How Violence Leaves a Mark in Veena Das’ Life and Words Essay

How Violence Leaves a Mark in Veena Das’ Life and Words Essay

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Veena Das’ Life and Words is an attempt to capture the way in which major “events” reside in the recesses of everyday life. Drawing mainly from the aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947 and the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, Das explores the way violence leaves its mark on the people it touches, how it affects them at the immediate moment, and how it is carried through various forms of memory and silence into their everyday lives. Das also addresses that the manner in which the nation-state dealt with and constructed the violence of events also shapes the moments of and after violence, and the way these events inhabit the everyday life. The relation of the event and the everyday is understood in terms of how a number of dichotomous factors, related to the inside and the outside, interact and affect each other. In blurring the boundaries between the ordinary and the eventful, Das is able to give significant insights into the interface between the individual and the collective, the self and the other, and the everyday and the event.

In order to better understand these relations, Das undoes the stereotype of the detached, unbothered researcher and explores how the events and the people affected by them alters the ways of looking at things, as well as her own perceptions; making her ethnography akin to an autobiography. The time spent with the participants leads Das to undertake explorations in the domain of the inside and outside interaction, through an understanding of the relations between singularity of lives, self versus other, collective versus individual, event versus everyday. However, Das does not view these ideas as dichotomous; instead they are viewed in relation to each other and are thus relations more li...


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...; interpersonal relationships get defined by, colored by, tinged by the event. The powerful hold that the event has on the everyday comes from its ability to change the dynamics between the individual and the collective and the dynamics between the self and the other.

Das’ insistence on the contingencies of the individual and the collective, the self and the other, and the everyday and the event makes the Life and Words essential reading for students and scholars of collective violence. It reminds us that the devil of “world-annihilating violence” really is in the details and, correspondingly, that understanding how an event and violence resides the everyday and within the self must also be a matter of particular and painstaking analysis.



Works Cited

Das, Veena. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. University of California Press, 2007.

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