Clifford Geertz: Available Light (2000)
"Clifford Geertz, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, here discusses some of the most urgent issues facing intellectuals today. In this collection of personal and revealing essays, he explores the nature of his anthropological work in relation to a broader public, serving as the foremost spokesperson of his generation of scholars, those who came of age after World War II. His reflections are written in a style that both entertains and disconcerts, as they engage us in topics ranging from moral relativism to the relationship between cultural and psychological differences, from the diversity and tension among activist faiths to "ethnic conflict" in today's politics.
Geertz, who once considered a career in philosophy, begins by explaining how he got swept into the revolutionary movement of symbolic anthropology. At that point, his work began to encompass not only the ethnography of groups in Southeast Asia and North Africa, but also the study of how meaning is made in all cultures--or, to use his phrase, to explore the "frames of meaning" in which people everywhere live out their lives. His philosophical orientation helped him to establish the role of anthropology within broader intellectual circles and led him to address the work of such leading thinkers as Charles Taylor, Thomas Kuhn, William James, and Jerome Bruner. In this volume, Geertz comments on their work as he explores questions in political philosophy, psychology, and religion that have intrigued him throughout his career but that now hold particular relevance in light of postmodernist thinking and multiculturalism. Available Light offers insightful discussions of concepts such as nation, identity, country, and self, with a reminder that like symbols in general, their meanings are not categorically fixed but grow and change through time and place.
This book treats the reader to an analysis of the American intellectual climate by someone who did much to shape it. One can read Available Light both for its revelation of public culture in its dynamic, evolving forms and for the story it tells about the remarkable adventures of an innovator during the "golden years" of American academia."
Table of contents:
(2) "Passage and accident: a life of learning", pp. 3-20 (99Beng1);
(3) "Thinking as a moral act: ethical dimensions of anthropological fieldwork in the new states", pp. 21-41 (68Aeng1);
(4) "Anti anti-relativism", pp. 42-67 (84Aeng1);
(5) "The uses of diversity", pp. 68-88 (86Aeng1);
(6) "Waddling in", pp. 89-97 (85Aeng2);
(7) "Culture war", pp. 97-107 (95Aeng3);
(8) "Deep hanging out", pp. 107-118 (98Aeng2);
(11) "The strange estrangement: Charles Taylor and the natural sciences", pp. 143-159 (94Aeng3);
(12) "The legacy of Thomas Kuhn: the right text at the right time", pp. 160-166 (97Aeng2);
(13) "The pinch of destiny: religion as experience, meaning, identity, power", pp. 167-186 (99Aeng1);
see the HyperGeertz-Review1.
see the HyperGeertz-Review2
Anthropologist, Sep 2001, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 864-865.
Don, Gifted Child Quarterly, Summer 2003, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 239-241.
Renselle, Doug, online in: http://www.quantonics.com/Review_of_Clifford_Geertz_Available_Light.html.
Jay H., Library Journal (Reed-Elzevier), Dec 2000:
"In retrospect, the period following the end of World War II can be identified as the heyday of cultural anthropology. Geertz (Inst. of Advanced Studies) entered the discipline just as it was beginning to flourish. In his distinguished career, he has been prominent in developing some of its most important projects, including symbolic/interpretive anthropology, ecological anthropology, and the study of newly independent nations in the developing world. With these essays, addresses, and reviews, he updates us on his thoughts on cultural interpretation, the nature of political entities, and trends in various academic disciplines. As the subtitle promises, he philosophizes on the nature of anthropology and its possible relevance today. The book assumes some knowledge of contemporary academic trends, and its reviews of recent debates in the field are neither comprehensive nor satisfying. However, it reflects an eminent scholar's mature insights into the state of anthropology after it has lost much of its former prestige; realistically, Geertz holds out no optimism for its future as a profession. Several strong essays make this an essential addition to academic and many public libraries."
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information
Weekly, May 2000:
"In cadenced prose, noted anthropologist Geertz examines his own life, education and work and the ways in which the fields of anthropology and philosophy might benefit each other, in a collection of essays reprinted from such journals as the Antioch Review and Common Knowledge. His recollections of the intellectual excitement in post-War World II colleges, filled with people on the brink of a new life and paid for by the G.I. Bill, reveal an intriguing facet of American intellectual history as well as the author's roots as an anthropologist. His now-famous fieldwork in Java in 1952 becomes a point of departure for other intellectual explorations. Geertz can be quite provocative--in discussing the ethical dimensions of anthropology, he concludes that "thought is conduct and is to be morally judged as such." He is also exacting, as when he claims that "anthropologists will simply have to make something of subtler differences, and their writing will grow more shrewd." His most challenging arguments for contemporary thinkers come at the end, when he discusses the impact of postmodernism on various disciplines and whether cohesive identities are possible in our world. Carefully teasing out how the study of cultural "differences" and "similarities" can work--"the trick is to get them to illuminate one another"--Geertz once again makes an important contribution to how we think and live in the world today."
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Reviews, Jan 2001
"If the proper study of mankind is man, anthropology ought to be the most vital of all sciences. In this collection of essays, reviews, and speeches from the last 20 years, one of the modern giants of that discipline offers his wisdom. Geertz (After the Fact, 1994) opens with a brief professional autobiography, which for him began with his arrival at Antioch as one of the GI generation. He then passed through Harvard's short-lived but seminal Soc Rel program, doing important fieldwork in Java and Morocco, and finally arrived at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Studies. Along the way, he watched the nominal subject of his discipline alter radically: the few `primitive` cultures still on Earth are busy acquiring transistor radios, and even the notion of `culture` is now open to question. At the same time, anthropology must face ethical questions on the nature of fieldwork. Is any honest relationship possible between a college-educated American and a Javanese subsistence farmer, each seeking in some way to exploit the other? How does an anthropologist come to terms with the legacy of colonialism that lies at the roots of his discipline, and to what extent are his studies in conflict with the aspirations of oppressed people to better their lives? In and around these questions Geertz weaves considerations of issues specific to his discipline, notably the roles of behaviorism, structuralism, and other modern philosophical tools in the interpretation of culture. Geertz stoutly resists the impulse to simplify, and the reader who isn't up-to-date on debates within anthropological circles may occasionally find the line of argument hard to follow. But overall, this is a provocative look at the human race (and the study thereof) by a man who has seen more of it than most. An occasional muddy patch, but worth wading through for the author's insights."
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.