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My subject in this Essay is the relation between a text or other artifact and the tradition against which it acts. I want to begin by borrowing from a book that seems to me to represent a model-not the only model, of course, but a very good one-of a certain kind of cultural investigation. The book is Inventing Masks by Z.S. Strother, an art historian at Columbia University who specializes in African art. Its material subject is a set of face masks made by the Central Pende, an African people in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.