Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century

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9780674779600: Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century
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When culture makes itself at home in motion, where does an anthropologist stand? In a follow-up to The Predicament of Culture, one of the defining books for anthropology in the last decade, James Clifford takes the proper measure: a moving picture of a world that doesn't stand still, that reveals itself en route, in the airport lounge and the parking lot as much as in the marketplace and the museum.

In this collage of essays, meditations, poems, and travel reports, Clifford takes travel and its difficult companion, translation, as openings into a complex modernity. He contemplates a world ever more connected yet not homogeneous, a global history proceeding from the fraught legacies of exploration, colonization, capitalist expansion, immigration, labor mobility, and tourism. Ranging from Highland New Guinea to northern California, from Vancouver to London, he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Wherever people and things cross paths and where institutional forces work to discipline unruly encounters, Clifford's concern is with struggles to displace stereotypes, to recognize divergent histories, to sustain "postcolonial" and "tribal" identities in contexts of domination and globalization.

Travel, diaspora, border crossing, self-location, the making of homes away from home: these are transcultural predicaments for the late twentieth century. The map that might account for them, the history of an entangled modernity, emerges here as an unfinished series of paths and negotiations, leading in many directions while returning again and again to the struggles and arts of cultural encounter, the impossible, inescapable tasks of translation.

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Review:

Early on in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, James Clifford describes his new approach to studying cultures: "Where professional anthropology has erected a border, I portray a borderland, a zone of contacts--blocked and permitted, policed and transgressive." In the not-too-distant past, anthropologists traveled to remote areas and observed cultures that they assumed were not influenced much by the outside world. Clifford points out that since there is no such thing as an isolated culture today, the tools and assumptions of anthropology must change to suit the hybrid and fluid cultures that currently populate the world. In this book, Clifford examines a series of places where culture is in transition--places he calls "borderlands." He visits a few art museums, some Mayan ruins, and the New York subway. Everywhere he goes, he finds cultures colliding and changing. That's not terribly surprising, but his interpretation of these otherwise banal places is thought-provoking.

This book is a grab bag: a collection of academic lectures, travel-journal entries, meditations on history, and impressionistic recollections. In the chapter entitled "White Ethnicity," Clifford interweaves his memories of a subway ride across New York City several decades ago with paragraphs from an Audre Lourde essay on identity politics and paragraphs from John Wesley Powell's account of his exploration of the Colorado River. In less capable hands, this format could be quite muddled and confusing, but Clifford pulls it off nicely. Clifford uses these three "travel" narratives to explore the major concerns of this collection. Routes is an accessible, innovative guide to one of the major issues anthropologists are grappling with today. --Jill Marquis

About the Author:

James Clifford is Professor, Board of Studies in the History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz.

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9780674779617: Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century

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ISBN 10:  0674779614 ISBN 13:  9780674779617
Publisher: Harvard University Press, 1997
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