I first met Jean Malaurie in Paris in 2001, at a moment when I
was discovering his classic ethnography Last Kings of Thule (1955)
and the two-volume account of his 31 expeditions to the Arctic,
Hummocks(1999), a most dynamic and thought-provoking mix of ethnography,
travel writing and spiritual autobiography.
To present myself briefly, I was born in Germany and educated partly
in Great Britain. I read English at the University of Paris 7 where
I also defended my Phd-dissertation on contemporary British travel
writing in 1997. Since then, my research has been increasingly focusing
on the intimate links between travel writing and ethnography, and,
more generally, the relation between literature and anthropology,
of which Jean Malaurie's writing is such a memorable illustration.
There is no doubt that much is to be gained from an interdisciplinary
approach that considers the anthropological dimension of certain
works of literature - Balzac's and Zola's come to mind - and the
literary dimension of narrative ethnography. As to the latter, the
aim consists in "saying everything" - that is, to try
to do so as far as possible (see James Agee's and Walker Evans'
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) - by notably accounting for the ethnographer's
experience in the field and what has shaped his point-of-view.
This is how Jean Malaurie manages to tie in dreams and knowledge,
the stimulating association Gaston Bachelard dreamed of in his influential
works on material and dynamic imagination.
This interdisciplinary approach is also the hallmark of Jean Malaurie's
seminars organized by the Centre for Arctic Studies at the famous
Parisian Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. In the last
couple of years, there have been heated debates about such fundamental
issues as truth in ethnology (see the volume of seminar papers De
la vérité en ethnologie.. edited by Dominique Sewane
and published by Economica in 2002), or the question of what ethnophotography
is, does and/or should do.
These seminars have led me on to discover the "Fonds Polaire
Jean Malaurie" at the central library of the Muséum
National d'Histoire Naturelle, a haven and goldmine for anybody
interested in Arctic studies. Located within the Jardin des Plantes,
right next to the great gallery of evolution and not far from Buffon's
residence, the collection presently contains 40000 volumes.
I have been able to read Otto von Kotzebue in German there and to
admire the illustrations of his account, to dream austere dreams
of Greenland's prehistory with Eigil Knuth (see his important study
published by the Centre d'Etudes Arctiques) or to travel to the
North with Hans Egede and his family in his eighteenth-century account.
The catalogue is impressive and easy to consult. The library also
offers useful links to Arctic studies worldwide via various cd-roms
and internet. As to my current research, I am working on a book
that will aim at drawing Jean Malaurie's intellectual portrait,
to be published by Editions du Chêne in 2004 and a study of
Arctic ethnography for both of which the Fonds Polaire is of precious
Jan Borm a organisé le colloque international et pluridisciplinaire
" Seuils & Traverses 3 ", les 10-13 juillet 2002,
à l'Université de Versailles St Quentin en Yvelines.
-> Autres témoignages
de fidèles du Centre d'Études Arctiques
|L'affiche du colloque international "
Seuils & Traverses 3 " en juillet 2002 © Anne
| Jean Malaurie et Melle Rose, conservatrice
de la bibliothèque du château de Versailles, qui
a bien voulu accueillir le colloque " Seuils & Traverses
3 ", en juillet 2002 © Anne Debever
|Jan Borm, organisateur du colloque " Seuils
& Traverses 3 ". © Anne debever