Clifford Geertz (1926–2006) was an anthropologist. Widely recognized as the most influential American anthropologist of the twentieth century, Geertz championed the role of symbols in the creation and interpretation of social meaning. His many books include Peddlers and Princes: Social Development and Economic Change in Two Indonesian Towns and Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics.

Among the Infidels

In 1550 there appeared in Rome (in the words of the first of its English translators) a geographical historie of Africa, written in Arabicke and Italian by John Leo a More, borne in Grenada and brought vp in Barbarie, wherein he hath at large described, not onely the qualities, situations, …

Very Bad News

Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would …

Morality Tale

A California morality tale, the story of Ishi is in itself, like parables in general, a simple one. It is the tellers, each with different involvement and different intent, who complicate it. In late August 1911, a middle-aged man, with buckskin threaded through his ears and a small stick piercing …

Which Way to Mecca? Part II

Since the end of the cold war, when a lot more collapsed than walls and regimes, many of the large-scale concepts by means of which we had been accustomed to sorting out the world have begun to come apart. East and West, Communist and free world, liberal and totalitarian, Arab, …

Which Way to Mecca?

We are, in this country right now, engaged in the process of constructing, rather hurriedly, as though we had better quickly get on with it after years of neglect, a standard, public-square image of “Islam.” Until very recently, we had hardly more than the suggestions of such an image—vagrant notions …

The Last Humanist

When Ernst Gombrich, the most celebrated art historian of our time, died last year at the age of ninety-two it seemed as though not just an individual career but a whole movement of thought and sensibility had come to an end. He was the last of the great Central European …

The Visit

Love and marriage, love and marriage Go together like a horse and carriage Dad was told by mother You can’t have one without the other, —“Love and Marriage,”Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen Not everywhere. Among the Na, a tribal people hidden away in the Yongning …

Life Among the Anthros

We are entering, we are told, a weightless, frictionless, speed-of-light age in which we will all be but address nodes in an endless flow of information packets, scurrying message handlers continuously assaulted from all directions. So far as scholarly life is concerned, that is still more specter than reality; promises (or threats) of e-books and downloadable doctoral theses and flooded-over inboxes aside, communication still proceeds at a more or less human pace, in a more or less politic manner. However, to judge from the on-line blizzard of charge and countercharge that has attended the mere rumor of Patrick Tierney’s blistering indictment of anthropological practice in the Venezuelan Amazon, Darkness in El Dorado, it may not do so very much longer. Such established academic customs as looking into books before reviewing them, editing drafts before publishing them, and couching even polemic in consecutive argument may well be on the way out—runes and relics of a less hurried time. In cyberspace, it is velocity that matters. Velocity and volume.

Indonesia: Starting Over

“Indonesia has been one of the most remarkable development success stories in the last third of the twentieth century. In the mid- 1960s, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income below that of many African and South Asian countries. It had experienced …

Deep Hanging Out

All the human sciences are promiscuous, inconstant, and ill defined; but cultural anthropology abuses the privilege. Consider: First, Pierre Clastres. A thirty-year-old graduate student in the berceau of structuralism, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s laboratoire anthropologique, he sets off from Paris in the early Sixties for a remote corner of Paraguay. There, in …

Learning With Bruner

What does one say when one says “psychology”: James, Wundt, Binet, or Pavlov? Freud, Lashley, Skinner, or Vygotsky? Köhler, Lewin, Lévy-Bruhl, Bateson? Chomsky or Piaget? Daniel Dennett or Oliver Sacks? Herbert Simon? Since it got truly launched as a discipline and a profession in the last half of the nineteenth …

Culture War

Anthropology is a conflicted discipline, perpetually in search of ways to escape its condition, perpetually failing to find them. Committed, since its beginnings, to a global view of human life—social, cultural, biological, and historical at once—it keeps falling into its parts, complaining about the fact, and trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, …

Life on the Edge

When the third world (as it was called before the second collapsed and the first lost its power to set the globe’s agenda) finally begins to modernize—in China, say, or India, in Mexico, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia—a very old phenomenon, as old as the displacement of the American …

Genet’s Last Stand

Max Weber once said of a minor German poet, irregular, drifting, and a friend of his, who had gotten himself involved in some of the scruffier aspects of popular revolt, that God had led him into politics in a fit of malice. Literary figures, especially romantical ones, who involve themselves …

A Lab of One’s Own

The intrusion, advance, spread, import, insinuation—word choice is important here, exposing world views, projecting fears—of feminist thought into just about every aspect of contemporary cultural life is by now entirely general. Literature, philosophy, sociology, history, economics, law, even linguistics and theology, are engulfed in fierce and multisided debates over the …

A South Sea Renaissance

Of impossible books asking to be written, a “total history” of Southeast Asia in the manner of Fernand Braudel, immediately before the region came under European dominion, would seem very near to the top of the list. The materials are sparse: a traveler’s tale here, a merchant’s report there, some …

The Ultimate Ghetto

At the close of World War II there were about a half-million Jews living in North Africa; today there are about 20,000, and those are submerged, partially and uneasily, in the anonymizing mercantilism of the largest cities. (Of Morocco’s perhaps 15,000, more than half are in Casablanca, and virtually all …

Conjuring with Islam

Hardly a day goes by when someone among us doesn’t ask in print, “What is Islam, and how much does it matter?” OPEC, Israel, and the hostage crisis have powerfully concentrated our minds on the subject. Journalists, scholars, politicians, apologists, even now and then an errant literary figure on a …

Sociosexology

Higgamous, Hoggamous, woman’s monogamous; Hoggamous, Higgamous, man is polygamous. —Old Saw This is a book about the “primary male-female differences in sexuality among humans,” in which the following things are not discussed: guilt, wonder, loss, self-regard, death, metaphor, justice, purity, intentionality, cowardice, hope, judgment, ideology, humor, obligation, …

Stir Crazy

Michel Foucault erupted onto the intellectual scene at the beginning of the Sixties with his Folie et déraison, an unconventional but still reasonably recognizable history of the Western experience of madness. He has become, in the years since, a kind of impossible object: a nonhistorical historian, an anti-humanistic human scientist, …

Mysteries of Islam

What is Islam? A religion? A civilization? A social order? A form of life? A strand of world history? A collection of spiritual attitudes connected only by a common reverence for Muhammad and the Quran? Any tradition which reaches from Senegal and Tanzania through Egypt and Turkey to Iran, India, …

In Search of North Africa

Physicists, novelists, logicians, and art historians have recognized for some time that what we call our knowledge of reality consists of images of it that we ourselves have fashioned. In the social sciences this is just now coming to be understood, and then only imperfectly. The contribution of the investigator …

Gandhi: Non-Violence as Therapy

“Whence, however,” the Mahabharata asks, “does Hope arise?” For twenty years, since his Childhood and Society announced the Freudian vocation to be the empowerment of the ego, Erik Erikson has been asking the same question. His whole career has proceeded from a settled determination to turn psychoanalysis away from fascination …

Under the Mosquito Net

Ten years ago several eminent anthropologists, linguists, and sociologists who had, in one way or another, been students of Malinowski decided that he had been unjustly neglected since his death in 1942 and put together a collection of essays, each of which was devoted to a particular aspect of his …