BEROSE is the acronym for “Base d’études et de recherche sur l’organisation des savoirs ethnographiques”, the title originally given to the Encyclopaedia. But it is not only that and in fact there are few who know that the development of this acronym was somewhat fortuitous. Its origin was a secret long shared by the few who, in league with Daniel Fabre, had participated in the emergence of the project. But Daniel Fabre left us suddenly in January 2016. The collective work came under new direction and it is time to lift the veil on the true meaning of BEROSE or, in French, Bérose.
Berossus (in English, known as Bérose in French) is in fact a historical figure, a Babylonian born around 330 BCE and priest in the Esagila, the temple of Bel-Marduk, the supreme god of the Babylonian pantheon. Around 280 BCE he began imparting the historical, astronomical, astrological and mythological knowledge of his country and wrote the Babyloniaca in Greek. Celebrated by the Greeks for his gifts of prophecy (the Athenians even erected a statue in his honour in the Gymnasium), he is only known to us today through fragments of his work, quoted by ancient authors.
But Bérose is also the name which Daniel Fabre, a passionate, attentive and incisive analyst of relations to the past even in his own discipline, gave to a hidden paradigm of anthropology: the “paradigm of the last”. This is the seal on the ethnographic contract concluded in the field between the anthropologist and the one who agrees to open the doors of his culture to him, this famous “privileged informer”, the subject of so much debate within the social sciences. He devoted several years of his seminar at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales to this subject.
Daniel Fabre identified three paradigms, three typical situations that had presided over the emergence of anthropological knowledge. He gave each of them the name of a historical figure who seemed to him to be emblematic of it: Herodotus for “The Others” (“Les Autres”), Bérose for “The Last” (“Les Derniers”), De Gérando for “The Poor” (“Les Pauvres”). Each of these paradigms was distinguished by a different means of constructing distance, knowledge, description and reporting.
The paradigm of The Last (Les Derniers) is that of an anthropology born from the dramatic observation of the disappearance and urgency of collecting. The “Last” are these “world individuals”, such as Bérose, but also Ishi, the last of the Yahi Indians or Dersu Uzala, the last of the Gold, who appear or are revealed when events in history suddenly engulf entire cultural universes, so as to testify to their disappeared worlds. Daniel Fabre wielded the power of the storyteller to tell us of them. Trained at the shepherds’ school in the Pays de Sault where he carried out his first ethnographies, he was an admirable master of the enchanting art of speech. After experiencing his seminar, we returned to Kroeber or Kurosawa or read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or the ethnographies of Patagonia from a different perspective. Daniel often deplored the fact that anthropology has nowadays dismissed meaning. He put all his immense intelligence and talent into rekindling its threads, enticing it out of these fortuitous encounters that the surrealists, whom he knew well, had exploited in their time. And he nurtured these connections of the immense erudition that he so loved to share with us, leading us from Bérose to Ossian, from Francisque Michel to Georges Hérelle. He was himself the magnificent “last” of an anthropology which may be sunken, but whose power and fertility remain intact.
Claudie Voisenat, may 2017.
Dumas-Reungoat Christine, « Bérose, de l’emprunt au faux ». Online, Caen University. URL: https://www.unicaen.fr/puc/images/07dumas.pdf
Fabre Daniel, 2007. « Les savoirs des différences. Histoire et sciences des mœurs en Europe?(XVIIIe-XXe siècles) », in Karine Chemla (dir.), Action concertée. Histoire des savoirs, 2003-2007. Recueil de synthèses, Paris, CNRS / ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche, pp. 65-68.
Fabre Daniel, 2008. « Chinoiserie des Lumières. Variations sur l’individu-monde », L’Homme, n° 185-186, pp. 269-300. Disponible en ligne, https://journals.openedition.org/lhomme/24171 [lien valide en juillet 2019].
Fabre Daniel, 2010. « D’une ethnologie romantique », in Daniel Fabre & Jean-Marie Privat (dir.), Savoirs romantiques. Une naissance de l’ethnologie, Nancy, Presses universitaires de Nancy, coll. « Ethnocritiques », pp. 5-75.
BEROSE topical dossier: Fabre, Daniel (1947-2016)