The Interpretation of Cultures Critical Context - Essay

Clifford Geertz

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

As Maxine Greene noted in her review, Geertz’s work participates in an “emerging concern with the world as lived and perceived rather than as objectively explained.” Even a quick glance at his footnotes reveals the extent to which Geertz has drawn on, amended, and consolidated a wide variety of work across several disciplines from philosophy, linguistics, and literary criticism to psychology, biology, and the various social sciences.

Because his sources are cosmopolitan, as one might expect, his applicability is equally diverse. Another reviewer, Wilton S. Dillon, states that “The Interpretation of Cultures deserves reading, for enlightenment and pleasure, by persons in a wide variety of specialties and callings: professional anthropologists, political theorists and politicians, admen and schoolmen, theologians, philosophers, and social workers.” As he goes on to point out, Geertz “violates territoriality.” No one is immune to the symbol systems through which a knowledge of reality is communicated. While it is a failed quest to search for universals in such systems, such systems are themselves primary in human mentality. While Geertz never strays far from the immediacies of social experience, his method, more than his conclusions, provides glimpses of unity in the overlapping and interactive cultural patterns that people use to govern their lives.