Anthropology Reading Journal Series I

Anthropology Reading Journal Series
VI. 10/17/2011: The Body in/and Performance

This week’s focus is a continuation on the Body and the theory of embodiment of culture in performance. It’s a critical review day so we won’t be discussing articles but instead I’ll be reviewing the book, Sensational Knowledge by Tomie Hahn, written by a professor from RPI who teachers dance and performance.

Book #2 Critical Analysis
Hahn, Tomie. 2007. Sensational Knowledge. Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP.

Tomie Hahn’s, Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance, is an ethnographic text that studies Kabuki’s cousin – and lesser known dance style – nihon buyo. By examining the practice of nihon buyo, Hahn explores how culture is passed down and embodied through dance.

In her introduction, Hahn highlights the concept of dance transmission, writing that transmission is “the information between teacher and student, sender and receiver, and embraces the relationship that evolves” (p. 2). She goes on to give historical background on the Japanese concept of mind and body as one. Throughout the beginning chapter, this unity of oneness is emphasized as Hahn builds her case in support of how theory arises from practice. This sets the groundwork for Hahn’s interests and questions relating to embodiment. She begins by explaining to the reader that translating embodied culture and experience into text is wrought with difficulties due to the nature of actual experience. Hahn expresses these concerns by framing them with the surrounding questions of, “How does culture shape our attendance to various sensoria and how does our interpretation shape our individual realities,” (p.33). She references Lila Abu-Lughod’s Writing against Culture as an inspiration for disrupting her insider perspective, enabling her to better convey sensory knowledge through multiple voices.

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Anthropology Reading Journal Series I

Anthropology Reading Journal Series
V. 10/3/2011: The Body in/and Anthropology

This week’s readings centered on the main theme of the body and it’s embodiment of culture.

Reading #1: Classen, Constance and David Howes. 1996. “Making Senes of Culture: Anthropology as a Sensual Experience.” Enthofoor 9(2):86-96.

Constance Classen and David Howe’s “Making Sense of Culture: Anthropology as a Sensual Experience” open their article with three vignettes that discussed multi-sensory experiences and their sensual significance. The first vignette explored the sense of smell in the Andean region of Northwestern Argentina; the second vignette explored the Navajo sand painting experience of physical and visual transference; and the final vignette discussed the Desana of the Colombian Amazon and their visual attributing of color to their way of understanding their physical world. The authors dedicated their article to exploring the senses in anthropology as a way of fully understanding culture. They write that the body is of cultural significance because it is both the basis of physical experience as well as a model in which experience is communicated. Using their first vignette as an example, Classen and Howes note that the sensory experience of a place can be learned through the olfactory senses. They discuss how the natives in the Andean region of Northwest Argentina were able to distinguish between the various herbal scents of plants and their inherent properties through “olfactory classification”.

The second vignette focused on tactile pictures or sand paintings of the Navajo that are created as a medium for transferring divine power to the ill person who comes for healing. It is a ritual performed by a shaman who paints sand around the ill person who is seated. Sprinkling different types of pigmented sand and creating a picture around the ill person allows the shaman to give physical form to the spirits he consults with. The Navajo believe that by performing this ritual and aligning the ill person in the center of this re-created cosmos, allows the sick person to become spiritually centered once again. This visual and physical experience becomes another avenue in which to explore the anthropology of embodied culture.

Finally, the author’s third vignette references the cosmic color use of the Colombian Amazon in which vibrant colors correlate to a symbolic system that “work together to create the cosmos and everything in them.” By exploring this visual sense of the Desana, anthropologists can realize how such a system dictates behavior in their culture. Color and the cosmos are engendered with moral significance and provide an understanding for the Desana in learning about their world. The authors conclude that by studying culture through a multi-sensory approach allows the anthropologist to benefit in a variety of ways.

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