The Beautiful and the Ugly are One Thing, the Sublime Another: A Reflection on Culture

Essay Excerpt

There are no certainties here, only struggle and contingency, pain and realization. Gratification, satisfaction, or happiness are not at issue. But, we encounter joy. This is the joy that one finds in Lear, as he hurls his words into the terrible void that engulfs him. The joy is in the words, in his matured sensibility, in his challenge to nature and human defeat. The joy is in the challenge, and in the formulation of his meanings. Or observe the final shuffling off of guilt by Oedipus at Colonnus, as Sophocles etherealizes him in a beam of light. Or, the conclusion of the Winnebago medicine rite, when the initiate finally achieves his emancipation from society, after bearing all the abuse that society may heap upon him. Or, for that matter, the ordinary rituals of maturing and variegated experience known in every primitive society, whereby growth is attended by pain, where a new name may be earned, and where the past is arduously incorporated into the present, preparing the individual for the next ritual round as he moves higher in the spiritual hieararchy of his society. That is where the joy is. And finally, it is this joy, not Keats's beauty or truth, which defines the sublime, beyond the confines of the merely aesthetic, breaking all the formal rules of aesthetics, beyond the range of the romantic imagination. For we are not talking of imagination here, but of experience and its meanings, whether in the culture of dreams, the culture of the hunt, or in the ceremonies of rebirth. And finally, I am talking of the sacred space, the sacred silence that lies beyond language, but remains grounded in language. (Diamond, 270-271)

About the Author

Stanley Diamond (January 4, 1922 – March 31, 1991 in New York City, N.Y.) was an American poet and anthropologist. As a young man, he identified as a poet, and his disdain for the fascism of the 1930s greatly influenced his thinking.

He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then New York University, graduating from the latter with a B.A. degree in English and philosophy.

At the outbreak of World War II, Diamond joined the British Army Field Service and served in North Africa. Like many veterans of his generation, he went to graduate school on the G.I. Bill. And, in 1951, received a Ph.D. degree in anthropology from Columbia University, where he was greatly influenced by the anti-racism writing of Franz Boas. Supporting Diamond's Ph.D.-degree was his unpublished dissertation "Dahomey: A Proto-State in West Africa" (1951).

After graduation, his first teaching position was at the University of California at Los Angeles, but, as a result of denouncing the McCarthyist politics of that era and on a politically divided campus, he was dismissed and found that no other university was willing to hire him for the next three years. It was during this period that he conducted his first ethnographic fieldwork, which took him in the 1950s to an Israeli kibbutz and a nearby Arab mountain village. On his return to the United States, he taught at Brandeis University, where anthropologist Paul Radin, a former student of Boas, was forced to retire, and in response to which Diamond resigned.

In the 1960s, Diamond was a member of the research team, the first to study schizophrenia from a cultural perspect, at the National Institute of Mental Health. After a professorship at the Maxwell Graduate Faculty at Syracuse University, he moved to The New School for Social Research in 1966, where he founded The New School's anthropology program. Within a few years, the program developed into the first critical department of anthropology in the U.S., where Diamond served as the department chair until 1983. He became the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Humanities at The New School and also Poet in the University. Diamond later taught as visiting professor in Berlin and Mexico and at Bard College.

In memoriam in the journal which he founded, his legacy was recognized thus: "Diamond was one of the first anthropologists to insist that researchers both acknowledge and confront power relations, often colonial and neocolonial, that form the context of their work. His sympathetic portrayal of the Arab mountain villages, and analysis of psychodynamics on the Israeli kibbutz — as stemming from an incomplete critique of stetl life — was as much against the grain of contemporary research then as it is today. His concern for countering racism found its way into a number of trenchant popular and scholarly writings and, always, in his teaching" (Dialectical Anthropology, vol. 16, p. 105, 1991)

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