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Life among the Anthros and Other Essays

Life among the Anthros and Other Essays

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Life among the Anthros and Other Essays
    Book Description:

    Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) was perhaps the most influential anthropologist of our time, but his influence extended far beyond his field to encompass all facets of contemporary life. Nowhere were his gifts for directness, humor, and steady revelation more evident than in the pages of theNew York Review of Books, where for nearly four decades he shared his acute vision of the world in all its peculiarity. This book brings together the finest of Geertz's review essays from theNew York Reviewalong with a representative selection of later pieces written at the height of his powers, some that first appeared in periodicals such asDissent, others never before published.

    This collection exemplifies Geertz's extraordinary range of concerns, beginning with his first essay for theReviewin 1967, in which he reviews, with muffled hilarity, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. This book includes Geertz's unflinching meditations on Western academia's encounters with the non-Western world, and on the shifting and clashing places of societies in the world generally. Geertz writes eloquently and arrestingly about such major figures as Gandhi, Foucault, and Genet, and on topics as varied as Islam, globalization, feminism, and the failings of nationalism.

    Life among the Anthros and Other Essaysdemonstrates Geertz's uncommon wisdom and consistently keen and hopeful humor, confirming his status as one of our most important and enduring public intellectuals.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3454-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Comic Vision of Clifford Geertz
    (pp. 1-12)

    Once upon a time, in October 1988, just weeks before the cold war swallowed itself in a tumble of falling masonry in Berlin, overloaded Trabants pouring past the raised barriers at Hungarian checkpoints, a sea of vengeful fists and faces booing their hateful overlord off his balcony in Bucharest, a full-page advertisement in affirmative defense of being a liberal appeared in theNew York Times.

    An unorganized group of prominent academics and intellectuals had united briefly to pay up in order to rebut their president, the amiable, lethal, hotly ideological, charmingly anti-intellectual Ronald Reagan, who had turned “liberal” into a...

  4. PART I Sages and Anthropologists

    • 1967 On Malinowski
      (pp. 15-20)

      Ten years ago several eminent anthropologists, linguists, and sociologists who had, in one way or another, been students of Bronislaw Malinowski decided that he had been unjustly neglected since his death in 1942 and put together a collection of essays, each of which was devoted to a particular aspect of his work.¹ But, as the writers were frank and competent, the result did rather more to justify the neglect than to end it. Meyer Fortes of Cambridge decided that although Malinowski wrote about Kinship incessantly, he really didn’t understand it. S. F. Nadel indicted his religious studies as a simplistic...

    • 1969 On Gandhi
      (pp. 21-28)

      “Whence, however,” theMahabharataasks, “does Hope arise?” For twenty years, since hisChildhood and Societyannounced the Freudian vocation to be the empowerment of the ego, Erik Erikson has been asking the same question. His whole career has proceeded from a settled determination to turn psychoanalysis away from fascination with weakness toward detection of strength, to dissolve its hospital odor and connect it up with the public aspirations of men. In modern India, where despair is more than an emotion—a quality of the landscape, a dimension of the weather—hope arose most eloquently with Gandhi. In addressing himself...

    • 1978 On Foucault
      (pp. 29-38)


      Michel Foucault erupted onto the intellectual scene at the beginning of the Sixties with hisFolie et déraison, an unconventional but still recognizable history of the Western experience of madness. He has become, in the years since, a kind of impossible object: a nonhistorical historian, an anti-humanistic human scientist, and a counter-structuralist structuralist. If we add to this his tense, impacted prose style, which manages to seem imperious and doubt-ridden at the same time, and a method which supports sweeping summary with eccentric detail, the resemblance of his work to an Escher drawing— stairs rising to platforms lower than...

    • 1992 On Genet
      (pp. 39-46)

      Max Weber once said of a minor German poet, irregular, drifting, and a friend of his, who had gotten himself involved in some of the scruffier aspects of popular revolt, that God had led him into politics in a fit of malice. Literary figures, especially romantical ones, who involve themselves directly in the dirty-hands world of collective violence (as opposed to the much larger number who harangue meetings, disgorge newspaper articles, get up petitions, or display themselves in demonstrations) do not as a rule come off very well. The sort of person given to staging extravagant parabolical dramas or writing...

    • 2001 Ethnography in China
      (pp. 47-58)

      Among the Na, a tribal people hidden away in the Yongning hills of Yunnan province in southern China and the subject of the French-trained Chinese anthropologist Cai Hua’s provocative new monograph, there is no marriage, in fact or word. Mothers exist, as do children, but there are no dads. Sexual intercourse takes place between casual, opportunistic lovers, who develop no broader, more enduring relations to one another. The man “visits,” usually furtively, the woman at her home in the middle of the night as impulse and opportunity appear, which they do with great regularity. Almost everyone of either sex has...

  5. PART II Islams and the Fluidity of Nations

    • 1971 In Search of North Africa
      (pp. 61-70)

      Physicists, novelists, logicians, and art historians have recognized for some time that what we call our knowledge of reality consists of images of it that we ourselves have fashioned. In the social sciences this is just now coming to be understood, and then only imperfectly. The contribution of the investigator not only to the description and analysis of his object of study but to its very creation still tends to be obscured by the sort of mentality which regards the Human Relations Area Files, the Gallup Poll, and the US Census as repositories of recorded truths waiting merely to be...

    • 1975 Mysteries of Islam
      (pp. 71-80)

      What is Islam? A religion? A civilization? A social order? A form of life? A strand of world history? A collection of spiritual attitudes connected only by a common reverence for Muhammad and the Quran? Any tradition which reaches from Senegal and Tanzania through Egypt and Turkey to Iran, India, and Indonesia, which extends from the seventh century to the twentieth, which has drawn on Judaism, Byzantine Christianity, Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Arabian paganism, Spanish intellectualism, and the mystery cults of ancient Persia, which has animated at least a half dozen empires from Abbasid to Ottoman, and which has been legalistic,...

    • 1985 The Last Arab Jews
      (pp. 81-87)

      At the close of World War II there were about a half-million Jews living in North Africa; today there are about 20,000, and those are submerged, partially and uneasily, in the anonymizing mercantilism of the largest cities. (Of Morocco’s perhaps 15,000, more than half are in Casablanca, and virtually all of the rest in Marrakech, Rabat, Meknes, Fès, and Tangier; of Tunisia’s 3,500 or so, about two-thirds are in Tunis.) Where once there were scores of integral Jewish communities long in place, socially self-enclosed, and culturally self-regulating, only two remain: Hara Kebira, “The Big Village” (pop. 804), and Hara Sghira,...

    • 1989 House Painting: Toutes Directions
      (pp. 88-100)

      In late February of 1986, a week or two before the massive joint celebration of the 25th anniversary of Hassan II’s accession to the Moroccan throne and the 10th of his launching of the Green March in the Sahara (the March actually took place in November of 1975, but it was ritually assimilated to Coronation Day for this milestone occasion), the municipal council of a small city in the east-central part of the country issued a decree. Henceforth, the color of all buildings in the city was to be beige:crème, in the French redaction,qehwi, in the Arabic. Paint...

    • 1990 On Feminism
      (pp. 101-111)

      The intrusion, advance, spread, import, insinuation—word choice is important here, exposing world views, projecting fears—of feminist thought into just about every aspect of contemporary cultural life is by now entirely general. Literature, philosophy, sociology, history, economics, law, even linguistics and theology, are engulfed in fierce and multisided debates over the relevance of gender difference, gender interest, and gender prejudice to this or that issue or to the shape of the enterprise overall. But nowhere has the reaction to efforts to move such concerns to the center of attention stirred deeper disquiet than in that last redoubt of impersonal...

    • 2000 Indonesia: Starting Over
      (pp. 112-122)

      Indonesia has been one of the most remarkable development success stories in the last third of the twentieth century. In the mid-1960s, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income below that of many African and South Asian countries. It had experienced little economic growth for thirty years, it was on the verge of hyperinflation, it was engulfed in political turmoil, and it had begun to disengage from the world community and economy. Living standards were stagnant and about two thirds of the population lived in abject poverty. . . .

      No one...

    • 2001 On the Devastation of the Amazon
      (pp. 123-134)

      We are entering, we are told, a weightless, frictionless, speed-of-light age in which we will all be but address nodes in an endless flow of information packets, scurrying message handlers continuously assaulted from all directions. So far as scholarly life is concerned, that is still more specter than reality; promises (or threats) of e-books and downloadable doctoral theses and flooded-over inboxes aside, communication still proceeds at a more or less human pace, in a more or less politic manner. However, to judge from the on-line blizzard of charge and countercharge that has attended the mere rumor of Patrick Tierney's blistering...

    • 2003 Which Way to Mecca? PART I
      (pp. 135-144)

      We are, in this country right now, engaged in the process of constructing, rather hurriedly, as though we had better quickly get on with it after years of neglect, a standard, public-square image of “Islam.” Until very recently, we had hardly more than the suggestions of such an image—vagrant notions of stallions, harems, deserts, palaces, and chants. A Peter Arno drawing inThe New Yorkersixty-five years ago more or less summed the matter up. A stetsonhatted tourist leans out of his roadster to ask a turbaned man prostrate in prayer by the side of the road: “Hey, Jack,...

    • 2003 Which Way to Mecca? PART II
      (pp. 145-156)

      Since the end of the cold war, when a lot more collapsed than walls and regimes, many of the large-scale concepts by means of which we had been accustomed to sorting out the world have begun to come apart. East and West, Communist and free world, liberal and totalitarian, Arab, Oriental, underdeveloped, third world, nonaligned, and now apparently even Europe have lost much of their edge and definition, and we are left to find our way through vast collections of strange and inconsonant particulars without much in the way of assistance from finely drawn, culturally ratified natural kinds.

      After the...

    • 2005 On the State of the World
      (pp. 157-166)

      The recent tsunami in southern Asia, in which perhaps a quarter-million people of all ages and conditions were swept indifferently away by a blind cataclysm, has, at least for the moment—perhaps only for the moment—concentrated our minds. Fatality on such a scale, the destruction not only of individual lives but of whole populations of them, threatens the conviction that perhaps most reconciles many of us, insofar as anything this-worldly does, to our own mortality: that, though we ourselves may perish, the community into which we were born, and the sort of life it supports, will somehow live on...

  6. PART III The Idea of Order:: Last Lectures

    • 2001 The Near East in the Far East
      (pp. 169-184)

      Lucette Valensi’s extensive work on the social history of the Mediterranean has been, for all its variety of subject and focus, almost continuously concerned which the way in which cultural forms arising within one stream of history, one historic civilization, work out when projected into the interior of another: French and Algerian, Jewish and Muslim, Iberian and Moorish, Venetian and Ottoman. Ideas, sentiments and view of life, ways of being in the world, find some of their most striking, and most diagnostic, expressions far from their point of origin: in the way they color traditions quite other than their own,...

    • 2002 An Inconstant Profession
      (pp. 185-199)

      I have arrived, it seems, at that point in my life and my career when what people most want to hear from me is not some new fact or idea, but how I got to this point in my life and my career. This is a bit discouraging, not just because of itsmomento moriovertones (when you are seventy-five, everything hasmemento moriovertones), but because, having spent the whole of my adult life trying to push things forward in the human sciences, I am now being asked to consider what that has entailed—why I think my direction...

    • 2004 What Is a State If It Is Not a Sovereign?
      (pp. 200-218)

      What Sidney Mintz and I have in common, besides a certain gift for hanging around and a useful lack of gravity, is the experience of a deep-going disciplinary transformation, a professional change of mind, which, to have a name for it, I will call “anthropology’s journey into history.” Way back in the Boasian Paleolithic, the fact-gathering, trait-hunting horizon in which we both were formed and which, however transfigured and covered over, marks us still, and irrevocably, anthropology was largely tribe-and-island-focused, concerned with out-of-the-way peoples in out-of-the-way places or with the silent relics of deep time. Here and there, there was...

    • 2005 Shifting Aims, Moving Targets
      (pp. 219-235)


      For an anthropologist pushing 80 and feeling it push back, there seems little else to do on a ceremonial occasion of this sort dedicated as it is to commemorating a marmoreal figure whom most people remember, so far as they remember him at all, as a cloistered Edwardian don who devoted his life to a Causabon-like compilation of the world’s exotica, but to reflect upon one’s own, rather different, but hardly less transient, career in a related line of work and try to suggest what time and change have done to it. Not that this will avail against what...

    • 2005 What Was the Third World Revolution?
      (pp. 236-252)

      I begin with a passage from a 1954 essay of Irving Howe’s, reprinted in the recentFifty Years of Dissentvolume, called, premonitorily enough, “The Problem of U.S. Power”:

      The central fact [he writes] is that we continue to live in a revolutionary age. The revolutionary impulse has been contaminated, corrupted, debased, demoralized; it has been appropriated by the enemies of socialism. All true. But the energy behind that revolutionary impulse remains. Now it bursts out in one part of the world, now in another. It cannot be suppressed entirely. Everywhere except in the United States, millions of human beings,...

    (pp. 253-254)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 255-264)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)