Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture

Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture

Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture

Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture


"This is a rich and stimulating collection of articles." --Journal of Ritual Studies

The importance of the figurative imagination in human interaction is the focus of these seminal essays by cultural anthropologist James W. Fernandez.


Finally a few examples may be given of cases
in which the use of descriptive terms for
certain concepts or the metaphorical use of
terms has led to peculiar views or
customs…. More convincing are examples
taken from the use of metaphorical terms in
poetry, which in rituals are taken literally, and
are made the basis of certain rites. I am
inclined to believe, for example, that the
frequently occurring image of the devouring of
has a close relation to the detailed form
of the winter ritual among the Indians of the
North Pacific Coast.

Franz Boas (1911)

Over the last decade and half—since 1970—I have been trying to do an anthropology that is alert to the arguments that lie at the heart of our human experience in culture. In my view, whatever humans are, they are certainly argumentative animals … not always shrilly or aggressively so, but surely fundamentally so. It may be the consequence of being a very generalized animal with very little in specific adaptations to specific milieus wired into our brains. As a consequence we are required to invent ways of being—from rules and plans to world views and cosmologies— more or less appropriate to any of the diverse milieus in which we have installed ourselves. We endlessly argue over the appropriateness of those rules, plans, and world views. It may be a consequence of the self-conscious unrequitement implicit in the melancholy fact that, with great frequency, we fail to realize our rules and plans in the world … our reach so often exceeds our grasp. We are bound to wonder why this is so and to argue about the reason for this failure. We are a primate that makes promises to ourselves and to others and so often fails or is unable to keep these promises and this generates argument as well: This argument may be what the virtually infinite rationalizing powers of human language have added to the primordial solipsism of our creaturehood … which is to say . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.