Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

Here is a recording of my lecture “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)” read for the course Culture and Communication at the University of Texas at Austin 9/28/2017. I listened to some of it; I promise, it is fun.

I will upload the text (which is slightly different from the talk) a bit later to this very same blog post; watch this space. UPD: Here it is, 10/2/2017: the text of my talk on I still think to listen to the talk is more fun, but as matters go in all writing-related fields, what is unwritten, does not exist (see Derrida for the elaboration).


For my other recordings, please visit my page on SoundCloud. I am over the limit there though; to upload more, I must convert into a customer, and I am not ready for such a decisive step. I will upload my recordings here (I have one so far), all gathered under the title “Presentations and Talks.” Enjoy.


Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

I am very excited for the today’s lecture in the Culture and Communication class at the University of Texas at Austin that I am going to give: “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not).” 9/28/2017

I am going to upload the text of the lecture later on my page on the

Wish me luck!

The Only Poem Mentioning “Grant” in Existence

Preface of the Publisher (That is to Say, Me)

A while ago I had a project, called Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote. “Poems” consist of broken into lines passages from anthropologists’ works, which the authors themselves never had an intention–a wild idea–to break into lines.

Also recently, I got on Skype, which I do not do that often. And this is not a remarkable event worth mentioning by itself, but only in connection to the poem, which I found there to my amazement. This poem was written by my scientific advisor, Professor Campbell, during our conversation when for reasons of unstable internet-connection he could hear me but I could not hear him. Which made it a one-side communication poetry often is. The text is already broken into lines, and, although it was not intended as poetry, in this it shares the feature of many pieces of poetry. Even more, perhaps poetry written with an intention to write poetry is not poetry. And perhaps poetry is only poetry when it is written by chance and without intention. Without further ado, here is the piece (with the title I gave it):


Skype Poem

there are many
visual documents
on soviet ruins

a grant
I received to copy
many slides
this is a good idea
it seems to me a strong visual component would be good for this project.

your photographs
plus archival documents
it is important because of
a very strong contemporary record of ‘ruin porn’

this is your response.

Baffling Disparity Between the Sound of the Word and its Surprising Meaning

“Stéphane Mallarmé, amazingly sensitive to the sound texture of language, observed in his essay Crise de vers that the word ombre is actually shady, but ténèbres (with its acute vowels) suggests no darkness, and he felt deeply deceived by the perverse attribution of the meanings ‘day’ to the word jour and ‘night’ to the word nuit in spite of the obscure timbre of the former and the light one of the latter.” (Jakobson, 1965, 34)
I surely did have this kind of wonder before, and articulated it.

Some Words

Some words mean just what
You would expect,
Like, onomatopoeia,
Struggle, breakthrough, dance, cooing,
Coconut, disguise, and latte.
They are transparent
In their look, sound, and the path of syllables alternating
Between stressed and unaccented
In an enduring rational succession;
On the chessboard of vowels and consonants
Former and latter
Measured in a reasonable balance.
Other words
Are just more elusive.
They seem to pretend to appear to be something
They are really not.
For instance, love*,
And dash`.
*evidently, «love» should mean «a sort of yellow stretchy marmalade,» based on the way it sounds and looks
°a screeching of the wheels on the sharp turn
^tin pipes of the old red-brick houses
`a small golden fish hiding under the green log in a gleaming round pond shadowed by a willow
How much this feeling is amplified when you study a language that is not your native, is hard to convey. When I started speaking English, it was a constant source of feeling deceived and cheated on. Clearly “itch,” “notch,” “luminosity,” and “glory” are on the right places; but what about “vanguard” (a heavy fog), “darkness” (whiskers), “agglomeration” (a gluten-free sweet of sorts) and other ridiculous things? One can imagine a text written in this manner, but for it to be read it should be supplied with an ample commentary produced by the author.

Saussurean guess of “arbitrariness” of assigning the meaning to sound is not of much help. How does this arbitrariness come to life? Who orchestrates it and how? Language is perfected by all its speakers day and night, now how can it have this vortexes of inexplicable disparity between the sound and its meaning?

Jakobson, Roman. (1965) “The Quest for the Essence of Language.” Diogenes. 13(51): 21-37.

Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote

Bronislav Malinowski, I Watched Them

I watched them a long time
through binoculars
and waved my handkerchief–
I felt
I was taking leave of civilization.
I was fairly depressed, afraid
I might not feel equal to the task before me.
After lunch
I went out on deck.


Franz Boas, If I Undertake

If I undertake
to describe
some of my arctic experiences,
I cannot entertain you
with exciting adventures,
such as shipwrecks and narrow escapes,
for such were not my share.


Clifford Geertz. He decides

He decides,
For reasons I have never been quite able to fathom,
That you are real,
And then he becomes a warm,
Gay, sensitive, sympathetic,
Though, being Balinese,
Always precisely controlled
You have crossed,
Some moral or metaphysical