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Review: [Untitled]

Reviewed Work(s):
Regarder, Ecouter, Lire. by Claude Levi-Strauss
Alfred Gell

Man, New Series, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Sep., 1994), pp. 723-725.

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BOOK REVIEWS

one's own society are represented (in Africa, large one. There is an easier shift than he sup-
says Kramer, by means of the ancestors), the poses between being possessed by an authorita-
features are abstract, ideal, or superindividual. tive hero and a pleasure-seeking 'stranger;' in
Representation of differentiation, occurring by many instances these are not distinct 'cults' but
means of what is outside social values, will moments of alternate practice or phases in the
often be highly particular, singling out discrete careers of individual hosts. In the end, posses-
signifiers such as the red fez or by means of re- sion is constituted by a particular combination
alistic portraiture. In an interesting digression of both passion and action, introjection and
he suggests also that the 'other' may be seen as ~rojection;like artistic practice it can be self-
innocent (both guiltless and amoral); hence enlarging and enhancing. Spirit mediums too
mimetic assumption of otherness is redemp- can reach what psychoanalysts call insight.
tive and also enlightening of a dark sphere Effective mediums are highly self-aware and
within oneself. capable of astute character judgements of oth-
For Kramer, unifying and diversifying repre- ers. Where Kramer refers to techne and
sentational needs and practices (phrased as 'ab- episteme we might wish to add a third category,
stract equality' and 'playful differentiation' or phronesis, that is, moral action .
as 'abstraction' and 'empathy') are both charac- MICHAEL LAMBEK
teristic of every society Hence the only ty- University of Toronto
pological element of his exercise at the level of
society itself is the comparison of acephalous,
homogenizing societies with stratified, hetero- LEVI-STRAUSS, CLAUDE.Regarder, icouter; lire. 189
geneous ones regarding their sources of cul- pp., illus., col. plates. Paris: Plon, 1993.
tural others. 120F
The book does not appear to be directly in- Reliable intelligence from Paris, corrupted per-
formed by fieldwork, though Kramer mentions haps by time's trick of merging the files of
a stay in East Africa. Instead he relies on a wide memory and fantasy, have provided me with a
range of sources, at times uncritically, but usu- now unshakable conception of the working en-
ally with great illumination. The striking cover vironment enjoyed by Professor Evi-Strauss.
photo is drawn from M. J. Field. For the Eng- According to my image, Uvi-Strauss's study is
lish-speaking reader the volume serves as a located at the heart of an ultra-modern build-
useful introduction to German work, but the ing composed entirely of glass, not just the
author shows an equal facility with the litera- windows and internal partitions being of trans-
ture in English, moving with ease from Asante parent material, but also the floors and ceilings,
and Tallensi across to the Shona, to coastal East as in the perspex models created by architects.
Africa, to the zar region, to Hausa, Tonga, In the surrounding ofices, the great anthro-
Pende and Cokwe, and back to coastal West pologist's intellectual offspring beaver away at
Africa. Kramer is able to sustain a series of their bulky theses and their polished, articulate,
richly informed interpretations throughout, essays. Through the wall, floor and ceiling of
discussing, for example, contrasts between pos- his ofice, L6vi-Strauss can observe them at
session and conversion, possession and Sufi their labours, and they, also, may glance up (or
mystical ecstasy, possession and masquerades. down, sideways etc.) and draw inspiration
I fully concur with Kramer's conclusion that from a glimpse of his flashing spectacles and
the 'unity [of masquerades and spirit posses- scholar's crown of snowy hair. H e is the spider
sion cults] lies not in some function, but rather and the great glass building is his web, convey-
in their representational character and their ing to him, via its subtle vibrations, a myriad of
concept of reality ... they are always both more worlds, past, present and to come.
and less than therapy, art, entertainment, social I dare say that the real circumstances sur-
criticism, profession, fashion, or ethnography' rounding the composition of the book Regarder;
(p. 240). However, Kramer's view retains a iiouter; lire were a good deal more prosaic than I
structuralist distance and necessarily omits a imagine; but I draw some reassurance from the
full elucidation of the multiple relations in any fact that the image of the spider, in exactly the
given context or the sort of case material that metaphoric aspect needed to confirm my
would show how the codes are put into play in speculation, duly surfaces on p. 93. Here the
actual practice. eighteenth-century musicologist, Michel-Paul-
More significantly, by omitting real people Guy de Chabanon, is cited to the effect that the
from his analysis and conflating collective and philosopher of art must be a spider, transmit-
individual processes, Kramer risks opposing his ting from art to art, from poetry to music to
ideal types too stringently. His modern selves painting - that is, from thread to thread of the
are creative, self-reflecting agents, whereas great web comprising all the arts - the vibra-
Africans absorb, are impassioned. But the jump tions of sensibility which each, though sepa-
from images of selfhood to selfhood itself is a rate, has in common with all the others.
724 BOOK REVIEWS

The spider-like sensitivity to even the faint- avatars, but they wrote music-criticism rather
est perturbations of meaning is a distinguishing than linguistics, their phonemes were notes on
characteristic of this new book by Uvi-Strauss, a stave. Thus the circular (or spiral) character
as it has been of all his previous ones. But Re- of the history of ideas is revealed. Diderot and
gardet; tcoutet; lire is also a new departure in that the shadowy AbbC Batteux extend the argu-
it is, for the most part, concerned with the his- ment in the direction o f an encompassing syn-
tory of aesthetic ideas. The occupants of the aesthesia, a visual music, giving rise, later, to at-
other inter-visible cells in the great glass build- tempts to construct keyboard instruments
ing are not incarnate anthropologists of today, generating colours rather than pitches. A very
but an array o f (French) ghosts. Many of them heady flux o f famous and not-so-famous
are famous ghosts, but not all o f them - names flits across the page. O n e chapter intro-
Chabanon's name has not been heard much duces us to Poussin, Wind, Diderot, Bacon,
since his time, nor that of the here-disinterred Chardin; the next (unexpectedly devoted to
Abbe Batteux. These forgotten men discourse fractals) Kant, Mandelbrot, Delacroix, Balzac,
in these pages with Diderot, Rousseau, Rameau and Charles Rosen on Beethoven.
- and Uvi-Strauss. I would identify, if pressed, three predomi-
The theme of the ghostly conversation is, nant themes in this very diverse collection of
necessarily, structuralism, because it is Uvi- ideas. The most superficially apparent theme is
Strauss who sets the conversation in motion, the one I have mentioned: i.e. the investigation
and, in a sense, the objective here is to achieve, of the precursors of structuralism, or more
for structuralism, the task which theologians generally a preoccupation with the signifying
long since set themselves in the interrogation power of relations, in French aesthetics, espe-
of the Old Testament in the light of the New, cially of the eighteenth century The second
i.e. the identification of prefigurations, antici- theme is the relationship between different
pating Christian revelation. But it would be kinds of art: music, painting and writing, and
truer to say that Ltvi-Strauss's objective is to the nature of the structural analogies between
efface himself in history, rather than to adver- forms communicated by different sensory and
tise his importance to it. The discovery of pre- intellectual media. The key analysis here is a
figurations of structuralism in the aesthetics of discussion of the well-known poem by
the enlightenment is a means of ageing, pati- Rimbaud which begins / A noir, E blanc, I rouge,
nating, thought which might otherwise seem U vert, 0 bleu, voyelles / Je dirai quelque jours vos
to pretend to the false virtue of novelty The naissances latenter ... / -a poem which had always
aim is to deny the progressiveness or cumula- seemed destined for the Uvi-Strauss treatment
tiveness of the history of ideas, and instead and which here triumphantly receives it.
confirm only the perennial character of struc- But content aside - and there is much more
tural analysis. Thus, a once famous harmonic in this packed book than I have space to de-
transition in Rameau's opera Castor et Pollux is -
scribe there is a third theme, for which the
made audible again as a moment in which author is only indirectly responsible, but which
Rameau applies a structural grid to the dying will probably be uppermost in the mind of
fall in the 'Chorus of Spartans' in Act 2, such most of his readers. That theme is the position
that it becomes the harmonic bass-note for the of LCvi-Strauss himself in the history of ideas.
subsequent aria sung by Telaire. This froze the We cannot but reflect on this question because
blood of eighteenth-century listeners in a way this is a book which is not, for once, about
it never can ours, used as we are to much more American Indians 'viewed from afar', but
startling modulations. Yet LCvi-Strauss's point about Diderot, Rousseau, Delacroix, Poussin -
is that in fundamental respects, we have not, the heroes of his own nation and its intellectual
we cannot, progress beyond this point, because traditions, and some of their obscurer contem-
the architectonic employed by Rameau instan- poraries and successors. This move onto home
tiates the total possibility inherent in musical ground seems to signal a self-conscious recog-
language. nition of the historicity of Uvi-Strauss's own
Here Chabanon, proto-structuralist, enters life-work. The text itself only argues for even-
the scene, debating with Rousseau as to the handedness between the intellectuals favoured
possibility of an independent musical language, by history, and the obscure ones recognized as
divorced from words and recognizable narra- prescient only in scholarly hindsight. Uvi-
tive in a way the latter believed impossible. Strauss seems modestly to position himself
Chabanon proposes a relational theory of nearer to Chabanon than to Diderot, present-
music (the note is nothing, the relation be- ing himself as an old fogey who was once a
tween notes everything) which clearly invites young fogey in the ranks o f the surrealists (an
comparison with what LCvi-Strauss later said exchange of letters between IRvi-Strauss and
about the arbitrary elements comprising Andrt Breton is printed to bear this out). But
myths. Jackobson had his eighteenth-century the reader is entitled to wonder whether this
BOOK REVIEWS 725

parade o f conservatism and nothing-new- refractions in the Malay cinema, will fascinate
under-the-sun-ism is not a dialectical ruse, a anyone interested in the region, but the
way of keeping the ghosts quiet by disclaiming author's claim that Zapin Melayu is a 'common
any capacity to rouse them from their slum- cultural denominator of the contemporary
bers. We, after-comers, are entitled to see nation-states of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singa-
things differently. The advent of Uvi-Strauss pore' (p. 29) is less persuasive. In Indonesia, for
onto the intellectual scene marks a discontinu- example, zapin may be widespread in Sumatra,
ity, an eventful change of the kind which does but it has not made the same impact on Indo-
not occur in myth, only in history; and E v i - nesian national culture as have the court and
Strauss, despite his cunning blandishments, village performance traditions of Java; the pan-
belongs to our century, not Diderot's. In other Malay thesis is somewhat unsubstantiated.
words, Evi-Strauss, and who could reproach The author has focused on zapin and has re-
him, is shamming dead. But the greatest pleas- frained from developing the promising discus-
ure of this text filled with pleasures, is the dis- sion of zapin within the broader system of
covery that, after all, he is very much alive. dancehheatre forms in the region. His narra-
ALFREDGELL tive seems to invite the analysis of the relation-
London School ofEconomics -5Political Science ship between Islamic aesthetics and Malaysian
cultural politics, but this is not pursued. In-
deed, the dichotomy of Indianization and
MOHDANISM D NOR. Zapin: folk dance of the Islamization which structures so many of the
Malay world (SE Asian social Sci. Monogr.). discourses of performance in south-east Asia is
xxiv, 166 pp., illus., plates, maps, tables, barely considered. Stylistically, the author has
bibliogr. Singapore: Oxford Univ. Press, chosen the path of authoritative simplicity, ab-
1993. 225.00 sorbing the voices of informants referred to
As the author points out, Malaysian perform- fleetingly in the notes, and takes a formal tone
ing arts have been neglected compared to those which at times fails to d o justice to the liveli-
of other south-east Asian countries. Zapin is a ness of his subject. Specification of variants
pan-Malay genre found in almost all of mari- does not prevent a reification of zapin, which
time south-east Asia except the Philippines, could instead have become a means to generate
and the study aims to explain what zapin is and an understanding of the context for its contin-
to bring Malay culture to centre stage. ued and transforming practices and discourses.
The story is as follows: Zapin derives from This approach might have broader anthropo-
the zafana dance tradition of the Arabs of logical appeal, but as the 92-page written text is
Hadhramaut, southern Arabia, in which followed by a 63-page set of Appendices of
groups of men danced at weddings. Migrations musical transcriptions of zapin dances (without
from Hadhramaut to Malaysia resulted in a lyrics) and Laban notations of zapin dance mo-
Malay adaptation, Zapin Melayu, which 're- tives, it appears that the author is not aiming
fined' the movements of Zapin Arab in accord- for a general anthropological audience, but at
ance with south-east Asian aesthetics; in other the regional specialist and the ethnomusicolo-
words, the movements became more con- gist who will welcome the opportunity to learn
tained. During the 1930s, zapin dances were more about the permutations of a Malay per-
used to represent court scenes in the popular formance tradition, while at the same time
Bangsawan theatre, and choreographies for wondering if the ethnography of the perform-
pairs were innovated. Bangsawan performers ing arts is best served by studies which stick so
were recruited by the burgeoning Malay cin- resolutely to a focus on a single form.
ema industry in the 1950s and performed zapin FELICIA HUGHESFREELAND
dances as cinematic interludes. Shooting tech- University College, Swansea
niques, such as overhead angles to show floor
patterns, resulted in virtuoso choreographic in-
novations and an increased public awareness of
zapin. Contemporary zapiri derives from the Biological Anthropology
impact of filmed representations; its contrasts
with the village variant is described in detail. ATTENBOROUGH. ROBERTD. & MICHAELI!
The study concludes with an all-too-brief con- ALPERS(eds). Hunzan biology in Papua New
cluding chapter about the contemporary con- Guinea: the small cosmos (Res. Monogr.
texts for zapin performances, including 'mas- hum. Pop. Biol. 10). xiy 427 pp., illus.,
sive' performances by hundreds of maps, tables, bibliogrs. Oxford: Clarendon
schoolchildren, in the context of the develop- Press, 1992. f60.00
ment of national Malay identity and culture. The present work deals with two sets of ques-
The story of zapin's journey east and the tions that are of major concern for the popula-
transformations it undergoes, particularly in its tions of Papua New Guinea (PNG). First, it

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