The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art

The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art

James Clifford

Language: English

Pages: 398

ISBN: 0674698436

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Predicament of Culture is a critical ethnography of the West in its changing relations with other societies. Analyzing cultural practices such as anthropology, travel writing, collecting, and museum displays of tribal art, Clifford shows authoritative accounts of other ways of life to be contingent fictions, now actively contested in postcolonial contexts. His critique raises questions of global significance: Who has the authority to speak for any group's identity and authenticity? What are the essential elements and boundaries of a culture? How do self and "the other" clash in the encounters of ethnography, travel, and modern interethnic relations? In discussions of ethnography, surrealism, museums, and emergent tribal arts, Clifford probes the late-twentieth century predicament of living simultaneously within, between, and after culture.

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the MOMA "Primitivism" Show. 1. Bodies. (a) Josephine Baker. Courtesy the Granger Collection, New York. (b) Wooden figure (Chokwe, Angola) published in Carl Einstein, Negerplastik, 1915. tion of the Worl d , (c) Fernand Leger, costume design for The Crea­ 1922-23. Courtesy the Kay Hillman Collection, New York. 204, 205 Affinities Not Included in the MOMA " Primitivism" Show. 2. Collections. (a) Interior of Chief Shake's House, Wrangel, Alaska, 1909. Neg. No. 46123. Photograph by H. I.

Wi l l iams ( 1 966) as determi nants: i ndustria l ism, social confl ict, the rise of mass culture. To these wou l d be added the needs of h i gh colon i a l soc ieties to understand the increas i ngly accessi ble d i versities of the planet as a d i spersed tota l ity. The mappi ng of the world's h u man arra ngements as d i sti nct c u ltures asserts that thi ngs hold together-separately. 94 DISCOURSES figures of More, Spenser, Marlowe, Tyndale, Wyatt, and Shakespeare ex­ empl ify for G

u ses in a p u b l i cation l i ke Documen ts, we see how eth n ographic evidence and an ethnographic attitude cou ld fu nction in the service of a sub·.rersive c u ltu ra l critic i s m . In the subtitle of Documents- "Archeologie, Beaux Arts, Eth nograph ie, Va rietes" -the wild card was " Eth nographie." It de­ noted a rad ical q uestio n i n g of norms and an a ppea l to the exotic, the paradox ica l , the inso/ite. I t i m p l i ed too a leve l i ng and a rec lassification of fam i l i a r

it mean i n 1 92 9 to study an avant-garde pai nter "eth­ nologica l ly " ? From the outset E i n ste i n sounds the cubist-su rrea l i st battle c ry : One thing i s i m portant: to shake what i s ca l l ed rea l i ty by means of nonadapted hal l u c i nations so as to a l ter the value h i erarchies of the rea l . H a l l uc i natory forces create a breach i n the order of mecha n i stic processes; they introd uce blocs of "a-causa l ity" i n th i s rea l ity which had been absurd l y given as

not associ ated with the notion of spi rit. B reath ing proves that somebody is sti l l al ive . 1 0 . Women adorn the i r upper arms and the place between the breasts with scarifications. The g i r l s glad ly suffered any pa i n in order to have these marks. The men are greatl y interested in the breasts, abur, and i n the size of the female gen i tals, jo. The women i n tu rn gossi ped about the be l l ies, kandom, and the anuses, mo, of the men . These pa rts of the body always tu rned up i n

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