Dialogic Editing: Interpreting How Kaluli Read Sound and Sentiment

Essay Excerpt

An engaging dimension of current interpretive ethnography and its critical rhetoric is the concern to situate knowledge, power, authority, and representation in terms of the social construction of literary realism. Ethnographers today are reading, writing, and thinking more about the politics of ethnographic writing. [...] This article reports on the form of ethnographic discourse that developed in these encounters. The "dialogic" dimension here implicates what Kaluli and I say to, about, with, and through each other; with developing a juxtaposition of Kaluli voices and my own. My focus on "editing" invokes a concern with authoritative representation; the power to control which voices talk when, how much, in what order, in what language. "Dialogic editing," then, is the impact of Kaluli voices on what I tell you about them in my voice; how their take on my take on them requires reframing and refocusing my account. This is the inevitable politics of writing culture, of producing selections and passing them off as authenticand genuine, and then confronting a recentered view of that selection process that both questions and comments upon the original frame and focus. In more direct terms, my aim here is to let some Kaluli voices get a few words in edgewise amongst my other readers and book reviewers. My secondary title, "Interpreting How Kaluli Read Sound and Sentiment" is meant to implicate the work Kaluli helped me do in order to "write" them, and the work I had to do for them to "read" that writing.I want to suggest that this understanding is multiply textual, that Kaluli perceive the coherences and contradictions in work as about me in similar to how I my representational being ways perceive the book to be written about them. I also want to suggest Kaluli perceive it as a story about themselves that they also have occasion to tell, a line I'll use to playoff of Geertz's phrase situating culture as "a story they tell themselves about themselves" (1973:448). But Kaluli tellings are differentfrom mine in arrangement, focus, intention, and style. I'd also suggest that my Kaluli readers realize as clearly as I do that all of our tellings elide and/or condense certain scenarios while playing out others in detail; and that both kinds of tellings and tellers have a complicated cross-understanding of the way they speak and write with an acute awareness of different audiences. (Feld, 191)

About the Author

Dr. Steven Feld is a distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music (Ethnology) at the University of New Mexico.  His research focuses on cultural poetics and politics; aesthetics, sound, senses and media; world music; globalization; cosmopolitanisms and modernities; place; Papau New Guinea and West Africa. 

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