More on Taussig

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 11 Oct 1994 11:27:29 JST


Are we doomed to fall into that favorite "game" of academics in which
we harangue each other about misreadings in language that generates
more misreadings, a wicked example for Seeker of recursion in non-so-
everyday life? You need your sleep. I feel a need to relax a bit.

Reviewing our conversation, I find us in basic agreement. Here is where
I see our common ground: Taussig the trickster is fun to read. By "re-
presenting" some classic problems in new and unexpected ways, he
draws our attention to issues that, far from being resolved, have fallen
out of fashion and, perhaps, should be revived. His style is postmodern
pastiche, without the dogged cross-referencing an older fashion in
scholarship requires. Stimulation? yes; data? no.

What, then, am I looking for? Tools that help me make more sense of
those parts of the world in which I have a particular interest. How do I
tell a good tool when I find one? First, I find myself seeing things I
didn't see before. Then, perhaps, I find myself able to explain (or, at
least, to account for) variations in what I see. I judge the power of
explanations in terms borrowed from statistics: A classification is the
the lowest form of explanation. At the same level of detail, a ranked
classification is better, a linear metric even better, and curve-fitting the
holy grail. Most work in the human sciences, and especially those of the
thick description/interpretive variety (my own included) rarely if ever
rises above the ranked classification level. IQ tests, survey research
and econometrics are examples of efforts to go further, but the well-
known price of such approaches is a radical thinning out through
abstraction of the subject being studied-- the result a loss of detail that
violates my first criterion.

What, then, does Taussig add to my toolkit? Perhaps "representations"
is a place to begin. But here I start as someone who has just read
Gombrich's lucid survey of the history of mimesis in Western Art, has
worked with Computer Scientists in creating AI programs, now makes
a living trying to come up with innovative representations (ads, that is
<g>) for corporations and the products they sell, has glanced at the very
important work now being done in information design (my clients
include electronics firms heavily involved in multimedia) and enjoys
reading Stephen Gould (the short pieces in _Natural History_), for
whom representations of evolutionary ideas are a central
preoccupation. At the word "representations," my ears prick up. What
I'm hoping to hear is that Taussig has said something about them I
haven't heard before.