Taussig; Moving Right Along. . .

John Stevens (8859jstev@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Thu, 13 Oct 1994 13:08:19 EDT

Hi everyone. I'm back from the sleep chamber and ready to continue this
discussion (that is, if y'all are!). John Mcreery's last communique was
very nicely set out, and I want to pick up on a few points. But first, I
just want to say quickly and painlessly that I misrepresented myself in a
previous message regarding the comparison of certain phenomemon (i.e.,
Chinese businessmen in three-piece suits and Cuna figurines shaped like
white people). In my critique statement I misrepresented my point (which
was about the comparison of cultural "borrowing") and presented a comparison
that did not match my point. I wanted to argue for particularity, for looking
at each phenomemon in its own context, and bridge off from that into the
strengths and flaws of Taussig's method, which is an argument for a very
particular particularity and a reflection of good and bad pomo method. I
goofed. As Fiona Moore later put it, "[t]he comparison" I used (between
Chinese businessmen and New Agers trying to "be" Shoshoni, for example) "seems
downright fallacious." Too true; I didn't get my point across, which was the
very one both John and Fiona later made, that you can't judge a book by its
cover, and that cultural practices a complicated phenomenon, especially in
this world of blending practices and traditions. (Aside to Fiona: are you
practicing go-ju ryu, perchance?).

This leads me into one of Taussig's strengths in *Mimesis and Alterity*, which
is the very sort of particularism that I find appealing, in anthropology and
in good social analysis in general. As cultural boundaries become more
arbitary, indistinct, or questionable, we have to ask ourselves both what is
going on here and why it is going on now. By emphasizing representation, I
think that Taussig is arguing not just that each situation is particular, but
that *every analysis is particular.* I don't think he backs this up enough
(and to a point I'm obviously reading into his work, but that makes my point
just as sharply), and as John M. said, he really doesn't look at all the data,
but the distinction between tool and inspiration that John M. made is right on
the nose. I don't look at Taussig for good methodm, exactly, but I look at him
to tell me to look at my own method and continue to stay alert, to not be
satisfied with my assumptions, and to keep looking for better answers. John M.
's elucidation of Turner's method is salient, but I would want to take it
farther and say that we need to acknowledge who the observer is, and what the
effects of that observation are. Not only are we products of our culture or
our society or our context, but we are producing a context in our analysis, and
we must be mindful of that process. I think that Taussig reminds us of this.

Of course, he doesn't do this consistently, but that's a product of his own
uneven positioning, I think. Also, he's a little too pomo for my tastes,
getting a little too abstract and becoming enamored of his textual creations
(and maybe a little egotistical?). Thus, I would say that Taussig is pushing
us to do better, but obviously had his own faults, some of which he may not be
honest enough to acknowledge.


Best regards,

John H. Stevens
University of Massachusetts at Boston