I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet.
Anne Fadiman. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
1997. (Preface, p. viii.)
The Review linked above does criticize Fadiman for overromanticizing some aspects of Hmong culture, history, and customs; what reviewer Mai Na M. Lee calls “the bigger issues.” In particular, she criticizes Fadiman’s conclusion that Hmong are “differently ethical.” The phrasing itself is curious, requiring some serious parsing. The way I read the phrase, Fadiman is asserting that ethics are as foundational and valued among the Hmong as within any people. The use of “differently” (instead of the starker label of “different”) – refers to the ethics being performed or based “in a different manner.” It seems to me this opens up comparision on the basis of more, rather then less, similarity. Dr. Lee did not read the phrase this way, interpreting its meaning as more distancing (differencing?) than joining.
Dr. Lee has the benefit of context; I have not yet read that far. There is a Bakhtinian movement discernable here: the counterplay of centripetal and centrifugal forces in the utterances of Fadiman’s book and Dr. Lee’s review.