What might become of anthropology if it were to suspend its sometime claims to be a social science? What if it were to turn instead to exploring its affinities with art and literature as a mode of engaged creative practice carried forward in a world heterogeneously composed of humans and other than humans? Stuart McLean claims that anthropology stands to learn most from art and literature not as “evidence” to support explanations based on an appeal to social context or history but as modes of engagement with the materiality of expressive media—including language—that always retain the capacity to disrupt or exceed the human projects enacted through them.
At once comparative in scope and ethnographically informed, Fictionalizing Anthropology draws on an eclectic range of sources, including ancient Mesopotamian myth, Norse saga literature, Hesiod, Lucretius, Joyce, Artaud, and Lispector, as well as film, multimedia, and performance art, along with the concept of “fabulation” (the making of fictions capable of intervening in and transforming reality) developed in the writings of Bergson and Deleuze. Sharing with proponents of anthropology’s recent “ontological turn,” McLean insists that experiments with language and form are a performative means of exploring alternative possibilities of collective existence, new ways of being human and other than human, and that such experiments must therefore be indispensable to anthropology’s engagement with the contemporary world.
Stuart McLean is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is author of The Event and Its Terrors: Ireland, Famine, Modernity and coeditor of Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing.
"In Stuart McLean’s brave and beautiful book, the question is how do we live now. But here, living is a social-aesthetic-political-material fabulation of virtualities, events, and singularities. Context and history are not givens but modes of engagement, expressive media exceed human intentions, and anthropology carries forward the worlding of alternatives."—Kathleen C. Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects
"Fictionalizing Anthropology productively and creatively extends, expands, revitalizes, and modifies a very old and long abandoned anthropological tradition: comparison. Stuart McLean creates a vibrant theoretical framework to rethink representation in literary and anthropological theory."—Eduardo Kohn, McGill University