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Manual Thrice Told Tales: Married Couples Tell Their Stories

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This is a simple story that could have been told and undoubtedly has been by many, many people. Ruminations with a View point 9 it unnaturally and giving it unearned legitimacy. In Chapter Three, the events appear as a jumble of field observations and interviews. Arguably, this record could be considered the voice of the anthropologist. However, as I point out in the introductory paragraphs to that chapter, our field assistant, Wu Chieh, a young Taiwanese woman with the equivalent of a tenth-grade education, did the majority of the observing and interviewing, and in a very real sense defined the topic.

She had come to look for, or at least to recognize, the kinds of issues that interested us. Even so, I felt then and continue to feel that the interest she took in these events was not as our employee but as one of Mrs. Tan's neighbors.

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She also had a sympathy for Mrs. Tan as a fellow outsider that many of our neighbors did not and could not share. She pursued the story and people's reactions to the obviously exciting activities that it encompassed with a personal concern that she rarely exercised in her other work with us. Nonetheless, the fieldnotes are a melange of voices that were selected for recording from the yet more numerous set of voices still echoing in our ears when we sat down at the end of each day to write up the day's notes.

In Chapter Four, the voice is clearly that of the anthropologist telling the story in the context of shamanism in Taiwan. I wanted to explore the factors in the community's final decision about the nature of Mrs.

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Tan's behavior. The choice of romanizations may seem bizarre in the texts. Most, but not all, Taiwanese names and words are given in that language, but those who interacted with us primarily in Mandarin were given Mandarin rather than Taiwanese names because that is the way they presented themselves to us e. Wu Chieh. Tan's status, and the cultural context. My control over possibly competing interpretations is determined by my ability to comprehend and process the data available. Chapter Two, the short story called "The Hot Spell," might conceivably be labeled "experimental ethnography," but it was written as fiction-not as fact using fictional forms, as some postmodernists urge.

The "I" voice, and I admit it still does feel a bit like me, is totally in control of the information. The action and emotions are presented directly, and even the doubts and conflicted voices come from the author, no matter how carefully worded between the quotation marks. A few, but very few, of the lines quoted appear somewhere in the field notes or in my journals, although even now, many years since I have spoken or even heard that dialect, I can hear cadences and recognize the individuals who were amalgamated into a single character.

Had I time enough while in the field-and my readers patience enough-these events could have been recounted in numerous other voices. Many actors and observers could have been given the space for their accounts, their interpretations, of what happened in March Perhaps the most interesting would have been Mrs.

Tan's interpretation, which I suspect would have changed from day to day. Another fascinating perspective would have been that of the coterie of old women who controlled so much more of village opinion than anyone, including the middle-aged men who often "voiced" village opinion, realized. Wu Chieh's own full account there was much she did not tell me even off the record might be very different from any of those presented here.

The village children-who after any major event such as New Year's or a god's birthday celebration spent days incorporating vivid, and often embarrassing, imitations of adult behavior into their play-could have provided another sharp set of insights. And, of course, the ritual specialists-the tang-ki who tried Ruminations with a View point I I to lure back Mrs.

Tan's wandering soul, and the old man I call Ong Hue-lieng, who made the final pronouncement about her possession-both would have had very different accounts to present. All of these speakers, including those presented fully in the pages that follow, interpret events with a vested interest, some consciously and some in total innocence. My failure to involve all these interpretations in this account was perhaps a failure in fieldwork although these events were peripheral to what we were studying , but have I robbed my informants of their authority as the holders of their culture or, perhaps worse, assigned that authority to some rather than others?

I think not. Their authority is intact: I do not speak for them but about them, even though I occasionally use their voices to tell my story. The anthropologist listens to as many voices as she can and then chooses among them when she passes their opinions on to members of another culture. The choice is not arbitrary, but then neither is the testimony.

I see no way to avoid this exercise of power and at least some of the stylistic requirements used to legitimate that text if the practice of ethnography is to continue. I am aware that to some this position is blasphemous, to others obvious, and to still others lacking in sophistication Sangren I am also aware that it questions principles feminists have been attempting to formulate concerning nonexploitative research methods.

These problems will be further explored in the commentaries and the final chapter. Nonetheless, I do not think we need to hang our heads in shame. I do not apologize for the research I have done or the books I have written about Taiwanese women. When I began my research, there were no Taiwanese scholars who were the least bit interested in women's lives. I may not have always gotten it right, but Taiwanese women were taken seriously as agents because of my research and writing. Now they can speak for themselves or through the work of a group of young Taiwanese feminist scholars.

But note that these new scholars will also speak of a vastly changed society. The question Bordo puts to critics of a similar historical development in feminist theory is equally applicable here: "Could we now speak of the differences that inflect gender if gender had not first been shown to make a difference? Let us return to a less complex time and a less complex view of it.


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I present the short story as the first text in this nontextual analysis because I think and some friends who have read the chapter in draft agree that it gives readers who have never been to a Taiwanese village, let alone lived in one, a sense of village life that they cannot get from the field notes or the article. There are other reasons for the order of the chapters-the degree to which they illustrate differences in ethnographic authority, for one-that I hope will be clear as the reader progresses.

The thick, heavy air over northern Taiwan hung motionless, absorbing heat and pressing it down on our heads. My husband, an anthropologist, and I had been living for over a year with a Taiwanese farm family in a small village an hour away from the city of Taipei. Most of the summer the thick brick walls and heavy tile roof protected us from the semitropical sun that penetrated the flimsy houses of city-dwellers.

In the evenings, at least the suggestion of a breeze usually moved across the flooded paddies, creating cool whispers in the growing rice and clearing the house of the day's collection of heat. But for two weeks now, there had been no whispering in the rice paddies, no relief with darkness from the oppressive heat.

My lethargy turned to depression and then to sodden tension. At first I thought it self-generated, but as I wandered through the village, halfheartedly interviewing mothers about toilet training, I saw the same dull tension on other faces. Only an ancient lady with tiny bound feet greeted me as usual.

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Eighty-five years of exposure to alternations of heat and humidity and cold and humidity had brought her invulnerability. So-cu sipped hot water the tea of the poor and warned me, "Someone has angered Tien Kung. He is sending. He will send us a bad one soon.

A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility

An hour of excellent data from an anthropologist's perspective. I took notes on my limp tablet and hoped that Wu Chieh, my field assistant, was tucking away some of the linguistic subtleties that were still beyond me. We returned to the house, stopping briefly in the courtyard to commiserate with Lim Ge-gou, the wife of our host, as she looked at her dwindling flock of baby chicks.

Each day two or three more drooped and died. Four were left, pecking listlessly at grains of rice. Lim's face also was a mixture of strain and apathy. Inside, the house was dim but no cooler. Smells that ordinarily suggested themselves and disappeared seemed solid in the heavy air. The smell from the privy dominated the back rooms; the pungent decaying smell of preserved vegetables clung to the air in the kitchen and inner courtyard; in the guest hall, generations of incense burned on the ancestral altar hung black and heavy; the dusty yellow odor of a year's cigarette smoke greeted me at the door of the room we used as an office.

I tried to remember the smell of the mint growing in the backyard of my mother's home in northern California. After lunch, my husband left for a few days in Taipei to search out some land records, Wu Chieh departed with her stopwatch to do child observations, and I settled in the office, collating data and typing up back fieldnotes. The heat intensified as the hour hand moved downward, silencing the five hundred people who lived in the village. The only sound was the rustle of paper as I shifted to another chart-not even the complaining wail of an infant, an invariant of village life, moved the air.

A dull throb set up in the back of my head. I leaned back in my chair, pulling at my damp shirt, and wondered vaguely if we had any aspirin left.

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I may have been sitting there for a minute or an hour when I heard a sound that lowered my body temperature by ten The Hot Spell 17 degrees and pulled the hair of my scalp into a knot. It started with a low bovine moan and undulated up the scale into an intense piercing scream. At its peak, it dropped off into almost a gargle, stopped briefly, and then on a lower scale was punctuated by a series of short hoarse shrieks.

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For a few seconds there was silence. Then sounds came from everywherewooden clogs rushing along packed earth paths, doors banging, questioning voices edged with fear.

Even with my limited knowledge of Hokkien, I could comprehend the questions being shouted: "What is it? What's happened? The path, usually empty at this time of day, seemed filled with people. A few were rushing along with their eyes fixed on something in the distance, others were clumping uncertainly, eyes fixed on those who seemed to have a goal-all were asking, "What is it? I joined them, but no one had time for me and my clumsily worded questions. People were pushing for position on the edge of the rice paddy and talking excitedly about what they were observing.


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Taking advantage of my height and a conveniently forgotten bamboo stool, I looked over their heads at the source of the inhuman high-pitched groans that continued to issue from the paddy. Tan, an unemployed laborer, and two of his neighbors, both middle-aged women, were trying to drag a struggling, slime-covered woman out of the muck of the paddy. Just after I reached my observation post, she gave up her battle with a low despairing moan.

As they pulled her onto the path above the paddy, I recognized her as Mr. Tan's wife, a shy reserved woman in her early thirties, the mother of three children. The crowd divided, part of them following Mr. Tan and one of the women carrying Mrs. Tan, the other half encircling the second woman with questions. Clinging to her skirt, looking very pale and frightened, were the two older Tan children. She turned and led them into the house.