"From the Native's Point of View": On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding Author(s): Clifford Geertz Source: Bulletin of the

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Oct., 1974), pp. 26-45 Published by: American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3822971 . Accessed: 24/01/2011 05:18
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"Fromthe Native's Point of View": On the Nature of AnthropologicalUnderstanding
GEERTZ CLIFFORD
At the Annual Meeting in May 1974, the Amer-

ican Academy awarded its first Social Science Prize to Clifford Geertz for his significantcontributionsto social anthropology.Mr. Geertz has taught at Harvard University,the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of
Chicago; in 1970 he became the first Professor of

the Social Sciences at the Institutefor Advanced Study in Princeton. Mr. Geertz'researchhascenteredon the changing religious attitudes and habits of life of the Islamic peoples of Morocco and Indonesia;he
is the author of Peddlers and Princes: Social Changes and Economic Modernization in Two Indonesian Towns (1963), The Social History of an Indonesian Town (1965), Islam Observed: Religious Developments in Morocco and IndoThe Interpretation of Cultures (1973). In nom-

nesia (1968), and a recent collection of essays,

inatingMr. Geertz for the award,the Academy's Social Science Prize Committeeobserved,"each of these volumes is an importantcontributionin its own right; together they form an unrivaled corpus in modern social anthropologyand social
sciences."

Following the presentation ceremony, Mr. Geertz delivered the following communication before Academy Fellows and their guests.

Several years ago a minor scandal erupted in anthropology: one of its ancestral figures told the truth in a public place. As befits an ancestor, he did it posthumously and through his widow's decision rather than his own, with the result that a number of the sort of right-thinking types who are always with us immediately rose to cry that she - an in-marrier anyway - had betrayed clan secrets, profaned an idol, and let down the side. What will the children think, to say noth26

patience. missed the point. what is our position when we can no longer 27 . If we are going to cling .as in my opinion. The myth of the chameleon field-worker. In much the same way that James Watson's The Double Helix exposed the nature of research in biophysics. feel. ignored was the genuinely profound question his book raised. an almost preternatural capacity to think. feel.was demolished politanism by the man who had perhaps done the most to create it. then how is anthropological knowledge of the way natives think. The squabble that surrounded the publication of the Diary concentrated. I should hurry to say. on inessentials and. Most of the shock seems to have arisen from the mere discovery that Malinowski was not. is not moral.ing of the laymen? But the disturbance was not much lessened by such ceremonial wringing of the hands. He spent a great deal of his time wishing he were elsewhere.a walking miracle of empathy. tact. already printed. (He also projected an image of a man consecrated to a strange vocation to the point of self-immolation. an unmitigated nice guy. with a force perhaps only a working ethnographer can fully appreciate. and perceive possible? The issue the Diary presents. And he projected an image of a man as little complaisant as the world has seen. but that was less noted. namely. perfectly self-tuned to his exotic surroundings . I use here "in the strict sense of the term"). as we have been taught to believe.) The discussion eventually came down to Malinowski's moral character or lack of it. as was only to be expected. from some sort of extraordinary sensibility. He had rude things to say about the natives he was living with and rude words to say it in. we must . it is epistemological.to the injunction to see things from the native's point of view. and perceive like a native (a word. Bronislaw Malinowski's A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term rendered the established image of how anthropological work is conducted fairly well implausible. and cosmo. if anthropological understanding does not stem. naturally. to put it delicately. after all. the damn thing was.

Heinz Kohut . or practical aims. one which an individual . not polar 28 . Clearly. an ethnographer. or. a sort of transcultural identification. this general problem has been exercising methodological discussion in anthropology for the last ten or fifteen years.phonemics classifying sounds according to their internal function in language. imagine. Malinowski's voice from the grave merely dramatized it as a human dilemma over and above a professional one. philosophical. at least for Hindus and Buddhists. an experimenter. "object cathexis" is an experience-distant one.a distinction between what he calls "experience-near" and "experiencedistant" concepts. "Social stratification.an analyst. even a priest or an ideologist . the matter is one of degree.employ to forward their scientific. The formulations have been various: "inside" versus "outside. "phenomenological" versus "objectivist. "Love" in an experience-near concept. "emic" versus "etic" analyses.claim some unique form of psychological closeness. But perhaps the simplest and most directly appreciable way to put the matter is in terms of a distinction formulated. with our subjects? What happens to verstehen when einfiihlen disappears? As a matter of fact." or "first person" versus "third person" descriptions. for his own purposes. "religious system") are experience-distant. perhaps most commonly. An experience-near concept is. and which he would readily understand when similarly applied by others. a subject. "caste" or "nirvana" are experience-near." or perhaps for most peoples in the world even "religion" (and certainly." or "cognitive" versus "behavioral" theories. An experience-distant concept is one which various types of specialists .might himself naturally and effortlessly use to define what he or his fellows see. think. this last deriving from the distinction in linguistics between phonemics and phonetics . phonetics classifying them according to their acoustic properties as such. and so on.a patient. feel. by the psychoanalyst. roughly. in our case an informant .

they are not going to be altogether keen about such an effort anyhow. Confinement to experience-distant ones leaves him stranded in abstractions and smothered in jargon. But it does not make it any easier nor does it lessen the demand for perceptiveness on the part of the field-worker.opposition: "fear"is experience-nearer than "phobia.reduces the mystery of what "seeing things from the native's point of view" means. an ethnography of witchcraft as written by a geometer? Putting the matter this way . for another people. To grasp concepts which. should they be deployed so as to produce an interpretation of the way a people live which is neither imprisoned within their mental horizons. The trick is not to achieve some inner correspondence of spirit with your informants. Confinement to experience-near concepts leaves an ethnographer awash in immediacies as well as entangled in vernacular. is what roles the two kinds of concepts play in anthropological analysis. at least so far as anthropology is concerned (the matter is otherwise in poetry and physics). a normative one. and to do so well enough to place them in illuminating connection with those experience-distant concepts that theorists have fashioned to capture the general features of social life is clearly a task at least as delicate.in terms of how anthropological analysis is to be conducted and its results framed. an ethnography of witchcraft as written by a witch. 29 ." And the difference is not." you don't have to be one to know one." and "phobia" experience-nearer than "ego dyssyntonic. nor systematically deaf to the distinctive tonalities of their existence. if a bit less magical. rather than what psychic constitution anthropologists need to have . preferring. in the case of "natives. in each case. as putting oneself into someone else's skin. To be more exact: How. like the rest of us. The real question. and the one Malinowski raised by demonstrating that. The trick is to figure out what the devil they think they are up to. in the sense that one sort of concept as such is to be preferred over the other. to call their souls their own. are experience-near.

But in another sense. behaviors . And in each case. to make all this a bit more concrete I want to turn for a moment to my own work. and Moroccan. among other things. institutions. as I say. Now. the one-eyed is not king but spectator.a rice peasant or a tribal sheikh. colloquially. In the country of the blind. Balinese. largely cannot. unselfconsciously. as it were. they do not. hence the passion to swim in the stream of their experience." or "through. of course. In all three of the societies I have studied intensively. no one knows this better than they do themselves. People use experience-near concepts spontaneously. recognize that there are any "concepts" involved at all. Javanese.a distinct advantage in discussions of this sort. and.but by searching out and analyzing the symbolic forms . what enters into the idea they have (but. only half-realize they have) of what a self. What else could you call a hippopotamus? Of course the gods are powerful. an excellent vehicle by which to examine this whole question 30 .In one sense." or whatever word one may choose. perceive what his informants perceive. I have been concerned. which whatever its other faults has at least the virtue of being mine . That is what experience-near means . The concept of person is. images. Balinese. I have tried to arrive at this most intimate of notions not by imagining myself as someone else .words. why else would we fear them? The ethnographer does not. in my opinion. that simple truism is simply not true. except fleetingly and on occasion. with attempting to determine how the people who live there define themselves as persons.that ideas and the realities they disclose are naturally and indissolubly bound up together. and then seeing what I thought . people actually represent themselves to themselves and to one another. What he perceives .in terms of which. in each place. or Moroccan style.is what they perceive "with. and the illusion afterward that one somehow has. Javanese." or "by means of. in fact.and that uncertainly enough . who are not as unobservant as they appear. is.

a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world's cultures. often quite sharply. at the same time. and Morocco. more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe. shaped like fireflies. set that conception aside and view their experiences within the framework of their own idea of what selfhood is. And for Java. as these offhand examples suggest. some sort of concept of this kind. more than a little odd. judgment. Essential elements of their psyche.of how to go about poking into another people's turn of mind. like hatred. where I worked in the fifties. In the first place. discoverable upon autopsy. People may be conceived to dart about nervously at night. we must. In Java. or a god. one feels reasonably safe in saying. universal. They may share their fates with doppelganger beasts. as opposed to a rock. no less dramatically and no less instructively. and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is. from our point of view. that idea differs markedly not only from our own but. at least. is. a dynamic center of awareness. which is what the extolled "empathy" in fact usually comes down to. so that when the beast sickens or dies they sicken or die too. may be thought to be lodged in granular black bodies within their livers. Yet. exists in recognizable form within all social groups. if we are to achieve understanding. an animal. I studied a small. Rather than attempt to place the experience of others within the framework of such a conception. so far as I can see. the whole surrounded by a great half-circle 3I . from one to the other. But at least some conception of what a human individual is. The Western conception of the person as a bounded. from one group to the next. Bali. emotion. however incorrigible it may seem to us. the actual conceptions involved vary. unique. a rainstorm. with even less substantial bamboo shacks crammed in helter-skelter behind them. Various notions of what persons are may be. shabby inland county-seat sort of place: two shadeless streets of white-washed wooden shops and offices.

But together they formed a distinctive conception of the self which. was the means by which Javanese in fact perceive one another. health was poor. a philosophical passion. nothing to do with "soul" and "body" in our sense. and mode of operation . at base religious. the nature of time. far from being merely theoretical." and one between "refined" and "vulgar. but locally reworked) refer on the one hand to the felt realm of human experience and on the other to the observed realm of human behavior. determining exactly what was signified by the terms involved and sorting out their shades of meaning was what all the discussion was about. The "inside"/"outside" words. jobs were scarce. one hastens to say. Land was short. there was an absolutely astonishing intellectual vitality. the problem of the self . crude and imprecise. The central ideas in terms of which this reflection proceeded and which thus defined its boundaries and the Javanese sense of what a person is were arranged into two sets of. perhaps most importantly. illiterate tradesmen discoursed on the properties of God. to track the riddles of existence right down to the ground. and. of course.was pursued with the sort of reflective intensity one could find among ourselves in only the most recherche settings indeed. politics was unstable. in the midst of this depressing scene. for which there are in fact quite other words with quite other implications." These glosses are. a kind of agitated stagnancy in which. These have. or the reliability of the senses. as I once put it. prices were rising. as a matter of fact. common laborers had theories about the relations between reason and passion. from the Sufi tradition of Muslim mysticism. the future seemed about as remote as the past. themselves. and a popular one besides. function. thinking of the curious mixture of borrowed fragments of modernity and exhausted relics of tradition that characterized the place. Yet. batin and lair (terms borrowed. of course. and life was altogether far from promising. contrasts: one between "inside" and "outside.of densely packed rice-bowl villages.its nature. Destitute peasants would discuss questions of freedom of the will. 32 . And.

" "polished. lair. shifting flow of subjective feeling perceived directly in all its phenomenological immediacy but considered to be." "coarse." comes into play. at its roots at least. Therefore. postures. There is much to all this because it connects up to both an ontology and an aesthetic. and rather vacant set of choreographed motions and settled forms of speech. whose individuality it thus effaces. the result is a bifur33 . strict behaviorists limit themselves to studying external actions." "subtle. but to the emotional life of human beings taken generally. has nothing to do with the body as an object.inward feelings and outward actions . It is in connection with this "proper ordering" that the contrast between alus. Rather. The goal is to be alus in both separated realms of the self. the "outside" word. these two sets of phenomena . It consists of the fuzzy. speech again conceived as in its essence invariant from one individual to the next." "rough.are regarded not as functions of one another but as independent realms of being to be put in proper order independently. In the outer realm. does not refer to a separate seat of encapsulated spirituality detached or detachable from the body. the rules of which. it refers to that part of human life which. identical across all individuals. Through meditation the civilized man thins out his emotional life to a kind of constant hum. even an experienced object." "uncivilized. undisturbing. or indeed to a bounded unit at all. he both shields that life from external disruptions and regularizes his outer behavior in such a way that it appears to others as a predictable. And. the word meaning "impolite. similarly. in this instance." "ethereal." "smooth. the word meaning "pure. through etiquette. But so far as our problem is concerned." "exquisite. it is to be achieved through etiquette. in our culture. In the inner realm this is to be achieved through religious discipline. much but not all of it mystical." "civilized." "refined." "vulgar. the "inside" word.Batin. are not only extraordinarily elaborate but have something of the force of law." "insensitive. elegant." and kasar. movements.

level plain ("That is what you have to do. Bali. to flatten out. "be smooth inside and out") can you come. a young man whose wife . so to speak. however inaccessible it is to you.cate conception of the self. though one rather less drifting and dispirited. and Polynesian in about equal proportions (the development of which was more or less cut off in Java. it is quite different." he said to me. where I worked both in another small provincial town. and their permanent need to be kept in their own separate order. greeting everyone with a set smile and formal apologies for his wife's absence and trying. with which it shared a common culture until the fifteenth century. Hindu. as I have.a woman he had raised from childhood and who had been the center of his life . Only when you have seen. having continued Hindu while Java was. the hills and valleys of his emotion into an even. leaving its Indic spirit to turn reflective and phenomenological. and. Islamized. any particular person being but the momentary locus. obsessive ritual life. Buddhist. of that confrontation. their permanent separation. a passing expression of their permanent existence. later. flourished in Bali to reach levels of scale and flamboyance that have startled the world and made the Balinese a much more dramaturgical people with a self to match. even quietistic.has suddenly and inexplicably died. is in many ways similar to Java. 34 . as he himself put it. But at a deeper level. by mystical techniques. in an upland village of highly skilled musical instrument makers. The intricate. What is philosophy in Java is theatre in Bali. An inner world of stilled emotion and an outer world of shaped behavior confront one another as sharply distinguished realms unto themselves. its own sort of force. half ungestured feeling and half unfelt gesture. in the face of our own notions of the intrinsic honesty of deep feeling and the moral importance of personal sincerity. nominally at least. to take the possibility of such a conception of selfhood seriously and to appreciate. in the way I've just described).

ascriptive. internally very complex. Physically men come and go . and. and so on. and absolute. the parts they play. but through a set of readily observable symbolic forms: an elaborate repertoire of designations and titles. and it is the latter. the performed rather than the performer. fixed.makes no sense here. not actors. psychologically. as is more common. not actors. as the temporary occupant of a particular. in Bali is thus to 35 . most important. teknonyms. so it is thought. caste titles. terminological system. content to strut our hour" . which one person can apply to another (or. yourself or anyone else. anything characteristic of the individual merely because he is who he is physically. each of which consists not of a mere collection of useful tags but a distinct and bounded. that really matters. But the masks they wear. that in the proper sense really exist. never-changing pageant that is Balinese life. There are birth-order markers. There is no make-believe: of course players perish. It is dramatis personae. Again. there is in Bali a persistent and systematic attempt to stylize all aspects of personal expression to the point where anything idiosyncratic. but the play doesn't. all this is realized not in terms of some general mood the anthropologist in his spiritual versatility somehow captures. that endure. cultural locus. indeed. quite untemporary. or biographically.mere incidents in a happenstance history of no genuine importance. To identify someone. sex indicators. kinship terms. The Balinese have at least a half dozen major sorts of labels. several at once) to a person is to define him as a determinate point in a fixed pattern. To apply one of these designations or titles (or. it is dramatis personae. not least the self. the stage they occupy. is muted in favor of his assigned place in the continuing and. to himself) to place him among his fellows. the spectacle they mount remain and comprise not the facade but the substance of things.As a result. even to themselves. Shakespeare'sold-trouper view of the vanity of action in the face of mortality "all the world's a stage and we but poor players. of course.

or ninth-born. All Balinese receive what might be called birthorder names. births form a circular succession of "first. The birth-order naming system does not identify individuals as individuals nor is it intended to. count. for all procreating couples. the names don't really tell you anything very reliable about the birthorder relations of concrete individuals. There are four of these. though critical. someone called "first-born" may actually be first-." after which they recycle. But perhaps a single example.locate him within the familiar cast of characters . but socially 36 ."king. the simplest further simplified. psychological." "second-born. The drama is.Charley's Aunt or Springtime for Henry ." "seconds. almost anything in between. so that the fifth-born child is called again "first-born. or. historical of individual existence in favor of standardized status qualities would involve an extended analysis. even still-born ones." and "fourths. "first-born. if somebody is missing." "Brahman" . The immediate point is that. what it does is to suggest that. Physically men appear and disappear as the ephemerae they are.inevitably composed. To see how they do this. and especially not transvestite farce. how they tend to obscure the mere materialities biological. so that in this still high birth rate-high infant mortality society." "thirds. is unpursuable here." "third-born." "fourth-born." "grandmother. in both their structure and their mode of operation. It is an enactment of hierarchy. though there are such elements in it." "third-born. not farce. a theatre of status. the terminological systems conduce to a view of the human person as an appropriate representative of a generic type. But that. not a unique creature with a private fate. Further. will suffice to suggest the pattern." an endless four-stage replication of an imperishable form." the sixth "second-born. of course. like some stock company roadshow piece . and someone called "second-born" may in fact be older." and so on.of which the social drama is. fifth-. Within a set of living siblings. these names are bestowed independently of the fates of the children. Dead children.

that keeps of extraordinary social intercourse on its deliberately narrowed rails and protects the dramatistical sense of self the disruptivethreat implicit in the imagainst mediacy and spontaneity which even the most passionateceremoniousnesscannot fully eradicate from face-to-faceencounters. exactly summedup in what is surely one of their experience-nearestconcepts: lek. audience the the actor) loses sight of Hamlet and gains. Nor is this sense the Balinesehave of always being on stage a vague and ineffableone either.""seconds. would not) of the individualwill breakthroughto dissolvehis standardized public identity. Lek has been variously translatedor mistranslated ("shame"is the most common attempt).the fear that the actor will show through his part.or perhapsby mere accident. It renderedonly that much more probableby the ritualization daily life. Thus I would argue that all the designationand title systems function in the same way: to represent the most time-saturated aspectsof the human condition as but ingredientsin an eternal."and so on. the case is the same: what is feared is that the public performanceto which one'sculturallocationcommitsone will be botched and that the personality (as we would call it but the Balinese. dying. footlightpresent. is the fear of faux pas.Aestheticdistancecollapses. 37 .the acting figures remain eternally the same as new "firsts. dissolve once more into it. When this occurs. (and uncomfortably for all concerned. an aesthetic illusion will not be maintained.In Bali. not believing in such a thing. in fact.locked in mutual emas barrassment. a picture of bumbling John Smith painfully miscast as the Prince of Denmark. but what it really meansis close to what we call stage fright. they emerge from the timeless world of the gods to replace those who. and men become suddenly and unwillingly creatural.of course. the immediacy of the moment is felt with excruciating intensity. for want of skill or self-control. as it sometimesdoes. Stage fright is the fear that. though they had happenedupon each other'snakedness. It is.

""relationship.Next to Sefrou (the name of the place). Closeup. mimic Frenchmen. evalists. The main such means. Arabs. people out of offices. people out of tribes.""imputation.has been centered around a moderately large town or small city in the foothills of the Middle Atlas. herdsmen.accordingto the official governmentcensusfor i960.locals. Yet. too. a wild west sort of place without the bar rooms and the cattle drives. it is less prepossessing. I. My work there.and somewhere. from a distanceanyway. no society consists of anonymouseccentrics bouncing off one anotherlike billiardballs. super-poor.activist. extrovert. for "ascription. bronze and stony here. Manhattanseems almost monotonous." 38 . though more exciting: a labyrinthof passagesand alleyof ways. It has the walls.fluid.is a peculiarlinguistic form calledin Arabicthe nisba. and soldiers. probably founded in the tenth century.mid-Eastern dry ratherthanEast Asianandwet. people out of markets. and.and Morocco. the gates. is another kettle of selves altogether." "af"attribution. the narrow minaretsrising to prayer-call platformsof a classicalMuslimtown.poor. conceivably even earlier. about twenty miles south of Fez.not the only one. but I think the most importantand the one I want to talk about particularlyhere . an irregularoval of blinding white set in the deepsea green of an olive-grove oasis. an unemployedJewish airplanepilot .the mountains. which began in the mid-sixties. informal to a fault. It is an old place. it is a ratherpretty place. slantingup immediately behindit. tailors.unbendingmediimmigrants. have symbolic means by which to sort people out from one anotherand form an idea of what it is to be a person. n-s-b. and Moroccans. have ever come up against.the town houses one of the finest collectionsof rugged individuals at least.masculine. super-rich. rich. pressedin by wall-like buildingsand curbsideshops and filled with a simply astoundingvariety of very emphatic human beings.and Jews. three-quarters them blind. Berbers.The word derives from the triliteralroot.

and semantic process which consists of transforming a noun into what we would call a relative adjective but what for Arabs becomes just another sort of noun by adding i (f." "an analogy. as once formed." "kinship. that is very likely to be all that he knows . what his personal character is. mansub means "belonging to. or where exactly he lives.Sisi / man coming from that region. This sort of adjectival. and so on to at least a dozen derivatives from nassab. or spiritual status (Ali / The Prophet's son-in-law . Harari or Darqawi. occupation (hrar / silk . Sefrouis are far more likely to be ignorant of how welloff a man is. more 39 . to attribute relational properties to persons. but his (or her) nisba was not.. than they are of what his nisba is .hrari / silk merchant). grammatical. Jewry . Muhammed AlSussi / Muhammed from the Sus Region. religious sect (Darqawd / a mystical brotherhood . Nor is the procedure confined to this more or less straightforward "ethnicising" use but is employed.Yahudt / a Jew. munlsaba means "a relation. Beni Yazga / a tribe near Sefrou . nsabmeans"to attributeor impute to".Sefriuw/native son of Sefrou. Buhadiwi or Adluni. I was unable to find a single case in which an individual was generally known. Yahbd / the Jews as a people." "pertaining to". "(physical) relativity. refers to a combination morphological." Nsib means"in-law". "genealogist" to nisbiya." "correlation.or. Now.'Adlini / a member of that family.""connection.Umar Al-Buhadiwi / Umar of the Buhadi Tribe. 'Adlun / surname of a prominent Sefrou family . Indeed. in a wide range of domains.Darqidw / an adept of that brotherhood). iya): Sefru/Sefrou .finity.Sussi or Sefroui. Sus/region of southwestern Morocco . For example. how long he has been around.Yazgi / a member of that tribe." "a correspondence". nisbas tend to be incorporated into personal names .'Alawi / descendant of The Prophet's son-in-law." Nisba itself. (Of women to whom he is not related. or known about. and thus of The Prophet). attributive classification is quite publicly stamped upon an individual's identity. then.

or whatever. and the whole thing rises.that is. Meghrawi. within Sefrou such a nisba. They are contextualized persons. Alawi.namely. they called him a Himiwi. A man I knew who lived in Sefrou and worked in Fez but came from the Beni Yazgha tribe settled nearby . at one level. That's as far as things went here but not as far as they can go in either direction. The whole matter is far from regular: what level or sort of nisba is used and seems relevant and appropriate(relevant and appropriate. How- .Zuinis. an Ydiri to other Beni Yazghas around. Men do not float as 40 least the potential of it .It is only outside of Sefrou that the relationshipto thatparticular contextbecomesidentifying.and from the Hima lineage of the Taghut sub-fractionof the Wulad Ben Ydir fraction within it .Sefrou Alawis distinguishone another.will never be heard as part of an individualdesignation.Ngadi. Nisbas rendermen relativeto their contexts. systematic.Inside a man is an Adluni.so to speakto the second power: relativismsquared. it.) The selves that bump and jostle each other in the alleys of Sefrou gain their definitionfrom associative relations are imputed to have with the society that they surrounds them.Should. to the users) dependsheavily on the situation. our friend journey to Egypt he would become a Maghrebi. As for the few other Taghutis. Sefroui.but as contextsthemselvesare relative. is permitted to know. But the situationis even more radicalthan this. precisely because it does not discriminate.so too are nisbas.was known as a Sefroui to his work fellows in Fez.etc.who called him a Taghuti. the nisba formed from the Arabic word for North Africa.exactly.by chance.Thus.and similardistinctionsexist within these categories: there are. a Yazghi to all of us non-Yazghisin Sefrou. twelve differentnisbas (Shakibis. The social contextualizationof persons is pervasiveand. in its curiously unmethodical way.) by means of which. for example.or at ever. except for those who were themselvesof the Wulad Ben Ydir fraction. among themselves. everyonein Sefrouhas the samenisba.

and education. yet does so in terms . warily and however conditionally.even willful.allout cosmopolitanism the streets. As individualistic. their identity is an attributethey borrow from Now. isolating it into tribes. politics. friendtrade . To such a social patterna concept of selfhood which marks public identity contextually and but relativistically. and the absolutizingBalinesetitle systems. as the Moroccansin fact are.which grow out of the more private and settled arenas of life and have a deep and permanent resonance 41 their setting. with elaborate precision.though. the nisba way of looking at persons . strict comin munalism(of which the famoussecludedwoman is only the most striking index) in the home.work.and to an extent diet. detached from their backgroundsand singularly named.as though they were outlines waiting to be filled in . law.but surely one of its outstandingfeaturesis a promiscuous tumbling in public settings of varieties of men kept carefully segregatedin private ones .linguistic. difficultto characterize succinctly. the contexts marriage.they are connectedby them. .tribal. as with the Javanese inside/outside. This patternis. This is indeed the so-called mosaic system of social organization often held to be characterso istic of the Middle East generally: differently shapedand colored chips jammedin irregularly together to generate an intricate overall design within which their individualdistinctiveness remainsnonethelessintact. all have now and then been tried.bounded psychic entities. Moroccan society does not cope with its diversity by sealing it into castes. from those . sort of realitysmooth/rough phenomenological dividing. however ship. religious. Nothing if not diverse. fitfully. territorial.within which.dividingit into ethnic groups.is not an isolatedcustom but part of a total patternof social life. It copes with it by distinguishing. familial. worship. as the others.or covering it over with some common denominator concept of nationality.within which men are separatedby their dissimilitudes.

it places him without portraying him. for it produces a situation in which people interact with one another in terms of categories whose meaning is almost purely positional . opportunistic. to a hyper-individualism in public relationships because by providing only a vacant sketch (and that shifting) of who the actors are . only its coordinates are asserted. temples.leaving the substantive content of the categories. and generally ad hoc in one's relations with others . provenance. it would virtually seem to create it. and tents. shops. fields. almost everything. Calling a man a Sefroui is like calling him a San Franciscan: it classifies him but it doesn't type him.to create a framework within which persons can be identified in terms of supposedly immanent characteristics (speech. outline implications concerning what men so named as a rule are like. or whatever it leaves the rest. that is. aside as something properly concealed in apartments. Nisba-type categorization leads. would seem particularly appropriate. and the rest) and yet to minimize the impact of those characteristics in determining the practical relations among such persons in markets.a fox among foxes. cafes. a crocodile among crocodiles . 42 . Selfhood is never in danger because. Adlunis.that makes it so central to the Moroccan idea of the self. to be filled in by the process of interaction itself.as one wants without any risk of losing one's sense of who one is. faith. and they can be adapted to almost any changes in circumstance. what they mean subjectively as experienced forms of life. Indeed. blood. But they cannot carry with them more than the most sketchy. they can indicate location within the mosaic roughly or finely. baths. and roadways . What makes the mosaic work is the confidence that one can be as totally pragmatic.Yazghis. Nisba discriminations can be more or less specific. paradoxically. outside the immediacies of procreation and prayer.there. It is the capacity of the nisba system to do this .location in the general mosaic . adaptive. Buhadiwis. bureaus.

sentiments. one Javanese. psychoanalytic.outlooks. we seek to turn them.Bali.about "the native point of view" in Java. oscillates restlessly between the sort of exotic minutiae (lexical antitheses. Hopping back and forth betweenthe whole conceived throughthe partswhich actualize it and the partsconceived throughthe whole which motivatesthem. a continuousdialecticaltackingbetween the most local of local detailand the most global of global structure in such a way as to bring both into view simultaneously. in each of these analyses. and my argumenthere is merely that it is as central to ethnographic interpretation. the inward conceptual rhythm. All this is. personsare definedto one another?That we know words or that we know minds? In answering this question. into explicationsof one another. seeking to uncover the In Balinese." "dramatism. in this case.and indeed in all similar analyses. but the now familiartrajectory of what Dilthey called the hermeneutic circle. by a sort of intellectualperpetualmotion.categoricalschemes. and Morocco. morphophonemic transformations) that make even the best ethnographiesa trial to read and the sort of sweeping characterizations ("quietthat makes ism. without trying to tie up the dozens of loose ends I have not only left danglingin these rather breathlessaccounts of the senses of selfhood of nearly ninety million people but have doubtlessfrazzledeven more." "contextualism") all but the most pedestrianof them somewhat implausible. historical.Now. as it is to literary. let us returnto the questionof what all this can tell us.philological. includingthose of Malinowski namely. or could if it were done adequately. experiences?If so. it is necessary I think first to notice the characteristic intellectual movement. in what senseis this being done?What do we claimwhen the we assertthat we understand semioticmeans by which.or biblicalinterpretation. In describing symbol uses. of course.and thus to the penetrationof other people's modes of thought. are we describingperceptions. 43 .or Moroccansenseof self.

And you can no more know what mosaic social organizationis if you don't know what a nisba is than you can know what Keats' Platonismis if you are unable to grasp.a squeezeplay. as is their cultivation." "brideof quietness.or for that matterto the informal annotationof everyday experiencewe call common sense. of course.""silence and slow time." In short. When an explicationde texte critic like Leo Spitzerattempts to interpret Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn. "intellectual the thread Spitzer's of thought" captured in such fragment phrases as "Attic shape.if we expect people to tolerate 44 . to use own formulation. In order to follow a baseballgame one must understandwhat a bat."or "dittiesof no tone. or a tightenedinfield are. and what the game in which these "things"are elementsis all about. he moves back and forth between asking himself. like when a meanings-and-symbols ethnographer to find out what some pack of myself attempts natives conceive a person to be. a hit.""silentform." he does so by repetitively asking himself the alternatingquestions. accounts of other peoples'subjectivities can be built up without recourse to pretensionsto more-than-normal capacitiesfor egoeffacementand fellow-feeling. In the same way.a persona." emerging at the end of a similar sort of spiral with the notion that they see the self as a composite. an inning. the end of an advancingspiral of general observationsand specific remarkshe emergeswith a readingof the poem as an assertion of the triumphof the aestheticmode of perception over the historical. "What exactly has Keats seen (or chosen to show us) depicted on the urn he is at describing?"." "cold pastoral. and." "peacefulcitadel.or a point in a pattern.Normal capacities in these respects are.You can no more know what lek is if you don't know what Balinesedramatism than you can know is what a catcher'smitt is if you don't know what baseballis. "What is the general form of their life?. essential." and "What exactly arethe vehiclesin which that formis embodied?. a left fielder. a hangingcurve."What is the whole poem about?".

I am certainly not arguing for insensitivity here and hope I have not demonstratedit. natives'inner lives is more like graspinga proverb. But whatever accurate. but from the ability to construe their modes of expression. which is part of one's own biography not of theirs. to use the dangerous time.what I would call their symbol systems.or. or half-accuratesense one gets of what one's informants are "really like" comes not from the experienceof that acceptance as such. 45 .seeing a joke .catching an allusion. which such an acceptance allows one to work toward developing.than it is like achievingcommunion.our intrusionsinto their life at all and accept us as persons worth talking to. as I have suggested.Understanding form and the word one more pressureof.readinga poem .

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