Volume 90, #4

Fall 2017


Reciprocal Radicalizing: Commemorating the Work
of James A. Boon

Volume 90, #4 • Fall 2017



Reciprocal Radicalizing: Commemorating
the Work of James A. Boon


INTRODUCTION: The Dilemmas of Appreciation

by Ian Whitmarsh, University of California San Francisco
and Alexander S. Dent, George Washington University


Lévi-Strauss’s Last Laugh—Encore, Encore: A Medley-essay in L’Entre-deux

James A. Boon, University of Princeton

ABSTRACT—For decades I devised commentaries on Lévi-Strauss attuned to the diverse arts his anthropology spans (Boon 1972, 1982, 1989, 1995). Prompted by polymath Kenneth Burke’s “perspectives through incongruity,” I also sidled so-called structuralism alongside alternative “isms” (Symbolism, Functionalism, Romanticism, etc.) and “anti-isms” (deconstruction, cultural interpretation, etc.)—(Boon 1973, 1982a, 1989, 1999). Lévi-Strauss once wove sympathetic recall of my angle on his corpus into “conversations” with Eribon (1988a, 1991b:181). The following piece, spiritedly belated, offers seriocomic reciprocation, with “increase.” (Call it a return-gift, per Marcel Mauss). The interpretive aim remains: augmenting sensory registers of cross-cultural, trans-temporal meaning-and-not, arguably experienced as “embodied metaphor” (Lévi-Strauss 1981:658). [Keywords: Lévi-Strauss again, seriocomic meaning, myth and time


In Search of Adventure: Simmel and Similar Travels Among Ruin

Quetzil E. Castañeda, Indiana University Bloomington

ABSTRACT—This article explores the idea of Adventure as an analytical concept for tourism ethnography. The first task is to understand Simmel’s concept of adventure by re-reading it in relation to Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, and Boon. The second task is to make use of Simmel and similar concepts of adventure in the analysis of a travel story. This travelogue happens to be an ethnography that includes travel to Maya pyramids and is written by ethnographers. The re-reading of these ethnographers’ travel raises additional questions about Simmel’s and similar notions of adventure—what it is, how has it, how to use it analytically. Tactically, this article proceeds by understanding stories, ethnographies, and theories as spatial practices, that is, travel and maybe even adventure. Strategically, the article relies on Boon’s extra-vagant anthropology, specifically the notion of hierarchy in reciprocity, to advocate the use of his travelogical methods in tourism anthropology. [Keywords: Extra-vagant anthropology, Maya ruins, Benjamin, double articulation, tourism anthropology, reciprocity in hierarchy, James A. Boon]


Functionalists Write II: Weird Empathy in Malinowski’s Trobriand Ethnographies

Leo Coleman, Hunter College

ABSTRACT—Offered as a sequel of sorts to James Boon’s “Functionalists Write, too,” this essay examines themes of personhood and aesthetic knowledge in Bronislaw Malinowski’s ethnographies Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic. Focused on the texts and their formal procedures, this analysis highlights moments where Malinowski stages his own empathetic identification with Trobriand forms of life. I argue that the representation of identification as a “falling back” into reality as objective alterity, is an important trope in Malinowski’s descriptive apparatus. Malinowski’s prose produces a doubling of consciousness in the effort to grasp a “real” that traduces Western habits and categories of perception. A close reading of key moments in Malinowski’s Trobriand ethnographies leads to a comparison of the functionalist representation of this “other” reality with modernist art, particularly cubism; this comparison is employed to illuminate the ongoing theoretical power of Malinowski’s methodological experiments. [Keywords: Modernism, ethnographic realism, abstraction, epistemology, otherness]


Some Winks

Talia Dan-Cohen, Washington University In St. Louis

ABSTRACT—Among many other things, Boon is a virtuoso of stylistic self-awareness. In this short piece, I highlight this theme by commenting on Boon’s discussion of Geertz’s writing on Evans-Pritchard. [Keywords: interpretive anthropology, thick description, style]


The Devil in the Deal: Notes Toward an Anthropology of Confidence

Alexander S. Dent, George Washington University

ABSTRACT—This essay uses Melville’s analysis of confidence to look at the importance of uncertainty in contemporary capitalism. I focus, in particular, on the invocation of confidence in political spheres as a way to index ostensibly underlying economic realities. In “The Confidence Man,” Herman Melville proposed that scrutiny of confidence was crucial for any understanding of 19th century America. He posited that, following P. T. Barnum, a larger and larger portion of communicative events were becoming conceivable as “pitches,” where a seller tried to turn his or her interlocutor into a “buyer.” The decision to buy required that the buyer accept the seller’s claims about his subject position at a moment in which the buyer had very little to go on. The appeal of this economistic approach to communication has only increased with time, making an understanding of confidence urgent. Anthropologists of finance and politics in the United States ask us to consider the importance of debt, risk, and precarity. This essay proposes that confidence is the other face of this oft-tossed coin. [Keyword: economics, politics, language, United States, literature]


Cutting It Short: James Boon’s Circumcision

Sander Gilman, Emory University

ABSTRACT—James Boon stressed that circumcision is first and foremost a cultural practice. One of the cultures that interprets circumcision is that of medicine. “Its adversarial position for or against simply reflects again Boon’s claim of its function ‘separating an ‘us’ from a ‘them’ [as] entangled in various discourses of identity and distancing’” (Gilman 2014:71) [Keywords: Circumcision, health exception, James A. Boon]


Aftershocks of Relativity

Carol J. Greenhouse, University of Princeton

ABSTRACT—The essay pursues a rereading of Benedict’s Patterns of Culture as her probing experiement in search of a temporality appropriate to her aspirations for ethnography. Read between the lines of vaious of her sources—works by Durkheim, Boas, Einstein, and Bergson—the originality of Patterns is its unfolding of relativity as a series of temporal formulations. In this regard, she brought her powerful ethnographic imagination to bear on the question of what time it is that sustains relativity’s ethical and intellectual promise. The purpose of my own experiement with Patterns is not to establish definite connections between her readings and writings, questions and answers, but to grasp something of the bold creativity of her engagement. [Keywords: Benedict, Boas, Einstein, Bergson, Durkheim, time, space]


New Bedford, Capital of the Nineteenth Century?

John D. Kelly, University of Chicago

ABSTRACT—Declaring New Bedford, not Paris, capital of the 19th century enables exploration of basic and yet remarkable issues in the relations of capitalism and culture. Paris, the city of light, needed New Bedford, the city that lit up the world. Following Boon, not Benjamin, takes us beyond the dazzle of commodity consumption and into the cultures of enterprise. Melville, not Marx, understands the ontology of enterprise and even its theology. And while Melville anticipates by generations Weber’s interest in the complexities of Protestant ethics of the “fighting Quakers” and their nascent systems of company and finance, his fellow New Bedford resident Frederick Douglass explains the motives of crew, the racial history of work and the significance of freedom in America. Benjamin’s gender-challenged obsession with hunting for hidden, flashing meanings is more than matched by Boon’s tactics for hunting and gathering; Boon teaches methods for non-symptomatic reading that can enable us to articulate race, company, finance and fiery hunt with fetish, class and struggle in the history of capital. Pursuing surprises in the history of New England whaling, we juxtapose the views of C.L.R. James and D.H. Lawrence on race and colonial capitalism, as well as Edmund Burke, Henry David Thoreau, and Thorstein Veblen on the significance and politics of investment. In the end, we return to New Bedford and Paris in the 21st century, not because the dead are not safe, but because Boon has taught us to how to see new meanings living, not dead, even in the very Arcades haunted by the obsessions of Benjamin. [Keywords: Arcades, Melville, Frederick Douglass, enterprise, race, capitalism, America, werewolves]


A Boon for Old Times

Benjamin Lee, The New School and Edward LiPuma, University of Miami

ABSTRACT—Jim Boon, Benjamin Lee, and Edward LiPuma were overlapping graduate students in the University of Chicago’s anthropology department in the early 1970s. At the same time, the business school and economics department were inventing modern finance. The key figures were Frank Knight, one of the founders of the Chicago School of Economics, Clifford Geertz, anthropology professor and one of Jim’s Ph.D. advisors, and Fischer Black, one of the inventors of the Black-Scholes options pricing model, which would revolutionize finance. This piece traces some of the overlapping concerns around meaning, information, and interpretation that are still relevant today in an age of global finance. [Keywords: Risk, uncertainty, noise, efficiency, arbitrage, Black-Scholes, performativity, gift, ritual]


Immanent Human(ism)s: Engagements with James A. Boon

Neni Panourgiá, The New School

ABSTRACT—The “human” is often set apart from the rest of nature on account of the presence of logos, the capacity to reason and construct a deductive argument, and the capacity to imagine, to transpose one’s self to a realm which is numinous and inaccessible to anyone other than the self. Humanity translates that relationship by saturating tactility with meaning: art, literature, structures, war. Anthropology, in its turn, has been imagined as the discipline that would be capable and willing to make legible to the world the translation of this intimate relationship between the numinous and the tactile, to facilitate the efforts of the human to be understood by the world around her, to straddle immanence and the hereafter. If, however, the human becomes decentered from the core of anthropology in a gesture that privileges the non-human in its many genres (the non-human animal, technology, nature in general) what remains as the ethical dispensation of the discipline? If the immanent frame of humanity is threatened only by the human what becomes of anthropology’s engagement? What sorts of futures, what kinds of publics are made possible or become foreclosed? [Keywords: Anthropology, democracy, the human, neo-humanism, epistemology, spaces of exception, medicine, politics]


James Boon: Appreciation and an Invitation

James Peacock, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

ABSTRACT—In the text that follows, I will attempt to appreciate the work of my former student James Boon by offering some reflections on three images or themes from his copious writings: the bride as widow, colonialists living in Bali, and “museums make me sad.” I then expand on my interpretation of these three images, drawing on memory and connections to other themes in our field. Next, I invite Boon and his intellectual successors to consider one implication, namely how an ecological or “ecozoic” perspective could broaden the socio-cultural analysis Boon offers. I finish by framing Boon’s perspective by biographical, personal, and historical reflections on the circumstances that informed his work and development as a scholar, at least to the extent that such circumstances intersected with my own. [Keywords: Symbols, history, Bali, kinship, kingship, marriage, ecozoic, future visions]


Witnessing Chimpanzee–Human Closeness: Jane Goodall at Gombe and Since

Daniel A. Segal, Pitzer College

ABSTRACT—This article identifies a standardized account, now in wide circulation, of Jane Goodall’s “discovery” in 1960 of chimpanzee tool-making, thereby demonstrating (Goodall claimed) the distinctive closeness of chimpanzees and humans. The piece traces this standardized account to Goodall’s own 1971 work, In the Shadow of Man. Comparing the 1971 account of the incident to both a) reports of Goodall’s work before then and b) her own field notes from 1960, the piece shows that Goodall’s 1971 work projected back into the initial moment of observation encodings and interpretations not present in the initial moment of observation. In so doing, the 1971 account empiricized (and de-historicized) its encodings and interpretations. Specifically obscured by this instance of retrospective empiricizing, moreover, is Goodall’s reliance on a functionalist (and thus culture-free) understanding of human tools and tool-making, in her larger claims about the closeness of chimpanzees to humans. A final section of the piece looks at the ideological work done by the pervasive signifying of chimpanzee-human closeness by Goodall’s public persona in our time, taking that persona to be an instance of a rare type—a “serious celebrity.” Along the way, the piece registers elements of historical specificity in Goodall’s relationship to her mentor Louis Leakey, the Gombe field site in Tanzania, professionalized science, and more. [Keywords: Anthropology of knowledge, primatology, Jane Goodall, cultural circulation]


What’s Mine Isn’t (and Neither is What’s Yours): Desire as Debt, the Lacanian Lack, and the Boonian Gift

Ian Whitmarsh, University of California San Francisco

ABSTRACT—This very brief essay is structured by the claim that James Boon’s work suggests the radical idea that Lacanian desire is Mauss’s debt. Boon makes any ethics, discourse, or materiality always between, only existing in the paradoxical turning of a distinction toward its absence elsewhere (and vice versa). I juxtapose texts by Boon, Lacan, and Freud to hear how each emphasizes a paradox that is latent or absent in the other—I listen for each other’s alternating sounds. And I explore what this means for epistemological uses of sexuality, the good, and jouissance. Reading through Žižek and Boon on antinomies of the feminine, the masculine, and their others, I argue that Boon allows a relational androgyny missing in Žižek’s ouvre. Boon’s sense of the carnivalesque makes for an analytic that ties misery to ecstasy, the abject to laughter. I speculate that this tradition suggests that our anthropological empathies might bespeak repressed desire. And I end with Boon’s sense of irony, an ethics of debt toward even what is being renounced. My interest then is to explore the ways Boon’s notion of exchange offers an ethics that is deeply—and richly—unsettling of some of what we hold dear. [Keywords: psychoanalysis, the gift, the good, ethics, repression, father]