Magical laments and anthropological reflections: The production and circulation of anthropological text as ritual activity

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Anthropological writing becomes ritual when its unfolding argument structure parallels and thus its voice resonates with lament or even prayer. Structural features of lament are apparent in some ethnographies of lament, and anthropologists with no interest in traditional lament have nonetheless joined ineffectual modern elegies over modernity's destructiveness. Magical laments achieve their effects by thematically progressing from death to the afterlife by means of heteroglossia or a shift in verb mood from indicative to optative. Some anthropological accounts of lament dwell on their "death" and use metaphors also found in ritual lament. The conclusions of several relevant anthropological writings are marked by shifts in verb forms, though subtler than in laments, evincing perduring contradictions of modernity. Anthropology cannot avoid playing a role in cultural production - but what role? We can and should explore appropriate ways to mourn modernity's destructiveness - bringing the argument about the anthropology of lament full circle and enabling a shift of focus in modernist discourse from past to future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)891-914
Number of pages24
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2006


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology

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