The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art

The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art

James Clifford

Language: English

Pages: 398

ISBN: 0674698436

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Predicament of Culture is a critical ethnography of the West in its changing relations with other societies. Analyzing cultural practices such as anthropology, travel writing, collecting, and museum displays of tribal art, Clifford shows authoritative accounts of other ways of life to be contingent fictions, now actively contested in postcolonial contexts. His critique raises questions of global significance: Who has the authority to speak for any group's identity and authenticity? What are the essential elements and boundaries of a culture? How do self and "the other" clash in the encounters of ethnography, travel, and modern interethnic relations? In discussions of ethnography, surrealism, museums, and emergent tribal arts, Clifford probes the late-twentieth century predicament of living simultaneously within, between, and after culture.

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documentation on a m u lt i p l icity of s u bjects treated i n d i verse man ners . A s conceived b y G r i a u l e the team was much more than a makes h i ft co l l aboration of i n d ividua l s . It embod ied the principle u nderl y i ng a l l modern i nq u i ry : s pec i a l i zation a n d the d ivision of l abor. Because soc i a l rea l ity is too com p l ex for t h e s i ng l e researcher, he must " rely on other spec i a l ists and try to form with them a th i n k ing group, an element of

"the Foreigner." The story of the beati n gs suggests an automatic series of events to which a l l parties acq u iesce . A E u ropean i n Africa cannot, shou l d not, avoid the pasts re­ served for h i m . G riau l e does not th i n k of e l ud i n g the priv i l eges and con­ stra i nts of h i s ascri bed status-a d ream that obsesses, and to a degree para l yzes, M i c h e l Lei ris, h i s co l league of the M i ssion Dakar-Dj i bouti . Lei ri s' fie l d journal ( 1 934) and h i s l ater writi

iety i s d i fferent-with d ifferent experiences of ti me, space, k i n s h i p, bod i l y identity-from the i nd ividual in bou r­ geo i s E u rope or i n modern America . We assume, a l most without q ues­ tion, that a self be longs to a spec ific c u l tu ra l world much as it spea ks a native l a nguage : one se lf, one cu lture, one language. I do not wish to d i spute the considerable truth contai ned i n even so bald a form u l a ; the idea that i n d i v i d u a l ity i s a rti cu l ated

al dom a i n of Western marriage is to provoke a defa m i l iarizing effect; but it is essentia l to d i stinguish th i s moment of metonym i c j u xta­ position from its norma l sequel , a movement of metaphorical compari­ son in wh i c h consistent grounds for s i m i l a rity and d ifference are elabo­ rated . The s u rrea l i st moment i n eth nography is that moment in w h i c h the possibi l ity of comparison exists in u n med iated tension with sheer i ncon­ gru i ty. This moment i s

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