Life among the Anthros and Other Essays

Life among the Anthros and Other Essays

Life among the Anthros and Other Essays

Life among the Anthros and Other Essays


Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) was perhaps the most influential anthropologist of our time, but his influence extended far beyond his field to encompass all facets of contemporary life. Nowhere were his gifts for directness, humor, and steady revelation more evident than in the pages of the New York Review of Books, where for nearly four decades he shared his acute vision of the world in all its peculiarity. This book brings together the finest of Geertz's review essays from the New York Review along with a representative selection of later pieces written at the height of his powers, some that first appeared in periodicals such as Dissent, others never before published.

This collection exemplifies Geertz's extraordinary range of concerns, beginning with his first essay for the Review in 1967, in which he reviews, with muffled hilarity, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. This book includes Geertz's unflinching meditations on Western academia's encounters with the non-Western world, and on the shifting and clashing places of societies in the world generally. Geertz writes eloquently and arrestingly about such major figures as Gandhi, Foucault, and Genet, and on topics as varied as Islam, globalization, feminism, and the failings of nationalism.

Life among the Anthros and Other Essays demonstrates Geertz's uncommon wisdom and consistently keen and hopeful humor, confirming his status as one of our most important and enduring public intellectuals.


Once upon a time, in October 1988, just weeks before the cold war swallowed itself in a tumble of falling masonry in Berlin, overloaded Trabants pouring past the raised barriers at Hungarian checkpoints, a sea of vengeful fists and faces booing their hateful overlord off his balcony in Bucharest, a full-page advertisement in affirmative defense of being a liberal appeared in the New York Times.

An unorganized group of prominent academics and intellectuals had united briefly to pay up in order to rebut their president, the amiable, lethal, hotly ideological, charmingly anti-intellectual Ronald Reagan, who had turned “liberal” into a term of open and contemptuous abuse.

It has pretty well stayed that way, the forty-third president notwithstanding, for the succeeding twenty-odd years. the signatories said:

Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as
their greatest enemy. in our own time liberal democracies have been
crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency
in our own country … we feel obliged to speak out.

Clifford Geertz was one of the signatories. He had never been a fellow traveler of a marxisant persuasion, still less the kind of fundamental federalist the U.S. government hired to do its dirtiest work in Indochina and in Chile. He was a “quiet American,” all right, but he spoke in the purest accents and very rapidly the active, historical, self-critical, and unmartyred liberalism which John Dewey took from John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and turned it into the plain prose of the best that Americans thought and said in the twentieth century.

In one of his finest essays, in which he sought to identify both the moral point and the common ground of all inquiry into the human sciences, Geertz fell to puzzling out “some of the most thoroughly entrenched tropes of the liberal imagination.” the latter phrase is of course the title of Lionel Trilling's . . .

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