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, June 20, 2011

Endings (16)—Never in Anger

[a] Arctic Sea  RF
Departures are an integral part of the fieldwork experience. Ask any anthropologist what it was like to leave—especially for the first time—and you may well hear tales about worries and goodbyes and toasts and awkward exchanges. It is a peculiar kind of "ending" for anthropologists because in many ways their work is just beginning...when they leave. For most, a long process of writing and thinking and (eventually) publishing will follow the field experience.

Although it is hardly rare, it is not particularly common for anthropologists to end their ethnographies with stories of their departures. In other words, leaving is built-in to the life experience of the ethnographer, but it is only occasionally a prominent part of the telling, the analysis, the written account of the fieldwork. It is far more common to see word portraits of the approach—the first encounters—and we have already seen one good example of this on Round and Square.

So what is leaving like? Let's just think of the process in our own lives. A flurry of emotions can be unleashed in the weeks and days approaching a departure. We've all experienced it. I remember distinctly the time in the summer of 1987, when I left Taiwan to begin my graduate studies. There were rounds of dinners and parties and gifts and goodbyes. I even got to see a ghost (a story that I am saving for later). And then I got on the plane and flew to Chicago. Only later did I learn that, almost the moment that the plane carrying me had left Republic of China soil, the government officially lifted martial law. I like to read-in a little playful cause-and-effect: "Rob's gone; it's o.k. to dance and associate freely."

[b] Icy RF
In all seriousness, though. Anthropologists tend to talk about departures more than they write about them, so it is particularly refreshing to see a full account of an "anthropological" departure. Jean Briggs gives a particularly fine one in her ethnography Never in Anger, which details with engaging "reflexivity" her seventeen months of field research among the Utku, on a remote Arctic shore. The book is a vigorous piece of writing (something I wish more anthropologists would aspire to these days), and she takes the story all of the way to the end—her departure.

Part of what gives the book its humanity and narrative tension is the difficult position in which Briggs finds herself in a society that does not value the free expression of emotion. Keeping control of her feelings—and writing intelligently about the complex process—makes for, at once, a tense and rewarding reading experience. She channels that tension all of the way to the conclusion, even amidst joyful scenes of fish gutting and caribou eating. It also contains—at the end of the penultimate paragraph—one of the most memorable "goodbye" lines in literary history.

Never in Anger
Jean Briggs (1971)
[b] Equanimity
Inuttiaq and Mannik were planning a trading trip to Gjoa Haven in early January to replenish the kerosene supply. The fuel was almost gone,and we were eking out the last gallons by burning papers, stray bits of wood, and expendable clothing in a stove made from an oil drum sawed in half. The men said they would leave as soon as we finished eating a caribou that had been fetched from one of the autumn caches. I had still not decided whether I would accompany the men, when one day I noticed that both Allaq and her sister Amaruq were absorbed in sewing. "Your traveling furs," they explained. "So they will be ready for you."

At this news, the fear that had never quite died—the fear of another change in the emotional climate—was reawakened. Did Allaq perceive that I was eager to leave, more eager than I myself knew, or was it she who wished me to leave? Watching her with the suspicious alertness of anxiety, I could not be sure. Once in a while I thought I caught a glimmer of hostility. On one or two occasions, in pouring tea for the family, Allaq forgot to fill my cup, and her laughter, when I remarked on the omission, seemed to my ear as excessively hearty as her laughter on another occasion when she had caught herself neglecting to offer Niqi a cigarette. I heard an unaccustomed stridence in her laughter also on another occasion, when I castigated myself, jokingly, as a "bad kapluna" for cutting the back instead of the belly of a fish I was gutting. On the other hand, her friendliness disarmed me, so I chided myself for letting imagination run wild. I puzzled, until one day a remark that Allaq made to Niqi tipped the balance, and I resolved, finally, to leave. Allaq and I were alone in the iglu when Niqi popped in on one of her brief visits. Allaq, standing on an oil drum by the door, was scraping the night's accumulation of frost feathers off the ice window, a morning routine, while I sat, writing as usual, on my corner of the ikliq across the way. Niqi, making conversation with me, remarked, as people occasionally did, that Utku would be unhappy (hujuujaq) after I had gone.

[d] "Cold"  RF
Such remarks were delightful to hear, and though I reminded myself that the words were probably more gracious than sincere, still I somewhat shamefacedly allowed myself to be flattered. I was taken aback, therefore, when Allaq, perched on her oil drum above Niqi, murmured: "I don't think we'll be very unhappy." After Niqi had gone, I asked Allaq, in a general way, how people felt when others went away: ought people to remain happy (quvia)? Allaq laughed. "No," she said. "People are usually unhappy (hujuujaq) when others go away, especially if they know they are not going to see them again. Of course, they are sadder at first than they are later." I pressed the question, then, indiscreetly focusing it again on myself. "You just told Niqi that people wouldn't be unhappy when I left." Allaq covered herself beautifully, as I might have known she would do. "I was joking. It's only because you are eager to leave that we won't be sad (hujuujaq); because you are growing unhappy here." She laughed. "Are you growing unhappy?" She laughed again, a merry laugh in which I joined, cooperating with her effort to assure me that she was joking. Then she continued seriously: "We will be unhappy when you leave—more at first than later. I speak truly. And I think Saarak will be more unhappy than Raigili."

We left a week later: Inuttiaq, Mannik, Ipuituq, Qavvik, and I; it took that many to carry my several hundred pounds of gear. Allaq proffered last tidbits of data even as she helped carry my things out to the sled. And when Inuttiaq's team was harnessed and the other sleds were already sliding out across the river, she came and silently, in a most unusual gesture of farewell, clasped my hand. My mind went back to the only other farewell handshake I had seen. It was the parting of the old man Piuvkaq with his adopted son when Piuvkaq had mistakenly thought the government plane was taking him away to the hospital, probably to die. I, too, might never return, though I had said I would like to, if I could.
Pala also gave explicit recognition of my departure, and, doing so, sharpened my sense of separation. "So you are going to Gjoa Haven," he said. "If you don't freeze, you should be all right (naamak). And Niqi echoed him: "Don't freeze or be cold." The other women who stood on the slope were silent. Inuttiaq motioned me to the sled and with a tug at the anchor and a sharp-breathed "ai!" released the team. We slid down the slope in the wake of the other sleds, Inuttiaq running alongside to steer with pulls and shouts. I looked back. Pala, Allaq, and the others were black shaped on the dog-stained slope with its domes of snow—motionless, still watching. "The neighbors," said Inuttiaq. He waved, and I waved, too.
[d] Parting RF
The last parting of all was with Inuttiaq. He and Ipuituq had come to visit me on their last evening in Gjoa Haven. I had just moved into one of the small stone iglus that had been built by a former priest for the use of his Eskimo parishoners. The temperature inside was still close to sixty below zero, and my primuses were both solidly frozen. Inwardly cursing at them, at my ineptitude, at the temperature, at life in general, I was struggling to discover what ailed the stoves when the door creaked open and Inuttiaq's head appeared; Ipuituq's smiling face was close behind. "Cooooold!" Inuttiaq observed. "Shall I do that?" Not waiting for my answer, he took the icy primus out of my hand and showed me how to hold it over a storm lantern until it thawed. I was astonished at the strength of the love and gratitude that I felt for him at that moment—grief, too, that next morning he was leaving. I would have left Gjoa Haven before he came back to trade again. "Eat!" I said. "Are you hungry?" They were, of course, and Inuttiaq offered Ipuitqu's services in heating up the various cans of kapluna meat that I had bought. My gratitude overflowed into words, too. "I will be sad (hujuujaq), I think, when you two leave, because you have helped me very much." The two men ate in silence, but after we had finished and were drinking tea, Inuttiaq said: "I, too, will be sad (hujuujaq), I think, when you first leave here. The iglu is going to be wide." "I, too," said Ipuituq. They recounted the purchases they had made that day and recalled the homes they had visited and what they had eaten. The teakettle was empty. "I have to pee," said Inuttiaq. "I'm going out. I'm going out, and in the morning I'm leaving." Ipuituq followed him without a word or glance.

I had letters from Back River twice before I left Gjoa Haven in March. Allaq said: "Saarak asks where you are and mistakenly thinks you will come soon." She and Inuttiaq both said: "I didn't think I'd care (huqu, naklik) when you left, but I did (naklik)."
[e] Restart RF

No comments:

Post a Comment