Friday, January 16, 2009

and this totally refers people to joculum.

I have long had an interest in how cognitive packages get delivered.

Also how physical packages get delivered, or presented, anyway; a long-ago exhibition of the exquisitely crafted boxes used for delivering ceremonial gifts in traditional Japan left me with a fresh appreciation for the role of etiquette as secular ritual, so that how the gift is presented or the artwork staged takes on a surplus energy that other societies pour into religious activities as well as their secular parallels…all this is commonplace stuff, but I always wonder why there are not more anthropological studies of, say, the taken-for-granted worldviews of those who consume the wares of the late Oscar de la Renta versus those who not only can only afford Wal-Mart, but like its stuff better than the high-end knockoffs that Target markets, giving us the style but not the designer label.

Probably the question is too inconsequential to be investigated, which is why it always interests me. I drop in on schlock fiction of various descriptions for similar reasons, if the subject matter interests me even if the manner of presentation does not: I want to know why people choose methods and objects that are not only less complex but less emotionally comforting than some of the available alternatives. (A large part of officially received culture, whether classical or contemporary, is actually neither complex nor comforting, and would be worth revisiting beginning with Derek Walcott’s famous closing line “The classics can console. But not enough.” But that would take us off into critiques of Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, one of the beasts I find more noir-ish than most such books we love to hate.)

Anyway, I have several parallel tracks that would take a few two thousand word essays to do properly, so be forewarned. I am going to post this general note on both Counterforces and joculum, because the topic pertains to art and aesthetics as well as to anthropology and religious practice. One of the advantages of being congenitally unable to negotiate the ways of the world is that everything seems equally strange, and amenable to scholarly investigation.

So now we will begin a several-part investigation of cognitive packages, and marginal practices of all sorts, including the investigation of same. We (no, actually, I) shall begin with re-reading a classic text and go to a couple of pieces of previously mentioned scholarship and a curious new piece of popular fiction.

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