Unreal Nature

December 18, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… The social drama is an eruption from the level surface of ongoing social life …

This is from On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience by Victor Turner (1985):

… For years I have dreamed of a liberated anthropology. By “liberated” I mean free from certain prejudices that have become distinctive features of the literary genre known as “anthropological works,” whether these are field monographs, comparative studies, or textbooks. Such features have included: a systematic dehumanizing of the human subjects of study, regarding them as the bearers of an impersonal “culture,” or wax to be imprinted with “cultural patterns,” or as determined by social, cultural, or social psychological “forces,” “variables,” or “pressures” of various kinds, the primacy of which is still contested by different schools or coteries of anthropologists. Briefly, this genre apes natural scientific treatises in style and intention– treatises which reflect the thinking of that period of five centuries which in the West is known as the “modern era.”

… Within anthropology there was a tendency to represent social reality as stable and immutable, a harmonious configuration governed by mutually compatible and logically interrelated principles. There was a general preoccupation with consistency and congruence.

… During my fieldwork I became disillusioned with the fashionable stress on fit and congruence, shared by both functionalism and different types of structuralism. I came to see a social system or “field” rather as a set of loosely integrated processes, with some patterned aspects, some persistences of form, but controlled by discrepant principles of action expressed in rules of custom that are often situationally incompatible with one another.

… Postmodern theory would see in the very flaws, hesitations, personal factors, incomplete, elliptical, context-dependent, situational components of performance, clues to the very nature of human process itself, and would also perceive genuine novelty, creativeness, as able to emerge from the freedom of the performance situation, from what Durkheim (in his best moment) called social “effervescence,” exemplified for him in the generation of new symbols and meanings by the public actions, the “performances,” of the French Revolution. What was once considered “contaminated,” “promiscuous,” “impure” is becoming the focus of postmodern analytical attention.

… Processes of situational adjustment involve both the exploitation of indeterminacies in sociocultural situations and the actual generation of such indeterminacies. Or they may be concerned with the reinterpretation or redefinition of rules and relationships.

… Performances are never amorphous or open-ended, they have diachronic structure, a beginning, a sequence of overlapping but isolable phases, and an end. But their structure is not that of an abstract system; it is generated out of the dialectical oppositions of processes and of levels of process. In the modern consciousness, cognition, idea, rationality, were paramount. In the postmodern turn, cognition is not dethroned but rather takes its place on an equal footing with volition and affect.

… If man is a sapient animal, a toolmaking animal, a self-making animal, a symbol-using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal, Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps, that a circus animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that man is a self-performing animal — his performances are, in a way, reflexive; in performing he reveals himself to himself. This can be in two ways: the actor may come to know himself better through acting or enactment; or one set of human beings may come to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings.

… Structure is always ancillary to, dependent on, secreted from process. And performances, particularly dramatic performances, are the manifestations par excellence of human social process.

In saying these things I reveal myself an adherent of that epistemological tradition which stresses what Wilhelm Dilthey calls “lived experience.”

… for Dilthey the Weltanschauung is not a permanent, fixed structure of eternal ideas but itself represents at any given moment a dispensable stage in mankind’s unending struggle to find a convincing solution to what Dilthey calls “the riddle of life.” He seems to mean by this the mysteries and paradoxes that surround the great crises of birth, mating, and death, the seasonal round, and its perils of drought, flood, famine, and disease, the endless battle of man’s rational activity against the forces and necessities of nonhuman nature, the never-ending task of satisfying with limited means his unlimited appetites, the paradoxes of social control in which a person’s or group’s loyalty to one legitimate cause, or moral principle, automatically renders them disloyal to others equally valid — in summary, the whole mystery of  humanity in the world.

… It is in the social drama that Weltanschauungen become visible, if only fragmentarily, as factors giving meaning to deeds that may seem at first sight meaningless. The performative genres are, as it were, secreted from the social drama and in turn surround it and feed their performed meanings back into it.

The social drama is an eruption from the level surface of ongoing social life, with its interactions, transactions, reciprocities, its customs making for regular, orderly sequences of behavior. It is propelled by passions, compelled by volitions, and it overmasters at times any rational considerations. Yet reason plays a major role in the settlement of disputes which take the sociodramatic form, particularly during the redressive phase — though here again nonrational factors may come into play if rituals are performed (performance here being in terms of regularizing process) to redress the disputes.

… From the standpoint of relatively well-regulated, more or less accurately operational, methodical, orderly social life, social dramas have a “liminal” or “threshold” character. The latter term is derived from a Germanic base which means “thrash” or “thresh,” a place where grain is beaten out from its husk, where what has been hidden is thus manifested.

… The encounter of past and present in redressive process always leaves open the question whether precedent (Moore’s “processes of regularization”) or the unprecedented will provide the terminal “meaning” of any problem situation.

My previous post from Turner’s book is here.



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