Enucleated Universes

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Full-length ethnographic expositions of American socie­ty and culture by non-Western foreigners are uncommon. This dissertation is a look through Asian Indian eyes at some aspects of the American lifeway (and its implications for India). Arranged as a series of framing backdrops, the reader is taken through a discussion of the Western social paradigm, of its circumscription of mainstream ethnography, and of its ripening as the American way of life. The focus is deliberately and solely on the dark side of America as that about which almost nothing is generally known in India and, comprehensively, even in America. The opening discus­ sion becomes a backdrop for a commentary on competition (and its corollary of violence) as the core value of contemporary America. Then this becomes a backdrop for a description of some areas of the American natural and cultural environment, and this, in turn, serves as a backdrop for accounts of some major cultural myths, including that of equality. TheAmerican proneness to illusion is shown through portrayals of television culture and other pursuits of fantasy, of the family, of Mr. Ronald Reagan as the representative character for Americans, and through a detailed analysis of the theory of the American philosopher, G.H.Mead for the construction of the self through human interactions. Set before this is the way many Americans actually conceive of their selves, and of the significant American interaction with non-human entities (animals, machines). The final metonymic juxtapo­ sition through this perspective and against all these back­ drops is a presentation of the cultural creature known as the American.

This study also brings to the fore some dilemmas facing a non-Westerner doing fieldwork in America and then report­ ing on that work to an audience of native informants. It attempts to refute the prevailing prerequisite of Otherness for ethnographic consideration by demonstrating that this is culturally bound, and it attempts to extend the present lim­ it of discourse in the anthropology of emotions by introduc­ ing to it an application from the Hindu theory of aesthet­ ics. Finally, it draws on a Hindu narrative genre to arrange its textual presentation in a manner more represen­ tative of the thought-world from which the researcher has derived his authority.


The scene is a small crowded room at the Freedom House in New York City. It is the Dalai Lama’s first press conference in the United States. A voice somewhere in the back of the room asks, “Your Holiness, do you have a message for the United States?”

“Compassion,” replies His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, emanating a happy and powerful radiance.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. – Albert Einstein

Who sees the variety

and not the unity,

wanders on from death

to death.

– Katha Upanishad

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