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“A literature that is not meaningless like our own”

“A literature that is not meaningless like our own”

Chapter:
(p.89) Chapter Four “A literature that is not meaningless like our own”
Source:
Far Afield
Author(s):
Vincent Debaene
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226107233.003.0005

This chapter addresses ethnographic citations of indigenous literature, an important device used in the more literary supplemental texts published by French anthropologists. Studying work by Paul-Émile Victor, Marcel Mauss, Jacques Soustelle, and Alfred Métraux, the chapter demonstrates how anthropologists sought to revive textually the “atmosphere” of a given society by citing indigenous poetry. This trope both accorded and denied certain virtues to literature in its perceived opposition with science. A close reading of Métraux’s L’Île de Pâques reveals how French anthropologists struggled with the idea that an unmediated experience of alterity was impossible, and an engagement with Mauss shows that, in his perspective, the idea of atmosphere contained the commensurability of the subjective and the objective.

Keywords:   Paul-Émile Victor, Marcel Mauss, Jacques Soustelle, Alfred Métraux, L’Île de Pâques, Indigenous literature, Atmosphere, Poetry

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