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Friday, April 19, 2019

Why Write "My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey"


https://www.amazon.com/Karla-O.-Poewe/e/B001H6UIQM




2
PREPARING THE MIND,
FORGETTING THE BODY



When Leela Dube wrote in 1975 that anthropology was to be an integral part of the content of her marriage, I could empathize. Like her, I too was married to an anthropologist. Unlike her, I would not allow my husband to go to the field with me. That was simply not an option.

Marriage, dissertation, learning Swahili and iciBemba, paperwork and preparation, moving from state to state, and then leaving altogether was like jumping into an abyss. From January 1973 when I left for the field until July 1974, I was alone.

Before I entered the Lenda valley and during my visits to missionaries I heard a lot of dreadful stories about how travelers were beaten up in Lenda owing to the continued practice of instant vengeance. I was warned not to travel alone. One of the anthropologists who taught me the local language back in the States, described the people as being morose, unfriendly, and paranoid. The worst horror stories centered on the Zangavan pedicle which one had to cross if one took the shorter route into the valley. One was warned of bribery and theft, of the presence of aggressive guerrillas, as well as uncontrolled and unpaid Zangavan soldiers.

Naturally, I travelled alone. Indeed, at that time, I found stories like that told by Leela Dube in India, which persuaded her not to travel alone, offensive. She wrote:

I was told about the plight of a woman sociologist who, only a few years before, had come to Chhattisgarh to collect folklore but, feeling insecure because of the behavior of petty officials and the ununderstanding and indifferent attitude of the people, had had to go back without achieving her objective. An unmarried woman travelling alone in these areas was inconceivable to the people. I therefore decided to conduct my field investigations under the protective umbrella of my father-in-law (1975, p.159).

On one hand, if it is the case that the woman sociologist was truly incapacitated, then the above quotation is a serious indictment against Indian men. They must be very different from the men in Lenda. Lenda male officials, police, and villagers were always curious and sometimes a nuisance, but none ever forced themselves on me, nor would they, once I explained what I was doing, seriously hinder my work. On the other hand, if the story is only half true, then it says something about the difference between women researchers.

First, I must admit that I tempted fate. Second, I usually worked with the assumption that no man would want to force himself on me. Third, I entrusted my life to the people and it soon became very clear that there was always someone among them who felt protective of me. Fourth, let me say it, I was naive and usually so filled with a love and zest for life that my sincerity was contagious. I really believe that this four-fold attitude, however dubious, helped me through many awkward situations. Still, one must assume that a researcher tells the truth. Which leads me to emphasize once again that Lenda men must be different from those of central India. Perhaps the fact that the Lenda are a matrilineal people had something to do with that.

There is one further point of difference between Dube’s experience and my own. She consistently emphasizes her awareness of herself as a woman. “My being a woman …” or “I must follow the norms of behavior which the people associated with my sex, age, and caste,” or “I was a Brahman and a woman,” or “I did not have to neutralize or minimize my femininity but presented myself as essentially a woman; even to men I was a woman interested in their women (ibid).” This constant reference to her femininity within the space of three pages must mean that she perceived herself and the people perceived her very differently from the way I perceived myself or from the way the Lenda perceived me. Only once when I thought myself to be in real danger did I use, unsuccessfully I might add, being a woman as an excuse to free myself from a tricky situation. Usually, I was oblivious to gender. That is, I was aware that I am anatomically a woman. I also observed that the Lenda were aware that I am anatomically a woman. But that fact seemed to carry no other meaning. At least, it had nothing to do with my research. It had only to do with love making. This again says something simultaneously about the Lenda and my perception of gender.

But let us pause a moment and contemplate once more Dube’s story about the unsuccessful woman sociologist and Dube’s persistent reference to her own gender and social status. Somewhere in that story and in those references, is the essence of human dis-ease and the failure of social science; and that dis-ease, and that essence, is determinism. Formally we no longer believe Leslie White who wrote that “Human beings are merely the instruments through which cultures express themselves … In the man-culture system, man is the dependent, culture the independent, variable” (White, 1959, p.148–149). Informally we have long since capitulated. Had we not capitulated, we should surely have developed a theory of freedom, especially, personal freedom. Political freedom in the form of Marxism, Humanism, Liberalism, are all different forms of benevolent determinism. Sometimes the right to determine is placed into the hand of a class, or a party, or a revolutionary movement, more often it is left in the hands of churches, public opinion, parents, teachers, and so on, ad infinitum. Instead of teaching students how to explore the nature of freedom and responsibility, we encourage rebellion, wild rampages against house, furniture, and the establishment, and then we stand by as society unleashes its whips and thrashes them back into submission. Instead of re-instituting prayer, I thought, perhaps we should start each class with the following words:

Man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being … It is therefore senseless to think of complaining since nothing foreign has decided what we feel, what we live, or what we are (Sartre, 1956, p.707–8).

Yes, these are the harsh words of a radical individualism that I will come to reject. But open your ears, my friends, and listen. Do you not hear complaints upon complaints? The student complains about his teacher, the child about its mother, the wife about her husband, the black man about the white, and vice versa. What have we learned? Certainly, not that by choosing our project we will have chosen for the world (Sartre, 1956).


Having clarified why I went to the field alone, how I preferred ignoring gender, and where Sartre’s ideas were useful, let us now look more closely at my arrival in Lusaka. The air was moist and warm on January 2, 1973, the day of my arrival. The sky was grey as if to symbolize the mixed blessing that my field work experience would become. People of all colors speaking different languages filled the airport. An employee from the Institute for African Research met me and drove me to my place of residence. He warned that the Institute was isolated and too far from the city but did not explain how colonial its atmosphere was. Under colonialism one set of buildings and facilities were built for Europeans and quite another, little shacks without electricity or indoor plumbing for Africans. To this day, the arrangement symbolizes the presence of apartheid tendencies then, even among British intellectuals and colonial officials who employed Africans as clerks, drivers, and maintenance workers but were satisfied to keep them in inferior shelters. No doubt, my initial response to this differentiation in accommodation was like that of every liberal American. Since black researchers from Nigeria and Ghana shared the latter premises with us we soon learned to live with current realities. The goal was research.

My neighbors, the Taters from Maryland, he an economist, she a poet, showed me what to eat and where to shop. Even in city stores a lot of food looked unfamiliar or unsanitary. As one shopped one felt oneself devoured by hungry looks from hungry young boys. I was always overcome with guilt as I left the store with filled shopping bags. This guilt and the unpleasant pressure of inadequate transportation, of difficulties with money transfers from Canada to Lusaka, the inability to find a Lenda speaker so that I might continue to practice this language while in the capital; all this stress and strain, isolation and monotony, this unbearable uncertainty about the success of this venture, burst forth one day when I tried to open my door and found it stuck because under its wide bottom lay a squashed but twitching frog. I felt my endurance giving way to revulsion and yet I stared at the fluids of its body as they drew themselves out, flattened and spread across the floor, and then I screamed until the Taters came running convinced that my bungalow was on fire.

The incident of the squashed frog is a beautiful example not of neurotic projection (Jung, 1968, p.153), as of thematic unity. It was as if the fluids of the frog were charged with my feelings of anguish about Bob, poverty, humanity, life and death, as if in this viscous substance of a dying life, any kind of life, were condensed all the psychic meaning of uncertainty, horror, torment, and impermanence of life. This slimy fluid was, as Sartre (1956, p.771) noted, neither material nor psychic. Rather, it transcended the opposition of the psychic and physical and revealed itself to me “as the ontological expression of the entire world” (ibid). All this was the result of one innocent, unsuspecting motion of my arm. Here is how I recorded the effects of seeing the squashed frog in my personal journal:

… The image stayed with me. And for a moment I felt recognition. A vague shadow whisked across my brain of writhing passion and defeat.

I thought of Bob. His face looked drained. I stood there stamping my feet as if crushing his will and spirit. I yanked open the door and walked through with resolve.

I thought of Zambia, of the rich and the poor. And of the boy by the entrance to the supermarket. He stood there squashed against the wall, his stomach caved in, looking furtively at bulging shopping bags of rich customers. And I turned away. In each letter, I described the twitching frog as if it were just another sensation. And I knew my friends must think me crazy to be in Zambia and focus on such trivia.

There are the rich and the poor. The poor live in picturesque but destitute shanty towns, in houses of mud walls, with pieces of tin and wood and plastic on the roofs. And everything is held in place by stones. I see lined faces and ragged clothes. And the stench of perspiration and polyester drive me away.

And then there are the houses of the rich, sprawling bungalows hidden behind lush growth, guarded by houseboys against thieves. And the faces are young and smooth, and the clothes fashionable and shapely. A chauffeur opens the door and a child slides out of the limousine and struts firmly to school. And I want to bury my nose in its black curly hair and draw in the scent …

Out came feelings of guilt about having left Bob behind and my inability to see each as self-sufficient. Out came feelings of frustration at not being able to do anything about Zambia’s poverty. Out too came the admission that sweat in polyester was repulsive and that clean, polished, and deodorized bodies were pleasant. As cerebral as my goal was, the body refused to be forgotten.

These kinds of outbursts accompanied the beginning of my field work. While they may have been unpleasant they were also revealing because in them I saw the start of the process of resolving many contradictions with which my life, lived on several continents, was riddled. I bore them, as Jung seemed to when he wrote about a thirty-four-year-old American woman, a very competent analyst, who had got into a disagreeable transference situation with her patient, sought Jung’s help, and experienced similar transference with him.

I saw the climax coming and knew that one day a sudden explosion would take place. Of course, it would be a bit disagreeable and of a very emotional nature, as you have perhaps noticed in your own experience, and I foresaw a highly sentimental situation. Well, you just have to put up with it; you cannot help it. After six months of very quiet and painstaking systematic work she couldn’t hold herself in any longer, and suddenly she almost shouted: ‘But I love you!’ and then she broke down and fell upon her knees and made an awful mess of herself.

You just have to stand such a moment. It is really awful to be thirty-four years old and to discover suddenly that you are human (Jung, 1968, p.166–7).

My outbursts were not as severe nor of the same nature. But Jung’s association of “love” with disagreeable emotions and “break down” with discovering that we are human was worrying. Disturbing too were the linkages he made within the process of moving from a lack of self-awareness to growing awareness only to “elope” with “Chinamen” or “Negroes.” While it was written in the 1930’s, and while we must for the moment overlook, if not excuse, Jung’s own strong and embarrassing prejudices the statement is remarkable:

We often discover with Americans that they are tremendously unconscious of themselves. Sometimes they suddenly grow aware of themselves, and then you get these interesting stories of decent young girls eloping with Chinamen or with Negroes … It is the same phenomenon as “going black” or “going native” in Africa (p.166).

Did I have this tendency, I wondered? Whatever, I saw it as being a politically liberal attempt to achieve absolution for bad deeds committed by previous generations that cannot, however, be absolved in this manner. To my mind, scrutinizing strong emotions helped recognize that, like it or not, body and mind both played into our research—as did the “dangerous” yearning for love. We are merely whole persons. Nevertheless, I got the point; emotional expression in matters of research was experienced as particularly disagreeable by people in the professions. In my emotional make-up, however, I identified with east Europeans like Tolstoy for whom life was art. What increasingly taxed my patience were liberal programs; to me they began to look more like rationalizations of the cerebral cortex which sat on wings and for which the whole body of human emotion and anguish was non-existent.


Nevertheless, I became harder, became also the observer of distancing myself from intimate ties back home. Noticed it with several perceptual transformations. First, my relationship with Bob shifted from the concrete to the abstract. More importantly where I assumed that our relationship was equal in the past, I now noted its paternalism. Second, it was not Zambian culture, or later Lenda culture, that I found puzzling. What became puzzling was Zambia or Lenda nature. In the past, nature seemed dependable, now I perceived it as contingent. Finally, my distant German past and immediate American one first came to be merged in recurrent dreams and later reversed as I began more and more to relive the former and repress the latter.

I noted the change in my relationship with Bob as I reflected about his letters. At first our exchange was rather funny: I would comment about killing spiders and he would suggest letting them live because they fed on other vermin; I would describe that rice contained bugs and their eggs, and he would suggest that I float them out. More and more advice arrived with his letters: reminders to keep a daily journal, to do good archival work, to carry an identity card identifying Bob as next of kin because we used separate names, and so on. When I wrote that I had to buy a car, he wrote back advising against it, even one of Bob’s colleagues included a letter advising against it. I bought a car anyways and our correspondence only meant an increase in sweat, worry and nightmares.

I wondered why Bob should have turned himself into a father figure and what I did to contribute to this change of role. I concluded that two behaviorisms were at fault. First, my letters invited his sympathy and second, he forwarded my grant money. It was easy to change the latter, in future my money would be forwarded directly from the Bank of Montreal to the Commercial Bank of Lusaka. In the event of delay or shortage I found it advisable to approach my mother for help. There were several advantages to this arrangement. My mother did not like writing letters and, given her experience in bringing me up, she had long since been convinced that I was stubborn and usually did what I thought was right and with a keen sense of survival. I was after all a refugee and a product of war. This my American husband never understood and it would be the unseen thorn in our relationship.

Nevertheless, seeking Bob’s sympathy was almost unavoidable. There were real problems and advice, even when rejected, was useful. At moments of mischief, I told myself that I wrote as I did because I feared that too much positive or negative news might persuade Bob to jump into a plane and fly over. It sounds fantastic, callous, perhaps, even cruel. But something was happening, and I needed solitude. I know that if I could have wiped away our marriage with a magic wand I would have done so. I was also aware that saying this closed the possibility of being moral or making a moral decision.

But then, it was not Bob who bothered me. Rather, in the Lusaka environment, free among my equals who were all preoccupied with similar worries, the oppression of marriage hit me “like a ton of bricks.” Even when “happy” couples passed through our research quarters I pitied them. I would find myself observing their every demeanor, nonverbal signs and signals used to keep the other in line. Back home I found it amusing. Here I felt repulsed. The recognition of subtle controls between man and woman merely raised this question. Can I make competent decisions alone or not? Certain is, I must risk it.

It occurred to me then that during times of mental growth and change, one must be alone. Naturally, one talks and relates to many people, including the opposite sex, but there is a quiet, respectful understanding that this time is special, that it will pass, and that much will have to be understood before it does. In such an environment, even the love-making between a man and woman is different. The strong grip of possessiveness is absent, and conversation continues into the early morning hours and is forever renewed and forever primary. For once sex appears to be quietly integrated into one’s personality, and so comfortably settled is “it,” that the question of its dominance simply does not arise. At least, that is how I imagined it.

What surprised me even more than my changed perception of marriage, was my changed perception of nature. North America had just emerged from the “age of the flower children” to a “new freedom.” As I left the US, concerns about ecology and conservation were popular among the masses, indeed, were becoming a new religion. I fully expected to confirm the correctness of that attitude but already in Lusaka nature came to take on new meaning. Perhaps it had something to do with the deep lines on women’s faces or with the presence of death in the shanty-towns near the Institute. Maybe it is just that life’s contingency confronted me, as it were, in the nude.

I expressed this recognition of contingency, along with my other frustrations, to my mother. It must be understood that my mother was the only one to whom I could express such feelings openly. She and I and many others grew up surrounded by death and decay, familiar with hunger, surrounded by deformities and ruins. She knew that life sprang forth even amidst devastation. Above all, she understood that I was not seeking her sympathy but that I was trying to understand:

February 14, 1973

Darling Mama:

I feel weary. Weary, weary, and weary. I’m taking my decision-making too seriously. If I don’t become more fatalistic, if I don’t learn to say, “to hell with everybody, to hell with all great expectations,” if I don’t learn this, Mama, my brain will explode.

I bought a Datsun 1200 from Peresa. The chap is quite fatalistic. On the way to the service station we passed two accidents. “We die fast in Zambia,” says he. The sun beat down on us. Sweat and blood, Mam. Sweat and blood and wailing.

And after all this bleeding flesh we go to sign all these papers. A world ordered by paper, a paper world.

I look at the shrubbery near our house. Tough, knarred branches are crawling in, cracking the stone, straining for space. And I hear the wailing from the poor section of town. Another death of course. A paper world, a temporary world and the shit comes piling in. And we’re to assign it meaning.

I had forgotten that life was so temporary. How could I have forgotten, Mam?

The letter expresses the burden of being responsible and alone. Fatalism looked like a promising relief with its nonchalant assent to mortality in a world of short lives. But that attitude had to be suspended for the sake of research, personal struggle, and a more joyful and free human future.

Finally, there were my recurrent dreams. Repeatedly the U.S. was compared with Germany. Sometimes it was their wars that were compared, sometimes their people. Always, amidst fantastic colors and fantastic events I was faced with a major decision centered on freedom. I was usually offered a choice between fascism and radical freedom. What was required of me was to rupture my past. Sometimes I would be faced with several choices because each time that I thought I had grasped freedom another hurdle was put in my way. Usually I was on the brink of opting for radical freedom, once and for all, when I would wake up covered in sweat. The following is one such dream:

In my dream, several people were comparing the U.S. and Germany after their respective wars (Vietnam, World War II). We were in a plush bar and I commented to that extent. A fellow next to me responded, “Oh, you should have seen Germany after the war, the whole capital was dressed and furnished in white to give it a look of innocence after the atrocities.”

The dream then shifted, and I found myself in a position where I and all the other people had to decide between fascism and freedom. For some reason, many people chose constraints and found themselves standing in line joining the will of the government. It was my turn to choose and I “swam” free of the crowd singing “I want freedom.” When I made it through and past the crowd, an official came up to me and said, “A very important person wants to see you,” and he took me to the front of a line of people into a place off to one side. There I had to wait again, and while waiting, I saw a child who had also chosen freedom and was waiting with us. The child was playing with some sort of cuddly animal which disappeared in the bushes.

Searching for her companion, whom she didn’t want to lose, the child looked around furtively, and slid through the shrubbery into freedom. While I continued to wait, an elderly woman came by, gorgeously dressed. She stood in front of a mirror and kept on saying how absurd it was to emphasize dress like this. This expensive dress was absurd, absurd. I moved away from the crowd with the realization that freedom lay beyond the shrubs, not in this line of waiting people. Then I awoke.

Only recently have I learned that this juxtaposing of earlier with recent life events in the dreams of traveling academics is a common experience (Andersen, 1971). Agar who summarizes Andersen’s research of American academics traveling in India states that she “outlines a change in dream content from an initial retreat to earlier life events, followed by the establishment of a ‘secondary identity’ that allows dreams with mixed, but clearly distinct American and Indian elements” (Agar, 1980, p.51). The latter type of mixture would occur in my dreams too.


Before I take the reader into the Lenda valley, a word about prejudice is in order. Prejudice haunts us all. Even the most just and humane are not free of being prejudicial. James Michener whose novels fall into the category of relaxed reading and, perhaps, have no place in our discussion, prides himself because he does not make “dam fool statements about other nations and other cultures” (1971, p.325). He thinks he does not. In fact, the very selection of his characters is a vagrant display of prejudice. For example, his Nordic characters, those that are allowed some speech in The Drifters, are beautiful blondes better to look at than to listen to. Germans appear only as men and then as Prussian generals with Prussian haircuts or with Prussian personalities, whatever they are. The only nation that has both sexes speaking for it is the USA, although we also hear a little from the British male. Some characters are given only physical beauty and, yes, the ability to copulate “coolly” as is becoming a cool Nordic blonde. Nature for once is “rational.” Some characters only speak in commands and, yes, they drink beer, but without the usual accompaniment of colorful sentiments. Culture here is wholly “authoritarian.” All this prejudice and bias comes from a man with a considerable sense of equanimity. What is he justifying and by what authority?

If prejudice in Michener is only mildly disturbing, in Sartre it is serious. Let us contemplate the following passage:

The obscenity of the feminine sex is that of everything which “gapes open.” It is an appeal to being as all holes are. In herself woman appeals to a strange flesh which is to transform her into a fullness of being by penetration and dissolution. Conversely woman senses her condition as an appeal precisely because she is “in the form of a hole.” This is the true origin of Adler’s complex. Beyond any doubt her sex is a mouth and a voracious mouth which devours the penis—a fact which can easily lead to the idea of castration (Sartre, 1956, p.782).

In Being and Nothingness Sartre claims that we stand revealed even in our most superficial behavior and that by our subjective choice we make known to ourselves what we are. Given that we know something of Sartre through his work and from Simone de Beauvoir, it is safe to assume that one of Sartre’s major projects was the attainment of personal freedom. It is also safe to assume that he defined the feminine sex in the above terms only because he found woman alluring, indeed irresistible, and, unable to reconcile the demands of his body with those of his mind, he decided that sexual relations with woman had to be transcended. The above words and de Beauvoir’s description of their relation in The Prime of Life would suggest that he succeeded.

We all face the conflict between mind and body and, sooner or later, most of us confront the question of how to integrate our sexuality into our personalities. None of us fear sexual activity per se, most of us fear its possible results. Most women, but especially those who see themselves as potential intellectuals, can perhaps empathize with Simone de Beauvoir when she sees in the pleasures of the flesh the “threat of being hurtled down some slippery slope to moral and intellectual ruin” (Evans, 1980, p.398). When I went to the field I was haunted by a similar fear. It is a common one to be found even in biographies of great men or women. I was familiar with it from the biographies of Mozart and Tolstoy. Like them I felt that if only I could overcome that fatal attraction to the opposite sex, if only I could overcome men, then my brain would soar freely and brilliantly across the mental landscape unencumbered by sticky emotions. The day came; and as I was bathing in the sweet victory of this overcoming, there appeared at the periphery of my consciousness, barely discernible, the icy threat of sterility and alienation. I realized then the importance of one of Sartre’s distinctions. Freedom is an existence which perpetually makes itself; it has no essence. Freedom is becoming not being. It cannot be taken for granted if we want a wider sense of humanity and bring it about—but to what end?

When I first read Sartre’s fantasies about how “we are haunted by the image of a consciousness which would like to launch forth into the future, toward a projection of self, and which at the very moment when it was conscious of arriving there would be slyly held back by the invisible suction of the past” (Sartre, 1956, p.778)—or when I read about the “moist and feminine sucking” and “the snare of the slimy” that holds and compromises man and so on ad infinitum (p.776)—I sat back and composed similar fantasies based on cerebral coitus, written from a woman’s perspective who like Sartre would like to launch forth into the future without being compromised. And then I thought the whole endeavor absurd. It might look like reverse discrimination rather than what it was, namely, a surge toward freedom. Instead, I decided to tell an embarrassing story that will put our brain back into our body and all of us back on the ground.

One day I was interviewing Mr. Ngoma, headman of Kakuso village and one of the elders of Watchtower. We were discussing a sensitive political issue when I was jolted out of my preoccupations by the ferocious bleating of a sexually aroused male goat. He was in hot pursuit of a softly bleating and obviously alarmed female. I looked up from my notes, surprised and mildly horrified, just as this over-heated and over-extended male goat jumped across our wobbly table. Among those surrounding me, my response was the slowest, since the noise of this satyr was unfamiliar to my ears. Swiftly, I turned my head right and left to check the reaction of my male companions and I noted their somewhat embarrassed grins as if the male goat had exposed their very essence to the world. Two feet away stood several women bent over with laughter. And then we all laughed, men, women, and children. If nature is good to think then maleness is good to laugh. It came from the depth of our being, this laughter, and it was good because there is so little to laugh about and because nature had us again. There was not a man or woman among us who would have thought that the mortar was “voracious” without having first noted that the pestle was “greedy.”


If there were a creator, he created human beings with two fatal flaws. First, he created us without letting us know who we are. The human being is, therefore, continually in search of him-and-herself. Secondly, he gave us mental tools that are inadequate to the task of sound self-definition for we define ourselves by contrast to or in terms of the other. In this search for individual or ethnic identity and in the inadequacy of our tools which allow us to see ourselves only through the other as through a lens, lies the essence of prejudice (Loubser, 1968). But if we look at it from Sartre’s perspective there is no creator, and so the human being is misguided in his search for self. The self cannot be discovered; it must be made. We have made ourselves with fatal flaws, ones that lie buried in our assumptions about the nature of the human being. We cannot know who we are unless we create ourselves and we cannot expect self-knowledge unless we look inside at our plans. Only when we look at the selves of others are we involved in a process of discovery as we try to discern what their projects are and how they inform their social actions.

Liberalism, too, is burdened with a fatal flaw. It assumes, as no doubt it must, that what is good for the best, the rest should have too. Hence it requires that the poor change and assume attitudes that will transform them into members of middle or upper classes, and that women change and assume attitudes that will transform them into social men. It is not seriously required that men or the upper classes change to make mutual accommodation possible. Social change ends up being one-sided and assimilative. Yet some people seem astonished when many women run back to the kitchen (see especially Hazleton, 1977).

On one hand, we have for too long encouraged mysticism and shied away from hard thought. Too many people prefer the mystical ravings of Gabriel Marcel to the unrelenting insistence of Sartre that we must assume the burden of our freedom and with it the responsibility for what we are. On the other, we are too willing to imitate the hard sciences so that the individual finds one or the other of his qualities summarized within stated generalities. An individual becomes a collection of attributes subsumed under a fashionable concept rather than a totality that is greater than its parts. We become identities rather than human persons. I am surely not too wrong when I say that in North America the individual is the group and the group the individual. Instead of working through the painful process of trying to come to terms with disquieting aspects of our bodied human make-up, we look for a group in which a disquieting behaviorism becomes the rallying cry for more freedom. But is that freedom?

Finally, I told the last story in this section because in Lenda the claim that women are somehow more closely associated with nature and men with culture is ludicrous. It was ludicrous to Lenda women and it was ludicrous to Lenda men. It is theoretically erroneous because, of course, nature is culture and culture is nature—and that is all. But is it?
Beginning


 END CHAPTER TWO



Comment:

This part of the journey still relied on Sartre's existential philosophy that taught the importance of being a self-aware person that strives to become responsible, rather than say self-pitying or seeing oneself as victim. Toward the end of his life, however, Sartre realized that the power of circumstances be they economic, political, or social in nature required that he modify his absolute mantra "man makes himself" to something more like "we can always make something of ourselves even though something was already made of us." 

Think about how the concentration camps affected the lives of surviving Jews when so many of their fellows were brutally murdered. Think also about how war, flight, and running from bombs -- from becoming collateral damage -- affected the lives of other surviving German children when so many people around them were killed. 

And what, pray tell me, does someone like me, having been born German and during the war, do with the latter experience that shaped her, knowing however that talking about it might look irresponsible to Jews who suffered on a vastly different scale, which suffering, furthermore, was primarily caused by the people among whom I was born.

Some of the previous blogs show how other authors dealt with such experiences -- whether referring to WWII or to recent brutal wars. Doing fieldwork was my way.