Antinomies of representation: Anthropology as an ekphrastic process

David Zeitlyn


This article addresses a profound anthropological issue: how do representation and the represented relate? What motivates or warrants the inevitable disconnection? It is a mistake to dismiss representation as misguided, oppressive, or misleading. Representation is part of cognition generally and natural language in particular. As such it is inescapable and part of how we think and talk about the world. Moving between visual and linguistic anthropology I suggest that photographs and portraits provide a rich basis for thinking about the particular sorts of warrants for anthropological representations. The general conclusion is that anthropological representation may be conceived of as a form of ekphrasis (a verbal account or evocation of a typically non-present image or object) providing the indexical or deictic bridge between representation and the object represented. As "similarity implies difference" so "representation implies ekphrasis."

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.3.022