The National Question. (redux)

Maureen Therese Anderson manders at
Wed Apr 7 06:44:54 PDT 1999

Paul wrote:

>In *The Argument Culture*, a rather ambitious mess published last year,
>Deborah Tannen made somewhat inconsistent references to practices she
>lumped together as ritual(ized) combat (or conflict). One point she
>made that does seem relevant is that such conflict often has a very
>important socially integrative function.

Deborah Tannen. ...Oh yeah, she's the one who wrote that bestseller about language and gender, and a certain male predisposition to conversing in bombastic, smart-ass ways (ears burning yet, Paul?)

I'm not familiar with this newer work.

>(1) The legitimacy of Tannen's generalization in even using such terms.

I guess I'd need to see how she was using them. When terms like "group ritual," and especially "ritual combat" are thrown around gratuitously, I start seeing whats-his-name, Piggy from Lord of the Flies, lurking in the corner. That, or it can reproduce all those old functionalist understandings of ritual as some homeostatic mechanism that mindless reproduces solidarities.

But if she uses "ritual" in a way that recognizes its inherently historical aspect, I guess I'd be okay. But just based on her gender and language work I'd be dubious that she does this. Her language book was another one of those "two cultures" analyses, where gender contrasts just seemed to reflect differences in separate social worlds, like Captain Cook's Brits and the Hawaiians, Mars and Venus, or whatever. But of course the two gendered "language-cultures" are produced in the same society, where one gendered style reflects the position of the more socially powerful, the other the style of those in a more subordinate role; those who've had to persuade more than demand, to try to influence more than to assert, etc.

It's worth mentioning that two-cultures pitfall because actually it's analogous to the dangers of casting "ethnicity" as a first cause or independent variable. As with gender, ethnicities in any self-described "multiethnic" society are dialectically constituted over time, and reflect differential powers and privileges.

>(2) The degree to which you'd agree about the integrative functions of
>ritual conflict.

Humans constitute their identitities in fields of difference, and that constituting can involve ritual.

But I don't think some abstract understanding of "the integrative functions of ritual conflict" explains the kinds of conflicts we've been talking about here: conditions which make people so feel that their entire identity is at stake that they will rape and hack up the people that they used to live next to and often married. That's historical. I think this kind of genocide (not the cold and detached genocide inflicted on Iraqis by sanctions) tends to take place between people with deeply intertwined histories, usually with a lot in common, where historical circumstances make their very social existance suddenly seem to be at stake.

And I do think that those circumstances, in this case, include the insecurities wrought by free-market capitalism. (Which reminds me: what ever happened to Francis "End of History" Fukayama? Shouldn't he have to undergo some ritual humiliation for having been so pathetically wrong??)
>(3) What kind of relevance this might have to understanding paths not
>taken which could be argued for by progressive activists (perhaps even
>peace and human rights activists as well as Marxists, as in the good old
>days of the Vietnam War).

Not sure I follow this.

>(P.S. Re: Buffy. The point of that little scene wasn't Gile's

speak for yourself

>but Cordellia slapping him. Of course he's adorable. He's
>Christopher Walken's non-evil twin. But can you slap him around like

not what I had in mind

["What? I can't have layers?" -- Cordellia's most famous line
>ever.] THAT is the question.)

Oh oh. I missed that. What was "layers" about?


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