12.0396 cultural metempsychosis

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 21:07:37 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 396.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: David Zeitlyn <D.Zeitlyn@ukc.ac.uk> (36)
Subject: Help we're all becoming American! (12.0390)

[2] From: Hartmut Krech <kr538@zfn.uni-bremen.de> (52)
Subject: Re: 12.0390 two topics

Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 21:05:47 +0000
From: David Zeitlyn <D.Zeitlyn@ukc.ac.uk>
Subject: Help we're all becoming American! (12.0390)

There is some cross cultural evidence that provides encouragment to
Willard's worry about the subversive peril from the West (from where I am

Taking on the trappings does not imply taking on the metaphysics associated
with them in their natal lands. Extreme examples might be Polynesian Cargo
Cults, but more pervasive, and in their way just as fascinating is US
domination in TV production (perhaps even more widely distributed than the
capitalism that WM refers to). I am at home with flu so can't check the
reference easily but quite some time ago (early 1990s?) there was a study
in how Dallas was watched in Cairo. The lesson this taught me was how
active the audience are in contributing and creating 'the meaning' - which
may be QUITE different from that gathered by audiences in North America or
its colonies...

I have sat watching a french TV thriller in Cameroon with an audience who
did not speak french and were far happier discussing what on earth was
going on and making up their own plot then asking me to tranlate (to my

Another way of saying this is that the 'recipients' are more active than
some Americans might assume. An intersting high-tech example would be the
expansion of Grameen bank womens groups in Bangladesh to include having a
mobile phone which brings telephony to the village - and since the phone
can be caried to the recipient it finally makes true the classic
misnderstanding about the future of the phone that de Sola Pool quotes "I
forsee the day when every town in America will have one of these useful

best wishes

Dr David Zeitlyn,
Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology,
Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing,
Department of Anthropology,
Eliot College, The University of Kent,
CT2 7NS, UK.
Tel. (44) 1227 764000 -Extn 3360 (or 823360 direct)
Fax (44) 1227 827289

Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 21:07:00 +0000
From: Hartmut Krech <kr538@zfn.uni-bremen.de>
Subject: Re: 12.0390 two topics


I fully subscribe to your view that
"vital cultures tend to survive through change."

There are few experiences in my life that continue to impress me.
I still remember with awe the organizing influence of the spoken
word upon my way of seeing things that issued from public
addresses by American Indian orators like the late Philip Deer.
I doubt that the power of these speeches that are part of a fully
developed oral literature could ever be rendered in writing.
Ancient Greek rhetorics must have been of this kind, and I feel
grateful for this experience. N. Scott Momaday, one of the
leading American Indian writers of today, has summarized this
view by saying that ^man has consummate being in language, and
there only.^

You can access an excerpt from his speech at the first
convocation of American Indian scholars in San Francisco
in 1970 at my homepage:


Although he has never acquired command of the Kiowa language
himself, Momaday has clearly felt the power of the Native
American oral tradition to give it a Western re-interpretation
in his novels and poems.

Another precious experience in my life is the global inter-
connectivity and immediate communication realized by the
World Wide Web. I presume that every subscriber to this list
could keep on telling stories of how beneficial this electronic
means has already proven in his or her life, to reach people
anywhere around the globe, to answer questions, to solve
problems, to find compassion, recognition, and understanding.
Despite all its constraints that derive from its cultural form
and still bind it to Western society, the World Wide Web to me is
a remarkable realization of the humanistic impulse. And you
continue to remind us of its limitations that still have to be
overcome, if that is possible at all.

To return to the Kiowa language that is still being spoken
by some 900 plus human beings in Western Oklahoma, although it is
not a written language and is not presently being taught to Kiowa
kids at school. I was glad to read on the WWW that a linguist
from Scandinavia has proposed rules for the transcription of its
polysynthetic structures so that Kiowa Indians may communicate
over the net using their language. And a Kiowa Indian has started an
initiative on the net to raise funds for the teaching of the
Kiowa language at schools.

Coming myself from a culture that continues to misuse electronic
communication for the control and disenfranchisement of
individuals; I regard these as promising signs for the future, if
not for myself.

Dr. Hartmut Krech
Bremen, Germany

And the sky said to the sea: ^Give me height,
and I^ll give you depth.^ And thus the two became
separated.^ (from a Greek fairy-tale)

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