George Stocking was the anthropologist’s historian of anthropology: a “professional stranger” who plowed furrows in department halls arm-in-arm with anthros tending fields and chickens.[1] The horticultural trope–his for us–strikes me as more taboo than totemic today, but I’ll take it anyway.[2] I suspect he would’ve liked the image of toil in common.[3]

***

The novelist and anthro “fac brat” Ruth Ozeki offers a dubious image of her father Floyd Lounsbury’s Yale department, as it simmered in the ‘60s with CIA counterparts to the FBI agents who sleuthed after Stocking in his youth. Yalie anthropologists were “…tall white guys with stooped shoulders and sunburned necks that they protected from the rays with folded kerchiefs.”[4] She continues, ruthlessly: “Their skin, turned leathery from years in the field, had the crosshatched texture of plucked chickens.”[5] With this bio-biography, we might think we can close the books on the history of anthropology.

But if we are to keep wording up halls and journals, let me warn that there’s a passage from alterity to mimesis around the bend; the anthro becomes the chicken that horticulturalist comrades pluck.[6] Cultura, colere, then into the stew we go!

“Double, double, toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” (4.1.10-11).[7]

***

With “decoloniality” on the tongues of a new generation of differently-radical students, anthropology, read (misread?) as the science of poaching others’ ideas, has another crisis on the horizon.[8] (As if crisis remained crisis once we saw the danger crystal-clear at each turn). But some poached ideas–hau, mana, taboo–seem destined to remain lion-suits in anthro-witches’ wardrobes.[9] Don’t we adorn and don these floating signifiers in order to obscure and to affirm–at once–our status as royal amateurs (bricoleurs with love)?[10] Instead of professional strangers, then, anthropologists become professional amateurs, which is to say professional lovers. We live in and with contradictions.

But if we’re the rubbernecking fowl simmering (love) into the stock, which witches tend us?

Oh, never mind. This hell-broth feels restorative. Let’s let the stock cure.

***

Wait, before we macerate! The witches, the witches. Could it be? Do historians handle the recipe? What if the history of our discipline is the poaching of poached ideas?

The history of anthropology, then, shares ingredients with ethnology or philosophical anthropology. It cooks a stock of raw ethnographies into a soup that we might serve and savor.[11]

The poaching of poached ideas, the simmering of stolen signifiers. Can we stay with all this toil and trouble?[12]

***

I’ve stayed, for some time now, with Maya studies. The ingredient list ranges from epigraphers’ mincing of hieroglyphic minutia to Benjamin Lee Whorf’s strange anthro-theological linguistics, to Harvard students’ companionships–breaking bread, tearing tortillas–in the cool highlands of Cold War-era Chiapas. My current book project does what it can to taste and feel with, or at least nearby, the late Linda Schele, a Mayanist hieroglyph expert and resolutely self-styled amateur who loved the ancient Maya with a fire that I’ll never understand. It’s a love that’s struck me as religious. Linda steamed in a cauldron of ancient Maya signs, including the way sign, a glyph for animal spirit companions like Linda’s other self, the rabbit.[13]

I’ve poached this rabbit for long enough that the stock’s thickened into soup. Primatologically-minded cooks that we are, it’s time to “Cool it with a baboon’s blood, / Then the charm is firm and good” (4.1.37-38).[14]

Rabbit soup’s on the stove, fam! Here’s the ladle; eat while it’s hot.

 

Read another piece in this series.

 

Notes

[1] Cf. Michael H. Agar. 1996. The Professional Stranger: An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. New York: Academic Press.

[2] Adrianna Link, John Tresch and Rosanna Dent, “Editors’ Introduction: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology,” History of Anthropology Newsletter 41 (2017): http://histanthro.org/fields-furrows-and-landmarks/; Sigmund Freud. 2002[1913]. Totem and Taboo. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

[3] Or so it seems, based on his political self-reflections in George W. Stocking Jr. 2010. Glimpses into My Own Black Box: An Exercise in Self-Deconstruction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

[4] Ruth Ozeki. 2006. “The Anthropologists’ Kids.” In Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, edited by Chandra Prasad, 22. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Michael Taussig. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge.

[7] William Shakespeare. 2013[1623]. Macbeth. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

[8] I admit to poaching “poaching” from the poachers, e.g., Kirksey, Eben, Craig Schuetze, and Nick Shapiro. 2011. “Poaching at the Multispecies Salon: Introduction.” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 99/100: 130.

[9] C. S. Lewis. 1950. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: Geoffrey Bles.

[10] On the bricoleur, see Claude Lévi-Strauss. 1966[1962]. The Savage Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

[11] Cf. Claude Lévi-Strauss. 1969. The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, Volume 1, translated by John Weightmann and Doreen Weightmann. New York: Harper and Row.

[12] Donna J. Haraway. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the ChthuluceneDurham, NC: Duke University Press.

[13] Matthew C. Watson. 2014. “The Animal Anthropology of Linda Schele’s Spirits.” Cultural Critique 88.

[14] Shakespeare, Macbeth.

 

 

Authors
Matt Watson: contributions / website / mcwatson@mtholyoke.edu