Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary

By Veena Das | Go to book overview

SIX
Thinking of Time and Subjectivity

THIS CHAPTER IS A REFLECTION ON ISSUES of temporality that surface from the first part of the book as well as a bridge to the next set of chapters in which I try to capture my sense of adjacency to the violence among the survivors in Delhi in 1984. My arguments are not a comprehensive review of notions of time in anthropology—they stem from a very specific issue in the ethnography of the two events under consideration. In the last chapter we saw how Manjit made frequent references to the agency of time. Time is what could strike one, time is what could heal one, she said. I was further interested to note that references to specific kinds of events during the Partition, ones that came to condense the horrors of the Partition in collective memory such as trains arriving at stations with loads of people who were killed or severely wounded as they made their way from one part of the divided country to another, or references to magnitudes reappeared in panic rumors during communal riots. Thus I became interested in questions of temporality, not as representation but as work. What is the work that time does in the creation of the subject? What is the relation between structure and event here?

There is a venerable history of thinking about time in anthropology that is structured around the relation between natural rhythms and social rhythms, synchrony and diachrony, cyclical time and linear time, and repetition and irreversibility.1 Issues of cultural variability have been addressed

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