This semester I am working on finishing my book manuscript, which deals with issues raised by Anna Tsing and Marshall Sahlins… or rather the same issue… raised by both of them… In taking notes for the second chapter I thought it would be fun to write a blog demonstrating the way that Tsing’s “highly original perspective” (as the back of the book describes it) repeats in just slightly different phraseology what Sahlins argued twenty years earlier. As the notes accumulated, however, I found that the passages formed a continuous narrative, rather than a set of quotes capable of being contrasted. So here is a selection of their work, alternating between Friction and Islands of History. Can you tell the difference? I suspect stylistically they are distinguishable, even though the content is quite similar. I bet if I had a copy of Anahulu to hand I could get the language about capitalism to fit even closer.
Here we go:
“Universals are effective within particular historical conjunctures that give them content and force. We might specify this conjunctural feature of universals in practice by speaking of engagement. Engage universals travel across difference and are charged and changed by their travels. Through friction, universals become practically effective. Yet they can never fulfill their promises of universality. Even in transcending localities, they don’t take over the world. They are limited by the practical necessity of mobilizing adherents. Engaged universals must convince us to pay attention to them. All universals are engaged when considered as practical projects accomplished in a heterogenous world.
In the historical particularity of global connections, domination and discipline come into their own, but not always in the forms laid out by their proponents. The empirical realities in all their particularities can never live up to the myth. In action, people put their concepts and categories into ostensive relations to the world. Having its own properties, the world may then prove intractable. It can well defy the concepts that are indexed to it. Man’s symbolic hubris becomes a great gamble played with empirical realities.
The gamble is that referential action, by placing a priori concepts in correspondence with external objects, will imply some unforseen effects which cannot be ignored. Culture are continually co-produced in the interactions I call “friction”: the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference. We have seen that such “working disagreements” may entail some arrangement of conflicting intentions and interpretations, even as the meaningful relationships so established conflict with established relationships. My goal is to grasp the productive moment of this misunderstanding. Cultural forms are persistent but unpredictable effects of global encounters across difference, and I stress the importance of cross-cultural and long-distance encounters in forming everything we know as culture — a confrontation of cultures affords a privileged occasion for seeing very common types of historical chance en clair. In this generative unfolding, the basic concepts are taken through successive stages of combination and recombination, along the way producing novel and synthetic terms.”