A short 'fragment' of writing by the obscure Stoic philosopher Hierocles has become very much current in the recent surge of writing on cosmopolitanism. Hierocles suggests that each individual is surounded by a series of concentric circles representing different communities and their closeness to the self. The cosmopolitan task is to draw people from the outer circles into the inner:"Each one of us is as it were encompassed by many circles… the first and closest circle is the one which a person has drawn as though around a centre, his own mind… The outermost circle, which encompasses all the rest, is that of the whole human race… the task [is]… to keep zealously transferring those from the enclosing circles into the enclosed ones."
(Hierocles in Long and Sedley 1987:57).
There seem many affiinities between the imagery here and anthropological practice or with the basic ethnographic work that anthropologists engage in. Anthropology also takes for granted a process of translation or mediation where we start from ourselves and try to draw people who are so to speak in an outer circle into our own field of arguments, discussions and meanings.
One kind of question that arises is 'Can this process ever be completed? 'What happens if it is completed? '. Does this drawing from the outside to the inside imply a distortion of what is closer to the self? I am interested because these don't seem to be problems that anthropologists have actively considered.
I look forward to that discussion, Keith. Tomorrow I will try to scan the fragment - which isn't very long: unless someone reading this has a version and can save me the trouble. If there is an inner circle must there be an outer - it seems worth considering since a lot of anthropological ideas turn unthinkingly on this type of distinction.
There also seems to be a comparison to be made with Simmel when he says that within 'metropolitan' experience we become 'accustomed to continual abstractions, to indifference to what is spatially closest and to an intimate relationship to that which is spatially very far removed'.
I find it interesting that everyone simply accepts the premise of the fragment that the circles are concentric. My first thought was of how many overlapping, non-concentric circles we all belong to these days. This past weekend, for example, Ruth and I were in Seoul, Korea for a global meeting of Democrats Abroad. Heesun Hwang appointed herself our tour guide for the couple of extra days we had given ourselves for this, our first tourist trip, to Korea. Suddenly we found ourselves going to a wedding and political rally (the couple are both disabled people whose marriage is a blow for independence on the part of people who are usually institutionalized). Two days later we visited the Ancestor Shrine of Korea's former royal family and wound up (we were an hour early for the English) taking the tour in Chinese, with the very nice guide startled when I turned out to be knowledgeable about Chinese ritual. At the end of the day, Heesun's friend, art curator Seupong Bo, who was driving us around Seoul took us to a music bar, where a retired Korean salaryman has a huge collection of 60s and 70s pop, rock and folk music and a sound system to match, and wound up singing Don Maclean's "American Pie," while sipping tequila.
No need to belabor a point that was, of course, noticed a long time ago by Georg Simmel. But why, pray tell, is everyone talking as if the issue at hand was simply one of distance in a set of concentric circles, a Copernican solar system with me, myself, the Sun?
I find it interesting that everyone simply accepts the premise of the fragment that the circles are concentric.
I don't think they have, John. As I pointed out 'metropolitan' experience a la Simmel doesn't easily sustain this model. But it is worth underlining how it might not work out. Similarly how Heirocles' notion of the dilution of 'blood' doesn't seem very 'familiar' any more and yet it certainly retains some hold.
Keith and Philip's ideas made me think of exile as the mirror of the process of transference Heirocles describes. Nothing could be worse than to be ejected into the outer circles; rather alike to the circles of hell Dante talks about. The idea of 'internal exile' disrupts the geographical metaphor while still holding onto it. Soljenitisin's novel 'First Circle' about Stalin's intellectual prisoners comes to mind - the deity of that cosmos is Stalin; the scientists are in limbo working as prisoners to make the next great technological leap.
The idea of oikos and familiarisation is very interesting, thanks for adding that. I only have the Long and Sedley translation to go on - it would be good to have Nikos view on this. I suppose applied to anthropology I would have to say that even that which preserves its strangeness at one level becomes familiar at another by its well-worn use in debate - it enters the family of concepts. After all, every academic social anthropologist is probably more 'familiar' with 'Amazonian' perspectivism or the 'Melanesian' dividual-person than with the people who live down their street. I wonder to what extent in our thinking about strangeness and familiarity anthropologists are still drawing vitality from a model of family resemblance and household belonging that no longer has a full meaning. What would the other possible meanings look like.
Your explanation is extremely interesting and helpful. I'd never heard the term oikeiosis before, but Huon's compelling introduction to this Stoic quote appealed to my former classicist inclinations, and so I had a read around the internet.
I very much like Huon's point about how anthropologists happily bandy about terms such as 'perspectivism', 'totemism', etc, etc, since, touching as it does on the anthropological familiarity with alterity, it nicely complicates what I now see as my rather crass suggestion that Hierocles' model implies that the outer rings of 'otherness' must necessarily be brought into the orbit of our own 'sameness'.
John's objection to the idea that these circles should be taken to be Copernican and concentric is also intriguing. Maybe overlapping and chiasmic circuits might be better - like so many Moebius strips, perhaps?
But all this talk of circles makes me wonder about that most famous social science circle of all - the hermeneutic one. I don't know, but perhaps that was what Huon had in mind when he introduced Hierocles in the first place...
So, by these terms. John after having lived 30 years in Japan became less American and more Japanese , judging people of his host country in a subconsciously mixed way of western-eastern mentality. ( hope you agree on this John )
My initial response is "sure" (using American English to express casual agreement). Then my habit of looking for complications takes over.
Less American? In what sense? While still in an angry mood brought on by being told that my career at the Japanese ad agency where I spent thirteen years was coming to an end, I wrote a piece called "From Gaijin to Me," in which I decided that I was, after all, very American (I've attached a copy should anyone be interested). My bicultural daughter, who grew up in Japan, suggested that I had become more Japanese than I gave myself credit for, but never explained just what she meant. Then, her deciding to accept an appointment at the U.S. Naval Academy and pursue a career as a Navy pilot made American politics far more interesting to me than they had been for years. That led to the involvement in Democrats Abroad.
Subconsciously? That might be true in part, I suppose. How would I know? On the other hand, what I see as one of my major differences from other anthropologists is that, to paraphrase and negate a memorable statement someone else used as his signature on Anthro-L, I do not study lives that I would not myself think of leading. When I was younger, I did study other lives this way; I never imagined, though my Daoist master did, that I would become a Daoist magician. Now, when I study top creatives in the Japanese advertising industry, I am perfectly conscious, thank you, of studying people whose careers I envy, and I take what they say about creativity, teamwork, etc., quite seriously as news I can use instead of simply think about. In this respect, I find them much less alien than I do some of my friends on OAC or other anthropological fora, whose lives I would not want to lead and whose ideas I have to struggle to make sense of because, at least at first glance, they seem preposterous to me.
Thus, I find myself recoiling from a simple mixture metaphor in which the cosmopolitan becomes simultaneously more of this and less of that. The true cosmopolitan is, in my view, a liminal beast, a bit of a trickster perhaps, whose acquired chameleon-like ability to get on with all sorts of people that stay-at-homes are never likely to meet is his/her's truly distinguishing feature. The assimilation of the other that does, inevitably, occur, is always selective and partial and tempered by other influences from people in other places than the one in which he/she currently finds him/herself. The multiple but non-concentric circles that define a cosmopolitan life account for the de-centering which is for better (a Buddhist view?) or worse (any localized fundamentalist view) one of the benefits/pathologies of the cosmopolitan condition.
Alternatively, and here I also have some experience to offer, the center may be the family or friends whose lives follow the same geographical and temporal tracks. I find myself thinking of Margaret Mead, who once said that she was at home wherever she could find a place to settle and mark a space with a few favorite things. But, no, multiply married and divorced and talking about things instead of people, she was describing an experience quite different from my own.
What cosmopolitanism has to do with these homocentric cycles ? Anthropologists used to tranfer the knowledge they were getting of the outer cycles ( the culture they were studying) to themselves, then to amalgamate it ( in the best of the case) with their own values , and finally to produce a study as a result of this marriage of thoughts or transfer of the outer cycle to the inner one of their self. This self perception or oikeiosis of what is the outer other ( or alien) helps ( hopefully) anthropologist to become another man. It helps also greatly to surpass national stereotypes and the rest of prejudices related with historical facts. So, by these terms.
Thanks Nikos; this was exactly the kind of issue I was attempting to index (and thanks for noting my persistent spelling mistake).
The question , what the outer cycles will become if emptied and pulled inside , is a false question since these cycles are symbolic and eternally reproduced by new advancements of cultural forms and meanings of the others. Culture that nourishes the cycles is a vivid and never stopping machine of production of new forms and meanings.
If that is true then there is a potentially gloomy outcome - the shape of the cosmos remains the same: there are always barbarians and people closer by 'blood'. But, so far as I can see - along what I take to be Philip's lines - the 'drawing together' of the circles should do more than simply reproduce their former relation. geometrically speaking, if I draw a circle toward myself, then it either contracts in its diameter or it distorts to become an ellipse - thereby pushing some parts of the circle further away from myself. As it happens we have had a discussion along these lines before. One thing that inttrigues me is what has the geometric imagining of the Greek philosophers has been replaced by in the modern formulation?
I find them [top Japanese creatives] much less alien than I do some of my friends on OAC or other anthropological fora, whose lives I would not want to lead and whose ideas I have to struggle to make sense of because, at least at first glance, they seem preposterous to me.
This raises a range questions about the modern practices equivalent to oikeiosis involved (or not), for instance, in OAC discussions. I take OAC to extend many themes of modern life including the potential alienation of meaning and attempts to overcome this.
Thanks, Philip, for reminding us about the elephant on the sofa; the hermeneutic circle.