MacClancy-Exotic No More_ Anthropology on the Front Lines (2002).pdf

Ungrounded empires the cultural politics of modern

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Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, ed. Aihwa Ong and D. Nonini, 287 319 . New York: Routledge. 376 / Faye Ginsburg
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20. Ideas of Culture and the Challenge of Music JOHN CHERNOFF It would seem natural that anthropologists, who are students of culture, would be deeply involved with the arts, but anthropologists think of culture within a spe- cialized frame of reference that stands in ironic distinction to widely held ideas that identify culture with art. To be sure, the artistic artifacts of ancient civiliza- tions are a significant focus of archaeological interest, as are any artifacts that seem to be expressions of the mentality of living groups that anthropologists study. By and large, however, in anthropological thought the arts are derivative of other fac- tors of human life that relate directly to evolutionary adaptation and survival. From such a perspective, culture is based on patterns of interaction with the mate- rial world, and art is a reflection and affirmation of that level of culture, not even necessarily self-conscious. It is not surprising that in anthropology, the least con- sidered art is the least material one: music. To many people in the world, music is a universal language. Some have even speculated that music might offer a way to communicate with aliens from beyond the stars. To anthropologists, however, music is something that separates people as much as it connects them—indeed, even connects some people in order to exclude others. The idea that different people have different tastes in music inspires no de- bate, perhaps because the issue seems of little importance. People can really hate other people’s music, but I do not remember the last time anyone fought a war over music. Nor do I know anyone who would argue that we all need to listen to the same music, except maybe on certain special occasions involving sports or pa- triotism, and then the issue is once again about who we are or are not. For social scientists, especially anthropologists, issues involving different musical prefer- ences are codes for parochial perceptions. Until just recently, Western anthropol-
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ogists worked mainly in places where, in Western perception, the local music was denigrated in equal measure with the particular locals under investigation. And of course, even with the invention of media that can take sounds from one place to another, the music of those other people has generally been a big stumbling block on the path toward empathy. Non-Western music: How are anthropologists to talk about it? Whenever an anthropologist stayed in the field long enough to learn to appreciate the music there, the overwhelming fact about the music remained how odd it sounded to European ears. As social scientists, anthropologists have held to two rudimentary ideas about music. First, any particular type of music itself is less important than the various ways people in different cultures deal with it. Second, musical taste is
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