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Song of Childhood It choked on spinach, on

When the child was a child peas,

It walked with its arms on rice pudding, and on
swinging, steamed cauliflower, and
wanted the brook to be a eats all of those now, and
river, not just because it has to.
the river to be a torrent, When the child was a child,
and this puddle to be the it awoke once in a strange bed,
When the child was a child, and now does so again and
it didn’t know that it was a again.
child, Many people, then, seemed
everything was soulful, beautiful,
and all souls were one. and now only a few do, by
When the child was a child, sheer luck.
it had no opinion about It had visualized a clear
anything, image of Paradise,
had no habits, and now can at most guess,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running, could not conceive of
had a cowlick in its hair, nothingness,
and made no faces when and shudders today at the
photographed. thought.
When the child was a child, When the child was a child,
It was the time for these It played with enthusiasm,
questions: and, now, has just as much
Why am I me, and why not excitement as then,
you? but only when it concerns
Why am I here, and why its work.
not there? When the child was a child,
When did time begin, and It was enough for it to eat
where does space end? an apple, … bread,
Is life under the sun not And so it is even now.
just a dream? When the child was a child,
Is what I see and hear and Berries filled its hand as
smell only berries do,
not just an illusion of a and do even now,
world Fresh walnuts made its
before the world? tongue raw,
Given the facts of evil and and do even now,
people. it had, on every
does evil really exist? mountaintop,
How can it be that I, who I the longing for a higher
am, mountain yet,
didn’t exist before I came and in every city,
to be, the longing for an even
and that, someday, I, who I greater city,
am, and that is still so,
will no longer be who I am? It reached for cherries in
When the child was a child, topmost
branches of trees And waits that way even
with an elation it still has now.
today, When the child was a child,
has a shyness in front of It threw a stick like a lance
strangers, against a tree,
and has that even now. And it quivers there still
It awaited the first snow, today.

Unmarked Inroads to Truth:

Alasdaire MacIntyre and Antirational Ontology
Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, CUNY Graduate Center, 2007
I. Can there be a correct road to ‘enlightenment’? Is rational,

scientific inquiry and its methodological practices the responsible,

surefire way to ‘accurate’ ‘information’? or have we painted ourselves

into a restrictive corner that confines the mind/human abilities for

plugging into whatever ontological or underlying truths may exist?

As anthropologists, we are never far from this question. By definition

our field/work/field-work 's very function comprises an attempt to

reconcile the inherently psychological/personal/nonrational in our

observations of ourselves and eachother with a desire to create work

that is validated by (dare I say) "data." Uniquely in our craft, the self --

so frequently removed from research authorship -- appears and

disappears, like a nervous director on the sidelines of the stage. But in

this receding figure lies great potential: access to an an ancient

ontology left behind by the strictly rational – but can this work have

(lasting) value? Is there accuracy or viability in whatever data we

collect, even as we temper it with the subject?

In our language even now my words have already enrolled in a school

which qualifies the existence of something that might be called "data"

at all -- something that smarts of engagement with what we know to

be the product of Enlightenment thinking. A project which privileges

scientific inquiry and its methodologies above all else in the

determination of "fact," one which forever has attached the idea of

being "enlightened," (a state which it could be argued is in its essence

non-rational) to these modes of thinking and operating.

Through engagement with the work of Alasdaire MacIntyre, the

Anthropologist can enjoy a moment of productive Intellectual

Nomadism1: finding not only sympathetic solace but, too, strategies for

approaching our particular professional conundrum: reconciliation of

the empirical to the self-in-time, self-in-space. It can be, for instance,

incredibly useful for the social scientist to have support suggesting in

no uncertain terms that this Enlightenment idea may have in fact

brought us farther than ever before from a close relationship with

whatever ontology we may have a chance to plug into. To take the

tongue out of the cheek, there is much to be gained from a reading of

MacIntyre’s approach to the problem of an empirically formed view of

epistemology, one that opens new doors in response to “how do we

think”? for every modern layperson -- but in particular, on a

professional level, for the Anthropologist.

One might identify in the development of MacIntyre's body of work

some parallelism with the history of Anthropological thought: his, too,

1 An idea developed in Pierre Laszlo's The Nomadic State, who perhaps even moreso than MacIntyre sees

more alike than different on both sides of "The Science Wars" in the process of "postmoderning

is a path that in turns attempts to qualify its tenuous relationship to

truth "production" -- and/or documentation -- through the acceptance

and then rejection of strict scientism, humanism, psychology, history,

myth, and a move towards less-rational resources: ie, the voice of the

Other/the "subaltern,"2 visual media, literature/prose form, and other

non-traditional forms of description and "method."

In MacIntyre we are re-introduced to possibility. To what one of my

favorite lay-philosophers of this age refers to as "Pronoia"3: the idea

that in our epistemological crisis itself lies richness, lies the ontological

fact rather than its lack. It is a seeming joke in all seriousness…

suggesting we have been wrong all along: in this light, Hume's

approach becomes cause for concern, whereas Kafka is seen as fact

the author of an intuitive, rich, philosophy of science. "There is

perhaps," he writes, "a possible world in which 'empiricism' becomes

the name of a mental illness, while 'paranoia' is the name of a well-

accredited theory of knowledge." (MacIntyre, 1977, p.64) In this

counter-modern reading of our traditions we as social scientists stand

to inherit breathing room from other disciplines and a faith in human

knowledge quantifiable only insofar as linguistically required so that we

may "understand" one another.4

2 later in this paper developed as a form of accepting/priveledging the "anti-rational" as backlash

3 Rob Breszny…. Pronoia is defined as “the suspicion the Universe is conspiring on your behalf.”

4 I can't help but think of Crapanzano, Hermes' Dilemma, here, and be inclined to careen off topic. Crucial
MacIntyre has described the essay, "Epistemological Crises, Dramatic

Narrative, and Philosophy of Science," (1977)5 as marking "a major

turning point in [his] thinking in the 1970's," one in which he began to

move from criticism and "sterile," "negative conclusions,"6 towards a

productive philosophy of virtue and constructive character. The long-

term efforts that were introduced into MacIntyre's thoughts/canon by

this piece not long after culminate in his most well known,

controversial, and influential piece, After Virtue, in 1981.

In The Uses of Philosophy MacIntyre recently commented on the

importance of this essay as, too, marking a shift in his own attempts to

negotiate both “science”7 and materially grounded social science;8 it

to a more involved discussion of the issue at hand however would necessarily be what role our need to use
language to communicate plays in our ability to disengage from an enlightenment method. Even as a non-
empircal approach is herein envisioned, there is innate fixity in the sharing of language that we cannot in
our current state imagine avoiding. (If empathic communication becomes viable, perhaps... ) MacIntyre
does touch on a similar issue regarding cultural functionality (through shared "schemata"; more detail to
follow) that acknowledges this challenge in Epistemological Crises...though language is not the focus of his
argument here.
5 Originally printed in The Monist, this essay has been reprinted multiple times in other periodicals, as
well as compilations of MacIntyre's work (most recently in 2006), and in edited volumes.
6 An early history that makes even more natural a situation of MacIntyre's approach and, too, thesis into the
canon of the Big Men of Existentialism and Phenomenology. It can be considered a positivist reaction to
(even subconsciously, yuk yuk) or a rejection of the nihilistic leanings of the former, but the leading
questions of that tradition are firmly ensconced at the center of MacIntyre's intellectual motivations.
7 In particular, psychology must have appealed to a young MacIntyre as offering a scientific “umbrella” of
sorts between the rational and unrational which so clearly continued to persist in human experience. As this
quote from The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis, (1958) suggests, it was at this point a pretty widely
held consensus that “of the concepts fashioned by recent and contemporary psychology none [had] so
impressed itself upon the public mind as the concept of the unconscious.” Among other reasons, it seemed
to alleviate many of MacIntyre’s (and others’) concerns that, perhaps, this “essentially simple notion seems
able to relate a far wider range of disparate human phenomena and to subsume the wildly abnormal and the
tediously normal activities of human beings under the same headings far more easily than any other
explanatory concept. Seems able, rather than is able, for here I am speaking of claims made and impression
received rather than of facts established.” (MacIntyre, 1958)

8 He moved away, in particular, from earlier attempts at integrating a Marxist perspective -- one could
serves as a signpost, a passage through crisis within his own take on

the episteme – that which leads him to reject empiricism as an

endpoint for critical analysis. One can surmise that this journey was

incredibly personal, as it would later lead him to join the Catholic

church in the mid 1980’s – a bold act for a man of (even social)

“science,” and perhaps one which lends the gravity of non-objectively

derived belief to his conviction that counter-enlightenment processes

continue to be central in (post)-modern experience. It bears noting for

the purpose of dramatic narrative that MacIntyre opted in to religion

after years of writing from a “pure science” perspective, and that this

decision was not prompted by a change of life or the winnowing of

days, but rather came about quite in the midst of health and a

successful career, not long after the publication of After Virtue.

In Epistemological Crises..., then, we are blessed because in this slim

essay we can locate the kernel of MacIntyre's philosophy as he

answers the question: how we know. In these pages he develops a

theory of how our individual judgement comes to be formed (and

therein swiftly handling the "nature/nurture" debate) in relation to

cultural knowledge and dominant methodologies of truth production for

and due to material and/or practical means.

argue, however, there remains some trace overlap in his narrative treatment with the basic tenets of
historical materialism.
Even while commenting on the flawed nature of "reason" MacIntyre

never strays from an understanding of our need for shared conceptual

devices so that we may operate in a society at all like the one in which

we find ourselves -- and it is this which makes a heuristic reading of his

work possible for the practitioner of Anthropology. However, lest it be

suggested that stricture based on a counter-empirical approach (which

I will argue is intrinsically tied to a self-actualized authorship) is any

more viable, let me stress that neither this paper nor MacIntyre's could

-- in keeping with the thesis -- go so far as to demand adherence to

different, opposite, equally flawed "method."

That said, by perusing a brief outline of the essay’s key points, we may

reflect on strategies divergent from the Enlightenment path (in favor

of, cough, enlightenment), identifying key components to the approach

to social science practice embodied in Epistemological Crisis…. This

overview will be followed by a handful of authors/persons who could be

considered to be illustrative of "MacIntyrean Anthropology" -- though

only one finds himself in that discipline, per se. Through these

examples I hope to offer a textual glimmer of another approach, one

that seizes the crisis of representation not as apology or self-

deprecation but as central nerve to the discipline.

So, specifically – why read MacIntyre? As an anthropologist, one asks

oneself what the conversation we are having with this body of work

includes on both sides -- if we are the audience, what is the intention of

the speaker/author? are we meant to merely criticize ourselves anew?

Or is there a more positive outcome? I posit the latter. If we situate

MacIntyre's main points within a heuristic device that guides our

approach to fieldwork/writing, what are we left with? What must we

include, or be careful to avoid?

We don't know ourselves, we knowledgeable people—we are

personally ignorant about ourselves. And there's good reason for that.
We've never tried to find out who we are. How could it ever happen
that one day we'd discover our own selves? With justice it's been said
that "Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also." Our
treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are
always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures
—collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically
concerned with only one thing, to "bring something home." As far as
the rest of life is concerned, what people call "experience"—which of
us is serious enough for that? Who has enough time? In these matters,
I fear, we've been "missing the point."

Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, 1887


Rewinding for a moment, (and with nods to his own thesis) it is crucial

to situate an analysis of MacIntyre’s work within a narrative

intersecting not only with the canon of anthropology but also (broadly,
as our purposes require) within a singular moment in history.

Why is it that MacIntyre, in the mid 1970's, turns his attentions to the

question of empiricism as a justifiable approach to truth-seeking? Why

might the project of the Enlightenment be on the chopping block as

perhaps failing to acheive its lofty ambitions? In MacIntyre's thesis,

even in the "hard" sciences leaps into the unknown are necessary

when a previous theory no longer holds water -- and so it was for

MacIntyre, a philosophical mirror for the state of much brewing around

him. As Darwin followed on the heels of archeological novelty, filling a

gap of knowledge, here we find lacunae of explanation for current

events, psychological tendencies, emotion, guilt, and so too

physical/natural phenomena in our selves and our environment. The

modernity myth is shot through and holding water fast... perhaps the

bomb was not a good idea after all... jesus, what did we do in

Japan/Korea...? architectural modernism has created a glut of ugly,

non-functional cities... can we solve our crises created by rationalism

with rationalism? In response to these sorts of considerations, the

prospect of another answer was surely appealing. So too had "scientific

inquiry" opened up a can of worms with large scale interest in the idea

of the unconscious, which despite its academic roots allowed for mass

consideration of non-rational tendencies and patterns even in our own

brains. So the time was ripe for such a theory -- and for its connection
to the question of ethics and of virtue as it relates to the larger nature

of epistemology.

While "Epistemological Crises..." does not focus on the issue of virtue

per se, in preparation for the evaluation of science as a truth-seeking

methodology, MacIntyre (1977) spends a good deal of effort in setting

up a conceptual framework which explains culture as the sharing of

"schemata which are at one and the same time constitutive of and

normative for intelligible action by [ourselves] and are also a means for

[our] interpretations of the actions of others" (p.55). The development

of our character, he posits, is central to our development of a system

of thought and action altogether, one we develop in our formative

years through fables and other moral devices.

Philosophy, MacIntyre contends, assumes in our adulthood the job

assigned to these tales in the years wherein our schemata are realized.

However, “to raise the question of truth need not entail rejecting myth

or story as the appropriate and perhaps the only appropriate form in

which certain truths can be told.” (59)

An account of how our common schemata -- heretofore entrenched in

the rational, Enlightenment project of science = progress = good and

right -- have trained us to priveledge empiricism as not only viable but

just is central to these linked topics. For it is due to this we have

abandoned and even without our conscious decision discounted our

“non-rational” perceptions and their essential relationships to

"experience" and, critically, "reality."

The scientist is therefore posited as a position of extreme

responsibility; one who claims to seek and determine "truth."

MacIntyre employs this disjuncture to evaluate the project of a

sociology of science and, in particular, the seemingly non-reconcilable

writings of a number of persons on this issue. This is echoed in Laszlo

(2000) who states that "to be a scientist is a gift, which carries a

responsibility. ...part of a social responsibility to the people," situating

what he calls "the science wars" within a postmodern moment in the

1980's, very much the continuation of the conversations MacIntyre

responds to here. Perhaps MacIntyre would be included in one of

Laszlo's camps rather than merely surveying the scene, however, as

the latter pits "scientists against sociologists of science."

In this schema, scientists are said to "fancy themselves the

interpreters, to the polity, of truths about the natural world," while the

second views them as "ideologically motivated" players in a

community hinging on power struggles related to truth-claims. The key

difference is that MacIntyre's condemnation of cartesian thought goes

beyond a war with scientists, per se, to the larger issue of the
ubiquitous adherance to these processes that is reinforced by those in

the business of truth production and analysis. MacIntyre will use his

narrative approach, inclusive of our human experience in which our

scientific forays are embedded, to revive and interpret these warring


What is MacIntyre's intention, then? Is it to find fault with

contemporary sociology of science and/or scientific inquiry? While part

III of his essay focuses his earlier thesis on others' writing regarding

the big question: how do we know, rather than considering the former

mere preparation for the debunking and analysis process therein, the

more productive act for the Anthropologist is to read in this section

how and whereby MacIntyre finds fault with the conclusions (and

somewhat, processes) of Kuhn, Lakatos, Kertesz, and so forth. These

authors thereby become illustrations of incomplete or malfunctional

methodologies, warnings for our own participation in knowledge

seeking and production. MacIntyre ultimately finds, after all, the only

credible driving force behind the insistence on empiricism to be "a

deep desire not to be forced into irrationalist conclusions,"(74), fear of

the suggestion that ultimately we cannot know. We are concerned with

ontological truth and therefore we make it be so -- which upon close

examination, has culminated in the linking of our discrete sciences in

essentially irrational ways to complete this fiction. The only nonfictional

element is the narrative of these leaps and links, the persons who

made them, and their motivations.

So. The brass tacks of a MacIntyrean approach, to apply both

processually and analytically (as he has done with the authors above)

is to be found in Parts I and II, which we have in no particular order

been discussing up to now:

- acknowledgement of shared schemata: a “culture” concept:

MacIntyre illustrates our need to develop moral/rational schemata as
both personal and common ground on which to establish functionality
both as individuals and as common society. A set of common schemata
are given as the basis of a functional “culture” to whom many
individuals will belong and therefore are not only subject but an
operational part of a larger conceptual unit.

- history of the epistemological crisis = history of thought, crisis =

truth: The epistemological crisis is identified as the grating between
our selves/internal narrative and our ability to conceive of externis in a
codified manner. In this moment we lost the ability to render our selves
intelligible, and the schemata appear rival, incompatible.
Unfortunately, the Enlightenment – and particularly its central crisis,
that of Descartes – have inexorably altered our reaction to such a
crisis, in that we cannot escape from “understanding,” (that is,
rationally conceiving of) the experience.

- means by which empiricism came to have a privileged position,

potential in dramatic narrative: Scientific inquiry/rational thought is
thereby established as having the role of ultimate, “modern,”
guidepost for self-evident “truths” via proof/experimentation. As a
counterpoint, narrative/history is suggested as an indication/account of
interpersonal, anti-rational, sensory and perhaps “psychological” truths
that for MacIntyre exist as a continuous whole encompassing jumps
and bouts of “rational” thought, “discoveries,” as well as crises of
(in)comprehension. Fictional narrative (and monologue in particular) is
given as an indication of a more-complete human relationship to
perception but so too then is a historical narrative of knowledge and
the quest for it suggested as a more accurate account of the process
towards truth-discovery than could ever be a meta-analysis of
experimentation, re-experimentation, and the methodological changes

- the position of the self in the narrative condition of expression:

Central to the narrative condition is an acknowledgement of the self –
both as the vessel through which our experience is sieved but also as
always and inescapably shaped by tradition and language, as
inexorable from experience. Theory, too bears “the marks of
[contentious human] encounters…the marks of its passage through
time.” (62) Only time and conflict are constant.

* A central thesis emerges around this point: “dramatic narrative is the

crucial form for the understanding of human action, and… natural
science can be a rational form of enquiry if and only if9the writing of a
true dramatic narrative – that is, of history understood in a particular
way -- can be a rational activity. Scientic reason turns out to be
subordinate to, and intelligible only in terms of historical reason. And if
this is true of the natural sciences, a fortiori it will be true also of the
social sciences.”(66)

- illustration of issue in postwar science criticism/philosophy of science:

In part III, then, the idea of conflict tradition in science is brought to
bear on the Incommensurability thesis, that which attempts to
rationalize the leaps in faith required at moments of crisis in scientific
discovery/explanation. Here MacIntyre suggests this could be
immediately reconciled through an admittance of the authorship and
human conflict within a continuum in which these scientific efforts
were entered.

“ consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who

strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of
the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious
endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me,
if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be
experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose
beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection,
this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder
at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image
of the lofty structure of all that is there.”
Albert Einstein

So while a move towards science may be functionally necessary in

9 My italics. Note that “if and only if,” also notated as iff is the standard notation in logical proofs.
these times, the concept of ethical action (and its narrative source) is

never far away -- for while this leads us in our decision making

processes and our path towards "discovery,"10 so too does our

relationship to virtue get tangled in the priveledged position we give to

a cartesian, rational form in considering the idea of virtue itself. We

confuse too often what is in fact merely historically pertinant "ethics"

with an epic divide between right and wrong, one which MacIntyre

would argue can only, ever, be contextual -- the consistency is in fact

an evershifting narrative that must and needs be historical and

interpersonal in nature.

It has been said that the only thing that we can expect to be consistent

is change itself -- that to desire things to remain the way they have

been, we must allow for change, for it is the only true constant. So too

does MacIntyre introduce the thesis of narrative or history -- and

specifically, a social, dramatic narrative containing non-rational jumps

in "thinking" (occuring at moments of epistemological crisis, cyclically)

-- as the human constant we are ignoring in our strict adhesion to an

empirical meta-analysis of 'methodological' shifts. Leaving his native

Philosophy behind, he suggests attention to use of narrative in fiction

and drama: for there exists in the human, the emotion of such

accounts "information" (for lack of a better word) that is otherwise lost.

10 The purpose of this groundwork for MacIntyre is herein the analysis of scientific inquiry as a valid form
of seeking truth, but the argument for how we come to conceptualize good vs. bad as contextualized actions
(and not ontological narratives) is made generally.
So too, he suggests, do we lose information regarding the “science”

itself when we detach our "findings" from the process of paranoia,

scrapping of old theories and/or methods, and, generally, other leaps

of faith that without fail accompany our greatest breakthroughs in

"scientific inquiry." There exists herein an admission of the intrisic

existence of nonrational conceptualization11 in the scientific process,

one which MacIntyre contends gets us closer to the core of the issue.

“When we approach a civilized man and ask him to take interest in self-
realization, he will say that he simply wants to work to satisfy his stomach
and that there is no need of self-realization for a hungry man.”
from Vedic literature

“Epistemology is always and inevitably personal. The point of the probe is

always in the heart of the explorer: What is my answer to the question of the
nature of knowing?”
G. Bateson, from Naven.


By now as academics we have likely grown weary of the “theory is a

toolbox” adage, but so it remains: ultimately all of these can be

seen/used as tools rather than ends for the practitioner of

anthropology, and my own purpose here is an engagement with how

we as academics, authors, and those engaged in “social” research

(ever more a conundrum than “pure” science) can utilize the narrative,

contextualized form to enliven and bring truth to our accounts even as

11 In an attempt to describe our nonrational perceptions and how it becomes understood, so too is this
paper linguistically trapped in an inability to escape a largely western, Enlightenment notion of “thought”
or “conceptualization” which inherently involves rationalization in its very interpretation via our functional
we include and remove ourselves as participants, in turns.

I will end by suggesting attention to three different disciplinary

approaches to the act of depicting/describing a post-modern

anthropos; practitioners who together are constitutive of an

Anthropology such as MacIntyre might prescribe: the anthropology of

Gregory Bateson, the diaries of Anais Nin, the films of Chris Marker,

and the prose/poetics of Charles Olson. The act of identifying such

candidates and examining their approaches within our heuristic is a

particularly useful exercise, as MacIntyre provides textual analyses of

only natural science on the one hand and literature on the other. The

task of the anthropologist is in some ways similar to that which he

embarks on, perhaps, but no single instance of fieldwork (study of

people, of networks and figures of a necessarily non-empirical nature)

has been put under MacIntyre's lens.

While the work of each strays from empiricism – in fact, none but

Bateson attempts a fieldwork model -- so to does each enter the

moment of epistemological crisis so as to fully realize the human in

their subjects and themselves. Hopefully, these illustrations serve as

constructive suggestions towards an enriched anthropological practice,

one that MacIntyre might find more… ethical.

“It is by now a truism that our ethnographies and ethnologies are always
limited by our social and cultural investment. However critically reflective we
are, we can never attain to an investment-free vision of the way things are.
Wherever there is insight, there is blindness. Wherever there is blindness,
there is insight.”
– Crapanzano, Afterward to Irony and Illness

All these practitioners are anthropologists in their way. Each seeks an

understanding of the modern human subject that eschews the canon

and the ways in which it controls and damns our reading/writing/re-

presentation of what we experience. Each could be called “political,”

for a rejection of institution so often is, but so too is each a model of

individualized methods specific to their own authorship. Is it counter-

rational to cite inspiration?

Gregory Bateson: thoughts on Naven and Ecology of Mind

While the ethnographic text couched within Bateson’s methodological

frame and critical analysis (of both his observations as well as of these

methods themselves) has served as a touchstone for those completing

fieldwork-based writing since its publication (and continues to), I will

posit that what makes the book unique in the canon is the illumination

it offers as a document of disciplinary growing pains.

In its rigorous attempts to qualify and integrate these two

methods, the Naven *becomes* an illuminating account of not only a

cultural ritual but of the Anthropologist caught between

methodological frameworks. Bateson’s answer to the potential conflicts

this presents is to categorically approach and separate his

observations and their psycho-emotional suggestions, a division which

he himself describes as arbitrary and artificial. The reflexivity of his

writing regarding the text’s methodology is prescient, critical, and

honest -- while there may be much to question as to the viability of his

claims regarding the ritual, Naven can offer much as a document of

disciplinary engagement and evolution. An early review of the book’s

initial publication received from Radcliffe-Brown, an admittedly major

influence on Bateson’s approach, described Naven as “the intellectual

adventures of an earnest and capable thinker seeking for a satisfactory

method for the study of human society in all its significant aspects, and

this gives it an importance that perhaps might not attach to a mere

study of a remote new Guinea tribe.”

The voice employed by Bateson rings of a marked effort at

scientific detachment and empiricism -- as if in tandem with his

admission of Ethos and emotion, fallibility and psychosis, he vied to

require doubly from himself a commitment to proof within light of the

previous research paradigm. One aware of the criticism that faced

Boas regarding his questionable data (the methodological gateway to

Mead and Benedict) would have taken pains to avoid similar critique

when making claims outside the realm of “accepted“ categorization,

i.e.: networks of structure and function.

Appropriately, given the contradictions inherent in Naven, the

concept Bateson introduces as central to the performance of the

Iatmul’s titular ritual by is ‘schizmogenesis,’ a process of categorization

by means of discord. Both the framework of the book and the

psychological framework he develops to understand the ethos out of

which the naven is produced and performed are defined dialectically:

through seeming opposites and contradictions that balance to maintain

stasis in both Bateson’s methodology and the Iatmul culture to which

he applies it.

Later work of Bateson – in particular, Steps to an Ecology of

Mind, will return to the concept of schizmogenesis – and herein we

have an anthropologist returning to his own literature, his own words

“holding on to the real” of his Iatmul experience, and criticizing his lack

of contextuality. Both books are enlightening however – the first as a

Hamlet-type account of the self-actualization we can experience in

fieldwork, the second as a critical form still inclusive of the author –

and further, criticizing himself as author, planting himself even more

firmly in a MacIntyrean read by affirming a need for synthesis with a

time-scheme. A beacon of self-actualized practice.

Anais Nin: Diaries :

“Becoming more and more aware of this inner unconscious life we

need a corresponding change in our art forms. The realization that
fantasy and memory are not separate activities but the basic key to
our secret life demands a change of focus, a freedom from old molds,
a technique to encompass new dimensions of character and insight.
“The music, too, has to seek sounds which match our contemporary
moods and sensations.
“The experience of Venice was captured by layered sequences of
images, superimpositions, which combined memories of Venice’s past
with personal dreams of Venice, and the constant presence of Venice
in all its moods, working, cleaning, laundering, daily, homely Venice.”12

Nin is somewhat of a controversial figure, but like MacIntyre (andOlson,

below) can be someone seeking a positivist conception of the self

amongst mid-century ideas of the modern and in particular of the

subconscious. Like a colonial writer her Diaries smart of historical

blunders in language – but so too does this situate her without

question in a particular period of time, space, and cultural/schematic

history. More than carefully selected words an introspective account

such as Nin’s makes clear the situation in which she finds/and against

which she posits her self.

The diaries in particular are illuminating for their empathic descriptions

of the very human goings on of those involved in thought and art

creation in a certain period. The experience is much more so one of

“being there” than nearly any fieldwork I can think of – and this is due

not in small part to its subjective nature, its lack of attempts at

empiricism. I do not suggest that the anthropologist become mere

diarist but a reading of such an account productively asks the question

of whether we ever leave that role in more than our naming of

ourselves. If to write as a diary, complete with internal monologue, is

the most “honest” production we can garner.

In addition, the history of the writing she is producing simultaneously –

12 The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume Five, 1947 – 1955. p 137.
alongside the interpersonal and politic struggles this always involves –

gives a historicity to the material-cultural experience of these days in

the way MacIntyre suggests might verily accompany a chronology of

scientific discoveries.

Chris Marker: from Sans Soleil (1983):

Like Nin, Marker’s mastery could be said to be found in his ability to

capture rather than strangle aura, that which is inexpressible in the

experience of time, place, moment – of what we observe that is not

entirely image or word. His narrative voice is off-camera, reading

letters from yet another unseen, unexplained subject. These

descriptive letters accompany visual documents of various landscapes

– Iceland, Africa, Tokyo. The letters have the sense of those sent home

from the fieldsite – and yet in their personal nature leave behind any

empirical thrust, instead creating in the viewer a separate mental

image sprung from words that accompanies those seen on screen and

the white noise therein.

He described me me his reunion with Tokyo: like a cat who

has come home from vacation in his basket immediately
starts to inspect familiar places. He ran off to see if
everything was where it should be: the Ginza owl, the
Shimbashi locomotive, the temple of the fox at the top of
the Mitsukoshi department store, which he found invaded
by little girls and rock singers. He was told that it was now
little girls who made and unmade stars; the producers
shuddered before them. He was told that a disfigured
woman took off her mask in front of passers-by and
scratched them if they did not find her beautiful.
Everything interested him. He who didn't give a damn if
the Dodgers won the pennant or about the results of the
Daily Double asked feverishly how Chiyonofuji had done in
the last sumo tournament. He asked for news of the
imperial family, of the crown prince, of the oldest mobster
in Tokyo who appears regularly on television to teach
goodness to children. These simple joys he had never felt:
of returning to a country, a house, a family home. But
twelve million anonymous inhabitants could supply him
with them.
He wrote: Tokyo is a city crisscrossed by trains, tied
together with electric wire she shows her veins. They say
that television makes her people illiterate; as for me, I've
never seen so many people reading in the streets. Perhaps
they read only in the street, or perhaps they just pretend
to read—these yellow men. I make my appointments at
Kinokuniya, the big bookshop in Shinjuku. The graphic
genius that allowed the Japanese to invent CinemaScope
ten centuries before the movies compensates a little for
the sad fate of the comic strip heroines, victims of
heartless story writers and of castrating censorship.
Sometimes they escape, and you find them again on the
walls. The entire city is a comic strip; it's Planet Manga.
How can one fail to recognize the statuary that goes from
plasticized baroque to Stalin central? And the giant faces
with eyes that weigh down on the comic book readers,
pictures bigger than people, voyeurizing the voyeurs.

Charles Olson: on A Special View of History: Notes from Black

Mountain and Correspondence

I happened upon Olson late in the game of this self-assigned exercise

and found him a perfect match – also one that helped in the distinction

of the narrative/non-empirical approach extended by MacIntyre as that

which is subjective vs. objective. The emergence of the subject as the

opposite of rationality is extremely different from that which extends

all else into what we envision or call “irrational.” Olson’s relationship

near and with the canon of anthropology (and in particular the Culture

of Personality school, reflected below in correspondence with Ruth

Benedict) is illustrative of a larger correspondence between canonized

methodology and without – reminding us that what we has become

institutionalized is again the result of naming and word-reality ties.

“It is my feeling that the record of fact is become of first importance

for us lost in a sea of question… In New History, the act of the
observer, if his personality is of count, is before, in the collection of the
material. This is where we will cut the knot… I think if you burn the
facts long and hard enough in yourself as crucible, you’ll come to the
few facts that matter, and then fact can be fable again.” – from a letter
to Ruth Benedict

Olson “takes as an epigraph” to A Special View of History a quote from

Heraclitus, suggesting that “man is estranged from that with which he

is most familiar,” a concept that he extends to both ourselves and our

subject. This idea and the deconstruction of it are well suited to the

problem faced by the self-actualized practitioner – particularly in

Olson’s hope, as the text goes on, that we may no longer need to be

thus estranged.

Even as I write these pages I look back and edit, noting my own

learned tendency to slip back behind the curtain to give credence to

my words, to let them stand on their own. Are “words what sticks to

the real”? Jack Spicer wrote that words are “what we hold on with,

nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing

to be tied to.” This work is perhaps intended as a call to let go of the

value we ourselves have given to the words we then seek confidence

in – to free from stricture, to see a window. My mother used to say,

“Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window” – and without

getting into who is playing God, let’s just say – MacIntyre offers just

such a window for those feeling the claustrophobia of the Door of the


Good thing, too.

Works Cited

Crapanzano, Vincent Hermes' Dilemma and Hamlet’s Desire: On the

Epistemology of Interpretation
Harvard University Press, 1992.

Laszlo, Pierre The Nomadic State. With permission from

MacIntyre, Alisdaire "Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative,

and a Philosophy of Science,” (1977), in The Tasks of
Philosophy: Collected Essays. Cambridge University
Press, 2006
After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. University of
California, 1981.

Marker, Chris Sans Soleil. 1983, USA.

Nin, Anais The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume Five: 1947 – 1955.
Harcourt Brace, 1974.

Olson, Charles A Special View of History. University of

Michigan, 1970.
Correspondence with Ruth Benedict excerpted from:
Civil Disobediences: Politics and Poetics in Action, p.
Waldman, Anne. 2004. Coffee House Press.