Many will agree that George was “formidable”–both in the American and French (quite different) meanings of the qualifier.
He could also play in that British way when one does not quite realize a joke is being told, or one’s leg is being pulled. For example, he started one of his major paper by telling us that what he had to say “must be considered as tentative, subjective, personal, and strictly confidential. I had thought of writing in Tumbuka or, even better, a language without a script” (1990: 273). George was playing here with much: confidentiality, subjectivity, writing without scripts, etc. He was playing lightly perhaps in this paper, but with matters of deep concern for him, as well as for his friends and acquaintances who were playing much more deeply with his writing to shift their own status in the leadership of Zambia.
Now, George, for many many years, was the leader in the altogether challenging first semester of the “colloquium” where we introduce our apprentices to their discipline. This semester qualifies as a “heavy theoretical course” over which George kept strong control. At some point during the semester he would also tell the students that he, at least, was not attached to any theory, and that he remained eclectic, choosing theories most useful to address the practical issues with which he was faced as an anthropologist, and one who did not flinch from “applying” anthropology to issues like development or AIDS. George’s argument about theory was, of course, a heavy theoretical argument building on the Max Weber for whom George had a definite “elective affinity” (to use a phrase George liked to emphasize when discussing Weber).
Now, I am quite sure, though perhaps I should not be, that George was not joking with us when he told us to fear theory. He was certainly not ironic. But he may have been giving us a sense of his own Geertzian “deep play” with his many statuses. Certainly, he tried to challenge us, and probably particularly me, to keep us somewhat off balance. He was asking us to examine what remains in all of us “tentative, subjective, and strictly confidential.”
I will miss the challenge
Bond, George “Fieldnotes: Research in past occurences.” in Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology. Edited by R. Sanjek. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 273-289. 1990Print This Post