The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, by James Clifford

By James Clifford

The difficulty of tradition is a serious ethnography of the West in its altering kin with different societies. interpreting cultural practices comparable to anthropology, trip writing, accumulating, and museum monitors of tribal paintings, Clifford indicates authoritative money owed of alternative methods of existence to be contingent fictions, now actively contested in postcolonial contexts. His critique increases questions of world importance: Who has the authority to talk for any group's id and authenticity? What are the fundamental components and limits of a tradition? How do self and "the other" conflict within the encounters of ethnography, go back and forth, and smooth interethnic kin? In discussions of ethnography, surrealism, museums, and emergent tribal arts, Clifford probes the late-twentieth century crisis of dwelling at the same time inside, among, and after tradition.

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The second work i s Vi ncent Crapanzano's more com plex Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan, another account of a series of i nterv iews 7. Favret-Saada's book is translated as Deadly Words (198 1); see esp. chap. 2 . Her experience has been rewritten at a nother fictional level i n Favret-Saada and Contreras 198 1 . O N E T HN O G R A P H I C A U T H O R I T Y 43 that rejects any sharp sepa rat i o n of an i nterpret i n g self from a textua l i zed other ( 1 980; see a l so 1 9 7 7 ) .

F i eld­ work i s sign i ficantly com posed of language events; but language, in Bakht i n 's words, " l ies on the borderl i n e betwee n onese l f and the other. " The words of ethnographic writing, then, can not be construed as monologica l , as the authoritative statement about, or i nterpretation of, a n abstracted , textua l i zed rea l ity. The lan­ guage of eth nography i s shot through with other subjectivities and spe­ c i fic contextual ove rtones, for a l l language, in Bakht i n 's v iew, is "a con­ c rete heterog l ot conception of the world" ( 1 953 : 2 9 3 ) .

Codrington is acute l y aware of the i ncom p l eten ess of h i s know l edge, bel ievi ng that rea l understa nd i ng of native l ife beg i n s o n l y after a decade or so of experience and study (pp. vi-v i i ) . Th i s u nderstand i n g of the d ifficu lty of grasp i n g the world of a l ien peoples-the many years of learn i ng and u n learn i ng needed, the problems of acq u i ri n g thorough l i ngu i stic com petence-tended to dom­ i nate the work of Codringto n 's generation . Such assu mptions wou ld soon be chal lenged by the more confident c u l t u ra l relativism of the Ma l i now­ ski an mode l .

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