Works and Lives (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
In this book, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, Clifford Geertz is reviewing not so much the works as the lives of four major ethnographers of a previous generation: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edward Evans-Pritchard, Bronisaw Malinowski, and Ruth Benedict. The structure of his book clearly shows Geertz’s matter-of-fact approach: introduction, main body of four chapters, each dedicated to one of his four major ethnographers, and conclusion. Even the chapter titles and subtitles look like an outline, reflecting the contents and guiding the reader to the center of the discussion.
Geertz himself is a writer of some power and style, as readers of his other works already know. Besides stretching the vocabulary of the general readers of this book with terms such as “achronic,” “Nilotes,” “Gongorism,” and “nigrescent,” Geertz knows how to inject humor in the turn of a phrase. Often he does so in order to make his criticisms more palatable by turning them into gentle teasing.
A number of examples of this wit (somewhat out of context) illustrate the point: “I make these irreverent allusions to Michel Foucault’s famous article, ’What Is an Author?’ (which in fact I agree with, save for its premises, its conclusions, and its cast of mind).” Or again, this time referring to Lévi-Strauss: “Were he any more self-conscious, he would transport to a higher plane.” Geertz is also quite clearly having fun...
(The entire section is 1846 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Choice. XXV, June, 1988, p. 1596.
The Christian Century. CV, February 3, 1988, p. 135.
The Christian Science Monitor. April 4, 1988, p. 18.
Chronicle of Higher Education. XXXIV, February 10, 1988, p. A4.
Library Journal. CXIII, February 1, 1988, p. 72.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, February 28, 1988, p. 13.
The Times Literary Supplement. August 26, 1988, p. 925.
(The entire section is 44 words.)