A Timely Rereading of Naven: Gregory Bateson as Oracular Essayist

Author(s): George E. Marcus
Source: Representations, No. 12 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 66-82
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3043778
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at a time when its contemporary practice of fieldwork followed by the writing of ethnographic accounts was being defined by Bronislaw Malinowski and A. rambling text full of unexpected turns. Like Naven in the beginning.jstor. He engaged thinkers in a variety of disciplines. rebeginnings. ended as fragmentarily. is that it is above all else a failed essay. It ended at his death in 1980 with a replaying of themes. and hedging asides. as well as for the influence Naven is having in anthropology now that ethnographic writing has shaken loose of a set of guiding conventions. He fit uneasily into the role of guru made for that period.org/terms . Bateson's career began professionally in British anthropology of the 1930s. this second and belated effort to write a major work.55 on Fri. Gregory Bateson's first and only ethnography (1936). MARCUS A Timely Rereading of Naven: Gregory Bateson as Oracular Essayist THE CENTRAL FACT ABOUT Naven. in 1972 Bateson enjoyed for the first time a broad.135. Radcliffe-Brown.2 Gregory Bateson. R. the volume Mind and Nature (published in 1979). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. especially among the fading American counterculture. first expressed in his ethnographic writing. His self-image was very much that of an evolving intellect. Death has imposed a closure on his work that gives it a certain solidity and lends it perspective. but it nonetheless approximated the kind of influence to which he had aspired. we 66 REPRESENTATIONS 12 * Fall 1985 ? THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA This content downloaded from 189. With the publication of his collected essays. on the global scale of the relationship between man and nature.32. I will argue that the kind of text that this early experiment in modern ethnography turns out to be has important consequences for Bateson's subsequent style as thinker and writer. Bateson's effort to produce a synthetic cap to his thought in the face of death was a clear indication of his objectification of his lifelong thinking and his desire to end with a statement that was retrospectively holistic. It expands beyond a limited account of certain strikingly exotic customs among a New Guinea people into a long.3 Fortunately. son of a family prominent among the late nineteenth- century academic aristocracy of Cambridge. This writing project flirts with incoherence because of the epis- temological obsessions of its author in trying to represent the details of an alien social reality. became a visionary figure in late twentieth-century American intellectual circles. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. GEORGE E. but always maintained an independent perspective that was self- consciously transcendent and generalist. as his thinking became more explicitly visionary. public audience during the 1970s.

despite its peculiar organization and hyper-self- consciousness. which has always been de facto open to them. and Bateson admits as much in the revealing epilogue of the 1936 edition-the first of two epilogues that are keys to the book. This is a period for anthropology of an exhaustion of paradigms and theoretical programs for research and of a lively experimentation with the written product of the discipline's practice-the ethnographic text. It so questioned the grounds of its own authority. even as it employed conventional ethnographic rhetoric to construct descriptions of an alien culture. Naven has had a special context of relevance in anthropology. In some sense.5 The argument of this paper derives from my rereading of Naven with an awareness of the predicament of representation that underlies present experi- ments in ethnographic writing. It was this relative boldness- an earnest and sincere doubting.jstor. has moved its intellectual vitality from the realms of high theory to a demystification of fieldwork as method and to a critique of ethnography's status as a genre of scientific description.also have an excellent biography of Bateson by David Lipset. speaks to this quest. that anthropologists did not know what to make of this eccentric work as eth- nography. and Naven. The imaginative energies of ethnographers seem to be focused on a search for some alternative to functionalist forms of ethno- graphic realism. work. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. dialogic relationship of master-student. and I came away from this reading with the central observation about Naven with which I began this paper: it is an essay gone haywire.32. conventional ethnographic essay that got out of control because of Bateson's unrelenting epistemological A Timely Rereading of Naven 67 This content downloaded from 189. Bateson's main interest for contemporary ethnographers has rested in his first and longest work. a classic amid the pioneering works in functionalist anthropology. what Bateson said became immensely more impor- tant than what he wrote. Naven is now often read as a sympathetic and inspirational pre- cursor of the current trend of play with the conventions of ethnographic writing. but well within the limits of British empiricism- which has always made Naven a refreshing. Naven is indeed an unwieldy book that deserves to be rewritten. not radically challenging to the business-as-usual of Anglo-American philosophy and social thought. it was the self-indulgent product of an academic aristocrat coming of age. secure in a rich. personal. and Bateson admits as much in his 1936 epilogue.135. Consequently. The profound impact of her- meneutic perspectives on anthropology. Being a saliently and self-consciously exper- imental work.org/terms . a sort of authorized work produced characteristically from a close. who. I reread Naven with a more acute sensitivity to its form than in my previous readings. Understanding that Naven started out to be a modest. had already made condescending judgments about the ultimate import of where functionalist anthropology was leading. Naven. Since the 1 970s. which has always had a mystique and special respect among British and American anthropologists.4 After Naven. with its straining at the boundaries of functionalist conventions.55 on Fri. intellectual family life. rather than a disturbing.

he retreated to a very conventional. The important point he reveals to us about the writing of Naven is that it derives from the chaotic. Naven was thus a constitutional work for Bateson. Bateson's one attempt to write a long work in the ethnographic genre at the beginning of his career failed for nontrivial reasons.jstor. this text is tantamount to a judgment about the adequacy of analytic writing and descriptive rhetoric. He returned from New Guinea with a mass of observations. after it. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. Conversation. Naven grew to book length because of the philosophical concerns that informed its writing. he found close observations of human populations with the aim of portraying them holistically a cognitively overwhelm- ing experience. as he understood them.org/terms . for their efforts. diffuse nature of his field experience. and specifically of the ironic influence of Naven among contemporary writers of ethnography. Bateson came to value spoken over written discourse in his own work. so to speak. or even a model. Every ethnographic account derives from an experience of fieldwork. and occasional lectures became for him the more important media of his thought. The remainder of this paper will move from a discussion of the epistemo- logical obsessions in Naven to a discussion of how. but this was occluded in his commitment to scientific description. While I am pitching this discussion above the level of a close reading. In fact. to represent either his thinking or social reality. and finally to a discussion of his general style of influence. who take Naven as an encouragement.32. or at least the possibility of it. It is remarkable that many anthropological readers of Naven 68 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. Bateson's work among the latmul was preceded by self-admitted fieldwork failures among the Sulka and Baining. who have drawn from it quite a different message than did Bateson. Initi- ating a life-long chain of essays. After Naven. A gifted naturalist.55 on Fri. I then realized that the essay became subsequently the form in which Bateson consistently wrote. although until very recently references to such experience have played little part in the rhetoric of ethnographic texts themselves. it is still necessary to give an overview of the structure of Naven in a way that will contextualize the following discussions. stylistically direct use of the essay. Bateson includes confessional remarks about his fieldwork experience in his 1936 epi- logue. This is quite a different reading of the significance of Naven from that of current readers and writers of experimental ethnography. Characteristically precocious. registered occasionally in writing by essays. in other words. Only because of their felicitous misread- ing has Naven been influential among these writers. socratic teaching.135. and he saw his task as finding the natural order in what he observed by the imposition of some analytic order on this corpus of observations. thus inti- mately linking its unusual structure as a text and Bateson's views of epistemology in the human sciences. Method for Bateson was not what one did in the field as much as what one did with field materials at one's desk. concerns. he lost interest in experimental writing altogether. He did indeed sense the fictional element in this enterprise.

The frame for these details is a bounded ritual called naven. encouraged in the reader by Bateson's rationalizing reflec- tion in his 1936 epilogue. or five layered and juxtaposed descriptions are perhaps richer than one. which the particular perspective dictates. Rather. especially given that functionalists were trying to promote the scientific respectability of fieldwork itself as a method. particularly as they are exhibited in the celebratory ritual naven in which the maternal uncle con- gratulates the nephew for committing some notable deed like homicide.org/terms . Having fieldwork demystified in this subtle way in the early phase of the modern anthropological research par- adigm did not raise suggestions about Bateson's competence-it was merely a surfacing of the secret that anthropologists. but how A Timely Rereading of Naven 69 This content downloaded from 189. Bateson cut into his material by what most grabbed his attention. and this turned out to be the ornately exotic behaviors of mother's brother-sister's son relationships. the exaggerated agonistic displays. Two. uncer- tain narrative progression. cleaned-up rep- resentation of the text.jstor. an eccentric exposure of which they apparently did not mind.55 on Fri.32. The con- tinual worry in this narrative progression is that each circle is fragmenting the integrity of naturally occurring social action. initiated into the discipline by fieldwork. Each perspective picks up certain of the puzzling details of naven and provides an interpretation of them by contextualization in some broader dimension of latmul life. The first circle contextualizes wau-laua (mother's brother-sister's son) relations in systematic latmul kin relations. this image is a retrospective. four. The bull's eye is a melange of detail that sums up to exotica incarnate. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. We have the beginning of a detective story. The third circle. three. the partiality of such a move distorts the holism of the phenomenon being analytically fragmented. Even while a particular strategy of analysis illuminates certain details. analytic perspective on the material in the bull's eye. and the most troubled and innovative part of the text. But how to do this textually? Imagine the text Naven as a target with three concentric circles around a bull's eye. focuses on the explanation of the observed emotional tones of naven behavior. This neat image certainly does not correspond to the experience of reading Naven for the first time as one moves through Bateson's tortuous. The transvestism. Each circle is a distinct. So to understand Naven as a text we must understand that it originates in a self-conscious predicament of arbitrary choice of beginning. odd utterances. the rubbing of buttocks on shins all become the details Bateson seeks to explain by systematically contextualizing them in the descriptions of broader features of latmul culture. real life that Bateson explicitly allows to be puzzling to the reader.at the time admired this admission of ex-post-facto method in writing rather than fieldwork. The second circle gives a sociological account of the effects of naven on the solidarity or integration of latmul village society.135. have long shared. and the observations of detail presented early in the text are meant to refer to a discrete slice of whole.

and hedges to offer as a rhetoric of sensitivity and sincerity. Following the perspectives circling in on the bull's eye. if not erratic. empiricist methods with which Bateson admits he is most comfortable.org/terms . as I have noted. The 1936 epilogue. This evocation of the totality of his thought became a central and continuing dimension of all of Bateson's writing. there are two key epilogues to Naven. construction derive from a basic tension between Bateson's doubts concerning the adequate representation in nonfiction writing of the wholeness of another form of life-the proclaimed goal of func- tionalist ethnography-and his firm commitments to the analytic and empiricist traditions of British science in which he was brought up. This residual chapter is now seen as a prefiguring of French structuralism. to resolve the violations to the integrity of real life that this analytic relativism yields? There is no textual resolution of this question in Naven. and a quasi-literary style of description. he comes to rely on deduction. The text ends in drift. The 1958 epilogue clarifies the text in relation to the totality of Bateson's thought. The Epistemological Concerns of Naven The two kinds of epistemological worries that pervade Naven and account for its unusual.135. which however remained repressed within stronger com- mitments to a tradition of scientific empiricism. which the reader has just passed through. My general argu- ment about these worries is that they reflect Bateson's highly developed her- meneutic sensibility. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. Rather. was meant to clarify the odd construction of the text. especially the buffoonery of the wau or mother's brother-cannot be understood by the inductive. there is a chapter on eidos that reads cognitive structures into latmul cultural artifacts and institutions.32. turns. it has only its experimental twists. Finally.55 on Fri. and it is the one piece of Bateson's writing that made Claude Levi-Strauss his admirer. The most pressing worry is about the misplaced concreteness inherent in the abstractions and linearity of analytic writing. following Naven. The other. which sacrifices precisely the integral roundedness of the subject that ethnography is supposed to capture. Stylistically. related worry that pervades Naven is that finally the most interesting parts of naven rituals-transvestism and the emotional qualities of the central actors. This is the gap between the herme- neutic rhetoric of early functionalist anthropology and its narrowly empiricist practice that Bateson refused to ignore. I would argue that the eidos chapter is residual precisely because it contains elements that are threatening to the whole experi- ment.jstor. coming mainly from his familial affinity to late nineteenth-century biology and natural history. intuition. this conflict is registered in the contrast of a self-assured manner of exposition 70 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. These are the revealing loose ends of Naven.

yet relatively uninterested in language. reports dialogues. and provides sophisticated exegeses of latmul terms. despite the fact that his text is rich in other sorts of representations of his subjects.6 Bateson presents inti- mate case illustrations. Consequently. To be sure. The Worry About Misplaced Concreteness In Naven. tells first-person stories. but the sort of data his inter- pretations specifically address is strictly and narrowly behaviorist in nature. observed behaviors alone are the object of its analytical concerns.32. Without apparent aid of-continental philosophy. There is no break between nature and culture but a fundamental unity between them. According to this commitment. Let's now look in more detail at each of the epistemological worries that guides Naven's construction. Bateson relied on Whitehead and later Russell to express his concern with the problem of misplaced concreteness in conceptual thought about human activity. of the phenomena under investigation.135. subject to its order. and particularly as a problem of writing. ethnography is a kind of extension of field biology or natural his- tory. Observed behaviors are what his explanations refer to. Bateson was concerned about the epistemological problems of the interpreting analyst. Bateson makes a half turn toward what in today's fashion would be called a hermeneutic position.org/terms . he misses it in the con- stitution of the data itself. finally. embedded in an uncertain organizational progression of chapters and systematic hedging in footnotes and chapter conclusions that belie the certainty of exposi- tion. While Bateson is acutely sen- sitive to misplaced concreteness in the analysis of data. with culture being an integral part of the natural world. This move is directly related to the empiricist commitment deep in Bateson's background that belies alternative possibilities for constructing data. However rich Naven is in the variety of descriptive techniques it uses. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor. This hermeneutic-empiricist bind in which he is caught defines not only the special quality of Naven as a text but also Bateson's special quality as a thinker and writer-as a semiotic behaviorist deeply interested in problems of meaning. Seeing meaning in observed A Timely Rereading of Naven 71 This content downloaded from 189. He thus appears to be like any other good ethnographer in the kinds of material he presents. This unproblematic and simplistic construction of data according to empiricist conventions was thus a clear choice or move on Bateson's part. but he did not extend this concern to the interpreting subject.55 on Fri. These potentials are nonetheless present but unexploited in Naven. language and occasioned discourse-what the native says-is not a major focus of attention for Bateson. nor to the encounter with this subject in fieldwork. Naven is a virtual compendium of the forms of evidence and argument that have always been offered in ethnography.

by contrast.55 on Fri. The most interesting indication and admission of the reified nature of the central object of the book is in the glossary (310). whose epistemological worrying about misplaced concreteness begins with the consti- tution of data itself rather than with its second-order analysis. pre- sented in an early chapter as a mass of puzzling details integrated in a ritual event. The final irony. It has had just the opposite effect for the more fully hermeneutic latter-day readers of this work. a set of behaviors that they would rec- ognize as a set.135. language in context. Naven is supposed to be a central and distinguishable category among the latmul themselves. Communication rather than discourse thus comes to be Bateson's main working concept for mean- ingful interaction. Bateson seems to make naven overly concrete as a framing device that links the sets of behavior he wishes to explain.jstor.32. Perhaps the most striking example of Bateson's insensitivity to misplaced concreteness in his setting up of his object of analysis is the problematic empir- ical status of naven itself. is then contrasted with the picking apart of details through bringing to bear discrete perspectives on this initial. Because Bateson is relatively unconcerned with the latmul as themselves interpreting subjects. what naven is among the latmul- its status as a cognitive entity-must remain mysterious. whose thought was guided by a weaker version of the same empiricist assumptions. but willfully simplistic about the phenomenological nature of its human subjects. who are known instead only by their behavior. are for themselves. and particularly the radically hermeneutic turn this trend has taken more recently. behaviors of the human animal is what interpretation is about. There Bateson defines naven as "a set of ceremonies of the latmul used to illustrate the theoretical analyses in this book. Of course. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. therefore partial. characterized Bateson's intellectual life his- tory (it was cybernetics and formal models of communication that were to solve problems he set for himself in Naven) and made him fully compatible with the founders of functionalist anthropology. the unproblematic status of data on which Bateson settled totally conflicts with the thoroughly linguistic turn that cultural and social anthropology took from the 1950s on. views of this action." All other entries in the glossary. The assumptions about the unity of nature and culture leading to the primary data of ethnography as observed behaviors rather than thought in social action. then. Naven turned out to be an experiment that foreclosed further possibil- ities in ethnographic writing for Bateson himself. holistic object. framed and interpreted by Bateson. so to speak. The use of naven as a framing device permits Bateson a form of holistic representation of naturally occurring social action against which he reflects on the inevitable fragmenting problems of analytic discourse by discrete. But there is a real ambiguity about this. 72 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. Keenly critical about the limitations of analytic reason. But this object or unit derives from a congery of field observations and testimonies. The text is constructed so that the holism of naven experience.org/terms . handily unified as a situated event called naven.

but the students of Franz Boas. and the dynamics of A Timely Rereading of Naven 73 This content downloaded from 189. which he embraced and incorporated as one of the three perspectives that he used to explain details of naven behavior. interpretive method was intro- duced into Bateson's thinking. When he finishes with these analyses. which he calls the sociological perspective-are well within the func- tionalist framework.135. intuitive description of latmul values. by reading Ruth Ben- edict's Patterns of Culture. whom he met while doing fieldwork in New Guinea. At least twice he emphasizes that the understanding of cultural structure is built up inductively from the working out of details and that this is the mode of thought with which he is most comfortable.jstor. it must be grasped holistically.7 He delves into the impressionistic.in Bateson's worry about misplaced concreteness is that his empiricist commit- ment prevents him from avoiding or at least being clearly self-reflective about the most glaring form of this error. very indirectly. he finds that the most interesting details of naven remain yet to be explained-ritual tranvestism and the emotional qualities of behavior he has observed. The understanding of ethos. which he recognizes clearly only when it comes to conceptual abstraction in analytic writing. The concerns of American cultural anthropology were psychologistic at the time. So.55 on Fri. The first two perspectives that Bateson develops on naven-a formal account of kin relationships. Ethos concerns the emotional tone or quality of observed behavior. requires a deductive approach. The Worry About the Dependence on the Intuitive and Semi-Literary in Naven Naven begins with a brief discussion of "Methods of Presentation" in which Bateson admits that fiction can provide a satisfying holistic representation of a form of life that analytic ethnography cannot.32. and Bateson's use of it derives from the influence of Amer- ican anthropology upon him in the person of Margaret Mead. emotional tones. before details of emotional tone are understood.org/terms . By the use of imaginative comparative analogy with English horsewomen and how they dress. which he calls cultural structure. especially Ruth Ben- edict. in con- trast. he provides ingenious interpretations of transvestism. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. but in the second half of the book it is clear that he relishes what he would elsewhere call loose thinking. He then suggests that his use of the concept ethos in his account will give the sort of fullness to his analysis that will approximate fictional realism. He recognizes that he needs a different approach and finds it in the study of ethos. how they can be seen in the action of naven ritual. were familiar with continental hermeneutic thinkers such as Wilhelm Dil- they. This statement of contrasting methods is made obscurely by Bateson. an explicitly deductive. and an account of group dynamics. and through her. The problem is that ethos demands a kind of procedure or method that violates his empiricist commitment. how they divide along the line of gender.

Each photo is accompanied by a full explanation. Yet photos do not in fact speak for themselves-thus their reinforcement by narrative captions. and he thus begins to cite photographs in the text as evidence. and he does what he can to relieve his discom- fort. There are a fascinating set of them. with very long captions. This is perhaps indicative of the fundamental suspicion he developed concerning systematic analytic and descriptive writing in the human sciences. and of painted latmul warriors. individual and group interactions within latmul society. For Bateson.jstor. Glimmerings of a pessimistic judgment about the possibility of a scientific and descriptively holistic genre of ethnographic writing are perhaps apparent in Bateson's subtle move toward photographic evidence in the ethos chapters of Naven as he found himself engaged in a kind of writing that went against his empiricist inclinations.32. Bateson is clearly embarrassed by the semi-literary description in which he indulges. His was a healthy kind of critique that challenged his readers. he could be read admiringly by hermeneutic 74 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. This is where Bateson sees himself as methodologically weakest. he could thus be appreciated for being unconventional without being disturbing. whereas they were virtually ignored in previous chapters.135. collected at the end of Naven. Though eccentric. but it did not really modify their research practice because he did not fundamentally question the nature of data in human sciences. the most powerful nostrum being photographic evidence-the symbol of pure representation. Yet. for him at least. Bateson's next and final ethnographic project-his collaborative work with Margaret Mead in Bali-would be fully photographic. He engaged in a profound questioning of conceptual abstraction and modes of explanation. in the semi-literary descriptions of ethos. Interestingly. Behind these epistemological concerns was the distinctive hermeneutic- empiricist bind in which Bateson was caught. the photographs are the strongest form of evidence he can offer-they are superior to word descriptions. The epistemological anxiety this causes Bateson is best exemplified by how he uses photographs in the text. The most striking concern the wau- laua (mother's brother-sister's son) relations on which naven ritual focuses. Thus. Bateson experiments with a kind of description that undermines his empiricist habits. but he proceeds anyway. it made him an immensely attractive thinker to a wide spectrum of Anglo-American scholars in philosophy and the social sciences. It is a spirited tour de force of ethnographic analysis that contrasts with the dull tone of earlier chapters on cultural structure and sociology. after the experiment of writing Naven. Conversely. It had three main consequences for his later work. And they enter the text precisely when word descriptions become most problematic for him-that is. all the more so since it seems to solve the more interesting puzzles of naven. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. We see pictures of bloody initiation. The ethos chapters are marked by periodic apologies for his impressionistic self-indulgence.55 on Fri. First. but this occurred well within the positivist constructions of the nature of reality to be observed and explained.org/terms . of transvestites.

and his discovery of cybernetics and its linkage to his own protocybernetic notion of schismogenesis. could actually provide final solutions to epistemological problems. they were not final solutions to anything but. While he was very alive to the use of metaphors and anal- ogies as a way to develop concepts and pose interpretations. In it were the seeds of ideas that Bateson elaborated by what he learned later in passing through a number of disciplines.55 on Fri. Rus- sell's Theory of Logical Types was a solution to the integration of alternative perspectives in Naven. This belief in epistemological breakthrough eventually became a story of unity and progression in his own intellectual life history. A Timely Rereading of Naven 75 This content downloaded from 189. He took pride in being on the cutting edge of fields. The kind of holistic representation that finally became most important to Bateson was not that of the world. were historically contexted styles of interpretation. thus evoking the holism of his thought by suggesting Naven as its embryonic expression. but so often these innovations proved to be merely new analytic languages. But it did become a very private odyssey. the discovery of new met- aphors and analogies was the stuff of breakthrough and real progress to him. unlocked the secret to the dynamics of process in culture and nature generally. but of his own intellectual development. before he passed on. For him. And well he might take such pride.135.org/terms . In the telling of this story of intellectual odyssey.32. this hermeneutic-empiricist bind led to what I consider certain flaws in Bateson's thinking. Second. It was this story that was the consistent subtext of the string of post-Naven essays that Bateson wrote. or of an adequate explanation of it. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. however bounded it was. which Bateson was unwilling to make. in providing new ways for thinking about a discipline's problems. Naven has been the constitutional work. like all knowledge. Interest- ingly.jstor. developed in Naven. based on such metaphors and analogies. It was not that Bateson did not learn anything new. he also believed that the use of revolutionary frameworks.thinkers. which isolated him from the world of disciplines that he influenced. While these were indeed immensely fertile modes for thinking about old problems. Rather its tacking onto the text as a second epilogue signifies clearly this holistic perception of his life's thought that Bateson evoked in his post-Naven writing-it was the mental system of which his essays were occasional registers. this 1958 addition did not appear as the conventional second preface or introduction. because there was a genuine reflective and interpretive dimension to his thought. Any real alternative epistemology in the human sciences would have required a break with his empiricist assump- tions about the nature of data or phenomena. Bateson allowed himself to place too much importance on the mere heuristic juggling of metaphors and analogies as solutions to fun- damentally hermeneutic problems. Just as the 1936 epilogue to Naven was a critical self-reflection on the experience of writing this text-a clear expression of its epistemological obsessions-so the 1958 epilogue was a demonstration that his critical turns of thought since Naven were prefigured in it.

and his work with John Lilly and others at the Oceanic Institute in Hawaii. reports on these rich behind-the-scenes dialogic 76 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. Discussions in crucial meetings also were the source and context of his thinking: his attendance at Josiah Macy. as a public speaker and teacher. then. Not dialogue with his subjects but with Western intellectual peers.org/terms . Col- laboration-periods of intense dialogue-became the lifelong context for Bate- son's thinking: his work with Mead in Bali. ANaven led Bateson to the essay.32. writing in a conventional essay form became a reporting on systematic thought that was ongoing behind the scenes as spoken discourse. One wonders whether Bateson would ever have written much for publication after Naven if he had not been called upon to exercise an oracular function. Jr. which is what the consistent use of the essay meant. while toler- ating misplaced concreteness in the construction of the phenomena to be ana- lyzed. led both to a high valuation of spoken discourse as a form for developing thought and to severe doubts about the capacity of written expository discourse to describe or illuminate the order in nature. Far from inspiring further experimentation in writing. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. his work with Jay Haley. Many of Bateson's essays were in fact written versions of talks and lectures that were occasioned by participation in meetings and conferences. seems to have been the most worthwhile aspect of fieldwork for Bateson.9 His essays are evocations. and most important for my major theme in this paper. the relentless criticism of misplaced concreteness in modes of analysis. surrounded by the stimulus of the alien other. Conferences in New York. and his organization of Burg Wartenstein con- ferences.jstor. which set the foundation for his last work on ecology and human pur- pose. Even in Naven he reports on the value of his discussions with Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune in the field.55 on Fri. Don and others at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto.8 This diminished role of writing in Bateson's work. Bateson's general retreat from attempts at monographic analytic writing to the consistent use of a conventional and didactic essay form after writing Naven was a pessimistic reaction to the possibilities of achieving ethnographic goals of representation. but as the only appropriate vehicle for one who came to doubt the possibilities of analytic writing to overcome inherent epistemological problems. spoken discourse as the means to a systematic body of thought to which written work in essay form would be subordinated. and who valued. where he learned of cybernetics by discussions with its pioneers. in which he reflected on the epistemology of the observer much more fully than on that of the observed. was again a function of the bind.. A Note on the Dialogic/Oracular Side of Bateson's Discourse After Naven.135. Third. finally. in equal measure. not as a form to embellish or experiment with written discourse.

He would then have learned quite a different lesson from his writing of Naven than he did. More specifically. predominated in Bateson's essays. which is descriptive. not unlike the sort his father might have written. As readers of his essays. like Naven. especially German. Adorno. and these were of course representations of the dialogue that Bateson favored.. As an essayist.55 on Fri. that is the higher order.org/terms . at once more speculative. which registered the her- meneutic-empiricist bind shaping his thought. but after Naven we never get an essay on that scale. Bateson's most imaginative writings were his correspondence and the series of socratic metalogues between father and daughter that were published in the magazine Etc. He did come to privilege the spoken over the written in his own practice. an uncertain larger work. itself largely dictated and a congery of discrete fragments that make. therapeutic style. which strives to change fundamentally the reader's way of thinking and to challenge cherished assumptions. This latter essay genre has been more characteristically continental.135. and self-assured. introspection itself can be viewed as a dimension of this valuation on the spoken over the written. except perhaps for the summation book Mind and Nature at the end of Bateson's life. most read like late nineteenth-century papers in British science. Dur- ing his fieldwork phase he did not see that dialogue with the subject. masked or submerged in his conception of data as observed behaviors. with Nietzsche being perhaps the greatest exemplar. analytic dialogue about the empirical world that he conducted with significant other minds as the source of development for his own thought. and a therapeutic style. of course. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. had in effect the same status as the kind of dialogue that Bateson privileged and raised to a meta- level. His writing combined a charac- teristically British style of plain exposition.32. If Bateson had seen discourse in the field as intimately connected to all other forms of discourse in which he engaged. straightforward. he might have slipped into a full hermeneutic turn during his anthropological phase. An irony to note at this point is that this high valuation on the dialogic over written discourse never affected radically Bateson's empiricist perceptions. The alter- native.experiences. Bateson mixed two genre styles. We are getting partial glimpses of thought on a grand scale by a thinker who no longer feels impelled to write. He would have seen the transformation of spoken discourse in the field into the written discourse of the ethnographic text as a major problem. but it did not break through the way he constituted reality or posed his problems in the systematic evolution of his thinking. critical.jstor. and with explicit reflection on this kind of essay in the work of Lukaics. Finally. since it is internal dialogue. we want to know more than we are told about the corpus behind the writing. and Benjamin.'0 The style of common sense and certain facticity. This reference to the developing mind that lay outside them is a basic framing rhetoric within the essays themselves. and potentially vision- A Timely Rereading of Naven 77 This content downloaded from 189.

The paradox of influence is that the more he was borrowed from-an idea here.32. ary. traceable to the choices he made after Naven. isolated him increasingly from any particular discipline or readership. an inspiration there-the more frustrating and anxious became the question of his influence personally to him. nobody could fully appreciate this violation except himself. as in the continental genre. His life was a passing through a number of disciplines. tied to the writing of the occasional essay.jstor. but his gradually objectifying personal agenda-to see his thought as a unity-and those of these disciplines never matched. more oracle than writer. Pathos and Paradox in Bateson's Influence: The Current Felicitous Misreading of Naven The pathos of Bateson's influence on the world of disciplines is that. partial influence violated the various commitments to holistic thinking that Bate- son had developed through his life. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. often proverbial in quality. In this emergent view of unity.55 on Fri. On this scale. This tragic. he remained uncertain of the general impact he wanted to have. and striking phrasings. comes through in Bateson's otherwise straightforward prose as stories. It became the source of his growing isolation. which originate in dialogue and introspection and which punctuate essays constructed in a calmer mode.org/terms . He was appreciated in fragments. Naven might be seen as the embryonic anchor for his intellectual development. he had to settle for being a celebrity intellec- tual. and this robbed him of a satisfying sense of his influence. final vision replayed on a grand scale many of the turns in his own personal intellectual history. At least part of the work of his essays has been to achieve this willed image of progressive unity of mind. Increasingly. dialogic. which must have been a source of both pain and amusement for him. How- ever. in which fruitful exchanges occurred. The kind of holism that finally became established in his work was that of his own mind and intellectual development.135. Bateson's piecemeal impact on a number of fields was certainly clear to him. The speculative/therapeutic in his writing is thus not a strategy for constructing essays." He wanted the kind of public influence that only he appreciate privately. David Lipset's biography poignantly captures Bateson's increasing anxiety that he might not have been heard. but it was worth little compared to the inability of his final ecological vision and his critique of the limits of conscious human purpose to take hold widely. anal- ogies. not holistically as a thinker. particularly as he aged. but the direct expression of utterances. but partial influence was a particularly salient violation of the holism that mattered most-the unity of his life's thought. I would argue that these are the most direct indices in his writing of the oral and oracular development of his thought following Naven. The preference for oral. and introspective forms. 78 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189.

Second. Finally. it has suggested a model of holistic organization for an ethnography-how to focus on a situated part. and about the unavoidable pitfalls of conceptual abstraction. But whereas Naven now stimulates experimentation. These writers are usually informed by versions of hermeneutic philosophy. Naven was indeed reflective about its own construction as an analytic work. many of the sort that would be routinely found in the most experimental works. ethnographers sometimes look to Naven as an example of one popular way to narrate an ethno- graphic story. at least in writ- ten discourse.55 on Fri. Yet to use Naven in this way required a felicitous misreading by those in search of alternative forms of ethnographic discourse. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. we come specifically to the relevance of Naven for the current trend of experimental ethnographic writing in anthropology. The ways to organize observations into an ethnographic narrative were limited under the functionalist paradigm.32. Once again this is an instance of the paradox in Bateson's influence-the difference between Naven as a constitutional moment in the development of a unified intellectual life and its eventual broader reception through misreading as an established rhetoric of experimentation shared by those who live in the A Timely Rereading of Naven 79 This content downloaded from 189. Naven has been inspirational in two ways.jstor. Contemporary writers are under no such constraints. Current ethnographic experiments thus begin with a questioning of empir- icist assumptions-what it is that is to be represented or written about-but Naven was underlain by no such questioning. For such experiments. Epistemological inquiry and reflexivity are the underside of all anthropological research. all of which require of a thinker precisely what Bateson did not do: to hold as problematic the thought of both the interpreter and the interpreted in their mutual relationship. and they are thus entirely free to make something entirely different of Naven than Bateson did himself.135. where the focus is not so much the act of writing as fieldwork. Bateson was firm in his construction of data as observed behaviors. As I have argued. This particular kind of self-reflection is rare in contemporary experiments. the explanation of which requires a systematic discussion of the cultural and social features of a group on a much larger scale. which like Naven are motivated by dissatisfactions with the way the func- tionalist paradigm of fieldwork leading to ethnographic accounts was stated and in fact practiced. Most simply. even though he offered various kinds of evidence and descriptions.org/terms . and it remains a fruitful direction for experimentation in the current trend. about the application of theoretical ideas to data. For him. for Bateson himself it foreclosed this possibility. Naven was a discovery about the limits of ethnographic writing given his empiricist commitments. and now freed from it. an event or a ritual such as naven. but they are at the heart of experimental ethnogra- phies. the critical self-reflection in Naven serves as an early inspiration and legitimation for making an ethnography more thanjust an objective report about an alien other.

1. 11 September 1983.135. Gregory Bateson. 1936). the ethnographic account.jstor. 80 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189. which the writing only registers. I wonder whether future Naven-like ethnographic experiments will end like Bateson's writ- ing in some didactic-speculative form of the essay. in my opinion. and George E.org/terms . it is the first critical assessment of Bateson s thought. is necessarily an impoverished representation of the man and his thought. The paper was positively received. He might have been ambivalent to see its most avid readers move further along a path he rejected. 1979). I must emphasize that my interest in this paper is in aspects of Bateson as a writer. See James Clifford. for significant reasons. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (New York. but would rather be a redef- inition of its goals now that interpreting ethnographers routinely recognize an equally interpreting subject as alien other in a world where they will no longer find people like the latmul as Bateson represented them." Annual Review of Anthropology 11 (1982): 25-69. and Steve Tyler for their very useful and encouraging readings. To those who knew better the full. but with some ambiv- alence. Notes This is a revised version of a paper presented in a symposium on Bateson at the Second Annual Conference of the Humanities Institute. I. hallowed.32. Naven: A Survey of the Problems Suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe Drawn from Three Points of View (Cambridge. "Ethnographies as Texts. Gregory Bateson. and that this. he spent his final years in California. "On Ethnographic Authority. 2. Carter Wilson. never met Bateson. 3. and to Jim Clifford. Ivan Karp. I am indebted to Hayden White. One of the central themes of my paper is that to have known him was a far richer and different experience than to have read him. but sympathetic. and thus know him only as a reader and through second-hand conversations. readings of the paper. 1972). which has been deservedly. and profoundly influenced the lives and thinking of numerous students and scholars. Not that Naven is short of its own rhetorical moves. and Sharon Traweek for their comments on my paper at the conference. Tullio Maranhdo. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. Mike Fischer. University of Southern Cal- ifornia. complex background of his thought- in-speaking. Marcus and Dick Cushman. To my knowledge. but the expansion that the essay took was both original and disturbing for Bateson in a way that it is not for those for whom Naven is now inspirational." Representations 2 (Spring 1983): 118 -46. Steps to an Ecology of Mind (San Francisco.55 on Fri. or at least away from its central practice. it provides a rhetoric and legitimation for new challenges to ethnographic practice. Perhaps such a turn would not be an abandonment of ethnography this time. unfortunately. world of disciplines. More important. It led Bateson out of anthropology. I am further indebted to Robert Levy and David Lipset for their critical. Now that Naven has found a place in a trend of experimentation.

. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. 1972). "The Theory of the Essay: Lukacs. for example. San Diego. 6." 7. George E. Walter Benjamin approvingly reflects on the treatise or esoteric essay. In his famous introduction to his Trauerspiel work (The Origin of German Tragic Drama [London. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley. The value of fragments of thought is all the greater the less direct their relationship to the underlying idea. Adorno and Ben- jamin" (Ph. diss. (28-29) Naven is indeed a succession of new beginnings returned in a roundabout way to its original object. 1982). caught in the hermeneutic-empiricist bind that I have described. and thus. See.32. The following discussion of the treatise would also serve as a description of Naven's basic structure: Its method is essentially representation. Tirelessly the process of thinking makes new beginnings.55 on Fri. David Lipset. See Mary Catherine Bateson's moving account of one of these conferences in Our Own Metaphor (New York.135. Sala'ilua: A Samoan Mystery (New York. The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers (New York. The absence of an uninterrupted purposeful structure is its primary character- istic. 1980). as Benjamin does.' CurrentAnthropology 21 (1980): 507-10. originating in medieval scholastic doctrine.D. Just as mosaics preserve their majesty despite their fragmentation into capri- cious particles. Gregory Bateson: -The Legacy of a Scientist (New York. Bateson finds the kind of text Naven became an interesting but failed attempt at holistic analytic discourse. a mosaic text. 1977]). The relationship between the minute precision of the work and the proportions of the sculptural or intellectual whole dem- onstrates that truth-content is only to be grasped through immersion in the most minute details of subject matter. a treatise in his view. For by pursuing different levels of meaning in its examination of one single object it receives both the incentive to begin again and the justification for its irregular rhythm.org/terms . "Experiments in Thinking About Observed Ethnological Material" (1940). 4. Represen- tation as digression-such is the methodological nature of the treatise. so philosophical contemplation is not lacking in momen- tum. Edward L. "Rhetoric and the Ethnographic Genre in Anthropological Research. "On Ethnographic Authority". returning in a roundabout way to its original object.. 1976). Bateson's final vision is symmetrical with the epistemological concerns of Naven: the inability of conscious human purpose (a pathology) to grasp the whole (the entirety of interconnected man and nature)." Social Analysis 1 (1979): 177-91. This continual pausing for breath is the mode most proper to the process of contemplation. and Bradd Shore. "Is Naven Ludic?: Paradox and the Communi- cation of Identity. and the brilliance of representation depends as much on this value as the brilliance of the mosaic does on the quality of the glass paste. in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. forthcoming). Bate- son backs into the discovery of this sort of essay by his own shrewd and unrelenting epistemological worries. as Benjamin suggests. Schieffelin. Method is a digression. What is virtuous in the treatise for Benjamin is highly problematic and disturbing for Bateson. Marcus. See Robert Lane Kauffmann. 8. 73-87. and Marcus and Cushman. [1.. But rather than affirming this as an ideal form of discourse. University of California. See James Clifford and George E. 9. 1981). Clifford. Gregory Bateson. Don Handelman. 5. Marcus.jstor. Far from embracing his own personal discovery of the trea- tise. "Ethnographies as Texts. [0.. juxtaposed to the more modest inability of multi- layered analysis in Naven to provide an adequate account of the totality of experi- A Timely Rereading of Naven 81 This content downloaded from 189.

This is where Bateson ended. ence. at least.jstor. 07 Apr 2017 18:02:12 UTC All use subject to http://about. in his written work.135.org/terms . feeling. 82 REPRESENTATIONS This content downloaded from 189.32.55 on Fri. by conceiving mind as a system unbounded by the skin of the individual whose mind or brain is just a node in this larger system. and action in any slice of observed life. Bateson's attempt finally to overcome this epistemological concern. is to undermine purpose by dis- solving the individual. writ large.