Tagged: Writing

What it means

I write a sentence that
goes something like
… the obvious signs
like massacres, bombings,
kidnappings, extorsions…

– and I‘m tempted to end it with
etc.

but realize:

How on earth are words
even remotely reflecting

What that means?

There‘s no way to convey
the meaning of a
massacre
through the word
massacre.

And that clearly is
the preferable solution.

Nevertheless,
and I guess, this is
somehow
the heart of the matter
for me:

I must tell you about it,
about the massacres.
Worse maybe:
I must let you know
what it means.

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13. Reading: Works and Lives

This has been fun! Clifford Geertz is one of those anthropologists whose writing has inspired generations of anthropologists and scholars from other disciplines, as well. I have to admit, however, that I find his theoretical works much more interesting than his fieldwork-based writings. While the latter once are beautifully written stylistically, for my taste they often lack the theoretical vision of his other works. In Works and Lives. The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford University Press, 1988), he dissects the writings styles and construction of a verisimilar perspective on the Other in the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, Bronislaw Malinowski and Ruth Benedict, some of the discipline’s big names.

In six short essays, he shows how these four authors partly owe their place in the discipline to a particular style of writing, each relating to specific aspects of their actual field research, and in alingment with their theoretical proyects. While overall balanced and sensitive to racism and sexism (especially in the cases of the latter three of utmost importance, given their ways into their fields), I found it disappointing to see that only in the essay about the only female anthropologist analyzed in his collection, he found it necessary to speak about her pressumed mental health. While he did judge the other author’s personality traits, only in her case did he go as far as to insinuate “issues”, which was furthermore innecessary to understand her writing.

How did I come across the book?

It was recommended to me by my second supervisor after I presented a chapter on writing affective ethnography at the grad school’s colloquium.

When and where did I read it?

Over the weekend in Konstanz/Zurich. It’s entertaining, insightful and at times very funny. Especially Geertz’s non-fieldwork-based texts have always struck me as beautiful in both scientific and aesthetic aspects, and I am especially thankful for this programmatic advice:

The most direct way to bring field work as personal encounter and ethnography as reliable account together is to make the diary form […] something for the world to read. (p. 84)

6. Reading: Wounds of Passion

I’ve been meaning to read some bell hooks for quite some time, and now that I find myself again in a little crisis about making my work more political, while at the same time exploring and discussing forms of writing, Wound of Passion (1997, Owl Books) came my way. To be honest, it didn’t much help me in both aspects, and especially in the beginning I was tempted to just let it be. But I’m not really good at not finishing books, so I went through with it, and halfway in, it finally hooked me. (Yeah, excellent pun, I know.)

What I liked best about it is probably the way she makes small, everyday problems in a relationship appear meaningful for a feminist project, and how she conveys the subtleties (and often not so subtle ties) of racism and classism. The book gave me a good idea about what intersectionality means “in the real world”, in which one has to provide for oneself. I thought it had little of writing for being subtitled “a writing life”, but then again the fact that it was hard to even find the little space for writing there is, shows how real the struggles hooks describes are.

How did I come across the book?

I was searching for something radical, feminist, by a person of color, on writing, to see if there was any way for me to make discussions about genre more political. I had read a chapter of Black Looks during my bachelor’s degree and remembered her name.

When and where did I read it?

During fieldwork in Bogotá, on several afternoons in cafés, but also on the bus to the library, or before going to bed. I also had it with me on a trip to Chile, where I didn’t look into it, however. On the plane there, it got me involved in a conversation with a priest, who thought (guessing from the cover motive, which shows two hands with red crosses on them) I was reading something religious. He was a little disappointed when I told him what the book was about.

If you want to read books that focus on black women, you better start writing and keep writing. (p.99)

Anthropolandia, year one: A Review

A year has gone by since I posted the first entrance on Anthropolandia, so it is a good time to think about the experience of blogging. While I have been blogging before (the obligatory adolescent year-abroad-Blog, and as part of a blogging network by aspiring journalists and/or writing professionals), trying to write an academic blog meant a steep learning curve. First, academic blogging is so much slower. The amount of detail, the correct sources, the depth I aspire to – all contribute to a different understanding of “time-consuming”. While earlier, this meant the general amount I spent on blogging, today, this is the time that goes into just one good post. Second, and related to this, I think the transition between one and the other is not exactly smooth. Luckily, as an anthropologist, I belong to a species that has experimented with writing styles for quite some time and has developed an enormous tolerance in terms of what language is still considered scientific. In terms of my initial aim to lose fear of the white page, I think I have gotten closer to this, or at least I see Anthropolandia as the experimental space it was meant to be. But when thinking about experiments, I think I am only just starting. I think the new series Vignettes from the Field has an enormous potential for this, and I will try my best to contribute to the series from time to  time.

Statistics

Overall, I am happy with how things are going. There are almost zero days when no-one comes by to see what’s going on here, and I have vistors from almost allover the world! I would really like to have more discussions in the comment sections, especially on the pieces I explicitly ask for my readers opinion, but maybe many of you just aren’t the commenting type of people. The most frequented times change almost weekly, sometimes it’s Monday morning, sometimes Wednesday afternoon, so I assume this has a lot to do with when I publish. The most frequented categories for the first year are Genderella’s Stories, which I appreciate and will try to continue updated. But there seems to be a new trend in the Vignettes, as well, but as the series is young, it doesn’t yet make it to any important place in the yearly stats. In general, you people seem to prefer personal post to the short book reviews, which is understandable. I am sorry to all of you young visitors hoping for a comprehensive storyline-review for some of the novels I have been reading (I’m guessing homework, here?!), but I will not change my reviewing policies. I do the book reviews to remember the impressions a book left on me, for the content I have other systems to turn to.

The Reading List in Retrospect

I made it through 22 books, which is less than I had hoped for, so the first aim for 2017 is to make it to at least 24, that is, two per month. The difficulty clearly is to make it through the whole book, if it doesn’t start promising, or turns out not be useful, etc. Of those 22, five were purely scientific, which is clearly less than I had hoped for. To my defense, there is an unpublished blogpost on all the books I have started but never finished, which is about five times as long. My experience is that monographs are considerably more easy to finish than edited volumes, which is why one of the strategies for this year will be to read more ethnographic monographs. In terms of genre (apart from ethnographies), my taste for novels is obvious. Maybe this year there will be more graphic novels, poetry, or – if I feel adventurous – short stories. For sure, there will be more ethnographies, which I will  try to read as novels. We will see how that works. In terms of diversity, I think I have made an effort. I am somewhat unwilling to assign sexes and gendered identities to the authors I have read this year, since I don’t know how they identify, but I would go as far as to say that I could make more efforts in terms of queerness. Considering race, I could try harder for Latin America (especially considering my specialization in this area), and basically everything east of Germany until getting to the US. At least novel-wise, Latin America as a focus region is already planned for this year.

I clearly have a tendency for contemporary literature, and I don’t really plan to change that. I have a few classics waiting in my bookshelf, but also a serious “Classics” aversion, so I doubt I get very far with this one considering all the other plans I have. Language-wise, it is noticeable that I find reading in English so much more enjoying than anything else… From 22 books, only 5 are in my mothertongue, German, and only one in Spanish – which is a graphic novel, even. For 2017, I plan to continue the English trend, but try to read more Spanish, as well. As I said, there are already several works on the list, and I really hope they will nice to read, because I admit that until now, I haven’t found many Spanish-writing authors that convinced me. Notable exceptions: Roberto Bolaño, Alvaro Cepeda Samudio, and maybe Hector Abad Faciolince and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. No, not Borges, not García Márquez, not Vargas Llosa. And where are the women, by the way?

New Year, new Series, new Reading List

For 2017, I want to focus on science. Reading novels does count as science in two ways: First, reading good books is a way of developing a good writing style, and that is one of the professional aims for this year. Second, if I can focus on novels from and about the region/people I do research on, they might help me to “get into the mood”. But the plan is to read more monographs, on the region, on the people, on the topic,  on things completely unrelated, but monographs, to understand the mechanisms of the format, to gain insights into the topics at an in-depth level, and to be inspired.

Another important aspect will be writing. The new series on Vignettes will play a prominent role here, and maybe others will follow, because I might just as well practice at home. I am hoping to expand the Genderella series, even if I am afraight of finding new things to tell, because really every new chapter is yet another instance of a situation that could have been so much nicer, was the world a different place. To sum up, Anthropolandia is not going to change a lot, but I will try to paymore attention to what I had initially planned for this space: To be about (scientific) reading and writing.

19. Reading: The Transmission of Affect

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004) has been bashed prominently as selectively appropriating neuroscientific research findings, but nevertheless remains a classic on many a reading list on affective transmission. There might be two reasons for this: first, her argument that the idea of boundaries (in relation to human bodies/personal identity) is a culturally specific idea, and second, her absorbing prose. Proposing bodily boundaries as a culturally specific, and therefore non-universal, conception might not sound like a radically new way of seeing things, but considering the time it took until affect and emotions became central research interests in disciplines other than psychoanalysis, it still is a much needed contribution to broadening the scope of what we consider possible and acceptable things of imagining affective transmission. Also, the argument opens up new possibilities in (anthropological) research because it focuses on the relations between peopleand their affects, rather than their interpretations of affects and emotions.

Characterized as “a soul of the nineteenth century” by colleagues, Brennan powerfully and poetically argues for connections between hormones and emotions and what influences both have on each other (because to her, the relation here is more likely of dialectical nature). Up until chapter 4 (The New Paradigm), the book is very rich, focusing on the transmission of affect in a clinical setting as well as in groups, to then elaborate her argument that the social environment is perfectly capable of influencing our biological “hardware” and how social interactions can shape it. From chapter five onwards, Brennan becomes a little more repetetive, but the lasts chapters are also the ones she was not able to revise by herself anymore. She died in an accident, leaving her former assitant and trusted researcher to finish the editing process, which apart from the repetitiveness turned out to be very convincing.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, I don’t remember that anymore.

When and where did I read it?

On a weekend, on the sofa. It is definitely a monograph where this is possible.

 

TechSupport

Sunday afternoon, after a traditional german cake&coffee session, I felt fully motivated to do some work stuff that involves larger amounts of time, yet lesser efforts in thinking: I started a software installing spree to keep up organizing my thesis. I have recently changed from pc to mac, mostly because the keyboard sounds of a mac actually make me want to write. But this change involves some other adjustments too, and so I spent the last four hours simultaneously writing this post and installing everything I felt I could need during Project Thesis. You will find these programs in what I think is the order to go about the research process.

Usually before going to the field, you already read. All those documents want to be filed and catalogued somewhere, so that when you start writing, it will be easier to create in-text-citations and bibliographies that are neatly formated and free from the occasional hand-made typo. There are several options for you here, but I am just going to focus on three: citavi, EndNote, and zotero. The first two are usually available with a license offered from your university, zotero is freeware. With citavi you can also get a free version that allows for projects with up to 100 sources each, however, it’s pc-only, which is why I will have to migrate my data now. EndNote comes as a free online version, too, but keeps limited citation style options, among other restrictions. Personally, I don’t like it’s style and find many of the extra features from the licensed version – like maintaining my cv and writing grant applications from within the program – unnecessary. I kind of liked this introduction to zotero, and will make the reality check for accessibility during the next weeks.

Organizing data from the field will probably be a little more demanding than organizing literature only, and even though all the above offer options to include other sources such as video, audio or image material, you may want to tag and sort all these with a little more space for creativity. This is where atlas.ti, MAXQDA, or Scribe may come in handy. A discussion on pro’s and con’s from the EASA media anthropology mailing list can be found here. Personally, I have no experience with any of these, but will keep you updated on my experiences with Scribe. I decided for it, because it works well importing to zotero, and because I’m a fan of open source software. Not that I would be super informed and able to contribute myself, but because it offers much more independence. Should I change universities, I won’t have to migrate all my data from one program to the next because of different licensing policies. Also, a nice overview of useful open source software for anthropologists can be found here at Stanford.

Then, there’s the horrors of transcribing. Continue reading

3. Reading: The Vulnerable Observer

The Vulnerable Observer by Ruth Behar (1996, Beacon Press) is a mixture of memoir and diasporic ethnography, or maybe more precisely one that crosses borders, both geographically and in genre. The collection of six essays covers a remarkable range of topics: memory, trauma, death rites, classism, racism, feminism, and, most importantly, lessons on how to write and become a good observer. An observer that is touched and committed, and who has no fear of being moved by the stories she comes to know and engage in. Half of the essays have already been published elsewhere, however, especially the one giving the book its title is already another classic on anthropological practice and writing. I was also especially touched by the invisible border that divides the life of two women in My Mexican Friend Marta Who Lives across the Border from Me in Detroit, and the longtime traumatizing effect a childhood injury can have on ones life in The Girl in the Cast. The last one, Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, is a plea for an anthropology that engages and embraces feeling, while at the same time defending another classic in anthropological writing on affect, namely Renato Rosaldo’s Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage.

How did I come across the book?

I’ve known the title for years, and always wanted to read it at some point. Now that I am preparing a seminar for undergraduate students, I could finally get it done. I’m still not sure which of the essays will go into the syllabus, because many offer possibilities on discussing the ways affect works in anthropology.

When and where did I read it?

At work, for work. I read each essay on its own, so it’s been six days in total. One could possibly make it in one session, but since the stories are deeply moving, I preferred to take it slow – you’ve been warned.

The programmatic final of the book can indeed be taken as a poignant summary:

Call it sentimental, call it Victorian and nineteenth century, but I say that anthropology that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore. (p. 177)