Sunday, December 19, 2010

Malinowski and Marcel Mauss

Other than Emile Durkheim, who I teach to students year after year, Malinowski and Mauss are my favourite authors: Marcel Mauss, because he is clear as a small pool in moon light, no ripples, just pure thought, and Malinowski because he is so complex that anything you read remains in your head for a long time. I spent yesterday reading a biography of him by Michael Young. Cold, sunny, the temperature is ten degrees celsius. The morning was foggy, and the day hot. A friend got an award, so I went for her lunch party, where I got toasted in the sun, on the terrace, and hurried home to read more of the Malinowski biography. My house is filled with roses and chrysanthemums which my daughter and son in law got as gifts for their wedding, and because it is winter, though their friends gave them these flowers last week, the bouquets are alive and vibrant. Most of their friends are young and radical, and a wedding is something they are delighted by.

Malinowski spent a great deal of his life travelling to obscure places with his mother searching for the sun. He went on to write his magnum opus Argonauts of the Pacific and another called The Sexual Life of Savages which are classics on the field work method, advocating "listening and seeing" as the scientific methodologies for studying societies. Oddly, he was very well trained as a mathematician and as a philosopher, with some brilliant companions who were writers and artists. Mauss comes across as lonely and tragic, all his friends died in the trenches of the first world war, and he alone went on to compound the legacy of his unce, Emile Durkheim in some slender elegant volumes. Each of his books is a world in itself, and still readable though a hundred years have passed since he presented them as lectures and essay. Being brittle by temperament myself, I am always grateful for the works of these great classical writers, one Polish and one French, who communicate to me that it is okay to be ill or eccentric or work with complex strands of thought, but when one writes,  one should be clear and simple! Malinowski took on Freud with regard to the Oedipus complex,  showing how significant the mother's brother could be as a disciplinarian, not necessarily the father!and Mauss carried the legacy of a whole school The Annales on his nervous frame!

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