Rockin' the Ethnographic Mystery

By Poulos, Christopher N. | Storytelling, Self, Society, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Rockin' the Ethnographic Mystery


Poulos, Christopher N., Storytelling, Self, Society


Intersections

We meet at an intersection. This is not your typical American intersection, with its gloppy heart-burning fast-food delicacies served side by side with blended clean-burning gasoline and cheap plastic wallet-burning tourist souvenirs. No, this is a different kind of intersection altogether. It is the intersection of Self, Other, and Context (Goodall "Living" 22-31). It is the intersection of story, feeling, reason, and character. It is the intersection of persons and cultures, of meanings and innuendoes, of me and you, of us and them, of stories and interpretations, of histories and trajectories, of freedoms and constraints, of signs and hints, of clarity and ambiguity, of truths and deceptions, of secrets and explications. It is a mysterious coming together, really-a crossroads-where, like the great blues guitarist Robert Johnson (or at least the Robert Johnson of legend), we must make a decision.

This is no easy matter, no facile decision. The stakes are high. The choice will have consequences. This is a choice about how to live out the stories of our lives. The question is: Where will our quest take us?

To the right: logos, a well-worn path, a previously mapped territory of "knowledge," a land of generalized certainty, of logic, of reason, of order. To the left: pathos, the swirling world of emotion, of sensitivities and sensibilities, of feeling and tone and the fervor of passion. Behind: ethos, the dwelling place, our foundation, our home country, that land where character, which got us to where we now stand, was forged. Ahead: mythos, a no-man's-land, a wilderness of possibility fraught with ambiguity, a land of localized mystery and archetypal imagery. The question is: Where to turn?

If we turn right, our task is to lay additional cement between the bricks of an already-paved pathway, to heap answer upon answer. This is a quest aimed at finally laying down the ultimate, authoritative word. To turn right is to attempt to complete a task. It is a very large task, and it may well be arduous, but it is not am- biguous, and it is aimed at an ultimate conclusion. This path has its inducements.

The leftward choice is also intriguing. We could simply live by passion, by feeling, by urge, by impulse. To take this road is to embrace the chaotic ebb and flow of passion, to follow leanings uninformed by reasonableness, bereft of rationality. It is to live spontaneously, but it clearly lacks structure; the path appears to fade (disappear, even) in the near distance. Or, perhaps, it just dances off into the shadows. This path is seductive, to be sure.

Turning around, we gaze homeward. But this is a road we have already trav- eled. It has its comforts, but it doesn't offer much growth. It is a path we carry with us-in memory, and in action-but we may not need to take it again. At least not yet.

If we forge ahead, our task is to read the clues laid out before us and to craft our own story of a life lived embracing the ambiguity of it all, seeking but never fully grasping the deeper meanings underlying existence. To take this road is to embark upon a search (Percy 13)-a search that only works because it never comes to a full conclusion. It is an epic journey-a hero's journey (Campbell 45), to be sure-one that is open-ended, that keeps us moving forward, searching, always searching. There are gifts along the way, many of which can be offered to the world. But the point is to go on, to dig deeper, to seek possibility at every turn in the road.

Given the stakes, we must choose carefully-or, at least, take the journey seriously. Right now, at this crossroads, we inhabit a liminal space, a betwixt-and- between territory.

"What," you ask, "are the stakes?"

"Why, my very living, beating heart and soul," I find myself responding. "This is what's at stake."

Given the stakes, I determine that, before choosing, I must investigate, really get the lay of the land, so to speak. …

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