12 Chapters
Medium 9780253017543

9 Seared with Reality: Phenomenology through Photography, in Nepal

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Robert Desjarlais

If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food, and of excrement.

—James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

No matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the here and now, with which reality has (so to speak) seared the subject. . . .

—Walter Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”

THIS IS A STORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, of the ways in which light and color work in the world, of how certain images get about in people’s lives or linger in their memories.

While traveling in the Yolmo region of north central Nepal in the summer of 2011, visiting with families I have known for some time now, I grew fond of a small, blue stool. The family I was staying with kept this bench, a foot and a half or so tall, toward the back of their household, close to a washroom and a work table. The sides and four legs of the stool, cut of wood spliced from fallen trees in the surrounding forests, were painted a rich cyanic blue.1

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253017543

1 Moods and Method: Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty on Emotion and Understanding

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Kalpana Ram

PHENOMENOLOGY CAN ASSIST anthropology in two specific ways. The first is in giving us a stronger way to frame objectivity as an aspiration for anthropological knowledge and for the social sciences more generally. The second is in allowing us to give emotions a methodologically central role in enhancing objectivity.

My claims for phenomenology in this essay are limited to the work of two key exponents of the philosophical method, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. There are specific reasons why these two philosophers recommend themselves out of the wide range of philosophers who can claim to represent phenomenological methods. Both Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty made innovations that are particularly compatible with the premises of the social sciences. They share with the social sciences a break with all variants of what one might describe as a methodological individualism, that is to say, methods which begin with the isolated individual. But unlike the social sciences, which tend to take this break for granted, both of these philosophers are engaged in an active debate with longstanding philosophical traditions. The fact that this was for them an active project itself affords us several advantages. Their language is vital, the models of sociality they propose are fresh, and in bearing witness to the difficulties of breaking with their intellectual predecessors, we gain insight into the sense in which Western philosophy forms a potent tradition. I have argued elsewhere at length that we in the social sciences continue to be shaped by such premises precisely to the extent that we remain either unaware of this tradition, or go along with current tendencies to treat the power of tradition itself far too lightly (Ram 2013).

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253017543

11 Senses of Magic: Anthropology, Art, and Christianity in the Vula’a Lifeworld

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Deborah Van Heekeren

Rather than apply to his work dichotomies more appropriate to those who sustain traditions than to those men, philosophers or painters, who initiate these traditions, [Cézanne] preferred to search for the true meaning of painting, which is continually to question tradition.

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense

It is time to appreciate ethnographers who produce works of art that become powerful vehicles of theoretical exposition.

—Paul Stoller, The Taste of Ethnographic Things

I HAVE LONG ADMIRED Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writing on Paul Cézanne because it provides insight into the artist’s practice beyond the general conventions of art history. The philosopher saw the painter as a paradigm example of the essence of perception.1 As he writes, “Cézanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, between order and chaos. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear; he wanted to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization” (Merleau-Ponty 1964 [1945]: 13).

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253017543

6 Unmeasured Music and Silence

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Ian Bedford

THIS ESSAY ORIGINATES in an effort to comprehend some aspects of music in Muslim countries. I recall my first exposure—a kind of ambush—to procedures in music new to me. Up until 1971 the nation of Pakistan precariously consisted of two wings, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, soon to become Bangladesh. In October 1970, heavy floods, a cyclone, and then a tsunami battered the East wing, with enormous loss of life. In December the country was still in mourning. There were (as ever in Pakistan) all kinds of distractions and preoccupations—with livelihood, governance, rumor. Campaigning was underway for the first-ever democratic elections, but in Lahore, West Pakistan, the community address system carried the strains of public lamentation for the dead.

I had heard Qu’ranic recitation before, but never for long or to sustained effect. The twists, runs, and interval displacements of the lofted male voice, shorn of measure, honeycombed with silences, spoke to me for the first time. I received them as unpredictable elements of a novel and sublimely moving genre of utterance. This genre of utterance was far from new to the Lahoris, who would drag me indoors away from the loudspeakers: “We have been listening to Qu’ran for weeks. This is noise to our ears. It is of benefit only to the mullahs.”

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253017543

7 Experiencing Self-Abstraction: Studio Production and Vocal Consciousness

Afterword by Michael Jackson Edited by Indiana University Press ePub

Daniel Fisher

THIS CHAPTER DRAWS on fieldwork in an Aboriginal Australian urban radio station in order to explore some experiential aspects of vocal cultural production and the forms of mediatized self-abstraction it entails. I focus on the ways that technical features of media production and the institutional life of media in contemporary Indigenous Australia come together to make perception available for problematization in the studio. At 4AAA, a large, Indigenous-run country music station with a broad and at times national audience, young Indigenous media trainees take on the task of representing Aboriginal Australia to itself, and their experience of learning to perform this task provides this chapter with an ethnographic platform for considering two related lines of phenomenological questioning. First, what is the experience of becoming a medium of such collective and recursive self-abstraction? That is, what is at stake for young Aboriginal people who take on the mantle of Indigenous representation? And second, what is the relationship between media activism and processes of everyday social reification and reflexivity in a domain in which claims to Indigeneity are at once historically diverse and frequently contested? How might this relationship entail a kind of phenomenological bracketing of perception and expression for media producers themselves?

See All Chapters

See All Chapters