Fanti?? me “, exemplifies the fundamental flaw of ethnography. The question is, why did Leiris undergo such a disenchanting mission in the first place? The answer becomes clear throughout the text.
It could be concluded from this book that true human contact is obtainable amongst certain ethnic groups. One could say that the more “civilised” a society becomes, the less opportunity one has to be a human at a core, base level. Taboo is a huge part of contemporary society as it was in France in the inter-war period. The mystery of Africa must have been alluring for Leiris, and in other aspects worthwhile.France was undergoing a great cultural modification taken from its colonies and works such as “L’Afrique Fantme” reorganised its national identity within the context of the nation’s imperial legacy. However, as previously stated, if ethnography allowed distant cultures of the French colonies to become more understandable for the bourgeoisie back in France itself, the very nature of its practice “still preserved the centrality of a French perspective”9.
A final example of Leiris’ position in his journey through Africa becomes unmistakeable upon reading about the following incident and his prediction.Leiris discusses the arrival of some artefacts that he and Griaule had bought. They are in an administration office with some interpreters and Leiris foresees, ” Il ne nous est pas encore arrive d’acheter a un homme ou une femme tous ses vi?? tements et de le laisser nu sur la route, mais cela viendra certainement “. This shows his feeling of awe in his own natal ability to completely manipulate human beings in the way he describes the scene with such clarity. In fact, other examples of Leiris’ lucid description of certain other inhumane acts brought about by the French group show his relish for being the thief and the villain.A conclusion as to whether this book is “at heart about the impossibility of human contact” draws one closely to the use of the term “heart”.
By its nature “heart” implies feeling and a sense of the subconscious; an idea of something that is not completely rationalised.This works for “L’Afrique Fantime” as, although Leiris may be aware about the shortcomings of his writing and consciously makes an effort to achieve a degree of pragmatism and objectivity, the core of this book does not deal with, but, more often than not, involuntarily exemplifies the “impossibility of human contact”through explanations of the practicalities of the journey and the nature of events that arise. At times it has the feel of an autobiography; at others a nature programme.Bibliography and BackgroundReading Leiris, Michel: “L’Afrique Fantome” (Editions Gallimard, 1934) Walcott, Harry: “Ethnography: A Way of Seeing” (Altimira Press, 1999) http://etudesafricaines.
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