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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (32)—Headlines

[a] Header 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] Tips RF
This is a good example of a chock-full-of-ideas fieldnote that really should be broken down into numerous analyses. I would argue (and I do when I teach ANTH 200: Theory and Technique in Cultural Anthropology) that there is no problem. When in the field, JUST WRITE. Don't worry about whether each note is broken down into component sections or can fit on a note card (virtual or physical). Just write. This is why I explain in my classes and the introduction to this series that I envision writing in and beyond "the field" as a five-part process that originates in "jottings," moves toward fieldnotes, has its most important iteration in "letters from the field," and eventually becomes oral presentations and a (written) ethnographic account. In other words, I think that there are three or four different things going on in this note. 

The important thing for me (back then and today) was to get the ideas from the "jotting" stage (a scribbled note about my advanced neurosurgeon pupil struggling with a phrase that I find "easy" as a native speaker) to the fieldnote. The key stage for me, however, took place when I wrote letters to a number of trusted readers. It didn't matter whether there were five (or one) coded "themes" in the fieldnotes (this is something I have read about—anal retentive anthropologists color coding index cards). It would all start to come together in a real narrative form when I started writing ethnographic letters. In fact, I truly feel that my work would have suffered if I had tried to subdivide a fieldnote such as the one below into themes that could be put into file folders. Just get the ideas out...and start those letters within a week. That's my "system."
[c] Roll Taiwan RF

Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb's all-time baseball "hits" record with his 4,291st hit on September 11, 1985.

GOP=Grand Old Party (Republican). Nod=endorsement/nomination. "Reagan wins Republican nomination."   

Dow Jones Industrial indicators have little to do with "the Way" (道).

Tide=Alabama Crimson Tide. (Roll Tide). Longhorns=University of Texas Longhorns. (Hook'em Horns).

The last paragraph is really a completely new idea, and probably should have required a note (or three) of its own. I have taught many hours on the idea, and it is a good example of how even a few sentences can trigger a good deal of analysis. In other words, the whole purpose is (to write) ethnography. Fieldnotes are just a step on that path (道). 

8 January 1986
Newspapers are also difficult. We all think of reading newspapers as the most common form of reading; most people think that they should be the first thing a language student learns to read. It simply isn’t true. My neurosurgeon/English pupil (who has no difficulties with English medical texts) has been reading from the fifth-rate China News every week. He is no academic slouch, but he often finds it difficult. Chinese papers aren’t any easier for me.

The usage in newspapers is different from the spoken language and other forms of writing. If you don’t believe it, just pick up the New York Times and read it, paying attention to every word, phrase, or construction that you might not understand if you didn’t live in the United States. (“Rose Tops Cobb Mark”; “Reagan Gets GOP Nod”; “Dow Up”; “Tide Rolls Over Longhorns”). A Chinese reader, after perusing these headlines, couldn’t be blamed for thinking that a red flower ate a bunch of corn, a "GOP" nodded at the President, the 道 (the Way) had risen (after years of playing second fiddle to Confucianism), and that a herd of cattle died in a gulf coast storm.

The Chinese papers are the same, but they have an added problem. They don’t use names, like “Reagan” or “Carter” or “Minnesota.”  They have characters for all these. Even if I know how to pronounce the characters in these words, they have no intrinsic meaning. You just have to know that [雷根; leigen] is “Reagan”, and not “thunder root”; that [卡特; kate] is “Carter” and not “special truck”; and that [明尼蘇達; mingnisuda] is “Minnesota”, and not “bright nun revive reach.”  The literal meaning of the characters is irrelevant in these cases. They are simply transliterations. The only way to learn them is to memorize them. 
[d] Relative comprehension RF

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