“Anonymous Anthropology” by Eli Siegel

I love this poem by Eli Siegel because in it he takes the very beginnings of humanity which anthropologists want to understand, and shows that these “anonymous” people who lived many thousands of years ago are real, are like ourselves. – Meryl Simon

Anonymous Anthroplogy

Anthropology deals with people anonymously,
None of whom we know individually.
We don’t know a specific person as to pottery, textiles, utensils, bronze or stone.
Anthropology, which is in league with prehistory,
Is so anonymous, we don’t know how sad we feel about it,
Until we think about it.

Note to the poem by Eli Siegel
There were men for many, many years before there is one person with a name, whose hand we might shake and whose opinion we might doubt.  Anthropology, or the science which deals with men trying through centuries to be men as most frequently thought of, simply lacks personalities. In the Bible, there are dim personalities like Nimrod, Enoch, Jubal, but it is worse in anthropology. All the personalities are dim, ever so dim; indeed there are none. Paleolithic man, Neolithic man must have had individuals who chose to lie down on the grass, lean on a rock, or wander by a body of water; but this is not how men of the Old Stone Age or the New Stone Age have come to us: they come to us all at once, with no names, no individual dispositions, no birth marks, no secret hopes, no particular manner of expression, no psychical apartness, blaze or suggestion. This, so far, is the way of anthropology.  Anthropology lacks the unique more than a desert does, or a flat, immense table.  If, scientifically, we could change this, it likely would be gratifying.  So far, anthropology has submerged the bizarrie, charm, impact of individual psychology.  Anthropology is so collective in its psychology, you can forget it is psychology at all.  At this moment, hope seems to be busy again.

Published in Hail, American Development (Definition Press, 1958)

Resources

The Fundamental Place of Aesthetics in Social and Cultural Anthropology, by Arnold Perey, Ph.D.

Aesthetic Realism Online Library

The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, international periodical

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