Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The philosopher Gaston Bachelard explored metaphors and images both as seductive obstacles in the sciences (in his epistemological writings) and as powerful vehicles of the imagination (in his "symbolic" writings). Even (especially?) thinking that thinks it is being objective and rational tends to keep returning, unconsciously or semi-consciously, to a small number of relatively simple shapes. A few such "thought-forms" have served as templates for modern Western theories of society and language. I will talk about three of these: lines of cause-and-effect, the preferred thought-form of Cartesian rationalism and most natural-science-style explanation; the multiform expression of a hidden essence, typical of Romantic, hermeneutic, and much anthropological interpretation, but going back to the Hermetic idea of God as a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; and models of transforming and formative fields (Herbart's mind, Marx's mode of production, Freud's unconscious, Boasian culture and language, Lewinian sociology). What happens when the lines get tangled, the spheres leak, and the fields are infested with rhizomes emerging as linear weeds bearing spherical blossoms that flower into Fibonacci spirals and Mandelbrot sets?