Culture Writing

Culture Writing : Literature and Anthropology in the Midcentury Atlantic World

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Focusing on the 1950s and early 1960s, Culture Writing argues that this period in Britain, the United States, France, and the Caribbean was characterized by dynamic exchanges between literary writers and anthropologists on both sides of the Atlantic. As the British and French empires collapsed and the United States rose to global power in the early Cold War, and as intellectuals from the decolonizing world challenged the cultural hegemony of the West, some
anthropologists began to assess their discipline's complicity with empire and experimented with literary forms and technique. Culture Writing shows that the "literary turn" in anthropology took place earlier than has conventionally been assumed, in the 1950s rather than the 1970s and 80s. Simultaneously, some
literary writers reacted to the end of the period of modernist experimentation by turning to ethnographic methods for representing the people and cultural practices of Britain, France, and the United States, bringing anthropology back home. There is analysis of literary writers who had a significant professional engagement with anthropology and brought some of its techniques and research questions into literary composition: Barbara Pym (Britain), Ursula Le Guin and Saul Bellow (United States),
Edouard Glissant (Martinique), and Michel Leiris (France). On the side of ethnography, the book analyzes works by anthropologists who either explicitly or surreptitiously adopted literary forms for their writing about culture: Laura Bohannan (United States), Michel Leiris and Claude Levi-Strauss
(France), and Mary Douglas (Britain). Culture Writing concludes with an epilogue that shows how the literature-anthropology conversation continues into the postcolonial period in the work of Indian author-anthropologist Amitav Ghosh and Jamaican author-sociologist Erna Brodber.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 163 x 241 x 23mm | 452g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0190852674
  • 9780190852672

Table of contents


Section I: The Anglophone Atlantic World
Chapter 1: Jumble Sales Are the Same the World Over: Barbara Pym and Transatlantic Anthropology
Chapter 2: The Sun Also Sets: Anthropology at the End of Empire in Ursula Le Guin and Laura Bohannan
Chapter 3: Every Guy Has His Own Africa: Development and Anthropology in Saul Bellow and Bessie Head

Section II: The Francophone Atlantic World
Chapter 4: L'ethnologue de soi-meme: Edouard Glissant and Francophone Anthropology
Chapter 5: Cultures in Contact: Memoir and Ethnography in Michel Leiris

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Review quote

"Full of splendid insight and erudition, Culture Writing offers a new way to understand the cross-pollination of literature and anthropology. By centering his story in the era of decolonization, Tim Watson shows how the 'literary turn' in anthropology caught fire not in the era of high theory but in an earlier moment when a wide radius of novelists, thinkers, and ethnographers--with women in the vanguard--merged political and creative energies in powerful new ways. Watson has written a truly accomplished and important book." --Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania

"With its wealth of historically-grounded close readings from the neglected midcentury, Culture Writing makes original and noteworthy contributions to Anglophone and Francophone twentieth-century literary studies, to the history of anthropology, and to studies tracking the relationship between these disciplines. Encompassing writings from the US, the UK, France, and the Caribbean, with glances toward writings from Nigeria, South Africa, and India, the book covers an impressively broad geographical range. Through the use of archival materials like notebooks, manuscript drafts, and letters, Watson makes such a convincing case that it is surprising that critics have neglected this dimension of midcentury literature until now." --Carey Snyder, Ohio University

"This brilliant new history of the decolonizing of metropolitan anthropology also gives us smart exegetical turns on writers who have never had their critical due (Barbara Pym), who have remained somewhat boxed in the bin of genre fiction (Ursula Le Guin), who have been understood as social scientists rather than creative minds (Laura Bohannan and Michel Leiris), or who have fallen out of favor as novelists (Saul Bellow) or theorists ( douard Glissant). Watson redefines the north-south problematics of postwar fiction in a single, decisive, and authoritative stroke." --Jed Esty, University of Pennsylvania
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About Tim Watson

Tim Watson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Miami and the author of Caribbean Culture and British Fiction in the Atlantic World, 1780-1870 (2008).
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