Re: epistemology

John Stevens (8859jstev@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Wed, 26 Oct 1994 15:42:18 EDT

Scott, David

1991 "The Cultural Poetics of Eyesight in Sri Lanka: Composure, Vulner-
ability, and the Sinhala Concept of *Dishtiya*" *Dialectical Anthropology

1992a "Anthropology and Colonial Discourse: Aspects of the Demonological
Construction of Sinhala Cultural Practice" *Cultural Anthropology* 7:301-

1992b "Conversion and Demonism: The Christianization of Discourse and
Religion in Sri Lanka" *Comparative Studies in Society and History* 34:

The first is the best study of Sinhala cultural conceptions and practices.
The second sets out Scott's critique of Kapferer and others' works (mostly
Kapferer) and discusses anthropological discourse. The third is the best
historical/contextual article of the three. Unfortunately, Scott has not
yet put it all together into a book.

Some terms:

"Cerebral romanticization": By this I mean that Kapferer has made his Sinhala
ts into components of his theory, to the point where they do little but enact
his theory; they cease to be people at certain points. He does not romanticize
them as primitives or whatever, but instead into ideal enactors of the concepts
of self and ritual and art he has decided to illustrate.

"Textual arrogance": Of course, I left my copy of his book at home, but I'll
try to remember to pull out a few of his quotes. By this I mean that there is
no ambiguity in his analysis: he is right, exactly right, and his method is
impeccable, and there don't seem to be a lot of variables or alternatives to
interpretation. It is hermetic (as opposed to hermeneutic) anthropology. This
is in part Kapferer's writing style, but style counts! How you communicate is
as important as what you communicate, and Kapferer does his best to communicate
to you that he is *the* expert, and that everything is just the way he says it

"Theoretical trifle": This is me being completely subjective. After reading
this meticulous work, I was so turned-off by Kapferer that I nearly chucked it.
Not because it was meticulous, but because in the end I felt that little had
been accomplished in the work. He very nicely outlined Meadean and Langerian
philosophy, but had done little to educate me about Sinhala practice and even
less to inform me about how to talk social life. Kapferer is an ardent
phenomenologist, but doesn't seem to grasp that it takes more than that to
get to an understanding of another's cultural practice. K. believes that
phenomenonology in his usage "is automatically holistic" (Kapferer 1991:xix),
and that is his first theoretical mistake, in my opinion. We cannot go into a
situation and assume that we can be an objective, all-seeing, all-explaining
eye, and that we can find a neat theory that will sum it all up.

Just a thought. Comments?


John Stevens

P.S. Full cite on Kapferer: *A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the
Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka* (Berg: SMithsonian Institution Press,