Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Watermelon

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Watermelon

Article excerpt

Foreword

Anthropologists have studied local meanings of death and mourning, where related feelings like pain, guilt, anger, or the absence of these, are situated differently (Robben 2005; Rosaldo 1989; Scheper-Hughes 1992). Anthropologist Andrew Beatty (2010, 2013) argues more in general, that besides context, emotion research needs narrative and he suggests that ethnography can learn from literary examples how to capture the full significance of feelings in action. In my view, Beatty's proposal to explore people's feelings unlocks possibilities to fuse different forms of narratives. Playing with different realities, what is the world and what is imaginative, can likewise teach us about feelings. Therefore the semi-fictional short story 'The watermelon' narrates the lived and imagined experience of Juan after a fatal car accident in Caracas where his best friend died. Shock, solidarity and social isolation together with different therapeutic remedies, (prescribed) drugs, alcohol and Santería healing practices shaped Juan's life for many years after the accident.

Through shared personal experiences with Juan and his family and friends, personal memories of the tragic event, in combination with latter fieldwork on the local meaning of mourning and experiences of guilt in Argentina, I relocate the Venezuelan experience in an imaginative migrant life in contemporary Buenos Aires where a particular local interpretation of psychoanalysis, memories and trauma shape people's affective lives on a daily basis. This intimate convergence of ethnography and fiction, where the author's imagination thoughtfully follows situated cultural logics, the story evokes, not explains, Juan's feelings of guilt. Conceptually, the short story materializes the epistemological premise that knowledge on feelings should be explored in the complex accumulation of people's transformative lives and locates these experiences in a dynamic social context of globalising and multicultural worlds. By doing so, the story implicitly explores the boundaries between ethnography and fiction and suggests in-depth insights in the cultural dynamics of people's feelings at a particular time and place.

Startled by the loud noise, Juan rushed outside. The street was scarcely recognisable: the huge rubber tree with its thick green leaves was almost touching the roof of the borrowed Peugeot, but a few unluckily suspended electrical cables just held it. As if his yelling could catch the tree, the soaking-wet neighbour started to shout like a madman. Through the now dark green sea of leaves only the faint honking of cars impatiently waiting could be heard, though the rain continued to fall on Juan's head. It reminded Juan of an earlier time, although he wasn't sure why. He immediately felt guilty about the damn tree falling on his friend's car. Although the colossal trunk hovered just above its roof, a few branches had pierced one of the doors. The car belonged to his friend's mother who had died recently- how on earth was he going to explain this? According to Juan, the city council should have chopped that damn tree down ages ago. It was just a matter of time, waiting for the next storm to hit. Why didn't these council people ever do what they should? The police would soon be there, asking for the car's papers for the official report, and he didn't have anything for them - not even a driving license. Perhaps they'd think he'd stolen the car.

The neighbour was already complaining about the council to that hysterical news channel Crónica. As if sensing disaster, they always managed to arrive well before the police whenever there was a shooting or an accident. It was still raining when Juan tried to call Gabriel. No answer. "iCoño!" Juan thought that Gabriel was probably fucking his new girlfriend, like every other evening for the past couple of weeks. On the third attempt, Gabriel finally answered the phone. He muttered that he would be over in a bit. Juan could do nothing but wait impatiently. …

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