Ford the Ethnographer a. Playing with anthropology After having wandered with Ford and through Ford from Toulon to Tarascon, from Carqueiranne to Les Beaux, little territory is left to visit; and I am indeed afraid that some of what you shall hear from me may sound as an echo of the last two days! But perhaps, this is the duty of a conclusion! I shall therefore bypass what Ford writes and says of France and concentrate rather on how he does it, the ways and modes and whims of his approach to the hexagon, and try to assess if and how they relate to or reveal his aesthetics. And to start doing so, I wish to words referring to the impact of The Golden Bough on the literary imagination of the time: ‘When the second edition appeared in 1900, Joseph Conrad read extracts in the Fortnightly Review, a copy of which he shared with Wells. Soon we find Lawrence quoting the second edition and with the third, 1906-1915, the floods open wide. Eliot calls Frazer ‘unquestionably the greatest master’, Wyndham Lewis reads the Scapegoat and concocts his own childermass’ Wittgenstein later joins in, and ‘contamination’ goes on and on…. Though unmentioned in Fraser’s recognition, Ford is certainly no exception, and he also, as his friends, was quick to capture the anthropological mood of the time and incorporate it in his work. It shows in his cultural explorations of England and the English, of course, as indeed in his novels, where, directly or implicitly, the great ethnological themes of the time resonate: kinship, rituals, scapegoats. Ford’s approach to France is thus framed by the practices and vocabulary of fieldwork and defined, partially at least, by the encounter of the ‘others’ and the interaction between observer and observed; a fact made clear by Henry Martin when he considers at the end of The Rash Act that ‘He had gone native indeed. And he was beginning to penetrate the idea of his fellow savages…’(340). The whole novel is disseminated with continued allusions to the customs of the tribe such as the following: ‘Any French people would never take a letter from anyone’s hand. They regarded letters with the superstition that savage tribes attach to objects under a taboo.’(223) In A Mirror to France, on another hand, the essayist is cast in the part of the explorer, adventuring in the ‘great, wild country…, towering up into massive, terraced heights, burrowing deep into valleys, stretching out for ever in plateaux enormously on high, opening down into great dales…’(151) The vocabulary of anthropology is enriched with tabus – the Fair of Beaucaire had its origin as tabu-ground – and ‘Saturnalia’, yet another word of Frazerian derivation, that Ford, incidentally, feels affection for and uses repeatedly, in the Good Soldier for instance. No doubt, there is much irony in his handling of some crucial tropes of anthropology, such as the fabulous tale of the invincible white man who becomes the semi-divine ruler of a grateful native people: this basic ingredient of anthropological encounters and analysis is comically re-enacted in a Paris market, ‘where the fruiteress was ignorant of the fact that the visit of a charming (English) lady of a dominant race in a motor car and all ought to be regarded as the coming of an angel or other supernatural being bringing with it all sorts of unrealisable blessings and rendering that dark spot of the earth for ever a little brighter’ (194) Nor is Ford ignorant of the political undertones of anthropology, if the smiling market anecdote gives way to a sharp remark on the colonial past and present of England, and its inclination to massacre easily ‘Mild, adoring, black, yellow or coffee-coloured races’(194). Anthropologizing the French is thus a way to poke fun and turn upside down, with surprising modernity, the then rarely challenged paternalistic attitude toward ‘primitive cultures’ which invariably informed the works of Malinowski, Spencer and Gillen or Pitt-Rivers. But articulating his French journeys in the language of the ethnographer, Ford was also, more seriously, interrogating the issues of identity, community, group, civilization; he was, in James Clifford’s words, posing questions ‘at the boundaries of civilizations, cultures, classes, races and genders’ (Writing Culture, 2). No surprise, then, that food should be so central in A Mirror to France and Provence, in true anticipation of the semiotics of food that would become common wisdom of modern ethnology, from Mary Douglas to Jack Goody and Claude Levi-Strauss. Since food is a system of communication and reveals a good deal about social patterns, Ford lingers on recipes and dishes, most notably the bouillabaisse – a synedocche of Provence, it has been told yesterday - which deserves a long footnote in the book and a hot debate in The Rash Act: ‘Coriander seed is one of the chief ingredients, with saffron, of soupe de poissons…Get up and catch the rascasse! The rascasse, the rascasse…Soupe de poisson needs rascasse before everything else… I shall call you Monsieur Rascasse’(306). In the light and deflated tone of casual conversation, Ford also follows the trail of olive oil cuisine as it changes into butter, pork fat and then goose fat cooking in the region of Castelnaudary, a culinary variety that defines the different sub-cultures of Southern France. The apparently frivolous insistence on the sensual (and verbal) joys of cassoulet or pieds de mouton à la ravigote thus doubles into a quest for significant cultural patterns, that Ford, moreover, examines in their structure – the civilization of olive oil – but also in their transformations. Contemporary ethnology and l’école des Annales have taught us that the structures of everyday life have a history and that daily rituals change, an awareness very vivid in Ford who anticipates the dangers threatening local cultures in the era of mass production, local culture and local food and deplores the ‘few rather large restaurants in Paris, the few rather dreadful firms that have numbers of dull branches’(MF, 224). Long before the Macdonald invasion and the opposite foodie fashion, Ford knew that cooking and eating are significant rituals, that ‘You can’t force people from the south to gorge themselves with butter or people from the North to use olive oil’ (Flandrin/Montanari, 512), that food is a language in the true sense of the word: There is a really sensuous pleasure in uttering a correct French sentence, as there is in eating good French cookery, the pleasures being very nearly akin (MF, 250) Ethnography yet again sets the tune in Ford’s attempted taxonomy of French society, which not only invests the differences between haute and petite bourgeoisie, but contemplates categories and subcategories of doctors, notaires, avoués (solicitors) avocats, pharmacists, the immense body of civil servants, tobacconists, road-menders, actors, ménagères, there is no end to it. The quest for defining features goes on, entailing the relation between the sexes, the institutions, la police, la bureaucratie; it lingers lovingly on the main characters of the group, frugality foremost among them and, most conspicuous, the rituals of the community: They are LA PECHE and LA CHASSE! And they indeed must be given capitals. For days before the decreed opening of the shooting season and before the statutory opening of the rivers, the whole of France – the whole of France! - buzzes like bees swarming. All the papers, but all, are exclusively occupied with articles on ho to shoot partridges from every possible angle (MF, 166) Moving between the four fields defined by Franz Boas for as the agenda of budding anthropology - physical anthropology, archaeological, social and linguistic - Ford duly fulfils the requisite of the ethnographer. Pity there is no time to spend on the grammatical or phonetic issues which abound in his search for French identity, and I shall limit myself to one quotation only concerning the unfathomable mysteries of the language: ‘There is no discoverable reason why one should say bonnes gens whereas if the adjective follows the word gens it must be in the masculine; as to the subjunctive, its use is not very reasonable, but it is very lovely’-MF 250)! b. Reconfiguring geographies and communities. As a result of the ethnographic gaze, in his search for local knowledge – in Geertz’s words – and collective identity, Ford takes considerable liberties with maps and geography. The borders of the hexagon, in particular, are entirely re-designed: for a start, France begins with the bookstalls of Quai Malaquais, and ‘is anywhere South and generally West of a line drawn from the cupola of the Institut to the spire of the church in the little marketplace in Menton’, therefore excluding for instance Britanny, which anyway is no more French than the Welsh are English (MF 87). However shortened in the North, the country extends beyond the Alps, to Milan, to which must be added that the fact that Paris has little to do with France: ‘it is astonishing to come in a French country where Paris so absolutely does not exist’ (MF158). Further distortions occur when Ford evokes the ‘times in which France, as it were, seems to come into England’, so that, rather implausibly, Boulogne was once in 1873 ‘so plainly visible from Hastings that the people lounging on the quay where the boats came in were quite plainly to be made out by the naked eye’!(MF48). An information supplemented by the fact that, according to the writer, it is sometimes possible to read a ‘large-print book on those shores of Kent at night by the flashes from Griz Nez’, a lighthouse on the opposite French coast. This could of course be a joke, but what for sure is quite serious is the substantial ‘frenchness’ of Romney Marsh and the Cinque Ports, as local Huguenots names bear witness to, Venesse, Gasson, Odinots…. Ford also predicts a future in which both countries shall be reunited, thanks to the accretion of pebbles and the fact that ‘Dungeness point moves out to sea and towards France at exactly the rate of one yard per year’(MF48). Though amusing, Ford’s maverick boundaries are not made for jest only; they convey genuine questions about cultural and political identities, made all the more urgent and poignant after the bloodshed of the war. What is under discussion in this re-mapping of France is the idea of nations, those entities who assume ‘the appearance of malignant and long-toothed ogres’. Out with anything like ‘national’ identity, argues Ford, and in with other types of groupings: ‘Something like book-clubs’…but also cafés, drawing rooms and casually public places (MF235). National issues have indeed little to do with the nature of the people: the poor normal French citizen, pursues Ford, who knows nothing about colonial military adventures, is ‘bewildered and pained when told that in his heart he is a cross between Napoleon, Attila and the late Cecil Rhodes’. As a powerful antidote to the ‘miserable activities of the politicians and financiers who control our helpless destinies’, the ethnological attitude brings to light other aggregations: ‘if you threw three stones, one into Birmingham, one into Lyons and one into, say, Philadelphia, the chances are that the three citizens you hit would … be as like as three apples from not very dissimilar trees’ (231). Unheeding of geopolitics, Ford daringly enlarges the limits of the country and its people: Before and during the late war I had very strongly the feeling that all South-Western Europe bounded on the North by the populations along both side of the Rhine from its sources to its disappearance in Holland, formed one Frankish people, the difference between a Rhenish German and a French Flemish being negligible, except that the Rhenish German is much more like a meridional Frenchman in temperament and in the values he attaches to life. And until relatively late days the culture of the United States was so exactly the same in its provenance…that, culturally at least, the inhabitants of the United States too belonged to that comity. (MF 259) Somehow pre-figuring some of today’s burning issues, Ford tackles the question of identity in the light of mixed communities, emphasizing that what is for him the heart of France, Provence, is the most ‘be-emigrated into district of a France that is almost the last refuge of the immigrants of all Europe’. Which is why in town as in the small farms, you will hear almost as much of North-Italian patois as of the impure Provençal that is the local speech’(156). Origins are so mixed and borders so flexible and extensible that speaking in terms or race or nation has become irrelevant and certainly useless for one in search of France. Civilization – that big word - has little to do with origins, essence, roots, and more with mixture and multiplicity: ‘If I could have my way, I would introduce a conscription of the English language into France and a conscription of the English language into the Anglo Saxon countries, so that every soul from the Golden Gate to the Alpes-Maritimes was transfused with the double civilization’. As we know, there are other alternatives to national communities: the courts of love, possibly, the republic of the arts and pure thought, or, less abstractedly, Les Félibristes, the group gathered around Frédéric Mistral that included Francis Hueffer, or even informal and unstable societies, united by conversation in salons or cafés or bistrots, as Christine Reynier reminded us yesterday: ‘Go where you will, if you speak to the man next to you, he will know what you mean and will have a point of view if you talk about public questions of the day, about the arts, philosophy, aviation, the elections to the academy or where you can get good wine’ (254). I would indeed suggest there is nothing immutable in these local identities with which Ford counteracts the idea of nation: they are on the contrary composite, transitory, unstable and un-dogmatic societies. And how could it be otherwise, since, as Ford tells us, we are all passengers, as indeed were his role models the troubadours, always in travel from one court to the other. c. Ethnology into art and back. The gaze of the ethnographer, however, entails more than significant political and cultural statements; it also to some extent defines the form of Ford’s modernism and of his aesthetic achievement. First of all because its disrupts, and does it in radical way, the idea of a solid and compact self. Enacting the play between observer and observed again and again, Ford reshuffles the cards continuously, anthropologizing the French, but also turning back towards the English and the Americans, or indeed diagnosing the Parisians from the point of view of the Frenchman of France proper, to whom ‘The Parisian is at once helpless and maleficent. He cannot tell a field of turnips from wheat, he cannot harness a horse’(159). Pronouns are whirled around, we, you, I, they, and Ford’s self wanders between them and between the groups involved. The modern ethnographer, Vincent Crapanzano writes, cannot fix his vantage point, he is a roving perspective: so is Ford, endlessly en route from one position to the other, one point of view to the other. It also seems to me that Ford also experiences creatively the burden of the ethnographer, whose results are always and necessarily fragmentary: for cultural analysis, writes Geertz, is intrinsically incomplete. Whatever the quantity of fieldwork, Ford’s France actively resists homogeneity and coherence, it courts paradox and contradiction, as in the reflections which conclude the linguistic excursion of a Mirror to France: ‘ The Frenchman likes to be pedantic in his language; the French also refuse to be pedantic in their language’. Finally, I would suggest that the complexities of ethnographic writing resonate with the eternal question of Ford’s reliability. With his re-invented maps and anecdotes and the often fantastic France he recreates, Ford engages in the mission of the modern ethnographer as defined by James Clifford: ‘Interpretative social scientists have recently come to view good ethnographies as true fictions.. it is important to preserve the meaning not merely of making, but also of making up, of inventing things not actually real’. I think Ford would have willingly mirrored himself in the oxymoron, and that his true fictions of France owe a lot to the double discourse of ethnography and as such still have a lot to tell.
|Titolo:||Anthropologizing the French: Ford the Ethnographer|
PATEY, CAROLINE (Primo)
|Data di pubblicazione:||set-2009|
|Parole Chiave:||Ethnology, literature Ford Madox Ford,cross-fertilization|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore L-LIN/10 - Letteratura Inglese|
|Citazione:||Anthropologizing the French: Ford the Ethnographer / C.Patey. ((Intervento presentato al convegno Ford in France tenutosi a Aix en Provence nel 2009.|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||14 - Intervento a convegno non pubblicato|