Re: Labeling Theorists: Reply to Helgason

Mon, 13 Dec 1993 10:43:39 CST

How postmodern of B. Rodman to assume that postmodernism must be defined
by professed postmodernists themselves! Geertz, in his introduction to
*The Interpretation of Cultures*, pays lip service to science; but
thisunjustly famous essay, "Thick Description," on close reading proves
sloppy and hypocritical. Traditional anthropologists are faulted for
resorting to metaphors to characterize culture, which is then
described, by Geerz himself, as a "web of significance" or a
"manuscript" or an "acted document." What a relief that this master of
anthropological theory leads us beyond the resort to metaphors, for
which he attacks his predecessors. The essay derives much of its impact
from the ridiculous claim that an eye twitch is objectively
indistinguishable from an intentional wink. Geertz assures us happily
that he has never gotten "anywhere near the bottom of anything " he has
ever written about; that is fine, however, because anthropology's "most
telling assertions are its most tremulously based," and "at the factual
base . . . insofar as there is any, we are already explicating: and
worse, explicating explications. Winks upon winks upon winks." The
direction this goes is nihilistic; anyone with a genuinely scientific
temperament quickly grows unhappy--unless she or he wants an
anthropologist's office or museum space (J. Terrell). Sorry, Mr.
Rodman. A scientific nose can detect postmodernism a mile away, even
if it call itself "science"; and the smell is foul. --Bob Graber