Contrasting ‘Contemporaries’

…making connections is essential, and I think the project we’re engaged in here, at some level, is precisely to make some of those connections visible for emergent anthropologies elsewhere.  So let me offer one, in the form of a thought on description.  A Machine to Make a Future, my Celera Diagnostics book, is a kind of writing degree zero.  It is a modernist project where I wanted to be utterly saturated with things I know and to disappear from the text.  But in some ways that form of modernism is now traditional – it is hardly new. On the other hand, the project rejoins anthropology by demanding engagement with the unfamiliar. However, whereas no one would ever say to Marilyn Strathern, ‘The fact that you’re making us learn these terms from New Guinea is illegitimate,’ they will say that about SNP [single nucleotide polymorphism]. I don’t know what to do about that except persevere. Why is there such an investment in refusing to be open to the contemporary world?

–Paul Rabinow in conversation with George Marcus, Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, p 50

…connection and disconnection underpin the comparative maneuver that would contrast what seem(s) (the best way to describe) hegemonic Melanesian and Euro-American conceptions of relations. It is a Euro-American move, of course, to find unity in diversity (common brotherhood overcomes differences), but that is all right. There are many contexts in which that might be a good thing to do, and one I have made my own indeed involves constantly returning to Melanesian materials—not just for inspiration, though that is reward enough, but to keep the anthropological accounts of that region contemporary. What happens there (and what happened there) goes on mattering. They are “us” too.

–Marilyn Strathern, ‘What Politics?,’ Common Knowledge, 17:1 (2011), p 124

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