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Teksty Drugie 2012, 2, s.

19-29
Special Issue English Edition

Between the
Anthropology of
Literature and Literary
Anthropology.
Anna ebkowska
Prze. Jan

Pytalski

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Anna LEBKOWSKA
Between the Anthropology of Literature
and Literary Anthropology

We have already experienced several revolutions in the h um anities. We are


used to b lu rre d genres1 and we are not surprised by new dictionaries of literary
term s, since we ourselves try to reinvent them . Finally, we are not surp rised by the
discourse that we find in essays and their m ulti-dim ensional pro-literariness. We all
know perfectly well th a t it is advisable, and in good form , to display the bricoulers
eclecticism . To say that cultural anthropology in its various form s is triu m p h in g in
the hum anities, or th a t literary studies connect w ith anthropology, sounds banal.
Yet, it does not signify a full crystallization and closing of the research dom ain, or
a lack of doubts concerning the existence of issues dem anding a debate. Additionally,
central problem s and questions concerning w hat seems to be m ost fundam ental keep
reappearing: relations betw een cultural anthropology and literature, and anthropol
ogy and literary studies.2

Anthropology as literature or the literariness of anthropology


For the sake of order we should highlight the fact th at we ten d to talk about
a variety of anthropologies. A nd even though this feature is characteristic of all of the
fields w ithin the hum anities, it should be pointed to in this case w ith particular force.
Especially w hen we w ant to talk about the relationship betw een anthropology and
literature and literary studies. As anthropologists themselves claim , soft anthropol
ogy - literary in character - is anchored in a literary criticism , deconstructionist

1
2

Term coined by C. Geertz.


W hen using the term anthropology, I m ean cultural anthropology.

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Between the Anthropology of Literature^

th ought in p o ststructuralism and in the new social history and postm odernism .3
In terp retative anthropology com es to th e forefront, based on the aw areness of the
creation and fictionalization, as well as constructivist or figurative character of cul
tu ral representations. It is th is particu lar anthropology therefore, w hich is defined
by various turns, such as the ethical-narratological tu rn , aim ing at the com m union
of its discourse w ith literature and thereby shaping its contem porary character.4
T he act of a literary scholar w riting about the literary dim ension of anthropology
is not w ithout its pleasures, principally because it com bines an act of w riting - ac
tio n th at has a therapeutic effect - and, for certain reasons, is not necessarily that
difficult. T his is so, because this particu lar dim ension is often discussed and, most
im portantly, prom oted by the anthropologists them selves.5 N ot only do they keep
explaining w hy literary discourse6 is close to th eir hearts, b u t they also point to m o
m ents of intersection and kinship between the two. One can learn (from Brady) about
the poetics of anthropology study, or the poetics of culture (Greenblatt). L iterature is
usually placed on a pedestal and its abilities are described as lim itless. T h e reasons
for th is fascination were established, w ith m uch accuracy, in the texts of Clifford
G eertz and other scholars, including M arcus, Tyler, Clifford, and m any m ore (on
Polish turf, we are likely to first encounter these reasons in the books of Burszta).
F eatures pointed to m ost often are figurativeness, fictionality, an d its fabulistic
character, along w ith creativity and th e role of im agination. L ite ra tu res apology
in contrast w ith scientific discourses, or the cognitive dispositions is characteristic
of our tim es, starting w ith R orty and ending w ith the narrativ ists (Taylor G iddens
an d B runer W hite). M entioned on m ultiple occasions, there are several varying
topoi, including the anthropologist as author, or as w riter, the anthropologist
as p o et - or in a m ore focused rendition - surrealism as ethnographys quiet ally
(Clifford7). Likewise, there have been suggestions of tu rn in g anthropology in the
direction of a m ore literary, n arrative, usage of m etaphors and synecdoche (Geertz),

Brady, J. Introduction in Anthropological Poetics, edited by I. Brody, Rowman and


L ittlefield Publishers, Savage, M d., 1991: 5
W hen w riting about the soft version of contem porary cultural anthropology, Brady
states: certain issues stated in a poetic way, could not be exclaim ed w ith sim ilar
strength in any o ther way. (Ibid.)
E. Rewers approached this position in a right way w hen she asked about w hat are the
benefits o f the exchange between anthropology and literature for the latter, because
benefits for anthropology are nam ed by the anthropologists all the tim e. (Rewers,
E. The Prisoners of T ranscultural Im agination in Narration and Identity (I) Narrations
in Culture, edited by W. Bolecki, R. Nycz, Warsaw: IBL PAN Press, 2004: 40.
I have in m ind essays by C lifford G eertz, w hich are increasingly available in
Polish, as well as texts by Jam es Clifford, for exam ple his The Troubles With Culture
(translated by E. D urak and others, Warsaw: K R Press, 2000.) I am also thinking
of im p o rtan t books by W ojciech Burszta. W ith respect to Polish publications, one
should m ention the volum e Words From the Motherland (edited by W J. Burszta,
W. Kuligowski, Pozna: Teglte Library, 2002) and B ursztas text: Eye and the Pen of
the A nthropologist.
Clifford, J. The Troubles With Culture, 137.

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Anthropology in Literary Studies


oxym oron (Richards), and finally fragm enting, non-continuity, an d m u ltip le points
of view, etc. All of these positions have been presented an d connected m any tim es,
w ith the literary discourse set to discover otherness (every now an d again w ith echoes
of Rorty or Ricouer in the background).
Today, auto-analysis w ithin anthropology w ould have to m ean m ore th an m erely
the am bition to identify the extent of anthropologys literariness. It w ould have to
involve revealing its literary studies dim ension or, in other words, its direct connec
tions w ith the study of literature. It has been said th a t anthropological w ritin g
[what anthropologists write] should undergo literary analysis, and th a t the m u tu al
relations of the two should be strengthened.8It w ould be h ard to disagree w ith such
a plea. A few years ago, C lifford G eertz gave a lecture en titled A Strange Romance:
A nthropology and L iteratu re, in w hich he concludes - relating to his previous
theory - th a t it is tim e to read other cultures in ways free of ascribing hierarchy or
legislative oppressiveness, in ways b ringing us closer to m ore em pathetic com m u
nity. All of th is in order to perceive others receptions, read others readings - for
all this we need to take a loan from literary studies. T his loan seems to constitute
a fundam ental issue.9 As we can observe, not only the literary character of a n th ro
pological discourse tu rn s out to be interesting and im portant, b u t also its, one m ight
say, literary studies dim ension (with the ethical background visible at all tim es).
Looking from our - literary - perspective, it is hard not to notice another, recently
em ergent, issue for anthropologists beginning to study literature. T he process of read
ing other cultures (through th eir literature, or literatu res counterparts) by m eans
of dense description,10 and com parison w ith works of literatu re (e.g., E uropean),
allows for finding w ithin the tran slatio n 11 relations betw een p articu lar cultures
(including th eir w orks of literature). T he criteria for the selection or th e m eans
of extraction of certain cultural aspects are supposed to be th e com m on factors of
literatu re and other products culture: e.g., ritu als and cerem onies. For G eertz, it is
one of the m ost im portant rules of conducting research. He proposes term s such as
symbol, m etaphor, plot, narration, m otif, etc. O n top of th at, it is well know n that
the use of overriding categories, derived precisely from literary studies, such as
n arration, m im etic fiction, etc. has been productive.
T he reading of literatu re by the cu ltu ral anthropologists is und o u b ted ly an
im portant phenom ena. However, it is im possible to talk about one, unanim ous
perspective in th is case. L iterature functions in different ways in th is p articu lar
field. For some, it is treated as a k ind of niche, up to th is p o in t not used to its fullest
extent, or perceived m erely as one of the m any possible displays of h u m an cu ltural
8
9
10

11

Between Anthropology and Literature. Interdisciplinary Discourse, edited by R.De Angelis,


London: Routledge: 2002: 1.
G eertz, C. A Strange Romance: A nthropology and L iteratu re, in Profession, 2003.
G eertz, C. D ense D escription. In the Search of Interpretative T heory of C u ltu re ,
in his The Interpretation o f Cultures. Selected Essays, translated by M.M. Piechaczek,
Cracow: UJ Press, 2005.
I am recreating G eertzs assum ptions from A Strange R o m a n c e ^

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Between the Anthropology of Literature^

activity. On other occasions, it is utilized as a starting point of given research (as in


the case of Erick Gans, representative of generative anthropology). In conclusion,
even though it is h ard to talk about a kin d of cohesiveness of views on th e role of
literatu re, it is placed high in the ranks of research subjects.12
T h u s far, we have highlighted the fusion of literature an d anthropology. In the
process of this fusion, science begins to em ploy the language of aesthetics,13and that
is where the term artful science'4 originated. C oncern is therefore w ith a discourse, in
w hich the beauty and the tragic nature of the world are textually legitim ated through
the subtly researched constructions and subjective explanations of the author.15
T h ro u g h these words, one can hear the hope th a t this kin d of anthropology (poetic
or literary) will have its own in p u t not only into the anthropology canon, b u t will
becom e useful for other fields of study as w ell.16 It takes even greater prom inence
w hen it is decided th a t the statem ent m eeting of literatu re and anthropology is
insufficient and the claim th a t literatu re gave b irth to anthropology17 is uttered.
At the same tim e, however, everything seems to point to the fact th a t the sentence
by Jam es C lifford still holds true: R elationships betw een anthropological research
an d literature and art, invariably strong in our century, dem and atten tio n .18 T his
p articu lar em phasis provides im portant research m otivation, b ringing to the surface
m u tu al indebtedness. It operates on the assum ption th at anthropology equips liter
ary texts w ith images, exotic colors, them es and theories on history, evolution and
progress, b u t w hat is literary and extrem ely figurative [the au thor of th is text con
nects figurativeness w ith painting] radically changes anthropological discourses.19
T he very expression - a fusion of anthropology and literature - could be perceived
from different perspectives. It is tim e to proceed to questions concerning how liter
ary studies becom ing anthropologized.

The Anthropology of Literature or Literary Studies


as Anthropology - The Anthropologization of Literary Studies
From the very outset, the anthropology of literatu re was accom panied by at
tem p ts to solve some fundam ental and recurring problem s. I w ant to b rin g them

14
15
16

18
19

C om pare E. Gans, I. Brady, C. G eertz, J. Clifford. A lthough oftentim es it is art th at is


being placed in the center, and not necessarily literature itself.
Anthropology and Literature, 1, edited by P. Benson, Urbana: U niversity o f Illinois
Press, 1993.
Brady, I. H arm ony and A rgum ent. B ringing Forth the A rtful Science 3, in
Anthropological Poetics
Benson, R Introduciton, 1, in Anthropology and L iterature^
Ibid.
Cesareo, M. A nthropology and L iterature. O f Bedfellows an Illegitim ate O ffspring,
in Between Anthropology and Literature, 161-2.
Clifford, J. The Troubles With Culture, 137.
R ichards, D. Masks o f Difference: Cultural Representations in Literature, Anthropology and
A rt, C am bridge: C am bridge U niversity Press, 1993: 3.

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Anthropology in Literary Studies


to the forefront, because I likewise view them as fundam ental. In the, so to speak,
m ost fam ous w orks of an anthropo-literary character th a t have been p u b lish ed
d uring the last few decades, one can find a few interestin g positions. H ere are just
few examples: Literature and Anthropology20 (1986) edited by J. Hall; th e previously
m entioned Between Anthropology and Literature (especially the already quoted text
by M ario Cesareo A nthropology and L iterature. O f Bedfellows an Illegitim ate
O ffspring); Anthropology and Literature (1993) ed ited by Paul Benson; Literary
Anthropology:A New Interdisciplinary Approach to People, Signs and Culture21 (1998);
and m ost significantly, a text by Th. G. W inner L iteratu re as a Source for A n th ro
pological R esearch;22 and again w ith the title Literature and Anthropology2^ (1989),
this tim e edited by P.A. D ennis.
It is h ard not to notice that w hat is significant and recu rrin g in all of these titles
is not so m uch some new term describing some new discipline, b u t rath er the com
binatio n of th e two discourses. T h at is why we should ask again w hether the entire
enterprise should be about exposing the literary side of anthropological research,
searching for com m union, or m aybe m ining literatu re for ready-m ade exam ples of
cultural anthropology? In other words, should we be focused on using anthropological
term s to interp ret literature?24We are well aware th a t such a delineation of research
perspectives w ould not be sufficient.
H ence, there appears the question of m utual relations betw een exam ining litera
ture and anthropology. T his relationship tends to be identified as an interdisciplinary,
borderline, and the very anthropology of literatu re was explained m any tim es. It is
som etim es described sim ply as the analysis and u n d erstan d in g of literary texts in
a broad, cultural perspective.25 Such an in terp retatio n is extremely, if not genially,
sim plistic, not at all com plicated in character. However, (in the 80s) there were
m uch stronger statem ents th a t cam e to the forefront. For exam ple, anthropology
as a discipline to replace theory,26 or slightly toned down, a new com m union, [in
which] the identity of the two fields could be heard. A nd although one can hear rare
voices calling for separation and describing it as m ore of a b ran ch of anthropology,
20
21

23

25
26

Literature and Anthropology, edited by J. H all, A. Abbas, H ong Kong: H ong Kong
U niversity Press, 1986.
Literary Anthropology: A New Interdisciplinary Approach to People, Signs and Literature.
Symposium: 11th International Congress o f Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences.
Papers, A m sterdam -Philadelphia: J. Benjam ins Publishing, 1988.
W inner, Th.G., L iterature as a Source for A nthropological Research: The Case of
Jaroslav H aseks Good Soldier Sveik, in Ibid.
Literature and Anthropology, edited by P.A. D ennis, W. Aycock, Texas: Texas U niversity
Press, 1989.
Q uestions, w hich are posed in such m anner are usually ironic to an extent. Com pare
A. Owen A ldridge L iterature and the Study o f M an in Literature and Anthropology,
41. For the scholar, the way to reach the anthropology o f literature w ould be through
num erous tem plates found by the anthropologists and extracted w ith literature.
Sym posium on L iterary Anthropology. T ranscript of the C losing D iscussion in
Literary Anthropology 1983: 335.
Ibid, 331.

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rath e r th an literary theory,27 the approach affirm s the sym biotic relationship and
reconfiguration of both sciences th a t seems to prevail and still dom inates. T his is
challenged by the approach rooting for change by following the claim th a t there is
no theory, there is only anthropology.
Let m e explain. A m ongst the m any options th a t we can point to in this field,
I am m uch m ore inclined tow ard a position th a t speaks about relocation, and not (as
some fear could be the case) one concerned w ith b u ild in g a new order on the rubble
of the previous. A nother inaccurate charge, that can be heard every now and again,
is an accusation of sw apping the tools of ones field w ith those of anthropology.
A nd the tru th is th a t anthropological research in literary studies does not require
such actions, as it oftentim es encourages using the tools an d in stru m en ts of the
literary realm , w ithout forcing a com plete resignation from scientific language. But
full hom ogenization is not the goal here. It is enough to rem in d ourselves th at the
concept of a dense description by G eertz is im plem ented not only by G reenblatt28,
b u t also proposed by Elaine Showalter, for the cultural in terp retatio n of the w omen
literature (recom m ended for the gynocriticism, but precisely in its cultural version.)29
T he anthropology of literatu re should be connected m ore w ith the reform ulation of
literary studies, rath er th an w ith narrowly defined scientific m ethod. In other words,
it should be identified w ith the anthropologization of literary studies.
Questions posed in texts, ones that bring together literature and anthropology, often
times seek mutual support, asking not only what literary studies can do for anthropology,30
but also examining the reverse: how an anthropologist can assist in the study of literature.
The answers, however, are usually concerned with the intersection of both discourses. It
is said that a com munity can be created by the study of m an31 - the most broadly un
derstood branch of the humanities, combining anthropology and literature.32 T he most
convincing element in this particular arrangement is not a concept of interdisciplinary
character, greatly insufficient in this case, but rather a more appropriate reflection of the
current situation, the idea of trans-disciplinary framework.33 Trans-disciplinarity does
28

31
32

Ibid, 333.
C om pare G reenblatt, S. Poetics o f Culture, as well as his The Touch of the R eal in
The Fate o f Culture. Geertz and Beyond, edited by S.B. O rtner, Berkeley: C alifornia
U niversity Press, 1999.
Showalter, E. Fem inist C ritique of the Beaten Track in Contemporary Theory o f
Literary Studies Abroad vol. 4, edited by H. M arkiewicz, Cracow: W L, 1996.
R ichards, D. Literature and Anthropology: The Relationship o f Literature to
Anthropological Data and Theory, with Special Reference to the Works o f Sir Walter Scott,
WB Yeats and Wole Soyinka, C am bridge: U niversity of C am bridge, 1982.
Owen, A. L iterature and the Study of M an in Literature and Anthropology (1989), 41.
For exam ple, anthropology is treated as science about how m an lives, philosophy - as
study of how he thinks, history - of how he operates, and literature as com bination
all of these, and using both fictitious and non-fictitious characters and situations.
Z eidler-Janiszew ska, A. T he D irections of Iconic Change in C ulture Studies in
Second Texts, vol. 4, 2006: 10-11. Nycz, R. C u ltu ra l N ature, W eak Professionalism in
Cultural Theory o f Literature. M ain Concepts and Questions, edited by M .P. M arkow ski,
R. Nych, Cracow: U niversitas, 2007.

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Anthropology in Literary Studies


not resign from professional specialization. On the contrary, it depends upon it. It creates
possibilities for constituting a new research field. Such an opportunity helps to avoid
the hermetic and purifying isolation of the two disciplines, but also allows for the removal
of two kinds of inter-disciplinarity: one based on clear borders, which at times can be
crossed and connected with the idea of transposing existing (terminological) structures,
and a second one, associated with the blurring of boundaries and based on a full, but un
fortunately often unproductive, freedom. The concept of trans-disciplinarity, on the other
hand, is concerned, as the prefix trans suggests, with what is between the disciplines,
what goes through them, and is at the same time outside of them .34Trans-disciplinarity
is not about blurring the distinctions and specificities of particular disciplines, even if
they call themselves borderline (as is the case with anthropology).
One can speak at the same tim e of a symbiosis visible in th e dissem ination of
anthropological term s over literary studies (for exam ple, T u rn ers concept of lim inal ritu al).35 We cannot om it the fact th at, w hen speaking of benefits th a t literary
studies enjoy thanks to its cooperation w ith anthropology, we can nam e term s and
categories that - seem ingly surprisingly - have initially been an object of study
for literary studies. A nd after expanding, reform ulating, an d being enriched by
anthropology - they come back to the literary studies, surrounded by an aura of
cognitive attractiveness. T he m ost prom inent exam ple in this case w ould be the
category of narration.
At this point, it is im portant to move on and approach the fascinating question of
w hat proposed perspectives of descriptions (we have already becom e accustom ed to
the plural form here) are available. D uring the last several decades we have observed
the development of the analysis of anthropological traits in literature. L iterary worlds
are the prim ary targets of such research (worlds from novels or dram as). T hese are
w orlds b u ilt on the borders betw een different cultures, w ith different types of p ro
tagonist constructs and points of view - m oving from the verbal sphere to w hat is
non-verbal: gestures and senses.36 In the very center, we can find systems of m eaning
of a given culture breaking through the work or reflected by it.
A m ong m any different tendencies we can distinguish one th a t connects w ith
the analysis of realism in the novel. It is dom inated by the representative-cognitive
approach to literature. In th a t vein: L iterature is a beacon of light for culture. Even
a poorly w ritten novel can be a fascinating po rtrait of a specific culture and its docu
m entary value will grow unquestionably as the years go by.37 A nd further: From
early epics to contem porary novels, m ultiple varieties of literary realism th a t could
be distilled can be system atically researched as invaluable, and som etim es the only
34
35

36

37

Z eidler-Janiszew ska, A. T he D irections of Iconic C h a n g e ^


O n the im portance of Victor T urner for literary studies com pare Victor Turner and the
Construction o f Cultural Criticism: Between Literature and Anthropology, edited by K.M.
Ashley, Indiana: Indiana U niversity Press, 1990.
T his is the kind of approach proposed by F. Poyatos in L iterary Anthropology.
Toward a New In terdisciplinary A rea in Literary Anthropology. Royatos finds hope in
the analysis of non-verbal cultural systems surfacing in literature.
Royatos, F. Introduction, in Ibid XV.

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source (outside of lim itations characteristic for arts founded on representations) of


docum entation of cognitive and sensual systems, etc.38To th is end, we are w orking
w ith a docum entary approach tow ard literary worlds.39
A second tendency unites those who resign from the sim ple hom om orphism
betw een a literary work and cu ltu ral phenom ena,40 and as th eir startin g point
for research assum e, for exam ple, the construction of the novel. Such approaches,
for some, connect w ith revealing m ulti-leveled borrow ings betw een literatu re and
cu ltu ral systems (which, let us add, allow for the avoidance of sim plifications that
can appear from tim e to tim e). For other representatives of th is second tendency,
the relations betw een literary form ations, cultural-spatial categories an d ways of
experiencing the world (for example, w hen exam ining avant-garde autobiographies41)
are fundam ental. T he creator and the recipient are equipped here w ith a perception
of the w orld close to that of anthropology. Everyone is assigned the role of bricouler:
Sim ilarly to the anthropologist of literature beginning h is/h er w ork on the outskirts, at
the cracks of the texts by noticing subtle and discrete, often insignificant, factors such as
smells, places, sounds, postures, and gestures - all to reach such fundam ental cultural
dim ensions like tim e and space - w orks the protagonist of an avant-garde autobiography
in his attem pts to define him self, while constantly moving, holding to m ethods of the
review and inventory.42

Speaking of homology, betw een the subject and th e city (also in th e Polish
context) we deal w ith forma urbis and for^ mentis visible in the construction of the
narration. T he attention of scholars is draw n to, am ongst other topics, crim e nov
els, constructed in a way w here the m ain protagonist (a detective) is situated at the
m eeting point of cultures, creating the necessity for analyzing constantly intertw ined
cu ltu ral perspectives.43 At the same tim e, the appeal of literary-ethnographic, autoethnographic, or auto-exotic44 perspectives are being discovered. T h e prim acy of
place is undoubtedly assigned to cases th a t present cultural otherness. T h e them es

39

40
41

43

44

Ibid. XII.
Also w orks presented in the m agazine Culture and Society X-XII, no.4 (vol. XLIX):
Anthropology and A rt, 2005 tend to go in this particu lar direction: for exam ple, the
essay by M. Rygielska A nthropology of L iterature, L iterary Anthropology, or one by
E. Kosowska O n Some of the Reasons for Practicing A nthropology of L ite ratu re , in
Narration and Identity.
Poyatos, F. Introduction, XVI. Com pare Th.G. W inner in Literary Anthropology
Boelhower, W. A vant-G arde A utobiography: D econstructing the M odernist H a b ita t,
in Literary Anthropology.
Ibid., 273.
A rticle by Jam es C. Pierson, en titled M ystery L iterature and E thnography:Fictional
D etectives as A nthropologists in Literature and Anthropology (1989) is dedicated to
these questions.
U nderstood as identification of the subject w ith the cultural exoticism th a t is
ascribed to him /her. C om pare J. Th. Leersen Identity and Self Image: G erm an A uto
Exoticism as Escape From H istory in Komparatistik und Europaforschung. Perspektiven
Vergleichender Literatur und Kulturwissenschaft, Bonn 1992.

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u nder consideration include the relations betw een authors, or n arrato rs and, at the
same tim e, ethnographers, poets, anthropologists, etc. However, m ore th a n the sub
jective dim ension is being brought to light. T he genealogical dim ension is equally
as im portant: in particular, the ethnographic novel seems to play an im p o rtan t role.
R elations betw een the scientific and literary approaches, visible in novels of this
kind, are p articularly revealing. A nother distinct variety is co n stitu ted by the genre
of travel fiction. T he ethnographic novel is the m ost com m only cited exam ple w hen
analyzing factors connecting anthropology and literatu re.45 U ndoubtedly, interest
in epic prose dom inates the field, b u t dram a plays a significant role in th is k ind
of research (particularly w ith respect to clarifying relations betw een ritu a l and
perform ing arts)46 or lyrical poetry.47 L iterary figures of th e im m igrant, traveler,
detective, the fictitious anthropologist, and finally, the w riter an d the poet are
extrem ely inviting. T hey m ay all be analyzed throu g h the prism of th eir attitudes,
points of view and cultural masks. Prim ary categories in th is case usually include:
a person, narration, m im esis, and gender,48 as well as senses, em otions, etc. T h is is
how the situation presently appears. However, this does not preclude new sites of
interest from em erging.
It w ould be h ard to m iss th e obvious preferences, at least so far, th at have gath
ered researchers around certain works of realism , historical novels, travel novels,
alongside autobiographical, and ethnographic w ritings - rath e r th a n extrem ely
avant-garde or experim ental works. A lthough, these do appear from tim e to tim e.
One can fin d far m ore scholarly texts concerned w ith works of literatu re playing
w ith different genres and form s of cultural representation, th em atizin g it in m any
different ways, th a n w ith works th a t disregard norm s an d trad itio n s an d actively
tu rn away from them . In order to establish relations betw een discourses of literatu re
and anthropology, one som etim es seeks to anchor research in term inology. T his is
an area th a t brought the term hybridity its fam e w ith in the field. A nd so, genre
varieties w hich are treated precisely as hybrid cases will be the p rim ary choice for
scholars, and th e hybrid character of the texts u nd er discussion will be repeatedly
highlighted. Moreover, the hybridity is set forth as th e foundation for relations
betw een literatu re and anthropology.49
45

46
47
48

00

49

For exam ple in the book Between Anthropology and L iterature^ see articles The
E thnographic Novel. Finding the Inside Voice by J. T allm an and M .C esareos
A nthropology and L iterature. O f Bedfellows an Illegitim ate O ffspring
C om pare de Angelis or V T urner From the R itual to the Theater. The Seriousness o f Play,
W arsaw 2005.
C om pare C.A. D aniels T he Poet as A nthropologist, in Literature and Anthropology,
Texas 1989.
Yet, we hear critical voices accusing J. Clifford, for exam ple, lack of appreciation for
the fem inist studies. F.E. M ascia-Lees, P. Sharpe and C.B. C ohen w rite about it in
T he Postm odernist Turn in Anthropology: C autions From a F em inist Perspective
in Anthropology and Literature (1993).
O n this subject one can find com m ents in Between Anthropology and L iterature^,
also com pare M .Schm elings Story about C onfrontation and O ther in the

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Between the Anthropology of Literature^

All of this does not entail full harm ony or lack points of disagreem ent. Rredictably, reality is otherwise. I will cite two such issues, w hich cannot be ignored.
T he first concerns the fact th a t if the anthropology of literatu re is supposed to
be treated as an interdisciplinary field of research (although it m ay h ap p en th at it is
aim ed at researching exclusively its own culture50), and if it is to be built on the cross
roads of m any cultures, th en the very notion of literatu re needs to be reform ulated.
T h is reform ulation, as m ight be anticipated in the curren t situation, has already
taken place. T he concept of literatu re has been expanded th ro u g h th e attem pts to
depressurize the canon and through the introduction of new literary form s - genres,
m eans of circulation, etc. T hese changes have usually been inspired by the ethical
tu rn , connected w ith th e cannon becom ing m ore flexible and allowing space for
w orks from m arginalized and excluded cultural areas (thanks to fem inist, gender,
postcolonial or ethnographic studies, am ongst others). T h e career of ethnographic,
travel or various different form s of autobiographical, biographical an d epistolary
literatu re is not surprising. We are already aware of and accept th is cu rren t state of
affairs. But the proposed changes go even further. T here are ideas to include not only
the w orks of historians and philosophers into the realm of literatu re (which w ould
not be entirely surprising), but also texts com ing from the advertising industry. Such
an im m ense expansion of the literary field is not only far rem oved from the options
m entioned before in this text, b u t also from th e pragm atist perspective.
In some respects, the second issue is an extension of the first. T he question it
poses is as follows: Does the anthropological tu rn allow us to avoid the danger of
m ish an d ling literatu re in its uniqueness (which I also w ant to defend)? Or is it
p erhaps accelerating th is m ishandling? T his particu lar problem , w hich constitutes
the driving force b eh in d the article, could be presented in a grotesque form of alter
natives: instrum entalization v. the autonom y of literature. E ither of these variants
carries the danger of reducing or sim plifying literatu re to cu ltural exem plification,
or an exaggerated idealization.
I w ant to defend the thesis that the anthropology of literatu re encourages a con
sideration of the uniqueness of its research object. But the issue is not as sim ple
as it m ight seem at first glance, especially since scholars ten d to be on the lookout
for the exactly opposite framework. T here exists a clear divide on th e issue and
there are w arnings and concerns being voiced - prim arily, w arnings against the
reductive force th a t comes from b ringing all cultural products u nder the heading
of literature. In other words, if all cultural products are supposed to be analyzed as
literatu re, the uniqueness of the latter is potentially lost (the same issue emerges
am ong theoreticians of fiction w hen th eir subject of study escapes in the gathering
sw arm of pan-fiction).

50

C ontem porary N arratio n , in Story from the Perspective o f Comparative Research, edited
by Z. M itosek, U niversitas, Krakow 2004; there is a discussion o f hybridity of given
genre forms, etc. - for M. Cesareo hybridity w ould be a fundam ental term.
C om pare E. Kosowska Negotiations and Compromise. Anthropology o f Being Polish in
Henryk Sienkiewiczs Work, Katowice: US Press, 2002.

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Anthropology in Literary Studies


T he goals of th e poet and anthropologist are the sam e51 - such views, usually
perceived as an apotheosis of literatu res uniqueness, can evoke unrest. In short,
the m ost significant danger is th a t literatu re is absorbed or d ilu ted in other cultural
systems. In w hich case, these systems could potentially utilize literatu re solely in
order to find its own reflection, or lim it its m ission to a reference function.
Proof of the acute aw areness of these dangers is provided by the fact th a t there
is a constant need to use argum ents, w hich deflect accusations of literatu re being
treated like the source of objective knowledge about the w orld.52 Some highlight the
uselessness of such perspectives, and others prom ote them . T here are voices claim ing
th a t literatu re is m erely a cognitive tool in th e context of ostensive know ledge of the
w orld, th a t it is the richest [in other places: the invaluable] source of docum enta
tion f o r ^ th e analysis of h u m an behavior53 One can hear opinions - than k fu lly rare
- stating th a t w hen the w ork of literatu re becom es dom inated by aesthetic elem ents
(according to Jakobsons u n derstanding of aesthetics) it becom es less interesting
from the perspective of anthropology.54
I try to extract this p articu lar k ind of statem ents on purpose, even though I
do not approve of them . It needs to be underlin ed th at such statem ents are tru ly
m arginal. T he anthropology of literature could (and indeed it does) look different.
I raise them only to justify the need to ask such questions, as well as to point to
the fact th a t sim ilar questions and accusations are being vocalized w ithin the field.
Moreover, our academ ic environm ent also attem pts to p u t a set of such assum ptions
in place for the anthropology of culture.
On the other hand, some explanations from scholars studying literatu re from (as
they claim ) an anthropological perspective, b u t situ atin g them selves on the other
end of the spectrum - one of the adm irers of literatu res uniqueness - are som etim es
a little too obvious. Yet, it is hard not to agree w ith them . H ere is an example:
W riters are not obliged to strictly stick w ith the code of descriptive honesty. Novels and
other exam ples of fictive w riting are not designed by th eir respective authors as descriptive
ethnographies o f actual, real societies. Realism can be the goal of some fiction w riters, but
it never equals the descriptive accuracy. B ut this kind of accuracy should be a standard for
all ethnographies. It is not a praise of ethnography, nor a critique o f literature - it is m erely
an observation of the fact th at they are both separate disciplines w ith th eir own, respec
tive histories, aim s and techniques. W hat is lite ratu re s strength could be ethnographys
weakness, and vice versa.55
51
52

53
54
O
55

D aniels, C.A. T he Poet as A nthropologist, in Literature and Anthropology (1989),


181.
T he need to defend literature appears also in the field of literary-cultural studies.
Am ong m any voices heard see R.Felski The Role o f A esthetics in C u ltu ral Studies,
in The Aesthetics o f Cultural Studies, edited by M. Berube, Oxford: Oxford U niversity
Press, 2005.
Literary Anthropology (1988), XXII.
T hey are noticed, although they are in a m inority (debate in the book Literary
Anthropology), 332.
E rickson, VO. B uddenbrooks T hom as M ann and N orth G erm an Social Class. An

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T he fictional character of the w orld presented in literatu re is obvious, b u t at


the same tim e - as we learn from another scholar - the only condition laid out for
fiction is to create a sense of sim ilarity tow ard our w orld an d u n d erstan d in g w ithin
the culture of the reader.56 H ere, however, we stum ble upon yet another problem :
How far can we go w hen using literature in order to arrive at a clear im age of a society
and its culture? How does literature shed light over the structure of our society and the
accom panying b lu ep rin t of its behavior? How is literatu re com pleting, containing, or
negating cultural assum ptions? How is literature docum enting historical developm ent
of both sensual and intellectual aspects of the society, as well as th eir m utual relations?57

T he above quote by Erickson (defining him self as an anthropologist of culture)


is engaged in th e analysis of th e novel Buddenbrooks. A sked if literatu re can really
be treated as anthropology - or, in even m ore focused approach, as ethnography he answered: I dont claim th a t there is no use for literatu re in anthropology. In
relation to the analysis of crim e novels w ith a protagonist of foreign nationality,
he explains, trying to escape oversim plification: T hese novels are not ethnographic
novels in disguise.58 H e underlines that the goals of an anthropologist an d of the
w riter can be sim ilar and, am ong other things, can help in b etterin g the h um an
condition, through b etter u nderstanding of his place in the world. However, b oth the
techniques and m eans used for th at purpose (used for establishing ones superiority)
can cause conflict.59We are being w arned against the redu ctio n opposite to th e one
m entioned before, against the one entailing reducing literatu re th ro u g h equating it
w ith the totality of cultural m anifestations.
A nd finally, it is tim e to reveal w hat is m ost im portant. Today, the advocates
for literatu res uniqueness, calling for its appreciation, are definitely in the lead:
T h e anthropologist of literatu re m ust construct a m ethod w hich will deliver an
thropological data, not through om itting aesthetic strategies, b u t th an k s to th em .60
In other words, according to the quoted author (Boelhower), the anthropologist of
literatu re transform s specific conventions into docum ents of a cognitive character,
b u t he or she should be careful not to reduce the object of the study to m erely one
of the m anifestations of culture or traits of it.61 A ttention is paid to the relations
betw een anthropology and literature, w hich allow us to b rin g to the surface the fact
th a t the latter becom es b oth the creation and the creator of cu ltu re, w hile an th ro
pology allows us to assum e the perspective of the o b serv er/read er/in terp reter. It
is concluded, at th e same tim e, th at th is two-fold role of literatu re an d function

56
57
58
59
60
61

A pplication of L iterary A nthropology in Literary Anthropology (1988), 97.


Ibid.
Ibid.
Ibid. 123.
Ibid.
Boelhower, W. Avant-Garde Autobiography, 281.
Am ong m any titles on the subject, book by N. Bentley, The Ethnography o f Manners
(Hawthorne, James, Wharton), [Cambridge: C am bridge U niversity Press, 1995.] is
particularly interesting.

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Anthropology in Literary Studies


of anthropology allow for m u ltip le re a d in g s ^ in te rp re ta tio n s of people, places,
perspectives bo th real and im agined.62
All of this, however, does not exhaust issues brought to our atten tio n here. T hat
is how we reach the question of literary anthropology.

Literature as Anthropology
If we were to agree w ith such an interp retatio n of anthropology (as literature),
m entioned previously, or in other words: if we will take anthropology in its literary
form , th en we need to agree to the reverse equivalency according to w hich literatu re
is a kin d of anthropology, or the literary author is as an anthropologist. T his is the
source of previously m entioned titles like the Poet as Anthropologist and others. We
could add to th is perspective research on the construction of such fictional worlds,
in w hich the n arrato r or a protagonist plays the role of an anthropologist, ethnog
rapher, traveler, alien, etc. In other words, projections of reality are shown through
the usage of literary fiction and cultural constructs, points of view and images of
the world. T h is is w here a chance to grasp the autonom ous character of th e literary
experience of the w orld appears.
At this point, it is im possible to forget one of the m ost interesting propositions
of literary anthropology. If we list C lifford G eertz am ong the great patrons of the
anthropology of literature, th en as a p atro n of literary anthropology we should
nam e W olfgang Iser63 (although we could point to an antecedent in the w ritings of
Ricouer, for exam ple, to w hom Iser is greatly indebted - as the role of herm eneutics
is unquestionable here). Isers64findings, p artially know n to Polish readers and con
stantly developed by th eir creator, could be sum m arized as an attem p t to identify
literatu re as one-of-a-kind type of anthropology - one th a t allows for the revelation
of cultural constructs explaining/discussing the w orld in a given epoch, or am ong
given social groups. L iterature, as a separate k ind of in terp retatio n of the world
and of m an, was inten d ed to reveal aspects that were otherw ise ungraspable. Isers
approach sanctions lite ra tu re s privileged character, allowing for the appreciation
of the fact th a t literature, in its own way, opens up the possibility of transgressing
borders, observing w orlds through their proj ections and exam ining existing cultural
tem plates from the perspective of assum ed distance.
O ne m ore issue should be m entioned here. W ith in contem porary literatu re,
anthropological self-awareness is p articularly strong - w hich does not m ean th a t it
was not before. U ndoubtedly, except for tw ists and tu rn s in the h um anities, th is is
w hat m ade the anthropological perspective of literary studies so attractive.
62
63
64
^

Between Anthropology and L itera tu re^, 2.


Victor T urner is listed as perform ing both roles.
Iser, W. The Fictive and the Imaginary. Charting Literary Anthropology, B altim ore 1993;
Varying F unctions of L iteratu re in Discovering Modernism, edited by R. Nycz,
Cracow: U niversitas, 1998; W hat Is the A nthropology o f L iterature? Second Texts,
vol.5, 2006.

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Between the Anthropology of Literature^

In conclusion, one m ight say - even though it sounds a little b it paradoxical


- th a t the anthropological perspective of literary studies should extract literary
anthropology from literature. Such an approach w ould allow for an escape from
the th reat of reducing literatu re to a handbook-like description of reality. In this
context, a chance emerges to actualize various anthropological objectives: aim ing for
an u n d erstanding of m an, an in terp retatio n of the w orld, the subject, and otherness.
T h is w ould be realize a latent ability to cross over the cognitive systems of a given
culture, even w hile inescapably anchored w ithin them .
Translation: Ja n Pytalski

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