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Messages - Huon Wardle

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Discussions / Re: Erich Fromm on the rise of political authoritarianism
« on: October 18, 2017, 12:37:32 PM »
Let us hope that Essay Champ doesn't produce the kind of garble you just did, Amanda, -- otherwise, as a marker of essays, I will have to read a large amount of the textual equivalent of semi-cooked scrambled egg before I fail the students in question. Or is it huevos revolcones?



That, I think wraps up the seminar.

Many thanks, Marcio, for opening this piece for discussion--particularly under the slightly experimental situation that is the new OAC. From this side we look forward to further developments. Thanks to all who participated.

Thanks again Marcio. I like the idea of an experimental 'I don't know' that can be used to foreground various combinations of ontological clarity and semantic obscurity or alternatively semantic clarity and ontological obscurity. This reminds me a little of Gluckman's notion that there may be a necessary kind of 'naivety' that comes with the need for ethnographic 'compression' ('Closed Systems, Open Minds')[/size]. Now I look at it again, I also have some doubts about Graeber's notion that his Malagasy informants saying 'I don't know', and his own 'I don't know', form something to 'talk about' a sort of common sense ground. The claim is intriguing but has not solved the question: everyone seems to be on the 'same page', there appears to be semantic and ontological clarity, but is there?

[/size]It makes me think on the one hand of the people I am familiar with in Jamaica who say 'I don't believe in Obeah' but do not mean by this that 'Obeah is not real' (which might have once been my first guess at a translation). Contrastingly I have often heard people say 'I don't believe in God, I know God'. This time 'believe' suggests 'not knowing for sure' whereas 'I know God' seems to underline rhetorically and semantically the absolute clarity of the ontological knowledge involved. But this cannot be transferred to 'I don't believe in Obeah' because 'believe' here means something like 'it has no efficacy when directed at me'.

[/size]Now I think of another situation I have written about where a friend of mine, Jeanette, hears the voices of spirits. She is in no doubt about the ontological characteristics of these spirit voices--they come at certain times of day, speak in certain tones of voice and so on. She does not absolutely know what they want. She does sometimes question her own sanity,--whether her knowledge is that of a notionally sane person. She equally does view herself as specially chosen to receive these spirit voices. So one sees a person sometimes committing strongly, sometimes doubting or ambiguating, sometimes strongly rejecting certain framings of knowing and so on.

I liked this comment of Avi's:
[/size]Hence what is of interest is not coherently describing 'a culture', nor attributing special others with radical alterity per se, but looking at the incoherency between people, their ideas, and between anthropologist and people, as from that one can start to recognise how 'unknowns' manifest themselves in people's cosmologies. And do so as part of negotiating, dominating, possessing, serving for/with the interests of living humans i.e. cosmopolitics. [/size]
Hence what is of interest is not coherently describing 'a culture', nor attributing special others with radical alterity per se, but looking at the incoherency between people, their ideas, and between anthropologist and people, as from that one can start to recognise how 'unknowns' manifest themselves in people's cosmologies. And do so as part of negotiating, dominating, possessing, serving for/with the interests of living humans i.e. cosmopolitics.

[/size]More a comment than a question, Marcio, but intended to indicate how suggestive I have found your discussion.


Yes, again I am thinking along John's line when he asks what kind of methodological or pragmatic difference this 'I don't know' will make to fieldwork experience and analysis. Similarly where will this particular kind of 'I don't know' sit in the organisation of a description and analysis.

My field has been the anglophone Caribbean so I tend to see the issue of 'reality' in creolised terms -- creole language and symbol takes in a complexly contoured continuum. There may be a spectrum of 'I don't knows' that come into play situationally rather as there can be many kinds of green-blue. I mentioned the urban visitors to Maroon territory talking about possession rites there as a 'jollification'. To me this is itself one kind of 'I don't know' couched in a respectable term which nonetheless indexes fundamental ambiguity. I often hear Jamaican friends say 'I don't believe in Obeah(witchcraft)' but they don't mean that they discredit the 'reality' of Obeah tout court they mean that in their current subjective situation  Obeah cannot harm them, though it can still harm.

Recently in Jamaica, cheap DVDs of Nigerian soap operas became popular, these often involve sorcerers, love magic and so on, all of which are easily incorporated into the creole complex as dramatisations of 'obeah'.

Which makes me think of Tom Stoppard's play Hapgood;

"There is a straight ladder from the atom to the grain of sand, and the only real mystery is the missing rung. Below it, particle physics. Above it, classical physics. But in between, metaphysics."

John, the tab with a globe does links.

It is quite a push under current university regimes to find time to participate in any intellectual activity not coded by the university and its wider bureaucracy as useful, so thanks, Marcio, for making the time to respond.

I think John has a good point when he says that the Sci-Fi or Marvel fan etc. may have an equal capacity to bracket the reality of the beings they are dealing with as the anthropologist sometimes has -- the question then becomes why or 'to what end?'. In truth the internet makes these kinds of bracketings much more visible by juxtaposition. Sometimes this causes friction or even rage -- Kellyane Conway's 'alternative facts' for instance, sometimes it passes without comment or with some kind of ambiguation or rhetorical smoothing over. Your reference to Stengers and the idea that the cosmos insists on politics seems ever more relevant in this kind of context of communication.

I wanted to go in two directions. In the 60s Donald Hogg wrote a very intriguing ethnography of a possession cult called Convince in Jamaica. Possession was part of religious ceremonies that were local to Windward Maroons in the Blue Mountains. However, these Maroon ceremonies were also attended by visitors from the capital, Kingston. The visitors talked about their activities as an outing and a 'jollification', i.e. as something ludic or humorous. The same people would attend their own pentecostal churches in town where they themselves might become 'caught' by the holy spirit. Under other circumstances they might perhaps say that Convince was just 'obeah' (witchcraft). Some of the differences were played out linguistically in the different kinds of creole language spoken by the Maroons and the townspeople. So there may be a spectrum of kinds of reality for different people at an event like this and even for the same people at different moments-- e.g. people can complain that a certain person is 'faking it' or disagree about music or ritual procedures and so on.

Going back to politics, we might think of how in ancient Italy, a main aim of warfare was to capture the lares or protective gods of the community under attack, or of how Socrates was accused of failing to acknowledge the gods that Athens acknowledged and instead introducing new deities into the polis.

Both of these cases make me wonder about the connection between the mesopolitics of Candomble and the wider or macropolitics of the Brazilian state. Candomble officiants are also members of a Brazilian public so how do they act in this wider sphere, do they leave their gods at the temple when they go to vote or to the rally? On the other side, I know respected Brazilian logicians who enjoy going to Candomble at the weekend but return to the reality of their job during the week. Sidney Greenfield's book about the mixing of biomedical and spiritist approaches to healing in Brazil springs to mind as another example of the spectrum on which these realities play out. So, going back to Stengers' point that the cosmos insists on politics -- is that not a call to look at how the politics of the cosmos works beyond the temple as much as within it?

First, Marcio, many thanks for joining us to answer questions and respond to comments on this wonderfully well described and considered ethnography of an event of possession in a Candomblé ceremony. We have our own slightly chaotic and comparably unpredictable situation underway here at the OAC which involves moving operations to a new website which is still partly under construction. I am putting my questions early since I am travelling to a part of rural England tomorrow where there may be no internet available. All of which can perhaps offer a context and mixed metaphor for some of the anthropological ideas I want to put in play here on reading your paper; and I apologise because this summarising comment cannot do justice to the complexity and subtlety of the paper itself:

You begin by narrating a situation that must be familiar to many anthropologists in a field situation — a greater or lesser sense of frustration attending a ritual or ritualised event whose formal sequence could be achieved quickly enough: so why not just get on with it? Why the need for disruptive arguments that only string things out in the boiling heat? I could picture this situation very well; I have ‘been there’ many times both in a quotidian, and in Geertz’s more pompous, sense. As you point out, part of this ennui comes from prior intellectual and perceptual commitments. The dominant approaches in anthropology toward understanding spirit possession have seen it either as a marker or moment of social structural process—the structural functionalism of I.M. Lewis— or in terms of the etiology of mental illness— Bourguignon and others. In the first account possession is simply a signifier in a system that could as well use some other marker; in the latter approach possession is a natural pathology refigured by a particular culture. But, as you say, there is a deeper-rooted epistemological issue involved and it concerns how ‘politics' is defined. You put it down to the Greeks, but it is certainly the liberal Enlightenment view, that politics is a matter for rational decision by individual humans. Gods and other non-humans should have no say; separate the powers or risk a dangerous (irrational) mishmash. Certainly, there can be moments of ceremonial as part of politics, with deities and superhuman beings appearing at the fringes giving politics an artistic quality; just don’t mix things up. Contrarily, there are a variety of challenges to this expectation at present whether these are coming from the claims of Gaia, multinational corporate persons, computer viruses, — a whole range of non-humans messing with human politics. As Latour points out it becomes impossible to hold the line.

However, when we see politics being conducted in the Candomblé temple with humans and non-human deities, mixing what is supposed to be separate according to the post-eniightenment set-up, then our intuitive reaction may be that this is frustrating what ought to be the real politics of everyday life and its true representatives. Now, at this point the reader may cast their mind back to the short comment, — apparently an aside made at the conference but one you chose to leave in the paper here, — where you say that 'we are facing right now a coup d’état in Brazil and that we are trying to resist to it’. This is a statement about contemporary ‘politics’ at the head of a paper whose primary aim is to critique anthropologists' political expectations. So, going back to Geertz should we expect to read the paper itself both as a description and analysis in its own right and also as an allegory about this other object — the Brazilian politics of coup d'etat that appears only briefly and off-stage? What are the wider lessons for the meaning of ‘politics’ which seems, globally, to have acquired qualities of strangeness for people previously associated with the anthropologist who mumbles a ‘we don’t know’ in the face of their ethnographic situation?

Welcome to the new home for OAC seminars.

From the 15th March Marcio Goldman will be joining us to discuss his paper 'The Ontology of Possession in Bahian Candomblé'.

The seminar will initially run for a week from the 15th - 29th of March 2017.

In advance of the seminar we encourage readers to explore the paper:

Click here to READ ONLINE  - Click here to DOWNLOAD

OAC Seminars take place online but with the process of question and response spread out over a fortnight. Once you have had time to read the paper you are invited to comment and discuss during the two week time frame. The seminar takes places in the form of an online conversation with replies posted in the thread below. In some cases we will also open a discussion on as well where members can also join the dialogue.

Discussions / Re: Opening a seminar and... How Does All This Work?
« on: March 06, 2017, 09:11:59 AM »
This all looks great now, Avi.  with some additional features that I havent tried yet.

Help from Administrator / Re: Suggested or disliked features
« on: March 03, 2017, 12:51:55 PM »
Avi, I have been trying out a bunch of things with the site (see posts here,9.0.html )

There are three main things we need to sort out:

1. Setting up a seminar doesn't do much at the moment.

2. in posts, you cannot seem to link to other webpages -- or perhaps I havent seen how.

3. most article length files are 'too large' to attach to a post at the moment.

From messing around I find that the general usability of the site for typical OAC purposes is very good, the ability to modify messages for example.

Discussions / Re: Opening a seminar and... How Does All This Work?
« on: March 03, 2017, 12:37:33 PM »
OK, now you can attach a document, or perhaps I just missed this: --- But there is a problem. All the files I try to post are 'too large' even though they are standard pdfs I use all the time.

I did manage to upload a bus timetable which at less than 100KB seemed to be acceptable, but not much scope there.

Any means to add a link, though? Have I missed something.

Discussions / Erich Fromm on the rise of political authoritarianism
« on: March 01, 2017, 02:24:32 PM »
Erich Fromm: "Ideas often are consciously accepted by certain groups, which, on account of the peculiarities of their social character, are not really touched by them; such ideas remain a stock of conscious convictions, but people fail to act according to them in a critical hour. An example of this is shown in the German labour movement at the time of the victory of Nazism. The vast majority of German workers before Hitler’s coming into power voted for Socialist or Communist Parties and believed in the ideas of those parties; that is, the range of these ideas among the working class was extremely wide. The weight of these ideas, however, was in no proportion to their range. The onslaught of Nazism did not meet with political opponents, the majority of whom were ready to fight for their ideas. Many of the adherents of the leftist parties, although they believed in their party programmes as long as the parties had authority, were ready to resign when the hour of crisis arrived. A close analysis of the character structure of German workers can show one reason – certainly not the only one – for this phenomenon. A great number of them were of a personality type that has many of the traits of what we have described as the authoritarian character. They had a deep-seated respect and longing for established authority. The emphasis of socialism on individual independence versus authority, on solidarity versus individualistic seclusion, was not what many of these workers really wanted on the basis of their personality structure. One mistake of the radical leaders was to estimate the strength of their parties only on the basis of the range which these ideas had, and to overlook their lack of weight."

and a reply to see how this works.

I currently have the highest 'karma' on this site (1). What does this mean, I wonder?

I have 'sent' this topic by email to John McCreery -- I am going to see what happens and if he will help troubleshoot these pages.

Discussions / Opening a seminar and... How Does All This Work?
« on: March 01, 2017, 12:21:19 PM »
Here we are, once again at the beginning of a new OAC project  ;) So I am trying out the functions of this new site. One thing I am noticing is that there are 16 emoticons but you can't attach a document or create a link to another page. Let us see how things unfold... We need to have both those functions working so that we can host Marcio Goldman's (and other upcoming) papers over the coming months.

I now notice that I can modify messages (indefinitely) in a way that I could not in the past. This looks good in principle (better edited , better thought through replies) . But, what effect will that have on dialogue?

What about putting an image -- is there a way of doing that?

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