RE(2): Myth & Ideology & Truth-look

Somniferum (2453mauri@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Fri, 19 Apr 1996 19:30:54 EDT

>>"...if we follow such an argument to its conclusion (its extreme form),
then there is also nothing left to say, since anything one does say must
inevitably be reduced to a function of the system (of practices) that makes
it's saying practicable, as well as to the clamoring demand to be heard....
But there is also nothing left to say, because there is no sayer. In
Foucault's terms: it is always already language that was speaking-- and
here language can certainly be taken in a sense wider than that linguistic.
There is no sayer, because the sayer is speech itself, a by-product of
whose utterance appears to be the illusion of the sayer, while the
reference to power is the reference to the channels along which speech is
This sounds an awful lot like reification of language "in a sense wider
than that linguistic." It is reminiscent of Kroeber's un-peopled culture
(or "civilization," the word he used in 1917 in "The Superorganic"): "...a
thousand individuals do not make a society. They are the potential basis of
a society; but they do not themselves cause it....Knowing the civilization
of an age and a land, we can then substantially affirm that its distinctive
discoveries, in this or that field of activity, were not directly
contingent upon the personality of the actual inventors that graced the
period, but would have been made without them..." But who today would take
our argument to such extremes? People may speak on behalf of the language
but only very rarely (and these days feebly, judging from the state of AI
research) does the opposite happen. And even when it does happen, we only
read about it--in Exodus or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

I'm not sure that I followed all of the convolutions of those knitting
metaphors but perhaps I missed your point. Were you saying that, as cogency
seems to emerge from our discussion, thereby assuming the shape of
knowledge (something knowable--a sweater perhaps), its know-ability is
contingent on a particular "procedure" of coherency formation? You had
written, "Now, I don't know if this process can be called historical, or
even how we can account for its historicity, but it does produce
'something'" Is it perhaps rudimentary knowledge? You had described how
this `something' appeared: "at a 'further' point, it is easy to see that it
was always going to be a 'sweater'; and at a final can one
doubt it was ever going to be anything other than a *sweater*?" Is the
"procedure" perhaps the process of embedding this element of evolutionary
inevitability into our discourse? A modern, rhetorical means of

I also think that Mr. Calo might be over-stressing the power side of the
equation at the expense of knowledge. If we accept that these are two sides
of the same coin, then their distinction is mainly heuristic. In the words
of the master: "There can be no possible exercise of power without a
certain economy of discourses of truth which operates through and on the
basis of this association. We are subjected to the production of truth
through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of
truth....[M]echanisms of power have been accompanied by ideological
productions [that are]...both much more and much less than ideology. [What
has taken place] is the production of effective instruments for the
formation and accumulation of knowledge--methods of observation, techniques
of registration, procedures for investigation and research, apparatuses of
control. All this means that power, when it is exercised through these
subtle mechanisms, cannot but evolve, organize, and put into circulation a
knowledge, or rather apparatuses of knowledge, which are not ideological
constructs." [Michel Foucault, "Two Lectures," <Power/Knowledge> (ed.
Gordon), 1976, Pantheon Books.] In this sense, we can't avoid looking at
one without the other. Thus we are not limited by an argument that "leaves
room only for one other argument: that of power," rather we are prevented
from so delimiting our arguments.

Mr. Calo wrote that post-modernist analysis seemed to call into question
ethnography itself:
"...from the extreme point of view--there can be no consideration of
'other' cultures given the "massive fact" that, as per Foucault's argument
(systems of exclusion/historical constitution), 'we' construct these
cultures-- not only what will be isolated for inclusion in fieldnotes and
later analysis, but what this will mean, etc.-- every step of the way. And
this, certainly, is a big bogey."

I wonder how there could be any other way of understanding ethnography.
Certainly ethnography is a creative process. Can we say that field notes,
written in English or French, have meaning for anyone but us? Are we to
believe that anthropologists possess some magical means to extract the soul
from those they study and are able to capture it in their ethnographies?
Perhaps. But is it more reassuring to think of anthropologists as the
sorcerers of imperialism? Roy Wagner has written: "The fieldworker produces
a kind of knowledge as a result of his experiences, a product that can be
peddled as `qualifications' in the academic market place, or written into
books." Which vision of ethnography is the bogey-er? And is it really
terribly problematic to think of ethnography as a creative process? I think
it is more problematic to think that it is not.

--Marcus Aurin