Names, and PoMo too

Dan Jorgensen (dwj@JULIAN.UWO.CA)
Sun, 5 Dec 1993 11:29:42 -0500

Those on the lookout for satirical versions of anthropological names might
want to consider that neglected classic, "African Nemesis," by one M.D.
Sahlins. In it, Sahlins's opening premise is that turnabout is fair play:
if playwrights can write anthropology, then surely anthropologists can
write plays, which is what "African Nemesis" is. So his cast of
characters includes (and I quote):

Robert Ardent: Former dramatist. Now leader of a revolutionary movement
to reveal the true animal nature of man.

Eve Ardent: His wife.

Raymond Blunt: Anatomist-paleontologist. Discoverer of Australopithecus,
the nearest ancestor of man.

Dr. L. Faucet: Noted anthropologist. Discoverer of the early hominid
Zinjanthropus--under hazardous conditions due to the menace of prides of
black-maned lions.

Mary Faucet: His wife, the real discoverer of Zinjanthropus.

Anyone: Almost everyone.

Kung: A Bushman shaman. (Only we know his real name.)

Mr. Shapiro: A Mr. Shapiro.

Any resemblance between the characters of this play and persons
living or dead is purely incidental. [end quote: Sahlins 1968:117-8, one
of the chapters in *Man and Aggression,* edited by Ashley Montagu, Oxford

I recommend a look, if only for the fun of it.

------------------------------(tear here)-----------------------------

I also promised something on PoMo, and the something is about promises,
promises. I suspect one of the things that has turned people off is the
fact that, given the half-life of millennial dreams, PoMo is now too old to
be news, and with the age come the wrinkles, the sagging expectations.
One of the early PoMo catchwords in anthropology was experimentation, a
word that can mean anything from precisely focused attempts to prove yourself
wrong to doing a lot of drugs. I think many suspicions have now centred
on the fact that the reading to given this particular word
(experimentation) is: "just fooling around." Now "fooling around" is fine
so long as you don't expect others to take it seriously, but it wears thin
very quickly when you not only make it the motto on a revolutionary
banner, but also expect people to salute. Leave aside all the totalizing
moves and gestures indulged in by critics of old-style totalizing master
narratives, and even forgive the daisy-chain of blurbs on the back of new
books (talk about the play of signifiers, or snakes chasing their tails!),
what happens is that you can only claim to be cutting edge if you actually
cut it. As it is, the keenness has worn off, and what we're left with is
often as not pretty dull, and occasionally corny.

Now a lot of this isn't PoMo's fault, but is simply the fate awaiting any
revolutionary vanguard that can't keep all its promises (real or imagined,
express or implied, no point checking the label). After that, there is
either the temptation to buy time by upping the ante (the Charles Manson
and/or Jonestown solutions) while waiting for the New Day to dawn, or else
you dig in for the long haul and begin bureaucratizing, institutionalizing
and trying your damndest to look normal. (Cynics like Sangren might say
this was the point all along, to capture the goodies in the form of
institutes, junketing networks, chairs, etc. I don't think this is all
there is to it, but I would also note that PoMo's crest coincided with an
almost Polynesian hierarchization of the AAA. Folks in other disciplines
or on the streets will have to figure out whether this works where they
are, although preliminary peeks at blossoming Centres of this and that
suggest there's something in it.)

Anyway, enough blather. My hunch is that PoMo isn't going to fly a flag
upon which the sun never sets; instead, it seems like one of what the
Japanese describe as a "sunset industry," joining those before it and
anticipating those after it. The stone masons probably have monuments
roughed out in their workshops already: all it needs is a festschrift and
it's a goner (like its rivals).

Dan Jorgensen Email:
Department of Anthropology Voice: (519) 661-3430 x5096
University of Western Ontario FAX: (519) 661-2157
London, Ontario
Canada N6A 5C2