The Invisible Fist

David Gilmore writes that his interest in Spain started with Hemingway’s Spanish novels, the poetry of García Lorca and the drama of the Golden Age, flamenco music, his own family’s memories of the Civil War and the Lincoln Brigade. He found “the color of the Spanish character…so refreshing compared to my own staid surroundings.” His scholarly work in anthropology started with a reading of Julian Pitt-Rivers’s pioneering study of an Andalusian “pueblo,” or rural town, a book that was to open the floodgates for the advance of the anthropologists into the Mediterranean world—there are thirty-two studies on Greece alone.1 Gilmore’s own study, The People of the Plain: Class and Community in Lower Andalusia (1980), was conceived as a corrective to Pitt-Rivers’s conservatism, which left the pueblo a thing in itself, an isolated, harmonious universe relatively insulated from political and social conflict.

But the wheel has come full circle. We are presented in this book with “traditional community culture,” sustained by the small, introverted face-to-face society of an Andalusian rural township in the 1970s: the classic pueblo, although that emotive word can cover everything from a hamlet to the nation. Gilmore thanks the citizens of seven such towns for the help they gave him. In the pueblo, he observes, the “macropolitics” of the region or of Spain itself are considered as some sort of unnecessary aberration, an intrusion. “Underlying all poor relations” within the pueblo he found an intensely powerful emotional substructure that was “normally concealed” but was still as “powerfully pervasive as class polarization and politics.” He seems back where he started; with Romantic Spain and with the Andalusians as “the world’s greatest natural artists of the human condition.” His prose reflects his enthusiasms: always colorful, often irritating. It is certainly readable, although it often recalls feature articles in the Sunday press.

Aggression and Community is intended as more than another of the many contributions American anthropologists have made to our understanding of Spanish society since the anthropological revolution of the 1960s, which encouraged the study of the rural communities of Western Europe. In Gilmore’s view anthropologists have neglected the emotive basis of societies, the underlying connections between feelings and the social system, between affects and behavior. For functionalists like Radcliffe-Brown such considerations could be left to psychologists. For Lévi-Strauss, social structures are the product of esprit (which Gilmore translates as reason) not of the emotions of everyday life. To Gilmore this exclusion of affect from social structure seems “sheer folly.” While he recognizes that positive emotions—love, loyalty, feelings of group solidarity—have an important social function it is the negative emotions—fear, envy, sheer malice—with which he is concerned.

But Gilmore’s main concern is to challenge conventional anthropological wisdom on the function of aggression in small societies. He argues that most anthropologists have seen aggression as a sort of social poison—regardless of whether they consider aggression as the consequence of learning (the cultural determinists), instinct (Freud and Lorenz), or of the inevitable frustrations of social life, or the consequence…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.