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And so sensuous scholarship is ultimately a mixing of head and heart. Such embodied hospitality is the secret of the great scholars, painters, poets, and filmmakers whose images and words resensualize us. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Second, recent writing on the body tends to be articulated in a curiously disembodied language… xiv … And so sensuous scholarship is ultimately a mixing of head and heart.

Let the letter read you. There are two stages in the training of griots among the Songhay-speaking peoples of the Republics of Mali and Niger. This means that they must learn to dispossess their "selves" from the "old words" they have learned. The words that constitute history are much too powerful to be "owned " by any one person or group of people ; rather these words "own" those who speak them. Accomplished griots do not "own" history; rather, they are possessed by the forces of the past. In time their tongues become ripe for history. Only these griots are capable of meeting the greatest challenge : imparting social knowledge to the next generation.

For several Songhay elders, ethnographers are griots.

Review of Sensuous Scholarship

When ethnographers are asked to read their works to gatherings of Songhay elders , they, too, are considered griots. They prepare themselves for their life's work in a manner altogether different from that of the griot. Sometimes they engage in follow-up research. This 26 Embodied Practices preparation and "work" results in a body of scholarly essays, monographs, and films. In most cases social scientists attempt to tease from the tangled threads of social life insights that will make a contribution to social theory.

They do care about how well their tale is told. They care about the poetic quality of their story. They care about the nature of the responsibility that scholars take for their words and images.

Such an incorporation requires that scholars spend long periods of time apprenticing themselves to elders , long periods of time mastering knowledge. Following this senuous path , scholars may well understand how a mouthful of water can't douse a fire, and why griots must know themselves before they let others know them. Such is a central attribute in a sensuous scholarship. From a Sahelian perspective, however, this means that griots have been mastered by words, that words have eaten them.

African scholars like Ahmadou Hampate Ba consider griots the "archivists" of their cultures. They are "great depositaries, who, The Griot 's Tongue 27 it can be said, are the living memory of Africa. Sometimes the griot will stop the recitation of a genealogy to negotiate or, more likely, renegotiate a fee. All of this is tied to the mutual recognition of status. In the recitation of epic poetry, these kinds of negotiations take place before the performance.

Film can recreate the fluidity of cultural performance in ways that prose cannot. Your films have enabled the dead to live again. Adamu Jenitongo once said to me : "You are my griot. I give you my words and you write them. If my words live forever, I shall live forever. He also thought it was important for me to be his griot to Americans. To his dying days he wanted American readers to know some of the feats of the Songhay past; he wanted readers to know something of the sohanci 's courage and daring.

The subject of the griot in West Africa is a vast one. Photo: Thomas A. John Chernoff 's longterm research among the Dagbamba of northern Ghana suggests that drummers are the griots of that society. Dagbon drummers are "owned" by the "old words. Chernoff describes the work of his teacher, Ibrahim: He h a s many names. His name is Ibrahim.

Hypersensitive tourists: The dark sides of the sensuous

He speaks the words of those he knows and has known and the words of those who gave birth to him and have passed away. H e represents the m , and he is old because he holds their words. He and his colleagues are all masters of words, but they do not write. What factors influence the transmission of this "total knowledge "? How does the griot's tongue articulate history and social life? Are there affinities between the quandaries of talking social life and those posed by writing or filming social life?

Are there affinities between griots and ethnographers , who, usually have the difficult task of representing someone e lse's social life? Griots and the D eath of the Author During the past twenty years, North American scholars in the humanities and social sciences have been greatly influenced by poststructualist criticism. This maze of ideas, or so we are led to believe, has eroded the last vestiges of objective representation, determinacy, and social science. To borrow Derrida's now famous phrase, writing is always already there.

In this way author-ity is rendered problematic. Can authors speak for themselves? Can they speak for others? In the contemporary world as it is perceived by many poststructuralist and postmodernist critics, the self, hence the author, is opaque. As a consequence "dead" authors live on as dispossessed writers who speak in what Barthes called "the middle voice " : [The] middle voice corresponds exactly t o the state o f the verb to write : today to write is to make one's self the center of the action of speech [parole ] ; it is to effect writing in being affected oneself; it is to leave the writer [scripteur] inside the writing, not as a psychological subject.

IO In the middle voice there is no authorial agency. An apt example is the French intransitive verb, se manger. The expression ra se mange this eats itself constitutes an indirect, agentless commentary on the good quality of food. With the subject decentered, writing or performing becomes the site of an "authorless" text. From a contemporary perspective, the arrogance of "living authors" who constructed their subjectivity through the objectification of others has created much shame that has survived their deaths. Anthropologists, for example, began to reflect on their own ethnographic practices.

Such reflections, first hinted at by Clifford Geertz in the s, produced a new discourse that bifurcated into two paths.

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Many of these ethnographies, however, are troubling. What are the social and political responsibilities of writing or filming social life? What does collaboration imply for written or filmed ethnography? One facile response to these quandaries is to suggest that questions of ethnographic authority are - but need not be - purely academic concerns. If the griots of Sahel ian West Africa constitute a representative case, questions of authority are asked in many non-academic contexts and settings.

Social 32 Embodied Practices context shapes the nature of the griot's performative discourse. Aesthetic convention influences the griot's performance styles. Unlike Barthes's writer, whose subjectivity is overwhelmed by language, griots, who are also "owned" by language, are still able to use it to negotiate their multifaceted subjectivity.


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Griots are always implicated and embodied in their communities: they are full social and political participants in the villages where they live. Their words are performative : they help to create social life by talking it. For the most part, the words and images of postmodern writers are not performative. Many contemporary writers are therefore disengaged and disembodied.

Artaud is the illuminated wanderer, a nomad of the mind.

Elisha La'Verne "High" (from album "Sensuous" - 2002)

In reality, anthropologists can never choose between Artaud and the functionary. As Berge writes: "Even Uacques] Lizot, [who lived for almost 20 participatory years among the Yanomami Indians] has his computer with him among the savages, and counts on his researcher's status. One foot in France, one foot in the forest. Like a. He records speech, gestures, the distribution of elements, and exchanges and contributes to the transformation of values.

Sometimes the anthropologist's body is sickened by this dismemberment.


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  • Far from being a history of moral choice, implication is thus already the anthropologist's mode of existence. As Berge says philosophically, " Implication is the ' lived among. Like the "dead" author, over implicated anthropologists relinquish their authority to the sweep of historical and contextual contingency. Like the "dead" author, the over implicated anthropologist becomes entranced by his or her contradictory path and is ultimately transformed into an intransitive medium whose subjectivity can be devoured by language.

    To stop here, however, would not take us much beyond the anthropological writing of the s. Scholars certainly cannot deny their implication, even their over implication in a field. Given the contextual dynamics of their performances, it is clear that griots do not allow themselves to be completely devoured by language. They effortlessly negotiate the spaces between practice and theory, between sensible and intelligible. What can their practices teach us about the social scientist's consumption of other lives?

    What can their practices teach us about how other lives consume the social scientist? Implication, Embodiment, and Voice As noted in Chapter 1 , Songhay people talk about implication through gustatory metaphors. People say, for example, that one person eats another and is in turn eaten by her or him - all part of the process of learning about social others.

    For their part, Songhay griots say that they eat history and are eaten by it. Put another way, griots eat the "old words" and are eaten by them. In short , one consumes otherness in Songhay - in whatever form it takes - and is consumed, albeit partially, by otherness.