Death, Beauty, Struggle: Untouchable Women Create the World

Death, Beauty, Struggle: Untouchable Women Create the World

Death, Beauty, Struggle: Untouchable Women Create the World

Death, Beauty, Struggle: Untouchable Women Create the World

Synopsis

Death, Beauty, Struggle represents a long labor of love and the summation of forty years of Margaret Trawick's groundbreaking research. Centering her gaze on the lowest castes of India, now called Dalits, she describes the experience of women at this precarious level who are still treated as sub-human, sometimes by family members, sometimes by higher-caste men. Their private worlds, however, are full of art; rural Dalit women sing beautiful songs of their own making and tell remarkable narratives of their own lives.

Much that Tamil women shared with Trawick is rooted in the passionate attachments and acute wounds generated within families, but these women's voices resonate well beyond individually circumscribed lives. In their songs and life stories they critique social, political, economic, and domestic oppressions. They also incorporate visions of natural beauty and immanent divinity. Trawick presents Tamil women's words as relevant to universal human themes.

Trawick's frames of analysis, developed throughout her long career of fieldwork in India, inform her ethnography of expressive culture. The songs and stories of Dalit women were recorded and transcribed, to be translated into lyrical passages in her own work. Death, Beauty, Struggle demonstrates a conviction that persons without privilege--from the rape victim to the landless laborer--possess both power and agency. Through verbal arts, Dalit women produce not only acute cultural critiques but also astonishing beauty.

Excerpt

Margaret Trawick’s writings on Tamil women’s songs and lives offer rare and intimate glimpses into kinship, myth, work, want, anger, reverence, and more. Revealing a subtle, never static, interplay between abjection and empowerment, this book testifies that human beings, low born and ill-treated within a punishing social system, neither acquiesce to fate nor simply rail against it, but may indeed radically create the world. and I stress that it is absolutely the world being created: not their world, but ours too.

Much that Tamil women shared with Trawick is rooted in the passionate attachments and acute wounds generated within families, but these women’s voices resonate well beyond individually circumscribed lives. in their songs and life histories they critique social, political, economic, and domestic oppressions. They also incorporate visions of natural beauty and immanent divinity. Trawick presents Tamil women’s words as relevant to universal human themes. She never hesitates to put high social theory in conversation with observations and assessments made by unschooled and often impoverished women, and thereby shows deftly how each body of thought may enlighten the other. Much of Trawick’s work has at its center her gifted rendering of vernacular Tamil oral performances into an English that profoundly affects the heart.

Trawick’s fieldwork in India and in Sri Lanka resulted in two monographs: Notes on Love in a Tamil Family (1990b) and Enemy Lines: Warfare, Childhood, and Play in Batticaloa (2007). Now she offers an ethnographically grounded book on women’s expressive traditions. Death, Beauty, Struggle contains an original vision of gendered lives, poetry, devotion, and social hierarchy in Tamil Nadu. This book displays the full range of Trawick’s ethnographic artistry: her acute attentiveness to feelings, to linguistic nuances, to . . .

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