Far Afield French Anthropology between Science and Literature
by Vincent Debaene, translated by Justin Izzo
University of Chicago Press, 2014
Cloth: 978-0-226-10690-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-10706-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-10723-3
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Anthropology has long had a vexed relationship with literature, and nowhere has this been more acutely felt than in France, where most ethnographers, upon returning from the field, write not one book, but two: a scientific monograph and a literary account. In Far Afield—brought to English-language readers here for the first time—Vincent Debaene puzzles out this phenomenon, tracing the contours of anthropology and literature’s mutual fascination and the ground upon which they meet in the works of thinkers from Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille to Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roland Barthes.
           
The relationship between anthropology and literature in France is one of careful curiosity. Literary writers are wary about anthropologists’ scientific austerity but intrigued by the objects they collect and the issues they raise, while anthropologists claim to be scientists but at the same time are deeply concerned with writing and representational practices. Debaene elucidates the richness that this curiosity fosters and the diverse range of writings it has produced, from Proustian memoirs to proto-surrealist diaries. In the end he offers a fascinating intellectual history, one that is itself located precisely where science and literature meet.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Vincent Debaene is associate professor of French at Columbia University. He is the critical editor of the Pléiade edition of the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and coauthor of Claude Lévi-Strauss: L’Homme au Regard ÉloignéJustin Izzo is assistant professor of French Studies at Brown University.

REVIEWS

“This remarkable and ambitious work expertly takes both a long-view and close-ups of the main currents of twentieth-century French anthropological research and thinking. Travel writing, anthropology’s relation to surrealism, the dissolution of science-literature unity in belles-lettres, and structuralism into post-structuralism are all systematically addressed with great insights, great turns of phrase (caught well in translation), and fresh interpretations.”
— George Marcus, University of California, Irvine.

“Richly detailed and brilliantly argued, Far Afield portrays mid-twentieth century French anthropology as a complex negotiation of ‘literary’ and ‘scientific’ pressures. Debaene offers acute readings of classic and lesser-known works in a sustained engagement with fundamental problems of cross-cultural representation.”
— James Clifford, University of California, Santa Cruz

“A dazzling study. . . . it cannot be confined to literary analysis. If it is read with so much pleasure, it is precisely because as it delves into the heart of these works, far from sinking into sterile dissection, it offers on the contrary the opportunity for an ambitious reflection on the respective histories of anthropology and literature, and on the complex links woven over time between the two disciplines.”
— Le Monde, on the French Edition

“Brilliant, demanding book. . . . deeply researched. . . . beautifully translated.”
— Times Higher Education

"Far Afield is a fascinating enterprise placing ethnography at the core of last century’s literary creation."
— American Anthropologist

TABLE OF CONTENTS

- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0001
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0002
[Fieldwork, Marcel Griaule, Paul Rivet, Marcel Mauss, Arnold Van Gennep, History of anthropology, Institut d’ethnologie, Musée de l’Homme]
This chapter examines the birth of anthropology as an institutionalized academic discipline in early twentieth-century France. It looks at the founding of the Institut d’ethnologie and the Musée de l’Homme in Paris and the key roles played by such figures as Paul Rivet, Marcel Mauss, Marcel Griaule, and Arnold Van Gennep in the early history of French anthropology. Additionally, the chapter addresses the increasingly central role played by fieldwork in anthropological research and scholarship and how the ethnographer’s sense of self also became an object of investigation. Through fieldwork, anthropologists began to study “man” in its broadest sense, a perspective that seemed to betoken the return of a universal form of experience in the face of increasing social segmentation. (pages 25 - 50)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0003
[Claude Lévi-Strauss, Bronislaw Malinowski, French anthropology, Fieldwork, Anthropology and literature]
The relationship between anthropology and “literature” writ large in the early history of the French anthropological tradition is the subject of this chapter. Unlike the national traditions of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Germany, France lacked rigorous methodological models for fieldwork and thus many French ethnographers drew from literary themes in order to make sense of lived experience in the field. This chapter explores how the French tradition crossed paths with literature as a discourse that saw itself as a repository for the knowledge of all of humankind, such that French anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss could trace their intellectual lineage back to Montaigne or Montesquieu. An extended case-study of Malinowski serves as a counterexample and highlights the cultural specificity of the French approach to anthropology. (pages 51 - 66)
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0004
[Marcel Mauss, Emile Durkheim, Gustave Lanson, Marcel Griaule, Alfred Métraux, Atmosphere, Fieldwork, Evocative documents, Rhetoric, Museum]
When they returned from the field, French anthropologists published both specialized and broadly scientific materials but also texts that were harder to classify, literary and narrative-based renderings of their fieldwork experiences. This trend reflects tensions, outlined by Marcel Mauss, between documentary imperatives and the need to represent the intangible “atmosphere” of a society under investigation in evocative documents. This chapter deals with the ways scholars like Mauss, Griaule, Durkheim, Gustave Lanson, and Alfred Métraux negotiated these tensions, often by producing narrative texts that supplemented more objective, muesum-based attempts at scientific knowledge production by communicating ethnographic knowledge through rhetoric. These and other figures wrestle with the question of narrative evocation and its ties to the potential scientific validity of subjective impressions. (pages 67 - 88)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0005
[Paul-Émile Victor, Marcel Mauss, Jacques Soustelle, Alfred Métraux, L’Île de Pâques, Indigenous literature, Atmosphere, Poetry]
This chapter addresses ethnographic citations of indigenous literature, an important device used in the more literary supplemental texts published by French anthropologists. Studying work by Paul-Émile Victor, Marcel Mauss, Jacques Soustelle, and Alfred Métraux, the chapter demonstrates how anthropologists sought to revive textually the “atmosphere” of a given society by citing indigenous poetry. This trope both accorded and denied certain virtues to literature in its perceived opposition with science. A close reading of Métraux’s L’Île de Pâques reveals how French anthropologists struggled with the idea that an unmediated experience of alterity was impossible, and an engagement with Mauss shows that, in his perspective, the idea of atmosphere contained the commensurability of the subjective and the objective. (pages 89 - 110)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0006
[Nostalgia, Renaissance, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Emile Durkheim, Alfred Métraux, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Humanism]
Chapter 5 investigates the symptoms of nostalgia on the part of French anthropologists for a lost unity between science and literature, symptoms that manifest themselves in the ways anthropologists considered the history of their discipline, the links they established with the Renaissance, and in the ways these links allowed them to found a “new humanism” in the present. Looking at how anthropologists bypassed the nineteenth century and found their intellectual ancestors in the Renaissance and the eighteenth century, the chapter engages with the ways in which scholars like Lévi-Strauss, Métraux, and Durkheim traced their lineage back to figures such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Montaigne. In so doing, it shows how ethnographic narratives in France eventually claimed to overcome the science/literature by advocating for a “human” anthropology. (pages 111 - 126)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0007
[Travel writing, Exoticism, Michel Leiris, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, L’Afrique fantôme, Tourism, Initiation]
This chapter situates ethnographic fieldwork in relation to changing conceptions of travel and travel literature in France. In the early twentieth century, grand voyages from the Romantic period fell out of favor and exoticist literature gained in popularity thanks to developments in the press and mass media. Chapter 6 examines how the idea of a “true” voyage became the site of an intense symbolic competition between travelers and how French anthropologists dealt with this competition. Highlighting the communicability of scientific discourse and its pedagogical relationship to a broad public, they sought to constitute their discipline against tourism and the exoticism of travel writing as a popular genre. Drawing on examples from Michel Leiris’s disillusionment with the model of cultural initiation in L’Afrique fantôme and from Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, the chapter ultimately shows how both authors gradually realized that the commonly held idea of travel could not provide a framework for ethnography, and that anthropological fieldwork in fact implied renouncing the idea of the voyage. (pages 129 - 150)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0008
[Marcel Griaule, Stendhal, Les Flambeurs d’hommes, Chroniques italiennes, Ethiopia, Evocative documents, Atmosphere, Rhetoric]
Chapter 7 studies Marcel Griaule’s Les Flambeurs d’hommes, an opaque ethnographic text dealing with an imagined, archaic Ethiopia. It accounts for the oddities of this book, full of archaisms and written in the third person, by showing that it can be read as an attempt to solve the epistemological contradictions of anthropology at the time. In Les Flambeurs d’hommes Griaule undertakes the paradoxical project of inventing an evocative document, a text that communicates the “ways of feeling” of others but that cannot be suspected of dabbling in rhetoric or affectation, one that communicates an atmosphere but does so unintentionally and without realizing it. This distinction is drawn out by way of an extended comparison with Stendhal’s Chroniques italiennes, which is read as an evocative literary document bespeaking a knowledge project that is thoroughly anthropological. The comparative analysis of these two texts reveals the disparate practices of reading they prescribe as well as relationships to readerly publics that highlight the distinctions between traditional forms of cultural knowledge and the anthropology of the 1930s in France. (pages 151 - 172)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0009
[Michel Leiris, L’Afrique fantôme, Theatricality, Living document]
Unlike many other French ethnographers, Michel Leiris published his “literary” work, L’Afrique fantôme, before his more scientifically oriented ethnographic texts. Yet, in this sprawling and introspective diary, Leiris constantly asserts that ethnographic research must end in failure. This chapter examines the broad stakes of L’Afrique fantôme and suggests that book’s interest lies less in the failure of the voyage it recounts than in the continuous sense of starting over and the ever deeper sense of movement that emerges in its pages. Leiris’s sense of disillusionment and his experience of the impossibility of continuing his journey as he had originally imagined it are formalized in a metaphor of theatricality that this chapter examines at length by considering how it is ultimately tied to Leiris’s utopian desire for a living document that is both rhetorical and anthropological. (pages 173 - 198)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0010
[Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, Alterity, Travel writing, Fieldwork]
Although texts written by Lévi-Strauss at the end of the 1930s indicate that his research trip to Brazil was made in search of a supposedly pure form of alterity, the structure and content of Tristes Tropiques, written fifteen years after his return, announce the abandonment of such a perspective. Beginning from the observation that “literature” for Lévi-Strauss does not seek to compensate for the shortcomings of science, this chapter works out precisely how Tristes Tropiques is connected to its author’s broader anthropological project. In so doing, it argues broadly that literature for Lévi-Strauss allows for the completion in writing of an ethnographic experience that was initially unsatisfying because it was found to have been undertaken under flawed premises. By rejecting travel writing, Tristes Tropiques also rejects any continuity between fieldwork and the finished anthropological texts, all of which severs anthropology from its perceived connections with early forms of voyaging and exploration. (pages 199 - 224)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0011
[Gustave Lanson, Agathon, Sociology, Social Sciences, Science and Literature]
This chapter examines how writers and men of letters responded to the birth of the social sciences in France by considering reactions to the foundation of sociology at the turn of the twentieth century. Figures such as Agathon and Gustave Lanson wrestled with the question of how to defend literature as a knowledge project when faced with the ambitions of sociology and the social sciences. Whereas the former takes up the dispossession of the artist by the social scientist, the latter rails against the new sciences’ claims to rigor and rejection of rhetoric. These analyses point to a significant change in the function of literature in the modern era, namely that the humanistic scholar can no longer claim to have anything to teach the scientist in the name of the exercise of aesthetic judgment. (pages 227 - 248)
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0012
[Ramon Fernandez, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Roland Barthes, Tristes Tropiques, André Breton, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Social sciences, Literature and science]
Whereas chapter 10 turned to the beginning of the twentieth century to gauge writers’ and literary scholars’ reactions to the advent of the social sciences, chapter 11 examines the 1930s through the 1960s in order to take a more contemporary look at how literature writ large responded to the development of the social sciences. This chapter engages with figures such as Ramon Fernandez, André Breton, Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, and Roland Barthes, highlighting specific moments (such as the reception of Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques) where the figure of the artist coexists uneasily with that of the scientist. The chapter explores how literature sought to define itself and its role in relation to new scientific disciplines that redrew old lines of disciplinary demarcation. (pages 249 - 274)
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0013
[Africa, Caribbean, Roland Barthes, Structuralism, Terre Humaine, Poststructuralism]
This chapter is broadly concerned with the the effects of anthropology on the field of literature between 1955 and 1970. During this period, the exchanges between the two domains became more fragmented and diversified and this chapter considers several of their forms: the impact of anticolonial struggles (especially in Africa and the Caribbean) on the relationship between anthropology and literature; the “Terre Humaine” literary series which attempted to straddle both fields; and Roland Barthes’s affiliation with structuralism. The focus on Barthes and the passage from structuralism to poststructuralism in France highlights a new and important critique addressed by the writer to the scientist: henceforth, the latter is now seen to believe naively in the transparent use of language. Once again, the rapport de force between social sciences and literature is reversed: whereas in the early twentieth century Lanson was inviting the writer and man of letters to become a social scientist, Barthes urges the social scientist to become a writer. (pages 275 - 308)
This chapter is available at:
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- Vincent Debaene
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0014
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online