Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Some Winks

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Some Winks

Article excerpt

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"A third interpretive tactic in Geertz poses prose bugaboos for would-be speed-readers" (Boon 2000:434). Reading this sentence for the third time, slowly, and now thwarted by the percolating consciousness of having been tricked, I stopped to appreciate the signpost for readers-speed aside-to bump into. So begins a passage on Clifford Geertz's literary performance in Boon's "Showbiz as a CrossCultural System," a passage on what Boon calls Geertz's symbolic action. Symbolic action, in this case, refers to Geertz's way of performing interpretation through exaggerated contrast, writing thickly about thinness. What the reader must, and I mean must, stop to appreciate at this point in Boon's text, is the layering of prose on prose, that can subvert, ironize, imitate, parody, wink, and burlesque wink, etc., etc., etc. And this is before the show ever gets going.

One of the exemplary texts for Boon's analysis of symbolic action as an interpretive tactic is Geertz's "Slide Show" (1988), a text that visits the particular brand of common sense prose practiced by E. E. Evans-Pritchard in his assorted writings. In a move that conveys the message "do unto others Mas you would have [your students] do unto you," Boon delivers prose on Geertz's prose on Evans-Pritchard's prose on the Anuak and Nuer. Boon highlights the way Geertz enacts Evans-Pritchard's "Oxbridge styles of studious self-effacement" through contrast (Boon 2000:435). He (Boon) cites Geertz summoning Evans-Pritchard's style's absence through the presence of Geertz's own:

The extreme simplicity and regularity of sub-sentence punctuation (as few commas as possible, mechanically placed, and hardly any semicolons at all: readers are expected to know when to breathe)... the related avoidance of clause embedding, amounting almost to a phobia...[t]he passion for simple subject-predicate-object sentences, unmodified and undecorated, is intense.. .Though E-P spoke at least French and Italian fluently, there are virtually no foreign phrases, aside, of course, from native vernacular, in his ethnographic writings. Though he was very broadly educated, literary allusions play little role. the absence of jargon, anthropological or any other, is so nearly total as to seem ostentatious. The only speech act of any frequency is the flat declarative. Quizzical interrogatives, hedging conditionals, musing apostrophes simply don't appear. …

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