Re: Modifying the Body (Was Mutilations, Tattos, etc.)

Dwight W. Read (dread@ANTHRO.UCLA.EDU)
Wed, 17 Jul 1996 23:46:51 -0700

McCreery replies:

>Yes, but
>(1) To me the question remains open whether the different sets of deep
>culture primitives are reducible to a deeper set of pan-human primitives.
>That we haven't yet discovered the deeper set doesn't rule out its
Let me carry the kinship example further:

In tabular form, here is a summary of my earlier post.

American Kin Terms Shipibo Kin Terms

Surface phenomena:(terminologies are dissimilar)

Self, Mother, Father, Brother, etc. Ea, Papa, Tita,
Huata, etc.

Deep Culture:

Atomic symbols:
Self, Parent, Child, Spouse Ea (male),
Papa, Bake,

Structural equation:
Parent of Spouse = Self Bake of Bake
of Papa of Papa = Bake of Papa

What is the origin of these atomic symbols? I argue that they are
ABSTRACTIONS from concepts used in genealogical reckoning. They are NOT kin
types, but abstractions in the same sense that numbers in an arithmetic
sense are abstractions from numbers used to measure quantity.

At this even deeper level we arrive at commonality underlying both sets of
deep culture:

abstractions from genealogical reckoning abstraction from
genealogical reckoning

However, there remains a difference due to different "choices" about which
aspects of genealogical reckoning are abstracted; e.g., the AKT is
characterized by abstraction based on the idea of tracing through parent and
child (i.e., by generation but without sex marking) whereas the Shipibo
termionolgoy is based on the idea of tracing through father and son (or
mother and daughter).

So here deep culture does not lead to identity in terms of the "primitive
elements" when we go "deep enough;" rather, we arrive at (according to my
argument) commonality in terms of process. That is, both systems (and
all(?) kinship terminologies) share the process of abstracting from
alternative possibilities with regard to genealogical reckoning, but differ
at the level of particular choices.

Note the convergence here with Levi-Strauss's idea of the bricoleur.

McCreery continues:

>(2) The derivation of surface structures from strings of "deep" primitives
>is a powerful model for knowledge. I am, however, inclined to see, for
>example, the raw and the cooked, the permanent and the transient as the
>poles of continua with metrical (perhaps even scalar) properties, i.e., as
>dimensions in Jim Fernandez' culture as an n-dimensional space. I could use
>some help in understanding how these models fit together.
There is a way in which some of these models can be seen as variations on a
theme. Binary opposition can be modeled as an abstract structure with an
internal logic which gives it a particular form of two elements "in
opposition" to each other. Let be repeat again the example of Enemy and Friend:

Symbols: F, E

Binary product defined via: F o F = F, F o E = E, E o F = E and E o E = F.


plus an arrow (which I can't represent in e-mail) from E to itself, and an
arrow from F to itself.

This structure shows up in other contexts; e.g., with the numbers -1 and +1,
with -1x-1=+1, -1x+1= -1, +1x-1 = -1, -1x-1 = +1, and other examples.

Elsewhere El Guindi has argued for a "mediator" structure in ritual, where
the structure can be modeled as based upon symbols and operations linking
the symbols.

What all of these share is the notion of abstract structure given form
through structure defining equations, hence structure defined at an abstract
level and then given instantiation that leads to a surface level of the
observable (but with the instantiation process itself variable in its
enactment, hence a source of variability in what will be observed even when
holding fixed the underlying, abstract structure).

This arguement, though, sees such models as inherently qualitative and not
embued with a metric; i.e., binary opposition is not a bastardized version
of an underlying continuum, but is a concept with an associated structure.

Of course, one can begin with, say, a binary opposition, then use it to
construct a dimension with scalar properties, then embed this scalar
dimension in a larger, n dimensional space. It might be useful to think of
the latter as part of the instantiation process of going from the abstract
to concrete expression of the abstract.

D. Read