Possible Modernities

Essay Excerpt

If a meeting of minds is unlikely,that is perhaps because sociocultural resources and sociocultural spaces are indeed scarce. Not everyone is at leisure to gamble with what he or she has.

Nostalgia and its opposite are, in Greece as perhaps elsewhere, sentiments of duress. Neither nostalgic nor antinostalgic, neither "essentialistic" nor" modernistic, "for that matter neither" epochalistic" (Geertz 1973:241) nor necessarily "developmentalistic" either, the Greek modem is somewhere more leisurely in between. The lesson is not that, in Greece or anywhere else, what might be spoken of perhaps not as an ethos, certainly not as an ideology,[13] but instead, and more abstractly, as the modem "alternative" is likely to be of little sociocultural impact. In Greece at least, in part because of the endowments of those who pursue it, that alternative is of no mean impact at all. The lesson, perhaps, is rather that the task of being and becoming modern is likely to be quite different from one place to the next, and hence that modernity itself is likely to be not one but many things. The lesson, perhaps, is also that the task of being and becoming modern, however it might differ from place to place, is likely to be arduous everywhere. A decidedly unsettling ethnographic (and of course ethnocentric) condescension has on several occasionsal ready resulted from making far too little of that arduousness. The issue is not, however, whether we can be free of all bias. We cannot be. We can, on the other hand, at least remind ourselves that a self-serving reverence of modernity is bound to do no more anthropological good than the orientalizing romanticization of the primitive has already done. The issue is whether and to what extent it might be plausible that the "modern alternative" is particularly suited, perhaps not to what the world once was but to what, in all its unisolated, frantic, and relentlessly weird splendor, it is now; and that in its suitability - which is something else besides either its effortlessness or its adaptability - not simply its anthropological but its moral weight in fact lies. (Faubion, 374)

About the Author

Dr. James D. Faubion is a Professor of Anthropology at Rice University. "I am currently beginning work on a project that will focus on scenario construction. The themes central to the project include the problematization of the statistical representation of the future, the logical and rhetorical dimensions of the narrative imagination of the future, and the contemporary modalities of the engagement with risk and uncertainty.My publications reflect my sustained interest in the anthropology of temporal consciousness; the anthropology of self-formation and ethics; anthropological research design; the work of Michel Foucault; the prevailing epistemological figures of anthropological thought; the more general sociocultural ecology of social and cultural thought; the theorization of kinship; religious ideation and practice; the anthropology of literature; and ancient and modern Greece."

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