Robert Louis Stevenson started using the pseudonym Tusitala --a Samoan
 word meaning, approximately, "the Story-Teller"--in the spring of
 1892. A few months earlier, his short story "The Bottle Imp," first
 issued in the Sunday New York Herald from 8 February to 1 March 1891,
 had been translated into Samoan and published in the missionary
 magazine O le sulu Samoa (The Samoan Torch). This was the first
 instance of a published text in the Samoan language. Stevenson had

 worked on the translation with A. E. Claxton, a local missionary.

 In December of 1892, in a letter addressed to Sidney Colvin, his
 long-time friend and publisher, Stevenson wrote that "The Bottle Imp"
 should be seen as "the centre piece" of his forthcoming collection
 Island Nights' Entertainments. One year later, in another letter to
 Colvin, Stevenson insisted: "You always had an idea that I depreciated
 the 'B[ottle]. I[mp]'; I can't think wherefore; I always particularly
 liked it--one of my best works, and ill to equal."

 In order to clarify some of the possible reasons for Stevenson's high
 evaluation of "The Bottle Imp," it will be useful to reinsert this
 short piece into a larger context.

 Although "The Bottle Imp" is deservedly well-known, it will be useful
 to start with a resume of its plot. A young sailor from Hawaii, named
 Keawe, is taking a walk along the streets of San Francisco. He sees a
 beautiful house and conceives a longing to own one like it. A
 sad-looking man, who turns out to be the owner of the house, enters
 into conversation with Keawe and soon informs him that his wishes will
 be fulfilled if only he buys from him a marvelous bottle. Inside the
 bottle, he is told, is an imp capable of granting the owner of the
 bottle his every request--except the wish for a longer life. The
 bottle "cannot be sold at all, unless sold at a loss," otherwise it
 will unfailingly be returned to the hands of he who violates this
 rule. "If a man dies before he sells it, he must burn in hell for
 ever. "Long ago the price of the bottle had been extremely high; it is
 now being sold quite cheaply.

 After some uncertainty Keawe pays all the money he has--fifty
 dollars--and takes the bottle. Through a series of unforeseeable
 circumstances he becomes the owner of a beautiful house in Hawaii. He
 gets rid of the bottle, selling it to a friend for forty-nine dollars,
 and lives happily for some time. Then he meets a girl, Kokua, and
 falls in love with her; he would like to marry her, but discovers that
 he has contracted leprosy. In order to recover his health Keawe tries
 to regain possession of the bottle. He goes to Honolulu, follows the
 traces of "the gifts of the little imp, [and] finds the latest owner."
 But in the meantime the price of the bottle has fallen so
 precipitately that it costs only two cents. Keawe buys the bottle,
 returns to Hawaii and marries Kokua. But his heart is broken, because
 he knows that he will be damned. Kokua, however, is ready to fight:
 "What is this you say about a cent? But all the world is not American.
 In England they have a piece they call a farthing, which is about half
 a cent. Ah! sorrow!" she cried "that makes it scarcely better, for the
 buyer must be lost, and we shall find none so brave as my Keawe! But,
 then, there is France: they have a small coin there which they call a
 centime, and these go five to the cent, or thereabout. We could not do
 better. Come, Keawe, let us go to the French islands; let us go to
 Tahiti, as fast as ships can bear us. There we have four centimes,
 three centimes, two centimes, one centime; four possible sales, to
 come and go on; and two of us to push the bargain."

 The last words anticipate the developments of the plot: since they are
 unable to find other buyers, man and wife heroically deceive each
 other, arranging transactions through two intermediaries, in order to
 rescue the loved one from hell. But the last intermediary--a drunkard
 --decides to keep the miraculous bottle for himself. He will burn in
 hell and the couple will be happy.

 When it first appeared in the Sunday New York Herald, "The Bottle Imp"
 was introduced by the following note:

 Any student of that very unliterary product, the English drama of the
 early part of the century, will here recognise the name and the root
 idea of a piece once rendered popular by the redoutable O. Smith. The
 root idea is there, and identical, and yet I hope I have made it a new
 thing. And the fact that the tale has been designed and written for a
 Polynesian audience may send it some extraneous interest nearer home."

 In preparing for publication his collection entitled Island Nights'
 Entertainments, Stevenson asked Sidney Colvin to get rid of this note
 and set in its place a subtitle: "The Bottle Imp: A Cue from an Old
 Melodrama." Colvin suppressed the subtitle and kept the note. In some
 recent editions the note has disappeared. But long ago erudites
 succeeded in identifying the sources of Stevenson's story. Ultimately,
 the plot goes back to two motifs from German folklore: one is the
 "Galgenmannlein," or little man born from the sperm of a hanged
 person, and the other is the magic bottle which can be sold only at a
 lower price. Both motifs had already been combined in Grimmelshausen's
 Trutz Simplex, published in 1670, which also included the search for a
 less valuable coin in another land. Through a series of literary
 intermediaries the plot came to England. The "old melodrama" mentioned
 by Stevenson has been identified as The Bottle Imp. A Melo-dramatic
 Romance in Two Acts, written by R. B. Peake, produced at the Theatre
 Royal, English Opera House in July of 1828; it was printed from a
 stage copy. I have consulted an edition published ten years later. The
 play involved a series of colorful characters, including a Jew named
 Shadrack, provided with "broad trimmed Jew's hat with red crown, brown
 jacket and tranks, black stockings." In the last scene Nicola, the
 hero, screams: "I can again sell thee, fiend!" The curtain falls down
 as the Imp inexorably responds: "No, the coin with which thou have
 repurchased me is of the lowest value in the world."

 Stevenson's "redoutable O. Smith" who used to play the Imp, was in
 fact the actor Richard John Smith, who died in 1855. Stevenson was
 then five years old. According to a contemporary description, Smith
 wore a "tightly-fitting skin dress of a sea green, horns on the head,
 and demon's face, from the wrist to the hips a wide-spreading wing,
 extending or folding at pleasure." The germ of Stevenson's "Bottle
 Imp" may well have been a childhood recollection.

 During the last decades "that very unliterary product, the English
 drama of the early part of the century," has become at last a region
 of literary history unto itself. In a remarkable book Peter Brooks
 explored the impact of French melodrama and "the mode of excess" upon
 Balzac and Henry James. The English melodrama, which addressed itself
 to a more popular audience, could also, as Stevenson's "The Bottle
 Imp" shows, produce sophisticated literary offspring. Stevenson
 claimed to have transformed the "Bottle Imp root idea" into "a new
 thing...designed and written for a Polynesian audience." The
 transformations required by this new audience were not too extensive,
 since the original story turned around the magical helper: a very
 widespread --in fact, transcultural--motif, with which we are familiar
 thanks to Vladimir Propp's great book, Morphology of the Folk-Tale.

 In a footnote to his essay on the sources of "The Bottle Imp," J. w.
 Beach mentioned Cazotte's Diable boiteux, Balzac's Peau de Chagrin,
 and the imprisoned djinn of the Arabian Nights, concluding that "these
 do not take us far." I will argue, on the contrary, that a comparison
 with Balzac's Peau de Chagrin may throw some interesting light on
 Stevenson's short story.

 La Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass's Skin) was first published in 1831.
 Goethe, then in his eighties, read it with admiration--a feeling not
 devoid of narcissism, since Balzac's novel had clearly been inspired
 by Faust. But both devil and damnation are absent from the plot of La
 Peau de Chagrin. The novel's hero, Raphael de Valentin, obtains
 unlimited power through the wild ass's skin, but the price he has to
 pay is his life, not his soul. In France, Goethe's Faust had been
 transformed first into a pantomime, then into a melodrama: Balzac's
 reworking of the Faust motif was consistent with the spirit of the
 latter, a genre in which supernatural elements were framed by a
 secular context. This contrast is a major theme in Balzac's novel.
 When Raphael comes across a mysterious old man, who is the previous
 owner of the wild ass's skin, the narrator remarks: "This scene took
 place in Paris, on the Quai Voltaire, in the nineteenth century, at a
 time and place which should surely rule out the possibility of magic."

 The allusion to Voltaire's house--"the house in which the apostle of
 French scepticism had breathed his last"--is immediately contrasted
 with the symbol of the present age: Raphael feels "perturbed by the
 inexplicable feeling of being confronted by some strange power, an
 emotion similar to that we have all felt in the presence of Napoleon."
 Later, faced with the magical shrinking of the wild ass's skin, which
 announces the shrinking of his remaining time among the living,
 Raphael shouts in indignation:

 What! ...In a century of enlightenment during which we have learned
 that diamonds are carbon crystals, in an age when there is an
 explanation for everything, when the police would haul a new Messiah
 before the courts and refer his miracles to the Academy of Sciences,
 at a time when we require a notary's initials before trusting
 anything, why should I alone believe in a sort of Mene, Mene, Tekel,
 Parsin? ...Let us consult the scientists.

 But even the scientists--a zoologist, a physicist, a chemist-prove
 incapable of preventing the shrinking of the wild ass's skin. Their
 defeat has a larger, symbolic meaning. In a letter to Charles de
 Montalembert, the Catholic writer, Balzac wrote that The Wild Ass's
 Skin was "the formula of human life, if one disregards all individual
 features [...] there all is myth and figure" ("tout y est mythe et
 figure"). The novel is introduced by the sign traced in the air by
 Tristram Shandy's Corporal Trim, chosen by Balzac as a motto to
 signify "les ondulations bizarres de la destinee" ("destiny's bizarre
 vicissitudes") and was meant to emphasize the power of irrational
 forces upon individuals and society--a point which was at the core of
 the Comedie Humaine as a whole. "How can one traverse such a fresco,"
 Balzac once wrote, "without the resources of the Arabian tale, without
 the aid of buried titans? In the tempest that has raged for half a
 century, controlling the waves there are giants hidden under the
 boards of the social third underground." In order to provide an
 adequate description of the forces at work in modern society one has
 to tap, according to Balzac, "the resources of the Arabian tale,"
 using "myths" and "figures" like the wild ass's skin.

 As is well known, both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were great
 admirers of Balzac. According to Paul Lafargue, his son-in law, Marx
 even planned to write a book on Balzac, which he was postponing until
 after the (never achieved) completion of Capital. On several occasions
 Marx and Engels praised Balzac's extraordinary gift for social
 observation. But Marx also responded to the visionary side of Balzac's
 oeuvre. In a famous sentence from The Eighteenth Brumaire, "The
 tradition of all generations weighs like a nightmare ("ein Alp") on
 the brain of the living," S. Petrey has perceptively detected the echo
 of a passage from Balzac's Colonel Chabert: "The social and judicial
 world weighed on his breast like a nightmare." Balzac's powerful
 metaphor of the wild ass's skin might have contributed to Capital's
 chapter on "The Fetishism of Commodities and Its Secret," which
 stresses the mystical side of commodities "with its metaphysical
 subtleties and theological niceties," as well as, more generally, the
 role of irrational elements in capitalist society.

 Stevenson presumably never read Marx; but he did read Balzac. In his
 early twenties he sent to his friend Charles Baxter an imitation of
 Balzac's Contes Drolatiques. A writer's parody of another writer is
 always instructive, as Marcel Proust's different versions of L'affaire
 Lemoine (an admittedly special case) show. Stevenson's complex
 attitude towards Balzac emerges from a splendid letter addressed in
 1883 to Bob Stevenson, his cousin:

 Were you to re-read some Balzac, as I have been doing, it would
 greatly help to clear your eyes. He was a man who never found his
 method. An inarticulate Shakespeare, smothered under forcible feeble
 detail. It is astounding, to the riper mind, how bad he is, how
 feeble, how untrue, how tedious; and of course, when he surrendered to
 his temperament, how good and powerful. He could not consent to the
 dull, and so he became so. He would leave nothing undeveloped, and
 thus drowned out of sight of land amid the multitude of crying and
 incongruous details. Jesus, there is but one art: to omit! O if I knew
 how to omit, I would ask no other knowledge. A man who knew how to
 omit would make an Iliad of a daily paper.

 Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of Il gattopardo (The
 Leopard), used to deliver to a circle of friends informal lectures on
 French and English literature; a collection of them was published
 after his death. Lampedusa half-jokingly referred to an opposition he
 was particularly fond of, between "fat" and "thin" writers--in a
 stylistic sense. In the case of Balzac and Stevenson the opposition
 was stylistic and corporeal as well. Balzac's luxuriant abundance of
 details taught Stevenson to find his own literary identity, by
 learning how "to omit."

 Let me give two examples of Stevenson's art of omitting, both taken
 from "The Bottle Imp." Keawe, the hero, before selling the bottle to
 his friend Lopaka, says: "I have a curiosity myself. So come, let us
 have one look at you, Mr. Imp."

 Now as soon as that was said, the imp looked out of the bottle, and in
 again, swift as a lizard; and there sat Keawe and Lopaka turned to
 stone. The night had quite come, before either found a thought to say
 or voice to say it with; and then Lopaka pushed the money over and
 took the bottle.

 The other example occurs a little later. Keawe has received the imp's
 gift, his beautiful house. He is happy; he asks his Chinese servant to
 prepare him a bath:

 So the Chinaman had word, and he must rise from sleep, and light the
 furnaces; and as he walked below, beside the boilers, he heard his
 master singing and rejoicing above him in the lighted chambers. When
 the water began to be hot the Chinaman cried to his master: and Keawe
 went into the bathroom; and the Chinaman heard him sing as he filled
 the marble basin; and heard him sing, and the singing broken, as he
 undressed; until of a sudden, the song ceased. The Chinaman listened,
 and listened; he called up the house to Keawe to ask if all were well,
 and Keawe answered him "Yes," and bade him go to bed; but there was no
 more singing in the Bright House; and all night long the Chinaman
 heard his master's feet go round and round the balconies without

 Both passages are beautifully done--although in the latter a fussy
 reader might perhaps wish for one more little omission, the words "as
 he undressed," which spoil, with their visual associations, the
 coherence of the strictly aural point of view of the description.
 Furthermore, this slight infelicity is magnified unwillingly by the
 repetition of the same words in the next sentence:

 Now, the truth of it was this: as Keawe undressed for his bath, he
 spied upon his flesh a patch like a patch of lichen on a rock, and it
 was then that he stopped singing. For he knew the likeness of that
 patch, and knew that he was fallen in the Chinese Evil [leprosy].

 One can easily imagine the flow of emotional utterances which, in a
 Balzac novel, would have been generated by, respectively, the
 appearance of the imp and the discovery of the hero's leprosy. But
 because Stevenson's literary imperative was restraint, he regarded
 Balzac as a challenge. "The Bottle Imp" shares a starting point with
 The Wild Ass's Skin--the magical helper motif--although its decor and
 plot are utterly different. Stevenson's imagination, I would argue,
 had been sparked by a specific passage in Balzac's novel, the moment
 when the mysterious old man gives the wild ass's skin to Raphael:

 Then he began again thus: "Without forcing you to beg, without causing
 you to blush, without giving you a French centime, a Levantine para, a
 German heller, a Russian kopek, a Scottish farthing, a single
 sestertium or obol of the ancient world or a piastre of the new world,
 without offering you anything whatsoever in gold, silver, bullion,
 banknotes or letter of credit, I will make you richer, more powerful
 and more respected than a king can be--in a constitutional monarchy."

 This cumulative list--a device Balzac was particularly fond of--means
 that the old man is not asking for money, not even the smallest coin
 in the world. But the mention of the German heller and the Scottish
 farthing must have brought back to Stevenson's mind the story of the
 "Bottle Imp." The hero of one of its versions, the one published in
 Popular Tales and Romances of the Northern Nations (London, 1823),
 pays a heller for the bottle: then "the thing of the utmost
 consequence for him now to do, was to enquire every where for some
 coin of less value than a heller; therefore he was nicknamed 'crazy
 Half-heller.'" In "The Mandrake," another version of the same story
 included in the anthology The German Novelists, Reichard, the hero,
 finally succeeds in selling the imp for one "base farthing."
 Stevenson, who in his own retelling of the story mentioned both
 farthing and centime, omitted the Faust motif, which was conspicuously
 present in most "Bottle Imp" versions, including the one performed by
 the "redoutable O. Smith." Stevenson pushed to the forefront instead
 the idea that the magical object had to be exchanged along a
 monetary--although antiprofit-circuit, stretched along an enormous sea
 distance: from San Francisco, to the Hawaiian Islands, to Tahiti.

 Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp" was first issued in 1891. Twenty-five
 years later and several thousands miles westward, Bronislaw
 Malinowski, a Polish-born anthropologist based in England, although
 still a subject of the Austro-Hungarian empire, started his fieldwork
 in the Trobriand Islands. This stage of Malinowski's life, momentous
 both for him and for the discipline he helped to transform, can be
 followed nearly day by day--some long interruptions
 notwithstanding--through a double lens: his diaries and his
 correspondence with Elsie Masson, then his fiancee, later his wife.
 The former source is highly controversial, on many levels.
 Malinowski's diaries, published in 1967 under the editorial title of A
 Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, were never intended for
 publication. Most commentators reacted with shock and dismay to
 Malinowski's blatantly racist attitude towards the Trobriand natives.
 One reviewer, I. M. Lewis, noticed with some surprise that in the
 diaries there is "little theorising about field data or techniques
 [...] there are highly condensed and elliptical theoretical and
 methodological points noted from time to time, but these are normally
 so cryptic, that they are difficult to follow, let alone evaluate." My
 inquiry will focus precisely on some of those cryptic passages.

 The diaries cover two distinct periods of Malinowski's fieldwork: the
 first, between early September 1914 and early August 1915, on Mailu;
 the second, between the end of October 1917 and mid-July 1918, first
 on Samarai, then in the Trobriands. Only one entry, a few lines long,
 is related to his first trip to the Trobriands. The tone of the two
 diaries is markedly different. The first is filled with lyrical
 descriptions of landscapes into which Malinowski projected different
 feelings --from sexual desire to metaphysical reflections. At the end
 of the sea journey from Mailu, his first fieldwork experience,
 Malinowski wrote under the date 4 March 1914 (he was then entering his
 thirtieth year) the following remarks:

 Should like to make a synthesis of this voyage. Actually the marvelous
 sights filled me with a noncreative delight. As I gazed, everything
 echoed inside me, as when listening to music. Moreover I was full of
 plans for the future--The sea is blue, absorbing everything, fused
 with the sky. At moments, the pink silhouettes of the mountains appear
 through the mist, like phantoms of reality in the flood of blue, like
 the unfinished ideas of some youthful creative force.

 This is the voice of a young man, on the brink of his shadow line (the
 reference to Conrad is, for many reasons, unavoidable). In the second
 diary the landscape descriptions are more laconic; the tone is often
 matter-of-fact; the "unfinished ideas" are now pretty focused; the
 "youthful creative force" has acquired a definite direction.
 Malinowski is intensely working on his ethnographic project, which had
 crystallized around a topic: the Kula. In a preliminary article,
 published in Man in July 1920, Malinowski defined the Kula as a
 special trading system, stretched over an enormous geographical
 area--which he labeled "the Kula ring"--based on "two articles of high
 value, but of no real use...armshells...and necklets of red
 shell-discs" and involving a series of highly complex rituals. Kula: A
 Tale of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the South Seas, one of the
 titles suggested by Malinowski, ultimately became, in 1922, Argonauts
 of the Western Pacific.

 Before Malinowski, the Kula had barely been mentioned in the
 anthropological literature. It is unclear when he came to realize the
 importance of his discovery. As he recalled in his book, Malinowski
 had first witnessed a Kula transaction, without realizing what was
 going on, in February of 1915 on his way back to Australia, at the end
 of his first expedition to New Guinea. During the full year he spent
 in the Trobriand Islands, between May 1915 and May 1916, Malinowski
 collected evidence about the Kula and planned to write an article on
 it. But a letter he wrote to Elsie from Samarai on 10 November 1917
 reveals a depressed mood, as if he were still looking for a way
 through: "I expect the kula article will remain unfinished till I
 return.... Moreover, it seems so absurd to write things about the
 kula, when any nigger walking about the street in a dirty Lavalava
 might know much more about it than I do!"

 On this point Malinowski completely changed his mind. Let me quote an
 eloquent passage from Argonauts of the Western Pacific, which sounds
 like a theoretical manifesto:

 The Kula is thus an extremely big and complex institution, both in its
 geographical extent, and in the manifoldness of its component
 pursuits.... Yet it must be remembered that what appears to us as an
 extensive, complicated, and yet well ordered institution is the
 outcome of ever so many doings and pursuits, carried on by savages,
 who have no laws or aims or charters definitely laid down. They have
 no knowledge of the total outline of any of their social structure....
 Not even the most intelligent native has any clear idea of the Kula as
 a big, organized social construction, still less of its sociological
 function and implications. If you were to ask him what the Kula is, he
 would answer by giving a few details, most likely by giving his
 personal experiences and subjective views of the Kula, but nothing
 approaching the definition just given here .... For the integral
 picture does not exist in his mind; he is in it, and cannot see the
 whole from the outside. The integration of all the details observed,
 the achievement of a sociological synthesis, of all the various,
 relevant symptoms is the task of the Ethnographer. First of all, he
 has to find out that certain activities, which at first sight might
 appear incoherent and not correlated, have a meaning.... The
 Ethnographer has to construct the picture of the big institution, very
 much as the physicist constructs his theory from the experimental
 data, which always have been within reach of everybody, but which
 needed a consistent interpretation.

 These remarks are hardly compatible with the old stereotype, according
 to which Malinowski would have been a keen observer and collector of
 data, which he then framed in a rather rigid functionalist theory. It
 seems that the very experience of writing a diary helped him to
 realize the role played by theory in making sense of scattered data,
 in transforming them into meaningful facts. On 13 November 1917,
 Malinowski wrote in his diary:

 Thoughts: writing of retrospective diary suggests many reflections: a
 diary is a "history" of events which are entirely accessible to the
 observer, and yet writing a diary requires profound knowledge and
 thorough training; change from theoretical point of view; experience
 in writing leads to entirely different results even if the observer
 remains the same--let alone if there are different observers!
 Consequently, we cannot speak of objectively existing facts: theory
 creates facts. Consequently there is no such thing as "history" as an
 independent science. History is observation of facts in keeping with a
 certain theory; an application of this theory to the facts as time
 gives birth to them.

 This passage reminds us not only of Malinowski's youthful essays on,
 respectively, Nietzsche and Mach, but more generally of the Polish
 intellectual tradition known above all through the belated impact of
 Ludwik Fleek's book about the Wassermann reaction, Genesis and
 Development of a Scientific Fact, on Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of
 Scientific Revolutions, published twenty-five years later. The title
 of Fleek's book is in itself significant. "Theory creates facts"; the
 ethnographer has to construct the Kula "very much as the physicist
 constructs his theory from the experimental data," as Malinowski wrote
 in his diary and in his book. How did he succeed in constructing a
 theory which put the scattered data he had collected about the Kula
 into a meaningful configuration?

 On 26 October 1917 Elsie Masson wrote to her fiance:

 I shall get you Stevenson's letters to dabble into. His type of
 thought may strike you as childish, but I think you cannot fail to
 like his personality. He was so un-wowserish, so genuine, weak in many
 ways but so likeable, and then you must be interested in his struggle
 with ill-health.

 Malinowski received Stevenson's letters--they must have been the
 Vailima Letters, edited by Sidney Colvin--two months later, in
 mid-December. Elsie's guesses about her fiance's reactions were not
 off-the-mark. On 23 December 1917 Malinowski wrote to her:

 I have read a good deal of Stevenson's letters. You were quite right,
 I am quite fascinated by them, at least partially. Stevenson's
 egotistic interest in his health and his work is, alas, so damnably
 like my own case that I cannot help finding passages which I almost
 have said myself .... R. L. S' s egotism strikes even me as too
 Slavonic and too effeminate at times. But I am afraid my letters would
 show exactly the same note. I was very much struck by a passage in
 which he sings the praise of his enduring, patient heroism in the
 continuous struggle with ill health and his striving to do the work in
 spite of sickness and depression and failing forces. I felt like that
 myself so often and indeed had I not felt this note of heroism in this
 ignoble battle, when the weapons are a syringe.., tabloids and
 solutions, it would have been impossible to go on .... There may be
 spontaneous virtue and an easy flow of creative power, coming from a
 super-abundance of strength. But the tragic case of an ambitious and
 gifted man, who has got his invaluable burden to carry and to lay down
 at a certain spot, and who lacks the brute physical force to do it, is
 as worthy of regard as the other, and I am afraid it leads invariably
 to this keen interest in oneself, to this extreme self consciousness
 in appreciating every achievement and the tendency to dwell on it and
 to tell it to all one's friends ....

 It was funny to read here, on the shores of the lagoon and under the
 coconuts, S's descriptions of Samoa and Honolulu and his intense and
 selfconscious appreciation of the exotic strangeness of his new
 existence in the light of the literary milieu of civilized London, in
 which Colvin was living. I also very keenly and self-consciously feel
 this contrast and strangeness.

 Malinowski's striking self-identification has been overshadowed by the
 now famous remark he made a few years later in a letter to Brenda
 Seligman: "[W.H.R.] Rivers is the Rider Haggard of anthropology; I
 shall be the Conrad." Malinowski was obviously deeply impressed by
 Conrad's work, although he wrote in his diary that he had finished The
 Secret Agent "with a feeling of disgust." But on a personal level,
 through his health problems (and his health obsessions as well),
 Malinowski felt much closer to Stevenson's egotism: a closeness
 paradoxically emphasized by the label "too Slavonic and too
 effeminate." In Stevenson's Vailima Letters' Malinowski found a mirror
 image of his own situation: a highly civilized individual being
 confronted with "the exotic strangeness of his new existence." Some
 glimpses of the latter, such as a ceremonial distribution of food
 gifts, which Stevenson described with a great abundance of
 ethnographic detail, must have deeply intrigued Malinowski, who was
 then trying to make sense of the role of gifts in the Trobriand
 islands. In leafing through the Vailima Letter. s Malinowski may have
 also come across the letter in which Stevenson informed Colvin of the
 forthcoming translation of "The Bottle Imp" into Samoan. Was
 Malinowski already familiar with Stevenson's short story? And if not,
 did he try to satisfy a curiosity likely to be piqued by a piece
 which, as Colvin noticed in a footnote, had been read "with wonder and
 delight" by many Samoan readers?

 These questions are not preposterous, since Malinowski, an incredibly
 voracious reader, had brought from Melbourne a considerable provision
 of books, occasionally supplemented by his European acquaintances
 living in the Trobriand Islands. In the years covered by his diaries
 Malinowski read Machiavelli and the Golden Legend, Racine and Kipling,
 George Meredith and Victor Hugo, and so forth-plus a lot of trashy
 novels, which he used to devour with a great deal of guilt (in his
 diaries he repeatedly mentioned lecherous thoughts and trashy novels
 as temptations from which he should absolutely refrain). Reading "The
 Bottle Imp" afresh or recalling its plot to mind, Malinowski would
 have been confronted with a fictional representation focusing on a
 monetary, antiprofit exchange, connected to some definite symbolic
 constraints, allowing the circulation of a highly valued object
 through a series of islands stretched over a vast expanse of ocean.
 There is no need to emphasize the analogy between this representation
 and the ethnographer's global image of the Kula, so different from the
 partial perception shared by the native actors involved in it.
 Stevenson's short story would have given Malinowski not the actual
 content of his discovery, of course, but the ability to see it,
 through a leap of imagination, as a whole, as a Gestalt -- to
 construct it, as he wrote later, "very much as the physicist
 constructs his theory from the experimental data."

 I am obliged to use the subjunctive mood since I have no evidence that
 Malinowski read "The Bottle Imp." I can only stress the fact that on
 21 December 1917, five days after the arrival of Stevenson's letters,
 Malinowski wrote in his diary the following entry:

 Woke up around 4 very tired. I thought of a passage from [R. L.]
 Stevenson's letters in which he speaks of a heroic struggle against
 illness and exhaustion .... All that day longing for civilization. I
 thought about friends in Melbourne. At night in the dinghy, pleasantly
 ambitious thoughts: I'll surely be an "eminent Polish scholar." This
 will be my last ethnological escapade. After that, I'll devote myself
 to constructive sociology: methodology, political economy etc., and in
 Poland I can realize my ambitions better than anywhere else.--Strong
 contrast between my dreams of a civilized life and my life with the
> savages. I resolve to eliminate the elements (components) of laziness
 and sloth from my present life. Don't read novels unless this is
 necessary. Try not to forget creative ideas.

 What strikes me in this passage is not so much Malinowski's fantasy
 involving recognition as a scholar (he had dreamed about this before)
 as his allusion, unprecedented in the diaries, to "creative ideas"
 which were just beginning to emerge. (Needless to say, the novels not
 to be read were the trashy novels of which Malinowski was so fond.) A
 few months later these ideas had apparently taken a more definite
 form. In an entry dated 6 March 1918, Malinowski asked himself whether
 his hypotheses might affect his collecting of ethnographic data --an
 issue which, significantly, he had never mentioned before: "New
 theoretical point. (1) Definition of a given ceremony, spontaneously
 formulated by the Negroes. (2) Definition arrived at after they have
 been 'pumped' by leading questions. (3) Definition arrived at by
 interpretation of concrete data."

 A few weeks later a breakthrough occurred. Later still, on 19 April,
 Malinowski was to refer retrospectively to it, speaking of his "joy at
 Nu'agasi, when suddenly the veil was rent." The entry dated 25 March
 conveys the event's immediacy: "Came back at 12:30--the Nu'agasi were
 just leaving--I could not even photograph them. Fatigue. Lay
 down--closed my mind, and at this moment revelations: spiritual
 purity." A passage follows, which has been printed in italics, between
 inverted commas, possibly because it was in English in the original
 (the published edition of Malinowski's diaries is unfortunately very

 "Heed kindly other people's souls, but don't bury yourself in them. If
 they are pure, they will reflect the world's everlasting Beauty, and
 then why look at the mirrored picture if you can see the thing itself
 face to face? Or else they are full of the tangled [woof] of petty
 intrigue and of that it is better not to know nothing."

 This apparent quotation, which I have been thus far unable to
 identify, brings to the surface the religious connotations of
 Malinowski's "revelations," wrapping them in a mixture of Plato (the
 everlasting Beauty) and Saint Paul (1 Corinthians, 13, 12). The diary
 entry continues by recounting how Malinowski took his dinghy and rowed
 around the promontory. At that very moment, we read in the Argonauts,
 Malinowski realized the weight of ritual surrounding the Kula:

 In the evening, after a busy day, as it was a full-moon night, I went
 for a long pull in a dinghey. Although in the Trobriands I had had
 accounts of the custom of the first halt, yet it gave me a surprise
 when on rounding a rocky point I came upon the whole crowd of Gumasila
 natives, who had departed on the Kula that morning, sitting in
 full-moon light on a beach, only a few miles from the village which
 they had left with so much to-do some ten hours before.

 The account recorded in Malinowski's diary was at the same time more
 elusive and more emotional:

 Then I rowed around the promontory, the moon hidden behind lacy clouds
 .... Distinct feeling that next to this actual ocean, different every
 day, covered with clouds, rain, wind, like a changing soul is covered
 with moods--that beyond it there is an Absolute Ocean, which is more
 or less correctly marked on the map but which exists outside all maps
 and outside the reality accessible to [observation]-- Emotional origin
 of Platonic Ideas.

 In a well-known essay Ernest Gellner labeled Malinowski "Zeno from
 Cracow." On the basis of the crucial passage I have just read (one
 surprisingly overlooked, if I am not mistaken, by all interpreters), I
 would speak instead of "Plato from Cracow" (a side of himself which
 Malinowski carefully concealed). What Malinowski saw during that
 momentous night was something above reality: the Platonic idea of
 Kula, a reflex of "the world's everlasting Beauty."

 "Suddenly," Malinowski wrote in his diary, "I tumble back into the
 real milieu with which I am also in contact. Then again suddenly they
 [the natives] stop existing in their inner reality. I see them as an
 incongruous, yet artistic and [savage], exotic=unreal, intangible,
 floating on the surface of reality, like a multicolored picture on the
 face of a solid but drab wall." A work of pure fiction like
 Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp" may have provided access to this "solid
 but drab wall."

 It is worthy to recall that in reassessing the Kula sixty years after
 Malinowski, Edmund Leach rejected the Kula ring concept, claiming
 that, since it is beyond the actors's perception, "it contains a large
 part of fiction." Leach urged "Melanasian specialists" to be "more
 functionalist in a Malinowskian sense. There is no such thing as THE
 KULA." Malinowski, the disguised Platonist, would have not agreed.

 The Kula, wrote Malinowski in his Argonauts, refuted the then current
 assumption about primitive man as "a rational being who wants nothing
 but to satisfy his simplest needs and does it according to the
 economic principle of least effort." An additional target was the
 "so-called materialistic conception of history"-- Malinowski was
 apparently unaware that Karl Marx was on his side. But the
 implications of Malinowski's discovery went much beyond the so-called
 "primitive economy," as its belated offsprings show--from Marcel
 Mauss's essay on "The Gift," to Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation,
 to (more indirectly) E. E Thompson's essay on moral economy. What was
 really at stake was the notion of Homo ceconomicus, which is still
 very much around. But as both Stevenson's and Malinowski's
 archipelagos remind us, no man is an island, no island is an island.


©Copyright Carlo Ginzburg
 Record: 10
  Source: Raritan, Winter99, Vol. 18 Issue 3, p85, 18p
 Author(s): Ginzburg, Carlo
 Abstract: Features Robert Louis Stevenson, a writer who used the
 pseudonym Tusitala. Reasons for Stevenson's high evaluation of his
 short story `The Bottle Imp'; Publication of his collection `The Wild
 Ass's Skin'; Other works of the writer.
 AN: 2268743
 ISSN: 0275-1607
 Database: Academic Search Elite