حول الأليجوريا الإثنوجرافية / On Ethnographic Allegory



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كليفورد, جيمس; Clifford, James; دراز, سيزا قاسم; Kassem-Draz, Céza

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Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[In this article James Clifford argues that ethnographic writing is allegorical at the level of both its content and of its form. The main problem that concerns Clifford is not the rhetorical mode of allegory as it manifests itself in ethnographic accounts, but rather the complexity of the way in which meaning is generated in these accounts. Allegory implies both the emplotment of a story and also the multiplicity of meanings that it generates. How then does ethnographic writing comply with both these characteristics? Clifford uses as a case study the account of Marjorie Shostak The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. In this book he finds different levels of meaning: the life of an aging woman belonging to the !Kung tribe in the Kalahari desert is not only meaningful through its biographical element. It constitutes also an allegory of the difference of cultures and the condition of "humanity" (womanhood). The multiplicity of meaning in Shostak's account is manifested through a braided narrative that presents three different registers-each register presenting a different worldview. The first register is the data about the general framework of the !Kung ways of life, the second that of the life of Nisa (the main protagonist of the book) and the third the experience of Shostak in her relation with her informants. The structure of the second and third registers are basically dialogical. Clifford views allegory as a narrative genre that has the potential to generate, or to displace, other stories. He questions the assumption that ethnographic accounts aim at presenting unmediated facts about other cultures, and do not see themselves as generating allegorical meanings. According to a recent critique of Mead by Freeman (an anthropologist), Mead's book, Coming of Age in Samoa, is in reality an allegory that brings into play the image of a possible America; it is a picture designed to present moral, practical lessons for American society. But Clifford looks at the critique of Freeman also as an allegory that brings into mind the meanings fastened to a universal "human nature." According to Clifford, one of the most pervasive allegories that persistently inform ethnographic accounts, is a structure of retrospection that may be called "ethnographic pastoral." This structure, which Clifford ties to the myth of rescue and salvage, dehistoricizes its objet locating it in a mythical everlasting "edenic" past which is contrasted with a decadent present. Primitive cultures are seen as fragile, disintegrating and losing their values. The ethnographer poses as the authority which can "rescue" these cultures by textualizing them, and examples from anthropological monographs mostly on Africa are presented. Clifford sees that this authority is being questioned now, and that this operation of salvaging denies these cultures the capacity of adapting to the flux of history and also places the ethnographer beyond the responsibility of involvement in his/her present society. In concluding, Clifford sees that allegory is inescapable in the transformation of cultural data into text. Although the story of the transformation of the oral/aural into writing is a long and complicated story, today the world cannot be divided between literate and non-literate societies, and the authority of this transformation is not in the hands of the ethnographer but rather has become an endeavour of an intersubjective dialogue. Meanings must remain open-ended leaving interpretation into the hands of the readers, but must nevertheless be inscribed within a historical locus.]

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