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Invitation to an Anthropology Party Tullio Maranhâo I WOULD LIKE TO INVITE YOU to an anthropology party on the occasion of the publication of the present special issue of L ’Esprit Créateur devoted to the work of Jean-François Lyotard. The date and place are unspecified. The hors-d’oeuvres to be served are constituted by themes of possible relevance for anthropology touched upon by Lyotard. The main tray will display the persisting return to the idea of an anthropology in the quest of the social and human sciences, that is, the Geisteswissenschaften. All prefatory remarks relating to the question of the subject, from Cartesian philosophy to poststructuralist criticism, will be skipped. The discussion will focus on three of Lyotard’s books: The Postmodern Condition, The Differend, and L ’Inhumain. 1 Anthropologists are perhaps those men and women with a strong stomach for all kinds of indigestive differends and, consequently, I sup­ pose, we will be able to serve a few extravagant items at this party. Ethnographers generally do not return empty-handed from fieldwork with the excuse that they were unable to handle the difference, for the first trait of the anthropologist’s identity is an unabashed appetite for all sorts of exoticisms. Indeed, the anthropological genre consists precisely in making sense of the wildly exotic to an audience of cosmopolitan citi­ zens of the world who like to represent their dwelling by reading anthro­ pological reports, or who just enjoy reading them, or still who read such reports out of professional obligation. Hence, the guests who come to this party will not be able to reject Lyotard’s ideas, at least in principle, with the pretext that they are too extravagant. But this presupposes that his ideas will be gusted as a native’s ideas, rather than as those of a cosmo­ politan citizen of the world. Is Lyotard writing on the side of the eth­ nographers, or of the natives? The anthropological mind does not tolerate identity ambiguities, it asks at once: Who and Where? However, assuming that the question can only be answered after fieldwork, I shall leave it unanswered for the time being. This means that the partygoers will treat Lyotard as a native. Fair enough. As for the host, I do not regard myself as doing fieldwork with the native Lyotard, but merely as giving a party and letting my guests decide for themselves what was served and how they liked it. As always on such occasions, the possibility Vol. XXXI, No. 1 131 L ’E s pr it C r éa te u r is strong that the dainties may not be the true caviar or the genuine cham­ pagne, nevertheless I shall do my best to serve true Lyotardian delicacies. The appeal to truth here is a matter of taste, for although caviar is Rus­ sian or Iranian, and champagne is French, their national provenance should not stand in the way of someone’s appreciation of Cava, the Spanish champagne, or of roe from Scandinavian lumpfish. Depending on the guster, the true caviar may not be true to its origin. After all, the consumers of signs always acquire their property of meaning by usucaption , and the matter of truth, in this regard, is in the eyes of the beholder, or—to remain faithful to my choice of metaphor—on the taster’s palate. Anthropology reports savage narratives and thus presents itself as the master narrative of cultural diversity. As such it is the guiding thread of universal cultural history. Having proclaimed the exhaustion of master narratives in The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard would not show sym­ pathy to such a project for empirical anthropology. Contemporary anthropologists would agree with him and argue that the hope is long gone for a universal history of culture based on comparative studies. Lyotard indicates where to look in order to find the central flaw in the project for a universal history of culture. The question to be asked is, what is the link between the narrative of a community, be it that of the Cashinahua society or the community of anthropologists, and the con­ tinuous trajectory of the history of communities? A narrative of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 131-143
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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