Tuesday, February 20, 2007

the "Modern Primitive's" Mistake

While Daniel Rosenblatt presents many ideas about the body modifications such as resistance acted upon the body, mainstream and its constant flux, and therapy/self realization through body modification, I found his discussion of the "modern primitive" the most enlightening.

"'Primitives' or 'others' have long had a hold on the Western imagination. It is de rigueur these days to put the words in quotation marks, indexing the author's awareness that whatever it is that obsesses our imagination is as much or more a product of that imagination as of encounters with other societies" (Rosenblatt 1997: 293).

I think that the context he placed the idea of primitive and primitive-ness is especially crucial to his research. While primitive is currently not considered very politically correct, ethnocentric, and wrong, it is essential for this research to proceed. Identifying tattoos as tribal or having "primitive" like qualities sits in a specific Western ideology which illuminates more about Western cultures and those who practice these body modifications than the elusive "primitive" society who apparently has none of the problems of Western society. Through placing the definition of "primitive" within the Western context of imperialist nostalgia and first in his article, Rosenblatt allows the reader to follow the progression of these specific body modification practices in a Western context. I enjoyed the historical aspect of Rousseau and Benedict.

It was easy as time to get lost in the rambling prose and to sometimes wonder where a particular point was going, but overall article was enjoyable and very thought provoking. From an ethnographic standpoint, I found there was a lack of fieldwork examples since he mainly relied on the text Modern Primitives. The ideas were unpacked somewhat disarrayed, but very thorough. He moved his information both "in" and "out" focusing upon both the intricate aspects of this research within the community and broader social implications. The dialogue of mainstream, resistance, and self discovery all interwove to establish a rambling picture of the situation.

Again, ending with the idea that the "primitive" modern primitives identify with is their own construction, Rosenblatt ends with his own research with the Maori of New Zealand saying the the tattoos they receive are a unifying marking rather than marking out an individual. If there were more examples such as this, I feel that the author would have better expressed his point, because while he research is obviously very extensive and well thought, he was not present in the text save the beginning and the end. This, overall, gave the text a floating and at times distancing stance.

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