Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The argument this paper will put forward is that a scalar distinction can be made between metaphors (in a Lakoff or Sontag sense) and meta-forms in the formulas and mathematics (patterns) that allow metaphorical relations in themselves to exist. Attending to the latter demands a fundamental paradigm shift in anthropology and a return to its own foundational thinking on the nature of abstraction and its intrinsic relation to abduction. My paper will be using Gregory Bateson’s account of double description as foundational of abstract thought and of an idea of relation that is inherently mathematical. This is of course not a new idea, but one set out by Claude Levi-Strauss in his conception of the ‘canonical formula,’ applied to the analysis of myth and of kinship in equally productive ways. The canonical formula may have allowed for the analysis of generative systems, but its potential to appraise a logic permitting differing and yet mutually related ways of modeling ideas of relation was left largely unattended. I will return to the peculiarity of the canonical formula to permit the material translation of algebraic number systems and rules for their combination into geometric objects. Material translation, I will argue, had been recognized by both Gell and Latour as foundational to abstract thought as it gives shape to relations whose immanence permits thought to be recursive and yet spiraling forth indefinitely.