Of Mimicry and Marginality: Comments on Anna Tsing's “From the Margins”

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Essay Excerpt

Toward the end of her paper, Anna Tsing takes up the debate between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere around Captain Cook's encounter with the Hawaiians and asks what difference gender might make in reframing what has been a largely androcentric discussion. Her response is to cite the Meratus shaman, Uma Adang, responding to a debate on circumcision by saying, "As for me, I can't really tell the difference" (p. 293). Which, among other things, means that she can tell the difference that arises whenever a gendered subject speaks in a discursive terrain where gender differences have been so mystified as to make such differences seem normal. A Meratus woman's voice is thus strategically deployed as a surrogate for a feminist anthropologist's, interrupting the masculinist monopoly of representations of alterity. Tsing imagines Uma Adang in her (that is, Tsing's) place, investing her - or more precisely, her rhetorical style - with the authority to bring the out-of-the-way this way. As such, Tsing mimics what she has called the "uncanny displacement" performed by the marginal (p. 280). In what follows, I'd like to pose some questions about the implications and the necessary risks entailed in this mimetic performance of the marginal (298).

Rafael, Vicente. "Of Mimicry and Marginality: Comments on Anna Tsing's “From the Margins”." Cultural Anthropology 9.3(1994): 298–301.

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