Anthropology According To The War Of Dreams: Studies in Ethno Fiction by Marc Augé

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
Telephone: 530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: and home page:

31 January 2000 [1] 

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© For Anthropology And Humanism (published by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology), 75 E. Chautauqua Street, Mayville, New York 14757. This was placed on the WWW in April 2001.

Marc Augé (Director, Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, Paris, France) published (1997) La Guerre des rêves: exercices d'ethno-fiction, translated by Liz Herron (1999) as The War Of Dreams: Studies in Ethno Fiction (Pluto Press, London and Virginia, 136 pages). It is an interesting book, albeit with caveats: begin with the last chapter ("The Agenda"). Augé encourages us to be "vigilant" (page 120) about images and "ethno-fiction" and we must approach everything with a critical perspective. With no numbered chapters, one proceeds from "Look Out!" to "The Nub of the Situation" to "What is at Stake" to "Antecedents" to "The Theatre of Operations" and "Agenda" (then "Notes" and "Index"). With no bibliography per se, references appear in "Notes." Numbered chapters are vital in a revised edition! 

Looking at the "invasion of images" upon us (page 2), Augé conducts an "anthropological investigation" which is a powerful analysis of "homogenising factors" in the world. With fieldwork in Africa and Venezuela, as well as literary references, he points out problems that develop when images build upon images and when images are lost, this is "the risk that we run today with the war of dreams" (page 56). Augé asks us to consider fiction which can "be the opportunity for the individual's imagination and memory to experience the existence of other imaginations and other imaginary worlds" (page 99). 

Reader beware: this book has implications. Is anthropology nothing but what anthropologist do? Does Augé warn that anthropology may be an analysis of fact or fiction? In 1950, Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973), repeated "by and by anthropology will have the choice between being history and being nothing" (Social Anthropology And Other Essays, 1962, pages 139-154, page 152. In 1989, Leach (1910-1989) reviewed Geertz's 1988 Works and Lives: The Anthropologist As Author:

"An ethnographic novel has much more in common with an historical novel than with any kind of scientific treatise. As anthropologists we need to come to terms with the now-recognized fact that in a novel the personalities of the characters are derived from aspects of the personality of the author. How could it be otherwise? The only ego that I know at first hand is my own. When Malinowski writes about Trobriand Islanders he is writing about himself; when Evans-Pritchard writes about the Nuer he is writing about himself. Any other sort of description turns the characters into clockwork dummies. … Ethnographers as authors are not primarily concerned with factual truth; they convince by the way they write [stress added]." (Edmund Leach, 1989, Writing Anthropology. American Ethnologist, Vol. 16, No. 1, pages 137-141, page 141).

Augé convinces. Obtain it, read it, contemplate it, and consider anthropology. 

Finally, Augé refers (among others) to Balandier, Durkheim, and Lévi-Strauss, and Jean Baptiste Poquelin (page 89), better know as Molière (1622-1673). I end by quoting from a translation of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme of 1670: "Good Heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it."

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[1] © Written for Paul Benson (Book Review Editor), Anthropology And Humanism (published by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology), 75 E. Chautauqua Street, Mayville, New York 14757. To be published in the December 2000 issue. To return to the beginning of this paper, please click here.

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