Quotes

Far Afield

This book was published in French under the title L’Adieu au voyage. This phrase is an allusion to the last page of Tristes Tropiques, in which Claude Lévi-Strauss invites us to seize the essence of humankind not through geographical or anthropological explorations of the planet (“fond farewell to savages and explorations!”), but through the ephemeral contemplation of the works of nature: a crystal, a perfume, or, famously, the eye of a cat. In my mind, this phrase did not refer to such a project, and even less to some historical moment: the farewell to journeying does not designate some historical realization through which, after explorations and empires, the West would observe with bitterness the end of exoticism or the vanishing of differences (these topoi date back at least to the eighteenth century). It designates rather a moment within ethnography, through which the anthropologist relinquishes any idealized conception of difference. It is thus not only a farewell to some idealized Other, but also a farewell to oneself, in other words the redefinition of the relationship between subject and object. Like in Lévi-Strauss’s original phrasing, the farewell to the journey does not point to any conclusion, or disenchantment, but to the reconfiguration of a relationship, a twofold process of objectivation and subjectivation.

— From the Preface to the English Edition of Vincent Debeane’s Far Afield: French Anthropology Between Science & Literature

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Ian Hacking, “The Looping Effects of Human Kinds” in Downes & Machery (eds.) Arguing About Human Nature

I have no doubt that nature has kinds which we distinguish.  Some seem fairly cosmic: quarks, probably genes, possibly cystic fibrosis.  Others are mundane: mud, the common cold, headlands, sunsets.  The common cold is as real as cystic fibrosis, and sunsets are as real as quarks.  More law-like regularities are known about mud than quarks–known to youths who play football, parents who do family laundry, and to mud engineers on oil rig sites.  The regularities of mud do not have profound consequences for theoreticians.  That does not make mud any the less a natural kind of stuff.”

At the Den of the Sick Lion: Radkau on Weber

Max Weber
Max Weber: a biography by Joachim Radkau (Polity Press)

In one of Aesop’s fables a fox comes to the den of a sick lion. the lion calls out for him to enter, but the cunning fox remains outside. ‘Why won’t you come in?’ the lion asks. And the fox answers: ‘I’d come straight away if I didn’t see a lot of tracks going in but none coming out.’. In Horace’s version: ‘Vestigia terrent‘, ‘The footprints are scary’; it has become a familiar quotation. Weber gave the impression of a sick lion to those who saw him during his illness–though certainly a lion without danger. This ‘vestigia terrent‘ kept going through my head as I ventured deeper into the field of Weber studies. Was it wise of me? Doubts rose up again and again. here too there were many tracks going in but few coming out. I had been used to conducting research on open ground, on the outer edges of the social sciences fraternity. But now Weber had landed me right at the centre, where space is tight and you can feel the elbows pushing.

“At the Den of the Sick Lion,” in Max Weber: a biography by Joachim Radkau

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“Language and Crime” from Roland Barthes’ Sade, Fourier, Loyola

Anthropoliteia

Sade, Fourier, Loyola

Let us (if we can) imagine a society without language.  Here is a man copulating with a woman, a tergo, and using in the act a bit of wheat paste.  On this level, no perversion.  Only by the progressive addition of some nouns does the crime gradually develop, grow in volume, in consistency, and attain the highest degree of transgression.  the man is called the father of the woman he is possessing, who is described as being married; the amorous act is ignominiously termed sodomy; and the bit of bread bizarrely associated in this act becomes, under the noun host, a religious symbol whose flouting is sacrilege.  Sade excells in collecting this pile of language: for him, the sentence has this function of founding crime: the syntax, refined by centuries of culture, becomes an elegant (in the sense we use the word…

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