Ruth Behar

Ruth Behar is another woman on the border. She has a Latina heritage, but can pass for white. And her writing addresses the borders in her chosen field of study, anthropology. In "AnthropologyThat Breaks Your Heart," Behar writes about the way that anthropology has evolved and where it might be going.

In a way, anthropology has always been a border discipline, straddling the line between science and art. When objectivity was placed above sense, "[i]t was the Chicano critique that wryly brought home the brutal role of subjectivity in cultural interpretation by pointing to the unreality and, even worse, the humorlessness of accounts written by Anglo anthropologists, who failed to understand when the natives were joking and when they were speaking seriously, and so produced parodies of the societies they intended to describe" (480). To understand a culture, one cannot be completely aloof from it. The exclusion of subjectivity reduces analysis to absurdity by preventing communication between observer and subject. If the point was merely to describe a society, then the purely objective view might work, but to understand it, subjectivity must play a role.

And with subjectivity comes lenses of interpretation, just as one might find in literary critical theory. Behar mentions postmodernist, feminist, relativist and multiculturalist (481) when she describes what the discipline's detractors describe as the unacceptable portions of anthropology's current trajectory. A trajectory that might be forced to change by the exigencies of university funding and student interest.

Behar's piece is called an essay by the editor's of Available Means, but it reads like a speech, especially because she describes herself as talking to an audience in Texas. Her words are self-referential and she breaks into sections that she calls her speech in her role as "discussant." Those speech sections are interspersed with interpretations of how she feels, as on page 483, "I immediately feel foolish, like a hostess at the garden party of anthropology welcoming the foreign guests from the land of literary criticism and trying to put them at their ease." She embodies the ideas of which she speaks in the manner of her speaking, offering the reader both objective text and subjective analysis interspersed.

For Behar, the emotional component, the heart breaking component of anthropology is intrinsic to the discipline. If emotion is in the realm of the feminine, then she could be said to be trying to bring (or keep) the feminine into anthropology. The writing of the feminine body should be integral to any interpretation of a society that includes women, should it not? If only the masculine side is included or counted, then half the society lies undescribed, hidden in the darkness. Invisible and voiceless.

No comments:

Post a Comment