from Fieldnotes, a forensic
Ethnographic frailties or the failing of fieldnotes. Trying ruminations troubling my informants: (some) other ill-powerful society. I felt a responsibility to revise “my village” and to “get it right.” They were really my best draw unveiling their secrets. The conflicted piecing of voices. Contexts. Aristocratic clans. The women “animals” admitted to quotation marks. Academic mentors stress objectivity Authoritarian regimes control our patronizing indulgence barbarian ignorance—the indignant, domineering, wryly amused recording of data. The voice here is clearly that—a form of implicit public shamanism. Being experimental with form, analysis, perspective or interpretation of Society X was discouraged. Society X accepted there was a style of presentation within which I had to work. Their daily lives a few days of vivid research. I would not impose my impressionist desires on Society X’s clear and hard material culture. Society X would not expect me to render them beautiful after a mudslide or bout of tribal warfare. But few initiates eat flesh or maintain control. Decidedly aberrant, carefully worded and often embarrassing understandings (secular insights) reveal secrets—mental illness, spirit loss. This study was meant to be haunted by esoteric knowledge. Effaced cosmologies. Threads warping already-speaking local crowds. But life utterly sacred and freezing seeks her own canopy epistles. Naturally, also the exegesis of miracles. Return to meaning. My public outbursts damage this quickly-hustled fieldworker telling of village life death and her authority. Each text a public calling for communal possession.
After a full day I go back to my room. Reflect upon wet tarmac and glistening cassava. Every peak. Core reason I decided to cram into that bus. Disembark to discover (breathe) in this mood anticipation carpets short gasps. Tattered tarpaulins over some of windows give the impression of stalled work. After a full day of rain something ominous—the sun broke through foreboding. I was drawn to reflect off to the side of the wet tarmac under the drooping plantain leaves. This was the core reason I decided to go along the road. The mood was reflexive. Upbeat with a tinge of anticipation. Crammed into a single bus, a propaganda machine populated by authorities, one-dimensional misery. He unlatched my discipline. Was certain my presence was anchored in a type of fetishization or reconstruction of the exotic. The warm gust of backwardness. Against the wall, don’t get me wrong, I hovered over his little “bloodlust” and “book learning” comment. Rich and varied created this strong chain of events from wall to community. Wall to wall. Doves flapped around pure and abstract eliciting expressionism. The “caretakers” of the visiting anthropologists delivered 100 questions. The record shouldn’t be academic theory. It’s important to recognize the inner workings of the group. Your colonial tinge. To integrate the unique understandings of the military. The way we view ecological knowledge and practice. Applied work without theorizing. Anthropologists’ public way of glossing over over-simplified pseudo-scientific data.
Embodied discourses are linked through the body. Territory becomes identification. Flagged daily in the heart, gestures metonymies of nation. A metaphoric vehicle for collective fear. Hope. Primarily it’s a rhetoric of identification. Preoccupation with the sanctity of borders is loosely termed a “mass casualty.” A symptom of practices. We were swimming transients who scarcely spoke in these “ways.” Sought tutelage in a multiplicity of screen and print coverage fiercely competing over incidents. The unquestioned reliance on points of the body. Littered and overturned boxes of fruit. Vegetables splattered with blood. The three-phase process of loss, chaos and re-gathering usually in a calm tone with vivid description. A story titled “Marketplace blends a daughter’s body with gun powder, spices and pickles.” Ripped of bodily idioms of loss and disorder, hundreds of volunteers swarm wrapped in shrouds. The ritual of entering another tragic “mass disaster.” This didn’t alter the fact that we were there. Stepping into bathtubs. Leaping frequently into rituals. The researcher will always be entering. Like this. To spot. Transcribe. Impeccably covered. Seamless. Totally integrated. A whole diminishing process. Just-like-anyone the fieldworker melts into obligations manifested in hardships. Endured rapport. The same concrete manifestations and autobiographical details.
Kate Eichhorn is the author of two collections of poetry, Fond (BookThug, 2008) and Fieldnotes, a forensic (BookThug, 2010). She is also co-editor of Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (Coach House, 2009). She is an Assistant Professor of Culture and Media Studies at The New School.