TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Does our own cultural baggage prevent progress?
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  09-14-2000 on 08:47 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Friends, John Howe raised the matter of whether we, part of a western cultural tradition (most of us, anyway) and really understand what the Belouch (or Kaitag, or Tadjik, or any other) weaver is doing or trying to do, culture-wise. The relevant text of his post (in another thread) is: ...your question ...appears to suggest that we, non-natives of the Balouch culture (an interesting notion in its own right), examine these birds and see whether there are similar emphases and de-emphases visible to us and to suggest what they might mean. ...the emphases and de-emphases in these "birds" may be neither fully visible to us as non-natives and we are likely to mistake any meanings ...It is an old debate in anthropology whether a "verstehen" perspective must be adopted to understand such meanings in any culture or whether outside observers can say useful things in such areas. It is certainly true that we are seriously handicapped in such interpretation if we do not have access to the "meanings" (if any) that the Balouch weavers were expressing in their drawing. And unless I am mistaken we usually do not. This is an important cautionary note, not just to the matter immediately at hand, but to any and all discussions of cultural relevance of textiles. Recognizing it's truth, what is our appropriate course of action? One possibility is to take the position that, being outside of the culture in question (and it hardly matters whether it happens to be Belouch or something else), we cannot arrive at accurate conclusions and would best find some other way to spend our time. On the other hand, if nobody can or will discuss anything except topics about which they are already endowed with intimate, precise, reliable information, almost every public forum of any kind on any topic will have to close. That doesn't strike me as a particularly good way to go. Another possibility, to which I subscribe, is to recognize our limitations and just do the best we can to improve our understanding of the foreign culture that seems interesting to us. As collectors of ethnographic textiles, it seems reasonable to want to know more about the cultural elements of the objects we collect, and to explore the matter without forgetting that we may be led down some false trails while doing it. Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:Does our own cultural baggage prevent progress?
Author  :  Vincent+Keers
Date  :  09-14-2000 on 01:27 p.m.
Dear Steve, I'm allways looking for a more eastern/Mongolian/Chinees connection. It's a harmless habit of mine. Why? 1.Because before the 13'th century it was fashion to have a Mongolian appearance in Persia, India etc. The Aric? (white, horizontal eyes) look came somewhat later. 2.The silk connection. But, helas, my Chinees is more worse then my English. Does anyone know the Chinees character for bird? What it looks like? If not, I'll have to find myself a Chinees dictionary. Best regards, Vincent Keers

Subject  :  RE:Does our own cultural baggage prevent progress?
Author  :  R. John Howe
Date  :  09-14-2000 on 01:53 p.m.
Dear Steve et al - Thank you for suggesting that such considerations are not entirely aside from our discussion here. It is true that they interest me but I do not want to deflect discussion dysfunctionally from the actual rugs. But occasional checks to see what ground we are likely standing on when we do so may be useful. Your post here suggested some additional thoughts to me. First, I think the alternatives available may not be strictly dichotomous. While I have suggested that, as non-natives of the cultures in which the rugs we so enjoy were produced, we are likely seriously handicapped in attempting to discern meanings that may reside in them, I do not think that acknowledging this liklihood leads necessarily to a defeatist position. It might, but I think it can also function in other ways. First, it should lead us to seek out, when we want to discern such meanings, reports from natives of the cultures themselves. This may not always be practical. I for example would like very much to have such access to reports of members of 19th century Turkmen society, a difficult thing since it appears that there was little writing by such folks in part because the language they spoke was not available in written form. But this should be a priority in such efforts. It seems to me that we should move less quickly to describing what it looks like to us. Second, it should function to make us quite humble and tentative about our assertions in such areas. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable amongst us are standing on very thin ice indeed when we offer suggestions in such areas. And it should be obvious that thin ice is not a good place for heated debate. So acknowledging our position to ourselves could lead to more civilized conversation. This situation is such that it has made me wonder sometimes (and I know you disagree), since even the very much improved rug scholarship of today is still so full of conventional wisdom, whether one may be moving backwards in the process of taking it in. [I have seriously considered whether it might not be best (for me) to spend less time talking about rugs and more time repairing them. The physical aspects of rugs seem often to me now a more likely arena for learning that does an effort to divine cultural elements and meanings in rug designs.] But at a minimum if one acknowledges my initial argument here, it should make us very considerate of alternative, even opposing views, and quite gentle with one another indeed. Regards, R. John Howe

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