tradition ( 1 9 7 9 : 1 6 2 ) . H u g h Brody's Maps and Dreams (1982)
offers a subtle and precise attempt to portray the hunting life of Beaver Indians in
northwest Canada as they confront world-system forces, an oil pipeline, hunting for
sport, etc. H e presents his work as a political collaboration. And he is careful to keep the
future open, uncertain, walking a fine line between narratives of "survival," "accultura­
tion," and "impact."
O n Ethnographic Allegory
JAMES CLIFFORD
ii6
i n a s t e r i l e s h o r t c i r c u i t . N o r n e e d o n e , l i k e S o c r a t e s i n t h e Phaedrus,
l a m e n t t h e e r o s i o n o f m e m o r y by literacy. T h e i n t e r v i e w h a s n o t , s u d denly, b e c o m e "inauthentic," the data merely i m p o s e d . Rather, w h a t
o n e m u s t reckon with are n e w conditions o f ethnographic production.
First, it is n o l o n g e r p o s s i b l e t o act as if t h e o u t s i d e r e s e a r c h e r is t h e
s o l e , o r p r i m a r y , b r i n g e r o f t h e c u l t u r e i n t o w r i t i n g . T h i s h a s , i n fact,
s e l d o m b e e n t h e case. H o w e v e r , there has b e e n a consistent t e n d e n c y
a m o n g fieldworkers t o h i d e , d i s c r e d i t , o r m a r g i n a l i z e p r i o r w r i t t e n a c c o u n t s (by m i s s i o n a r i e s , t r a v e l e r s , a d m i n i s t r a t o r s , l o c a l a u t h o r i t i e s ,
e v e n o t h e r e t h n o g r a p h e r s ) . T h e fieldworker, typically, starts f r o m
s c r a t c h , f r o m a r e s e a r c h experience, r a t h e r t h a n f r o m r e a d i n g o r t r a n s c r i b i n g . T h e field is n o t c o n c e i v e d o f a s a l r e a d y filled w i t h t e x t s . Yet
t h i s i n t e r t e x t u a l p r e d i c a m e n t is m o r e a n d m o r e t h e c a s e ( L a r c o m
1983). S e c o n d , "informants" increasingly r e a d a n d write. T h e y interp r e t p r i o r v e r s i o n s o f t h e i r c u l t u r e , as w e l l as t h o s e b e i n g w r i t t e n b y
e t h n o g r a p h i c scholars. Work with t e x t s — t h e process o f inscription,
r e w r i t i n g , a n d s o f o r t h — i s n o l o n g e r (if it e v e r was) t h e e x c l u s i v e d o main o f outside authorities. "Nonliterate" cultures are already text u a l i z e d ; t h e r e a r e f e w , if a n y , "virgin" l i f e w a y s to b e v i o l a t e d a n d p r e served by writing. T h i r d , a very widespread, e m p o w e r i n g distinction
h a s b e e n e r o d e d : t h e d i v i s i o n o f t h e g l o b e i n t o literate a n d n o n l i t e r a t e
p e o p l e s . T h i s d i s t i n c t i o n is n o l o n g e r w i d e l y a c c u r a t e , as n o n - W e s t e r n ,
"tribal" p e o p l e s b e c o m e i n c r e a s i n g l y literate. B u t f u r t h e r m o r e , o n c e
o n e begins to d o u b t the ethnographer's m o n o p o l y o n the p o w e r to ins c r i b e , o n e b e g i n s t o s e e t h e "writing" activities that h a v e a l w a y s b e e n
p u r s u e d b y n a t i v e c o l l a b o r a t o r s — f r o m a n A m b r y m islander's s k e t c h
(in a f a m o u s g e s t u r e ) o f a n i n t r i c a t e k i n s h i p s y s t e m i n t h e s a n d f o r
A. B. D e a c o n to t h e S i o u x G e o r g e Sword's b o o k - l e n g t h cultural d e scription f o u n d in t h e papers o f J a m e s Walker. (See the I n t r o d u c t i o n
o f this v o l u m e , p. 15.)
t h e n t i c ) , w r i t i n g e n d u r e s (as s u p p l e m e n t a r i t y a n d artifice). T h e t e x t
e m b a l m s t h e e v e n t as it e x t e n d s its " m e a n i n g . " S i n c e S o c r a t e s ' r e f u s a l
t o w r i t e , i t s e l f p o w e r f u l l y w r i t t e n by P l a t o , a p r o f o u n d a m b i v a l e n c e
t o w a r d t h e p a s s a g e f r o m o r a l to l i t e r a t e h a s c h a r a c t e r i z e d W e s t e r n
thinking. A n d m u c h o f the power and pathos of ethnography derives
f r o m t h e f a c t t h a t it h a s s i t u a t e d its p r a c t i c e w i t h i n this c r u c i a l t r a n s i tion. T h e fieldworker presides over, a n d controls in s o m e d e g r e e , t h e
m a k i n g o f a t e x t o u t o f life. H i s o r h e r d e s c r i p t i o n s a n d i n t e r p r e t a tions b e c o m e part o f t h e "consultable record o f what m a n has said"
( G e e r t z 1 9 7 3 : 3 0 ) . T h e t e x t is a r e c o r d o f s o m e t h i n g e n u n c i a t e d ,
i n a past. T h e s t r u c t u r e , if n o t t h e t h e m a t i c c o n t e n t , o f p a s t o r a l is
repeated.
A s m a l l p a r a b l e m a y g i v e a s e n s e o f w h y this a l l e g o r y o f e t h n o g r a p h i c r e s c u e a n d loss h a s r e c e n t l y b e c o m e less s e l f - e v i d e n t . It is a
t r u e p a r a b l e . A s t u d e n t o f A f r i c a n e t h n ' o - h i s t o r y is c o n d u c t i n g field
r e s e a r c h in G a b o n . H e is c o n c e r n e d w i t h t h e M p o n g w é , a c o a s t a l
g r o u p w h o , in t h e n i n e t e e n t h century, w e r e active in contacts with E u r o p e a n t r a d e r s a n d c o l o n i s t s . T h e "tribe" still e x i s t s , i n t h e r e g i o n
o f Libreville, a n d the ethno-historian has arranged to interview the
c u r r e n t M p o n g w é c h i e f a b o u t t r a d i t i o n a l life, r e l i g i o u s ritual, a n d
s o o n . I n p r e p a r a t i o n f o r his i n t e r v i e w t h e r e s e a r c h e r c o n s u l t s a c o m p e n d i u m o f local c u s t o m c o m p i l e d in t h e early twentieth c e n t u r y
by a G a b o n e s e Christian a n d p i o n e e r i n g e t h n o g r a p h e r , t h e A b b é
R a p o n d a - W a l k e r . B e f o r e m e e t i n g with t h e M p o n g w é c h i e f t h e ethn o g r a p h e r c o p i e s o u t a list o f r e l i g i o u s t e r m s , i n s t i t u t i o n s a n d c o n c e p t s , r e c o r d e d a n d d e f i n e d b y R a p o n d a - W a l k e r . T h e i n t e r v i e w will
f o l l o w this list, c h e c k i n g w h e t h e r t h e c u s t o m s p e r s i s t , a n d if s o , w i t h
w h a t i n n o v a t i o n s . A t first t h i n g s g o s m o o t h l y , w i t h t h e M p o n g w é a u thority-providing descriptions a n d interpretations of the terms sugg e s t e d , o r else n o t i n g that a practice has b e e n a b a n d o n e d . After a
t i m e , h o w e v e r , w h e n t h e r e s e a r c h e r asks a b o u t a p a r t i c u l a r w o r d , t h e
c h i e f s e e m s u n c e r t a i n , knits h i s b r o w s . "Just a m o m e n t , " h e says
c h e e r f u l l y , a n d d i s a p p e a r s i n t o his h o u s e to r e t u r n w i t h a c o p y o f R a p o n d a - W a l k e r ' s c o m p e n d i u m . For t h e rest o f t h e i n t e r v i e w t h e b o o k
lies o p e n o n his lap.
1 0
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jj
!
!Ì
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V e r s i o n s o f this story, in i n c r e a s i n g n u m b e r s , a r e t o b e h e a r d i n "i
the folklore o f e t h n o g r a p h y . S u d d e n l y cultural data cease to m o v e
j
s m o o t h l y f r o m oral p e r f o r m a n c e into descriptive writing. N o w d a t a
!
a l s o m o v e f r o m t e x t to t e x t , i n s c r i p t i o n b e c o m e s t r a n s c r i p t i o n . B o t h
i n f o r m a n t a n d r e s e a r c h e r a r e r e a d e r s a n d re-writers o f a c u l t u r a l i n - j
v e n t i o n . T h i s is n o t t o say, as s o m e m i g h t , t h a t t h e i n t e r v i e w h a s e n d e d
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10. My thanks to Henry Bucher for this true story. I have told it as a parable, both
because it is one, and because I suspect he would tell it somewhat differently, having
been there.
117
B u t the m o s t subversive challenge to the allegory o f textualization
I h a v e b e e n d i s c u s s i n g h e r e is f o u n d i n t h e w o r k o f D e r r i d a ( 1 9 7 4 ) .
P e r h a p s t h e m o s t e n d u r i n g e f f e c t o f h i s revival o f " g r a m m a t o l o g y "
h a s b e e n t o e x p a n d w h a t w a s c o n v e n t i o n a l l y t h o u g h t o f a s w r i t i n g . Alphabetic w r i t i n g , h e a r g u e s , is a r e s t r i c t i v e d e f i n i t i o n t h a t ties t h e b r o a d
r a n g e o f m a r k s , spatial articulations, gestures, a n d o t h e r inscriptions
at w o r k i n h u m a n c u l t u r e s t o o c l o s e l y to t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f s p e e c h ,
t h e o r a l / a u r a l w o r d . I n o p p o s i n g l o g o c e n t r i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t o écriture, h e r a d i c a l l y e x t e n d s t h e d e f i n i t i o n o f t h e "written," in e f f e c t
s m u d g i n g its c l e a r d i s t i n c t i o n f r o m t h e " s p o k e n . " T h e r e is n o n e e d
h e r e t o p u r s u e i n d e t a i l a d i s o r i e n t i n g p r o j e c t t h a t is b y n o w w e l l
k n o w n . W h a t m a t t e r s for e t h n o g r a p h y is t h e c l a i m t h a t all h u m a n
g r o u p s write-—if t h e y a r t i c u l a t e , classify, p o s s e s s a n " o r a l - l i t e r a t u r e , "
o r i n s c r i b e t h e i r w o r l d in ritual acts. T h e y r e p e a t e d l y " t e x t u a l i z e "
ii8
JAMES CLIFFORD
m e a n i n g s . T h u s , in Derrida's epistemology, t h e writing o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y c a n n o t b e s e e n as a drastically n e w f o r m o f c u l t u r a l i n s c r i p t i o n ,
as a n e x t e r i o r i m p o s i t i o n o n a " p u r e , " u n w r i t t e n o r a l / a u r a l u n i ­
v e r s e . T h e l o g o s is n o t p r i m a r y a n d t h e gramme its m e r e s e c o n d a r y
representation.
S e e n i n this l i g h t , t h e p r o c e s s e s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g a p p e a r
m o r e c o m p l e x . If, as D e r r i d a w o u l d say, t h e c u l t u r e s s t u d i e d b y a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s are always already writing themselves, t h e special status
of the
fieldworker-scholar
w h o "brings t h e c u l t u r e i n t o w r i t i n g " is
u n d e r c u t . W h o , i n fact, w r i t e s a m y t h t h a t is r e c i t e d i n t o a t a p e r e ­
c o r d e r , o r c o p i e d d o w n t o b e c o m e p a r t o f field n o t e s ? W h o w r i t e s ( i n
a sense g o i n g b e y o n d transcription) a n interpretation o f c u s t o m pro­
d u c e d t h r o u g h i n t e n s e c o n v e r s a t i o n s w i t h k n o w l e d g e a b l e n a t i v e col­
l a b o r a t o r s ? I h a v e a r g u e d that s u c h q u e s t i o n s c a n , a n d s h o u l d , g e n e r ­
ate a r e t h i n k i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c authority (Clifford 1983a). I n t h e
p r e s e n t c o n t e x t I want merely to u n d e r l i n e t h e pervasive c h a l l e n g e ,
b o t h h i s t o r i c a l a n d t h e o r e t i c a l i n o r i g i n , that p r e s e n t l y c o n f r o n t s t h e
allegory o f e t h n o g r a p h i c practice as textualization.
It is i m p o r t a n t t o k e e p t h e a l l e g o r i c a l d i m e n s i o n s i n m i n d . F o r i n
t h e W e s t t h e p a s s a g e f r o m o r a l t o l i t e r a t e is a p o t e n t r e c u r r i n g story—
o f p o w e r , c o r r u p t i o n , a n d loss. It r e p l i c a t e s ( a n d t o a n e x t e n t p r o ­
d u c e s ) t h e structure o f pastoral that h a s b e e n pervasive in t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y e t h n o g r a p h y . L o g o c e n t r i c w r i t i n g is c o n v e n t i o n a l l y c o n c e i v e d
t o b e a representation o f a u t h e n t i c s p e e c h . P r e - l i t e r a t e ( t h e p h r a s e c o n ­
t a i n s a s t o r y ) s o c i e t i e s a r e oral s o c i e t i e s ; w r i t i n g c o m e s t o t h e m f r o m
"outside," a n intrusion from a wider world. W h e t h e r b r o u g h t by mis­
s i o n a r y , t r a d e r , o r e t h n o g r a p h e r , w r i t i n g is b o t h e m p o w e r i n g (a n e c ­
essary, effective way o f storing a n d m a n i p u l a t i n g k n o w l e d g e ) a n d
c o r r u p t i n g (a l o s s o f i m m e d i a c y , o f t h e f a c e - t o - f a c e c o m m u n i c a t i o n
Socrates cherished, o f the presence a n d intimacy o f speech). A c o m ­
p l e x a n d fertile r e c e n t debate has circled a r o u n d t h e valorization, his­
t o r i c a l s i g n i f i c a n c e , a n d e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l status o f w r i t i n g . " W h a t e v e r
m a y o r m a y n o t h a v e b e e n s e t t l e d i n t h e d e b a t e , t h e r e is n o d o u b t o f
w h a t h a s b e c o m e unsettled: t h e s h a r p distinction o f t h e world's cul- i
tures into literate a n d pre-literate; t h e notion that e t h n o g r a p h i c tex­
t u a l i z a t i o n is a p r o c e s s t h a t e n a c t s a f u n d a m e n t a l t r a n s i t i o n f r o m o r a l
e x p e r i e n c e to written representation; the assumption that s o m e t h i n g
e s s e n t i a l is l o s t w h e n a c u l t u r e b e c o m e s " e t h n o g r a p h i c " ; t h e s t r a n g e l y
a m b i v a l e n t a u t h o r i t y o f a p r a c t i c e t h a t s a l v a g e s as t e x t a c u l t u r a l life
b e c o m i n g past.
T h e s e c o m p o n e n t s o f what I have called e t h n o g r a p h i c pastoral n o
1 1 . T h e "debate" centers on the confrontation of Ong (1967, 1977, 1982) and
Derrida (1973, 1974). Tyler (1978, 1984b) tries to work past the opposition. Goody
(1977) and Eisenstein (1979) have made important recent contributions.
O n Ethnographic Allegory
119
l o n g e r a p p e a r as c o m m o n s e n s e . R e a d i n g a n d w r i t i n g a r e g e n e r a l ­
i z e d . I f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r r e a d s c u l t u r e o v e r t h e native's s h o u l d e r , t h e
n a t i v e a l s o r e a d s o v e r t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s s h o u l d e r as h e o r s h e w r i t e s
each cultural description. Fieldworkers are increasingly constrained
i n w h a t t h e y p u b l i s h b y t h e r e a c t i o n s o f t h o s e p r e v i o u s l y classified as
nonliterate. Novels by a Samoan (Alfred Wendt) can challenge t h e
portrait o f his p e o p l e by a distinguished anthropologist. T h e notion
t h a t w r i t i n g is a c o r r u p t i o n , t h a t s o m e t h i n g i r r e t r i e v a b l y p u r e is lost
w h e n a c u l t u r a l w o r l d is t e x t u a l i z e d is, a f t e r D e r r i d a , s e e n t o b e a p e r ­
vasive, contestable, Western allegory. Walter O n g a n d o t h e r s h a v e
s h o w n t h a t s o m e t h i n g is, i n d e e d , lost w i t h t h e g e n e r a l i z a t i o n o f writ­
i n g . B u t a u t h e n t i c c u l t u r e is n o t t h a t s o m e t h i n g — t o b e g a t h e r e d u p i n
its f r a g i l e , final t r u t h b y a n e t h n o g r a p h e r o r b y a n y o n e e l s e .
M o d e r n a l l e g o r y , W a l t e r B e n j a m i n ( 1 9 7 7 ) tells u s , is b a s e d o n a
s e n s e o f t h e w o r l d as t r a n s i e n t a n d f r a g m e n t a r y . " H i s t o r y " is g r a s p e d
as a p r o c e s s , n o t o f i n v e n t i v e life, b u t o f "irresistible d e c a y . " T h e
m a t e r i a l a n a l o g u e o f a l l e g o r y is t h u s t h e "ruin" ( 1 7 8 ) , a n a l w a y s d i s a p p e a r i n g structure that invites imaginative r e c o n s t r u c t i o n . B e n ­
j a m i n observes that "appreciation o f the transience o f things, a n d the
c o n c e r n t o r e d e e m t h e m f o r e t e r n i t y , is o n e o f t h e s t r o n g e s t i m p u l s e s
i n a l l e g o r y " ( q u o t e d b y W o l i n 1982 : 7 1 ) . M y a c c o u n t o f e t h n o g r a p h i c
p a s t o r a l s u g g e s t s t h a t this " i m p u l s e " is t o b e r e s i s t e d , n o t b y a b a n d o n ­
i n g a l l e g o r y — a n impossible a i m — b u t by o p e n i n g ourselves to differ­
ent histories.
AAA
Allegories are secured . . . by teaching people to read in certain ways.
TALAL ASAD (comment on this essay at the Santa Fe seminar)
I h a v e e x p l o r e d s o m e i m p o r t a n t allegorical f o r m s that e x ­
press "cosmological" patterns o f o r d e r a n d disorder, fables o f per­
sonal ( g e n d e r e d ) identity, a n d politicized m o d e l s o f temporality. T h e
f u t u r e o f t h e s e f o r m s is u n c e r t a i n ; t h e y a r e b e i n g r e w r i t t e n a n d criti­
c i z e d i n c u r r e n t p r a c t i c e . A f e w c o n c l u s i o n s , o r at least a s s e r t i o n s , m a y
b e d r a w n f r o m this e x p l o r a t i o n .
•
T h e r e is n o w a y d e f i n i t e l y , s u r g i c a l l y , t o s e p a r a t e t h e f a c t u a l f r o m
the allegorical in cultural accounts. T h e data o f e t h n o g r a p h y
m a k e sense only within patterned arrangements a n d narratives,
a n d t h e s e a r e c o n v e n t i o n a l , political, a n d m e a n i n g f u l i n a m o r e
t h a n r e f e r e n t i a l s e n s e . C u l t u r a l facts a r e n o t t r u e a n d c u l t u r a l al­
l e g o r i e s f a l s e . I n t h e h u m a n s c i e n c e s t h e r e l a t i o n o f fact t o alle­
g o r y is a d o m a i n o f s t r u g g l e a n d i n s t i t u t i o n a l d i s c i p l i n e .
JAMES CLIFFORD
120
O n Ethnographic Allegory
121
T h e m e a n i n g s of an ethnographic account are uncontrollable.
e t h n o g r a p h y to be a hierarchical structure o f p o w e r f u l
N e i t h e r a n author's intention, n o r disciplinary training, n o r the
that translate, encounter, a n d recontextualize
r u l e s o f g e n r e c a n l i m i t t h e r e a d i n g s o f a t e x t t h a t will e m e r g e
s t o r i e s . I t is a p a l i m p s e s t ( O w e n s 1980). M o r e o v e r , a n a w a r e n e s s
w i t h n e w h i s t o r i c a l , scientific, o r political p r o j e c t s . B u t i f e t h n o g ­
o f allegory h e i g h t e n s awareness o f the narratives, a n d o t h e r t e m ­
other
stories
powerful
raphies are susceptible to multiple interpretations, these are n o t
p o r a l s e t u p s , i m p l i c i t l y o r e x p l i c i t l y at w o r k . Is t h e r e d e m p t i v e
at a n y g i v e n m o m e n t i n f i n i t e , o r m e r e l y " s u b j e c t i v e " ( i n t h e p e ­
structure o f salvage-textualization being replaced? By what n e w
j o r a t i v e s e n s e ) . R e a d i n g is i n d e t e r m i n a t e o n l y t o t h e e x t e n t t h a t
a l l e g o r i e s ? O f conflict? O f e m e r g e n c e ? O f s y n c r e t i s m ?
h i s t o r y i t s e l f is o p e n - e n d e d . I f t h e r e is a c o m m o n r e s i s t a n c e t o t h e
r e c o g n i t i o n o f a l l e g o r y , a f e a r t h a t it l e a d s t o a n i h i l i s m o f r e a d i n g ,
t h i s is n o t a realistic f e a r . It c o n f u s e s c o n t e s t s f o r m e a n i n g w i t h
d i s o r d e r . A n d o f t e n it reflects a w i s h t o p r e s e r v e a n " o b j e c t i v e "
r h e t o r i c , r e f u s i n g t o l o c a t e its o w n m o d e o f p r o d u c t i o n w i t h i n i n ­
ventive culture a n d historical c h a n g e .
1 2
F i n a l l y , a r e c o g n i t i o n o f a l l e g o r y r e q u i r e s t h a t as r e a d e r s a n d w r i t ­
ers o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s , w e struggle to confront a n d take responsi­
bility f o r o u r s y s t e m a t i c c o n s t r u c t i o n s o f o t h e r s a n d o f o u r s e l v e s
t h r o u g h others. This recognition n e e d not ultimately lead to a n
i r o n i c p o s i t i o n — t h o u g h it m u s t c o n t e n d w i t h p r o f o u n d i r o n i e s . I f
w e a r e c o n d e m n e d t o tell s t o r i e s w e c a n n o t c o n t r o l , m a y w e n o t , at
A r e c o g n i t i o n o f a l l e g o r y inescapably p o s e s t h e political a n d ethi­
l e a s t , tell s t o r i e s w e b e l i e v e t o b e t r u e .
cal d i m e n s i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . It s u g g e s t s t h a t t h e s e b e
m a n i f e s t e d , n o t h i d d e n . I n this l i g h t , t h e o p e n a l l e g o r i z i n g o f a
M e a d or a Benedict enacts a certain probity—properly e x p o s i n g
i t s e l f t o t h e a c c u s a t i o n o f h a v i n g used tribal s o c i e t i e s f o r p e d a g o g i ­
cal p u r p o s e s . ( L e t t h o s e f r e e o f s u c h p u r p o s e s cast t h e first s t o n e ! )
O n e n e e d not, o f course, purvey heavy-handed "messages," or
twist c u l t u r a l facts (as p r e s e n t l y k n o w n ) t o a p o l i t i c a l p u r p o s e . I
w o u l d s u g g e s t as a m o d e l o f a l l e g o r i c a l tact M a r c e l M a u s s ' s
The
12. For recent changes in these underlying stories, see note 9, above, and Bruner
1985. See also James Boon's 1983 exploration of anthropology's satiric dimensions.
A partial way out can perhaps be envisioned in the pre-modern current that Harry
Berger has called "strong" or "metapastoral"—a tradition he finds in the writing o f
Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Marvell, and Pope. "Such pastoral
constructs within itself an image of its generic traditions in order to criticize them and,
in the process, performs a critique on the limits of its own enterprise even as it ironically
displays its delight in the activity it criticizes" (1984: 2). Modern ethnographic examples
are rare, although much of Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques certainly qualifies.
Gift. N o o n e w o u l d d e n y its scientific i m p o r t a n c e o r s c h o l a r l y c o m ­
m i t m e n t . Y e t f r o m t h e o u t s e t , a n d e s p e c i a l l y i n its c o n c l u d i n g
c h a p t e r , t h e w o r k ' s a i m is p a t e n t : "to d r a w c o n c l u s i o n s o f a m o r a l
n a t u r e a b o u t s o m e o f t h e p r o b l e m s c o n f r o n t i n g us in o u r p r e s e n t
e c o n o m i c crisis" ( 1 9 6 7 : 2 ) . T h e b o o k w a s w r i t t e n i n r e s p o n s e t o
t h e b r e a k d o w n o f E u r o p e a n r e c i p r o c i t y i n W o r l d W a r I. T h e t r o u ­
b l i n g p r o x i m i t y it s h o w s b e t w e e n e x c h a n g e a n d w a r f a r e , t h e i m ­
a g e o f t h e r o u n d t a b l e e v o k e d at t h e e n d , t h e s e a n d o t h e r u r g e n t
r e s o n a n c e s m a r k t h e w o r k as a s o c i a l i s t - h u m a n i s t a l l e g o r y a d ­
d r e s s e d t o t h e p o l i t i c a l w o r l d o f t h e twenties.. T h i s is n o t t h e w o r k ' s
o n l y " c o n t e n t . " T h e m a n y r e r e a d i n g s The Gift h a s g e n e r a t e d t e s ­
tify t o its p r o d u c t i v i t y as a t e x t . It c a n e v e n b e r e a d — i n c e r t a i n
g r a d u a t e s e m i n a r s — a s a classic c o m p a r a t i v e s t u d y o f e x c h a n g e ,
w i t h a d m o n i t i o n s t o s k i m o v e r t h e final c h a p t e r . T h i s is a s a d m i s ­
t a k e . F o r it m i s s e s t h e o p p o r t u n i t y t o l e a r n f r o m a n a d m i r a b l e e x ­
a m p l e o f s c i e n c e d e p l o y i n g i t s e l f in h i s t o r y .
A recognition of allegory complicates the writing a n d reading of
e t h n o g r a p h i e s in potentially fruitful ways. A t e n d e n c y e m e r g e s to
specify a n d separate different allegorical registers within t h e text.
T h e marking off o f extended indigenous discourses shows the
For helpful criticisms of this paper I would like to thank Richard Handler, Susan
Gevirtz, David Schneider, Harry Berger, and the Santa Fe seminar participants, espe­
cially Michael Fischer.
Post-Modern Ethnography
123
Post-Modern Ethnography:
From Document of the Occult
to Occult Document
performance, no
fictionalized
realities o r realities
fictionalized.
Its
t r a n s c e n d e n c e is n o t t h a t o f a m e t a - l a n g u a g e — o f a l a n g u a g e s u p e r i o r
b y m e a n s o f its g r e a t e r p e r f e c t i o n o f f o r m — n o r t h a t o f a u n i t y c r e ­
a t e d b y s y n t h e s i s a n d s u b l a t i o n , n o r o f praxis a n d p r a c t i c a l a p p l i c a ­
tion. T r a n s c e n d e n t t h e n , n e i t h e r by theory n o r by practice, n o r by
t h e i r s y n t h e s i s , it describes n o k n o w l e d g e a n d produces n o a c t i o n . It
t r a n s c e n d s i n s t e a d b y evoking w h a t c a n n o t b e k n o w n d i s c u r s i v e l y o r
p e r f o r m e d p e r f e c t l y , t h o u g h all k n o w it as if d i s c u r s i v e l y a n d p e r f o r m
it as i f p e r f e c t l y .
First Voice: Context
E v o c a t i o n is n e i t h e r p r e s e n t a t i o n n o r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . It p r e s e n t s
n o o b j e c t s a n d r e p r e s e n t s n o n e , y e t it m a k e s a v a i l a b l e t h r o u g h a b ­
s e n c e w h a t c a n b e c o n c e i v e d b u t n o t p r e s e n t e d . It is t h u s b e y o n d t r u t h
a n d i m m u n e t o t h e j u d g m e n t o f p e r f o r m a n c e . It o v e r c o m e s t h e s e p a ­
ration o f the sensible a n d the conceivable, of form a n d content, of self
and other, o f l a n g u a g e and the world.
S T E P H E N A. T Y L E R
T h e p a p e r t h a t f o l l o w s this i n t r o d u c t i o n is p a r t o f a g r o u p o f
e s s a y s w r i t t e n at v a r i o u s t i m e s a n d i n r e s p o n s e t o v a r i o u s i n f l u e n c e s .
N o n e t h e l e s s , e a c h essay anticipates, alludes to, builds o n , o r p r e s u p ­
p o s e s t h e o t h e r s . E a c h d e a l s in o n e w a y o r a n o t h e r w i t h d i s c o u r s e a n d
rhetoric, a n d each characterizes the tension b e t w e e n the possible
worlds of c o m m o n sense and the impossible worlds of science and
p o l i t i c s . T o g e t h e r t h e y tell h o w t h e r h e t o r i c a l m o d e s o f e t h i c s (ethos),
s c i e n c e (eidos), a n d politics (pathos) a r e s e n s o r i a l a l l e g o r i e s w h o s e r o o t
m e t a p h o r s "saying/hearing," "seeing/showing," "doing/acting" re­
spectively create the discourses o f value, representation, a n d work. All
o f the essays speak o f the ethnographic contextualization o f the rheto­
rics o f s c i e n c e a n d p o l i t i c s a n d tell h o w t h e r h e t o r i c o f e t h n o g r a p h y is
n e i t h e r scientific n o r political, b u t is, as t h e p r e f i x ethno- i m p l i e s ,
e t h i c a l . T h e y a l s o s p e a k o f t h e suffix -graphy i n r e m i n d e r o f t h e fact
t h a t e t h n o g r a p h y itself is c o n t e x t u a l i z e d b y a t e c h n o l o g y o f w r i t t e n
communication.
N e i t h e r part o f the search for universal k n o w l e d g e , n o r a n instru­
m e n t for the suppression/emancipation of peoples, nor just another
m o d e o f d i s c o u r s e o n a par with those o f science a n d politics, e t h ­
n o g r a p h y is i n s t e a d a s u p e r o r d i n a t e d i s c o u r s e t o w h i c h all o t h e r d i s ­
c o u r s e s a r e r e l a t i v i z e d a n d i n w h i c h t h e y find t h e i r m e a n i n g a n d j u s ­
tification. E t h n o g r a p h y ' s s u p e r o r d i n a t i o n is t h e c o n s e q u e n c e o f its
" i m p e r f e c t i o n . " N e i t h e r s e l f - p e r f e c t i n g i n t h e m a n n e r o f scientific d i s ­
c o u r s e n o r t o t a l i z i n g i n t h e m a n n e r o f political d i s c o u r s e , it is d e f i n e d
n e i t h e r b y a r e f l e x i v e a t t e n t i o n to its o w n r u l e s n o r by t h e p e r f o r m a ­
t i v e i n s t r u m e n t a l i t y o f t h o s e r u l e s . D e f i n e d n e i t h e r by f o r m n o r by re­
l a t i o n t o a n e x t e r n a l o b j e c t , it p r o d u c e s n o i d e a l i z a t i o n s o f f o r m a n d
E v o c a t i o n — t h a t is t o say, " e t h n o g r a p h y " — i s t h e d i s c o u r s e o f t h e
p o s t - m o d e r n world, for the world that m a d e science, a n d that science
m a d e , h a s d i s a p p e a r e d , a n d scientific t h o u g h t is n o w a n a r c h a i c m o d e
o f c o n s c i o u s n e s s surviving for a while yet in d e g r a d e d f o r m with­
o u t t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c c o n t e x t t h a t c r e a t e d a n d s u s t a i n e d it. S c i e n t i f i c
t h o u g h t s u c c u m b e d b e c a u s e it v i o l a t e d t h e first law o f c u l t u r e , w h i c h
says t h a t " t h e m o r e m a n c o n t r o l s a n y t h i n g , t h e m o r e u n c o n t r o l l a b l e
b o t h b e c o m e . " I n t h e t o t a l i z i n g r h e t o r i c o f its m y t h o l o g y , s c i e n c e p u r ­
p o r t e d t o b e its o w n j u s t i f i c a t i o n a n d s o u g h t to c o n t r o l a n d a u t o n o m i z e its d i s c o u r s e . Yet its o n l y j u s t i h c a t i o n w a s p r o o f , f o r w h i c h t h e r e
c o u l d b e n o j u s t i f i c a t i o n w i t h i n its o w n d i s c o u r s e , a n d t h e m o r e it c o n ­
t r o l l e d its d i s c o u r s e b y s u b j e c t i n g it to t h e c r i t e r i o n o f p r o o f , t h e m o r e
u n c o n t r o l l a b l e its d i s c o u r s e b e c a m e . Its o w n activity c o n s t a n t l y f r a g ­
m e n t e d t h e u n i t y o f k n o w l e d g e it s o u g h t t o p r o j e c t . T h e m o r e it k n e w ,
the m o r e there was to know.
A l l its t e x t u a l s t r a t e g i e s — i t s m e t h o d — d e p e n d e d o n a p r i o r a n d
critical d i s j u n c t i o n o f l a n g u a g e a n d t h e w o r l d . It m a d e v i s u a l p e r ­
ception u n m e d i a t e d by concepts the origin o f k n o w l e d g e about the
w o r l d , a n d it m a d e l a n g u a g e t h e m e a n s by w h i c h t h a t k n o w l e d g e a p ­
p e a r e d in descriptions. Science d e p e n d e d , in o t h e r w o r d s , o n the d e ­
s c r i p t i v e a d e q u a c y o f l a n g u a g e as a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e w o r l d , b u t i n
o r d e r t o m o v e f r o m i n d i v i d u a l p e r c e p t to a g r e e d - u p o n p e r c e p t i o n , it
also n e e d e d a l a n g u a g e o f c o m m u n i c a t i v e adequacy that c o u l d e n a b l e
c o n s e n s u s i n t h e c o m m u n i t y o f scientists. I n t h e e n d , s c i e n c e f a i l e d
b e c a u s e it c o u l d n o t r e c o n c i l e t h e c o m p e t i n g d e m a n d s o f r e p r e s e n ­
tation a n d c o m m u n i c a t i o n . Every m o v e to e n h a n c e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
t h r e a t e n e d c o m m u n i c a t i o n a n d every a g r e e m e n t in c o m m u n i c a t i o n
was the sign o f a n e w failure in representation.
124
STEPHEN A. TYLER
S c i e n c e a d o p t e d a m o d e l o f l a n g u a g e as a s e l f - p e r f e c t i n g f o r m o f
c l o s e d c o m m u n i c a t i o n t h a t a c h i e v e d c l o s u r e by m a k i n g l a n g u a g e i t s e l f
t h e o b j e c t o f d e s c r i p t i o n . B u t c l o s u r e w a s b o u g h t at t h e c o s t o f d e ­
s c r i p t i v e a d e q u a c y . T h e m o r e l a n g u a g e b e c a m e its o w n o b j e c t , t h e l e s s
it h a d t o say a b o u t a n y t h i n g e l s e . S o , t h e l a n g u a g e o f s c i e n c e b e c a m e
t h e o b j e c t o f s c i e n c e , a n d w h a t h a d b e g u n as p e r c e p t i o n u n m e d i a t e d
b y c o n c e p t s b e c a m e c o n c e p t i o n u n m e d i a t e d by p e r c e p t s . T h e u n i t y o f
c o m m u n i c a t i o n b r o u g h t about by l a n g u a g e displaced t h e unity o f
p e r c e p t i o n t h a t l a n g u a g e h a d f o r m e r l y w r o u g h t . L a n g u a g e as c o m ­
m u n i c a t i o n d i s p l a c e d l a n g u a g e as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d as s c i e n c e c o m ­
m u n i c a t e d b e t t e r a n d b e t t e r a b o u t itself, it h a d less a n d less t o say
about the world. In an excess o f democracy, a g r e e m e n t a m o n g scien­
tists b e c a m e m o r e i m p o r t a n t t h a n t h e n a t u r e o f n a t u r e .
Still, t h i s w o u l d n o t h a v e b e e n fatal h a d it n o t b e e n f o r t h e s t u b ­
b o r n r e f u s a l o f l a n g u a g e t o p e r f e c t itself. A s s c i e n c e i n c r e a s i n g l y d e ­
fined i t s e l f as t h e m o d e o f d i s c o u r s e t h a t h a d its o w n d i s c o u r s e as its
o b j e c t , e v e r y m o v e t o p e r f e c t t h a t d i s c o u r s e a n d fill e v e r y g a p o f p r o o f
revealed ever-new imperfections. Every self-perfecting, self-corrective
m o v e c r e a t e d local o r d e r s t h a t s p a w n e d n e w i m p e r f e c t i o n s r e q u i r i n g
n e w corrections. Instead of a coherent system of knowledge, science
c r e a t e d a w e l t e r o f local o r d e r s u n r e l a t e d to o n e a n o t h e r a n d b e y o n d
t h e c o n t r o l o f a n y o n e . Scientific k n o w l e d g e w a s s y s t e m a t i z e d o n l y b y
t h e u n i t y o f a r a t i o n a l m e t h o d t h a t p r o d u c e d g r e a t e r a n d g r e a t e r irra­
tionality. T h e Utopian unity o f science d i s a p p e a r e d f r o m sight a l o n g
w i t h all t h e o t h e r u n r e a l o b j e c t s o f scientific fantasy.
C a u g h t u p i n t h e f a s c i n a t i o n o f this glass b e a d g a m e w i t h its e v e r c h a n g i n g rules o f play a n d p r o m i s e o f the always n e w a n d different,
s c i e n t i s t s f u l f i l l e d i n t h e i r d i s c o u r s e t h a t d r e a m o f capitalist p r o d u c ­
tion in w h i c h n e w self-destructing products automatically r e m o v e
t h e m s e l v e s f r o m c o m p e t i t i o n w i t h still n e w e r s e l f - d e s t r u c t i n g p r o d u c t s
c r e a t e d t o fill a n i n s a t i a b l e d e m a n d f o r t h e c o n s u m p t i o n o f t h e latest
s c i e n t i f i c b r e a k t h r o u g h , t h e latest c h a n g e in t h e r u l e s o f t h e g a m e . I n
this world o f e v e r - c h a n g i n g fashions, the provincial was the player
w h o c o n t i n u e d to play a g a m e that h a d already b e e n a b a n d o n e d by
t h o s e in the "forefront" or o n the "cutting e d g e " o f research.
A s s c i e n c e c a m e t o b e t h o u g h t o f m o r e a n d m o r e as a g a m e , it
b e c a m e d i s t a n c e d f r o m praxis a n d d i s r u p t e d t h e t a k e n - f o r - g r a n t e d r e ­
lation b e t w e e n theory a n d practice. W h a t consistent practice could
flow f r o m a n i n c o n s t a n t t h e o r y t h a t u n d e r s t o o d its s i g n i f i c a n c e as a
p l a y i n a g a m e ? T h e less t h e o r y w a s g u i d e d a n d s t i m u l a t e d b y a r e f l e x ­
i v e r e l a t i o n t o practical a p p l i c a t i o n , t h e less it c o u l d j u s t i f y i t s e l f as t h e
s o u r c e o f practice. A n d since t h e infinite g a m e led only to provisional
k n o w l e d g e , e v e r s u b j e c t t o r e v i s i o n as a c o n s e q u e n c e o f c h a n g e s in t h e
Post-Modern Ethnography
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r u l e s , it p r o d u c e d n o u n i v e r s a l k n o w l e d g e a n d c o u l d n o t j u s t i f y i t s e l f
b y h o l d i n g o u t t h e p r o m i s e t h a t it w o u l d . Its i n v o l u t i o n c l o s e d o f f b o t h
the r e t u r n to the c o n c r e t e world o f practice a n d t h e transit to t h e
w h o l l y t r a n s c e n d e n t a l w o r l d o f u n i v e r s a l k n o w l e d g e . C o n s e q u e n t l y , it
h a d t o l o o k o u t s i d e its o w n d i s c o u r s e f o r j u s t i f i c a t i o n , t o s e e k l e g i t i ­
m a t i o n i n a d i s c o u r s e t h a t w a s o t h e r t h a n its o w n a n d n o t s u b j e c t t o
its r u l e s . It n e e d e d a d i s c o u r s e t h a t c o u l d n o t b e p a r t o f t h e selfp e r f e c t i n g d i s c o u r s e o f s c i e n c e o r f o u n d a t i o n a l i n a n y scientifically a c ­
ceptable way.
S c i e n c e c h o s e a n u n e a s y c o m p r o m i s e , subjugating itself b o t h to
t h e d i s c o u r s e o f w o r k (politics a n d i n d u s t r y ) a n d t h e d i s c o u r s e o f
v a l u e ( e t h i c s a n d a e s t h e t i c s ) , b u t s i n c e politics a n d i n d u s t r y c o n t r o l l e d
t h e m e a n s o f play a n d c o u l d always threaten to w i t h h o l d the f u n d s o n
w h i c h the g a m e d e p e n d e d , science s u c c u m b e d m o r e a n d m o r e to
l i m i t a t i o n s o n p l a y i m p o s e d i n t h e i n t e r e s t s o f its m a s t e r s .
E n l i s t e d first as t h e p r o p a g a n d a a r m o f s c i e n c e , a s s e r t i n g t h e lie o f
t h e o r y a n d b a s i c r e s e a r c h as t h e s o u r c e o f p r a c t i c e a n d t e c h n o l o g i c a l
innovation, the discourse of value eventually became the ideological
m e a n s f o r t h e j u s t i f i c a t i o n o f w o r k , a n d all talk o f v a l u e w a s l i n k e d
inseparably to objects a n d to p e r f o r m a n c e relative to o b j e c t s — t h e re­
ality f i c t i o n s o f w o r k . W h a t h a d o r i g i n a l l y p r e s e n t e d itself as t h e c o n ­
t e x t o f p r a c t i c a l reality w i t h i n w h i c h t h e a e s t h e t i c s o f t h e p l a y o f sci­
e n c e w o u l d find its m e a n i n g a n d j u s t i f i c a t i o n b e c a m e t h e c o n d i t i o n o f
a b u r e a u c r a t i c u n r e a l i t y e s t a b l i s h i n g t h e limits of reality t h r o u g h t h e
e x e r c i s e o f p o w e r d i s g u i s e d as r e a s o n . All d i s c o u r s e w a s r e d u c e d
t o t h e r h e t o r i c o f w o r k . B u t , at this m o m e n t o f its t r i u m p h o f total
c o n t r o l , d o w e s e n s e t h e first t r e m o r s o f t h e e r u p t i o n o f t h e u n c o n ­
trollable?
T h i s is t h e t a l e o f t h e o r i g i n o f t h e p o s t - m o d e r n w o r l d as t o l d b y
H a b e r m a s ( 1 9 7 5 , 1984) a n d L y o t a r d ( 1 9 7 9 ) — a l l o w i n g f o r c e r t a i n
i n t e n t i o n a l i n t e r p r e t i v e l i b e r t i e s . It is t h e f r a m i n g s t o r y f o r a p o s t ­
modern ethnography.
Free Voice: Post-Modern Ethnography
A p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is a c o o p e r a t i v e l y e v o l v e d t e x t
consisting o f f r a g m e n t s o f discourse i n t e n d e d to e v o k e in the m i n d s o f
b o t h r e a d e r a n d writer a n e m e r g e n t fantasy o f a possible w o r l d o f
c o m m o n s e n s e reality, a n d t h u s to p r o v o k e a n a e s t h e t i c i n t e g r a t i o n
t h a t will h a v e a t h e r a p e u t i c effect. It is, in a w o r d , p o e t r y — n o t in its
t e x t u a l f o r m , b u t i n its r e t u r n t o t h e o r i g i n a l c o n t e x t a n d f u n c t i o n
o f p o e t r y , w h i c h , b y m e a n s o f its p e r f o r m a t i v e b r e a k w i t h e v e r y d a y
ia6
STEPHEN A. TYLER
s p e e c h , e v o k e d m e m o r i e s o f t h e ethos o f t h e c o m m u n i t y a n d t h e r e b y
p r o v o k e d h e a r e r s t o act e t h i c a l l y (cf. J a e g e r 1 9 4 5 : 3 — 76). P o s t ­
m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y a t t e m p t s t o r e c r e a t e t e x t u a l l y this s p i r a l o f p o ­
e t i c a n d r i t u a l p e r f o r m a n c e ; L i k e t h e m , it d e f a m i l i a r i z e s c o m m o n s e n s e reality in a bracketed c o n t e x t o f p e r f o r m a n c e , e v o k e s a fantasy
w h o l e a b d u c t e d from fragments, a n d then returns participants to the
w o r l d o f c o m m o n s e n s e — t r a n s f o r m e d , r e n e w e d , a n d s a c r a l i z e d . It
has t h e allegorical import, t h o u g h n o t t h e narrative f o r m , o f a vision
q u e s t o r r e l i g i o u s p a r a b l e . T h e b r e a k w i t h e v e r y d a y reality is a j o u r ­
n e y apart into strange lands with occult practices—into the heart o f
d a r k n e s s — w h e r e f r a g m e n t s o f t h e fantastic w h i r l a b o u t i n t h e v o r t e x
o f t h e q u e s t e r ' s d i s o r i e n t e d c o n s c i o u s n e s s , until, a r r i v e d at t h e m a e l ­
s t r o m ' s c e n t e r , h e l o s e s c o n s c i o u s n e s s at t h e v e r y m o m e n t o f t h e m i ­
r a c u l o u s , r e s t o r a t i v e v i s i o n , a n d t h e n , u n c o n s c i o u s , is cast u p o n t o t h e
familiar, b u t forever transformed, shores of the c o m m o n p l a c e world.
P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is n o t a n e w d e p a r t u r e , n o t a n o t h e r r u p ­
t u r e i n t h e f o r m o f d i s c o u r s e o f t h e s o r t w e h a v e c o m e t o e x p e c t as t h e
n o r m o f m o d e r n i s t e s t h e t i c s ' scientistic e m p h a s i s o n e x p e r i m e n t a l
novelty, b u t a self-conscious return to a n earlier a n d m o r e p o w e r f u l
n o t i o n o f t h e e t h i c a l c h a r a c t e r o f all d i s c o u r s e , as c a p t u r e d i n t h e a n ­
c i e n t s i g n i f i c a n c e o f t h e f a m i l y o f t e r m s " e t h o s , " " e t h n o s , " "ethics."
B e c a u s e p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y privileges "discourse" o v e r
"text," it f o r e g r o u n d s d i a l o g u e as o p p o s e d t o m o n o l o g u e , a n d e m p h a ­
sizes t h e c o o p e r a t i v e a n d collaborative n a t u r e o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c
situation in contrast to the ideology o f the transcendental observer. I n
fact, it rejects t h e i d e o l o g y o f " o b s e r v e r - o b s e r v e d , " t h e r e b e i n g n o t h ­
i n g o b s e r v e d a n d n o o n e w h o is o b s e r v e r . T h e r e is i n s t e a d t h e m u t u a l ,
d i a l o g i c a l p r o d u c t i o n o f a d i s c o u r s e , o f a story o f s o r t s . W e b e t t e r
u n d e r s t a n d t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c c o n t e x t as o n e o f c o o p e r a t i v e s t o r y
m a k i n g that, i n o n e o f its i d e a l f o r m s , w o u l d r e s u l t i n a p o l y p h o n i c
t e x t , n o n e o f w h o s e p a r t i c i p a n t s w o u l d h a v e t h e final w o r d i n t h e f o r m
o f a f r a m i n g story o r e n c o m p a s s i n g s y n t h e s i s — a discourse o n t h e dis­
c o u r s e . It m i g h t b e j u s t t h e d i a l o g u e itself, o r p o s s i b l y a s e r i e s o f j u x ­
t a p o s e d p a r a t a c t i c t e l l i n g s o f a s h a r e d c i r c u m s t a n c e , as i n t h e S y n o p t i c
Gospels, o r p e r h a p s only a s e q u e n c e o f separate tellings in search o f
a c o m m o n t h e m e , or e v e n a contrapuntal interweaving o f tellings, or
o f a t h e m e a n d v a r i a t i o n s (cf. M a r c u s a n d C u s h m a n 1 9 8 2 , C l i f f o r d
1 9 8 3 a ) . U n l i k e t h e t r a d i t i o n a l t e l l e r o f tales o r h i s f o l k l o r i s t c o u n t e r ­
part, t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r w o u l d n o t focus o n m o n o p h o n i e p e r f o r m a n c e
a n d narrativity, t h o u g h n e i t h e r w o u l d h e necessarily e x c l u d e t h e m if
t h e y w e r e a p p r o p r i a t e in context.
I d o n o t wish to s u g g e s t that s u c h a text w o u l d r e s e m b l e a n e d i t e d
collection of authored papers, o n e of those authorless books pro-
Post-Modern Ethnography
127
d u c e d b y c o m m i t t e e , o r a n a c c i d e n t a l c o l l a g e like a n i s s u e o f t h e
American Anthropologist. T h e s e t h r e e u s e d t o g e t h e r , t h o u g h , d o c h a r a c ­
t e r i z e a u b i q u i t o u s e t h n o g r a p h i c f o r m c a l l e d t h e " n e w s p a p e r . " I n fact,
h a d t h e r e b e e n a m o d e r n i s t m o v e m e n t i n e t h n o g r a p h y , it w o u l d h a v e
t a k e n t h e n e w s p a p e r as its literary m o d e l . T h e c o l l e c t i o n a n d t h e c o l ­
lage p r e s e r v e differences o f perspective, b u t differ o n t h e d i m e n s i o n
o f a c c i d e n t v s . p u r p o s e , t h o u g h w e c a n all t h i n k o f e d i t e d c o l l e c t i o n s
t h a t a r e i n fact c o l l a g e s , s o little d o t h e i r s e l e c t i o n s r e l a t e t o c o m m o n
t h e m e s o r t o p i c s t h a t t h e i r p r e s e n c e i n t h e s a m e v o l u m e s e e m s acci­
d e n t a l , a n d w e a r e all f a m i l i a r w i t h t h e m a t i z e d c o l l a g e s like t h e n e w s ­
paper, w h o s e items are minimally linked by the c o m m o n t h e m e , "here
a r e today's r e l e v a n c e s f o r n o b o d y i n p a r t i c u l a r as p u t t o g e t h e r b y n o ­
b o d y in particular."
P o l y p h o n y is a m e a n s o f p e r s p e c t i v a l relativity a n d is n o t j u s t a n
e v a s i o n o f authorial responsibility o r a guilty excess o f d e m o c r a c y ,
t h o u g h , a s V i c o m i g h t say, it a r t i c u l a t e s b e s t w i t h t h a t social f o r m , a n d
it d o e s c o r r e s p o n d w i t h t h e realities o f fieldwork i n p l a c e s s e n s i t i v e t o
t h e i s s u e o f p o w e r as s y m b o l i z e d i n t h e s u b j e c t - o b j e c t r e l a t i o n s h i p b e ­
t w e e n h e w h o r e p r e s e n t s a n d s h e w h o is r e p r e s e n t e d . A n d it is n o t
that e t h n o g r a p h e r s have never before used the idea o f authorless
texts, for m y t h s a n d folktales, e v e n w h e n related by s o m e o n e , are
p u r e e x a m p l e s o f the f o r m , t h o u g h w e must think in that case o f
a c o m m i t t e e e x t e n d e d in time w h o s e participants n e v e r c o n v e n e to
c o m p o s e the work.
T h e p o i n t is t h a t q u e s t i o n s o f f o r m a r e n o t p r i o r , t h e f o r m i t s e l f
s h o u l d e m e r g e o u t o f the joint work o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r a n d his na­
t i v e p a r t n e r s . T h e e m p h a s i s is o n t h e e m e r g e n t c h a r a c t e r o f t e x t u a l ­
i z a t i o n , t e x t u a l i z a t i o n b e i n g j u s t t h e initial i n t e r p r e t i v e m o v e t h a t p r o ­
vides a negotiated text for the reader to interpret. T h e h e r m e n e u t i c
p r o c e s s is n o t r e s t r i c t e d t o t h e reader's r e l a t i o n s h i p t o t h e text, b u t i n ­
c l u d e s as well t h e interpretive practices o f t h e parties to t h e originat­
i n g d i a l o g u e . I n this r e s p e c t , t h e m o d e l o f p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y
is n o t t h e n e w s p a p e r b u t t h a t o r i g i n a l e t h n o g r a p h y — t h e B i b l e (cf.
Kelber 1983).
T h e e m e r g e n t a n d cooperative nature o f textualization also in­
d e x e s a different ideological attitude toward the ethnographic other
a n d t h e u s e s o f e t h n o g r a p h y . T h e history o f e t h n o g r a p h i c writing
chronicles a cumulative sequence o f different attitudes toward t h e
o t h e r that implicate different uses o f ethnography. In the e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , t h e d o m i n a n t m o d e w a s " e t h n o g r a p h y as a l l e g o r y , " c e n t e r i n g
a r o u n d the key concept o f utopianism in which the "noble savage"
p l a y e d h i s e n n o b l i n g r o l e as a t h e r a p e u t i c i m a g e . I n t h e n i n e t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , t h e " s a v a g e " w a s n o l o n g e r n o b l e ; s h e w a s e i t h e r "fallen," i n
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STEPHEN A. TYLER
t h e c o n t i n u i n g biblical a l l e g o r y , o r a figure o f t h e r a p e u t i c i r o n y — a
m i n a t o r y S a t a n i c finger, o r a n i n s t a n c e o f t h e p r i m o r d i a l " p r i m i t i v e , "
a " l i v i n g fossil" s i g n i f y i n g p a s t i m p e r f e c t i o n h e a l e d b y t i m e in t h e
e m e r g i n g evolutionary allegory. In the twentieth century, t h e "savage"
w a s n o l o n g e r e v e n " p r i m i t i v e . " S h e w a s o n l y "data" a n d " e v i d e n c e , "
t h e critical d i s p r o v i n g i n s t a n c e i n t h e positivist r h e t o r i c o f p o l i t i c a l
liberalism. Later, in the structuralist a n d semioticist revival o f
seventeenth-century rationalism, h e again b e c a m e p u r e "difference,"
a f o r m a l p a t t e r n o f c o l l o c a t e d s i g n s totally r o b b e d o f t h e r a p e u t i c sig­
nificance. N o w , in addition to these, each o f which, or s o m e c o m b i n a ­
t i o n o f t h e m , still f e e d s t h e i m a g i n a t i o n o f s o m e e t h n o g r a p h e r s o m e ­
where, she has b e c o m e the instrument of the ethnographer's
" e x p e r i e n c e , " t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r h a v i n g b e c o m e t h e f o c u s o f "differ­
e n c e " in a p e r v e r s e version o f the romanticism that has always b e e n in
ethnography, no matter how desperately repressed and marginalized
by t h e objective i m p u l s e s o f seekers for p u r e data. A s in the u t o p i a n i s m o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e o t h e r is t h e m e a n s o f t h e a u t h o r ' s
a l i e n a t i o n f r o m his o w n sick c u l t u r e , b u t t h e s a v a g e o f t h e t w e n t i e t h
c e n t u r y is sick t o o ; n e u t e r e d , l i k e t h e rest o f u s , by t h e d a r k f o r c e s o f
t h e " w o r l d s y s t e m , " I T h a s lost t h e h e a l i n g art.
H a v i n g perceived the limiting m e a n i n g of the second m e m b e r
o f t h e c o m p o u n d t e r m " e t h n o g r a p h y " ("-graphy" fr. graphein "to
write"), s o m e e t h n o g r a p h e r s have t a m e d t h e savage, not with t h e p e n ,
b u t w i t h t h e t a p e r e c o r d e r , r e d u c i n g h i m t o a "straight m a n , " as i n t h e
s c r i p t o f s o m e o b s c u r e c o m i c r o u t i n e , f o r e v e n as t h e y t h i n k t o h a v e
r e t u r n e d t o "oral p e r f o r m a n c e " o r " d i a l o g u e , " in o r d e r t h a t t h e n a t i v e
h a v e a p l a c e i n t h e t e x t , t h e y e x e r c i s e total c o n t r o l o v e r h e r d i s c o u r s e
a n d s t e a l t h e o n l y t h i n g s h e h a s l e f t — h e r v o i c e . O t h e r s , i n full a n d
g u i l t l e s s k n o w l e d g e o f t h e i r c r i m e , c e l e b r a t e it i n " e t h n o p o e t r y , " w h i l e
t h e rest, l i k e S a r t r e , t h e i r f a c e s h a l f - t u r n e d f r o m t h e o f f e n d i n g p e n ,
w r i t e o n i n a t o n e m e n t — l i t t l e finger o f t h e left h a n d o n t h e " e r a s e "
b u t t o n , i n d e x finger o n t h e "play" b u t t o n — i n t h e s i g n o f t h e c u c k o l d c o u n t e r f e i t i n g voice in text.
Like Derrida, they have missed the true import o f "discourse,"
w h i c h is " t h e o t h e r as u s , " f o r t h e p o i n t o f d i s c o u r s e is n o t h o w t o
m a k e a better representation, but h o w to avoid representation- In
their textualization o f p s e u d o - d i s c o u r s e they have a c c o m p l i s h e d a ter­
r o r i s t a l i e n a t i o n m o r e c o m p l e t e t h a n t h a t o f t h e positivists. It m a y b e
t h a t all t e x t u a l i z a t i o n is a l i e n a t i o n , b u t it is c e r t a i n l y t r u e t h a t n o n p a r t i c i p a t o r y t e x t u a l i z a t i o n is a l i e n a t i o n — " n o t u s " — a n d t h e r e is n o
therapy in alienation.
A s the Utopians knew, e t h n o g r a p h y can perform a therapeutic
p u r p o s e i n e v o k i n g a p a r t i c i p a t o r y reality, b u t t h e y w e r e w r o n g in
Post-Modern Ethnography
129
t h i n k i n g t h a t r e a l i t y c o u l d b e e x p l i c i t l y p r o j e c t e d in t e x t . It is this e c h o ,
t h e n , o f p a r t i c i p a t o r y reality t h a t p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y s e e k s t o
e v o k e by m e a n s o f a participatory text in which n o o n e has the exclusive
r i g h t o f s y n o p t i c t r a n s c e n d e n c e . B e c a u s e it is p a r t i c i p a t o r y a n d e m e r ­
gent, p o s t - m o d e r n ethnography cannot have a predetermined form,
f o r it c o u l d h a p p e n t h a t p a r t i c i p a n t s m i g h t d e c i d e t h a t t e x t u a l i z a t i o n
i t s e l f is i n a p p r o p r i a t e — a s h a v e m a n y i n f o r m a n t s i n t h e p a s t , t h o u g h
t h e i r o b j e c t i o n s w e r e s e l d o m t a k e n to b e s i g n i f i c a n t i n t h e m s e l v e s ,
b e i n g t r e a t e d i n s t e a d as i m p e d i m e n t s t o t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s m o n o p h o n i c t e x t . W h a t e v e r f o r m t h e t e x t t a k e s — i f a n y — i t will stress s o n o r a n t relativity, n o t o n l y b e t w e e n t h e t e x t a n d t h e c o m m u n i t y o f d i s ­
c o u r s e o f w h i c h it is a p a r t — t h e u s u a l s e n s e o f "cultural r e l a t i v i t y " —
b u t w i t h i n t h e t e x t itself as a c o n s t i t u t i v e f e a t u r e o f t h e t e x t .
T h o u g h p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y p r i v i l e g e s d i s c o u r s e , it d o e s
n o t locate itself exclusively within the problematics o f a single tradi­
tion o f discourse, a n d seeks, in particular, to avoid g r o u n d i n g itself in
the theoretical a n d c o m m o n s e n s e categories of the h e g e m o n i c West­
e r n t r a d i t i o n . It t h u s r e l a t i v i z e s d i s c o u r s e n o t j u s t to f o r m — t h a t fa­
miliar p e r v e r s i o n o f the modernist; n o r to authorial i n t e n t i o n — t h a t
conceit o f the romantics; n o r to a foundational world b e y o n d dis­
c o u r s e — t h a t d e s p e r a t e g r a s p i n g f o r a s e p a r a t e reality o f t h e m y s t i c
a n d scientist alike; n o r e v e n to history and i d e o l o g y — t h o s e r e f u g e s o f
t h e h e r m e n e u t i c i s t ; n o r e v e n less t o l a n g u a g e — t h a t h y p o s t a s i z e d
abstraction o f the linguist; nor, ultimately, e v e n to d i s c o u r s e — t h a t
N i e t z s c h e a n p l a y g r o u n d o f w o r l d - l o s t signifiers o f t h e s t r u c t u r a l i s t
a n d g r a m m a t o l o g i s t , b u t t o all o r n o n e of t h e s e , f o r it is a n a r c h i c ,
t h o u g h n o t f o r t h e s a k e o f a n a r c h y b u t b e c a u s e it r e f u s e s to b e c o m e a
f e t i s h i z e d o b j e c t a m o n g o b j e c t s — t o b e d i s m a n t l e d , c o m p a r e d , classi­
fied, a n d n e u t e r e d i n t h a t p a r o d y o f scientiific s c r u t i n y k n o w n as criti­
c i s m . T h e e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t is n o t o n l y n o t an o b j e c t , it is n o t the o b ­
j e c t ; it is i n s t e a d a m e a n s , t h e m e d i t a t i v e v e h i c l e f o r a t r a n s c e n d e n c e
o f t i m e a n d p l a c e t h a t is n o t j u s t t r a n s c e n d e n t a l b u t a t r a n s c e n d e n t a l
r e t u r n to t i m e a n d place.
B e c a u s e its m e a n i n g is n o t i n it b u t i n a n u n d e r s t a n d i n g , o f w h i c h
it is o n l y a c o n s u m e d f r a g m e n t , it is n o l o n g e r c u r s e d w i t h t h e task o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . T h e k e y w o r d i n u n d e r s t a n d i n g this d i f f e r e n c e is
" e v o k e , " f o r i f a d i s c o u r s e c a n b e s a i d t o " e v o k e , " t h e n it n e e d n o t r e p ­
r e s e n t w h a t it e v o k e s , t h o u g h it m a y b e a m e a n s t o a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
S i n c e e v o c a t i o n is n o n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l , it is n o t t o b e u n d e r s t o o d as a
s i g n f u n c t i o n , f o r it is n o t a " s y m b o l of," n o r d o e s it " s y m b o l i z e " w h a t
it e v o k e s . T h e p o s t - m o d e r n t e x t h a s m o v e d b e y o n d t h e r e p r e s e n t a ­
t i o n a l f u n c t i o n o f s i g n s a n d h a s cast o f f t h e e n c u m b r a n c e s o f t h e s u b ­
stitution o f appearances, those "absences" and "differences" o f the
STEPHEN A. TYLER
i3°
g r a m m a t o l o g i s t . It is n o t a p r e s e n c e t h a t calls i n t o b e i n g s o m e t h i n g
t h a t w a s a b s e n t ; it is a c o m i n g t o b e o f w h a t w a s n e i t h e r t h e r e p r e s e n t
n o r a b s e n t , f o r w e a r e n o t t o u n d e r s t a n d " e v o c a t i o n " as l i n k i n g t w o
d i f f e r e n c e s i n t i m e a n d p l a c e , as s o m e t h i n g t h a t e v o k e s a n d s o m e t h i n g e l s e e v o k e d . E v o c a t i o n is a u n i t y , a s i n g l e e v e n t o r p r o c e s s , a n d
w e m u s t resist t h e t e m p t a t i o n o f g r a m m a r that w o u l d m a k e us think
t h a t t h e p r o p o s i t i o n a l f o r m "x e v o k e s y" m u s t m e a n t h a t x a n d y a r e
different entities linked by a third rather peculiar "process-entity"
c a l l e d " e v o k e , " a n d that, m o r e o v e r , x m u s t p r e c e d e y i n t i m e , a n d c o n s e q u e n t l y x m u s t b e a c o n d i t i o n o f y o r y a r e s u l t o f x. T h e s e a r e all
illusions o f grammar, which make us dismember unities into discrete
e n t i t i e s a n d p u n c t u a t e e v e n t s . W e m i g h t t h i n k t o c o r r e c t this s i t u a t i o n
b y w r i t i n g E n g l i s h n o n l i n e a l l y , as i f it w e r e C h i n e s e , i n i m i t a t i o n o f
E r n e s t F e n e l l o s a a n d E z r a P o u n d : evoLes, b u t s i n c e w e c o u l d still r e a d
y
)
l i n e a l l y "x e v o k e s y," a n d t h e e l e m e n t s x, " e v o k e s , " a n d y a r e as d i s c r e t e
as e v e r , t h i s is n o s o l u t i o n . P e r h a p s t h e b e s t w e c a n d o , s h o r t o f i n v e n t i n g s o m e n e w l o g o g r a p h , is a H e i d e g g e r i a n " e v o k i n g , " o r b e t t e r y e t ,
be wary o f the snares o f grammar.
T h e w h o l e p o i n t o f " e v o k i n g " r a t h e r t h a n " r e p r e s e n t i n g " is t h a t it
f r e e s e t h n o g r a p h y f r o m mimesis a n d t h e i n a p p r o p r i a t e m o d e o f s c i e n tific r h e t o r i c t h a t e n t a i l s "objects," "facts," " d e s c r i p t i o n s , " " i n d u c t i o n s , " " g e n e r a l i z a t i o n s , " "verification," " e x p e r i m e n t , " " t r u t h , " a n d
l i k e c o n c e p t s t h a t , e x c e p t as e m p t y i n v o c a t i o n s , h a v e n o p a r a l l e l s e i t h e r i n t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c fieldwork o r i n t h e w r i t i n g o f
e t h n o g r a p h i e s . T h e u r g e t o c o n f o r m t o t h e c a n o n s o f scientific r h e t o ric h a s m a d e t h e e a s y r e a l i s m o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y t h e d o m i n a n t m o d e o f
e t h n o g r a p h i c p r o s e , b u t it h a s b e e n a n i l l u s o r y r e a l i s m , p r o m o t i n g , o n
t h e o n e h a n d , t h e a b s u r d i t y o f " d e s c r i b i n g " n o n e n t i t i e s s u c h a s "cult u r e " o r "society" as if t h e y w e r e fully o b s e r v a b l e , t h o u g h s o m e w h a t
ungainly, bugs, a n d , o n the other, the equally ridiculous behaviorist
p r e t e n s e o f "describing" repetitive patterns o f action in isolation f r o m
t h e discourse that actors u s e in constituting a n d situating their action,
a n d all i n s i m p l e m i n d e d s u r e t y t h a t t h e o b s e r v e r s ' g r o u n d i n g d i s c o u r s e is i t s e l f a n o b j e c t i v e f o r m sufficient t o t h e task o f d e s c r i b i n g
a c t s . T h e p r o b l e m w i t h t h e r e a l i s m o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y is n o t , as is o f t e n
c l a i m e d , t h e c o m p l e x i t y o f t h e s o - c a l l e d o b j e c t o f o b s e r v a t i o n , n o r failu r e t o a p p l y sufficiently r i g o r o u s a n d r e p l i c a b l e m e t h o d s , n o r e v e n
l e s s t h e s e e m i n g intractability o f t h e l a n g u a g e o f d e s c r i p t i o n . It is i n s t e a d a f a i l u r e o f t h e w h o l e visualist i d e o l o g y o f r e f e r e n t i a l d i s c o u r s e ,
w i t h its r h e t o r i c o f " d e s c r i b i n g , " " c o m p a r i n g , " "classifying," a n d " g e n e r a l i z i n g , " a n d its p r e s u m p t i o n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l s i g n i f i c a t i o n . I n
e t h n o g r a p h y t h e r e are n o "things" t h e r e to b e t h e objects o f a d e s c r i p t i o n , t h e o r i g i n a l a p p e a r a n c e s t h a t t h e l a n g u a g e o f d e s c r i p t i o n "re-
Post-Modern Ethnography
presents" as indexical objects for c o m p a r i s o n , classihcation, a n d g e n e r a l i z a t i o n ; t h e r e is r a t h e r a d i s c o u r s e , a n d t h a t t o o , n o t h i n g , d e s p i t e
t h e m i s g u i d e d c l a i m s o f s u c h t r a n s l a t i o n a l m o d e l s o f e t h n o g r a p h y as
structuralism, ethno-science, a n d dialogue, which attempt to repres e n t e i t h e r n a t i v e d i s c o u r s e o r its u n c o n s c i o u s p a t t e r n s , a n d t h u s r e c o m m i t t h e crime o f natural history in the m i n d .
E t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e is itself n e i t h e r a n o b j e c t t o b e r e p r e s e n t e d n o r a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f a n object. C o n s e q u e n t l y t h e v i s u a l i s t
rhetoric o f representation, depending from the concreteness o f the
w r i t t e n w o r d — o f de-scribere—subverts
the ethical p u r p o r t o f e t h n o g r a p h y a n d c a n o n l y g i v e u s as r e p l a c e m e n t a s e n s e o f i n c o m p l e t e n e s s
a n d f a i l u r e , s i n c e its g o a l s a n d m e a n s a r e always o u t o f r e a c h .
E t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o u r s e is n o t p a r t o f a p r o j e c t w h o s e a i m is t h e
c r e a t i o n o f u n i v e r s a l k n o w l e d g e . It d i s o w n s t h e M e p h i s t o p h e l i a n u r g e
t o p o w e r t h r o u g h k n o w l e d g e , f o r that, t o o , is a c o n s e q u e n c e o f r e p r e sentation. T o represent m e a n s to have a kind o f magical power over
a p p e a r a n c e s , t o b e a b l e t o b r i n g i n t o p r e s e n c e w h a t is a b s e n t , a n d t h a t
is w h y w r i t i n g , t h e m o s t p o w e r f u l m e a n s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , w a s c a l l e d
"grammarye," a m a g i c a l act. T h e t r u e historical s i g n i f i c a n c e o f w r i t i n g
is t h a t it h a s i n c r e a s e d o u r c a p a c i t y t o c r e a t e totalistic i l l u s i o n s w i t h
w h i c h t o h a v e p o w e r o v e r t h i n g s o r o v e r o t h e r s as i f t h e y w e r e t h i n g s .
T h e w h o l e i d e o l o g y o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l s i g n i f i c a t i o n is a n i d e o l o g y o f
p o w e r . T o b r e a k its s p e l l w e w o u l d h a v e t o attack w r i t i n g , totalistic r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l s i g n i h c a t i o n , a n d a u t h o r i a l a u t h o r i t y , b u t all this h a s already b e e n accomplished for us. O n g (1977) has m a d e us aware o f the
effects o f w r i t i n g b y r e m i n d i n g us o f t h e world o f oral e x p r e s s i o n that
c o n t r a s t s w i t h it. B e n j a m i n ( 1 9 7 8 ) a n d A d o r n o ( 1 9 7 7 ) h a v e c o u n t e r p o s e d t h e i d e o l o g y o f t h e "fragment" to that o f t h e w h o l e , a n d D e r r i d a ( 1 9 7 4 ) h a s m a d e t h e a u t h o r t h e c r e a t u r e o f w r i t i n g r a t h e r t h a n its
c r e a t o r . P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y b u i l d s its p r o g r a m n o t s o m u c h
f r o m t h e i r p r i n c i p l e s as f r o m t h e r u b b l e o f t h e i r d e c o n s t r u c t i o n .
A p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is f r a g m e n t a r y b e c a u s e it c a n n o t b e
o t h e r w i s e . L i f e i n t h e field is itself f r a g m e n t a r y , n o t at all o r g a n i z e d
a r o u n d f a m i l i a r e t h n o l o g i c a l c a t e g o r i e s s u c h as k i n s h i p , e c o n o m y , a n d
r e l i g i o n , a n d e x c e p t f o r u n u s u a l i n f o r m a n t s like t h e D o g o n s a g e
O g o t e m m ê l i , t h e n a t i v e s s e e m t o lack c o m m u n i c a b l e v i s i o n s o f a
shared, integrated w h o l e ; n o r d o particular e x p e r i e n c e s p r e s e n t
t h e m s e l v e s , e v e n t o t h e m o s t h a r d e n e d s o c i o l o g i s t , a s c o n v e n i e n t l y lab e l e d s y n e c d o c h e s , microcosms, o r allegories o f wholes, cultural o r
theoretical. A t best, w e m a k e d o with a collection o f indexical anecd o t e s o r telling particulars with which to p o r t e n d that larger unity b e y o n d e x p l i c i t t e x t u a l i z a t i o n . It is n o t j u s t t h a t w e c a n n o t s e e t h e f o r e s t
for t h e t r e e s , but. t h a t w e h a v e c o m e t o f e e l t h a t t h e r e a r e n o f o r e s t s
I 3 2
STEPHEN A. TYLER
w h e r e t h e t r e e s a r e t o o far a p a r t , j u s t as p a t c h e s m a k e q u i l t s o n l y if
t h e spaces b e t w e e n t h e m are small e n o u g h .
W e confirm in o u r ethnographies o u r consciousness o f the frag­
m e n t a r y n a t u r e o f the p o s t - m o d e r n world, for n o t h i n g so well defines
o u r w o r l d as t h e a b s e n c e o f a s y n t h e s i z i n g a l l e g o r y , o r p e r h a p s it is
o n l y a p a r a l y s i s o f c h o i c e b r o u g h t o n by o u r k n o w l e d g e o f t h e i n ­
e x h a u s t i b l e s u p p l y o f s u c h a l l e g o r i e s t h a t m a k e s us r e f u s e t h e m o ­
m e n t o f aesthetic totalization, the story o f stories, the h y p o s t a t i z e d
whole.
B u t t h e r e are o t h e r reasons, too. We k n o w that these textual transcendentals, these invocations o f holism, of functionally integrated
s y s t e m s a r e literary t r o p e s , t h e v e h i c l e s t h a t carry i m a g i n a t i o n f r o m
t h e p a r t t o t h e w h o l e , t h e c o n c r e t e to t h e abstract, a n d k n o w i n g t h e m
for w h a t they are, w h e t h e r m e c h a n i s m i c or organismic, m a k e s u s sus­
pect the rational o r d e r they promise.
M o r e i m p o r t a n t t h a n t h e s e , t h o u g h , is t h e i d e a t h a t t h e t r a n s c e n ­
d e n t a l t r a n s i t , t h e h o l i s t i c m o m e n t is n e i t h e r t e x t u a l l y d e t e r m i n e d n o r
the exclusive right o f the author, being instead the functional inter­
a c t i o n o f t e x t - a u t h o r - r e a d e r . It is n o t s o m e s e c r e t h i d d e n i n t h e t e x t ,
or b e t w e e n texts; n o r in the m i n d o f the author a n d only p o o r l y
e x p r e s s e d / r e p r e s s e d by h i m ; p o r in t h e reader's i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , n o
m a t t e r w h a t h i s critical p e r s u a s i o n — i f a n y . It is n o t t h e n e g a t i v e d i ­
a l e c t i c s o f T h e o d o r A d o r n o , f o r its p a r a t a c t i c o p p o s i t i o n s a r e partici­
patory functions rather than textual forms. T h e y derive f r o m dia­
l o g u e r a t h e r t h a n t h e m o n o p h o n i e i n t e r n a l dialectic o f t h e a u t h o r
w i t h h i s t e x t . E v e n t h o u g h A d o r n o a r g u e s t h a t t h e essay, b y m e a n s o f
n e g a t i v e d i a l e c t i c s , a i m s at t h e l i q u i d a t i o n o f all v i e w p o i n t s , it c a n n o t
a c h i e v e t h i s g o a l s o l o n g as it is m o n o p h o n i e , p r o j e c t e d f r o m t h e v i e w ­
p o i n t o f a s i n g l e a u t h o r . It e x p r e s s e s o n l y t h e c o g n i t i v e u t o p i a o f t h e
a u t h o r ( K a u f f m a n n 1981:343—53)- Unlike negative dialectics, the o p ­
positions o f d i a l o g u e n e e d n o t be held in u n r e s o l v e d s u s p e n s i o n with­
o u t t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f t r a n s c e n d e n c e , b u t like n e g a t i v e d i a l e c t i c s , p o s t ­
m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y d o e s not practice synthesis within the text. T h e
s y n o p t i c t r a n s i t is a n o n s y n t h e t i c t r a n s c e n d e n c e t h a t is e v o k e d by, n o t
i m m a n e n t in, the text. T h e text has the paradoxical capacity to e v o k e
t r a n s c e n d e n c e w i t h o u t synthesis, w i t h o u t creating within itself f o r m a l
devices a n d conceptual strategies of transcendental order. In c o m ­
m o n w i t h A d o r n o 's p r o g r a m , it a v o i d s a n y s u p p o s i t i o n o f a h a r m o n y
b e t w e e n the logical-conceptual order of the text a n d the o r d e r o f
t h i n g s , a n d it a t t e m p t s t o e l i m i n a t e t h e s u b j e c t - o b j e c t n e x u s b y r e f u s ­
i n g t h e possibility o f their separation or o f the d o m i n a n c e o f o n e o v e r
t h e o t h e r i n t h e f o r m o f t h e t e x t - a s - m i r r o r - o f - t h o u g h t . It a c c o m ­
p l i s h e s a c o g n i t i v e u t o p i a n o t o f t h e a u t h o r ' s subjectivity o r o f t h e
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reader's, b u t o f the author-text-reader, an e m e r g e n t m i n d that has n o
i n d i v i d u a l l o c u s , b e i n g i n s t e a d a n infinity o f p o s s i b l e loci.
H e r e , t h e n , is a n e w k i n d o f h o l i s m , o n e t h a t is e m e r g e n t r a t h e r
t h a n g i v e n , a n d o n e that e m e r g e s t h r o u g h the reflexivity o f texta u t h o r - r e a d e r a n d p r i v i l e g e s n o m e m b e r o f this trinity as t h e e x ­
c l u s i v e l o c u s o r m e a n s o f t h e w h o l e . M o r e o v e r , this e m e r g e n t w h o l e is
n e i t h e r a theoretical object n o r an object o f theoretical k n o w l e d g e ,
a n d is c o n s e q u e n t l y n e i t h e r e v o k e d b y e x p l i c i t m e t h o d s n o r t h e d e r i ­
v a t i o n a l s o u r c e o f p r a c t i c e s . It d o e s n o t m o t i v a t e o r e n a b l e p r a c t i c e i n
t h e e x p e c t e d m a n n e r o f t h e u s u a l t h e o r y - p r a c t i c e c o r r e l a t i o n . It is
not, in o t h e r w o r d s , a dialectical synthesis o f the m a n i f o l d o f i m p r e s ­
sions that neutralizes their differences in a h i g h e r - o r d e r pattern o f
t h e i r s a m e t y p e . It is n e i t h e r a n a b s t r a c t " t h i n g " n o r a n a b s t r a c t i o n
f r o m " t h i n g s , " a n d is t h u s n o t t h e p r o d u c t o f a n i n f e r e n c e w h o s e l i n e
o f d e v e l o p m e n t could be traced step-by-step f r o m the concrete par­
t i c u l a r s o f its o r i g i n s , t h r o u g h t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s , t o its a b s t r a c t a n d u n i ­
versal t e r m i n u s .
It g o e s a g a i n s t t h e g r a i n o f i n d u c t i o n , d e d u c t i o n , s y n t h e s i s , a n d
t h e w h o l e m o v e m e n t to " s y m b o l , " f o r its m o d e o f i n f e r e n c e is a b d u c tive, a n d t h e e l e m e n t s it c o n j o i n s , t h o u g h u s e d u p i n t h e f a n t a s y , d o
n o t d e l i v e r u p t h e i r s e p a r a t e n e s s in t h e r e s o l u t i o n o f s o m e o r g a n i c t o ­
tality. I n Sir W i l l i a m H a m i l t o n ' s w a y o f s p e a k i n g , t h e y a r e s i m i l a r t o
c o r r e l a t i v e s s u c h as p a r t - w h o l e a n d c a u s e - e f f e c t , t h e o n e u n t h i n k a b l e
w i t h o u t the other, a conjunction o f terms that mutually explicate b u t
d o not d e t e r m i n e each other or induce a synthetic reduction. T h e y
e x p r e s s t h e " L a w o f t h e C o n d i t i o n e d " : "All p o s i t i v e t h o u g h t lies b e ­
t w e e n t w o e x t r e m e s , n e i t h e r o f w h i c h w e c a n c o n c e i v e as p o s s i b l e , a n d
y e t as m u t u a l c o n t r a d i c t o r i e s , t h e o n e o r t h e o t h e r w e m u s t r e c o g n i z e
as n e c e s s a r y " ( 1 8 6 3 : 2 1 1 ) .
J u s t as t h e m e t a p h o r o f t h e u p w a r d spiral i n t o t h e P l a t o n i c " o t h e r
o f u n i t y , " t h e "light o f r e a s o n , " t h e " h i g h e r , r a t i o n a l " r e a l m o f c o n ­
scious t h o u g h t a n d faceless abstraction—into the future, m i n d excar­
n a t e — i s i n a p p r o p r i a t e , s o , t o o , is t h e o p p o s i t e m e t a p h o r o f d e s c e n t
"beneath the surface" into the Plutonic "other o f separation," the
"lower" g y r e o f the u n c o n s c i o u s , w h e r e dwell in m u t u a l a n t a g o n i s m
t h e d a r k forces o f the irrational animal a n d the d e m o n i c rational p o w ­
e r s o f " u n d e r l y i n g s t r u c t u r e s " — i n t o t h e past, i n m e m o r y , t h e m i n d
carnal a n d incarnate.
T h e a n c i e n t m e t a p h o r o f t h o u g h t as m o v e m e n t , a s p e c i e s o f m o ­
t i o n , b e q u e a t h e d t o u s by A r i s t o t l e , is i n q u e s t i o n h e r e , f o r it is t h e
simultaneous juxtaposition of these contrary motions a n d their m u t u ­
ally n e u t r a l i z i n g c o n f l i c t t h a t e n a b l e s t h e w h o l e I s e e k t o e v o k e , t h a t
s t i l l n e s s at t h e c e n t e r w h e r e t h e r e is n e i t h e r h i g h e r n o r l o w e r , f o r w a r d
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n o r back, past n o r future, w h e n space a n d time cancel each o t h e r o u t
the illusion o f a transcendental, neither transcendental science n o r
i n t h a t f a m i l i a r f a n t a s y w e all k n o w as t h e e v e r y d a y ,
t r a n s c e n d e n t a l r e l i g i o n c a n b e at h o m e i n it, f o r t h a t w h i c h is i n h o s ­
commonplace
w o r l d , that breach in time, that ever present, never p r e s e n t simul­
pitable t o t h e t r a n s c e n d e n c e by abstraction o f t h e o n e m u s t also b e
t a n e i t y o f r e a l i t y a n d f a n t a s y t h a t is t h e r e t u r n t o t h e c o m m o n s e n s e
u n f r i e n d l y to t h e similar character o f t h e other. N e i t h e r t h e scientific
w o r l d , floating, like t h e L o r d B r a h m a , m o t i o n l e s s in t h e surfaceless
i l l u s i o n o f r e a l i t y n o r t h e r e l i g i o u s r e a l i t y o f i l l u s i o n is c o n g r u e n t w i t h
v o i d , all p o t e n t i a l i t y s u s p e n d e d w i t h i n u s i n p e r f e c t r e a l i z a t i o n , a r e ­
t h e r e a l i t y o f f a n t a s y i n t h e f a n t a s y reality o f t h e p o s t - m o d e r n w o r l d .
t u r n t h a t is n o t a c l i m a x , t e r m i n u s , s t a b l e i m a g e , o r h o m e o s t a t i c e q u i ­
P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y c a p t u r e s this m o o d o f t h e p o s t - m o d e r n
l i b r i u m , b u t a r e d u c t i o n o f t e n s i o n as t h e m o m e n t o f t r a n s c e n d e n c e
w o r l d , f o r it, t o o , d o e s n o t m o v e t o w a r d a b s t r a c t i o n , a w a y f r o m l i f e ,
simultaneously approaches, draws near, a n d departs without having
b u t b a c k t o e x p e r i e n c e . It a i m s n o t t o f o s t e r t h e g r o w t h o f k n o w l e d g e
a r r i v e d . A n d t h a t is w h y t h e p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is a n o c c u l t
b u t t o r e s t r u c t u r e e x p e r i e n c e ; n o t t o u n d e r s t a n d o b j e c t i v e reality, f o r
d o c u m e n t ; it is a n e n i g m a t i c , p a r a d o x i c a l , a n d e s o t e r i c c o n j u n c t i o n o f
t h a t is a l r e a d y e s t a b l i s h e d b y c o m m o n s e n s e , n o r t o e x p l a i n h o w w e
reality a n d fantasy that evokes the constructed simultaneity w e k n o w
u n d e r s t a n d , f o r t h a t is i m p o s s i b l e , b u t t o r e a s s i m i l a t e , t o r e i n t e g r a t e
as n a i v e r e a l i s m . It c o n j o i n s r e a l i t y a n d f a n t a s y , f o r it s p e a k s o f t h e
t h e self i n society a n d to restructure t h e c o n d u c t o f e v e r y d a y life.
occult in t h e l a n g u a g e o f naive realism a n d o f t h e everyday in occult
Save in the c o m m o n s e n s e world, discourse cannot autonomously
language, a n d makes the reason o f the o n e the reasonableness o f the
d e t e r m i n e its r h e t o r i c a l e f f e c t s . N e i t h e r its f o r m n o r its a u t h o r i a l i n ­
o t h e r . I t is a f a n t a s y r e a l i t y o f a r e a l i t y f a n t a s y w h o s e a i m is t o e v o k e i n
t e n t i o n d e t e r m i n e h o w it will b e u n d e r s t o o d , f o r it is i m p o s s i b l e i n t e x t
r e a d e r a n d writer alike s o m e intimation o f a possible w o r l d already
o r s p e e c h t o e l i m i n a t e a m b i g u i t y a n d t o s t r u c t u r e totally f o r all t i m e
g i v e n to us in fantasy a n d c o m m o n s e n s e , those foundations o f o u r
t h e a u d i t o r ' s p u r p o s e s a n d i n t e r e s t s . H e r r e a d i n g a n d l i s t e n i n g a r e as
k n o w l e d g e that c a n n o t themselves be the objects o f o u r k n o w l e d g e ,
m u c h e x p r e s s i o n s o f h e r i n t e n t i o n s a n d will as is t h e a u t h o r ' s w r i t i n g
" f o r a s b y t h e m w e k n o w all e l s e , b y n o u g h t e l s e c a n t h e y b e k n o w n .
a n d speaking. N o t e v e n the conjunction a n d c o n s e q u e n c e o f their
W e k n o w t h e m i n d e e d , b u t o n l y i n t h e fact t h a t w i t h t h e m a n d t h r o u g h
joint interests a n d p u r p o s e s in a shared interpretation d e n y ambiguity
t h e m w e know" ( H a m i l t o n 1 8 6 3 : 255).
a n d a f f i r m d e t e r m i n a t i v e m e a n i n g ; it o n l y e x p r e s s e s a t e m p o r a r y
P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is a r e t u r n t o t h e i d e a o f a e s t h e t i c
s u f f i c i e n c y f o r p r e s e n t p u r p o s e s a n d c o n d i t i o n s t h a t will b e i n s u f f i ­
i n t e g r a t i o n as t h e r a p y o n c e c a p t u r e d i n t h e s e n s e o f P r o t o - I n d o -
cient f o r o t h e r p u r p o s e s a n d different c o n d i t i o n s . E v e n less c a n t h e
E u r o p e a n *ar- ("way o f b e i n g , " " o r d e r l y a n d h a r m o n i o u s
arrange­
t e x t , b y m e a n s o f its f o r m , d i c t a t e its i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , f o r it c a n n o t c o n ­
m e n t o f t h e p a r t s o f a w h o l e " ) , f r o m w h i c h h a v e c o m e E n g l i s h "art,"
t r o l t h e p o w e r s o f its r e a d e r s . T h e y r e s p o n d t o a t e x t o u t o f v a r i o u s
"rite," a n d "ritual," t h a t f a m i l y o f c o n c e p t s s o c l o s e l y c o n n e c t e d w i t h
states o f i g n o r a n c e , irreceptivity, disbelief,
t h e i d e a o f r e s t o r a t i v e h a r m o n y , o f " t h e r a p y " i n its o r i g i n a l s e n s e o f
f o r m . T h e y a r e i m m u n e i n t h e first e x t r e m e t o a n y n u a n c e o f f o r m ,
"ritual s u b s t i t u t e " (cf. H i t t i t e tarpan-atti),
a n d w i t h t h e p o e t as therâ-
r e a d i n g t h r o u g h it, n o t b y m e a n s o f it, u n c o n s c i o u s o f it e x c e p t p e r ­
" a t t e n d a n t o f t h e M u s e . " P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is a n o b j e c t
haps in confusion or annoyance. In the second extreme a paranoid
o f m e d i t a t i o n that p r o v o k e s a r u p t u r e with t h e c o m m o n s e n s e w o r l d
conviction o f authorial deceit feeds a search for h i d d e n m e a n i n g s —
pon,
a n d hypersensitivity to
a n d e v o k e s a n a e s t h e t i c i n t e g r a t i o n w h o s e t h e r a p e u t i c e f f e c t is w o r k e d
a n d t h e finding o f t h e m ; o r , i n o n e w i t h h e i g h t e n e d s e n s i b i l i t y t o t h e
o u t i n t h e r e s t o r a t i o n o f t h e c o m m o n s e n s e w o r l d . U n l i k e s c i e n c e , it is
n e c e s s a r y s t r u c t u r e s o f t h o u g h t a n d l a n g u a g e , t h e s e a r c h is l e s s f o r
n o t a n i n s t r u m e n t o f i m m o r t a l i t y , f o r it d o e s n o t h o l d o u t t h e f a l s e
things h i d d e n by t h e author than for things h i d d e n f r o m the author
h o p e o f a p e r m a n e n t , Utopian t r a n s c e n d e n c e , w h i c h c a n o n l y b e
by t h e s t r u c t u r e o f l a n g u a g e a n d t h o u g h t . O f t h e s e latter t w o , t h e o n e
a c h i e v e d by d e v a l u i n g a n d falsifying the c o m m o n s e n s e w o r l d a n d
t h i n k s t h e a u t h o r a c h a r l a t a n , t h e o t h e r a d u p e , b u t t o b o t h t h e t e x t is
thereby creating in us a sense o f p e r m a n e n t alienation f r o m everyday
a c o d e d secret hiding a necessary ipner m e a n i n g irresponsive to those
l i f e a s w e live i n c o n s t a n t e x p e c t a t i o n o f t h e m e s s i a n i c
obscuring o r concealing appearances o f outer contingencies that i m ­
deliverance
f r o m it t h a t c a n n e v e r c o m e , o r c o m e s o n l y w i t h d e a t h , a n d s c i e n c e
plicate a c o m m u n i t y o f belief. B e c a u s e t h e text c a n e l i m i n a t e n e i t h e r
t h u s e n c o u r a g e s u s t o d i e t o o s o o n . I n s t e a d , it d e p a r t s f r o m t h e c o m ­
a m b i g u i t y n o r t h e s u b j e c t i v i t y o f its a u t h o r s a n d r e a d e r s , it is b o u n d t o
m o n s e n s e w o r l d o n l y i n o r d e r t o r e c o n f i r m it a n d t o r e t u r n u s t o it
be m i s r e a d , so m u c h so that w e m i g h t conclude, in a p a r o d y o f B l o o m ,
r e n e w e d a n d mindful o f our renewal.
I fiat t h e m e a n i n g o f t h e t e x t is t h e s u m o f its m i s r e a d i n g s .
B e c a u s e t h e p o s t - m o d e r n w o r l d is a p o s t - s c i e n t i f i c w o r l d w i t h o u t
S u c h m a y i n d e e d b e t h e fate o f t h e text, b u t t h e m e a n i n g o f this
136
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*37
i n h e r e n t f a i l u r e t o c o n t r o l a m b i g u i t y a n d subjectivity is that it p r o ­
v i d e s g o o d r e a s o n f o r r e j e c t i n g t h e m o d e l o f scientific r h e t o r i c , t h a t
C a r t e s i a n p r e t e n s e t h a t i d e a s a r e e f f a b l e in c l e a r , u n a m b i g u o u s , o b j e c ­
t i v e , a n d l o g i c a l e x p r e s s i o n , f o r t h e i n n e r f o r m o f a t e x t is n o t l o g i c a l ,
except in parody, but paradoxical a n d enigmatic, not so m u c h in­
e f f a b l e , as o v e r - e f f a b l e , i n i m i t a b l y e f f a b l e , p o s s e s s i n g a s u r p l u s o f
e l i a b i l i t y t h a t m u s t a l w a y s e x c e e d t h e m e a n s o f its effability, s o t h a t t h e
i n f i n i t e p o s s i b i l i t y o f its effability b e c o m e s t h e c o n d i t i o n o f its in ef­
fability, a n d t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f a t e x t m u s t s t r u g g l e a g a i n s t this s u r ­
p l u s o f m e a n i n g , n o t w i t h its o b s c u r i t y o r p o v e r t y .
3. N o , it is n o t a q u e s t i o n o f f o r m , o f a m a n n e r o f w r i t i n g a s
such, a n d even though I speak o f polyphony a n d perspectival
relativity, f r a g m e n t a t i o n , a n d s o o n , t h e s e a r e n o t n e c e s s a r y c o m ­
p o n e n t s o f f o r m . T h e r e is h e r e n o a e s t h e t i c o f f o r m . L y o t a r d
( 1 9 7 9 : 8 0 ) n o t e s t w o possibilities. L e t u s call o n e " w r i t i n g at t h e
limit," w h e r e w e s e e k t o p u s h a g a i n s t limits i m p o s e d b y c o n v e n ­
t i o n s o f s y n t a x , m e a n i n g , a n d g e n r e , a n d l e t u s call t h e o t h e r
" w r i t i n g w i t h i n t h e limit," w r i t i n g s o c l e a r a n d c o m m o n s e n s i c a l
t h a t its v e r y r e a s o n a b l e n e s s e v o k e s w h a t is b e y o n d r e a s o n . I n b o t h
c a s e s t h e w r i t i n g is a n t i - g e n r e , a n t i - f o r m .
F o r p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y t h e i m p l i c a t i o n is, if n o t c l e a r , at
l e a s t a p p a r e n t t h a t its t e x t will b e p r o j e c t e d n e i t h e r in t h e f o r m o f this
i n n e r p a r a d o x n o r i n t h e f o r m o f a d e c e p t i v e o u t e r l o g i c , b u t as t h e
t e n s i o n b e t w e e n t h e m , n e i t h e r d e n y i n g a m b i g u i t y n o r e n d o r s i n g it,
n e i t h e r s u b v e r t i n g subjectivity n o r d e n y i n g objectivity, e x p r e s s i n g i n ­
stead their interaction in t h e subjective creation o f a m b i g u o u s objec­
tivities t h a t e n a b l e u n a m b i g u o u s subjectivity. T h e e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t
will t h u s a c h i e v e its p u r p o s e s n o t b y r e v e a l i n g t h e m , b u t b y m a k i n g
p u r p o s e s p o s s i b l e . It will b e a t e x t o f t h e p h y s i c a l , t h e s p o k e n , a n d t h e
p e r f o r m e d , a n evocation o f quotidian e x p e r i e n c e , a palpable reality
t h a t u s e s e v e r y d a y s p e e c h t o s u g g e s t w h a t is i n e f f a b l e , n o t t h r o u g h a b ­
s t r a c t i o n , b u t b y m e a n s o f t h e c o n c r e t e . It will b e a t e x t t o r e a d n o t
with the eyes a l o n e , b u t with t h e ears in o r d e r to h e a r "the voices o f
t h e p a g e s " (St. B e r n a r d , q u o t e d in S t o c k 1 9 8 3 : 4 0 8 ) .
4. P e r s p e c t i v e is t h e w r o n g m e t a p h o r . It c o n j u r e s i m a g e s a p ­
propriate to descriptive writing, writing in t h o u g h t pictures or hi­
e r o g l y p h s . It is n o t a b u s i n e s s o f " s e e i n g " at all, f o r t h a t is t h e
m e t a p h o r o f s c i e n c e , n o r is it a " d o i n g " ; t h a t is t h e m e t a p h o r o f
p o l i t i c s . T h e r e is n o a t t e m p t t o g o b e y o n d l a n g u a g e b y m e a n s
o f v i s i o n a n d a c t i o n . P o l y p h o n y is a b e t t e r m e t a p h o r b e c a u s e it
evokes s o u n d a n d h e a r i n g a n d simultaneity a n d h a r m o n y , n o t pic­
tures a n d s e e i n g a n d s e q u e n c e a n d line. Prose a c c o m p l i s h e s at
m o s t o n l y a kind o f sequential p o l y p h o n y until the r e a d e r a d d s his
v o i c e t o it.
Other Voices: Supplement
Yes, but what you really mean is don't you think that how is it possible that
what you're trying to say is .. .
1. C o n s e n s u s i n f o r m a n d c o n t e n t b e l o n g t o t h e o t h e r k i n d o f
d i s c o u r s e , a n d w h o s e e t h i c s is n o t t h e q u e s t i o n . I f o n e is d e a f t o
t h e t u n e o n e n e e d n o t d a n c e t o it, a n d b e s i d e s t h e r e is n o p r e s e n ­
t a t i o n o f a n e t h i c , o n l y t h e possibility o f its i n f l u e n c e .
2. N o , t h e r e is n o i n s t a n c e o f a p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y ,
e v e n t h o u g h all e t h n o g r a p h y is p o s t - m o d e r n i n e f f e c t , n o r is o n e
likely, t h o u g h s o m e r e c e n t w r i t i n g h a s t h e r i g h t spirit, f o r e x a m p l e
C r a p a n z a n o (1980), T e d l o c k (1983) a n d M a j n e p a n d B u l m e r
( 1 9 7 7 ) . T h e p o i n t a n y w a y is n o t h o w t o c r e a t e a p o s t - m o d e r n e t h ­
n o g r a p h y o r w h a t f o r m it o u g h t t o t a k e . T h e p o i n t is t h a t it m i g h t
take a n y f o r m but never be completely realized. Every attempt
will a l w a y s b e i n c o m p l e t e , i n s u f f i c i e n t , l a c k i n g i n s o m e w a y , b u t
t h i s is n o t a d e f e c t s i n c e it is t h e m e a n s t h a t e n a b l e s t r a n s c e n d e n c e .
T r a n s c e n d e n c e c o m e s from imperfection not from per l e d ion.
5. Y e s , it is a f o r m o f r e a l i s m ; it d e s c r i b e s n o o b j e c t s a n d
m a k e s n o b r e a k b e t w e e n d e s c r i b i n g a n d w h a t is b e i n g d e s c r i b e d .
It d o e s n o t d e s c r i b e , f o r t h e r e is n o t h i n g it c o u l d d e s c r i b e . S o
m u c h f o r t h e i d e a o f e t h n o g r a p h y as a " d e s c r i p t i o n o f reality." D e ­
s c r i p t i o n s o f reality a r e o n l y i m i t a t i o n s o f reality. T h e i r m o d e is
mimetic, b u t t h e i r mimesis c r e a t e s o n l y i l l u s i o n s o f reality, as i n t h e
fictional r e a l i t i e s o f s c i e n c e . That, is t h e p r i c e t h a t m u s t b e p a i d f o r
m a k i n g l a n g u a g e d o the work o f the eyes.
6. P e r c e p t i o n h a s n o t h i n g t o d o w i t h it. A n e t h n o g r a p h y is
n o account o f a rationalized m o v e m e n t from percept to concept.
It b e g i n s a n d e n d s i n c o n c e p t s . T h e r e is n o o r i g i n in p e r c e p t i o n ,
n o priority to vision, a n d n o data o f observation.
7. N o , it is n o t s u r r e a l i s m . It is t h e r e a l i s m o f t h e c o m m o n s e n s e w o r l d , w h i c h is o n l y s u r r e a l i n t h e fictions o f s c i e n c e a n d
i n t h e s c i e n c e o f fiction. W h o s e c o m m o n s e n s e ? W h y , a n y b o d y ' s ,
w h i c h is n o t t o s a y e v e r y b o d y ' s , as T h o m a s R e i d ( 1 8 9 5 : 6 9 2 — 7 0 1 )
did.
8. T r a n s l a t i o n ? N o t if w e t h i n k o f it as f o r d i n g a s t r e a m t h a t
separates o n e text f r o m another a n d c h a n g i n g languages in mid­
s t r e a m . T h i s is mimesis o f l a n g u a g e , o n e l a n g u a g e c o p y i n g a n o t h e r ,
w h i c h n e v e r m a k e s a c o p y a n y w a y , b u t a m o r e o r less c o n t o r t e d
o r i g i n a l . T h o u g h t h i s f o r m o f mimesis o f f e n d s less t h a n t h a t o f vi­
s i o n , it is still a silly i d e a t o s u p p o s e that o n e m i g h t r e n d e r t h e
m e a n i n g s o f a n o t h e r folk in t e r m s a l r e a d y k n o w n t o u s just a s i f
STEPHEN A. TYLER
t h e o t h e r s h a d n e v e r b e e n t h e r e at all. F o r it is n o t f o r u s t o k n o w
t h e m e a n i n g f o r t h e m u n l e s s it is a l r e a d y k n o w n t o us b o t h , a n d
t h u s n e e d s n o t r a n s l a t i o n , b u t o n l y a k i n d o f r e m i n d i n g . S o , t h e r e is
n o o r i g i n a t i n g t e x t t o p l a y t h e p a r t o f t h e m i s s i n g object. N o o b j e c t
o f a n y k i n d p r e c e d e s a n d c o n s t r a i n s t h e e t h n o g r a p h y . It c r e a t e s its
o w n o b j e c t s i n its u n f o l d i n g a n d t h e r e a d e r s u p p l i e s t h e rest.
9. B u t w h a t o f t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ? S u r e l y
t h a t a m o u n t s t o s o m e t h i n g p r i o r s i n c e t h e e t h n o g r a p h y is at t h e
v e r y l e a s t a r e c o r d o f t h a t e x p e r i e n c e . N o , it is n o t a r e c o r d o f e x ­
p e r i e n c e at all; it is t h e m e a n s o f e x p e r i e n c e . T h a t e x p e r i e n c e b e ­
c a m e e x p e r i e n c e o n l y in t h e w r i t i n g o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h y . B e f o r e
t h a t it w a s o n l y a d i s c o n n e c t e d array o f c h a n c e h a p p e n i n g s . N o
e x p e r i e n c e p r e c e d e d the ethnography. T h e experience was the
e t h n o g r a p h y . E x p e r i e n c e is n o m o r e a n o b j e c t i n d e p e n d e n t o f t h e
e t h n o g r a p h y t h a n all t h e o t h e r s — b e h a v i o r , m e a n i n g s , t e x t s , a n d
so on.
10. N o o r i g i n o u t s i d e t h e t e x t — j u s t l i t e r a t u r e t h e n , o r a n o d d
k i n d o f lit. crit.? Yes, l i t e r a t u r e , b u t n o t in t h e s e n s e o f total selfr e f l e x i v i t y , o f l i t e r a t u r e a b o u t itself a n d n o t h i n g e l s e . A n e t h ­
n o g r a p h y d o e s n o t i n v i t e m o v e m e n t f r o m t e x t t o t e x t a l o n e . It is
n o t j u s t a c o l l e c t i o n o f c l e v e r a l l u s i o n s to o t h e r t e x t s , t h o u g h it c a n
o b v i o u s l y d o t h a t as w e l l as a n y o t h e r t e x t . It e v o k e s w h a t c a n
n e v e r b e p u t i n t o a t e x t b y a n y w r i t e r , a n d t h a t is t h e c o m m o n s e n s e u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f t h e r e a d e r . A n e t h n o g r a p h y is n o t t h e
a u t h o r ' s c o g n i t i v e u t o p i a s i n c e n o a u t h o r c a n fully c o n t r o l t h e
reader's r e s p o n s e . H e r text d e p e n d s o n the reader's s u p p l e m e n t a ­
tion. T h e incompleteness of the text implicates the work o f the
r e a d e r , a n d h i s w o r k d e r i v e s as m u c h , i f n o t m o r e , f r o m t h e o r a l
world of everyday expression and commonsense understanding
as it d o e s f r o m t h e w o r l d o f t e x t .
1 1 . P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y d e n i e s t h e i l l u s i o n o f a selfp e r f e c t i n g discourse. N o corrective m o v e m e n t s f r o m text to object
a n d back again in the m a n n e r o f empiricism, and n o s u p p l e m e n ­
tal, s e l f - r e f l e x i v e m o v e m e n t s f r o m flawed s u b l a t i o n to s c a t h e l e s s
t r a n s c e n d e n t m a r k its c o u r s e . E a c h t e x t r e t a i n s a s e p a r a t e s e n s e
w i t h i n t h e d i s c o u r s e w i t h o u t b e i n g s u b o r d i n a t e d to a g r a n d e v o l u ­
t i o n a r y m y t h o f u l t i m a t e perfectibility. E a c h t e x t is a k i n t o a L e i b n i z i a n m o n a d , p e r f e c t in its i m p e r f e c t i b i l i t y .
P o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y f o r e g o e s t h e tale o f t h e p a s t as e r ­
r o r a n d d e n i e s t h e m y t h o f t h e f u t u r e as u t o p i a . N o o n e b e l i e v e s
a n y m o r e i n t h e u n c o n d i t i o n e d f u t u r e . T h e p a s t at l e a s t h a s t h e
a d v a n t a g e o f h a v i n g b e e n . M o d e r n i s m , like C h r i s t i a n i t y , t a u g h t us
t o v a l u e p o s t p o n e m e n t , t o l o o k a h e a d to a scientific u t o p i a , l o
Post-Modern Ethnography
139
d e v a l u e t h e past, a n d n e g a t e the present. I n contrast, t h e post­
m o d e r n w o r l d is in a s e n s e t i m e l e s s ; past, p r e s e n t , a n d f u t u r e c o ­
e x i s t i n all d i s c o u r s e , a n d s o w e m a y say w i t h e q u a l s e n s e t h a t all
r e p e t i t i o n s a r e fictive a n d all d i f f e r e n c e s a r e i l l u s i o n s . W e m a y say
t h a t c o n s e r v a t i o n is n o t o f o b j e c t s b u t o f t i m e . O b j e c t s c h a n g e , b u t
t i m e d o e s n o t , w h i c h m a k e s it r e a s o n a b l e f o r u s to say t h a t w h e n
w e s e e t h e s a m e o b j e c t t w i c e it is n o t t h e s a m e . N o t h i n g is t h e
s a m e , j u s t t i m e , w h i c h is n o t h i n g a n d n o t p e r c e i v a b l e . T o s p e a k i n
t h e l a n g u a g e o f i d e n t i t i e s , to say "I saw t h e s a m e t h i n g , " o r "it h a s
c h a n g e d , " o r "it h a s m o v e d " r e q u i r e s a c h a n g e d t i m e a n d c h a n g e ­
l e s s o b j e c t s a n d s u b j e c t s , b u t a d i s c o u r s e c a n m a k e all t h r e e — t i m e ,
s u b j e c t , a n d o b j e c t — w h a t it will. It is n o t e n s l a v e d b y t h e h e g e ­
m o n y o f t h e n o u n , by t h e p e r c e p t i o n o f c h a n g e l e s s o b j e c t s b y
c h a n g e l e s s subjects.
D i s p e r s e d a u t h o r s h i p m i r r o r s this d i s p e r s e d self, this i n c o n ­
s t a n t s u b j e c t , j u s t as t h e i n c o m p l e t e n e s s o f t h e t e x t m i r r o r s t h e
d i s s o l u t i o n o f t h e o b j e c t , b u t p o s t - m o d e r n e t h n o g r a p h y is n o t
t h e r e b y a n o n y m o u s in t h e m a n n e r o f b u r e a u c r a t i c d i s c o u r s e o r o f
a t e l e v i s i o n serial. It is n e i t h e r t h e DSM III (Diagnostic and Statis­
tical Manual), t h a t t e r r o r i s t b l u d g e o n o f t h e p s y c h i a t r i s t , t h e f a c e ­
less p o n d e r o s i t y o f "the m a n i c - d e p r e s s i v e p e r s o n a l i t y is c h a r a c t e r ­
i z e d by," n o r t h e e x p l o i t a t i v e p s e u d o - n a r r a t i v e o f "Dallas," w i t h its
i n s i d i o u s h i s s in t h e e a r s o f t h e p o o r of: " S e e , t h e r i c h a r e r i c h b u t
miserable."
A n e t h n o g r a p h y is a f a n t a s y , b u t it is n o t , l i k e t h e s e , a fiction,
f o r t h e i d e a o f fiction e n t a i l s a l o c u s o f j u d g m e n t o u t s i d e t h e fic­
tion, w h e r e a s an e t h n o g r a p h y weaves a locus of j u d g m e n t within
itself, a n d t h a t l o c u s , t h a t e v o c a t i o n o f reality, is also a f a n t a s y . It is
n o t a r e a l i t y f a n t a s y like "Dallas," n o r a f a n t a s y reality l i k e t h e
DSM III; it is a reality f a n t a s y o f a f a n t a s y reality. T h a t is t o say, it
is r e a l i s m , t h e e v o c a t i o n o f a p o s s i b l e w o r l d o f reality a l r e a d y
k n o w n to us in fantasy.
1 2 . T h e critical f u n c t i o n o f e t h n o g r a p h y d e r i v e s f r o m t h e
fact t h a t it m a k e s its o w n c o n t e x t u a l g r o u n d i n g p a r t o f t h e q u e s ­
t i o n a n d n o t f r o m h a w k i n g p i c t u r e s o f a l t e r n a t i v e w a y s o f life as
i n s t r u m e n t s o f Utopian r e f o r m .
1 3 . A c o n f l i c t e d f o r m ? Yes, full o f u n r e s o l v e d conflict, b u t n o t
a g o n i s t i c , n o t v i o l e n t like s c i e n c e n o r a n i n s t r u m e n t o f v i o l e n c e
like p o l i t i c s . It h a s n o n e o f t h e r a p e o f t h e scientist's " l o o k i n g at,"
o r o f t h e m a c h o b r a g g a d o c i o o f "let's s e e , " o r o f t h e d e p l o y m e n t o f
armies o f a r g u m e n t , or o f the subjugation o f the weak in the poli­
tician's " d o i n g t o . " S e e k i n g n e i t h e r t h e r e a s o n t h a t m a k e s p o w e r
n o r t h e p o w e r t h a t m a k e s r e a s o n , it f o u n d s i n t h e r e c e p t i v i t y o f
STEPHEN A. TYLER
140
" l i s t e n i n g t o " a n d i n t h e m u t u a l i t y o f "talking w i t h . " It t a k e s its
m e t a p h o r f r o m a n o t h e r part of the sensorium a n d replaces the
m o n o l o g u e o f the bullhorn with dialogue.
1 4 . I call e t h n o g r a p h y a m e d i t a t i v e v e h i c l e b e c a u s e w e c o m e
t o it n e i t h e r as t o a m a p o f k n o w l e d g e n o r as a g u i d e t o a c t i o n , n o r
e v e n f o r e n t e r t a i n m e n t . W e c o m e t o it as t h e start o f a d i f f e r e n t
kind of journey.
TALAL
ASAD
T h e Concept of Cultural
Translation in British Social
Anthropology
T h e paper given at the Santa Fe seminar on the Making of Ethnographic Texts has
been revised and "sandwiched" between the "Context" and "Supplement" appearing
here. Both "Context" and "Supplement" were written after the seminar and are as
much dialogical responses to seminar papers and discussion as they are the working out
of themes and conflicts in these parerga to The Said and the Unsaid (Tyler 1978).
Introduction
A l l a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s a r e f a m i l i a r w i t h E. B . Tylor's f a m o u s d e f i ­
n i t i o n o f c u l t u r e : " C u l t u r e o r C i v i l i z a t i o n , t a k e n i n its w i d e e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c s e n s e , is t h a t c o m p l e x w h o l e w h i c h i n c l u d e s k n o w l e d g e , belief,
art, m o r a l s , law, c u s t o m , a n d a n y o t h e r capabilities a n d h a b i t s a c ­
q u i r e d b y m a n as a m e m b e r o f society." It w o u l d b e i n t e r e s t i n g t o t r a c e
h o w a n d w h e n this n o t i o n o f c u l t u r e , w i t h its e n u m e r a t i o n o f "capabil­
ities a n d h a b i t s " a n d its e m p h a s i s o n w h a t L i n t o n c a l l e d social heredity
(focusing o n the process of learning), was transformed into the n o t i o n
o f a text—that is, i n t o s o m e t h i n g r e s e m b l i n g a n i n s c r i b e d d i s c o u r s e .
O n e o b v i o u s c l u e t o this c h a n g e is t o b e f o u n d in t h e w a y t h a t a n o t i o n
o f language as t h e p r e c o n d i t i o n o f h i s t o r i c a l c o n t i n u i t y a n d s o c i a l
l e a r n i n g ("cultivation") c a m e t o d o m i n a t e t h e p e r s p e c t i v e o f s o c i a l a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s . I n a g e n e r a l way, o f course, s u c h an interest in l a n g u a g e
p r e d a t e s T y l o r , b u t i n t h e n i n e t e e n t h a n d early t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r i e s it
t e n d e d t o b e c e n t r a l t o v a r i e t i e s o f n a t i o n a l i s t literary t h e o r y a n d e d u ­
c a t i o n (cf. E a g l e t o n 1 9 8 3 : c h . 2) r a t h e r t h a n to t h e o t h e r h u m a n sci­
e n c e s . W h e n a n d i n w h a t w a y s d i d it b e c o m e c r u c i a l f o r B r i t i s h social
a n t h r o p o l o g y ? I d o n o t i n t e n d to attempt such a history here, but
m e r e l y to r e m i n d o u r s e l v e s that the phrase "the translation o f cul­
t u r e s , " w h i c h i n c r e a s i n g l y s i n c e t h e 1950s h a s b e c o m e a n a l m o s t b a n a l
d e s c r i p t i o n o f t h e d i s t i n c t i v e task o f social a n t h r o p o l o g y , w a s n o t al­
w a y s s o m u c h i n e v i d e n c e . I w a n t t o stress t h a t this a p p a r e n t s h i f t is
not identical with the old pre-Functionalism/Functionalism periodizat i o n . N o r is it s i m p l y a m a t t e r o f a d i r e c t i n t e r e s t i n l a n g u a g e a n d
m e a n i n g t h a t w a s p r e v i o u s l y l a c k i n g (Crick 1 9 7 6 ) . B r o n i s l a w M a l i ­
nowski, o n e o f the f o u n d e r s o f the so-called Functionalist school,
wrote m u c h o n "primitive language" and collected e n o r m o u s q u a n -
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tities o f l i n g u i s t i c m a t e r i a l ( p r o v e r b s , k i n s h i p t e r m i n o l o g y , m a g i c a l
s p e l l s , a n d s o o n ) f o r a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l analysis. B u t h e n e v e r t h o u g h t
o f his w o r k in t e r m s o f the translation o f cultures.
G o d f r e y L i e n h a r d t ' s p a p e r " M o d e s o f T h o u g h t " ( 1 9 5 4 ) is p o s s i b l y
o n e o f the earliest—certainly o n e of the most s u b t l e — e x a m p l e s o f the
u s e o f this n o t i o n o f t r a n s l a t i o n e x p l i c i t l y to d e s c r i b e a c e n t r a l task o f
s o c i a l a n t h r o p o l o g y . " T h e p r o b l e m o f d e s c r i b i n g to o t h e r s h o w m e m ­
b e r s o f a r e m o t e tribe t h i n k t h e n b e g i n s to a p p e a r l a r g e l y as o n e o f
translation, o f m a k i n g the c o h e r e n c e primitive t h o u g h t has in the lan­
g u a g e s it r e a l l y lives i n , as c l e a r as p o s s i b l e i n o u r o w n " (97). T h i s s t a t e ­
m e n t is q u o t e d a n d c r i t i c i z e d i n t h e article b y E r n e s t G e l l n e r t h a t I
a n a l y z e i n t h e n e x t s e c t i o n , a n d I shall r e t u r n t o it in t h e c o n t e x t o f
G e l l n e r ' s a r g u m e n t . H e r e I d r a w a t t e n t i o n briefly t o L i e n h a r d t ' s u s e o f
t h e w o r d " t r a n s l a t i o n " to r e f e r n o t t o l i n g u i s t i c m a t t e r p e r se, b u t t o
" m o d e s o f t h o u g h t " t h a t a r e e m b o d i e d in s u c h m a t t e r . It m a y n o t b e
w i t h o u t significance, incidentally, that L i e n h a r d t has a b a c k g r o u n d in
E n g l i s h l i t e r a t u r e , t h a t h e w a s a p u p i l o f F. R. Leavis's at C a m b r i d g e
b e f o r e h e b e c a m e a p u p i l a n d c o l l a b o r a t o r o f E. E. E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s
at O x f o r d .
O x f o r d is, o f c o u r s e , f a m o u s as t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l c e n t e r i n B r i t ­
a i n m o s t s e l f - c o n s c i o u s a b o u t its c o n c e r n w i t h " t h e t r a n s l a t i o n o f c u l ­
t u r e s . " T h e b e s t - k n o w n i n t r o d u c t o r y t e x t b o o k to e m e r g e f r o m t h a t
c e n t e r , J o h n Beattie's Other Cultures ( 1 9 6 4 ) , e m p h a s i z e d t h e c e n t r a l i t y
o f t h e " p r o b l e m o f t r a n s l a t i o n " f o r social a n t h r o p o l o g y a n d d i s t i n ­
g u i s h e d ( b u t d i d n o t s e p a r a t e ) " c u l t u r e " f r o m " l a n g u a g e " in a w a y t h a t
w a s b e c o m i n g f a m i l i a r to a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s — t h o u g h n o t n e c e s s a r i l y
t h e r e f o r e e n t i r e l y c l e a r ( s e e p p . 89—90).
It is i n t e r e s t i n g t o f i n d E d m u n d L e a c h , w h o h a s n e v e r b e e n a s s o c i ­
a t e d with O x f o r d , e m p l o y i n g the s a m e n o t i o n in his c o n c l u s i o n to a
h i s t o r i c a l s k e t c h o f social a n t h r o p o l o g y a d e c a d e later:
Let m e recapitulate. We started by emphasizing how different are "the
others"—and m a d e them not only different but remote and inferior. Senti­
mentally we then took the opposite track and argued that all h u m a n beings
are alike; we can understand Trobrianders or the Barotse because their moti­
vations are just the same as our own; but that didn't work either, "the others"
r e m a i n e d obstinately other. But now we have come to see that the essential
problem is o n e of translation. T h e linguists have shown us that all translation |j|
is difficult, a n d that perfect translation is usually impossible. A n d yet w e know
that for practical purposes a tolerably satisfactory translation is always pos­
sible e v e n w h e n the original "text" is highly abstruse. Languages are different
but not so different as all that. Looked at in this way social anthropologists are
e n g a g e d in establishing a methodology for the translation of cultural lan­
g u a g e . (Leach 1 9 7 3 : 7 7 2 )
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
143
E v e n M a x G l u c k m a n (1973:905), r e s p o n d i n g shortly afterward
t o L e a c h , a c c e p t s t h e c e n t r a l i t y o f "cultural t r a n s l a t i o n , " w h i l e p r o p o s ­
i n g a very different g e n e a l o g y for that anthropological practice.
Yet d e s p i t e t h e g e n e r a l a g r e e m e n t w i t h w h i c h this n o t i o n h a s b e e n
a c c e p t e d as p a r t o f t h e s e l f - d e f i n i t i o n o f B r i t i s h social a n t h r o p o l o g y , it
h a s r e c e i v e d little s y s t e m a t i c e x a m i n a t i o n f r o m w i t h i n t h e p r o f e s s i o n .
O n e partial e x c e p t i o n is R o d n e y N e e d h a m ' s Belief, Language, and Expe­
rience ( 1 9 7 2 ) . T h i s is a c o m p l e x , s c h o l a r l y w o r k t h a t d e s e r v e s e x t e n d e d
t r e a t m e n t . H e r e , h o w e v e r , I w i s h to c o n c e n t r a t e o n a s h o r t e r t e x t ,
E r n e s t G e l l n e r ' s " C o n c e p t s a n d Society," w h i c h a p p e a r s t o b e fairly
w i d e l y u s e d i n u n d e r g r a d u a t e c o u r s e s at B r i t i s h u n i v e r s i t i e s a n d is still
available in several p o p u l a r collections. I p r o p o s e , therefore, to d e v o t e
t h e n e x t section to a detailed e x a m i n a t i o n o f that essay a n d t h e n to
take u p s o m e points that e m e r g e f r o m m y discussion in the sections
that follow.
A Theoretical Text
G e l l n e r ' s " C o n c e p t s a n d S o c i e t y " is c o n c e r n e d w i t h t h e w a y i n
w h i c h F u n c t i o n a l i s t a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s d e a l w i t h p r o b l e m s of i n t e r p r e t ­
i n g a n d t r a n s l a t i n g t h e d i s c o u r s e o f a l i e n s o c i e t i e s . H i s basic a r g u m e n t
is t h a t (a) c o n t e m p o r a r y a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s insist o n i n t e r p r e t i n g e x o t i c
c o n c e p t s a n d b e l i e f s w i t h i n a social c o n t e x t , b u t t h a t (b) i n d o i n g s o
t h e y e n s u r e t h a t a p p a r e n t l y a b s u r d o r i n c o h e r e n t a s s e r t i o n s a r e al­
w a y s g i v e n a n a c c e p t a b l e m e a n i n g , a n d t h a t (c) w h i l e t h e c o n t e x t u a l
m e t h o d o f i n t e r p r e t a t i o n is in p r i n c i p l e valid, t h e " e x c e s s i v e c h a r i t y "
t h a t u s u a l l y g o e s w i t h it is n o t . T h e p a p e r c o n t a i n s s e v e r a l d i a g r a m s
i n t e n d e d t o fix a n d clarify t h e r e l e v a n t c u l t u r a l p r o c e s s e s visually.
G e l l n e r i n t r o d u c e s t h e p r o b l e m o f interpretation by r e f e r e n c e to
K u r t S a m u e l s s o n ' s Religion and Economic Action ( 1 9 6 1 ) , w h i c h is a n
e c o n o m i c historian's a t t a c k o n t h e W e b e r i a n P r o t e s t a n t - e t h i c t h e s i s .
S a m u e l s s o n t a k e s i s s u e w i t h t h e fact t h a t W e b e r a n d h i s s u p p o r t e r s
h a v e r e i n t e r p r e t e d r e l i g i o u s t e x t s i n a w a y that e n a b l e s t h e m t o e x t r a c t
m e a n i n g s t h a t c o n f i r m t h e t h e s i s . G e l l n e r p r e s e n t s this e x a m p l e m e r e l y
to bring o u t m o r e sharply the contrasting position of the Functionalist
anthropologist:
I a m not c o n c e r n e d , nor competent, to argue whether Samuelsson's employ­
ment, in this particular case, o f his tacit principle that o n e must not re­
interpret the assertions o n e actually finds, is valid. What is relevant here is
that if such a principle is made explicit and generalized, it would make n o n ­
sense of most sociological studies of the relationship of belief and conduct. We
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shall find anthropologists driven to employ the very opposite principle, the
insistence rather than refusal o f contextual re-interpretation. (20)
B u t this m o d e s t disclaimer o f c o m p e t e n c e allows t o o m a n y inter­
e s t i n g q u e s t i o n s t o d r i f t b y . T o b e g i n w i t h , it calls f o r n o g r e a t c o m p e ­
tence to n o t e that Samuelsson does n o t hold to the principle that o n e
m u s t never r e i n t e r p r e t . N o r d o e s h e insist t h a t t h e r e is never a signifi­
c a n t c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n a r e l i g i o u s t e x t a n d its s o c i a l c o n t e x t , b u t
o n l y t h a t t h e c o n c l u s i o n t h e W e b e r thesis s e e k s t o m a k e c a n n o t b e e s ­
t a b l i s h e d . ( S e e , e . g . , S a m u e l s s o n 1 9 6 1 : 6 g . ) T h e r e is, f u r t h e r m o r e , a
real contrast that Gellner might have picked u p b e t w e e n t h e S a m u e l s ­
s o n e x a m p l e a n d t h e typical a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ' s p r e d i c a m e n t . F o r e c o ­
n o m i c historians a n d sociologists involved in t h e W e b e r d e b a t e , his­
t o r i c a l t e x t s a r e a p r i m a r y d a t u m i n r e l a t i o n t o w h i c h t h e social
c o n t e x t s m u s t b e r e c o n s t r u c t e d . T h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l fieldworker b e ­
g i n s w i t h a s o c i a l s i t u a t i o n w i t h i n w h i c h s o m e t h i n g is s a i d , a n d it is t h e
cultural significance o f these e n u n c i a t i o n s that m u s t b e r e c o n s t r u c t e d .
T h i s is n o t t o say, o f c o u r s e , t h a t t h e h i s t o r i a n c a n e v e r a p p r o a c h h i s
a r c h i v a l m a t e r i a l w i t h o u t s o m e c o n c e p t i o n o f its h i s t o r i c a l c o n t e x t , o r
t h a t t h e fieldworker c a n d e f i n e t h e social s i t u a t i o n i n d e p e n d e n t l y o f
w h a t w a s s a i d w i t h i n it. T h e c o n t r a s t , s u c h as it is, is o n e o f o r i e n t a ­
t i o n , w h i c h f o l l o w s f r o m t h e fact t h a t t h e h i s t o r i a n is given a text a n d
t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r h a s to construct one.
I n s t e a d o f i n v e s t i g a t i n g this i m p o r t a n t c o n t r a s t , G e l l n e r r u s h e s
a l o n g t o d e f i n e a n d c o m m e n d w h a t h e calls " m o d e r a t e F u n c t i o n a l i s m " as a m e t h o d , w h i c h
consists o f the insistence o n the fact that concepts and beliefs d o not exist in
isolation, in texts o r in individual minds, but in the life o f m e n a n d societies.
T h e activities and institutions, in the context of which a word or phrase o r set
of phrases is used, must be known before that word or those phrases can be
u n d e r s t o o d , before we can really speak o f a concept or a belief. (22)
T h i s is w e l l p u t , a n d , e v e n if it h a s b e e n said b e f o r e , it is w o r t h
r e s t a t i n g . A t this p o i n t t h e r e a d e r m i g h t e x p e c t a d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e dif­
f e r e n t w a y s i n w h i c h l a n g u a g e is e n c o u n t e r e d b y t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r i n
t h e field, h o w u t t e r a n c e s a r e p r o d u c e d , v e r b a l m e a n i n g s o r g a n i z e d ,
r h e t o r i c a l e f f e c t s a t t a i n e d , a n d c u l t u r a l l y a p p r o p r i a t e r e s p o n s e s elic­
i t e d . A f t e r all, W i t t g e n s t e i n h a d a l r e a d y s e n s i t i z e d B r i t i s h p h i l o s o ­
p h e r s t o t h e c o m p l e x i t y o f l a n g u a g e - i n - u s e , a n d J. L . A u s t i n h a d s e t
u p distinctions b e t w e e n t h e different levels o f s p e e c h p r o d u c t i o n a n d
r e c e p t i o n i n a way that f o r e s h a d o w e d what a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s w o u l d
l a t e r call t h e e t h n o g r a p h y o f s p e a k i n g . B u t G e l l n e r h a d p r e v i o u s l y r e ­
j e c t e d t h e s u g g e s t i o n t h a t this p h i l o s o p h i c a l m o v e m e n t h a d a n y t h i n g
o f v a l u e t o t e a c h ( s e e h i s p o l e m i c i n Words and Things 1 9 5 9 ) , a n d l i k e
o t h e r critics, h e a l w a y s i n s i s t e d t h a t its c o n c e r n w i t h u n d e r s t a n d i n g
T h e C o n c e p t of Cultural Translation
145
everyday language was merely a disguise for d e f e n d i n g established
w a y s o f s p e a k i n g a b o u t t h e w o r l d , f o r d e n y i n g t h a t it w a s p o s s i b l e f o r
s u c h s p e e c h - w a y s t o b e illogical o r a b s u r d . G e l l n e r h a s a l w a y s b e e n d e ­
t e r m i n e d to maintain t h e distinction b e t w e e n d e f e n d i n g a n d explain­
i n g "concepts a n d beliefs" a n d t o w a r n against t h e kind o f a n t h r o p o ­
l o g i c a l t r a n s l a t i o n t h a t r u l e s o u t a p r i o r i t h e critical d i s t a n c e n e c e s s a r y
f o r e x p l a i n i n g h o w c o n c e p t s a c t u a l l y f u n c t i o n , f o r "to u n d e r s t a n d t h e
working o f t h e c o n c e p t s o f a society," h e w r i t e s , "is t o u n d e r s t a n d its
i n s t i t u t i o n s " ( p . 1 8 ; s e e also n o t e 1 o n t h e s a m e p a g e ) .
T h i s is w h y G e l l n e r ' s b r i e f s t a t e m e n t a b o u t m o d e r a t e F u n c t i o n a l i s m q u o t e d a b o v e l e a d s h i m i m m e d i a t e l y t o a d i s c u s s i o n o f D u r k h e i m 's
Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, w h i c h , b e s i d e s b e i n g " o n e o f t h e
f o u n t a i n h e a d s o f F u n c t i o n a l i s m i n g e n e r a l " (22), is c o n c e r n e d t o e x ­
plain rather than to d e f e n d c o n c e p t s — t o explain, m o r e precisely, "the
c o m p u l s i v e n a t u r e o f o u r c a t e g o r i a l c o n c e p t s " (22) i n t e r m s o f c e r t a i n
collective processes. T h u s :
Our contemporary invocations o f the functional, social-context approach to
the study a n d interpretation o f concepts is in various ways very different from
Durkheim's. Durkheim was not so much concerned to d e f e n d the concepts o f
primitive societies: in their setting, they did not need a defence, and in the
setting o f m o d e r n a n d changing societies he was not anxious to d e f e n d what
was archaic, n o r loath to suggest that some intellectual luggage might well be
archaic. H e was really concerned to explain the compulsiveness o f what in
practice did not seem to n e e d any defence (and in so doing, h e claimed h e was
solving the problem o f knowledge whose solution had in his view evaded Kant
a n d others, a n d t o b e solving it without falling into either empiricism o r apriorism). W h e t h e r h e was successful I d o not propose to discuss: for a variety o f
reasons it seems to m e that h e was not. (23)
It is c l e a r t h a t G e l l n e r h a s r e c o g n i z e d t h e basic p r o j e c t o f Elemen­
tary Forms—namely,
its a t t e m p t t o e x p l a i n t h e c o m p u l s i v e n a t u r e o f
s o c i a l l y d e f i n e d c o n c e p t s — b u t h e m o v e s t o o hastily f r o m a c o n s i d e r a ­
tion o f what m i g h t b e involved in such a p r o b l e m to a dismissal o f
D u r k h e i m ' s a t t e m p t at e x p l a n a t i o n . T h e p o s s i b i l i t y t h a t a p r i o r i de­
nunciation m a y n o t f u r t h e r t h e p u r p o s e s o f e x p l a n a t i o n a n y b e t t e r
t h a n defense d o e s n o t s e e m t o b e e n v i s a g e d i n " C o n c e p t s a n d Society."
I n s t e a d , t h e r e a d e r is r e m i n d e d , b y w a y o f q u o t a t i o n f r o m L i e n h a r d t ,
t h a t t h e c o n t e m p o r a r y a n t h r o p o l o g i s t typically " a p p e a r s t o m a k e it a
c o n d i t i o n o f a g o o d t r a n s l a t i o n t h a t it c o n v e y s t h e c o h e r e n c e w h i c h h e
a s s u m e s is t h e r e t o b e f o u n d i n p r i m i t i v e t h o u g h t " (26). S o w e h a v e
h e r e w h a t I t h i n k is a m i s l e a d i n g c o n t r a s t — D u r k h e i m ' s a t t e m p t t o e x ­
plain versus t h e contemporary anthropologist's attempt to d e f e n d . I
shall r e t u r n t o this p o i n t later, b u t h e r e I w a n t t o insist t h a t t o a r g u e
f o r a f o r m o f c o h e r e n c e b y w h i c h a d i s c o u r s e is h e l d t o g e t h e r is n o t
i p s o f a c t o t o j u s t i f y o r d e f e n d t h a t d i s c o u r s e ; it is m e r e l y t o t a k e a n
TALAL ASAD
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T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
147
e s s e n t i a l s t e p i n t h e p r o b l e m o f e x p l a i n i n g its compulsiveness. A n y o n e
f a m i l i a r w i t h p s y c h o a n a l y s i s w o u l d take this p o i n t q u i t e easily. W e
m i g h t p u t it a n o t h e r w a y : t h e c r i t e r i o n o f abstract " c o h e r e n c e " o r
"logicality" ( G e l l n e r t e n d s t o u s e t h e s e a n d o t h e r t e r m s i n t e r c h a n g e ­
a b l y ) is n o t a l w a y s , a n d i n e v e r y c a s e , d e c i s i v e f o r a c c e p t i n g o r r e j e c t ­
i n g d i s c o u r s e . T h i s is b e c a u s e , as G e l l n e r h i m s e l f c o r r e c t l y o b s e r v e s ,
" L a n g u a g e f u n c t i o n s i n a variety o f ways o t h e r t h a n 'referring to o b ­
j e c t s ' " (25). N o t e v e r y u t t e r a n c e is a n assertion. T h e r e a r e m a n y t h i n g s
t h a t l a n g u a g e - i n - u s e d o e s , and is intended to do, w h i c h e x p l a i n s w h y w e
m a y r e s p o n d positively to discourse that m a y s e e m i n a d e q u a t e f r o m a
n a r r o w "logical" p o i n t o f v i e w . T h e f u n c t i o n s o f a p a r t i c u l a r l a n g u a g e ,
t h e intentions o f a particular discourse, are of course part o f what
e v e r y c o m p e t e n t e t h n o g r a p h e r tries t o g r a s p b e f o r e h e c a n a t t e m p t
an a d e q u a t e translation into his o w n language.
H a v e w e n o t g o t here s o m e very curious assumptions, which n o
p r a c t i c e d t r a n s l a t o r w o u l d e v e r m a k e ? T h e first is t h a t e v a l u a t i v e d i s ­
c r i m i n a t i o n is a l w a y s a m a t t e r o f c h o o s i n g b e t w e e n p o l a r a l t e r n a t i v e s ,
a n d s e c o n d , t h a t e v a l u a t i v e d i s t i n c t i o n s a r e finally r e d u c i b l e t o " G o o d "
a n d " B a d . " C l e a r l y n e i t h e r o f t h e s e a s s u m p t i o n s is a c c e p t a b l e w h e n
s t a t e d as a g e n e r a l r u l e . A n d t h e n t h e r e is t h e s u g g e s t i o n t h a t t h e
t r a n s l a t o r ' s task n e c e s s a r i l y i n v o l v e s m a t c h i n g s e n t e n c e f o r s e n t e n c e .
B u t i f t h e s k i l l e d t r a n s l a t o r l o o k s first f o r a n y p r i n c i p l e o f c o h e r e n c e
in t h e d i s c o u r s e t o b e t r a n s l a t e d , a n d t h e n tries t o r e p r o d u c e t h a t c o ­
h e r e n c e a s n e a r l y as h e c a n in h i s o w n l a n g u a g e , t h e r e c a n n o t b e a
g e n e r a l r u l e as t o w h a t u n i t s t h e t r a n s l a t o r will e m p l o y — s e n t e n c e s ,
paragraphs, o r e v e n larger units o f discourse. T o turn m y point
a r o u n d : t h e a p p r o p r i a t e n e s s o f t h e unit e m p l o y e d itself d e p e n d s o n
the principle of coherence.
G e l l n e r d o e s s e e m h a l f - a w a r e o f this p o i n t , b u t q u i c k l y b r u s h e s it
B u t Gellner's parable o f t h e anthropologist-translator requires t h e
a s s u m p t i o n t h a t it is s e n t e n c e s t h a t t h e latter m a t c h e s , b e c a u s e t h a t
m a k e s it e a s i e r t o d i s p l a y h o w t h e sin o f e x c e s s i v e c h a r i t y o c c u r s . H a v ­
i n g m a d e a n initial e q u i v a l e n c e b e t w e e n a s e n t e n c e in t h e local l a n ­
g u a g e a n d o n e in his o w n , the anthropologist notices that the English
s e n t e n c e carries a "Bad" impression. T h i s worries the anthropologist
b e c a u s e , s o r u n s Gellner's parable, an e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t g i v i n g
such a n impression m i g h t b e t h o u g h t to be disparaging t h e natives h e
h a s s t u d i e d , a n d t o d i s p a r a g e o t h e r c u l t u r e s is a s i g n o f e t h n o c e n t r i s m , a n d e t h n o c e n t r i s m in t u r n is a s y m p t o m o f p o o r a n t h r o p o l o g y
according to the doctrines o f Functionalist anthropology. Functional­
ist m e t h o d r e q u i r e s t h a t s e n t e n c e s a l w a y s b e e v a l u a t e d i n t e r m s o f
their o w n social context. S o the worried anthropologist reinterprets
t h e original s e n t e n c e , with a m o r e flexible a n d careful u s e o f t h e c o n ­
textual m e t h o d , in o r d e r to p r o d u c e a "Good" translation.
aside in his e a g e r n e s s to display to Functionalist a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s their
"excessive charity" in cultural translation.
T h e situation, facing a social anthropologist w h o wishes to interpret a con­
cept, assertion or doctrine in an alien culture, is basically simple. H e is, say,
faced with an assertion S in the local language. H e has at his disposal the large
or infinite set o f possible sentences in his own language. . . .
H e may not be wholly happy about this situation, but he cannot avoid it.
T h e r e is n o third language which could mediate between the native language
and his o w n , in which equivalences could be stated and which would avoid the
pitfalls arising from the fact that his own language has its own way of han­
dling the world, which may not be those of the native language studied, and
which consequently are liable to distort that which is being translated.
Naively, people sometimes think that reality itself could be this kind of
mediator a n d "third language." . . . For a variety of powerful reasons, this is
o f course n o g o o d . (24—25)
A g a i n , this sensible statement m i g h t s e e m to s o m e r e a d e r s t o s u p ­
p o r t t h e d e m a n d t h a t t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r m u s t try t o r e c o n s t r u c t t h e
v a r i o u s w a y s in w h i c h t h e "native l a n g u a g e " h a n d l e s t h e w o r l d , c o n ­
veys information, a n d constitutes experience, before translating a n
alien d i s c o u r s e into t h e l a n g u a g e o f his e t h n o g r a p h i c text. B u t Gell­
ner's a c c o u n t p r o c e e d s i n a d i f f e r e n t , a n d v e r y d u b i o u s , d i r e c t i o n .
H a v i n g located an equivalent English sentence, h e continues, t h e
a n t h r o p o l o g i s t n o t i c e s t h a t it i n e v i t a b l y c a r r i e s a v a l u e c o n n o t a t i o n —
t h a t it i s , i n o t h e r w o r d s , e i t h e r G o o d o r B a d . "I d o n o t s a y ' t r u e ' o r
'false', f o r t h i s o n l y a r i s e s w i t h r e g a r d t o s o m e t y p e s o f a s s e r t i o n . W i t h
r e g a r d to others, o t h e r dichotomies,, s u c h as 'meaningful' a n d 'absurd'
o r ' s e n s i b l e ' o r 'silly' m i g h t a p p l y . I d e l i b e r a t e l y u s e t h e ' G o o d ' a n d
' B a d ' s o a s t o c o v e r all s u c h p o s s i b l e p o l a r a l t e r n a t i v e s , w h i c h e v e r
m i g h t b e s t a p p l y t o t h e e q u i v a l e n t o f S" (27).
T h e s i n o f e x c e s s i v e charity, a n d t h e c o n t e x t u a l m e t h o d itself, a r e
t o g e t h e r linked, Gellner writes, to t h e relativistic-functionalist view o f
t h o u g h t that g o e s back to t h e E n l i g h t e n m e n t :
T h e (unresolved) dilemma, which the thought of the Enlightenment faced,
was between a relativistic-functionalist view o f thought, a n d the absolutist
claims o f enlightened Reason. Viewing man as part of nature, as enlightened
Reason requires, it wished to see his cognitive and evaluative activities as parts
of nature too, and h e n c e as varying, legitimately, from organism to organism
and c o n t e x t to context. (This is the relativistic-functionalist view.) B u t at t h e
same time in r e c o m m e n d i n g life according to Reason and Nature, it wished at
the very least to e x e m p t this view itself (and, in practice, some others) from
such a relativism. (31)
Typically, G e l l n e r ' s p h i l o s o p h i c a l f o r m u l a t i o n p r e s e n t s this " u n r e ­
s o l v e d d i l e m m a " as a n abstract o p p o s i t i o n b e t w e e n t w o c o n c e p t s — " a
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relativistic-functionalist view o f t h o u g h t " a n d "the absolutist claims o f
e n l i g h t e n e d R e a s o n . " B u t h o w d o these two " c o n c e p t s " w o r k as " c o r ­
r e l a t e s o f . . . t h e institutions o f [Western] society"? (cf. G e l l n e r , p . 18).
It w o u l d n o t b e difficult to a r g u e that t h e claims o f " e n l i g h t e n e d R e a ­
s o n " a r e materially m o r e successful in T h i r d W o r l d c o u n t r i e s t h a n
m a n y relativistic views, that they h a v e e x e r t e d g r e a t e r authority t h a n
t h e latter in the d e v e l o p m e n t o f industrial e c o n o m i e s a n d t h e f o r m a ­
tion o f n a t i o n states. W e shall h a v e occasion to discuss this f u r t h e r
w h e n e x a m i n i n g translation as a p r o c e s s o f p o w e r . T h e p o i n t is t h a t
"the absolutist claims o f e n l i g h t e n e d R e a s o n " are in effect an institu­
tionalized force, a n d t h a t as s u c h it is by definition c o m m i t t e d to advanc­
ing i n t o a n d a p p r o p r i a t i n g alien territory, a n d that its o p p o n e n t s
( w h e t h e r explicitly relativistic o r not) are by definition defensive. T h u s
w h e n G e l l n e r c o n t i n u e s o n the s a m e p a g e to c h a r a c t e r i z e this abstract
d i l e m m a in the attitudes o f a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , h e fails to c o n s i d e r w h a t
" c u l t u r a l translation" m i g h t i n v o l v e w h e n it is c o n s i d e r e d as institu­
t i o n a l i z e d practice g i v e n t h e w i d e r r e l a t i o n s h i p o f u n e q u a l societies.
F o r it is n o t t h e abstract logic o f w h a t i n d i v i d u a l W e s t e r n a n t h r o p o l o ­
gists say in their e t h n o g r a p h i e s , b u t the c o n c r e t e logic o f w h a t t h e i r
c o u n t r i e s (and p e r h a p s t h e y t h e m s e l v e s ) do in their relations with t h e
T h i r d W o r l d that s h o u l d f o r m the starting p o i n t for this p a r t i c u l a r
d i s c u s s i o n . T h e d i l e m m a s o f "relativism" a p p e a r d i f f e r e n t l y d e p e n d ­
i n g o n w h e t h e r w e t h i n k o f abstracted u n d e r s t a n d i n g o r o f historically
situated practices.
H o w e v e r , G e l l n e r says he is n o t in p r i n c i p l e against a n t h r o p o l o g i ­
cal relativism. " M y m a i n p o i n t a b o u t t o l e r a n c e - e n g e n d e r i n g c o n ­
t e x t u a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , " h e writes, "is that it calls for c a u t i o n " (32). B u t
w h y s u c h c a u t i o n is r e s e r v e d f o r " t o l e r a n c e - e n g e n d e r i n g " as o p p o s e d
to i n t o l e r a n c e - e n g e n d e r i n g c o n t e x t u a l interpretations is n o t e x ­
p l a i n e d . A f t e r all, G e l l n e r insisted earlier that all translated s e n t e n c e s
a r e b o u n d to b e r e c e i v e d e i t h e r as " G o o d " o r as " B a d . " W h y s h o u l d w e
b e s u s p i c i o u s o n l y o f those that a p p e a r " G o o d " ? I f "it is t h e prior d e ­
t e r m i n a t i o n t h a t S, t h e i n d i g e n o u s affirmation, b e i n t e r p r e t e d f a v o u r ­
ably, w h i c h d e t e r m i n e s j u s t h o w m u c h c o n t e x t will be t a k e n i n t o c o n ­
s i d e r a t i o n " (33), c a n w e p e r h a p s e s c a p e this vicious c i r c u l a r i t y b y
a d o p t i n g a n unsympathetic attitude? G e l l n e r d o e s n o t a d d r e s s h i m s e l f
d i r e c t l y t o this possibility h e r e , b u t o n e m u s t a s s u m e that it c a n n o t b e
a s o l u t i o n , especially in view o f the claim that " t h e r e is n o t h i n g [sic] in
t h e n a t u r e o f things o r societies to dictate visibly j u s t h o w m u c h c o n ­
t e x t is r e l e v a n t to a n y g i v e n u t t e r a n c e , o r h o w the c o n t e x t s h o u l d b e
d e s c r i b e d " (33).
Y e t c a n this last r e m a r k b e m e a n t seriously? Nothing}] H o w , t h e n ,
is c o m m u n i c a t i o n e v e n b e t w e e n i n d i v i d u a l s in the s a m e society e v e r
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
149
possible? W h y d o e s o n e e v e r say to f o r e i g n e r s that t h e y h a v e mis­
u n d e r s t o o d s o m e t h i n g t h e y h e a r d o r saw? D o e s social l e a r n i n g p r o ­
d u c e n o skills in the d i s c r i m i n a t i o n o f r e l e v a n t c o n t e x t s ? T h e a n s w e r s
to t h e s e q u e s t i o n s s h o u l d b e o b v i o u s , a n d they a r e c o n n e c t e d w i t h the
fact t h a t t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ' s translation is n o t m e r e l y a m a t t e r o f
m a t c h i n g s e n t e n c e s in t h e abstract, b u t o f learning to live another form of
life a n d to s p e a k a n o t h e r k i n d o f l a n g u a g e . W h i c h c o n t e x t s a r e r e l e ­
v a n t in d i f f e r e n t discursive events is s o m e t h i n g o n e l e a r n s in t h e
c o u r s e o f living, a n d e v e n t h o u g h it is often very difficult t o v e r b a l i z e
t h a t k n o w l e d g e , it is still k n o w l e d g e a b o u t s o m e t h i n g "in the n a t u r e o f
society," a b o u t s o m e a s p e c t o f living, that indicates ( a l t h o u g h it d o e s
n o t "dictate") j u s t h o w m u c h c o n t e x t is r e l e v a n t to a n y g i v e n u t t e r ­
a n c e . T h e point, o f c o u r s e , is n o t that the e t h n o g r a p h e r c a n n o t k n o w
w h a t c o n t e x t is a p p r o p r i a t e for g i v i n g sense to typical s t a t e m e n t s , o r
t h a t h e is i n d u c e d to be m o r e charitable t h a n h e s h o u l d be in translat­
i n g t h e m , b u t t h a t his attempts at translation m a y m e e t w i t h p r o b l e m s
r o o t e d in the linguistic materials h e w o r k s with and the social c o n d i ­
t i o n s h e w o r k s i n — b o t h in the field a n d in his o w n society. M o r e o n
this later.
T h e latter h a l f o f G e l l n e r ' s essay is d e v o t e d to e x a m p l e s f r o m e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c studies in o r d e r to display, first, excessive charity in transla­
tion, a n d t h e n , the e x p l a n a t o r y a d v a n t a g e s o f t a k i n g a critical l o o k at
t h e l o g i c o f alien r e l i g i o u s d i s c o u r s e .
T h e first set o f e x a m p l e s c o m e s f r o m Evans-Pritchard's Nuer Reli­
gion ( 1 9 5 6 ) , in w h i c h o d d - s o u n d i n g initial translations o f N u e r reli­
g i o u s d i s c o u r s e , such as the n o t o r i o u s s t a t e m e n t that "a twin is a b i r d , "
a r e r e i n t e r p r e t e d . " T h i s k i n d o f statement," G e l l n e r o b s e r v e s ,
" a p p e a r s to b e in conflict with the p r i n c i p l e o f identity o r n o n ­
c o n t r a d i c t i o n , o r w i t h c o m m o n sense, o r w i t h m a n i f e s t o b s e r v a b l e
fact: h u m a n twins a r e not birds, a n d vice v e r s a " (34). A c c o r d i n g to
G e l l n e r , Evans-Pritchard's reinterpretation absolves N u e r t h o u g h t
f r o m t h e c h a r g e o f " p r e - l o g i c a l m e n t a l i t y " b y an arbitrary u s e o f the
c o n t e x t u a l m e t h o d . T h e a p p a r e n t absurdity is r e i n t e r p r e t e d to d e n y
t h a t N u e r beliefs conflict with manifest fact by r e l a t i n g the m e a n i n g o f
t h e " a b s u r d " s t a t e m e n t to " l o g i c a l " b e h a v i o r . G e l l n e r indicates h o w
this is d o n e b y q u o t i n g (with the d e l i b e r a t e o m i s s i o n o f o n e significant
sentence) from Evans-Pritchard:
n o contradiction is involved in the statement which, on the contrary, appears
quite sensible and even true, to o n e who presents the idea to himself in the
N u e r language and within their system o f religious thought. [ H e does not
then take their statements about twins any more literally than they make and
understand t h e m themselves.] They are not saying that a twin has a beak, feathers,
and so forth. Nor in their everyday relations as twins do Nuers speak of them as birds or
15°
TALAL ASAD
act towards them as though they were birds. (35. Sentence in brackets omitted by
Gellner; emphasis supplied by Gellner.)
A t this p o i n t G e l l n e r b r e a k s o f f t h e q u o t a t i o n a n d i n t e r j e c t s i n
m o c k d e s p a i r : " B u t w h a t , t h e n , would c o u n t as p r e - l o g i c a l t h o u g h t ?
O n l y , p r e s u m a b l y , t h e b e h a v i o u r o f a totally d e m e n t e d p e r s o n , s u f f e r ­
i n g f r o m p e r m a n e n t h a l l u c i n a t i o n s , w h o would t r e a t s o m e t h i n g w h i c h
is p e r c e p t i b l y a h u m a n b e i n g as t h o u g h it h a d all t h e a t t r i b u t e s o f a
b i r d " (35). S o e a g e r is G e l l n e r t o nail u t t e r a n c e s t h a t m u s t c o u n t as
e x p r e s s i o n s o f " p r e - l o g i c a l t h o u g h t " ( w h y is h e s o e a g e r ? ) t h a t h e d o e s
n o t p a u s e t o c o n s i d e r c a r e f u l l y w h a t E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d is t r y i n g t o
d o . I n fact, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d d e v o t e s s e v e r a l p a g e s t o e x p l a i n i n g t h i s
s t r a n g e s e n t e n c e . It is p l a i n t h a t h e is c o n c e r n e d t o explain (in t e r m s o f
N u e r s o c i a l life), n o t t o justify (in t e r m s o f W e s t e r n c o m m o n s e n s e , o r
W e s t e r n v a l u e s ) . T h e a i m o f this k i n d o f e x e g e s i s is c e r t a i n l y n o t t o
p e r s u a d e Western readers to a d o p t N u e r religious practices. N o r d o e s
it r u l e o u t t h e p o s s i b i l i t y t h a t i n d i v i d u a l s p e a k e r s m a k e m i s t a k e s o r
utter absurdities in their religious discourse w h e n e m p l o y i n g their
t r a d i t i o n a l w a y s o f t h i n k i n g . It is n o t c l e a r , t h e r e f o r e , w h y G e l l n e r
s h o u l d p o i n t t o t h i s e x a m p l e f r o m Nuer Religion t o s u b s t a n t i a t e h i s
c h a r g e o f excessive charity o n the part o f Functionalist a n t h r o p o l o ­
g i s t s . E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d is t r y i n g t o e x p l a i n t h e c o h e r e n c e t h a t g i v e s
N u e r r e l i g i o u s d i s c o u r s e its s e n s e , n o t t o d e f e n d t h a t s e n s e as h a v i n g a
u n i v e r s a l s t a t u s — a f t e r all, E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d h i m s e l f w a s a C a t h o l i c
b o t h b e f o r e a n d after his m o n o g r a p h o n N u e r religion was written.
N o w w h e t h e r Evans-Pritchard succeeds in e x p l a i n i n g t h e basic c o ­
h e r e n c e o f N u e r r e l i g i o u s d i s c o u r s e is, o f c o u r s e , a n o t h e r q u e s t i o n .
S e v e r a l British a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s — f o r e x a m p l e , R a y m o n d Firth (1966)
— ( t h o u g h n o t , to m y k n o w l e d g e , any N u e r themselves) h a v e d i s p u t e d
aspects o f Evans-Pritchard's interpretation. B u t such d i s a g r e e m e n t s
a r e still a b o u t d i f f e r e n t w a y s o f m a k i n g s e n s e o f N u e r r e l i g i o u s d i s ­
c o u r s e , n o t a b o u t t o o m u c h o r t o o little "charity" i n t r a n s l a t i o n . I n fact
c o n t r a r y t o G e l l n e r ' s a l l e g a t i o n s , E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d ' s e x e g e s i s does m a k e
q u i t e e x p l i c i t a p p a r e n t " c o n t r a d i c t i o n s , " o r at l e a s t a m b i g u i t i e s , i n
N u e r c o n c e p t s — f o r e x a m p l e , b e t w e e n t h e n o t i o n o f "a s u p r e m e a n d
o m n i p r e s e n t b e i n g " a n d that o f "lesser spirits," b o t h o f w h i c h a r e c a t e ­
g o r i z e d as kwoth. A n d it is p r e c i s e l y b e c a u s e E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d i n s i s t s o n
k e e p i n g t h e d i f f e r e n t s e n s e s o f kwoth t o g e t h e r as p a r t s o f " o n e c o n ­
c e p t " a n d d o e s n o t t r e a t t h e m as h o m o n y m s (as M a l i n o w s k i m i g h t
have d o n e by relating the w o r d to different contexts o f use) that
t h e N u e r c o n c e p t o f spirit m i g h t b e s a i d t o b e " c o n t r a d i c t o r y . " B u t
w h e t h e r the identification o f ambiguities a n d "contradictions" in the
basic c o n c e p t u a l repertoire o f a l a n g u a g e provides obvious e v i d e n c e
o f " p r e - l o g i c a l t h o u g h t " is, o f c o u r s e , a d i f f e r e n t i s s u e — I w o u l d s u g -
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gest that o n l y s o m e o n e with a very naive u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f w h a t w a s
i n v o l v e d i n t r a n s l a t i o n c o u l d t h i n k t h a t it d o e s .
Yet G e l l n e r ' s d i s c o u r s e typically e v a d e s t h e i s s u e s it s e e m s t o b e
r a i s i n g , i n a style t h a t s e e k s t o h u r r y t h e r e a d e r a l o n g o v e r a s e r i e s o f
archly phrased disclaimers:
I d o not wish to be misunderstood: I am not arguing that Evans-Pritchard's
account o f N u e r concepts is a bad one. (Nor am I anxious to revive a doctrine
of pre-logical mentality a la Lévy-Bruhl.) O n the contrary, I have the greatest
admiration for it. What I a m anxious to argue is that contextual interpreta­
tion, which offers an account o f what assertions "really mean" in opposition to
what they seem to mean in isolation, does not by itself clinch matters. (38)
N o w w h o w o u l d h a v e c l a i m e d it d i d ? C e r t a i n l y E v a n s - P r i t c h a r d d o e s
not. In a n y case the opposition b e t w e e n a "contextual interpretation"
a n d o n e t h a t is n o t c o n t e x t u a l is e n t i r e l y s p u r i o u s . N o t h i n g h a s m e a n ­
i n g "in i s o l a t i o n . " T h e p r o b l e m is a l w a y s , w h a t k i n d o f c o n t e x t ?
B u t t h a t is s o m e t h i n g G e l l n e r n e v e r d i s c u s s e s , e x c e p t b y s u g g e s t ­
i n g that t h e a n s w e r m u s t involve a vicious circularity—or by u t t e r i n g
r e p e a t e d w a r n i n g s a g a i n s t " e x c e s s i v e " charity ( w h e n is c h a r i t y n o t " e x ­
cessive"?). H e a p p e a r s u n a w a r e that for t h e translator t h e p r o b l e m o f
d e t e r m i n i n g t h e r e l e v a n t k i n d o f c o n t e x t i n e a c h c a s e is s o l v e d b y skill
in t h e u s e o f t h e l a n g u a g e s c o n c e r n e d , n o t by a n a priori "attitude" o f
i n t o l e r a n c e o r t o l e r a n c e . A n d skill is s o m e t h i n g t h a t is learned—that
is, s o m e t h i n g t h a t is n e c e s s a r i l y circular, b u t n o t v i c i o u s l y s o . W e a r e
d e a l i n g n o t w i t h a n a b s t r a c t m a t c h i n g o f t w o sets o f s e n t e n c e s , b u t
w i t h a social p r a c t i c e r o o t e d i n m o d e s o f life. A t r a n s l a t o r m a y m a k e
mistakes, o r h e m a y knowingly misrepresent s o m e t h i n g — m u c h as
p e o p l e m a k e m i s t a k e s o r lie i n e v e r y d a y life. B u t w e c a n n o t p r o d u c e a
g e n e r a l principle for identifying such things, particularly n o t t h r o u g h
w a r n i n g s to b e careful o f "the contextual m e t h o d o f interpretation."
A n d s o t o a n o t h e r o f Gellner's c h a r m i n g d i s c l a i m e r s : " T o say all
this is n o t to a r g u e for a scepticism o r agnosticism c o n c e r n i n g w h a t
m e m b e r s o f a l i e n l a n g u a g e s m e a n , still less t o a r g u e f o r a n a b s t e n t i o n
f r o m t h e contextual m e t h o d o f interpretation. ( O n the contrary, I
s h a l l a r g u e f o r a f u l l e r u s e o f it, f u l l e r i n t h e s e n s e o f a l l o w i n g f o r t h e
p o s s i b i l i t y t h a t w h a t p e o p l e m e a n is s o m e t i m e s a b s u r d . ) " (39). T h e
c h a r m o f this s t a t e m e n t c o n s i s t s i n Gellner's c h e e k y a p p r o p r i a t i o n o f
his o p p o n e n t ' s m e t h o d to s t r e n g t h e n his o w n distinctive position.
B u t b e f o r e t h a t is d o n e , w e a r e g i v e n f u r t h e r e x a m p l e s o f t h e
t o l e r a n c e - e n g e n d e r i n g c o n t e x t u a l m e t h o d at w o r k i n Leach's Political
Systems of Highland Burma. T h u s a c c o r d i n g t o L e a c h , K a c h i n s t a t e ­
m e n t s a b o u t t h e s u p e r n a t u r a l w o r l d a r e "in t h e last a n a l y s i s , n o t h i n g
m o r e than ways o f describing t h e formal relationships that exist
b e t w e e n r e a l p e r s o n s a n d real g r o u p s i n o r d i n a r y K a c h i n s o c i e t y "
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TALALASAD
( q u o t e d o n p . 40). A t this p o i n t G e l l n e r i n t e r v e n e s : "It is p o s s i b l e t o
d i s c e r n w h a t h a s h a p p e n e d . Leach's e x e g e t i c p r o c e d u r e s h a v e a l s o
s a v e d t h e K a c h i n s f r o m b e i n g c r e d i t e d w i t h w h a t t h e y appear t o b e say­
i n g " a n d t h u s m a d e it p o s s i b l e "to a t t r i b u t e m e a n i n g t o a s s e r t i o n s
w h i c h m i g h t o t h e r w i s e b e f o u n d to lack it" ( 4 1 ) . G e l l n e r g o e s o n t o
insist t h a t h e is n o t c o n c e r n e d t o d i s p u t e Leach's i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s , b u t
m e r e l y "to s h o w h o w t h e r a n g e o f c o n t e x t , a n d t h e m a n n e r i n w h i c h
t h e c o n t e x t is s e e n , n e c e s s a r i l y a f f e c t t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n " ( 4 1 ) . T h i s is a
s i g n i f i c a n t r e m a r k , b e c a u s e it is i n d e e d n o t Leach's r e d u c t i o n i s m t o
w h i c h G e l l n e r o b j e c t s ( w e shall find h i m i n s i s t i n g o n it h i m s e l f l a t e r i n
c o n n e c t i o n w i t h B e r b e r r e l i g i o u s i d e o l o g y ) b u t t o t h e fact t h a t this e x ­
a m p l e o f r e d u c t i o n i s m — w h i c h G e l l n e r m i s l e a d i n g l y calls " c o n t e x t u a l i s m " — s e e m s t o d e f e n d , r a t h e r t h a n t o attack, t h e c u l t u r a l d i s ­
course concerned.
G e l l n e r ' s d e m o n s t r a t i o n o f h o w "the uncharitable m a y b e ' c o n t e x tualist' i n t h e s e c o n d , d e e p e r a n d b e t t e r s e n s e " (42) b e g i n s b y p r e s e n t ­
i n g a fictitious w o r d i n a h c t i t i o u s s o c i e t y — t h e w o r d "boble," u s e d i n a
w a y r e m a r k a b l y like t h e E n g l i s h w o r d " n o b l e . " T h u s w e a r e t o l d t h a t it
c a n b e a p p l i e d t o p e o p l e w h o actually d i s p l a y c e r t a i n h a b i t u a l f o r m s
o f c o n d u c t , a s w e l l as t o p e o p l e w h o o c c u p y a p a r t i c u l a r s o c i a l s t a t u s
i r r e s p e c t i v e o f t h e i r b e h a v i o r . " B u t t h e p o i n t is: t h e s o c i e t y i n q u e s t i o n
d o e s n o t d i s t i n g u i s h two concepts, b o b l e (a) a n d b o b l e (b). It o n l y u s e s
t h e w o r d b o b l e t o u t c o u r t " (42). T h e l o g i c o f b o b i l i t y is t h e n a n a l y z e d
further to show how
bobility is a conceptual device by which the privileged class of the society in
question acquires some of the prestige of certain virtues respected in that so­
ciety, without the inconvenience o f n e e d i n g to practice it, thanks to t h e fact
that the same word is applied either to practitioners o f those virtues or to oc­
cupiers of favoured positions. It is, at the same time, a manner o f reinforcing
the appeal o f those virtues, by associating them, through the use o f the same
appellation, with prestige and power. But all this needs to be said, and to say it
is to bring out the internal logical incoherence of the c o n c e p t — a n incoher­
ence which, indeed, is socially functional. (42)
I n fact t h e c o n c e p t o f "bobility" is n o t s h o w n t o b e incoherent—even if
it b e a c c e p t e d t h a t t h e a m b i g u i t y o f t h e word a l l o w s it t o b e u s e d in
p o l i t i c a l d i s c o u r s e t o c o n s o l i d a t e t h e l e g i t i m a c y o f a r u l i n g class ( a n d
t h e r e f o r e , in principle, also to u n d e r m i n e that legitimacy). Gellner's
s a t i s f i e d c o n c l u s i o n t o h i s fictional e x a m p l e is s u r e l y f a r t o o h a s t y :
" W h a t t h i s s h o w s , h o w e v e r , is t h a t t h e o v e r - c h a r i t a b l e i n t e r p r e t e r , d e ­
t e r m i n e d t o d e f e n d t h e c o n c e p t s h e is i n v e s t i g a t i n g f r o m t h e c h a r g e
o f l o g i c a l i n c o h e r e n c e , is b o u n d t o m i s d e s c r i b e t h e social s i t u a t i o n . To
make sense of the concept is to make nonsense of the society" (42, e m p h a s i s
a d d e d ) . C l e a r l y t h e w o r d "bobility" m a k e s s e n s e t o its u s e r s in part i n i
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l a r s t a t e m e n t s ( o r t h e y w o u l d n o t u s e it), a n d it m a k e s s e n s e a l s o , a l ­
t h o u g h o f a d i f f e r e n t k i n d , t o G e l l n e r , w h o states t h a t b y d e c e i v i n g its
u s e r s it s o m e h o w u p h o l d s a social s t r u c t u r e . S e n s e o r n o n s e n s e , l i k e
t r u t h o r f a l s e h o o d , a p p l i e s t o statements a n d n o t t o a b s t r a c t c o n c e p t s .
T h e r e s e e m s to m e n o evidence here o f a "nonsensical" concept, b e ­
c a u s e t h e r e is n o a n a l y s i s o f socially s i t u a t e d s t a t e m e n t s .
B u t t h e r e is a l s o a m o r e i m p o r t a n t f a i l u r e e v i d e n t i n this e x a m p l e :
t h e lack o f a n y a t t e m p t t o e x p l o r e its coherence—that w h i c h m a k e s its
s o c i a l e f f e c t s u c h a p o w e r f u l possibility. O f c o u r s e , p o l i t i c a l d i s c o u r s e
e m p l o y s l i e s , h a l f - t r u t h s , l o g i c a l trickery, a n d s o o n . Yet t h a t is n o t
w h a t g i v e s it its compulsive c h a r a c t e r , a n y m o r e t h a n t h e u s e o f t r u e o r
c l e a r s t a t e m e n t s d o e s , a n d c o m p u l s i v e n e s s is p r e c i s e l y w h a t is i n v o l v e d
i n G e l l n e r ' s e x a m p l e . It is n o t t h e abstract l o g i c a l s t a t u s o f c o n c e p t s
t h a t is r e l e v a n t h e r e , b u t t h e w a y i n w h i c h specific political d i s c o u r s e s
s e e m to mobilize o r direct the behavior o f people within given cultural
s i t u a t i o n s . T h e c o m p u l s i v e n e s s o f "bobility" as a political c o n c e p t is a
feature n o t o f gullible m i n d s b u t o f c o h e r e n t discourses a n d practices.
T h a t is w h y it is e s s e n t i a l f o r a t r a n s l a t o r o f p o w e r f u l political i d e o l o ­
g i e s t o a t t e m p t t o c o n v e y s o m e t h i n g o f this c o h e r e n c e . T o m a k e n o n ­
s e n s e o f t h e c o n c e p t is t o m a k e n o n s e n s e o f t h e society.
G e l l n e r ' s final e x a m p l e c o m e s f r o m h i s o w n fieldwork a m o n g t h e
c e n t r a l M o r o c c a n B e r b e r s , a n d is i n t e n d e d t o c l i n c h t h e a r g u m e n t
that an uncharitable contextualist makes better sense o f the society h e
d e s c r i b e s b y e m p h a s i z i n g t h e i n c o h e r e n c e o f its c o n c e p t s : " T w o c o n ­
c e p t s a r e r e l e v a n t , " h e w r i t e s , "baraka a n d agurram (pi. igurramen).
Baraka is a w o r d w h i c h c a n m e a n s i m p l y ' e n o u g h ' , b u t it a l s o m e a n s
p l e n i t u d e , a n d a b o v e all b l e s s e d n e s s m a n i f e s t e d a m o n g s t o t h e r t h i n g s
in p r o s p e r i t y a n d t h e p o w e r to cause prosperity in o t h e r s by s u p e r ­
n a t u r a l m e a n s . A n agurram is a p o s s e s s o r o f baraka" (43).
Igurramen—translated
as "saints" i n G e l l n e r ' s later w r i t i n g s ( e . g . ,
1 9 6 9 ) — a r e a fairly p r i v i l e g e d a n d i n f l u e n t i a l m i n o r i t y i n t h e tribal s o ­
c i e t y o f c e n t r a l M o r o c c a n B e r b e r s w h o act as f o c i o f r e l i g i o u s v a l u e s
a n d a l s o a s m e d i a t o r s a n d a r b i t r a t o r s a m o n g s t t h e tribal p o p u l a t i o n
w i t h w h o m t h e y live. " T h e local b e l i e f is t h a t t h e y a r e s e l e c t e d b y G o d .
Moreover, G o d makes his choice manifest by e n d o w i n g those w h o m
h e h a s selected with certain characteristics, i n c l u d i n g magical p o w e r s ,
a n d great generosity, prosperity, a consider-the-lilies attitude, paci­
fism, a n d s o f o r t h " (43).
T h i s is G e l l n e r ' s " t r a n s l a t i o n . " B u t h i s t o o - f l u e n t u s e o f a r e l i g i o u s
vocabulary with strong, a n d p e r h a p s irrelevant, Christian o v e r t o n e s
m u s t p r o m p t d o u b t s a n d q u e s t i o n s at this p o i n t . W h a t p r e c i s e l y a r e
t h e b e h a v i o r a n d d i s c o u r s e s t r a n s l a t e d h e r e a s "a c o n s i d e r - t h e - l i l i e s at­
titude," "makes his c h o i c e manifest," a n d "endowing," for instance?
D o t h e B e r b e r s b e l i e v e that G o d endows t h e i r "saints" w i t h d i s p o s i -
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tional characteristics such as "great generosity a n d pacifism," o r d o
t h e y t a k e it r a t h e r t h a t t h e s e c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s a r e conditions o f saintlin e s s , o f t h e c l o s e n e s s o f igurramen t o G o d ? D o t h e B e r b e r s r e a l l y b e ­
h a v e a s t h o u g h r e l i g i o u s a n d m o r a l virtues w e r e " m a n i f e s t a t i o n s " o f
d i v i n e c h o i c e ? W h a t d o t h e y say a n d h o w d o t h e y b e h a v e w h e n p e o p l e
fail t o d i s p l a y t h e v i r t u e s t h e y ought t o h a v e ? B y w h o m is a n agurram's
b e h a v i o r c o n c e p t u a l i z e d as a " c o n s i d e r - t h e - l i l i e s a t t i t u d e , " g i v e n t h a t
h e h a s b o t h f a m i l y a n d p r o p e r t y , a n d t h a t this fact is t a k e n b y t h e B e r ­
bers t o b e perfectly in o r d e r ? G e l l n e r d o e s n o t give t h e r e a d e r t h e
r e l e v a n t e v i d e n c e f o r a n s w e r i n g t h e s e i m p o r t a n t q u e s t i o n s , w h o s e sig­
n i f i c a n c e f o r h i s t r a n s l a t i o n will e m e r g e i n a m o m e n t .
T h e reality o f the situation is, however, that the igurramen are in fact se­
lected by the surrounding ordinary tribesmen who use their services, by being
called to perform those services and being preferred to the rival candidates
for their performance. What appears to be vox Dei is in reality vox populi.
Moreover, the matter o f the blessed characteristics, the stigmata [sic] o f
agurram-hood is more complicated. It is essential that successful candidates to
agurram status be credited with these characteristics, but it is equally essential,
at any rate with regard to some of them, that they should n o t really possess
t h e m . For instance, an agurram w h o was extremely generous in a considerthe-lilies spirit would soon be impoverished and, as such, fail by another cru­
cial test, that o f prosperity.
T h e r e is here a crucial divergence between concept and reality, a diver­
gence which moreover is quite essential for the working of the social system.
(43-44)
I t i s n o t a t all c l e a r f r o m t h e a c c o u n t g i v e n b y G e l l n e r w h a t is
m e a n t b y t h e s t a t e m e n t , " T h e local b e l i e f is t h a t t h e y a r e s e l e c t e d b y
G o d " — " s e l e c t e d " f o r w h a t e x a c t l y ? For b e i n g arbitrators? B u t a r b i t r a ­
t i o n m u s t b e i n i t i a t e d b y o n e o r o t h e r m e m b e r o f t h e tribal s o c i e t y ,
a n d t h a t fact c a n h a r d l y b e u n k n o w n t o t h e t r i b e s m e n . F o r b e i n g p a ­
cific? B u t p a c i f i s m is a v i r t u e , n o t a r e w a r d . F o r w o r l d l y s u c c e s s a n d
p r o s p e r i t y ? B u t t h a t c a n n o t b e a local definition o f s a i n t l i n e s s , o r t h e
F r e n c h c o l o n i a l r u l e r s w o u l d h a v e b e e n r e g a r d e d as m o r e saintly t h a n
any
agurram.
I t is really n o g r e a t e x p l a n a t o r y a c h i e v e m e n t f o r a E u r o p e a n a n ­
thropologist to inform his agnostic a n d / o r m o d e r n E u r o p e a n readers
that t h e Berbers believe in a particular kind o f direct intervention o f
t h e d e i t y i n t h e i r affairs, t h a t t h e y a r e o f c o u r s e m i s t a k e n i n this b e l i e f ,
a n d t h a t t h i s m i s t a k e n b e l i e f c a n h a v e social c o n s e q u e n c e s . I n this
k i n d o f e x e r c i s e w e d o n o t l e a r n what t h e y b e l i e v e , b u t o n l y that w h a t
t h e y b e l i e v e is q u i t e w r o n g : t h u s , t h e B e r b e r s b e l i e v e t h a t G o d " s e ­
l e c t s " igurramen; w e k n o w G o d d o e s n o t e x i s t ( o r i f s o m e o f u s still "be­
lieve" h e d o e s , w e "know" h e d o e s n o t i n t e r v e n e directly in secular his­
t o r y ) ; e r g o t h e "selector" m u s t b e a n o t h e r a g e n t w h o m t h e t r i b e s m e n
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d o n o t k n o w as t h e a g e n t — i n fact, t h e s u r r o u n d i n g t r i b e s m e n t h e m ­
s e l v e s . T h e igurramen a r e " s e l e c t e d " ( f o r a p a r t i c u l a r social r o l e ? f o r a
m o r a l virtue? f o r a religious destiny?) by the p e o p l e . T h e "selection"
a p p e a r s t o b e vox Dei a n d is i n reality vox populi. O r is it?
I n reality t h e social p r o c e s s d e s c r i b e d b y t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t as "se­
l e c t i o n " is t h e l o c u s o f a vox o n l y i f it is p r e t e n d e d t h a t t h a t p r o c e s s
constitutes a cultural text. For a text m u s t have a n a u t h o r — t h e o n e
w h o m a k e s h i s v o i c e h e a r d t h r o u g h it. A n d i f t h a t v o i c e c a n n o t b e
G o d ' s , it m u s t b e s o m e o n e e l s e ' s — t h e p e o p l e ' s . T h u s G e l l n e r t h e a t h e ­
ist i n s i s t s o n a n s w e r i n g a t h e o l o g i c a l q u e s t i o n : w h o s p e a k s t h r o u g h
h i s t o r y , t h r o u g h s o c i e t y ? I n this p a r t i c u l a r c a s e , t h e a n s w e r d e p e n d s
o n t h e t e x t c o n t a i n i n g at o n c e t h e "real," u n c o n s c i o u s m e a n i n g a n d its
a p p r o p r i a t e t r a n s l a t i o n . T h i s f u s i o n o f s i g n i f i e r a n d s i g n i f i e d is e s p e ­
cially e v i d e n t i n t h e w a y i n w h i c h t h e I s l a m i c c o n c e p t o f baraka is m a d e
t o s o u n d r e m a r k a b l y like t h e C h r i s t i a n c o n c e p t o f g r a c e as p o r t r a y e d
by a n e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y skeptic, so that t h e conditions d e f i n i n g t h e
agurram's baraka a r e r e f e r r e d t o w i t h a k n o w i n g G i b b o n i a n s m i l e as
" s t i g m a t a " — a n d b y t h a t d e f t s i g n , a p o r t i o n of t h e B e r b e r c u l t u r a l
t e x t is a t o n c e c o n s t r u c t e d ( m a d e u p ) a n d d e s i g n a t e d ( s h o w n u p )
w i t h i n G e l l n e r ' s t e x t , as e x q u i s i t e a u n i o n o f w o r d a n d t h i n g as a n y t o
b e f o u n d i n all h i s w r i t i n g s .
B u t s o c i e t y is n o t a t e x t t h a t c o m m u n i c a t e s i t s e l f t o t h e s k i l l e d
r e a d e r . It is p e o p l e w h o s p e a k . A n d t h e u l t i m a t e m e a n i n g o f w h a t
t h e y s a y d o e s n o t r e s i d e i n s o c i e t y — s o c i e t y is t h e c u l t u r a l c o n d i t i o n i n
w h i c h speakers act a n d are acted u p o n . T h e privileged position that
G e l l n e r a c c o r d s h i m s e l f f o r d e c o d i n g t h e real m e a n i n g o f w h a t t h e
B e r b e r s s a y ( r e g a r d l e s s o f w h a t t h e y t h i n k t h e y say) c a n b e m a i n t a i n e d
o n l y b y s o m e o n e w h o s u p p o s e s that t r a n s l a t i n g o t h e r c u l t u r e s is e s ­
sentially a m a t t e r o f m a t c h i n g written s e n t e n c e s in t w o l a n g u a g e s ,
s u c h t h a t t h e s e c o n d s e t o f s e n t e n c e s b e c o m e s t h e "real m e a n i n g " o f
t h e first—an o p e r a t i o n t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t a l o n e c o n t r o l s , f r o m field
n o t e b o o k t o p r i n t e d e t h n o g r a p h y . I n o t h e r w o r d s , it is t h e p r i v i l e g e d
position o f s o m e o n e w h o d o e s not, a n d can afford n o t to, e n g a g e in a
g e n u i n e d i a l o g u e w i t h t h o s e h e o r s h e o n c e l i v e d w i t h a n d n o w writes
a b o u t (cf. A s a d , e d . 1 9 7 3 : 1 7 ) .
I n t h e m i d d l e o f h i s article, w h e n d i s c u s s i n g a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l r e l a ­
t i v i s m , G e l l n e r c o m p l a i n s t h a t " a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s w e r e relativistic, t o l e r ­
a n t , c o n t e x t u a l l y - c o m p r e h e n d i n g vis-à-vis t h e s a v a g e s w h o a r e a f t e r
all s o m e d i s t a n c e away, b u t absolutistic, i n t o l e r a n t vis-à-vis t h e i r i m m e ­
diate n e i g h b o u r s o r predecessors, t h e m e m b e r s o f o u r o w n society
w h o d o n o t share their c o m p r e h e n d i n g outlook a n d are themselves
' e t h n o c e n t r i c ' . . ." ( 3 1 ) .
W h y h a v e I t r i e d t o insist i n this p a p e r t h a t a n y o n e c o n c e r n e d
with t r a n s l a t i n g f r o m o t h e r c u l t u r e s m u s t l o o k f o r c o h e r e n c e i n d i s -
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c o u r s e s , a n d yet d e v o t e d so m a n y pages to s h o w i n g that Gellner's text
is l a r g e l y i n c o h e r e n t ? T h e r e a s o n is q u i t e s i m p l e : G e l l n e r a n d I s p e a k
t h e s a m e l a n g u a g e , b e l o n g to t h e s a m e a c a d e m i c p r o f e s s i o n , live i n
t h e s a m e society. I n t a k i n g u p a critical s t a n c e t o w a r d h i s t e x t I a m
contesting w h a t h e says, n o t translating it, a n d t h e r a d i c a l d i f f e r e n c e b e ­
t w e e n t h e s e t w o activities is p r e c i s e l y w h a t I insist o n . Still, t h e p u r p o s e
o f m y a r g u m e n t is n o t t o e x p r e s s a n a t t i t u d e o f " i n t o l e r a n c e " t o w a r d
a n " i m m e d i a t e n e i g h b o u r , " b u t t o try a n d i d e n t i f y i n c o h e r e n c e s i n h i s
t e x t t h a t call f o r r e m e d y , b e c a u s e t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l task o f t r a n s l a ­
t i o n d e s e r v e s t o b e m a d e m o r e c o h e r e n t . T h e p u r p o s e o f this criti­
c i s m , t h e r e f o r e , is t o f u r t h e r a c o l l e c t i v e e n d e a v o r . C r i t i c i z i n g " s a v a g e s
w h o a r e a f t e r all s o m e d i s t a n c e away," i n a n e t h n o g r a p h i c m o n o g r a p h
they cannot read, does not seem to m e to have the same kind o f pur­
p o s e . I n o r d e r f o r c r i t i c i s m t o b e r e s p o n s i b l e , it m u s t a l w a y s b e a d ­
d r e s s e d t o s o m e o n e w h o c a n c o n t e s t it.
The Inequality of Languages
A careful r e a d i n g o f Gellner's p a p e r s h o w s that a l t h o u g h h e
r a i s e s a n u m b e r o f i m p o r t a n t q u e s t i o n s , h e n o t o n l y fails t o a n s w e r
t h e m , b u t misses s o m e o f t h e m o s t crucial aspects o f t h e p r o b l e m with
w h i c h t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is e n g a g e d . T h e m o s t i n t e r e s t i n g o f t h e s e , it
s e e m s t o m e , is t h e p r o b l e m o f w h a t o n e m i g h t call " u n e q u a l - l a n ­
g u a g e s " — a n d it is t h i s I w a n t n o w t o d i s c u s s i n s o m e d e t a i l .
All g o o d translation seeks to r e p r o d u c e the structure o f a n alien
d i s c o u r s e w i t h i n t h e translator's o w n l a n g u a g e . H o w t h a t s t r u c t u r e
( o r " c o h e r e n c e " ) is r e p r o d u c e d will, o f c o u r s e , d e p e n d o n t h e g e n r e
c o n c e r n e d ("poetry," "scientific analysis," "narrative," e t c . ) , o n t h e r e ­
s o u r c e s o f t h e translator's l a n g u a g e , as well as o n t h e i n t e r e s t s o f t h e
t r a n s l a t o r a n d / o r h i s r e a d e r s h i p . A l l s u c c e s s f u l t r a n s l a t i o n is p r e m i s e d
o n t h e fact t h a t it is a d d r e s s e d w i t h i n a specific l a n g u a g e , a n d t h e r e ­
f o r e a l s o t o a s p e c i f i c s e t o f p r a c t i c e s , a specific f o r m o f life. T h e f u r ­
t h e r t h a t f o r m o f life is f r o m t h e o r i g i n a l , t h e less m e c h a n i c a l is t h e
r e p r o d u c t i o n . A s Walter B e n j a m i n wrote: " T h e l a n g u a g e o f a transla­
t i o n c a n — i n fact m u s t — l e t itself g o , s o t h a t it g i v e s v o i c e t o t h e intentio
o f t h e o r i g i n a l n o t as r e p r o d u c t i o n b u t as h a r m o n y , as a s u p p l e m e n t
t o t h e l a n g u a g e i n w h i c h it e x p r e s s e s itself, as its o w n k i n d o f intentio"
( 1 9 6 9 : 7 9 ) . It is, i n c i d e n t a l l y , f o r t h e r e a d e r t o e v a l u a t e t h a t intentio,
not f o r t h e translator to p r e e m p t t h e evaluation. A g o o d translation
s h o u l d a l w a y s p r e c e d e a c r i t i q u e . A n d w e c a n t u r n this a r o u n d b y say­
i n g t h a t a g o o d c r i t i q u e is always a n " i n t e r n a l " c r i t i q u e - — t h a t is, o n e
b a s e d o n s o m e s h a r e d u n d e r s t a n d i n g , o n a j o i n t life, w h i c h it a i m s t o
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
157
e n l a r g e a n d m a k e m o r e c o h e r e n t . S u c h a c r i t i q u e — n o less t h a n t h e
o b j e c t o f c r i t i c i s m — i s a p o i n t o f v i e w , a ( c o n t r a ) version, h a v i n g o n l y
provisional a n d limited authority.
W h a t h a p p e n s w h e n the languages concerned are so r e m o t e that
it is v e r y difficult t o r e w r i t e a h a r m o n i o u s intentio? R u d o l f P a n n w i t z ,
q u o t e d i n t h e B e n j a m i n essay o n w h i c h I have j u s t d r a w n , m a k e s t h e
following observation:
O u r translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. T h e y
want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead o f turning German
into Hindi, Greek, English. O u r translators have a far greater reverence for
the usage o f their o w n language than for the spirit of the foreign works. . . .
T h e basic error o f the translator is that he preserves the state in which his o w n
l a n g u a g e h a p p e n s to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully af­
fected by the foreign tongue. Particularly w h e n translating from a language
very remote from his o w n h e must go back to the primal elements o f language
itself a n d penetrate to the point where work, image, and tone converge. H e
m u s t e x p a n d and d e e p e n his language by means of the foreign language.
(1969:80-81)
T h i s call t o t r a n s f o r m a l a n g u a g e i n o r d e r t o t r a n s l a t e t h e c o h e r ­
e n c e o f t h e o r i g i n a l , p o s e s a n i n t e r e s t i n g c h a l l e n g e t o t h e p e r s o n satis­
fied w i t h a n a b s u r d - s o u n d i n g t r a n s l a t i o n o n t h e a s s u m p t i o n t h a t t h e
original m u s t have b e e n equally absurd: the g o o d translator d o e s n o t
i m m e d i a t e l y a s s u m e t h a t u n u s u a l difficulty i n c o n v e y i n g t h e s e n s e o f
a n a l i e n d i s c o u r s e d e n o t e s a fault i n t h e latter, b u t i n s t e a d critically
e x a m i n e s t h e n o r m a l state o f h i s o r h e r own l a n g u a g e . T h e r e l e v a n t
q u e s t i o n t h e r e f o r e is n o t h o w t o l e r a n t a n attitude t h e t r a n s l a t o r o u g h t
t o d i s p l a y t o w a r d t h e o r i g i n a l a u t h o r ( a n abstract e t h i c a l d i l e m m a ) ,
b u t h o w s h e c a n test t h e t o l e r a n c e o f h e r o w n l a n g u a g e f o r a s s u m i n g
unaccustomed forms.
B u t t h i s p u s h i n g b e y o n d t h e limits o f one's h a b i t u a l u s a g e s , t h i s
b r e a k i n g d o w n a n d r e s h a p i n g o f one's o w n l a n g u a g e t h r o u g h t h e p r o ­
c e s s o f t r a n s l a t i o n , is n e v e r a n easy b u s i n e s s , i n p a r t b e c a u s e (if I m a y
b e a l l o w e d a h y p o s t a t i z a t i o n ) it d e p e n d s o n t h e w i l l i n g n e s s o f t h e
t r a n s l a t o r ' s language t o s u b j e c t itself t o this t r a n s f o r m i n g p o w e r . I a t ­
t r i b u t e , s o m e w h a t fictitiously, v o l i t i o n t o t h e l a n g u a g e b e c a u s e I w a n t
t o e m p h a s i z e t h a t t h e m a t t e r is l a r g e l y s o m e t h i n g t h e t r a n s l a t o r c a n ­
n o t d e t e r m i n e b y i n d i v i d u a l activity ( a n y m o r e t h a n t h e i n d i v i d u a l
s p e a k e r c a n a f f e c t t h e e v o l u t i o n o f his o r h e r l a n g u a g e ) — t h a t it is g o v ­
e r n e d by institutionally defined p o w e r relations b e t w e e n the lan­
g u a g e s / m o d e s o f life c o n c e r n e d . T o p u t it c r u d e l y : b e c a u s e t h e l a n ­
g u a g e s o f T h i r d World societies—including, o f course, t h e societies
that social a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s h a v e traditionally s t u d i e d — a r e "weaker" i n
relation to Western l a n g u a g e s (and today, especially to English), t h e y
a r e m o i e likely t o s u b m i t t o f o r c i b l e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n i n t h e t r a n s l a t i o n
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p r o c e s s t h a n t h e o t h e r w a y a r o u n d . T h e r e a s o n f o r this is, first, t h a t i n
their political-economic relations with T h i r d World countries, West­
e r n n a t i o n s h a v e t h e g r e a t e r ability t o m a n i p u l a t e t h e latter. A n d , s e c ­
o n d , W e s t e r n l a n g u a g e s p r o d u c e a n d d e p l o y desired k n o w l e d g e m o r e
readily than T h i r d World languages d o . ( T h e k n o w l e d g e that T h i r d
W o r l d l a n g u a g e s d e p l o y m o r e easily is n o t s o u g h t by W e s t e r n s o c i e t i e s
in quite t h e s a m e way, or for the s a m e reason.)
T a k e m o d e r n A r a b i c as a n e x a m p l e . S i n c e t h e early n i n e t e e n t h
century there has b e e n a g r o w i n g v o l u m e of material translated f r o m
E u r o p e a n languages—especially French and English—into Arabic.
T h i s i n c l u d e s scientific t e x t s as w e l l as "social s c i e n c e , " "history," " p h i ­
l o s o p h y , " a n d "literature." A n d f r o m t h e n i n e t e e n t h century, Arabic
as a l a n g u a g e h a s b e g u n as a result to u n d e r g o a t r a n s f o r m a t i o n (lex­
ical, g r a m m a t i c a l , s e m a n t i c ) t h a t is f a r m o r e r a d i c a l t h a n a n y t h i n g
to b e identified in E u r o p e a n l a n g u a g e s — a transformation that has
p u s h e d it t o a p p r o x i m a t e t o t h e latter m o r e c l o s e l y t h a n i n t h e p a s t .
S u c h t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s s i g n a l i n e q u a l i t i e s i n t h e p o w e r (i.e., i n t h e ca­
pacities) o f t h e r e s p e c t i v e l a n g u a g e s in r e l a t i o n t o t h e dominant f o r m s
o f d i s c o u r s e t h a t h a v e b e e n a n d a r e still b e i n g t r a n s l a t e d . T h e r e a r e
v a r i e t i e s o f k n o w l e d g e t o b e l e a r n t , b u t also a h o s t o f m o d e l s t o b e
i m i t a t e d a n d r e p r o d u c e d . I n s o m e c a s e s k n o w l e d g e o f t h e s e m o d e l s is
a precondition for the production o f m o r e k n o w l e d g e ; in other cases
it is a n e n d i n itself, a m i m e t i c g e s t u r e o f p o w e r , a n e x p r e s s i o n o f d e ­
s i r e f o r t r a n s f o r m a t i o n . A r e c o g n i t i o n o f this w e l l - k n o w n fact r e m i n d s
us that industrial capitalism transforms n o t only m o d e s o f p r o d u c t i o n
b u t a l s o k i n d s o f k n o w l e d g e a n d styles o f life i n t h e T h i r d W o r l d . A n d
with t h e m , f o r m s o f l a n g u a g e . T h e result o f h a l f - t r a n s f o r m e d styles
o f life will m a k e f o r a m b i g u i t i e s , w h i c h a n u n s k i l l f u l W e s t e r n t r a n s ­
l a t o r m a y s i m p l i f y in t h e d i r e c t i o n o f h i s o w n " s t r o n g " l a n g u a g e .
W h a t d o e s this a r g u m e n t i m p l y f o r t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l c o n c e p t
o f c u l t u r a l t r a n s l a t i o n ? T h a t p e r h a p s t h e r e is a g r e a t e r stiffness i n e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c linguistic c o n v e n t i o n s , a greater intrinsic resistance t h a n
can b e o v e r c o m e by individual experiments in m o d e s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c
representation.
I n h i s p e r c e p t i v e e s s a y " M o d e s o f T h o u g h t , " w h i c h G e l l n e r criti­
cizes for m a k i n g over-charitable assumptions about the c o h e r e n c e o f
" p r i m i t i v e t h o u g h t , " L i e n h a r d t h a s this t o say:
W h e n we live with savages and speak their languages, learning to represent
their experience to ourselves in their way, we come as near to thinking like
t h e m as we can without ceasing to be ourselves. Eventually, we try to represent
their conceptions systematically in the logical constructs we have been brought
u p to use; and we hope, at best, thus to reconcile what can be expressed in
their languages, with what can be expressed in ours. We mediate between
their habits o f thought, which we have acquired with them, and those o f o u r
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
159
o w n society; in d o i n g so, it is not finally some mysterious "primitive philoso­
phy" that w e are exploring, but the further potentialities o f o u r thought and
language. ( 1 9 5 4 : 9 6 - 9 7 )
I n t h e field, as L i e n h a r d t r i g h t l y s u g g e s t s , t h e p r o c e s s o f t r a n s l a t i o n
t a k e s p l a c e at t h e v e r y m o m e n t t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r e n g a g e s w i t h a s p e ­
cific m o d e o f l i f e — j u s t as a c h i l d d o e s in l e a r n i n g t o g r o w u p w i t h i n a
s p e c i f i c c u l t u r e . Fie l e a r n s t o find h i s w a y in a n e w e n v i r o n m e n t , a n d a
n e w l a n g u a g e . A n d like a c h i l d h e n e e d s t o v e r b a l i z e explicitly w h a t
t h e p r o p e r w a y o f d o i n g t h i n g s is, b e c a u s e t h a t is h o w l e a r n i n g p r o ­
c e e d s . (Cf. A . R. L u r i a o n " s y n p r a x i c s p e e c h " i n L u r i a a n d Y u d o v i c h
1 9 7 1 : 5 0 . ) W h e n t h e c h i l d / a n t h r o p o l o g i s t b e c o m e s a d e p t at a d u l t
w a y s , w h a t h e h a s l e a r n t b e c o m e s implicit—as a s s u m p t i o n s i n f o r m i n g
a s h a r e d m o d e o f life, w i t h all its r e s o n a n c e s a n d a r e a s o f u n c l a r i t y .
B u t l e a r n i n g t o l i v e a n e w m o d e o f life is n o t t h e s a m e as l e a r n i n g
a b o u t a n o t h e r m o d e o f life. W h e n a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s r e t u r n t o t h e i r
c o u n t r i e s , t h e y m u s t w r i t e u p "their p e o p l e , " a n d t h e y m u s t d o s o i n
the c o n v e n t i o n s o f representation already circumscribed (already
"written a r o u n d , " "bounded") by their discipline, institutional life,
a n d w i d e r society. "Cultural translation" m u s t a c c o m m o d a t e itself to a
d i f f e r e n t l a n g u a g e n o t o n l y i n t h e s e n s e o f E n g l i s h as o p p o s e d t o
D i n k a , o r E n g l i s h as o p p o s e d t o K a b b a s h i A r a b i c , b u t a l s o i n t h e s e n s e
o f a B r i t i s h , m i d d l e class, a c a d e m i c g a m e as o p p o s e d t o t h e m o d e s o f
l i f e o f t h e "tribal" S u d a n . T h e stiffness o f a p o w e r f u l e s t a b l i s h e d
s t r u c t u r e o f life, w i t h its o w n d i s c u r s i v e g a m e s , its o w n " s t r o n g " l a n ­
g u a g e s , is w h a t a m o n g o t h e r t h i n g s finally d e t e r m i n e s t h e e f f e c t i v e ­
n e s s o f t h e t r a n s l a t i o n . T h e t r a n s l a t i o n is a d d r e s s e d t o a v e r y s p e c i f i c
a u d i e n c e , w h i c h is w a i t i n g t o r e a d about a n o t h e r m o d e o f life a n d t o
m a n i p u l a t e t h e t e x t it r e a d s a c c o r d i n g t o e s t a b l i s h e d r u l e s , n o t t o
l e a r n to live a n e w m o d e o f life.
If B e n j a m i n was right in p r o p o s i n g that translation m a y require
n o t a mechanical r e p r o d u c t i o n o f the original but a h a r m o n i z a t i o n
w i t h its intentio, it f o l l o w s t h a t t h e r e is n o r e a s o n w h y this s h o u l d b e
d o n e o n l y i n t h e s a m e m o d e . I n d e e d , it c o u l d b e a r g u e d t h a t " t r a n s ­
l a t i n g " a n a l i e n f o r m o f life, a n o t h e r c u l t u r e , is n o t a l w a y s d o n e b e s t
t h r o u g h t h e representational discourse o f e t h n o g r a p h y , that u n d e r
certain conditions a dramatic performance, the execution o f a dance,
o r t h e p l a y i n g o f a p i e c e o f m u s i c m i g h t b e m o r e apt. T h e s e w o u l d all
b e productions o f t h e o r i g i n a l a n d n o t m e r e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s : t r a n s ­
f o r m e d instances o f the original, n o t authoritative textual representa­
t i o n s o f it (cf. H o l l a n d e r 1 9 5 9 ) . B u t w o u l d t h e y b e t h o u g h t o f b y m o s t
s o c i a l a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s as valid e x e r c i s e s in t h e " t r a n s l a t i o n o f c u l t u r e " ?
I t h i n k n o t , b e c a u s e t h e y all r a i s e a n e n t i r e l y d i f f e r e n t d i m e n s i o n o f
( h e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l "work" a n d its a u d i e n c e ,
TALAL ASAD
i6o
t h e q u e s t i o n o f d i f f e r e n t uses ( p r a c t i c e s ) , as o p p o s e d m e r e l y t o d i f f e r ­
e n t writings and readings ( m e a n i n g s ) o f t h a t w o r k . A n d as social a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s w e a r e trained to translate o t h e r cultural l a n g u a g e s as
texts, n o t to i n t r o d u c e o r enlarge cultural capacities, learnt f r o m
o t h e r w a y s o f l i v i n g , i n t o o u r o w n . It s e e m s t o m e v e r y likely t h a t t h e
n o t i o n o f c u l t u r e as text h a s r e i n f o r c e d this v i e w o f o u r task, b e c a u s e it
f a c i l i t a t e s t h e a s s u m p t i o n t h a t t r a n s l a t i o n is essentially a m a t t e r o f v e r ­
bal r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
Reading Other Cultures
T h i s inequality in the power o f languages, together with t h e
f a c t t h a t t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t typically w r i t e s a b o u t a n i l l i t e r a t e ( o r a t
any rate non-English-speaking) population for a largely a c a d e m i c ,
E n g l i s h - s p e a k i n g a u d i e n c e , e n c o u r a g e s a t e n d e n c y I w o u l d n o w like
t o d i s c u s s : t h e t e n d e n c y t o r e a d t h e implicit i n a l i e n c u l t u r e s .
A c c o r d i n g t o m a n y social a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , t h e o b j e c t o f e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c t r a n s l a t i o n is n o t t h e historically s i t u a t e d s p e e c h (that is t h e
task o f t h e f o l k l o r i s t o r t h e l i n g u i s t ) , b u t "culture," a n d t o t r a n s l a t e
c u l t u r e t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t m u s t first r e a d a n d t h e n r e i n s c r i b e t h e i m ­
plicit m e a n i n g s t h a t l i e b e n e a t h / w i t h i n / b e y o n d s i t u a t e d s p e e c h . M a r y
D o u g l a s p u t s this n i c e l y :
T h e anthropologist w h o draws out the whole scheme of the cosmos which is
implied in [the observed] practices does the primitive culture great violence if
h e seems to present the cosmology as a systematic philosophy subscribed to
consciously by individuals. . . . So the primitive world view which I have d e ­
fined above is rarely itself an object of contemplation and speculation in the
primitive culture. It has evolved as the appanage of other social institutions.
T o this extent it is produced indirectly, and to this extent the primitive culture
must be taken to be unaware o f itself, unconscious of its o w n conditions.
(.1966:91)
O n e difference b e t w e e n the anthropologist and the linguist in the
m a t t e r o f t r a n s l a t i o n is p e r h a p s this: t h a t w h e r e a s t h e l a t t e r is i m m e ­
d i a t e l y f a c e d w i t h a specific p i e c e o f d i s c o u r s e p r o d u c e d w i t h i n t h e
s o c i e t y s t u d i e d , a d i s c o u r s e t h a t is then t e x t u a l i z e d , t h e f o r m e r m u s t
c o n s t r u c t t h e d i s c o u r s e as a c u l t u r a l t e x t i n t e r m s o f m e a n i n g s implicit
i n a r a n g e o f p r a c t i c e s . T h e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f c u l t u r a l d i s c o u r s e a n d its
t r a n s l a t i o n t h u s s e e m t o b e f a c e t s o f a s i n g l e act. T h i s p o i n t is b r o u g h t
o u t in Douglas's c o m m e n t s o n h e r o w n translations o f t h e m e a n i n g s o f
t h e p a n g o l i n cult a m o n g the Lele:
T h e r e are n o Lele books o f theology o r philosophy to state the m e a n i n g o f the
cult. T h e metaphysical implications have not been expressed to m e in so many
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
161
words by Lele, nor did I even eavesdrop a conversation between diviners
covering this g r o u n d . . . .
What kind o f evidence for the meaning o f this cult, or o f any cult, can be
sensibly d e m a n d e d ? It can have many different levels and kinds o f m e a n i n g .
But t h e o n e o n which I g r o u n d my argument is the m e a n i n g which e m e r g e s
out o f a pattern in which the parts can incontestably be shown to b e regularly
related. N o o n e m e m b e r o f the society is necessarily aware o f the whole pat­
tern, any more than speakers are able to be explicit about the linguistic pat­
terns they employ. ( 1 9 6 6 : 1 7 3 — 74)
I've s u g g e s t e d e l s e w h e r e ( A s a d 1983a) t h a t t h e a t t r i b u t i o n o f i m ­
p l i c i t m e a n i n g s t o a n a l i e n p r a c t i c e regardless of whether they are acknowl­
edged by its agents is a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c f o r m of t h e o l o g i c a l e x e r c i s e , w i t h
a n ancient history. H e r e I want to note that r e f e r e n c e to t h e linguistic
patterns produced by speakers does not make a good analogy because
l i n g u i s t i c patterns a r e n o t m e a n i n g s t o b e t r a n s l a t e d , t h e y a r e r u l e s t o
b e s y s t e m a t i c a l l y d e s c r i b e d a n d a n a l y s e d . A n a t i v e s p e a k e r is a w a r e o f
h o w such patterns should be produced even w h e n h e cannot verbalize
t h a t k n o w l e d g e e x p l i c i t l y i n t h e f o r m of r u l e s . T h e a p p a r e n t lack of
ability t o v e r b a l i z e s u c h s o c i a l k n o w l e d g e d o e s n o t n e c e s s a r i l y c o n s t i ­
t u t e e v i d e n c e o f u n c o n s c i o u s m e a n i n g s (cf. D u m m e t t 1 9 8 1 ) . T h e c o n ­
c e p t of "unconscious m e a n i n g " belongs to a theory o f the repressive
u n c o n s c i o u s , s u c h as F r e u d ' s , i n w h i c h a p e r s o n m a y b e said t o " k n o w "
something unconsciously.
T h e b u s i n e s s o f i d e n t i f y i n g u n c o n s c i o u s m e a n i n g s i n t h e task o f
" c u l t u r a l t r a n s l a t i o n " is t h e r e f o r e p e r h a p s b e t t e r c o m p a r e d t o t h e a c ­
tivity o f t h e p s y c h o a n a l y s t t h a n t o t h a t o f t h e l i n g u i s t . I n d e e d B r i t i s h
anthropologists have s o m e t i m e s presented their work in precisely
t h e s e terms. T h u s David Pocock, a pupil o f Evans-Pritchard's, writes:
In short, t h e work o f t h e social anthropologist may b e regarded as a highly
c o m p l e x act o f translation in which author and translator collaborate. A m o r e
precise analogy is that o f the relation between the psychoanalyst and his sub­
ject. T h e analyst enters the private world of his subject in order to learn the
g r a m m a r o f his private language. If the analysis goes n o further it is no differ­
e n t in kind from the understanding which may exist between any two p e o p l e
w h o know each other well.[!] It becomes scientific to the extent that the private
l a n g u a g e o f intimate understanding is translated into a public language, how­
ever specialized from the layman's point of view, which in this case is the lan­
g u a g e o f psychologists. But the particular act o f translation does not distort
the private experience of the subject and ideally it is, at least potentially, ac­
ceptable to h i m as a scientific representation o f it. Similarly, the model o f
N u e r political life which emerges in Professor Evans-Pritchard's work is a sci­
entific m o d e l meaningful to his fellow-sociologists as sociologists, and it is
effective because it is potentially acceptable to the Nuer in some ideal situation in
which they could be. supposed to be interested in themselves as men living in society. T h e
collaboration o f natural scientists may from this point of view be seen as devel-
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o p i n g l a n g u a g e enabling certain people to communicate with increasing sub­
tlety about a distinct area of natural p h e n o m e n a which is defined by the n a m e
o f the particular science. T h e i r science is, in the literal m e a n i n g o f the term,
their c o m m o n s e n s e , their c o m m o n meaning. T o move from this c o m m o n
sense to the "common sense" of the wider public involves again an act o f
translation. T h e situation of social anthropology, or sociology in general, is
not at this level so very different. T h e difference lies in the fact that so­
ciological p h e n o m e n a are objectively studied only to the extent that their sub­
jective m e a n i n g is taken into account and that the people studied are poten­
tially capable of sharing the sociological consciousness that the sociologist has
of them. (1961:88—89; emphasis added)
I h a v e q u o t e d this r e m a r k a b l e p a s s a g e i n full b e c a u s e it states v e r y l u ­
c i d l y a p o s i t i o n that is, I t h i n k , b r o a d l y a c c e p t a b l e t o m a n y a n t h r o p o l ­
o g i s t s w h o w o u l d o t h e r w i s e c o n s i d e r t h e m s e l v e s t o b e e n g a g e d in v e r y
d i f f e r e n t k i n d s o f e n t e r p r i s e . I h a v e q u o t e d it a l s o b e c a u s e t h e n a t u r e
o f t h e c o l l a b o r a t i o n b e t w e e n " a u t h o r a n d t r a n s l a t o r " is n e a t l y b r o u g h t
o u t i n t h e s u b s e q u e n t r e f e r e n c e t o t h e p s y c h o a n a l y s t as scientist: i f t h e
a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l t r a n s l a t o r , like t h e a n a l y s t , h a s final a u t h o r i t y i n d e ­
t e r m i n i n g t h e subject's m e a n i n g s — i t is t h e n t h e f o r m e r w h o b e c o m e s
the real author o f t h e latter. I n this v i e w , "cultural t r a n s l a t i o n " is a
matter o f d e t e r m i n i n g implicit m e a n i n g s — n o t the m e a n i n g s t h e na­
t i v e s p e a k e r actually a c k n o w l e d g e s in h i s s p e e c h , n o t e v e n t h e m e a n ­
i n g s t h e n a t i v e l i s t e n e r n e c e s s a r i l y a c c e p t s , b u t t h o s e h e is " p o t e n t i a l l y
c a p a b l e o f s h a r i n g " w i t h scientific a u t h o r i t y "in s o m e i d e a l s i t u a t i o n " :
it is w h e n h e c a n say, f o r e x a m p l e , w i t h G e l l n e r , t h a t vox Dei is i n r e a l ­
ity vox populi, t h a t h e u t t e r s t h e t r u e m e a n i n g o f his t r a d i t i o n a l d i s ­
c o u r s e , a n e s s e n t i a l m e a n i n g o f h i s c u l t u r e . T h e fact t h a t i n t h a t "ideal
situation" h e would n o longer b e a Muslim Berber tribesman, b u t
s o m e t h i n g c o m i n g to resemble Professor Gellner, does not a p p e a r to
worry such cultural translators.
T h i s p o w e r to create m e a n i n g s for a subject t h r o u g h t h e n o t i o n o f
t h e "implicit" o r t h e " u n c o n s c i o u s , " to authorize them, h a s o f c o u r s e
b e e n d i s c u s s e d for t h e analyst-analysand relationship (e.g., recently in
M a l c o l m 1982). It h a s n o t , to m y k n o w l e d g e , b e e n c o n s i d e r e d with r e ­
g a r d t o w h a t t h e cultural translator d o e s . T h e r e are, o f course, i m p o r ­
tant d i f f e r e n c e s in t h e case o f t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t . It m a y b e p o i n t e d
o u t t h a t t h e latter d o e s n o t impose h i s t r a n s l a t i o n o n t h e m e m b e r s o f
t h e society w h o s e cultural discourse h e unravels, that his e t h n o g r a p h y
is t h e r e f o r e n o t a u t h o r i t a t i v e i n t h e w a y t h e analyst's c a s e s t u d y is. T h e
a n a l y s a n d c o m e s t o t h e a n a l y s t , o r is r e f e r r e d t o t h e l a t t e r b y t h o s e
w i t h a u t h o r i t y o v e r h i m , as a p a t i e n t i n n e e d o f h e l p . T h e a n t h r o p o l o ­
gist, b y contrast, c o m e s to t h e society h e wants to read, h e sees h i m s e l f
as a l e a r n e r , n o t as a g u i d e , a n d h e w i t h d r a w s f r o m t h e s o c i e t y w h e n
h e h a s a d e q u a t e i n f o r m a t i o n t o i n s c r i b e its c u l t u r e . H e d o e s n o t c o n -
T h e Concept o f Cultural Translation
163
s i d e r t h e s o c i e t y , a n d n e i t h e r d o its m e m b e r s c o n s i d e r t h e m s e l v e s t o
b e , sick: t h e s o c i e t y is n e v e r s u b j e c t t o t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ' s a u t h o r i t y .
B u t t h i s a r g u m e n t is n o t q u i t e as c o n c l u s i v e as it m a y s e e m a t first
s i g h t . It r e m a i n s t h e c a s e t h a t t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s t r a n s l a t i o n / r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f a p a r t i c u l a r c u l t u r e is i n e v i t a b l y a t e x t u a l c o n s t r u c t , t h a t
as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n it c a n n o t n o r m a l l y b e c o n t e s t e d b y t h e p e o p l e t o
w h o m it is a t t r i b u t e d , a n d t h a t as a "scientific t e x t " it e v e n t u a l l y b e ­
c o m e s a privileged e l e m e n t in t h e potential store o f historical m e m o r y
for t h e nonliterate society c o n c e r n e d . I n m o d e r n a n d m o d e r n i z i n g
societies, inscribed records have a greater p o w e r to s h a p e , to r e f o r m ,
s e l v e s a n d i n s t i t u t i o n s t h a n folk m e m o r i e s d o . T h e y e v e n c o n s t r u c t
folk m e m o r i e s . T h e anthropologist's m o n o g r a p h m a y return, retrans­
lated, into a "weaker" T h i r d World language. In the long run, there­
f o r e , it is n o t t h e p e r s o n a l a u t h o r i t y o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r , b u t t h e s o ­
cial a u t h o r i t y o f h i s e t h n o g r a p h y that m a t t e r s . A n d t h a t a u t h o r i t y is
i n s c r i b e d i n t h e i n s t i t u t i o n a l i z e d f o r c e s of i n d u s t r i a l c a p i t a l i s t s o c i e t y
( s e e p a g e 1 5 8 a b o v e ) , w h i c h a r e c o n s t a n t l y tending t o p u s h t h e m e a n ­
i n g s o f v a r i o u s T h i r d W o r l d s o c i e t i e s i n a s i n g l e d i r e c t i o n . T h i s is n o t
t o s a y t h a t t h e r e a r e n o r e s i s t a n c e s t o this t e n d e n c y . B u t " r e s i s t a n c e " i n
itself indicates t h e p r e s e n c e o f a d o m i n a n t force.
I m u s t stress I a m n o t a r g u i n g t h a t e t h n o g r a p h y plays a n y g r e a t
r o l e i n t h e r e f o r m a t i o n o f o t h e r c u l t u r e s . I n this r e s p e c t t h e e f f e c t s o f
e t h n o g r a p h y cannot b e c o m p a r e d with s o m e other forms o f repre­
s e n t i n g s o c i e t i e s — f o r e x a m p l e , t e l e v i s i o n films p r o d u c e d i n t h e W e s t
that are sold to T h i r d World countries. (That anthropologists recog­
n i z e t h e p o w e r o f t e l e v i s i o n is r e f l e c t e d , i n c i d e n t a l l y , i n t h e i n c r e a s i n g
n u m b e r o f a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l films b e i n g m a d e f o r t h e m e d i u m in B r i t ­
a i n . ) Still less c a n t h e effects o f e t h n o g r a p h y c o m p a r e w i t h t h e p o l i t i ­
cal, e c o n o m i c , a n d m i l i t a r y c o n s t r a i n t s o f t h e w o r l d s y s t e m . M y p o i n t
is o n l y t h a t t h e p r o c e s s o f "cultural t r a n s l a t i o n " is i n e v i t a b l y e n m e s h e d
in conditions o f power—professional, national, international. A n d
a m o n g t h e s e c o n d i t i o n s is t h e a u t h o r i t y o f e t h n o g r a p h e r s t o u n c o v e r
t h e i m p l i c i t m e a n i n g s o f s u b o r d i n a t e s o c i e t i e s . G i v e n t h a t t h a t is s o ,
t h e i n t e r e s t i n g q u e s t i o n f o r e n q u i r y is n o t w h e t h e r , a n d i f s o t o w h a t
e x t e n t , a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s s h o u l d b e relativists o r r a t i o n a l i s t s , critical o r
charitable, toward other cultures, but h o w p o w e r enters into t h e pro­
c e s s o f " c u l t u r a l t r a n s l a t i o n , " s e e n b o t h as a d i s c u r s i v e a n d as a n o n discursive practice.
Conclusion
F o r s o m e y e a r s I h a v e b e e n e x e r c i s e d b y this p u z z l e . H o w is it
that t h e a p p r o a c h e x e m p l i f i e d b y Gellner's p a p e r r e m a i n s a t t r a c t i v e t o
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s o m a n y a c a d e m i c s i n s p i t e o f its b e i n g d e m o n s t r a b l y f a u l t y ? Is it p e r ­
G E O R G E E. M A R C U S
h a p s b e c a u s e t h e y a r e i n t i m i d a t e d b y a style? W e k n o w , o f c o u r s e , t h a t
a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , like o t h e r a c a d e m i c s , l e a r n n o t m e r e l y t o u s e a s c h o l ­
arly l a n g u a g e , b u t t o f e a r it, t o a d m i r e it, t o b e c a p t i v a t e d b y it. Yet t h i s
d o e s n o t q u i t e a n s w e r t h e q u e s t i o n b e c a u s e it d o e s n o t tell u s why s u c h
a scholarly style s h o u l d c a p t u r e so m a n y intelligent p e o p l e . I n o w p u t
f o r w a r d t h i s t e n t a t i v e s o l u t i o n . W h a t w e h a v e h e r e is a style e a s y t o
t e a c h , t o l e a r n , a n d t o r e p r o d u c e (in e x a m i n a t i o n a n s w e r s , a s s e s s m e n t
e s s a y s , a n d d i s s e r t a t i o n s ) . It is a s t y l e t h a t f a c i l i t a t e s t h e t e x t u a l i z a t i o n
Contemporary Problems
of Ethnography in
the Modern World System
o f o t h e r cultures, that e n c o u r a g e s the construction o f d i a g r a m m a t i c
a n s w e r s t o c o m p l e x c u l t u r a l q u e s t i o n s , a n d t h a t is w e l l s u i t e d t o a r ­
r a n g i n g f o r e i g n c u l t u r a l c o n c e p t s in c l e a r l y m a r k e d h e a p s o f " s e n s e "
o r " n o n s e n s e . " A p a r t f r o m b e i n g easy to teach a n d to imitate, this style
p r o m i s e s visible results that can readily be g r a d e d . S u c h a style m u s t
s u r e l y b e at a p r e m i u m in a n established university discipline that as­
p i r e s t o standards o f s c i e n t i f i c objectivity. Is t h e p o p u l a r i t y o f t h i s s t y l e ,
t h e n , not a reflection of the kind of pedagogic institution we inhabit?
A l t h o u g h it is n o w m a n y y e a r s s i n c e G e l l n e r ' s p a p e r w a s first p u b ­
l i s h e d , it r e p r e s e n t s a d o c t r i n a l p o s i t i o n t h a t is still p o p u l a r t o d a y .
E t h n o g r a p h i e s h a v e a l w a y s b e e n w r i t t e n in t h e c o n t e x t
h i s t o r i c c h a n g e : t h e f o r m a t i o n o f state s y s t e m s a n d t h e
of
evolution
o f a w o r l d political e c o n o m y . B u t aside f r o m the use o f a f e w wellestablished t e c h n i q u e s for taking into account c h a n g e , history, a n d p o ­
litical e c o n o m y ,
1
e t h n o g r a p h e r s of an interpretive b e n t — m o r e inter-
I have in m i n d the sociologism according to which religious i d e o l o g i e s
a r e s a i d t o g e t t h e i r r e a l m e a n i n g f r o m t h e political o r e c o n o m i c s t r u c ­
t u r e , a n d t h e s e l f - c o n f i r m i n g m e t h o d o l o g y a c c o r d i n g to w h i c h t h i s r e ­
d u c t i v e s e m a n t i c p r i n c i p l e is e v i d e n t t o t h e ( a u t h o r i t a t i v e ) a n t h r o p o l o ­
g i s t a n d n o t t o t h e p e o p l e b e i n g w r i t t e n abo.ut. T h i s p o s i t i o n t h e r e f o r e
a s s u m e s t h a t it is n o t o n l y p o s s i b l e b u t n e c e s s a r y f o r t h e a n t h r o p o l o ­
g i s t t o a c t as t r a n s l a t o r a n d critic at o n e a n d t h e s a m e t i m e . I r e g a r d
t h i s p o s i t i o n as u n t e n a b l e , a n d t h i n k t h a t it is r e l a t i o n s a n d p r a c t i c e s
o f p o w e r t h a t g i v e it a m e a s u r e o f viability. (For a critical d i s c u s s i o n o f
t h i s p o s i t i o n as it r e l a t e s t o I s l a m i c h i s t o r y , s e e A s a d 1980.)
T h e positive p o i n t I h a v e tried to m a k e in t h e c o u r s e o f m y inter­
r o g a t i o n o f Gellner's text has to d o with w h a t I have called the inequal­
ity o f l a n g u a g e s . I h a v e p r o p o s e d t h a t t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l e n t e r p r i s e
o f c u l t u r a l t r a n s l a t i o n m a y b e v i t i a t e d by t h e fact t h a t t h e r e a r e a s y m ­
metrical t e n d e n c i e s a n d pressures in the l a n g u a g e s o f d o m i n a t e d a n d
d o m i n a n t societies. A n d I h a v e s u g g e s t e d that a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s n e e d to
e x p l o r e t h e s e p r o c e s s e s i n o r d e r to d e t e r m i n e h o w f a r t h e y g o i n d e ­
fining
t h e possibilities a n d t h e limits o f effective translation.
I n addition to the members of the Santa Fe seminar who discussed an early draft
of this article—and especially Paul Rabinow, who commented on it at length—I wish to
thank Tanya Baker, John Dixon, Rodney Needham, and Keith Nield for their helpful
criticism.
1. T h e two most common modes for self-consciously fixing ethnography in his­
toric time are what I shall call the salvage mode and the redemptive mode. I n the sal­
vage mode, the ethnographer portrays himself as "before the deluge," so to speak.
Signs of fundamental change are apparent, but the ethnographer is able to salvage a
cultural state on the verge of transformation. This rhetoric is most transparent when a
succession of ethnographers writing on the same cultural subject position themselves
historically in the same momentous way; each ethnographer is "before the deluge," but
nonetheless each finds a culture he or she can relate to previous representations without
much sensitivity to historical change between periods of fieldwork. I n the redemptive
mode, the ethnographer demonstrates the survival of distinctive and authentic cultural
systems despite undeniable changes. T h e redemption of cultural authenticity is often
undertaken and measured against some imputed pre-modern or pre-capitalist state—
the "golden age" motif—or else a spatial, rather than temporal, preserve is found for
cultural authenticity amidst transformation—the anthropologist's Odyssey up-river or
to the back country to situate fieldwork where "they still do it." Rabinow's Moroccan
fieldwork (1977) as epic journey employs this narrative posture, but in the end, he ex­
plodes the illusion that the pure ethnographic subject can be found even in the back
country. I n his recent sophisticated Samoan ethnography, Shore (1982) elides the his­
toric context by this move of finding spatially a place for ethnography free of the un­
wanted complications of a compellingly present world-historical political economy.
T h e r e are many similar examples of magisterial ethnographies that make their contri­
butions at the cost of such maneuvers. What is finally shaking ethnography free of these
ahistorical modes of taking account of the historical contexts of its production are ex­
periments either oriented explicitly to locating their subjects within the framework of
historicist world-system perspectives or probing the nature of historical consciousness
in their subjects' lives. T h e latter kind of experiment, involving the simultaneous repre­
sentation of multiple temporal perspectives, opens up ethnography to issues of history
and historical narrative in unprecedented ways, which go far beyond merely embed­
ding ethnographic subjects more effectively in Western historical narratives. Renato
Rosaldo's recent account (1980) of the Ilongot histories is a key experiment in this vein.
H e , too, ends with a "before the deluge" motif, but the sense of being on the verge of
GEORGE E. MARCUS
i66
E t h n o g r a p h y in the Modern World System
167
e s t e d in p r o b l e m s o f cultural m e a n i n g t h a n in social a c t i o n — h a v e n o t
fashions alone. E v e n c o n t i n u i n g efforts to build m a c r o perspectives
g e n e r a l l y r e p r e s e n t e d the ways in which closely o b s e r v e d
are infused with concerns about matters o f micro description and in­
cultural
w o r l d s are e m b e d d e d in larger, m o r e i m p e r s o n a l systems. N o r h a v e
t e r p r e t a t i o n . I n t h e field o f p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m y , w h i c h c a n b e s e e n a s a
t h e y p o r t r a y e d t h e role o f these worlds in the sort o f events a n d p r o ­
c o n t i n u i n g c o m m e n t a r y u p o n w o r l d c o n d i t i o n s in t e r m s m o s t r e l e ­
c e s s e s t h a t m a k e h i s t o r y , s o to s p e a k , p e r h a p s b e c a u s e e t h n o g r a p h y a s
v a n t t o W e s t e r n o f f i c i a l d o m a n d statecraft, t h e m a j o r r e c e n t i n n o v a ­
d e s c r i p t i o n h a s n e v e r b e e n p a r t i c u l a r l y a m b i t i o u s i n this w a y . C h a n g e
t i o n i n e f f o r t s at m a c r o s y s t e m b u i l d i n g h a s b e e n t h e w o r l d - s y s t e m
a n d t h e larger f r a m e w o r k s o f local politics have usually b e e n t r e a t e d in
p e r s p e c t i v e i n t r o d u c e d by I m m a n u e l W a l l e r s t e i n d u r i n g t h e
separate theoretical or conceptual discourse with s o m e e t h n o g r a p h i c
1 9 7 0 s . T h e a d e q u a c y o f Wallerstein's c e n t e r - p e r i p h e r y
detail a d d e d for illustration. T h e descriptive space o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s
a n d h i s o v e r v i e w i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s o f h i s t o r y a r e t h e s u b j e c t o f lively d e ­
itself has n o t s e e m e d an appropriate c o n t e x t for w o r k i n g t h r o u g h c o n ­
bate, d e p e n d e n t significantly o n discussions o f local situations. T h e
c e p t u a l p r o b l e m s o f this larger o r d e r . T h e w o r l d o f larger s y s t e m s a n d
i m p o r t a n t i n f l u e n c e a n d a p p e a l o f his w o r k h a s b e e n t h e i n t r o d u c t i o n
e v e n t s h a s t h u s o f t e n b e e n s e e n as e x t e r n a l l y i m p i n g i n g o n a n d b o u n d ­
o f a f r a m e w o r k for the intimate reassociation o f history a n d social
i n g little w o r l d s , b u t n o t as i n t e g r a l t o t h e m .
t h e o r y . T h i s h a s as its p r a c t i c a l r e s e a r c h i m p e r a t i v e t h e d o i n g o f l o c a l -
I n a n t h r o p o l o g y a n d all o t h e r h u m a n s c i e n c e s at t h e
moment,
early
formulation
l e v e l s t u d i e s o f p r o c e s s e s a n d t h e i r social c o n s t r u c t i o n — i n
other
"high" theoretical d i s c o u r s e — t h e b o d y o f ideas that authoritatively
w o r d s , o f e t h n o g r a p h y s e n s i t i v e t o its c o n t e x t o f h i s t o r i c a l p o l i t i c a l
u n i f y a f i e l d — i s in disarray. T h e m o s t interesting a n d provocative t h e o ­
economy.
3
retical w o r k s n o w are precisely those that point to practice (see O r t n e r
W h a t t h e a p p r o p r i a t e facts o f social t h e o r y a r e a n d h o w t o r e p r e ­
1 9 8 4 ) , t h a t is, t o a b o t t o m - u p r e f o r m u l a t i o n o f classic q u e s t i o n s , w h i c h
s e n t t h e m c o m b i n i n g b o t h i n t e r p r e t a t i o n a n d e x p l a n a t i o n is t h u s a
h i n g e s o n h o w t h e p r e v i o u s l y t a k e n - f o r - g r a n t e d facts o f h i g h t h e o r y
c u r r e n t topic o f w i d e s p r e a d interest that can be p o s e d
are to be r e p r e s e n t e d .
2
T h e s e works constitute r e n e w e d assaults o n
p o s i t i v i s t p e r s p e c t i v e s , r e a r m e d by t h e p o s t w a r h e r m e n e u t i c ,
phe-
rhetorically
a n d repetitively in theoretical discourse, but can only be p u r s u e d in
the doing of
fieldwork
a n d t h e w r i t i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y . T h i s is w h y
n o m e n o l o g i c a l , a n d semiotic fashions in Continental p h i l o s o p h y that
e t h n o g r a p h y — h i t h e r t o w i d e l y v i e w e d o u t s i d e a n t h r o p o l o g y as m a r ­
a r e finally h a v i n g a n i m p a c t o n A n g l o - A m e r i c a n s o c i a l t h o u g h t . T h e
g i n a l i n b o t h its p r a c t i c e ( m e r e d e s c r i p t i o n ) a n d its s u b j e c t m a t t e r ( t h e
c o n c e p t s o f structure o n w h i c h such perspectives d e p e n d e d are really
primitive, the exotic, alien o t h e r ) — h a s b e e n a p p r o p r i a t e d by a n u m ­
processes that m u s t be u n d e r s t o o d f r o m the point o f view o f the actor,
b e r o f fields that s o m e t i m e s r e c o g n i z e a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s labor in this
a realization that raises p r o b l e m s o f interpretation a n d p r e s e n t s o p ­
vineyard, and sometimes do not.
4
p o r t u n i t i e s f o r i n n o v a t i o n i n w r i t i n g a c c o u n t s o f social reality.
T h i s shift o f theoretical c o n c e r n toward p r o b l e m s o f microsocial
description a n d contextuality can hardly be attributed to intellectual
fundamental transformation is far more convincing in his text because it grows out of
an account in which the forms of Ilongot historic consciousness intersecting with our
privileging of global world history have been the unrelieved focus.
2. During the mid-1970s, this practice-focused attack on positivist high theory was
itself conducted within the genre of abstract theoretical discussion, separate from, and
pointing to, genres of practice. By the 1980s, this critique has moved to a suspension of
paradigmatic authority and a questioning of the utility of system building in favor of
free play and experimentation in the specific rendering of accounts of social life. A per­
fect example of the shift in emphasis toward the more substantively ethnographic and
experimental among the "high" theory treatments of the challenge to positivism is the
evolving work of Richard J. Bernstein. I n his The Restructuring of Social and Political The­
ory, published in 1976, Bernstein, like Anthony Giddens (1979), monitors the challenge
to predominant Anglo-American social theory and endorses the apparent evolution of
a new kind of theory. I n his Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and
Practice, published in 1983, Bernstein focuses strongly on practice. Significantly, he
ends with a plea for the production of open-ended dialogic works, which is precisely
where the most radically experimental ethnographies have been heading.
3. This move toward the ethnographic in American academic political economy, I
would argue, is related to a widely perceived decline of the post-World War I I interna­
tional order in which America has held a hegemonic position and to an undermining of
the American form of the welfare state itself. A sense of profound transition in the
foundations of domestic and international reality, as seen from the American perspec­
tive, has in turn been reflected intellectually in a widespread retreat from theoretically
centralized and organized fields of knowledge. Goals of organizing scholarly practice in
such diverse fields as history, the social sciences, literature, art, and architecture have
given way to fragmentation and a spirit of experimentation that aims to explore ways to
evoke and represent diversity in social life—to convey the richness of experience, to
probe the meaning of details of everyday life, to remember symbols and associations
long forgotten. Among the vehicles of experimentation, precocious in relation to this
trend, is ethnography in anthropology.
4. A t the present moment, anthropology both attracts and repels those caught by
the spirit of experimentation in a diversity of fields. It is ethnography that primarily
attracts. We find philosophers, literary critics, historians, and political economists read­
ing ethnographies of the Balinese and Azande, not out of intrinsic interest in the sub­
ject mailer, bui for their distinctive textual devices and modes of exploring theoretical
issues in I he process of ethnographic representation itself. It is the traditional subject
mailer of anthropology—the primitive or alien other—that primarily repels, or, rather,
underfills ihe full potential of anthropology's relevance in a widespread intellectual
GEORGE E. MARCUS
i68
This paper explores how the conventions of ethnographic writing
E t h n o g r a p h y in the M o d e r n World System
in detail o n e major variety o f s u c h c o n t e m p o r a r y
16g
experimentation
a n d t h e e n t h o g r a p h i c posture o f authority m e r g e in single texts with
w i t h t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c g e n r e — n a m e l y , its c o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h e u n d e r ­
t h e k i n d o f analytic tasks o f macrosocial t h e o r y m e n t i o n e d a b o v e . I n ­
s t a n d i n g o f t h e o p e r a t i o n o f capitalist political e c o n o m y . T h e g e n e r a l
d e e d , e t h n o g r a p h y h a s s h o w n the effects o f major e v e n t s a n d l a r g e
p o i n t s m a d e in t h e n e x t s e c t i o n a b o u t t h e t e x t u a l strategies o f s u c h
s y s t e m s o n t h e e v e r y d a y life o f t h o s e usually p o r t r a y e d as victims ( t h e
e x p e r i m e n t s will t h e n b e d e v e l o p e d b y a n e x t e n d e d c o m m e n t a r y
subjects o f e t h n o g r a p h y
P a u l Willis's Learning
have usually b e e n victims, or, because
of
to Labour
on
(1981).
m o d e r n e n t h o g r a p h y ' s c o m m i t m e n t t o s o c i a l c r i t i c i s m , t h e y h a v e at
l e a s t b e e n p o r t r a y e d as s u c h ) , b u t it h a s r a r e l y b e e n d i r e c t e d t o a n ­
Ethnography and the Invisible Hand
s w e r i n g macrosociological questions about the causes o f events o r the
constitution o f major systems and processes, usually r e p r e s e n t e d m o r e
5
f o r m a l l y a n d abstractly in o t h e r c o n c e p t u a l l a n g u a g e s . 1 shall a d d r e s s
Since the mid-1970s there has b e e n n o shortage o f works ad­
d r e s s i n g what A n t h o n y G i d d e n s (1979) has called the central p r o b ­
l e m s o f social theory: the integration o f action perspectives, s t a n d i n g
trend, which it has long anticipated. T h e figure of the primitive or the alien other is no
longer as compelling as it was in similar experimental periods (e.g., the late nineteenth
century and the 1920s and 1930s). Global homogenization is more credible than ever
before, and though the challenge to discover and represent cultural diversity is strong,
doing so in terms of spatio-temporal cultural preserves of otherness seems outmoded.
Rather, the strongest forms of difference are now defined within our own capitalist cul­
tural realm, gender and lifestyle constructs being two prominent fields of representa­
tion for exploring difference. T h e Samoan or Trobriand islander, juxtaposed to us, is
no longer as convincing or believable a figure for an alternative way of being as he once
was in a less saliently perceived world order of interpenetrating common concerns.
What is more, linked to this perception of the declining significance of the primitive is
the notion that anthropology is losing its raison d'etre. I t is unfortunate, and certainly
an artifact of current intellectual moods, both that strong evidence running counter to
perceptions of homogenization is ignored for lack of interest, and that anthropology
has been received in such a limited way, associated more with its exotic subject matter
than with its distinctive mode of understanding reality.
5. A sense of experimentation pervades contemporary ethnographic writing even
among those who continue to write well within the tradition o f realist conventions.
What motivates experiments is the recognition of a much more complex world, which
challenges the traditional modes of representing cultural difference in ethnographic
writing. I view the experimental responses to this challenge as moving in two divergent
directions. One trend of experimentation is intensely concerned with getting at the rep­
resentation o f authentic other-cultural experience, with going beyond existing inter­
pretive or symbolic perspectives on cultural meaning toward the most deep-seated and
radical level at which difference can be evoked. Some of these experiments, those that
fix on differing cultural constructions of the person, remain true to realist conventions.
Others shift more radically to modernist concerns with textual form; other cultural
experience can only be evoked or represented by a fundamental change in the way we
think about the construction of ethnographic texts. Dialogic interchanges between eth­
nographer and other, the sharing of textual authority with subjects themselves, auto­
biographical recounting as the only appropriate form for merging other cultural expe­
rience with the ethnographer's own—these are all attempts to change radically the way
the conventional subject matter of ethnography has been constituted in order to convey
authentically other cultural experience.
T h e other trend of experimentation, and the one to which I limit myself in this
paper, is relatively well satisfied with the means interpretive anthropology has devel­
oped to represent cultural difference, but instead explores new and more effective ways
in which ethnographic texts can take account of the manner in which world-historical
political economy constitutes their subjects. These experiments remain well within real­
ist conventions, but they are no less innovative in the kinds of texts they generate.
f o r t h e positivist p a r a d i g m p r e d o m i n a n t in p o s t w a r A n g l o - A m e r i c a n
social t h o u g h t ,
with m e a n i n g perspectives, standing for the
p r e t i v e p a r a d i g m , w h i c h h a s e f f e c t i v e l y c h a l l e n g e d it. B u t f e w
inter­
such
w o r k s h a v e b e e n p o s e d as t h e o r i e s o f practice, e l i d i n g for t h e m o m e n t
t h e p e n c h a n t in W e s t e r n social t h o u g h t for abstract, a l l - e n c o m p a s s i n g
p a r a d i g m a t i c s t r u c t u r e s t o t h e o r y ( B o u r d i e u ' s Outline
Practice
of a Theory
[ 1 9 7 7 ] is p e r h a p s t h e k e y , a n d m o s t i n f l u e n t i a l ,
of
exception).
E v e n r a r e r are w o r k s fully r e c o g n i z i n g that t h e c h a l l e n g e o f inter­
p r e t i v e a p p r o a c h e s d o e s n o t r e a l l y p o s e a p r o b l e m of g r a n d t h e o r e t i ­
cal s y n t h e s i s so m u c h as p r o b l e m s o f textual r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
6
Perhaps the most sophisticated statement of the intimate linkage
b e t w e e n k n o w l e d g e o f m o d e r n s o c i e t y a n d its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n r e a l i s t
g e n r e s o f w r i t i n g is i n t h e w o r k s o f B r i t i s h l i t e r a r y a n d c u l t u r a l c r i t i c
R a y m o n d W i l l i a m s . It is w o r t h q u o t i n g h i m at l e n g t h f r o m a b o o k l e n g t h s e r i e s o f i n t e r v i e w s that s u r v e y his writings:
It is very striking that the classic technique devised in response to the impos­
sibility o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g contemporary society from e x p e r i e n c e , the statistical
6. One recent volume that does seem to locate the problem of integrating systems
and meaning perspectives in that of textual representation is Advances in Social Theory
and Methodology, edited by K. Knorr-Cetina and A. V. Cicourel (1981). As Knorr-Cetina
frames the problem, advances in the study of microprocesses during the past decade or
so have overwhelmed those in the study of macrosystems. T h e question then is not how
micro and macro perspectives can be equally integrated, but how macro perspectives
can be brought back into accounts of microsituations and processes. Knorr-Cetina re­
views three techniques for integrating micro and macro levels textually. First, the
macrosystem may be portrayed as the mere summation of microsituations or processes.
Second, the macro may be represented as a result of the totality of unintended conse­
quences emanating from the multitude of microsituations. T h i r d , macrosystems may
be represented as they are subtly imagined or registered within the ongoing life pro­
cesses of an intensely studied and interpreted microsituation. Knorr-Cetina dismisses
the first technique, as do I . O f the remaining two, she finds the third most attractive and
least problematic:.
170
"
GEORGE E. MARCUS
m o d e of analysis, had its precise origins within the period o f which you are
speaking. For without the combination of statistical theory . . . and arrange­
ments for collection of statistical data . . . the society that was e m e r g i n g out of
the industrial revolution was literally unknowable. I tried to d e v e l o p this con­
trast in The Country and the City between the knowable community, a term used
with irony because what is known is shown to be incomplete, and the new
sense of the darkly unknowable. . . . New forms had to be devised to pene­
trate what was rightly perceived to be to a large extent obscure. . . . From the
industrial revolution onwards, qualitatively altering a permanent problem,
there has d e v e l o p e d a type o f society which is less interprétable from experi­
e n c e — m e a n i n g by experience a lived contact with the available articulations,
including their comparison. T h e result is that we have become increasingly
conscious of the positive power of techniques of analysis, which at their maxi­
m u m are capable of interpreting, let us say, the movements of an integrated
world economy, and of the negative qualities of a naive observation which can
never gain knowledge of realities like these. . . . Experience becomes a for­
b i d d e n word, whereas what we ought to say about it is that it is a limited word,
for there are many kinds of knowledge it will never give us, in any of its ordi­
nary senses.
T h e general problem which has exercised many producers—perhaps more
often in plays than in novels—is whether to break with the realist tradition
altogether or to try to extend it. I think there is a case for seeing how far cer­
tain areas which the bourgeois form typically excluded could now be inte­
grated in the novel. . . . T h a t has produced extreme complications for the
traditional form because it did d e p e n d , in my view, on the idea of a knowable
community, and now we are faced with the .fact that this cannot be called
a c o m m u n i t y and is not knowable in former ways. T h e result is an e x t r e m e
crisis of form. . . . But I think that a much more extensive theoretical discus­
sion of the possibilities in all the available forms is necessary. . . . Alongside
this theoretical debate we need a lot of examples of practice, so that people
can see how far a particular form can be taken. We must be very experimental
a b o u t i t . (Williams i g 8 i : 1 6 4 - 6 5 , 2 7 2 - 7 3 )
Ethnography in the M o d e r n World System
171
m e a n i n g , yet insistent o n e m b e d d i n g analyses o f e v e r y d a y life in
M a r x i s t p e r s p e c t i v e s o n capitalist political e c o n o m y . H e h a s o b v i o u s l y
b e e n a major influence o n Marxist scholars o f culture, especially those,
s u c h as P a u l Willis, w h o h a v e f o u n d a t e x t u a l m e d i u m i n e t h n o g r a p h y .
W i l l i a m s d e f i n e s t h e p r o b l e m f o r t h o s e e t h n o g r a p h e r s c o n c e r n e d as
w r i t e r s e q u a l l y w i t h f o r m s o f life a n d w o r l d s y s t e m s .
G i v e n the past c o m m i t m e n t o f a n t h r o p o l o g y to holistic r e p r e s e n ­
tation a n d allusion in e t h n o g r a p h y , h o w m i g h t an a d e q u a t e a c c o u n t
b e c o n s t r u c t e d i n t h e t e r m s w e h a v e s o far d i s c u s s e d ? W h a t is h o l i s m
o n c e t h e l i n e b e t w e e n t h e local w o r l d s o f s u b j e c t s a n d t h e g l o b a l w o r l d
o f s y s t e m s b e c o m e s radically b l u r r e d ? H o w , t h e n , is t h e r e p r e s e n t a ­
t i o n a l s p a c e o f t h e realist e t h n o g r a p h y to b e t e x t u a l l y b o u n d e d a n d
c o n t a i n e d in the c o m p e l l i n g recognition o f the larger systems c o n t e x t s
o f a n y e t h n o g r a p h i c subjects? T w o m o d e s o f t e x t c o n s t r u c t i o n s u g g e s t
themselves.
First, by s e q u e n t i a l n a r r a t i v e a n d t h e e f f e c t o f s i m u l t a n e i t y , t h e
e t h n o g r a p h e r m i g h t try in a s i n g l e t e x t to r e p r e s e n t m u l t i p l e , b l i n d l y
i n t e r d e p e n d e n t locales, each e x p l o r e d ethnographically a n d mutually
l i n k e d b y t h e i n t e n d e d a n d u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s o f activities
within t h e m . If the intent w e r e merely to d e m o n s t r a t e r a n d o m interd e p e n d e n c i e s b y w h i c h e v e r y o n e is u n e x p e c t e d l y c o n n e c t e d t o e v e r y ­
o n e e l s e in t h e m o d e r n w o r l d , if o n l y y o u l o o k e d h a r d e n o u g h , t h i s
w o u l d b e a n a b s u r d a n d p o i n t l e s s p r o j e c t — t o s h o w , say, t h e c o n n e c ­
tion b e t w e e n m e n t a l health in A m e r i c a a n d the price o f tea in China.
R a t h e r , t h e p o i n t o f this k i n d o f p r o j e c t w o u l d b e to start w i t h s o m e
p r i o r v i e w o f a s y s t e m a n d to p r o v i d e a n e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t o f it,
b y s h o w i n g t h e f o r m s o f local life t h a t t h e s y s t e m e n c o m p a s s e s , a n d
t h e n l e a d i n g t o n o v e l o r r e v i s e d v i e w s o f t h e n a t u r e o f t h e s y s t e m it­
self, t r a n s l a t i n g its a b s t r a c t q u a l i t i e s i n t o m o r e fully h u m a n t e r m s .
F o r this e x p e r i m e n t a l a n d e t h n o g r a p h i c m o m e n t i n t h e h i s t o r y o f
W e s t e r n social t h e o r y , W i l l i a m s h a s p r e c i s e l y d e f i n e d t e x t c o n s t r u c t i o n
as t h e c r u c i b l e f o r i n t e g r a t i n g t h e m a c r o i n t o t h e m i c r o , c o m b i n i n g
a c c o u n t s o f i m p e r s o n a l s y s t e m s i n t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f l o c a l l i f e as
cultural f o r m s b o t h a u t o n o m o u s a n d constituted by the larger o r d e r .
It is n o t i m p o r t a n t t h a t W i l l i a m s is t a l k i n g a b o u t t h e n o v e l , w h e r e a s w e
a r e d e a l i n g w i t h e t h n o g r a p h y a n d i n t e r p r e t i v e a n a l y s i s . W i t h t h e lat­
t e r i n f a s h i o n , practical p r o b l e m s o f d e s c r i p t i o n a n d e x p o s i t i o n h a v e
b e c o m e m u c h like t h e p r o b l e m s o f t h e socialist realist n o v e l i n t h e
t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y , Williams's p r i m a r y c o n c e r n .
M a r k e t s ( A d a m Smith's i n v i s i b l e h a n d ) a n d capitalist m o d e s o f
p r o d u c t i o n , d i s t r i b u t i o n , a n d c o n s u m p t i o n (Marx's v e r s i o n o f t h e i n ­
visible h a n d — c o m m o d i t y fetishism) are p e r h a p s the m o s t o b v i o u s
v i e w s o f s y s t e m s as o b j e c t s f o r e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n w i t h m u l t i - l o c a l e e t h ­
n o g r a p h i e s . T h e s e w o u l d e x p l o r e two or m o r e locales a n d s h o w their
interconnections over time and simultaneously. While there are texts
l i k e t h i s i n fiction ( f o r e x a m p l e , A l e k s a n d e r S o l z h e n i t s y n ' s The First
Circle), I k n o w o f n o n e in t h e l i t e r a t u r e o f e t h n o g r a p h y . H o w e v e r ,
s u c h m u k i - l o c a l e e t h n o g r a p h y is o f t e n e v o k e d t h e s e d a y s , e s p e c i a l l y
a m o n g c e r t a i n p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m i s t s , as a s o r t o f i d e a l f o r e x p e r i m e n t a ­
t i o n in realist e t h n o g r a p h y .
W i l l i a m s s h a r e s t h e E n g l i s h M a r x i s t t r a d i t i o n , a n d p a r t i c u l a r l y its
e m p h a s i s o n culture, with those w h o s e e m to b e p r o d u c i n g the m o s t
s o p h i s t i c a t e d realist e t h n o g r a p h y , s e n s i t i v e t o p r o b l e m s o f c u l t u r a l
T h e difficulties o f w r i t i n g s u c h a w o r k a r e w e l l i l l u s t r a t e d b y e x i s t ­
i n g journalistic accounts that d o a p p r o x i m a t e the e t h n o g r a p h i c , s u c h
as S t e p h e n Fay's Beyond Greed (1982), a n i n q u i r y i n t o t h e r e c e n t at-
172
GEORGE E. MARCUS
t e m p t b y t h e H u n t b r o t h e r s o f D a l l a s a n d t h e i r S a u d i allies t o c o r n e r
t h e w o r l d s i l v e r m a r k e t . T h e n a r r a t i v e c o m p l e x i t y is c o n s i d e r a b l e i n
a n a c c o u n t l i k e t h i s , w h i c h i n fact is d e a l i n g w i t h t h e h u m a n d i m e n ­
s i o n s o f t h e o p e r a t i o n o f t h e i n v i s i b l e h a n d , m a r k e t s , i n capitalist s o ­
c i e t i e s . T o tell h i s story, Fay h a s t o j u g g l e o v e r a d o z e n l o c a l e s a n d
actors' perspectives, simultaneously a n d blindly i n f l u e n c i n g o n e a n ­
o t h e r , a n d in a d d i t i o n h e m u s t sustain a narrative s e q u e n c e o f events.
H e explains h o w c o m m o d i t y markets work; h e speculates about w h a t
t h e H u n t s o f Dallas are thinking, as well as portraying their social
b a c k g r o u n d ; h e d o e s the same for the Saudis; he explains the opera­
t i o n s o f f e d e r a l r e g u l a t o r y a g e n c i e s a n d o t h e r b u r e a u c r a c i e s , as w e l l
as t h e i r r e s p o n s e t o e v e n t s ; h e e x p l a i n s t h e p e r s p e c t i v e s a n d a c t i o n s o f
o t h e r major c o m m o d i t y traders; and he describes man-on-the-street
a n d i n d u s t r y r e a c t i o n s t o t h e crisis in t h e silver m a r k e t . N o w this is t h e
k i n d o f subject that e t h n o g r a p h y o u g h t to be able to take o n , e s p e ­
cially i f it i n t e n d s t o say s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h e c u l t u r e o f c a p i t a l i s t s o ­
c i e t i e s . Fay's b o o k is a d e m o n s t r a t i o n a n d s u c c e s s f u l h a n d l i n g ( f o r a
j o u r n a l i s t , if p e r h a p s n o t f o r a n e t h n o g r a p h e r ) o f t h e practical diffi­
culties in constructing a multi-locale account o f a system or a major
social d r a m a e n c o m p a s s e d b y it.
In the second, m u c h m o r e manageable, m o d e , the e t h n o g r a p h e r
c o n s t r u c t s t h e t e x t a r o u n d a strategically s e l e c t e d l o c a l e , t r e a t i n g t h e
s y s t e m as b a c k g r o u n d , albeit w i t h o u t l o s i n g s i g h t o f t h e fact t h a t it
is i n t e g r a l l y c o n s t i t u t i v e o f c u l t u r a l life w i t h i n t h e b o u n d e d s u b j e c t
matter. T h e rhetorical a n d self-conscious emphasis o n the strategic
a n d p u r p o s e f u l s i t u a t i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y is a n i m p o r t a n t m o v e i n
s u c h w o r k s , l i n k i n g it to b r o a d e r i s s u e s o f political e c o n o m y . T h e f a c t
is t h a t t h e s i t u a t i n g o f m o s t a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l e t h n o g r a p h y — w h y t h i s
g r o u p r a t h e r t h a n a n o t h e r , w h y this l o c a l e r a t h e r t h a n a n o t h e r — h a s
n o t b e e n a c k n o w l e d g e d as a m a j o r p r o b l e m , o r at least as a n i s s u e t h a t
r e l a t e s t o a n y b r o a d e r a i m o f r e s e a r c h . I n s t e a d , it h a s o f t e n b e e n d i c ­
tated by o p p o r t u n i t y . N o t so with an e t h n o g r a p h y sensitive t o political
e c o n o m y , which m u s t answer the question, "Why precisely are y o u in
this locale rather t h a n another?" T h i s rhetorical self-consciousness
a b o u t the selection a n d b o u n d i n g of the e t h n o g r a p h i c subject s h o u l d
b e s e e n as a p r a c t i c a l f o r e s h o r t e n i n g o f t h e i d e a l , b u t less m a n a g e a b l e ,
multi-locale systems ethnography. Other options or alternatives for
s i t u a t i n g t h e e t h n o g r a p h y a r e a l w a y s p r e s e n t . O n e is o b l i g e d t o b e
s e l f - c o n s c i o u s l y j u s t i f y i n g (or strategic) i n t h e p l a c e m e n t o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y p r e c i s e l y b e c a u s e o f sensitivity t o t h e b r o a d e r s y s t e m r e p r e s e n t a ­
t i o n t h a t is at s t a k e , f o r e s h o r t e n e d by t h e practical a d v a n t a g e o f e t h ­
n o g r a p h y fixed i n a s i n g l e l o c a l e .
T h e s e two m o d e s are thus not mutually exclusive conceptually—
t h e s e c o n d is a c o m p r o m i s e d v e r s i o n o f t h e first—but. t e x t u a l l y t h e y
Ethnography in the M o d e r n World System
173
a r e . I n h i s s t u d y o f w o r k i n g class y o u t h i n a s c h o o l s e t t i n g , W i l l i s
w r i t e s i n t h e s e c o n d m o d e o f strategically s i t u a t e d e t h n o g r a p h y , d i s ­
c u s s e d i n t h e n e x t s e c t i o n . H e r e it is i n t e r e s t i n g t o n o t e t h a t W i l l i s a n d
o t h e r e t h n o g r a p h e r s w h o write explicitly within t h e Marxist theoreti­
cal t r a d i t i o n ( e . g . , M i c h a e l T a u s s i g i n The Devil and Commodity Fetishism
in South America) h a v e t h e p o w e r f u l a d v a n t a g e o f p l a c i n g t h e l a r g e r
o r d e r in the b a c k g r o u n d while focusing intensely u p o n a closely ob­
s e r v e d l o c a l e as e t h n o g r a p h i c subject. B e c a u s e familiarity, o r at l e a s t
acquaintance, with the Marxist framework can be a s s u m e d o n the part
of the reader, m u c h of the work of inventing a representation of the
l a r g e r o r d e r is a c c o m p l i s h e d m e r e l y by o r i e n t i n g o r r e f e r r i n g t h e s i t u ­
a t e d e t h n o g r a p h y t o i s s u e s o f M a r x i s t t h e o r y . T h e M a r x i s t s y s t e m is
there, s o t o s p e a k , t o b e i n v o k e d . A c o m m i t m e n t t o it b y t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h e r m a k e s it a v a i l a b l e as a n i m a g e o f s y s t e m w o r k e d i n t o t h e
e t h n o g r a p h y . (I a m n o t , o f c o u s e , s u g g e s t i n g t h a t this is w h y t h e c o m ­
m i t m e n t is m a d e b y a w r i t e r , a n d i n t h e c u r r e n t f r a g m e n t a t i o n o f
p a r a d i g m s , s o m e v e r s i o n o f a M a r x i s t f r a m e w o r k is a v a i l a b l e t h r o u g h
m o r e e c l e c t i c f o r m s o f it, s u c h as w o r l d - s y s t e m t h e o r y , t o s c h o l a r s w i t h
n o p r e v i o u s c o m m i t m e n t t o M a r x i s m . ) It is t h e m o s t s o p h i s t i c a t e d a n d
c o h e r e n t f r a m e w o r k f o r c o n c e p t u a l i z i n g m o d e r n s o c i e t i e s to s u r v i v e
t h e n i n e t e e n t h century. E x p l o r i n g the cultural m e a n i n g s o f the pro­
d u c t i o n o f labor or c o m m o d i t y fetishism provides textual m e a n s for
bringing the larger order into the space of ethnography.
T h u s , it m i g h t b e e x p e c t e d t h a t w i t h this a d v a n t a g e , t h e m o s t s o ­
p h i s t i c a t e d e x p e r i m e n t s i n e t h n o g r a p h y s e n s i t i v e t o political e c o n o m y
m i g h t initially a r i s e w i t h i n t h e M a r x i s t t r a d i t i o n , o r at least a M a r x i s t
f r a m e w o r k , a n d this s e e m s to be the case. O f course, eventually t h e
r e a d y - m a d e M a r x i s t c o n s t r u c t m a y n o t b e a n a d v a n t a g e . It is a s h o r t
cut that can leave m a n y o f the ambiguities in Marxist m a c r o - s y s t e m
concepts u n p a c k e d , even t h o u g h ethnographers are working crea­
t i v e l y w i t h i n it. F u r t h e r m o r e , it c a n s t a n d i n t h e w a y o f t h e p o s s i b l e
invention of n e w system perspectives working u p from ethnography.
Conversely, e t h n o g r a p h i c projects potentially provide p o w e r f u l inter­
nal critiques a n d adaptations of the Marxist theory o f capitalism to
c h a n g i n g global conditions. In any case, the Marxist system i m a g e r y
remains the most convenient and comprehensive framework for e m ­
b e d d i n g s i n g l e - l o c a l e e t h n o g r a p h y i n political e c o n o m y .
Paul Willis's Learning to Labour
Willis's s u b j e c t is, b r o a d l y s p e a k i n g , h o w b e s t t o u n d e r s t a n d la­
b o r in c a p i t a l i s t s o c i e t y — h o w it is c o n s t i t u t e d as c u l t u r a l e x p e r i e n c e .
A s Karl P o l a n y i e m p h a s i z e d i n The Great Transformation ( 1 9 4 4 ) , t h e r e -
174
GEORGE E. MARCUS
d u c t i o n o f any h u m a n resource to a c o m m o d i t y by m a r k e t discipline
m u s t n e c e s s a r i l y b e i n c o m p l e t e a n d a fiction. T h e r e is a n e e d t o d e ­
m y s t i f y c o m m o d i t y f e t i s h i s m o f v a r i o u s sorts a n d t o u n d e r s t a n d l a b o r
as a f u l l y h u m a n p r o c e s s . T h e c u l t u r a l a n d social s t u d y o f w o r k i n g
classes has b e e n the major rationale for b o t t o m - u p , e t h n o g r a p h i c
studies in t h e Marxist tradition, a n d particularly in the British Marxist
tradition.
T h e r e is a v e r y l o n g t r a d i t i o n i n E n g l a n d o f f o c u s i n g a t t e n t i o n o n
the p r o b l e m of the poor, e x t e n d i n g from the inception o f market
capitalism a n d t h e parallel d e v e l o p m e n t o f a science o f e c o n o m i c s to
the present. T h e initiation o f an e t h n o g r a p h i c tradition within Marx­
i s m t h r o u g h E n g e l s ' s firsthand a c c o u n t s o f t h e w o r k i n g class a n d fac­
t o r y c o n d i t i o n s i n M a n c h e s t e r w a s j u s t a c o n t i n u a t i o n o f this l i n e o f
i n q u i r y i n B r i t i s h i n t e l l e c t u a l life, b u t n o w e n c o m p a s s e d w i t h i n t h e
m o s t systematic a n d p o w e r f u l theoretical f r a m e w o r k for u n d e r s t a n d ­
i n g m o d e r n W e s t e r n political e c o n o m y . T h e i n t e r e s t i n t h e e v e r y d a y
life a n d c o n d i t i o n s o f t h e w o r k i n g classes has c o n t i n u e d a m o n g social
s c i e n t i s t s a n d l i t e r a r y critics w h o i d e n t i f y t h e m s e l v e s as M a r x i s t s a n d
s o c i a l i s t s . Willis's s t u d y o f w o r k i n g class b o y s at s c h o o l is firmly a n d
s e l f - c o n s c i o u s l y w i t h i n this t r a d i t i o n , a n d his e t h n o g r a p h y is m e a n t t o
i m p r o v e u p o n t h e q u a l i t y o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g class f o r m a t i o n p r o c e s s e s
t h a t h a v e l o n g b e e n t h e focal c o n c e r n o f M a r x i s t s c h o l a r s i n E n g l a n d .
S p e c i f i c a l l y , Willis s t r a t e g i c a l l y l o c a t e s his s u b j e c t m a t t e r as t h e o p ­
p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e t h a t w h i t e w o r k i n g class m a l e s c r e a t e i n s c h o o l . H i s
e t h n o g r a p h y is r e p l e t e w i t h r e f e r e n c e s to o t h e r l o c a l e s i n w h i c h h i s
s u b j e c t s l i v e , s u c h as t h e h o m e , s t r e e t , a n d d a n c e hall, b u t h e c h o o s e s
t h e s c h o o l e n v i r o n m e n t b e c a u s e this is w h e r e class c o n f l i c t h a s a d a y t o - d a y m a n i f e s t a t i o n , a n d it is w h e r e t h e critical d e v e l o p m e n t o f c l a s s
consciousness occurs a m o n g nonconformist youths, a consciousness
a n d s e t o f o r i e n t a t i o n s t h e y t a k e to t h e s h o p floor a f t e r l e a v i n g s c h o o l .
Willis's k e y a r g u m e n t r e s i d e s in t h e i r o n y t h a t a c u l t u r a l f o r m c r e a t e d
f r o m r e s i s t a n c e t o d o m i n a n t class i n d o c t r i n a t i o n i n t h e s c h o o l b e ­
c o m e s the adaptive m e a n s o f a c c o m m o d a t i o n to factory life.
Willis's e t h n o g r a p h i c f o c u s is a g r o u p o f t w e l v e b o y s i n a w o r k i n g
class s c h o o l , l i n k e d b y f r i e n d s h i p a n d a m u t u a l r e c o g n i t i o n o f t h e c o n ­
s p i r a c y i n t h e i r n o n c o n f o r m i s m . Willis n o t e s t h a t c o n t r o l s t u d i e s w e r e
d o n e a m o n g conformist boys of middle-class background, labelled
"ear'oles" by t h e n o n c o n f o r m i s t s , a n d also a m o n g c o n f o r m i s t w o r k i n g
class l a d s . B u t t h e s e o t h e r r e f e r e n c e s a r e o n l y b r o u g h t o c c a s i o n a l l y
i n t o t h e t e x t . C e n t r a l l y h e is c o n c e r n e d w i t h a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e
o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e a m o n g his t w e l v e l a d s , a n d w i t h s o m e s h i f t i n g t o
s h o p floor a n d h o m e e n v i r o n m e n t s ( d i s c u s s i o n s w i t h p a r e n t s ) to s h o w
h o w t h e focally r e p r e s e n t e d oppositional culture created f r o m school
Ethnography in the Modern World System
175
e x p e r i e n c e r e s o n a t e s i n t h e s e o t h e r critical l o c a l e s ( t h e h o m e l o c a l e
a n d p a r e n t a l p e r s p e c t i v e s h o w t h a t t h e c u l t u r e is g e n e r a t i o n a l l y r e ­
p r o d u c e d , b u t a l s o t h a t t h e s c h o o l , n o t t h e h o m e , is its site o f f o r m a ­
t i o n ; t h e s h o p floor l o c a l e s h o w s t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e
i n t h e w o r k c o n t e x t a n d its v e r y d i f f e r e n t c o n s e q u e n c e s ) . S o t h e r e is a
very specific a n d strategic circumscribing o f the system p o r t r a y e d in
t h e t e x t f o r t h e p u r p o s e s o f Willis's a r g u m e n t . H e p a y s s o m e a t t e n t i o n
t o m i d d l e class c u l t u r e , as m a n i f e s t e d i n staff a n d o t h e r s t u d e n t s , a n d
h e r e c o g n i z e s d i s t i n c t p e r s p e c t i v e s f o r girls, W e s t I n d i a n s , a n d A s i a n s ,
but m a i n l y h e k e e p s to a school-situated e t h n o g r a p h y o f his twelve
n o n c o n f o r m i s t boys.
T h i s e t h n o g r a p h y , a r r a n g e d by t o p i c a l h e a d i n g s , is p r e s e n t e d as
v e r b a t i m d i s c u s s i o n s a m o n g t h e l a d s , w i t h t h e a u t h o r p r e s e n t as i n t e r ­
l o c u t o r . S t r a i g h t f o r w a r d c o m m e n t a r y e l a b o r a t i n g o n t h e d i s c o u r s e al­
ternates with cuttings o f d i a l o g u e f r o m g r o u p discussions with Willis.
T h e r e a r e o c c a s i o n a l d e s c r i p t i o n s o f t h e a t m o s p h e r e o f t h e s c h o o l as a
p l a c e , b u t t h e r e p o r t i n g o f d i a l o g u e is t h e m a i n f o r m o f e t h n o g r a p h i c
e v i d e n c e e m p l o y e d by Willis. T h e d i s t i n c t i v e n e s s o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h y
t h u s lies n o t s o m u c h i n its s u s t a i n e d n a r r a t i v e t e c h n i q u e , b u t in its
c o n s t r u c t i v e m o v e s : h o w it d e f i n e s t o p i c s , shifts f r o m o n e l o c a l e t o a n ­
o t h e r , j u x t a p o s e s o t h e r perspectives a n d thus brings the larger w o r l d ,
in w h i c h t h e y o u t h s are e m b e d d e d , occasionally into focus.
T h e m o s t s a l i e n t o r g a n i z a t i o n a l m o v e i n t h e t e x t is its b i f u r c a t i o n
i n t o a first p a r t l a b e l l e d " E t h n o g r a p h y " a n d a s e c o n d p a r t l a b e l l e d
" A n a l y s i s . " C l e a r l y Willis s e e s e t h n o g r a p h y p r i m a r i l y as a m e t h o d ,
a n d i n t e x t o r g a n i z a t i o n it m u s t b e set o f f a n d r e p r e s e n t e d as s u c h .
T h i s first p a r t is p r e s u m a b l y t h e d a t a , b u t it is as m u c h a n a l y s i s as
d e s c r i p t i o n . T h e s e c o n d p a r t , " A n a l y s i s , " is really a t h e o r e t i c a l r e f l e c ­
t i o n o n t h e first p a r t , as w e l l as a m a n i f e s t o f o r t h e v a l u e o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y i n r e s e a r c h o n p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m y . It r e l i e s o n j a r g o n a n d a b s t r a c ­
t i o n s , b u t is r h e t o r i c a l l y c o n s t r u c t e d u p o n r e f e r e n c e s b a c k t o t h e
n a t u r a l i s t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e b o y s ' c u l t u r e o f t h e first part. C l e a r l y
W i l l i s s e e s t h e n e e d to a b s t r a c t t h e t h e o r e t i c a l c o n t r i b u t i o n o f e t h ­
n o g r a p h y f r o m t h e a c t u a l w r i t i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c d e s c r i p t i o n . T h i s is
n o t t h e s i m p l e d e s c r i p t i o n / t h e o r y d i c h o t o m y t h a t s e e m s to b e p r e ­
s e n t e d . T h e r e a r e t w o d i f f e r e n t l e v e l s o f analytic d i s c o u r s e , t h e s e c o n d
r e l y i n g f o r its e f f e c t o n t h e fact o f t h e first p r e c e d i n g it. T h e first p a r t
p r o v i d e s a c e r t a i n a u t h o r i t y f o r t h e validity a n d a u t h e n t i c i t y o f t h e
t h e o r e t i c a l e l a b o r a t i o n s o f t h e s e c o n d part. B y s e p a r a t i n g e t h n o g r a ­
p h y f r o m analysis, Willis gains a f r e e d o m o f e x p o s i t i o n , in w h i c h his
o w n e l a b o r a t i o n s o f t h e lads' e m b e d d e d critique o f capitalism s e e m a
n a t u r a l e x t e n s i o n o f this c r i t i q u e b y t a k i n g o f f f r o m a n e t h n o g r a p h i c
p l a t f o r m . O n l y in t h e a p p e n d i x d o e s h e self-critically d e m o n s t r a t e his
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a u t h o r i a l artifice. T h e r e h e p r e s e n t s v e r b a t i m d i a l o g u e d e p i c t i n g t h e
boys' reaction to their r e a d i n g o f his book. T h e y c a n relate to their
o w n w o r d s , b u t n o t t o Willis's i n t e r p r e t i v e e l a b o r a t i o n s o f t h e i r w o r l d
v i e w . A p p r o p r i a t e l y , h e a r g u e s t h a t this f a i l u r e o f r e c o g n i t i o n is i t s e l f a
validation o f their rejection o f "mental" labor, w h i c h scholarly p r o d ­
ucts e m b o d y , in favor o f "manual" labor a n d i m m e d i a t e e x p e r i e n c e ,
a n o p p o s i t i o n at t h e h e a r t o f w o r k i n g class c u l t u r e . T h u s , w h e t h e r i n
fact, o n c l o s e i n s p e c t i o n , t h e t h e o r e t i c a l d i s c u s s i o n s o f p a r t 2 c a n b e
d e r i v e d f r o m t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c u s s i o n s o f p a r t 1 is a n o p e n q u e s ­
t i o n ; t h e p o i n t is t h a t r h e t o r i c a l l y t h e y a r e e f f e c t i v e l y s o d e r i v e d .
B e f o r e p r o c e e d i n g t o a d i s c u s s i o n o f Willis's specific c l a i m s f o r
e t h n o g r a p h y , it is w o r t h s t a t i n g briefly w h y this p a r t i c u l a r w o r k m e r i t s
s o m u c h a t t e n t i o n . D e s p i t e s e v e r a l flaws, w h i c h Willis c o n f r o n t s i n a
r e v e a l i n g a f t e r w o r d a d d e d to t h e A m e r i c a n e d i t i o n , Learning to La­
bour, i n its a m b i t i o n a n d g r a s p o f t h e p r o b l e m s o f a c h i e v i n g a t e x t t h a t
p r o b e s t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f its subjects w h i l e a d e q u a t e l y r e p r e s e n t i n g
t h e l a r g e r o r d e r i n w h i c h t h e y a r e i m p l i c a t e d , s t a n d s as t h e state o f t h e
a r t f o r e t h n o g r a p h i e s that r e m a i n w i t h i n realist (or, as Willis c a t e ­
g o r i z e s t h e m , n a t u r a l i s t ) c o n v e n t i o n s o f w r i t i n g . T h e r e is a self7
8
7. Perhaps the most devastating flaw, from the perspective of a methodologically
minded social science, is the self-fulfilling and circular manner in which Willis selected
his sample and makes broader claims from it. Though he did control studies among
conformist working class youth, he by fiat draws his boundary of concern around the
manifestly cultural form of nonconformist boys without examining the process by
which some become conformist and others do not. Rather he is interested in the given
of nonconformism and sees it as the heart of working class consciousness and culture.
T h e problem and process of variation do not bother him much. This is perhaps the
ideological bias of the work. While it is an immensely attractive project to locate and
evoke vividly a cultural form in origin and then to show its continuities in other locales,
Willis's work is flawed. This stacking of the deck in sampling would not be so noticeable
if Willis did not explicitly employ the rhetoric of formalist sociology's concern with
method in his writing. Generalization from ethnography is a classic problem, and is
even more saliently so in ethnography sensitive to political economy, but to adopt the
methodologist's rhetoric is to weaken the suggestive power of ethnography, which is tra­
ditionally where its will to generalize has lain.
8. Other recent works that experiment with the representation of the experience
of ethnographic subjects and the systems of political economy that interpenetrate their
lives are Michael Taussig's The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America ( 1980) and
the paper by Daniel Bertaux and Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame (1981) on the survival of ar­
tisanal bakeries in France. T h e latter very much resembles Willis's effort, except that its
subject is the petite bourgeoisie rather than the working class. Taussig's book is pre­
sented less self-consciously as ethnography and more as an argument about the folk
critical perspective on capitalism creatively developed by those being proletarianized (in
this, his book shares an important claim with Willis's ethnography, from which is de­
rived much of the attraction and promise of interpretive ethnography that is sensitive
to political economy: that it can discuss and articulate for the literate middle classes
novel and insightful critiques of society embedded in the talk and life worlds of those
most patently victimized by capitalism). Nonetheless, Taussig depends on his authority
as an ethnographer, even though the ethnography remains in the wings and is only
Ethnography in the Modern World System
'77
critical s u b t e x t o f h e d g e s t h a t r u n s t h r o u g h Willis's b o o k a n d w r e s t l e s
w i t h all t h e p r e v i o u s l y d i s c u s s e d p r o b l e m s a s s o c i a t e d w i t h t h e w r i t i n g
o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s s e n s i t i v e to political e c o n o m y . It strains b e t w e e n t h e
t w o t e x t u a l m o d e s w e h a v e d i s c u s s e d : it t a k e s t h e f o r m o f s t r a t e g i c a l l y
situated e t h n o g r a p h y , b u t constantly has the ideal o f multi-locale e t h ­
n o g r a p h y i n v i e w . A s w e shall s e e , it d e v e l o p s b o t h o f t h e a l t e r n a t i v e s
for m e r g i n g the m a c r o a n d micro perspectives that Karin K n o r r C e t i n a ( 1 9 8 1 ) r e v i e w s ( s e e f o o t n o t e 6). It e m b r a c e s t h e c o n v e n t i o n s o f
realism, yet u n d e r s t a n d s their limitations. By the inclusion o f the
a b o v e m e n t i o n e d a p p e n d i x , in which the reactions o f the subjects to
t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s a c c o u n t o f t h e m a r e s a m p l e d , it s i g n a l s a w a r e n e s s
o f a p o s s i b l e h e r m e n e u t i c c r i t i q u e o f its c l a i m s , a n d o f t h e p e r s i s t i n g
p r o b l e m o f t r a n s l a t i n g t h e o r a l i n t o t h e literary. Finally, it p r o v i d e s t h e
strongest possible statement of the importance of e t h n o g r a p h y for
t h e r e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f h i g h t h e o r y by c o m p l e x i f y i n g t h e d e t e r m i n a t i o n
o f e v e n t s a n d a c t i o n s at a n y p o i n t i n a n abstractly c o n c e i v e d s o c i a l o r ­
d e r . Willis d e m o n s t r a t e s w h a t statistical a p p r o a c h e s c a n n o t d o a n d
h o w t h e y i n fact o v e r s i m p l i f y . T h e b o o k is w r i t t e n w i t h a s t r o n g c o m ­
m i t m e n t t o M a r x i s t t h e o r y , b u t it r e c o g n i z e s t h e v a l u e o f s i m i l a r k i n d s
o f e t h n o g r a p h i c s t u d i e s b e y o n d t h e critical f o c u s u p o n t h e w o r k i n g
c l a s s . It is t h u s t h e m o s t c o m p r e h e n s i v e m e d i t a t i o n o n a t r e n d o f e x ­
p e r i m e n t a t i o n t h a t s e e k s to a d a p t t h e w r i t i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h y t o t a k e
i n t o a c c o u n t l a r g e r i s s u e s o f political e c o n o m y a n d b r o a d e r vistas o f
representation.
Willis's Main Conceptual Moves
The idea of cultural forms forged by resistance and accommodation to
capitalist institutions. I n o p e n i n g his s t u d y , Willis says, "I v i e w t h e c u l ­
t u r a l , n o t s i m p l y as a s e t o f t r a n s f e r r e d i n t e r n a l s t r u c t u r e s (as i n t h e
u s u a l n o t i o n s o f s o c i a l i s a t i o n ) n o r as t h e p a s s i v e r e s u l t o f t h e a c t i o n o f
d o m i n a n t i d e o l o g y d o w n w a r d s (as in c e r t a i n k i n d s o f M a r x i s m ) , b u t at
l e a s t i n p a r t as t h e p r o d u c t o f c o l l e c t i v e h u m a n p r a x i s " (4). A p p r o p r i ­
a t e t o a M a r x i s t f o r w h o m the p r o b l e m a t i c g i v e n is t h e capitalist o v e r ­
lay u p o n h u m a n d i v e r s i t y , c u l t u r e is n o t w h a t p r e e x i s t s this h i s t o r i c
o v e r l a y , b u t is h o w h u m a n s w h o s e lives a r e s t r u c t u r a l l y d e f i n e d b y i n ­
s t i t u t i o n a l l y e n a c t e d capitalist p r i n c i p l e s r e s p o n d t o t h e m i n t h e i r
selectively brought on stage, so to speak, to provide a legitimating rhetoric for his
mixed-mode, self-consciously moralistic and broadly transcendent purpose. Neither
Taussig nor Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame have written the kind of probing, meditative
subtext about the nature of such ethnography that Willis has. Nor have they touched as
comprehensively on so many major issues of writing such ethnography.
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GEORGE E. MARCUS
e v e r y d a y life a n d e x p e r i e n c e . A cultural f o r m thus arises f r o m a
g r o u p ' s class p o s i t i o n i n a n i n s t i t u t i o n a l o r d e r , a n d its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
a n d analysis are the p u r p o s e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c research a n d writing.
F o r W i l l i s , t h e r a d i c a l n a t u r e o f e t h n o g r a p h y is t h a t it e n d s by r e d e f i n ­
i n g c a p i t a l i s t s t r u c t u r e i t s e l f in h u m a n t e r m s — t o e l u c i d a t e c u l t u r a l
f o r m s d e m o n s t r a t e s what the h u m a n m e a n i n g s o f structure are.
I n t h i s , Willis is v e r y c l o s e t o c u r r e n t n o t i o n s o f c u l t u r e i n f o r m i n g
t h e writing o f e t h n o g r a p h y in A m e r i c a n a n t h r o p o l o g y . B u t w h e r e
Willis radically diverges f r o m anthropological constructions o f culture
f o r t h e p u r p o s e s o f w r i t i n g a b o u t it is in h i s v i e w o f its i n t e g r a l l y i n t e r ­
stitial a n d c o n s t i t u t i v e c h a r a c t e r b o u n d u p w i t h a g i v e n o r d e r o f p o l i t i ­
cal e c o n o m y . C u l t u r e is n o t sui g e n e r i s , b u t is class c u l t u r e o r s u b ­
c u l t u r e , e n t a i l i n g its f o r m a t i o n in h i s t o r i c p r o c e s s — i t o r i g i n a t e s i n
p r o c e s s e s o f resistance a n d a c c o m m o d a t i o n to historically m o m e n t o u s
t r e n d s o f i n s t i t u t i o n b u i l d i n g . A c u l t u r a l f o r m is t h u s f o r g e d i n class
conflict.
N o w this v i e w o f c u l t u r e suits Willis v e r y w e l l , b e c a u s e w o r k i n g
c l a s s e s as d i s t i n c t i v e c u l t u r a l f o r m s — m e a t f o r t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r — a r e
p u r e i n v e n t i o n s o f a p a r t i c u l a r w o r l d historical s y s t e m o f p o l i t i c a l
e c o n o m y . I n t h e i n d u s t r i a l W e s t , class c u l t u r e is t h e o n l y c u l t u r e t h a t
d e f i n e s t h e f o r m o f life o f m a n y p e o p l e . A n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , s p e c i a l i s t s i n
the study o f t h o s e o n the m a r g i n s o f world historical t r e n d s e m a n a t ­
i n g f r o m t h e W e s t , a r e a c c u s t o m e d to s t a g i n g c u l t u r e as a n i n t e g r a l
s p a t i o - t e m p o r a l i s o l a t e , n o t w i t h o u t its o w n i n t e r n a l c o n t r a d i c t i o n s ,
b u t at l e a s t w i t h its o w n i n t e g r i t y a g a i n s t t h e w o r l d , s o to s p e a k . T h i s is
m u c h d i f f e r e n t f r o m t h e M a r x i s t e m p h a s i s , w h i c h v i e w s c u l t u r e as a
p r o d u c t o f s t r u g g l e ; t h e r e is n o s e l f - c o n t a i n e d i n t e g r i t y e n t a i l e d i n t h e
c o n c e p t ; it is a f u n c t i o n o f c r i t i q u e a n d a c c e p t a n c e i n t h o u g h t a n d ac­
t i o n a m o n g t h o s e v a r i o u s l y s i t u a t e d in a s y s t e m o f p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m y ,
w h i c h is n o t finally m o n o l i t h i c , o n c e v i e w e d f r o m t h e p e r s p e c t i v e o f
an e t h n o g r a p h y o f cultural f o r m s , but rather a diversity o f r e s p o n s e s
t o t h e e n a c t e d p r i n c i p l e s o f capitalist political e c o n o m y .
T h e p r o b l e m for contemporary ethnographic e x p e r i m e n t s in an­
t h r o p o l o g y is h o w t o s y n t h e s i z e t h e s e t w o e m p h a s e s in t h e t e x t u a l r e p ­
resentation o f culture, since a r o u n d the world anthropologists o f t e n
d e a l t h e s e d a y s w i t h s u b j e c t s for w h o m b o t h e m p h a s e s a p p l y . T h e a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i c a l b i a s is t o e m p h a s i z e o r g i v e p r i o r i t y r e a l i t y t o t h e p r e ­
c a p i t a l i s t d i m e n s i o n s o f t h e lives o f e t h n o g r a p h i c s u b j e c t s . Willis's v i e w
o f c u l t u r e is a n i m p o r t a n t c o r r e c t i v e to this. C o n v e r s e l y , as w e shall
s e e , Willis's p r e d i c a m e n t o f h a v i n g to i n v e s t r i c h n e s s o f m e a n i n g i n
"thin" c u l t u r a l f o r m s p u r e l y g e n e r a t e d b y r e s p o n s e s t o c a p i t a l i s m
is n o t f a c e d b y m o s t a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s . ( C o m p a r e T a u s s i g 1980 w i t h
W i l l i s : T h e f o r m e r h a s a r i c h b o d y o f l o r e w i t h w h i c h to r e p r e s e n t
E t h n o g r a p h y in the Modern World System
!79
a resistance-and-accommodation view of proletarian culture, e v e n
t h o u g h h e d o e s overplay the off-stage i m a g e of pre-capitalist cultural
p u r i t y a m o n g h i s s u b j e c t s ; t h e latter s t r a i n s to i n v e s t p o s i t i v e m e a n i n g
a n d richness i n a c u l t u r a l f o r m t h a t s e e m s e n t i r e l y o p p o s i t i o n a l . )
Finally, Willis m a k e s a s t r o n g a r g u m e n t f o r t h e i r r e d u c i b i l i t y a n d
a u t o n o m y o f t h e c u l t u r a l level o f a n a l y s i s , v e r y s i m i l a r to t h e f o u n d a ­
t i o n a l p o s t u l a t e o f s u c h A m e r i c a n c u l t u r a l t h e o r i s t s as D a v i d S c h n e i d e r
a n d C l i f f o r d G e e r t z . T h e r e is a r e i f y i n g bias built i n t o th i s p o s t u l a t e .
I n Willis's b o o k it b e c o m e s m o r e a p p a r e n t as h e m o v e s f r o m e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n to t h e m o r e abstractly a n a l y t i c s e c t i o n , a n d
especially w h e n h e m a k e s a strong plea in the afterword for the value
o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c as a n a p p r o a c h w i t h i n M a r x i s m . For Willis, th i s
radical i n s i s t e n c e o n t h e irreducibility a n d t h e a u t o n o m y o f t h e cultural,
at w h a t e v e r c o s t i n r e i f i c a t i o n , is a s a f e g u a r d a g a i n s t t h e p e n c h a n t i n
W e s t e r n ( o r b o u r g e o i s ) social t h o u g h t to d e v a l u e o r m a r g i n a l i z e w h a t
the cultural emphasizes: the concreteness and commonsensicality of
e v e r y d a y life, intractable to f o r m u l a t i o n s o f structural d e t e r m i n a t i o n
as a p r i v i l e g e d m o d e o f d i s c o u r s e in b o u r g e o i s s o c i e t y ( w h i c h a l s o i n ­
f e c t s m u c h M a r x i s t w r i t i n g ) . A s Willis states:
T h e main point here, though, is not to attempt an exact taxonomy o f
"cultural forms" or a rigorous theoretical conceptualization o f "the cultural."
What I want to emphasize in the general approach of this book is the way that
the field o f symbolic and material, lived relations should be represented in
their o w n concreteness, at their own level, without continually reducing t h e m ,
mechanistically, to basic determining structures. Social reproduction and con­
tradiction must be shown not as abstract entities, but as e m b e d d e d d y n a m ­
ically within the real lives o f real people in a way that is not simple "corre­
s p o n d e n c e " or "reflection" of unchanged, somehow "deeper" structures. . . .
A g e n t s ' intentions d o not proceed from themselves, but are b o u n d u p in the
c o m p l e x way in which structures are inhabited through "cultural forms". . . .
T h e role of e t h n o g r a p h y is to show the cultural viewpoint of the o p ­
pressed, their "hidden" knowledges and resistances as well as the basis o n
which e n t r a p p i n g "decisions" are taken in some sense o f liberty, but which
nevertheless help to produce "structure." This is, in part, the project o f show­
i n g the capacities o f the working class to generate, albeit ambiguous, c o m p l e x ,
a n d often ironic, collective and cultural forms of knowledge not reducible to
the bourgeois f o r m s — a n d the importance of this is as one of the bases for
political change. ( 1 9 8 1 : 2 0 1 — 3 )
T h u s , l i k e t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l e t h n o g r a p h e r , Willis d e f i n e s a n a u t o n o ­
m o u s c u l t u r e c o n c e p t t h a t facilitates t h e a u t h e n t i c d e p i c t i o n o f h u m a n
d i v e r s i t y a n d d i f f e r e n c e a g a i n s t t h e bias to e l i d e it, b u t his a g e n d a , u n ­
like t h e anthropologist's, has a self-consciously political definition.
F u r t h e r m o r e , in Willis's a g e n d a , t h e s t a g i n g o f t h e c u l t u r a l f o r t|he
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GEORGE E. MARCUS
p u r p o s e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is p r i m a r i l y a m e a n s t o t h e
e n d o f e l u c i d a t i o n o f a n e m b e d d e d critique o f capitalist society i n
w o r k i n g c l a s s l i f e , a c o n c e p t u a l m o v e to w h i c h w e n o w t u r n .
The ethnographer's articulation of the critical theory embedded in working
class experience. O n e o f t h e g r e a t c u r r e n t a t t r a c t i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h y t o
t r a d i t i o n s o f c u l t u r a l criticism i n t h e W e s t , a n d e s p e c i a l l y t h e M a r x i s t
t r a d i t i o n , is t h e m o v e t h a t Willis m a k e s (as d o e s T a u s s i g ) i n l e t t i n g
e t h n o g r a p h y d e m o n s t r a t e that the most powerful a n d novel criticisms
o f c a p i t a l i s t s o c i e t y l i e e m b e d d e d i n t h e e v e r y d a y c o n d i t i o n s a n d talk
o f e t h n o g r a p h i c subjects, m o r e p o w e r f u l a n d novel e v e n t h a n the c o n ­
t r i b u t i o n s o f i n t e l l e c t u a l s w h o s e s e l f - c o n s c i o u s task c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m
h a s b e e n . T h e e t h n o g r a p h e r is t h e m i d w i f e , as it w e r e , w h o d e l i v e r s
a n d a r t i c u l a t e s w h a t is v e r n a c u l a r l y e x p r e s s e d in w o r k i n g class l i v e s ,
a n d f o r t h a t m a t t e r , m i d d l e class lives.
H a v i n g the critique c o m e f r o m the subject rather than t h e a u t h o r
a s critic c a n b e s e e n as a m o v e to s h i f t t h e r e s p o n s i b i l i t y o f c r i t i c i s m t o
t h o s e w h o a r e r e p r e s e n t e d as social a c t o r s , a n d i n s o d o i n g , t o find a
n e w a n d p o w e r f u l a u t h e n t i c i t y f o r w o r k s o f c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m . T h e tra­
d i t i o n a l q u e s t o f e t h n o g r a p h y , in a n t h r o p o l o g y at least, f o r t h e " n a ­
tive's p o i n t o f v i e w " b e c o m e s i n its g u i s e o f c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m a s e a r c h
f o r a n a u t h e n t i c critical t h e o r y , e m b o d i e d i n t h e l i v e s o f t h e v i c t i m s o f
macrosocial systems, w h o are most often the subject o f e t h n o g r a p h y .
I n c i d e n t a l l y , t h i s m o v e a l s o fulfills K n o r r - C e t i n a ' s f a v o r e d m o d e o f i n ­
t e g r a t i n g the m a c r o with the micro in that the extracted a n d articu­
l a t e d critical t h e o r y o f t h e s u b j e c t is also a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n e n c a p s u ­
l a t e d i n t h e m i c r o - f o c u s e d e n t h o g r a p h y , o f his folk u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f
t h e m a c r o s o c i a l s y s t e m . A s Willis states:
T h i s is why the ethnography of visible forms is limited. T h e external, more
obviously creative, varied and sometimes random features must be read back
to their heart. T h e logic of living must be traced to the heart of its conceptual
relationships if we are to understand the social creativity of a culture. This
always concerns, at some level, a recognition of, and action u p o n , the particu­
larity of its place within a determinate social structure.
O n e of the most profound reasons why this social creativity cannot be
expressed rationally at the surface o f the culture is that it is truly only half the
story. It really does not proceed with a pure expressive purpose from the cen­
ter o f the culture. We must posit the penetration [Willis's j a r g o n for perceptive
understandings of capitalist reality in the lads' own idiom] as a clean and co­
h e r e n t insight in order to say what it is, but the concrete forms of cultures, as
e t h n o g r a p h y insistently reminds us, do not allow single pure dynamics. In
their very formation these "insights" are distorted, turned and deposited into
other f o r m s — s u c h as subjective affirmation of manual labour—which make
it hard to believe there has ever been, or could ever be, even a noi ion of a
E t h n o g r a p h y in the Modern World System
181
rational kernel, never mind that it should be easily expressed. T h i s means,
amongst other things, that we must distinguish between the level of the cul­
tural a n d the level o f practical consciousness in o u r specification o f creativity
and rationality. (1981:121—22)
T h u s , Willis d e f i n e s t h e a p p r o p r i a t e function o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r as
m i d w i f e . T h e l a d s e m b o d y t h e critical i n s i g h t s , b u t i n a n e n g a g e d ,
s t u n t e d w a y , w h i c h t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r c a n r e g i s t e r . T h u s , it is f o r t h e
e t h n o g r a p h e r t o b r i n g o u t a n d clarify t h e i n s i g h t s as w e l l as t o e x p l a i n
w h y t h e y m a y lead to u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s or inaction. A s Willis
says, "It is t h e a p p a r e n t c u l t u r a l a s c e n s i o n o f t h e w o r k i n g class w h i c h
b r i n g s t h e h e l l o f its o w n r e a l p r e s e n t " ( 1 2 2 ) .
I t is w o r t h r e m a r k i n g o n w h y this p o s t u r e o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r a s
m i d w i f e t o i n d i g e n o u s critical t h e o r y is s u c h a n a p p e a l i n g m o v e i n
M a r x i s t c u l t u r a l a n a l y s i s , e s p e c i a l l y in its p e r s i s t i n g f o c u s o n t h e w o r k ­
i n g class ( h i s t o r i c a l l y w e l l d e f i n e d in E n g l a n d ) . T h i s class is t h e " c h o s e n
people" w h o most experience the contradictions of capitalism, and
t h e s t a t e o f w h o s e c o n s c i o u s n e s s is a m a t t e r o f p e r e n n i a l d e b a t e a m o n g
M a r x i s t i n t e l l e c t u a l s . A n d s o Willis says, "It [ t h e w o r k i n g class p o t e n ­
tial f o r i n s i g h t ] is e m b e d d e d i n t h e o n l y class i n t h e c a p i t a l i s t s o c i a l
f o r m a t i o n w h i c h d o e s n o t have a structurally based vested interest in
m y s t i f y i n g itself. . . . T h e w o r k i n g class d o e s n o t have t o b e l i e v e t h e
d o m i n a n t i d e o l o g y . It d o e s n o t n e e d t h e m a s k o f d e m o c r a c y t o c o v e r
its' f a c e o f o p p r e s s i o n . T h e v e r y e x i s t e n c e a n d c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f t h e
m i d d l e class is d e e p l y i n t e g r a t e d i n t o t h a t s t r u c t u r e w h i c h g i v e s it
d o m i n a n c e " (123).
B y his e t h n o g r a p h i c m i d w i f e r y a m o n g the proletariat, Willis re­
veals that they, a n d n o t the intellectuals, e m b o d y the m o s t p o w e r f u l
c r i t i q u e o f c a p i t a l i s m , a n d t h i s is a s it s h o u l d b e , g i v e n t h e i r s t r a t e g i c
p o s i t i o n i n M a r x i s t t h e o r y . Willis's e t h n o g r a p h y t h u s p r o p o s e s t o r e ­
s o l v e t h e l o n g s t a n d i n g e m b a r r a s s m e n t in M a r x i s m o f t h e n e e d f o r
r a d i c a l m i d d l e class i n t e l l e c t u a l s (or i n t e l l e c t u a l s o f w o r k i n g class o r i ­
g i n ) t o b e t h e a r t i c u l a t e c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f w o r k i n g class m a s s e s . W i l l i s
p r e s u m e s to s h o w that they can speak equally a n d effectively for
t h e m s e l v e s ( b u t w i t h o u t h i s b e i n g self-critical e n o u g h a b o u t t h e h e r m e n e u t i c p r o b l e m s o f r e a l i z i n g this c l a i m t e x t u a l l y , d i s c u s s e d b e l o w ) .
I n s u m m a r y f o r m , Willis s e e s t h e h e a r t o f his subjects' c r i t i c i s m o f
capitalism in the distinction they make between mental a n d m a n u a l
labor, their elaborate rejection o f the f o r m e r and their embracing o f
t h e l a t t e r as t h e c e n t r a l m a l e - o r i e n t e d e t h o s o f t h e i r c u l t u r a l f o r m .
The lads see b e h i n d the ideology of schooling in preparing students
f o r w o r k t o t h e r e a l n a t u r e o f w o r k — t o t h e n a t u r e o f l a b o r p o w e r , as
a c o m m o d i t y l i k e n o o t h e r , i n Willis's t e r m s . M o s t i m p o r t a n t l y , t h e
y o u t h s r e j e c t q u a l i f i c a t i o n s as t h e m e a n s t o social m o b i l i t y . For t h e m ,
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GEORGE E. MARCUS
all j o b s a r e t h e s a m e a n d e q u a l l y m e a n i n g l e s s ; t h e y t a k e r e f u g e a n d
s a t i s f a c t i o n i n a y o u t h s u b c u l t u r e t h a t e m p h a s i z e s a d v e n t u r e a n d vir­
i l e e x p e r i e n c e . M a n u a l l a b o r is a n e m b l e m o f this e m p h a s i s — i t s t a n d s
for masculinity a n d o p p o s i t i o n to authority. T h e oppositional culture
at s c h o o l d e v e l o p s t h e m e a n s o f t a k i n g i n f o r m a l c o n t r o l o f t h e p r o ­
d u c t i o n p r o c e s s . M o s t p r o x i m a t e l y , t h e "ear'oles," o r c o n f o r m i s t s t u ­
d e n t s , s t a n d as foils f o r t h e l a d s a n d t h e e m b o d i m e n t o f t h e w o r l d o f
q u a l i f i c a t i o n s l e a d i n g t o m i d d l e class m y s t i f i c a t i o n s o f w o r k , w h i c h
t h e y reject.
S o , t h e l a d s t u r n o u t t o c o n f i r m basic M a r x i s t n o t i o n s o f t h e c e n ­
tral r o l e o f t h e r e d u c t i o n o f l a b o r t o a c o m m o d i t y i n c a p i t a l i s t p r o d u c ­
t i o n . E t h n o g r a p h y in Willis's h a n d s t h u s p o w e r f u l l y v a l i d a t e s M a r x i s t
t h e o r y b y a u t h e n t i c a t i n g its c l a i m s a m o n g t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c s u b j e c t s o f all, t h e w o r k i n g class. M u c h o f Willis's c l a i m
h i n g e s o n h i s ability to p e r s u a d e t h e r e a d e r by t e x t u a l artifice o f
the m e a n i n g f u l n e s s o f the boys' n o n c o n f o r m i s t behavior against the
m i d d l e class t e n d e n c y t o d i s m i s s it as m i n d l e s s d e v i a n c e , a l i e n a t i o n , o r
d e l i n q u e n c y . W e shall c o n s i d e r b e l o w w h e t h e r t h e i n v e s t i t u r e o f t h e
boys' o p p o s i t i o n a l culture with the respectability o f m e a n i n g — t h e
f o u n d a t i o n f r o m w h i c h g r o w s a critical t h e o r y e m b o d i e d in e v e r y d a y
e x p e r i e n c e — i s effectively achieved.
The system beyond the ethnographic locale enacted in the irony of un­
intended consequences. T h e p o s t u l a t e o f u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s is a
m e a n s by w h i c h an e t h n o g r a p h e r can p u s h analysis b e y o n d t h e locale
o f p r i m a r y fieldwork t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f t h e m a c r o - s y s t e m ( c o n v e n ­
t i o n a l l y c o n c e i v e d as abstract s t r u c t u r e s ) i n c u l t u r a l , s t r u c t u r a l l y c o n ­
t i n g e n t t e r m s . Willis m a k e s full u s e o f this m o v e , w h i c h K n o r r - C e t i n a
d i s c u s s e s ( s e e f o o t n o t e 6) as o n e o f t h e m o d e s o f b r i n g i n g m a c r o p e r ­
spectives back into the current reign o f productivity in m i c r o p e r s p e c ­
t i v e s . I n fact, t h e c e n t r a l a r g u m e n t o f t h e b o o k is t h e o n e a b o u t t h e
u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s o f t h e lads' o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e f o r m e d at
school: h o w they systematically disqualify themselves f r o m m i d d l e
class j o b s as t h e i r o n i c e f f e c t o f class conflict in t h e s c h o o l s ; h o w , w i t h ­
o u t c o e r c i o n , y o u t h s f u n n e l t h e m s e l v e s o n t o t h e s h o p floor. A s W i l l i s
c o n c l u d e s t h e e t h n o g r a p h y s e c t i o n o f his b o o k :
T h e r e is also a sense in which, despite the ravages—fairly well contained at
this point anyway—manual work stands for something and is a way o f con­
tributing to and substantiating a certain view of life which criticises, scorns
and devalues others as well as putting the self, as they feel it, in some elusive
way ahead o f the g a m e . T h e s e feelings arise precisely from a sense of their
own labour power which has been learnt and truly appropriated as insight
and self-advance within the depths of the counter-school culture as it devel-
Ethnography in the Modern World System
183
ops specific class forms in the institutional context. It is difficult to think how
attitudes of such strength and informal and personal validity could have b e e n
f o r m e d in any other way. It is they, not formal schooling, which carry "the
lads" over into a certain application to the productive process. In a sense,
therefore, there is an element of self-domination in the acceptance of subor­
dinate roles in western capitalism. However, this damnation is e x p e r i e n c e d ,
paradoxically, as a form of true learning, appropriation and as a kind of resis­
tance. H o w are we to understand this? ( 1 9 8 1 : 1 1 3 )
T h i s is t h e f r a m i n g q u e s t i o n Willis u s e s to o r g a n i z e h i s e l a b o r a t i o n s o f
t h e s e c o n d , a n a l y s i s p a r t o f t h e b o o k . T h o u g h it is t h e n e e d f o r c a s h
t h a t finally p u s h e s t h e l a d s i n t o t h e p r o d u c t i v e p r o c e s s , it is m a s c u l i n e
c h a u v i n i s m , f o r g e d in o p p o s i t i o n to s c h o o l , that a d a p t s t h e m to t h e
s h o p floor a n d p r o v i d e s t h e l i n e o f c o n t i n u i t y b e t w e e n t h e t w o l o c a l e s .
T h e u n i n t e n d e d - c o n s e q u e n c e s m o v e may be a nice solution to t h e
p r o b l e m o f m a c r o - s y s t e m r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n e t h n o g r a p h y w h o s e spirit
is i n t e r p r e t i v e , b u t it is a l s o t h e m o s t n o t a b l y h e d g e d d i m e n s i o n o f
Willis's a c c o u n t . H e is c o n s t a n t l y h e d g i n g a g a i n s t t h e c i r c u l a r i t y o f
m a k i n g an a r g u m e n t of such general implication f r o m so small a
s a m p l e a n d f r o m h i s r e c o g n i t i o n , b u t s y s t e m a t i c e l i d i n g , o f o t h e r vari­
a n t r e s p o n s e s t o s c h o o l b o t h a m o n g m i d d l e class a n d c o n f o r m i s t
w o r k i n g class l a d s ( s e e f o o t n o t e 7); h e also h e d g e s a g a i n s t t h e d a n g e r
o f a n "oversocialized" view o f his o w n n o n c o n f o r m i s t subjects, as thor­
o u g h p r o d u c t s o f t h e c u l t u r a l f o r m t h a t is, finally, Willis's a b s t r a c t e d
focus o f analysis. F u r t h e r m o r e , the u n i n t e n d e d - c o n s e q u e n c e s m o v e
s e e m s v e r y close to o l d - f a s h i o n e d functionalist teleology, albeit a n
ironic f o r m o f i t — a g e n t s d o w h a t they d o in their various c o n t e x t s ,
a n d h e y p r e s t o ! t h e r e is n e a t o r d e r i n t h e s y s t e m . A c e r t a i n r e c o g n i ­
t i o n o f t h e m e s s i n e s s o f real life is s i m p l y a d d e d t o c o n v e n t i o n a l n o ­
t i o n s o f f u n c t i o n a l i s t o r d e r . T h i s is i n d e e d a n i m p r o v e m e n t o n p a s t
m o v e s o f r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e social s y s t e m , b u t it is h a r d l y a b o l d b r e a k
with easy notions o f order.
A Commentary on Textual Moves Used
to Achieve the Above Conceptual Arguments
Willis's H e r m e n e u t i c S e n s i t i v i t y
I would just like to mark a recognition here that, n o matter how modified,
participant observation and the methods under its aegis, display a tendency
towards naturalism and therefore to conservatism. T h e ethnographic account
is a supremely e x post facto product of the actual uncertainty of life. T h e r e
develops, unwilled, a false unity which asks, "What follows next?" "How did it
end?" "What makes sense of it?". T h e subjects stand too square in their self-
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GEORGE E. MARCUS
referenced world. T h e m e t h o d is also patronising and c o n d e s c e n d i n g — i s it
possible to imagine the ethnographic account upwards in a class society? . . .
T h e ethnographic account, for all its biases insists u p o n a level of h u m a n
agency which is persistently overlooked or denied but which increases in im­
portance all the time for other levels of the social whole. Although the world
is never directly "knowable," and cannot empirically present itself in the way
that the ethnographic account seems sometimes to suggest, it must neverthe­
less be specifically registered somewhere in theory if theory pretends to any
relevance at all. (Willis 1 9 8 1 : 1 9 4 )
A t i s s u e h e r e is t h e h e r m e n e u t i c c r i t i q u e of Willis's c l a i m to h a v e
e x t r a c t e d a w o r k i n g class critical t h e o r y f r o m t h e w o r d s a n d a c t i o n s o f
h i s s u b j e c t s , a t h e o r y t h a t h a p p e n s p o w e r f u l l y to c o n f i r m M a r x i s t t h e ­
o r y . W e s h o u l d recall, i n this r e g a r d , t h e c e n t r a l c o n s t r u c t i v e m o v e o f
Willis's t e x t — t h e d i s t i n c t s e p a r a t i o n o f e t h n o g r a p h y f r o m a n a l y s i s .
T h i s m o v e m a y b e a f u n c t i o n o f Willis's r e t e n t i o n o f a r h e t o r i c o f
p o s i t i v i s t s o c i o l o g i s m t h a t r e p r e s e n t s e t h n o g r a p h y as m e r e l y a m e t h o d
a n d t h e r e p o r t i n g o f d a t a . N e v e r t h e l e s s , this c o n s t r u c t i v e d i v i s i o n
m o s t importantly frames a legitimated, a u t o n o m o u s analytic voice
t h r o u g h w h i c h Willis c a n d e v e l o p a t h e o r e t i c a l d i s c o u r s e i n a l a n g u a g e
t o w h i c h h e is a c c u s t o m e d , w h i l e r e l y i n g o n r e f e r e n c e b a c k t o t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h y s e c t i o n a s a s u g g e s t i o n that it is n o t r e a l l y h i s v o i c e , b u t a
m e d i a t i o n o f w h a t is e m b o d i e d in t h e e t h n o g r a p h y o f t h e l a d s , c o n ­
c e i v e d , s i g n i f i c a n t l y , as v e r b a t i m i n t e r v i e w t r a n s c r i p t s . S o , w e m i g h t
say t h a t t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f w o r k i n g class e x p e r i e n c e is n o t at all
Willis's p r i m a r y g o a l ; r a t h e r , Willis d e v e l o p s e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a ­
t i o n s o f w o r k i n g class e x p e r i e n c e t o r e f e r to it in a w a y t h a t s e r v e s h i s
t h e o r e t i c a l e x p o s i t i o n . E t h n o g r a p h y g i v e s b o d y t o Willis's b o o k , b u t it
is n o t in i t s e l f t h e m a i n p o i n t .
T h e r e is at least a h i n t o f a s l e i g h t - o f - h a n d h e r e , a n d w h a t a h e r ­
m e n e u t i c sensitivity i n c o r p o r a t e d in t h e n a r r a t i v e of e t h n o g r a p h y
d o e s is t o i m p o s e s t a n d a r d s o f p u r i t a n i c a l h o n e s t y u p o n c l a i m s , s u c h
as t h o s e at t h e h e a r t o f Willis's t e x t , a b o u t w h o s p e a k s f o r w h o m , a n d
w h a t is a c t u a l l y b e i n g a u t h e n t i c a l l y r e p r e s e n t e d . D o e s Willis's a r t i c u l a ­
t e d critical t h e o r y o f c a p i t a l i s m really c o m e f r o m t h e lads? D o e s t h e
e t h n o g r a p h e r d i s c o v e r s u c h i n s i g h t s , as is a r g u e d , o r d o e s h e e v o k e
t h e m i n h i s s u b j e c t s in h i s e n g a g e m e n t w i t h t h e m , o r , m o s t c r u d e l y ,
d o e s h e m e r e l y a s s e r t by fiat t h a t w h a t h e is s a y i n g i n h i s o w n w o r d s is
a n a c c u r a t e g l o s s o f w h a t t h e s u b j e c t s h a v e said a n d m e a n t ? T h e s e a r e
very o l d epistemological p r o b l e m s central to the practice o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y , w h i c h a r e c u r r e n t l y b e i n g p r o b e d in t h e i m p a c t t h a t h e r m e n e u t i c
p h i l o s o p h y is h a v i n g o n a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l t h o u g h t . P e r h a p s , m o s t c e n ­
trally, t h e i s s u e is o n e o f t r a n s l a t i n g t h e orality o f t h e s u b j e c t s i n t o t h e
l i t e r a c y o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r — i n this c a s e , t h e talk o f t h e l a d s i n t o t h e
Ethnography in the Modern World System
185
j a r g o n - l a d e n , d e n s e p r o s e o f Willis i n his c o m m e n t a r i e s a n d t h e o r e t i ­
cal e l a b o r a t i o n s .
G i v e n t h e d i s a r r a y o f p a r a d i g m s I h a v e m e n t i o n e d , it is a s e d u c ­
t i v e i d e a at t h e m o m e n t to liberal a n d r a d i c a l c u l t u r a l critics i n s e a r c h
o f s o m e d i r e c t i o n t h a t t h e n e c e s s a r y i n s i g h t s a r e there i n t h e lives o f
subjects, to b e u n e a r t h e d by careful interpretation within a g e n r e
s u c h as e t h n o g r a p h y . A s a r e s u l t , t h e s p e c i a l a p p e a l o f t h e k i n d o f
claim Willis m a k e s d o e s t e n d to blunt the skepticism o f h e r m e n e u t i c
s e l f - c r i t i c i s m , a n d it g e t s o f f r a t h e r easily. T o m a k e t h e c l a i m p a s s i o n ­
a t e l y a n d e v o c a t i v e l y is s u f f i c i e n t to w i n o v e r m i d d l e class r e a d e r s t o a
m o v e t h a t t r a n s f e r s t h e b u r d e n o f criticism t o t h e s u b j e c t a n d m o d i f i e s
t h e f u n c t i o n o f t h e a n a l y s t w i t h very attractive i m p l i c a t i o n s f o r t h e
c o n t e m p o r a r y p r e d i c a m e n t s o f theory.
H o w m u c h h e r m e n e u t i c sensitivity is t h e r e , t h e n , i n Willis's b o o k ?
W i l l i s is v e r y s h r e w d i n d e e d a b o u t t h e l i m i t a t i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h y a n d
t h e p o s s i b l e o b j e c t i o n s t o h i s c l a i m t h a t h e h a s in fact a u t h e n t i c a l l y
s p o k e n f o r t h e l a d s , b u t t h e i m p o r t a n t p o i n t h e r e is t h a t t h i s a w a r e ­
n e s s is n o t a n i n t e g r a l p a r t o f h i s t e x t , n o r f o r h i m a f o u n d a t i o n o f
w r i t i n g e t h n o g r a p h y . A s in s o m a n y realist a c c o u n t s , h e r m e n e u t i c
s h r e w d n e s s , w h e n it is p r e s e n t , is m a r g i n a l i z e d (as i n t h e very s h r e w d
a p p e n d i x p r e v i o u s l y d i s c u s s e d a n d i n Willis's a f t e r w o r d a d m i s s i o n s
a b o u t t h e l i m i t a t i o n s o f n a t u r a l i s m in e t h n o g r a p h i c a c c o u n t s — s e e t h e
q u o t a t i o n above). So while hermeneutically aware o n the margins,
W i l l i s k e e p s h i s d i s t a n c e f r o m his s u b j e c t s ; t h e s o r t o f e n g a g e m e n t o u t
o f w h i c h h e r m e n e u t i c r e f l e c t i o n a r i s e s is o n l y a l e i t m o t i f i n h i s t e x t
a n d n o t a n i n t e g r a l c o m p o n e n t o f e i t h e r its e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a ­
tions or t h e analysis that follows.
T h e D o m i n a n t Bourgeois World Evoked
Rather T h a n Juxtaposed Ethnographically
Since m y main focus was on the culture of the "lads," the "ear'oles" necessarily
b e c a m e s o m e t h i n g o f a dramatic foil for their activity and creativity. . . .
Nevertheless, the general case I am arguing is that, in different ways, all social
agents have a hand collectively in constructing their own destiny, d o i n g so in a
way which is not simply determined from outside and which often enjoys the
labyrinthine complexity o f a "cultural form." But this cannot be said all at
once! A n d if the ethnographic act of "giving life" to o n e particular "cultural
form" seems to take life from others, to make others look anemic, then this
should not be taken to mean that "social theory" is true only for the former.
This book should not encourage the dismissal or marginalization of the m o r e
conformisi in school, but should encourage concrete research in them from
similar perspectives lo uncover the complexity and promise of their social
existence. (Willis 1981 :KC>7)
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G E O R G E E. MARCUS
Willis e n t e r t a i n s t h e possibility that t h e s a m e c o n c e p t u a l m o v e s h e h a s
m a d e i n r e g a r d t o t h e w o r k i n g class c o u l d b e m a d e , w i t h as p r o d u c t i v e
results, in r e g a r d to various segments of the d o m i n a n t bourgeoisie.
W h a t b e l i e s this p o s s i b i l i t y is t h e fact t h a t Willis h i m s e l f d o e s n o t
c h o o s e t o r e p r e s e n t i n t h e s e e t h n o g r a p h i c w a y s t h e l a r g e r class w o r l d
b e y o n d t h a t o f h i s w o r k i n g class s u b j e c t s , e v e n t h o u g h h e d i d d o " c o n ­
trol" fieldwork a m o n g t h e "ear'oles" a n d t h e t e x t is s p r i n k l e d w i t h i n ­
s i g h t s a b o u t t h e c u l t u r a l f o r m o f t h e d o m i n a n t class i n c o n t r a s t t o t h a t
o f t h e l a d s . R a t h e r , i n s t e a d o f cross-class parallel j u x t a p o s i t i o n s o f e t h ­
n o g r a p h y , h e c h o o s e s t o e v o k e t h e capitalist w o r l d i n a v a g u e , p e r s o n i ­
fied w a y . R a t h e r t h a n d e p e n d o n t h e k i n d o f e t h n o g r a p h y h e d o e s f o r
h i s f o c a l w o r k i n g class s u b j e c t s , h e r e l i e s o n t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c a l l y u n ­
e x a m i n e d i m a g e s o f c l a s s - s t r u c t u r e d s o c i e t y built i n t o t h e t r a d i t i o n o f
M a r x i s t t h e o r y . T h i s is, as I h a v e n o t e d , b o t h a n a d v a n t a g e o f w r i t i n g
e t h n o g r a p h y w i t h i n t h e M a r x i s t t r a d i t i o n (it p r o v i d e s a r e a d y - m a d e ,
classic, a n d f a m i l i a r m e a n s o f e v o k i n g t h e m a c r o s o c i a l o r d e r ) a n d a
d i s a d v a n t a g e (the u s e o f r e a d y - m a d e m a c r o i m a g e s t e n d s to cari­
cature the darkly unknowable world in contrast with the e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c a l l y e l u c i d a t e d w o r l d o f w o r k i n g class subjects).
Rather than j u x t a p o s i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c representations o f differ­
e n t c l a s s e s , Willis p r e s e n t s a n e t h n o g r a p h y o f t h e w o r k i n g class, a n d
j u s t assumes a n e t h n o g r a p h i c p e r s p e c t i v e o n t h e m i d d l e class b y c o n ­
trast ( i n c i d e n t a l l y , Willis is a w a r e o f this p r o b l e m , as i n d i c a t e d i n t h e
a b o v e q u o t a t i o n : " B u t this c a n n o t b e said all at o n c e ! " ) . T h u s , h e
m a k e s t h e l a d s real, b u t h e c h o o s e s t o reify t h e l a r g e r s y s t e m i n w h i c h
t h e y live. T h i s is i n c o n s i s t e n t w i t h t h e spirit o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c a p ­
p r o a c h h e e l o q u e n t l y p r o m o t e s . W h a t is " t h e s y s t e m " f o r t h e l a d s is
t h e o t h e r ' s ( t h e m i d d l e class) c u l t u r a l f o r m . T h e t e x t u a l p r o b l e m h e r e
is c a r e f u l l y r e p r e s e n t i n g o n e f o r m o f life w h i l e c a r i c a t u r i n g t h o s e o f
t h e o t h e r s b e y o n d it as " t h e s y s t e m . "
A t s t a k e h e r e is t h e validity o f t h e " u n i n t e n d e d - c o n s e q u e n c e s "
c o n s t r u c t i o n o f t h e s y s t e m , l i n k i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c l o c a l e s . W h i l e Willis
l i m i t s h i m s e l f i n d e m o n s t r a t i n g t h e w o r k i n g s o f t h e s y s t e m as u n ­
i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s to the youths' cultural evolution in t h e s c h o o l
a n d o n t h e s h o p f l o o r , f o r c o n s i s t e n c y h e m u s t also a r g u e t h a t r e l a ­
t i o n s between c l a s s e s , w h o s e c u l t u r a l f o r m s a r e o f t e n s i t u a t e d i n d i f f e r ­
e n t e t h n o g r a p h i c l o c a l e s (except f o r t h e s c h o o l ) , a r e a l s o c h a r a c t e r i z e d
b y l i n k a g e s o f u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s e m a n a t i n g f r o m activity e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c a l l y r e c o u n t e d . I f all p a r t i c i p a n t s i n t h e capitalist s o c i a l o r ­
d e r d e v e l o p creative cultural forms o f a c c o m m o d a t i o n a n d resistance
l i k e t h e l a d s , t h e n h o w o n t h e c u l t u r a l level, c a n c a p i t a l i s m a n d its
d o m i n a n t classes b e m a d e to a p p e a r m o r e directed, ideologically
b o u n d , a n d i n t e n t i o n a l t h a n t h e l a d s as victims? I f t h e s y s t e m t h o r -
Ethnography in the Modern World System
187
oughly operates by unwitting interdependencies and unintended, but
c o o r d i n a t e d , c o n s e q u e n c e s , t h e n it w o u l d b e difficult t o s u s t a i n t h e
c o n v e n t i o n a l w a y o f r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e d o m i n a n t class o r c l a s s e s i n
M a r x i s t t h e o r y . A s l o n g as Willis p e r s o n i f i e s a n d c a r i c a t u r e s t h e s y s ­
t e m b e y o n d t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e w o r k i n g class, h e
n e e d n o t c o m e t o t e r m s w i t h this difficulty. I f h e h a d i n s t e a d c o n ­
structed his text o n cross-class e t h n o g r a p h i c juxtapositions, h e w o u l d
h a v e h a d t o f a c e t h e full i m p l i c a t i o n s o f h i s u n i n t e n d e d c o n s e q u e n c e s
m o r e squarely.
I n v e s t i n g M e a n i n g in t h e Lads' Lives
Finally, all o f Willis's c o n c e p t u a l m o v e s d e p e n d o n h i s ability t o
p e r s u a d e t h e r e a d e r t h a t t h e y o u t h s ' c u l t u r e is i n fact p o s i t i v e l y m e a n ingful a n d c r e a t i v e , t h a t t h e y a r e o n t o s o m e t h i n g , r a t h e r t h a n j u s t
b e i n g t h e a l i e n a t e d class b o t h i n c o n d i t i o n s o f w o r k a n d spirit. T h e
critical m o v e is t o d i s s o c i a t e t h e w o r l d o f w o r k , w h i c h t h e l a d s d o
c l e a r l y s e e as m e a n i n g l e s s , f r o m t h e w o r l d o f e x p e r i e n c e , w h i c h t h e y
c e l e b r a t e a n d c r e a t i v e l y e l a b o r a t e as a f o r m o f r e b e l l i o n . B e c a u s e
Willis refers o n l y obliquely to t h e richest c o n t e x t for t h e persuasive
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f w o r k i n g class c r e a t i v i t y — y o u t h p o p u l a r c u l t u r e —
h e is l e f t w i t h r a t h e r t h i n m a t e r i a l s t h r o u g h w h i c h t o e v o k e t h e style
a n d c r e a t i v i t y o f t h e b o y s ' e x p e r i e n c e . T h e r e is t h u s a s t r a i n i n g a n d
special p l e a d i n g in his r e p e a t e d praise o f the m e a n i n g f u l c o n t e n t o f
t h e i r o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e , w h i c h , t h o u g h p a s s i o n a t e l y a s s e r t e d (as i f
t h e r e w e r e m u c h m o r e t o it t h a n h e c a n tell u s w i t h i n t h e c o n f i n e s o f
e t h n o g r a p h y ) , still r i n g s h o l l o w . F o r e x a m p l e , as Willis states:
T h u s the whole nature of "really doing things", of being physically active
in the world, o f giving labour power in a certain way, is seen by "the lads" not
simply as a defensive measure, or as a negative response, but as an affirmation
and expression o f what it seems has been genuinely and creatively learned. It
speaks o f a distinct maturity, a practice of ability and perspective, that others
are felt not to have. Despite its intrinsic meaninglessness manual labour, at
least at this period in their lives, comes to mean for "the lads" in H a m m e r town an assertion o f their freedom and a specific kind of power in the world.
( 1 9 8 1 : 104)
O b v i o u s l y , Willis h a s g r e a t a d m i r a t i o n f o r t h e m e a n i n g t h a t h i s s u b ­
jects a r e a b l e t o d e r i v e f r o m t h e m e a n i n g l e s s n e s s o f t h e i r p l a c e i n s o ­
ciety. B u t i n e x p r e s s i n g s u c h a d m i r a t i o n , h e c a n n o t e s c a p e s u g g e s t i n g
t h e i n a u t h e n t i c i t y o f it a n d t h e s e l f - d e c e p t i o n i n v o l v e d , w i t h o u t a
m u c h m o r e d i r e c t t r e a t m e n t o f w o r k i n g class p o p u l a r c u l t u r e . Willis
finally r e t r e a t s f r o m h i s e n t h u s i a s m f o r t h e lads' o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e s
i88
GEORGE E. MARCUS
w h e n h e r e s p o n d s sympathetically to the complaints o f feminists in
t h e a f t e r w o r d , w r i t t e n f o r t h e A m e r i c a n e d i t i o n o f Learning to Labour:
w h a t m e a n i n g t h e lads' l i v e s h a v e f o r t h e m is b u i l t o n t h e o p p r e s s i o n
o f w o m e n . I n t h e t e x t itself, Willis d o e s a c k n o w l e d g e i n p a s s i n g t h e
r a c i s m a n d s e x i s m t h a t f r a m e his subjects' o p p o s i t i o n a l c u l t u r e , c e n ­
t e r e d o n virile m a s c u l i n i t y , b u t h e d o e s n o t c o n f r o n t t h e m s e r i o u s l y
until the reflective afterword. So, in a sense, the textual m o v e o f
i n v e s t i n g m e a n i n g in w h a t m i g h t b e v i e w e d as m e a n i n g l e s s , a n a r c h i c
l i v e s , is d o n e i n a "he d o t h p r o t e s t t o o m u c h " m a n n e r , a n d finally w i t h
c o n s i d e r a b l e a m b i v a l e n c e . Yet, as t h e r h e t o r i c n e c e s s a r y b o t h f o r c o n ­
v i n c i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c representations and claims d r a w n f r o m t h e m ,
t h e s u c c e s s f u l h a n d l i n g o f this t e x t u a l m o v e w o u l d s e e m f u n d a m e n t a l .
Conclusion
T h e book is not an attempt to give a full anthropological account of the full
range of the whole life process of twelve individuals—which indeed would
have had to take in much else, including their physical and emotional devel­
o p m e n t , sexuality, experience in the family, and their detailed existence in a
w h o l e n e i g h b o u r h o o d and sweep of local life. I was concentrating on certain
cultural and symbolic processes within a relatively discrete "cultural form,"
focused mainly in the school, and on the transition to work which touched
u p o n many of these things, certainly, but not as a neutral taxonomical chart­
ing o f them. Perhaps we should call this a "cultural ethnography" to distin­
guish it from anthropological approaches. (Willis 1 9 8 1 : 2 1 7 — 1 8 )
A n t h r o p o l o g i s t s m a y b e d i s c o n c e r t e d a n d i r r i t a t e d by t h e w a y i n
w h i c h Willis as e t h n o g r a p h e r d i s t a n c e s h i m s e l f f r o m t h e s a m e p r o j e c t
i n a n t h r o p o l o g y b y trivializing t h e p u r p o s e o f t h e l a t t e r as n o n d i r e c t e d ,
i n f l e x i b l e h o l i s m ; t a x o n o m i c d e s c r i p t i o n f o r its o w n s a k e , w i t h o u t a
r e d e e m i n g p o i n t o r a r g u m e n t . N o n e t h e l e s s , Willis d o e s p o s e t h e c h a l ­
l e n g e for the anthropological tradition of ethnography, u n d e r l a i n
p e r h a p s b y a n u n a t t a i n a b l e i d e a l o f h o l i s m n o t t o b e t a k e n literally, t o
a p p l y e t h n o g r a p h y to p r o j e c t s o f b r o a d e r p u r p o s e a n d t h e o r e t i c a l s i g ­
nificance, like his o w n . T h i s entails the writing o f m i x e d - g e n r e texts,
s i m i l a r t o t h o s e e n v i s i o n e d b y R a y m o n d W i l l i a m s f o r social r e a l i s m , i n
w h i c h e t h n o g r a p h i c representation a n d authority w o u l d be a variably
s a l i e n t c o m p o n e n t . C o n t r a r y t o Willis's o u t m o d e d p e r c e p t i o n o f t h e
state o f e t h n o g r a p h y within anthropology, such m i x e d - g e n r e texts,
s e n s i t i v e t o b o t h t h e i n n e r lives o f subjects a n d t h e n a t u r e o f w o r l d
h i s t o r i c a l political e c o n o m y , a r e a m a j o r c o n c e r n o f t h e t r e n d o f
e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n in c o n t e m p o r a r y a n t h r o p o l o g y that w e h a v e b e e n
discussing.
Ethnography in the Modern World System
189
Appendix: Short Takes on Other Experimental Uses of
Ethnography in Addressing Problems of Political Economy
and Social Theory
I s h a l l v e r y briefly d e a l w i t h t w o o t h e r k i n d s o f m i x e d - g e n r e
texts in t h e m o v e toward e t h n o g r a p h i e s that ambitiously take o n
p r o b l e m s o f social t h e o r y , political e c o n o m y , a n d h i s t o r y . I n o n e k i n d
o f t e x t , it is t h e c o n v e n t i o n s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t a r e
left i n t h e b a c k g r o u n d , m a r g i n a l i z e d , o r s u b o r d i n a t e d t o a p u r p o s e
t h a t c o n t r i b u t e s to t h e e x p l a n a t i o n o f m o m e n t o u s h i s t o r i c e v e n t s ; i n
t h e o t h e r k i n d o f t e x t , e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is t h e f o c u s , if n o t
o b s e s s i o n , w h i l e t h e w o r l d o f h i s t o r i c political e c o n o m y , a l t h o u g h
b r o u g h t i n t o t h e t e x t , g e t s subtly s h i f t e d to t h e b a c k g r o u n d b y a strat­
e g y o f e v o c a t i o n rather than by substantive representation. I n b o t h
c a s e s , t h e t e x t s a r e w r i t t e n f r o m t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f fieldwork a n d t h e
a u t h o r i t y d e r i v e d f r o m it, b u t t h e r e is n o s i m p l e c o r r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n
fieldwork
d o n e a n d s y m m e t r i c a l t e x t as r e p o r t a g e w r i t t e n f r o m t h a t
e x p e r i e n c e . R a t h e r , in b o t h c a s e s , a n d m o s t s a l i e n t l y i n t h e first, e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c detail shares textual space with other varieties o f writing,
i n c l u d i n g h i s t o r i c a l n a r r a t i v e , literary e x e g e s i s , a n d a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l
confession.
Ethnography and Revolutionary Upheaval
T h e p a r t i c u l a r c o n c e r n h e r e is h o w t h e w r i t i n g o f e t h n o g r a ­
p h y c a n b e a d a p t e d t o a d d r e s s classic h i s t o r i c q u e s t i o n s o f c a u s a t i o n ,
those that require explanations of major events. T h e question o f so­
cial a n d p o l i t i c a l r e v o l u t i o n s is a n e x c e l l e n t , p e r e n n i a l c a s e i n p o i n t .
For t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r , m u c h d e p e n d s o n serendipity a n d o p p o r ­
t u n i t y — w h e r e a n d w h e n the e t h n o g r a p h e r was situated in relation to
t h e e v e n t . E t h n o g r a p h y t h a t h a s c o n c e r n e d itself w i t h g r e a t r e v o l u ­
tions has usually b e e n situated to r e c o u n t the effects o f r e v o l u t i o n o n
e v e r y d a y life i n t h e f o r m o f v i l l a g e s t u d i e s . For m e , t h e m o s t v i v i d vil­
l a g e - l e v e l e t h n o g r a p h y r e g i s t e r i n g p o s t - r e v o l u t i o n a r y c o n d i t i o n s is
W i l l i a m H i n t o n ' s Fanshen ( 1 9 6 6 ) , w i t h its s t r i k i n g a c c o u n t o f h o w a r e v ­
o l u t i o n a r y s o c i a l t h e o r y is a p p l i e d i n t h e reclassification a n d r e s h a p ­
i n g of l o c a l v i l l a g e society.
B u t e t h n o g r a p h y c o u l d d o m u c h m o r e if e t h n o g r a p h e r s i n o p ­
portune circumstances wrote accounts of greater ambition. With the
careful textual use of ethnographic representation, they could enter
into the central debates about the origin and course of revolutionary
igO
GEORGE E. MARCUS
p r o c e s s e s t h e m s e l v e s . M i c h a e l Fischer's Iran: From Religious Dispute to
Revolution (1980) is a p r i m e , if n o t u n i q u e , e x a m p l e o f a m i x e d - g e n r e
a c c o u n t i n w h i c h t h e r h e t o r i c a l fixing o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r ' s a u t h o r i t y
a n d the careful introduction o f ethnographic detail s h a p e an a r g u ­
m e n t dealing with the causation and origins of revolution rather than
its e f f e c t s . T h e critical e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s a r e t h o s e o f
Shi'ite religious e d u c a t i o n , w h i c h Fischer studied in Q u m b e f o r e t h e
r e v o l u t i o n . T h e b o o k itself o p e n s w i t h t h e fixing o f e t h n o g r a p h i c a u ­
thority, with Fischer e n g a g e d in discussion with an ayatollah. I n d e e d ,
t h i s e s t a b l i s h e s t h a t " h e w a s t h e r e , " b u t it d o e s m u c h m o r e t h a n t h i s ,
s i n c e it is a p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e reality a n d m e d i u m o f Shi'ite i d e o l o g y
a n d w o r l d v i e w itself, i n s e p a r a b l e f r o m t h e styles o f d i s c o u r s e i n w h i c h
it is e x p r e s s e d . F r o m this b e g i n n i n g o n w a r d , t h e e t h n o g r a p h y o f S h i ' i t e
c u l t u r e is t h r e a d e d t h r o u g h a t e x t t h a t a l t e r n a t e s b e t w e e n h i s t o r i c a l
narrative, m o m e n t - t o - m o m e n t reporting of revolutionary events, so­
c i o l o g i c a l class a n a l y s i s , t e x t u a l e x e g e s i s , a n d t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c r e p r e ­
s e n t a t i o n o f life i n Q u m itself. T h o u g h it is m u c h h a r d e r t o p i n d o w n
as e t h n o g r a p h y t h a n Willis's e x p l i c i t l y l a b e l l e d s t u d y , Fischer's b o o k
n o n e t h e l e s s d e p e n d s , as d o e s Willis's b o o k , o n s t r a t e g i c a l l y s i t u a t e d
e t h n o g r a p h y , a n d self-consciously so. T h u s , w h e n the e t h n o g r a p h e r
takes o n debates about m o m e n t o u s events (and the macro systems o f
p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m y t h e y i m p l i c a t e ) , e t h n o g r a p h y itself m o v e s f r o m c e n ­
t e r p l a c e t o play a p e r i p a t e t i c r o l e in t e x t c o n s t r u c t i o n .
Ethnography and the Modern Essay: Undermining
Realist Representation in an Uncertain World
A n d what of those w h o view the representation o f larger, i m ­
personal systems within the narrative space o f e t h n o g r a p h y as u n ­
t e n a b l e , y e t a r e s e n s i t i v e to t r e n d s in political e c o n o m y a n d still s e e t h e
n e e d t o e v o k e t h e m in s o m e way? T h i s is t h e p r e d i c a m e n t o f t h e m o r e
r a d i c a l , m o d e r n i s t e x p e r i m e n t s in e t h n o g r a p h y — t h o s e t u r n i n g a w a y
f r o m realist c o n v e n t i o n s t o w a r d e l a b o r a t e e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n w i t h f o r m
a n d attention to reciprocity o f perspectives, the dialogic c o n t e x t o f
fieldwork,
a n d e v e n to t h e i n c o r p o r a t i o n o f m u l t i p l e a u t h o r i a l v o i c e s
i n t h e c o n v e n t i o n a l s i n g l e - a u t h o r - c o n t r o l l e d text. M u c h m o r e s t r o n g l y
t h a n R a y m o n d W i l l i a m s , w h o h o l d s to r e a l i s m , s u c h e x p e r i m e n t a l
w r i t e r s f e e l t h a t radically i n t e r p r e t i v e e t h n o g r a p h i e s c a n n e v e r g a i n
k n o w l e d g e o f t h e r e a l i t i e s t h a t statistics c a n — t h e y p e r h a p s d o n o t
e v e n r e c o g n i z e t h e p r i o r i t y o r p r i v i l e g e d validity o f s u c h a b s t r a c t l y
r e p r e s e n t e d realities. T h e y seek rather a m e a n s o f e v o k i n g the w o r l d
w i t h o u t r e p r e s e n t i n g it.
Ethnography in the Modern World System
T h e m o d e r n i s t f o r m o f t h e e s s a y p e r h a p s m e e t s this n e e d . It o p ­
p o s e s c o n v e n t i o n a l systematic analysis, absolves the writer f r o m hav­
i n g t o d e v e l o p t h e b r o a d e r i m p l i c a t i o n s o f his t h o u g h t ( w h i l e n o n e t h e ­
less i n d i c a t i n g t h a t t h e r e a r e s u c h i m p l i c a t i o n s ) o r o f h a v i n g t o tie
l o o s e e n d s t o g e t h e r . T h e essayist c a n m y s t i f y t h e w o r l d , l e a v e h i s s u b ­
j e c t s ' a c t i o n s o p e n - e n d e d as t o t h e i r g l o b a l i m p l i c a t i o n s , f r o m a r h e ­
torical p o s t u r e o f p r o f o u n d h a l f - u n d e r s t a n d i n g , h a l f - b e w i l d e r m e n t
with t h e w o r l d in w h i c h the e t h n o g r a p h i c subject a n d the e t h n o g ­
r a p h e r l i v e . T h i s is t h u s a f o r m w e l l s u i t e d to a t i m e s u c h as t h e
p r e s e n t , w h e n p a r a d i g m s a r e i n disarray, p r o b l e m s i n t r a c t a b l e , a n d
p h e n o m e n a o n l y p a r t l y u n d e r s t o o d . It is finally a h e d g e o n t h e h o l i s t i c
commitments of anthropological ethnography. T h e o p e n - e n d e d mys­
t e r y o f p h e n o m e n a partly e x p l a i n e d ( " t h e r e a r e a l w a y s a l t e r n a t i v e
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s " ) is a n e s s e n t i a l f e a t u r e o f t h e r h e t o r i c o f t h e e x p e r i ­
m e n t a l p o s t u r e . U n l i k e realist e t h n o g r a p h y , w h i c h c a n b e b a c k ­
g r o u n d e d w h e n the text squarely addresses great events, the m o d e r n ­
ist e t h n o g r a p h i c e s s a y g r a p p l e s w i t h t h e t e x t u a l p r o b l e m o f h o w t h e
w o r l d is t o s e r v e as b a c k d r o p o n c e c o n v e n t i o n a l t e c h n i q u e s o f realistic
representation are ruled out.
P e r h a p s t h e m o s t i n t e n s i v e a n d e x p l i c i t r e f l e c t i o n o n t h e e s s a y as a
f o r m o f w r i t i n g a p p r o p r i a t e t o m o d e r n i t y is t h a t o f T h e o d o r A d o r n o
( s e e K a u f f m a n n 1 9 8 1 ) , a n d e s p e c i a l l y his r e f u s a l to i m p o s e o r d e r
t h r o u g h w r i t i n g o n a w o r l d w h o s e e s s e n c e is its f r a g m e n t a r y c h a r a c ­
ter. R a t h e r t h a n a t t e m p t i n g t o r e p r e s e n t t h e s y s t e m o r m a j o r e v e n t s
b y a n o r d e r l y a c c o u n t o f t h e m , t o w h i c h r e a l i s m is partial, t h e m o d e r n
essay permits, or rather sanctions, the ultimate h e d g e — i t legitimates
fragmentation, r o u g h edges, and the self-conscious aim of achieving
a n e f f e c t t h a t d i s t u r b s t h e r e a d e r . T h e e s s a y i n this m o d e r n i s t s e n s e is
thus a particularly appropriate self-conscious posture for the m o s t
r a d i c a l l y e x p e r i m e n t a l e t h n o g r a p h i e s . T h e y w a n t to c h a n g e t h e c o n ­
ventional focus in e t h n o g r a p h y a n d thus the p e r c e p t i o n o f readers.
A s n o t e d , t h e y shift f o c u s t o t h e d i a l o g i c a n d t h e r e c i p r o c i t y o f p e r ¬
s p e c t i v e s i n v o l v e d in a n y e t h n o g r a p h i c p r o j e c t . T h e y w a n t t o say
s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h e m o d e r n w o r l d as m u c h , if n o t m o r e , b y selfc o n s c i o u s a t t e n t i o n t o t h e f o r m o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t as b y d i r e c t
a t t e n t i o n to t h e b o u n d e d world o f the e t h n o g r a p h i c subject.
T h e s u b t l e t y of this u s e o f t h e essay is t h a t w h e t h e r o r n o t t h e s u b ­
ject is e x p l i c i t l y v i e w e d as l i v i n g in a f r a g m e n t e d w o r l d s y s t e m , at t h e
level o f h e r e x p e r i e n c e a n d that o f the e t h n o g r a p h e r the b r o a d e r
w o r l d is e v o k e d i n d i r e c t l y t h r o u g h t h e a t t e m p t i n e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t ­
i n g to c o n v e y a l i e n e x p e r i e n c e . T h i s is t h e radical a p p r o a c h t o t h e
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f cultural difference in a world w h e r e the salience
o f d i f f e r e n c e h a s d i m i n i s h e d , at least a m o n g W e s t e r n m i d d l e class
ig2
GEORGE E. MARCUS
r e a d e r s h i p s . S u c h e t h n o g r a p h y s e e k s t o c o n v e y t h e q u a l i t y o f its s u b ­
jects' experience, free o f the mediation o f customs a n d institutions,
c o n c e p t s t h a t c a r r y a n e m b e d d e d bias t o w a r d s e e i n g o r d e r , w h e r e o n
t h e l e v e l o f e x p e r i e n c e s u c h o r d e r is n o t felt o r i m a g i n e d t o t h e s a m e
d e g r e e . T h e e t h n o g r a p h y as m o d e r n e s s a y p r o f o u n d l y d i s r u p t s t h e
c o m m i t m e n t t o h o l i s m t h a t is at t h e h e a r t o f m o s t realist e t h n o g r a p h y
a n d t h a t is i n c r e a s i n g l y p r o b l e m a t i c (as t h e h e d g e s i n Willis's t e x t i n d i ­
c a t e ) . It d o e s n o t p r o m i s e t h a t its subjects a r e p a r t o f a l a r g e r o r d e r .
I n s t e a d , b y t h e o p e n - e n d e d n e s s o f t h e f o r m , it e v o k e s a b r o a d e r w o r l d
o f u n c e r t a i n o r d e r — t h i s is t h e p o s e t h e m o d e r n i s t e s s a y c u l t i v a t e s s u ­
p r e m e l y . I n a s e n s e , w i t h t h e a p p r o p r i a t e r h e t o r i c o f t h e essay, m o d ­
ernist e t h n o g r a p h y declines the problematic o f the m o d e s o f eth­
n o g r a p h y s e n s i t i v e t o political e c o n o m y t h a t w e h a v e d i s c u s s e d , w h i l e
b e i n g similarly m o t i v a t e d by t h e p r e d i c a m e n t o f writing e t h n o g r a p h y
in recognition o f a world for which the twentieth-century ethno­
graphic p a r a d i g m n o w seems inadequate. T h e rhetoric o f the m o d e r n
e s s a y a s a g u i d e t o c o n s t r u c t i n g e t h n o g r a p h y is m e r e l y v e r y s t r o n g
m e d i c i n e , c o m p a r e d t o Willis's o r Fischer's m o v e s t o m e r g e t h e p e r ­
s p e c t i v e s o f e t h n o g r a p h y a n d political e c o n o m y .
Actual e x a m p l e s o f e t h n o g r a p h y set in t h e rhetoric o f the m o d e r n
e s s a y a r e f e w , a l t h o u g h it is t h e k i n d o f t e x t w r i t e r s e i t h e r a s p i r e t o o r
e n t e r t a i n t h e possibility o f a n d t h e n shy away f r o m in e x p e r i m e n t a l
t i m e s . V i n c e n t C r a p a n z a n o ' s Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan ( 1980) a n d ,
m o r e r e c e n t l y , h i s Waiting ( 1 9 8 5 ) a r e p e r h a p s t h e m o s t p r o m i n e n t e x ­
i s t i n g e x p e r i m e n t a l e t h n o g r a p h i e s t h a t c a n b e v i e w e d as e m p l o y i n g
t h e r h e t o r i c o f t h e m o d e r n essay. T h e latter w o r k i n p a r t i c u l a r , w h i c h
uses t h e dialogic capturing o f multiple voices to e x p o s e t h e c o n d i t i o n
o f e n t r a p m e n t a m o n g t h e whites o f contemporary South Africa, re­
veals t h e i n h e r e n t c o n c e r n o f such m o d e r n i s t techniques with political
e c o n o m y . Far f r o m b e i n g i n s u l a r a n d p a r o c h i a l , t h e d i s c o u r s e o f t h e
w h i t e s i n t h e p l e a s a n t S o u t h A f r i c a n c o u n t r y s i d e is full o f " k n o w i n g "
irony a b o u t their o w n position a n d that o f their society globally. Like­
w i s e , i n Tuhami, t h e f o r m o f t h e t e x t as w e l l as its s u b j e c t — a spiritp o s s e s s e d p r o l e t a r i a n t i l e m a k e r — s e r v e s as a s t a t e m e n t a b o u t c o l o n i a l
a n d p o s t - c o l o n i a l A l g e r i a n society.
A sustained tolerance o f incompleteness and indeterminateness
a b o u t t h e o r d e r i n t h e w o r l d t h a t lies b e y o n d t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c subjects, intensely focused u p o n , s e e m s to b e a key rhetorical
m a r k e r in m o d e r n i s t e t h n o g r a p h y . For e x a m p l e , o n e c o m m o n idea o f
t e x t c o n s t r u c t i o n is t o s t r i n g t o g e t h e r a s e t o f s e p a r a t e e s s a y s d e a l i n g
w i t h d i f f e r e n t t h e m e s o r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s o f t h e s a m e s u b j e c t (if its a c ­
t u a l s t y l e w e r e n o t t h a t o f t h e c o c k s u r e E n g l i s h essayist, c o m b i n e d
w i t h a h e a v y d o s e o f scientistic c e r t a i n t y , G r e g o r y B a t e s o n ' s Naven
Ethnography in the Modern World System
193
[ 1 9 3 6 ] m i g h t b e s e e n i n its a c t u a l n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e a n d s p i r i t a s a n
e a r l y e x a m p l e o f t h e e t h n o g r a p h y as m o d e r n e s s a y ; i n d e e d it w a s
w r i t t e n d u r i n g a t i m e o f p r o f o u n d g l o b a l u n c e r t a i n t y like t h e c o n t e m ­
p o r a r y p e r i o d ; t h e o d d n e s s o f Naven is its m i n g l i n g o f b e h a v i o r i s t a n d
h e r m e n e u t i c c o n c e r n s ) . F u r t h e r m o r e , t h e e t h n o g r a p h y as e s s a y o f t e n
d e f i n e s i t s e l f as s u c h b y a p r o m i n e n t m e t a c o m m e n t a r y o n t h e diffi­
c u l t i e s o f d o i n g e t h n o g r a p h y i n t h e m o d e r n w o r l d , w h i l e d o i n g it. I n
g e n e r a l , t h e n , it is t h e r e v e a l e d m o d e r n i s t c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f t h e e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c w r i t e r , t r o u b l e d b y t h e i n t e r p r e t i v e task at h a n d , t h a t e m ­
b e d s in t h e text references to t h é broader world s h e a n d h e r subjects
s h a r e . I v i e w m o d e r n i s t e x p e r i m e n t s as t h e c u r r e n t o u t e r l i m i t t o t h e
w a y s e t h n o g r a p h y as a m a t t e r o f t e x t u a l s t r a t e g y h a n d l e s t h e m i c r o m a c r o i n t e g r a t i o n p r o b l e m w i t h w h i c h this p a p e r b e g a n .
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
MICHAEL M.J.
FISCHER
Ethnicity and the Post-Modern
Arts of Memory
I
Conclusions a n d Re-Visions
History as celebrated by Mnemosoune is a deciphering of the invisible, a
geography of the supernatural. . . . It throws a bridge between the world of
the living and that beyond to which everything that leaves the light of day
must return. It brings about an "evocation" of the past. . . . Memory
appears as a source of immortality. . . . JEAN-PIEKRE VERNANT
Our period is not defined by the triumph of technology for technology's sake,
as it is not defined by art for art's sake, as it is not defined by nihilism. It is
action for a world to come, transcendence of its period—transcendence of
self which calls for epiphany of the Other. EMANUEL LEVINAS
T h i s p a p e r brings together two indirectly related e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c p h e n o m e n a o f t h e 1970s a n d t g 8 o s — t h e florescence o f e t h ­
nic a u t o b i o g r a p h y a n d the academic fascination with textual theories
o f d e f e r r e d , h i d d e n , o r o c c u l t e d m e a n i n g — i n o r d e r t o ask w h e t h e r
1
N O T E : My use of "post-modern" in this essay follows that of Jean-François Lyotard
( 1 9 7 9 ) : it is that moment of modernism that defines itself against an immediate past
("post") and that is skeptically inquisitive about all grounds of authority, assumption, or
convention ("modernism"). Lyotard's definition allows for cycles of modernism that de­
cay and renew, as well as drawing attention to the various techniques for questioning
and deorienting/reorienting—techniques ranging from surrealism in the arts to devel­
opments in the natural sciences (fractals, catastrophe theory, pragmatic paradoxes, u n decidables). Alternative definitions of post-modernism as either an unlabeled after­
math of early twentieth-century modernisms—or, as Fredric Jameson would have it, a
retreat from politically charged modernism back into bourgeois complacency—empty
the term of any substantive meaning and (in Jameson's case) assert unsubstantiated
negative political evaluations. A n allied usage of post-modern to that employed here,
and to which I am also indebted, is that of Stephen Tyler (see this volume).
1. For reasons of space, this second phenomenon will have to remain an under­
song, only alluded to periodically. "Occulted" is a key term from Stephen Tyler's essay in
this volume, an essay with which the present paper is intended to resonate. "Deferred"
invokes Jacques Derrida's efforts to show how metaphors depend on and create new
displacements from meanings in other texts, how no text exists in and of itself. " H i d ­
den" refers to Walter Benjamin's attempts at "revelation" or recovery of meanings sedi-
195
t h e y c a n revitalize o u r ways o f t h i n k i n g a b o u t h o w c u l t u r e o p e r a t e s
a n d r e f a s h i o n o u r p r a c t i c e o f e t h n o g r a p h y a s a m o d e o f c u l t u r a l criti­
c i s m . J u s t a s t h e travel a c c o u n t a n d t h e e t h n o g r a p h y s e r v e d a s f o r m s
f o r e x p l o r a t i o n s o f t h e " p r i m i t i v e " w o r l d ( s e e Pratt i n this v o l u m e ) a n d
t h e realist n o v e l s e r v e d as t h e f o r m f o r e x p l o r a t i o n s o f b o u r g e o i s
m a n n e r s a n d t h e s e l f in early i n d u s t r i a l s o c i e t y , s o e t h n i c a u t o b i o g r a ­
p h y a n d a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l fiction c a n p e r h a p s s e r v e as k e y f o r m s f o r
e x p l o r a t i o n s o f p l u r a l i s t , p o s t - i n d u s t r i a l , late t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y s o c i e t y .
T h e recent proliferation o f autobiographical works that take eth­
n i c i t y as a f o c a l p u z z l e s e e m s to b e p o o r l y a c c o m m o d a t e d w i t h i n t h e
t r a d i t i o n a l s o c i o l o g i c a l l i t e r a t u r e o n e t h n i c i t y . W o r k s s u c h as M a x i n e
H o n g K i n g s t o n ' s The Woman Warrior ( 1 9 7 6 ) , M i c h a e l A r l e n ' s Passage to
Ararat ( 1 9 7 5 ) , a n d M a r i t a G u l d e n ' s Migrations of the Heart ( 1 9 8 3 ) a r e
i n a d e q u a t e l y c o m p r e h e n d e d t h r o u g h discussions o f g r o u p solidarity,
t r a d i t i o n a l v a l u e s , f a m i l y m o b i l i t y , political m o b i l i z a t i o n , o r s i m i l a r s o ­
ciological categories. I m m i g r a n t novels of rebellion against t h e family,
i n t e r m a r r i a g e , a n d a c c u l t u r a t i o n a r e m o r e r e l e v a n t to t h e s e s o ­
ciological conceptions.
W h a t t h e n e w e r w o r k s b r i n g h o m e f o r c e f u l l y is, first, t h e p a r a d o x ­
ical s e n s e t h a t e t h n i c i t y is s o m e t h i n g r e i n v e n t e d a n d r e i n t e r p r e t e d i n
e a c h g e n e r a t i o n b y e a c h i n d i v i d u a l a n d t h a t it is o f t e n s o m e t h i n g
quite p u z z l i n g to t h e individual, s o m e t h i n g over w h i c h h e or s h e lacks
c o n t r o l . E t h n i c i t y is n o t s o m e t h i n g t h a t is s i m p l y p a s s e d o n f r o m g e n ­
e r a t i o n t o g e n e r a t i o n , t a u g h t a n d l e a r n e d ; it is s o m e t h i n g d y n a m i c ,
o f t e n u n s u c c e s s f u l l y r e p r e s s e d o r a v o i d e d . It c a n b e p o t e n t e v e n w h e n
n o t c o n s c i o u s l y t a u g h t ; it is s o m e t h i n g t h a t i n s t i t u t i o n a l i z e d t e a c h ­
i n g e a s i l y m a k e s c h a u v i n i s t , sterile, a n d s u p e r f i c i a l , s o m e t h i n g t h a t
e m e r g e s in f u l l — o f t e n liberating—flower only t h r o u g h struggle. In­
s o f a r as e t h n i c i t y is a d e e p l y r o o t e d e m o t i o n a l c o m p o n e n t o f i d e n t i t y ,
it is o f t e n t r a n s m i t t e d less t h r o u g h c o g n i t i v e l a n g u a g e o r l e a r n i n g (to
w h i c h sociology has almost entirely restricted itself) than t h r o u g h
mented in layers of language. Others who have become theoreticians of interest for the
present mood include Harold Bloom (like Derrida, concerned with intertextuality—in
his terms, "the anxiety of influence"); Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan (as semioticians
interested in the dynamics of what Freud called "the soul," locating what is repressed,
implicit, mediated, or what Tyler calls the "unsaid"); Wilhelm Dilthey, Clifford Geertz,
and Victor T u r n e r (as exploring constructivist understandings of symbolic meaning, in
Geertz's phrase "models of and models for"); Hans-Georg Gadamer (for his articulation
of meaning elicited through the juxtaposition of historical horizons and cultural tradi­
tions); Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault (for their inquiries into the hegemonic
power of language); Max and Uriel Weinreich and Michel Serres (for their concerns
with inter-reference and interlinguistics). It is no coincidence that the interest in these
authors—renewed interest in the case of Freud, Nietzsche, and Benjamin—(a reaction
against the New Criticism of the 1960s in literature, and against Parsonianism in an­
thropology) appears contemporaneously with the florescence of ethnic autobiography,
liiere is a commonality of inquiry characteristic of the present moment.
196
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
p r o c e s s e s a n a l o g o u s to the d r e a m i n g a n d transference o f p s y c h o ­
analytic encounters.
Second, w h a t is d i s c o v e r e d a n d r e i n v e n t e d i n t h e n e w w o r k s a b o u t
e t h n i c i t y is, p e r h a p s i n c r e a s i n g l y , s o m e t h i n g n e w : t o b e C h i n e s e A m e r i c a n is n o t t h e s a m e t h i n g as b e i n g C h i n e s e in A m e r i c a . I n t h i s
s e n s e t h e r e is n o r o l e m o d e l f o r b e c o m i n g C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n . It is a
m a t t e r o f finding a v o i c e o r style t h a t d o e s n o t v i o l a t e o n e ' s s e v e r a l
c o m p o n e n t s o f i d e n t i t y . I n part, s u c h a p r o c e s s o f a s s u m i n g a n e t h n i c
i d e n t i t y is a n i n s i s t e n c e o n a pluralist, m u l t i d i m e n s i o n a l , o r m u l t i f a c e t e d c o n c e p t o f self: o n e c a n b e m a n y d i f f e r e n t t h i n g s , a n d this
p e r s o n a l s e n s e c a n b e a c r u c i b l e f o r a w i d e r social e t h o s o f p l u r a l i s m .
Third, t h e s e a r c h o r s t r u g g l e f o r a s e n s e o f e t h n i c i d e n t i t y is a
(re-)invention a n d discovery o f a vision, both ethical a n d futureo r i e n t e d . W h e r e a s t h e s e a r c h f o r c o h e r e n c e is g r o u n d e d i n a c o n n e c ­
t i o n t o t h e past, t h e m e a n i n g a b s t r a c t e d f r o m t h a t past, a n i m p o r t a n t
c r i t e r i o n o f c o h e r e n c e , is a n e t h i c w o r k a b l e f o r t h e f u t u r e . S u c h vi­
sions c a n take a n u m b e r o f forms: they can b e both culturally specific
( e . g . , t h e biblical s t r a i n s o f black v i c t o r i e s o v e r o p p r e s s i o n ) a n d d i a l e c tically f o r m e d as c r i t i q u e s o f h e g e m o n i c i d e o l o g i e s ( e . g . , as a l t e r ­
n a t i v e s t o t h e m e l t i n g p o t r h e t o r i c o f a s s i m i l a t i o n to t h e b l a n d , n e u t r a l
s t y l e o f t h e c o n f o r m i s t 1950s).
T w o preliminary e x a m p l e s are both retrospective accounts ex­
p r e s s i n g s u r p r i s e at t h e p o w e r o f politically c h a r g e d c r y s t a l l i z a t i o n s .
I n American Immigrants in Israel ( 1 9 8 1 ) , K e v i n A v r u c h q u o t e s a n A m e r i ­
c a n w h o w r y l y r e c a l l s e x p l o d i n g at S D S e r s w h o a t t a c k e d I s r a e l i n
1 9 6 7 , g i v i n g t h e m Israel's c a s e i n g r e a t d e t a i l : "At t h e t i m e , I d i d n ' t
k n o w w h e r e t h a t a t t i t u d e a n d all t h a t i n f o r m a t i o n c a m e f r o m . " S i m i ­
larly, M a r i t a G o l d e n r e m e m b e r s b e i n g i n h i g h s c h o o l w h e n M a r t i n
L u t h e r King was assassinated:
T h e days after King's death saw an invisible barricade of tensions rise between
the white and black students at Western High School. T h e black students did
not know then that in a few months many of us would repudiate our white
friends, n o longer finding them "relevant." Finding instead their mere pres­
ence inconsistent with a "commitment to the struggle," which is what our lives
became overnight, (p. 15)
T h e s e p a s s a g e s i l l u s t r a t e a lack o f e x p l i c i t k n o w l e d g e , a s e n s e o f t h e
b u r i e d c o m i n g t o t h e s u r f a c e , a n d t h e c o m p u l s i o n o f a n "id-like"
f o r c e . T h e id, as F r e u d o r i g i n a l l y u s e d t h e t e r m , w a s m e r e l y das Es,
the it-ness o f e x p e r i e n c e , m a d e particularly p o t e n t for t h e G e r m a n s p e a k i n g c h i l d , w h o is r e f e r r e d t o i n t h e n e u t e r — d a s Kind—and
who
only gradually develops an acknowledged, engendered, individuated
self. T h e r e c o g n i t i o n o f s o m e t h i n g a b o u t one's e s s e n t i a l b e i n g t h u s
s e e m s t o s t e m f r o m o u t s i d e one's i m m e d i a t e c o n s c i o u s n e s s a n d c o n -
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
197
2
trol, a n d y e t r e q u i r e s a n e f f o r t o f s e l f - d e f i n i t i o n . E t h n i c i t y i n its c o n ­
t e m p o r a r y f o r m is t h u s n e i t h e r , as t h e s o c i o l o g i c a l l i t e r a t u r e w o u l d
h a v e it, s i m p l y a m a t t e r o f g r o u p p r o c e s s ( s u p p o r t s y s t e m s ) , n o r a
m a t t e r o f transition (assimilation), n o r a matter o f straightforward
t r a n s m i s s i o n f r o m g e n e r a t i o n to g e n e r a t i o n ( s o c i a l i z a t i o n ) .
In s o m e ways, the c o n t e m p o r a r y reinvention o f ethnic identity
t h r o u g h r e m e m b e r i n g is n o t h i n g n e w . T h e P y t h a g o r e a n n o t i o n o f
m e m o r y ( w h i c h f a s c i n a t e d Plato) a l s o c o n c e i v e d o f t h e w o r l d as o n e
o f o b l i v i o n , o f s u p e r f i c i a l a p p e a r a n c e s b e h i n d w h i c h lay t h e h i d d e n
realities. O n l y the soul that e n g a g e d in m e m o r y exercises, in re­
c o l l e c t i o n s , i n p r e s e r v i n g t h e k n o w l e d g e o f this w o r l d w h e n p r o c e e d ­
i n g t o t h e n e x t a n d a v o i d i n g t h e w a t e r s o f L e t h e (or A m e l e s ) w h e n
r e t u r n i n g t o this w o r l d f r o m t h e celestial r e a l m s w o u l d b e a b l e t o e s ­
c a p e t h e cycles o f rebirth, the flux o f m e a n i n g l e s s repetitions, a n d t h e
entropy toward reductions of h u m a n beings into mechanical or bes­
tial c i p h e r s . O n l y t h r o u g h m e m o r y , h o n e d by c o n s t a n t e x e r c i s e a n d
e f f o r t , c o u l d o n e p u r g e t h e sins o f p a s t lives, p u r i f y t h e s o u l , a s c e n d
a n d escape f r o m oblivious repetitions.
3
S o , too, c o n t e m p o r a r y ethnic re-creations are g i v e n i m p e t u s by
the fear not merely of being levelled into identical industrial h o m i n i d s , b u t o f l o s i n g a n e t h i c a l (celestial) v i s i o n t h a t m i g h t s e r v e t o r e n e w
t h e s e l f a n d e t h n i c g r o u p as w e l l as c o n t r i b u t e t o a r i c h e r , p o w e r f u l l y
d y n a m i c pluralist society. I n e x p l o r i n g w h y white A m e r i c a p r o d u c e s
b i o g r a p h i e s , w h i l e black A m e r i c a p r o d u c e s a u t o b i o g r a p h i e s , A r n o l d
R a m p e r s a d ( 1 9 8 3 ) p o i n t s o u t t h a t a u t o b i o g r a p h y (at least in its m o s t
p o t e n t f o r m s ) is p r e d i c a t e d o n a m o r a l v i s i o n , o n a v i b r a n t r e l a t i o n
b e t w e e n a sense o f self and a community, o n a retrospective o r pro­
p h e t i c a p p e a l t o a c o m m u n i t y o f spirit, b e it r e l i g i o u s o r social, o r o n
w h a t H a n s - G e o r g G a d a m e r m i g h t call a f e e l f o r a m o r a l t r a d i t i o n .
E t h n i c a n x i e t y , t h a t f e e l i n g w e l l i n g u p o u t o f m y s t e r i o u s d e p t h s , is
not the only interesting aspect of contemporary expressions o f eth­
nicity. R a t h e r , t h e y s e e m to b e a r e f l e x o f m o r e g e n e r a l c u l t u r a l p r o ­
c e s s e s . T o a W e s t e r n e r , late t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y s o c i e t y g l o b a l l y s e e m s t o
b e c h a r a c t e r i z e d by s u r f a c e h o m o g e n i z a t i o n , by t h e e r o s i o n o f p u b l i c
e n a c t m e n t s o f t r a d i t i o n , b y t h e loss o f ritual a n d h i s t o r i c a l r o o t e d n e s s .
Cultural e l e m e n t s s e e m to be increasingly f r a g m e n t e d , volitional,
a r b i t r a r y m a t t e r s o f p e r s o n a l style. C e l e b r a t i o n s a n d rituals i n t h e
U n i t e d States, for instance, often s e e m to be ironic, reflecting g o o d n a t u r e d nonbelief, skeptical, hedonistic, a n d c o m m e r c i a l in o v e r t o n e .
A n d y e t , c l e a r l y , t h e s e a r e r e a c t i o n s to t h e s u p e r f i c i a l i t i e s of s u c h sit4
•i. On Freud's usage, see Bruno Bettleheim (1983).
3. O n Pythagorean and Platonic notions of memory, see Jean-Pierre Vernant
(111(15/1983).
,|. Wilioml) K. Washburn, in Victor Turner, ed. ig82, 299.
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
ig8
u a t i o n s : as B e n j a m i n a n d F r e u d i n d i f f e r i n g w a y s p o i n t e d o u t , l a n ­
g u a g e i t s e l f c o n t a i n s s e d i m e n t e d layers o f e m o t i o n a l l y r e s o n a n t m e t a ­
p h o r s , k n o w l e d g e , a n d associations, which w h e n paid attention to c a n
b e e x p e r i e n c e d as d i s c o v e r i e s a n d r e v e l a t i o n s . I n d e e d , m u c h o f t h e
c o n t e m p o r a r y p h i l o s o p h i c a l m o o d (in literary criticism a n d a n t h r o ­
p o l o g y , as w e l l as i n p h i l o s o p h y ) is t o i n q u i r e i n t o w h a t is h i d d e n i n
l a n g u a g e , w h a t is d e f e r r e d by s i g n s , w h a t is p o i n t e d t o , w h a t is r e ­
p r e s s e d , implicit, or m e d i a t e d .
W h a t t h u s s e e m initially t o b e i n d i v i d u a l i s t i c a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l
s e a r c h i n g s t u r n o u t to b e r e v e l a t i o n s o f t r a d i t i o n s , r e - c o l l e c t i o n s o f
disseminated identities and of the divine sparks from the breaking
o f t h e v e s s e l s . T h e s e a r e a m o d e r n v e r s i o n o f t h e P y t h a g o r e a n arts o f
m e m o r y : retrospection to gain a vision for the future. In so b e c o m i n g ,
t h e s e a r c h e s a l s o t u r n o u t to b e p o w e r f u l c r i t i q u e s o f s e v e r a l c o n t e m ­
porary rhetorics of domination.
I n a period w h e n the writing and reception of e t h n o g r a p h y are
subjects o f m u c h interest and debate a m o n g anthropologists (see
M a r c u s a n d F i s c h e r 1986), t h e p e r s p e c t i v e s o n e t h n i c i t y e m b o d i e d i n
a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l literature s u g g e s t n e w ways o f r e a d i n g a n d writing
ethnographies.
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
!99
I n d i r e c t i o n ( v i d e Bialik a b o v e ) is i n h e r e n t i n l a n g u a g e u s e a n d s h o u l d
be e x p l o i t e d consciously rather than i g n o r e d , d e n i e d , a n d allowed to
m i s l e a d . D u r i n g the past two d e c a d e s ethnic a u t o b i o g r a p h e r s h a v e
p r o d u c e d brilliant e x p l o r a t i o n s a i m e d at r e d i s c o v e r i n g t h e s o u r c e s o f
l a n g u a g e , a n d t h e r e b y also t h e n a t u r e o f m o d e r n reality.
I n t h i n k i n g about h o w to read, analyze, a n d interpret these c o n ­
t e m p o r a r y a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l t e x t s , it o c c u r r e d to m e t h a t t h e e t h n i c
s e a r c h is a m i r r o r o f t h e bifocality t h a t h a s a l w a y s b e e n p a r t o f t h e
anthropological rationale: seeing others against a b a c k g r o u n d o f o u r ­
selves, a n d ourselves against a background of others. T h e j u x t a p o s i n g
o f exotic c u s t o m s to familiar o n e s , or the relativizing o f taken-forg r a n t e d a s s u m p t i o n s , h a s always b e e n t h e k i n d o f c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m
p r o m i s e d b y a n t h r o p o l o g y . T h i s bifocality, o r r e c i p r o c i t y o f p e r s p e c ­
t i v e s , h a s b e c o m e i n c r e a s i n g l y i m p o r t a n t in a w o r l d o f g r o w i n g i n t e r ­
d e p e n d e n c e b e t w e e n societies: m e m b e r s o f cultures described are in­
c r e a s i n g l y critical r e a d e r s o f e t h n o g r a p h y . N o l o n g e r c a n r h e t o r i c a l
figures o f t h e "primitive" or the "exotic" be u s e d with i m p u n i t y : audi­
e n c e s h a v e b e c o m e m u l t i p l e . "Bifocality" m o r e o v e r m u s t i n c r e a s i n g l y
b e a s h o r t h a n d f o r "two o r m o r e " c u l t u r e s i n j u x t a p o s i t i o n a n d c o m ­
p a r i s o n . S u c c e s s f u l c r o s s - c u l t u r a l c o m p a r i s o n r e q u i r e s at least a t h i r d
case to avoid simplistic better-worse j u d g m e n t s , to foster multiple axes
o f c o m p a r i s o n , a n d to e v o k e a sense o f the larger universes in w h i c h
c u l t u r e s a r e s i t u a t e d ( s e e also M a r c u s i n this v o l u m e ) . C u l t u r e s a n d
e t h n i c i t i e s as sets a r e m o r e like f a m i l i e s o f r e s e m b l a n c e s t h a n s i m p l e
typological trees.
5
II
Disseminations and Pro-Vocations
The word's power does not consist in its explicit content—if, generally
speaking, there is such a thing—-but in the diversion that is involved in it.
CHAIM NACHMAN BIALIK
T h e s t r a t e g y o f this p a p e r is t h r e e f o l d : e t h n o g r a p h i c l i s t e n ­
i n g , a t t e n t i o n t o c u l t u r a l criticism, a n d a t t e n t i o n t o e x p e r i m e n t a l writ­
i n g . First o f all, t h e s t r a t e g y is to l i s t e n to t h e v o i c e s o f s e v e r a l e t h n i c
g r o u p s t h r o u g h autobiographies. A u t o b i o g r a p h y was c h o s e n because,
l i k e e t h n o g r a p h y , it h a s a c o m m i t m e n t t o t h e a c t u a l . A u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l
f i c t i o n w a s also i n c l u d e d b e c a u s e t h e m o d a l i t i e s o f v e r a c i t y i n o u r a g e
c a n n o l o n g e r (if t h e y e v e r c o u l d ) b e l i m i t e d t o t h e c o n v e n t i o n s o f r e a l ­
i s m . I n d e e d , as M u r r a y B a u m g a r t e n r i g h t l y p o i n t s o u t , e v e r s i n c e t h e
m a s s i v e l i n g u i s t i c d i s t u r b a n c e s o f N a z i D e u t s c h , Stalinist R u s s i a n , a n d
other forms of twentieth-century double-think, including the deaden­
i n g l a n g u a g e o f A m e r i c a n officialese, "realism as trust i n l a n g u a g e is
n o l o n g e r r e a d i l y available"; it is as if "surrealist m o n t a g e , c u b i s t c o l ­
lage, a n d existentialist parable are the only appropriate possibilities"
( 1 9 8 2 : 1 1 7 ) . M o r e o v e r , t h e c o n v e n t i o n s o f r e a l i s m , e s p e c i a l l y as p r a c ­
ticed in traditional ethnography, themselves contain a n d are m a d e co­
h e r e n t t h r o u g h a l l e g o r i c a l m e t a p h o r s ( s e e C l i f f o r d in this v o l u m e ) .
T h e ethnic, t h e e t h n o g r a p h e r , a n d the cross-cultural scholar in
g e n e r a l o f t e n b e g i n with a personal e m p a t h e t i c "dual tracking," seek­
i n g i n t h e o t h e r c l a r i f i c a t i o n f o r p r o c e s s e s i n t h e self. O n e t h i n k s p e r ­
haps o f the great Islamic scholar a n d Catholic mystic Louis M a s s i g n o n ,
w h o u s e d S u f i s m as a p r o x y f o r his o w n d i l e m m a s i n a p o s t - C h r i s t i a n ,
anti-mystical world. Examples could be multiplied. A m o n g the m o s t
sensitive a n d best anthropological works are those that bring p e r s o n a l
e n g a g e m e n t s o f this s o r t i n t o play, albeit u s u a l l y o n l y as a s u b t e x t ,
rarely h i g h l i g h t e d or explicitly a c k n o w l e d g e d . O n e thinks o f the asso­
c i a t i o n b e t w e e n t h e late V i c t o r T u r n e r ' s e n g a g e m e n t w i t h N d e m b u rit­
ual a n d s y m b o l s a n d h i s t u r n t o C a t h o l i c i s m ; o f S t a n l e y T a m b i a h ' s
work o n B u d d h i s m in T h a i l a n d , which, unlike so m u c h written a b o u t
l l u d d h i s m b y W e s t e r n e r s , treats it w i t h r e s p e c t as a p o t e n t p o l i t i c a l
f o r c e , i n a n o b l i q u e a t t e m p t to u n d e r s t a n d its d y n a m i c s i n h i s o w n
d o u b l e d h o m e l a n d o f Sri L a n k a ; a n d p e r h a p s e v e n o f L é v i - S t r a u s s ,
5. This was ihr subject of a conference organized by M. C. Bateson at Coolfont,
Wrsl Virginia, in J nut' '()H,|, under the auspices of the Intercultural Foundation, with
support Ifoni ihr Wriiiiri (Iren Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the
( -roi |.;i'lowu I inivri nil y < '.miri lor I M e n ill!ut al Si udies.
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
200
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
201
w h o s e w o r k o n A m e r i c a n I n d i a n m y t h o l o g i e s m i g h t b e u n d e r s t o o d as
that can allow a kind o f dual or multiple tracking (between self a n d
a n a c t o f a t o n e m e n t f o r a w o r l d d e s t r o y e d , p a r a l l e l to t h e c r e a t i o n o f
o t h e r ) , that g e n e r a t e a rich, sympathetic curiosity for detail a n d cul­
t h e T a l m u d — t h a t is, a p r e s e r v a t i o n t o g e t h e r w i t h a critical a p p a r a t u s
t u r a l l o g i c , t h a t c a n b e s u b j e c t e d to m u t u a l c r i t i c i s m o r m u t u a l r e v e l a ­
p e r m i t t i n g r e g e n e r a t i v e use by future g e n e r a t i o n s . S u c h e n g a g e m e n t
tion f r o m both traditions. At the same time, o n e n e e d s a check against
n e e d n o t b e e t h n i c o r r e l i g i o u s in c o n t e n t : S t e v e n Feld's a c c o u n t i n g o f
a s s i m i l a t i n g t h e o t h e r t o t h e self, s e e i n g o n l y w h a t is s i m i l a r o r d i f f e r ­
K a l u l i a e s t h e t i c s , u t i l i z i n g h i s p e r f o r m e r ' s k n o w l e d g e a n d skills a s w e l l
e n t . O n e m u s t a v o i d c o m p a r i s o n by strict d u a l i s t i c c o n t r a s t . A t h i r d ,
6
as h i s a c a d e m i c o n e s , is o n e o f t h e h n e s t r e c e n t e x a m p l e s . H e is a b l e t o
f o u r t h , o r fifth c o m p a r i s o n i n e v i t a b l y i n v o l v e s
p r o v i d e not m e r e l y a convincing description but, m o r e important, a
a n d a sense o f larger universes o f significance. In ethnic autobiog­
multidimensionality,
critical a p p a r a t u s t h a t g i v e s t h e r e a d e r a set o f c o n c e p t u a l t o o l s w i t h
r a p h i e s , t h e t r y i n g o n o f a l t e r n a t i v e i d e n t i t i e s is o n e t e c h n i q u e
s e n s o r y a n d c o g n i t i v e bases radically different f r o m o u r o w n .
a c h i e v i n g this multidimensionality.
7
for
It s h o u l d b e c l e a r t h a t I a m n o t a d v o c a t i n g a r e d u c t i v e r e a d i n g o f
T h e s t r a t e g y f o r w r i t i n g this p a p e r , t h e n , h a s b e e n to j u x t a p o s e
e t h n o g r a p h i e s i n t e r m s o f t h e b i o g r a p h i e s o f t h e i r a u t h o r s . It is t r u e
five s e t s o f a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l w r i t i n g s , t h o s e o f A r m e n i a n - A m e r i c a n s ,
that professionals may adjust their readings o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s accord­
Chinese-Americans, Afro-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and
i n g to their k n o w l e d g e o f the writers. T h i s m a k e s r e a d i n g richer a n d
t i v e A m e r i c a n s . T h e i d e a is t o a l l o w m u l t i p l e sets o f v o i c e s to s p e a k f o r
Na­
m o r e i n f o r m e d . It a l l o w s t h e r e a d e r to b r i n g to t h e t e x t m a n y o f t h e
t h e m s e l v e s , w i t h m y o w n a u t h o r ' s v o i c e m u t e d a n d m a r g i n a l i z e d as
n u a n c e s , tacit u n d e r s t a n d i n g s , a n d i m p l i c i t p e r s p e c t i v e s t h a t i n f o r m e d
c o m m e n t a r y . W h i l e it r e m a i n s t r u e t h a t I s t a g e t h e s e v o i c e s , t h e r e a d e r
t h e w r i t e r — t o b r i n g , as P l a t o m i g h t say, a d e a d t e x t to f u l l e r l i f e .
8
But
is d i r e c t e d t o t h e o r i g i n a l s ; t h e t e x t is n o t h e r m e t i c a l l y s e a l e d , b u t
in t h e case o f casual or unsophisticated readers, r e a d i n g in terms o f
p o i n t s b e y o n d itself. P a r a l l e l w r i t i n g s f r o m m y o w n e t h n i c t r a d i t i o n
the b i o g r a p h y of the writer can be invidious a n d destructive, explain­
a r e e v o k e d i n t h e i n t r o d u c t i o n s a n d c o n c l u s i o n s as p o i n t s o f f u r t h e r
i n g a w a y t h e t e x t r a t h e r t h a n e n r i c h i n g it. W h a t I a m s u g g e s t i n g i n ­
c o n t a c t , i n o r d e r , as T z e v t a n T o d o r o v p u t s it ( 1 9 8 2 / 1 9 8 4 : 2 5 0 - 5 1 ) , t o
s t e a d is a r e a d i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i e s as t h e j u x t a p o s i t i o n o f t w o o r
a v o i d " t h e t e m p t a t i o n t o r e p r o d u c e t h e v o i c e s o f t h e s e figures 'as t h e y
m o r e c u l t u r a l t r a d i t i o n s a n d p a y i n g a t t e n t i o n b o t h in r e a d i n g a n d i n
r e a l l y are': to try to d o a w a y w i t h m y o w n p r e s e n c e 'for t h e o t h e r ' s
c o n s t r u c t i n g e t h n o g r a p h i e s t o t h e w a y s in w h i c h t h e j u x t a p o s i t i o n o f
s a k e ' . . . [ o r ] t o s u b j u g a t e t h e o t h e r to m y s e l f , t o m a k e h i m i n t o a
cultural traditions works o n b o t h the conscious a n d u n c o n s c i o u s lev­
marionette."
e l s . F o r m a n y t h e s e a r c h in a n o t h e r t r a d i t i o n , s u c h a s p e r h a p s G u l d e n ' s
W h a t e m e r g e s as a c o n c l u s i o n is n o t s i m p l y t h a t p a r a l l e l p r o c e s s e s
i n N i g e r i a o r m y o w n in I r a n , c a n s e r v e as a w a y o f e x p l o r i n g o n e ' s
o p e r a t e across A m e r i c a n ethnic identities, but a sense that these eth­
o w n past, n o w d i s a p p e a r e d forever. O n e n e e d s authentic a n c h o r a g e s
nicities constitute only a family o f resemblances, that ethnicity c a n n o t
6. T h e Talmud discusses the minutiae of temple worship, a form of worship long
gone by the time the Talmud was written. It thereby transformed what once were rules
of ritual into a tool for developing argumentation and dialectical skills (Neusner 1981).
So, too, Lévi-Strauss has tried to collect myths, many of which no longer function
in their original contexts, and, by collating them and suggesting procedures for inter­
preting them, has made them live again as the subjects of intellectual discussion a n d ,
intellectual growth (see Handleman 1982). No one, for instance, will ever again be able
to analyze a single incident, symbolic figure, or single myth variant apart from other
variants and other relevant myths, or be able to ignore the notion of myth as a kind of
language with rules of syntax and meanings generated systematically through con­
trastive differences of usage of incidents, characters, or symbols.
7. Feld's account moves from a textual analysis of a poem built around the call of
an abandoned child, to an analysis of the Kaluli typologies of birds based on sounds, to
a musical analysis of songs such as those vised in the Gisaro ritual, to the Kaluli rhetori­
cal analysis of the ways words are made poetic, and to an analysis of the Kaluli vocabu­
lary and theory of music, in which sonic structure is coded in metaphors of the move­
ment of water. Kaluli music, poetry, aesthetics, and epistemology in general are built
around sound, in striking contrast to Western epistemology, which privileges vision (see
also Tyler 1984c).
8. See Plato's Phaedrus and the commentary on it by Jacques Derrida in his Dis­
seminations.
cess o f inter-reference b e t w e e n two or m o r e cultural traditions, a n d
b e r e d u c e d t o i d e n t i c a l s o c i o l o g i c a l f u n c t i o n s , t h a t e t h n i c i t y is a p r o ­
that t h e s e d y n a m i c s o f intercultural k n o w l e d g e p r o v i d e reservoirs for
r e n e w i n g h u m a n e v a l u e s . E t h n i c m e m o r y is t h u s , o r o u g h t t o b e , f u ­
ture, n o t past, o r i e n t e d .
I f m u l t i p l e v o i c e s a r e e n g a g e d i n this e x p e r i m e n t , s o , t o o , it is
h o p e d , will m u l t i p l e r e a d e r s h i p s . B y i n v o k i n g t h e d i s c o u r s e s o f a
n u m b e r o f d i f f e r e n t g r o u p s , a c c e s s is p r o v i d e d t o t h e m f o r r e j o i n d e r .
' T h e d i s c o u r s e o f t h e t e x t is n o t s e a l e d by a p r o f e s s i o n a l r h e t o r i c o r
a u t h o r i t y t h a t d e n i e s s t a n d i n g to n o n p r o f e s s i o n a l i n t e r l o c u t o r s .
At
t h e s a m e t i m e , it d r a w s m e m b e r s o f t h e s e d i f f e r e n t e t h n i c d i s c o u r s e s
i n t o t h e c o m p a r a t i v e p r o j e c t o f a n t h r o p o l o g y . It d o e s n o t a l l o w e t h ­
nics to p r o t e s t m e r e l y o n t h e terms o f their intuitive u n d e r s t a n d i n g s
o f t h e i r o w n r h e t o r i c s , b u t a t t e m p t s to c o n c e i v e o f s u c h i n t u i t i o n as
but o n e valid source o f k n o w l e d g e .
F i n a l l y , t h e ability o f t e x t s s u c h as t h o s e r e v i e w e d i n t h i s p a p e r t o
deliver cultural criticism without the stereotypic distortions that tradi-
Ethnicity a n d the Arts o f Memory
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
202
203
A s i m p l e organization by t e c h n i q u e alone also leads to t h e d a n g e r o f
t i o n a l c r o s s - c u l t u r a l c a t e g o r i z a t i o n s h a v e o f t e n p r o d u c e d is a n i m p o r ­
tant m o d e l for ethnography. N o greater indictments o f racism in
r e d u c i n g t h e p o l y p h o n y a n d t e x t u r e o f m u l t i p l e styles o f a n y e t h n i c
A m e r i c a e x i s t t h a n C h a r l i e M i n g u s ' s Beneath the Underdog, R a u l Salinas's
writing tradition into a m e r e e x a m p l e for a univocal a r g u m e n t .
" A T r i p T h r o u g h t h e M i n d Jail," t h e a n g r y w r i t i n g s o f F r a n k C h i n , t h e
A m o n g t h e e l e m e n t s o f t e x t u r e (apart f r o m style, m u l t i p l e t e c h ­
portraits o f trauma by James Welch or Gerald Vizenor. N o n e o f these,
niques, a n d dialogue with predecessors) are explorations o f psycho­
h o w e v e r , m e r e l y indicts, a n d certainly n o n e b l a m e s only o p p r e s s o r s
a n a l y t i c a n d f e m i n i s t p e r s p e c t i v e s . It is s t r i k i n g t h e d e g r e e t o w h i c h
o u t s i d e t h e s e l f a n d e t h n i c g r o u p ; all Actively d e m o n s t r a t e t h e c r e a ­
c o n t e m p o r a r y autobiographers are f o n d o f d e p l o y i n g psychoanalytic
t i o n o f n e w i d e n t i t i e s a n d w o r l d s . R a t h e r t h a n n a i v e e f f o r t s at d i r e c t
l a n g u a g e a n d / o r logic to describe o r m o d e l ethnic processes. S o m e ­
representation, they suggest o r evoke cultural e m e r g e n c e (see Tyler in
w h a t l e s s i n n o v a t i v e a r e t h e w a y s e t h n i c i t y is e n g e n d e r e d .
this v o l u m e ) . O n e o f t h e reasons for t h e relative sense that these por­
h e r i t a g e is o f t e n
figured
Cultural
in paternal o r maternal imagery. C h i l d r e n
traits a r e l e s s s t e r e o t y p e d is t h e i r a t t e n t i o n t o t h e i n e f f e c t i v e n e s s o f
p a t t e r n t h e m s e l v e s , a f t e r all, o n b o t h s a m e a n d o p p o s i t e s e x p a r e n t s
t e x t u a l t e c h n i q u e s — t h a t is, t h e s e l f - c o n s c i o u s e m p l o y m e n t o f s u c h
(or o t h e r adults) in c o m p l e x , o f t e n reactive, ways. O n e e t h n o g r a p h i c
d e v i c e s as t r a n s f e r e n c e , d r e a m - t r a n s l a t i o n , t a l k - s t o r y , m u l t i p l e v o i c e s
way to ask if a n d h o w c o n t e m p o r a r y debates a b o u t g e n d e r roles a r e
a n d perspectives, t h e highlighting o f h u m o r o u s inversions a n d dialec­
r e f l e c t e d h e r e is t o p a y a t t e n t i o n t o b o t h m a l e a n d f e m a l e a u t h o r s ,
tical j u x t a p o s i t i o n o f i d e n t i t i e s / t r a d i t i o n s / c u l t u r e s , a n d t h e c r i t i q u e o f
male a n d female imagery.
h e g e m o n i c discourses. I n t h e fashionable j a r g o n o f t h e day, t h e y illus­
trate intertextuality, inter-reference, a n d the interlinguistic
W e p r o c e e d f r o m t h e pain o f silence to t h e w i s d o m o f laughter.
modali­
t i e s o f p o s t - m o d e r n i s t k n o w l e d g e . O n t h e p r a c t i c a l l e v e l , s u c h self-
Transference
conscious a n d virtuoso technique could contribute to a reinvigorated
My ancestors talk
e t h n o g r a p h i c l i t e r a t u r e , o n e t h a t c a n a g a i n fulfill t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l
p r o m i s e o f cultural criticism: o f m a k i n g o u r t a k e n - f o r - g r a n t e d ways
r e c o g n i z a b l e as s o c i o c u l t u r a l c o n s t r u c t i o n s f o r w h i c h w e c a n e x e r c i s e
responsibility.
I n t h e w o r k i n g d r a f t o f t h i s p a p e r , t h e five s o u r c e s ( e t h n i c i t i e s ) o f
ethnic autobiography each provided a separate section. I attempted to
s u g g e s t s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h e r a n g e o r historical trajectory o f a u t o b i o ­
g r a p h i c a l w r i t i n g w i t h i n e a c h e t h n i c i t y , as w e l l as t o h i g h l i g h t i n e a c h
s e c t i o n a d i f f e r e n t s e n s e of, a n d t e c h n i q u e f o r c a p t u r i n g , e t h n i c i t y .
T h a t o r g a n i z a t i o n , a l t h o u g h close to t h e e t h n o g r a p h i c d i s c o v e r y strat­
egy, p r o v e d u n w i e l d y for readers. I n t h e p r e s e n t draft, I have re­
v e r s e d t h e h i e r a r c h i c a l s t r e s s : e a c h s e c t i o n f o c u s e s o n a w r i t i n g tactic,
yet I retain t h e division by ethnicity because there d o e s s e e m to b e
s o m e c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n particular e x p e r i e n c e s o f ethnic g r o u p s a n d
t h e t e c h n i q u e s u s e d to capture, reveal, or exorcise those e x p e r i e n c e s .
to me in dangling
myths.
Each word a riddle
each dream
heirless.
On sunny days
I bury
words.
They put out roots
and coil around
forgotten syntax.
Next spring a full
blown anecdote
will Sprout.
DIANA DER HOVANESSIAN, "Learning an Ancestral Tongue"
10
T h i s d o e s n o t m e a n t h a t a n y tactic o r t e c h n i q u e is u s e d e x c l u s i v e l y b y
w r i t e r s o f a g i v e n e t h n i c i t y . ( Q u i t e t h e c o n t r a r y : all t h e s e t e c h n i q u e s
out thinking o f Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), Claude Brown's Manchila in the
a r e a v a i l a b l e t o , a n d a r e u s e d by, w r i t e r s o f all e t h n i c i t i e s . ) H o w e v e r ,
Promised Land (1965), Maya Angelou's / Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (ig6g), The Auto­
w h a t a s i m p l e o r g a n i z a t i o n by t e c h n i q u e a l o n e w o u l d e n d a n g e r is
t h e s e n s e o f historical trajectory o f writing i n e a c h e t h n i c t r a d i t i o n .
9
9. For instance, Amerindian writing draws on a long tradition of philosophical,
mythic, and simply humorous engagement with trickster figures. Black autobiographical
writing is also a long-established tradition. One can trace it back to the slave narratives o f
Muslim West Africans (and others) brought to America, and, more immediately in the
modern period, black autobiographies contributed to the core development of the
post—World War I I civil rights movement. That inovemenl is hard 10 conceive of with-
biography of Malcolm X (with Alex Haley, 1973), Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice (1968).
Chinese-American (like Mexican-American) writing has generated class-linked differ­
ential reactions. Some Chinese-Americans whose families did not experience the rail­
roads, sweatshops, and Chinatowns resent Kingston's books as giving further credence
lo stereotypes. Male writers, such as Frank Chin and Jeffrey Paul Chan, have also criti­
cized Kingston for pandering to stereotypic exoticism, rather than creating alternative
visions (Kim 1982).
10. Compare William Saroyan carrying fragments of his father's writings on
scraps o f paper, like seeds that inspire his imagination (Here Comes There Goes You Know
Who, p. 36).
204
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
M i c h a e l A l i e n ' s Passage to Ararat ( 1 9 7 5 ) is a n a r c h e t y p i c a l t e x t
for displaying the "transference" m e c h a n i s m s o f ethnicity, a n d for
c o m i n g t o t e r m s w i t h a n i d - l i k e f o r c e , e x p e r i e n c e d as d e f i n i n g o n e ' s
self, y e t c o m i n g f r o m w i t h o u t . C r u c i a l h e r e is t h e c o n q u e s t o f a n a n x i ­
e t y t h a t m a n i f e s t s itself t h r o u g h r e p e t i t i o n o f b e h a v i o r a l p a t t e r n s , a n d
that c a n n o t b e articulated in rational l a n g u a g e but can only b e acted
o u t . T h e a n a l o g y h e r e is w i t h t h e t h i r d o f t h e t h r e e m o d e s o f c o m m u ­
n i c a t i o n r o u t i n e l y d i s t i n g u i s h e d in p s y c h o a n a l y t i c t h e r a p y : c o g n i t i v e ,
rational, conscious investigation; translation f r o m d r e a m s into linear,
textlike verbalizations (thereby introducing the distortions o f the me­
d i a t i n g l a n g u a g e ) ; a n d t r a n s f e r e n c e , i n w h i c h n o t e x t is p r o d u c e d , b u t
rather a repetition toward the analyst of behavior patterns previously
established t o w a r d s o m e prior significant other.
Michael Alien's ethnic anxiety b e g i n s with the silence o f his father
a b o u t t h e A r m e n i a n p a s t . B y a t t e m p t i n g to s p a r e c h i l d r e n k n o w l e d g e
o f p a i n f u l past e x p e r i e n c e s , parents o f t e n create an obsessive void i n
t h e c h i l d t h a t m u s t b e e x p l o r e d a n d filled i n . A r l e n c l a i m s h e h a s n o
obvious childhood experiences except the warmth and family hap­
p i n e s s o f e a t i n g i n t h e G o l d e n H o r d e R e s t a u r a n t (a f a v o r i t e , as w e l l , o f
W i l l i a m S a r o y a n ' s ) . Yet t h e s i l e n c e o f h i s f a t h e r is a d r a m a t i c a l l y e n ­
a c t e d a m b i v a l e n c e full o f i m p o r t f o r t h e s o n : t h e f a t h e r a t t e m p t s a n d
s p e c t a c u l a r l y fails t o b e c o m e E n g l i s h , c h a n g e s his n a m e , ( a l t h o u g h a
w r i t e r ) d o e s n o t w r i t e o r talk a b o u t A r m e n i a n s , m a r r i e s a n o t h e r e x i l e
(a G r e e k - A m e r i c a n ) , d r e s s e s "with t h e m e t i c u l o u s c a r e o f t h e i d l e o r
i n s e c u r e , " a t t e m p t s to h o l d c o u r t at t h e St. R e g i s H o t e l , c o m e s h o m e
t o m e a l s " d e v o i d o f taste o r p e r s o n a l i t y , " p a c e s i n "a little r o o m e u p h e ­
m i s t i c a l l y c a l l e d t h e library," s e n d s h i s c h i l d r e n t o b o a r d i n g s c h o o l ,
a n d e v e n t u a l l y m o v e s to A m e r i c a w h e n a n t i - f o r e i g n s p e e c h e s a r e
m a d e i n P a r l i a m e n t . I n A m e r i c a , h e feels' h i m s e l f a n i n e f f e c t u a l A r ­
m e n i a n , a b e t t e d b y his u n c e r t a i n t y a b o u t h o w to treat h i s c h i l d r e n ; y e t
h e l a n d s h i s first A m e r i c a n j o b w i t h w h a t his s o n r e m e m b e r s as a vir­
t u o s o t r i u m p h o f A r m e n i a n wile: m o v i e p r o d u c e r Louis M a y e r asks
h i m w h a t h e is g o i n g t o d o ; h e r e s p o n d s t h a t h e h a s b e e n t a l k i n g t o
S a m G o l d w y n ( w h o h a d t o l d h i m to try r a c e h o r s e s ) . M a y e r : H o w
m u c h d i d h e o f f e r y o u ? A r l e n , Sr.: N o t e n o u g h . M a y e r : H o w a b o u t
$ 1 , 5 0 0 f o r t h i r t y w e e k s ? A r l e n : I'll take it.
M i c h a e l Arlen's s t a t e m e n t a b o u t t h e G o l d e n H o r d e R e s t a u r a n t
b e i n g h i s o n l y real A r m e n i a n c h i l d h o o d e x p e r i e n c e is f o l l o w e d b y a
s t a t e m e n t o f a m b i v a l e n c e a b o u t h i s f a t h e r . I n d e e d h i s t e x t is s t r u c t u r e d
— b e g i n n i n g , middle, and e n d — w i t h paternal imagery. Beginning:
I was only slightly curious about my Armenian background—or so I thought,
although if I had understood how to acknowledge such matters, I might have
k n o w n that I was haunted by it. Mostly I was afraid of il
What was I
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
205
afraid o f ? . . . Probably of being e x p o s e d in some way, or pulled d o w n by the
connection: that association of difference . . . with something deeply pe­
jorative . . . A n d in the e n d I came to hate my father for my fear. . . . I loved
him too . . . H e was my father. But also I was afraid of him. S o m e t h i n g always
lay between u s — s o m e t h i n g unspoken and (it seemed) unreachable. We were
strangers. ( 1 9 7 5 : 7 )
A r l e n d e s c r i b e s t h e a m b i v a l e n c e s ( p a r a l l e l i n g his father's) g e n e r a t e d
i n h i m s e l f : t h e c h i l d h o o d f e a r s t h a t his A n g l o - A m e r i c a n c a m o u f l a g e
w o u l d c o m e u n d o n e (terror for himself w h e n h e sees a J e w i s h boy
b e i n g b e a t e n ; a Scottish boy asserting that A r l e n c o u l d n o t possibly
b e E n g l i s h ) ; t h e f e a r o f g e t t i n g t o o e m o t i o n a l l y c l o s e to A r m e n i a n s ;
a n d a b o v e all, b e i n g u n a b l e t o r e a d a b o u t t h e m a s s a c r e s o f t h e A r m e ­
n i a n s b y t h e O t t o m a n s ( b e c o m i n g a n g r y , b u t i r r a t i o n a l l y n o t at t h e
Ottomans)."
T o e x o r c i s e this a n x i e t y , A r l e n visits S o v i e t A r m e n i a . Initially t h e
a m b i v a l e n c e r e c u r s : inability to f e e l a n y t h i n g at t h e m o n u m e n t s ;
a n g e r at t h e tourists' slurs a n d stereotypes about A r m e n i a n s c o n f i d e d
t o h i m as a p p a r e n t l y s i m p l y a n A m e r i c a n t o u r i s t . E v e n t u a l l y , h o w e v e r ,
t h e r e is e n g a g e m e n t , a m o v e m e n t o u t s i d e o f h i m s e l f , a r e c o g n i t i o n o f
c o n n e c t i o n s b e t w e e n his personal d i l e m m a s a n d t h o s e o f o t h e r A r m e ­
n i a n s . A r l e n i g n i t e s t h e a n g e r o f h i s A r m e n i a n g u i d e by a s k i n g a b o u t
A r m e n i a n s u b m i s s i v e n e s s to t h e O t t o m a n s , t h e i r c o l l u s i o n i n t h e i r
o w n s e c o n d - c l a s s s t a t u s . T h e g u i d e a c c u s e s h i m o f w a n t i n g to t e a r
d o w n h i s f a t h e r ( " F a t h e r l a n d , f a t h e r . I t i s t h e s a m e t h i n g " [ 1 9 7 5 : 98].):
"'All t h a t A n g l o - S a x o n c o o l n e s s a n d d e t a c h m e n t . . . . N o t l i k e a p r o p e r
s o n ! ' . . . A n d t h e n Sarkis s u d d e n l y t o o k m y h a n d s i n h i s , a n d I l o o k e d
i n t o h i s f a c e a n d saw t h a t h e w a s c r y i n g " (ibid: 99).
F o l l o w i n g this c a t h a r t i c b r e a k t h r o u g h , a p i c t u r e o f a n e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y . m e r c h a n t f r o m E r z u r u m b r i n g s a n a s s o c i a t i v e flash. T h e f a c e
r e m i n d s A r l e n o f h i s f a t h e r : " b u r n i n g e y e s in a c o m p o s e d , i m p a s s i v e
lace": "I r e a l i z e d at t h a t m o m e n t t h a t to b e a n A r m e n i a n , t o h a v e l i v e d
as a n A r m e n i a n , w a s t o h a v e b e c o m e s o m e t h i n g crazy . . . c r a z e d , t h a t
d e e p t h i n g — d e e p w h e r e t h e d e e p - s e a s o u l s o f h u m a n b e i n g s twist
a n d t u r n " (ibid: 1 0 3 ) . H i s f a t h e r h a d a t t e m p t e d to f r e e h i m o f t h e
pain o f t h e past, b u t s u d d e n l y Michael A r l e n r e m e m b e r s his father
t e l l i n g h i m "with s u p r i s i n g s e v e r i t y a n d i n t e n s i t y " ( p . 139) w h e n h e
w a s e i g h t t o l e a r n t o b o x . A r l e n s p e c u l a t e s o n t h e effects o f c e n t u r i e s
12
1 1. Compare Saroyan's distorted anger at his father (ibid., p. 36).
12. Compare Saroyan's comic version, as Bedrosian (1982: 287) aptly characterizes
il: "Homeless except for each other, forced to create an entire heritage through a
chance meeting, demonstrating through their boyant, child-like spirits that life is comic
alter all, [and adding further historical-epic depth] these Armenians remind us of the
irrepressible and wacky daredevils of Sassoon."
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
2o6
o f p r o v o c a t i o n f r o m the s u r r o u n d i n g majority population, A r m e n i a n
p r o t e s t , m o b r e s p o n s e ( t h e classic d y n a m i c , M a r g a r e t B e d r o s i a n c o m ­
m e n t s , o f a b u l l y c o m m i t t i n g a m i s d e e d o n t h e sly, t h e n f e i g n i n g b e i n g
w r o n g e d w h e n t h e v i c t i m c r i e s o u t ; a n d s h e cites t h e O t t o m a n i n t e ­
rior m i n i s t e r T a l a a t B e y : "We've b e e n r e p r o a c h e d f o r m a k i n g n o d i s ­
t i n c t i o n b e t w e e n t h e i n n o c e n t A r m e n i a n s a n d t h e guilty, b u t t h a t w a s
u t t e r l y i m p o s s i b l e i n v i e w o f t h e fact t h a t t h o s e w h o w e r e i n n o c e n t t o ­
d a y m i g h t b e g u i l t y t o m o r r o w " [ B e d r o s i a n 1982: 234]). S u c h a n e n ­
v i r o n m e n t leads to a turning inward: " T h e eyes [of the portrait]
s e e m e d a l m o s t t o b u r n o u t at m e . B u r n i n g e y e s in a f r o z e n f a c e . . .
d i d h e set his e x p r e s s i o n , freeze part o f himself, his face—all save t h e
e y e s , w h i c h n o m a n c a n c o n t r o l — a n d t a p h i s finger o n t h e c o f f e e c u p ,
a n d c u r l a n d u n c u r l his h a n d i n s i d e his w e l l - c u t p o c k e t . . . a n d man­
age?" (102 — 3). S u c h a n e n v i r o n m e n t A r l e n s p e c u l a t e s l e a d s t o arts o f
m i n i a t u r i z a t i o n , i n this c a s e n o t a c r e a t i v e e x p r e s s i o n t h r o u g h s m a l l n e s s , b u t a n o b s e s s i v e g e s t u r e , a n e f f o r t to b e c o m e i n v i s i b l e .
A n x i e t y c o n f r o n t e d , diagnosis e x p l o r e d , the book e n d s again with
t h e f a t h e r , w i t h d r e a m s as a n i n d e x o f t h e l i b e r a t i o n a c h i e v e d . M i c h a e l
A r l e n recalls h i s father's a n x i e t y d r e a m s a b o u t his f a t h e r : n o t b e i n g
a b l e t o u n d e r s t a n d his A r m e n i a n . M i c h a e l A r l e n reflects t h a t h e ,
M i c h a e l , n o l o n g e r d r e a m s s o f r e q u e n t l y o f h i s f a t h e r (his p a s s a g e t o
A r a r a t h a s b e e n l i b e r a t i n g ) . A s h e p u t s it, t h e n e e d to s e t t h e f a t h e r
f r e e h a s b e e n m e t ( p . 292).
13
A r l e n ' s t e x t is s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d a n d s e l f - c o n s c i o u s , d e s c r i b i n g e t h ­
n i c a n x i e t y as a n a p p r o a c h - a v o i d a n c e t o a p a s t t h a t is l a r g e r t h a n o n e ­
self, t h a t is r e c o g n i z e d by o t h e r s as d e f i n i n g o f o n e ' s i d e n t i t y , a n d y e t
t h a t d o e s n o t s e e m to c o m e f r o m one's o w n e x p e r i e n c e . It m a k e s o n e
f e e l n o t i n c o n t r o l o f o n e ' s o w n b e i n g . It is a historical reality p r i n c i p l e :
i n d i v i d u a l e x p e r i e n c e c a n n o t b e a c c o u n t e d f o r by itself. It e x p r e s s e s
i t s e l f i n r e p e t i t i o n s . Yet h e c o n c l u d e s w e a k l y o n a f a l s e n o t e . H e
c l a i m s h i s is a tale o f c o n q u e s t , o f finding p e a c e a n d s e c u r i t y : " H o w
s t r a n g e t o finally m e e t one's past: t o s i m p l y m e e t it, t h e w a y o n e m i g h t
finally a c k n o w l e d g e a p e r s o n w h o h a d b e e n i n o n e ' s c o m p a n y a l o n g
w h i l e , 'So it's y o u ' " (253). A n x i e t y , h e s e e m s t o say, is r e l i e v e d b y e s t a b ­
l i s h i n g c o n t i n u i t y w i t h t h e p a s t w h e r e p r e v i o u s l y t h e r e w a s b r e a c h , si­
lence, anxiety. T h e r e s e e m s to be almost a failure h e r e to create for
t h e f u t u r e , s o m e t h i n g p e r h a p s figured in t h e t e x t b y t h e a b s e n c e o f
his A m e r i c a n - G r e e k m o t h e r .
14
13. "What [is] one to make of such a story? I use the word 'make' in the sense of'to
fashion'; or . . . 'to re-create'" (p. 177).
14. Michael Arlen the writer, his father the writer; the father as the immigrant to
America, the guide in Soviet Armenia, the eighteenth-century Erzurum merchant; the
Armenian heritage in general.
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
207
M i c h a e l A r l e n is b u t o n e o f a g r a d u a l l y g r o w i n g n u m b e r o f A r m e ­
nian literary voices, several o f w h o m have b e e n r e v i e w e d in a r e c e n t
dissertation by Margaret B e d r o s i a n . T h e t h e m e o f p u z z l e m e n t , o f o b ­
s c u r e f a t h e r s , is a s t r o n g r e c u r r e n t o n e , b u t m a t e r n a l i m a g e r y c a n b e
equally strong.' In another m e d i u m , the painter Arshile Gorky uses
i m a g e s o f his m o t h e r and transferencelike techniques o f indirection,
r e p e t i t i o n , a n d r e w o r k i n g . G o r k y ( b o r n V o s d a n i g A d o i a n in 1904 o f a
l i n e o f t h i r t y - e i g h t g e n e r a t i o n s o f priests) w a s a s u r v i v o r o f t h e m a s ­
s a c r e s , c h i l d o f a m o t h e r w h o d i e d o f s t a r v a t i o n at t h i r t y - n i n e , n o t e a t ­
i n g s o t h a t h e r c h i l d r e n m i g h t live. H e c h o s e t h e n a m e s " t h e b i t t e r
o n e " (Gorky) a n d Achilles (Arshile) w h o s e wrath kept h i m f r o m battle
u n t i l a n e w w r a t h i m p e l l e d h i m t o act. A b s t r a c t i o n a n d e x p r e s s i o n i s m
were for h i m techniques, not of spontaneity and the a u t o n o m o u s un­
c o n s c i o u s , b u t o f m a s k i n g v u l n e r a b l e t r u t h s . D u r i n g W o r l d W a r II, h e
i s s u e d a n i n v i t a t i o n f o r a c o u r s e in c a m o u f l a g e : " A n e p i d e m i c o f d e ­
s t r u c t i o n s w e e p s t h r o u g h t h e w o r l d today. T h e m i n d o f c i v i l i z e d m a n
is s e t t o s t o p it. W h a t t h e e n e m y w o u l d d e s t r o y , h o w e v e r , h e m u s t first
s e e . T o c o n f u s e a n d p a r a l y z e h i s v i s i o n is t h e r o l e o f c a m o u f l a g e "
( q u o t e d i n B e d r o s i a n 1982: 3 5 5 ) . H i s p a i n t i n g s a r e c a r e f u l l y r e ­
w o r k e d i m a g e s : o f h i s m o t h e r , o f his natal v i l l a g e n e a r L a k e V a n , of
t h e f a m i l y g a r d e n i n t h a t v i l l a g e , o f t h e T r e e o f t h e C r o s s u s e d b y vil­
lagers to attach supplications to G o d . His slogans w e r e clear: "From
o u r A r m e n i a n e x p e r i e n c e will I c r e a t e n e w f o r m s t o i g n i t e m i n d s a n d
m a s s a g e hearts!"; " H a v i n g a tradition enables y o u to tackle n e w p r o b ­
lems with authority, with solid footing."
5
T r a n s f e r e n c e , t h e r e t u r n o f t h e r e p r e s s e d in n e w f o r m s , a n d r e p e ­
t i t i o n s w i t h t h e i r d i s t o r t i o n s a r e all m e c h a n i s m s t h r o u g h w h i c h e t h ­
nicity is g e n e r a t e d . T h e y also s u g g e s t p o s s i b l e w r i t i n g tactics. T h r e e
uses o f t r a n s f e r e n c e a n d repetition can be distinguished in r e c e n t
e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g . First, t h e r e is t h e d i s c o v e r y o r e l i c i t i n g o f p s y ­
chological patterns of transference proper a m o n g ethnographic sub­
jects, as i n t h e w o r k o f G a n a n a t h O b e y e s e k e r e ( 1 9 8 1 ) , w h e r e , m o r e ­
o v e r , s u c h s y s t e m a t i c p a t t e r n s g e n e r a t e n e w social f o r m s . S e c o n d ,
I h e r e is t h e analy. is o f c h a n g e t h r o u g h i n t e n d e d r e p e t i t i o n s t h a t i n
fact w o r k t h r o u g h m i s a p p r o p r i a t i o n o r d i s t o r t i o n . T h e classic s u c h
h i g h l i g h t i n g o f t h e i n d i r e c t i o n o f c u l t u r a l d y n a m i c s is Marx's o b s e r v a lions o n the French Revolution using borrowed language and cos­
iti m e s f r o m t h e R o m a n R e p u b l i c a n d o n h i s t o r y n e v e r w o r k i n g o u t
15. See for instance the two lovely poems by David Kherdian about an old man
("Dedeh Dedeh") and an old woman ("Sparrow"), each representing the Armenian
past, reproduced in Bedrosian (1982).
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
2o8
Ethnicity a n d the Arts of Memory
209
M a r s h a l l Sahlins's r e c e n t b o o k o n
p r o c e s s o f i n t e g r a t i o n is a n a l o g o u s t o t h a t e x p e r i e n c e d b y t h e a n a l y -
C a p t a i n C o o k a n d t h e structural c h a n g e s Hawaiian society u n d e r w e n t
s a n d in psychoanalytic therapy, w h o must translate f r o m t h e i m a g e r y
in t h e p e r i o d f o l l o w i n g his d e a t h similarly exploits t h e d e l i n e a t i o n
o f d r e a m s into verbal discourse so that both h e a n d t h e analyst c a n
o f i n t e n d e d repetition or reproduction o f cultural forms l e a d i n g to
r e a s o n t h r o u g h it. T h e p r o c e s s o f a r t i c u l a t i n g w h a t it m e a n s t o b e
u n i n t e n d e d distortion, inversion, and change. Third, and perhaps
C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n , f o r K i n g s t o n , is t h e p r o c e s s o f c r e a t i n g a t e x t t h a t
m o s t i n t r i g u i n g , t h e r e is t h e s u g g e s t i o n o f V i n c e n t C r a p a n z a n o i n
can be interrogated and made coherent.
the s a m e way the second time.
1 6
Tuhami (1980) t h a t i n p a r t t h e d y n a m i c o f t h e i n t e r v i e w s b e t w e e n h i m ­
T h e first f r a g m e n t , " N o N a m e W o m a n , " is t h e tale o f a f a t h e r ' s sis­
self a n d T u h a m i was o n e o f mutual transference, with T u h a m i placing
t e r w h o h a s a n i l l e g i t i m a t e c h i l d , is f o r c e d b y t h e e n r a g e d v i l l a g e r s t o
the e t h n o g r a p h e r in t h e uncomfortable role o f curer.
Crapanzano
h a v e t h e child in a pigsty, a n d w h o t h e n c o m m i t s suicide. T h e story,
s u g g e s t s that m a n y e t h n o g r a p h i c situations partake o f this a m b i g u i t y :
says K i n g s t o n , w a s t o l d t o w a r n y o u n g girls ( " n o w t h a t y o u h a v e s t a r t e d
i n f o r m a n t s p r e s e n t a n d tailor i n f o r m a t i o n as if t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t
t o m e n s t r u a t e " [5]), b u t a l s o t o test t h e A m e r i c a n - b o r n c h i l d r e n ' s abil­
w e r e a g o v e r n m e n t official, a p h y s i c i a n , o r o t h e r a g e n t o f a i d o r d a n ­
ity t o e s t a b l i s h r e a l i t i e s : t o d i s t i n g u i s h w h a t is p e c u l i a r t o o n e ' s f a m i l y ,
g e r ; t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t is p l a c e d i n p o s i t i o n s t h a t c o n s t r a i n h i s a c ­
to poverty, to C h i n e s e n e s s . T h e o b s c u r e story gains force as K i n g s t o n
tions, a n d h e , t o o , creates roles for the informant. In o t h e r w o r d s t h e
c o n s i d e r s t h e a l t e r n a t i v e p o s s i b l e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s it m i g h t c o n t a i n : w a s
e m e r g e n c e o f e t h n o g r a p h i c k n o w l e d g e is n o t u n l i k e t h e c r e a t i o n o f
this a u n t c o e r c e d (a f i g u r e o f f e m a l e o b e d i e n c e ) o r w a s s h e a n a c t i v e
e t h n i c i d e n t i t y . C r a p a n z a n o h i n t s at this also i n a n a r t i c l e r e p o r t i n g
temptress: i n d e e d why, since she was married to a h u s b a n d off in
a possession case, w h e r e h e interviews the husband,
A m e r i c a , w a s s h e still i n h e r n a t a l h o m e r a t h e r t h a n i n h e r h u s b a n d ' s
a n d his wife interviews the wife, Dawia.
1 7
Muhammad,
N o t only d o the possessed
parents' h o u s e — p r e v i o u s transgressions? T h e aunt b e c a m e a n alle­
couple present different versions o f the same event, but these versions
g o r y o f i n t e r n a l s t r u g g l e s f o r t h e a d o l e s c e n t K i n g s t o n : all y o u n g
depend
w o m e n w i s h to b e attractive to t h e o p p o s i t e s e x , b u t selectively: h o w to
u p o n the interlocutors, there being perhaps e v e n a mild
rivalry b e t w e e n t h e t w o e t h n o g r a p h e r s . By r e c o g n i z i n g s u c h d y n a m i c s
m a k e a C h i n e s e fall i n l o v e w i t h m e , b u t n o t C a u c a s i a n s , N e g r o e s , o r
of
informants-
Japanese? Ambiguities e x p l o d e : w o m e n are, o f course, d e v a l u e d in
collaborators gain a m o r e d y n a m i c role, a n d w e b e g i n to s e e o u r o w n
C h i n e s e s o c i e t y , y e t t h i s aunt's f a t h e r h a d h a d o n l y s o n s b e f o r e t h e
bases o f k n o w l e d g e as m o r e subtly constructed t h r o u g h t h e action o f
a u n t w a s b o r n a n d h a d a t t e m p t e d t o t r a d e a b o y - i n f a n t f o r a girl-
o t h e r s . O u r k n o w l e d g e is s h o w n t o b e less o b j e c t i v e , m o r e n e g o t i a t e d
infant: presumably, h e loved his only d a u g h t e r a n d p e r h a p s e n c o u r ­
by h u m a n interests, a n d the subject for greater responsibility in t h e
aged her rebelliousness.
gaining
information
and insight,
anthropologists'
i n t e r a c t i o n s a n d e t h i c a l h o n e s t y o f f i e l d w o r k (in Tyler's s e n s e i n t h i s
volume).
T h e ambiguities o f the woman's role are elaborated in "White T i ­
ger." K i n g s t o n w a s t a u g h t s h e w o u l d g r o w u p to b e wife a n d slave, yet
she was also taught the s o n g o f the warrior w o m a n — a variant o f the
great Nishan S h a m a n l e g e n d
1 8
— w h o a v e n g e d h e r family like a m a n .
Dream-Work
' I'he s t o r y o f Fa M u L a n , t h e w a r r i o r w o m a n , is o f g o i n g u p t h e m o u n ­
M a x i n e H o n g K i n g s t o n ' s The Woman Warrior ( 1 9 7 5 ) is a n a r ­
tain i n t o t h e c l o u d s , w h e r e s h e learns spiritual a n d physical s t r e n g t h ,
chetypical text for displaying ethnicity processes a n a l o g o u s to transla­
h i d i n g h e r t i m e u n t i l at t w e n t y - t w o s h e r e t u r n s t o b e c o m e a w a r r i o r .
t i o n s o f d r e a m s . J u s t as a d r e a m n e e d s t o b e t r a n s l a t e d i n t o a t e x t o r
T h e p a r a l l e l f o r K i n g s t o n is t h e u n r e a l d e v a l u a t i o n o f girls i n h e r C h i ­
l i n e a r v e r b a l d i s c o u r s e s o t h a t it c a n b e a n a l y z e d b y s o m e o n e w h o h a s
n e s e c o m m u n a l s e t t i n g , f r o m w h i c h s h e finds a n e s c a p e i n t o A m e r i ­
n o t e x p e r i e n c e d t h e v i s u a l i m a g e r y , s o K i n g s t o n ' s t e x t is d e v e l o p e d a s
can society, w h e r e s h e can b e c o m e a strong p e r s o n in h e r o w n right.
a series o f f r a g m e n t s o f traditional stories, myths, a n d c u s t o m s i m ­
1 J k e Fa M u L a n , s h e f e e l s s h e m u s t stay a w a y u n t i l s t r o n g e n o u g h t o
p o s e d b y p a r e n t s , b u t n o t a d e q u a t e l y e x p l a i n e d , at critical
r e t u r n a n d r e f o r m t h e stifling C h i n e s e i m m i g r a n t c o m m u n i t y .
points
o f h e r c h i l d h o o d , which thus are e m b e d d e d in consciousness to b e
w o r k e d o u t t h r o u g h , a n d integrated with, o n g o i n g e x p e r i e n c e . T h i s
16. See the opening passages of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
17. "Muhammad and Dawia" in V. Crapanzano and V. Garrison, eds. (1977)-
18. O n the Nishan Shaman, see Stephen Durant (197g). I n the Manchu story, the
ivsolulion between the statuses of (a) the powerful female shaman who teases and
I.nulls the wealthy and powerful and (b) the widowed daughter-in-law (urun, "work
woman") is to take the shaman's implements away, making her again merely an urun.
this, as Kingston's version shows, is hardly a necessary resolution.
210
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
" S h a m a n " is a b o u t t h e g h o s t s t o r i e s Kingston's m o t h e r t o l d as w o r k
s t o r i e s t o chill t h e h e a t i n t h e f a m i l y l a u n d r y ; tales o f h e r o e s w h o
w o u l d eat a n y t h i n g in great quantities ("The e m p e r o r s u s e d to eat the
p e a k e d h u m p o f p u r p l e d r o m e d a r i e s . . . Eat! Eat! m y m o t h e r w o u l d
s h o u t . . . t h e b l o o d p u d d i n g a w o b b l e i n t h e m i d d l e o f t h e table.");
stories o f w a r t i m e horrors. H e r m o t h e r was a w o m a n o f accomplish­
m e n t a n d strength: she had a diploma from a school of midwifery,
a n d k n e w h o w t o r e c i t e g e n e a l o g i e s to talk b a c k h e r c h i l d r e n ' s f r i g h t ­
e n e d spirits a f t e r n i g h t m a r e s a n d h o r r o r films. S u c h f a m i l i a l p o w e r s
can also b e repressive ("Chinese d o not smile for p h o t o g r a p h s . T h e i r
faces c o m m a n d relatives in foreign l a n d s — ' s e n d m o n e y ' — a n d p o s ­
terity f o r e v e r — ' p u t f o o d i n f r o n t o f this p i c t u r e ' " ) a n d r e g r e s s i v e
( w h e n e v e r she would return h o m e , Kingston would regress into fear
o f g h o s t s , n i g h t m a r e s o f w a r t i m e airplanes, a n d lethargic illness).
T h e s e a n d o t h e r "talk s t o r i e s " in t h e v o l u m e ( a n d t h e c o m p a n i o n
v o l u m e Chinamen) s h o w h o w s t o r i e s c a n b e c o m e p o w e r f u l s o u r c e s o f
strength, h o w they work differently for each generation, h o w they are
b u t f r a g m e n t a r y bits t h a t h a v e to b e t r a n s l a t e d , i n t e g r a t e d , a n d r e ­
w o r k e d . ( " U n l e s s I s e e h e r life b r a n c h i n g i n t o m i n e , s h e g i v e s m e n o
a n c e s t r a l h e l p . " ) Part o f t h e f r a g m e n t a r y c o n t e x t o f t h e s t o r i e s , o f t h e
u n e x p l a i n e d customs, of the paranoia about non-Chinese, and of
t h e g e n e r a l s e c r e c y a b o u t o r i g i n s is g r o u n d e d in s u r v i v a l tactics t h a t
the immigrants d e v e l o p e d against the discriminatory immigration
policies o f t h e U n i t e d States against Asians. P e o p l e c h a n g e d n a m e s ,
lied a b o u t their ages a n d ports o f entry, a n d generally c o v e r e d their
t r a c k s s o t h a t t h e i r lives b e c a m e u n i n t e l l i g i b l e to t h e i r c h i l d r e n ( w h o
b e i n g half-American w e r e not entirely trustworthy either). N o n C h i n e s e are called ghosts, but for the A m e r i c a n - C h i n e s e children,
g h o s t s a r e t h e b i z a r r e f r a g m e n t s o f past, t r a d i t i o n , a n d f a m i l i a l selfo v e r p r o t e c t i v e n e s s that m u s t b e externalized a n d t a m e d .
" D r e a m - w o r k " c a n b e p r o s p e c t i v e , as w e l l as r e t r o s p e c t i v e : d a y ­
d r e a m s as w e l l as w o r k i n g t h r o u g h past e x p e r i e n c e s . F r a n k C h i n ,
J e f f r e y P a u l C h a n , a n d S h a w n H s u W o n g , as w e l l as K i n g s t o n , u t i l i z e
the d i l e m m a s o f C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n males to e x p l o r e further the nov­
elties o f C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n n e s s s u g g e s t e d in "White T i g e r . " K i n g s t o n
t h e r e d e s c r i b e s t h e n e e d t o g e t away f r o m C h i n a t o w n t o g a i n t h e
s t r e n g t h to r e d e e m (recover, change, a n d create) h e r identity. T h e
f u r t h e r task is t o c o n s t r u c t o r find i m a g e s t h a t a r e n e i t h e r C h i n e s e
n o r E u r o p e a n . T h e r e are n o clear role m o d e l s for b e i n g C h i n e s e A m e r i c a n . B e i n g C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n e x i s t s o n l y as a n e x p l o r a t o r y
p r o j e c t , a m a t t e r o f finding a v o i c e a n d style. A m o n g t h e e x p l o r a t o r y
tactics a r e e f f o r t s t o c l a i m A m e r i c a , t o a s s e r t a g g r e s s i v e s e x u a l i d e n t i t y ,
to i m a g i n a t i v e l y try o n o t h e r m i n o r i t y e x p e r i e n c e s , a n d t o q u e s t i o n
both h e g e m o n i c white ideological categories and those of Chinatown.
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
211
T h i s p r o j e c t is d o u b l y i m p o r t a n t f o r w r i t e r s : f o r p e r s o n a l selfd e f i n i t i o n , a n d a l s o t o o v e r c o m e t h o s e p u b l i s h e r s a n d critics w h o c o n ­
s i s t e n t l y r e j e c t a n y w r i t i n g s c o n t r a d i c t i n g p o p u l a r racist v i e w s o f A s i a n A m e r i c a n s as e i t h e r totally e x o t i c , as n o d i f f e r e n t f r o m a n y o n e e l s e
( d e n i a l o f c u l t u r e ) , o r , finally, as m o d e l m i n o r i t i e s ( h u m b l e , w e l l m a n n e r e d , law-abiding, family-oriented, hard-working, educationseeking).
I n r e s p o n s e , as E l a i n e K i m d e s c r i b e s ( 1 9 8 2 ) , F r a n k C h i n calls h i m ­
self a C h i n a t o w n cowboy, insisting o n his roots in the A m e r i c a n West
a n d h i s m a n l y r u g g e d n e s s . T h i s p o s e is p a r t i c u l a r l y u s e f u l a g a i n s t t h e
e x o t i c s t e r e o t y p e o f C h i n e s e as " p i g t a i l e d h e a t h e n s i n silk g o w n s a n d
s l i p p e r s , w h i s p e r i n g C o n f u c i a n a p h o r i s m s a b o u t filial piety." T h e p o s e
is a l s o u s e f u l a g a i n s t t h e m o d e l m i n o r i t y s t e r e o t y p e u s e d : (a) t o d e ­
p r e c i a t e b l a c k s ; (b) t o d e n y t h e h i s t o r y o f C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n s ( C h i n e s e
d o n o t t u r n t o t h e g o v e r n m e n t foi" a i d b e c a u s e f o r s o l o n g t h e g o v e r n ­
m e n t w a s h o s t i l e t o t h e i r l e g a l status a n d t h e y t h u s h a d to h i d e f r o m
t h e g o v e r n m e n t , with t h e c o n s e q u e n c e that poverty, suicide, a n d tuber­
c u l o s i s f l o u r i s h e d i n C h i n a t o w n u n n o t i c e d by w h i t e s o c i e t y ) ; (c) a n d t o
e m a s c u l a t e A s i a n - A m e r i c a n m a l e s . C h i n recalls t h e classic s i t u a t i o n i n
s c h o o l w h e r e blacks a n d C h i c a n o s are asked w h y they c a n n o t b e like
t h e C h i n e s e : stay o u t o f t r o u b l e , m i n d y o u r f o l k s , s t u d y h a r d , a n d
o b e y the laws: " A n d there w e c h i n a m e n were, in Lincoln E l e m e n t a r y
S c h o o l , O a k l a n d , C a l i f o r n i a , in a w o r l d w h e r e m a n l i n e s s c o u n t s f o r
e v e r y t h i n g , s u r r o u n d e d b y b a d blacks a n d b a d M e x i c a n k i d s . . . s u d ­
d e n l y s t r i p p e d a n d s h a v e d b a r e b y this c o p w i t h n o m a n l y style o f m y
o w n , u n l e s s it w a s s i s s i n e s s " ( q u o t e d b y K i m , p . 1 7 8 ) .
I f t h e s e racist, i d e o l o g i c a l s t e r e o t y p e s n e e d b e c o u n t e r e d , s o , t o o ,
C h i n a t o w n n e e d s t o b e e x p o s e d . C h i n i m a g e s C h i n a t o w n as d e c a y i n g
b e n e a t h a n e x o t i c f a ç a d e , as a s e n i l e l i v i n g c o r p s e , p o p u l a t e d b y i n h a b i ­
t a n t s i m a g e d as b u g s , s p i d e r s , a n d f r o g s , e n g a g e d i n activities i m a g e d
as f u n e r a l s ( p r e s e r v a t i o n o f d e c a y i n g pasts u n d e r i v o r y m a s k s ) . H e ­
r o e s — c o w b o y s — m u s t e s c a p e to s u r v i v e . L i k e K i n g s t o n , C h i n m o v e d
o u t , p r e f e r r i n g t o b u i l d s t r e n g t h in S e a t t l e , r e t u r n i n g o n l y o n t e m p o ­
r a r y f o r a y s t o t h e b a t t l e g r o u n d o f c h a n g e i n S a n F r a n c i s c o . I n h i s writ­
ing, C h i n attempts to create a tough, aggressive, back-talking y o u n g
m a l e h e r o , a n a d o l e s c e n t sexuality a n d a g g r e s s i o n that are p e r h a p s
signs o f a n e w voice a n d identity not yet f o u n d .
J e f f r e y P a u l C h a n , K i m n o t e s , writes n o t d i s s i m i l a r l y : b o t h u s e t h e
i m a g e o f C h i n a t o w n as a c h i c k e n c o o p . I n h i s s e a r c h f o r a n e w s t y l e
f o r t h e C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n , C h a n a l s o plays w i t h t h e r o l e s o f o t h e r m i ­
n o r i t i e s , e s p e c i a l l y t h a t o f t h e A m e r i c a n I n d i a n . T h e I n d i a n is a t t r a c ­
tive b e c a u s e h e has (to outsiders) u n q u e s t i o n a b l e roots in A m e r i c a .
T h i s is a t h e m e t h a t b o t h K i n g s t o n a n d S h a w n H s u W o n g a l s o d e ­
v e l o p : t h e n e e d particularly o f C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n males to mark a n d
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
212
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
213
a p p r o p r i a t e t h e l a n d . W o n g ' s n a r r a t o r is h a u n t e d b y t h e g h o s t s o f
i n g tactics a r e e a s i l y i m a g i n a b l e , s u c h as t h e u s e o f t h e j u x t a p o s e d
g r a n d f a t h e r s w h o built the railroads, i m a g i n i n g their struggles, their
viewpoints o f different informants and/or authors,
l e t t e r s h o m e t o C h i n a , a n d e v e n f a n t a s i z e s h i m s e l f as a n o l d n i g h t
like descriptions f r o m different perspectives.
2 0
and Rashomon-
21
train filled with C h i n a m e n , r u n n i n g a l o n g t h e tracks, h e a r t b u r n i n g
like a r e d h o t e n g i n e . T h e s e g r a n d f a t h e r s laid roots in t h e l a n d , like
" r o o t s o f g i a n t t r e e s , " like " s h a r p t a l o n s in t h e e a r t h o f m y c o u n t r y . "
R a i n s f o r d , t h e n a r r a t o r o f Homebase ( 1 9 7 9 ) , h a s a w h i t e g i r l f r i e n d ,
Alternative Selves a n d Bifocality
T w o recent black autobiographies by Charles M i n g u s
and
w h o p a t r o n i z e s h i m , t e l l i n g h i m t h a t h e is t h e p r o d u c t o f t h e r i c h e s t
Marita G o l d e n d e v e l o p t h e n o t i o n o f multiple selves a n d e x a m i n e t h e
a n d o l d e s t c u l t u r e in t h e world, a civilization that i n v e n t e d m a n y o f
reality constraints o n e n a c t i n g alternative selves. T h e y also e x p l o r e
t h e c o m p o n e n t s o f m o d e r n life, m a k i n g h i m f e e l e v e n s h a r p e r a n x i e t y
t h e u s e o f a l t e r n a t i v e s e l v e s to c h a l l e n g e d o m i n a n t h e g e m o n i c i d e o l o -
a b o u t h a v i n g n o t h i n g o f his o w n in A m e r i c a . H e rejects this "love,"
gies, t h e o n e by a p p l y i n g an ethnic aesthetic (thus b e i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c
a n d s h e , classically, tells h i m to g o b a c k w h e r e h e c a m e f r o m :
go
i n s t y l e as w e l l as c o n t e n t ) , t h e o t h e r b y p i o n e e r i n g t h e b i f o c a l i t y t h a t
h o m e . B u t h o m e is h e r e . It is a n A m e r i c a n I n d i a n w h o s h o w s h i m
a n t h r o p o l o g y has always p r o m i s e d . Alice Walker, a n o t h e r black writer,
h o w to find his A m e r i c a n roots: h e s h o u l d retrace w h e r e his p e o p l e
notes: "When
h a v e b e e n , all o v e r A m e r i c a , s e e t h e t o w n h e is n a m e d a f t e r . H e d o e s
k i n folk" ( B r a d l e y 1 9 8 4 : 3 5 - 3 6 ) . T h i s is e c h o e d b y M a x i n e
I l o o k at p e o p l e i n I r a n a n d C u b a , t h e y l o o k
like
Hong
t h i s , d e t e r m i n e d t h a t A m e r i c a " m u s t g i v e m e l e g e n d s w i t h spirit," a n d
K i n g s t o n a n d A m e r i c a n I n d i a n writer Leslie M a r m o n Silko, w h o p o r -
d r e a m i n g o f a r e c o n c i l i a t i o n w i t h a C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n girl i n W i s -
tray y o u n g m e n in A m e r i c a n u n i f o r m in s o u t h e a s t Asia s e v e r e l y dis-
c o n s i n w h o s e g r a n d f a t h e r f r o m C h i n a h a d fled t h e West Coast.
t u r b e d by t h e inability to d i s t i n g u i s h the e n e m y f r o m kinfolk. A s a h u -
Chinamen,
Kingston, too, emphasizes
the t h e m e o f m e n
In
claiming
m a n i s t c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m o f n a t i o n a l i s t , class, a n d o t h e r
hegemonic
A m e r i c a , w r i t i n g o f r a i l r o a d w o r k e r s — h e r o i c a n d m a s c u l i n e at t i m e s
political discourses, these observations signal the potential for a p o w e r -
s u c h as t h e strike o f 1869: b a r e - c h e s t e d , m u s c u l a r y o u n g g o d s — v i c -
f u l c o u n t e r r h e t o r i c , s i m i l a r to t h o s e d e v e l o p e d b y t h e s m a l l n a t i o n s o f
t i m i z e d , k e p t w o m a n l e s s , d y i n g i n t h e w i l d e r n e s s . B u t , says o n e
E u r o p e , t h o s e o n the w r o n g side o f history, w h o s e "disabused view o f
of
t h e m , "We're m a r k i n g t h e l a n d n o w . "
h i s t o r y " is t h e " s o u r c e o f t h e i r c u l t u r e , o f t h e i r w i s d o m , o f t h e ' n o n s e r i o u s spirit' t h a t m o c k s g r a n d e u r a n d g l o r y " ( K u n d e r a 1 9 8 4 ) .
Dream-work—simultaneously
the integration of dissonant
f r a g m e n t s a n d the d a y d r e a m i n g "trying-on" o f alternative
past
M i n g u s ' s Beneath
the Underdog
( 1 9 7 1 ) utilizes a tripartite self as
possible
n a r r a t o r ; a t e l l i n g t o a p s y c h i a t r i s t as t h e o v e r a l l n a r r a t i v e f r a m e ; a n d
i d e n t i t i e s — i s b o t h d e s c r i p t i v e o f o n e w a y (or o n e s e t o f w a y s ) e t h -
a n o b s e s s i v e f o c u s o n a f a t h e r f i g u r e . T h e t r i p a r t i t e s e l f is i n t r o d u c e d
n i c i t y w o r k s a n d s u g g e s t s a w r i t i n g tactic o f f r a g m e n t s . H e r e , t o o ,
o n t h e first p a g e , a n d r e f l e c t e d u p o n a g a i n n e a r t h e last (p. 2 5 5 ) : a n
C r a p a n z a n o ' s Tuhami, r e f e r r e d t o a b o v e , m i g h t s e r v e as a n e x a m p l e
i n b o r n , e v e r - l o v i n g g e n t l e soul w h o always gets taken; a f r i g h t e n e d
o f a r e c e n t e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t t h a t e x p l o i t s this tactic. T h e
reader
a n i m a l t h a t , f r o m e x p e r i e n c e , l e a r n s t o attack f o r f e a r o f b e i n g at-
is p r e s e n t e d w i t h a p u z z l e : t o h e l p t h e a u t h o r a n a l y z e bits o f i n t e r -
tacked; a n d a distanced third w h o stands apart watching the o t h e r
v i e w s in w h i c h t h e i n f o r m a n t draws equally o n reality a n d fantasy f o r
t w o . T h e t h r e e s e l v e s a p p e a r t h r o u g h o u t t h e t e x t as a l t e r n a t i n g , i n t e r -
m e t a p h o r s with w h i c h to describe the impossibilities o f his e x i s t e n c e .
braided voices—like the call-and-response o f a jazz s e s s i o n — k e e p i n g
T u h a m i is a m e m b e r o f M o r o c c o ' s s u b p r o l e t a r i a t ; t h e style o f h i s d i s -
t h e r e a d e r alert to perspective a n d circumstance.
c o u r s e p e r h a p s i l l u s t r a t e s w h a t P i e r r e B o u r d i e u p r o v o c a t i v e l y calls
the truncated consciousness of many members of such subproletariats.
1 9
E q u a l l y s t r i k i n g is M i n g u s ' s t e x t u a l s t r a t e g y o f p o s i n g t h e a u t o b i o g r a p h y as a telling, a talk-story, to a J e w i s h psychiatrist ( " r e m e m -
If so, Crapanzano's recording of T ù h a m i m i g h t provide an ac-
c e s s t o t h e d i s c o u r s e o f a n e m e r g e n t n e w social class, a n a l o g o u s t o
t h e e m e r g e n t discourse o f C h i n e s e - A m e r i c a n writers' c o n c e r n w i t h
c h i c k e n c o o p s a n d railroads, c o w b o y s a n d I n d i a n s . O t h e r similar writi g . " T h e Disenchantment of the World," in Algeria i960 (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1979).
20. Recent examples of such "polyphony" are Birds of My Kalam Country by I a n
Majnep and Ralph Bulmer (1977), and Piman Shamanism by Donald M . Bahr, Juan
Gregorio, David I. Lopez, and Albert Alvarez (1974).
21. See the discussion of N. Scott Momaday below, or in anthropology see Richard
Price's First-Time (1983) in which oral accounts are juxtaposed to archival ones; or
Renato Rosaldo's Ilongot Headhunting (1980) which pursues a similar goal more
discursively.
214
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
b e r s a y i n g y o u carne t o m e n o t o n l y b e c a u s e I'm a p s y c h i a t r i s t b u t a l s o
b e c a u s e I'm a Jew? A n d therefore c o u l d relate to y o u r p r o b l e m s ? "
p . 7 ) . T h i s a l l o w s t h e a u t h o r to play w i t h f o u r s u b d e v i c e s , like i m ­
p r o v i s a t o r y j a z z t h e m e s t h a t r e a p p e a r p e r i o d i c a l l y . First, t h e r e a r e t h e
psychological devices o f fabrication (involving the reader in sorting
o u t t h e p u z z l e s o f i d e n t i t y , c o n t r o l by t h e s e l f v e r s u s c o n t r o l by o u t s i d e
forces), a n d c h a n g i n g the subject or crying (signals o f b l o c k a g e s ,
a v o i d a n c e s , pain, a n d irrational compulsions). S e c o n d , the t h e m e o f
p i m p i n g is u s e d as a m u l t i - r e g i s t e r m e t a p h o r . It d e s c r i b e s t h e n a r ­
rator's u s e o f w o m e n as a c h i l d i s h w a y to p r o v e h i s m a n h o o d ( b r e a k i n g
o u t o f s u b o r d i n a t i o n a n d d e p e n d e n c y — t h e p i m p as m a s t e r — b y i m ­
p o s i n g s u b o r d i n a t i o n o n o t h e r s ) . It is a m e t a p h o r o f e c o n o m i c s u r ­
v i v a l , o f t h e d i l e m m a s o f black m u s i c i a n s w h o c a n n o t m a k e it o n m u s i c
alone, but must prostitute themselves and others, m e a n i n g a m o n g
o t h e r things a regressive d e p e n d e n c e o n w o m e n ("He w a n t e d to m a k e
it a l o n e w i t h o u t a n y h e l p f r o m w o m e n o r a n y o n e e l s e , " p . 1 3 2 ) . T h a t
is, n a r r a t o r as b o t h p i m p a n d p r o s t i t u t e . A n d it is a b i t t e r d e s c r i p t i o n
o f t h e racist e c o n o m i c s y s t e m c o n t r o l l e d by w h i t e s ("Jazz is b i g b u s i n e s s
t o t h e w h i t e m a n a n d y o u can't m o v e w i t h o u t h i m . W e j u s t w o r k - a n t s , "
p . 1 3 7 ) . T h e t h i r d d e v i c e is r e c u r r e n t d r e a m s a b o u t Fats N a v a r r o , a
F l o r i d a - b o r n C u b a n m u s i c i a n w h o d i e d at t w e n t y - s i x o f t u b e r c u l o s i s
a n d n a r c o t i c a d d i c t i o n , w h o s e r v e s t h r o u g h o u t t h e b o o k as a n a l t e r
e g o t o w h o m t h e p r o j e c t o f w r i t i n g a b o o k is c o n f i d e d . T h e b o o k is to
a c h i e v e l i b e r a t i o n , b o t h e c o n o m i c ( f a n t a s i e s o f fat r o y a l t i e s ) a n d s p i r ­
itual. T h e d r e a m s i n c l u d e m e d i t a t i o n s o n a d e a t h wish, c e n t e r i n g o n
t h e i d e a t h a t o n e c a n d i e (only?) w h e n o n e w o r k s o u t o n e ' s k a r m a , p r e ­
c i s e l y w h a t w a s d e n i e d Fats.
Finally, t h e u s e o f t h e f a t h e r figuration is, o f c o u r s e , a l s o p a r t o f
t h e n a r r a t i o n to t h e p s y c h i a t r i s t — t h e f o u r t h s u b d e v i c e — b u t it a l s o i n ­
troduces an e l e m e n t of choice and retracing of genealogical connec­
t i o n ( " S o m e d a y I m a y c h o o s e a n o t h e r f a t h e r t o t e a c h m e , " p . 96).
M i n g u s ' s f a t h e r a p p e a r s h r s t in his c h i l d h o o d t r a u m a s ( b e i n g d r o p p e d
o n his h e a d , h a v i n g his d o g shot by a n e i g h b o r , k i n d e r g a r t e n accusa­
t i o n s o f b e i n g a s e x u a l p e r v e r t , a n d a b o v e all p a t e r n a l b e a t i n g s a n d
t h r e a t s o f c a s t r a t i o n f o r b e d w e t t i n g , later d i s c o v e r e d to b e d u e t o
d a m a g e d k i d n e y s ) . T h e f a t h e r g a v e h i m his first m u s i c a l i n s t r u m e n t ,
b u t b e i n g e m o t i o n a l l y u n r e s p o n s i v e also s e t u p a l o n g i n g f o r a r e a l
f a t h e r . ( T h e father's o w n a n x i e t y s t r u c t u r e is a n a l y z e d as s t e m m i n g
f r o m b e i n g a f r u s t r a t e d a r c h i t e c t c o n d e m n e d t o life i n t h e P o s t O f f i c e ,
a n d as m a n i f e s t i n g itself b y t e a c h i n g his c h i l d r e n a f a l s e , racist s e n s e
o f superiority o n the g r o u n d s that they w e r e light-skinned.) M i d b o o k , M i n g u s r e t u r n s t o find o u t a b o u t h i s f a t h e r , a n d h e a r s y e t a g a i n
t h a t h e is n o t fully black, t h a t h e is a d e s c e n d a n t o f A b r a h a m L i n c o l n ' s
cousin, a n d that
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
215
"a lot of talking about freedom . . . [is] a waste of time 'cause even a
slave could have inner freedom if he wanted it."
"That's brainwashing by the white man."
"Careful, b o y — y o u ain't totally black." (95)
W h i t e c o n n e c t i o n s a r e n o t t h e o n l y t r o u b l i n g o n e s . Class p r e j u d i c e s
within t h e black c o m m u n i t y also threaten y o u n g M i n g u s . T h e father
a d v i s e s : "So tell t h e m y o u r g r a n d f a t h e r w a s a n A f r i c a n c h i e f t a i n
n a m e d M i n g u s " (96). T h e r e is a l s o a c e r t a i n a m o u n t o f p l a y w i t h alter­
n a t i v e e t h n i c m a s k s . M i n g u s g r o w s u p i n Watts a n d is l i g h t - s k i n n e d ; i n
t h e m i r r o r h e t h i n k s h e c a n s e e strains o f I n d i a n , A f r i c a n , M e x i c a n ,
A s i a n , a n d w h i t e , a n d h e w o r r i e s that h e is "a little o f e v e r y t h i n g ,
w h o l l y n o t h i n g " (50).
2 2
M e x i c a n is a m a j o r a l t e r n a t i v e i d e n t i t y ( " M e x i c a n M o o d s " ) . H i s
first g i r l f r i e n d w h e n a g e d five w a s M e x i c a n ; s o w a s a girl w h o a l m o s t
s n a g g e d h i m i n t o m a r r i a g e at s e v e n t e e n . L a t e r , in S a n F r a n c i s c o , a
J e w i s h m u s i c i a n h a d t r i e d to g i v e h i m a b r e a k i n a w h i t e u n i o n : h e w a s
a c c e p t e d as M e x i c a n u n t i l a black m u s i c i a n t u r n e d h i m i n . J e w i s h n e s s
is a n o t h e r e t h n i c i t y p l a y e d w i t h , p a r t i c u l a r l y t h r o u g h his J e w i s h p s y ­
c h i a t r i s t a n d t h e p s y c h i a t r i s t s at B e l l e v u e , w h o initially s e e m l i k e N a z i s
threatening lobotomy, but w h o eventually midwife a feeling of respect
a n d love:
T h e truth is doctor, I'm insecure and I'm black and I'm scared to death of
poverty and especially poverty alone. I'm helpless without a woman, afraid of
tomorrow. . . . It was easy to be proud and feel contempt and say to these
beautiful w o m e n , "I don't want your dirty money!" so that was one good thing
that h a p p e n e d in Bellevue, having a feeling of love and respect for them
again. . . . My music is evidence of my soul's will to live beyond my sperm's
grave. ( 2 4 5 - 4 6 )
T h e w i l d h u m o r , e x c e s s i v e s e x u a l i t y , a n d a n g u i s h o f M i n g u s ' s style
h e l p p o s e t h e c o n t r a d i c t i o n s a n d p u z z l e s o f h i s e t h n i c s e a r c h : t h e dif­
ferences a m o n g the w o m e n u p o n w h o m he d e p e n d s — t w o mistresses,
a m i d d l e class b l a c k w i f e , a n d a b l o n d n u r s e ; t h e t e n t a t i v e t r y i n g o n o f
o t h e r minorities' identities; the hint of exploring African connections;
a n d t h e s e n s e o f m i x e d b l o o d or heritage. Mingus's critique o f racism
is p o i g n a n t , m a c a b r e l y h u m o r o u s , a v e r b a l j a z z - b l u e s , s o p h i s t i c a t e d i n
s t y l e a n d t e c h n i q u e , w i e l d i n g a n e t h n i c a e s t h e t i c to b r i n g t h e r e a d e r t o
a perspective and understanding.
M a r i t a G u l d e n ' s Migrations of the Heart (1983) e x p l o r e s t h e A f r i c a n
c o n n e c t i o n s m o r e d i r e c t l y , a n d illustrates a d i f f e r e n t f o r m o f c r i t i q u e ,
p e r h a p s l e s s i n n o v a t i v e i n style, b u t p i o n e e r i n g a n o l d p r o m i s e o f a n ­
t h r o p o l o g y t o b e a "bifocal" m o d e o f c u l t u r a l criticism. G o l d e n m a r -
Ä«.
Tlx- name of the album that in 1962 he said was his best.
2l6
MICHAEL M.J. FISCHER
ries a N i g e r i a n a n d g o e s to N i g e r i a to r e e x p e r i e n c e h e r A m e r i c a n n e s s . T h e m a r r i a g e fails. T h e story is a p a i n f u l , y e t e v e n t u a l l y
s t r e n g t h e n i n g , r e c o g n i t i o n t h a t i d e n t i t y is n o t t o b e c o n s t r u c t e d w i t h
t h e f r e e will o f r o m a n t i c f a n t a s y . T h e r e a r e reality p r i n c i p l e s t h a t c o n ­
strain: traditions, g r o w t h patterns, a n d dynamics b e y o n d t h e e g o . Sev­
eral s c h e m a t a structure Gulden's text: repetitions o f t h e father figure,
c o u n t e r v a i l i n g b u t s e c o n d a r y m o t h e r figures ( m o t h e r , m o t h e r - i n law), rebellions a n d gradual t e m p e r i n g into m a t u r e w o m a n h o o d , a n d
a skillful portrait o f t h e devastating dynamics o f an intercultural m a r ­
riage that d o e s n o t work.
T h e p a t r i a r c h a l figures ( f a t h e r a n d h u s b a n d ) w i t h w h i c h s h e
struggles s e e m to be the primary vehicles for ethnicity-work.
[My father] was as assured as a panther . . . he bequeathed to m e — g o l d
n u g g e t s o f fact, myth, legend. . . . By his own definition he was "a black m a n
a n d p r o u d o f it." . . . Africa: "It wasn't dark until the white m a n g o t there."
Cleopatra: "I don't care WHAT they teach you in school, she was a black
w o m a n . " . . . the exploits of Toussaint L'Ouverture. (3—4)
Yet also:
H e was a hard, nearly impossible man to love when love meant exclusive
rights to his soul . . . he relied [on his many w o m e n ] . . . to enhance the improvisational nature o f his life. (3—4)
H e r A f r i c a n l o v e r , t h e n h u s b a n d , is a l m o s t a d o u b l e t o h e r f a t h e r . H i s
a s s u r a n c e first attracts h e r :
e n v e l o p e d in the aura of supreme confidence that blossomed around all the
Africans I had ever m e t . . . I'd read about my past and now it sat across from
m e in a steak house, placid, and even a bit smug. . . . I rubbed my fingers
across his hand. "What're y o u doing?" he asked. "I want some of your confi­
d e n c e to rub off o n me," I said. ( 5 0 - 5 1 )
B o t h m e n h a v e a r e a s o f r e t i c e n c e s h e c a n n o t p e n e t r a t e . W i t h h e r fa­
t h e r t h e m u t u a l lack o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g is m a n i f e s t e d i n h i s d e m a n d
t h a t s h e g e t r i d o f h e r "natural" h a i r - d o , i n h i s ( a n d h e r ) inability t o
share grief w h e n h e r m o t h e r dies, a n d in his taking u p with a n o t h e r
w o m a n , w h o m s h e r e s e n t s . W i t h h e r h u s b a n d , t h e m u t u a l lack o f
u n d e r s t a n d i n g lies i n h i s f a m i l i a l a n d p a t r i a r c h a l t r a d i t i o n s , f o r i n ­
s t a n c e , h i s s h a r i n g o f e c o n o m i c r e s o u r c e s w i t h his f r a t e r n a l g r o u p a t
t h e e x p e n s e o f h i s c o n j u g a l family. Initially s h e finds t h e p a t r i a r c h a l ,
m a s c u l i n e N i g e r i a n c u l t u r e attractive:
Lagos is an aggressively masculine city, and its m e n e x u d e a dogmatic confi­
d e n c e . . . . it was this masculinity that made the m e n so undeniably attractive.
Nigeria was their country to destroy or save. T h a t knowledge m a d e t h e m
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
217
stride and p r e e n in self-appreciation. This assurance became for an AfroAmerican w o m a n a gaily wrapped gift to be o p e n e d anew every day. (84)
U l t i m a t e l y , s h e f e e l s t h e a s s u m p t i o n s o f this c u l t u r e t o b e d e v a s t a t i n g l y d e n y i n g o f h e r s e n s e o f self. W o m e n , s h e is t o l d b y a n o t h e r
w i f e , a r e f o r g i v e n a l m o s t e v e r y t h i n g as l o n g as t h e y fulfill t h e d u t y t o
s e t t h e s t a g e o n w h i c h t h e i r m e n live. L i f e is c o m p l i c a t e d i n N i g e r i a ,
p a r t i c u l a r l y w h e n h e r fiancé resists m a r r i a g e u n t i l h e f e e l s
financially
i n d e p e n d e n t , w h e n s h e finds a j o b a n d h e c a n n o t , l a t e r w h e n h e d e ­
m a n d s a c h i l d b e f o r e s h e is r e a d y , a n d w h e n h e g i v e s m o n e y t o r a i s e
h i s b r o t h e r ' s c h i l d r e n at t h e e x p e n s e o f h e r c o m f o r t .
T h e primary f r a m e s o f Gulden's b o o k are t h e portraits o f a mar­
r i a g e g o n e awry, partly f o r r e a s o n s o f c u l t u r a l l y c o n f l i c t i n g a s s u m p ­
tions, a n d o f a w o m a n gradually freeing herself from d e p e n d e n c i e s
a n d u n e x a m i n e d n o t i o n s o f i d e n t i t y . B u t w h a t is i m p o r t a n t h e r e a r e
t h e r e f l e c t i o n s o n w h a t it is t o b e a black A m e r i c a n — a g a i n , a n i d e n t i t y
t o b e c r e a t e d , a n d a s o c i o l o g i c a l reality t o b e s t r u g g l e d f o r . J u s t as A f ­
r i c a is initially a n o v e r - r o m a n t i c i z e d i m a g e o f " m y past," a n i m a g e
o f s e l f - c o n f i d e n c e , o n e t h a t i n e v i t a b l y is s h a k e n b y a c l o s e r l o o k —
N i g e r i a h a s its o w n p r o b l e m s , a n A m e r i c a n d o e s n o t slip s o e a s i l y i n t o
a n A f r i c a n s e t o f r o l e s — s o , t o o , A m e r i c a is n o t t o b e a c c e p t e d i n its
r e a l i t i e s o f r a c i s m o r i n d i v i d u a l f a n t a s i e s ( s u c h as t h o s e o f h e r f a t h e r ) .
G o l d e n r e t u r n s f r o m h e r o r d e a l i n A f r i c a t o B o s t o n ( B o s t o n b e c a u s e it
is n o t W a s h i n g t o n o r N e w York, w h e r e s h e g r e w u p a n d w h e r e t h e r e
a r e t o o m a n y r e g r e s s i v e p u l l s ) . T h e r e s h e finds t h e racial a t m o s p h e r e
a l m o s t u n b e a r a b l e . O n e h a s t h e f e e l i n g , h o w e v e r , t h a t s h e will n o w
h e l p to c h a n g e t h e situation simply by b e i n g a stronger, richer p e r s o n .
T h i s u s e o f A f r i c a is w h a t a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l c u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m o u g h t
to b e about: a dialectical or two-directional j o u r n e y e x a m i n i n g t h e r e ­
alities o f b o t h s i d e s o f c u l t u r a l d i f f e r e n c e s s o t h a t t h e y m a y m u t u a l l y
q u e s t i o n e a c h o t h e r , a n d t h e r e b y g e n e r a t e a realistic i m a g e o f h u m a n
possibilities a n d a self-confidence for t h e explorer g r o u n d e d in c o m ­
p a r a t i v e u n d e r s t a n d i n g r a t h e r t h a n e t h n o c e n t r i s m . It is p e r h a p s w h a t
M a r g a r e t M e a d p r o m i s e d i n Coming of Age in Samoa a n d Sex and Tem­
perament in Three Primitive Societies, a n d f a i l e d fully t o d e l i v e r . T h e s e
influential b o o k s h e l p e d A m e r i c a n s see that A m e r i c a n adolescent pat­
t e r n s o f r e b e l l i o u s n e s s a n d A m e r i c a n s e x roles w e r e n o t "natural,"
b u t culturally m o l d e d , a n d so m i g h t be altered t h r o u g h different
c h i l d - r e a r i n g m e t h o d s . S u c h c u l t u r a l criticism o f A m e r i c a w o r k e d b y
j u x t a p o s i n g a l t e r n a t i v e p a t t e r n s e l s e w h e r e i n t h e w o r l d : t h a t is, r e a l
w o r l d e x a m p l e s , n o t Utopian f a n t a s i e s . I n today's m o r e s o p h i s t i c a t e d
w o r l d , w e k n o w that t h e S a m o a n a n d N e w G u i n e a societies are m o r e
c o m p l i c a t e d t h a n M a r g a r e t M e a d d e s c r i b e d , as also is A m e r i c a . M a r i t a
2jg
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
Golden's narrative points to s o m e of the complexities o n both sides o f
any cultural divide that n e e d to be addressed in c o n t e m p o r a r y a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i c a l e f f o r t s at c u l t u r a l criticism ( s e e f u r t h e r M a r c u s a n d
Fischer ig86).
Inter-reference
And Louie would come through—
melodramatic music, like in the
mono—tan tan laranl—Cruz
Diablo, El Charro Negro! Bogard
smile (his smile is deadly as
his viasas!). He dug roles, man,
and names—like blackie, little
Louie . . .
Within the dark morada average
chains rattle and clacking prayer
wheels jolt
the hissing spine to uncoil wailing
tongues
of Nahuatl converts who slowly
wreath
rosary whips to flay one another
JOSE MONTOYA, "El Louie"
BERNICE ZAMORA, "Restless
Serpents"
P e r h a p s t h e m o s t striking feature o f M e x i c a n - A m e r i c a n writ­
i n g , p r e s e n t i n o t h e r e t h n i c w r i t i n g t o o , b u t b r o u g h t t o its m o s t e x ­
plicit a n d d r a m a t i c l e v e l h e r e , is i n t e r l i n g u i s t i c play: i n t e r f e r e n c e ,
a l t e r n a t i o n , i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e . T h i s w a s t h e s u b j e c t o f t h e first A r m e n i a n
p o e m c i t e d a b o v e . It is c l e a r in t h e t e x t u r e o f black E n g l i s h . S o m e
M e x i c a n - A m e r i c a n writers u s e Spanish, others English, s o m e h a v e al­
ternating/mirroring pages or chapters o f Spanish a n d English (re­
c i p r o c a l t r a n s l a t i o n s ) . C h i c a n o literary j o u r n a l s (El Grito,
Entrelinas,
Revista Chicano-Riquena)
are resolutely bilingual. Spanish phrases o c ­
c u r w i t h i n t h e flow o f E n g l i s h , a n d S p a n i s h w o r d s a n d g r a m m a t i c a l
structure take o n c h a n g e s influenced by English. I n d e e d , for s o m e
pochismo o r calo, t h e C h i c a n o s l a n g , takes o n a . p r i v i l e g e d r o l e . S a y s
Bernice Zamora:
I like to think of Calo as the language of Chicano literature . . . It is evolving
as a literary m o d e , and the writers I enjoy most for their consistency o f Calo
are Cecilio Camavillo, Jose Montoya, and Raul Salinas. I am fond of Calo be­
cause o f the usage o f English p h o n e m e s with Spanish gerund or verb e n d i n g s
. . . eskipiando [skipping] . . . Indios pasando we watchando. . . . I teach Calo
with the premise that it is a conflict of languages resolved. (Quoted in BruceN o v a 1 9 8 0 a : 209)
Ricardo Sanchez provides a n e x a m p l e o f bilingual insistence:
Soy un manito por herencia y un pachuco por experiencia [I am a native N e w
Mexican by heritage and a pachuco by e x p e r i e n c e ] . . . I was born n u m b e r 1 3 ,
the first o n e in the family to be born outside o f N e w Mexico a n d Colorado
since s o m e w h e r e en el siglo 1 6 [in the sixteenth century] . . . soy mestizo [I'm
a mestizo], scion to the beautiful and turbulent reality of indo-hispanic con­
catenation, ay, mi abuela materna [my maternal grandmother] was born in
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
219
the tewa pueblo of san Juan, there between taos and espanola . . . u n m u n d o
ni espanol ni indigena: ay, m u n d o d e policolores [a world neither Spanish n o r
indian: ay, world o f polycolors] when mindsouls se p o n e n a reconfigurar
[start to restructure] n e w horizons. (Bruce-Nova 1980a: 2 2 1 )
B u t o f far m o r e interest than simply linguistic i n t e r f e r e n c e o r c o d e
s w i t c h i n g , a n d t h e e d u c a t i o n d e b a t e g e n e r a t e d o v e r b i l i n g u a l i s m , is t h e
fact, a s M i c h e l S e r r e s p u t s it, "Il f a u t lire l ' i n t e r f é r e n c e c o m m e i n t e r ­
r é f é r e n c e " (it is n e c e s s a r y t o r e a d i n t e r f e r e n c e as i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e ) . '
W h a t k e e p s t h e i n t e r l i n g u i s t i c s i t u a t i o n vital is n o t m e r e l y t h e c o n t i n u ­
i n g w a v e s o f M e x i c a n s e n t e r i n g t h e U n i t e d States a n d t h e flow b a c k
a n d f o r t h a c r o s s t h e b o r d e r , s o that g r a d u a l d i s a p p e a r a n c e i n a n E n ­
g l i s h e n v i r o n m e n t is less likely, b u t t h e c u l t u r a l vitality o f r e f e r e n c e s t o
M e x i c a n h i s t o r y , S p a n i s h civilization, a n d p r e - C o l u m b i a n c i v i l i z a t i o n ,
as w e l l as t o p a r t i c u l a r C h i c a n o styles ( s u c h as t h e p a c h u c o " z o o t suit"
s u b c u l t u r e o f El P a s o a n d L o s A n g e l e s c e l e b r a t e d in M o n t o y a ' s "El
L o u i e , " a figure p a r a l l e l i n g t h e b l a c k S t a g g e r l e e ) o r c u l t u r a l e n ­
v i r o n m e n t s ( s u c h as t h e P é n i t e n t e s cult o f N e w M e x i c o d e s c r i b e d i n
t h e o p e n i n g p o e m o f Z a m o r a ' s "Restless S e r p e n t s " ) .
2
2 4
P o e t i c a u t o b i o g r a p h y — a n d t h e o u t r i g h t n o v é l i s t i c fiction o f
R u d o l f o Anaya, R o n Arias, a n d R o l a n d o H i n o j o s a — h a s p e r h a p s
b e e n m o r e boldly e x p e r i m e n t a l h e r e than prose autobiography. B u t ,
i f o n e c o n s i d e r s J o s e A n t o n i o Villarreal's Pocho ( 1 9 5 9 ) as a v e i l e d a u t o ­
b i o g r a p h y (it is o f t e n c o u n t e d as t h e first m a j o r C h i c a n o n o v e l , al­
t h o u g h V i l l a r r e a l d o e s n o t like t h e label " C h i c a n o " ) , t h e n t o g e t h e r
w i t h E r n e s t o Galarza's Barrio Boy ( 1 9 7 1 ) , R i c h a r d R o d r i g u e z ' s Hunger
of Memory ( 1 9 8 1 ) , a n d S a n d r a C i s n e r o s ' s ( " s e m i - a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l " )
The House on Mango Street ( 1 9 8 3 ) , p r o s e a u t o b i o g r a p h y h a s s e t o u t
m a n y o f t h e thematic preoccupations o f Chicano writing.
Villarreal establishes the t h e m e s o f immigration, dealing with
M e x i c a n r e l i g i o u s a n d s e x u a l i n h i b i t i o n s , a n d familial r e l a t i o n s in
Pocho. I n The Fifth Horseman ( 1 9 7 4 ) h e r e w o r k s t h e M e x i c a n g e n r e o f
n o v e l s a b o u t t h e 1 9 1 0 r e v o l u t i o n s o as t o c r e a t e a p o s i t i v e a n c e s t r a l
figure f o r t h e c o n t e m p o r a r y C h i c a n o : a p r o t a g o n i s t w h o a f t e r t h e
"success" o f t h e revolution refuses to j o i n t h e victorious a r m y in p l u n ­
d e r i n g t h e p e o p l e , a n d , s t a y i n g t r u e t o t h e r e v o l u t i o n , flees t o t h e
U n i t e d S t a t e s . Villarreal's f a t h e r , i n d e e d , f o u g h t f o r P a n c h o V i l l a ,
c o m i n g i n 1 9 2 1 first t o T e x a s a n d t h e n t o C a l i f o r n i a . ( B o t h f a t h e r a n d
s o n r e t u r n e d eventually to Mexico; the son recently o n c e again re­
t u r n e d t o t h e S t a t e s . ) Galarza's Barrio Boy styles itself as o r i g i n a t i n g i n
oral vignettes, a n d thereby explores the preoccupation o f Chicano
23. L'Interférence ( 1 9 7 2 : 1 5 7 ) , cited by Baumgarten (1982:154), who develops
the notion himself with reference to Jewish-American writing, especially Yiddishinfluenced writing, but not limited to that set of inter-references.
24. See Greil Marcus's chapter on Sly Stone in his Mystery Train (1975).
220
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
writers with p r e s e r v i n g w h a t has b e e n largely an oral culture, albeit
a t t a c h e d t o t h e w o r l d s o f H i s p a n i c literacy. R o d r i g u e z ' s Hunger of
Memory is a n a r g u m e n t f o r E n g l i s h as t h e m e d i u m o f i n s t r u c t i o n
i n s c h o o l s , r e t a i n i n g S p a n i s h o n l y as a l a n g u a g e o f i n t i m a c y ; its d e ­
scriptions o f the two very different worlds are i n t e n d e d to d e n y that
s u c c e s s i n N o r t h A m e r i c a c a n b e a c c o m p a n i e d by r e t a i n i n g t h e c o m ­
m u n a l richness o f t h e barrio. Rodriguez h a s roused a storm o f contro­
v e r s y , e x p o s i n g d e e p class d i v i s i o n s a m o n g M e x i c a n - A m e r i c a n s , b u t
a l s o p o i n t i n g t o t h e a m b i g u i t y o f m i d d l e class M e x i c a n - A m e r i c a n
w r i t e r s u s i n g t h e f i g u r e o f t h e p o o r as a v e h i c l e o f e x p r e s s i o n r a t h e r
than writing about their o w n experiences. Many Chicano c o m m e n ­
tators a c k n o w l e d g e t h e didactic nature o f C h i c a n o writing in t h e 1960s
as a k e y c o m p o n e n t o f t h e rise o f a political m o v e m e n t . C i s n e r o s is o n e
o f a n u m b e r o f writers w h o have b e g u n to write m o r e directly o f
t h e m s e l v e s ; s h e u s e s a f r a g m e n t a r y , richly e v o c a t i v e , v i g n e t t e s t y l e , i n
English.
T h e antagonism/anxiety directed towards Rodriguez's autobio­
g r a p h i c a r g u m e n t , as w e l l as t h e c o m m e n t a r y o n t h e political d i d a c ­
ticism o f earlier C h i c a n o writing, pose t h e key issues for t h e creation
o f a u t h e n t i c a l l y i n t e r - r e f e r e n t i a l e t h n i c v o i c e s , as w e l l as a l e r t i n g u s t o
t h e diversity within t h e C h i c a n o (not to m e n t i o n the larger H i s p a n i c A m e r i c a n ) c o m m u n i t y : d i v e r s i t y o f class, o f r e g i o n (in M e x i c o ; T e x a s
vs. C a l i f o r n i a v s . C h i c a g o ) , o f g e n e a l o g y ( p r i d e in S p a i n v s . p r i d e i n
p r e - C o l u m b i a n ancestry).
T h e most famous p o e m s of the Chicano movement, for example,
R u d o l p h o ' s "Corky," G o n z a l e s ' s "I a m J o a q u i n , " A l u r i s t a ( A l b e r t o
Urista)'s Floricanto en Aztlan, a n d A b e l a r d o D e l g a d o ' s " S t u p i d A m e r ­
ica," a r e o p e n s e a r c h e s f o r e n a b l i n g h i s t o r i e s o f C h i c a n o i d e n t i t y .
"I a m J o a q u i n " b u i l d s o n M e x i c a n history, p i c t u r i n g t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s
as a n e u r o t i c evil g i a n t ( i n v a d e r o f M e x i c o ; d e m a n d e r o f a s s i m i l a t i o n
i n t o a w h i r l p o o l o r m e l t i n g p o t that w o u l d d e n y M e x i c a n - A m e r i c a n s
t h e i r a n c e s t r y ) a n d t h e C h i c a n o n a t i o n as a c o u n t e r g i a n t i n t h e p r o ­
c e s s o f c r e a t i o n t h r o u g h b l o o d sacrifices ( o f t h e past a n d p e r h a p s f u ­
t u r e : t h e e x a m p l e o f Israel is p o s e d ) . A l u r i s t a , i n f l u e n c e d by C a r l o s
C a s t e n e d a , c o n s t r u c t s a s o m e w h a t d i f f e r e n t h e r o i c past, c e n t e r e d l e s s
o n H i s p a n i c - M e x i c a n history, a n d m o r e o n a p r e - C o l u m b i a n m y t h o s
(fiori-canto, " f l o w e r - s o n g , " is a S p a n i s h t r a n s l a t i o n o f t h e N a h u a t l f o r
" p o e t r y " ) ; A z t l a n , t h e r e g i o n o f n o r t h e r n M e x i c o i n c l u d i n g w h a t is
n o w t h e s o u t h w e s t e r n U n i t e d S t a t e s , is a r e a l m o f a n c i e n t w i s d o m , f a r
o l d e r t h a n t h e A n g l o s e t t l e m e n t s a n d m o r e in t u n e w i t h t h e h a r m o ­
nies o f nature a n d the universe. Delgado's short p o e m e x p o s e s the in­
ability o f A n g l o A m e r i c a t o r e c o g n i z e in C h i c a n o s t h e i r rich a n t i q u i t y ,
c r e a t i v e m o d e r n i t y , a n d s y n t h e t i c fertility. C h i c a n o k n i v e s c a n b e p u t
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
221
t o u s e in c r e a t i v e s c u l p t u r e , a s in t h e p a s t santeros c a r v e d r e l i g i o u s fig­
u r e s ; H i s p a n i c m o d e r n i t y in p a i n t i n g (Picasso) o u t p a c e d A n g l o , a n d
b a r r i o graffiti c o u l d b e m u c h m o r e , g i v e n t h e c h a n c e ; l i t e r a t u r e ,
t o o , c a n b e p o w e r f u l l y synthesized o u t o f a bicultural situation: wit­
n e s s this p o e m :
stupid america, see that chicano
with t h e big knife
in his steady hand
h e doesn't want to knife y o u
h e wants to sit o n a bench
and carve christfigures
but you won't let him.
he is the picasso
o f your western states
but h e will die
with o n e thousand masterpieces
h a n g i n g only from his mind.
I n t e r - r e f e r e n c e h e r e e n c o m p a s s e s b o t h folk t r a d i t i o n (santeros) a n d
h i g h m o d e r n i s m in t h e Hispanic world (Picasso), b r i n g i n g t h e m t o
c o n s c i o u s n e s s i n A n g l o A m e r i c a ( t h e E n g l i s h m e d i u m ) , w h i l e criticiz­
i n g t h e o p p r e s s i o n a n d c u l t u r a l d e p r i v a t i o n i m p o s e d by A m e r i c a .
T h e search for enabling histories a n d myths in m u c h early Chi­
c a n o w r i t i n g t o o k t h e f o r m o f s e e k i n g o u t cuentos ( s t o r i e s ) , a n d m u c h
o f t h e literary i d e o l o g y was o n e o f c a p t u r i n g a n d p r e s e r v i n g a n oral
c u l t u r e . Galarza's Barrio Boy p r e s e n t s itself as a w r i t t e n v e r s i o n o f o r a l
v i g n e t t e s t o l d t o t h e family. T o m a s Rivera's y no se lo trago la tierra (and
the earth did not part) a l t e r n a t e s a s h o r t a n e c d o t e w i t h a l o n g e r v i g n e t t e
v i v i d l y r e c r e a t i n g a r c h e t y p i c a l crises a n d d i l e m m a s o f t h e e x p l o i t e d
p o o r C h i c a n o s o f T e x a s ; t h e e f f e c t is o f a c o l l e c t i v e v o i c e o f t h e p e o p l e ,
p o w e r f u l a n d searing, with that eternal, b u t n o t ahistorical, quality o f
f o l k t a l e s , t h e q u a l i t y t h a t W a l t e r B e n j a m i n i d e n t i f i e d as c o m i n g f r o m
s h a r e d e x p e r i e n c e . C u r e r s a n d g r a n d p a r e n t s , o f t e n f e m a l e (curanderas, abuelitas), figure as i m p o r t a n t s o u r c e s o f t r a d i t i o n , o f m y s t e r i o u s
k n o w l e d g e , a n d o f c u l t u r a l s t r e n g t h : t h e curandera U l t i m a i n R u d o l f o
A n a y a ' s Bless Me Ultima ( 1 9 7 2 ) is o n e o f t h e r i c h e s t o f t h e s e
figures;
F a u s t o i n R o n Arias's The Road to Tamazunchale ( 1 9 7 5 ) is a c o m i c m a l e
abuelito c o u n t e r p a r t . B o t h A n a y a a n d A r i a s m o v e b e y o n d r e t e l l i n g o f
oral folk c u l t u r e , u s i n g "magical realism" to create a richly i n v e n t i v e
u n i v e r s e p r e g n a n t w i t h C h i c a n o a s s o c i a t i o n s . U l t i m a is still a h e a l i n g
figure, using traditional lore o n the side o f g o o d . A f o r m e r e n c y c l o p e ­
d i a s a l e s m a n , F a u s t o is a l r e a d y a v e r y m o d e r n i s t o l d m a n , w h o i n s t e a d
222
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
o f p a s s i v e l y y i e l d i n g t o f a i l i n g h e a l t h , brilliantly c r e a t e s a n a c t i v e e n d
g a m e , h a n g i n g o u t with a y o u n g teenager, inventing relations with a
P e r u v i a n llama h e r d e r , transporting himself to ancient C u z c o , acting
as a c o y o t e t o b r i n g w e t b a c k s i n t o t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s , a n d t e a c h i n g
t h e m h o w to earn a living without w o r k i n g by playing corpse. T h a n k s
p e r h a p s t o k n o w l e d g e g a i n e d f r o m h i s e n c y c l o p e d i a s , Fausto's e n d
g a m e is full o f a l l u s i o n s a n d p a r o d i e s . R o l a n d o Flinojosa's Rites and
Witnesses ( 1 9 8 2 ) w o r k s t h e o r a l m o d e in a wildly c o m i c , b u t less m a g i ­
cal, d i r e c t i o n , b e i n g l a r g e l y c o n s t r u c t e d o f d i a l o g u e s s e t in m a j o r i n ­
s t i t u t i o n s t h a t m a n i p u l a t e h i s c h a r a c t e r s ' lives in m y t h i c a l Klail City,
B e l k e n C o u n t y , s o u t h T e x a s (a b a n k that k n o w s e v e r y o n e ' s g e n e a l o g i e s
a n d b u s i n e s s , i n all s e n s e s , t h e b e t t e r t o stay o n e s t e p a h e a d of t h e m i n
m a n i p u l a t i n g r e a l e s t a t e , politics, c a r e e r s , r a n c h i n g , a n d b a n k i n g ; t h e
A r m y , w h i c h b r i n g s t o g e t h e r a C h i c a n o f r o m Klail City a n d a C a j u n
f r o m L o u i s i a n a t o f i g h t in A s i a u n d e r S g t . H a t a l s k i ) . Satire h e r e f u n c ­
t i o n s l i k e a h a l l o f m i r r o r s t o reality, r a t h e r t h a n a t t e m p t i n g t o c r e a t e a
c o u n t e r w o r l d . It is a s e r i e s o f m i r r o r s t h a t reflect d e e p l y , w i t h a scal­
pel's p r e c i s i o n , r e v e a l i n g e v e r d e e p e r layers like a cuento de nunca
acabar ( s t o r y w i t h o u t e n d ) .
T w o a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l p o e m s t h a t like " S t u p i d A m e r i c a " d e p e n d
l e s s o n c r e a t i n g n e w m y t h s of M e x i c a n o r A z t l a n pasts i l l u s t r a t e t h e
r i c h n e s s o f i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e : R a u l Salinas's "A T r i p T h r o u g h t h e M i n d
Jail" ( 1 9 6 9 ) w r i t t e n in jail a n d d e d i c a t e d t o E l d r i d g e C l e a v e r , reflect­
i n g o n t h e destruction o f his c h i l d h o o d barrio in Austin, T e x a s ; a n d
B e r n i c e Z a m o r a ' s "Restless S e r p e n t s . " S a l i n a s e l e g a n t l y r e v i e w s t h e
trajectory o f c h i l d h o o d a n d youth, thereby m a k i n g a p o w e r f u l indict­
m e n t o f t h e o p p r e s s i o n in t h e s e b a r r i o s . T h e first h a l f o f t h e p o e m
d e s c r i b e s c h i l d h o o d s c e n e s o f p l a y i n g in c h u c k - h o l e d s t r e e t s , l e a r n i n g
g a m e p l a y i n g that t u r n s a g g r e s s i v i t y i n w a r d , b r i b i n g girls w i t h J u i c y
Fruit g u m (an apt e u p h e m i s m , u s i n g a p r e p a c k a g e d , sterile c o n s u m e r
g o o d f r o m outside for s e d u c i n g tabooed objectives), ethnic rejection
at s c h o o l , a n d b e i n g s c a r e d by La L l o r o n a ( t h e w e e p i n g w o m a n w h o
inhabits streams a n d kidnaps naughty children). T h e s e c o n d half par­
allels t h e first i n t h e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s of y o u t h : h a n g i n g o u t at S p a n ­
i s h T o w n C a f e , t h e "first g r o w n - u p ( 1 3 ) h a n g o u l " ( 1 3 = m a r i j u a n a ) ,
s n i f f i n g g a s , d r i n k i n g m u s c a t e l , c h a s e d by t h e l l o r o n a o f p o l i c e s i r e n s ,
p a i n t i n g graffiti ( p a c h u c o " c o u l d - b e artists"). T h e b a r r i o is g o n e , b u t
"You l i v e o n , c a p t i v e i n t h e l o n e l y cell b l o c k s o f m y m i n d . " T h e p o e m ,
d e d i c a t e d to Cleaver, n a m e s C h i c a n o barrios across the States. T h e
p o e m ' s d e s c r i p t i o n is a p o w e r f u l i n d i c t m e n t , b u t t h e p o e m ' s r e s u l t is
s t r e n g t h : " y o u k e e p m e away f r o m INSANITY'S h u n g r y jaws," p r o v i d i n g
" i d e n t i t y . . . a s e n s e of b e l o n g i n g , " w h i c h is "so e s s e n t i a l t o a d u l t d a y s
of imprisonment."
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
223
W e t u r n finally t o B e r n i c e Z a m o r a ' s Restless Serpents. T h e b e a u t y
h e r e , i n part, lies in t h e w a y s h e injects a f e m a l e ( s h e r e j e c t s " f e m i ­
n i s t " ) p o i n t o f v i e w , c o u n t e r p o s i n g it as a h e a l i n g p o t e n t i a l a g a i n s t
t h e s e l f - d e s t r u c t i v e n e s s of t h e m a l e w o r l d s d e p i c t e d b y S a l i n a s ,
M o n t o y a ("Fl L o u i e " ) , a n d t h e P é n i t e n t e s cult s h e d e s c r i b e s . T h e c u l t
o f flagellation d u r i n g E a s t e r w e e k is f a s c i n a t i n g a n d attracts h e r t o its
p i l g r i m a g e c e n t e r ; b u t as a w o m a n s h e is n o t a l l o w e d i n t o t h e c e n t e r .
S h e offers a n alternative imagery, o f l o c o m o t i o n to t h e center (swim­
m i n g instead o f riding u p d r y arroyos), o f natural cycles o f life-giving
b l o o d (instead o f t h e exclusively m a l e d e a t h - d e a l i n g b l o o d sacrifices o f
flagellation
a n d m o c k c r u c i f i x i o n ) . T h e s e r p e n t s p e r h a p s a r e t h e selfr e n e w i n g (periodically skin-shedding) images o f ancient Mexico (the
d e s c e n d i n g p l u m e d s e r p e n t g o d s ) . A s B r u c e - N o v a ( 1 9 8 2 ) p u t s it, at
t h e b e g i n n i n g of Z a m o r a ' s 5 8 - p o e m b o o k , t h e m y t h i c b e a s t s a r e rest­
l e s s , w a n t i n g t h e i r d u e ; t h e c o s m i c o r d e r is o u t o f p h a s e , t h e rituals
a r e w r o n g , i n w a r d l y t u r n e d , s e l f - d e s t r u c t i v e a g g r e s s i o n ; at t h e e n d a n
a l t e r n a t i v e ritual, n u a n c e d i n t h e i m a g e r y o f c o m m u n i o n a n d t h e s e x
act, m a l e i n g e s t e d by f e m a l e , s o o t h e s t h e s e r p e n t s . O t h e r w o m e n writ­
e r s t o o u s e this s u b t l e t e c h n i q u e o f u n d e r m i n i n g a n initial p o i n t
o f v i e w a n d s h o w i n g il in a d i f f e r e n t l i g h t t h r o u g h w o m e n ' s e y e s .
E v a n g e l i n a Vigil's " D u m b B r o a d " d e s c r i b e s a w o m a n in fast 8 A . M .
b u m p e r - t o - b u m p e r traffic w i t h b o t h h a n d s o f f t h e w h e e l , t h e r e a r
v i e w m i r r o r t u r n e d p e r p e n d i c u l a r , as s h e t e a s e s h e r h a i r , fixes h e r
lipstick, p u t s o n e y e s h a d o w , a n d s o o n ; t h e p o e m e n d s t r i u m p h a n t l y
with h e r "sporting a splendid hair-do," tuning the radio, lighting a
c i g a r e t t e , a n d b e i n g h a n d e d c o f f e e , t h e r e f r a i n " d u m b b r o a d " n o w , as
it e n d s t h e p o e m , b e i n g s u b v e r t e d , a l m o s t a c o m m u t e r ' s "El L o u i e . "
23
It c o u l d b e said t h a t i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e is w h a t e t h n i c i t y is e s s e n t i a l l y
all a b o u t , b u t r a r e l y is t h e c o n t r i b u t i o n of i n t e r l i n g u i s t i c c o n t e x t s o
c l e a r a n d s o o b v i o u s l y rich as a v e h i c l e f o r f u t u r e c r e a t i v i t y : b e t w e e n
E n g l i s h a n d H i s p a n i c worlds; a m o n g subcultural styles, mass culture,
and "high" culture; between male a n d female worlds. T h e subversiveness o f alternative perspectives (feminist, minority) for t h e takenf o r - g r a n t e d a s s u m p t i o n s of d o m i n a n t i d e o l o g i e s , a n d t h e p o l y p h o n y
o f m u l t i p l e voices (English, Spanish), are m o d e l s for m o r e t e x t u r e d ,
n u a n c e d , a n d realistic e t h n o g r a p h y .
2 6
25. Feminism, Zamora says, ignores race. T h e Chicana's relation to Chicano men
she says is different from that of feminists with their men, owing among other reasons
to the loss of Chicano men to white women. She sees a parallel problem for black
women. (See interview in Bruce-Nova 1980:214.)
26. See again here note 21 above.
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
224
Ironic H u m o r
. . . the yet unseen translation where Indians have been backed up into and
on long liquor nights, working in their minds, the anger and madness will
come, forth in tongues and fury
SIMON ORTIZ, "Irish Poets on Saturday Night and an Indian"
Tricksters must learn better how to balance the forces of good and evil
through humor in the urban world
GERALD VIZENOR, Wordatrows
P e r h a p s n o t h i n g d e f i n e s t h e p r e s e n t c o n d i t i o n s of k n o w l e d g e
s o w e l l as i r o n y . E v e r m o r e a w a r e , i n e v e r m o r e p r e c i s e w a y s , o f t h e
c o m p l e x i t y o f social life, w r i t e r s h a v e h a d t o find w a y s t o i n c o r p o r a t e ,
a c k n o w l e d g e , a n d exploit our increasingly empirical understandings
o f t h e c o n t e x t , p e r s p e c t i v e , instability, conflict, c o n t r a d i c t i o n , c o m p e ­
t i t i o n , a n d m u l t i l a y e r e d c o m m u n i c a t i o n s t h a t c h a r a c t e r i z e reality.
I r o n y is a s e l f - c o n s c i o u s m o d e o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g a n d o f w r i t i n g , w h i c h
r e f l e c t s a n d m o d e l s t h e r e c o g n i t i o n t h a t all c o n c e p t u a l i z a t i o n s a r e
l i m i t e d , t h a t w h a t is s o c i a l l y m a i n t a i n e d as t r u t h is o f t e n p o l i t i c a l l y
m o t i v a t e d . Stylistically, i r o n y e m p l o y s r h e t o r i c a l d e v i c e s t h a t s i g n a l
real o r f e i g n e d disbelief o n the part o f the a u t h o r towards h e r or his
o w n s t a t e m e n t s ; it o f t e n c e n t e r s o n t h e r e c o g n i t i o n o f t h e p r o b l e m ­
atic n a t u r e o f l a n g u a g e ; a n d s o it r e v e l s — o r w a l l o w s — i n satirical
techniques.
R e c e n t A m e r i n d i a n a u t o b i o g r a p h i e s and' a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l fiction
a n d poetry are a m o n g the most sophisticated e x e m p l a r s of the u s e
o f i r o n i c h u m o r as a s u r v i v a l skill, a t o o l f o r a c k n o w l e d g i n g c o m ­
plexity, a m e a n s o f e x p o s i n g or subverting oppressive h e g e m o n i c ide­
o l o g i e s , a n d a n art f o r a f f i r m i n g life i n t h e face o f o b j e c t i v e t r o u b l e s .
T h e t e c h n i q u e s o f transference, talk-stories, multiple voices o r p e r ­
s p e c t i v e s , a n d a l t e r n a t i v e s e l v e s a r e all g i v e n d e p t h o r e x p a n d i n g r e s ­
o n a n c e s t h r o u g h i r o n i c twists. T h u s , t a l k - s t o r i e s o r n a r r a t i v e c o n ­
n e c t i o n s t o t h e p a s t , t o t h e a n i m a t e d c o s m o s , a n d to t h e p r e s e n t a r e
p r e s e n t e d as t h e h e a l i n g m e d i c i n e n o t o n l y f o r I n d i a n s b u t f o r A m e r i ­
c a n s a n d m o d e r n f o l k at l a r g e . S e a r i n g p o r t r a i t s o f I n d i a n p a i n a r e
w i e l d e d to e x p o s e white poets' appropriations o f Indian holism with
n a t u r e as r o m a n t i c i z i n g , trivializing, a n d h e g e m o n i c w h i t e w a s h i n g .
O p e n n e s s t o c o n s t r u c t i o n o f n e w i d e n t i t i e s is p r o m o t e d by t h e fact
2 7
27. Hayden White, from whom this characterization is adapted, has described the
efforts of nineteenth-century historiography and social theory to overcome the irony of
the Enlightenment—by rhetorical strategies of romance, tragedy, and comedy—only to
end in an even more sophisticated and thorough irony (White 1973). For the present
century, see Marcus and Fischer (1986), Lyotard (1979), and the recent essays of Tyler,
including the one in this volume.
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
225
t h a t a l m o s t all w r i t e r s a c k n o w l e d g e a c r e a t i v e s e n s e o f b e i n g o f m i x e d
heritage.
N. Scott M o m a d a y , perhaps the h i g h priest of the h e a l i n g p o w e r
o f t h e w o r d ( " T h e possibilities o f s t o r y t e l l i n g a r e p r e c i s e l y t h o s e o f
u n d e r s t a n d i n g t h e h u m a n e x p e r i e n c e " ) , is a skillful e x p e r i m e n t e r
w i t h m u l t i p l e v o i c e s a n d p e r s p e c t i v e s . H i s first m e m o i r , The Way to
Rainy Mountain ( 1 9 6 9 ) , traces t h e m i g r a t i o n r o u t e o f t h e K i o w a s f r o m
M o n t a n a to O k l a h o m a , each c h a p t e r told in three voices: that o f eter­
nal l e g e n d a r y stories; that o f historical a n e c d o t e or e t h n o g r a p h i c o b ­
s e r v a t i o n , o f t e n a s i n g l e s e n t e n c e o r t w o in i m p e r s o n a l , flat, d e s c r i p ­
t i v e o r scientific p r o s e ; a n d t h a t o f a p e r s o n a l r e m i n i s c e n c e , o f t e n
lyrical a n d e v o c a t i v e o f a m o o d . P e r s o n a l e x p e r i e n c e , c u l t u r a l n o r m o r
g e n e r a l i z a t i o n , a n d v i s i o n a r y tale a r e t h u s i n t e r b r a i d e d s o as t o c a p ­
t u r e , a n d r e - p r e s e n t in m u t u a l r e i n f o r c e m e n t , t h e s e p a r a t e l e v e l s o f
m e a n i n g f u l n e s s , w h i l e at t h e s a m e t i m e e x p o s i n g a n d h e i g h t e n i n g t h e
rhetorical vehicles that s h a p e t h e s e levels. A lean, sparse, yet s h a r p
a n d m u l t i d i m e n s i o n a l , p o e t i c e f f e c t is a c h i e v e d .
2 8
I n a s e c o n d m e m o i r , The Names ( 1 9 7 6 ) , M o m a d a y p l a y s w i t h c h i l d ­
h o o d f a n t a s i e s , s e e i n g h i m s e l f s o m e t i m e s as a w h i t e c o n f r o n t i n g h o s ­
tile, d u m b , u n a p p e a l i n g I n d i a n s , a n d at o t h e r t i m e s s e e i n g h i m s e l f as
t h e I n d i a n . S u c h o p t i o n s c o m e b o t h f r o m his e x p e r i e n c e a n d his g e n ­
e a l o g y . M o m a d a y is K i o w a o n h i s father's s i d e , a n d his m o t h e r s t y l e d
h e r s e l f as a n I n d i a n , a l t h o u g h o n l y o n e o f h e r g r e a t g r a n d m o t h e r s
was C h e r o k e e . S h e was not accepted by the Kiowa, a n d the family
m o v e d to N e w M e x i c o , w h e r e M o m a d a y h a d e x p e r i e n c e s with the N a ­
vajo, T a n o a n P u e b l o , a n d b e i n g a m e m b e r o f a g a n g o f white t o u g h s .
M o m a d a y ' s life h i s t o r y , his p h y s i c a l f e a t u r e s , a n d h i s i d e a s a b o u t t h e
p o t e n c i e s o f story telling are incorporated into the character o f J o h n
B i g B l u f f T o s a m e h ( a l o n g w i t h t h e i n t r o d u c t i o n to The Way to Rainy
Mountain) i n h i s P u l i t z e r — p r i z e w i n n i n g n o v e l House Made of Dawn
( 1 9 6 8 ) . T h e f o c a l c h a r a c t e r o f this n o v e l , A b e l , is a v i c t i m o f illegiti­
m a c y ( n o t k n o w i n g h i s f a t h e r o r h i s father's h e r i t a g e , N a v a j o p e r h a p s )
a n d e x c l u s i o n b y o t h e r I n d i a n s . A b e l is a t r a n s f o r m a t i o n o f t h e figure
o f I r a H a y e s ( t h e P i m a I n d i a n w h o h e l p e d raise t h e flag at I w o J i m a
a n d a f t e r t h e w a r fell m o r t a l v i c t i m to t h e r o l e , p r o v i d e d b y w h i t e s o ­
ciety, o f o u t c a s t a l c o h o l i c I n d i a n ) . A b e l , t o o , is a v e t e r a n , b u t h i s p r o b ­
l e m s a r e p r i m a r i l y c a u s e d by I n d i a n s a n d n o n - A n g l o s . H e is a n e m ­
b a r r a s s m e n t t o T o s a m e h by fulfilling t h e w h i t e s t e r e o t y p e s o f t h e
v i o l e n t , s u p e r s t i t i o u s , i n a r t i c u l a t e I n d i a n . H e is r e d e e m e d b y r e t u r n ­
i n g to his d y i n g g r a n d f a t h e r a n d e n t e r i n g a c e r e m o n i a l race t h e
g r a n d f a t h e r h a d o n c e w o n . T h r o u g h t h e ritual h e is a b l e ( A b e l ? ) t o
28. From the introduction to Vizenor's Wordarrows.
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MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
recall t h e Navajo prayer s o n g , " H o u s e M a d e o f Dawn," w h i c h earlier
h e h a d unsuccessfully sought.
L e s l i e M a r m o n S i l k o (a m i x e d b l o o d L a g u n a ) ' s Ceremony ( 1 9 7 7 )
d e a l s with t h e s a m e issues i n very similar ways. S h e , t o o , uses t h e d e ­
v i c e o f a n I n d i a n t r a u m a t i z e d b y w a r (in h i s m e m o r i e s t h e k i l l i n g o f
J a p a n e s e m e r g e s with t h e d e a t h o f his u n c l e Josiah; his prayers t o s t o p
t h e P h i l i p p i n e rains cause h i m guilt for t h e d r o u g h t a n d loss o f ani­
m a l s s u f f e r e d b y his family a n d p e o p l e : "Tayo didn't k n o w h o w to e x ­
p l a i n . . . t h a t h e h a d n o t killed . . . b u t t h a t h e h a d d o n e t h i n g s f a r
worse"). S h e , t o o , uses character types to e x p l o r e the p r o p e r integra­
t i o n w i t h t h e p r e s e n t w o r l d . T a y o , t h e p r o t a g o n i s t , is h a l f - M e x i c a n ,
h a l f - L a g u n a , a n d thus l o o k e d d o w n o n by his long-suffering Christian
L a g u n a a u n t . T h e latter's s o n , R o c k y , a d o p t s w h i t e o u t l o o k s a n d e d u ­
c a t i o n , a n d is t h o u g h t t o b e t h e family's g r e a t h o p e t o e s c a p e I n d i a n
p o v e r t y . H e , h o w e v e r , is k i l l e d i n t h e P h i l i p p i n e s ( w r o n g s o l u t i o n ) ,
c a u s i n g T a y o t o a d d survivor's g u i l t t o h i s c o n f u s i o n s . E m o , H a r l e y ,
a n d L e r o y a r e t h e s t e r e o t y p i c I n d i a n v e t e r a n s w h o try t o r e c a p t u r e
t h e i r s e n s e o f b e l o n g i n g t o A m e r i c a b y d r i n k i n g a n d t e l l i n g s t o r i e s of
t h e i r m o r e p o t e n t d a y s . E m o c a r r i e s a r o u n d a little b a g o f t e e t h o f
J a p a n e s e soldiers h e h a s killed, a n d eventually turns his frustration o n
h i s f e l l o w v i c t i m s , k i l l i n g h i s t w o b u d d i e s . It is T a y o i n t h e e n d w h o
represents the path out of the mixtures and confusions o f the In­
d i a n — a n d o f m o d e r n America.
His r e d e m p t i o n comes through two old-medicine m e n , particu­
l a r l y O l d B e t o n i e w h o lives o n s k i d r o w i n G a l l u p . O l d B e t o n i e n o t
o n l y insists that o n e m u s t c o n f r o n t t h e sickness-witchery in o n e s e l f
a n d n o t t a k e t h e e a s y w a y o u t , w r i t i n g o f f all w h i t e s ("It w a s I n d i a n
w i t c h e r y t h a t m a d e w h i t e p e o p l e " [139]), f o r w i t c h e r y w o r k s l a r g e l y
t h r o u g h f e a r , b u t h e a l s o insists t h a t t h e h e a l i n g c e r e m o n i e s t h e m ­
s e l v e s m u s t c h a n g e ( " t h i n g s w h i c h d o n ' t shift a n d g r o w a r e d e a d "
[ 1 3 3 ] ) . I n d e e d , h i s ritual i m p l e m e n t s c o n s i s t o f c a r d b o a r d b o x e s , o l d
c l o t h i n g a n d rags, d r y roots, twigs, sage, m o u n t a i n tobacco, w o o l ,
n e w s p a p e r s , t e l e p h o n e b o o k s ( t o k e e p track o f n a m e s ) , c a l e n d a r s ,
c o k e b o t t l e s , p o u c h e s a n d b a g s , a n d d e e r - h o o f crackers: " I n t h e o l d
d a y s it w a s s i m p l e . A m e d i c i n e p e r s o n c o u l d g e t b y w i t h o u t all t h e s e
t h i n g s . A l l t h e s e t h i n g s h a v e s t o r i e s alive i n t h e m " ( 1 2 3 ) . C e r e m o n i e s
a n d s t o r i e s a r e n o t j u s t e n t e r t a i n m e n t : " T h e y a r e all w e h a v e t o fight
o f f i l l n e s s a n d d e a t h " (2). T a y o m u s t c o n f r o n t t h e w i t c h e r y i n h i m s e l f ,
in h i s fellow veterans, a n d in A m e r i c a . T h e climax occurs a l o n g t h e
c h a i n - l i n k f e n c e o f a u r a n i u m m i n e n e a r a n a t o m i c test site. T h e p r o b ­
l e m o f t h e I n d i a n is a n a l o g o u s t o t h a t o f t h e w h i t e s :
T h e n they grew away from the earth
sun . . . plants and animals . . .
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
227
when they look
they see only objects
T h e world is a dead thing for them . . .
T h e y fear the world.
T h e y destroy what they fear.
T h e y fear themselves.
H u m o r is a critical c o m p o n e n t o f t h e h e a l i n g t a l k - s t o r i e s t h a t r e ­
establish c o n n e c t i o n s to t h e past, to t h e c o s m o s , a n d to t h e present.
H u m o r is a s u r v i v a l skill a g a i n s t w i t c h e r y a n d evil. G e r a l d V i z e n o r , a
h a l f - C h i p p e w a ( A n i s h i n a b e ) I n d i a n activist, is a m a j o r p r a c t i t i o n e r o f
t h e fine a r t o f t h e trickster. Wordarrows ( 1 9 7 8 b ) is a s e r i e s o f p o r t r a i t s
d r a w n f r o m h i s e x p e r i e n c e as d i r e c t o r o f t h e A m e r i c a n I n d i a n E m ­
p l o y m e n t a n d G u i d a n c e C e n t e r in Minneapolis, w h i c h also i n f o r m s
h i s c o m i c n o v e l Darkness in St. Louis Bearheart ( 1 9 7 8 a ) . H e says h e r e ­
f u s e d t o w o r k w i t h t h e C o m m u n i s t Party, w h i c h a t t e m p t e d t o s u p p o r t
h i s o r g a n i z i n g activities, " b e c a u s e i n a d d i t i o n t o political r e a s o n s —
t h e r e w a s t o o little h u m o r i n c o m m u n i s t s p e e c h , m a k i n g it i m p o s s i b l e
t o k n o w t h e h e a r t s o f t h e s p e a k e r s " ( 1 9 7 8 b : 1 7 ) . T h e p o r t r a i t s i n Wordarrows a r e full o f s a d n e s s , b u t a l s o s m a l l a b s u r d i s t v i c t o r i e s . T h e r e is
B a p t i s t e S a i n t S i m o n I V o r " B a t F o u r , " t o l d b y h i s f a t h e r t h a t h e is
s t u p i d a n d a b a c k w a r d a n d a f o o l , w h o tries t o b e c o m e a trickster, bal­
a n c i n g e n e r g i e s o f g o o d a n d evil, b u t " h a r d as h e t r i e d , a n d i n g o o d
h u m o r , h e f a i l e d as a trickster a n d s e t t l e d f o r t h e r o l e o f a f o o l . Evil
was t o o m u c h f o r h i m to balance. A s a fool . . . h e was a brilliant suc­
cess," talking hilarious n o n s e n s e to get his case dismissed in court, t o
w e a s e l m o n e y o u t o f h i s social w o r k e r , a n d s o o n ( 1 9 7 8 b : 54). T h e r e is
the " c o n f e r e n c e savage," or "nomadic c o m m i t t e e bear," w h o n e v e r
w a s h e s o r c h a n g e s h i s c l o t h e s , g o e s t o all t h e c o n f e r e n c e s , a n d s l e e p s
w i t h w h i t e w o m e n as a k i n d o f "foul b e a r r a c i s m test." A n d t h e r e is t h e
s t o r y o f t h e c r i p p l e w h o sells h i s w o o d e n l e g f o r a d r i n k ( t h e l e g h a s a
l a b e l o n it t o b e m a i l e d b a c k ) , f o r w h i c h t h e w h i t e m o r a l is " s t o p d r i n k ­
i n g , " b u t t h e tribal m o r a l is t o find f r e e b o o z e w i t h a w o o d e n l e g . N o
w o n d e r t h e r e is t h u s a l s o " C u s t e r o n t h e S l i p s t r e a m , " a B u r e a u o f I n ­
d i a n Affairs e m p l o y e e a n d reincarnation o f Custer, w h o suffers his
o w n n i g h t m a r e s o f h u m i l i a t i o n at t h e h a n d s o f t h e I n d i a n s , a n d s o
s p e n d s all h i s t i m e i n h i s p a d d e d c h a i r . Darkness in St. Louis Bearheart,
w h i c h g e t s a p r e v i e w i n Wordarrows, is a n a b s u r d i s t c o m e d y s e t a f t e r
t h e c o l l a p s e o f A m e r i c a n civilization, a f t e r o i l r u n s o u t a n d t h e g o v ­
e r n m e n t takes back t h e trees o n the reservations for fuel, forcing a
pilgrimage o f the Indians from their sacred forest lands, led by P r o u d e
C e d a r f a i r ( c l o w n s a n d tricksters). A l o n g t h e w a y t h e y m e e t a n d o v e r ­
c o m e a s e r i e s o f e n e m i e s , s u c h as Sir Cecil S t a p l e s , t h e m o n a r c h o f
u n l e a d e d g a s o l i n e , w h o w a g e r s five g a l l o n s w o r t h o f g a s a g a i n s t t h e
l i e n o r ' s life; t h e f a s t - f o o d fascists, w h o h a n g w i t c h e s f r o m t h e r a f t e r s
228
MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
to season before cutting t h e m u p for take-out orders; a n d the g o v e r n ­
m e n t r e g i o n a l w o r d hospitals, m o d e l l e d o n the B I A , set u p o n the the­
o r y o f C o n g r e s s t h a t social p r o b l e m s a n d c r i m e a r e c a u s e d b y l a n ­
g u a g e , w o r d s , g r a m m a r , a n d c o n v e r s a t i o n s . (Sir Cecil Staples's m o t h e r
h a d b e e n sterilized by the g o v e r n m e n t for having illegitimate c h i l d r e n
w h i l e o n w e l f a r e ; s o s h e b e c a m e a t r u c k d r i v e r a n d t o o k to k i d n a p p i n g
c h i l d r e n f r o m s h o p p i n g malls, raising t h e m in h e r truck, a n d w h e n
t h e y w e r e g r o w n , s e t t i n g t h e m o u t at r e s t - s t o p s . )
J a m e s Welch (of Blackfeet and Gros Ventre parentage) uses a
g r i m m e r s o r t o f i r o n i c c o m e d y . H i s n o v e l Winter in the Blood is a b o u t a
Blackfeet m a n whose emotions become frozen (shadowy inversions of
M i c h a e l A r l e n ' s e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y A r m e n i a n m e r c h a n t ) in a n i n ­
v e r t e d W e s t e r n : t h e c o w b o y h e r e is t h e I n d i a n w h o s e h o r s e is o u t o f
c o n t r o l a n d w h o w a t c h e s h e l p l e s s l y as a d e a t h o c c u r s ( t h e t a b l e a u h a p ­
p e n s twice, f r a m i n g the text). Welch also writes poetry. With sensitive
i r o n y , i n " A r i z o n a H i g h w a y s " W e l c h w r i t e s o f l o v e f o r a N a v a j o girl: h e
feels cut off f r o m his ethnic (general I n d i a n ) roots by his e d u c a t i o n
a n d c r a f t as a p o e t ; h e f e e l s w h i t e ("a little pale"), flabby ("belly s o f t as
h e r s " ) , a n d o v e r d r e s s e d ("my s h o e s t o o clean"). I n s t e a d o f b e i n g a n
i n a p p r o p r i a t e l o v e r , h e t r i e s to b e a s p i r i t u a l g u i d e , b u t f e e l s h i m s e l f
i n s t e a d a m a l e v o l e n t g h o s t . S u c h i r o n y c a n b e s e a r i n g , as i n " H a r l e m
M o n t a n a : Just off the Reservation":
We n e e d n o runners here. Booze is law . . .
W h e n you die, if you die, you will remember
the three y o u n g bucks who shot the grocery u p ,
locked themselves in and cried for days, we're rich
h e l p us, oh God, we're rich.
S e v e r a l m e a n i n g s c o a l e s c e h e r e , as M i c h a e l C a s t r o p o i n t s o u t ( 1 9 8 3 :
1 6 5 ) : the i m a g e o f d e s p e r a t i o n in poverty, the despair o f h a v i n g l o c k e d
themselves in f r o m both white and Indian worlds, unable to use the
r i c h e s o f e i t h e r . T h e i m a g e r y o f t h e inability to d i s c o v e r a n d e x p r e s s
o n e ' s i d e n t i t y , o f b e i n g a d r i f t a n d lost b e t w e e n w o r l d s , r e c u r s :
In stunted light, Bear Child tells a story
to the mirror. H e acts his n a m e out,
creeks muscling gorges fill his glass
with g u m b o . T h e bear crawls o n all fours
and barks like a dog. Slithering snake-wise
he balances a nickel on his nose. T h e effect
a snake in heat, ("D-Y BAR")
C a s t r o a g a i n : B e a r C h i l d c a n n o t find h i m s e l f , let a l o n e t h e t r a d i t i o n a l
w i s d o m a n d p o w e r o f h i s b e a r n a m e s a k e a n d t o t e m ; h i s a t t e m p t s at
recovery t h r o u g h acting out his n a m e are but a pathetic charade, a n d
. W e l c h l e a v e s h i m at t h e bar, " h e a d d o w n , t h e d o r m a n t h e a r . "
Ethnicity and the Arts of Memory
229
T h e s e i m a g e s o f pain are cautions against the trivializing, s u p e r ­
ficial r o m a n t i c i s m w i t h w h i c h m a n y w h i t e s a t t e m p t to a p p r o p r i a t e I n ­
d i a n c o n s c i o u s n e s s . "Many I n d i a n writers perceived [Gary] Snyder's
a c c l a i m e d b o o k [Turtle Island] as p a r t o f a n e w cavalry c h a r g e i n t o
their territory by wild-eyed neo-romantics seeking to possess n o t
m e r e l y t h e i r l a n d , as h a d t h e i n v a d e r s o f t h e p r e v i o u s c e n t u r y , b u t
t h e i r v e r y spirit" ( C a s t r o 1983 : 159). T h u s Silko:
Ironically, as white poets attempt to cast off their Anglo-American values,
their Anglo-American origins, they violate a fundamental belief held by the
tribal people they desire to emulate: they deny their history, their very ori­
gins. T h e writing of imitation "Indian" poems then, is pathetic evidence that
in m o r e than two h u n d r e d years, Anglo-Americans have failed to create a sat­
isfactory identity for themselves. (Quoted in Castro 1983 : 213)
A g a i n , c o m m e n t i n g o n M a u r i c e K e n n y (a M o h a w k ) ' s r e f u s a l t o play
"savior a n d w a r r i o r , p r i e s t a n d p o e t . . . s a v a g e a n d p r o p h e t , a n g e l o f
d e a t h a n d a p o s t l e o f t r u t h , " C a s t r o says ( 1 6 9 ) :
Kenny comically reminds us of how the eagerness of spiritually starved whites
to romanticize the Native American denies the Indian's contemporary reality
and humanity, at the same time obfuscating the fact that what America has
b e c o m e is n o w our c o m m o n problem:
Again I spoke of hunger:
A "Big Mac" would d o , instant coffee
plastic pizza, anything but holy water.
I r o n y a n d h u m o r a r e tactics t h a t e t h n o g r a p h e r s h a v e o n l y s l o w l y
c o m e to a p p r e c i a t e , a l b e i t r e c e n t l y w i t h i n c r e a s i n g i n t e r e s t . A n u m b e r
o f analyses n o w exist of previously unnoticed or m i s u n d e r s t o o d iro­
n i e s ( e i t h e r i n t e n d e d o r u n i n t e n t i o n a l l y r e v e a l i n g ) in p a s t e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c w r i t i n g — s e e C r a p a n z a n o i n this v o l u m e , J a m e s B o o n ( 1 9 7 2 )
o n L é v i - S t r a u s s , D o n H a n d e l m a n ( 1 9 7 9 ) o n B a t e s o n . I n c r e a s i n g l y at­
t e n t i o n is b e i n g p a i d t o t h e u s e s o f l a u g h t e r a m o n g e t h n o g r a p h i c s u b ­
j e c t s ( B a k h t i n 1 9 6 5 , K a r p 1985, F i s c h e r 1984). E t h n o g r a p h e r s a r e
pointing o u t the rhetorical devices they employ (Marcus a n d Fischer
1 9 8 6 ) . C o n s i d e r a b l e p o t e n t i a l still e x i s t s , h o w e v e r , t o c o n s t r u c t t e x t s
utilizing h u m o r a n d o t h e r devices that draw attention to their o w n
limitations a n d d e g r e e o f accuracy, and that d o so with aesthetic ele­
g a n c e , a n d are pleasurable to read, rather than with pedantic laboredn e s s . T h e stylist c l o s e s t t o s u c h a n a m b i t i o n i n a n t h r o p o l o g y is, p e r ­
h a p s , L é v i - S t r a u s s ( a n d i n literary criticism, J a c q u e s D e r r i d a ) . T h i s , I
r e c o g n i z e , is a p e r s o n a l j u d g m e n t , a n d n e i t h e r L é v i - S t r a u s s n o r D e r ­
r i d a a r e u n p r o b l e m a t i c . T h e y a r e less m o d e l s t o e m u l a t e t h a n e x ­
a m p l e s o n w h i c h to build in m o r e accessible, replicable ways. For the
t i m e b e i n g , p e d a n t i c l a b o r e d n e s s is a l s o difficult t o a v o i d , b e c a u s e e d i -
MICHAEL M . J . FISCHER
23°
t o r s a n d r e a d e r s still n e e d to b e e d u c a t e d t o u n d e r s t a n d s u c h t e x t s .
S u b t l e t y is a q u a l i t y t h a t s e e m s o f t e n ( b u t n o t n e c e s s a r i l y ) t o r u n
c o u n t e r to the c a n o n s o f explicitness a n d univocal m e a n i n g e x p e c t e d
i n scientific w r i t i n g . B u t , as S t e p h e n T y l e r h a s e l o q u e n t l y p o i n t e d o u t ,
t h e d e m a n d f o r u n i v o c a l m e a n i n g is o f t e n s e l f - d e f e a t i n g ( T y l e r 1 9 7 8 ) .
Ill
Re-Collections and Introductions
Postmodern knowledge . . . refines our sensitivity to differences and
reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable.
JEAN-FRANÇOIS LYOTARD, The Postmodern Condition
E t h n i c i t y is m e r e l y o n e d o m a i n , o r o n e e x e m p l a r , o f a m o r e
g e n e r a l p a t t e r n o f c u l t u r a l d y n a m i c s i n t h e late t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y .
E t h n i c autobiographical writing parallels, mirrors, a n d e x e m p l i f i e s
c o n t e m p o r a r y theories o f textuality, o f k n o w l e d g e , a n d o f culture.
B o t h f o r m s o f writing suggest powerful m o d e s o f cultural criticism.
T h e y a r e p o s t - m o d e r n in t h e i r d e p l o y m e n t o f a s e r i e s of t e c h n i q u e s :
bifocality or reciprocity o f perspectives, juxtapositioning o f multiple realities, intertextuality a n d inter-referentiality, a n d c o m p a r i s o n
t h r o u g h f a m i l i e s o f r e s e m b l a n c e . I n s o f a r as t h e p r e s e n t a g e is o n e o f
i n c r e a s i n g p o t e n t i a l i t i e s f o r d i a l o g u e , as w e l l as conflict, a m o n g c u l tures, lessons for writing e t h n o g r a p h y may bé taken from writers both
o n ethnicity a n d o n textuality, k n o w l e d g e , a n d culture.
Ethnicity.
S u b s t a n t i v e l y w h a t h a v e w e l e a r n e d ? First, t h a t t h e
different ethnicities constitute a family o f resemblances: similar, n o t
i d e n t i c a l ; e a c h e n r i c h i n g b e c a u s e o f its i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e s , n o t r e d u c i b l e
t o m e c h a n i c a l f u n c t i o n s o f solidarity, m u t u a l a i d , political m o b i l i z a t i o n , o r s o c i a l i z a t i o n . It is t h e i n t e r - r e f e r e n c e s , t h e i n t e r w e a v i n g o f
c u l t u r a l t h r e a d s f r o m d i f f e r e n t a r e n a s , t h a t g i v e e t h n i c i t y its p h o e n i x l i k e c a p a c i t i e s f o r r e i n v i g o r a t i o n a n d r e i n s p i r a t i o n . T o kill this p l a y b e t w e e n c u l t u r e s , b e t w e e n realities, is to kill a r e s e r v o i r t h a t s u s t a i n s a n d
r e n e w s h u m a n e attitudes.
In the m o d e r n , technological, secular world, ethnicity has b e c o m e
a p u z z l i n g q u e s t t o t h o s e afflicted b y it. B u t r a t h e r t h a n e s t a b l i s h i n g
a sense o f exclusivity or separation, resolutions o f c o n t e m p o r a r y
e t h n i c i t y t e n d t o w a r d a pluralistic u n i v e r s a l i s m , a t e x t u r e d s e n s e o f
b e i n g A m e r i c a n . ( W e a r e all e t h n i c s , in o n e s e n s e , p e r h a p s ; b u t o n l y
s o m e f e e l e t h n i c i t y as a c o m p e l l i n g f o r c e , o n l y s o m e h a v e a n e a r f o r
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
231
t h e m u s i c o f its r e v e l a t i o n s . ) N o t o n l y is t h e i n d i v i d u a l i s m o f e t h n i c
s e a r c h e s — p o s i n g t h e s t r u g g l e s o f s e l f - d e f i n i t i o n as i d i o s y n c r a t i c —
h u m a n i s t i c a l l y t e m p e r e d by t h e r e c o g n i t i o n t h a t p a r a l l e l p r o c e s s e s affect individuals across the cultural spectrum, but the tolerance a n d
p l u r a l i s m o f A m e r i c a n s o c i e t y s h o u l d b e r e i n f o r c e d b y this r e c o g n i t i o n . T h e r e c r e a t i o n o f e t h n i c i t y in e a c h g e n e r a t i o n , a c c o m p l i s h e d
t h r o u g h d r e a m - a n d t r a n s f e r e n c e l i k e p r o c e s s e s , as m u c h as t h r o u g h
c o g n i t i v e l a n g u a g e , l e a d s t o e f f o r t s to r e c o v e r , fill i n , act o u t , u n r a v e l ,
a n d reveal. T h o u g h the compulsions, repressions, a n d searches are
i n d i v i d u a l , t h e r e s o l u t i o n ( f i n d i n g p e a c e , s t r e n g t h , p u r p o s e , v i s i o n ) is
a r e v e l a t i o n o f c u l t u r a l artifice. N o t o n l y d o e s this r e v e l a t i o n h e l p d e l e gitimize a n d place in perspective the h e g e m o n i c p o w e r o f repressive
p o l i t i c a l o r m a j o r i t y d i s c o u r s e s , it s e n s i t i z e s u s to i m p o r t a n t w i d e r c u l tural d y n a m i c s in t h e post-religious, post-immigrant, technological
a n d s e c u l a r s o c i e t i e s o f t h e late t w e n t i e t h c e n t u r y . I n t h e s e s o c i e t i e s
processes o f i m m i g r a t i o n a n d cultural interaction have n o t s l o w e d ;
q u i t e t h e c o n t r a r y . T h e r e is i n c r e a s i n g l y a d i v e r s i t y o f c u l t u r a l t a p e s try t h a t is n o t — a s m a n y h a v e a s s u m e d — b e i n g h o m o g e n i z e d i n t o
b l a n d n e s s . T h e g r e a t c h a l l e n g e is w h e t h e r this r i c h n e s s c a n b e t u r n e d
into a resource for intellectual a n d cultural reinvigoration.
T h e p o s s i b i l i t y a l w a y s e x i s t s t h a t t h e e x p l o r a t i o n of e l e m e n t s o f
t r a d i t i o n will r e m a i n s u p e r f i c i a l , m e r e l y t r a n s i t i o n a l to d i s a p p e a r a n c e .
I n t h e first g e n e r a t i o n o f i m m i g r a t i o n , p r o b l e m s a r e c o m m u n a l a n d
f a m i l y - r e l a t e d ; i n l a t e r o n e s v e s t i g e s r e m a i n at t h e p e r s o n a l l e v e l , a n d
t h e y , t o o , will d i s a p p e a r ! T h i s is t h e t r a d i t i o n a l s o c i o l o g i c a l s t a n c e : t h e
Y i d d i s h t h e a t e r is r e p l a c e d b y a s s i m i l a t e d J e w i s h w r i t e r s like B e r n a r d
M a l a m u d , P h i l i p R o t h , a n d S a u l B e l l o w , a n d t h e y , t o o , will p a s s . T h e r e
is, h o w e v e r , a n o t h e r , m o r e e x c i t i n g p o s s i b i l i t y — t h a t t h e r e a r e c u l tural r e s o u r c e s in traditions that c a n b e r e c o v e r e d a n d r e w o r k e d into
e n r i c h i n g t o o l s f o r t h e p r e s e n t , as A r s h i l e G o r k y d e p l o y s h i s m o t h e r
t h r o u g h h i s p a i n t i n g . It is, s u g g e s t s R o b e r t A l t e r ( 1 9 8 2 ) , n o t R o t h ,
M a l a m u d , a n d Bellow w h o define a Jewish renaissance in A m e r i c a —
i n d e e d , t h e y a r e totally e n c a p s u l a t e d i n i m m i g r a n t a d j u s t m e n t s — b u t
rather, the establishment of a n e w serious, post-orthodox, Jewish
s c h o l a r s h i p b y s u c h w r i t e r s as l i n g u i s t s U r i e l a n d M a x W e i n r e i c h , h i s torians Jacob N e u s n e r and Gershom Scholem, philosophers H a n n a h
A r e n d t a n d E m a n u e l L é v i n a s , a n d literary critics H a r o l d B l o o m a n d
R o b e r t A l t e r h i m s e l f , all r e s o l u t e l y m o d e r n , y e t able t o i n v o l v e t h e
past in a d i a l o g u e g e n e r a t i n g n e w perspectives for the present a n d fut u r e . O r m o r e g e n e r o u s l y , as M u r r a y B a u m g a r t e n s u g g e s t s ( 1 9 8 2 ) ,
3 0
29
29. See George Lipsitz's "The Meaning of Memory: Class, Family, and Ethnicity in
Early Network Television" (forthcoming) for an analysis of mechanisms operating im-
perfectly and ultimately unsuccessfully to homogenize, coopt, and suppress interest in
ethnicity.
30. Eric Gould makes a similar point in contrasting the work of Edmond Jabès
with the Jewish ethnic novels of mid-century America (Gould, ed. 1985 : xvi).
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MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER
w h a t is e n d u r i n g a b o u t M a l a m u d , R o t h , B e l l o w , S i n g e r , a n d H e n r y
R o t h is t h e interference b e t w e e n Y i d d i s h a n d E n g l i s h t h a t t h e t e x t u r e
a n d i d i o m o f t h e i r E n g l i s h p r e s e r v e s , r e w o r k s , a n d gifts b a c k w i t h n e w
r i c h n e s s t o E n g l i s h ; a n d t h e inter-references t o d u a l o r m u l t i p l e c u l t u r a l
traditions. J e w i s h ethnicity a n d o t h e r ethnicities have always g r o w n in
an interlinguistic context. T h e future o f Jewish writing m a y d e p e n d
u p o n t h e c r e a t i o n o f a r e n e w e d i n t e r - r e f e r e n t i a l style: C y n t h i a O z i c k
( 1 9 8 3 ) w o u l d d o it t h r o u g h t h e r e c r e a t i o n in E n g l i s h o f a l i t u r g i c a l
a n d m i d r a s h i c v o i c e ; S h m u e l A g n o n a n d J o r g e L u i s B o r g e s d o it
t h r o u g h a m i r r o r i n g play in w h i c h ancient narratives are p l a c e d in
m o d e r n settings with resolutions e c h o i n g ancient texts. O n e o f t h e
m o s t i m p o r t a n t o f c o n t e m p o r a r y J e w i s h p r o j e c t s i n e t h n i c i t y is J e w i s h
f e m i n i s m , p a r t i c u l a r l y by t h o s e w h o f e e l t h e m s e l v e s o r t h o d o x ( e . g . ,
G r e e n b e r g 1 9 8 1 ; H e s c h e l 1 9 8 3 ; P r e l l - F o l d e s 1978). F o r h e r e is a c o n ­
t e x t , p a r e x c e l l e n c e , d e m a n d i n g hiddush (creative i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ) , i n ­
f o r m e d k n o w l e d g e o f t h e texts a n d traditions o f t h e past s o rich that
n e w possibilities m a y be discovered.
Writing Tactics.
Contemporary ethnic autobiographies par­
take o f the m o o d o f meta-discourse, o f drawing attention to their o w n
l i n g u i s t i c a n d fictive n a t u r e , o f u s i n g t h e n a r r a t o r as a n i n s c r i b e d fig­
u r e w i t h i n t h e t e x t w h o s e m a n i p u l a t i o n calls a t t e n t i o n t o a u t h o r i t y
structures, o f e n c o u r a g i n g the r e a d e r to self-consciously participate in
t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f m e a n i n g . T h i s is q u i t e d i f f e r e n t f r o m p r e v i o u s
autobiographical conventions. T h e r e were once times a n d cultural
f o r m a t i o n s w h e n t h e r e w a s little s e l f - r e f l e c t i o n , little e x p r e s s i o n o f i n t e r i o r i t y , a n d a u t o b i o g r a p h y s e r v e d as a m o r a l d i d a c t i c f o r m i n w h i c h
t h e s u b j e c t / n a r r a t o r w a s little m o r e t h a n a s u m o f c o n v e n t i o n s , u s e f u l
today primarily for e x p l o r i n g the logic a n d g r o u n d i n g o f those moral­
ities ( F i s c h e r 1 9 8 2 b , 1 9 8 3 ) . R o m a n t i c p o e t i c s m a d e t h e a u t h o r / n a r ­
r a t o r a n d h i s o r h e r i n t e r i o r i t y c e n t r a l : k n o w l e d g e itself w a s t h o u g h t
inseparable f r o m the cultivation o f individual minds. Realism again
d e e m p h a s i z e d t h e i n d i v i d u a l , e l e v a t i n g social a n d h i s t o r i c a l r e f e r ­
e n c e s , m a k i n g t h e i n d i v i d u a l t h e l o c u s o f social p r o c e s s : this is t h e m o ­
m e n t o f t h e classic i m m i g r a n t - a s s i m i l a t i o n story o f s t r u g g l e b e t w e e n
marginal individual a n d o n t h e o n e side family/community a n d o n t h e
o t h e r s i d e n o n c o m m u n a l society. T h e c h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f c o n t e m p o r a r y
writing o f e n c o u r a g i n g participation o f the reader in the p r o d u c t i o n
o f m e a n i n g — o f t e n d r a w i n g o n parodie imitation o f rationalistic c o n ­
vention (Kingston, Mingus, Vizenor), or using fragments or incom­
p l e t e n e s s to force t h e reader to m a k e the c o n n e c t i o n s ( K i n g s t o n ,
C i s n e r o s , M o m a d a y ) — i s n o t m e r e l y d e s c r i p t i v e o f h o w e t h n i c i t y is e x ­
p e r i e n c e d , b u t m o r e i m p o r t a n t l y is a n e t h i c a l d e v i c e a t t e m p t i n g t o a c -
Ethnicity and the Arts o f Memory
233
t i v a t e i n t h e r e a d e r a d e s i r e f o r communitas w i t h o t h e r s , w h i l e p r e s e r v ­
ing rather than effacing differences.
Ethnography as Cultural Critique.
Rather than repeat the eth­
n o g r a p h i c c o d a s t o e a c h o f t h e five w r i t i n g tactics d i s c u s s e d i n p a r t II
o f t h i s p a p e r , w h i c h c o n c e p t u a l l y b e l o n g h e r e , it is b e s t t o e n d w i t h a
c h a l l e n g e , a call f o r a r e n e w e d b e g i n n i n g . N o t m u c h e t h n o g r a p h y y e t
e x i s t s t h a t fulfills t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l p r o m i s e o f a fully b i f o c a l c u l ­
t u r a l c r i t i c i s m . O r r a t h e r , w h a t e x i s t s w a s d r a f t e d w i t h less s o p h i s t i ­
c a t e d a u d i e n c e s i n m i n d t h a n e x i s t t o d a y o n all t h e c o n t i n e n t s o f o u r
c o m m o n earth.
3 1
C u l t u r a l c r i t i c i s m t h a t o p e r a t e s dialectically a m o n g p o s s i b l e c u l ­
t u r a l a n d e t h n i c i d e n t i f i c a t i o n s is o n e i m p o r t a n t d i r e c t i o n i n w h i c h t h e
c u r r e n t f e r m e n t a b o u t e t h n o g r a p h y s e e m s t o l e a d . I f this is t r u e , t h e n
finding
a c o n t e x t f o r e t h n o g r a p h i c p r o j e c t s i n t h e p r o v o c a t i v e liter­
a t u r e o n m o d e r n e t h n i c i t y c a n o n l y e n h a n c e t h e i r critical p o t e n t i a l .
3 1 . T h e idea of the paper was that the sections of part I I should be staged "to
speak for themselves." Because the first draft did not achieve this goal in a way readers
found illuminating, the second draft (printed here) has reverted to a more traditional
authorial guiding voice. A third, future version, when both author and readers have
become more expert, would again remove the intrusive interpretations to this place o f
re-collection and reconsideration—by reader and author—as to how to do it better.
T h e ideas for this paper were first developed in a course at Rice University on
American Culture, and I am indebted to the student participants. For stimulating
discussions I would like to thank members of the Rice Circle for Anthropology (in
1 9 8 2 - 8 4 comprised of George Marcus, Stephen Tyler, Tulio Maranhao, Julie Taylor,
Ivan Karp, Lane Kaufmann, Gene Holland, myself, and occasional others), as well as
the participants in the seminar "The Making of Ethnographic Texts," particularly
Renato Rosaldo, who led the discussion of the first draft of this paper, and James
Clifford, who made helpful suggestions at a later stage.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of my father, Eric Fischer, who read from
it at his last seder table (while it was being delivered in Santa Fe) and who died as it was
being polished a year later just before Shavuot. His own first and last English-language
books—The Passing of the European Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1943) and Minorities and Mi­
nority Problems (Takoma Park, M d . , 1980)—are very much concerned with similar issues.
Representations Are Social Facts
PAUL
RABINOW
Representations Are Social Facts:
Modernity and Post-Modernity
in Anthropology
Beyond Epistemology
I n h i s i n f l u e n t i a l book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature ( 1 9 7 9 ) ,
R i c h a r d R o r t y a r g u e s t h a t e p i s t e m o l o g y as t h e s t u d y of m e n t a l r e p r e ­
sentations arose in a particular historical e p o c h , the s e v e n t e e n t h c e n ­
t u r y ; d e v e l o p e d i n a specific society, that o f E u r o p e ; a n d e v e n t u a l l y
t r i u m p h e d in p h i l o s o p h y by b e i n g closely linked to t h e p r o f e s s i o n a l
claims of o n e group, nineteenth-century G e r m a n professors of phi­
l o s o p h y . F o r R o r t y , this t u r n w a s n o t a f o r t u i t o u s o n e : " T h e d e s i r e f o r
a t h e o r y o f k n o w l e d g e is a d e s i r e f o r c o n s t r a i n t — a d e s i r e t o find
'foundations' to which o n e m i g h t cling, frameworks b e y o n d w h i c h o n e
m u s t n o t stray, o b j e c t s w h i c h i m p o s e t h e m s e l v e s , r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s w h i c h
c a n n o t be gainsaid" (315). Radicalizing T h o m a s K u h n , Rorty portrays
o u r o b s e s s i o n w i t h e p i s t e m o l o g y as a n a c c i d e n t a l , b u t e v e n t u a l l y s t e r i l e ,
turning in Western culture.
P r a g m a t i c a n d A m e r i c a n , Rorty's b o o k h a s a m o r a l : m o d e r n p r o ­
fessional philosophy represents the "triumph o f the quest for certainty
o v e r t h e q u e s t f o r r e a s o n " (61). T h e c h i e f c u l p r i t i n this m e l o d r a m a
is W e s t e r n p h i l o s o p h y ' s c o n c e r n w i t h e p i s t e m o l o g y , t h e e q u a t i o n o f
k n o w l e d g e with internal representations and the correct evaluation
o f t h o s e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . L e t m e briefly o u t l i n e Rorty's a r g u m e n t , a d d
s o m e i m p o r t a n t s p e c i f i c a t i o n s by I a n H a c k i n g , t h e n c l a i m t h a t M i c h e l
F o u c a u l t h a s d e v e l o p e d a p o s i t i o n t h a t e n a b l e s us t o s u p p l e m e n t R o r t y
i n i m p o r t a n t w a y s . I n t h e rest o f t h e p a p e r I e x p l o r e s o m e w a y s i n
w h i c h t h e s e l i n e s o f t h o u g h t a r e r e l e v a n t to d i s c o u r s e s a b o u t t h e
o t h e r . Specifically, in t h e s e c o n d s e c t i o n I d i s c u s s r e c e n t d e b a t e s a b o u t
t h e m a k i n g o f e t h n o g r a p h i c texts; in t h e third section, s o m e differ­
ences between feminist anthropology and anthropological feminism;
a n d , finally, i n t h e f o u r t h s e c t i o n , I p u t f o r w a r d o n e l i n e o f r e s e a r c h ,
my own.
235
Philosophers, Rorty argues, have c r o w n e d their discipline the
q u e e n o f t h e s c i e n c e s . T h i s c o r o n a t i o n rests o n t h e i r c l a i m t o b e t h e
s p e c i a l i s t s o n u n i v e r s a l p r o b l e m s a n d t h e i r ability to p r o v i d e u s w i t h a
s u r e f o u n d a t i o n f o r all k n o w l e d g e . P h i l o s o p h y ' s r e a l m is t h e m i n d ; its
p r i v i l e g e d i n s i g h t s e s t a b l i s h its c l a i m to b e t h e d i s c i p l i n e t h a t j u d g e s all
o t h e r d i s c i p l i n e s . T h i s c o n c e p t i o n o f p h i l o s o p h y is, h o w e v e r , a r e c e n t
h i s t o r i c a l d e v e l o p m e n t . For t h e G r e e k s t h e r e w a s n o s h a r p d i v i s i o n b e ­
t w e e n e x t e r n a l reality a n d i n t e r n a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . U n l i k e A r i s t o t l e ,
D e s c a r t e s ' s c o n c e p t i o n o f k n o w i n g rests o n h a v i n g c o r r e c t r e p r e s e n t a ­
tions in a n internal space, the m i n d . Rorty m a k e s the p o i n t by saying:
" T h e n o v e l t y w a s t h e n o t i o n o f a s i n g l e i n n e r s p a c e in w h i c h b o d i l y
a n d perceptual sensations (confused ideas of sense and imagination in
Descartes's phrase), mathematical truths, moral rules, the idea o f G o d ,
m o o d s o f d e p r e s s i o n , a n d all t h e rest o f w h a t w e n o w call ' m e n t a l '
w e r e o b j e c t s o f q u a s i - o b s e r v a t i o n " (50). A l t h o u g h n o t all o f t h e s e e l e ­
m e n t s w e r e n e w o n e s , Descartes successfully c o m b i n e d t h e m into a
n e w p r o b l e m a t i c , s e t t i n g a s i d e Aristotle's c o n c e p t o f r e a s o n as a g r a s p
o f u n i v e r s a l s : b e g i n n i n g in t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , k n o w l e d g e b e ­
c a m e internal, representational, and judgmental. M o d e r n philosophy
w a s b o r n w h e n a k n o w i n g s u b j e c t e n d o w e d w i t h c o n s c i o u s n e s s a n d its
representational contents b e c a m e the central p r o b l e m for t h o u g h t ,
t h e p a r a d i g m of all k n o w i n g .
T h e m o d e r n n o t i o n o f e p i s t e m o l o g y , t h e n , t u r n s o n t h e clarifica­
t i o n a n d j u d g m e n t o f t h e subject's r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . " T o k n o w is to r e p ­
r e s e n t a c c u r a t e l y w h a t is o u t s i d e t h e m i n d ; s o to u n d e r s t a n d t h e p o s s i ­
bility a n d n a t u r e o f k n o w l e d g e is t o u n d e r s t a n d t h e w a y i n w h i c h t h e
m i n d is a b l e to c o n s t r u c t s u c h r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . P h i l o s o p h y ' s e t e r n a l
c o n c e r n is t o b e a g e n e r a l t h e o r y o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , a t h e o r y w h i c h
will d i v i d e c u l t u r e u p i n t o t h e a r e a s w h i c h r e p r e s e n t reality w e l l , t h o s e
w h i c h r e p r e s e n t it less well, a n d t h o s e w h i c h d o n o t r e p r e s e n t it at all
( d e s p i t e t h e i r p r e t e n s e o f d o i n g s o ) " (3). T h e k n o w l e d g e a r r i v e d at
t h r o u g h t h e e x a m i n a t i o n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s a b o u t "reality" a n d " t h e
k n o w i n g s u b j e c t " w o u l d b e u n i v e r s a l . T h i s u n i v e r s a l k n o w l e d g e is, o f
course, science.
It w a s o n l y at t h e e n d o f t h e E n l i g h t e n m e n t t h a t t h e fully e l a b o ­
r a t e d c o n c e p t i o n o f p h i l o s o p h y as t h e j u d g e o f all p o s s i b l e k n o w l e d g e
a p p e a r e d a n d w a s c a n o n i z e d in t h e w o r k o f I m m a n u e l K a n t . " T h e
eventual demarcation o f philosophy from science was m a d e possible
by t h e n o t i o n that philosophy's core was a 'theory of knowledge', a the­
o r y d i s t i n c t f r o m t h e s c i e n c e s b e c a u s e it w a s t h e i r f o u n d a t i o n , " R o r t y
a r g u e s ( 1 3 2 ) . K a n t e s t a b l i s h e d as a p r i o r i t h e C a r t e s i a n c l a i m t h a t w e
h a v e c e r t a i n t y o n l y a b o u t i d e a s . K a n t , "by t a k i n g e v e r y t h i n g w e say t o
b e a b o u t s o m e t h i n g w e h a v e c o n s t i t u t e d , m a d e it p o s s i b l e f o r e p i s ­
t e m o l o g y t o b e t h o u g h t o f as a f o u n d a t i o n a l s c i e n c e . . . . H e t h u s e n -
Representations Are Social Facts
23"
237
PAUL RABINOW
a b l e d p h i l o s o p h y p r o f e s s o r s t o s e e t h e m s e l v e s as p r e s i d i n g o v e r a tri­
b u n a l o f p u r e r e a s o n , a b l e to d e t e r m i n e w h e t h e r o t h e r d i s c i p l i n e s
w e r e s t a y i n g w i t h i n t h e l e g a l limits set by t h e ' s t r u c t u r e ' o f t h e i r s u b ­
j e c t matters" (139).
A s a d i s c i p l i n e w h o s e p r o p e r activity is g r o u n d i n g c l a i m s t o k n o w l ­
e d g e , p h i l o s o p h y w a s d e v e l o p e d by n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y n e o - K a n t i a n s
a n d institutionalized in n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y G e r m a n universities. Carv­
i n g out a space between ideology and empirical psychology, G e r m a n
p h i l o s o p h y w r o t e its o w n h i s t o r y , p r o d u c i n g o u r m o d e r n c a n o n o f t h e
" g r e a t s . " T h i s task w a s c o m p l e t e d b y t h e e n d of t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n ­
t u r y . T h e n a r r a t i v e o f t h e h i s t o r y o f p h i l o s o p h y as a s e r i e s of g r e a t
thinkers c o n t i n u e s today in introductory p h i l o s o p h y courses. Philoso­
phy's claim to intellectual p r e e m i n e n c e lasted only for a s h o r t time,
h o w e v e r , a n d b y t h e 1920s, o n l y p h i l o s o p h e r s a n d u n d e r g r a d u a t e s
b e l i e v e d that p h i l o s o p h y was uniquely qualified to g r o u n d a n d j u d g e
c u l t u r a l p r o d u c t i o n . N e i t h e r E i n s t e i n n o r Picasso w a s o v e r l y c o n ­
c e r n e d with what Husserl might have thought of them.
A l t h o u g h p h i l o s o p h y d e p a r t m e n t s c o n t i n u e to t e a c h e p i s t e m o l o g y , t h e r e is a c o u n t e r t r a d i t i o n in m o d e r n t h o u g h t that f o l l o w e d a n ­
o t h e r path. "Wittgenstein, H e i d e g g e r a n d D e w e y are in a g r e e m e n t that
t h e n o t i o n o f k n o w l e d g e as a c c u r a t e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , m a d e p o s s i b l e by
special m e n t a l processes, a n d intelligible t h r o u g h a general t h e o r y o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , n e e d s to b e a b a n d o n e d , " R o r t y o b s e r v e s (6). T h e s e
thinkers did n o t seek to construct alternate and better theories o f the
m i n d o r k n o w l e d g e . T h e i r a i m w a s not to i m p r o v e e p i s t e m o l o g y b u t
t o play a d i f f e r e n t g a m e . R o r t y calls this g a m e h e r m e n e u t i c s . B y t h i s ,
he simply m e a n s k n o w l e d g e without foundations; a k n o w l e d g e that
e s s e n t i a l l y a m o u n t s t o e d i f y i n g c o n v e r s a t i o n . R o r t y h a s s o far t o l d u s
v e r y little a b o u t t h e c o n t e n t o f this c o n v e r s a t i o n , p e r h a p s b e c a u s e
t h e r e is v e r y little t o tell. A s w i t h W i t t g e n s t e i n , H e i d e g g e r , a n d , in a
d i f f e r e n t w a y , D e w e y , R o r t y is f a c e d w i t h t h e fact, t r o u b l i n g o r a m u s ­
i n g , t h a t o n c e t h e historical o r logical d e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f W e s t e r n p h i ­
l o s o p h y h a s b e e n a c c o m p l i s h e d , t h e r e is really n o t h i n g s p e c i a l left f o r
p h i l o s o p h e r s to d o . O n c e it is s e e n t h a t p h i l o s o p h y d o e s n o t f o u n d o r
l e g i t i m a t e t h e c l a i m s t o k n o w l e d g e o f o t h e r d i s c i p l i n e s , its task b e ­
c o m e s o n e o f c o m m e n t i n g o n t h e i r w o r k s a n d e n g a g i n g t h e m in
conversation.
T r u t h v e r s u s T r u t h o r Falsity
E v e n if o n e a c c e p t s Rorty's d e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f e p i s t e m o l o g y ,
the c o n s e q u e n c e s of such a m o v e remain very o p e n . B e f o r e e x p l o r i n g
s o m e o f t h e m , it s e e m s i m p o r t a n t t o u n d e r l i n e t h e p o i n t t h a t r e j e c t i n g
e p i s t e m o l o g y d o e s not m e a n rejecting truth, reason, or standards o f
j u d g m e n t . T h i s p o i n t is m a d e v e r y s u c c i n c t l y by I a n H a c k i n g i n " L a n ­
g u a g e , T r u t h , a n d R e a s o n " ( 1 9 8 2 ) . Parallel to Rorty's d i s t i n c t i o n of
certainty versus reason, Hacking draws a distinction b e t w e e n those
p h i l o s o p h i e s i n v o l v e d in t h e q u e s t f o r t r u t h a n d t h o s e — w h i c h h e calls
s t y l e s o f t h i n k i n g , s o as n o t to limit t h e m to m o d e r n p h i l o s o p h y —
t h a t o p e n u p n e w possibilities by p r o c e e d i n g in t e r m s o f " t r u t h o r
falsehood."
H a c k i n g p u t s f o r w a r d w h a t is basically a s i m p l e p o i n t : w h a t is c u r ­
r e n t l y t a k e n as " t r u t h " is d e p e n d e n t o n a p r i o r historical e v e n t — t h e
e m e r g e n c e o f a style o f t h i n k i n g a b o u t t r u t h a n d falsity t h a t e s t a b ­
l i s h e d t h e c o n d i t i o n s f o r e n t e r t a i n i n g a p r o p o s i t i o n as b e i n g c a p a b l e
o f b e i n g t a k e n as t r u e o r false in t h e first p l a c e . H a c k i n g p u t s it this
w a y : "By r e a s o n i n g I d o n ' t m e a n l o g i c . I m e a n t h e v e r y o p p o s i t e , f o r
l o g i c is t h e p r e s e r v a t i o n o f t r u t h , w h i l e a style o f r e a s o n i n g is w h a t
b r i n g s in t h e possibility o f t r u t h o r f a l s e h o o d . . . . s t y l e s o f r e a s o n i n g
create the possibility o f truth a n d falsehood. D e d u c t i o n a n d i n d u c ­
t i o n m e r e l y p r e s e r v e it" (56—57). H a c k i n g is n o t "against" l o g i c , o n l y
a g a i n s t its c l a i m s t o f o u n d a n d g r o u n d all t r u t h . L o g i c is fine in its o w n
d o m a i n , b u t t h a t d o m a i n is a l i m i t e d o n e .
B y d r a w i n g this d i s t i n c t i o n o n e a v o i d s t h e p r o b l e m o f totally r e l a t i v i z i n g r e a s o n o r o f t u r n i n g d i f f e r e n t historical c o n c e p t i o n s of t r u t h
a n d falsity i n t o a q u e s t i o n o f s u b j e c t i v i s m . T h e s e c o n c e p t i o n s a r e h i s ­
t o r i c a l a n d s o c i a l facts. T h i s p o i n t is well p u t by H a c k i n g w h e n h e says:
" H e n c e a l t h o u g h w h i c h e v e r propositions are true may d e p e n d o n the
d a t a , t h e fact t h a t t h e y a r e c a n d i d a t e s f o r b e i n g t r u e is a c o n s e q u e n c e
o f a n h i s t o r i c a l e v e n t " (56). T h a t t h e analytical t o o l s w e u s e w h e n w e
investigate a set o f p r o b l e m s — g e o m e t r y for the Greeks, e x p e r i m e n t a l
m e t h o d in t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , o r statistics in m o d e r n social sci­
e n c e — h a v e s h i f t e d is e x p l a i n a b l e w i t h o u t r e c o u r s e t o s o m e t r u t h
d e n y i n g r e l a t i v i s m . F u r t h e r m o r e , s c i e n c e u n d e r s t o o d in t h i s w a y r e ­
m a i n s q u i t e o b j e c t i v e " s i m p l y b e c a u s e t h e styles o f r e a s o n i n g that w e
e m p l o y d e t e r m i n e w h a t c o u n t s as objectivity. . . . P r o p o s i t i o n s o f t h e
s o r t t h a t n e c e s s a r i l y r e q u i r e r e a s o n i n g to b e s u b s t a n t i a t e d h a v e a
p o s i t i v i t y , a b e i n g t r u e o r false, o n l y in c o n s e q u e n c e o f t h e s t y l e s o f
r e a s o n i n g i n w h i c h t h e y o c c u r " (49, 65). W h a t F o u c a u l t h a s c a l l e d t h e
r e g i m e , o r g a m e , o f t r u t h a n d falsity is b o t h a c o m p o n e n t a n d a p r o d ­
uct o f h i s t o r i c a l p r a c t i c e s . O t h e r p r o c e d u r e s a n d o t h e r o b j e c t s c o u l d
h a v e filled t h e bill j u s t a s w e l l a n d h a v e b e e n j u s t as t r u e .
H a c k i n g distinguishes between everyday, commonsensical reason­
i n g t h a t d o e s n o t n e e d to a p p l y a n y e l a b o r a t e set o f r e a s o n s a n d t h o s e
m o r e s p e c i a l i z e d d o m a i n s t h a t d o . T h e r e is b o t h a c u l t u r a l a n d a h i s ­
torical p l u r a l i t y o f t h e s e s p e c i a l i z e d d o m a i n s a n d o f h i s t o r i c a l l y a n d
c u l t u r a l l y d i v e r s e styles a s s o c i a t e d w i t h t h e m . F r o m t h e a c c e p t a n c e o f
a d i v e r s i t y o f h i s t o r i c a l styles o f r e a s o n i n g , o f m e t h o d s , a n d o b j e c t s ,
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PAUL RABINOW
H a c k i n g draws the c o n c l u s i o n that thinkers frequently g o t t h i n g s
r i g h t , s o l v e d p r o b l e m s , a n d e s t a b l i s h e d t r u t h s . B u t , h e a r g u e s , this
d o e s n o t imply that w e s h o u l d search for a unified P o p p e r i a n realm o f
t h e t r u e ; r a t h e r , a la Paul F e y e r a b e n d , w e s h o u l d k e e p o u r o p t i o n s i n
i n q u i r y as o p e n as p o s s i b l e . T h e G r e e k s , H a c k i n g r e m i n d s u s , h a d n o
c o n c e p t , o r u s e , o f statistics, a fact t h a t i n v a l i d a t e s n e i t h e r G r e e k sci­
e n c e n o r statistics as s u c h . T h i s p o s i t i o n is n o t r e l a t i v i s m , b u t it is n o t
i m p e r i a l i s m e i t h e r . R o r t y calls h i s v e r s i o n o f all this h e r m e n e u t i c s .
H a c k i n g calls h i s a n a r c h o - r a t i o n a l i s m . " A n a r c h o - r a t i o n a l i s m is t o l e r ­
a n c e f o r o t h e r p e o p l e c o m b i n e d w i t h t h e d i s c i p l i n e of o n e ' s o w n s t a n ­
d a r d s o f t r u t h a n d r e a s o n " (65). L e t u s call it g o o d s c i e n c e .
M i c h e l F o u c a u l t h a s a l s o c o n s i d e r e d m a n y o f t h e s e i s s u e s in p a r a l ­
lel, b u t n o t i d e n t i c a l , f a s h i o n . H i s Archaeology of Knowledge ( 1 9 7 6 ) a n d
Discourse on Language ( 1 9 7 6 ) a r e p e r h a p s t h e m o s t d e v e l o p e d a t t e m p t s
t o p r e s e n t , if n o t a t h e o r y o f w h a t H a c k i n g r e f e r s to as " t r u t h o r
falsity" a n d "styles o f t h o u g h t , " t h e n at least a n a n a l y t i c o f t h e m . A l ­
t h o u g h t h e d e t a i l s o f Foucault's s y s t e m a t i z a t i o n o f h o w d i s c u r s i v e o b ­
jects, enunciative modalities, concepts, and discursive strategies are
f o r m e d a n d t r a n s f o r m e d is b e y o n d t h e s c o p e o f this p a p e r , s e v e r a l
p o i n t s a r e r e l e v a n t h e r e . L e t u s m e r e l y take o n e e x a m p l e as i l l u s t r a t i v e .
I n t h e Discourse on Language F o u c a u l t d i s c u s s e s s o m e o f t h e c o n s t r a i n t s
o n , a n d c o n d i t i o n s f o r , t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f t r u t h , u n d e r s t o o d as state­
m e n t s c a p a b l e o f b e i n g t a k e n s e r i o u s l y as t r u e o r false. A m o n g o t h e r s ,
F o u c a u l t e x a m i n e s t h e e x i s t e n c e o f scientific d i s c i p l i n e s . H e says:
1
For a discipline to exist, there must be the possibility of formulating—and o f
d o i n g so ad infinitum—fresh propositions. . . . T h e s e propositions must con­
form to specific conditions of objects, subject, methods etc. . . . Within its o w n
limits, every discipline recognises as true and false propositions, but it re­
pulses a whole teratology of learning. . . . In short, a proposition must fulfill
s o m e o n e r o u s and c o m p l e x conditions before it can be admitted within a
discipline; before it can be pronounced true or false it must be, as Monsieur
C a n g u i l h e m might say, "within the true." (1976: 223—24)
F o u c a u l t g i v e s t h e e x a m p l e o f M e n d e l : " M e n d e l s p o k e of o b j e c t s , e m ­
p l o y e d m e t h o d s and placed himself within a theoretical perspective
t o t a l l y a l i e n t o t h e b i o l o g y o f his t i m e . . . . M e n d e l s p o k e t h e t r u t h , b u t
h e w a s n o t dans le vrai o f c o n t e m p o r a r y b i o l o g i c a l d i s c o u r s e " (224).
T h e d e m o n s t r a t i o n o f t h e r i c h n e s s o f this style o f t h i n k i n g h a s b e e n
t h e g r e a t s t r e n g t h o f F o u c a u l t , Cxeorges C a n g u i l h e m , a n d o t h e r F r e n c h
practitioners o f the history a n d p h i l o s o p h y o f science, particularly the
"life s c i e n c e s . "
It is p e r h a p s n o t a c c i d e n t a l t h a t b o t h R o r t y a n d H a c k i n g a r e c o n ­
c e r n e d with the history o f physical science, m a t h e m a t i c s , a n d p h i l o s o 1. For a treatment of the subject see Dreyfus and Rabinow (1982) pp. | 1 79.
Representations Are Social Facts
239
p h y . W h a t h a s b e e n m i s s i n g f r o m t h e i r a c c o u n t s is t h e c a t e g o r y o f
p o w e r , a n d t o a l e s s e r e x t e n t (in H a c k i n g ' s case) society. H a c k i n g ' s c u r ­
r e n t v e r y i n t e r e s t i n g w o r k o n n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y statistics d o e s , h o w ­
e v e r , i n c l u d e t h e s e c a t e g o r i e s . A l t h o u g h c o m p e l l i n g in its d e c o n s t r u c t i v e f o r c e , Rorty's story is less c o n v i n c i n g in its r e f u s a l t o c o m m e n t o n
h o w t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a ! t u r n i n g c a m e a b o u t in W e s t e r n s o c i e t y — a c ­
c o r d i n g t o R o r t y , like G a l i l e a n s c i e n c e , it j u s t h a p p e n e d — o r i n its i n ­
ability t o s e e k n o w l e d g e as m o r e t h a n f r e e a n d e d i f y i n g c o n v e r s a t i o n .
N o t unlike J ü r g e n Habermas, although refusing Habermas's striving
for f o u n d a t i o n a l i s m , Rorty sees free c o m m u n i c a t i o n , civilized c o n v e r ­
s a t i o n , as t h e u l t i m a t e g o a l . A s H a c k i n g says: " P e r h a p s R i c h a r d Rorty's
. . . c e n t r a l d o c t r i n e o f c o n v e r s a t i o n will s o m e d a y s e e m as l i n g u i s t i c a
p h i l o s o p h y as t h e a n a l y s i s e m a n a t i n g f r o m O x f o r d a g e n e r a t i o n a g o "
( 1 9 8 4 : 109). T h e c o n t e n t o f t h e c o n v e r s a t i o n a n d h o w t h e f r e e d o m t o
h a v e it is t o c o m e a b o u t is, h o w e v e r , b e y o n d t h e d o m a i n of p h i l o s o p h y .
B u t c o n v e r s a t i o n , b e t w e e n i n d i v i d u a l s o r c u l t u r e s , is o n l y p o s s i b l e
w i t h i n c o n t e x t s s h a p e d a n d c o n s t r a i n e d by h i s t o r i c a l , c u l t u r a l , a n d
p o l i t i c a l r e l a t i o n s a n d t h e o n l y partially d i s c u r s i v e social p r a c t i c e s t h a t
c o n s t i t u t e t h e m . W h a t is m i s s i n g f r o m Rorty's a c c o u n t , t h e n , is a n y
d i s c u s s i o n of h o w t h o u g h t a n d social p r a c t i c e s i n t e r c o n n e c t . R o r t y is
h e l p f u l in d e f l a t i n g p h i l o s o p h y ' s c l a i m s , b u t h e s t o p s e x a c t l y at t h e
p o i n t o f t a k i n g s e r i o u s l y his o w n i n s i g h t : t o wit, t h o u g h t is n o t h i n g
m o r e a n d n o t h i n g less t h a n a historically l o c a t a b l e set o f p r a c t i c e s .
H o w t o d o this w i t h o u t r e v e r t i n g t o e p i s t e m o l o g y o r to s o m e d u b i o u s
s u p e r s t r u c t u r e / i n f r a s t r u c t u r e d e v i c e is a n o t h e r q u e s t i o n , o n e R o r t y is
not alone in not having solved.
Representations a n d Society
M i c h e l F o u c a u l t h a s o f f e r e d us s o m e i m p o r t a n t t o o l s f o r a n a ­
l y z i n g t h o u g h t as a p u b l i c a n d social p r a c t i c e . F o u c a u l t a c c e p t s t h e
m a i n e l e m e n t s o f t h e N i e t z s c h e a n , H e i d e g g e r e a n a c c o u n t of W e s t e r n
m e t a p h y s i c s a n d e p i s t e m o l o g y Rorty has given us, but draws different
c o n c l u s i o n s f r o m t h e s e i n s i g h t s — o n e s , it s e e m s to m e , t h a t a r e b o t h
m o r e c o n s i s t e n t a n d m o r e i n t e r e s t i n g t h a n Rorty's. W e find, f o r e x ­
a m p l e , m a n y o f t h e s a m e e l e m e n t s t h a t a r e i n Rorty's h i s t o r y o f p h i l o s ­
o p h y — t h e m o d e r n s u b j e c t , r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , o r d e r — i n Foucault's fa­
m o u s a n a l y s i s o f V e l a z q u e z ' s p a i n t i n g Las Meninas. B u t t h e r e a r e a l s o
s o m e major differences. Instead o f treating the problem o f represen­
t a t i o n s as specific t o t h e h i s t o r y o f i d e a s , F o u c a u l t treats it as a m o r e
g e n e r a l cultural c o n c e r n , a p r o b l e m that was b e i n g w o r k e d o n in
m a n y o t h e r d o m a i n s . I n The Order of Things ( 1 9 7 3 ) a n d l a t e r b o o k s ,
Foucault demonstrates h o w the problem o f correct representations
h a s i n f o r m e d a m u l t i t u d e o f social d o m a i n s a n d p r a c t i c e s , r a n g i n g
24°
PAUL RABINOW
f r o m disputes in b o t a n y to proposals for prison reform. T h e p r o b l e m
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s f o r F o u c a u l t is n o t , t h e r e f o r e , o n e t h a t h a p p e n e d
to p o p u p in p h i l o s o p h y a n d d o m i n a t e thinking there for three h u n ­
d r e d y e a r s . It is l i n k e d to t h e w i d e r a n g e o f d i s p a r a t e , b u t i n t e r r e l a t e d ,
s o c i a l a n d p o l i t i c a l p r a c t i c e s t h a t c o n s t i t u t e t h e m o d e r n w o r l d , w i t h its
d i s t i n c t i v e c o n c e r n s w i t h o r d e r , t r u t h , a n d t h e s u b j e c t . F o u c a u l t dif­
f e r s f r o m R o r t y , t h e n , i n t r e a t i n g p h i l o s o p h i c a l i d e a s as social p r a c ­
t i c e s a n d n o t c h a n c e twists i n a c o n v e r s a t i o n o r in p h i l o s o p h y .
B u t Foucault also disagrees with m a n y Marxist thinkers, w h o see
p r o b l e m s i n p a i n t i n g as, by d e f i n i t i o n , u l t i m a t e l y e p i p h e n o m e n a l t o ,
o r e x p r e s s i v e of, w h a t w a s "really" g o i n g o n in s o c i e t y . T h i s b r i n g s u s
briefly to t h e p r o b l e m o f ideology. In several places, Foucault s u g g e s t s
t h a t o n c e o n e s e e s t h e p r o b l e m o f t h e subject, o r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , a n d
o f t r u t h as s o c i a l p r a c t i c e s , t h e n t h e v e r y n o t i o n o f i d e o l o g y b e c o m e s
p r o b l e m a t i c . H e says: " b e h i n d t h e c o n c e p t o f i d e o l o g y t h e r e is a k i n d
o f n o s t a l g i a f o r a q u a s i - t r a n s p a r e n t f o r m o f k n o w l e d g e , f r e e f r o m all
e r r o r a n d i l l u s i o n " ( 1 9 8 0 : 1 1 7 ) . I n this s e n s e , t h e c o n c e p t o f i d e o l o g y
is c l o s e k i n t o t h e c o n c e p t o f e p i s t e m o l o g y .
F o r F o u c a u l t , t h e m o d e r n c o n c e p t o f i d e o l o g y is c h a r a c t e r i z e d b y
t h r e e i n t e r r e l a t e d q u a l i t i e s : (1) b y d e f i n i t i o n , i d e o l o g y is o p p o s e d t o
s o m e t h i n g like "the t r u t h , " a f a l s e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n as it w e r e ; (2) i d e ­
o l o g y is p r o d u c e d b y a s u b j e c t ( i n d i v i d u a l o r c o l l e c t i v e ) i n o r d e r t o
h i d e t h e t r u t h , a n d c o n s e q u e n t l y t h e analyst's task c o n s i s t s i n e x p o s i n g
t h i s f a l s e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; a n d r e v e a l i n g t h a t (3) i d e o l o g y is s e c o n d a r y
t o s o m e t h i n g m o r e real, s o m e i n f r a s t r u c t u r a l d i m e n s i o n o n w h i c h
i d e o l o g y is p a r a s i t i c . F o u c a u l t rejects all t h r e e c l a i m s .
W e have already alluded to the broad lines o f a critique o f the sub­
j e c t a n d t h e s e a r c h f o r c e r t a i n t y s e e n as b a s e d o n c o r r e c t r e p r e s e n ­
t a t i o n s . C o n s e q u e n t l y , let u s briefly f o c u s o n t h e t h i r d p o i n t : t h e
q u e s t i o n o f w h e t h e r t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f t r u t h is e p i p h e n o m e n a l t o
s o m e t h i n g e l s e . H e h a s d e s c r i b e d his p r o j e c t n o t as d e c i d i n g t h e t r u t h
o r falsity o f c l a i m s i n h i s t o r y "but in s e e i n g h i s t o r i c a l l y h o w e f f e c t s o f
truth are p r o d u c e d within discourses w h i c h in t h e m s e l v e s are n e i t h e r
t r u e n o r f a l s e " ( 1 3 1 — 3 3 ) . F o u c a u l t p r o p o s e s to s t u d y w h a t h e calls t h e
r e g i m e o f t r u t h as a n e f f e c t i v e c o m p o n e n t i n t h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f s o c i a l
practices.
F o u c a u l t h a s p r o p o s e d t h r e e w o r k i n g h y p o t h e s e s : " ( 1 ) T r u t h is
t o b e u n d e r s t o o d as a s y s t e m o f o r d e r e d p r o c e d u r e s f o r t h e p r o d u c ­
tion, regulation, distribution, circulation a n d operation o f statements.
(2) T r u t h is l i n k e d i n a c i r c u l a r r e l a t i o n w i t h s y s t e m s o f p o w e r w h i c h
p r o d u c e a n d s u s t a i n it, a n d t o e f f e c t s o f p o w e r w h i c h it i n d u c e s a n d
w h i c h e x t e n d it. (3) T h i s r e g i m e is n o t m e r e l y i d e o l o g i c a l o r s u p e r s t r u c t u r a l ; it w a s a c o n d i t i o n o f t h e f o r m a t i o n a n d d e v e l o p m e n t o f
Representations Are Social Facts
241
c a p i t a l i s m " ( 1 3 3 ) . W e shall e x p l o r e s o m e o f t h e i m p l i c a t i o n s o f t h e s e
w o r k i n g h y p o t h e s e s in the n e x t three sections o f the paper.
A s M a x W e b e r , I think, o n c e said, s e v e n t e e n t h - c e n t u r y capitalists
w e r e n o t o n l y e c o n o m i c m e n w h o traded a n d built ships, they also
l o o k e d at R e m b r a n d t ' s p a i n t i n g s , d r e w m a p s o f t h e w o r l d , h a d m a r k e d
conceptions of the nature of other peoples, and worried a g o o d deal
about their o w n destiny. T h e s e representations were strong a n d effec­
tive forces in w h a t they w e r e and h o w they acted. M a n y n e w possibil­
ities f o r t h o u g h t a n d a c t i o n a r e o p e n e d u p if w e f o l l o w R o r t y a n d
a b a n d o n e p i s t e m o l o g y (or at least s e e it f o r w h a t it h a s b e e n : a n i m ­
p o r t a n t c u l t u r a l m o v e m e n t in W e s t e r n society) a n d f o l l o w F o u c a u l t i n
s e e i n g p o w e r as p r o d u c t i v e a n d p e r m e a t i v e o f social r e l a t i o n s a n d t h e
p r o d u c t i o n o f truth in o u r current r e g i m e o f p o w e r . H e r e are s o m e
initial c o n c l u s i o n s a n d r e s e a r c h s t r a t e g i e s t h a t m i g h t f o l l o w f r o m this
d i s c u s s i o n o f e p i s t e m o l o g y . I m e r e l y list t h e m b e f o r e m o v i n g o n to r e ­
c e n t discussions in a n t h r o p o l o g y o n h o w best to describe the o t h e r .
1. E p i s t e m o l o g y m u s t b e s e e n as a h i s t o r i c a l e v e n t — a d i s t i n c ­
tive social practice, o n e a m o n g m a n y others, articulated in n e w
ways in s e v e n t e e n t h - c e n t u r y E u r o p e .
2. W e d o n o t n e e d a t h e o r y o f i n d i g e n o u s e p i s t e m o l o g i e s o r a
n e w e p i s t e m o l o g y o f the other. We should be attentive to o u r his­
torical p r a c t i c e o f p r o j e c t i n g o u r c u l t u r a l p r a c t i c e s o n t o t h e o t h e r ;
at b e s t , t h e task is t o s h o w h o w a n d w h e n a n d t h r o u g h w h a t c u l ­
tural a n d institutional m e a n s other p e o p l e started claiming epis­
t e m o l o g y for their o w n .
3. W e n e e d t o a n t h r o p o l o g i z e t h e W e s t : s h o w h o w e x o t i c its
c o n s t i t u t i o n o f reality h a s b e e n ; e m p h a s i z e t h o s e d o m a i n s m o s t
t a k e n f o r g r a n t e d as u n i v e r s a l (this i n c l u d e s e p i s t e m o l o g y a n d
e c o n o m i c s ) ; m a k e t h e m s e e m as historically p e c u l i a r as p o s s i b l e ;
s h o w h o w t h e i r c l a i m s t o t r u t h a r e l i n k e d t o social p r a c t i c e s a n d
h a v e h e n c e b e c o m e e f f e c t i v e f o r c e s in t h e social w o r l d .
4. W e m u s t p l u r a l i z e a n d d i v e r s i f y o u r a p p r o a c h e s : a basic
m o v e a g a i n s t e i t h e r e c o n o m i c o r p h i l o s o p h i c h e g e m o n y is t o d i ­
versify centers o f resistance: avoid the error o f reverse essentializi n g ; O c c i d e n t a l i s m is n o t a r e m e d y f o r O r i e n t a l i s m .
The Writing of Ethnographic Texts:
The Fantasia of the Library
T h e r e is a c u r i o u s t i m e l a g as c o n c e p t s m o v e a c r o s s d i s c i p l i n ­
ary b o u n d a r i e s . T h e m o m e n t w h e n t h e historical p r o f e s s i o n is d i s -
242
PAUL RABINOW
c o v e r i n g cultural a n t h r o p o l o g y in the (unrepresentative) p e r s o n o f
C l i f f o r d G e e r t z is j u s t t h e m o m e n t w h e n G e e r t z is b e i n g q u e s t i o n e d i n
a n t h r o p o l o g y ( o n e o f t h e r e c u r r e n t t h e m e s o f t h e S a n t a Fe s e m i n a r
t h a t g a v e rise to this v o l u m e ) . S o , t o o , a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s , o r s o m e o f
t h e m i n a n y c a s e , a r e n o w d i s c o v e r i n g a n d b e i n g m o v e d to n e w c r e a ­
tion by t h e i n f u s i o n o f ideas f r o m deconstructionist literary criticism,
n o w t h a t it h a s lost its c u l t u r a l e n e r g y in l i t e r a t u r e d e p a r t m e n t s a n d
D e r r i d a is d i s c o v e r i n g politics. A l t h o u g h t h e r e a r e m a n y c a r r i e r s o f
this h y b r i d i z a t i o n ( m a n y o f t h o s e p r e s e n t at t h e s e m i n a r , as w e l l as
J a m e s B o o n , S t e p h e n Webster, James Siegel, Jean-Paul D u m o n t , and
J e a n J a m i n ) t h e r e is o n l y o n e " p r o f e s s i o n a l , " s o t o s p e a k , in t h e c r o w d .
For, w h e r e a s all t h e o t h e r s m e n t i o n e d a r e p r a c t i c i n g a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s ,
J a m e s C l i f f o r d h a s c r e a t e d a n d o c c u p i e d t h e r o l e o f e x officio s c r i b e
o f o u r scribblings. Geertz, the f o u n d i n g figure, may pause b e t w e e n
m o n o g r a p h s to m u s e o n texts, narrative, description, a n d interpreta­
t i o n . C l i f f o r d t a k e s as his n a t i v e s , as w e l l as his i n f o r m a n t s , t h o s e a n ­
thropologists past a n d present w h o s e work, self-consciously or not,
has b e e n t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f texts, the writing o f e t h n o g r a p h y . We are
b e i n g observed and inscribed.
A t first g l a n c e J a m e s Clifford's w o r k , like that of o t h e r s in this vol­
u m e , s e e m s t o f o l l o w n a t u r a l l y i n t h e w a k e o f Geertz's i n t e r p r e t i v e
t u r n . T h e r e is, h o w e v e r , a m a j o r d i f f e r e n c e . G e e r t z (like t h e o t h e r a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s ) is still d i r e c t i n g his e f f o r t s t o r e i n v e n t a n a n t h r o p o l o g i ­
cal s c i e n c e w i t h t h e h e l p of t e x t u a l m e d i a t i o n s . T h e c o r e activity is still
s o c i a l d e s c r i p t i o n o f t h e o t h e r , h o w e v e r m o d i f i e d by n e w c o n c e p t i o n s
o f d i s c o u r s e , a u t h o r , o r text. T h e o t h e r f o r C l i f f o r d is t h e a n t h r o p o ­
l o g i c a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e o t h e r . T h i s m e a n s t h a t C l i f f o r d is s i m u l ­
t a n e o u s l y m o r e firmly in c o n t r o l o f his p r o j e c t a n d m o r e parasitical.
H e can i n v e n t his q u e s t i o n s with few constraints; h e m u s t constantly
f e e d off others' texts.
T h i s n e w speciality is c u r r e n t l y in t h e p r o c e s s of s e l f - d e f i n i t i o n .
T h e first m o v e i n l e g i t i m a t i n g a n e w a p p r o a c h is to c l a i m it h a s a n o b ­
j e c t o f study, preferably an i m p o r t a n t o n e , that has previously e s c a p e d
n o t i c e . Parallel t o Geertz's c l a i m that t h e B a l i n e s e w e r e i n t e r p r e t i n g
t h e i r c o c k fights as c u l t u r a l t e x t s all a l o n g , C l i f f o r d a r g u e s t h a t a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i s t s have b e e n e x p e r i m e n t i n g with writing f o r m s w h e t h e r
t h e y k n e w it o r n o t . T h e i n t e r p r e t i v e t u r n in a n t h r o p o l o g y h a s m a d e
its m a r k ( p r o d u c i n g a substantial b o d y o f w o r k a n d a l m o s t e s t a b ­
l i s h i n g i t s e l f as a s u b s p e c i a l i t y ) , b u t it is still n o t c l e a r w h e t h e r t h e
d e c o n s t r u c t i v e - s e m i o t i c t u r n (an a d m i t t e d l y v a g u e l a b e l ) is a s a l u t a r y
l o o s e n i n g u p , a n o p e n i n g for e x c i t i n g n e w w o r k o f m a j o r i m p o r t , o r a
tactic in t h e field o f c u l t u r a l politics to b e u n d e r s t o o d p r i m a r i l y in s o ­
c i o l o g i c a l t e r m s . A s it is c e r t a i n l y t h e first a n d t h e t h i r d , it is w o r t h a
closer examination.
Representations Are Social Facts
24;$
I n h i s e s s a y "Fantasia o f t h e Library" ( 1 9 7 7 ) M i c h e l F o u c a u l t p l a y s
adroitly with the p r o g r e s s i o n o f uses Flaubert m a d e t h r o u g h o u t his
life o f t h e f a b l e o f t h e t e m p t a t i o n o f S a i n t A n t h o n y . Far f r o m b e i n g
t h e i d l e p r o d u c t s o f a fertile i m a g i n a t i o n , Flaubert's r e f e r e n c e s t o
i c o n o g r a p h y a n d p h i l o l o g y in h i s s e e m i n g l y p h a n t a s m a g o r i c r e n d e r ­
i n g s o f t h e saint's h a l l u c i n a t i o n s w e r e e x a c t . F o u c a u l t s h o w s u s h o w
F l a u b e r t r e t u r n e d t h r o u g h o u t his life t o this s t a g i n g o f e x p e r i e n c e
a n d w r i t i n g , a n d u s e d it as a n ascetic e x e r c i s e b o t h t o p r o d u c e a n d t o
k e e p at bay t h e d e m o n s t h a t h a u n t a writer's w o r l d . It w a s n o a c c i d e n t
t h a t F l a u b e r t e n d e d h i s life as a w r i t e r w i t h t h a t m o n s t r o u s c o l l e c t i o n
o f c o m m o n p l a c e s Bouvard et Pécuchet. A c o n s t a n t c o m m e n t a r y o n
o t h e r t e x t s , Bouvard el Pécuchet c a n b e r e a d as a t h o r o u g h d o m e s t i c a ­
tion o f textuality into a self-contained exercise o f a r r a n g i n g a n d cata­
l o g u i n g : t h e f a n t a s i a o f t h e library.
F o r t h e s a k e o f t h e a r g u m e n t , let u s j u x t a p o s e C l i f f o r d G e e r t z ' s
i n t e r p r e t i v e a n t h r o p o l o g y to J a m e s Clifford's t e x t u a l i s t m e t a a n t h r o p o l o g y . If G e e r t z is still s e e k i n g to c o n j u r e a n d c a p t u r e t h e
d e m o n s o f e x o t i c i s m — t h e a t e r states, s h a d o w plays, c o c k
fights—
t h r o u g h his l i m i t e d u s e o f fictionalized s t a g i n g s in w h i c h t h e y c a n a p ­
p e a r to u s , t h e t e x t u a l i s t / d e c o n s t r u c t i v e m o v e r u n s t h e risk of i n v e n t ­
i n g e v e r m o r e c l e v e r filing s y s t e m s f o r o t h e r s ' t e x t s a n d o f i m a g i n i n g
t h a t e v e r y o n e e l s e in t h e w o r l d is h a r d at w o r k d o i n g t h e s a m e t h i n g .
L e s t t h e a r g u m e n t r u n away i n d i r e c t i o n s o f its o w n , I s h o u l d s t r e s s
t h a t I a m n o t s a y i n g that Clifford's e n t e r p r i s e has u p to t h e p r e s e n t
b e e n a n y t h i n g b u t salutary. T h e raising o f a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l c o n s c i o u s ­
n e s s a b o u t a n t h r o p o l o g y ' s o w n t e x t u a l m o d e of o p e r a t i o n w a s l o n g
o v e r d u e . D e s p i t e Geertz's o c c a s i o n a l a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s o f t h e i n e l u c ­
tability o f f i c t i o n a l i z i n g , h e h a s n e v e r p u s h e d t h a t i n s i g h t v e r y far.
T h e p o i n t s e e m s to h a v e n e e d e d a m e t a p o s i t i o n to b r i n g h o m e its real
f o r c e . T h e v o i c e f r o m t h e c a m p u s library h a s b e e n a s a l u t a r y o n e .
W h a t I w a n t to d o briefly in this s e c t i o n is t o r e t u r n t h e g a z e , t o l o o k
back at this e t h n o g r a p h e r o f e t h n o g r a p h e r s , sitting across t h e table in
a c a f e , a n d , u s i n g his o w n d e s c r i p t i v e c a t e g o r i e s , e x a m i n e his t e x t u a l
productions.
Clifford's c e n t r a l t h e m e h a s b e e n t h e t e x t u a l c o n s t r u c t i o n o f a n ­
t h r o p o l o g i c a l a u t h o r i t y . T h e m a i n literary d e v i c e e m p l o y e d i n e t h n o g ­
r a p h i e s , " f r e e i n d i r e c t style," h a s b e e n well a n a l y z e d b y D a n S p e r b e r
(1982) a n d n e e d not be rehearsed here. T h e insight that a n t h r o p o l o ­
gists w r i t e e m p l o y i n g literary c o n v e n t i o n s , a l t h o u g h i n t e r e s t i n g , is n o t
i n h e r e n t l y c r i s i s - p r o v o k i n g . M a n y n o w h o l d t h a t fiction a n d s c i e n c e
are n o t o p p o s e d b u t c o m p l e m e n t a r y terms (De Certeau 1983). A d ­
v a n c e s h a v e b e e n m a d e i n o u r a w a r e n e s s o f t h e fictional (in t h e s e n s e
o f " m a d e , " "fabricated") quality o f a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l w r i t i n g a n d in
t h e i n t e g r a t i o n o f its c h a r a c t e r i s t i c m o d e s o f p r o d u c t i o n . T h e self-
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PAUL RABINOW
c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f style, rhetoric, a n d dialectic in the p r o d u c t i o n o f an­
t h r o p o l o g i c a l t e x t s s h o u l d l e a d u s t o a finer a w a r e n e s s o f o t h e r , m o r e
imaginative, ways to write.
C l i f f o r d s e e m s , h o w e v e r , t o b e s a y i n g m o r e t h a n this. S u b s t a n t i v e l y ,
h e argues that f r o m Malinowski on, anthropological authority has
r e s t e d o n t w o t e x t u a l l e g s . A n e x p e r i e n t i a l "I w a s t h e r e " e l e m e n t e s t a b ­
l i s h e s t h e u n i q u e a u t h o r i t y o f t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ; its s u p p r e s s i o n i n
t h e t e x t e s t a b l i s h e s t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t ' s scientific a u t h o r i t y . C l i f f o r d
s h o w s u s t h i s d e v i c e at w o r k i n Geertz's f a m o u s c o c k f i g h t p a p e r : " T h e
r e s e a r c h p r o c e s s is s e p a r a t e d f r o m t h e t e x t s it g e n e r a t e s a n d f r o m t h e
fictive w o r l d t h e y a r e m a d e t o call u p . T h e actuality o f d i s c u r s i v e s i t u a ­
t i o n s a n d i n d i v i d u a l i n t e r l o c u t o r s is filtered o u t . . . . T h e d i a l o g i c a l ,
situational aspects o f e t h n o g r a p h i c interpretation t e n d to be b a n i s h e d
f r o m t h e final r e p r e s e n t a t i v e t e x t . N o t e n t i r e l y b a n i s h e d , o f c o u r s e ;
t h e r e exist a p p r o v e d topoi for the portrayal o f the research process"
( 1 9 8 3 : 1 3 2 ) . C l i f f o r d p r e s e n t s Geertz's " a p p e a l i n g f a b l e " as p a r a ­
d i g m a t i c : the a n t h r o p o l o g i s t establishes that h e was t h e r e a n d t h e n
d i s a p p e a r s f r o m the text.
2
W i t h h i s o w n g e n r e C l i f f o r d m a k e s a p a r a l l e l m o v e . J u s t as G e e r t z
m a k e s a b o w to self-referentiality (thereby establishing o n e d i m e n s i o n
o f h i s a u t h o r i t y ) a n d t h e n (in t h e n a m e o f s c i e n c e ) e v a d e s its c o n s e ­
q u e n c e s , s o , t o o , C l i f f o r d talks a g r e a t d e a l a b o u t t h e i n e l u c t a b i l i t y o f
d i a l o g u e ( t h e r e b y e s t a b l i s h i n g h i s a u t h o r i t y as a n " o p e n " o n e ) , b u t h i s
t e x t s a r e n o t t h e m s e l v e s d i a l o g i c . T h e y a r e w r i t t e n in a m o d i f i e d f r e e
i n d i r e c t style. T h e y e v o k e a n "I w a s t h e r e at t h e a n t h r o p o l o g y c o n v e n ­
tion" tone, while consistently maintaining a Flaubertean r e m o v e . B o t h
G e e r t z a n d C l i f f o r d fail t o u s e s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l i t y as a n y t h i n g m o r e
t h a n a d e v i c e f o r e s t a b l i s h i n g a u t h o r i t y . Clifford's t e l l i n g r e a d i n g o f
t h e B a l i n e s e c o c k f i g h t as a p a n o p t i c c o n s t r u c t m a k e s this p o i n t p e r ­
suasively, but h e himself makes the same omission o n a n o t h e r level.
H e r e a d s a n d classifies, d e s c r i b i n g i n t e n t i o n a n d e s t a b l i s h i n g a c a n o n ;
b u t h i s o w n w r i t i n g a n d s i t u a t i o n a r e left u n e x a m i n e d . P o i n t i n g o u t
Clifford's t e x t u a l s t a n c e d o e s n o t , o f c o u r s e , i n v a l i d a t e h i s i n s i g h t s
(any m o r e t h a n his r e a d i n g o f Malinowski's textual m o v e s invalidates
t h e a n a l y s i s o f t h e K u l a j . It o n l y s i t u a t e s t h e m . W e h a v e m o v e d b a c k
f r o m t h e t e n t i n t h e T r o b r i a n d s filled w i t h n a t i v e s t o t h e w r i t i n g d e s k
in t h e c a m p u s library.
3
A n essential m o v e in establishing disciplinary or subdisciplinary
l e g i t i m a c y is classification. C l i f f o r d p r o p o s e s f o u r t y p e s o f a n t h r o 2. T h e importance of this double move is one of the central arguments of my Re­
flections on Fieldwork in Morocco (1977).
3. I would like to thank Arjun Appadurai for his help in clarifying this and other
points.
Representations Are Social Facts
245
pological writing, which have a p p e a r e d in r o u g h l y c h r o n o l o g i c a l or­
d e r . H e o r g a n i z e s his e s s a y " O n E t h n o g r a p h i c A u t h o r i t y " ( 1 9 8 3 a )
a r o u n d this p r o g r e s s i o n , b u t a l s o a s s e r t s t h a t n o m o d e o f a u t h o r i t y is
better than any other. "The m o d e s o f authority reviewed in this es­
s a y — e x p e r i e n t i a l , interpretive, dialogical, p o l y p h o n i c — a r e available
t o all w r i t e r s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c t e x t s , W e s t e r n a n d n o n - W e s t e r n . N o n e is
o b s o l e t e , n o n e is p u r e : t h e r e is r o o m f o r i n v e n t i o n w i t h i n e a c h p a r a ­
d i g m " (142). T h i s conclusion g o e s against the rhetorical grain o f
Clifford's essay. T h i s t e n s i o n is i m p o r t a n t a n d I shall r e t u r n t o it b e l o w .
Clifford's m a i n t h e s i s is t h a t a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l w r i t i n g h a s t e n d e d t o
s u p p r e s s t h e d i a l o g i c d i m e n s i o n o f fieldwork, g i v i n g full c o n t r o l o f
t h e t e x t t o t h e a n t h r o p o l o g i s t . T h e b u l k o f Clifford's w o r k h a s b e e n
d e v o t e d t o s h o w i n g w a y s in w h i c h this t e x t u a l e l i m i n a t i o n o f t h e d i a ­
l o g i c a l m i g h t b e r e m e d i e d by n e w f o r m s o f w r i t i n g . T h i s l e a d s h i m t o
r e a d e x p e r i e n t i a l a n d i n t e r p r e t i v e m o d e s o f w r i t i n g as m o n o l o g i c a l ,
linked in general terms to colonialism. "Interpretive a n t h r o p o l o g y . . .
i n its m a i n s t r e a m realist s t r a n d s . . . d o e s n o t e s c a p e t h e g e n e r a l stric­
t u r e s o f t h o s e critics o f "colonial" r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w h o , s i n c e 1 9 5 0 ,
h a v e rejected d i s c o u r s e s that portray the cultural realities o f o t h e r
p e o p l e s w i t h o u t p l a c i n g t h e i r o w n reality in j e o p a r d y " ( 1 3 3 ) . It w o u l d
b e e a s y t o r e a d this s t a t e m e n t as p r e f e r r i n g s o m e " p a r a d i g m s " t o o t h ­
e r s . It is p e r f e c t l y p o s s i b l e t h a t C l i f f o r d h i m s e l f is s i m p l y a m b i v a l e n t .
H o w e v e r , g i v e n his o w n interpretive choices h e clearly d o e s charac­
t e r i z e s o m e m o d e s as " e m e r g e n t " a n d t h e r e b y as t e m p o r a r i l y m o r e
i m p o r t a n t . U s i n g a grid o f interpretation that highlights the s u p p r e s ­
s i o n o f t h e d i a l o g i c , it is h a r d n o t t o r e a d t h e h i s t o r y o f a n t h r o p o l o g i ­
cal w r i t i n g as a l o o s e p r o g r e s s i o n t o w a r d d i a l o g i c a l a n d p o l y p h o n i c
textuality.
H a v i n g c a s t t h e first t w o m o d e s o f e t h n o g r a p h i c a u t h o r i t y ( e x p e r i ­
e n t i a l a n d r e a l i s t / i n t e r p r e t i v e ) in l a r g e l y n e g a t i v e t e r m s , C l i f f o r d m o v e s
o n t o a m u c h m o r e enthusiastic portrayal o f the n e x t set (dialogic a n d
h e t e r o g l o s s i c ) . H e says: " D i a l o g i c a n d c o n s t r u c t i v i s t p a r a d i g m s t e n d t o
d i s p e r s e o r s h a r e o u t e t h n o g r a p h i c a u t h o r i t y , w h i l e n a r r a t i v e s o f ini­
tiation confirm the researcher's special c o m p e t e n c e . Paradigms o f ex­
p e r i e n c e a n d interpretation are yielding to paradigms o f discourse, o f
d i a l o g u e a n d p o l y p h o n y " ( 1 3 3 ) . T h e c l a i m t h a t s u c h m o d e s a r e tri­
u m p h i n g is e m p i r i c a l l y d u b i o u s ; as R e n a t o R o s a l d o says: " T h e t r o o p s
a r e n o t f o l l o w i n g . " Yet t h e r e is c l e a r l y c o n s i d e r a b l e i n t e r e s t in s u c h
matters.
W h a t is d i a l o g i c ? C l i f f o r d at first s e e m s to b e u s i n g t h e t e r m i n a
literal s e n s e : a t e x t t h a t p r e s e n t s t w o s u b j e c t s i n d i s c u r s i v e e x c h a n g e .
K e v i n D w y e r ' s " r a t h e r literal r e c o r d " (134) o f e x c h a n g e s w i t h a M o r o c ­
c a n f a r m e r is t h e first e x a m p l e c i t e d o f a " d i a l o g i c " t e x t . H o w e v e r , a
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p a g e l a t e r , C l i f f o r d a d d s : " T o say t h a t a n e t h n o g r a p h y is c o m p o s e d o f
d i s c o u r s e s a n d t h a t its d i f f e r e n t c o m p o n e n t s a r e d i a l o g i c a l l y r e l a t e d ,
is n o t t o say t h a t its t e x t u a l f o r m s h o u l d b e t h a t o f a literal d i a l o g u e "
( 1 3 5 ) . A l t e r n a t e d e s c r i p t i o n s a r e g i v e n , b u t n o final d e f i n i t i o n is ar­
r i v e d at. C o n s e q u e n t l y t h e g e n r e ' s d e f i n i n g c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s r e m a i n
unclear.
" B u t if i n t e r p r e t i v e a u t h o r i t y is b a s e d o n t h e e x c l u s i o n o f d i a ­
l o g u e , t h e r e v e r s e is a l s o t r u e : a p u r e l y d i a l o g i c a l a u t h o r i t y r e p r e s s e s
t h e i n e s c a p a b l e fact o f t e x t u a l i z a t i o n , " C l i f f o r d q u i c k l y m o v e s o n t o
r e m i n d u s ( 1 3 4 ) . T h i s is c o n f i r m e d by D w y e r ' s a d a m a n t d i s t a n c i n g o f
h i m s e l f f r o m w h a t h e p e r c e i v e s as t e x t u a l i s t t r e n d s i n a n t h r o p o l o g y .
T h e o p p o s i t i o n o f i n t e r p r e t i v e a n d d i a l o g i c is h a r d t o g r a s p — s e v e r a l
p a g e s later Clifford praises the m o s t r e n o w n e d representative o f herm e n e u t i c s , H a n s G e o r g G a d a m e r , w h o s e texts certainly contain n o
d i r e c t d i a l o g u e s , f o r a s p i r i n g t o "radical d i a l o g i s m " ( 1 4 2 ) . Finally,
C l i f f o r d a s s e r t s t h a t d i a l o g i c t e x t s a r e , a f t e r all, t e x t s , m e r e l y " r e p r e ­
sentations" o f d i a l o g u e s . T h e anthropologist retains his or h e r au­
thority as a constituting subject a n d representative o f the d o m i n a n t
c u l t u r e . D i a l o g i c t e x t s c a n b e j u s t as s t a g e d a n d c o n t r o l l e d a s e x p e r i ­
ential or interpretive texts. T h e m o d e offers n o textual g u a r a n t e e s .
Finally, b e y o n d d i a l o g i c t e x t s , lies h e t e r o g l o s s i a : "a c a r n i v a l e s q u e
a r e n a o f diversity." F o l l o w i n g M i k h a i l B a k h t i n , C l i f f o r d p o i n t s t o
D i c k e n s ' s w o r k as a n e x a m p l e o f t h e " p o l y p h o n i c s p a c e " t h a t m i g h t
s e r v e as a m o d e l f o r u s . " D i c k e n s , t h e a c t o r , o r a l p e r f o r m e r , a n d p o l y p h o n i s t , is s e t a g a i n s t F l a u b e r t , t h e m a s t e r o f a u t h o r i a l c o n t r o l m o v i n g
Godlike, a m o n g t h e t h o u g h t s a n d feelings o f his characters. Eth­
n o g r a p h y , like the novel, wrestles with these alternatives" (137). If
d i a l o g i c t e x t s fall p r e y to t h e evils o f t o t a l i z i n g e t h n o g r a p h i c a d j u s t ­
m e n t , t h e n p e r h a p s e v e n m o r e radical h e t e r o g l o s s i c o n e s m i g h t n o t :
" E t h n o g r a p h y is i n v a d e d by h e t e r o g l o s s i a . I f a c c o r d e d a n a u t o n o ­
m o u s t e x t u a l s p a c e , t r a n s c r i b e d at sufficient l e n g t h , i n d i g e n o u s s t a t e ­
m e n t s m a k e sense o n terms different from those of the arranging eth­
n o g r a p h e r . . . . T h i s suggests a n alternate textual strategy, a utopia o f
plural a u t h o r s h i p that accords to collaborators, n o t m e r e l y the status
o f i n d e p e n d e n t e n u n c i a t o r s , b u t t h a t o f writers" (140).
B u t Clifford i m m e d i a t e l y a d d s : "quotations are always s t a g e d by
t h e q u o t e r . . . a m o r e radical p o l y p h o n y w o u l d o n l y d i s p l a c e e t h ­
n o g r a p h i c a u t h o r i t y , still c o n f i r m i n g , t h e final, v i r t u o s o o r c h e s t r a t i o n
b y a s i n g l e a u t h o r o f all t h e d i s c o u r s e s i n his o r h e r t e x t " ( 1 3 9 ) . N e w
f o r m s o f writing, n e w textual e x p e r i m e n t s w o u l d o p e n n e w possibil­
i t i e s — b u t g u a r a n t e e n o n e . C l i f f o r d is u n e a s y a b o u t this. H e m o v e s o n .
T e m p o r a r i l y enthusiastic for dialogic, Clifford i m m e d i a t e l y qualifies
h i s p r a i s e . H e l e a d s u s o n to h e t e r o g l o s s i a : s e d u c e d — f o r a p a r a -
Representations Are Social Facts
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g r a p h — u n t i l w e s e e t h a t it t o o is, hélas, w r i t i n g . C l i f f o r d c l o s e s h i s e s ­
say b y p r o c l a i m i n g : "I h a v e a r g u e d t h a t this i m p o s i t i o n o f c o h e r e n c e
o n a n u n r u l y t e x t u a l p r o c e s s is n o w , i n e s c a p a b l y a m a t t e r o f s t r a t e g i c
choice" (142).
Clifford's p r e s e n t a t i o n c l e a r l y o f f e r s a p r o g r e s s i o n e v e n if, b y t h e
e n d o f t h e e s s a y , it is a p u r e l y d e c i s i o n i s t o n e . H o w e v e r , C l i f f o r d e x ­
plicitly d e n i e s a n y h i e r a r c h y . A t first I t h o u g h t this w a s m e r e i n c o n s i s ­
tency, or ambivalence, or the e m b o d i m e n t of an u n r e s o l v e d but crea­
t i v e t e n s i o n . I n o w t h i n k t h a t C l i f f o r d , like e v e r y o n e e l s e , is "dans
le vrai." W e a r e at a d i s c u r s i v e m o m e n t in w h i c h t h e a u t h o r ' s i n t e n ­
t i o n s h a v e b e e n e l i m i n a t e d o r u n d e r p l a y e d i n r e c e n t critical t h o u g h t .
Rather, w e have b e e n led to question the structures a n d c o n t o u r s o f
v a r i o u s m o d e s o f w r i t i n g p e r se. F r e d r i c J a m e s o n h a s i d e n t i f i e d vari­
o u s e l e m e n t s o f p o s t - m o d e r n w r i t i n g ( e . g . , its r e f u s a l o f h i e r a r c h y , its
flattening
o f h i s t o r y , its u s e o f i m a g e s ) i n a m a n n e r t h a t s e e m s t o fit
Clifford's p r o j e c t q u i t e c l o s e l y .
From Modernism to Post-Modernism
in Anthropology
F r e d r i c J a m e s o n , i n his " P o s t m o d e r n i s m a n d C o n s u m e r S o ­
ciety" ( 1 9 8 3 ) , o f f e r s u s s o m e u s e f u l s t a r t i n g p o i n t s t o s i t u a t e r e c e n t
d e v e l o p m e n t s in anthropological and meta-anthropological writing.
W i t h o u t seeking a univocal definition of post-modernism, J a m e s o n
delimits the s c o p e o f the term by p r o p o s i n g a n u m b e r o f key ele­
m e n t s : its h i s t o r i c a l l o c a t i o n , its u s e o f p a s t i c h e , t h e i m p o r t a n c e o f
images.
J a m e s o n locates p o s t - m o d e r n i s m culturally a n d historically n o t
j u s t as a stylistic t e r m b u t as a p e r i o d m a r k e r . B y s o d o i n g h e s e e k s t o
isolate a n d correlate features o f cultural p r o d u c t i o n in t h e 1960s with
o t h e r social a n d e c o n o m i c transformations. T h e e s t a b l i s h m e n t o f ana­
lytic c r i t e r i a a n d t h e i r c o r r e l a t i o n w i t h s o c i o e c o n o m i c c h a n g e s is v e r y
p r e l i m i n a r y in J a m e s o n ' s a c c o u n t , little m o r e t h a n a p l a c e m a r k e r .
H o w e v e r , it is w o r t h m a r k i n g t h e p l a c e . L a t e c a p i t a l i s m is d e f i n e d b y
J a m e s o n as t h e m o m e n t w h e n "the last v e s t i g e s o f N a t u r e w h i c h s u r ­
v i v e d o n i n t o classical c a p i t a l i s m a r e at last e l i m i n a t e d : n a m e l y t h e
t h i r d w o r l d a n d t h e u n c o n s c i o u s . T h e 60s will t h e n h a v e b e e n t h e m o ­
m e n t o u s t r a n s f o r m a t i o n a l p e r i o d i n w h i c h this s y s t e m i c r e s t r u c t u r i n g
t a k e s p l a c e o n a g l o b a l scale" (207). T h i s is n o t t h e p l a c e t o d e f e n d o r
criticize J a m e s o n ' s p e r i o d i z a t i o n , w h i c h h e r e c o g n i z e s as p r o v i s i o n a l .
Let u s s i m p l y n o t e t h a t it g i v e s u s t h e possibility o f d i s c u s s i n g c h a n g e s
in r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a l f o r m s w i t h i n a c o n t e x t o f W e s t e r n d e v e l o p m e n t s
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PAUL RABINOW
that lead forward to the present situation o f those writing t h e d e s c r i p ­
tions n o t in a backward-looking m o d e establishing textual connections
with writers in very different contexts, which frequently elide differ­
e n c e s . F o r t h i s r e a s o n , l e t us a d o p t it as h e u r i s t i c .
T h e v a r i o u s p o s t - m o d e r n i s m s f o r m i n g i n t h e s i x t i e s s u r f a c e d , at
least in part, as a reaction against t h e earlier m o d e r n i s t m o v e m e n t s .
C l a s s i c a l m o d e r n i s m , t o u s e a n e x p r e s s i o n t h a t is n o l o n g e r o x y m o r o n i c , a r o s e i n t h e c o n t e x t o f h i g h capitalist a n d b o u r g e o i s s o c i e t y
a n d s t o o d a g a i n s t it: "it e m e r g e d w i t h i n t h e b u s i n e s s s o c i e t y o f t h e
g i l d e d a g e a s s c a n d a l o u s a n d o f f e n s i v e t o t h e m i d d l e class p u b l i c —
ugly, dissonant, sexually shocking. . . . subversive" (124). J a m e s o n
contrasts t h e subversive m o d e r n i s t turn o f t h e early twentieth century
with t h e flattening, reactive nature o f p o s t - m o d e r n culture:
T h o s e formerly subversive and embattled styles—Abstract Expressionism;
the great modernist poetry of Pound, Eliot or Wallace Stevens; the Inter­
national Style (Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies); Stravinsky; Joyce,
Proust and Mann—felt to be scandalous or shocking by o u r grandparents
are, for the generation which arrives at the gate in the ig6o's, felt to be the
establishment and the e n e m y — d e a d , stifling, canonical, the reified m o n u ­
ments o n e has to destroy to d o anything new. This means that there will be as
many different forms of postmodernism as there were high modernisms in
place, since the former are at least initially specific and local reactions against
those models. ( 1 1 1 - 1 2 )
J a m e s o n , n o t u n l i k e H a b e r m a s ( 1 9 8 3 ) , clearly t h i n k s t h e r e w e r e i m ­
p o r t a n t critical e l e m e n t s i n m o d e r n i s m . A l t h o u g h t h e y w o u l d p r o b a ­
bly d i f f e r o n w h a t t h e y w e r e , t h e y w o u l d a g r e e t h a t i n a n i m p o r t a n t
s e n s e t h e p r o j e c t o f m o d e r n i t y is u n f i n i s h e d , a n d c e r t a i n o f its f e a ­
t u r e s (its a t t e m p t t o b e critical, s e c u l a r , anti-capitalist, r a t i o n a l ) a r e
worth strengthening.
I w o u l d a d d t h a t i f it a r o s e i n t h e i g 6 o s i n p a r t as a r e a c t i o n t o t h e
a c a d e m i c c a n o n i z a t i o n o f t h e g r e a t m o d e r n i s t artists, p o s t - m o d e r n i s m ,
m o v i n g q u i c k l y , h a s itself s u c c e e d e d i n e n t e r i n g t h e a c a d e m y i n t h e
1980s. It h a s s u c c e s s f u l l y d o m e s t i c a t e d a n d p a c k a g e d itself t h r o u g h
t h e p r o l i f e r a t i o n o f classificatory s c h e m e s , t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f c a n o n s ,
the establishment o f hierarchies, blunting o f offensive behavior, ac­
q u i e s c e n c e t o u n i v e r s i t y n o r m s . J u s t as t h e r e a r e n o w art g a l l e r i e s f o r
graffiti i n N e w York, s o , t o o , t h e r e a r e t h e s e s b e i n g w r i t t e n o n graffiti,
b r e a k d a n c i n g , a n d so o n , in t h e m o s t avant-garde d e p a r t m e n t s . E v e n
t h e S o r b o n n e has accepted a thesis o n David B o w i e .
4
W h a t is p o s t - m o d e r n i s m ? T h e first e l e m e n t is its h i s t o r i c a l l o c a t i o n
as a c o u n t e r - r e a c t i o n t o m o d e r n i s m . G o i n g b e y o n d t h e b y n o w "classic"
4. As reported in Le Nouvel Observateur, November 1 6 - 2 2 , 1984.
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definition of Lyotard (1979)—the e n d of metanarratives—Jameson
d e f i n e s its s e c o n d e l e m e n t as p a s t i c h e . T h e d i c t i o n a r y d e f i n i t i o n —
" ( 1 ) A n artistic c o m p o s i t i o n d r a w n f r o m s e v e r a l s o u r c e s , (2) a h o d g e
p o d g e " — i s n o t sufficient. P o u n d , f o r e x a m p l e , d r e w f r o m s e v e r a l
s o u r c e s . J a m e s o n is p o i n t i n g at a u s e o f p a s t i c h e t h a t h a s l o s t its n o r ­
m a t i v e m o o r i n g s , w h i c h s e e s t h e j u m b l i n g o f e l e m e n t s a s all t h e r e is.
H o d g e p o d g e is d e f i n e d as "a j u m b l e d m i x t u r e , " b u t it c o m e s f r o m t h e
F r e n c h hochepot, a s t e w , a n d t h e r e i n lies t h e d i f f e r e n c e .
J o y c e , H e m i n g w a y , W o o l f , e t al. b e g a n w i t h t h e c o n c e i t o f a n i n t e r i o r i z e d a n d d i s t i n c t i v e subjectivity t h a t b o t h d r e w f r o m a n d s t o o d at a
d i s t a n c e f r o m n o r m a l s p e e c h a n d i d e n t i t y . T h e r e w a s "a l i n g u i s t i c
n o r m i n c o n t r a s t t o w h i c h t h e styles o f t h e g r e a t m o d e r n i s t s " ( J a m e ­
son 1983: 114) could b e attacked or praised, but in either case g a u g e d .
B u t w h a t i f this t e n s i o n b e t w e e n b o u r g e o i s n o r m a l i t y a n d t h e m o d ­
e r n i s t s ' stylistic l i m i t t e s t i n g c r a c k e d , y i e l d i n g t o a social reality i n
w h i c h w e h a d n o t h i n g b u t "stylistic d i v e r s i t y a n d h e t e r o g e n e i t y " w i t h ­
o u t t h e a s s u m p t i o n ( h o w e v e r c o n t e s t a b l e ) of relatively s t a b l e i d e n t i t y
or linguistic norms? U n d e r such conditions, the contestatory stance o f
t h e m o d e r n i s t s w o u l d l o s e its f o r c e : "All t h a t is left is t o i m i t a t e d e a d
s t y l e s , t o s p e a k t h r o u g h t h e m a s k s a n d w i t h t h e v o i c e s o f t h e styles i n
t h e i m a g i n a r y m u s e u m . B u t this m e a n s t h a t c o n t e m p o r a r y o r p o s t ­
m o d e r n i s t a r t is g o i n g t o b e a b o u t art itself i n a n e w k i n d o f w a y ; e v e n
m o r e , it m e a n s t h a t o n e o f its e s s e n t i a l m e s s a g e s will i n v o l v e t h e n e c e s ­
sary f a i l u r e o f a r t a n d t h e a e s t h e t i c , t h e f a i l u r e o f t h e n e w , t h e i m ­
p r i s o n m e n t i n t h e past" ( 1 1 5 — 1 6 ) . It s e e m s t o m e t h a t this i m p r i s o n ­
m e n t i n t h e p a s t is q u i t e d i f f e r e n t f r o m h i s t o r i c i s m . P o s t - m o d e r n i s m
m o v e s b e y o n d t h e (what n o w s e e m s to b e an almost c o m f o r t i n g ) es­
t r a n g e m e n t o f h i s t o r i c i s m , w h i c h l o o k e d , f r o m a d i s t a n c e , at o t h e r
cultures as w h o l e s . T h e dialectic o f self a n d o t h e r m a y have p r o d u c e d
a n a l i e n a t e d r e l a t i o n s h i p , b u t it w a s o n e w i t h d e f i n a b l e n o r m s , i d e n t i ­
ties, a n d r e l a t i o n s . T o d a y , b e y o n d e s t r a n g e m e n t a n d r e l a t i v i s m , lies
pastiche.
T o e x e m p l i f y t h i s , J a m e s o n d e v e l o p s a n analysis o f n o s t a l g i a films.
C o n t e m p o r a r y n o s t a l g i a films s u c h as Chinatown o r Body Heat a r e
c h a r a c t e r i z e d b y a " r e t r o s p e c t i v e styling," d u b b e d "la mode rétro" b y
F r e n c h critics. A s o p p o s e d t o t r a d i t i o n a l historical films w h i c h s e e k t o
r e c r e a t e t h e fiction o f a n o t h e r a g e as o t h e r , "mode rétro" films s e e k t o
e v o k e a f e e l i n g t o n e t h r o u g h t h e u s e o f p r e c i s e artifacts a n d stylistic
devices that blur t e m p o r a l b o u n d a r i e s . J a m e s o n points o u t that recent
n o s t a l g i a films o f t e n t a k e p l a c e i n t h e p r e s e n t ( o r , as i n t h e c a s e o f
Star Wars, i n t h e f u t u r e ) . A p r o l i f e r a t i o n o f m e t a r e f e r e n c e s t o o t h e r
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s flattens a n d e m p t i e s their contents. O n e o f their c h i e f
d e v i c e s is t o d r a w h e a v i l y o n o l d e r p l o t s : " T h e a l l u s i v e a n d e l u s i v e
25O
PAUL RABINOW
p l a g i a r i s m o f o l d e r p l o t s is, o f c o u r s e , also a f e a t u r e o f p a s t i c h e " ( 1 1 7 ) .
T h e s e films f u n c t i o n n o t s o m u c h t o d e n y t h e p r e s e n t b u t t o b l u r t h e
specificity o f t h e past, to c o n f u s e the line b e t w e e n past a n d p r e s e n t (or
f u t u r e ) as d i s t i n c t p e r i o d s . W h a t t h e s e films d o is r e p r e s e n t o u r r e p r e ­
s e n t a t i o n s o f o t h e r e r a s . "If t h e r e is a n y r e a l i s m left h e r e , it is a 'real­
ism' w h i c h springs f r o m the shock of g r a s p i n g that c o n f i n e m e n t a n d
o f realizing that, for w h a t e v e r peculiar reasons, w e s e e m c o n d e m n e d
to s e e k t h e historical past t h r o u g h o u r o w n p o p i m a g e s a n d stereo­
t y p e s a b o u t t h a t p a s t , w h i c h itself r e m a i n s f o r e v e r o u t o f r e a c h " ( 1 1 8 ) .
T h i s , it s e e m s t o m e , d e s c r i b e s a n a p p r o a c h t h a t s e e s s t r a t e g i c c h o i c e
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s as its m a i n p r o b l e m .
A l t h o u g h J a m e s o n is w r i t i n g a b o u t historical c o n s c i o u s n e s s , t h e
s a m e t r e n d is p r e s e n t i n e t h n o g r a p h i c w r i t i n g : i n t e r p r e t i v e a n t h r o ­
pologists work with the problem of representations of others' repre­
s e n t a t i o n s , h i s t o r i a n s a n d m e t a c r i t i c s o f a n t h r o p o l o g y w i t h t h e classi­
fication,
c a n o n i z a t i o n , a n d " m a k i n g available" o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . T h e historical f l a t t e n i n g f o u n d i n
t h e p a s t i c h e o f n o s t a l g i a films r e a p p e a r s in t h e m e t a - e t h n o g r a p h i c
f l a t t e n i n g t h a t m a k e s all t h e world's c u l t u r e s p r a c t i t i o n e r s o f t e x t u a l i t y .
T h e details in these narratives are precise, the i m a g e s evocative, the
n e u t r a l i t y e x e m p l a r y , a n d t h e m o d e rétro.
T h e final f e a t u r e o f p o s t - m o d e r n i s m f o r J a m e s o n is "textuality."
Drawing o n Lacanian ideas about schizophrenia, J a m e s o n points to
o n e o f t h e d e f i n i n g characteristics o f t h e textual m o v e m e n t as t h e
b r e a k d o w n o f t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n s i g n i f i e r s : " s c h i z o p h r e n i a is a n
e x p e r i e n c e o f isolated, d i s c o n n e c t e d , discontinuous material signifiers
w h i c h fail to l i n k u p i n t o a c o h e r e n t s e q u e n c e . . . a s i g n i f i e r t h a t h a s
l o s t its s i g n i f i e d h a s t h e r e b y b e e n t r a n s f o r m e d i n t o a n i m a g e " ( 1 2 0 ) .
A l t h o u g h t h e u s e o f t h e t e r m schizophrenic o b s c u r e s m o r e t h a n it il­
l u m i n a t e s , t h e p o i n t is t e l l i n g . O n c e t h e signifier is f r e e d f r o m a c o n ­
c e r n w i t h its r e l a t i o n t o a n e x t e r n a l r e f e r e n t it d o e s n o t float f r e e o f
a n y r e f e r e n t i a l i t y at all; r a t h e r , its r e f e r e n t b e c o m e s o t h e r t e x t s , o t h e r
i m a g e s . For J a m e s o n , p o s t - m o d e r n t e x t s ( h e is t a l k i n g a b o u t L a n ­
g u a g e p o e t s ) p a r a l l e l this m o v e : " T h e i r r e f e r e n t s a r e o t h e r i m a g e s ,
a n o t h e r t e x t , a n d t h e u n i t y o f t h e p o e m is n o t i n t h e t e x t at all b u t
o u t s i d e it i n t h e b o u n d u n i t y o f a n a b s e n t b o o k " ( 1 2 3 ) . W e a r e b a c k
at t h e "Fantasia o f t h e Library," this t i m e n o t as b i t t e r p a r o d y b u t as
celebratory pastiche.
O b v i o u s l y this d o e s n o e m e a n t h a t w e c a n s o l v e t h e c u r r e n t crisis
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n b y fiat. A r e t u r n t o e a r l i e r m o d e s o f u n s e l f c o n s c i o u s
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is n o t a c o h e r e n t p o s i t i o n ( a l t h o u g h t h e n e w s h a s n o t
y e t a r r i v e d i n m o s t a n t h r o p o l o g y d e p a r t m e n t s ) . B u t w e c a n n o t s o l v e it
b y i g n o r i n g t h e relations o f representational f o r m s a n d social prac-
Representations Are Social Facts
t i c e s e i t h e r . I f w e a t t e m p t t o e l i m i n a t e social r e f e r e n t i a l i t y , o t h e r
r e f e r e n t s will o c c u p y t h e v o i d e d p o s i t i o n . T h u s t h e r e p l y o f D w y e r ' s
M o r o c c a n i n f o r m a n t ( w h e n asked which part o f their d i a l o g u e h a d
i n t e r e s t e d h i m most) that h e h a d n o t b e e n interested in a single q u e s ­
t i o n a s k e d b y D w y e r is n o t t r o u b l i n g as l o n g as o t h e r a n t h r o p o l o g i s t s
r e a d t h e b o o k a n d i n c l u d e it i n t h e i r d i s c o u r s e . B u t o b v i o u s l y n e i t h e r
D w y e r n o r C l i f f o r d w o u l d b e satisfied w i t h t h a t r e s p o n s e . T h e i r i n t e n ­
t i o n s a n d t h e i r d i s c o u r s e s t r a t e g i e s d i v e r g e . It is t h e latter t h a t s e e m t o
h a v e g o n e astray.
Interpretive Communities, Power Relations, Ethics
The young conservatives . . . claim as their own the revelations of a
decentering subjectivity, emancipated from the imperatives of work and
usefulness, and with this experience they step outside the modern world.
. . . They remove into the sphere of the far-away and the archaic the
spontaneous powers of imagination, self-experience and emotion.
JÜRGEN HABERMAS, "Modernity—An Incomplete Project"
A variety o f i m p o r t a n t writing in t h e past d e c a d e has e x p l o r e d
t h e historical relations b e t w e e n world macropolitics a n d a n t h r o p o l o g y :
T h e W e s t v s . T h e Rest; I m p e r i a l i s m ; C o l o n i a l i s m ; N e o - C o l o n i a l i s m .
W o r k r a n g i n g f r o m T a l a l A s a d o n c o l o n i a l i s m a n d a n t h r o p o l o g y to
E d w a r d Said o n Western discourse a n d the other have put these ques­
t i o n s s q u a r e l y o n t h e a g e n d a o f c o n t e m p o r a r y d e b a t e . H o w e v e r , as
T a l a l A s a d p o i n t s o u t i n h i s p a p e r f o r this v o l u m e , this b y n o m e a n s
i m p l i e s t h a t t h e s e m a c r o p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m i c c o n d i t i o n s h a v e b e e n sig­
n i f i c a n t l y a f f e c t e d b y w h a t g o e s o n in a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l d e b a t e s . W e a l s o
n o w k n o w a g o o d deal about the relations o f p o w e r a n d discourse that
obtain b e t w e e n the anthropologist and the people with w h o m h e / s h e
works. B o t h the macro- a n d microrelations o f power a n d discourse
b e t w e e n a n t h r o p o l o g y a n d its o t h e r a r e at last o p e n to i n q u i r y . W e
k n o w s o m e of the questions worth asking and have m a d e asking t h e m
part o f t h e discipline's a g e n d a .
T h e m e t a r e f l e c t i o n s o n t h e crisis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n e t h n o ­
g r a p h i c w r i t i n g i n d i c a t e a shift a w a y f r o m c o n c e n t r a t i n g o n r e l a t i o n s
with o t h e r cultures to a (nonthematized) c o n c e r n with traditions o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d metatraditions o f metarepresentations, in o u r
c u l t u r e . I h a v e b e e n u s i n g Clifford's m e t a p o s i t i o n as a t o u c h s t o n e . H e
is n o t t a l k i n g p r i m a r i l y a b o u t r e l a t i o n s w i t h t h e o t h e r , e x c e p t as m e d i ­
a t e d t h r o u g h h i s c e n t r a l analytic c o n c e r n , d i s c u r s i v e t r o p e s , a n d
strategies. T h i s has taught us important things. I have claimed, h o w ­
ever, that this a p p r o a c h contains an interest