What We Were Told to Do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthropologist Franz Boas  | Raven Dance  | Early 20th Century

 

What We Were Told to Do, or Do Neurons Speak?  [PDF Version]

 

For one who is not an academic anthropologist, it may be difficult to appreciate how this is a performance piece and how this can be called allegorical. It was written to fit into the genre of the job talk, to display my work and thought process at that time and to elicit discussion. Yet, it is also asking for the audience member to simply take part and go along with things he or she may not understand. The person must in some sense be satisfied to be like a dreamer for a while, and let me be a dream character. He or she is being asked to take a hiatus from the magical state of power he or she was there to enact, to engage in a series of ideas that did not involve living others. He or she needs to experience a certain sense of alienation involving the following:
Orientation – He or she needs, for a while, to live in a world made up of fluid persons, masquerading others, and he or she need not know this, rarely recognize this, and not be bothered by this,
Attention – He or she needs, for a while, to be highly distracted and absorbed,
Memory – He or she needs, for a while, to be have a spotty recent memory and engage in confabulation,
Intellectual Functions – He or she needs, for a while, to lack the ability to engage math, science, and reading,
Language and Stream of Talk – He or she needs, for a while, to engage in language with others that does not involve discussing decisions, and to just move with changes,
Mental Content – He or she needs, for a while, to experience of the world around him or her as visiomotor and not visual,
Insight and Judgment – He or she needs, for a while, to lack insight/self-motivation of what is going on around him or her,
Emotion – He or she needs, for a while, to have no separation of thoughts and feelings.
The result of this performance in California was, as one would expect, that many in the audience were either unwilling or unable to experience this sense of alienation, or both. Either way, this performance elicited a kind of oppressive symbolic power that hinders an expansion of knowledge and betrays the supposed, best mission of anthropology itself. They were doing what they were told to do, acting according to the letter and not the spirit of their academic discipline.