Between One and One Another

Between One and One Another

Between One and One Another

Between One and One Another

Synopsis

Michael Jackson extends his path-breaking work in existential anthropology by focusing on the interplay between two modes of human existence: that of participating in other peoples’ lives and that of turning inward to one’s self. Grounding his discussion in the subtle shifts between being acted upon and taking action, Jackson shows how the historical complexities and particularities found in human interactions reveal the dilemmas, conflicts, cares, and concerns that shape all of our lives. Through portraits of individuals encountered in the course of his travels, including friends and family, and anthropological fieldwork pursued over many years in such places as Sierra Leone and Australia, Jackson explores variations on this theme. As he describes the ways we address and negotiate the vexed relationships between “I” and “we”—the one and the many—he is also led to consider the place of thought in human life.

Excerpt

Lived experience is always simultaneously present to itself and absent from itself

—Jean-Paul Sartre

In the late 1930s, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead did pioneering ethnographic fieldwork in a Balinese village, using still and movie cameras to capture some of the “intangible aspects” of Balinese culture and everyday life, including trance, eating, gesture, mourning, family interactions, children’s play, art, and shadow-play puppets. In her introductory essay to their 1942 monograph, Mead speaks of a Balinese passion for being part of a noisy, festive crowd. Whether a marketplace, temple court, theatrical event, elaborate carving, or close-packed array of offerings on an altar, “the crowd preference is seen everywhere in Balinese life.” Women are said to love crowds and crowdedness even more than men, “and to be less able to stand the silence of empty fields.” However, every four hundred days, Bali falls silent for the new year. At this time, the roads are deserted, families withdraw to their houses, markets are closed, and no music is heard. This change from convivial boisterousness (rame) to silence and calm (njepi) echoes another change that Bateson and Mead document in compelling photographic detail—the Balinese “habit of withdrawal into vacancy—letting themselves suddenly slip into a state of mind where they are, for the moment, no longer subject to the impact of inter-personal relations.” One photo shows a carver who, having completed a difficult piece of work, sits staring into space, “utterly empty and spent.” Other photos show children, with dreamy and absentminded expressions on their faces, sitting or standing close to a parent. Entitled Awayness, this page of photographs also includes a “psychopathic vagrant” sitting incommunicado in the anthropologists’ compound.

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