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The Anthropologist as Enemy of the Universal

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  • Ian Pitchford
    June 24, 2000 NEW YORK TIMES SHELF LIFE The Anthropologist as Enemy of the Universal By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN ... AVAILABLE LIGHT Anthropological Reflections on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2000
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      June 24, 2000

      The Anthropologist as Enemy of the Universal

      Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics.
      By Clifford Geertz.
      271 pp.
      Princeton University Press. $24.95.


      In his most famous essay, written almost 30 years ago, the anthropologist
      Clifford Geertz dissected the ritual of a Balinese cockfight. In preparation
      for the fight, men would groom choice roosters, nurture them and coddle them. A
      villager would suggestively sit with a bird between his thighs, "bouncing it
      gently up and down to strengthen its legs." And when the time came, a master
      craftsman would fit the bird's legs with razor-sharp spurs and send it into a
      50-foot square ring, to slash another similarly equipped cock, while village
      men bet on which bird would slaughter the other. The owner of the winner would
      eat the loser.

      Full text:


      Available Light : Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics
      by Clifford Geertz
      Hardcover - 288 pages (June 2000)
      Princeton Univ Pr; ISBN: 0691049742
      AMAZON - US
      AMAZON - UK

      Clifford Geertz, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, here
      discusses some of the most urgent issues facing intellectuals today. In this
      collection of personal and revealing essays, he explores the nature of his
      anthropological work in relation to a broader public, serving as the foremost
      spokesperson of his generation of scholars, those who came of age after World
      War II. His reflections are written in a style that both entertains and
      disconcerts, as they engage us in topics ranging from moral relativism to the
      relationship between cultural and psychological differences, from the diversity
      and tension among activist faiths to "ethnic conflict" in today's politics.

      Geertz, who once considered a career in philosophy, begins by explaining how he
      got swept into the revolutionary movement of symbolic anthropology. At that
      point, his work began to encompass not only the ethnography of groups in
      Southeast Asia and North Africa, but also the study of how meaning is made in
      all cultures--or, to use his phrase, to explore the "frames of meaning" in
      which people everywhere live out their lives. His philosophical orientation
      helped him to establish the role of anthropology within broader intellectual
      circles and led him to address the work of such leading thinkers as Charles
      Taylor, Thomas Kuhn, William James, and Jerome Bruner. In this volume, Geertz
      comments on their work as he explores questions in political philosophy,
      psychology, and religion that have intrigued him throughout his career but that
      now hold particular relevance in light of postmodernist thinking and
      multiculturalism. Available Light offers insightful discussions of concepts
      such as nation, identity, country, and self, with a reminder that like symbols
      in general, their meanings are not categorically fixed but grow and change
      through time and place.

      This book treats the reader to an analysis of the American intellectual climate
      by someone who did much to shape it. One can read Available Light both for its
      revelation of public culture in its dynamic, evolving forms and for the story
      it tells about the remarkable adventures of an innovator during the "golden
      years" of American academia.

      About the Author

      Clifford Geertz published his famous work, The Interpretation of Cultures, in
      1973. It influenced a generation of not only anthropologists but also other
      scholars and intellectuals. His most recent book is After the Fact: Two
      Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist. He is currently a faculty member
      at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.
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