I'm plowing my way through a difficult text, one that is proving to be very helpful with You'll Always Come Back ~ "African Writing and Text", by Simon Battestini. Here are some extracts:
He quotes Levi-Strauss:
"Having eliminated all the criteria proposed to distinguish barbarity from civilization, one would at least like to retain this one: peoples with or without writing, the former capable of cumulating past acquisitions and progressing faster and faster toward their goal, the latter powerless to retain the past beyond individual memory, captive to a fluctuating history, ever lacking an origin and lasting awareness of a goal."
Then responds: " The incapacity of a savant of Levi-Strauss' stature and followers', to conceive other coherent, necessary and satisfactory - for a given culture - systems of thought conservation is rather tragic."
A little further on he prefaces another quote with: "Certain texts discuss the question of cultural representation through writing, and therefore of the legitimacy of the relation between writing and the object it tries to represent." (then this, from Tyler's "Post-Modern Ethnography" ~)
"The ethnographic text is not only not AN object, it is not THE object; it is instead a means, the meditative vehicle for a transcendence of time and place that is not just transcendental, but a transcendental RETURN (my emphasis) to time and place. Because its meaning is not in it but in an understanding of which it is only a consumed fragment, it is no longer cursed with the task of representation. The key word in understanding this difference is "evoke", for if a discourse can be said to "evoke, then it need not represent what it evokes..." Ethnographic discourse is not part of a project whose aim is the creation of universal knowledge. It disowns the Mephistophelian urge to power through knowledge, for that, too, is a consequence of representation. To represent means to have a kind of magical power over appearances, to be able to bring into presence what is absent, and that is why writing, the most powerful means of representation, (??? - question marks mine*) was called "grammarye", a magical act. The true historical significance of writing is that is has increased our capacity to create totalistic illusions with which to have power over things or over others as if they were things. The whole ideology of representational signification is an ideology of power."
I would posit that we conduct a variety of ethnology ourselves when we attempt to imagine our Ancestors, become classic examples of "the Others" (just as Africans so handily have been for "the West" ~ sheesh, sigh!) ~ especially and the more so by also being "the Dead". The power we seek in doing so is a stable identity, to combat the ever-present fear of flux that inevitably leads us to join those we would prefer to stay "Other" - our kin in the grave. The Ancestors are also handy, they are like us in every way that we prefer, different from us likewise. At this point I'm not sure what theater can do with this lop-sided negotiation, beyond the Brechtian device of making a sign that reads "magic act of power acquisition in progress" & directing a spot light onto it. At least then we're made aware it's happening.
(* ~ I would say that dance opera is the "most powerful means of representation" - but that's just me.)