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Anthropology and Orientalism Author(s): Nicholas Thomas Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp.

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American epidemiology',in R. Bolton, ed., TheAIDS Pandemic- A Global pp.23-36. Emergency, New York:Gordonand Breach;Sontag,S. 1989. Aids and its Metaphors. New York:Farrar, Straussand Giroux. 2. Sontag,S. 1990[1978]. 'Illness as In S. Sontag, metaphor.' Illness as Metaphorand .AIDSand its Metaphors, pp. 1-87. New York: Doubleday. 3. Ibid., p. 43. 4. Ibid., p. 58. 5. Louise Hay is an ordainedministerof the Churchof Religious Science. In its emphasis on prayerand mental healing, the Churchof Religious Science resemblesand has been influencedby the ChristianScience Church.Louise Hay was raisedin a Christian Science environmentas a child by her mother, a ChristianScience practitioner. 6. Hay, L. L. 1984. YouCan Heal YourLife. Santa Monica: Hay House, p. 151.

governable by) volition. Actively inquiring, Rick states: I'm really just at the point of touching on something that's importantand trying to physically stomp it down somehow by getting sick and putting my attentiononto my physical body instead of going to the root of all these physical symptoms. It might be mental. I think it is mental or emotional. Shortly after, I ask Rick:

never can - it's almost like running yourself into the ground. And that's what I think AIDS is too. You're just so used up because all you've been doing is trying ...

Do you have any idea about what that is?


I always try to say exactly what comes to my mind, and what [comes] to my mind ... is [my] relationshipwith my Dad. I'd like to remember when I started feeling bad because he just had a birthdayMay 14 - three or four weeks ago - and I missed it. I missed calling him. ... I really don't usually call [my Dad] for his birthday but I have been over the last years to heal my relationshipwith him, to do what I feel is expected of me. ... When you just said that, I think it is some old crap that I am still carrying around with him. I talked to my [younger] sister about it [on the phone] the other night. ... We both realized that [he] didn't expect anything out of us. ... We were underratedas people with ability. ... I think I stopped looking for affirmationthere of self-worth. Here, the metaphor of illness as volition assumes a full complex form. No longer is Rick deliberating between the action of another and his own action as an explanation for his illness. Now Rick embraces a more specific and at the same time more encompassing metaphor, equating his illness with the relationship between his father and himself. When you asked me it struck this thing like - all the time it's the same thing with my Dad, the relationshipwe have. And he wasn't a terrible person. He was just ... I don't know. Maybe I just didn't get what I expected. I couldn't win or do good enough. So I always have to prove myself now. And when you have to prove yourself now - and you

Once Rick formulates this interpretation,he continues to embrace it in the interviews that follow. It is, perhaps, a 'lurid metaphor' - to use one of Sontag's expressions - but Rick is not simply a 'victim' of his beliefs. Although the general proposition 'emotional conflict creates illness' has been learned, what gives Rick's specific interpretationsalience is 1) its correspondence to past experience and 2) the adaptive functions it performs. Rick's relationshipwith his father is effectively signified by his illness because so many elements of his currentexperience - his feelings of helplessness, his humiliation,his sense of being neglected can be organized aroundhis memories of this relationship. Representinghis illness as derived from this conflict also increases Rick's sense of control because it posits a manipulable situation. The metaphor furthermore focuses Rick's attentionon his subjective need to resolve the actual relationship with his father - something Rick was in fact able to do, to an extent, before his death three months following this interview. Would Rick's death have been more virtuous if he had embraced it with a sense of meaninglessness, 'purified,' as Sontag advocates, of metaphoricthinking? The stance against metaphorimplies an ideal of censorship, I believe. In spite of their vulnerability,the ill do not need to be protected from ideas. Metaphors are fragments. The more fragments, the more there is to build from. And who is to say what sense can or should be made out of illness? O

and Anthropology Orientalism


NICHOLAS THOMAS
Nicholas Thomasis a Queen ElizabethII Research Fellow affiliated with the AustralianNational University.His books include Out of time: history and evolution in anthropological discourse(Cambridge U.P. 1989) and Marquesansocieties (OxfordU.P. 1990). In October 1987 he contributedan article to A.T. entitled 'Narrative as practice?: accessible adventurein Swallows and Amazons'. If we suspect that in all scholarly disciplines, the customary way of doing things both narcotizes and insulates the guild member, we are saying something true about all forms of disciplinary worldliness. Anthropology is not an exception.I

No-one who reads literary,historical,anthropologicalor philosophicaljournals could have remainedunawareof the intense debate sparkedoff by EdwardSaid's Orientalism. What is conspicuous is not just the amount of comment the book has prompted,but also the polarization of views, and the level of vituperation.For some it is 'three hundredpages of twisted, obscure, incoherent, ill-informed, and badly-writtendiatribe'2; for others it seems to open a new field of problems and critiques. Hence there seems only a choice of hypercriticaland uncriticalpositions: the first is clearly the defensive reaction of an 'Asian studies' discipline that has all too much in common with the Orientalismit succeeded; the second, perhapsreacting in turnto the first, presumably overlooks Orientalism'sfaults and omissions. My interest in this essay is in the reception of Said's work in anthropology,and the separatequestion of what its real challenge or relevance might amountto. Because books are perceived entities as well as stable texts, this is however a more complex issue than might be initially apparent.Orientalismcontained scarcely any direct references to anthropology- one of which was laudatory,

suggesting that particular anthropologists had evaded the enduring stereotypes to which most Europeanwriters on the Middle East had resorted - but anthropologists have often responded to the book as though it was, by implication, a critique of anthropology,just as scholars in regions other than the Middle East have taken an interest in 'Orientalist' images of Pacific Islanders, Africans, and Indians. One of the most common objections to the book is that the critique is overgeneralized, yet ironically much of the generalization has been performed by readers of Orientalism rather than by Said himself. This is so in both positive and negative senses: on one side, the style of analysis developed with respect to the Middle East and Islam has been transposedto many other parts of the world, and extended and modified in various ways. On the other hand, references to the book - in seminar discussions and conversation as well as in print - often convey a perception of a more unambiguouslythreatening and negative polemic than the text really seems to sustain. The Orientalism often argued about may thus be ratherdifferentfrom the book that Said wrote. Much of the comment on Said from within anthropology has been tentative and qualified, even from those whose work is regarded as critical and experimental in other respects:3 Michael Richardson's com-

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EdwardSaid

ment ('Enough Said', A.T., August 1990) appearsto be essentially a defensive reaction that misconstrues and deflects Said's observations more than it addresses or challenges them. Though his concern is particularly with Said's 'methodological assumptions', he makes two quite elementary mistakes right at the start in asserting, first, that Said is an idealist and, second, that it is insisted that Orientalism'sperceptionsof the Orient were false. The claim that the approach is 'manifestly idealist' is based not on a quotation from Orientalism, but from Christopher Miller's Blank darkness, which serves equally well because he is a 'disciple' of Said's. Never mind that Miller clearly also has substantial theoretical debts to various more committed deconstructionistcritics, such as Paul de Man (whose work is discussed at greater length than Said's in Blank darkness), but it is somewhat more unfortunatethat whereas Miller writes that 'perceptionis determinedby Orientalism ratherthan Orientalism's being determinedby perception'4, Said's own propositions are quite different. Because institutionalized Orientalism acquired such authority, 'no-one writing, thinking, or acting on the Orientcould do so without taking account of the limitations of thoughtand action imposed by Orientalism.' Said explicitly disowned the idea that 'Orientalism unilaterally determines what can be said about the Orient' and affirmed an interest in 'the determiningimprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body of texts'5. Given the debates that have raged over authorshipsince Barthes and others, it hardly needs to be pointed out that this interest in the perspectives of particularwriters places Said at some remove from the main strandsof structuralist and poststructuralist literary theory. Hence what is merely a general and highly qualified premise which differs significantly from a more rigorous deconstructionistposition, and which in fact seems to provide parametersfor a more open inquiry into relationshipsbetween knowledge and politics and the various manifestations of Orientalism,is renderedas the book's dogmatic thesis. This misreading aside, the more consequential error seems to arise from a complete misunderstandingof Said's theoreticalframework.Richardsonomits to men-

tion that Said is drawing- admittedlyloosely - on Foucault, and that Orientalismis understoodas a discourse, not simply as an ideology or an arrayof ideas. In other words, Orientalism was an institutionalizeddiscipline, that possessed authority, that involved descriptive and analytical practices that projected constructions of the Orient in imaginative, sociological, military, and political terms. For Foucault- and especially the Foucault of Discipline and Punish, which Said appears particularly indebted to - knowledge and power are mutually constitutive. The imposition of philosophical straitjackets which make any inquiry either materialistor idealist is here entirely inappropriate; and when one reads Said's assertionsthat 'never has there been a nonmaterialform of Orientalism', and encounters again and again his concern with the 'material effectiveness' of institutionalized Orientalism in administration and policy, one wonders how Richardsoncan have arrivedat his view.6 It is consistent with this non-recognition of the theoretical ground that Richardsontakes Said to be insisting that Orientalist perception 'was false.' To the contrary, the interest is in establishing how it creates truth.Hence, with respect to Lane's Modern Egyptians, Said is concemed with the text's systematization and organization, its use of detail, the role of the characterizationof a typical life cycle, and so on: the question is how the status of an unadorned, neutral and dispassionate account is evoked. And although many generalized notions concerning the characterof particular colonized populations (such as postulates of 'the lazy native') are clearly nothing other than pernicious mystifications, the question of truth or falsity is not always the central issue. With respect to the great archive of archaeological, philological and ethnological facts conceming India that was inauguratedby Sir William Jones and others in the Asiatick Journal, critiques of Orientalismare not chiefly concemed to find fault with translationsfrom Persianor Sanskrit,or revise drawings of stone monuments.The point is ratherthat this information became part of a prodigious archive, that enabled the British to think that they knew India better than Indiansever did themselves; this was never merely an adjunctto rule, or a legitimizationof it, but ratheran expression of dominance with its own distinctive aesthetics and peculiarintricacy. More generally, Said's concem is with specifying how the 'Orient' or the 'East' as an entity, could be a reference point for extremely serious and confident statements conceming, for instance, 'the Oriental mind.' At this level, it must be clear that the Orient, like 'America'7 in sixteenth and seventeenth century ethnology, is not usefully understood as a real entity that has been distorted by European writers, but as a discursive construct. When, for instance, Lord Cromer made pronouncements about the differences between the capacities for logical thought in Egyptians and Europeans - which were not merely idiosyncratic views, but are reflected in a great variety of sources - it is ludicrous to regard this negatively as error or bias. The point is rather that such a characterizationwas positive and productive, in the sense that it enabled a larger understanding of social and racial difference which made Europeangovernment in colonized territories appropriate and natural. On this point, as James Clifford has pointed out, Said's argumentsare certainly not consistent, in that he sometimes departs from writers such as Foucault in suggesting that there is a real Orient that is distorted or dominated.8 Though Said does not address the issue 5

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1. EdwardSaid, 'Anthropology's interlocutors: representing the colonized', Critical Inquiry 15 (1989), p.213. 2. PierreRyckmans (aka Simon Leys), 'Orientalismand Sinology', Asian StudiesAssociation of AustraliaReview 7 (3), p. 20; these comments are typical of a number of statementswhich appearedin a review symposiumover several issues of that periodical.Among more negative reviews, that of RobertIrwin is more consideredthan most: 'Writingabout Islam and the Arabs', Ideology and Consciousness9 (1981/82), 103-112. 3. e.g. George E. Marcus and Michael J. J. Fisher,Anthropology as cultural critique, Chicago: U. of Chicago P., pp.1-2. 4. Christopher Miller, Blank darkness: Africanistdiscourse in French (Chicago: U. Chicago P., 1985), p. 15. 5. Orientalism(New York: Vintage, 1978), pp.3, 23. 6. Said clearly also owes somethingto Raymond

clearly and explicitly, it would seem importantto recognize that there are political as well as analytical imperatives, and distinguish levels of specificity in texts and propositions. That is, while it is crucial that analysis deal with the economy of truth which certain ways of characterizingtopography,natives, and colonization entail, it is equally crucial to point out what the truths obscure, displace, or occlude. For example, colonial discourses in certain parts of the world frequently emphasized both the naturalrichness and the vacancy of lands in which white settlement was proceeding or projected, and which were in fact occupied by peoples such as Australian Aborigines. In this case, and with regardto the denials of the existence of the Palestinian people that were long central to Zionist writing and propaganda,it is not that something - the savage or terrorist- is perceived falsely, but that one construct permits the life and rights to land of a real people to be suppressed. Rather than explore the ambiguities of Said's approach to these questions in any thorough fashion, Richardson makes much of the inconsistency between Said's extremely cursory references to Geertz in quite different contexts, as if Geertz's work was not sufficiently heterogeneous to prompt a variety of responses, and as if there was something terribly wrong with changing one's mind. While these references are accordeddisproportionate significance, neitherRichardson nor other critics who assert Said's ignorance9seem to make any systematic attemptto deal with or fault the extensive discussions of Lane, Renan, Flaubert and many others which in fact constitute the bulk of the book. Other problems arise because Richardson, like a number of other writers, is mainly concerned with taking Said's work as though it were a criticism of anthropology. It is quite understandablethat anthropologists should be concerned with such issues, but Said cannot be faulted for misrepresentinga field of work that he never sought to represent,or not providing appropriateterms to discuss it. Hence, while the question of reciprocity, that, it is suggested, is overlooked by Said, is no doubt importantin interpretingthe constitution of ethnographicknowledge, it is of less significance when we consider much Orientalist representation, such as Balfour's and Cromer's statements. These referred to Egyptians and Orientals but were never addressed to them; even texts that are far more complex and ambivalent, such Kipling's Kim - though it was and is no doubt read by Indians - was constructed with a British and Anglo-Indian readershipin mind. The Hegelian master-slave dialectic, which Richardsonsuggests needs to be considered, is simply not of direct relevance in this context, because Orientalism has generally created representationsof the Orient for the West, that have served various culturaland political purposes, but have frequently not even been circulated in the countries that were purportedlyrepresented,let alone imposed upon the populationsthere. The cultures of the colonized have their own dynamics, which sometimes engaged directly with colonizers' discourses, through collaboration and resistance, but which never simply stood in relation to them as a subordinateterm. Though Said has elsewhere writtenon Palestinianlife and Arab literature, cultural life in Cairo, and many other topics10- the impact of Orientalismon the Orient is only indirectlytreatedin Orientalismitself. It is certainly the case, however, that anotherkind of discussion could emphasize the interplay between outsiders' and insiders' perspectives, and the ramifications

of the former for constructionsof identity and ethnicity in particularpopulations.Whetherthese would be wellserved by the Hegelian model, ratherthan historical attention to the transformationof relationships and the forms of encounters, is, however, a moot point; any condensation of the self/other and subject/object oppositions would seem to embody many of the difficulties that efforts to rethink fieldwork and ethnographic writing have sought to transcend. It is a pity, given that his interest seems mainly to be in the ramificationsof this literaturefor anthropology, that Richardson had not read the essay of Said's that specifically dealt with the discipline, and which did something quite differentto merely extending the arguments of Orientalism to anthropology. While Richardson warns us about the dangers of turning 'the "Other"into an ill-defined universal' there appears to be an equal risk of generalizing some quite specific projects in literary criticism, anthropological theory, discourse analysis, and contemporary political commentary into a 'post-modernist' criticism that is characterized mainly by its objectionable subjectivism. The subsumptionof Johannes Fabian's Time and the other to this 'deconstructive'impulse is particularlymisleading, given that the book manifestly owes more to an earlier wave of interest in the communicativecharacter of ethnographythat seemed influenced by hermeneutic philosophy and Habermas rather than Nietzsche. But perhaps any anti-positivism must 'fall into the trap of all subjectivism and conflate general and specific critiques in a way that de-legitimizes both'? The critiques of Said indeed indicate that this is a difficult trap to avoid. This is not to say that Orientalism does not have faults or limitations. Because of the novelty of its project, some homogenization of the object of study was almost inevitable; though critical discussion of European perceptions of non-Europeans was not, of course, a new endeavour,Said redirectedsuch inquiries by dealing not with a history of ideas or images, but with a discourse, that was understoodas a systemic, enduring entity. While the earlier genre had emphasized stereotypesand particularvisions of others, Said's book suggested the very significant epistemic level at which discourses such as Orientalism could work: they prowith considerablepolitical weight duced representations and authority.Once the field had been opened up, however, it obviously becomes more productiveto examine Orientalismsor colonial discourses in their plurality.As Said as well as many of his critics anticipated, much more attentionmight be paid to the differences between traditionsof orientalistscholarshipin various European countries, traditions relating to other regions such as southeast Asia and the Pacific, more precise,periodization of particularconstructs, and the differing interests of particularcolonists, writers,artists,and scholars. The aim is not to dissolve the field of questions into a mass of particularities, but to gain a better sense of localized projectsand their common ground. More might also be done by way of examining counterpartsto Orientalismin the culturesof indigenous and colonized groups - that is, in exploring their characterizationsof whites, among others, in ethnic typologies and narrativesof colonial encounters.l While diverse modes of 'othering' and stereotyping might be identified, it would be unfortunateif the result was a presumptionthat Orientalizingwas a universalkind of cultural process - that people everywhere have always done to each other. While that might be a valid state-

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Williams, hardlyan idealist critic. See 'Narrative,geography and interpretation', New Left Review 180 (1990), 81-97. 7. Cf. Peter Mason, Deconstructing America,London, Routledge, 1990. 8. 'On Orientalism'in Thepredicamentof culture (Cambridge, Mass.: HarvardU. P, 1988), p.260. This is probablythe most careful and extended readingof Said's work publishedwithin anthropologythus far. 9. e.g. Simon Leys, cited by Richardson. 10. See for instance the book with Jean Mohr's photographs, After the last sky: Palestinian lives, New York, Pantheon, 1986, and 'Homage to a belly-dancer',London Review of Books, 13 September1990, pp. 6-7. 11. 'Anthropology's interlocutors.' 12. See for instance JonathanHill (ed.) Rethinkinghistoryand myth:indigenoussouth Americanperceptions of the past (Urbana,U. of Illinois P., 1988). 13. e.g. R. Borofsky, Making history, CambridgeU. P. 1987, pp. 152-56. 14. Orientalism,p. 237. 15. For discussion with respect to the Maussian literatureon the gift, see N. Thomas, Entangledobjects: exchange, material cultureand colonialism in the Pacific, Harvard U. P., in press. 16. Some of the more connections particular between colonial ethnology and modem anthropologyare discussed in my paper, 'The force of ethnology: origins and significance of the Melanesia/Polynesia division', Current Anthropology30 (1989), 27-41; 211-213. 17. Orientalism,p. 325. 18. 'Representingthe colonized', p. 212. 19. For recent work in this direction, see the special issue (November 1989) of AmericanEthnologist on 'Tensions of empire'.

ment in a categorical sense, it is clearly the case that the capacities of populations to impose and act upon their constructions of others has been highly variable throughouthistory; the distinctiveness of Europeanand Americancharacterizations of various colonized or prospectively colonized populations over the last several centuriescan hardlybe overlooked. Whatever its faults, Orientalism thus opens up a whole range of questions for further exploration, but many critics seem inclined to avoid the challenge by denouncing the book. The dismissive claim that Orientalism merely expresses its Palestinian author's grudge against the West has been often reiterated,and this is why more is at issue here than the adequacy or otherwise of Richardson'sreadingof Said. He follows others such as Leys in noting Said's 'personal stake' in the topics at issue, as if other writers were merely dispassionate scholars who had no commitments,grudges, or personal investments in academic disciplines, institutions, theoreticalstances, or particulararguments.While these commitments are in fact diverse, and linked up with individual biographies in a highly particularfashion, it must be acknowledgedthat most scholars have a general stake in the credibility of their chosen discipline: this is, after all, the context and condition of salaries, grants, personal prestige, and so on. Of course, the extent to which this constrains scholarship is diverse: many academics obviously have a critical attitudeto assumptions that establish particulardisciplines as clearly separate and scientific endeavours, but there are evidently also many who respond to any questioning of a discipline's distinctiveness or rigour in an extraordinarily defensive fashion. In the wake of Writingculture and similar explorations of the constitution of ethnographic texts, there have been many pleas to forget about sterile meta-theory- that is stereotyped as it is accused of stereotypingconventional work - and get on with the job. The challenge posed by Said's work is ratherdifferent. In fact, much of the reflective literature on the making of ethnographies seems to have a celebratory character, and affirms rather than deconstructs ethnographic authority;this tendency no doubt arises from the orientationtowards individual fieldworkers and individual ethnographythat has characterizedthe literature, and in particular,the emphasis on autocriticism.13 Said, on the other hand, is oriented more towards genres and the enduring metaphors and structure of writing on the Middle East. He points out that writers such as Lawrence and Doughty saw their own conceptions of the Orient as highly individual, 'self-created out of some highly personal encounter' yet tended nevertheless to confirm traditional attitudes and ultimately disparagethe Orientin a conventionalfashion.14 In a similar way, anthropologiststend to see their portraits of peoples studied as the outcomes of a singular and personal experience, while neglecting the importance of genre constraints and enduring rhetorical forms. Ethnographicaccounts still seem to be regarded as a novel genre associated with professional anthropology, even though the most cursory reading of eighteenth and nineteenth century travel writing and ethnology makes significantcontinuitiesapparent. If anthropologists are to draw anything from work such as Said's, it is perhaps less importantto take the critique of Orientalism as though it might be directly transposed to anthropology, and instead apply similar interpretativemethods to both general styles and regional traditions of research and writing. At a very

general level, it is, for instance, notable that many prominent works of anthropological comparison continue to emphasize us-them juxtapositions, using the 'other' as a counter-example to what is notionally a 'western' institution or belief.15 While these studies such as Clifford Geertz's Negara - frequentlymanifest a humanistic will to understandthe people described, they also subordinatetheir lives, cultures, and societies, to the purposes of metropolitanrhetoric:the interestsof healthy scepticism or relativistic cultural criticism at home thus make the other admissible primarily as a corrective to some aspect of 'our' thought. In the case of Negara, this leads to a highly picturesque account, similar in rhetorical form if not in content, to the us/themjuxtapositionof Enlightenmenttravel writing.16 * 17 Contrary,then, to what Said implied in Orientalism constructionsof other cultures are not necessarily to be applaudedsimply because they avoid hostile or aggressive attitudes, which have hardly been conspicuous in recent anthropology;his later article more appropriately raises the question of what the problematicand interests of the observeractually are.18 Many anthropologists'misgivings concerning 'reflective' anthropologyrelate to its perceived introspection and narcissism. Whetherthese complaints can really be sustained by the literaturein question is a moot point, but Said suggests directionsfor a differentkind of critical anthropology,that is concerned with the formation of anthropologicalknowledge in the context of colonial histories and contemporaryimperialism. While ethnographyand oral history have alreadycontributeda great deal to betterunderstandings of indigenous responses to colonialism, the perceptions and strategies of white intruders, and those who planned or wrote about intrusion, have been relatively neglected.19 Anthropology might now examine the cultures of colonizers, not only through ethnographicor ethnohistoricalstudies of particular groups such as missionaries, but in a more wide ranging way in relation to the development of representationsof others in metropolitancultures. Given that such studies are now attemptingto deal with the localized manifestationsof such discourses, as well as their general contours,it might seem that anthropology'sparticularist vision might make a distinctive contribution. The challenge of such research, though, lies not in the scope there might be for reinterpretingthe Cook voyages, Mungo Park,or more recent travellersand ethnologists, but in the continuity between such endeavours and contemporaryscholarship. Just as Orientalism established the continuities between various scholarly traditions and anti-Arab political propaganda- which has regrettablybeen given a new lease of life in the western media by the Gulf war - what are the connections between colonial constructionsand modern popular and anthropologicalviews of particula'r societies? And what political projects or imperativesdo these discourses express? If some kind of collective self-understanding is a legitimate aim for an academic discipline, the interest in the making of contemporarytexts might be complemented by an awareness of precedents and continuities, that is, a sense of anthropology'splace in larger discourses such as Orientalism. While some patches of blindness are perhapsinevitable correlatesof the kinds of insight that particulardisciplines enable, we should not complacently succumb to the guild members' narcotic;the dose of politics and history that a critical investigation of anthropologicaland colonial discourses might bring is no magic solution, but a partial antidoteis betterthan none.a

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