James Clifford on Writing

“Art as the skillful fashioning of artifacts” (6).

“Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilization’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them? Where in short is it leading us, the procession of the sons of educated men?” Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (1936).

“Michel Foucault (1973), Michel de Certeau (1983), and Terry Eagleton (1983) have recently argued that ‘literature’ itself is a transient category. Since the the seventeenth century, they suggest, Western science has excluded certain expressive modes from its legitimate repertoire: rhetoric (in the name of ‘plain,’ transparent signification), fiction (in the name of fact), and subjectivity (in the name of objectivity). The qualities eliminated from science were localized in the category of ‘literature’” (5).

“…Fictions in the sense of ‘something made or fashioned,’ the principal burden of the word’s Latin root, fingere. But it is important to preserve the meaning not merely of making, but also of making up, of inventing things not actually real” (6).

Selections from Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, James Clifford & George E. Marcus (eds.). (1986) Berkeley: UCal Press Ltd.


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