Charred Lullabies

Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence

E. Valentine Daniel
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7srks
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  • Book Info
    Charred Lullabies
    Book Description:

    How does an ethnographer write about violence? How can he make sense of violent acts, for himself and for his readers, without compromising its sheer excess and its meaning-defying core? How can he remain a scholarly observer when the country of his birth is engulfed by terror? These are some of the questions that engage Valentine Daniel in this exploration of life and death in contemporary Sri Lanka. In 1983 Daniel "walked into the ashes and mortal residue" of the violence that had occurred in his homeland. His planned project--the study of women's folk songs as ethnohistory--was immediately displaced by the responsibility that he felt had been given to him, by surviving family members and friends of victims, to recount beyond Sri Lanka what he had seen and heard there. Trained to do fieldwork by staying in one place and educated to look for coherence and meaning in human behavior, what does an anthropologist do when he is forced by circumstances to keep moving, searching for reasons he never finds? How does he write an ethnography (or an anthropography, to use the author's term) without transforming it into a pornography of violence? In avoiding fattening the anthropography into prurience, how does he avoid flattening it with theory? The ways in which Daniel grapples with these questions, and their answers, instill this groundbreaking book with a rare sense of passion, purpose, and intellect.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2203-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. NOTES ON TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-12)

    Many have died. To say more is to simplify, but to fathom the statement is also to make the fact bearable. Tellipalai, Nilaveli, Manippay, Boosa, Dollar Farm, Kokkadicholai—mere place-names of another time—have been transformed into names of places spattered with blood and mortal residue. Kelani Ganga and Kalu Ganga, Sri Lankan rivers of exquisite beauty, for a shudderingly brief period in 1989, were clogged with bodies and foamed with blood. Many have died. How to give an account of these shocking events without giving in to a desire to shock? And more important, what does it mean to...

  7. 1 OF HERITAGE AND HISTORY
    (pp. 13-42)

    Essentialism has come to be the bad word of late modernity. The human sciences have rushed to embrace and expound upon the doctrine of the constructedness of practically everything. Among these, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and nation are the best known. These are not essential identities but constructed ones, we are told. Much good has come out of these constructivist exercises, some so brilliant as to deserve the adulation of generations to come. The scholarship that most obviously merits such adulation is of course that of Michel Foucault and a few who have followed (and preceded) his example by showing,...

  8. 2 HISTORY’S ENTAILMENTS IN THE VIOLENCE OF A NATION
    (pp. 43-71)

    There is more to be said about the status of history in Sri Lanka than to call it a disposition toward the past, cultivated by a monastic scholarly tradition concerned with chronology and chronicles, and favored by Sinhala Buddhists. There is a shade to history that was introduced into South Asia as part and parcel of European colonialism which has had its different and differentiating effects on South Asians. Most significantly, I believe, colonialism hybridized what I shall now qualify as traditional historic consciousness, which was part of “a way of being in” the world, with a modern¹ European historical...

  9. 3 VIOLENT MEASURES, MEASURED VIOLENCE
    (pp. 72-103)

    Our examination of violence continues. By returning to the Estate Tamils, we return from a different direction to the questions of history and heritage, knowing and being, theory and myth; we arrive at the question of the historicity of history itself. We shall see that “ there is a structuring power in the living practices of a people that structures the effective aptitudes of every nascent generation, which exercised in its turn, ‘restructures’ the structuring power of that same people” (Margolis 1993: 18). The enabling and disabling structures that we shall consider in this chapter will be located in something...

  10. 4 MOOD, MOMENT, AND MIND
    (pp. 104-134)

    This middle chapter is also a transitional one in that I attempt to make explicit the effort that has in the previous three been implicit: the effort of writing about violence. To mark this transition, I would like to begin by posing the tacit question in the manner of an open query. To what shall I compare the writing of this book? I shall compare it to the lowering of a tetrahedron¹ held by a string attached to its base into a liquid so that the point of the inverted pyramid, where the planes of three triangles meet, enters the...

  11. 5 EMBODIED TERROR
    (pp. 135-153)

    In their attempts to account for the aesthetic in culture, three semeiotically inclined anthropologists understand the aesthetic as something located in signs that are difficult, if not impossible, to re-present. For this reason, Roy Wagner (1985) writes of “symbols that stand for themselves”; Steven Feld (1982), of “autoreferentiality”; and Nancy Munn (1986), borrowing from Peirce (2.244, 248, 254), of “ qualisigns”—that is, of signs that are mere qualitative possibilities in contradistinction to signs that are actualized and/or generalized. Even though all three cultural aesthetes then go on to find ways of representing the unrepresentable in apparent contradiction of their...

  12. 6 SUFFERING NATION AND ALIENATION
    (pp. 154-193)

    When violence is transformed into art—or even artful prose, be it reportorial or even analytic—its aestheticization is obvious. Art makes sense out of the senseless. The aestheticizing impulse, however, is less obvious in another creation of culture: the nation-state, that political work of art. The nation-state too promises to bring forth order out of disorder, mold form from that in which form is absent. But even though this order may be posited as a future hope, something to be achieved in the making, this hope is drenched in nostalgia, the imagined glory that once was. In South Asia...

  13. 7 CRUSHED GLASS: A COUNTERPOINT TO CULTURE
    (pp. 194-212)

    What is human Being? I cannot think of anything more effective in urgently provoking one to ask this question than violence. This question has served as an undertone in all the chapters so far, but more noticeably in the last three chapters, with some conspicuous help from Peirce and Heidegger. But in our search for human Being in the world, we keep encountering human beings: the result of the pull of an anthropological attitude against that of a purely philosophical one. Anthropology has had an answer to the question, What is a human being? An answer that has, on the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 213-228)
  15. GLOSSARY OF FREQUENTLY USED TERMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 229-230)
  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 231-240)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 241-252)