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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lation to context, thereby constituti ng a mea n i ngfu l "other" wor l d . If it is d i ffi c u l t for d i a l ogical portraya ls to escape typify i n g proced u res, they can, t o a s i gn i ficant degree, res i st t h e pu l l towa rd a u ­ thoritative representation o f t h e other. T h i s depends on the i r a b i l i ty fic­ tion a l l y to m a i nta i n the stra ngeness of the other voice and to hold in view the spec ific conti n gencies of the exchange. To say that a n eth nography i s

such attitudes and acts as an embarrassment, it i s thanks to G r i a u l e that we see them so c l early. He rubs our nose i n them . Beca use G r i a u l e p l ayed co l o n i a l ro les with gusto and with a certai n i rony, the words j u st quoted can not be p l aced neatl y i n their h i storical context and d i s m i ssed as attitudes u nfortunate l y poss i b l e i n the colon i a l period . I t was more typical o f t h e period t o h ide s u c h vio l ence than to bri n g it to the fore.

fieldwork as ro l e playi ng. I t expressed a l so the sense one h as throughout G r i a u l e's career of h i s Dogan counter­ parts as powerfu l agents i n the eth n ographic process, i n iti a l l y clever tac­ ticians and w i l l fu l res isters, l ater teachers and co l leagues . By atta i n i n g /a parole cla ire and worki ng l i ke any i n iti ate to grasp the "word 's" i ncar­ nation i n the experienti a l wor l d , G ri a u l e becomes (always i n h i s para l l e l , "eth nogra p h i

prom i ses of co l lective l i fe . Ma l i nowski's so­ l ution consists of construct i n g two rel ated fictions-of a self and of a 1 04 DISCOURSES c u lture . Although my task here is ne ither psycho logica l nor biographica l , l et m e s i m p l y suggest that the personal style-extravagant, operatic­ that both charmed and i rritated Mal i nowski's contem poraries was a re­ sponse to th is d i lemma. He indu l ged in "Slavic" extremism; h i s revela­ tions about h i mself and his work

a kes possi b l e the te l l i ng of powerfu l truths. But l i ke Marlow's accou nt aboard Nellie, the truths of c u ltura l descri ptions are mean i ngfu l to spec i fi c interpretive com m u n ities i n l im iting h i storical c i rcumstances . Thus the "tearing off," N ietzsche rem i nds us , is s i m u l taneously an act of censors h i p and of mea n i ng creation, a suppression of i ncoherence and contrad ict ion. The best eth nographic fictions are, l i ke Ma l i nowski's , i n 1 0. It wou

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