|From: Ali Kenner, Managing Editor, Society for Cultural Anthropology
Dear SCA Members,
We have just launched a new section of our website, "Theorizing the
Contemporary." Like “Hot Spots,” this is a new online forum. Hot Spots
engages anthropologists (and those beyond) in the immediacy of current
events from inside the moment. “Theorizing the Contemporary,” by contrast,
features attempts to engage the contemporary through theoretical critique,
analytical innovation, paradigm-making or breaking. We aim for
interventions that smartly, creatively, radically engage the contemporary
moment through theory (including challenges to what constitutes “theory” in
the first place).
Our first Theorizing the Contemporary forum features five commentaries on a
recent book by Jean and John Comaroff, *Theory from the South: Or, How
Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa*, along with a response by the
We are open to suggestions of all types for this forum and ask that
proposals be made to us directly (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
*A Forum on THEORY FROM THE SOUTH: HOW EURO-AMERICA IS EVOLVING TOWARD
AFRICA, by Jean and John Comaroff*
*Juan Obarrio, Johns Hopkins University*
Coevalness, Recursivity and the Feet of Lionel
*Ato Quayson, University of Toronto*
Surpassing the North: Can the Antipodean Avantgarde Trump Postcolonial
*Srinivas Aravamudan, Duke University*
Theory from the Comaroffs, or How to Know the World Up, Down, Backwards and
*James Ferguson, Stanford University*
Theory from the Antipodes. Notes on John & Jean Comaroff's
*Achille Mbembe, University of Witwatersrand*
Theory from the South: A Rejoinder <http://culanth.org/?q=node/500>
*Jean and John Comaroff, University of Chicago*
I receive your emails from time to time, although I am not a member of the SCA. Thought I'd respond to the most recent, regarding "Theorizing the Contemporary."
I think your forum topic carries with it a couple of problems.
First, although it is fashionable to disrespect grammar, and even sometimes effective as a stylistic device, I'm afraid your phrase "the Contemporary" is just an example of the Fashionable Nonsense pilloried by Alan Sokal: 99.9% of the literate public (itself a rapidly shrinking minority in this Great Land), upon encountering your forum title, would justifiably ask themselves: the contemporary . . . what? Apart from keeping to the standard of pretentious opaqueness enshrined by the pomo rabble, is there any good reason not to keep an adjective an adjective and to supply it with a noun?
Second, if you mean something like "contemporary society/culture," I think that same 99.9% of living, breathing, thinking, "contemporary" folks would find the sublime reflexivity of Western thought filtered through African thought, re-filtered through its altered composition, etc, etc, somewhat less than gripping -- in short, a complete irrelevance to their (contemporary!) daily lives and thoughts. Does cultural anthropology really have to be that precious? If your concern is to train the powerful (??) lens of cultural analysis on aspects of contemporary life that truly matter to people, why not select the most prominent events, issues, or trends of our time?
Let me make a modest proposal. Rather than continue to stir the turgid pot of reflexive conceptual systems, why not engage cultural anthropology in a critique of what is perhaps the single most dramatic event in recent American life/culture: September 11, 2001? How might cultural anthropologists, if they suspend their Thomist endeavors, proceed to fix 9/11 within a theoretical framework, to truly "Theorize the Contemporary"?
This is a subject that has attracted the attention of some of us at the Center for Peripheral Studies. One longish essay on 9/11 may be found on the Center's website, www.peripheralstudies.org . Perhaps a searching, coordinated anthropological effort might be made to cut through the wasteland of self-righteous patriotism that has generated mountains of prose and video on the trauma of 9/11.
Just a thought.
Center for Peripheral Studies
But, alas, no response. C’est dommage.