Postmodernism

A fellow blogger wrote a great description of the importance of this piece of art to a wider audience here:

Rene Magritte‘s piece, which translates to, “This is not a pipe.” No, in fact, it is a picture of a pipe. It’s not the actual thing. Magritte’s piece (which was actually done decades before Warhol) illustrates what I believe Warhol was trying to convey with nearly all of his art. Warhol was trying to tell us that we were not looking at whatever was the subject of his pieces, but rather, a representation of them. It’s almost as if Warhol was channeling Magritte through his art, though until I made that realization, I had never heard of a connection between the two artists before.

In Anthropology, this artwork normally indexes Michel Foucault’s work  in the following excerpt from Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (1994: 200-202).

6. Non-affirmative Painting.*

Separation between linguistic signs and plastic elements; equivalence of resemblance and affirmation. These two principles constituted the tension in classical painting, because the second reintroduced discourse (affirmation exists only where there is speech) into an art from which the linguistic element was rigorously excluded. Hence the fact that classical painting spoke – and spoke constantly – while constituting itself entirely outside language; hence the fact that it rested silently in a discursive space; hence the fact that it provided, beneath itself, a kind of common ground where it could restore the bonds of signs and the image. Magritte knits verbal signs and plastic elements together, but without referring them to a prior isotopism. He skirts the base of affirmative discourse on which resemblance calmly reposes, and he brings pure similitudes and nonaffirmative verbal statements into play within the instability of a disoriented volume and an unmapped space. A process whose formulation is in some sense given by Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

  1. To employ a calligram where are found, simultaneously present and visible, image, text, resemblance, affirmation and their common ground.
  2. Then suddenly to open up, so that the calligram immediately decomposes and disappears, leaving as a trace only its own absence.
  3. To allow discourse to collapse of its own weight and to acquire the visible shape of letters. Letters which, insofar as they are drawn, enter into an uncertain, indefinite relation, confused with the drawing itself – but minus any area to serve as a common ground.
  4. To allow similitudes, on the other to multiply of themselves, to be born from their own vapour and to rise endlessly into an ether where they refer to nothing more than themselves.
  5. To verify clearly, at the end of the operation, that the precipitate has changed colour, that it has gone from black to white, that the “This is a pipe” silently hidden in the mimetic representation has become the “This is not a pipe” of circulating similitudes.

Postmodernism 

The Postmodern movement in anthropology started in the 1960s. The main issue Postmodernist anthropologist have with ethnographies are that they are open to bias and subjectivity. They argue that ethnographies are not actually science and shouldn’t be. Postmodernists want to emphasize the opinions of those people being studied and believe that anthropologists should take part in cultural activities to gain a sense of how those cultures operate. Also Postmodernists want ethnographies to be available to everyone, specifically those being studied.

“anthropological writings are themselves interpretations, and second and third ones to boot” -Clifford Geertz

 
Some consider Postmodernism the end of Science

 
Others just want to have fun with Postmodernism 
 

Three anthropologists thoughts about it follow:

Vincent Crapanzano – Hermes Dilemma: The Masking of Subversion in Ethnographic Description

Vincent Crapanzano argues that there are problems with being an ethnographer and writing ethnographies. Problem number one is that the moment you start a study as an ethnographer you have already created boundaries you cannot pass in your ethnography simply because you ARE an outsider. Problem number two is that the ethnographer must make what is foreign to him/her known and yet still keep it foreign. Problem number three the ethnographer must be able to not lie and at times it not divulge the whole truth.

Renato Rosaldo – Grief and a Headhunter

Renato Rosaldo and his wife Michelle spent 30 months studying the Ilongots in Manila, Philippines, whose people numbered 3,500 and covered an area of 90 miles in the northeast uplands. While studying these people he came across a ritual known as headhunting (a ritual in which following the loss of a close family member, a man becomes enraged and cannot find relief from said rage until he has fulfilled the ritual of cutting off a head and discarding it, as to discard his rage), for which he could not really grasp the concept as to why one would partake in such a ritual. When he asked the Ilongots they replied in a brief statement,

“rage born in grief, impels him to kill his fellow human beings.”

It wasn’t until the author himself was faced with the loss of a close loved one that he able to begin understanding the feelings of bereavement that the Ilongots were faced with. Only then was he able to truly understand their ritual of headhunting.

The focus of ethnographies tend to be purely on ritual and completely miss context and texture because too often the observer is trying to be completely unbiased and in return they miss the significance of the cultural event.

“Even when knowledgeable, sensitive, fluent in the language, and able to move easily in an alien culture, good ethnographers still have their limits, and their analysis are incomplete.”

Rosaldo, only through his experience with bereave

ment, was able to adequately explain the headhunter’s ritual in an understandable manor.

“My use of personal experience serves as a vehicle for making the quality and intensity of the rage in Ilongot grief more readily accessible to readers than certain more detached models of composition.”

Roy D’Andrade – Moral Models in Anthropology

Moral Models speaks on the attacks on the anthropological standpoints through time. By discussing the differing views within the profession it seeks to find the appropriate way to approach the topic of ethnographies.  The agenda be

“that anthropology be transformed from a discipline based upon an objective model of the world to a discipline based upon a moral model of the world” where “model” means “a set of cognitive elements used to understand and reason about something” and “Moral” refers to “primary purpose of this model, which is to identify what is good and what is bad and to allocate reward and punishment.”

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Comments

  • Sara Lane Barnett  On April 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  • Dale H.  On April 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    First, I agree with everything Sara wrote! Second:

    The problem with anthropologists so far seems to be that, when they produce an ethnography or a finding, they want to use it to describe general principles that can be applied across the spectrum to every culture. From my perspective, finding something that, culturally, always applies to everyone everywhere is an unattainable goal.

    Postmodernism, as explained by our introductory essay by McGee and Warms, seems so obviously and intuitively true that I can see no reason why anyone would ever be anything else, unless they were a Sociobiologic Postmodern Cultural Anthropologist. Of course, if I wanted to arrogantly convince everybody that what I believe or wrote in an ethnography was “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and the best truth, I may object to postmodernism and it’s assertion that “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” can never be completely known or understood. But we all already know that we can’t know everything, especially when information is relayed between two different people. Even children playing telephone know that part of postmodernism to be true.

    Now, since his wife was killed, Renato Resaldo says he can truly understand what relief the headhunters get from headhunting, when before his wife died he couldn’t. He says that this is because pg 529 “Immediately on finding her body I became enraged. How could she abandon me? How could she have been so stupid to fall?” I would say that I believe his account of becoming enraged, but I wouldn’t ever have reacted like he did. So, does that mean that all the headhunters hunt heads out of rage because that is what Renato felt? And what would Renato say if somebody else who reacted differently, or who hasn’t lost anyone, says their opinion better reflects the headhunters’ position? Would Renato, who understands postmodernism, maintain that because of his emotional experience he understood the headhunters better or would he consider them equal? What if someone who has lost two says his is better? One thing is true, they will all be different. But I don’t think one would be more “valid” or “better” or more “true” than another? For me, that is postmodernism. It is not that we can never know “the truth” — it is that we can never know “all of the truths”.

  • jesteenburns  On April 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Postmodernism. What a topic. I am not sure if it is pure genius or pure laziness. I guess the correct answer that it is a combination of both as well as neither. The whole idea of it is endearing, and in truth it does make sense: one cannot claim to know everything, have seen everything, or to be unbiased by personal history/ one’s own personality even. But my real question is, has any anthropologist ever claimed this? Do we need a school of thought that stands against such practices. Evolutionists focused on the different ways in which culture evolved, Whorf wrote of language, Steward of Patrilinial bands, etc. however I don’t recall anyone ever writing Users Guide to Samoa: Everything There is to Know. I cannot believe that any anthropologist ever has thought they summed up a culture entirely.
    Also that they place so much emphasis the fact that so many things influence the author and their writing, to me this seems almost common sense. Most of the topics one researches are based on interest, access, communicative skills, and specialty. There are reasons that Durkheim wrote about social fact (being a sociologist) Malinowski was so scientifically driven (physist) and Solcum about gender issues ( a feminist). Of course these affect view point, but how else would anyone be motivated to write about a topic?
    The last paragraph ties into my next problem, in that I have no idea how postmodernist ever get funding for research, of their own description they are basically traveling and coming back to tell the story of their experience. And even worse, it is almost as if what they have to say does not even matter in the end, because if someone else went it would be different. I would just love to read their applications to get grants and how they view this as significant enough to be funded.
    Also in regards to the use of first person narrative in order to describe events I think there are many benefits as well as downfalls. In a way it is bad because you get people like Rabinow who sometimes I felt spent a little too much time describing himself when he should have been focusing more on the info of the culture, however in the end he did make some rather insightful connections. In the case of Ward however I think there was a very good balance and that actually made the story more interesting without overwhelming you, with Ward one heard about her experience but one never felt it was her autobiography, it was clearly about the Micronesians. The problem with both of these examples though is that they are both written like stories. At least for me, I would probably have to reread to find a really solid structure, I guess Rabinow was in order of influential people, however Ward had only a vague structure and seemed to jump about in a way that often left me confused of the actual topic at hand. When one looks at authors such as Burgious though one can appreciate a great combination of self-involvement and structure. In my opinion he is the best example that I have come across of putting himself in the story but still making it completely about his subjects.
    I have to say that while I have many problems with the theory of postmodernism, in the many experiences I have had reading postmodern ethnographies I do not hold such a strong grudge. This is funny because the reverse is true of many other theories.

  • Arlyne Boyer  On April 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    In the postmodernistic view, everything is an interpretation. We all interpret the world in our own way, based on our own language, cultural background and personal experiences.

    Some of the important issues brought up by postmodernists are aimed at:

    1) ethnographic techniques which are used to convey the anthropologists interpretations of culture – not the natives point of view (yet it is often presented as such), and also, the anthropologist selects who will speak for the culture.

    2) the conduct of fieldwork, in that the anthropologist IS NOT an unbiased observer of the entire culture. People are met by chance or by by design and this conditions the ultimate understanding. Plus, data collection is subjective which makes it unable to be analyzed objectively.

    3) textural anaysis, whereas the anthropologist constructs meaning from the data through a writing style while the reader will then impose their own interpretaions based on the writing of the anthropologist.

    In a nutshell, this is what really stands out for me….

    Postmodernism
    SAY THIS “I saw my informant hold the willow reed with her teeth”
    NOT THIS “The women of ___ hold the willow reed with their teeth”

    Subtle. Truthful. Just the facts. This is how the fieldwork itself, the actual experience itself, will become the narrative through which the anthropologists understanding is conveyed. It tells the reader how he obtained the knowledge.

    Regarding the authors, I liked Lila Abu-Lunghod’s personal, reflective style. SHe places the reader in her frame of reference. I her concept of “ethnographies of the particular” which eliminates the blanket coverage of the whole group.

  • EarlP  On April 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Postmodernism in my opinion is a great thing; anthropology covers all aspect of human life and the primates. But, a lot of research and theories are one view or interpretation of a situation or problem. Like Jim says in many of his lectures the only true and absolute science is math. Everything else is interpretation. I have always found it hard to judge every culture by the same rules that the old time theorist came up with a long time ago. Postmodernism gives the next generation the opportunity to make culture relevant to the masses around the world. I also find it more relevant to the ever changing environments that effect culture. It allows more well-rounded answers to questions as well as allowing for more dynamic questions about a culture. Before the postmodern movement the rules on how to do ethnographies and other types of field research was etched in stone and those were the rules, but no the rules can be bent depending on the situation.

  • Roxie  On April 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Postmodernism….
    A way of looking at things from many (or one) perspective, whether or not it is true for one person may not be true for the other person. It just depends on how that person thinks, the experiences they have had that has shaped who they are determines what they think the truth is. There are many truths depending on who, and how they are looking at something.

    Looking at other cultures, there is no one right way of looking at that particular culture, just the anthropologist perspective. One can look at details of a culture and interpret it in a different way. But is it the truth of the culture or just one of the truths that the anthropologist thinks is going on.

    Rosaldo, After going through a terrible tragedy, he is then able to understand how the men of Ilongot. This is something that would make sense. Since actually going through something has a greater impact on a person, than just observing and reporting on what those observations are. In a way he was able to look at this situation, taking heads after the death of loved ones, from two different, perspectives (truths). One from before his tragedy, traditional anthropology, the other would be after his tragedy, when he was finally able to understand the emtional impact of the death of a loved one, and the reasons, why they head hunt after the loss of a loved one.

  • Rosalva  On April 16, 2012 at 10:52 am

    When doing ethnography or the ethnographer they are studying “others” and do not hold any truth, but if we imply that there are not any truths than what would be the point of ethnographers. I think there are truths there are those ethnographers who believe or hold to be ‘truth ‘and those of group of people being study hold to be ‘truth’. They would have different interpretations of what life is and what it means to be part of that group or maybe there are some truths and others are not known. Doing this kind of ethnography has allowed us to get a variety of views that from anthropologists and the people being studied. Then there are the third interpretations the readers reading the book or ethnography. This continues to be a long chained of interpretations. Maybe there are many truths.

    • Martha T.  On April 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      I like the idea that there are “many truths”. Everyone’s perceptions of pretty much everything will always be different. Either slightly different, or tremendously off the mark different. If you ask 10 people to draw a tree you will get 10 very different looking pictures of trees. Some will have leaves, some wont, some may have different colored leaves, ect.

      During the presentation on Monday the point being discussed was rather experiencing a loss made the anthropologist more adept at understanding the culture he was studying and why they head hunt. I would say that it doesn’t. If anything, his loss may have made him more inept to understand because he would be so convinced that his feelings mirrored what the other grievers were feeling. Had it been different, which it could easily be since the cultural backgrounds were so different, then it would be harder for him to be convinced that he was wrong because he’d be so determined his experiences gave him a special insight.

  • surey  On April 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Postmodernism, from what I understand, is that there are many views or ways of interpreting a subject or something, like the pipe. Science and practices can’t explain the whole culture, there is only so much it can measure or look at. As the comments above mentions, there are so much we are limited to. We can not see what came before to cause a culture to see what they see. We can only imagine and guess on any evidence we have and connect the knowledge together.
    In Rosaldo’s writing, about him coming to understand the Ilongot rage and grief after the death of his wife, it is interesting how it is written in first and second person perspective.It seems that he is trying to make the reader understand the reasons that may relate between the headhunting and his loss. There is no lines or boundary between the two, only trying to learn certain things from the other.

  • Kayla Myers  On April 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I understand the phrase “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” which is pretty much what an ethnographer is doing by going into a culture and trying to learn about the people of that culture by doing as the people do, but I do not understand the significance of headhunting to get rid of grief. I don’t see how taking away the life of another person can be soothing to anyone! In class Brittany said that the tribe that Rosaldo was working with this was a ritual, but as Dale said in class this seems like it would be a never ending issue because then people would constantly be grieving.

  • Bryan Swarts  On April 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Oh postmodernism. I agree with most everyone above me, notably Dale and Martha (I liked the tree example). I feel like what makes this a touchy subject is that people (with their biases) tend to put their extremes and passions into it. They are driven to believe and accept everything or nothing at all. How I imaging it is differentiating between Plato and Aristotle. Plato would relate to this in saying that their is one truth, and everyone’s interpretations and thinking about it is only a copy of the truth, so how can people and their copies be trusted. Aristotle on the other hand looks at it and says that you can define the truth in many different ways. Just as a chair can have thousands of shapes and forms (some even hidden in other objects we might identify differently such as a table; i.e. sitting on top of a table makes it a “chair”), so their can be many different truths. I sort of lie in the middle. Yes people have their biases and interpretations of truth which may all be right or all be wrong, but we should not just cast them aside and distrust everyone different than us, because how can we really know who is wrong? Science never has to do with facts; it has to do with collecting interpretations and organizing the most accepted theories. Besides, can we imagine a world without bias? Most people already have the perception that at any given time they know “enough,” if not “everything” about the world. I mean bias can be manipulated into a bad thing and can taint research, but it would also destroy, or at least hinder individuality, and perhaps even hinder a persons passion or creativity. I guess I am asking for more regulation, acceptance, and understanding rather than seek to become someone who gives their life away for the purpose of “science.” Ooh, also consider these questions: if postmodernists think that ideas and interpretations cannot really be trusted or accepted blindly, then should we question postmodernism and say that it cannot be trusted? Does the criticizer, the moment they criticize, become a hypocrite of postmodernism? Just thought it is an interesting look at it.

  • jesteenburns  On April 19, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I am posting on behalf of Maria since it is not letting her post for some reason

    During class Dale mention something that seem to make a lot of sense to me, regarding Grief and headhunters. Renato Rosaldo and his wife studied the Ilongots in Manila, Philippines, and they came across this ritual, that when a close love one dies, that you can release your grief by cutting off someone’s head. well at first he couldn’t grasp the notion of why they were doing such thing, but later when his wife dies he goes to say that he now understands why they do.

    I believe that when doing ethnographies, as an anthropologist there show be boundaries and not to mix’s ones emotions with those that are being studied. Like Mullooly and Dale stated, how about if Rosaldo did cut someone’s head off, and later realize what he has done. He didn’t grow up believeing and practicing those ritual the loongots in the Manila, Philippines did. So when reality hit, and he realizes his actions, I don’t think he will take it as commonly as the llongots people.

  • Stephen Sanchez  On April 20, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Thinking of what Dale stated previously about Rosaldo’s feeling of anger after his wife’s death; I can’t really relate to the actual experience that Rosaldo might have underwent, but what I could state is that their has to be some truth out there. The idea of multiple perspectives surrounding a ritual cannot hold stance for all rituals performed. Granted, one can see many meanings through one symbol and contain various outlooks pertaining to it. There is really only one true idea trying to be conveyed by the performer or author. The actual state of mind must be taken into consideration of which the author is currently undergoing. You cannot have someone who has extremely high self-esteem opposed to someone with low self-esteem rate and define a certain ritual and come up with a similar solution or reasoning behind the ritual. This is not gonna happen, because they are not within the same frame of mind. Thus, Renato Rosaldo might have proved to be genus when undergoing the same anger as the Ilongot people do when they lose someone. However, this idea of truly seeing what the other indvidual might have seen, is going against postmodernism and the idea of multiple perspectives. Renato Rosaldo was forced to succumb to the same pain that Ilongot people feel when they lose someone to truly understand the truth behind the ritual. So it there truly one truth, or did I misunderstand the whole concept of postmodernism? Did Renato Rosaldo really revolutionize the idea of ethnography by trying to uncover the truth by befalling the same ills as the Ilongot people do when losing somebody or did he bring ethnography to the right level.

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