Notes Concerning Premise and Presupposition-II


When Western scholars write about non-Western societies, do they inevitably perpetuate the myths of European imperialism?  Can they ever articulate the meanings and logics of non-Western peoples?  Who has the right to speak for whom?

from the Library Journal review of Islands of History.

Notes from Islands of History by Marshall Sahlins, The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Page 77)

“In its global and most powerful representation, [social/cultural] structure is processual: a dynamic development of the cultural categories and their relationships amounting to a world system of generation and regeneration.”

Page 103)

Footnote 24—“In Fiji two contradictory statements are not necessarily inconsistent.  They appear to us contradictory, because we do not understand the shades of meaning, and because we do not know, without much experience, the point of view from which each is made.” (Hocart 1952:61)

Page 109)

“Even to understand what did happen, it would be insufficient to note that certain people acted in certain ways, unless we also know what that signified.  The contingent becomes fully historical only as it is meaningful, only as the personal act or the ecological effect takes on a systematic or positional value in a cultural scheme.”

Page 131)

“Cook made the new era of capitalist expansion a point of his own personal character (Smith 1979).  He was no Cortes—any more than Lono was the conquering Kü.  Bernard Smith says that “Cook must have been the first European to practice successfully on a global scale the use of tolerance for the purpose of domination.” (1979:179).  So if the Hawaiians were willing to receive him as their own god, he was willing to accept the honors.  However he understood it ritually, he would appreciate it practically.  But then, as the poet Cowper wrote when he learned how Cook had died, “God is a jealous god.”

Page 144)

“[Hawaiian history demonstrates] … that culture functions as a synthesis of stability and change, past and present, diachrony and synchrony.”

Page 145)

“[The first proposition is] …Human social experience is the appropriation of specific percepts by general concepts:  an ordering of cultural categories which is never the only one possible, but in that sense is arbitrary and historical.  The second proposition is that the use of conventional concepts in empirical contexts subjects the cultural meanings to practical revaluations.  Brought to bear on a world which has its own reasons, a world in-itself and potentially refractory, the traditional categories are transformed.”

Page 146)

“The irruption of Captain Cook from beyond the horizon was a truly unprecedented event, never seen before.  But by thus [--“Cook is a god.”--] encompassing the existentially unique in the conceptually familiar, the people embed their present in the past.

Page 147)

“The culture categories by which experience is constituted do not follow directly from the world, but from their differential relations within a symbolic scheme.  The contrast in French between the terms fleuve and riviére entails a different segmentation of fluvial objects from the usual English glosses ‘river’ and ‘stream’, inasmuch as the French terms to not turn on relative size as the English do, but on whether or not the water flows into the ocean (cf. Culler 1977).”

Page 148)

“Bréal speaks of the inevitable disproportion between language, any language, and the world: ‘our languages are condemned to a perpetual lack of proportion between the word and the thing.  The expression is sometimes too wide, sometimes too narrow.”

Page 149)

“The objective gamble thus lies in the disproportions between words and things.  Every implementation of cultural concepts in an actual world submits the concepts to some determination by the situation. … The idea is burdened with the world.”

Page 153)

“So the meaning of any specific cultural form is all its possible uses in the community as a whole.  But this meaning is realized, in presentia, on as events of speech and action.  Event is the empirical form of system.  The converse proposition, that all events are culturally systematic, is more significant. … an event is not just a happening in the world; it is a relation between a certain happening and a given symbolic system. … The event is a happening interpreted—and interpretations vary.

Page 155)

“Yet culture is precisely the organization of the current situation in the terms of a past.”

Words! Mere Words! Was there anything so real as words? - Dorian Gray