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Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance

Edited by Roma Chatterji
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Wording the World: Veena Das and Scenes of Inheritance
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6189-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Roma Chatterji
  4. ONE Conversations, Generations, Genres: Anthropological Knowing as a Form of Life
    (pp. 1-20)
    Roma Chatterji

    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...

  5. TWO Ethnography in the Time of Martyrs: History and Pain in Current Anthropological Practice
    (pp. 21-37)
    Sylvain Perdigon

    October 2006, al-Bāṣ Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of the city of Tyre, southern Lebanon. Ḥusayn calls me as I pass by the stall where he repairs old Mercedes Benzes for a living. He knows I get the daily paper from a bookstore outside the camp and offers to take the fifteen-minute stroll with me today. I gladly accept, though with a bit of surprise, since he is not usually one to leave work on a whim. I have gotten to know Ḥusayn better in the last six months—since I settled in the camp in March to conduct...

  6. THREE Pedagogies of the Clinic: Learning to Live (Again and Again)
    (pp. 38-54)
    Aaron Goodfellow

    In her recent writing, Veena Das has drawn attention to the different ways the clinic is maintained as an idea and a series of practices in the day-to-day functioning of different social lives and contexts. She has focused on ideologies of domination to understand how biopolitical forms of power both require and come to use bodies in perhaps unanticipated ways. Whether it be in her collaborative work with Roma Chatterji and Sangeeta Chattoo on aged bodies and their clinical address in India and the Netherlands (Chatterji, Chattoo, and Das 1998), her work with Lori Leonard and Jon Ellen on the...

  7. FOUR Disembodied Conjugality
    (pp. 55-68)
    Lotte Buch Segal

    In her seminal article “Wittgenstein and Anthropology” (1998c), Veena Das offers anthropologists a reading of Wittgenstein inspired by the writing of Cavell. Through the work of these, Das makes a plea for “a hesitancy in the way in which we habitually dwell among our concepts of culture, of everyday life, or of the inner” (1998c: 172). The call for hesitancy typifies the distinctive and sophisticated quality of Das’s writing as figures in this quote on the status of knowledge in anthropology: “As in the case of belief, I cannot locate your pain in the same way as I locate mine....

  8. FIVE Word, Image, and Movement: Translating Pain
    (pp. 69-83)
    Ein Lall and Roma Chatterji

    This photo essay describes a dance performance that was inspired by a chapter inLife and Wordsin which Veena Das describes her struggle with “writing pain”—the language of social science and its ability to describe violence and express the pain of a traumatic event.¹ It is in Wittgenstein’s meditations on pain that Das finds the means to think of language as a kind of transaction between words and bodies so that the experience of pain can call forth the possibility that my pain might actually reside in your body. These reflections became the starting point for an improvisatory...

  9. SIX Conceptual Vita
    (pp. 84-104)
    Bhrigupati Singh

    In an earlier epoch, one of the most popular didactic genres of writing was the vitae or “lives of saints.”¹ Differently concerned with canonization, education, and the collective recollection of a contemplative life, we might ask: how would we narrate a scholarly life? We might offer some personal anecdotes about the scholar, although this would probably not tell us much about what they puzzled over for most of their life. Alternately, we might describe the world historical “isms” in which they participated. While such a perspective would give us a sense of their investment in collective movements of thought, it...

  10. SEVEN The Child Bears Witness: Menace, Despair, and Hope in a Courtroom
    (pp. 105-127)
    Pratiksha Baxi

    The picture of the appellate law on rape¹ in India provided by Veena Das (1996b) proffers a semiotic understanding of legal discourse of rape in everyday contexts by suggesting that the analysis of appellate law proceeds at two levels. Deriving from Greimas and Landowski, Das looks at the legal discourse on rape at the level of the legislative as the process ofproduction juridiquewhere semantic objects are brought into existence by being named. In contrast, the level of adjudication marks the process ofjudicial verificationwhere linguistic practices, which are encountered in appellate judgments, do not refer to a...

  11. EIGHT Experiments with Fate: Buddhist Morality and Human Rights in Thailand
    (pp. 128-153)
    Don Selby

    Veena Das’s sustained engagement with the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially as read by Stanley Cavell, leads us, among other places, to consider violence, modes of inclusion and exclusion, political expression, the event and the everyday. It is around the notions of event, in particular a shift in her apprehension of the event, that I organize this chapter. We may break Das’s writing on events into, on the one hand, critical events, and on the other, the event in its relation through language to the ordinary or the everyday. The former describes the event as a break or discontinuity, while...

  12. NINE Communitas and Recovered Life: Suffering and Recovery in the Sikh Carnage of 1984
    (pp. 154-171)
    Yasmeen Arif

    This essay, in many ways, is a revisitation of past events which have formatively articulated a language of social suffering and found a place in the making of social anthropology in India. I refer mainly to the frameworks that have emerged in Veena Das’s (1990; 1995a; 2007) work on the Sikh Carnage of 1984. The ethnographic work and ideas I discuss here are based on my brief encounter, during 2004, with some of those involved in that Carnage and their continuing experiences, two decades after the event.¹ For the length of the discussions here, I channel the reading of this...

  13. TEN Sexual Violence, Law, and Qualities of Affiliation
    (pp. 172-190)
    Sameena Mulla

    In 2005, Rachel,¹ a young woman from Baltimore, told me about reuniting with her estranged father and coming to know her paternal kin. Among these kin was her father’s younger brother. Rachel had visited her uncle and other paternal kin one or two times in an effort to resurrect ties with her father’s side of the family. In and out of prison over the years, Uncle George had been a minimal presence in Rachel’s life until recently. Of late, she had stopped in to see him at the halfway house that served as his home during the period of his...

  14. ELEVEN On Feelings and Finiteness in Everyday Life
    (pp. 191-210)
    Clara Han

    Soledad and I sat in the shady patio of her younger sister Ruby’s house. It was a crisp September morning in 2005 in La Pincoya, apoblaciónin the northern zone of Santiago, Chile. Soledad had stayed up all night waiting for her partner, Johnny, to come home. He arrived in the morning with a bitter smell of alcohol. Soledad did not speak to him, and instead walked to Ruby’s house around the corner, where Ruby and I were drinking cups of Nescafé. Soledad lived in her mother’s house with her three other adult siblings and their children. She was...

  15. TWELVE “Listening to Voices”: Immigrants, Settlers, and Citizens at the Ethnic Margins of the State
    (pp. 211-235)
    Sangeeta Chattoo

    Collective existence is necessary, for the individual’s ability to make sense of the world presupposes the existence of collective traditions. However, equally, selfhood depends on the individual’s capacity to break through these collective traditions and to live on their limits. Just as communities need to resist the encompassing claims of the state, individuals need to resist the encompassing claims of even the most vital communities as a condition of their human freedom. (Das 1995a: 17)

    This chapter is an attempt at locating ethnicity as a site of subjectivity and negotiation of relations between self, community, and State.¹ People of South...

  16. THIRTEEN Punjabi Inscriptions of Kinship and Gender: Sayings and Songs
    (pp. 236-257)
    Rita Brara

    In this chapter I discuss aspects of Punjabi kinship and marriage that emerge from a perusal of sayings, songs, and conversations for the most part with women. These proverbs and songs constitute a distinctive arena of the speech (parole)¹ of women, as sayings that are transmitted across generations mainly by women through usage in domestic contexts and as songs articulated at women-scentered occasions or rites. Such spoken and sung words, as verbal and expressive forms, are of course part and parcel of Punjabi language and culture, at the level oflangue, intelligible across sexes.

    How Punjabis conceptualize relationships of kin...

  17. FOURTEEN In the Event of an Anthropological Thought
    (pp. 258-272)
    Anand Pandian

    Perhaps the most striking thing about Veena Das’s moving essay on her childhood in Delhi is its concluding question: “With such a history, what else could I have become … but an anthropologist?” (2009: 208). On the face of it, this is a history that would not seem to have insisted on the becoming of any one mode of being at all. The story she tells is one of endless accidents of circumstance, composed as a series of shadowy impressions and enduring puzzles. Something of these impressions and puzzles remains as the essay floats from instance to instance, recollected event...

  18. FIFTEEN The Ayodhya Dispute: Law’s Imagination and the Functions of the Status Quo
    (pp. 273-287)
    Deepak Mehta

    In arguing for an ethics of curiosity and vulnerability, Veena Das draws our attention to the experience of the limit, to skepticism, and to the ordinariness of violence. In a series of essays and writings (Das 1998c, 2007, 2010d) she allows us to recognize new ethical and political possibilities offered by a close attention to the continual and dense interplay of different modes of life. What kinds of new reading practices, interdisciplinary knowledge formations, and forms of sociality may be elicited from her corpus? While it would be presumptuous of me to point to a new ethics of noticing, marking,...

  19. SIXTEEN The Death of Nature in the Era of Global Warming
    (pp. 288-299)
    Naveeda Khan

    InThe Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart (2008: vii) writes about walking home one day noticing the maple trees lining his street and suddenly being able to see the maples dead—in his words, “felled by global warming.” His book is a history of how scientists came to imagine such things to spur their research into climate science. I am very interested in this way of formulating one’s relation to global warming, that of presaging the natural world as dead or dying, the attentiveness to natural phenomena it requires to be able to see in this manner and the...

  20. SEVENTEEN Triste Romantik: Ruminations on an Ethnographic Encounter with Philosophy
    (pp. 300-317)
    Andrew Brandel

    Though my wandering has only just begun in earnest, it feels to me as if a lifetime. I am just taking those first treacherous steps toward my destination, though I feel as if I have had to claw through a dense tangle just to get here. Not yet midway through the journey of our life, I found myself thrown in that chaparral, the straightforward path thoroughly obscured. I came unto a lion, a leopard, and she-wolf. And thus I began to run forthwith. This then is the story of my coming unto a clearing, guided by my own Swan di...

  21. EIGHTEEN Making Claims to Tradition: Poetics and Politics in the Works of Young Maithil Painters
    (pp. 318-346)
    Mani Shekhar Singh

    Since its “reinvention” on paper under State patronage in the late 1960s, Maithil painting has been presented to the metropolitan art world as a traditional art with distinct “caste styles,” which women inherit and practice within domestic–ritual settings.¹ What is implicit in such a presentation—most clearly articulated in the policies and programs of the All India Handicrafts Board (AIHB)² and its functionaries—is that children and adolescents in Mithila (as in vast majority of the South Asian craft communities) are merely born into a tradition. Pupul Jayakar, the erstwhile chairperson of the AIHB and the master architect of...

  22. NINETEEN The Mirror as Frame: Time and Narrative in the Folk Art of Bengal
    (pp. 347-371)
    Roma Chatterji

    In a recent essay on the landscape paintings of Akbar Padamsee, Veena Das reflects on the nature of the image in Indian aesthetics, tracing the route taken by the artist as he meditated on the concept of the mirror image. She describes the sense of wonder with which Padamsee first realized that the prints that he took from his etching plate were not true copies of the picture that he had drawn but rather its opposite—a mirror image. He also experimented with the idea of a serial image—the same image repeated twice, end to end. But when he...

  23. TWENTY Adjacent Thinking: A Postscript
    (pp. 372-399)
    Veena Das

    When once asked to define anthropology, Lévi-Strauss answered that it was the land of the free.¹ I take the three defining terms with which Roma Chatterji names this collection in her introductory essay—conversations, generations, genres—as providing the coordinates through which I might define my orientations within such a landscape of freedom. Since my own sense of my thinking is that of crab-like movements without a beginning and without a clearly defined end, it helps me to think of its location within a particular field of conversations. The essays gathered here, then, give me the gift of thinking of...

  24. TWENTY-ONE Between Words and Lives. A Thought on the Coming Together of Margins, Violence, and Suffering: An Interview with Veena Das
    (pp. 400-412)
    Veena Das

    [This chapter is an English translation of a Portuguese-language interview that appeared in the journalDILEMAS(Misse et al. 2012) in which Veena Das responded to questions posed by Brazilian social scientists regarding her life and work.]

    Q. Let us start with your trajectory. Could you make us a small memoir of your choosing anthropology, and what that meant for a woman in India in the 1960s? We would also like to learn about your moving to the United States.

    A. I joined the Department of Sociology as an MA student in 1964 after completing my graduation in Sanskrit from...

  25. NOTES
    (pp. 413-444)
    (pp. 445-468)
  27. List of Contributors
    (pp. 469-472)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 473-482)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 483-484)