"Critical Ethnocentrism" and the Ethnology of Ernesto De Martino

by George R. Saunders
"Critical Ethnocentrism" and the Ethnology of Ernesto De Martino
George R. Saunders
American Anthropologist
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Lawrence University

"Critical Ethnocentrism" and the Ethnology of Ernesto De Martino

Italian anthropologist, folklorist, and historian of religions Emsto De Martino was an eclectic and creative intellectual who fostered a whokgewation of studies on popular culture in Italy. In this article, I focus on one particular aspect of his work, a method referred to as "critical ethnocentrism, "attempting to situate De Martino's concerns in the historical moment of postwar ideological struggles. De Martino's approach, however, hm a wish rehance to understanding the relationships between the ethnographer and the subjects of the research, ar well as the historical and political contexts in which thqr meet.

HOUGH LIlTLE KNOWN OUTSIDE OF ITALYAND FRANCE, Emesto De Martino (1908- T1965) was one of the most exciting, original, and profound thinkers of 20thcentury anthropology. In Italy, he is regarded as a founding father of the same order as Franz Boas or perhaps Claude LCvi-Strauss. His work stimulated a whole generation of studies in cultural anthropology, folklore, and the history of religion, much of it focused on the poor and marginalized of Italy itself.

De Martino is of interest both for his choice of themes and for the eclectic and creative theoretical approaches he brought to the analysis. His studies of death, funeral ritual, and the "crisis of presence" (1956,1973,1975,1977), for example, present an altogether unique philosophical anthropology of the existential problem of being-here grounded in the ideas of Heidegger and Hegel. His work (1973, 1987) on magic and "fascination" (the evil eye), with its emphasis on the cultural work of "de-historification," is exception- ally textured ethnography. His training with idealist philosopher-historian Benedetto Croce led him into sophisticated treatments of the problem of historicizing the lives and experience of those who have generally been regarded as "without history" (De Martino 1941,1949,1953-54,1973,1976a), and predates by many years the rediscovery of history in American ethnology (cf. Roseberry 1989; Wolf 1982). His writings on the possibilities of a progressive folklore (1949, 1976b) and the political consciousness of the poor are insightful discussions of theoretical issues raised by Marx and Gramsci. His team study of the ecstatic healing cult of tarantism in the Salentine Peninsula of southern Italy (1976a) is a methodological classic, bringing together the approaches of psychology, ethnomusicology, anthropology, and the history of religions. The back- ground for virtually all of his work is a complex concern with power at all levels: power of the individual with respect to his or her "presence" in a social and existential context, power of groups with respect to each other, and power of the intellectual with respect to those groups and to a political context.

As Stocking has observed, "archetypically, the endeavors of pattern-making figures, at critical moments of discipline formation (or reformation), mold the models and write the rules of subsequent inquiry, embodying the discipline's fundamental methodologi- cal kalues in their own heroic efforts" (1989:208). Ernesto De Martino was certainly one of those pattern-making figures. In this article, I will concentrate on a single theme that runs through all of his work, a methodological approach generally referred to as "critical

;Imrno/1n;Inlhnrpoloptt 95(4):875-893. Copyright O 1993, American Anthropological Association.


ethnocentrism." Though there is much in De Martino's work that deserves attention, this theme seems especially germane to our own historical moment, in which anthro pology is examining the ways that its own perspectives are situated in cultural contexts, and in which the relationship between anthropologist and Other occupies a central place. De Martino's work is all of a piece, with a remarkable coherence and thematic unity; thus, at least in passing, I will touch on other important issues in his anthropology. De Martino was an extraordinarily complex thinker, however, and in this article I make no pretense of dealing fully with such original concepts as the crisis of presence (cf. Saunders 1992).

Coming of Age under Benedetto Croce

Ernesto De Martino was born in Naples in 1908 and died in Rome in 1965. His intellectual career thus spanned a dramatic period in Italian political history, beginning in the early years of fascism and carrying through World War I1 and into the socialist movements of the postwar period. An attempt to relate De Martino's person to his work is both illuminating and frustrating, as the contradictions are at times more striking than the congruences (Di Donato 1989); but it may be precisely the complexity of his engagement with this dficult historical milieu that stimulated such creative work.

As a student at the University of Naples, De Martino pursued classical studies, working under historian Adolfo Omodeo, and received his degree in letters in 1932. Sub- sequently, he became part of Croce's intellectual circle in Ban and Naples, but also developed a collegial relationship with Raffaele Pettazzoni, a historian of religions with a strong interest in ethnology (cf. Tentori 1979:104ff). De Martino was influenced also by his father-in-law, Vittorio Di Macchioro. Di Macchioro was a Jew who, during a wartime mystical experience, converted to Catholicism, then later to Waldensian Prot- estantism, then back to Catholicism; he spent his professional life as an archeologist and museum curator investigating ancient aid mysti'cal religious phenomena (Di konato 1989).

An appreciation of De Martino's perspectives, however, must initially concentrate on the scholarship of Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), with Antonio Gramsci one of the two most influential Italian intellectuals of the 20th century (cf. Bernardi 1990:2). Croce spent his life as an independent scholar of exceptional prestige and influence not only in philosophy and history but also in art and literature and even in politics. At the age of 44, he was made a life member of the Italian Senate, and though one of the most public of the antifascist intellectuals, his standing in Italian society safeguarded his freedom through the Mussolini years. For at least 50 years, Croce was the name to be reckoned with in any scholarly thesis in Italy. It is also at least arguable that Croce's idealist perspectives were the primary factor in focusing the attention of Italian Marxists (including Gramsci) more on culture than on political economy.

Following David Roberts, I would identify the following as essential elements of Croce's historicism: (1) an emphasis on radical immanence, or antitranscendence; (2) "a relatively mundane form of philosophical idealism"; and (3) a focus on the radical historicity of human life (Roberts 1987:57). By "radical immanence," Roberts means that Croce argued that the only legitimate concern of philosophy and history is the human world. Though Croce uses the term spiritto characterize the consciousness of a historical moment, and though he sees history as "the struggle for liberty," he is emphatically not referring to anything metaphysical, to divine intewention, or even to generalized laws of social order, progress, or the like (see also Caponigri 1955:169-177; Croce 1941:59-62). He has no interest in either the metaphysical or the natural except as those are understood, categorized, perceived, and described in human language and thought. In much of his work, it would not be unreasonable to translate "spirit" as "culture."

This human world, for Croce, is history realized, and for understanding the human world, particularistic history is all the is. Croce embraced the German dualism that scientific understanding differs from the understanding of human phenomena, and that the latter is of a higher order. "History is concerned with the particular, the unique, the unrepeatable," says Roberts in paraphrasing Croce (1987:38), and human life in any one place and time may only be understood as the unique realization of all the past of that particular milieu. Furthermore, the understanding of this past is a form of art, and "art is a form of knowledge, the mode of knowledge of particulars" (Roberts 1987:39). Historical facts can never illustrate metaphysical or scientific truths; rather, their meaning is found only in the way they construct the world at a particular moment in a particular human milieu.

The goal of Croce's scholarship, then, was to discover those meanings-that spirit-through the historicization of particular institutions, events, and human actions. Again, Roberts puts it succinctly: "Reality is nothing but history understood as one big particular that grows on itself over time as individuals respond to each given situation, thereby creating a new reality" (Roberts 1987:68). Historicism is the art of discovering that particular reality, not the science of relating it to other levels of reality or to abstractions such as evolution, progress, human nature, or the like.

In his Filosofia e storiografia (1949), Croce makes a sharp and-to contemporary sensibilities-shocking distinction between "modern" people, whom he refers to as "humanity," and "primitive" society, which he calls "nature." As Croce puts it, this "is the distinction between men who are actors in history and men who stand passively within history, between men who pertain to history and men of nature, men capable of development and men incapable of it; and toward the second class of beings, which zoologically but not historically are human, we exercise, as toward animals, dominion, and we try to domesticate and train them" (Croce 1949:247 ff., cited in Lanternari 1983:34).' Croce is perhaps more explicit and direct than any scholar of his time in arguing that in fact the Others are "without history." If our attempts to "humanize the savages" fail, he says, "in what way can we share common memories and sentiments with them, who obstinately refuse to enter into history, which is the struggle for liberty?" (1949:248).2 It is this struggle for liberty, in the Hegelian sense of an achievement of a self-conscious ability to make distinctions and to act on them, that is central to Croce's own work and later, in somewhat different ways, to De Martino's.

De Martino came of age intellectually under Croce's guidance, though he spent much of his scholarly career in subtle and sometimes ambivalent polemics with Croce's positions on primitive society and on the underclass of his own Italy. Croce's influence is evident in De Martino's first major work, Naturalismo e ston'cismo nell'etnologza (Natural- ism and Historicism in Ethnology), published in 1941. In this thesis-turned-book, De Martino critiques the dominant ethnological approaches of the early part of the century, particularly those of Levy-Bruhl and Durkheim, for their lack of historical perspective and for their generalizing goals. Naturalistic (or positivist, or scientific) approaches, for De Martino, tend to dehumanize the subjects in the sense that they deny them any possibility of authorship, of agency; historicism, in contrast, explicitly searches for such agency.

In this book, however, De Martino also previews his own particular goals and thus distinguishes his perspective from Croce's. For one thing, De Martino is explicitly interested in historicizing the Other, in applying Croce's historicism to the analysis of "the civilizations most distant from our own" in time, space, and ethos (De Martino 1941:8). Secondly, at least one goal of this endeavor-and one that can hardly seem paradoxical to any anthropologist-is "aUu.tgamento dell'autocoscienza per rischiarare I'm- im" (1941:12), that is, the expansion of our own self-consciousness in order to clarify or direct our actions. This is an early statement of critical ethn~centrism,~

and in the same paragraph, De Martino connects it to another enduring concern: "Modern civilization needs all of its energies to overcome the crisis" of the mid-20th century. De Martino was already an activist in the struggle for Italian political culture, but the crisis that concerns him here is much greater than fascism and the war-it is endemic, though it differs by historical moment and cultural context. It is, particularly for the peasants and day-laborers who would later interest him most, the crisis of presence, the existential wony that one might cease to be, either literally (through death) or functionally (through loss of the consciousness that enables one to act to shape history rather than simply passively accede to the actions of others).

The crisis of modern civilization is the moral justification for critical ethnocentrism, the stance that the primary goal of anthropological investigation is to reflect back on ourselves and our own milieu. De Martino does not mean simply the examination of contemporary Western culture in comparison with other cultures; he means critical reflection on the very categories of our analysis and recognition that these categories derive from our own ethnocentric cultural values. The ultimate goal, then, is notjust comparison of cultures, but the restructuring of cultural analysis. Although in other respects De Martino might not have recognized himself in the contemporary writing culture movement (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Crapanzano 1987; Marcus and Fischer 1986; Rosaldo 1989), his concern with reflexivity, with the intellectual and moral problems of the anthropologist's engagement with the Other, and with the power relations implicit in cultural analysis all put him very much into the 1980s and 1990~.~

Political Action and Culture Theory

The year of publication of Naturalismo estoricismo, 1941, was also the year in which De Martino's political activism began to take definitive shape. De Martino was one of the principal figures in the formation of an antifascist committee in Bari in 1941 and of the newly formed coalition Action Party in 1942. In 1945, he moved to the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP), then to the Socialist Party, and in 1950 joined the Communist Party (Gandini 1972:224). As the war ended, De Martino began to publish works that suggested the ways in which his politics were shaping his scholarly approach.

The years immediately following World War I1 were troubled but exciting in Italy. As Pasquinelli notes, "these were years of acute social tension, of hard political conflicts, of fiery union battles, in short years that saw arm-wrestling between the defense of democracy coming out of the struggle for liberation [from fascism] and the rounding off of the capitalist restoration" (1977:l). At the level of national politics, there was a struggle for political hegemony between the relatively conservative Christian Deme crats, backed by the United States, and the Communist Party. At the ground level, Pasquinelli argues, the rural battles for land, including dramatic peasant occupations of the latifundia, focused the attention of intellectuals on the rural South and provoked extended debates on class stratification and subaltern culture.

These were also years of soul-searching concern with the character of human nature and its relation to culture, especially political culture. Freud's Civilization and its Discon- tents, with its pessimism about these issues, comes to mind immediately as a predecessor to what Carlo Ginzburg has referred to as "the books of the year zero" (1979:239; also personal communication): a series of books published between 1939 and 1944 by authors like Theodor Adorno, Carlo Levi, Marc Bloch, and Raymond Queneau, "all of which presuppose the downfall, the end of a world (and in a certain sense of theworld) provoked by the advance, which up to a certain point appeared unstoppable, of the Nazi armies" (1979:239). De Martino was deeply concerned with such issues.

At the end of the war, De Martino found himself working as secretary of the Socialist Federation of Bari, trying to organize rural day-laborers for political action. He later wrote of those times (and here recall the contrasting earlier quote from Croce):

The first encounters between Western civilization and the "primitives" of [the colonial world]

were accomplished by conquistadores, merchants, missionaries, and colonial functionaries;

and the encounter between the Italian state and the etnosof southern Italy and the islands, the sorrowful world of the peasants and shepherds, was not substantially different. But I entered the houses of Apulian peasants as a "comrade," as a seeker of men and of forgotten ahistorical humanity. . . who wants to participate, along with the men encountered, in the foundation of a better world. ...Being "comrades" together, that is finding ourselves trying to be together in the same history, constituted a condition altogether new with respect to the goal of ethnological research, that is the goal of remembering even that past history of theirs that could not in any immediate way be contemporary and shared, and which, in any case, had to be driven away and suppressed. [Cited in Galasso 1978:382; emphasis in the original]

This passage reflects sentiments that are from the perspective of the 1990s simulta- neously arrogant, noble, and full of ambivalence. De Martino explicitly wanted to meld his scholarship with his political engagement. Furthermore, he wanted to focus on his relationship with the Others who were objects ?f his research, and to reflect on the possibility of forminga common culture to bring together intellectual and cultural elites like himself and his colleagues with impoverished and illiterate rural proletarians. At this point, however, De Martino still saw subaltern culture as a conservative impediment to effective social action. He wanted the Deasants and dav-laborers as comrades in the struggle for change, and yet, like Croce (and perhaps Mam as well), he worried that they were in fact outside of history.

The passage is also retrospective, written in 1953 as De Martino looked back on those first few postwar years. The period had been intense for him, both in scholarship and in activist politics. In 1948, he published a major ethnohistorical study entitled I1 mondo magico (The Magical World). Though the book contains some original ethnographic observations, it is mainly a critical and philosophical review of ethnological treatment of magic. The book is again framed in terms of critical ethnocentrism (though not using the term) (cf. Cases 1973:xi; Gallini 1986). In the preface, De Martino states directly, "the task of historicist ethnology consists in . . . posing problems whose solution leads to the enlargement of the self-knowledge of our civilization" (1973:13).

Though much of this text focuses on magical practices and shamanism in the Third World, one of its major analytic concerns is the modern European mode of thought that fails to understand magic and finds it impossible to accept it as real. "In our exploration of the world of magic we ought . . . to begin by subjecting to scrutiny the supposed 'obviousness' of the irrealityof magical powers," since "sooner or later we must confront the fact that the problem of the reality of magical powers has as its object not only the quality of such powers themselves, but also our own concept of reality, and that the investigation involves not only the subject of analysis (magical powers) but also our own analytic category (the concept of reality)" (1973:21-22). Perhaps, even more broadly, it concerns the scientific worldview of the 20thcentury West (1973:70). Make no mistake here: De Martino is in no way suggesting that we go native and believe that shamans actually make spirits appear and change the course of human illness. Indeed, one of his major fears is a retreat into irrationalism. (In this sense, he remains true to Croce.) And he is certainly no moral relativist: he openly brings his own values to the research. Rather, he is suggesting reflexivity at its best-that we recognize that the kinds of epistemological assumptions we work with are themselves historically determined, and that it is just as important (and interesting) to ask why we don't believe in the efficacy of magic as to ask why other people do. Our understanding of our own worldview can and must be deepened by scrutinizing it with respect to the worldview of others. And "scrutinizing," for De Martino, means "historicizing."

As De Martino's work progressed, he became less committed to the study of "the primitive" in the Third World and more interested in the culture of the poor and dispossessed in Europe, particularly southern Italy. The question of the relationship between the scholar and the Other took on new dimensions when both were members of the same society (albeit of different classes). The texts for analysis became "folklore," the subjects were the "subaltern classes," and the theoretical inspiration came not from the ethnologists like Levy-Bruhl but from Marx (filtered through Croce and Gramsci), Freud, and phenomenologists and existentialists, theorists whose work derived from the complexities of Western society itself. In this context, critical ethnocentrism came to include the analysis of internal relations in the complex societies of the West. The concern about the possible end of civilization, in the aftermath of the year zero, lent a sense of urgency to this analysis.

The publication of Antonio Gramsci's prison writings after World War I1 had a profound effect on the debate about subaltern culture. Journalist, culture critic, phi- losopher, and political organizer, Gramsci was one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party in the early 1920s and was imprisoned by the fascist regime in 1926. He died on his release from prison in 1937, but in those 11 years he was able to write a great deal, producing a truly remarkable philosophical commentary on contemporary society. His "prison notebooks" began to be published in Italy in 1948. Though Gramsci's ideas entered only belatedly into the social thought of non-Italian scholars, their impact in Italy in 1948 was immediate and dramatic, and De Martino was among those affected (Gallini 1982:97fT).

The most relevant aspects of Gramsci's work for understanding postwar Italian anthropology are his idealist reinterpretation of Mam (developed in part in an extended analysis of Croce's historicism) (Gramsci 1975) and his brief but influential writings on folklore (Gramsci 1974). Like Mam, Gramsci is concerned with class struggle, but he is more interested in the ideological and cultural aspects of this struggle than in the socioeconomic structure.

In Gramsci's view, classdomination is exercised as much through popular "consensus" achieved in civil society as through physical coercion (or threat of it) by the state apparatus, especially in advanced capitalist societies where education, the media, law, mass culture, etc. take on a new role. [Boggs 1976: 171

Gramsci thus focused the scholarly attention of critics of Western culture on culture itself. In his "Observations on Folklore," for example, he urges the study of folklore as " 'a conception of the world and of life,' implicit to a large extent, of determined classes . . . of society, in opposition . . . to the 'official' conceptions of the world" (1974:215). Folklore includes creative and spontaneous elements, even if a large part of it is superstition (note the Latin-Italian root of this term, which literally means "staying over," as in a "survival" of earlier cultural forms) (cf. Ginzburg 1988:406). It is essential to study it, says Gramsci, in order to encourage "the birth of a new culture in the great popular masses, that is to make disappear the schism between modern culture and popular culture or folklore" (1974218).

Similar conceptions and sentiments are found in the early postwar work of De Martino. In 1949, for example, he published "Concerning a History of the Popular Subaltern World," in which he restated the argument that the naturalistic approaches of bourgeois social science were oriented primarily to the collection and classification of cultural materials, treating exogamy, totemism, and the incest taboo as though they were items to be organized in a museum, with little attention to their meanings. "The popular subaltern world constitutes, for bourgeois society, a world of things more than of persons, a natural world that is confused with nature itself--conquerable and exploitable" (1949:412). For De Martino, then, there was a direct connection between the political and economic exploitation of the popular classes and the naturalistic study of their culture (see also Clemente, Meoni, and Squillacciotti 1974-75:II.A.12). The goal of ethnology,j according to De Martino, ought rather to be the historicization of popular culture, meaning (again with Croce) the study of the meanings that are themselves entirely historical products. That historicization allows the possibility of social action and of progressive culture change.

Such meanings are intrinsically related to class structure, but like Gramsci (to whom De Martino refers extensively in this article), De Martino is primarily interested in the cultural dimension of class. In this article, De Martino again treats folklore as essentially conservative, as mystification leading the poor into magical and essentially dysfunctional attempts to solve their problems. The historicization of popular culture thus has as one of its main goals "prophylaxis," that is, to help the popular classes avoid unwitting cooperation in their own exploitation. "Magic and superstition, mythical mentality, primitive and popularesque modes of struggling against the world, all of these represent an immense potential of energies that can be taken advantage of in an openly reaction- ary sense by the dominant classes for the end of maintaining their threatened hegem- ony" (1949:421). He specifically notes the ways that German Nazism used traditional folk notions about blood to promote a racist political program.

De Martino thus reflects the dilemma of the sympathetic intellectual who wants to help the poor but in fact feels ambivalent at best toward their ideas and values. Though he wants sincerely to see the poor "enter into historyn and take charge of their destinies, he fears that their culture leaves them poorly prepared to do so. As in many Italian folklore studies, A. M. Cirese points out, here "the folkloric world is considered in fact a world of cultural backwardness, of superstition, of prejudice: an archaic world that has nothing to do with the class struggle, or even worse that is one of the obstacles that the emancipation of the proletariat encounters and must overcome" (1977:162). Indeed, De Martino speaks of the temporary "barbarianizing" (imbarbanmento) of culture that is likely to take place as the popular masses "erupt into history," asserting the hegemony of their own values and ideas.6

Over the next few years, De Martino's understanding of the political dimensions of popular culture was to change somewhat. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 1949 article outlines his intent to begin a first field project in the south of Italy, a project actually initiated in Lucania in that year. By 1951, a short article published in /'Unit& (the Communist Party newspaper) bore the title "Progressive Folklore," and argued that the struggles for land in the south and for workers' rights in the factories in the north had begun to generate a new kind of folklore with a particularly progressive message. "Under the push of the workers' movement and of the elevated theoretical consciousness-that is of Marxism-Leninism-a true and genuine opening up of traditional forms of popular cultural life is occurring" (1976b:123). Note, however, that the push comes from the workers' movement and De Martino remains ambivalent about the consciousness of rural peoples, though he cites examples of progressive folklore being generated in the small town in Lucania where he had been conducting field research.


Note also that progressive folklore is seen as something new; it accompanies the "eruption into history" of a class that in many ways really has in the past been outside of it. Perhaps the most telling passage is this:

The unification of the national culture, as Gramsci conceived of it, that is the formation of a new cultural life in the nation that would heal the rupture between high culture and popular culture, cannot limit itself to the new narrative, the new realistic cinema, the new sensibility that is flowering in our painters, etc., but if we want a concrete, real unification, it also implies admission to the cultural circle of that progressive popular production that breaks with traditional forms of folklore and ties itself to the process of political and social emancipation of the people themselves. [1976b: 1241

Here De Martino is referring to high-cultural movements of the time, such as the neorealism of novelists and filmmakers like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini, who attempted to portray the lives of the poor in unromanticized ways (see also De Martino 1952). He is also arguing specifically that, however worthwhile such highcul- tural productions are, they are not enough, since they are still images of the poor produced by an elite. It is important to recognize the value of the cultural productions of the poor themselves, which are often more directly tied to concrete political necessi- ties. De Martino also notes the educational function of progressive folklore, which influences the consciousness of subaltern groups precisely because it is produced by their own friends and neighbors.

Critical Ethnocentrism in De Martino's Later Work

De Martino produced three additional major ethnographic works before his death in 1966, and one more was published posthumously. Mwte e pianto ritwlb (Death and the Ritual Lament, 1958) is an ethnohistorical study of funeral laments in the Mediter- ranean area from the time of classic civilizations to the present, and is often considered his best work. The book integrates classical materials with De Martino's own ethne graphic researches on the Lucanian funeral lament. In addition, it contains an extended analysis of the funeral of a Romanian shepherd, Lazzaro Boia, which De Martino and an interdisciplinary team studied in the mountains of Transylvania in 1950. The book is oriented by two themes: "the crisis of presence" (la crisi deUa pesenza) and "the crisis of grief' (la crisi del cordoglio). The crisis of presence is a complex notion that shows up in other works by De Martino as well. It is derived primarily from existentialist and phenomenological thought, probably especially from Heidegger, though also from Hegel (see Cherchi and Cherchi 1987:62ff., and Lanternari 1990:585). De Martino defines it as "the risk of not being in the world" (1975:3) or simply of "not being-here" (ilrischio di nonesserci), which at times seems simply to mean the universal and ahistorical inevitability of death. On the other hand, De Martino attempts to give even this first simple definition a historical dimension by arguing that people's sense of control seems more tenuous either under primitive conditions, where both technological and phile sophical impoverishment render the individual more constantly vulnerable (1975:43- 44), or, alternatively, where technology is overwhelmingly powerful, as in modem warfare.

More importantly, the crisis of presence is much more than simply the confrontation with death, because De Martino intends a wider sense of loss of presence in the world; that is, he includes such phenomena as psychological dissociation (whether in psyche pathology or actively sought, as in shamanism), alienation (primarily in the Hegelian, but also in the Marxian sense), and-the perennial problem of subaltern groups-loss of subjectivity, that is, of one's ability to act on the world rather than simply to be a passive object of action. The concepts of presence, potential loss of presence, and crisis of presence are perhaps the most philosophically profound but also problematic of De Martino's concepts.

"Presence" as a concept is treated by both Hegel and Heidegger in their discussions of ontology. De Martino explicitly notes that his own use of the term is closely related to Hegel's "sense of self," and he cites this passage:

The sensitive totality is, in its capacity of individual, essentially the tendency to distinguish itself in itself, and to wake up to the judgment in itself; in virtue of which it has particularfeelings and stands as a subject in respect of these aspects of itself. The subject as such gives these feelings a place as its ownin itself. [Cited in De Martino 1975:21; I have used the translation by Wallace 1894:188; emphasis in the original]

Hegel grounds the concept of presence in the nature of being, and particularly in the nature of human consciousness. The critical point, however, is probably found else- where in Hegel:

In life, consciousness contemplates a process which develops its own essential distinctions as modifications of its own concrete identity. . . . The core of self-consciousness is its practical intentionality (Trieb) to actualize its potentiality, to find itself in producing itself. [1959:212- 2131

Intentionality, then, is the active dimension of presence. It is also important to note that in Hegel's dialectical approach, everything, including existence itself, includes its own negation. The negation of presence, the "passivizing" of the individual, is very important in De Martino's analysis of ritual, which he sees as (in part) a means of overcoming the negation of presence.

Heidegger, similarly, argues that we exist because we have a relationship to ourselves. For Heidegger, Dasein, as a term for human existence, differentiates simple "being" from "existing," and only humans exist in this sense: they exist because they have a relation- ship to themselves, a relationship to "being" itself (Biemel 1976:34ff.). There are, however, diierent modes of being with oneself, and in the mundane world it is easy for people to lose sight of what it means to be in the world.

One's own Dasein. .. is encountered proximally and for the most part in terms of the with-world with which we are environmentally concerned. When Dasein is absorbed in the world of its concern-that is, at the same time, in its Being-with towards Others-it is not itself. ... This distantiality which belongs to Being-with, is such that Dasein, as everyday Being-with-one-an- other, stands in subjection [Botmassigkeit] to Others. It itselfis not; its Being has been taken away by the Others. Dasa'n's everyday possibilities of Being are for the Others to dispose of as they please. These Others, moreover, are not definite Others. On the contrary, any Other can represent them. [1962:163-164; emphasis in the original]

In losing sight of our fundamental being, we become inauthentic.

Drawing from these philosophical orientations, De Martino sees presence in the world as a relationship to the self, a kind of selfconsciousness that informs (or in another sense zi) a dialectic of "presence in the world" and "the world which presents itself." The crisis of presence is a situation in which one is "absorbed in the world" in a way that one loses control of one's own existence. And for De Martino, when the individual loses the kind of selfconsciousness that includes "its practical intentionality," when he finds himself unable to "produce" himself, then one can speak of a crisis of presence. However, the crisis also produces the possibility of transcendence. For Heidegger, dread, or angst, is the stimulus to self-knowledge, and De Martino seems to share the conviction that overcoming the crisis of presence is the fundamental work of culture.

For Heidegger, time is the "horizon" from which being is always understood, and De Martino is in a sense also especially concerned with time. De Martino here returns to his Crocean roots, however, since he is fundamentally interested in presence as the more or less conscious and intentional maintenance of one's place as an actor in time-that is, in humanly constructed time or history. It is notjust situations-either individualized or those created in the broad sweep of culture-that create a crisis of presence. The crucial point is that sometimes the individual finds himself rendered absolutely passive in the face of those situations that threaten to undo him. To be rendered passive is to risk the loss of presence; the loss of presence in turn is the loss of a place in history, since history is the work of thinking, acting, sentient, and perhaps above all, distinguishing human beings. The ability to distinguish the categories and content of one's own consciousness is the crux of a dynamic interaction with the world.

The crisis of presence is thus the loss of one's place in a historical moment, and death is simply the most graphic example of such loss. The crisis of grief is related: it represents the possibility that the living will be overcome with their own loss and will fail to recover; that is, they may follow the dead into nothingness. Funeral ritual, including the stylized lament of the Mediterranean, helps to restore the living to historicity, but paradoxically does so by "dehistoricizing" the event of death, by assimilating it to other deaths that have occurred before, by reimagng the particular death as part of a timeless process. It helps the living overcome the crisis and leads to their social reintegration (1975:llO).

A short description of De Martino's treatment of death ritual cannot dojustice to the brilliance of his analysis and the fine detail of his ethnohistory. De Martino is a consummate historian, working his way through funeral laments in Greek mythology and epics, in the Old Testament, and in ancient Egypt; tracing the way that the lament in individual funerals becomes separated from the seasonal laments of the agricultural cycle under the pressure of monotheism in ancient Israel (1975:236-288,353); and even analyzing the melodic patterns of the laments he recorded in Romania. Throughout it all, however, he maintains the perspective of critical ethnocentrism, the understanding that the categories he uses derive first of all from the perspectives on death developed

in his own milieu, and must be refined and historicized in the confrontation with other cultural contexts.

De Martino's next book, Sud e magia (The South and Magic), published the following year (1959), extends some of these concerns in a somewhat different ethnographic framework. The crisis of presence is evident in attempts to deal with illness, death, and misfortune through magic. De Martino opens the book with a discussion of the tension between magic and rationality as one of the great themes of history in the West. Though De Martino clearly accepts the progressivist argument that the Enlightenment has led to increasingly rationalistic approaches to the crisis of presence, he nonetheless wants to explore the conditions under which magic retains its power among the poor and thus remains an important element of an internally differentiated Western culture. Signifi- cantly, though, he wants as well to understand our understanding of magic, to historicize cultural change in intellectual as well as popular attitudes toward magic.

The first task begins with the rather pedestrian assumption that magic is to some extent simply the science of the ignorant. De Martino emphasizes "the power of the negative" in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised: in the fragile conditions of their lives, most of what happens is both bad and out of their control. The poor easily develop feelings of emptiness and inauthenticity, of alienation. The belief systems of Mediterra- nean magic, the evil eye, curses, spells, and so forth support their sense that evil has somehow invaded their person and depersonalized them. The victim of otherwise unexplained misfortune or illness comes to feel that his or her problems are localized in something internal that is nevertheless radically other than the self. Again, De Martino is here bringing together otherwise strange analytic bedfellows-the Marxian notion of alienation, the psychoanalytic problem of dissociation, the existential problem of meaning, and the historical problems of subject and object, actor and acted upon. The analysis is in part a critique of a society that allocates different possibilities to people in different segments of the social structure. As De Martino notes (again echoing Heidegger and perhaps Sartre), "Being in the world, that is maintaining oneself as an individual presence in society and in history, signifies action, the power of decision and of choice according to values" (1959:98), and this choice is usurped as the private property of those in the cultural centers of power. In a sense, magic is all that is left to those on the periphery.

The book doesnot end with the discussion of magic among the poor, however. The second part (more than half of the book) is entitled "Magic, Catholicism, and High Culture." Here De Martino develops further the intellectual history of attitudes toward magic begun in I1 mondo magico. For example, he examines changing attitudes toward the evil eye in the Neapolitan Enlightenment. In Italian, one of the words for evil eye is fascino, translatable as "fascination," and De Martino notes that

It was the romantic sensibility which gave a decisive contribution to that process of humaniza- tion and laicization which brought ilfmn'no back into the circle of the human passions and that left in our linguistic usage expressions such as "the fascination of the personality," "the fascination of a beautiful woman," "eyes that bewitch" and so forth. [1987:134]

Here De Martino is looking for the cultural and intellectual roots of contemporary analyses of the evil eye and related magical phenomena, providing a historical founda- tion for an analysis of our own epistemological assumptions.

Only two years later, De Martino published a genuine tour de force, La terra &l nmorso (The Land of Remorse, though the title is a play on words and could also be translated as The Land of the Re-bite). In this book, De Martino reports on a team study of tarantism in the Salentine Peninsula in the deep south. Tarantism is a religious cult formed by those who have been exorcised, through an extended erotic dance cycle, of the ill effects of a supernaturally charged tarantula bite. The tarantula bite, thought by some to be that of a real spider and by others to be a kind of spirit possession, leaves its victims in either "a mortal languor or a desperate agitation" (1976a:31) and can be cured only through the music, dance, and color symbolism provided by those who have previously been bitten and cured. The cult also maintains special calendric rituals in late June in the chapel of St. Paul in Galatina. To study this quasi-christian cult, De Martino assembled an impressive team of scholars, including a specialist in neuropsy- chiatry (GiovanniJe~s) ,a psychologist (Letizia Jervis-Comba) ,a toxicologist to analyze the evidence for real spider bites (Sergio Bettini), an ethnomusicologist (Diego Car- pitella), and a cultural anthropologist (Amalia Signorelli-D'Ayala) .

This book is fascinating, and deserves translation on its ethnographic merits alone. After an introduction, the first section details the work of the research team in Salento in 1959 and describes the symbolism of the tarantula bite and of the rites, the relation- ship between tarantism and the economy, and the rapport of the cult with official Catholicism. The second part focuses in considerably more depth on the symbolism of the music and dance.

The third part, the longest and most theoretical, is entitled "Historical Commentary." Here De Martino (a historian of religions by training, after all) reports on his historical investigation of the origins of tarantism, on its relationship to other forms of magic and to the Enlightenment, and-in another example of critical ethnocentrism-on the reactions of scholars and the bourgeoisie to the phenomenon. For example, he notes the first attempts by a group of Neapolitan doctors in the early 18th century to develop a scientific analysis of tarantism. In their report, they argued that tarantism was, on the one hand, an "institution" (founded in culture), and on the other, a disease, and particularly a psychic disorder (1976a:262). Over the next century, the analyses of tarantism became more "professional and specialized," and according to De Martino, the cultural dimension was ignored as the "scientific" judgment of the phenomenon came to emphasize pathology-that is, to medicalize it.

He also describes a play popular in Florence in 1794 in which a kind of Romeo and Juliet tale is woven into a satire of medical doctors. In the play, the father of the young woman is bitten by a tarantula, and the doctors are unable to cure him, but the young suitor brings in a team of cult members who play and dance the man back to health. In this play, tradition wins out over enlightenment and rationality, but the dialectic suggests the tensions in Italian culture at the moment. I may be reading too much into De Martino's analysis, but it strikes me that he was attempting something very akin to what Foucault did a few years later with Madness and Civilization (1973): an analysis of the discourse about tarantism aimed at exposing relations of power, the tensions of cultural change, and the redefinition of the Other through the control of culture by the elite.

De Martino's final book was published some 11 years after his death, after careful editing by his student and colleague, Clara Gallini, of voluminous but fragmentary notes left by De Martino. (Unfortunately, even after the editing, this volume remains essen- tially a collection of notes from highly disparate sources.) Entitled Lajnedel mmdo (The End of the World), the book deals with the theme of apocalypse in various guises and reflects De Martino's preoccupation with death and the demise of civilization. In a section entitled "Apocalypse and Decolonization," De Martino elaborates on his under- standing of the role of "humanistic ethnography" in a critique of European society. The context here, as Gallini notes, is the struggle for decolonization in the Third World (1979:211). Thus De Martino argues that "when the ethnographer observes alien cultural phenomena .. . he participates in the historical process through which the culture to which the ethnographer himself belongs is itself being formed" (1977:390). The ethnographer brings to this encounter particular categories of observation, "with- out which the phenomenon is not observable." "The only way to resolve this paradox is found in the very concept of the ethnographic encounter as a double thematicization, of 'one's own [culture]' and 'the alien' " (1977:391). Though this may sound like standard anthropological wisdom, De Martino intends it in a radical sense: the real purpose of ethnography is precisely and profoundly fie critique of Western culture itself, and within Western culture, of our intellectual history and our methods of research.

De Martino's Influence: The Debate on Popular Culture

Critical ethnocentrism-the critical, comparative examination of the fundamental ideas and values of one's own cultural context-became a central theme of anthropo- logical writing in Italy after 1948. The focus of the debate was often "the southern question," an issue of extraordinary concern in Italyeven in the 1990s (cf. Angelini 1977; Pasquinelli 1977). Italy is often described as having two cultures, and the image is generally of an industrialized, culturally modem, European north and an agricultural, feudal, Mafia-ridden south. The southern question concerns the relationships-eco- nomic, political, and cultural-between these two entities. In the Italian context, "popular" or "subaltern" culture and "folklore" usually meant southern culture (though not always-see Revelli 1977).

Though the question of the potentially progressive aspects of folklore was never effectively resolved in De Martino's work, the argument stimulated a whole generation of field research and theoretical discussion in Italy, particularly focused on the internal differentiation of culture in a highly stratified society. A. M. Cirese, for example, argued that folklore was anything but exclusively archaic, and that it was not a degraded version of hegemonic culture. Instead, he took a fairly radical position, asserting the autonomy of popular culture, "a world grown in upon itself with movements that have their own physiognomy" (1977:163). With respect to the wider society, Cirese developed the notion of imbalances of culture (dislivelli di cultura, perhaps better translated as "cultural stratification") (Saunders 1984456457). It is also telling that his influential 1971 book, Cultura egemmica e culture subalterne, begins with a discus3on of ethnocentrism. Though criticizing ethnocentrism in fairly standard anthropological form, Cirese is equally critical of cultural relativism, insisting that real relations of power mean that the "conceptions of the world" of differentoups may be more or less privileged. Much of the rest of the book is devoted to analyzing how such privilege works. Finally, Cirese also suggests, even in the 1950s, another form of critical ethnocentrism:

the fact that the "folk themselves, protagonists of the folkloric world, are studying themselves; that they are undertaking, by the light of their struggle for emancipation, the research of their own morphology and of their own cultural history; they investigate their own subordination and their autonomy, their subaltern condition and their emancipation; they no longer permit others to delineate, paternalistically and from the outside, arbitrary profiles; rather they write their own autobiography, in the name of an integral humanism and historicism. [1977:165]

A younger scholar, Luigi M. Lombardi Satriani, turned attention specifically to folklore as counterculture, taking off from the Gramscian notion of folklore as a popular "conception of the world and of life," in opposition (contra~osizione) to official or culturally dominant worldviews. There is no doubt, affirms Lombardi Satriani, that the worldviews expressed in folklore are frequently "archaic" and decidedly conservative, and that folklore often mystifies class relations and socializes people to submission; but at times it can also be innovative, creative, and contradictory to the dominant values of society (Lombardi Satriani 1974:29). Sometimes it makes sense to see folklore as "the testimony of a cultural refusal [n@~to], as a negative ,response, as the resistance of the subaltern classes to the process of acculturation forced on them by the dominant classes . . . a refusal, often covert [implicito], of the subaltern classes to be absorbed into a cultural system which predestines them to the role of victims" (Lombardi Satriani 197484).

Folklore can be, in short, a "protest culture" (cultura di contestazione). This resistance is certainly not always directly political. Lombardi Satriani notes, for example, that when Giuseppe Pitrt, the famous folklorist of late 19th- and early 20thcentury Sicily, pub- lished a collection of folktales, one of the Palermo newspapers editorialized that Pitrt had published "four volumes of filth" (parch&), objecting to the sexual content, which offended polite sensibilities (1974:104). In this case, the folklore seems simply a resistance to bourgeois decorum (although, as is well known, resistance to "good manners" is often a highly subversive activity [cf. Padiglione 1990:95ff.]). At other times, however, folklore may be directly political and revolutionary. Lombardi Satriani cites a popular Sicilian folksong in which a peasant approaches a crucifix and prays that Christ destroy "the evil race of landowners." The crucifm responds, "And do you perhaps have paralyzed arms, or are yours nailed up like mine? Whoever wants justice makes it himself' (1974: 147). The revolutionary implication was clear enough that when the song was published as a handbill in 1857, the authorities confiscated all the copies and permitted republication only when a pacifist response had been substituted.

One merit of Italian folklore studies such as these has been to complexify Marxian ideas about the culture of subordinate groups in Western societies. Folklore is by nature-as an oral culture-fragmentary and full of internal contradictions. It is adapted to the moment, to the particular situations encountered, to the particular individuals present, and to the mood of the performer. Class relations are certainly a central framework within which such folklore is developed, but class analysis is hardly sufficient for understanding it. As Italian scholars have demonstrated over and over again, at times it is conservative, reproducing dominant values about authority relations in local gender and familial contexts. At times it is resistant to dominant values but still encourages behavioral submissiveness. And at times it openly rejects those values and encourages rebellion. Lombardi Satriani, for example, refers to the difference between "folklore truth" @&lore ven'ta)-that is, folklore that springs directly from the people and genuinely represents their ideas, values, and class situation-and "folklore false- hood" Volklore menzogna), which keeps the lower classes in the chains of magic and mystification (Padiglione 1978:139). Most folklore, of course, contains elements of both.

Vittorio Lanternari has been one of the scholars who has treated this problem most seriously. One of his early works has been translated into English as The Religions of the Oppressed (1963) and is fairly well known to American anthropologists. In that book, he notes the political complexity of modem (Third World) messianic cults, especially the ways in which they sene as vehicles of cultural resistance even as they help in adaptation to the colonial situation. He also makes the observations reflexive, however.

Indeed, not only do these movements reveal the reactions of people affected by this [cultural clash]; they also serve the interests of the more advanced civilizations by tearing down barriers erected by Western colonialism and ethnocentrism. Moreover, they call for a reappraisal and updating of Western values within a human framework much broader than that provided by the nationalism of the nineteenth century. [1963:239]

Lanternari's later work, unfortunately largely untranslated, focuses more directly on such movements within Europe itself. In Crisi e ncerca d'identith (Crisis and the Search for Identity) (1977), for example, he considers a great variety of folkloric phenomena in the contemporary world, including the folklore festivals that have become very popular in small communities in Italy, in which local traditions are recreated, usually by bourgeois residents and often for commercial ends. In addition, some of the new charismatic movements, such as the Children of God or the followers of Guru Maharaj-Ji, suggest the resurgence of the kind of magical-religious worldviews that were the subject of earlier folklore studies. On the other hand, Lanternari notes, sometimes even bourgeois versions of folklore develop genuinely countercultural or protest functions (Lanternari 1977: 121) .7

Detailed ethnographic studies such as Lanternari's also help to correct some of the serious flaws in De Martino's work. De Martino, Gramsci, and many other Italian Marxists avoided simplistic economic determinist positions, and-as indicated earlier- their focus was on culture rather than economy itself. Perhaps precisely because of their conviction that hegemonic culture really was dominant, howeier, they tended to lump together groups that were structurally and historically different. De Martino occasionally distinguishes urban workers from the rural proletariat, for example, but on the whole fails even to make this fundamental distinction. At one point, for example, he includes together "the colonial and semi-colonial peoples, the worker and proletariat of the hegemonic nationsn (1949:411). He pays almost no attention to the differences between day laborers, sharecroppers, and small landowners. Furthermore, though power relations among nations, classes, and individuals are clearly the backdrop to all of his theorizing, his analysis of the basis and content of those power relations is superficial at beit. De ~arGno is, in addition, inattentive to the questions of voice--of appropriate representation of other points of view. He did see both the decolonizing movements of the colonial world and the struggles of the poor of southern Italy as suggesting their entry into history and transformation into active historical subjects

(Gallini 1979:218); but--despite his philological training-he does not seem to have understood fully the importance of language itself in this process. And from the vantage of the 1990s, his discussions of popular culture and consciousness are often distinctly patronizing. The Italian anthropologists who followed De Martino have taken better account of these issues.

The work of De Martino's followers thus effectively combines two siznificant themes:


the complexity of the culture of subordinate groups and a reflexive approach to understanding mainstream European culture. As De Martino wrote in Lajne &I mundo,

In critical ethnocentrism the Western (or Westernized) ethnologist assumes the history of his own culture as the unit of measurement of alien cultural histories, but at the same time, in the act of measuring he becomes conscious of. . . the limits of his own system of measurement and thus is opened to the task of reforming the very categories of observation that he started out with. [1977:39&97]

Though the promise of the latter task is never fully realized, De Martino did a great deal to stimulate the process.

The Ethnocentrism of Critical Ethnocentrism

Taken as a whole, De Martino's work constitutes a formidable intellectual history of European understandings of religious phenomena, disguised in part as an analysis of those phenomena themselves. That is, his work always moves back and forth between the ethnography and ethnohistory of magic, the evil eye, sorcery, agricultural rituals, funeral laments, the tarantula cult, and so forth on the one hand, and the analysis of "high cultural" understandings of these phenomena on the other. His goal is in part to critique the culture ofWestern capitalism-an exercise that puts him in the same camp as theorists like Marx, Freud, Sartre, Marcuse, Adorno, and Gramsci. He wants to expose the ways in which power differences create and maintain cultural differences in stratified societies. More importantly, however, he wants to understand intellectual production as situated within these power relations and within a specific historical context. Thus his intent is to use his comparative analysis of religious phenomena to uncover the differing assumptions that the practitioners of magic and the practitioners of ethnology bring to the understanding of them.

Seen in this light, there is a remarkable continuity and unity in De Martino's work. His very first book, Naturalismo e storicismo nell'etnologza, was a critique of positivist approaches to religion founded on his understanding that the "objectivity" they claimed was in fact a false neutrality (Gallini 1979:213). De Martino's critique, of course, is itself situated in the moment of Italian fascism, colonialism, and the shadow of World War I1 when the concern about treating people as objects was necessarily urgent. As his work unfolded, he returned again and again to topics-religion, magic, apocalypse-that characterize the long sweep of European history and yet also differentiate in some way its disjunctive periods. He wanted to understand the nature of those phenomena, but he wanted likewise to understand why others had understood them as they had. The conditions of Western society and of the relationships between the West and the Third World lent considerable immediacv to this task. and it was no accident that the main ethnographic domains of his conc&n were death and cultural degeneration.

Indeed, it is worth dwelling a minute more on De Martino's final (posthumous) work, Lafine del mondo (The End of the World). The apocalyptic theme is perhaps intrinsic to the collective experience of human beings, though it can become more real in particular cultures and at particular historical moments, such as 20thcentury Europe. A number of scholars who commented on this book after its publication focused on the notion of "the ethos of transcendence" (Ginzburg 1979:240; Lombardi Satriani 1979:245; Pasquinelli 1984). The radical risk of not being-here, or as De Martino refers to it in this book, "an inexhaustible moment of anxiety," can be overcome or transcended only through human culture, but such transcendence is by no means automatic. The crisis of presence is truly terrifying, and ought to be, and if we depend on culture to surmount it, is not then the critique of culture an intellectual task of the greatest moment? Critical ethnocentrism is thus no idle scholar's pursuit.

Perhaps paradoxically, in the end ~e Martino's circuitous path leads back to an affirmation of the primacy of Western civilization and its intellectual production. Despite his intellectual selfconsciousness, De Martino is thoroughly a European, and he accepts the progressivist Marxian vision of Europe as the only context in which such questions of social thought could even be asked at that point in history. That is, he understands that even his own recognition of the necessity of critical ethnocentrism is historically determined, that it derives from the political and cultural crises of latecapi- talist Europe in the postwar and postcolonial era. As such, the values of Western civilization, including its conceptions of science, must be critiqued, but cannot simply be abandoned. It is "within the values of Western civilization that we are called upon to assume our positions," as Gallini argues in paraphrase of De Martino (1979:221). It is incumbent on us to use the ethnographic encounter to revise our analytic categories, to critique our science (or for De Martino, our "humanistic ethnography"), to recognize the connection between epistemology and power relations, and to understand the history of our own society. But it is nonsense to argue that this endeavor can or should lead to the wholesale rejection of those categories, much less to the treatment of our science as fiction or invention. Ethnology is the product of its historical moment, says De Martino, but the fact that we are actors in that moment and subjects of that history does not in itself invalidate our use of its categories. Indeed, a genuinely productive, critical, and reflexive anthropology must both start from and reflect back on the foundations of our own intellectual tradition. This is one legacy of Ernesto De Martino to anthropology.

GEORGE is Professo7; Departmat ofAnthropology, Lawrence Universq, Appkton, W54912.



Acknowkdgments. I am grateful to the panelists; commentators Richard Handler, Roger Keesing, and Paul Rabinow; and particularly Sally Uhl and Donna Muncey, the organizers of the session "Cultural Disenchantments in the Anthropology of Europe: Making the Tensions Productive" at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, New Orleans, December 1990, for which this paper was originally prepared. Vincenzo Padiglione of the University of Rome has helped enormously in correcting naivetes in my reading of De Martino, as well as in providing friendship and hospitality. Professor Mario Gandini of the Biblioteca Comunale Giulio Cesare Croce in San Giovanni in Persiceto provided invaluable bibliographic help. My colleague Karen Carr of the Department of Religious Studies at Lawrence University was particularly helpful in tracking down relevant passages from Heidegger's Being and Time and explaining their signifi- cance. Additional thanks are due to Clara Gallini, Tony Galt, Carlo Ginzburg, Vittorio Lanternari, Mariella Pandolfi, Carla Pasquinelli, Anne Schutte, and Tullio Tentori for suggestions, help, and support of various sorts. I am also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for the American Anthropologistwho offered extraordinarily constructive criticisms. Any remaining idiocies are due entirely to my own pigheadedness, mid-life crisis, and associated malaise. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from 1talian are my own.

  1. Taking this quote out of the whole context of Croce's work is perhaps misleading, since it implies a kind of racism alien to much of his work. It is an accurate representation, however, of his conviction that "primitive" societies were in some sense ahistorical and of little interest for historical analysis.
  2. "The writing of histories-as Goethe once noted-is one way of getting rid of the past. Historical thought transforms it into its own material and transfigures it into its object, and the writing of history liberates us from history" (Croce 1941:44). The struggle for liberty is thus in part the attempt to write such histories, and for Croce, the idea that these histories could be written in primitive societies is absurd.
  3. Themes related to critical ethnocentrism in De Martino's work are explored at length in a special issue of the journal La ricercafoklorica (no. 13, 1986). See particularly the articles by Signorelli, Lanternari, Massenzio, Pasquinelli, and Carpitella. The bibliography by Gandini published in this issue is essential for research on De Martino. The volume of letters edited by Angelini (1991) and Angelini's introduction also are useful for understanding De Martino's relationship to his own culture and to the discipline of anthropology.
  4. Vincenzo Padiglione has pointed out to me that De Martino's work is probably more akin to the critical anthropology of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States (especially, for example, Scholte 1974, Diamond 1974, and other contributions to the volume edited by Hyrnes [1974]) than to current works such as Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986) and Anthropology asCultural Critique (Marcus and Fischer 1986). I agree to some extent, especially in that, although concerned with power relations, De Martino is not particularly interested in questions of voice, of style of presentation in ethnographic writing, and so forth. On the other hand, the sophisti- cation of his treatment of reflexivity seems to me much closer to that of the 1990s than of the 1960s.
  5. For the most part, I use the term ethnology rather than the general anthropology in this article, because Italy participates in the older French and German traditions of using the unmodified latter term almost exclusively to refer to physical anthropology. In Italy, there have also been some important distinctions between "cultural anthropology" and "ethnology," but as those are not particularly germane to the present discussion-and since I seem to get myself in trouble with Italian colleagues every time I open my mouth on that particular distinction-I am going to ignore it in this article.
  6. De Martino was taken to task for this argument by other leftist intellectuals of the time, and in fact this article inspired a major debate. Cesare Luporini, for example, argued strenuously against the notion that as the subaltern classes came to power there would necessarily be a lowering (however temporary) of the level of culture. Luporini felt that De Martino had insrniciently appreciated the particular function of the working class in leading the revolution. Rather than representing an archaic culture, Luporini argued, the working class was a "new product, a product of [capitalist] civilization [itselfl and of progress" (1977:82). De Martino's depreciation of this fact w& itself an example of bourgeois thought, Luporini felt.
  7. Lanternari's work is presented here as an illustration of a very rich body of ethnography and analysis by Italian cultural anthropologists, folklorists, and historians of religion that has followed this general approach. As other examples, see Di Nola 1976; Guggino 1978; Lombardi Satriani 1982; Padiglione 1989; Tentori 1983,1987; and the articles in Cipriani 1979.
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