As Kerim noted, Dell Hymes passed away. My connection to Hymes is tangential — mostly the odd personal connections that come with the small world of academics — and others will be able to memorialize him better than I. The passing of Hymes and Lévi-Strauss so closely together is sad but also offers a time for us to reflect on these academics, their legacies, and their different personal style. Lévi-Strauss loved culture and, at times, seemed almost traumatized that he was forced to study people in order to get at it. Hymes’s writings are equally scrupulous, but deeply honor human life and are dedicated to finding the beauty and complexity in the ephemeral moments of our speaking and story-telling. In 1968 Lévi-Strauss’s structures took to the streets. In 1972 Dell Hymes published Reinventing Anthropology.
Hymes’s legacy and importance is perhaps best captured in two essays in the Reed College alumni magazine, which recount his formative years at that institution. The first, Ways We Speak, discusses Hymes’s career in light of his early training at the college. Another, longer article (which is really a minor gem of anthropological intellectual history) by anthropologist Robert Moore is entitled Listening To Indians describes the Warm Springs project that trained Hymes and countless others. They’re both worth reading for learning more about Hymes and his work, especially for those who think of him as a ‘theorist’ rather than an ethnographer.
The best testimony to Hymes’s work, though, is Hymes himself. His faculty page at the University of Virginia shows his humility as a scholar, thoughtfulness, and mindfulness of the way even small occasions can become performances:
I never know what to say when someone asks what I have done and do. So much of it has depended and depends on circumstances. I have never done anything I would myself describe as theoretical or ethnographic (in a strict sense of either term), although I have often written about ideas, and spent a fair amount of time hanging around Indians. I am interested in what is done in the study of the use of language, oral narrative and poetry, the history of anthropology and linguistics, Native Americans, theology. […]
What’s interesting is real work. I am always interested in combating elitism and narrowness and the playing of ‘Western mind games’ (as one friend once put it) at the expense of the rest of the world. The justification for the existence of anthropology is to find out about the world, not produce third-rate philosophers. Two vital issues for the field are (a) to ensure that anthropologists are the knowledgeable peers of members of any other discipline concerned with peoples and topics anthropologists study and (b) to justify scholarship in its relation to the interests and abilities of others.
I still know something about the history of anthropology and of linguistics, and ethnography of speaking, but am actively concerned mostly with verbal traditions and languages of Oregon and Washington. (Other cases come up, as recently Wintu (Loon Woman), Mohave (Kroeber’s texts), Saami (‘Lapp’), and characteristics of oral epic (because of gatherings at Turku)).
Those with memories or (since this is the Internet) links to memories or resources are welcome to leave them in the comments.