October 19, 2009

Seeing the Stern Facts through the Theater of Mental Operations

"He who habituates himself, in his daily life, to seek for the stern facts in whatever he hears or sees, will have these facts again brought before him by the involuntary imaginative power in their noblest associations; and he who seeks for frivolities and fallacies, will have frivolities and fallacies again presented to him in his dreams."

--John Ruskin, Modern Painters

"The boldness of such an approach is . . . compensated for the humility . . . of observation as it is practiced by the anthropologist. Leaving his country and his home for long periods; exposing himself to hunger, sickness and occasional danger; allowing his habits, his beliefs, his convictions to be tampered with, conniving at this, indeed, when, without mental reservations or ulterior motives, he assumes the modes of life of a strange society, the anthropologist practices total observation, beyond which there is nothing except -- and there is a risk -- the complete absorption of the observer by the object of his observations. . . . We really can verify that the same mind which has abandoned itself to the experience and allowed itself to be moulded by it becomes the theatre of mental operations which, without suppressing the experience, nevertheless transform it into a model which releases further mental operations."

--Claude Levi-Strauss, The Scope of Anthropology