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  • Le Temps Perdu:Anthropologists (Re)discover the Future
  • Samuel Gerald Collins
Debbora Battaglia , ed., E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
Margaret Mead , The World Ahead: An Anthropologist Anticipates the Future (The Study of Contemporary Western Cultures, Vol. 6), ed. by Robert B. Textor. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005.
Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding , eds., Histories of the Future. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

Finally, anthropology has begun to "go where no anthropologist has gone before": into the future, the extra-planetary and the extraterrestrial! But it's not exactly new, though, is it? Who can forget Cultures Beyond the Earth: the Role of Anthropology in Outer Space (1975)? Or Anthropology Through Science Fiction (1974), important enough to warrant a half-page ad in Anthropology News? Or the anthropological support for the ill-fated search for "Yeti"—Project Grendel? Or anthropology's contributions to SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)? In fact, these volumes go where anthropology clearly has gone before. In the case of E.T. Culture and History of the Future, both of which hinge upon the novelty of their subject, this could be construed as a fatal flaw. In an anthropological version of Derrida's "spectrality," the ghosts of anthropological [End Page 1175] futures past haunt them both. But, as I suggest below with regards to Mead's essays, there is in all three of these volumes cause for hope. Like Walter Benjamin, we might find redemption in these echoes of past futures; that is, these are ultimately salubrious hauntings.

E.T. Culture originates in a 2002 American Anthropological Annual meeting session, "The Anthropology of Outerspaces," and the essays indeed have that occasional "objet trouvé" quality associated with meetings where no one is exactly certain what kind of papers will ultimately derive from the submitted abstracts. However, in a heroic, sweeping introduction, Battaglia tries to pull together the occasional refractory contribution with the concept of the "E.T. effect," a kind of boundary object proliferating (like E.T.s themselves) at the margins of civilization and sense.

Overall, then, this volume might be understood as an exploratory project in two registers: a project of reflexive contact involving subjects and alien entities and subjects and cultural researchers in boundary negotiations at the sites of E.T. culture.

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E.T.s connect all sorts of anomalous agents in uncanny assemblages that promise to re-shape both the lives of people and the discourses of knowledge and science, supporting "our creative leaps into hypothesis—into the gaps of comprehension that are requisite for imagining new forms of relationality and new ways of knowing—and thus of agency and empowerment" (12). Of course, it's worth asking whether the diverse agencies interconnected in the "E.T. Effect" have equal stakes in the uncanny. Can we compare the terror of the abductee with the thrill of the anthropologist engaging in the discursive frisson? As we will see later, this will haunt this nascent E.T. Anthropology—examining E.T.s too closely opens anthropology onto (other) abductions.

Christopher Roth's contribution, "Ufology as Anthropology," squarely locates the alien in the interstices of religion and science, on the one hand, and anthropology and race, on the other. That is, looking at the transformations of the alien in years following the 1947 Roswell incident, Roth finds in them familiar strains of polygenism, social Darwinism, and anti-Semitism, as well as the ghost of anthropology's last polygenist, Carleton S. Coon (whose contribution to the 1968 collection Apeman, Spaceman comes back to haunt this volume as well). The early narratives of the alien in the 1950s were recapitulations of theosophy—aliens coupling with our hominid forbears created [End Page 1176] Homo sapiens and only by finding the "purer" strain of alien blood can we hope to realize this extraterrestrial patrimony. However: the "modern" alien—those Greys proliferating through media—suggests a departure from 19th century. Starting with the 1961 abduction narratives of the mixed-race couple, Betty and Barney Hill, the alien becomes less familiar (although Roth looks to Wells), and, shorn of much of the "master race" discourse, more inscrutable. In this, though, Roth sees the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 1175-1186
Launched on MUSE
2007-12-20
Open Access
No
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