Friday, June 22, 2007

Classics and Anthropology

The journal Arion might better be entitled Phoenix. It has risen from the ashes twice. But the name Phoenix is already taken by a different journal of classics. So now Arion carries on more than a decade into its third incarnation under the name of a poet who miraculously evaded death, rather than under a name of resurrection. So be it.

Arion’s first piece of Advice to Prospective Contributors includes the lines, “If you propose submitting a paper that has been rejected by one of the professional journals, we urge you to rewrite it. The fact that it wasn’t quite dull enough to be accepted there doesn’t mean that it is lively enough for Arion.” If you’re interested in Classical Antiquities and prefer a livelier read, Arion might be the journal for you.

Back when it had arisen the second time and just started the Third Series, there was a very nice article by James Redfield. No, not the therapist-turned-novelist James Redfield, but the Professor James M. Redfield who does ancient Greek studies at Chicago. Redfield’s article is a brief of what anthropologists and classicists can and should learn from each other. It also includes a good bit of compare/contrast of the disciplines, including their initiation rituals. It’s a delightful read to nearly anyone who has spent time with the linguists and archaeologists, the literary theorists and the crypto-psychiatrists who inhabit the world of Ancient Studies.

Here, I give you only the second paragraph of the article. Feel free to go dig up the rest. It’s well worth it.

Redfield, James, “Classics and Anthropology,” Arion, Third Series, vol. 1, no. 2, Spring / May 1991, pp. 5-6.

I have spent most of my academic career hanging about the edges of departments, particularly (at Chicago) the departments of Anthropology and of Classics. It often seems to me that these two are structural opposites. Take, for example, the question of the consumption of alcohol. Both professions include heavy drinkers—indeed the profession of Classics seems to me to have more than its share of helpless drunks (not at Chicago, needless to say). But Classicists tend to be solitary drinkers; when they meet together socially it tends to be in the afternoon, over tea. The anthropologists, on the other hand, gather at midnight, and drink grain alcohol and grapefruit juice out of plastic waste baskets. To this difference correspond others—for example, on the rhetorical level. Anthropologists like to conduct their controversies in open meetings, where they ride and make flamboyant, unforgivable speeches. Classicists are almost always polite—with the result that it is frequently impossible to find out what they think. Anthropologists seem to enjoy conflict, whereas classicists prefer to pretend that it does not exist. Anthropologists tend toward exuberance, classicists toward irony. To give them the most gross kind of physical characterization: the classicist is typically dusty, the anthropologist, sweaty.

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