Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Protesting too much

Teaching back-to-back classes is a recipe for whiplash. When they're first thing in the morning, it's even worse. Now imagine having to switch from explaining the Lutheran import of Fear and Trembling to one set of groggy students to leading a discussion of Yolngu ceremony with another 20 minutes later? It was a perfect storm. With Kierkegaard I was stressing the view that the individual is of an irreducible but ultimately incommunicable value (unintelligible even to her/himself); the finite faces the absolute alone, even as it receives from it an infinite validation of the value of the finite. Then I had to spell out elder Jimmy Burinyila's critique of "Ten Canoes" for telling the wrong story; what should have been a story of community "gathering and love" was instead a story of men without women, and conflict rather than harmony. And its representation of ceremony only through what appeared to viewers unfamiliar with Yolngu traditions to be a private funeral misrepresented the place of "religion" in Yolngu life in an analogous way (what Religious Studies folks of my generation call a "Protestant" way!) - as if religion were only about individuals and the end of life, and not woven into the everyday living of communities - just as selves are.
(Picture of Jimmy Burinyila from Louise Hamby, "A Question of Time:
Ten Canoes," Australian Journal of Anthropology 18/1 (2007): 123-26, 125)

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