Anthropology has, among its many accomplishments, become a ‘hyper-reflexive’ discipline that is mastered by anthropologists and their fieldwork friends. Today’s China offers an especially revealing lens onto anthropological reflexivity as it reintroduces animism among ethnic minorities and mobilizes a cosmological-cum-ecological ethos, replete with soul-searching and planet-saving behaviors. This article presents ethnography on the Nuosu of Southwest China, who use the ‘art of capture’ to reinvent local animistic ideas and the Chinese ‘ideology of animism’. In dialogue with a Nuosu ethnologist, rural Nuosu villagers, and a Nuosu anthropologist, I propose that ‘hidden’ knowledge and jokes underpin the expositions of native scholars, who interlace their academic work with local rituals. In this way, Nuosu academics, foreign anthropologists, and villagers all partake in the reinvention of Nuosu animism.
Hidden Jokes and the Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in Southwest China
Capture and Excess
Developing Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of territorialization and the apparatus of capture, this article explores the role that Sri Lankan Hindu temples have played in the formation of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. Analyzing three contemporary events, the article introduces ways in which many different Sri Lankans (Sinhalese and Tamil) interpret their country's predicament and seek to resolve or prolong it. The events also reveal how scholarship becomes entangled in ethnic nationalism. I then examine in greater detail a village in which temple construction was a critical feature of identity formation during the creation of Sri Lanka as a colonialist and capitalist bureaucratic space. Through this account, I argue that the formation of polarized ethnicity in Sri Lanka is the product of multiple refractive forces, of which temples are one, and not the end result of a singular colonialist bureaucratic agency.
Capturing the impress of boredom and inactivity
Outside the main railway station in Bucharest, Romania, otherwise unemployed day laborers hustle for small change as informal parking lot attendants (parcagii). While their efforts yield numerous ethnographic observations of entrepreneurial activity, these attendants report “doing nothing” day in and day out. This article explores the tension between etic observations and emic feelings in order to ask a methodological question: how can “not doing” and “absent activity” be captured within an ethnographic method primed to observe activity constantly? In response, this article takes inspiration from photography to develop “the negative” as a technique for bringing the impress of absent activity on social worlds into ethnographic view. The intent of this methodological intervention is to open new theoretical lines of flight into the politics of inactivity.
Animation, Primitivism, and the Choreography of Vitality
Primitivism gathers together several hegemonic lines of thinking about otherness as a function of underdevelopment vis-à-vis the Western, white male subject. This article presents an analysis of the animated dance video Ghostcatching (Bill T. Jones, Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar, 1999) that offers a framework for understanding the piece’s thoughtful relationship to the history of primitivism in animation. Positioning the dancing body and the motion-capture apparatus at the center of understandings of the supposedly pre-rational and uncivilized, I argue that Ghostcatching is an expert commentary on animation’s long-standing investment in notions of human origins and development. Ghostcatching and related animations (including its stereoscopic 3-D reworking, After Ghostcatching; Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s; the Dancing Baby meme; and work by media artist Ian Cheng) provide a lens for examining technologies and discourses of motion capture, revealing the economy of vitality through which the energy of raced, infantilized, and animalized bodies are circulated.
Capturing the Contradictions of Female Adolescence in the Nancy Drew Series
This article explores the construction of female adolescence in the first three texts of the Nancy Drew Mystery series: The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), The Hidden Staircase (1930), and The Bungalow Mystery (1930). It reviews, briefly, the development of the concept of adolescence and its gendered implications, particularly the association of female adolescent sexuality with delinquency. I argue that the Nancy Drew series rejects the construction of adolescence as a period of turmoil and emotional instability, as well as the prescription of constant adult supervision. The character of Nancy Drew also captures the contradictory messages of female adolescence in the 1930s when girls were represented as sexually attractive and aggressive but were denied sexual desire.
On 11 April 2006, the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano—the last head of
the Corleonesi clan, which for 30 years has led the notorious Italian
criminal organization, the Sicilian Mafia—was announced. Eighteen
months earlier, on 15 October 2004, the Court of Cassation definitively
acquitted Senator-for-Life and former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti,
thus confirming the preceding sentence by the Court of Appeals in
Palermo. According to this latter judgment, there had been relations
in the past between the Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, and the
accused. Nonetheless, in public debate and particularly within political
circles, Andreotti came out very well. More generally, the sentence
appeared, or at least was presented, as the final act in the long saga
of trials concerning the links between politics and the Mafia and legal
proceedings against politicians accused of collusion.
André Bazin and Roland Barthes both theorize a cinematic realism based on the indexical ability of the photographic image (the ability of the image to indicate an original object). How are their arguments affected by the advent of digital, nonindexical cinematic technologies? The article considers how a nonindexical realism might be possible, by looking at three recent films: Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Life narratives in postwar Mostar
In situations in which an entire population is affected by war and great political-economic transformations, as was the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, generational differences exist regarding the extent to which people experience these events as disruptions to their lives. Even in a nationally divided city like Mostar after the 1992-1995 war, generational experiences-of past and present times as well as of future prospects (or the lack thereof)-are crucial for the way people rethink the past and (re)position themselves in the present. In the case of the generation of the "Last Yugoslavs", I argue that the disruption of their life course and the resulting loss of future prospects prevent people from narrating the local past and their lives in a meaningful and coherent way.
Travel Tales of Captivity in Rabbinic Literature
This article examines a travel narrative of sexual captivity in Rome from rabbinic literature of late antiquity. By comparing two textual versions, Palestinian and Babylonian, the article discusses not only the dynamics of cultural identity formation as negotiated in the “contact zone” of captivity, but also the tradition history of this tale as it migrated from late antique Palestine to the rabbinic circles in the Sasanian Empire. While the Palestinian version is a narrative about the reunification of space and identity disrupted by exile, the diasporic rabbinic community in Babylonia creates a fiction of identity despite place; de-territorializing the physical component of place in identity and replacing it with a textual self-fashioning.
Rabbi Sheila Shulman z’l was my teacher/mentor and friend. For years I spent many Friday afternoons in conversation with her. This article attempts to capture something of that time, and also something of the cadence and character of a conversation that I continue to have with her.