A Broad(er)side to the Canon Being a Partial Account of a Year of Travel among Textual Communities in the Realm of Humanities Centers and Including a Collection of Artificial Curiosities

Essay Excerpt

My inquiry here is conducted within a particular sociological landscape distinctive of contemporary academic institutions. While disciplines, organized in conventional university departments, are indeed the framing institutional object of discussion-disciplines, after all, create and police textual canons at their core-the discussions themselves do not occur there. Rather, they take place in the cultural studies/humanities research centers that have been created in most American universities in the course of a veritable humanities revitalization movement, now occurring. Such centers are the new interdisciplinary spaces in which critical-minded scholars attempt to reimagine their disciplines under the influence of a number of signs-critical theory, feminism, postmodernism, the crisis of representation, poststructuralism, and, not least, challenges to canons. Most commonly, exchanges between history and literature are at the center of discussion with the major source of theoretical novelty entering through literary studies over the past two decades, but philosophy, anthropology, history of art, and architecture also prominently participate. The ultimate aim of the movement is some sort of disciplinary effacement-in the words of Roland Barthes,"To do something interdisciplinary it's not enough to choose a 'subject' (a theme) and gather around it two or three sciences. Interdisciplinary consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one." While such a seductively unattainable object is not insight, in the pursuit of it, the category "disciplines," and the canons that stand for them, are objectified and constructed in such centers to refigure and blur the boundaries of the scholarly communities that are constituted by this pursuit. (Marcus, 386)

About the Author

George Marcus is a Professor at University of California at Irvine. 

"My projects continue to be explicitly collaborative and therefore I have become interested generally in the nature of collaborations at the core of the contemporary practice of diverse ethnographic research. I am interested in participating with others in the systematic rearticulation, and in some sense, reinvention, of the norms and forms of the classic modality of research in social/cultural anthropology: fieldwork with the writing of ethnography as outcome.

And I am interested in this project specifically in the pedagogical framework of producing graduate dissertations in newer topical arenas.

I am interested in how the marginal, incomplete, and belated specialty of the cultural/ethnographic study of elites in anthropology (subsuming the early projects of my career, in Tonga, on capitalist dynasties etc.) has become the means of pursuing an anthropology of contemporary change in most topical arenas. It is the necessity of working with experts and counterparts of various kinds as an orientation to fieldwork along with an abiding interest in the conditions of ordinary ,often subatlern life that generates the complexities of multi-sited research about which I have written.

Thus, my older interest in elites has become reinvigorated by asking what kinds of knowledge and what kinds of active participations from particular elites a project of critical ethnography that exceeds this orienting focus wants. In recent collaborations, I have pursued this interest in inquiries involving Portuguese nobles, European politicians, Latin american artists, U.S. bankers, and Brazilian intellectuals."

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