Tuesday, 3 February 2009

L'esprit de l'escalier

Some hours after reading No Good Boyo's post about nudism, it struck me that I should by rights take umbrage with his description of me as a 'gonzo anthropologist', pointing out haughtily that the correct term for 'gonzo anthropology' is 'participant observation'.

Then it struck me that actually, 'gonzo anthropology' is better.

The theory goes that one can only understand certain things - ceremonies, diet, acrobatic monkey sex with local men/women according to gender and taste, performing arts, sex, socialisation, sex, superstitions, sex, cosmologies, more sex, language and even more sex - if one participates in them rather than merely observing them as an outsider. It is a theory most anthropologists (and their fieldworking fellow-travellers like ethnomusicologists and ethnolinguists) have gladly embraced, along with substantial proportions of the populations they have studied.

It was fairly standard procedure, for instance, for the tutor to bring in his/her native-speaker spouse along for oral language exams (titter ye not) when I was a grad student at SOAS. Other standard procedures included wearing ethnic-print clothes and smoking suspicious roll-ups (when kretek were available our entire Javanese class - tutor included - would slope out onto the landing for a smoke break halfway through a mind-bendingly thorough treatement of homorganic nasalisation in transitive verb formation, back in the days when this was still allowed. The smoking, that is, not the grammar. Ah, the memories...)

Before the politically correct take offence, I should point out once again that Mrs Byard and I are equal-opportunities miscegenators - I fulfil the role of sleeping dictionary/proff-reader (sic - just spotted both the typo and the deliciousness of the irony) for her every bit as much as she does for me. And we have the advantage of being able to hold private conversations wherever we are confronted by insurance salesmen and similar subhuman wretches.

Furthermore, given that Boyo claims his research was on homosexuality in the Russian navy, I think questions can legitimately be asked.

9 comments:

scarlet-blue said...

So you have a lot of sex with the locals then?
Sx

inkspot said...

The medium is the massage, the large will cost an extra £20.

Gyppo Byard said...

Scarls - Heavens above, how could you phrase it so crudely? No - one "carries out field research into gender attitudes among Hmong bar hostesses", or whatever one's topic is. For an object lesson into the kind of crud that happens when you don't get sufficiently involved with locals, read up on Freeman's re-study into Margaret Mead's work in Samoa.

Mr Inkspot - What's the estra-large? I ask purely for anthropological research reasons...

Gadjo Dilo said...

"kretek"... the very word summons up a whole forgotten* existence. "homorganic nasalisation" possibly summons up a new one...

* wisely so, for the most part

khaye said...

This is off topic... I just want you to know that I really LOVE your comment on my post...

"...I write partly because I like reviewing my words before they reach the brains of others..."

a truly quotable quote!hanictin

No Good Boyo said...

All I'm saying, Gyppo, is that the didn't call him "Able" Seaman Chlenososoff for nothing.

Gyppo Byard said...

Gadjo - kretek are a wondrous thing. Scent is said to be the most powerful trigger of memory. Kretek, sate cooking over charcoal and urang aring (an aromatic herb used in cosmetics) are the smells that conjure up Indonesia for me.

Don't knock homorganic nasals. And don't ask me to explain them either - you'll be here for the day...

Khaye - thank you. I was wondering whether you were going to post something on here! Welcome, and feel free to quote me whenever you like.

Boyo - I'd look up 'Chlenososoff' but I'm scared of what I might find.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Urang aring - that's where I've been going wrong with my oriental cooking. I keep asking for urine herring in my local exotic foods emporium. They've just put another gross on order for me.

Gyppo Byard said...

Dapphers - 'gross' would seem to be the mot juste...