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Abstract Michael Toggweiler

Due to the impacts of postmodernism, social and cultural anthropology has been dealing intensively with the possibilities and limits of representing “other” human beings and their meaningful worlds. So far, the discipline has discussed ways of improving its methods of representation without, however, fully raising questions about the quality and validity of the objects represented and the very idea, that they could be “represented”. Thus, despite attempts to purify classical anthropological categories, substantialized identities (“Humans”, “Others”, “Pygmies” etc.) along with various forms of binary oppositions (us – them, culture – nature, human – animal, fact – representation) have been rehearsed. The project aims to dissect and challenge the metaphysical outputs of the “anthropological machine” (Giorgio Agamben).

I intend to solve these from their apparent familiarity as representable identities or differences in order to investigate their genealogy within a dynamic game of différance (Jacques Derrida). In Derrida’s understanding, différance becomes manifest mainly in the “blind spots” between differences, at the borders of identities. As an analytical guideline the research uses on one concrete metonym for the derridean blind spot, namely pygmy narratives within early modern and 19th century imaginings. As “No-things” (Julia Kristeva) “Pygmies” for a long time occupied the impossible middleground between categories. They have been part of both Western mythology and anthropological reflection since the antiquity and finally became “ethnographical facts” within an evolutionary anthropology in the 19th century during the European exploration of East Africa. My research has a twofold aim: first, it investigates specific historical effects of anthropological and epistemological différance by way of  early modern (proto)anthropological sources. More than any of the Plinian monsters of contemporary cosmography or natural philosophy, the pygmies of the Homeric myth, as a catalyst for the negotiation of categories, play a decisive role in early modern and 19th century conceptions of the human. Through the precarious Pygmies, the genealogy of differences (human – animal, fictum – factum etc.) appear evident. Second, the project aims to establish a heuristics of the ‘gaming tables’ on which these historical effects appear evident. I claim that “Pygmies” are one possible way of tracing derridean or lévinasean alterity within a triadic dynamics of identity, difference, and alterity. The project thus contributes to a discipline that for a long time has examined concrete systems of knowledge and the conditions of possibility of classification in general. One might call it an “anthropologization” of anthropology.

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