On Timely Appearances: Literature, Art, Anthropology


Anthropology has traditionally focused on how society or culture reproduces itself. In recent years, however, the discipline has increasingly become oriented toward the emergent, empirically and analytically. In this article, I inquire into this shift by placing anthropology in the context of literature and art. Not entirely unlike several contemporary anthropologists, such modernist writers as Robert Musil or Robert Walser sought to develop an approach to literature that focused on giving form to what was in the process of becoming. “Where art has value it shows things that few have seen,” as Musil insisted. While different in their methods for engaging with or acquiring knowledge about the world, literature, art, and anthropology actually tend to intersect precisely on the problem of innovative form-giving. In order to explore such convergences, and what we might learn from them, I organize my discussion around the notion of appearance. To speak of appearance is helpful because it brings into focus questions about how the emergent appears or is made to appear, and how it assumes or is given a particular appearance. Also, examples from literature and art show that “appearance” does not necessarily imply a construction that veils or conceals reality, but rather an activation or actualization that brings distinct facets of the real into view. “Art,” as Paul Klee put it, “does not reproduce the visible; it renders visible.” Similarly, what makes anthropological concepts analytically productive are precisely the ways in which they make things appear, thus rendering them available to critical thought.

author Mattias Viktorin

In The Anthropologist as Writer, edited by Helena Wulff, 230-242. New York: Berghahn Books.

published 2016