I have been writing sad poems lately, and the sadness is not mine, but from the people I see and know.  I wonder how would an anthropologist write about sadness.  It is easy for a poet to be emotional since logic is not the foundation of poetry.  Can an anthropologist rely on his emotion about someone's feelings or sadness?  Since anthropology is a science, should logic supersede emotion?  I just don't think anyone can write about someone's sadness without empathy or sympathetic feelings.  I also don't think one can be objective when he is emotional.

A sample of what I have been writing:

Missing Giggles

My laughter struggles
Between my lips and nostrils;
My tongue sulks.

I have forgotten 
The words from a poet;
My memory is a sad literature.

I cannot force myself
To speak about a landscape;
The geography I know is desolation.

When you see me smile,
It is the mask my face wears;
I have given up laughing a long time ago.

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Comment by John McCreery on August 28, 2012 at 6:26am

I did say that we are all a bit hypersensitive about language <sheepish grin>.  

But seriously, even the applied anthropologist needs to bear in mind Chairman Mao's critique of the young cadre who charged into a village to promote land reform without prior, careful, objective study of the material situation he was getting himself into. 

I know for a fact that the approach I learned in that training to be a telephone counsellor has served me well in business (a little active listening goes a long way to closing a deal), and it also works pretty well when I am conducting interviews for my current research. People do seem to appreciate being taken seriously and not having their views "explained" by some theory the other brings to the encounter. 

P.S. It is also very important when using these techniques to master the art of putting aside your own feelings—which is not the same as denying them. On the contrary, the ability to recognize them when they appear, label them and move them out of the way is vital to being able to hear what the person you are talking with is trying to say.

Comment by M Izabel on August 28, 2012 at 5:54am

Actually I used "can toy".  I used "toy" because I don't really take such victim-blaming seriously.  Thornhill and Palmer's evolutionary biology of rape has, indeed, toyed around victim-blaming.  "Fault" is another story.  Fundamentalists and traditionalists are usually the culprits in putting rape victims at fault.  I know this post is about sadness.  I used rape as an example after reading GOP VP candidate's idea that rape is another method of conception, which is victim-blaming- since a woman's ability to conceive is made a reason against abortion. 

Comment by John McCreery on August 28, 2012 at 4:01am

We are all, perhaps, a bit too hypersensitive to language these days, but I wonder about your choices of "toy" and "fault" in the way that the problem is framed. Why is the anthropologist assumed to be less than serious in her thinking and the thinking assumed to be about assignment of blame? 

Why not the stance I was taught when training to work as a volunteer phone counsellor: (1) check to be sure than the woman is now in a safe place; (2) validate her feelings, i.e., acknowledge that she has them and they are real; (3) explore what she thinks she herself can do to cope with the trauma and prevent being raped again? Flight, hiding, therapy, martial arts training, turning to the police or the courts, stirring up a mob to lynch the rapist—the aim is to get her to consider her options, evaluate them in her own terms, and make her own choices. What the counsellor must not do is get sucked into a blame game or offer "helpful" advice. 

Comment by M Izabel on August 28, 2012 at 2:04am

"How do we decide where to stop when reshaping what we hear to strengthen its impact?"


That's the interesting question I posed specifically for anthropologists.  For poets, they go by close-reading and hearing.  If it reads and sounds right, no need of addition or omission.  If it's emotional, even though it seems contrived or parroted, the poetics of a subject's sadness are still there.

If an anthropologist writes an ethnography on the sadness of rape victims, will she be a sympathetic advocate or an open-minded scientist who can still be objective and toy around the idea that rape victims- due to their weakness, their lifestyle, their being flirtatious- can also be at fault?     

Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2012 at 3:55pm

The exercise is quite lovely as it stands. The question it raises for me is how far to go once the decision to enhance the effect of what the other says by giving it poetic form is made. How do we decide where to stop when reshaping what we hear to strengthen its impact?

Comment by M Izabel on August 27, 2012 at 12:25pm

Nice one, John.  I could go as minimalist as yours, but I wrote what my friend told me about her sadness related to home and family that abandoned her.  The exercise was to turn a conversation into a poem.  An influence of Achire's found poems, I guess. 

Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2012 at 4:14am

The opening stanza is very good. The others not so good. By comparison with the first they seem more conventional and contrived. Just brainstorming, I suggest

I have forgotten

A poet's words

My memory is sad.

I cannot force myself.

The geography I know

Is desolation.

When you see me smile

Ignore the mask.

Laughter died so long ago.

On the larger issue. The poet's task is to evoke the emotion as vividly as possible. The anthropologist's task is to ask how and why it came to be there.


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