Nouvelle pollution nocturne. These objects are metonymically associated with rythm, dancing, sacrifice, and blood and thus bring with them erotic and pseudo-erotic overtones. The impression Leiris creates of systematic pillaging was not misleading. As a means of accounting for conceptual affinities between Surrealism and ethnography Clifford proposes that both activities involve a process of cultural defamiliarization. The elementary process of rethinking cultural values and pushing conceptual limits is captured in the way Clifford has linked the avant-garde dimensions of early ethnography and Surrealism.
He associates the assault on conventional perceptions of cultural values that had been leveled against the bourgeois establishment by Dada and Surrealism with a relativization of European cultural superiority in relation to the colonies. He plays up the similarities between avant-garde art and ethnography and argues that they both served to decenter European cultural authority during the s. The limited scope of his examples is less a problem than their utopic status; this raises questions about what it is in this period of French intellectual history that Clifford seeks to appropriate for the purposes of advancing contemporary criticism of European cultural practices.
If ethnography helped make the distant cultures of the populations colonized by France more visible to a metropolitan public, the nature of the process still preserved the centrality of a French perspective. They visit one colonial administrator after the next. The financial transactions between the Frenchmen who pay almost nothing for sacred objects and the villagers who hand over their possession—often under coercion—is illustrated in the following passage where Leiris tells about the arrival of some objects he and Griaule had purchased:.
Leiris put his friendship on the line with his decision to publish, since Griaule felt the book would compromise the future development of ethnography. Even if Leiris recounts with irony how they pillaged one African village after the next for every interesting object that counted as art in Paris, his tongue-in-cheek humor does not remove their actions from the colonial framework which made them possible.
This time, Leiris tells of how he and Griaule confiscated a sacred mask from the Kono in the Sudan. They did not appreciate the complications; thus, Griaule decided to blackmail the elders with ten francs and a threat of legal punishment by the colonial administration if they were not allowed to enter:.
Affreux chantage! By this point, neither Griaule nor Leiris actually wanted to go inside, so they tried to send in someone else. Left with no choice, they went in and removed the sacred mask:. The way in which he observes his own theatrical gestures suggests a perverse delight in their demonstration of will and power. The way in which the pink-eared men came and violated the spiritual integrity of this community was no doubt lamented for years to come.
What is more, Leiris seems to relish the status of demon, thief, and culprit. He describes their departure:. It would seem that this kind of object collecting replaced the stimulation of sexual relations with a well-dressed lady no longer possible in the African bush.
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He juxtaposes these activities a bit later; after describing the regrettable nudity of African women, he writes:. He notes that blood-stained objects add a magical dimension to these scenarios. But more important than the commodification of aesthetics is the way in which the collection of these objects violently disrupts their cultural vitality by removing them from their original context in order for them to figure in a French narrative of anthropological humanism. What is important to note here, because often overlooked in criticism, is how the cultural idiom of vanguard primitivism, a colonialist epistemology, and the social institutions of empire were inextricably linked during the interwar period.
In the end, Leiris tells a story of a disenchantment analogous to the one Gide relates in his travel journals, except that Gide became directly involved in the documentation and rectification of specific instances of colonial abuses which Leiris did not. Le voyage ne nous change que par moments.
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This admission further clarifies how the information collected during their trek across Africa was filtered through the minds of intellectuals who found conversation about the great works of the European literary tradition irresistible, even once they arrived in the long-awaited African bush. What this statement belies is how their center of gravity remained European and that his was cause for dismay.
Such a view may be ethically and conceptually appealing, but it obscures what had to be overcome on the other end of the equation by the colonized. It is very evident that cross-cultural dialogue has taken place and that it led to cultural change, aesthetic innovation, and a dynamic that transformed actors on both sides of the colonial divide. However, the cultural adjustments that have come as a result should not be overestimated as they have been partial, incremental and are still incomplete. What is of crucial importance and too often neglected by models of cultural solipsism is the degree to which French ideas were changed by input from the colonies.
These models of cultural interpretation are useful for foregrounding dynamics of self-interest, desire, and projection, but their focus on one-way agency cannot account for cross-cultural innovation and change over time. As an event, the Dakar-Djibouti mission suggests an elaborate process of interpreting and sorting out cultural differences. It took time, however, for the cultural practices that were inspired by vanguard primitivism to develop into more thoughtful forms of cultural inquiry.
At this point, vanguard primitivism shared by Surrealists and dissident Surrealists-turned-ethnographers stemmed from their own disillusionment with European society as French intellectuals. The vocabulary he uses to describe the limits of his perspective in explicitly evoke Surrealism and its concept of the subject As Leiris describes his change in perspective he, like Breton, refers to his experience of the Second World War:.
In the end, Leiris went farther than Breton did in updating his ideas and values with the times. B reton , A. C lark , P. C lifford , J. D avies , H. F oster , H. G riaule , M. J amin , J. K aufmann , V. L eiris , M.
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