The Sea and Summer as ecological ethnography (questionable ethnographers?)

Or ethnographic fiction??

Levi-Strauss says in Structural Anthropology,”ethnography consists of the observation and analysis of human groups considered as individual entities (the groups are often selected, for practical and theoretical reasons unrelated to the nature of the research involved, from those societies that differ most from our own). Ethnography thus aims at recording as accurately as possible the perspective modes of life of various groups.”

So it can be easy to make connections between ethnography and the work being done in The Sea and Summer, and even in Eileen A. Joy’s Blue; while most of the ethnographies I’ve read often took approaches more akin to the social sciences in the bulk of their arguments (as-objective-as-possible presentation of first-person accounts, participant observation, statistics (depending on the type of ethnography), interviews, etc, accompanied with extensive explanation and justification of methodology), there is intense detail undertaken to explain and give insight into a culture through the first-hand accounts of individuals involved. The groups are selected: in the terms of George Turner, we are given the Sweet and the Fringe and the Swill with sever cultural distinctions in regard to relationships both emotional and ecological. Turner then writes Lenna as recording (and creating) as accurately as possible the perspective modes of life from this extreme era of historical, social, and ecological interest. If considered in terms of ethnographic strategy, the organization of Joy’s piece reminded me very much of an approach to a cultural study (if The Sea and Summer were an ethnography, Blue would be the introduction); even though the conventions of introductory paragraphs, summaries of approach, and the inclusion of a thesis statement are indicative of any kind of published academic argument, it is the paragraph of personal justification and self-awareness that struck me as particularly anthropological. Joy addresses her personal placement in the discourse she is addressing, where she belongs in terms of trustworthiness for both the readers and the [fictional] informants involved.

As Charles O’Frake writes in his essay Cultural Ecology and Ethnography (American Anthropologist 64.1), “A successful strategy for writing productive ethnographies must tap the cognitive world of one’s informants.” And if that cognitive world is irrevocably in relation with a person’s ecology (social relationships, emotions, mental state, environment) like Joy argues, a productive ecological ethnography taps into it all, pulling at culture and all its nerve endings in ecology. But with The Sea and Summer and Blue we’re not given insights into necessarily real-life cultures and people; George Turner has created an enormous world (two enormous worlds…) with a few select lenses through which we’re given information about them. Joy’s case studies are also fictional, presenting a nearly textual analyses on Wittgenstein’s Mistress‘s Kate and the two Old English elegies; emotion and ecology are imbued in one another, resulting in an ethno-lens (am I just describing psychology?)

***Where does The Book of the Dead lie in this case-study context? And if Rukeyser’s work is thrown into the grouping of these three pieces, what happens to their overarching definition of ethics? Representation?

***material culture

***lack of ‘first-person’ swill perspective? In this case is ethnography possible? On purpose by Turner? Audience addressing? But what about Andras’s failure to create the swill perspective?

(a serious WIP! as an anthro student I am currently grappling with the ethnocentric approaches to ecology anthropology & archaeology often take, am very much thinking through a lot right now! Here are some links to an article about ethnographic fiction and ethnography in speculative fiction— mostly just putting them here so I can find them again but still give them a look if you want)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s