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Fictionalizing Anthropology

Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human



Fictionalizing Anthropology

On anthropology, creativity, and becoming other

What might become of anthropology if it were to suspend its sometime claims to be a social science? What if it were to turn instead to exploring its affinities with art and literature as a mode of engaged creative practice carried forward in a world heterogeneously composed of humans and other than humans? Stuart McLean claims that anthropology stands to learn most from art and literature not as “evidence” to support explanations based on an appeal to social context or history but as modes of engagement with the materiality of expressive media—including language—that always retain the capacity to disrupt or exceed the human projects enacted through them.

At once comparative in scope and ethnographically informed, Fictionalizing Anthropology draws on an eclectic range of sources, including ancient Mesopotamian myth, Norse saga literature, Hesiod, Lucretius, Joyce, Artaud, and Lispector, as well as film, multimedia, and performance art, along with the concept of “fabulation” (the making of fictions capable of intervening in and transforming reality) developed in the writings of Bergson and Deleuze. Sharing with proponents of anthropology’s recent “ontological turn,” McLean insists that experiments with language and form are a performative means of exploring alternative possibilities of collective existence, new ways of being human and other than human, and that such experiments must therefore be indispensable to anthropology’s engagement with the contemporary world.

Fictionalizing Anthropology

Stuart McLean is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is author of The Event and Its Terrors: Ireland, Famine, Modernity and coeditor of Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing.

Fictionalizing Anthropology

Part I. Anthropology: A Fabulatory Art
1. An Encounter in the Mist
2. Talabot
3. Fake
4. Anthropologies and Fictions
5. Knud Rasmussen
6. The Voice of the Thunder
7. Metaphor and/or Metamorphosis
8. “They Aren’t Symbols—They’re Real”
Part II. In Between
9. Liminality: An Old Story?
10. The Dead Have Never Been Modern
11. The God Who Comes
12. Between the Times
13. Anthropology ≠ Ethnography
14. Fabulatory Comparativism
Part III. Gyro Nights: Inhuman Culture/Inhuman Nature
15. Islands before and after History
16. Papay Gyro Nights
17. The Time of the Ancestors?
18. In the Beginning Were the Giants
19. Tiamaterialism
20. Blubberbomb
21. A Globe of Fire
22. Nighttime
Afterword: Anthropology Is Art Is Frog