When People Cross Thresholds
This paper makes a very preliminary and provisional attempt to relate the discussion in Jane Guyer's Marginal Gains(2004) of disjunction, thresholds, and multiple scales of value characteristic of economies in the Atlantic zone with the disjunction, profusion, and fragmentation characteristic of artistic genres of the region, especially praise poetry. It suggests that their underlying common property is an intense focus on the making and unmaking of persons. In a region where social and political self-realization is open-ended and depends upon acquiring people, and where people are transactable, transitions between multiple conditions of personhood can take place, but some thresholds cannot be crossed. One of the key ethnographic examples in Marginal Gains—the Niger Delta—is revisited to suggest possible lines of further inquiry into this aspect of the originality of cultural production in the zone of the Atlantic trade.