Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Synopsis

The essays in this book explore the critical possibilities that have been opened by Veena Das’s work. Taking off from her writing on pain as a call for acknowledgment, several essays explore how social sciences render pain, suffering, and the claims of the other as part of an ethics of responsibility. They search for disciplinary resources to contest the implicit division between those whose pain receives attention and those whose pain is seen as out of sync with the times and hence written out of the historical record. Another theme is the co-constitution of the event and the everyday, especially in the context of violence. Das’s groundbreaking formulation of the everyday provides a frame for understanding how both violence and healing might grow out of it. Drawing on notions of life and voice and the struggle to write one’s own narrative, the contributors provide rich ethnographies of what it is to inhabit a devastated world. Ethics as a form of attentiveness to the other, especially in the context of poverty, deprivation, and the corrosion of everyday life, appears in several of the essays. They take up the classic themes of kinship and obligation but give them entirely new meaning. Finally, anthropology’s affinities with the literary are reflected in a final set of essays that show how forms of knowing in art and in anthropology are related through work with painters, performance artists, and writers.

Excerpt

The love of anthropology may yet turn out to be an affair in which when I reach
bedrock I do not break through the re sis tance of the other. But in this gesture of
waiting, I allow the knowledge of the other to mark me.

—VEENA das, Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary

Ethnography as a genre seems to me to be a form of knowledge in which I come
to acknowledge my own experience within a scene of alterity.

—VEENA das, interview with Brazilian social scientists

Veena Das is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding anthropologists of our times, noted especially for the manner in which she brings the everyday and the ordinary to bear on questions of ethics, politics, and the making of anthropological knowledge. Das has been lauded for the ways she has sustained throughout her career a high degree of both patience and curiosity of a kind by no means common in prominent scholars. To this one might add that a special quality of Das’s writing is the tact with which she thinks and writes about the intimate lives of the widely diverse communities she studies. Although regarded as the most philosophical of anthropologists, Das does not look to philosophy as if it were anthropology’s theory—rather, she shows in her work that a philosophical puzzle is one that might arise anywhere in the weave of life. How have her ideas been incorporated in the thought and anthropological practice of another generation? This book is conceived as a critical examination of the leading themes of Das’s work—the ethical bases for writing and thinking about the pain and suffering of others; the question of what constitutes an event and its relation to the “everyday” of ordinary experience; and the question of the nature and ethics of anthropological knowledge— through the work of a younger generation of anthropologists strongly influenced by her work.

In this introductory essay, I hope to trace the threads of connection through the chapters that follow and show how these sets of questions are in some important ways profoundly related to one another, as they have been in Das’s own work. Yet I want to emphasize that the idea here is to examine how Das’s work has been critically assimilated . . .

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