Re: On Geertz and Generous Readings

Fri, 4 Aug 1995 08:40:14 EDT

On Fri, 4 Aug 1995 17:29:59 +0900, John McCreery <JLM@TWICS.COM>,

(after some deletion)
> At school we rarely read
> original texts in any depth or learn enough about the contexts in
> which they were written to have much constructive to say about
> them. The name of the game was "Pecking Order" and attacking
> those not present to defend themselves was especially attractive:
> a cheap shot that inevitably resulted in a moment of feeling
> (however erroneously) one up.

This nicely sums up the academic environment, IMHO. It also seems
especially to be how Our Mr. Johnson learned to discourse.
Personally, I'm trying to resist this for all its worth and get my
pasty white butt out there and create some space for solutions, not
nit-picking or semantic sucker-punching. Sometimes you do have to
field strip a theory or methodology to see how it works, or argue
about diverse readings and perspectives; there can be some healthy
energy in such debates. But this can turn too quickly into pecking
at one another, as JC has said, or, worse, into intellectual
/political masturbation, where hard things are said about
nothing, or nothing is said about hard things.

Substance, *please*!!!!

To RJ: please tell us one theoretical problem you have w/ Geertz.
Don't comment on his lifestyle, his habits, his hair, his teeth, or
any such like. What is your problem with, for example, deep play??
Just lay it out for us, and let's discuss it.

> > How, then, does this bear on my own reading of Geertz. Typically
> I find that his pieces clear a space in an intellectual thicket. They
> plant some ideas but rarely supply the weeding and care needed
> to reach a definitive harvest. That's fine by me, because of all the
> interesting things it leaves to work out for myself. The piece I
> published this year in _American Ethnologist_ was, for example,
> the result of several years of thinking about how to do a "thick
> description." For the stimulation Geertz provided I am grateful
> indeed.

Yes. I think that "stimulation" is primarily what I get from Geertz,
even from his more flaccid analyses. He creates space for ideas and
gets the ole hermeneutical spiral a spinnin'. At his best, he makes
you ponder, question, and interpret what you see and believe. I
think that makes discussing him an interesting exercise in itself,
since you have to learn to nuance what you say in tension with what
you think he says, but what others may not see. He is intentionally
hard to nail down, and as RJ has sorta pointed out, that doesn't make
him great from a political purview. I think Geertz is too disengaged
and vague sometimes, but *that is my opinion*, and it doesn't
directly reduce the power of some of his work or the little wriggling
ideas that it can plant behind one's eyes.

That is what I am grateful for from Geertz.


John Stevens
Cornell University (9/95)