|Social scientists involved in the study of the Other, virtually from the inception of the disciplines (sociology, anthropology, psychology), have long partaken in the confessional, often in the form of a diary published long after the success of the initial study. These confessions often belie the egregious difference between the apparent interaction of the scientist and his or her society-of-study and the reality of the scientist's lived life. Situating his study in the postmodern scholarship on the nature of identity formation, Lawrence Phillips examines Levi-Strauss' and Malinowski's now infamous diaries and the discrepancies between their role as scientists and their -- very -- human lives.|
Writing Identity into Space: Ethnography, Autobiography, and Space in Bronislaw Malinowski's A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term and Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques [printable version]
Experience lives and proclaims itself as the exclusion of writing, that is to say of the invoking of an "exterior", "sensible", "spatial" signifier interrupting self-presence.
<1> From a number of disciplinary perspectives autobiography has always presented a challenge to more or less discrete modes of reading and evaluating the text. To read autobiography as a literary text is to suppress its close relationship to the writer, however fictionalised and evasive the writing subject might be about a textual identity so closely related to his or her public persona. On the other hand, to read it as history or a documentary presentation of "a life" is to fail to acknowledge the heavy use of literary techniques and imbedded subjectivity that makes autobiography what it is. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss the autobiographical text as simply flawed, constructed too heavily from facts to be literary, or too subjective to be history. Like it or not, both the literary critic and the historian cannot leave autobiography alone (although both disciplines would rather ignore its problematic relationship to both literature and history). For the literary critic the problem remains the applicability of extra-textual material to reading of the literary text, and for the historian the reliability of the autobiographical source in relation to the historical archive, elsewhere the contradiction lies much deeper.
<2> The ethnographer is engaged in a practice that begins with physical interaction with (generally) an unfamiliar social praxis in which he or she is very much present as an interlocutor. The ethnographer is assumed to have scientific objectivity, yet is invested with an unusual capacity to foreground ontological experience through autobiography. In effect, personal experience is translated into an epistemology that generates "facts." This process necessitates an extremely self-conscious process of textualisation -- "writing-up" -- of a praxis that is, in effect, not merely the experience of a society or a culture, but its spatial expression. The ethnographer might also be radically displaced in space, both in terms of his or her object of study during fieldwork, but also when writing-up back in the academy, safely estranged from the face-to-face reality of that contact. What particularly interests me in the tension created by these "positions" is the way that such ontological material destabilises the conscious efforts by ethnographers to excise its import through the imposition of anthropological, "scientific," discourse. This dynamic has been the preoccupation of a self-referential strain within anthropology that is recognisable from at least the 1960s, and which has provoked some fascinating experimental writing. Two quotations, one from Clifford Geertz and the other from Pierre Bourdieu, between them admirably delineate the ambiguity that exists:
[The anthropologist's] personal relationship to his object of study is, perhaps, more than any other scientist, inevitably problematic. Know what he thinks a savage is and you have the key to his work. You know what he thinks himself is and, knowing what he thinks himself is, you know in general what sort of thing he is going to say about whatever tribe he happens to be studying. All ethnography is part philosophy, and a good deal of the rest is confession. (Geertz 1967: 25)
The anthropologist's relation to the object of his study is filled with the makings of a theoretical distortion in as much as his situation as an observer, excluded from the real play of social activities by the fact that he has no place (except by choice or by way of a game) in the system observed, inclines him to a hermeneutic representation of practices, leading him to reduce all social relations to communicative relations and, more precisely, to decoding operations...Exaltation of the virtues of distance secured by externality simply transmutes into an epistemological choice the anthropologist's objective situation, that of an "impartial spectator" as Husserl puts it, condemned to see all practice as spectacle. (Richards 1992: 209)
<3> Of course, the actual presentation of personal experience differs between different schools of ethnography, ranging from the very impersonal as in Malinowski's work, to the self-conscious, as in Geertz's work. Yet regardless of these variations of rhetorical strategy, the anthropologist's practice produces a discursive space of considerable ambiguity. While neither conventional ethnographies, the two texts on which I focus in this paper reflect the sub-text, the excised material behind two influential bodies of work to the point of bringing ethnography palpably into crisis. Within anthropology they jointly constitute something of a cause célèbre. Malinowski's diary of around nineteen months of field research conducted in New Guinea between September 1914 and July 1918, with breaks in Australia, A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, is a compelling, disturbing, and acutely raw read even for the non-anthropologist. For the prospective ethnographer it bring into stark contradiction the very foundation of the "impartial observer." By contrast the ultra-urbane sophistication of Claude Lévi-Strauss's labyrinthine book, Tristes Tropiques, affects an epistemological transformation produced as a personal dramatisation, which implies that all "scientific" truth is a kind of theatre of parody no less disturbing than Malinowski's uncensored excesses. One never knows who is on "stage," the reader, the other, the writing subject, the earth, or simply knowledge.
<4> The very challenging status of both texts creates a unique textual space within which to study the discursive and material boundaries of identity, raising questions about the formulation of this "scene" of writing. How do we read the spatial location of writing, its distance from the referent -- experience, event, memory -- and the reworking of such a question into the boundaries of a text and textuality? The intertwining of these issues with autobiography and discursive constraints are palpable in relation to Lévi-Strauss' and Malinowksi's immensely challenging texts. To begin to offer some answers to these questions, I will consider three facets of these texts: firstly, their framing within anthropology as texts; secondly, the author's negotiation of the purpose and nature of the work which is clearly mediated by autobiographical determinants; and the question of the relationship between anthropological discourse and the writing of ethnography.
<5> The publication of Malinowski's Mailu and Trobriand diaries in 1967 "publicly upset the applecart" so far as the scientific detachment and objectivity of ethnographic fieldwork and the anthropological texts produced from such experiences were concerned (Clifford 1986: 14). Uncovered among his papers following his premature death in 1942, it was to be twenty-five years before they were published, and even then accompanied by a great deal of anxiety among those responsible for the personal and academic reputation of the great man, as well as a pre-emptive apology for the expected outrage. Raymond Firth, a former pupil, friend, and collaborator of Malinowski as well as distinguished anthropologist in his own right, wrote in a nervous introduction to the diaries that, "Certain passages may even nowadays offend or shock the reader, and some readers may be impressed...by the revelation of elements of brutality, even degradation, which the record shows on occasion. My own reflection is on this is to advise anyone who wishes to sneer at passages in this diary to be equally frank in his own thoughts and writings, and then judge again" (Firth 1967: xix). The tone struck recalls an awkward excuse for a friend who commits a social faux pas by revealing a little too much about their private life in public. As Geertz observes, Firth "sounds as though he desperately wishes he was somewhere else doing almost anything else" (Geertz 1988: 76).
<6> An examination of both Firth's introduction and Valetta Malinowski's (Malinowski's second wife) preface to the diaries reveal a frantic attempt at both limiting any damage to Malinowski's professional and personal reputation, and an equally nervous care to contain any damage to anthropology as a science and professional activity. Malinowski is reported to have once said that if "Rivers is the Rider Haggard of anthropology: I shall be the Conrad" (Richards 1994: 191). The irony of that statement in light of the diaries and the attempt to frame them is that rather than Malinowski as the leading avant-garde anthropologist-author, we witness him being "authored," or "authorised." Thence Firth emphasises that the Diary is "a private document, and was never meant for publication" (Firth 1967: xi) and yet, rather than reflect upon the consequences of this "private" document made public, he considers only its "significance." That significance derives from Malinowski's professional reputation as an author of anthropological texts linked to a promise of what is unavailable now that he is dead -- and arguably unavailable in a literal sense when he was alive -- that is: "how Malinowski thought about issues and about people." But this is also qualified: "or at least how he expressed himself when he was writing for himself as a audience" (Firth 1967: xii). The anxiety that Firth has already betrayed over this text is manifest in this rhetorical indecision -- the Diary is interesting because of what the "great professional man" thought, yet this is potentially undermined by the autobiographical, which forms a kind of discursive non sequitur. Firth's desire is to separate the anthropological away from the autobiographical, thereby preserving the seeming objective "purity" of anthropology from the threat of a contaminating autobiographical subjectivity. In effect, Firth attempts to retrospectively inscribe anthropological discursive constraints onto a text that, by its very nature, fails to privilege them. Rather than anthropological discourse serving to elide the autobiographical from the ethnographic text, the Diary reverses this process by privileging the autobiographical at the expense of the anthropological, thereby inverting, and reinforcing, Geertz's observation that "the difficulty is that the oddity of constructing texts ostensibly scientific out of experiences broadly biographical, which is after all what ethnographers do, is thoroughly obscured" (Geertz 1988: 10).
<7> If Firth's introduction attempts to reclaim the diary for anthropology -- insofar as the gems of ethnographic practice and theorisation can be mined -- then Valetta Malinowski's preface attempts the opposite; an emphasis on the autobiographical over the anthropological:
I feel that the psychological and emotional light shed by diaries, letters and autobiographies not
only give one a fresh insight into the personality of the man who wrote certain books, developed a certain theory, or composed certain symphonies; but that through this knowledge of that man as he lived and felt, one is often brought into closer contact, and a greater comprehension. When there exists, therefore, the diary or autobiography of an outstanding personality, I feel these "data" regarding his daily and inner life and his thoughts should be published, with the deliberate aim of revealing that personality, and linking up his knowledge with the work left behind. (Malinowski 1967: ix)
Between Firth and Valletta Malinowski, the frame within which we are encouraged to read this text is divided, and deliberately so. Yet this contradiction is, on closer examination, only apparently so. Both the appeal to an authorial persona who, from a rhetorical position of objective detachment, produced anthropological "facts," and to a self-revelatory promise of contact with and comprehension of the "personality of the man," rely on the form of contextualisation that Jacques Derrida observes "remains classically, consciousness, the conscious presence of the intention of the speaking subject in the totality of the speech act" (Derrida 1978: 14). The autobiographical and the anthropological subjects are founded on the premise of a detached presentation of facts, whether about the "Self" or the "Other." As much as Firth's and Valetta Malinowski's definition of meaning within the Diary would seem to stem from different, if not contradictory, motivations they are both keen to actively construct a unified textual subject position often associated with the author. This "subject" clearly derives from Descartes' cogito "with its understanding of being as a belief system implicit in the minds of individual subjects," a subjectivity that transcends its subject matter and guarantees the authenticity of what it presents (Pile and Thrift 1995: 27). Geertz observes that "ethnographers need to convince us...not merely that they themselves have truly 'been there'but... that had we been there we should have seen what they saw, felt what they felt, concluded what they concluded" (Geertz 1988: 16). A similar claim could be made for autobiography.
<8> The question of most direct consequence here is the conflation of the text with the identity of the "author." This, in turn, brings us back once more to the question why do the editors of Malinowski's Diary feel the need to foreground how the text should be read, whether from an anthropological or autobiographical perspective. Does the text in some way transgress these limits? Or, more precisely, the overarching limit set by the textual representation of a unified, situated, subjectivity. Hugh Silverman observes that,
the autobiographical text may be juxtaposed with authorially linked non-autobiographical texts, the autobiographical space is located at the interface between autobiographical and non-autobiographical texts. To be located at an interface, in the intersection, is not to be located in any space at all. Autobiographical textuality is without space and pure limit (Silverman, 1994: p.91).
While I am happy to accept Silverman's suggestion that, textually, autobiography reflects an intertextual event that mediates between other texts by the author and beyond -- there is an echo of Michel Foucault's "What is an author?" in this formulation -- the framing of Malinowski's Diary demonstrates that limits are set which are not necessarily inherent to the text. The text can also transgress those limits and not settle into a prefigured, internally regulated, limit.
<9> This text and its "limits" have been written and collaboratively re-written both by the author and his editors. As Valetta Malinowski candidly admits in her preface: "In correcting the proofs I have tried to assure the closest possible adherence to Malinowksi's personal use of English words." Further, this usage reflects a style of English that in "the latter part of his life he expressed himself so freely" (Malinowski 1967: viii). Yet the Diary was self-evidently not written "in the latter part of his life." The intriguing aspect of this re-writing is a reflection of biographical and subjective experience in the sense that the older self does reformulate one's youth both in a practical and autobiographical sense. This layered, textualised, experience does not recapture the actuality of Malinowski's life during his field experiences between 1914 and 1918, but it is not devoid of any referential relevance to his life and identity. That identity is as much "intertextual" (if one can draw an analogy between experiential "layering" and texts) as is his professional written corpus is in relation to his professional, discursive persona. What "raw" experiential material that the Diary offers, chaotic, and possibly pathological when viewed as the presentation of identity, must be contained by external determinants. Thence we have Valetta Malinowski and Firth arguably "authoring" their own limits, their own Malinowksi(s). Different identities, different traces, of the subject although each, paradoxically, determining a bounded whole which co-exists discursively without conflict. The monadic subject can wear different masks selected or imposed through a kind of dialectic between the autobiographical text, its presentation as the essence of the autobiographical subject, and the mediation of external discourses -- in this case both anthropology and the "great man" genre of autobiography.
<10> Yet what ultimately undermines the presentation of these seemingly monadic fragments of a stable Cartesian subjectivity in this text is its material referent -- the place memorialised as the location of writing. As Kathleen Kirby observes: "Place seems to assume set boundaries that one fills to achieve a solid identity. Place settles space into objects, working to inscribe the Cartesian monad and the autonomous ego" (Kirby 1996: 19). The experiential place represented by the text is just what is not contained by these extra-textual framing strategies; a subjectivity is bounded, but the perplexity of that autobiographical subject within the place memorialised -- the Mailu and Trobriand Islands -- remains a site of disruptive signification. One is left with a disturbing question: is it the memory of an alien material space that creates a palpable disintegration of the subject which Malinowksi's two editors (censors) attempt to marginalise -- possibly re-conceive -- by their pre-emptive reading strategies? Malinowski recorded his own disorientation: "Once again my propensity for admiring marvellous landscapes (sometimes imaginary) played a trick on me," and acknowledging the pressure of such deceptions on his own conception of self feels he is "playing a false role" (Malinowksi 1967: 149). Such recognition is elided by Firth's and Valetta Malinowksi's textualised subject. Yet what of the author who attempts his or her own framing and negotiation of place? We must now pick up the threads of this discussion with Lévi-Strauss.
The anthropologist respects history, but he does not accord it special value. He conceives it as study complementary to his own; one of them unfurls the range of human societies in time the other in space. And the difference is even less great than it might seem, since the historian strives to reconstruct the picture of vanished societies as they were at the points which for them corresponded to the present, while the ethnographer does his best to reconstruct the historical stages which temporally preceded their existing form. (Lévi-Strauss 1966: 256)
<11> This quotation, from another of Lévi-Strauss's texts, The Savage Mind (1966), is extremely suggestive, less, in this context, for what it retrospectively reveals about his variety of structural anthropology, than for what it shows about his autobiographical practice in Tristes Tropiques. Most intriguingly, the above passage closely maps the opening section of the earlier text, which establishes the boundaries of the authorial subject. Whereas the "theory" had to be imposed externally to contain and solidify a stable textualised subject for Malinowski's diaries, Lévi-Strauss provides his own. Rather than privilege the linear convention of "history," he advances an approach that can be read as privileging Saussure's synchronic over the diachronic axes, constructing the former as a spatial and temporal snapshot of a culture rather than its development through time and space. Moreover, the Saussaurian analogy can be taken further in Lévi-Strauss's approach and be seen to reflect the opposition between langue (synchronic, systemic) and parole (diachronic, praxis). If we then pursue this analogy a little further, langue represents the idealised, abstracted and closed system, over the mutable, open-ended practice of parole. However, taking this one step further, the above passage, by aligning the historian's and ethnographer's "differences" as "less great than it might seem," initiates a discursive practice that threatens to collapse one into the other. This might seem less than revolutionary, but when we recall that he is also equating "history" (not surprisingly) with time, and anthropology with space, he is on the verge of proposing that they are virtually the same discursive elaboration. The question we must pursue here following discussion of Malinowski's Diary is: what type of authorial and autobiographical subjectivities are formed from this apparent contradiction?
<12> The proposition posed by the passage from The Savage Mind has some resemblance to a form of dialectic insofar as space and time appear to be conjoined in a resulting synthesis. It is also possible to identify a similar approach in the earlier Tristes Tropiques: "understanding consists in reducing one type of reality to another; that the true reality is never the most obvious; and that the nature of truth is already indicated by the care with which it takes to remain elusive" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 57-58). Dialectical synthesis seems to be indicated, but probe the context of this comment a little deeper and we encounter another contradiction. Despite the approving comments directed towards Marx's The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and The Critique of Political Economy, it is certainly not anything akin to Marx's materialist dialectic on which he draws. Indeed, experiential referents are dismissed with some contempt: "The raising of personal preoccupations to the dignity of philosophical problems is far too likely to lead to a sort of shop girl metaphysics" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 58). So what do we find here: the bare adherence to dialectical form -- the sequence thesis-antithesis-synthesis -- with a rejection of experience and, presumably, materiality but also a dismissive gesture towards metaphysics? Yet even if this might be called a form of dialectic, it has been turned inside out. The first chapter of Tristes Tropiques, "An End to Journeying," implies an end result of some process rather than a point of departure; or rather the point of departure is an end in itself. This apparent reversal of linear temporality -- at least in a textual/autobiographical sense -- complicates Lévi-Strauss's already complex orientation towards time and space. The "logic" of this discourse posits a "de-materialised" space and an atemporal time. By seemingly collapsing one into the other, the only temporality we are left with is an inverse dialectical sequence, and the only spatiality that of the text.
<13> At this point we are returned to Silverman's observation: "the autobiographical text may be juxtaposed with authorially linked non-autobiographical texts, the autobiographical space is located at the interface between autobiographical and non-autobiographical texts. To be located at an interface, in the intersection, is not to be located in any space at all. Autobiographical textuality is without space and therefore pure limit" (Silverman 1994: 91). This undoubtedly describes the absolute detachment Lévi-Strauss manages to create between his authorial voice and subject matter located in discursive space and bound only by the temporal sequence of his own narrative. The memoirs of his field experiences resemble less a material referent -- memories -- than, as Geertz puts it, "how to write" (Geertz 1988: 21).
<14> What this discursive structure forces us to focus on -- if one will forgive the pun -- is not its topic (the sidelined memories) but its tropics: the tropes through which the self as an abstraction is realised as a text. In effect, we find here a comparable series of aims that are realised by Firth and Valetta Malinowksi in relation to Malinowski's diaries, albeit with far less subtlety as they were not integrated within the primary narrative. Yet is this textual space destabilised by the material places that are ostensibly its referent, even while this connection is elided by the superimposition of a discursive signified -- the text? This question seems more akin to the "limiting" that is enacted over Malinowski's diaries; to recall Derrida, if discourse is the "present, living, conscious representation of a text within the experience of the person who writes or reads it," experience of "place" and the space bounded by experience cannot be excised from the representation. Lévi-Strauss was far too canny and talented a writer not to sense the contradiction between the denial of a material referent by the construction of a purely textualised subject and the need to continually assert his physical presence in various places -- the autobiographical "I" of the text. As Geertz observes:
The critical issue, so far as it concerns the anthropologist as author, works and lives text building, and so on, it the highly distinctive representation, inventive actually, of the relationship between referring text and referred to world that follows from it. (Geertz 1988: 46)
<15> Lévi-Strauss's strategy is to displace the question of materiality into a further theoretical process that conflates space, time, memory, materiality and presence into what is, effectively, an epistemology. This is achieved through two intriguing metaphors that appear to preserve the appearance of a materialist dialectical strategy while in fact formulating an entirely abstracted, discursive theorisation. The two tropes are geology and archaeology integrated into an anecdotal, memorialising narrative form that demands admiration for its adroitness. The geology metaphor is built up from autobiographical detail: "an intense interest in geology had inspired me...ever since childhood," observes Lévi-Strauss, "it was something quite different from a walk or a simple exploration of space. It was a quest, which would have seemed incoherent to some uninitiated observer, but which I look upon as the very image of knowledge, with the difficulties it involves and the delights it affords" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 56). From this childhood anecdote, he goes on to subsume two of the twentieth century's major theoretical conceptualisations of reality: the psychological topography of Freud and, as already touched upon, the materialist dialectic of Marx, the apparent aim to create a system of categorisation rather than a process of logical interrogation.
<16> Yet, just as the as the material referent of Marx's dialectic is elided, so Freud's mapping of the human psyche is subtly transformed; in this respect psychoanalysis might be described, somewhat reductively, as the interaction between the individual's psyche and material society dialectically mediated. On the face of it, Freud's schema would appear to offer a productive means of mediating between Lévi-Strauss's tendency towards abstraction and the material referent of the autobiographical aspect of his text. The negotiation between textual abstraction and experiential reality can, observes Kathleen Kirby,
be characterised as a passage from a logic of "identity" -- encapsulation in an organically formed, internally homogenous field, figurable in terms of a circle or sphere -- to one of "difference" -- the rapidly shifting, unstable movement across a line dividing the now-equalised territories of interior and exterior, self and other, here and there. (Kirby 1996: 76)
However, it becomes clear that the psychoanalysis that is useful to Lévi-Strauss paradoxically writes the individual out altogether. Instead, it is a rhetorical device by which praxis is discursively converted into theoretical knowledge. Ontological experience is translated into epistemological fact. The rhetorical shift can be identified in the following passage which collapses together geology and psychoanalysis: "Unlike the history of the historians, that of the geologist is similar to the history of the psychoanalyst in that it tries to project in time -- rather in the manner of the tableau vivant -- certain basic characteristics of the physical or mental universe" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 57). The analogy of the tableau vivant is significant, since the potential for the dialectical negotiation of identity implicit within the Freudian formulation is rigidified into something akin to an immobile geological stratum. Once more time and space are collapsed which, experientially, of course, cannot be. The synchronous moment created is entirely artificial, an abstraction that only acknowledges existence as a textual space; it cannot form the basis of lived experience and material space. What façade of materiality there is must be a rhetorical sham. Henri Lefebvre describes the consequences of this type of rhetorical practice in the following terms:
the net result is that a particular "theoretical practice" produces a mental space which is apparently, but only apparently, extra-ideological. In an inevitably circular manner, this mental space then becomes the locus of a "theoretical practice" which is separated from social practice and which sets itself up as the axis, pivot or central reference point of knowledge. (Lefebvre 1992: 6)
<17> Yet Lévi-Strauss claims considerable privileges for this discursive position rejecting any "continuity between experience and reality" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 58). Recognising the contradiction between a textual abstraction that renders any relation to experiential reality impossible, the material subject itself is inconceivable and must thereby be excised from any contemplation of the "real." Indeed, he proceeds to observe that the relationship between experience and reality must, of necessity, be discontinuous, support for this claim deriving from his three theoretical touchstones: geology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. Further, "to reach reality one has first to reject experience, and then subsequently to reintegrate it into objective synthesis devoid of any sentimentality" (Lévi-Strauss 1992: 58). This seems to reveal another possibility: a subject with no subjectivity. Arguably, however, this is what the Cartesian philosophical tradition postulates, an abstract subject that draws its authority and universality from its non-corporeality, but Lévi-Strauss goes further attempting a solidification of this "subject" and its projection into the experiential realm only then to preclude "experience" as a form of knowledge.
<18> Malinowski, like Lévi-Strauss, also yearns for an ideally unchanging product; an abstract subject detachable and elevated from the vagaries of material experience: "My whole ethics is based on the fundamental instinct of unified personality. From this follows the need to be the same in different situations (truth in relation to one's self) and the need, indispensability, of sincerity" (Malinowski 1967: 296). However the abstract, "unchanging" epistemological framing of this text is provided by his editors who are well aware that this is just what is not evident from the text. One might recall Firth's comment: "some readers may be impressed as much by the revelation of elements of brutality, even degradation, which the record shows on occasion" (Firth 1967: xix). Unlike Lévi-Strauss's uneasy mingling of the anthropological abstract subject with destabilising experiential memories, Malinowski's anthropological epistemology is constructed in another text: Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). It is here that he realises his ideal "ethic" of "unified personality," but also the necessity of deliberately bringing it into crisis to collect the "facts" that provide the material for epistemological abstraction is shunted into a note on field method: "[The] proper conditions for ethnographic work...consist mainly in cutting oneself off from the company of other white men; and remaining in as close contact with the natives as possible" (Malinowski 1922: 6). Yet the diaries reflect the dilemma of the real consequences of this strategy: the loss of what Malinowski thought of to that point as his unified, consistent self.
<19> An awareness of such self-slippage punctuates Malinowski's Diary, as he demands of himself "to consolidate life, to integrate one's thinking, to avoid fragmenting themes" (Malinowski 1967: 175). Read out of context, this passage seems to promise a commitment to a holistic integration of ontology and epistemology. Yet read in the context of Malinowski's actual practice described within the Diary, thinking here equates to an abstract conception of self, and "fragmenting themes" to the physical demands of a location that functions according to the spatio-cultural logic of another society and, thence, to a different conception of self. Without the social determinants of the West, such subjectivity cannot be maintained. As Judith Butler observes, the Western conception of a coherent identity position "is produced through the production, exclusion and repudiation of abjected spectres that threaten those very subject positions" (Butler 1993: 113).
<20> If this stance can be sustained in Tristes Tropiques and Argonauts of the Western Pacific, why does this seem not to be the case with the Diary, evidenced by Malinowski's demands of himself for integration and consistency? Ostensibly there seems to be no reason why this should not be possible. New Guinea is administered as a European colony, so a Western social structure is available for self-reference, just as Lévi-Strauss always travelled with his wife and sundry French colleagues as well as his cultural baggage. However powerfully the experience of an alien place manifested itself, there was always recourse to a local Western cultural network. Writing up, of course, took place some years later in France. Yet Malinowski's experience set down in the Diary betrays both a deliberate estrangement from his ethnographic subjects, but also from the local European social structure in Australia and New Guinea, due to his status as an enemy alien during wartime. This occasionally surfaces directly: "stupid unpleasant jokes about my Austrian nationality. - Loathsome, and the effect is depressing" and a reference to the requirement to report to the military authorities "to make out my permit" (Malinowski 1967: 167 and 106).
<21> Throughout the diary Malinowski swings between a desire for such affiliation - "very much the 'sahib' feeling" (Malinowski 1967: 8) -- and a contradictory feeling of resentment leading to rejection: "[a] desire to shake Anglo-Saxon dust off my sandals. Certain admiration for German culture" or "At moments discouraged by my strong hatred for England and the English" (Malinowski 1967: .207 and 217-218). Consider in this context Ernesto Laclau's comment that "at the root of any identity one needs to identify with something because there is an originary and insurmountable lack of identity" (Laclau 1990: 3). Faced with such isolation and an absence of cultural co-ordinates, it is not surprising to find the critical reflection that he has been "inhabit[ing] more than one identity" (Malinowski 1967: 296). Malinowski's strategy for dealing with this crisis of the subject is recourse to language. The Diary is the obvious result of such an attempt. Indeed, he prefaces the second Diary as "an account of the preceding day: a mirror of the events, a moral evaluation, location of the mainsprings of my life, a plan for the next day" (Malinowski 1967: 103). Malinowski's own comments about language in the Diary are revealing:
In the morning I walked to sopi and thought about language as a product of collective psychology. As a system of social ideas." Language is an objective creation, and as such it corresponds to the institution in the equation: social imagination = institution + individual ideas. On the other hand, language is an instrument, a vehicle for individual ideas, and as such it must be considered first when I study the other component of the equation. (Malinowski 1967: 161)
<22> Language here is a medium for the conveying of "cultural psychology" and group (national and/or ethnic) identity, which seems to determine an individual's self-conception within a social space -- the "institution" -- and, somewhat paradoxically, the medium for individual thought. In effect, Malinowski, like Lévi-Strauss, has recourse to a form of dialectic by conjuring up the structure/agency dualism, which finds its synthesis, for Malinowski, in language. This might be called a "dialectic of being," whereby the ontological "truth" of the autobiographical topos is the medium whereby "the self is dispersed into a textuality" (Silverman 1994: 92). As Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift observe: "this dualism expresses the problem of subject formation in relation to, on the one side, social rules, sanctions and prohibitions and, on the other side, the individual's feelings thoughts and actions" (Pile and Thrift 1995: 4). If, for Malinowski, the language of the Diary conveys both cultural structure and individual thought, then the writing of this narrative from "the mainsprings of my life" in his native Polish, a language in which he had no opportunity to communicate, is highly significant. This has two implications: firstly it is a clear attempt to return to some form of authentic self, one that conveys both the discursive determinants of Malinowski's estranged "home space," Poland, and the identity which was formed there. Secondly, this implies that a synthesis between structure/agency that can only be realised in writing.
<23> Such a synthesis is a transposition, and as such has a materiality that prevents it from being simply discourse. But neither is it pure being; it is, by definition, neither of its two original components. In effect it is difference or, rather, an elaboration "of a place of difference as a place of understanding" (Silverman 1994: 2). Constitutive of reality, certainly, but not the reality, the self-presence, that Malinowski craves. The contradiction of his reliance on language exacerbates the frustration of that desire "to consolidate life, to integrate one's thinking, to avoid fragmenting themes" (Malinowski1967: 175). Writing presupposes the absence of the author even as his/her experiences are translated: it is a referent of self, but not the self. The autobiographical topos is not a guarantee of presence, but the transmission of self in the absence of the subject. Silverman formulates the position thus:
In the Aristotelian tradition of discussions about metaphor, a metaphor is the substitute for a literal situation. In this sense, an autobiography is metaphoricity itself ¾ the substitution of a writing of one's life for the life itself. In the tradition of metaphor as transference, the autobiography can be conceived of as a transference of a lifetime from experience to writing, from experiencing to autobiographising. (Silverman 1994: 99)
<24> The consequences of attempting to write self-presence while in fact narrating the absence of a secure subjectivity, is the source of uneasiness to be found in the discursive framing of the autobiographical limits of both Malinowski's Diary and Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques. Discursively, the non-corporeal textual subject is used to negate references to an experiential subjectivity. This subject is premised on the presentation and preservation of opposites, not dialectical negotiation and change through space and time whereby meaning is produced. As Robert Murphy observes: "This is an important aspect of dialectical thought. It does not simply separate things as conceptual opposites, for the essence of the process is that the opposites are in an active relationship of mutual contradiction" (Murphy 1972: 121). Practically every page of both the Diary and Tristes Tropiques appear to deny the abstracted subject that lies behind both, promising the very subjective feelings -- pain, anguish, desires -- that are the foundation of lived being, albeit subsumed by the epistemological promises of these texts.
<25> Even if one can logically cast persuasive doubt on the referentiality of language and authorial intent, the text does get written. To draw a Saussurian analogy of my own, writing is parole, praxis, not a moribund, non-negotiable langue. As Malinowski recorded in his diary when first visiting the inhabitants of the tiny island of Dobu: "It is I who will describe them or create them" (Malinowski 1967: 140). This is not what might conventionally be defined as truth or even reality -- the islanders self-evidently existed before and, no doubt, quite happily after Malinowski's visit -- but it does betray an ontological truth: Malinowski's intent and desire, his ambition and power. Moreover, it refers to a "fact" -- Malinowski did put the Dobu Islands of the map of Western knowledge. These are referents and a material praxis. The epigraph to this essay points towards what is at stake if we proceed by ignoring this referentiality. Derrida suggests that the claims of physical utterance beyond the text diminish the written artefact. Yet beyond this, dare one say, rather simplistic polarisation, what takes place in the location of writing is the negotiation of meaning -- neither wholly material nor completely abstract, but a creative synthesis. One might posit this to be the moment of the experiencing subject as its reality is "incessantly created...in time and space" -- the translation of memory.
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