The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 4: Closing notes

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2 & Day3.

The final day of opening and reading. Two notebooks today, and here I am: done. The last notebook is of a different kind, a different genre, a different stock: a notebook of ‘‘déplacements’’. A notebook title that can not be translated, or if it was, it would be translated into an hybrid notion of movement, travel, and displacement. Out of place. Because the field was the place: doing fieldwork out the field was going away, going around, going out. A notebook not from the usual fieldwork, not from the home-work, but from the ‘’around’’ fields, from the travels, from the roads, from the journeys[1]. That last notebook calls for a different opening, at a different time, a separate moment, along with the lost-yet-not-so-lost notes excavated on day 2: notes that were not only displaced, but made of displacements to start with. So indeed, if that notebook is left aside for a later reunion, then that’s it: I am done. I guess this calls for a little stepping back in and out of the notebooks and see what can maybe, perhaps, eventually, be taken away from the alignment of the notebooks wide opened on a table, after years of dusty closure (yes, closure…), and from the lines coming out of that sight.

Those immersion days, the immersion in the notebooks, made me realized how immersed former me-self was, not so much in the field as a site, as in the field as a discipline. I was struggling to be an anthropologist. I so wanted to be. The right kind that is. Because of course I did assume that there was a right kind. The kind I didn’t know of because I didn’t know that many anthropologists to start with. Once in a while I would go back to the big city, the great country, the grand university, and meet some of them: I felt that I read nothing, knew nothing, done nothing. So I read more, knew more, did more. Sort of. Anthropology, I thought, had to be a thorough description of a particular ritual, a specific myth, a recurrent social event… My notebooks are full of that: possession rituals attended during nights and days, until my bones couldn’t tell specters from spirits, floating bodies from ghosts. Weddings participative observation with camera and stills, with camera and videos, until my eyes couldn’t observe no more, couldn’t see what was the focus, for it was all blur. Legends and myths ‘’that can not be told, that can not be sung, that can not be read’’, because they are all too sad, all too painful, all too full of the bodies left on the road, the bodies and the roads that can not be seen for they are totally absent, absolutely present. So I have listened and read. And I too have felt the sadness, the pain, and seen the bodies on the roads that are omnipresent in their absence. The notebooks are full of that immersion and rich of ethnographic details, which I would later on use in articles with or without actually opening the notebooks. Those notebooks are very empty of my own immersion: I am here to comment on how late I was, how procrastinated I had been, how unorganized I will ever be. But I don’t talk about my impressions of a new encounter, about the first views of a new landscape, about finally, getting an answer to a question (and by that I include not so much the actual answers to actual questions, but the answers coming out from putting 1+1 together, and discovering long awaited number 2, whether the riddle is solved by the anthropologist herself or by her companions; solved in the field, or in a far night).

Maybe it is all because it wasn’t new anymore from the beginning. Because I never knew when exactly the field started. That border that we are supposed to cross. It feels I was always there. Differently I guess. Maybe I didn’t take note so much when I was just hanging around first. Maybe I did ask questions when I knew nothing, understood nothing to finally start to get (to) things. In order to feed those notebooks that I became a slave of, those open mouths ‘’hungry for inputs’’ (Taussig 2011)[2], I needed to make sure something strange was to be noted about, something tremendous, something out of travel and discoveries. Something I could follow rather than just fall in. Hence the focus on the myths, the rituals, the social events… The out of the ordinary life. The notebooks rarely speak of just that: the life. And don’t get me wrong: I am happy I did the whole thing. Those myths-rituals-socialevents were fascinating. And fascinating stuffs came out of them. The notebooks are full of them. Beside the boredom, the being fed-up – as in already over-fed of that stuff – in the reading, I was still looking at those descriptions with a sort of tenderness. Fascinating it was. But so consuming. I would spend years trying to keep up with ‘’The (note)book of questions’’ (which – to be clear – never even came close to the eponymous Jabes’ collection of poetry!), aiming for a perfect, definitive ethnography: every single last detail. And of course to that also, I never came close to. Because an ethnography is never finished, because it is always ongoing, mutating, changing, transforming, modulating, oscillating. There is no grand finale[3]. But maybe – just maybe – because of this obsession of doing things right, by the book, this fear of stepping aside, on the wrong side of the road (and as we know, in both Cambodian and Cham context, stepping on the wrong side of the road can be deadly), this oppressing anxiety of doing things wrong was simply paralyzing. In the end I just didn’t do. The (Note)Book Of Questions is the oppressive reminder of that: of all those answers that will never be found, because as soon as you get one, another question replaces it. So that no matter what you do, you feel like you never do nothing. And because I promised this finale ethnography not only to myself, but to the people I was working with, talking with, living with… dropping out of the doctorat, dropping out of the notebook, meant dropping out of the field. That wasn’t totally definitive of course: I never left the coffees, the houses, the mats, the hammocks, the food eating, the TV watching, the clothes swapping. But I would go incognito: the mosque out of my walk, making sure I wouldn’t confront my usual go-to Imam, my long-time-no-see-where-the-hell-have-you-been Cham teacher, the village chief, the oral history talker, the all-so-symbolic-and-all-so-sweet-cakes cooker, the manuscripts showers-not-showers. Avoiding them. Ashamed. So immersed in that, the shame, that they were going to pass away, away, away, one by one. The end of the notebooks – or at least of the formal notebooks: the ones with the ‘’thick description’’, with the ‘’situations’’, dates, names, places, precisions and details – comes from that: this end of ‘’the field’’ (one needs to leave the field notebook, if one has to leave the field). It also comes from the end of the field as a field: who needs a notebook, to report gossips sessions? TV shows comments? Tea tastes? Sunday family visits?

Having a hard time to keep notebooks at home, notebooks he can only write when away, in travel, Michael Taussig speaks of fieldwork diaries as an experience in a field of strangeness (Taussig 2011). Hence the end of the notebooks: nothing was to be written down again, because it was all so normal, all so banal, all so ordinary. Too normal, too banal, too ordinary? Had I lost the mystified distance that anthropologists were long expected to maintain between their ‘’subjects’’ and their analysis? No. I had lost the illusion of it. So I guess I was free. Finally. Going back to the notebooks is just this: flying over lines of notes, pages of scribbles, paper weight. And feeling free. Free to take everything or nothing, because I know most of them in and out. ‘’Par coeur’’[4]. ‘’By heart’’. Free of leaving everything, to write a whole article without a single field footnote: shutting the voice of authority, shouting the voice of subjectivity. Free to take everything as an excuse to go back: to the houses, to the encounters, to the discussions, to the tea. Realizing this, is beautiful: I still feel excited for little nerdy sides in those notebooks that I want to use as the emerging fluffy beginning of a thread to be unwound and heck, why not, untangled. The freedom to pick up whatever skein I want, and leave whatever skein I don’t want. Free to take the central field – the one I built up for so long, for so many notebooks, for so many relations – the field central to the dissertation, research, project, work… Central to the relations, to the intensity, to the confidence(s), to the familiarity. Feeling free of embracing this field. And then leave it aside. Taking another ‘’field-site’’, one of the on-the-side ones, and making it central. Free to take some risks. And enjoy them. All over again. And maybe fail in explorations that won’t work, relations that won’t connect, answers that won’t come maybe because the questions won’t come. But that’s ok. Because now I feel free: I am flying over those notebooks and thinking that they are there, as a cushion awaiting for me if I ever have to fall (again).

Ithaca, April 3, 2014, Emiko Stock.

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[1] I discussed in more details that multi-sited ‘’fieldwork’’ in the intro of the notebooks’ diaries: I was home in a village, no actually a string of neighbors villages. I was out in all kind of corners of the country, where in the end, there too I found welcoming warming homes, where I now feel I will go back to for the ‘’Fieldwork, Episode II’’ yet to come…

[2] Taussig M. 2011 ‘’I Swear I Saw This. Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own’’, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

[3] A ‘’closure’’ may be found in the form of faction, imaginative writing about real people in real places, as Billie Jean Isbell points out in her own fictional ethnographic work: Isbell B. J. 2009 ‘’Finding Cholita’’, Chicago, University of Illinois Press.

[4] I am echoing the eponymous piece mentioned in the diaries of day 3 : Malamoud C. 1989 ‘’Par cœur. Note sur le jeu de l’amour et de la mémoire dans la poésie de l’Inde ancienne’’, Cuire le monde, Paris, La Découverte, 295-306.

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