College Quarterly
Summer 2008 - Volume 11 Number 3

Nino Ricci: The Novelist as Anthropologist and the Links Between Literature and Social Science

by Howard A. Doughty

“Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science”
- W. H. Auden

Reviews and discussions of Nino Ricci’s popular Canadian trilogy commonly focus on two themes.1 One is the inner conflict and psychological anxiety of the protagonist, Vittorio Innocente. The other is the accuracy of Ricci’s “thick description” of the supporting characters and settings.2 Beginning with Lives of the Saints, the “customs and narrow ways” of the Italian village of Valle del Sole are meticulously disclosed. Its “rural, superstitious, clannish, pagan”3 inhabitants are genuinely depicted and sensitively rendered “with a tenderness that avoids sentimentality.”4 Ricci, we are told, “has created a real place, has populated it with real people.”5 Ricci himself described Lives of the Saints as “written in a high realist style” and added that it “relies on a detailed representation of the world of the story for its effect.”6 The world that is represented in the first novel is defined by one commentator as “an inbred little community” wherein “peasant Catholicism” melds “with paganism.”7 It is the second theme, the delineation of the collective social context, rather than a complex individual psychological symptomotology, that most concerns us here.

Cultural anthropology is, of course, not at all a clearly defined social science. In broad strokes, it can initially be painted as an inquisitive eye looking at human attitudes and actions from within and from without the social community. Some (usually epistemologically materialistic and objectivistic) interpreters look at societies from the outside in an attempt to create a science of culture approximating the methods of natural science. Others (usually epistemologically idealistic and subjectivistic) insist that genuine understanding (verstehen) must give strong recognition to the meaning of thought and behaviour as it is experienced and understood by the people under study. The first is commonly called an “etic” approach; the second, “emic.”

Nino Ricci’s method is epistemologically congenial to the emic and particularistic strain in anthropology that seeks to reconstruct cultural history accurately without yielding to the temptation to employ the comparative or evolutionary framework that would facilitate the development of general laws of cultural development.8 In Lives of the Saints, the mores and folkways of Valle del Sole are recollected from the childhood memories of Vittorio, then living through his seventh year. The sequel, In a Glass House, shifts the setting first to an immigrant Italian farming community in south-western Ontario, next to a suburban university in Toronto, and then to an African boarding school. The stops along the way are mediated through Vittorio’s increasingly mature gaze. Despite radical shifts of place and circumstance, and notwithstanding the personal growth and development of his narrator, Ricci’s admirers say that his powers of observation are abidingly keen and that his precise representations of community life stay accurate and evocative. Even in the third novel, Where She Has Gone, the increasingly intense psychological dimensions of the story, emanating from the violation of the antediluvian taboo of incest, do not detract from the persistent attention to cultural detail as Vittorio, now a young man, returns to his birthplace, a reluctantly modernizing Valle del Sole.

There, he encounters half-remembered characters and ghosts from his childhood, including his former playmate Fabrizio with whom he shared the original venial sin of smoking cigarettes. Fabrizio has worked in Roman restaurants, but has chosen to pass his life under the clear Apennine sky. Given more attention, he might have been a character in an unwritten novel by Albert Camus, grounded and contented under a clear Algerian sky. Self-consciously choosing the security of a government job and the vocation of tending his “Garden of Eden,” Fabrizio is happy to be a mailman and delights in being a missionary gardener caring for his little, uncorrupted local parcel of land. Seeking reassurance from Fabrizio, Vittorio finds dissonance instead: “Every contradiction of how I remembered things was like having a part of me torn away.”9

The reality of “high realism,” it seems, is to be a negotiated reality. A traditional community is not necessarily a static community. In Valle del Sol at the time of Vittorio’s birth, automobiles may be unreliable, but they do exist. So, the emic understanding of the community depends upon an awareness of differences in subjective perceptions between women and men, old and young, to say nothing of individual personalities. The emic anthropologist and the novelist thus share an interest in the unique, the richly textured, more-or-less distorted, psychologically repressed or simply false apprehensions and memories of individuals; the more scientific interrogators of meaning shun the singular and look always for patterns.

Nonetheless, setting aside the personal, mental and spiritual aspects of the novels, even Ricci’s detractors acknowledge that “the superstitions, politics, hard work and dreams of America that pervade the village are rendered with an almost anthropological rigor.”10 Some may quibble that sociology, not “applied” anthropology, is the academic discipline most concerned with contemporary immigration, acculturation and the experience of return; still, a major element in all three books continues to be the author’s capacity to give imaginary life to cultural environments that are both true to his characters and accessible to readers who lack personal knowledge of rural Italy, Leamington, York University, and Nigeria.11

The Task at Hand

This essay was written in reply to a request to comment on Nino Ricci’s trilogy from “the perspective of cultural anthropology.” I took this to mean that I was to assess Ricci’s work in terms of two basic questions. First, did his novels conform to the findings of social scientists who study life in traditional Italian villages, the cultural dislocations of immigrants in a new and different society, the travails of expatriate school teachers, and the adjustment problems encountered by those who attempt to go home again? Second, did Ricci’s work contribute any insights that might be useful to social scientists researching these and related questions? In short, was Ricci’s self-professed high realism “realistic”?

This seemed, on the face of it, to be just barely doable. While it is true that those duly accredited to pass judgement on such matters have told me that I have the aesthetic sensibilities of a sea slug, I have taken their verdict to be, in sweet Martha Stewart’s words, “a good thing.” My critics, I hasten to explain, meant neither that I am hostile to the arts nor that I have exceptionally bad taste, but rather that I am almost totally undiscriminating and display practically no taste at all. It’s not so much that I know nothing about art; I don’t even know what I like! Open to nearly everything and disdainful of almost nothing, I delight in the Apollonian, feast on the Dionysian, and play with the Protean while at no time pronouncing a sound or even consistent doctrine of artistic merit. Thus lacking an arguable opinion about whether or not Nino Ricci is a good writer, I am inoculated against the infection of my social scientific commentary by fixed standards of literary criticism (my own or anyone else’s). What’s more, prior to accepting this assignment, I had not previously read (nor heard of) Nino Ricci. So, as innocent as Innocente, I could approach the project fresh, with no residual analytic axes to grind nor predetermined literary oxen to gore.

At the same time, while my credentials in literature are flimsy where not altogether absent, I do possess some formal qualifications in scientific methodology; I have taken oodles of graduate courses on empirical analysis and techniques, and I have conducted and published some original research. As well, I teach not only cultural anthropology but also race and ethnic relations courses in the bureaucratic domain of sociology. Familiar with ample anthropological and sociological research on at least three of the pertinent topics (life in traditional societies, the immigrant experience, and the emotional conflict encountered by returnees), I imagined that my background and the task at hand might be a promising fit. After all, some congruence has already been established. Undergraduate textbooks now commonly connect forms of literary criticism and socio-anthropological approaches.12 Literary critics including Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco and Northrop Frye are frequently cited by anthropologists, and anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz and Claude Levi-Strauss sometimes gnaw their way into discussions of literature. Thus encouraged, I supposed that as long as I attempted to shoehorn the novelist into the categories of the anthropologist (and successfully finessed literary concerns), I might get away with it.

Questions of Definition

I was quickly disabused of my abstemious optimism. A problem arose when I began to consider more seriously the ambiguities and intramural antagonisms within domains of literature and social science that I was invited to link. It was immediately apparent that two preliminary questions had to be asked, and that neither allowed an easy answer:

(1)   "What is literature?” (or, more narrowly, “What is creative writing in the form of fiction in general and the novel in particular?”);

(2)   “What is social science?” (or, more precisely, “What is cultural anthropology?”).

In the absence of either a provisional reply to those questions or a good excuse to avoid responding to them, any attempt to construct an equation connecting work in one to work in the other would be futile.

As far as anthropology is concerned, there are plenty of textbook answers. None are very helpful. Most boil down to this: classically, anthropology “sets for itself the general problem of the evolution of mankind.”13 Currently, its “goal” is identified as “the comparative study of human societies … to describe, analyze, and explain … how groups have adapted to their environments and given meaning to their lives.”14 By these lights, whether as particularistic ethnological history or as universalistic social science, a triumphant anthropology would certainly be no small feat! To make its endeavours at all manageable, the discipline is divided into two main areas, physical (or biological) and cultural (or social) anthropology. Physical anthropology has somewhat stronger claims to the status of a natural science; cultural anthropology is where the emic/etic division is most relevant. These fields are, of course, arranged into ever more sub-speciated patches.

Physical anthropologists poke about in our bodies and the remains of our ancestors. They investigate biological evolution and derivative topics ranging from palaeontology and population genetics to contemporary forensic anthropology and evolutionary psychology. At their most preposterously ambitious, writes English teacher David Hawkes, they suggest “that competition for Stone Age sexual favours continues to dictate our behaviour, despite the enormous historical and cultural distance which separates the postmodern from the Pleistocene, leaving “middlebrow” readers awash with claims about the discovery of the “rape module” or the “aggression gene.”15 They suffer, however, from a lack of consensus as to the parameters of their subject matter, which is to say our species. What, unambiguously, is a human being? Do we mark our origins in terms of physiological characteristics such as brain size (intellect), vocal chords (speech), or the use of technology (an opposable thumb)? Is there an uncontested line that separates Homo sapiens sapiens from our primate kin? What is the precise structure of our “family tree”?

Cultural anthropologists play with our minds. Under its rubric, cultural anthropology shelters archaeology, political anthropology, anthropological linguistics and as many more specialties as can win grants for conferences, establish professional associations and achieve accepted organizational places as departments or within departments at accredited universities. Cultural anthropologists study cultural evolution, whatever the much-debated and much-debased term “culture” may be said to mean. Even more than the biological definition of humanity, the muddle over the meaning of human culture is perpetually troublesome.16

As for literature, almost any attempt at a stable definition is bound to come to grief. What may presumptuously be called “ontological” issues are often at stake, as in debates about whether or not literature is necessarily restricted to imaginative or fictional writing. Some scholars still worry about whether The Holy Bible or Machiavelli’s The Prince count as literature. As Terry Eagleton points out, “nineteenth-century English literature usually includes Lamb (but not Bentham), Macauley (but not Marx), and Mill (but not Darwin or Herbert Spencer).”17 According to Eagleton, literature is defined according to socially determined and historically variable structures of belief. So, literature is whatever is deemed literature according to criteria that are consistent with dominant social ideologies which, in turn, reflect the material interests of powerful social groups. In modern practice, literature is whatever teachers of literature teach, and teachers of literature teach pretty much what they are told to teach.

Those unhappy with such blatant socio-economic determinism may invoke aesthetic standards. They may seek to judge some works as “good” literature (which is usually preferred to “bad” literature), and may superciliously exclude much science fiction, detective stories and popular romances, all comic books, and the entire oeuvres of Jackie Collins, Danielle Steele and Jacqueline Suzanne as not rising to the high cultural standards of true literature. They may concede that “folk” culture merits study, but will remain convinced that it is of mainly of antiquarian interest. In music, by analogy, an awareness of antique Hungarian and Polish tunes is sometimes thought helpful in understanding both Liszt and Chopin, without imagining that such melodies match the artistry of either Liszt or Chopin (for that, perhaps, is needed the civilizing influence of George Sand). “Popular” culture, they will add, ought not to be considered “culture” at all.18

Still others, focussing on the writer as artist, take literature to be the product of a distinctive kind of activity which, whether its product be reckoned superior or inferior, at least has a prima facie claim to be called “art.” It exists in “its concreteness.” It is “faithful only to itself.” Standing firm in support of ars gratia artis and in the face of deconstructionism, post-structuralism, new, old or middle-aged historicism, postcolonialism, feminist theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, the several ruminations of Jacques Derrida, uncounted culture studies perspectives, the immense assortment of semiotic speculations still trickling down from the spent intellectual vineyards of France, and the several strains of Marxism still under repair, Peter McHugh, for one, contends above all that literature must be treated “independently of its history, context, or social circumstance.”19

Additional views have their supporters but, exhausted by only a small excursion into the academic wilderness, I decline to join the fray. I acquiesce instead in the belief that literature is, to borrow a phrase from W. B. Gallie, an “essentially contested concept.”20 Its definition involves controversies derived from first principles. Some debates can be resolved by appealing to empirical evidence. Such contests normally assume agreement on the concepts in question: what remain to be argued are the facts. So, using an illustration favoured by Gallie, we may test the proposition that “this picture is painted with oils” by relying on the physical evidence, for we can probably agree on what we mean by the nouns “picture” and “oils” and the verb “to paint.” We are, however, on unsteady ground when we move to the proposition that “this picture is a fine work of art,” since there is unlikely to be agreement on what may properly merit the honorific “art”, much less on what are the proper criteria of “fine” and “poor” art. It is, in short, the definition of what we are talking about (here, literature and cultural anthropology) rather than the object of discussion itself (Ricci’s trilogy) that is apt to be contested. Accordingly, if the lexical problem can be resolved, the rest should fall nicely into place.21 Lacking a dominant theory, the best for which we may presently hope is a preliminary taxonomy (or metatheory) of literary theories.

Although a formidable project, it would be possible to construct an exhaustive inventory of altercations among critics and scholars just as it would be conceivable to generate a comprehensive account of conceptual conflicts among cultural anthropologists concerning the correct scope and proper methods of that discipline. But, à quoi bon? I care far less about what, if anything, art and anthropology definitively are than about what they do, what company they keep, what they can teach us about remaining lucid and composed while staring into the hideous face of mindless postmodern technology out of control, what encouragement they can give us in the playful quest to become what Henry S. Kariel styled “connoisseurs of the abyss.”22 Unable to “touch some holy realm of being, some other world, some transcendent order,” we need instruction on how to confront our own mediocrity, to accept the banality of our existence while faithfully chronicling the purposelessness and amorality of life in what we tentatively embrace as the real world.23 Acutely aware that we may be relentlessly moving toward a self-affirming, self-satisfying and self-justifying global corporate state in which local cultures will be put gently to sleep in that good homogenous night of the humanoid soul, we still have the opportunity to stay attentive to personal stories of duress.

Of course, not everyone is consumed by the hyperbole of global hyperreality. Defenders of cultural diversity continue to mount what may be quixotic protests against technological hegemony. Resisting “coca-colonization” and the discovery of aboriginals adorned by the Nike “swoosh,” they insist that the “new world order” is merely the fantasy of bloated cultural imperialism, a daydream of patriotic Americans who, at the first sign of trouble, will retreat into the “homeland security” of their increasingly gate-guarded nation. Or, more apt for this discussion, whether in the form of Madame Butterfly, Truffaut’s Domicile conjugale or the recent reproduction of Victor Segalen’s Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetics of Diversity, the eroticism of exotica can display imperialism as a colonial aesthete’s wet dream with military ejaculations sloshing over Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq.24 Whatever may be our fate, like Vittorio Innocente, we are painfully aware of our surroundings, and both anthropological and literary story-tellers have it in their power to articulate accounts of deprival, thus alerting us to what we are missing.

Moreover, we may be pleased that Nino Ricci imposed no therapeutic, ersatz Freudian closure upon young Innocente. We may be thankful that Vittorio makes no suspiciously expiatory confession of primordial transgression to be traced vaginally back through his half-sister Rita to his mother’s fickle womb. Unlike consummate redemptees such as Eugene O’Neill’s James Tyrone, Jr., in A Moon for the Misbegotten, we may be grateful that Vittorio Innocente will not be entirely forgiven. Tyrone, we may recall, was poised incongruously between peasant Irish giants and foppish Ivy-League sophisticates, and went willingly to his peaceful sleep at last. We may hope that no such fate awaits the similarly situated Vittorio, that he will become ever more clearly conscious of his place, and will come to exemplify clarity and balance in the role in which he is inexorably implicated. Though there may never be a fourth Innocente novel, we may speculate about what he could do should he successfully shake off the narcotic of anonymity. We could see how he is fixed and how he will be poised to emerge in our own readerly imaginations (without the guiding hand of Nino Ricci, who will have already retreated down a path of less resistance). To see how he might take some sort of control of his own life and cease to be passively buffeted by strangers and archetypes, we must take a step or two back.

Common Origins

Anthropology arose naturally enough from questions about the origin and nature of humanity, questions that were of special interest in the centuries following the early exploration and settlement of America, Africa and Oceania by Europeans. Of course, within the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of YHWH (a.k.a., Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, etc.) worship, Genesis had long provided a superficially satisfactory account of human origins in Eden, of human nature in the garden, of original sin and the fall from grace. Accounts of supernatural interventions and interpretations fixated on sin and redemption, however, could not survive scientific thought, secular explanation and what has come to be called the “enlightenment” unsullied. Contact with exotic cultures and especially cultures that Europeans would long regard as primitive, gave rise to speculations about “natural man.” Engaging works such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611) and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) nicely illustrate the literary attention paid to those “natural societies” that predated or existed apart from what modern Europeans were pleased to call civilization. The contrast between civilized men such as Prospero and Crusoe and aboriginals such as Friday (good natives) and Caliban (bad natives) helped to shape colonial, anti-colonial and post-colonial ideologies for centuries to come.25

The related topics of innocence and barbarism also engaged philosophers from Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), through Locke (Two Treatises on Government, 1689) to Rousseau (The Social Contract, 1762).26 They took the idea of the “state of nature,” whether metaphorically or literally, as the condition of human beings prior to the development of political authority, and they constructed elaborate social and political theories about the origins of community, culture and the state upon it. Of particular interest was the origin of civil society. How, it was more than rhetorically asked, could creatures like Shakespeare’s Caliban or Defoe’s cannibals, albeit with innumerable false starts, ultimately enter into a social contract and produce refined, eloquent and prosperous civilizations like Prospero’s, to be enjoyed by the inhabitants of seventeenth and eighteenth-century London, Paris and Rome? The idea of a social contract was, of course, not novel. The Bible, wrote Sir Ernest Barker, “taught that the powers that be are ordained by God; but it also taught that David made a covenant with his people.”27 The idea cropped up in Aristotle’s Politics. It was an important doctrine in Roman law. It found its way into the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. The discussion of a social contract (and the promise of progress that it implied) acquired special urgency, however, at the outset of the age of European expansion and eventual global hegemony. There had, it must be remembered, always been aliens, foreigners, barbarians, savages and “others,” but they had normally been found “beyond the pale” and were of interest mainly when they threatened “vandalism.” With the conquest of the Americas, Africa, Oceania and much of Asia, the “other” became more problematic, and protoanthropological writings sought to solve the problems.

Who were (indeed, what were) these natives? How were they to be treated? What could they reveal to Europeans about the nature of the species (if, in fact, they were members of the same species)? Rational philosophical reflection, appeals to the “greats” of the Western canon, advocacy of principles such as “natural law” and similar devices were employed by scholars, but the taste of queer and quaint customs and ideas (often overlain with the obvious odour of racism) flavoured the intellectual ragout. The tales of travellers and the creativity of writers drawing on themes older than The Odyssey gave piquancy to learned argumentation. The spices provided by Defoe, for instance, are noteworthy. Disdaining a fastidious distinction between fact and fancy, he “preferred to describe his tales as ‘true histories’, faking his fictions to read like facts, and filling in the broad sweeps of his adventure stories with minute circumstantial details.”28 While making no claim that Hobbes took direct instruction from Shakespeare nor Rousseau from Defoe, it can hardly be gainsaid that these entertainments contributed greatly to popular talk about the state of nature, the social contract and the origins and evolution of humankind. They contributed much to the cerebral flavours of the time.

The Lure of Science

Soon enough, the proximity of the colonial and the native furnished sufficient evidence about many topics to permit the growth of systematic studies of human cultures. Speculative philosophy, romance writing, travellers’ accounts, administrative reports, early missionary narratives (including the invaluable Jesuit Relations29 and later methodical investigations by civil servant/scientists (notably with the United States Geological Survey) branched off, sought their own languages, audiences and claims for veracity. This mélange was not easily transformed into a coherent discipline. Like the distinction between weekend butterfly collectors and certified lepidopterists, hobbyists of humanity dominated ethnography well into the nineteenth century. It was disproportionately the preserve of inspired (and occasionally uninspired) amateurs of independent means who resisted the professionalization of their arcane activities. Not until 1892, for example, did that burgeoning degree mill, the United States of America, award its first doctorate in anthropology.30

The supervisor of that pioneering work was Franz Boas, who almost single-handedly “would successfully raise anthropology from its infancy as a profession to a respectable, exacting and complex science by the early twentieth century.”31 This transformation did not sit well with a number of racists, anti-Semites and eugenicists. Thus, almost from the outset, cultural anthropology was rent by political divisions. Boas led sustained attacks on racism and incurred venomous attacks from luminaries such as Charles Walcott at the National Academy of Sciences and his own colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University. He was berated for his liberal views and for his German ethnicity, a telling complaint during the last months of World War I when the US finally became a belligerent. Michael Pupin, a Columbia physicist, denounced Boas as “an objectionable public nuisance,” and openly longed for the “good old days of absolutism where the means were always at hand for ridding oneself of such a nuisance as Franz Boas.”32 Also out of sorts were those who, as soldiers, traders, missionaries or colonial administrators had a practical interest in “backward” peoples and sought only pragmatic advice about how best to deal with them militarily, economically, spiritually and politically. Neither government-sponsored research expeditions nor university-based programs of instruction won immediate applause from those who ventured into the field for purposes other than academic research.

None the less, while much early anthropology gave succour to imperialist exploitation of what would later be called the third world (or, with unseemly irony, “developing nations”), anthropology was also employed in defence of radical causes.33 The researches of Louis Henry Morgan into Iroquois and Algonkian societies, by way of illustration, were the base upon which Engels built his initial application of Marxian thought to the explication of the lives of indigenous North Americans.34 As Bruce Cox relates, “it is a moot point whether Morgan himself was a materialist; Engels’ paraphrase makes him one.”35 Fiction, politics and anthropology are plainly connected.

The broad social landscapes painted by many early social scientists also had much in common with romantic poetry. Its preoccupation with the life of the city and the country, with tradition and progress, and with the loss of community and the triumph of market society, emerged in a number of theories and became central to Tönnies’ concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Indeed, much nineteenth-century social science fell squarely in the radical tradition that began with William Blake’s condemnation of the “dark, satanic mills” of industrialism. It viewed the factory system of industrial capitalism as an historically unprecedented, wicked and tyrannical exploitation of mind and body. By casting an eye back to simple societies, untainted and untarnished, anthropologists furnished social reformers with the kind of contrast they needed to facilitate a moral censure of the proletarian misery and bourgeois decadence of life around them. If such progressives entertained unrealistically romantic ideas of sturdy peasants and idyllic pre-industrial life, Ricci’s “high realism” is certainly unsentimental, though the failure of Vittorio to find happiness in the big city of Toronto and the return of a young man such as Fabrizio to tend his garden in the old village suggests that the promise of an upscale urban lifestyle is likely to disappoint as well.

Intimations of Convergence

Cultural anthropology, like most modern social studies, had its beginnings in the belles lettres. However much it currently mimics the methods and seeks to attain the respectability of a science, it is worth remembering that, despite its materialism, its mannered displays of empiricism, and its expressed goal of statements of causality, contemporary work in anthropology had its origins in concerns that were primarily those of the humanities. So, Nino Ricci’s relationship to cultural anthropology must first be seen in the context of the traditional relationship between literature and human studies, and in the varied paths that each have taken. Some hope for a reconvergence and imagine that one day these paths may be mapped according to the principles of “sociological criticism” originally laid out in the 1930s by literary theorist Kenneth Burke:

What would such sociological categories be like? They would consider works of art, I think, as strategies for selecting enemies and allies, for socializing losses, for warding off the evil eye, for purification, propitiation, and desanctification, consolation and vengeance, admonition and exhortation, implicit commands or instructions of one sort or another. Art forms like ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘satire’ would be treated as equipments for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes. Their relation to typical situations would be stressed. Their comparative values would be considered, with the intention of formulating a ‘strategy of strategies,’ the ‘over-all’ strategy obtained by inspection of the lot.36

Such an inclusive taxonomy is little closer than when Burke offered his challenge. Still, we can reflect upon his ambitious project, and ruminate also upon the utility of a literary analysis that would disclose the grammar and rhetoric of anthropology for, just as with literature, the anthropological path is cluttered with dangerous traps, pitfalls and occasional ambushes. I propose here a modest probe that does not aspire even to the status of a preparatory exploration (much less an outline of a complete anthropology of anthropology), but which may hint at the general direction to be taken. Along the way, we will encounter conflicts and implacable enemies whose frequently bitter bickering centres not simply on scientific questions that might admit of resolution based on appeals to dispassionately collected evidence, but on deeply held and essentially contested cultural assumptions and beliefs. Although it would be reassuring to say that these beliefs are about what Thomas S. Kuhn famously called scientific “paradigms,” it would be more accurate to say that social science is in a pre-paradigmatic stage of evolution.37 What are really being contested are inchoate interpretations, hunches and minimally educated guesses that are insufficiently capacious and empirically verifiable to count as much more than self-justifying stories, sometimes with nefarious political purposes behind them. In any case, such conflicts belie the ideal of disinterested scientific talk and threaten to leave blood on the floor of many a senior common room. So long as claims to “normal science” are premature, a conscious re-engagement with the literary imagination may be in order.

The Truth about Cannibals and the Joy of Cooking

Little of this talk appealed to students of literature. While Boas was transforming anthropology at the beginning of the last century, teachers of literature, increasingly freed from their attachments to the classics and willing to embrace the vernacular simultaneously recoiled from the late nineteenth-century triumph of science. A few took up the romantic exaltation of the “stupefied peasant.” In this they were the fellow travellers of Martin Heidegger, the “Black Forest philosopher,” to whom Terry Eagleton attributes the “sinister … downgrading of reason for the spontaneous ‘pre-understanding’, the celebration of wise passivity” that would lead, “in 1933 into explicit support of Hitler” or, in Lives of the Saints, to the support of Vittorio’s grandfather for Mussolini.38 This is not the tradition that Nino Ricci follows. While Heidegger’s thought and actions remain matters of intense debate, the fading life of the old mayor of Valle del Sol, is deadened and bathetic. His portrait of peasant life is far more authentic.

For Ricci, more salient roots may include tales and occasional fantasies written by author/adventurers. The example of Herman Melville’s Typee (1851) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first published short story, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” (eventually collected in Stories by English Authors: Africa, 1896) come prominently to mind as does, a half-century later, Farley Mowat’s The People of the Deer (1951). Although both raised questions of what was fact and what was fantasy in reports of traditional societies in the South Pacific, South Africa and northern Canada, each in its own way raised public awareness of traditional peoples.

More likely antecedents, however, are social scientists who looked with a sober gaze at the conditions and cultures of “others.” With some exceptions, those who tell rude tales are commonly associated with physical anthropology. One of those exceptions is sociologist Edward Banfield, who wrote a very nasty account of bucolic Italian peasants and thus turned the evil eye of academia back upon tales of ignorance in the recesses of European development.39

Banfield used a combination of neo-Freudian psychology and structural-functional analysis, duly confirmed by the application of Thematic Apperception Tests, to explain the economic, political and social problems of a Montegrano, a town in Southern Italy, not all that much different from Valle del Sol. Like the later work of Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty,” Banfield engaged in work that has been condemned for starting the contemporary trend of “blaming the victim.”40 Banfield attributed the “backwardness” of the town to “amoral familism,” by which he meant a tendency to look out for one’s immediate relatives and not contribute to the general good. Fittingly, a quote from Hobbes stands proudly and prominently at the front of his book; controversially, a speaking engagement at the University of Toronto was only one to have incited considerable student protest.

More than appearing merely economically backward, Banfield’s subjects were pseudo-scientifically shown to be morally inferior to the bulk of Western Europeans who had embraced modern technology, the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. For his part, Nino Ricci, while telling a tale similar to Banfield’s (and about a similar people and time), portrays himself as less explicitly judgmental. His purpose, after all, is neither to condemn, nor to reform social arrangements but to set the stage for a psycho-morality play.

More liberal souls than Banfield’s (or even Ricci’s) usually inhabit the tents of cultural anthropology. Their tiffs come down to this. Is there a biologically based “human nature” that universally determines the character of individuals and the structure of society, or are human beings socially malleable and determined by the “environmental nurture” of cultural restrictions and enthusiasms. In either case, as Levi-Strauss has observed: “Anthropology … is the outcome of a historical process which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other, and during which millions of innocent human beings have had their resources plundered and their institutions and beliefs destroyed, whilst they themselves were thrown into bondage, and contaminated by diseases they were unable to resist.”41

As for anthropologists themselves, their subject matter has varied but their subjects remain the same. Sometimes they are interested in the deconstruction of certain specific events42 and other times of enduring practices.43 Often they will address larger themes such as human aggression,44 gender relations45, racism46, and imperialism.47 Still, they will typically be more concerned with the investigation of the “other” than with a critical encounter with themselves. Until recently, there has been little work done on the anthropology of anthropology. Instead, as US author and essayist Larry McMurtry has baldly put it with reference to the ongoing investigation of the Zuni Indians in the American south-west, anthropologists constitute a horde of “bloodsucking leeches.”48

Both anthropology and sociology emerged in the same industrializing society. Anthropology looked outward, sociology looked inward, and both looked downward for their material, with hands extended, palms upward for their research grants. If, then, Ricci’s trilogy can be construed as an imaginative exercise in participant-observation, the anthropological technique of becoming seemingly at one with the natives in order to produce a more absorbing account of the meaning of their lives, neither aficionados of creative writing nor scientific description are apt to be impressed. At the same time, if we pay direct attention to the politics that underlie contemporary scholarly practices, we may get what I promised as “a hint” of “the general direction to be taken” in any attempt to locate the work of Ricci the novelist in relation to cultural anthropology.

Anthropological Politics

Two case studies will prepare the way. First, there is example of Margaret Mead, a soft-hearted, progressive “culturalist” whose Coming of Age in Samoa was the most popular anthropological work of its time.49 It quickly sold close to half a million copies and remains in print today. Mead captured the public imagination and pretty much set the direction of academic research for the next fifty years. She contrasted the lives of the carefree and natural children of Samoa with the repressed and restrictive experiences of their counterparts in the United States. Together with Growing Up in New Guinea, her Coming of Age in Samoa provided a stark contrast between the purity and simplicity of the Melanesians and the puritanical neuroses of modern adolescents.50 While never denying the material advantages of industrial society, she criticized the repressive pathologies of its culture and held out the practices of a less complicated community with intimations of what Robert Redfield famously called a “folk society” to be in many ways superior.51 Mead’s popularizations led directly and indirectly to a re-evaluation of North American child-rearing practices, education and, by extension, to new thoughts about co-operation and competition in the larger society, all well before Dr. Spock told us about baby and child care and various experiments in “progressive” education became the innovations de jour in both public and private schools. For almost a half a century, Mead was the unchallenged Queen of Cultural Anthropology.52

Over the past twenty years, however, Derek Freeman has written devastating critiques that affirmed that Mead’s idyllic account was false. In Margaret Mead in Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth and The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead, Freeman exposed what he persuasively demonstrated were crucial flaws in her research, defects that revealed her ideological biases more than the actual lives of her saints. Mead had insisted that, in Samoa, adolescent sexuality was open, happy and psychologically healthy when, statistically, her South Pacific paradise had one of the world’s highest rates of violent rape. This was not simply a matter of disputed findings of little interest outside academe. Mead’s story had an influence on educational and social policy innovations for decades. It was at least partly responsible for the growth of what critics have called the “permissiveness” that is said to dominate current thinking about parenting. Not only did she get the facts wrong, according to Freeman she was actually taken in by some amicable Samoan girls who, like many other subjects of social scientific inquiry, told Mead only what she wanted to hear. One, Fa’amotu, features prominently in Mead’s autobiography Blackberry Winter (1972) and, though of advanced age, was one of Freeman’s most important sources. The “hoaxing” of Margaret Mead, it seems, was a kind of gentle practical joke by a couple of girls with whom Mead had become quite friendly; if so, its unintended consequences were extraordinary. In Mead’s story and Freeman’s story about her story, an important ethical question is intertwined with methodological concerns related to the issue of “subjectivity.” How reliable are studies in which the observer becomes intimate with the observed? Who, in the end, is kidding whom?53 Of course, it is possible that the judgement of Paul Shankman will prove correct: “Freeman will be remembered for his tireless assault on Mead ... his ... fifteen minutes of fame will expire.” Otherwise, “his contributions are limited.”54 Margaret Mead was an iconic figure, the centre of a bold story and efforts to rehabilitate her reputation (for those who think rehabilitation is needed) continue.

Compared to what follows, the Mead-Freeman controversy seems quite light-hearted. In fact, the academic magazine Lingua Franca reported in its July/August, 1996 issue that the entire matter has taken to the stage. Robert J. Theodoratus reports:

the staging of David Williamson’s play Heretic to sell-out audiences at the Sydney Opera House in Australia In this play, Derek Freeman is depicted as a “lone-wolf eccentric” under attack by the anthropological profession. Margaret Mead appears in various guises of her “soul-sisters”: Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis and Barbara Streisand. Franz Boas is dressed in a salmon coloured suit, yellow and black cowboy boots and a red bow-tie. The 80-year-old Derek Freeman loves it and has sat through the play five times. He has also reissued a second edition of his book now retitled, Franz Boas and the Flower of Heaven: “Coming of Age in Samoa and the Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead and has dedicated this edition to David Williamson.55

Such good-natured sport, however serious the intellectual disputes that prompted it, would be utterly out of place in the next controversy,56 except perhaps as a remake of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, set in the Amazon, re-named The Anthropologists and featuring natives in loincloths swinging from vines and singing “Springtime for Chagnon.” What is at stake is no longer a conflict about anthropological theory and method, but a battle about anthropology and genocide.

In the case of Napoleon Chagnon, we have a hard-hearted, reactionary sociobiologist whose Yanomamo: The Fierce People was the big anthropological hit of the past quarter-century.57 First published in 1968, it sold over 400,000 copies in its first year of publication alone, it has gone on to replace Coming of Age in Samoa as anthropology’s all-time marketing success. Widely praised, particularly by the likes of sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, it is the most conspicuous item in a series of works (including three prize-winning films) that catapulted Chagnon to international fame. The Fierce People described and to some degree perversely idealized an Amazonian tribe that Chagnon declared to be among the most aggressive and vicious societies known today.

Considered the largest “in tact” and “untouched” aboriginal population on earth, the Yanomamo were regarded as a unique and invaluable resource for anyone interested in probing the character of “natural man.” The picture was not pretty. Originally commissioned to take blood samples from this genetically pristine community as a control group for studies of radiation sickness among survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chagnon went on to compose a full-scale ethnography of the Yanomamo people. According to standard anthropological textbooks, his account revealed that violence by men against women, violence among men in the same village, and warfare between villages are part of their daily life and the focus of their culture. The Yanomamo myth of origin self-identifies them as a violent people coming from blood. Motivated largely by the desire to obtain women, the internal warfare among Yanomamo villages was described as almost constant, a Hobbesian war of all (tribes, villages and individuals) against all.

In 2000, however, Patrick Tierney published a denunciation of Chagnon that went much farther than Freeman’s almost respectful demolition of Margaret Mead.58 Tierney accused Chagnon of deliberately falsifying his data, of staging local conflicts to demonstrate the ferocity of the Yanomamo, of precipitating actual conflict by playing favourites in the distribution of machetes and other goods, by countenancing rape, and by ignoring the fact that, over a period of thirty years, the rate of violent death among the Yanomamo was only about two persons per year in a population of about 15,000 with most of the killings taking place in three outbursts that took place immediately after white men (twice including Chagnon) had taken themselves into Yanomamo territory. Indeed, Tierney stopped just a libel suit short of charging Chagnon of spreading, through no less than negligence and possibly malice of forethought, an epidemic of measles that killed hundreds and possibly thousands of aboriginals.59 (Chagnon, of course, was not alone; James Neel, his mentor and head of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Michigan, as well as several unsavoury local characters including mining executives and corrupt politicians do not come out well either). The matter has prompted a special inquiry by the American Anthropological Association and has become the focus of debate on numerous websites, some of which defend Chagnon and some of which assail him.60

At the end, Mead emerges as a naïve social reformer whose gullibility (or, perhaps, ideological blinders) set her political goals back a good deal because her scientific work was shown to be sloppy. Meanwhile, in Tierney’s account, Chagnon comes close to meeting the clinical definition of a sociopath whose efforts were consciously directed toward one of the most apparently mendacious research programs in the history of social science.61

The two cases involve two of the dominant anthropologists of the past century. Their legacies and those of their critics offer a caution about social scientific research. Both Mead and Chagnon employed the language (and, to various degrees, the legitimate methods) of their discipline in the interest of pre-existing political goals. Mead wanted to show that repressive North American social values led to unhealthy psychological development. Chagnon wanted to demonstrate that North American society had gone “soft” and that only the recovery of the aggressive attitudes and warlike behaviour of our tribal ancestors could bring us back from the edge of the abyss to which pacifism, socialism, feminism, postmodernism and a serious shortage of testosterone has led us. (Asked by one ingenuous graduate student if he did not find even one pacifist among the Yanomamo, Chagnon thundered that he did not go there to study cowards!).

Rising to Our Level of Mediocrity

What I have briefly outlined are only two of the most famous instances of controversy in modern anthropology. My point is to cast in high relief the image of a science in which opinion is nothing if not diverse, in which many different schools compete for government grants and graduate students, in which even corporations such as Kraft Foods have been known to finance anthropological expeditions into Generation-X kitchens to find out why post-adolescent Canadians (possibly including some of Vittorio Innocente’s classmates at York University) are so willing to eat the overpriced faux pasta known as Kraft Dinner™. It is now time (or past time) to shift toward the assigned subject of this essay, Nino Ricci. To do so, I would like to retrieve from the endnotes the name of another famous American, Kurt Vonnegut, a rightly respected novelist and a one-time aspirant anthropologist. Having completed undergraduate work in chemistry, he was drawn first to graduate work in physical anthropology at the University of Chicago. He describes his conversion to cultural anthropology thus:

I began with physical anthropology. I was taught how to measure the size of the brain of a human being who had been dead a long time. I bore a hole in his skull, and I filled it with grains of polished rice. Then I emptied the rice into a graduated cylinder. I found this tedious.

I switched to archaeology, and I learned something I already knew: that man had been a maker and smasher of crockery since the dawn of time. And I went to my faculty adviser, and I confessed that science did not charm me, that I longed for poetry instead. I was depressed. I knew my wife and my father would want to kill me, if I went into poetry.

My adviser smiled. “How would you like to study poetry that pretends to be scientific?” he asked me.

“Is such a thing possible?” I said.

He shook my hand. “Welcome to the field of ... cultural anthropology,’ he said.”62

To help us make the connection more explicit, it is well to consider the words of social scientist Robert Nisbet. Speaking of the unity of the creative act, he describes the way in which our common enterprise is divided into the “logic of discovery” and the “logic of demonstration.” The second, he says, is subject to rules and prescriptions; the first isn’t. “Of all the sins against the Muse,” he continues, “ ... the greatest is the assertion, or strong implication, in textbooks on methodology and theory construction that the first (and utterly vital) logic can somehow be summoned by obeying the rules of the second. Only intellectual drought and barrenness can result from that misconception.”63 So, although “the really vital unity of science and art lies in the ways of understanding reality, we should not overlook the important similarity of means of representing reality in the arts and sciences.”64

This flies in the face of those who hold that “the rule of art is that [it] is nothing but itself, i.e., not to be confused with whatever else than itself it brings to mind. There is no ‘operationalism’ in art in the technical sense ... art need not ‘represent’ anything whatsoever: the reality of art is in no way contingent upon its connection with something else that is real.”65 It says, instead, one of the prime tasks of art and, hence, of literature is the act of representation. Nino Ricci consistently achieves this in the opinion of one reviewer who wrote that Lives of the Saints “finds its fullness in a particular and peculiar time and place,” where Ricci displays his “brilliant descriptive powers.”66

The representative or demonstrative dimension of Ricci’s work builds on his own experience. “At university,” he tells us, “I interviewed approximately 150 Italian immigrants as part of a project.”67 Vittorio, at the same university, does likewise. He becomes engaged in a small research project in which he must interview Italian immigrants about their lives. His work is self-absorbed, perfunctory and academically inept. He is powerless. He asks sterile questions. His subjects pretend to answer them. He pretends to believe their answers. All the while, “sensitive questions” are “thrown out from the start.”68 The interviews are mediated by technology. “Whatever eccentricity there might have been seemed levelled by our recorders-the mood changed at once when they clicked on ... The recorder itself became a presence, a silent official in the room ... ”69 Vittorio himself is less intrusive. He is no one. He feels an “unease” that grows “more insistent.”70 He is a lousy social scientist.

Transferring Allegiances

This does not mean that literature must strive to reproduce authentically what passes for reality. It remains an imaginative exercise equally at home in factories, in brothels, on streetcars winding their way through crowded cities. But even when the dealing with utopias, drug-induced hallucinations, or self-conscious language games like those in Christian Bök’s Eunoia, something (an act, a perception, or a desire) is being represented.71

Regarding our ability to compose portraits, explicit efforts in art or science to represent an artist or a young man, Princeton anthropologist Clifford Geertz states unequivocally that “our ideas, our values, our acts, even our emotions are, like our central nervous system itself, cultural products.”72 This leads anthropologists such as Bob Scholte to the “working hypothesis” that “intellectual paradigms, including literary theories and anthropological traditions, are culturally mediated, that is, they “contextually situated and relative.” From this, he infers that if “anthropological activity is culturally mediated, it is in turn subject to ethnographic description and ethnological analysis.” This puts anthropology in a “deeply problematic situation.” Its activity is never only scientific. In addition, it is expressive or symptomatic of a presupposed cultural world of which it is itself an integral part.” Accordingly, “we must subject them (anthropological traditions) to further reflexive understanding, hermeneutic mediation, and philosophical critique.”73 We are also invited to understand the line between science and art, anthropology and literature to be essentially opaque. The literary guide to such an understanding encompasses such diverse sources as: Truman Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood (1966), a book that told a true story except for certain changes made to improve upon reality; Norman Mailer’s proudly blurred book, The Armies of the Night (1968), which was cleverly subtitled History as a Novel; the Novel as History; Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, a gateway to the “new age” that purported to bring the wisdom of a Yaqui Indian sorcerer to the remnants of the “new left,” left many in doubt that Don Juan actually existed, and led Castaneda’s admirers to applaud Ronald Sukenick’s epistemological anarchism as displayed thus:

All versions of “reality” are of the nature of fiction. There’s your story and my story, there’s the journalist’s story and the historian’s story, there’s the philosopher’s story and the scientist’s story ... Our common world is only a description ... reality ... is imagined.74

In 1973, Hunter Thompson let us share some variation of his experiences in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’73. Adds Louis Lapham: “In 1977 Alex Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for Roots, a romance passing as history. In 1980, Norman Mailer returned to win a Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song, a supposedly factual account of Gary Gilmour’s death, submitted to the prize committee as fiction.”75 Sometimes called “the new journalism,” sometimes called “memoirs,” fact and fiction have easily blended. Social scientists, by reconfiguring their narratives in scientistic rhetoric, have merely presented old stories in new forms. They may be presented in language appropriated from engineering (“systems theory”) and accompanied by mysterious mathematical formulae presented to persuade the initiated of the gravitas inherent in studies of the superficialities of social life. In all cases, what are put forward are “stories” intended to make a point, or possibly a career.

Saving Appearances in a Backward Society

Stephen Amidon writes: “Lives of the Saints is an honest and well-detailed story, evoking the everyday life of an Italian peasant community with commendable accuracy. The superstitions, politics, hard work and dreams of America that pervade the village are rendered with an almost anthropological rigour.”76Ricci’s own attribution of importance influences on his work, however, bring his “realism” into question. “Realism,” says Terry Eagleton, “aspires to a unity of subject and object, of the psychological and the social.”77 On balance, though, Ricci’s ethnography, is less concerned with the community than it is with the individual. It is less obliged to anthropology than to psychology. He pays homage to Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business and acknowledges his debt to Northrop Frye, who taught him to weave the story of an individual into larger mythological patterns. As well, when acknowledging his intellectual debt for assistance in creating the community of Valle del Sole, he confesses: “I drew from my reading of Freud and Jung in imagining how that kind of community would operate.”78 He acknowledges his primary debt to Freud insofar as the key event of Where She Has Gone is concerned. “You could argue,” he says, “that civilization began when this [incest] taboo was created, that the guilt that created led to civilization. And there’s something formative about the incest taboo. Anthropologists have found that it was one of the first taboos.”79If not quite “original sin,” Ricci’s encounter with incest comes close. The entire trilogy, says Roland Merullo, “is a brilliant study of the way shame is passed down through generations. Like any inherited illness, shame grows silently in the innocence of childhood, then stifles the victim’s own blossoming, never allowing him to see this beauty in himself or to allow others to see it.”  According to Merullo, “Nino Ricci understands this dynamic, and gives it its rightful place in the pantheon of human misery.” The misery he exploits is never fully explained. Ricci’s depiction of the Innocente family is “without a tinge of preaching, without the mercy of even a momentary joy,” yet Merullo concludes that at the end, poor Vittorio is allowed to “reach a sort of peace.”80

I cannot agree. Vittorio is used up and abandoned. Ricci has bigger fish to fry. He also lists among his influences Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Proust. “Northrop Frye,” adds Jeffrey Canton, “provided a key for Ricci’s exploration of myth, ritual and superstition.”81 So, Ricci’s Lives of the Saints is declared a “lyrical and evocative portrayal of rural life in the Apennine mountains of Italy.” 82 We believe in the “palpable concreteness of the world he creates.”83 We accept his description of “incomparably provincial, narrow, ignorant” peasants.”84 We allow him to “make sense of how rural, superstitious, clannish, pagan Italy buffets a young boy’s psyche and poisons his innocence.”85

Aspiring to Alienation

Says contemporary American pragmatist Richard Rorty: “In my sense of ethnocentrism, to be ethnocentric is simply to work by our own lights. The defence of ethnocentrism is simply that there are no other lights to work by. Beliefs suggested by another individual or another culture must be tested by trying to weave them together with beliefs which we already have.”86

Says political theorist Henry Kariel: “For social scientists to begin their projects where they are located-in their forums, classrooms, committees, corridors, offices, institutes, conventions, conferences, or journals such as this one-is to engage in a form of politics in which they proceed pragmatically to test their capacity for welcoming strangers.”87 The novelist and the anthropologist try to tell stories about the “other.” They merely choose slightly different means to do so.

Rising to the Fall

Ricci, unlike anthropologists, is content to display the symbolic and material culture and to illustrate the personality configurations in different infrastructural settings. In so doing he effectively demonstrates the plasticity of human behaviour. He shows how, in a remarkably short period of time, not only Vittorio Innocente but most of the characters in his novels are compelled to adapt to changing circumstances. What he does not explicitly provide are explanations of the relationship between those circumstances–ecological, economic, reproductive and technological–that anthropology seeks to generate. He gives us fanciful data to which anthropological theory could be usefully applied. It is not his task to go further; the language game of the fictional writer is different from the language game of the social scientist.88

What he might have done, however, would have been to confront Vittorio’s genuine dilemma. Still connected by memory to the traditional world of Valle del Sol yet implicated in amorality of postmodernity, Vittorio is silenced by the predicament of seeking defining not his moral code but the his ambivalence in choosing among the structures of moral codes themselves. Conflicted between a morality based on ahistorical verities such as are embedded in the religious language of sin and what has recently been called “situation ethics” (a form of relativism that goes further than even the crudest utilitarianism), Vittorio is prematurely abandoned.89

Becoming Political

The truth of the matter is that it is impossible for an artist or a social scientist to claim to express an unassailable, to say nothing of an unalterable, truth about any aspect of the human condition. As Umberto Eco, among many others, has written: “The idea of the universe, as the totality of the cosmos, is one that comes from the most ancient cosmography ... But can one describe, as if seeing from above, something within which we are contained, of which we are a part, and from which we cannot escape?”90 Natural scientists came to understand this necessary modesty decades ago and now speak cautiously of probabilities rather than inescapable causalities. On a useful spectrum, science is concerned with questions, religion is concerned with answers, and anthropology and novel writing waver tentatively in between. This is not to embrace unqualified relativism.  There most likely is a real world that is not simply the product of my, your or Bishop Berkeley’s imagination. It is filled with crabgrass and wildebeest and artists; it is linked by the process of evolution and family obligations, There are plenty of phenomena the existence of which have been so fully demonstrated that only the innocently ignorant or the contumaciously perverse would deny. There are patterns of thought and behaviour that we can at least provisionally identify. For many artists and social scientists, this is not enough. They are offended by their own lack of finality. They want their art and their research to get somewhere. They want to be something. They wish for their journey to be over.

When distressed by the absence of finality, when eager to state something (anything!) with confidence, when eager to close debate, the defensive authors of what librarians are compelled to call either fiction or non-fiction make claims they can never redeem. In the alternative, when liberated by the knowledge that there is no final resting place, that nothing can be said with complete certainty, when indifferent to making claims at all, those same authors are released to assume a more playful pose, to remain lucid without being committed, to see things not as competing realities but as diverse. There are, of course, limits. One cannot be totally disengaged. Actions, even verbalizations, have effects and morality is called into play when one’s actions have public consequences. Social science and imaginative writing are not entities with firm and fixed definitional boundaries. They are activities. They are what cultural anthropologists and novelists do. At the present time, their respective doings have important ethical and political dimensions. Anthropologist Marvin Harris is quite right to strike a judgmental note when he denounce irresponsible epistemological relativity:

The doctrine that all fact is fiction and that all fiction is fact [as] a morally depraved doctrine. It is “a doctrine that conflates the attacked with the attacker; the tortured with the torturer; and the killed with the killer. It is true that at Dachau there was the SS’s story and the prisoners’ story; that at My Lai there was Calley’s story and kneeling mother’s story; and that at Kent State there was the guardsmen’s story and the story of the students shot in the back, five hundred feet away. Only a moral cretin would wish to maintain that all these stories could be equally true.91

Nevertheless, both the anthropology of culture and the art of the novelist are modes of political action. Each differently has the capacity to shed light on previously undisclosed possibilities. So, the Ricci trilogy could have emerged into an openly demonstrated strategy for political action, and not “beached up” poor Vittorio to brood plaintively on a bushy sandbar off the coast of Kenya. Henry S. Kariel might have been writing about Nino Ricci when he said:

Exhilarating as well as depressing experiences remain unconnected. The private self-denying language of the social sciences is matched, it would seem, by artistic ventures: novelists, movie directors, playwrights, painters, and poets seem to be equally unable to make explicit the explicitly political dimensions of their works. Neither social scientists nor artists create public structures for the feelings they release the malaise they exploit, the little excitements they keep generating. Nor do journalists, culture critics, social commentators, and political polemicists; they fastidiously document prevailing miseries but fail to relate them to the underlying forces of political life.92

Deprived of usable myths and rituals, it is telling that Nino Ricci has fled not only from the surface facts of modernity but also from the suppressed, deflected, and ultimately wasted impulses at the political margin where public transactions fade into our unshared private lives. Uncommunicative and impotent when confronted with the disconnected, perverse and banal facts of life, Vittorio Innocente departs in silence, disaffected and narcotized by dying sparks in the night. He murmurs:

Language seems sometimes such a crude tool to have devised, obscuring as much as it reveals, as if we are not much further along than those half-humans of a million years ago with their fires and their bits of chipped stone; though maybe like them all we strive for in the end is simply to find our own way to hold back for a time the encroaching dark.93

Leaving Vittorio Innocente alone to fret in the darkness, Ricci has taken off to explore Jesus from whom he seeks “some bit of hope, some secret he might reveal that would help make the world over ... a doorway he would have had me pass through, from darkness into light.”94 Whether or not this demonstrates other than traditional escapism is far beyond my judgement, and so I must wait to see what happens next. Ricci may continue to chronicle the alienated within society, reach for inspiration above society, or emerge politically as one of the “artists manoeuvring in a postmodern manner, actors treating all the world as stage, espionage agents prevailing in no-man’s-land, and children playing with reality [who] are at one in enacting their lives in the darkest of times. Unheroic, amoral and composed,” says Henry Kariel, “they are our last best hope.”95

“We evade death-oblivion-when we interact with those of the world’s powers which, once touched and expressed, combine their vitality with ours. The difficulty is that we get to know our resources for such manoeuvring only when we draw on them, as we learn to walk by walking or, less precisely, as we reduce the distance between an abstract notion of what it means to act and being in action. ... Success in such politics demand’s the performer’s detachment from the dregs of empiricism, from what he has come to know excessively well: the results of past action. To change these results-the prevailing patterns of behavior-he must distrust what he knows; that is, he must free himself from the epistemology of empiricism by treating all evidence as mere provocation. Accepting no fixed definition of reality, he is loyal only to an unsymbolized whole in which to live is to die, in which the process of dying is intrinsic to living. Ambivalent toward all divided segments of experience, toward all parts being played, the performer’s commitment, in short, is to endless play itself.”96

For at least this Ricci reader, Vittorio’s room for play is terminated in an unsatisfying endgame as Innocente is left, not musing on “the veranda of a flat ... above a food shop in the island’s single town,” but flopping - an exhausted cuttlefish on the beach.97

This article is based on a paper prepared for the Canadian Society for Italian Studies’ annual meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, 2009.


1 Nino Ricci, Lives of the Saints (Dunvegan: Cormorant, 1990), In a Glass House (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993), Where She Has Gone (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1997).

2 The phrase “thick description” is borrowed from the work of anthropologist Clifford Geertz, whose studies involve detailed treatments of semiotics as the basis for the analysis of cultures. See “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” Daedalus, Vol. 101, No. 1 (Winter, 1972), pp. 1-37.

3 Jim Bencinvega, “A Little Boy’s Sense of Justice,” The Christian Science Monitor (July 5, 1991), p. 13.

4 Ann Copeland, Irene McGuire and Paul Stuewe, “A Circle of Clarity,” Books in Canada, Vol. 20, No. 3 (April, 1991), p. 19

5 Jonathan Yardley, “Breaking Old World Ties,” The Washington Post (May 8, 1991), p. D-2.

6Nino Ricci, in an interview with Jeffrey Canton, Quill and Quire, Vol. 56, No. 7 (July, 1990), p. 55.

7 Roy MacSkimming, “Two First Novels,” The Canadian Forum, Vol. LXVIV, No. 791 (July-August, 1990), p. 30.

8 The emic strain in cultural anthropology is given philosophical sustenance in Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958). It includes a legion of cultural idealists, structuralists, symbolic interactionists, phenomenologists, ethnomethodologists, and sundry eclectics and obscurantists. Within this broad tradition was the meritorious Franz Boas (1858-1942) of whom Marvin Harris said: “it is obvious from the research strategy [Boas] followed throughout his career that he was perfectly content to continue his particularistic studies in complete independence of their nomothetic payoff.” The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture (New York: Crowell, 1968), p. 262. From the mind of Boas grew the more ambitious Margaret Mead.

9 Ricci, Where She Has Gone, p. 199. Fabrizio has not gone to America nor taken university classes, but he is among the more sympathetic characters in the trilogy. The “path not taken” by Vittorio may lead to genuine grace.

10 Stephen Amidon, “Romanzo Paradiso,” The Listener, Vol. 124, No. 3184 (September 27, 1990), p. 33.

11 Regarding academic turf wars, I empathize with Kurt Vonnegut, former anthropologist and novelist: “I visited the Anthropology Department of the University of Chicago a few months ago. Dr. Sol Tax was the only faculty member from my time who was still teaching there. I asked him if he knew what had become of my own classmates ... Many of them, ... he said, were practising what he called ‘urban anthropology,’ which sounded an awful lot like sociology to me. (We used to look down on the sociologists. I couldn’t imagine why and can’t imagine why.) If I had stayed with anthropology as a career, I would now be doing, probably, what I am doing, which is writing about acculturated primitive people (like myself) in Skyscraper National Park.” Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage for the 1980s (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1991), p. 126.

12 A representative example is Robert DiYanni, Fiction: An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), pp. 373-410.

13 Franz Boas, “The History of Anthropology,” Science 20 (1904), p. 523.

14 Serena Nanda and Richard L. Warms, Cultural Anthropology, 6th edition (Belmont: West/Wadsworth, 1997). Similarly generic definitions can be found in most introductory texts.

15David Hawkes, “Free will, at a price,” Times Literary Supplement (11 January, 2002), p. 5.

16Evidently fed up with postmodernists, subjectivists in general, and the aforementioned Clifford Geertz in particular, Craig B. Stanford joins with other “biological anthropologists” who say that “in an era in which the concept of culture has been so widely appropriated by groups all over the intellectual and political spectrum” and in which “attempts by anthropologists to define culture have devolved from a lively, genuinely intellectual debate into a petty squabble over whose thinking is in fashion and whose is outmoded ... it may be a good idea [to] ditch the word altogether.” See “The Cultured Ape?” The Sciences (May/June, 2000), p. 43.

17 Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 1.

18 Dwight Macdonald’s essay, “Masscult and Midcult,” remains a most magnificent manifestation of immodesty in the immense inventory of intellectual self-importance. Therein, patrician arrogance and rhetorical flatulence are uniquely combined. It can be found in Macdonald’s Against the American Grain (New York: Random House, 1962). A useful corrective is provided by the future futurist and Gingrich guru Alvin Toffler in The Culture Consumers: Art and Affluence in America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964). A somewhat less offensive (but still fastidious) defence of elitist aesthetic standards is to be found in behavioural methodologist Abraham Kaplan’s “The Aesthetics of the Popular Arts,” in James B. Hall and Barry Ulanov, eds., Modern Culture and the Arts (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972).

19 Peter McHugh et al., On the Beginning of Social Inquiry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), pp. 157, 159. An admirable defence of this position is E. M. Forster’s “Art for Art’s Sake,” an essay composed in 1927 and reproduced in Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949). As for French vineyards, Henri Astier has not totally unfairly commented that “the French intellectual … was last seen planning the overthrow of the bourgeois state in a Paris café circa 1972, apart from a few gnomic utterances about postmodern society, little has been heard from him since.” See “Old habits die hard,” Times Literary Supllement (30 November, 2001), p. 26. North American carriers of the postmodern flame have, of course, not fully recovered from Alan D. Sokol’s extraordinary hoax, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” Social Text, Nos. 46/47, (Spring/Summer, 1996), pp. 217-252.

20 W. B. Gallie, “Essentially Contested Concepts,” in Max Black, ed., The Importance of Language (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962).

21 In anticipation of the objection that I am uselessly indulging in “merely” semantic concerns, I hasten to say that if we do not concern ourselves with semantics, we will quite literally not know what we are taking about.

22 Henry S. Kariel, The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism (Amherst: University of Massachucetts, 1989), p. 120.

23Henry S. Kariel, quoted in Barbara Morgan, “God, guru, or the chef’s salad?” Honolulu Star-Bulletin (27 September, 1979).

24 See John Gray, “The Global Mirage,” Times Literary Supplement, No. 5175 (7 June, 2002), pp. 9-10, and Ian Buruma, “Making a Fetish of Mystery,” The New York Review, Vol. 44, No. 13 (15 August, 2002), pp. 42-44.

25For a provocative account of the continuing relevance of these archetypal figures, see O. Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization, 2nd edition (New York: Praeger, 1964), an analysis of the relationship between French colonials and the Malagasy people of Madagascar in the 1940s. For another intriguing application, see Max Dorsinville, Caliban without Prospero: Essay on Quebec and Black Literature (Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974).

26 The link is made explicit in Claude Levi-Strauss, “Rousseau: The Father of Anthropology,” UNESCO Courier, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1963), pp. 10-14.

27Sir Ernest Barker, “Introduction,” Social Contract: Essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. viii.

28 David Nokes, “Eighteenth-century Prose Literature,” in Marion Wynne-Davies, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1990), p., 79.

29 See S. R. Mealing, ed., The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963).

30It should be remembered that the formal study of literature (other than the classics of Greece and Rome) was also disdained by many leading universities until well into the nineteenth-century, but even then the parting of literature and anthropology was becoming apparent. As A. L. Guérard said at the time: “The belles lettres fragrance that clings to the humanities repelled the social scientists, and terms such as “belletrist” and “belletristic ... assumed a faintly derisive shade of frivolity and inconsequence.” Quoted in René Wellek, “Literature and Its Cognates,” in Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. 3 (New York: Scribner’s, 1973), p. 83.

31 Marshall Hyatt, Franz Boas, Social Activist: The Dynamics of Ethnicity (New York, Greenwood, 1990), p. 3.

32 Ibid., p. 132. See also Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), pp. 253-257.

33For a brief glimpse at early controversies involving Edward B. Tylor (on the “use of scientific racism”) and Franz Boas (on the “use of scientific anti-racism”), see William S. Willis, Jr., “Skeletons in the Anthropological Closet,” in Dell Hymes, ed., Reinventing Anthropology (New York: Pantheon, 1972), especially pp. 131-141.

34 See Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society; or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization (Phoenix: University of Arizona Press, 1985 [1877]), and Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: International Publishers, 1972 [1884]).

35 Bruce Cox, “Introduction,” to Cultural Ecology: Readings on Canadian Indians and Eskimos (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973), p. 12. For another useful commentary, see Karen Sacks, “Engels Revisited: Women, the Organization of Production, and Private Property,” in Rayna R. Reiter, ed., Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975).

36 Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (New York: Vintage, 1957), p. 262.

37See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962}.

38 Eagleton, op. cit., p. 64.

39 Edward C. Banfield, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (New York: Free Press, 1958).

40Scientific American (October, 1966)

41 Claude Levi-Strauss, “Anthropology: Its Achievements and Its Future,” Current Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1966), p. 126.

42 The death of Captain Cook has provided a focus for heated discussion. See Marshall Sahlins, Mythical Realities: Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981) and Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), as well as Gananath Obeyesekere’s rejoinder, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

43 Contrasting psychological, historical, and economic-ecological accounts of the Kwakiutl “potlatch” can be found in Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1934), Christopher Bracken, The Potlatch Papers: A Colonial Case History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), and Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture (New York: Random House, 1974).

44 Taking off from Konrad Lorenz and flying with Richard Dawking’s “selfish gene,” an abundant popular literature on innate aggressiveness has been floating about for some years. Typical of what Dwight Macdonald might call “midcult science,” for example, was Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative (New York: Atheneum, 1966) and Ralph Holloway, “Territory and Aggression in Man: A Look at Ardrey’s Territorial Imperative,” in Ashley Montagu, ed., Man and Aggression (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), originally published in The Political Science Quarterly (December, 1967).

45 Illustrative of the debate are Sherwood Washburn and C. Lancaster, “The Evolution of Hunting,” in R. B. Lee and Irven De Vore, eds., Man the Hunter (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), and Sally Slocum, “Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology,” in Reiter, op. cit.

46 Representative texts include E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, 3rd ed. (London: John Murray, 1891) and William S. Willis, Jr., op.  cit.

47As contemporary anthropologists recognise, “anthropology is the child of imperialism..” See, among others, Kathleen Gough, “Anthropology: The Child of Imperialism,” Monthly Review 19 (1968) and Mina Davis Caulfield, “Culture and Imperialism: Proposing a New Dialectic,” in Hymes, op. cit.

48 Larry McMurtry, “Zuni Tunes,” New York Review (9 August, 2001), p. 56.

49Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (New York: HarperPerennial, 2001 [1928]).

50 Margaret Mead, Growing Up in New Guinea (New York: HarperCollins, 2001 [1930]).

51 Robert Redfield, “The Folk Society,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 52, No. 2 (January, 1947).

52 Though both Margaret Mead and Napoleon Chagnon were influential within professional anthropology, they are cited here, however, because they have arguably had the most effect on the attentive public. Other contestants for the prize of chief authority in the academic discipline would include Franz Boas, Claude Levi-Strauss, Bronislaw Malinowski, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and a host of others, depending on when and to whom the question was asked.

53 Useful commentaries on the dispute include: Hiram Caton, “The Mead/Freeman Controversy Is Over: A Retrospect,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 29, No. 5 (October, 2000); James E. Cote, “Much Ado About Nothing,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 22, No. 6 (November-December, 1998) and “The Mead-Freeman Controversy in Review,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 29, No. 5 (October, 2000); Derek Freeman, “On the Ethics of Skeptical Inquiry,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 23, No. 3 (May-June, 1999); Paul Shankman, “Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and the Issue of Evolution,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 22, No. 6 (November-December, 1998) and “Culture, Biology and Evolution: The Mead-Freeman Controversy Revisited,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 29, No. 5 (October, 2000); and Robert J. Theodoratus, “Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and the Samoans,” The Social Science Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1 (January, 1997).

54 Paul Shankman, “Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and the Issue of Evolution,” p.35.

55 Robert J. Theodoratus, op. cit., p. 103.

56 More to the intellectual point, the fountainhead of sociobiology, E. O. Wilson, recalls that Margaret Mead invited him to dinner in 1976: “I was nervous then,” he confessed, “expecting America’s mother to scold me about the nature of genetic determinism. I had nothing to fear. She wanted to stress that she, too, had published ideas on the biological basis of social behavior.” E. O. Wilson, Naturalist (Washington: Island Press, 1994), p. 331. Of course, had Wilson paid more attention to Mead’s early work with her second husband, the biologist Gregory Bateson, he might not have been so surprised.

57 Napoleon Chagnon, Yanomamo: The Fierce People, 4th edition (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1992). The tribe in question has had its name variously spelled. Chagnon uses Yanomamo, as will I; others, however, write Yanomami and Yanomama.

58 Patrick Tierney, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000).

59 Two of Tierney’s supporters (though Tierney is more restrained) announced that Chagnon’s research “in its scale, ramifications and sheer criminality and corruption is unparalleled in the history of anthropology ... beyond the imagining of even a Joseph Conrad (though not, perhaps, a Josef Mengele.” Quoted in John Leo, “Savage Fantasy,” U.S. News and World Report, Vol. 129. No.23 (11 December, 2000).

60 In addition to John Miller’s defence of Chagnon in the popular right-wing magazine, National Review, “The Wages of Anthropological Incorrectness,” Vol. 52, No., 22 (20 November, 2000), other comments include Fernando Coronil, “Perspectives on Tierney’s Darkness at El Dorado,” (book review) Current Anthropology, Vol. 42, No. 2 (April, 2001), Ken Malik, “A Rumble in the Jungle,” New Statesman, Vol. 129, No. 4517 (18 December, 2000), Calvin Reid, “ ‘Darkness in El Dorado’ Debated,” Publishers Weekly, Vol. 247, No. 48 (27 November, 2000), Sarah Richardson, “Darkness in El Dorado” (book review) Discover, Vol.21, No. 12 (December, 2000), Brian Weiss, “Darkness in El Dorado,” (book review) Psychology Today, Vol. 34, No. 2 (March, 2000), James Wilson, “The Savage State,” The Ecologist, Vol. 30, No. 9 (December, 2000), Samuel M. Wilson, “Informed Consent,” Natural History, Vol. 110, No. 2 (March, 2001).

61 Chagnon is not alone among anthropologists accused of brutality. Described as “exploitative,” “paranoid,” and just a little “mad,” the career of mid-twentieth century British anthropologist Tom Harrisson has recently been returned to the attention of the public. Judith M. Heimann’s The Most Offending Soul Alive (London: Aurum, 2002) presents the misogynist, colonialist Tom Harrisson (“thief,” “drunkard,” resistance leader in Japanese-occupied Borneo, curator of the Sarawak Museum who was subsequently banned from Sarawak for life) in a remarkably redeeming light. Though boorish and relentlessly ambitious, Harrisson’s politics were not those of Chagnon. Among other things, this complex and difficult man was an innovator whose Mass-Observation movement, begun in 1937, was dedicated to a populist anthropology. Among the first works of this people’s enthnography was a survey that sold over 100,000 copies within ten days of publication making Harrisson a “pioneer media personality” and, temporarily, “a household name.” See Jeremy MacClancy, “Cage Me a Harrisson,” Times Literary Supplement (August 14, 2002).

62 Kurt Vonnegut, “Address to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1971,” originally published as “The Happiest Day in the Life of My Father,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and reprinted in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (Opinions) (New York: Delacorte Press, 1974), p. 176.

63 Robert Nisbet, Sociology as an Art Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 5.

64 Ibid., p. 6.

65 Peter McHugh et al., op. cit., p. 155.

66 Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “The Evil Eye at Work,” The New York Times Book Review (June 2, 1991), p. 7.

67 Ricci, loc. cit.

68 Nino Ricci, In a Glass House, p. 276.

69 Ibid., p. 275.

70Ibid., p. 276.

71 Christian Bök, Eunoia (Toronto: Coach House Press, 2001)

72 Clifford Geertz, “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man,” in J. R. Platt, ed., New Views of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965). It is not surprising that Derek Freeman, calls this “the most egregiously absurd formulation of the tabula rasa assumption of Boasian culturalism to be found anywhere in the literature of anthropology. Boasian culturalism,” he adds, “has been rendered ineffectual and obsolete by fundamentally significant advances, since the 1930s, in all of the life sciences.” The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead, p. 213.

73 Bob Scholte, “Toward a Reflexive and Critical Anthropology,” in Hymes, op. cit., p. 431.

74 Ronald Sukenick, “Upward and Juanward: The Possible Dreams,” in Daniel Noel, ed., Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the “Don Juan” Writings of Carlos Castaneda (New York: Putnam, 1976).

75Lewis Lapham, “The Theatre of the News,” Harper’s (July, 1981), reprinted in Imperial Masquerade (New York: Grove Weidelfeld, 1990), p. 8.

76 Stephen Amidon, “Romanzo Paradiso,” The Listener, Vol. 124, No. 3184 (27 September, 1990), p. 33.

77 Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso, 1995), p. 149.

78 Nino Ricci, “Recreating Paradise,” an interview with Jeffrey Canton, in Paragraph, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1991), pp. 2-5.

79 Quoted in Brian Gorman, “Getting Weird and Ugly with Nino Ricci,” Today (6 December, 1997), downloaded from, 5 December, 2001.

80 Roland Merullo, “End of Innocente: Nino Ricci’s ‘Where Has She Gone,’ concludes a trilogy of immigration,” Boston Globe (5 July, 1998), p. F-1.

81 Ibid.

82 Jeffrey Canton, in a review of Lives of the Saints in Quill and Quire Vol. 56, No. 7, p. 55.

83 Ann Copeland, Irene McGuire and Paul Stuewe, op. cit., p. 16.

84Jonathan Yardley, “Breaking old world ties,” The Washington Post (8 May, 1991), p. D-2.

85 Bencinvega, loc. cit.

86 Richard Rorty, “Science as Solidarity,” in John S. Nelson, ed., The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p. 43.

87 Henry S. Kariel, “The Feminist Subject Spinning in the Postmodern Project,” Political Theory Vol. 18, No. 2 (May, 1990), p. 268.

88 One of the best explications of the scientific method as applied to human culture is Marvin Harris, Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture (New York: Random House, 1979).

89 For an illuminating account of the process of redefining deviant behaviour as, successively, sin, crime, illness and lifestyle choice, see Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? (New York: Hawthorn, 1983).

90Umberto Eco, Serendipties: Language and Lunacy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), quoted in Philip Marchand, “Seeking truth,” The Toronto Star (25 October, 1998), p. D-28.

91 Marvin Harris, Cultural Materialism, p. 324.

92Henry S. Kariel, Beyond Liberalism: Where Relations Grow (San Francisco: Chandler & Sharp, 1977), pp. x-xi.

93Nino Ricci, Where She Has Gone, p. 320.

94 Nino Ricci, Testament (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2002), p. 122.

95 Henry S. Kariel, The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism, p. vii.

96 Ibid., p. 114.

97Where She Has Gone, p. 318. Cuttlefish: any of a family (Sepiidae) of 10-armed marine cephalopod mollusks differing from the related squid in having a calcified internal shell. Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary (Markham: Thomas Allen & Son, p. 319.

Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College in King City, Ontario. He can be reached at


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