Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Week 4: Human - Screening Question

Thoughts on Screening

At the end of The Couple in the Cage, or rather after the end (as it is shown unorthodoxly outside the realm of what is normatively considered the span of the film, i.e. after the credits), is a part of a scene from an older video ethnography. This instance of the scene is a repetition, for it is also featured within the film. Within the film, this footage serves the message of the creators of the film, that is to critique the Eurocentric bias of modern anthropology. However, after the credits the scene plays a role somewhat in opposition to the film's message (although not by any means a polar opposition). By placing the scene outside the film, the anthropologist's problematic claim that he is a neutral observer shows that while trying to expose racial hypocrisy, the film makers are unable to escape the biases associated with Western discourse even as they vilify it. Consider the effects of the film's satirization of the exhibition -- in terms of man and his confrontation with the artificial/illusory condition of the other.


Week 4: Human - Framing Question

Week 4: Human

Framing Question
The readings this week bring into question the notion of self-recognition as a marker of the ‘world forming’ human as distinguished from the ‘poor in world’ animal. This relationship is expressed through various dichotomies introduced in by Agamben in The Open..

--Bichat: animal life (as relational to external world) versus organic life (as habitual succession of assimilation and excretion”) [pg 14]
--Uexkull: umgebung (as objective space in which we see a living being moving) versus umwelt (as the environmental world that is constituted by carriers of significance or of marks which are the only things that interest the animal) [pg 40]
--Heidegger: disinhibitor (as the carrier of significance) and the disinhibiting ring (as the umwelt/ environment) [pg 51]

By way of this vocabulary Agamben formulates the poverty of the animal as resulting from their captivation within their umwelt, which withholds a ‘potential for revelation of being’– a fundamental lack in the relationship with their disinhibitor. A human, however is an “animal that must recognize itself as human to be human” (26) and is thus “awakened from its own captivation to its own captivation” (70). In this awakening the task is assumed to somehow secure the non-open of our captivation through the management of biological life, or rather biopolitics as Foucault posits. Does biopolitics then allow man to come full circle, from the animal - which allowed for the definition of man by comparison to the animal – back to the animal(ization of man) - which the sovereign is trying to ameliorate in longevity and health - ?

Close reading
On pages 253-254 in Society Must be Defended, Foucault introduces 'the power to manufacture and use the atomic bomb' as the paradox which allows a sovereign power to kill while simultaneously killing its (bio)power. He then posits that this resulting excess of biopower produces a biological threat which can only be controlled through the introduction of racism to 1. fragment the biological continuum and to 2. establish a positive relation between wanting to live and needing to kill. With this in mind, does racism then place biopower back within the confines of human sovereignty?


Post to make up absence

Hi guys, this is just my post on the reading to make up for last week's class.

Fabian's treatment of time is very compelling, he skillfully demonstrates that our notion of time, what Benjamin terms "homogeneous empty time," was not the way in which it was treated before. Fabian's claim that the "topos of travel...secularized time" shows how time became to be regarded abstractly, much like the way space is thought of, rather than just the relationship among events of places (6). However I was struck with his use of Darwin:
"The mere lapse of time does nothing either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that element of time is assumed by me to play an all important part in natural selection (14)." I was wondering how we can reconcile this idea with the fact of entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Arguably, time can simply be represented as the marker of entropy in a closed system, so then with this guaranteed disorder entropy implies, how is time not an all encompassing factor in natural selection, which priviliges effective adaptation to a changing (chaotic) environment.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Week 3: Text and Time (Screening)

Q3: In "Nanook of the North," the narrative about the travails of Nanook and his family seems to drive the film, while in "Reassemblage," a narrator comments on the rather disparate images and characters that appear to lack narrative form. In what ways do narratives and narrators function to constitute the subject/object of ethnography? A couple of questions came to mind: In what ways does the "staging" of scenes in Nanook differ from and resemble the editing of sound in "Reassemblage"? How do narrative devices relate to what Trinh T. Minh-ha refers to as not speaking about, but speaking nearby?


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Week 3: Text and Time (Questions group)

Q1: In his discussion of the uses of time in anthropological discourse, Fabian discusses the notion of "coevalness" with reference to the different conceptions of time at work in fieldwork and in the production of anthropological knowledge. How does Fabian define and use coevalness? What does it mean to share time? Is coevalness just a matter of communicating with the subjects/objects of ethnographic research? How does Derrida's notion of arche-writing as violence complicate Fabian's claim that the "reflexive ability" of the ethnographer allows him/her to be "in the presence of others" (91-92)?

Q2: Fabian claims that "it is by diagnosing anthropology's temporal discourse that one rediscovers the obvious, namely that there is no knowledge of the Other which is not also a temporal, historical, a political act" (1). If this is true, in what ways does the "Other" exist? Fabian argues that the "referent" of anthropology is produced in discourse (and also fixed in time). What are the goals of Anthropological Studies if studying the "Other" is ultimately about ourselves and the spreading of our societal ideologies?


Monday, February 8, 2010

Week 2: Writing - Screening Question

In the opening shots of L'Enfant Savauge we hear the voiceover of man as we gaze upon the wild child, while in The Jungle Book the role is reversed. What's at stake in the way in which Mowgli's animal other treats him as the object of study, what does this reversal say about qualities which we call human when it is animals which/that display paternal and authoritative traits often associated with the West's anthropological project?

-SF + AB

Week 2: Writing - Framing and Reading Question

These weeks readings have introduced us both to the process of anthropological study in the ethnographic tale (see “A Writting Lesson”) and its theoretical critique (see Derrida's “The Violence of the Letter,”). Invoked in both of these examples though is a question of difference or differences and the mark(s) they bear (in culture against the other, in the violence of writing). What is at stake in this focus around difference or differences? Does ethnographic work simply make differences rather than mark them as apparent? We see these as framing questions which will be at the heart of the course.

For our close reading we turn to Derrida. Violence is invoked by Derrida as fundamental to the process of writing. In a deconstructionist critique violence, which is synonymous with the act of writing, is essential to understand the written also as always-already dead. In his critique of Lévi-Strauss in Chapter 1 The Violence of the Letter: From Lévi-Strauss, Culture, Writing, Derrida comments on violence and language in relation to Lévi-Strauss' anthropological and ethnographic study which is highlighted in his “A Writing Lesson.”

On Page 112 Derrida lays out three forms of violence, or more carefully “arche-violence[s].”:

  • There was in fact a first violence to be named.”- Naming, a suturing within language.

  • Out of this arche-violence [naming], forbidden and therefore confirmed by a second violence that is reparatory, protective instituting the 'moral,' prescribing the concealment of writing and the effacement and obliteration of the so called proper name which was already dividing the proper...(emphasis ours)”- This second violence unlike naming is the prohibitory act, the law which enforces the “concealment” or “effacement” of the first violence, or naming. In this act the violence is always-already inscribed because the prohibition brings that which is prohibited to light.

  • Out of this arche-violence...a third violence can possibly emerge or not (an empirical possibility) within what is commonly called evil, war indiscretion, rape; which consists of revealing by effraction the so-called proper name, the originary violence which has severed the proper from its property and its self-sameness.”- This third violence is that which ultimately undoes the prohibition of the second violence “by effraction” revealing the “proper name.”

It seems that Derrida reveals that Lévi-Strauss is engaged on the this third level or tertiary violence in his “Writting Lesson” or in the act revealing the proper names of the Nambikwara. Are we to interpret his “Lesson” or the game he plays as violence of this third order? If so, does the deconstructionist critique remove all value of Lévi-Strauss' anthropological theoretical work? Is he not any different from his “American” counterparts who simply mark the “savage” with difference?

In addition, in what sense is Derrida in naming violence, and particularly these three violences (mainly the tertiary which exists only as an “emiprical possibility”) committing the violence he speaks against? How is Derrida to escape the act of violence, or in the act of writing is there only violence, the process of violence always-already occurring within the act?