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Apr. 1st, 2007 | 11:01 pm

Enough about Ron's post as such. My point about stories, though...

Start here with this link and read several pages of this stuff. This is quite raw data, direct from the Kwakiutl when they still existed in a fairly solid way. A word of advice: don't allegorize -- this material is a great deal more difficult to interpret than it looks, and as you'll see, that's saying something.

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Comments {12}


(no subject)

from: clehrich
date: Apr. 23rd, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)

Ultimately, yes, it's a question of faith, but not in quite the sense you propose.

As you see it, I say there are other modes of "story" and that these Kwakiutl tales represent this. You say that it's simply faulty cultural translation. BY your reasoning, I am claiming the existence of something and requiring you to accept it a priori.

As I see it, you are claiming that all stories are of a type. I propose counter-examples, and you say it's bad translation. I say that these stories are fully embedded in their cultures, and that to effect a complete translation as you ask would require translating much of the culture; furthermore, I say that effecting such a translation would also require translating the structure of the story. In other words, if we do not have story-structures of this sort, a full translation would require taking them out of those structures, negating the argument. From my point of view, then, you have postulated an ideal-type of "story," and presumed that it exists; anything I could possibly present as contrary evidence could always be waved away as bad translation.

The only further point here would amount to argument by authority, which is hardly ideal. In other words, I could say (and do say) that I am informed by leading experts that these stories really are not couched in the same types of structures as are ours, and I would add that for this reason several generations of anthropologists have debated just how to interpret and make sense of them. For me, that really is sufficient: unless I am going to gain advanced expertise in North American tribal traditions, I presume that the experts more or less know what they're talking about, at least if they agree about something this fundamental for that long.

You could well say that they are all wrong, and that they are guided by false presumptions about all sorts of things. Fine, go ahead. But there is no way to overcome the divide.

Fortunately you, unlike Ron, have not claimed that all these anthropologists misunderstand things because they're postmodern idiots. In your case, I think, it's not arrogance or foolishness but rather a sort of Iowa-stubborn "show me" approach, and I respect that. But I cannot see any way that I can do it.

Let me give a possibly helpful parallel example. For a long time, when scholars talked about Zen Buddhism, most of what they had to say about koans and such was more or less in accord with what D. T. Suzuki and others had said in the first half (roughly) of the 20th century. Then along came Bernard Faure, who dug very deeply into classical Zen and Chan material, and he demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that Suzuki had it quite, quite wrong. These koans don't work anything like the way he said they did.

And yet, by the late 20th century, most Zen monks in Japan would basically have agreed with Suzuki, whereas in let's say the late 18th century they would have been bewildered by anything but Faure. So who's right?

What this seems to me to demonstrate is that stories -- and a great many koans are certainly stories in some sense, whatever else they may be -- cannot be extricated from the cultures that generate and use them. When the cultures make drastic shifts, the stories may come to be utterly different from what they had been, without that changing the text in the slightest. Thus to say that "story" is a human universal presumes that cultures simply are not all that different at base, and there is quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, enough. We'll have to agree to disagree.

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Raven Daegmorgan

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from: greyorm
date: Apr. 30th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC)

It's not that we disagree, per se, it's that I'd like to believe you, and I'm inclined to believe you (having a greater knowledge of the subject and given what the experts say), but that it doesn't do anything for my understanding of the notion, which is the more important part to me than being right or wrong about the specifics.

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