For the Humanity Yet to Come

Student post by Valeria Meiller. 

Professor Anand Pandian opened up his lecture by referring to the problem of method in Anthropology. His question was: How can the discipline recuperate moments of earlier times that may still be relevant and remain viable in the present and/or the future? He walked the audience through this query by referring to the context of production of his article “For the Humanity Yet to come”. Pandian explained that this article was conceived under the shadow of the presidential election and was driven by the question of what anthropology may be or look like in a moment like that. “Could ethnography or anthropology may have help predict that?” he asked.

He reflected on 1) the relationship of Empiricism and Anthropology, and posed the question of “how does Anthropology engage with empirical reality? And, or, the presence or lack of it?” He explained that, from his point of view, the reality that Anthropology has usually looked at has always been more that the given empirical and has been infused by magic and the mystical. From there, Pandian went on to place the second question of his lecture, which was 2) what does experience mean in Anthropology? He explained the audience that Anthropology works as a method of experience and what can be known about it. Anthropology, he affirmed, necessitates a certain kind of exposure to the world.

He concluded that points 1) and 2) tried to show the openness of the world and to understand it as a way of knowledge. This, he continued, posed questions of control. “How do we understand the Anthropocene and the impossibility of desires of mastery?” he asked. The Anthropocene, he affirmed, raised the difficulty of whether humans could or could not learn how to live with a bit less mastery over their environments? And, in turned, how would a world with less mastery look like. He referred to how Anthropology could help us out to understand this processes of “letting go” because, as a practice, Anthropology involves submission to the circumstances that we cannot control, and in which we are embedded.

He continued to say that we should concretely look at anthropological politics, arts, and fiction to see how this possible world of less control could look like. In each of these domains, he affirmed, there was certain openness and broader understanding of humanity that we could look at in our search for alternative models for the Anthropocene. We might have resources to think of the human in different terms and these three fields may help as archives that show us how to do it, he explained. Then he went on to read two passages of prose and poetry in order to exemplify his argument.

The first one was a passage from Ursula Le Guin’s “Winter’s King” where the king lands in another planet. He used this passage to exemplify different modes of attachment of the human and the nonhuman, and affirmed that it provided a very peculiar inside out perspective that is at state in Anthropological inquires: the idea of throwing yourself into the other. The next passage was a fragment of Aime Cesaire’s Collected Poetry that also illustrated this anthropological encounter with the other. After the readings, the lecture was opened up for a Q&A.

Valeria Mieller is PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Georgetown University.




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