Round and Square one year ago—Seinfeld Ethnography Introduction
|[a] Flow RF|
|[b] Tête-à-tête RF|
|[c] Cyclical RF|
As a way of beginning, I have chosen a prominent theme in Granet’s work, and have taken a passage whose themes would be reworked, rethought, and reconfigured throughout Granet’s career—those of social gathering and celebration. Nothing is more important in Granet's thinking than the cycles—the undulating rhythms—of social life.
|[d] Clustered RF|
Indeed, Granet's teacher, Emile Durkheim, devotes a good deal of space to the theme of tumultuous gathering in his own writings, and makes the key point that all religions (which he bluntly states are society) absolutely need the regeneration that is created by bringing disparate believers together for periods of communal excitement. Durkheim's point is as profound as it is straightforward, and Granet channeled it in his own writings, as we will see.
purely individual sentiments. A person who experiences such sentiments feels
that he is dominated by forces that he does not recognize as his own, and of
which he is not the master, but by which he is led…He feels himself in a world
quite distinct from that of his own private existence. This is a world not only
more intense in character, but also qualitatively different. Following the
collectivity, the individual forgets himself for the common end and his conduct
is directed by reference to a standard outside himself…
It is, in fact, at such moments of collective ferment that are born the great ideals
upon which civilizations rest. These periods of creation or renewal occur when
people for various reasons are led into a closer relationship with each other,
when gatherings and assemblies are more frequent, relationships closer and
the exchange of ideas more active…Nevertheless these ideals could not survive
if they were not periodically revived. This revival is the function of religious or
secular feasts and ceremonies, public addresses in churches or schools, plays
and exhibitions—in a word, whatever draws men together into an intellectual
and moral communion.
|[e] Harvest RF|
awareness of this belonging entailed a habitual feeling of opposition towards
neighbors. It was only on exceptional occasions that family egoism could feel
itself mastered by the vision, then sudden and dazzling, of higher interests
never clearly seen in ordinary circumstances. Their rhythmic life provided the
Chinese peasants with these occasions at two points in the year: when they
finished and when they began domestic work and labor in the fields, when
men and women, their activity alternating, changed their mode of life, at the
beginning of spring and at the end of autumn.
|[f] Weaving RF|
shut up within the circle of their daily cares, each of them, becoming aware of
its power at a time of plenty and feeling it to be increased by its public display,
lost its usual feelings of enmity towards the neighboring families at the moment
when its self-confidence was carried to its highest point. The interpenetration
of the different groups was more intense, more moving, more intimate, and
more absolute for their isolation and self-contained nature being in normal
times more complete.
|[g] Seeds RF|
What separates Granet from his two mentors is his unwillingness to leave the matter where each of them did. Chavannes studied the Classic of Poetry and the Book of Rites at length; Durkheim theorized about religious communions and social solidarity. For Granet, the question seems to be: “What can we make of ‘gathering,’ and how does it figure in the Chinese textual tradition, as well as the sociological one?”
Such “gathering” is at the heart of all of Marcel Granet’s arguments about not only “peasant society,” but elite writings and even the classification and movement of the calendar itself, which rules and orders the heavens and coordinates all life in the universe, according to traditional Chinese cosmology. It would appear in all of his writing and his teaching, throughout his career. We'll examine some of those materials in the next few posts.
 Something that Professor Lévi-Strauss asserted more than he practiced, in any case. Claude Lévi-Stauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 58.
Granet, Marcel.The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated, with an introduction, by Maurice Freedman].
New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Durkheim, Emile. Selected Writings [Edited by Anthony Giddens]. Cambridge: Cambridge University
|[h] Gathering RF|