Thursday, July 31, 2008

Talking Culture

Last week you might have noticed a gap in posting. I was the victim of a bizarre dog-walking incident. I ended up straining a neck muscle and spent two days with my head propped up at just-the-right-angle. The end result was that I could read but not type. And I found myself reading what was within reach which turned out to be a book on the history and theory of anthropology--probably Alan Barnard--but I am avoiding unnecessary twisting movements so you are on your own on that until it comes within my grasp again.

I shudder to say that I got to revisit the 80's and Clifford and Marcus' tortured discussions in Writing Culture and in my confined state, I found my mind thinking about issues of teaching culture over and over and over again. I thought about doing the math but I was afraid I might relieve my neck pain by attempting to remove my head with whatever sharp instrument was within grabbing range if I actually assigned a figure to how many times I have taught the intro course. Some 20 years of at least 4 sections every semester plus summers. That's a lot of talking culture.

One of the problems I battle is that after awhile I forget how I know what I know. I do a bit on Evans-Pritchard's Azande work; you know the wonderful collapsing rice barn "extra step in people's theory of causation" explanation. I change it up and do a semi-fictionalized account using a made up group the "bongo-bongo". I actually stole the idea of fictionalizing the episode from Peter Metcalfe at UVa, at least I think it was Metcalfe but then I remember that I also had Ben Ray's African Religion class at UVa and maybe I got it there. I picked up some other bits after meeting R.S. O'Fahey who knew E-P and then I did, actually, take a class in grad school from Mary Douglas. I usually include a discussion of E-P's conversion to Catholicism pulling in issues of objectivity and personal transformation. And, by then, I become confused about where I get the bits and bobs of the lecture.

Anyway, I have come to learn that the more I lecture the more distance I get from the original material and the more I become concerned with my own objectivity and personal transformation afffecting the lecture. But rather than ponder the nature of the creation of my own partial truth, what Clifford might call my fiction, I go re-read Evans-Pritchard (which makes me more than happy because I adore Evans-Pritchard) and the writings on him. Because, in the end, my audience is not myself, it is my students. And almost every day I need to create an experiential moment with them--score one for the small triumph of a partial truth.

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