The Way We Think Now

Geertz, Clifford 1983. Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

The error, as in rather different ways both Boas and Malinowski gave much of their careers to demonstrating, lay in attempting to interpret cultural materials as though they were individual expressions rather than social institutions. Whatever the connection between thought as process and thought as product might be, the Rodin model - the solitary thinker mulling facts or spinning fantasies - is inadequate to clarify it. Myths are not dreams, and the rational beauties of mathematical proof are guarantees of no mathematician's sanity. (Geertz 1983: 149)
This is an important problem. Although it can be simplified as the micro-macro problem in sociology, it rather has to do with how we view certain "cultural materials". In my own study I'm trapped in this conundrum: whether certain symbols and metaphors are individual expressions or indeed belong to a certain folklore tradition.
But such studies did at least open up the distinction between the vehicles in terms of which persons must think, given who they are and where they are, and the perceiving, imagining, remembering, or whatever that they engage in when they get down in fact actually to doing so. (Geertz 1983: 149)
Vehicles of thought depending of who and where the people are vs how they actually perceive, imagine, remember, etc.
Hopi tensors (words denoting intensity, tendency, duration, or strength as autonomous phenomena) drive reasonings so abstract, Whorf said, as to be almost beyond our power to follow. (Geertz 1983: 149)
Vehicles of thought depending of who and where the people are vs how they actually perceive, imagine, remember, etc.
For structuralists, Lévi-Strauss cum suis, the product side of thought becomes so many arbitrary cultural codes, diverse indeed, with their jaguars, tattoos, and rotting meat, but which, when properly deciphered, yield as their plain text the psichological invariants of the process side. (Geertz 1983: 150)
This cum suis translates as "and associates" but it's use is almost like in common parlance the expression "& Co." (e.g. Lévi-Strauss & Co.). The move from thought to arbitrary cultural codes may perhaps be explained with Propp's influence, but this is just a hunch.
For symbolic action theorists [...] thinking is a matter of the intentional manipulation of cultural forms, and outdoor activities like ploughing or peddling are as good examples of it as closet experiences like wishing or regretting. (Geertz 1983: 151)
This is somewhat similar to the cultural semiotics approach, especially when it comes to the semiotics of space or of the city, for example. That is, semioticity is related to intentional manipulation of the environment. E.g. graffiti as the semiotizing of the city space [linnaruumi semiotiseerimine e märgistamine].
We are all natives now, and everybody else not immediately one of us is an exotic. What looked once to be a matter of finding out whether savages could distinguish fact from fancy now looks to be a matter of finding out how others, across the sea or down the corridor, organize their significative world. (Geertz 1983: 151)
As an Estonian, I do feel like a "native". Especially when V. Mikita encourages us to view ourselves as something like Baltic indians. "Significative world" sounds like the "semiotic reality" that F. Merrell and A. Randviir talk about.
To call, as I am about to do, for an ethnography of thought is to take a stand on what thought is by taking a stand on how it is to be thought about. (Geertz 1983: 152)
Here Geertz is a semiotician sui generis - instead of talking about the matter, he's going to discuss how to think about the matter. Sometimes it feels like all that semioticians actually do consists of framing points of view.
My intention is to stress a certain bent of its character: namely, that it is (or, anyway, ought to be) an historical, sociological, comparative, interpretive, and somewhat catch-as-catch-can enterprise, one whose aim is to render obscure matters intelligible by providing them with an informing context. What connects Victor Turner, shuffling through the color symbolism of passage rites, Philippe Aries, parading funeral images of death or schoolhouse ones of childhood, and Gerald Holton, ferreting out themata from oil drops, is the belief thah ideation, subtle or otherwise, is a cultural artifact. (Geertz 1983: 152)
Exactly my point when framing my own study of bygone metaphors for nonverbal behaviour: the relation between sunshine/clouds and positive or negative emotions in facial expressions will not tell us much about the facial expressions themselves, but will tell us something about how people used to talk, feel and think about facial expressions. I'm unable to inform about the context of even this single metaphor because I'm not well versed enough in Christian figures and motives (e.g. "the ray from the sun" analogy).
The most obvious of the directer implications is that, as thinking in this view is a matter of trafficking in the symbolic forms available in one or another community (language, art, myth, theory, ritual, technology, law, and that conglomerate of maxims, recipes, prejudices, and plausible stories the smug call common sense), the analysis of such forms and such communities is ingredient to interpreting it, not ancillary. (Geertz 1983: 153)
Cf. Peirce and how we think only in signs.
It is a matter of conceiving of cognition, emotion, motivation, perception, imagination, memory ... whatever, as themselves, and directly, social affairs. (Geertz 1983: 153)
In other words, it is a matter of performing something like a secondary reflexion (in Mamardašvili and Pjatigorski's terms), so that whatever applies to individuals can be viewed on the level of culture - thus culture, too, has its own consciousness, will and destiny. Here, it is not exactly viewing the culture as a supraindividual whole with emotions, motivations, perceptions etc. but conceiving these as "social affairs" or cultural facts. This has been performed with emotion in the sociology of emotion, for example, and with perception, imagination and memory in cultural psychology (e.g. J. Valsiner).
[...] and to attend therefore to such muscular matters as the representation of authority, the marking of boundaries, the rhetoric of persuasion, the expression of commitment, and the registering of dissent. (Geertz 1983: 153)
I would include all of these "muscular matters" under the rubric of "social power". I believe there are aspects of nonverbal communication in all these matters.
[...] that simply knowing everything in particular one will end by knowing nothing in particular. (Geertz 1983: 154)
This is exactly the problem I'm having in studying nonverbal communication. I haven't "specialized" (to gestures, facial expressions, proxemics, etc.), and it really shows.
It is when we begin to see this, to see that to set out to deconstruct Yeats's imagery, absorb oneself in black holes, or measure the effect of schooling on economic achievement is not just to take up a technical task but to take on a cultural frame that defines a great part of one's life, that an ethnography of modern thought begins to seem an imperative project. Those roles we think to occupy turn out to be minds we find ourselves to have. (Geertz 1983: 155)
Yup. This is why I call myself a nonverbalist. Nonverbal communication is not only what I study, it is a part of most everything I do. I cannot read fiction without pondering over how the author describes bodily behaviour more than I can not pay attention to nonverbal aspects of interactions in films. It is indeed "a cultural frame".
Indeed, when we get down to the substance of things, unbemused by covenig terms like "literature," "sociology" or "physics," most effective academic communities are not that much larger than most peasant villages and just about as ingrown. Even some entire disciplines fit this pattern: it is still true, apparently, that just about every creative mathematician (those men a quattrocento aesthetician once finely dismissed as people who quiet their intellect with proofs) knows about every other one, and the interaction, indeed the Durkheimian solidarity, among them would make a Zulu proud. To some extent the same thing seems to be true of plasma physicists, psychologists, Renaissance scholars, and a number of other of what have come to be called, adapting Boyle's older phrase, "invisible colleges." From such units, intellectual villages if you will, convergent data can be gathered, for the relations among the inhabitants are typically not merely intellectual, but political, moral, and broadly personal (these days, increasingly, marital) as well. Laboratories and research institutes, scholarly societies, axial university departments, literary and artistic cliques, intellectual factions, all fit the same pattern: communities of multiply connected individuals in which something you find out about A tells you something about B as well, because, having known each other too long and too well, they are characters in one another's biographies. (Geertz 1983: 157)
This pretty much captures the way I feel about Tartu semioticians. However diffuse in time and space, they form an academic community - or, considering the almost esoteric nature of semiotics, something like an invisible society or an intellectual cult of sorts.


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