Boas & Faulkner

Moberg writes that Boas collected data with no guidelines and would publish his findings in “unedited form with minimal commentary” (148-149). After reading this, it dawned on me that it sounded very much like stream-of-conscious writing. The first thing that popped into my head was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Faulkner’s writing rambles on with very little explanation from the author of what is happening. He switches between characters and it is quite difficult to get a grip on what is going on because by the time you start to understand what one character is doing, it switches and you have to start the whole process of understanding over.

This sounds a lot like Boas’ writings by the way Moberg describes it. Boas strongly opposed generalization of any kind when related to culture. Because of this, he just wanted to collect every single fact that he could. Boas was so concerned with collecting all of the data that he could, he just went around taking down notes and then smashed them all together to publish them. In this way, his notes wouldn’t have a specific point to them and they would be difficult to try and fit together. His writing style probably wasn’t in the stream-of-conscious category, but the ways in which he formatted his data collection sounds like he would just flow from one topic to another. This form of writing can be interesting, albeit sometimes difficult, when applied to fictional literature; however, I would think that when applied to a factual document or research, the reader would just be completely lost to the point that the author was trying to make through all of the data.

People usually think in stream-of-conscious because they have their own inner monologue going almost all of the time. It isn’t correctly punctuated and rarely does someone go back to critique what they just thought about if they aren’t going to say it out loud. When I write, my inner monologue is constantly going but I have to pick and choose what is most appropriate to put down on the page and what should just stay in my head. When I do think of something to say, I have to edit it in order for it to make sense if someone else were to read it. This whole process can be generalizing our own thoughts or working off a theme so our writing makes sense to the reader. Boas just seems to skip this process. It is understandable that he came after the popular theorists who just wanted to generalize everything even if they knew next to nothing about the culture. The problem is that it makes it difficult for others to then go back over his data and try to make sense of it when he skips around so much without a theme to follow.

I guess my whole point is that Boas seemed to write in a stream-of-conscious structure and it probably wasn’t the best idea for him to not follow a theme for his data collections. Without editing and some generalizations, it can be hard to follow or make sense of something, especially if it is in regards to another culture. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Boas, but I think if he had tried to organize his data a little bit it could have been even more useful to the field of anthropology.


3 thoughts on “Boas & Faulkner

  1. Tom Montemurro says:

    I completely agree with this writing everything down and throwing it together isn’t going to look to appealing, then if he organized it.

  2. To be fair to Boas, when you read his work it doesn’t read like Faulkner – it’s not quite stream-of-consciousness. You could not know this, since I didn’t have you read Boas. Still, his research method was very much stream-of-consciousness, so you are spot-on there!

  3. Amanda Sailors says:

    I really like this comparison. Although I have a hard time reading Faulkner because of his stream of consciousnesses style, I think it could work very well for experimentation and observation.

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