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Adeline Masquelier – Dirt, Undress, and Difference

September 5, 2008

N/A. Dirt, Undress, and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body’s Surface, edited by Adeline Masquelier (2005)

Length: 264 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction, Anthropology

Started: 25 July 2008
Finished: Nope! My bookmark has been on page 74 for several weeks, and it’s not moving any time soon.

Summary: While a lot of cultural anthropology focuses on clothing and body ornamentation as signifiers of cultural significance, the actual body itself can also carry a lot of meaning. This book is a series of essays which examine the forms and meaning of nakedness, nudity (not the same thing), hygiene, and filth in a variety of different cultures.

Review: I am going to do something here that I pretty much never do: stop reading a book without finishing it. I am a compulsive finisher, even of books I’m not particularly enjoying, but there are rare occasions when I make an exception, and this book is going to be one of them. This is not at all a reflection of the quality of the book; I’m sure it’s fine, although I am not really a qualified judge. It’s just that this book is way, way over my head; it’s addressed to an academic audience at a level that my two-courses-shy-of-an-anthropology-major-but-that-was-a-few-years-ago self just can’t match. The introduction almost broke me, and while the essay-and-a-half I read were better, they were still a little too abstruse for me. In the future, I think my anthropology reading is going to have to be consigned to works that are more descriptive than analytical: more ethnographies geared towards the layperson and fewer critical/academic essays for the professional.

Recommendation: The topic is generally interesting, but this book is not really accessible to anyone without specialized knowledge in the field.

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First Line: Precisely because lack of proper cover is such a visible marker of difference, what struck European travelers first and foremost during their original encounters with indigenous people was the apparent nakedness of these populations.

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