SINCERITY VERSUS SELF-EXPRESSION: ModernCreative Agency and the Materiality of Semiotic Forms
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In a series of essays, Webb Keane (2007) has greatly contributed to ourunderstanding of modernity’s ways of imagining itself and the modern subject.Keane argues that the idea of the modern subject has been embedded within aspeciﬁc semiotic ideology that requires the materiality of semiotic forms to besubordinate to immaterial meanings. The modern subject has been deﬁned asan interiority that must be kept autonomous vis-`a-vis any form of materiality, broadly deﬁned, such as the body, ritual, received tradition, other people, andwords, in order to maintain its freedom and moral integrity. Drawing on hisethnographic ﬁeldwork in the island of Sumba, Papua New Guinea, Keane hastraced theProtestantrootsofthissemioticideology.Hehas discussedtheeffortsof missionaries to abolish local practices that involved fetishism, ritual exchange, andceremonial speech because these practices blur the distinction between the subjectand external materiality and thus threaten the moral autonomy of the modernsubject as it is deﬁned within this speciﬁc semiotic ideology.Keane argues that here lie the intellectual roots of modernity as theorized by Bruno Latour (1993); that is, as a “constitution” that attempts to guarantee theseparationofnatureandculture.AccordingtoLatour,modernitydisavowstheroleplayed by nature in the formation of culture, while in practice it allows the twoto intermingle in various hybrids. Indeed, scholars have traced various forms of this strand of modernity that demands a separation of nature and culture. Forexample, the language ideology prevalent in modern Euro-American contexts,
CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 26, Issue 3, pp. 462–484. ISSN 0886-7356, online ISSN 1548-1360.
2011 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01107.x