Re: What? [or, pardon my language]

Richard G. Calo (rgcalo@EDEN.RUTGERS.EDU)
Sat, 27 Apr 1996 15:41:09 EDT

Well, if my emailbox don't just runneth over.... "Awwwwwww."

Anyhow, some words on Daniel Foss' post of Wed., April 24. I have said
in various posts that the anthropologist should also know him or herself.
By this I do not mean that knowing oneself first is the precondition for
anthropological activity, or anything of the sort. It is, as another person
said in one of the posts, rather a process whereby you come to know
something of yourself by looking in the eyes of the 'other.' Those eyes
are therefore indispensible.

For me, the problem develops around how we do the looking. In the
Saturday, April 20 post on which Mr. Foss commented, I outlined two
models for how we do this looking-- the first model was that whereby we
proceed from a position of power, whether this is power invested in a
superior firearms, or in a belief that we have a superior understanding on
some matter. The second model was one where discussion might be
possible, although only on the basis, of course, that we leave our power
(or at least the lethal aspects of it) at home. Let me state, as clearly as I
can, that these models represent actions or styles of action. In other words,
unlike belief, which Rappaport described as an interior state knowable if
at all only to the believer, these styles of action are observable.

In the process of coming to know an other, and therefore-- and hopefully--
ourselves, we have a choice between either of the models. It seems to
me that the second model might yield more understanding than the
former. But let me take that back, for I think it is perhaps more accurate to
state that the second model develops out of the former, and that learning
to discuss is more difficult than simply yelling 'no, you cannot do this.'
Even if all this yelling is followed by an explanation.

It also seems to me that (cultural) anthropology at its best is that
anthropology which builds upon the second model. A colonial
administrator may torture the 'secrets' out of the native. An anthropologist
convinced of the inferior development of the native with respect to his or
her own world (after all, he or she's the anthro, right?), may also acquire
something for his or her troubles out in the field. But the anthropologist
who lives with this native, allows a mutual confidence and respect to
develop, trades info for info, will in the end, I believe, learn more about
that native than will the administrator or the first type of anthro. In the
process, the anthro will also learn about him or herself, and even about
the processes of interacting with others.

Now, there are two things of interest to me in Daniel Foss' post of
Wednesday, April 24. The first is what he says about the reasons why he
posted as he did, and what he meant by each post. Refering to my citing
his "<who waited for a week for someone else to do it>", he explains that
"What [he'd] waited a week for was for someone to suggest that the
discussion had adopted by concensus a covertly ethnocentric... definition
of religion." Yes, of course, he is probably right; religion was being
discussed from the inside, as it were, and then being imputed or pasted
upon the 'other.' But for the moment I'm more interested in the fact that I
"constructed" Mr. Foss' words "<who waited a week for someone else to
do it>" in what now turns out to be a very different way than that which
their author intended. Similarly with his "Unaskable Question." He writes
in the Wednesday post: "The Unaskable Question I answered was, then,
How are we being ahistorical in defining religion (implicitly, without saying
so). That I was answering an Unaskable Question was a stylistic device."
Again, I clearly did not recognize this stylistic device, but went on to put
my own specific construction on his answering of what he calls the
Unaskable Question. For the record, this is what I wrote at the time:

> Consider a practice, or style of action, belonging no doubt within a
> greater system that at least partially sanctions it:
> It is a peculiar style of discussion that begins,first,by a prolonged
> But second, by a silence which is broken (April 10) at the end of nearly
> a week's discussion by a "mythohistorical monologue" -- a monologue,
> of all things, which seems designed to conclude, not with an attempt, let
> alone agreement to dialogue or discussion, but with an air of finality,
> with the ring of a conviction so absolute, that its initator could only
> why no one shut the whole thing down earlier. Indeed, one can only
> guess at the tone, and everything that lay buried in it, which terminated
> with the grand air of one "< who waited a week for someone else to
> do it >".
> But it did not end there. There were more attempts at ending. And,
> even, the proclamation, "I am, that is, being arrogant enough to tell
> you, you cannot have the arguments you have been having, or would
> like to have; at least some of them."

That, then, was my "construction" on the thing. Very different from
Mr. Foss' intention, which, prior to the Wednesday post, remained
unspoken. What is of interest to me is the disparity between my
construction, and his intention. There appears to have been an alarming
degree of slippage between the two. I wonder why. Moreover, I wonder
how much this is the case in all my, and others' interactions. In this
instance, the whole took place within the Anthro-l list, which is a site
with a fairly specific and small set of characteristics. How much greater
would the slippage be where no common site already exists, as between,
perhaps, two radically disparate cultures? And, of course, what would we
have to do to deal with, or minimize this slippage?

These, to me, are all interesting questions which are, moreover,
involved with procedure and method. How do we know we're
understanding others and their intentions? And, how should we
proceed (and what should we be learning about ourselves which
would allow us to change the way we proceed) in order to maximize
understanding? Here, I have the two models to go on.

But I said there were two things that interested me about Daniel Foss'
post. The second deals with what he says about religion and ideology.
If I'm not mistaken (and I could be putting yet another twisted construction
on it), he says that the two are in effect one, and he gives an example:
"Communism, for those too young to recall it, was in its overt formulation
a secular-rationalist social ideology which inter alia condemned religion.
Yet whose canonical texts included a statement by the Founder, Karl
Marx, to the effect that an 'objectively rational' social ideology could take
the form of religion in certain 'historical periods.'" My originalinterest had
been on the identity of mythology and ideology. I was wondering if they
were in fact the same. Mr. Foss' conclusion, although concerned with
religion and ideology, comes close enough. As per this conclusion, it
would seem that they are. And I would like to thank him for this.

Second, he wrote that he sent the second post "in reponse to
someone's adducing The Book of Ruth as an example of a Conversion
story (prior to the rise of Convertible, i.e., Converttoable, Religions...)."
The argument (if my construction of it is not too twisted) here seems
to be that we inject current meanings into a past to which such
meanings almost certainly did not apply, particularly since the very
terms in which those meanings are conveyed did not yet have a social
currency. All properly ahistorical. Again, I would like to thank him for
this, since it is much what I was arguing about with respect to mythology,
namely, that the mythological was something we in the West had built up,
only afterward to attribute it to others. While, it seems, Mr. Foss' argument
was built primarily along a temporal line, mine was built primarily along
a spatial one. For him, the further you go 'back', the more difficultit is to
'grasp' what those 'others' were about. For me, the further you go 'out'
from the culture of reference, the more difficult it is to 'grasp' what those
'others' are about. In both, you do what you cannot do-- 'have the
arguments you cannot have'-- namely, attribute convertability in the
one case, and attribute a mythology in the other.

[To put a further construction upon:] Save your *yorzeit* candles.

Richard G. Calo