I am going to cop out and just talk briefly about the longish intersection “This Earth, This Island Borneo” since there is a lot on my plate at the moment. I think its ironic that Kelty spend last week discussing what was the most ‘normal’ chapter of the book, and I am now discussing a section which is the most ‘unusual’ — to wit, because it has the funky numbered list running in the margins.
Despite — or perhaps because? — I am the kind of guy who blogs about anthropology textbooks from 1937 I find myself a little unsatisfied with Tsing’s penchant of intermingling experimental bits of writing with other unbroken sections of more or less traditional ethnography. This seems to me less a ‘new craft of anthropology’ (quoting the back of the book) and more a combination of two relatively distinct authorial styles. Of course, Tsing as an author isn’t responsible for fulfilling the promises made on the back of her book! But I think Friction would be more interesting if “Nature Loving” (from last week) was more like “This Earth, This Island Borneo” and vice versa.
In his last entry on Friction Kelty says he’s not interested in playing the “Tsing doesn’t cite this/that game” we’ve been having (and then goes on to point out some things she doesn’t cite!) but I really want to dig in here and emphasize that this is more than a game — how an author treats the voices of their interlocutors is serious business. It is true that the modes in which we talk about the heteroglossia of our ethnography differs depending on whether the voices we are triliquating are ‘colleagues’ or ‘informants’, but in an ethnography where people are trying to probe the boundary between these two categories of interlocutors it really does matter how you approach things like literature reviews.
I like this chapter because it is the bomb eel literature review. And it also comes closest to having a sustained method of grappling with both academic interlocutors (the call-and-response style italicized and non-italicized paragraphs) as well as Tsing’s informant(s) (the funky list). It deals with late-80s issues of representation (“see, here are my fieldnotes… except of course they’re not really my fieldnotes”) and pays particular attention to the liasion of anthropology and ecologically-knowledgeable local peoples.
TEK (traditional ecological knowledge) and the White People Who Write About It is a complex and fraught subject, and it is clear here that one of the things that Tsing is trying to do is find some way to talk about it despite the way that certain left-academic discourses surrounding this subject have almost talked themselves into paralysis. I think that Tsing’s way out — speaking in terms of her concrete, individual relationship with a friend and admitting that it was fun to make the list with her.
I must admit that this also struck home with me since on slow days during my fieldwork I would often sit around with people and make lists of local animal species using “Mammals of New Guinea” and “Birds of New Guinea”. It was enormous fun, especially since the photos and drawings often captured the animals with a clarity that people never got to see in real life. And of course the various taxonomies used by people — forget what it looks like, what kind of sound does it make? Does this one Goes Underneath The Earth? — blew my mind away, since I was, after all, not actually there to study any of that stuff.
So while I’m still not clear how what Uma Adang does is ‘globalism’ I will be interested to see how the next chapter, which builds off of this one, will turn out.