Living in Time’s Shadow: Pollution, Purifi cation and Fractured Temporalities in Buddhist Ladakh

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The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right! Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.5 The anthropology of time is a notoriously slippery topic, where abstract meta-physical speculation and concrete ethnographic analysis blur into one another with apparently effortless ease, so it is worth taking a moment to defi ne the precise question that I’m interested in.1 Broadly, this paper follows in the footsteps of Geertz’s famous work on ‘Person, Time and Conduct in Bali’, where he argued that Balinese social interaction was not comprised of individual personalities within durational time, but rather of ‘generalised contemporaries ’ performing socially sanctioned offi ces. This, for Geertz, implied a ‘depersonalized ’ notion of the person, in which the individuals become instantiated tokens of permanent person-types within a ‘motionless present ’ (Geertz 1973). This sense of a motionless present was derived from the use of non-durational calendrical systems, part of a broader Hindu-infl uenced cultural tendency to construct personhood in a manner which ‘refuses to regard as salient. the cumulative effects of historical time’ (Gell 1992: 72). Geertz’s interpretation has not gone without criticism. Firstly, it has been argued that he veers too close to a monolithic interpretation of ‘Balinese time ’ as non-durational, whereas in reality the Balinese evocation of calendrical systems is varied and multi-faceted (Davis 1976; Gell 1992; Howe 1981); and secondly, that his view of ritual calendars as a homogenous cultural resource mistakes ideology for cognition, thus ignoring the historical exercise of elite ideological power that support, and are supported by, structures of ‘ritual time ’ that are at odds with the comparatively ideology-free ‘practical time ’ of, for example, agricultural production (Bloch 1977). Whilst both sides of this debate have clear and (varyingly) valid points to make (Gell 1992: Chs. 8–10), one dimension of this problem goes largely unaddressed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Qualities of Time
Subtitle of host publicationAnthropological Approaches
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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