It seems a lot of anthropologists have had cause to write angry letters in response to Chagnon’s latest book: Sahlins, Fuentes and Marks here on Savage Minds, and a host of others elsewhere (see Anthropology Report for a good rundown). But I thought Jay Ruby’s criticism was unique enough that it deserved it’s own post. Sent to VISCOM, an email list for visual anthropology, Ruby wrote the following:
For me, the most annoying thing about this book is Chagnon’s attempt to erase Tim Asch’s contribution to the production of the Yanomamo films. At one point, Chagnon even refers to the films as “my documentary films.” I knew Tim Asch as a friend and colleague. We had many discussions about his collaboration with Chagnon. Anyone interested in reading about Asch’s view of the collaboration should look at Chapter 4 of my book, Picturing Culture (2000, U of Chicago press). When it was commonly assumed that the best way to make an ethnographic film was for a filmmaker to collaborate with an ethnographer, The Asch-Chagnon collaboration was regarded as the model. Few people knew that the partnership was a disaster with Asch literally begging Chagnon to spend more time working on these films. Their relationship was so unpleasant that when Asch died in 1994, Chagnon refused to contribute to a planned memorial. To say Chagnon’s treatment of Asch in this book is unjust and petty is an understatement.
- The photograph of Timothy Asch posted above is taken from the DER Timothy Asch website.