From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (26)—Melancholy Anthropology

[a] Familiar...sort of RF
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

[b] Vaguely familiar RF
After a flurry of fieldnotes (this series only has a smattering of them) in May and June 1985, I lost the thread. This is documented in #19, where I explain how quickly the writing habit was lost after an initial flurry of observation. When I returned to fieldnote writing, I vowed to stay at it, and I did—all of the way until I started graduate school in 1987 (including six months in Mayville, North Dakota spent reading, writing, and applying to graduate school).
The two fieldnotes that follow here show something that was beginning to bother me a great deal. The melancholy of familiarity weighed heavily upon me, and I couldn't shake a kind of wistfulness about my work. It is appropriate that I end the 1985 entries from my fieldnotes with these observations, because I was beginning to wonder what it really was that anthropologists do "today." It wasn't until a few weeks later that the "answer" began to gel for me, and I started to develop a deeper idea of what fieldwork would mean in my life. The bare hints of an "answer" can be found in these two notes, though (#26 and #27).

Valhalla. I'm Norwegian, so go figure.
Bronislaw Malinowski and E.E. Evans-Pritchard were iconic early anthropologists. They despised each other, so it is curious that I uttered them in the same breath. If you are not a student of anthropology, these links are for you. If you are studying anthropology, you'd better read

This fieldnote is part of a longer "thought" that is broken into another note. Click below for the other note.
 Melancholy                    Rethinking

25 December 1985
It is Christmas Day back home, and Constitution Day in the Republic of China. I am nearing the end of my seventh month here—more than half of the way through this trip—and the results are mixed. My Chinese is getting good, but Taiwan isn’t entirely the cultural Valhalla I had expected. Maybe no place is, but I am a little disappointed that I don’t feel much culture shock. Never have. The surroundings are interesting but, like in the United States, you have to dig for little snatches of conversation or description that truly represent the place. It feels a lot like journalism. Or life.

Taiwan is "Chinese," but you have to dig below the surface sameness, the Western cover, to get at it. The days are gone, I guess, when the Malinowskis or Evans-Pritchards were simply dumped in the middle of nowhere, lived there two, three, or four years, and came out as the only people on earth who had those experiences, aside from a couple of hundred missionaries and colonial authorities. No, everyone is here, and it is hard to find a creative spark. I sometimes wonder if I will have anything original to say when I leave.

This fieldnote is part of a longer "thought" that is broken into another note. Click below for the other note.
 Melancholy                    Rethinking
[c] Spark RF

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