Was Clifford Geertz culpably negligent in misunderstanding the mass killings of Indonesian communists in 1965?

Powerful “history of anthropology” from Ben White.

In the same year Geertz wrote a chilling footnote, almost an aside, in the landmark ‘cockfight’ article on Bali, where the killing had been relatively more severe than in any other region: “That what the cockfight has to say about Bali is not altogether without perception and the disquiet it expresses about the general pattern of Balinese life is not without reason as attested to by the fact that in two weeks of December 1965 […] between forty and eighty thousand Balinese (in a population of about 2 million) were killed, largely by one another [..] This is not to say, of course, that the killings were caused by the cockfight, could have been predicted on the basis of it, or were some sort of enlarged version of it with real people in place of the cocks – all of which is nonsense. It is merely to say that if one looks at Bali … also through the medium of its cockfights, the fact that the massacre occurred seems, if no less appalling, less like a contradiction to the laws of nature” (ibid.: 452). For those who manage to find their way through this tortuous prose, it is clear that Geertz is suggesting that the killings do somehow express the same deep, suppressed cultural lust for cruelty and violence that he had discerned in the Balinese cockfight.

Source: Professional Blindness And Missing The Mark ~ The Anthropologist’s Blind Spots: Clifford Geertz On Class, Killings And Communists In Indonesia : Rozenberg Quarterly  White’s article appears to have been published in 2015, but the web reproduction is undated.  I suppose the goal is to drive librarians and bibliographers crazy!

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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