Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
1. Summarize what you consider to be the main points of the assigned readings and the arguments that are being offered in each text.
- Richard Robbins began Chapter 4 by asking how it is that people can believe in things that cannot be proven. The answer to his question requires examining the role of language, ritual, myth, and other features of social life that persuade people of the correctness of their beliefs or that convince them to change what they believe. How does Language affect the meanings we assign to our experience? The Ideas of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf demonstrate that the vocabulary of a language may direct perception to certain features of the environment, and the grammar of a language may encourage certain ways of looking at the world. The selection of metaphors also has an impact on the meanings we assign to experience. By taking language from one experience and applying it to another, we carry the meaning of one experience to the other. Robbins then explores the ways in which symbolic action reinforces a particular view of the world. Ritual, for example, symbolically depicts a certain view of reality in such a way that it convinces us of the truth of that reality. Examples include the Cannibal Dance of the Kwakwaka’wakw, which shows the values of Kwakwaka’wakw society and provides members with a way to control their lives, and the rituals of contemporary English magic and witchcraft, which convince persons of this society that mental forces can influence the material world.
Walter Benjamin's Surrealism essay explains how these competing political aims manifest themselves at the level of aesthetic form:
“Here due weight must be given to the insight that in the Traité du style, Aragon’s last book, required a distinction between metaphor and image, a happy insight into questions of style that needs extending. Extension: nowhere do these two — metaphor and image — collide so drastically and so irreconcilably as in politics. For to organize pessimism means nothing other than to expel moral metaphor from politics and to discover in political action a sphere reserved one hundred percent for images. Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto. For the moment, only the Surrealists have understood its present commands. They exchange, to a man, the play of human features for the face of an alarm clock that in each minute rings for sixty seconds.”
Benjamin's analysis here provides the scattered fragments of a political-aesthetic diagnosis of surrealism which would differentiate this movement from conservative romantic traditions. While such traditions trade in “moral metaphor” and the “play of human features” — idealized human forms which are meant to serve as soothing allegories of the supposedly homogenous and unified social body — surrealists circulate what Benjamin elsewhere terms “dialectical images.”
In his writings regarding the Cultural Industry, Adorno continues to emphasis the theories of the Frankfurt school and the concepts of Marx. The terms 'mass deception' and 'social control' seem to most accurately describe the ideas and theories that Adorno prescribe. He further suggests the notion that socially, we are conditioned to think rationally, reasonably and through a scientific approach, which when structured to appease the larger cultural industry, functions by disallowing the potential for human individuality, and re-emphasizing the myth that such individuality could even exist. According to the text we are conditioned to be obedient to the great social hierarchy, thus the opportunity for any social change is limited, is it not? The notion...