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Ethnographies as Texts/Ethnographers as Griots

Author(s): Paul Stoller
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 21, No. 2 (May, 1994), pp. 353-366
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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Like sorcerers. and migration) are the tales of a griot. ethnographers are griots. griots or bards must be thoroughly prepared to talk social life. is insufficient. First. possession priests.like griots. More specifically. Thismeans that ethnographers. There is a long-standing tradition of scribes in Songhay that dates to the 15th century and the court of Askia Mohammed Toure (see Hale 1990).ethnographers recountwhat they have "mastered" through printed words or in filmed images. I suggest that ethnographers have much to learn from the localized practices of griots. or initiates in secret societies. Songhay history. for griots must also master themselves. Only these griots are capable of meeting the greatest challenge: impartingsocial knowledge to the next generation. however. these griots are infused with great dignity.ethnographies as texts/ethnographers as griots PAUL STOLLER-West Chester University Me ra hari si denji wi "Onemouthfulof waterwill not douse a fire" Boro ma bon bey za borey man'inga bey "Peoplemustknowthemselvesbeforethey letothersknowthem" -Songhay proverbs Among the peoples who live in the West African Sahel. Copyright? 1994. long periods of time mastering knowledge. magic. there are many proverbs that speak to the notion of preparation. are considered griots. they are burdened by a globalized politics of representation. I argue that when ethnographers attempt to depict social life-to write or film lives-they consider following the griot's path. This means that they must learn to dispossess their "selves" from the "old words" they have learned. American Anthropological Association. Ethnographers. rather.griots must master a body of rudimentaryknowledge-in their case. This also means that ethnographers attempt not only to make contributions to social theory but also to tell the story of a people or a person with depth. West Africangriots or bards are charged with talking social life. fieldwork. For many Songhay elders. When ethnographers read their works to gatherings of Songhay elders. [ethnography. they. By decentering themselves from history and the forces of social life. West Africa. Such mastery.they are possessed by the forces of the past. There are two stages in the training of griots among the Songhay-speaking peoples of the Republics of Mali and Niger. Griots are strictlyoral practitioners. The words that constitute history are much too powerful to be "owned" by any one person or group of people. griots. Songhay populations have sensed the griotic possibilities of film since the early 1920s. Griotsmust apprentice themselves to masters for as many as 30 years before they are deemed ready to recite their poetry. rather these words "own" those who speak them. they are burdened by a localized politics of representation. theory] American Ethnologist 21(2):353-366. Accomplished griots do not "own" history. too. In this article. spend long periods of time apprenticing themselves to elders. and poetic evocation. respect. Ethnographersare charged with writing or filming social life. albeit a cinematic one. Many Songhay elders think the films of Jean Rouch (films on Songhay possession. must learn history and cultural knowledge. ethnographies as text 353 . like griots.

people remarked:"Youare a truegriot.Theycareaboutthe natureof the responsibility theirwordsand images.this meansthatgriotshave been masteredby words.the theoreticalresultsof social science researchare meaningless. ethnographers douse a fireand why griotsmustknowthemselvesbeforethey let othersknowthem.to renegotiatea fee.there is intensenegotiationbetween a patronand her or his griot. arethe livingmemoryof Africa"(1981:166).AfricanscholarslikeAhmadou of theircultures. preparethemselvesfortheirlife'swork in a manneraltogetherdifferentfromthatof the griot. ethnographersattemptto teasefromthe tangledthreadsof social lifeinsightsthatwill makea contributionto socialtheory. griots are very much aware of their audiences and will sometimes footnote their performances.wordsare dangerous.They do care abouthow well the tale is told."griotsare spokespersonsand ambassadors. In the remainderof this article. follow-up research. They do not care whetherSonghayethnographiesrefinetheoriesof culturalhermeneuticsor clear up the murkinessof the postmoderncondition.advisorsand court-jesters" (Miller1990:81).Froma Sahelianperspective.who. however.Niger.which CharlesBird translatesas "energyof action"(1971:98).Insome grioticperformances. Such an incorporationrequiresthatethnographersspend long periodsof time apprenticingthemselves to elders.conduct fieldwork. can manipulatethe potentiallydangerousforce of nyama.and Sometimesthey returnto the field for "write-up"or "edit"the resultsof theirdata-gatherings. or filmit.these kindsof negotiationstakeplace beforethe performance. and griots.I suggestthatwhen ethnographersattemptto depict social life-to write or film lives-they should incorporatethe griot'shistoricallyconscientiousand respectfullydecenteredconceptionand practiceof ethnography.take examinations.ethnographies.No matterwhen the negotiationstake place.not griots.1Amongthe Mande."They care about whether ethnographersarehumbledby history.Yourfilms have enabledthe dead to 354 american ethnologist .and along the BandiagaraCliffsin Dogon Country(Mali).a conceptionand practiceof ethnographythatreverberateswith the tension betweenthe politicaland the poetic. morelikely. especiallythe recitation of genealogies.This preparationand "work"results in a body of scholarly articles.however. HampateBaconsidergriotsthe "archivists" it can be said.only the nyamakala.In mostcases.which consumesthe beingsof thosewho attemptto talk thatethnographers takefor it.writeit. monographs. They care about the poetic quality of the story.Thewordsthathave masteredthe griotare said to embodygreatpower.matrimonialgo-betweens. They Ethnographers.2In SahelianWest Africa. This also impels ethnographersto complementtheirexplorationsin social theorywith tales of a people that are respectfuland will understandhow a mouthfulof watercannot poeticallyevocative.the ultimatetestof ethnographersis whether theirwordsand imagesenable the youngto uncovertheirpastand discovertheirfuture.Amongthe Mande-speakingpeoples in and aroundthe Republicof Mali.FormostSonghayelders. They read canonic texts. the griot in Sahelian West Africa Griotsareconsideredmastersof wordsin SahelianWestAfrica.smiths. debate arcanetheories.for they are infusedwith nyama.Inthisway. They especially care about whether ethnographersdemonstratea healthyrespectfor the "old words.genealogistsand historians.and ethnographicfilms.a "casted" branch of Mande society consistingof musicians.Theyare"greatdepositaries.When JeanRouchfirstscreenedhis films in Ayoru. FormostSonghayelders.Sometimes the griotwill stopthe recitationof a genealogyto negotiateor. leatherworkers. usually consider themselves anthropologists.filmhas moreaffinityto the griot'sperformancethanethnographiesarticulated in prose.Filmcan capturethe fluidityof culturalperformancein waysthatprosecannot.Inthe recitationof epic poetry. all of which is tied to the mutualrecognitionof status. long periods of time masteringknowledge. Asa medium.Irvine's(1978)workon Wolofgriotsarticulatesthe complexitiesof this negotiation and how it is tied to the historicaldimensionsof the griot'sperformance.

by dancing. who. social.He and his colleaguesare all mastersof words." being refuses. The subject of the griot in West Africa is a vast one." He believed that one day his grandchildren would read about him in my books. themselves contingent upon social and historical factors.His nameis "FatherDrummer. and (social) science. I give you my words and you write them. the greatest griots are "owned" by the oral traditionthat means that they are possessed by "total knowledge" (Hampate Ba 1981)."His nameis "Wisdomhas no end. In a perilously fragmented world in which space and time are likewise exploded. Adamu Jenitongo. a Songhay sorcerer (sohanci) and spirit possession priest. culture. writerschoose among various voices."How a personcomes to havesuch names is anotherstoryamongthe storiesin thisbook. religion. He also thought it was important for me to be his griot to Americans. This maze of ideas has eroded. unlike the griot. and philosophy. Dagbon drummers are "owned" by the "old words. hence the author.by singing.[1995:2 of MS] Even if griots demonstrate a certain pride of performance. then. author-ity is rendered problematic.it is communicatedin publicplacesby soundandmovement. once said to me: "You are my griot. proclaimed by Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky. as the teller of tales of both social and political significance. As a consequence. "dead" authors live on as dispossessed writers who speak in what Barthes called "the middle voice": ethnographies as text 355 . In this way. as articulator of history. usually have the difficult task of representing someone else's social life? griots and the death of the author During the past 20 years. He speaksthe wordsof those he knowsand has knownand the wordsof those who gave birthto himand have passedaway. has led ultimately to the death of "man. the most accomplished ones never forget their humble relation to the power of words and the forces of history. buthe is one man amongmanylike him. the self. however."and to the death of the author (Barthes 1977).God will takeand makewell. and cultural realities. Situated in the vortex of ever-changing political. or so we are led to believe. The foundation of Barthes's admittedly ironic view of authorship is that one does not write in isolation of cultural and historical conditions. Writing is therefore not context free. the death of God.but theydo not write. John Chernoff's long-term research among the Dagbamba of northern Ghana suggests that drummers are the griots of that society (Chernoff 1979). The concern here. They are masters of kinship. is opaque. What conditions construct and shape this "total knowledge?" What factors influence the transmission of this "total knowledge?" How do griots talk history and social life? Are there affinities between the quandaries of talking social life and those posed by writing or filming social life? Are there affinities between griots and ethnographers. is principally with the griot as go-between. determinacy.live again." Many Songhay elders nonetheless consider my ethnographies as griotic tales.Theirknowledgeis sustainedby memory. In West Africa.by drumming. He representsthem. he wanted American readers to know some of the feats of the Songhay past. it is shaped by political and sociological factors. To his dying days. If my words live forever. Ibrahim: His name is "Whata human He has manynames. writing is always already there. he wanted readers to know something of the sohanci's courage and daring. the last vestiges of objective representation. I shall live forever.His name is Ibrahim. Can authors speak for themselves? Can they speak for others? Or do their often conflicting voices constitute a patchwork of the contingent conditions of sociality? In the contemporary world as it is perceived by many poststructuralistand postmodernist critics. North American scholars in the humanities and social sciences have been greatly influenced by poststructuralistcriticism.andhe is old becausehe holdstheirwords." They learn and teach the history of Dagbon. To borrow Derrida's now famous phrase. historical. Chernoff describes the work of his teacher.

Barthes'sdeath-of-the-author syndrome affected anthropology in a major way. and tirelessly self-doubting. dead authors become writers who no longer "own" language. Such a tack would be unthinkable to the seasoned griot. Spivak 1990). in his Works and Lives (1988). a corpus of criticism suggesting future directions in ethnographic expression. Clifford Geertz characterizes many of these antirealistethnographies as anemic. The expression ca se mange (this eats itself) constitutes an indirect. Price 1983). timid. they questioned the bases of ethnographic authority (see Clifford 1988.it is to effectwritingin beingaffectedoneself. MacDougall 1992. like the griot. One facile responseto these quandaries is to suggestthat questions of (ethnographic)authority are purely academic concerns. Geertz notwithstanding. Put another way. and the other's muted voice (see Cesara 1981. meaning(lessness).[T]hemiddlevoice correspondsexactlyto the stateof the verbto write:todayto writeis-tomakeone's self the centerof the actionof speech [parole]. the arrogance of "living authors" who constructed their subjectivity through the objectification of others has created much shame that has survived their deaths (see Miller 1985. epistemologically speaking. agentless commentary on the (good) quality of food. Carrithers1990. Said 1978. Tyler 1987). [1972:164-65] In the middle voice. Turner 1991). Despite the political and theoretical sensitivity of these "dead" authors.. writing or performing becomes the site of an "authorless" text. these questions are usually left unanswered in the ethnographic literature. Sangren 1988). Words are articulated. Dwyer 1991 [1982]. Jackson 1986. the theoretical anarchy. but no agent is associated with the signified action. If the griots of Sahelian West Africa constitute a representative 356 american ethnologist . Many of these ethnographies are troubling. ethnographers worry. the use of such an expression decenters the subject in a manner similar to the way that griots decenter themselves during a performance. They delved into the moral implications that colonialist and neocolonialist politics held for the profession of anthropology. Sociolinguistically. Said 1989. writers who are attempting to take greater responsibility for the social and political ramifications of the words and images conveyed by their disseminated works. produced a new discourse that bifurcated into two paths. representation. in which anthropologists constructed societies as totalities. Confronting the postcolonial world with its incessant "heteroglossia. Indeed. Anthropologists began to reflect on their own ethnographic practices." to borrow Bahktin's phrase. the dialectic of the ethnographer and the other. attempting to write in the middle voice.it is to leave the writer [scripteur]inside the writing. Several critics have complained of the interminable self-reflection.not as a psychologicalsubject . An apt example is the French intransitiveverb se manger. With the subject decentered. the writers of these books are. Ruby 1991.they criticized ethnographic realism. These scholars considered both the politics of anthropological representation and the politics of interpretation. Marcus and Cushman 1982. there is no authorial agency. Birth1990. 1989. 1990. They began to examine the epistemological assumptions held by pioneering anthropologists. What are the social and political responsibilities of writing or filming social life? What does collaboration imply for written or filmed ethnography? Does one pay serious attention to non-Western theories of ethnographic authority?With the notable exception of the literature on indigenous media in visual anthropology (see Henaut 1991. several of the earliest are the most notable. especially Jean-Paul Dumont's thoughtful The Headman and I (1992 [1978]) and Paul Riesman's incomparable Freedom in Fulani Social Life (1977). Such reflections. the writing in these works often reflects rather parochial dispositions. Citing the texts of continental poststructuralists. The vast majority of this anthropological discourse on ethnographic authorityis writing about writing. Followers of the first path traveled in the direction of philosophical critique. Of these ethnographies. in Barthes'sterms.. is sadly limited. The number of anthropologists who have actually embedded these important issues in their ethnographies. Mudimbe 1988. first hinted at by Clifford Geertz in the 1970s. From a contemporary perspective. about politics. Inthese and latertexts. they are "owned" by language. During the 1980s. and the illocutionary opaqueness of these works (Beidelman 1989. but as agent of action. however.

implicationis thusalreadythe anthropologist's mode of existence.she sees the social interactionaldefinitionof implicationas centralto the ethnographic enterprise. anthropologists.d. . Forthe mostpart.d. are (over)implicated.Like"dead"poetsthrashedaboutin the windsof the postmodern who creatively condition. rather.she says.case.Griotsare always implicatedand embodied in their communities: they are full social and politicalparticipantsin the villageswhere they live. compromised.griots.anthropologistscan neverchoose between Artaudand the functionary. entangledin an affair.even the most "objective"and "scientific"anthropologists.' It is the exercise of this reality: that there is not a position outside the system.d.Likea .accordingto The late FrenchanthropologistPierreClastres.One foot in France. questionsof authorityare asked in many nonacademiccontexts and settings.butthere are significantdifferences.Artaudis the illuminatedwanderer.to negotiatesocial identities. Irvine1978.a knotof unformu lateddesires.thereappearto be manyaffinitiesbetweengriotsand postmodernwriters. ered his colleaguesas "Artaudfunctionaries"(1974). and dirty.As Bergewrites:"Even[Jacques]Lizot. implication like griots.Sometimestheanthropologist's bodyissickenedbythisdismemberment. anthropologistChristineBerge.which meansthatethnographers fromassumingan implicatedresponsibilityfortheirwords. He records speech. The functionaryis the representativeof the establishment.a crossroadsof contradictorypaths. ethnographerswill be betterable to writeand filmethnographiesthat meet the griot'sgreatestchallenge:to express words and imagesthatenable the dead to live again. fragileretina.. that the anthropological gaze is not a 'gaze upon' but a sort of vibration on a fragile and ultra-sensitive antenna" (n. Initially. and exchanges and contributesto the transformation of values.:2)..images.:6).Aestheticconventioninfluences the griot'sperformancestyles.[who livedforalmost20 participatory years among the YanomamiIndians]has his computerwith him amongthe savages. Althoughall humanbeingsare "implicated"in Berge'ssense.whose subjectivityis overwhelmed by language. Inthe words of French Ethnographers.:4).for example.All humanbeings.and counts on his researcher'sstatus. Farfrombeing a historyof moralchoice. One can say thatthe anthropologistis an over-implicatedbeing.the wordsand images of ethnographyare not performative.. Theyareintermediaries and respectfullyuse "oldwords"to reconstructhistoryandculture..disengagedand disembodied.d.he viewstheworldfroma poorlyreceivedintimacy. "implication is the 'lived among. As Berge says philosophically.Manycontemthe griot's are. and the secret compromises of the real. In reality. ethnographies as text 357 . Theirwords are performative: they helpto createsocial lifeby talkingit. and to ruminateon stasisand change (see Hale 1990.therefore. the illusion of unity. a nomad of the mind.are implicatedsocial actors in the field.considher. "to be implicated means to be embroiled.griotsaremorelikewritersin Barthes'ssense.:5] In the end."Bergedoes not limitheranalysisof implicationto a logicalrelationship.one foot in the forest" (n.tiredandtremblinghands.the distributionof elements. Miller1990).are still able to use it to negotiatetheir multifacetedsubjectivity.Most ethnographersare shieldedfromthe complicated are usuallyabsolved negotiationsof social life in other-land.andactions. Social contextshapesthe natureof the griot'sperformativediscourse.Publicationsassurehimfame. gestures.he or she makesrulesand follows them.[n.who are also "owned"by language.Unlike Barthes'swriter. are perforceimplicatedin a networkof relationships(n.a spiritfilledwith hope.He sometimeshas a heartfilledwith repentance. (over)implication in the field provokes a crisis duringwhich anthropologists question the limits of the self.Byincorporating poraryethnographers localized practicesintothe ethnographer'smoreglobal representations.

embodiment.Sometimes.(over)implicated anthropologists relinquishtheirauthorityto the sweep of historicalandcontextualcontingency. this suggestsacknowledgingan embodied implicationin ethnographiesthrough(1) a critical awarenessof the senses.Berg6'sportraitof the (over)implicated anthropologistseems curiouslysimilarto Barthes's "dead"author. who considers himselfof moderngriot.Songhaypeople say thatone eats power and is eaten by power. makes sorcerersvulnerableto a rival's insatiableappetiteforpower.ethnographersmustnegotiateand renegotiate theirsocial rolesacrossa maze of culturalboundaries. however.Mostwrittenand filmed ethnographyis flat and analytic. and (3) a recognitionof the increasingly politicalimplicationsof theirworks.Ethnographers certainlycannot deny their implication.Thegriotis neverdisengagedand disembodied.Forgriots.it meansthatthe spokenword not only shapesand reshapesthe storyof the past. Inshort. painterssearchfor their styles-or so we are led to believe. in the field. Mostwritingand filmingin anthropologyand the other humansciences fail to follow the griot'sfirstruleof practice:to createa dynamictension betweenthe poetic and the political.Ethnographers conditionedvoices searchforthem. Writerssearchfor theirvoices.albeit partially.it is clearthat ethnographictransitivity? griotsdo notallowthemselvesto be completelydevouredby language. It would be too facile to suggestthat the solution to the representationalquandariesof depictingsocial life in the presentis to adopta moresensualmode of ethnographicexpression. Such consumption. the Senegelese novelist and filmmakerSembene Ousmane. To stop here. which enables them to "eat" (overpower)others.Berge'sdecidedly philosophicalportraitof (over)implicated writersare anthropologistsleaves us muddledin an ethnographyin which (over)implicated sometimesguiltyof (over)indulgence.Songhaygriotssay thattheyeat historyand areeatenby it.One's implicationin things Songhaycan never be purelyintellectual. likewritingand the concept of self.by otherness. that one personeats anotherand is.however. the past and the present. in turn.Such an embodied entanglemententails a numberof textualramifications.the (over)implicatedanthropologistbecomes entrancedby his or her contradictorypathand is ultimately transformedinto an intransitivemediumwhose subjectivitycan be devouredby language. historicallyandsocially isolation.forexample. and voice Songhaypeopletalkaboutimplicationthroughgustatorymetaphors.Likegriots.eaten by her or him-all partof the processof learningaboutsocial others. Griots eat the "oldwords"and are eaten by them. any kind of entangledimplicationin Songhayhas embodied implications. (2)an attentivenessto voice.As in the griot'scase. Despite its sensitivity.Peoplesay.Likethe "dead"author.these voices findethnographersand use their 358 american ethnologist .it usually underplaysthe importanceof power relations in-the-world(see Coombe 1991). Itwould also be too simpleto arguethatthe missingpiece in the ethnographicpuzzle is that of voice.once complainedto FrenchfilmmakerJeanRouch:"Youobserveus like insects"(quotedin Predal1982:78).Whatcan theirpractices teach us'aboutthe ethnographer's consumptionof otherlives?Whatcan theirpracticesteach us abouthow otherlives consumethe ethnographer? implication.one consumesothernessin Songhay-in whateverformit takes-and is consumed.Reactingto thisdehumanizing process.would not take us much beyondthe anthropologicalwritingof the 1980s.but is also centralto the negotiationand renegotiationof their social roles in the present.Likethe "dead"author.3 Sorcererseat a variety of plants to enhance their power. Such a discoursegeneratesstructures throughdissectionandcategorization. even their(over)implication and mightthey notsteera middlecoursebetweenthe dead zones of ethnographicintransitivity Giventhe contextualdynamicsof theirperformances.Forethnographers. of course. is not an elementthatexists in do notsearchforvoices. Butif they focus attentionupon the griot'spractices. Voice.In otherwords.

I describe how the recognition and acceptance of my own long-term implication and embodiment in things Songhay impelled me to attempt to write ethnographies (In Sorcery's Shadow [1987. Indeed. and Petit a Petit (1969). and (b) they wanted someone entangled in their network to tell their story with dignity and respect. a wide-eyed apprentice to sorcerers. and tell it well-to bring us respect. and much Procrustean ethnographies as text 359 . plain language. They had selected me to learn sorcery for two reasons: (a) they had seen a sign that I should be taught sorcerous secrets. in 1979. this tactic was unsatisfactory for me. They use these voices to creatively craft their tales. In this way. In short. which is known to only a small number of Songhay sorcerers. one hears the distinct tones and articulations of many voices. the latter usually consisting of. By the same token. with Cheryl Olkes] and Fusion of the Worlds [1989]) in the manner of a griot. like griots. form and voices in ethnography My implication in things Songhay has grown over a period of 20 years. in the words of David Sapir. I felt that such a "representation"of sorcery was a violation of the trust my teachers had placed in me. Sometimes ethnographers. The "old words" consume them. ethnographies sometimes take on a life of their own. During that time. So it is with ethnographers. and I described what happened to me in dispassionate.bodies to express the tension between the past and the present. no one voice dominates these films. We also want you to tell our story. the voices in ethnographic prose or films cannot be strictly those of whom we represent. His long. posed many problems for me as an ethnographer. strictly speaking. be their own. and a practitioner of sorcery who has attacked enemies and who has been attacked by foes. Griots are at the center of a swirl of discordant voices. Adamu Jenitongo. opted for the Songhay path of plants-herbalism. ethnographers as griots become interlocutors in the ongoing conversation that constitutes sociocultural life. In such Rouch films as aguar(1954). implicated. Rouch's films constitute a corpus that is expressed not so much in Barthes's space of the intransitive middle voice as in a series of distinct voices in which subjectivity is not completely consumed by the immanence of language. then. In what remains of this article. the poetic and the political. Although widely practiced. We want you to make offerings to your altar in America. a theoretical introduction. "We want you to take power objects from here and take them to America. What can ethnographers learn from this? The problem of voice is a central theme in many of Jean Rouch's films of ethno-fiction. I placed sorcery and witchcraft in a strictly theoretical context. more like a novel than an anthropological monograph. How could Iwrite about my being poisoned or paralyzed? How could I describe the horrorsand terrorsof such a merciless world? At first I tried to describe the world of Songhay sorcery in the language of anthropology." I renounced the Songhay path of power and at the suggestion of my teacher. produces a cacophony of voices from past and present. When. including that of the filmmaker. My immersion in this Songhay world. Ethnographers'voices cannot. evoke and provoke. co-authored with Cheryl Olkes. a conclusion. I continued my apprenticeship in Songhay sorcery until 1984 when the world of eternal war was "too much with me. The griot's talk. My griot's burden compelled me to write In Sorcery's Shadow. shape what is presented to them to construct ethnographies that analyze and describe. but not completely. un noir (1957). a sorceress in the town of Wanzerbe paralyzed me." they told me. they found in me an apprentice sorcerer and a griot. Moi. he has participated in Songhay social life for more than 50 years (see Stoller 1992). As MacDougall (1992) points out. and embodied exposure to others-Rouch calls it shared anthropology-has resulted in a rare and significant corpus of ethnographic work. And yet. I have been a theory-testing anthropologist. Rouch is considered a griot in the communities he films. I left the relative comforts of the Songhay social world and experienced for the first time the Songhay world of eternal war.

Itis also a story that cuts to the heartof Songhaysocial life: the complexityof social relations.4We wanted readersto know my teachersas individualswho spoke in idiosyncraticways.filledwithresentmentsand murderousjealousies.Theseeffortsresultedin a book thatposes many problems-personal.As in the griot'spractice. Theconditionsthatshapedthe writingof Fusionof the Worldswere fundamentallydifferent fromthose thattexturedthe writingof InSorcery'sShadow.Bythe sametoken.my entanglementin the Songhayworld of sorcerydevolved from confrontationswith distinct individuals-other people in a limited networkof sorcerous relations. and one can certainlyattemptto include in reconstructeddialoguethe kindsof vocalizations that marka particularspeaker. the memoirformof In Sorcery'sShadow conveyed. InInSorcery'sShadow there are musingsabout my feelingsand reactionsand reportson how othersreactedto my existentialdilemmas.Hence. has a directbearingon the "strategic" 1978).Rather.mediums.singingat length aboutone particularbranchof the royalfamily.we did not want my subjectivityto be completelyimprisonedby language.the socialstrainsof mediumship.praise-singers.Thevariationdevolvesfromcontextualfactors: who is in the audience?.was to recreatethe past-in mycase the recentpast-with delicacy andverve.the combinationof joyous festival and seriousreligiousritual.a textquitedifferentfromInSorcery'sShadow.The storyof possessionin Songhay is one of greatcomplexity:hundredsof spirits. betterthan any other 360 american ethnologist . griots will edit theirperformances.the diverse membersof the Songhayspiritpossessiontroupe(possessionpriests. thereis muchvariationin grioticperformances.bed makingin between.my ethnographyof Songhayspiritpossession.But unlike Barthes'sintransitivewriter.we wantedthe pain.So it is with Fusionof the Worlds.the formand stylesof ethnographicexpressionshould varywith the subjectsbeing described.but one can attemptto add some Songhayspices to Englishtranslations. and the acrobaticsof the spiritsin the bodies of mediums.griotsare performers.filled with music.the flash of colors.Althoughthe content of theirgenealogicaland epic recitalsmustconvey a certainnumberof key historicalpoints in a prescribedhistoricalstyle.the constructionof gender idioms.thathomed in on the prosodyof Songhaydialoguealbeittranslatedinto English.How to portraysuch a tangledstoryin prose? In In Sorcery'sShadow.whatis the occasion?Dependingupon audienceandoccasion.a numberof voices are manipulatedto shape my textualsubjectivity. emphasizingdistantas opposedto recenthistory.Readersare leftto ponderthese issuesforthemselvesin the same way that membersof Songhayaudiences ponderthe unansweredissuesthat griots articulatein theirperformances.hundredsof spiritobjectsandcostumes.the ethnographer'sburden.confusion.the griot'sburden.as content of the griot'spoetry(see Irvine we have seen.In Sorcery'sShadow is most certainlya personaltake on my entanglementin Songhaysorcery.Andso a way of writing InSorcery'sShadowwas chosen thatevokedthe sensualityof the Songhayworld.The socioculturalcontextof performance. andeuphoriaof myexperienceto resonatewiththosewho readaboutit.Theworldof Songhay sorceryis private.moral. Justas the structureand contentof the griot'spoetryis sensitiveto context. Itis impossibleto reproducethe zesty flavorof Songhayexpressionsin Englishtranslations. the vicissitudesof agriculturein the Sahel.thatcaressedthe texture of Songhaysocial relations.In short.the storyof possessionis a storyof people:the personal painof initiation.so the narrative writingmustnot only be sensitiveto audiencebutalso to distinct strategyof the ethnographer's social settings.Spiritpossessionceremoniesare carnivalesque. the symbolic re-creationof history. movement.Whilethe sorcererconfrontsthe sorcerousworldalone.Theworldof spiritpossessionis public.Songhaysorcerersdo their "work"in the privacyof theirhouseslateat night.and theoretical-but providesno answers.but in it the contentiousvoices of significantothers are articulated.the interpersonalenmitythatdestroyssocial harmonyin Songhaycommunities. musicians)confrontthe supernatural throughthe frameof a complex spiritpantheon. In West Africa.As in the griot'sperformance.

For these writers. and inductive inquiry). "Ethnographies as Texts. parapsychology. empiricism. that postmodernity. and aesthetically. the loss of authority. Others complain about the hubris and careerism of so-called "postmodern" anthropologists (Sangren 1988). Some of these writers have berated what they term "the confused state of a new generation of American anthropologists" (Beidelman 1989:267). Rosaldo 1989. And so my struggle with the spirit possession material resulted in a multigenre text.5 Fusion of the Worlds amplifies a diversity of voices. reflexive ethnography. Some of the voices of history are frozen in sober academic exposition. has not only reshaped the academy. admits that postmodernity is here to stay. One hears about Dongo's (deity of thunder) path of rain as well as the intertropical front. like the griot's seamless epic. Since the world of Songhay possession is so much more complex. Manganaro 1990."there has been much published on ethnographic and representational practices (Cliffordand Marcus 1986. the failure of social theory (challenges to positivism." anthropologists could no longer blithely "write up" their "data. These critics often dismiss the themes expressed in what they call postmodern works: social fragmentation. a social psychologist who unabashedly yearns for the "kinder"and "gentler"values of the romantic era. My voices (anthropologist. Although it would be wonderful to returnto the halcyon days of anthropology as an unquestioned science. This maze of tones and voices are interconnected in the attempt to create. the world ethnographies as text 361 . epistemologically. post-Marxism. "postmodern" anthropology usually conflates-incorrectly. And. and so on). Tyler 1987). spirit mediums. but also has inexorably changed our patterns of social relations (see also Bauman 1991). griot. it forced anthropologists to confront themselves politically." This article defined a significant moment in anthropology. Songhay deities. the "cries"of the monochord violin. and the onset of the hyperreal world of simulation. but others are juxtaposed to the blur of movement. comparative method. these diverse voices are arranged structurally to confront one another-always. like the griot's complex performance. much of the burden of argument in Fusion is embedded in narrative rather than in the plain style exposition I have employed in this article. Still others attempt to demonstrate the affinities among "postmodern" anthropology. Marcus and Cushman had problematized the politics of ethnographic fieldwork as well as the politics of ethnographic writing. narrative ethnography. they are linked inextricably to the condition of postmodernity brought on by the explosion and proliferationof high technology and the inexorable globalization of economic markets (Harvey 1989). in an argument of images (1982). and musicians. Why all of this textual construction? ethnographies as texts/ethnographers as griots In 1982. and the contours of spirit praise-poetry-other voices of history. humanistic anthropology." Indeed. the clacks and rolls of the gourd drum. Even Kenneth Gergen (1991). like it or not. And like the griot's talking social life. to borrow James Fernandez's apt phrase. there have been any number of essays in which writers are highly critical of what they call "postmodern" anthropology. After "Ethnographiesas Texts. Marcus and Fischer 1985. and Shirley MacLaine! (Lett 1991). as they tell their stories through my griotic re-creation of dialogue. George Marcus and Dick Cushman published their influential essay. a seamless whole of an epic. the filigreed patterns of the Songhay world of sorcery. did not appear out of thin air. textualism. initiate) coexist with the voices of possession priests. of course. These themes. In the wake of these reflections. The talk of the spirits and priests about the weather is adjoined to the detached observations of ecologists about monsoons. the simple story line of In Sorcery's Shadow was incongruous. but also historical exposition and realist description. Said 1989. featuring narrative and multiple voices. I think-a cornucopia of analytical and textual approaches to the discipline (interpretive anthropology. In the wake of "Ethnographiesas Texts.genre. objectivism.

wrote "realist"texts. it is essentialforanthropologists lend themselves to multifacetedepistemologicaland textualstrategiesthat postmoderncomwill become increasingly plexities.12). ethnographers function" author avoid the we can never fact that (1985:3). of course. As Rabinowpointedout in 1985. and African West the as does economics. It considersthe genealogyof the culturalin termsof historically specific practices"(Coombe1991:115).and politics.butpostmodernismis also committedto exploringthe complex interrelationships between cultureand power.It also suggeststhat we considernew phenomena.Everydaypracticesarecomplex. is a perspectiveuponculturalpracticethatprovokesus to considerphenomenain a Postmodernism new manner. multigenre constructionsthat combine narrativedescriptionswith historicaland economic exposition.Inboth be called "anethnographyof Frenchpragmaticphilosophicalanthropology" sociocultural more on focus these processes-the constructionof cases. have producedeleganttexts thatintegratenarrativeandexposition. relatedto a global restructuring conditionof postmodernity" capitalism. longersimpleones." ethnographies of everyday practices. The beginningof postmodernitydoes not meanthe end of ethnography.is too simple.identity. the linkbetween representationand politicscan be fashionedwithmisleadingfacility(seealso Fox1991). Whatthreadscan 362 american ethnologist . Rabinowhassaidthathisbookcould administrators (1989:16).[1991:116] Coombe goes on to argue for what Said (1989) called "streetsavvy.given the changingcharacterof the worldswe live in. Foley1990. 1989. past and present. Thereare.no simplesolutionsto writingor fi mingsocial life in the contemporary world.and new media. Kondo(1990).which is reminiscentof the hermetic self-consciousnessof high modernism-not postcolonialism-in the arts and literature(see Marcus1990). and anthropology anachronistic.(Forotherexamples see Desjarlais 1992. "author"mountsa critiqueof modernitythroughhis analysisof a groupof Frenchcolonial who were urbanplannersduringthe 1920s. Likea griot.who heldopposing views on colonialism. Forethnographers.James exposition. forexample. Boddy(1989).Rabinowcautionedanthropologistsaboutthe problemsof transparencyin ethnographicwritingand arguedfor an anthropologicalreturnto the world "must (1985:9. narrativeand griot.the world will pass us by.ethnographiescan neverbe transparent.Butit does forceus to confrontwith flexibilitythe aesthetic.nothingis moredifficultthan craftinga multigenretext.Ethnographies no tales are but the or recountto readers viewers. Can narrativeethnographybe equated with the textualcontoursof postcolonialism?Mostof the textslooselyclassedas postmodernhavebeen preoccupiedwiththe formand languageof ethnography.and political complexitiesof the contemporaryworld. in FrenchModern (1989). As griotswell know. Inthesetimes. face up to the Rabinow'scall foran anthropologicalreturnto the world is well advised..individualand social. we need more performativetexts-engaged.BothMarcelGriauleandMichelLeiris.Theydemanda complex andmultidimensional maybe talesthatethnographers approachto ethnography.Butwe mustleave the rarefiedheightsof textualismwith our eyes wide open to complexity. Ittakesa lifetimefor griotsto shapetheirdelicatelydecenteredethnographicperformances.Otherwise.Rabinowargues. For that.informationandcommunicationstechnologies. Rose 1987. . and local and globalperspectives throughculturalanalysesof gender. Theymustnow combine..to develop has changed in fundamentalways.Morespecifically. The historicalsocioculturalcomplex knownas "thepostmoderncondition"or "the of refersto a multiplicityof processes.andcreative. . and Narayan(1989). in which the resulted the world to return Rabinow's modernism". Wafer1991). history Holston Modernist In The (1989) calls for "criticalethnographiesof City.Canone equaterealismwithcolonialism? That."Postmodernism shareswith hermeneuticsa commitmentto understandingcultureand knowledgeas socially constructed. ethnographies discourse-than on how individualsor groupsof individualscope with the dailyexigenciesof contemporary life.multifaceted.epistemological.Coombesuggests: .

And yet.WestChesterUniversity.Trinhdescribeshow storytelling. and the politics of both interpretationand publication. and. Second I make films for the people whom I film. and after their performances. "FirstI make films for myself."Othershavetranslateditas "trashor garbage" (N'Diaye 1970:14). of locality-in ethnographic expression? These questions are answered only when ethnographers struggle with their complex materials.These missionswere made possibleby generousgrantsfromthe U. Min-ha underscorestheculturalimportanceof women(griottes)in theWestAfricanbardictradition. legend. Other. Griots never talk social life in isolation. But there is another space well worth expanding.especially the epics. ethnographies as text 363 . which is marked by contested h istory and cultural politics. There is much debate about the definitionof nyama.Earlier versions sophicalSociety.Native. representation. society: becomeshistory-writing. and narrative?How does one develop a sense of place-that is.myth. The "force"of a sorcereris not namedbut recognizedthroughhis or her korte (literally. Such critical debate expands the space of ethnographies as texts. for general audiences.Ina fascinating and provocativechapterof her book Woman. for their communities. in the Republicof Niger. I make films for general audiences" (Rouch 1990).literature.Universityof Toronto. that of ethnographers as griots. dialogue.such as weddingand child-naming ceremonies.Commentsfromboth audiences have been invaluable. Dept.DID IT REALLY HAPPEN?IS ITA TRUESTORY?[1989:120] The femalebardin WestAfrica.Finally. not infrequently. no one writes or films social life in isolation. literary critics.is articulatedthroughdeeds.I wouldalso liketo acknowledgethe constructivecommentsof the fouranonymous reviewersof AE.charms)or his or her "work.Butthisbodyof literature tellsonly partof the storyof the oraltradition in Africa.the Wenner-GrenFoundationfor AnthropologicalResearch. Rouch's answer brings us back to the griot. Third."rather.as well as those of Don Brenneis.TrinhT. Is this not a burden worthy of our future efforts? notes The reflectionsin this articleare based upon morethana 20-yearspanof fieldwork Acknowledgments.consigningstoryto the realm Story-writing of tale. and historyquicklysets itselfapart. This means that ethnographers seek ways of writing and filming social life that enable the dead to live again and the living to recognize better ways of coping with the confusions of contemporary life. In Songhay. the phenomenology of the field encounter.A version of the articlewas also presentedto the Faculty Colloquiumof the Departmentof Anthropology.Universityof Illinoisat Urbana-Champaign. fiction.it ignoresthe considerablesocioculturalimportanceof female storytellers. 1.butshe appearsto be excludedfromthe moreformalandpoliticalrecitationcontexts. truth." 2. increasingly. They talk social life for themselves. I thankAlice Deck for her invitationto participatein the symposium."MassaMakanDiabatetranslateditas "evil.long the has been assignedthe samestigmatizedstatusaccordedto women in provinceof women (grandmothers). Standing on the griot's spot. The persistent ethical and political questions remain: why do we write? for whom? When asked these questions about his films.Coombeabout the centralissuesof this articlepointeda near-sightedethnographerin a theoreticallyfruitfuldirection.conversationswith RosemaryJ.fiction.the notion of "force"is not concretelyarticulated. and fact."Force.S.means lies. Scores of anthropologists. Then. and philosophers will no doubt continue their stimulating debates about voice.performsin manycontexts. French anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch replied.one weave through the text to make its disparate elements hang together? How does one juxtapose exposition.since fictionalandfactualhavecome to a pointwherethey mutuallyexclude each other. difference. SoryCamara(1976:11) translatesit as "all powerfulspirit. during. ethnographers are charged with the burden of incorporating the griot's multifaceted practices into ethnography.the AmericanPhiloforthe Humanities.andthe NationalEndowment of this articlewerepresentedat the SpringSymposium(AfricanLifeWriting:Objectivityand Reflexivity) of the Centerfor AfricanStudies. of Education(Fulbright-Hays Program). Griots must confront their fluid "materials"-the ever-changing complexities of contemporary social life-before. reflexivity. Mostof the writingaboutWest Africangriotscomprisesa discourseaboutmale poets who express themselvesin ceremonialcontexts.the NationalScience Foundation(NATOPostdoctoralFellowshipin Science Program).la griotte.I thankherfor herguidanceand support.

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