Geertz_Interpretation_of_Cultures

Geertz_Interpretation_of_Cultures - I CULTURES fi S E L E C...

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I CULTURES fi SELECTED ESSAYS 1 Clifford Geertz 0 1973 Bas~cBooks, A D~v~s~on of HarperColllns Publ~shers Llbrary of Congress Catalog Card Number 73-81 196 ISBN 0-465-03425-X (cloth) 0-46.5-09719-7 (paper) Prlnted In the Un~ted States of Arner~ca 93 94 95 MPC 30 29 28 27 26 25 rPu YY BasicBooks A Dlvision of HarperCollinsPublishers
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34 , THE INTERPRETATION OF CULTURES Uvi-Strauss refers. Whitehead once offered to the natural sciences the maxim "Seek simplicity and distrust it"; to the social sciences he might well have offered "Seek complexity and order it." Certainly the study of culture has developed as though this maxim were being followed. The rise of a scientific concept of culture amounted to, or at least was connected with, the overthrow of the view of human nature dominant in the Enlightenment-a view that, whatever else may be said for or against it, was both clear and simple-and its replacement by a view not only more complicaied but enormously less clear. The attempt to clarify it, to reconstruct an intelligible account of what man is, has underlain scientific thinking about culture ever si~ce. Having, sought complexity and, on a scale grander than they ever imag- ined, found it, anthropologists became entangled in a tortuous effort to order it. And the end is not yet in sight. The Enlightenment view of man was, of course, that he was wholly of a piece with nature and shared in the general uniformity of composition which natural science, under Bacon's urging and Newton's guidance, had discovered there. There is, in brief, a human nature as regularly or- ganized, as thoroughly invariant, and as marvelously simple as Newton's universe. Perhaps some of its laws are different, but there are laws; per- haps some of its immutability is obscured by the trappings of local fash- ion, but it is immutable. A quotation that Lovejoy (whose magisterial analysis I am following here) gives from an Enlightenment historian, Mascou, presents the posi- tion with the useful bluntness one often finds in a minor writer: The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man 35 gibility, verifiability, or actual affirmation is limited to men of a special age, race, temperament, tradition or condition is [in and of itself] without truth or value, or at all events without- importance to a reason- able man." 2 The great, vast variety of differences among inen, in be- liefs and values, in customs and institutions, both over time and from place to place, is essentially without significance in defining his nature. It consists of mere accretions, distortions even, overlaying. and obscur- ing what is truly human-the co'nstant, the general, the universal-in man. Thus, in a passage now notorious, Dr. Johnson saw Shakespeare's ge- nius to lie in the fact that "his characters are,not modified by the cus- toms of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate upon but small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions." And Racine regarded the success of his plays on classical
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This note was uploaded on 03/19/2008 for the course IAH 207 taught by Professor Johns during the Spring '08 term at Michigan State University.

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Geertz_Interpretation_of_Cultures - I CULTURES fi S E L E C...

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