Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Textby Marc Manganaro
Recent insights into the nature of representation and power relations have signaled an important shift in perspective on anthropology: from a fieldwork-based "science" of culture to an interpretive activity bound to the discursive and ideological process called "text-making." This collection of essays reflects the ongoing cross-fertilization between literary… See more details below
Recent insights into the nature of representation and power relations have signaled an important shift in perspective on anthropology: from a fieldwork-based "science" of culture to an interpretive activity bound to the discursive and ideological process called "text-making." This collection of essays reflects the ongoing cross-fertilization between literary criticism and anthropology. Focusing on texts written or influenced by anthropologists between 1900 and 1945, the work relates current perspectives on anthropology's discursive nature to the literary period known as "Modernism.".
The essays, each demonstrating anthropology's profound influence on this important cultural movement, are organized according to discourse type: from the comparativist text of Frazer, to the ethnographies of Boas, Benedict, Mead, and Hurston, and on to the surrealist experiments of the College de Sociologie. Meanwhile the book's orientation shifts from essays that approach anthropology from the vantage points of literariness and textual power to those that contemplate what bearing the junction of cultural theory and anthropology can have upon present and future social institutions.
In addition to the editor, contributors include Vincent Crapanzano, Deborah Gordon, Richard Handler, Arnold Krupat, Francesco Loriggio, Michele Richman, Marty Roth, Marilyn Strathern, Robert Sullivan, John B. Vickery, and Steven Webster.
Originally published in 1990.
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From Fieldwork to Text
By Marc Manganaro
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1990 Princeton University Press
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Frazer and the Elegiac: The Modernist Connection
JOHN B. VICKERY
Modernist literature has a deserved reputation for being radically experimental in theme, structure, and technique. And yet the more one ponders it and its successors in the century, the more its collective voice appears to speak elegiacally, that is, in accents reflective of one of the most traditional and conventional of literary modes. Recently Peter Sacks (1985, 2) has reminded us that "the myth of the vegetation deity" is one of the elegy's central conventions all of which may be "not only aesthetically interesting forms but also the literary versions of specific social and psychological practices." Both the presence and the particular manifestations of this myth in modernist literature are in substantial measure attributable to The Golden Bough and related works. Such a literary impact may be regarded as either a historical accident or a consequence of particular, special, elective affinities between two kinds of texts, literary and nonliterary. Another and a more inclusive explanation—and the one I wish to pursue here—holds that the temper and form of many highly diverse, great modernist works are traceable, although obviously not always directly, as much to the nature, cultural preoccupations, and authorial voice of classical anthropology as to its subject matter and material foci.
Although my argument here is confined to Frazer, I should perhaps say that by the term classical anthropology, I cast a very loose net indeed, one that is able to apprehend if not to capture the likes of not only the Cambridge School—Harrison, Murray, Cornford, and Cook—but rivals such as Andrew Lang, Farnell, and Hartland, as well as thinkers of a different stripe such as LeVy-Bruhl, Malinowski, and Freud. In short, the early classical anthropologists, as their contemporaries today such as Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and Mary Douglas, sensed that in reading the texts and cultures at their disposal they were responding genetically in the manner appropriate to their discipline at that time. As their titles alone suggest, The Golden Bough, Themis, Thucydides Mythistoricus, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, and Primitive Mentality have more in common attitudinally, thematically, and perhaps even stylistically, with such contemporary works as The Interpretation of Culture, Natural Symbols, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors, The Forest of Symbols, and Implicit Meanings than either group does with historically intervening studies such as The Religion of the Kwakiutls, The Crow Indians, Culture of the Winnebago, or The Material Culture and Archaeology of the Marquesa Islands.
The critical difference between the generations (and it is a far-reaching one) is that the earlier one stood on one side of a methodological watershed and the latter on the other side. Most of twentieth-century anthropology until quite recently was seriously inhibited by a mission and methodology grounded in a writing model of narrative history aspiring to the condition of empirical science but rooted in actuality in its ideological and philosophical derivatives such as empiricism, positivism (historical and logical), and scientism. The classical encyclopedism, comparative method, intuitive hypothesizing, and generic conceptualizing gave way to limited subject focus, in-depth field work, codified data accumulation, and cautiously restricted inferences. Intellectual rigor was identified with a methodology of quantifiability and terminological rigidity. Only recently has this equation been called into question by countervailing philosophical forces pressing for epistemological scrutiny both of existing disciplinary assumptions and modes of inquiry as well as of the resources and capabilities of language itself. Today, the anthropologists I have mentioned, as well as others, write once again in a humanistic mode more nearly in a manner resembling literary criticism. In doing so, they reflect the age's increasing awareness of the problematic of meaning and interpretation and hence of the duality of intellectual dispositions—toward closure, containment, and communication (predicated on an avoidance of the Cretan paradox made famous for the modern mind by Bertrand Russell) coupled with the skeptical anticipation that openness is at least a probabilistic inevitability.
In short, I would contend that, despite the restrictive model looming before them (Malinowski is the pivotal transitional figure here), the classical anthropologists saw both their immediate subject matter and its implications for their own cultural condition elegiacally. If the history of the elegy from classical to modern times reveals anything, it is the steady expansion of subject matter and diversification of voices with which that matter is expressed. From a lament for the death of a personal friend or public figure to a polyvocal ritual of accommodation and transcendence of loss in all its forms charts the affective and expressive movement from the elegy to the elegiac. In effect, this movement reflects a growing awareness that loss, ruptures in expectancies and responses, and existential discontinuities may be engendered not only by individual persons but by families, relationships, cultures, and historical ages, as well as by philosophical topoi such as time, self, war, and religion. One cannot help but sense a steady accrual of objects of loss, lamentation, reflective regret, and disquieted foreboding.
Coupled with this has come a multiplication of attitudinal tonalities or voices ranging from the tragic note of desolation through the pathetic expression of separation and isolation to the satiric or ludic assessment of what remains. Concomitant with these expansions of the resources of the elegy proper there has come a loosening of the formal concept of genre itself so that, as here, a form like the elegy is modulated into a discernible set of voices speaking in and through unlimited or unrestricted kinds of texts on topics possessing family resemblances. So pervasive and powerful has this interactive nexus of loss, sorrow, rage, and recognition become that one is tempted to see the period under discussion as a threnodic age par excellence in which the complexly cadenced elegiac voice speaks not simply to what has occurred but to what is to come. It was this elegiac propensity of attitude, implication, form, and style that forged the modernist connection. With it the concepts of myth, ritual, culture, and the past both historic and prehistoric gave rise to a literature of meditative self-discovery, revelation, and illumination. Modernist literary texts are strikingly, if obliquely, elegiac because their great anthropological pre-texts, such as those of Frazer, were also elegiac in form, attitude, and cultural conditioning.
It has long been understood that the mood of much of Romantic and Victorian poetry is elegiac. It is, as Potts (1967, 235) has argued, "a meditation about death and personal loss, transience, and unfortunate love." Less obvious but certainly worthy of historical consideration, as Fowler (1982, 206) has suggested, is the likelihood that the nineteenth century may have been "the most prolific of all literary periods in experimentation with genre." The term experimentation may be too deliberate and overdetermined to apply to Frazer. Nevertheless, his works, their tonalities and attitudes, function as controlled extensions of the modulations, displacements, and transformations of literary genres occuring in the age as a whole. The voice or voices heard in his works both generate elegiac resonances and are the occasion for elegiac reflections by those readers sensitive to textual or cultural reflexivity (or both). Imaginative writers and other individuals aware of history as their emergent immanent destiny could scarcely find the discoveries of classical anthropology other than haunting and saddening evocations of the mutability of culture, history, myth, knowledge, and, ultimately, the self.
This is not the occasion to address exhaustively the whole range of features and intonations that make up a generic elegiac attitude. Nevertheless, it is clear that a modernist form or species of such an attitude is certainly likely to involve a number of traits, which incidentally are far from mutually consistent with one another. Indeed, it would seem very likely that one of the identifying traits of modernism in general is precisely this clash of incompatibles. Out of it emerged both its ironic stance toward unreflective certitudes and its passionate pursuit of new grounds for and modes of conviction. The presence, implicitly and explicitly, of these traits in the texts of and the attitudinal reader responses to the classical anthropologists carries over into the texts and authorial attitudes of the major modernists, as well as of many of their inheritors and successors.
One of most obvious of these traits is the backward look at cultural history perceived as a sequence of receding vistas and superimpositional perspectives. In their several ways, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, and Ford Madox Ford all testify to the celebratory regret and the unblinking farewell such a look (or looks) arouses in the anthropopoetic mind. For Eliot in particular, as in The Waste Land, intertextuality is made to serve not only the ends of an interplay of literary voices sometimes polyphonic and sometimes antiphonal in character. It also functions as cultural and historical indexes of value and attitude united in their subjection to the vicissitudes of human fortune grounded as it is in temporality:
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
(Eliot 1952, 48)
Pound deploys many of the same techniques, but his elegiac focus is less upon the recurring loss of and struggle for religious consciousness than upon the enormous historical, cultural, and educational lacuna between virtu and viciousness.
While Eliot and Pound range from prehistory to the contemporary world, Faulkner and Ford foreground the cultural and historical vistas in the relative immediacy of an era and its philosophical values, which are eroding but with integrity. For Faulkner, the locus of loss is the Civil War apprehended bifocally: the Sartorises, Compsons, McCaslins, and Sutpens as they were phenomenologically apprehended by themselves and their contemporaries and as their successors came to read and construe them. The elegy of patrimony deploys myth and antimyth in order to meditate on that mystery of human consciousness that requires both as constituent elements of its sensory awareness of its past. Thus, in Absalom, Absalom! Quentin Compson, inheritor of an idealized heroic myth of the Confederacy, and Shrevlin McCaslin, skeptical interrogator of the South's heritage and mores, fuse as narrative explorers of an ethos that is dead but not gone:
both thinking as one, the voice which happened to be speaking the thought only the thinking become audible, vocal; the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too, quiet as the visible murmur of their vaporizing breath. (Faulkner , 303)
Ultimately this vocative identification with their prime human subjects, Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon, leads them to an ambivalent awareness of the Confederate hegemony reverberant with an elegiac mood of regret, recognition of folly, and the inevitability of both:
They both bore it as though in deliberate flagellant exaltation of physical misery transmogrified into the spirits' travail of the two young men during that time fifty years ago, or forty-eight rather, then forty-seven and then forty-six, since it was '64 and then '65 and the starved and ragged remnant of an army having retreated across Alabama and Georgia and into Carolina, swept onward not by a victorious army behind it but rather by a mounting tide of the names of lost battles from either side—Chickamauga and Franklin, Vicksburg and Corinth and Atlanta—battles lost not alone because of superior numbers and failing ammunition and stores, but because of generals who should not have been generals, who were generals not through training in contemporary methods or aptitude for learning them, but by the divine right to say "Go there" conferred upon them by an absolute caste system; or because the generals of it never lived long enough to learn how to fight massed cautious accretionary battles, since they were already as obsolete as Richard or Roland or du Guesclin, who wore plumes and cloaks lined with scarlet at twenty-eight and thirty and thirty-two and captured warships with cavalry charges but no grain nor meat nor bullets, who would whip three separate armies in as many days and then tear down their own fences to cook meat robbed from their own smokehouses, who on one night and with a handful of men would gallantly set fire to and destroy a million dollar garrison of enemy supplies and on the next night be discovered by a neighbor in bed with his wife and be shot to death. (345–46)
In Ford's case, as Parade's End persuasively shows, the backward glance is foreshortened dramatically so that the past is in the process of emerging from a dramatic present. Christopher Tietjens is an anachronism becoming aware of itself as such. In the process the world of which he is the recursive consequence is defined at the precise historical moment when it functionally disappears as a social reality. Religion, class, education, region, and political conviction combine and conspire to generate a pathos that arises out of the diminishment and dissolution of a clear moral and intellectual code by a rising tide of cultural barbarism, vulgarity, and hypocrisy that is then projected as the present ever since.
A second trait, closely linked to the first and often mistakenly identified or equated with it, is the identification of a prior time of such diversified cultural or intellectual or moral or aesthetic superiority as to warrant the mythic label of "Golden Age." The prime exemplar of this, of course, is Ezra Pound. He employs the backward glance as a way of locating those civilizations and eras that possess educational and pedagogical potential for the century and culture(s) in which he lived. The greatest concentration of Golden Ages rendered longitudinally through the text is undeniably in the Cantos. Yet it is important to note how early and how extensive was Pound's attraction to the ideality of an earlier elsewhere. There are signs of it in Canzoni (1911) and Ripostes (1912). By Cathay (1915) and Lustra (1916) it is a fully established geocultural figura that functions emblematically as well as heuristically and ironically, that is to say, educatively in Pound's sense of that often misunderstood term. What poems like "The Tree," "Apparuit," and "The River Song" render iconically and imagistically, the Cantos develop historically and cross-culturally.
Excerpted from Modernist Anthropology by Marc Manganaro. Copyright © 1990 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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