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Author: Margaret Thompson Drewal
Title: Introduction
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Introduction
Margaret Thompson Drewal

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 1, pp. 6, 1991
Author Biography: Margaret Thompson Drewal teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching pursue the field of performance theory.



The following ethnography by Morris Meyer on the practice of Ifa divination in Chicago is experimental, departing radically from conventional research and writing strategies in anthropology. My purpose here, at the request of the editor, is to ground Meyer's essay for the potentially disoriented reader. For reasons that will become apparent below, Meyer could not ground his own text for that would have constituted an authorial intervention on his part that is antithetical to his project.

Responding to the critiques of ethnographic writing by James Clifford, George E. Marcus, Michael M. J. Fischer, and Stephen A. Tyler, among others, Meyer set out to grapple with the problematics of conventional ethnographies, in particular the nature of textualization, ethnographic authority, and the inherently unequal power relations between self and other, observer and observed, subject and object. The text that follows is the result of Meyer's attempt to address these issues in his own research and writing practices.

Meyer allowed the very system he was researching to determine the form and content of the ethnography. Thus, by persuading his subject of study, diviner Philip Neimark, to divine the ethnography, Meyer relinquished his complete control over the text and in this way successfully subverted his own authorial authority. In part, the Ifa system itself then assumed the responsibility of ethnographer.

Involving Neimark and, by extension, the Ifa system itself as collaborators, Meyer thus achieved a dialogical methodology in which both his research and writing continually shifted among multiple interpretive voices, thus producing a form that emerged, in Tyler's words,

... out of the joint work of the ethnographer and his native partners. The emphasis is on the emergent character of textualization, textualization being just the initial interpretive move that provides a negotiated text for the reader to interpret. The hermeneutic process is not restricted to the reader's relationship to the text, but includes as well the interpretive practices of the parties to the originating dialogue. [1]

In the text that follows, Ifa practice and ethnography converge to collapse subject and object into each other. The result is not only an ethnography that evokes Ifa divination practice, but itself enacts the very structure of that practice through its collaborative interpretive method, its polyphonics, its seriality, and its fragmentation. What Meyer has accomplished is a truly dialogical text.

1. Stephen A. Tyler, "Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 127.

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