Faculty Writing: Anthropology Underwater, Edward Said, and the Cult of Seriousness

In the journal Cultural Anthropology, Adriana Garriga-Lopez imagines an anthropology disconnected, like a diver from her oxygen tank, from “the familiar touchstones of leftist anthropological critique … Marx, Hegel, Kant, Foucault, Nietzsche, Freud, and sometimes Arendt.” “I learned to think with and through these philosophers,” Garriga-Lopez writes, but a narrow engagement with Western work, as well as the material facts of a discipline dominated by the English language and rooted in Western institutions, has marginalized “indigenous and other nonwhite scholars” and contributed to a conception of the discipline as, to quote Lisa Uperesa, “white public space.” “For anthropology to really matter it has to become unmoored from the old episteme; it must let go of the line … The future of anthropology will require the willingness to grow gills and to learn to breathe underwater.”

In Poetry, Anjuli Raza Kolb recounts the details of an old scandal, documented in the archives of Edward Said, pebble thrower. In 1982, PEN hosted a poetry event intended to raise funds for refugees displaced during the First Lebanon War. When PEN reacted unhappily to the poetry of reader June Jordan, calling it too “close to political assertion,” Jordan decried PEN’s “ethic of aesthetic purity.” “[T]his,” writes Kolb, “is how whiteness shores itself up”—erecting a false wall between art and politics, and categorizing as scandalous the authentic expressions of the oppressed.

On The Dig podcast, hosted by Daniel Denvir, BISR faculty member Patrick Blanchfield discusses the Washington cult of Seriousness and savvy, previously documented in his review of Bob Woodward’s Fear and obituary for John McCain.