John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 25 Feb 1995 09:59:53 JST

John Stevens asks, "do I "need" to do fieldwork"? On the one hand I recall
Arthur Waley, the great translator of Chinese and Japanese classics, who
spoke neither language (albeit he read them very well) and never traveled
to either country. He apparently considered their modern circumstances
irrelevant to his work of translating ancient texts. My wife wrote an
interesting paper once comparing Waley's translation of _The Tale of
Genji_ with Seidensticker's (then new) translation. She observed that while
Seidensticker was more accurate in some places (thanks to his use of the
latest scholarship) his rendering is flat. All the characters, whatever their
social rank, speak in the same smooth, academic American prose style. Waley,
who grew up in an earlier Britain,gave his characters distinct styles, based
on his experience with aristocrats, cocknies, etc., in England. The result
is a translation that is not only more readable, but that arguably does
a better job of approximating the variety of styles in the original text.

Still, I remain unconvinced that anthropology can be done without fieldwork.
Partly, of course, this reflects my being trapped (or, cozily snuggled) in
the vision-quest version of fieldwork I learned from my teachers. Still,
if anthropology consists of pursuing academic ideas through library stacks,
how, then, do we differ from from our friends in other disciplines? And, yet
again, how does one get the reality of culture in one's bones without spending
a significant chunk of time in a place where, oh the horror of it, you know
less about what's going on that the average two year old. Hmnnnn.

Whatever we make of it, that experience has a value that no amount of
introverted chat with academic colleagues can match. <g>

John McCreery