Doing the Taussig

John Stevens (8859jstev@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Fri, 7 Oct 1994 13:20:28 EDT

Hello everyone. I've been thinking about Mr. Mcreery's thoughts on
"mimesis" and "alterity" as well as other folks' assorted comments, and
I've also been thinking about how shabby Taussig's anthropology is in
some respects. When John M. mentioned his dismissal of Sherzer's work (who
is an excellent anthropologist), it got me to thinking about several things.
One is Roger Keesing's take on alterity, which he thinks we anthros tend to
make too much of; he sees it as more of a device people use to fulfill their
needs. I think this ignores the depth of some people's attachment to their
culture, and the genuine differences that often exist between groups, but I
think he has a point, and I think that Taussig is trying to tell us that we
make alterity even as we encounter it, by the process of mimesis, but not by
making an exact copy; rather, by retelling the story. And i think that alterity
is indeed better then "otherness," less loaded in some ways. Otherness is more
objectifying, wheras I think alterity describes a process and a condition.

But as to Taussig's anthropology. . . I see him more an an anthropological
philsopher than as "an anthropologist" which is why I excuse him for some of
his questionable methods and applaud some of his experiments. But I also
wouldn't quote data from him; I appreciate the spirit and inspiration in his
work more than its evidence. Which is why I want to read more of it. But he
does tend to break bad on good anthropology as well as shabby anthropology,
and that's unfortunate; not because we should all continue on the mission to
"understand the other," but because there are a lot of good lessons to be
learned about the world and ourselves through anthropology. Note that I say
"anthropology" rather than some speciality. I'll get to that later; gotta run
to class.


John Stevens