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Textures of the OrdinaryDoing Anthropology after Wittgenstein$
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Veena Das

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780823287895

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823287895.001.0001

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Of Mistakes, Errors, and Superstition

Of Mistakes, Errors, and Superstition

Reading Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer

(p.246) 9 Of Mistakes, Errors, and Superstition
Textures of the Ordinary

Veena Das

Fordham University Press

This chapter analyzes Wittgenstein’s remarks on Frazer not as pertaining to a theory of religious belief and ritual but to his major preoccupation with pictures of the world produced through what he called “grammatical illusions.” It argues that Wittgenstein faults Frazer not so much for having made a mistake in interpreting rituals as expressions of an erroneous understanding of cause and effect, but rather for being in the grip of a superstition creating false excitement about primitive practices where none were warranted. Wittgenstein draws on our common background as humans—the natural history we might invent to show that had Frazer paid attention to our primitive reactions as humans, he might have found other routes to connect the practices of the so-called primitives to those commonly found in his own society. The chapter offers a sustained reading of some of the most intriguing comments of Wittgenstein to ask such questions as what it is to take the facts of one’s existence upon oneself? The chapter holds that such points of connection create a more meaningful interface between philosophy and anthropology than any grand foundational gestures could do.

Keywords:   anthropology and philosophy, belief, Frazer, human, grammatical illusions, mistakes, primitive, rituals, superstition, Wittgenstein

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