Literature, anthropology and history in Ghosh's in an antique land
by Ato Quayson
• education inAfrica always involved the translation of the language of school into the languages
of everyday life and vice versa.
• The entire apparatus of alienation that comes from having to translate between different
languages and conceptual apparatuses is described as fundamental to the inception of
◦ The condition and sense of exile is the most productive locus for nationalist consciousness.
▪ Not to be confused with any real condtion of physical exile
• the concept of alienation becomes a particularly suggestive interdisciplinary interstice between
literature anthropology and history.
◦ Text that illustrates this is in an antique land
alienation effects: social anthropology and the writing of loss
• both literature and anthropology are mutually alive to their extrinsic and intrinsic contextures
contexture being the term used by Hobbes to connote both the texture that surrounds and the
texture that constitutes.
◦ However, quayson wants to argue that-a much more productive way of seeing the
similarities and differences between the two is not so much in their shared practices of
representation but rather in their mutual negotiation of different categories of alienation.
▪ Focus on alienation requires an alertness to the shifts in analytical scale involved in
detailing questions of subjectivity self-hood and agency and their relationship to process
contradiction and change that permit the proper perception of the relation between
textual representation and reality
• sociological approaches tends to emphasize alienation as the separation of individuals from
themselves and from the object of their activity their deprivation or renunciation of real claims
of identity satisfaction harmony control or legitimacy over what they do or how they do it.
• Psychological theories of alienation focus on the symptoms that point toward a condition of
◦ include at the extreme madness and disorientation and more mildly boredom discomfort
nostalgia and even disgust
• the alienation built into acculturation processes that affect minority groups migrants
◦ an alienated individual is one who in varying degrees ceases to accept without question
some of the premises upon which his central enculturative experience was based.
▪ The key issue is the relation of the individual to central enculturative experiences.
▪ The alienation is both a state and a process, - whose pace and intensity are intricately
tied to socio-historical vectors.
• Alienation in the anthropological text takes a different form and is closely related to the process
by which the anthropologist gradually moves from a position of cultural ignorance to one of
◦ It is also the case that their alienation is routinely purged out of account in the writing up of
◦ One thing that remains constant in ethnographic discourse is the subsumption fo the trope of
alienation into the narrative of evolving familiarity.
▪ Necessity for the production of anthropological knowledge.
▪ The implied subjectivity that would be involved in focusing predominately on the alienation’s of fieldwork could potentially damage the final ethnographic product.
Ethnographers are not really out to represent themselves but the cultural
interlocutors with whose culture they have interacted.
• Englund and Leach – they shift analytical scales between the experience of the ethnographer
and the knowledge that is abstracted from that experience the shift is taken as natural with the
vertigo of the experience not returned to in their abstraction.
◦ Melanesian interest in white people money and consumption.
◦ Write about themselves in third person.
◦ The alienation effects of fieldwork become both a primary portal of knowledge formation
and something that requires conversion into a mode of distantiation for an objective form of
knowledge to be produced.
• Quayson- it is the case that the alienation effect engenders a problematization of ones own
assumed cultural biases along with the newly encountered cultural dispositions in such a way
that the new cultural dispositions then become intellectually relevant as objects of analysis.
◦ The very process of knowledge formation within fieldwork has to have alienation as one of
its basic vectors of experience
• alienation is a primary means by which the ethnographer is kept alert to the modes by which he
theorizes the cultural encounter.
◦ Conceptualized as dynamic and processual not static.
• Englund and leach- in involving experience they do not problematize the concept but leave it as
a self-evident entity that has equal resonance for the anthropologist as it does for the culture
• Quayson- view is that far from revealing a dead end subjectivism paying attention to the
symptoms of alienation in the course of fieldwork might actually help to foreground a whole
repertoire of structures of feeling for comparative analysis.
• Ghosh's In an Anthique land – raises doubt about its status and oscillates between anthropology
and other genres of writing as to make it a constitutively ambiguous text that can be read as a
novel, ethnography or an intimation of a tragic philosophy of histy.
◦ Raises questions of boundary transgression from an interdisciplinary perspective that raise
questions about the constitution of the alienated social and authorfunctions of the