Re: More on Taussig (cont.)

Fiona Moore (al772@FREENET.CARLETON.CA)
Mon, 10 Oct 1994 16:23:16 -0400

>" One critique I have of this is the implication that just because
>things look different in each example, it all means the same thing.
>Chinese who dress in business suits are *not* [sic] necessarily full
>participants in Western culture, just like white folks who put on
>feathers aren't instantly transformed into Shoshonis."
>Just out of curiosity, I'd like to do a straw poll and see how many
>other people saw this "implication"?

I confess I didn't see that "implication". If you ask me, the business
suit has spread so far internationally that it is not so much exemplary of
"western" culture as, say, of businesspersons.
In fact, the comparison seems downright fallacious. Can somebody
who knowns more about Shoshone culture tell me the significance of
feathers? If they are worn daily, then perhaps you have a comparison. If
they are worn for ceremonial purposes, I don't think it works.
>I raise this issue because to me this implication seems to me absurd. The
>peoples I know best--Chinese, Japanese, WASP, Catholic and Jewish Americans, a
>variety of Europeans--are amazingly varied
>groups of highly particular individuals. And if there is one thing I
>have learned in the business world, it is that people who make
>decisions based on cultural stereotypes are almost inevitably wrong.
>Not because cultural generalizations are impossible--because they
>are only a small part of what's going on in any particular situation.

Too true! I am rather put in mind of "Star Trek" and the absurd cultural
generalizations it had... the violent Japanese, the
penny-pinchingScot, the woman of colour with a great sense of
rythym... that sort of stereotyping seems ridiculous to me. I am learning
Karate--is anyone out there going to tell me I should give
back my belt immedieately because I happen to be a Yorkshire scot
rather than an Okinawan Japanese?

Fiona Moore

>Thus, for example, when my colleague, Mr.
Nozaki, suggests
some >music for TV commercial, it is more to the point that he is a
>passionate fan of "Dead Can Dance" than it is that he's Japanese. The
>fact that he is looking for a certain eerily dramatic effect is also
>important. If the product were chocolate candies targeting teenage
>girls instead of a high-priced luxury car, his choice would also be
>very different. And, mind you, Mr. Nozaki sees himself as very
>Japanese, not withstanding his fondness for Paris and French
>What anthropology has given to me that I've found most useful in
>thinking about the modern world is (1) Edmund Leach's highland
>Burma, where Kachins become Shans and Shans Kachins depending on
>their political objectives--from whom I learned NEVER to take
>cultural identities at face value--and (2) Victor Turner's sober
>prescription that understanding particular situations requires (a)
>the visible evidence we see (and, yes, I'd agree with Paul Stoller,
>hear, smell, taste, feel) for ourselves, (b) what the people involved
>tell us about it, and (3) as much social/historical/ecological
>background as we can muster.
>Which brings me back to my problem with the Cuna figurines: In both
>the Cuna and Chinese cases, men have adopted "Western" costume.
>Meaningwhile, Cuna women wear "traditional" dress; Chinese women
>now dress mostly in "Western" style. But Cuna religious/magical
>images are carved to look like people from the "West," while
>Chinese images remain extravagantly "Chinese" (except, of course,
>for paper funeral goods which may now include automobiles and
>other modern things). And what about Japan, where women are more
>likely that in Chinese women to be wearing "traditional" costume;
>men sometimes wear it, but normally appear (as do most women,
>most of the time) in "Western" dress, and religious traditions are
>split down the middle--with Buddhist images "traditional" and
>Shinto (like Islam) eschewing the use of images at all.
>"Mimesis" and "alterity" are lovely words--and yes, they do make a
>better title than "Mimicry and Otherness"-- but how, I'm trying to
>figure out, do they help me sort out the kinds of things I've just
>P.S. One thing they've done is point me back to E.H. Gombrich's _Art
>and Illusion_a truly lovely book to read.