Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics

By Clifford Geertz | Go to book overview

V
The State of the Art

Waddling In

One of the advantages of anthropology as a scholarly enterprise is that no one, including its practitioners, quite knows exactly what it is. People who watch baboons copulate, people who rewrite myths in algebraic formulas, people who dig up Pleistocene skeletons, peo/ ple who work out decimal point correlations between toilet training practices and theories of disease, people who decode Maya hiero/ glyphics, and people who classify kinship systems into typologies in which our own comes out as “Eskimo” all call themselves anthro/ pologists. So do people who analyze African drum rhythms, arrange the whole of human history into evolutionary phases culminating in Communist China or the ecology movement, or reflect largely on the nature of human nature. Works entitled (I choose a few at ran/ dom) Medusa's Hair, The Headman and I, The Red Lamp of Incest, Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process, Do Kamo, Knowledge and Pas/ sion, American School Language, Circumstantial Deliveries, and The Devil and Commodity Fetishism all present themselves as anthro/ pological, as does the work of a man which came, unbidden, into my hands a few years ago whose theory it is that the Macedonians derive originally from Scotland on the grounds that they play the bagpipe.

There are a number of results of all this, aside from a lot of fine examples of a person's reach exceeding a person's grasp; but surely the most important is a permanent identity crisis. Anthropologists

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