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Senior Research Seminar: Professor Richard Werbner

When Feb 12, 2016
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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Professor Richard Werbner (University of Manchester)

The Poetics of Wisdom Divination: Renewing the Moral Imagination

This lecture makes a critical contribution to interpretive anthropology by recovering its interest in the moral imagination, while linking this to the poetics of divination and its rich, esoteric oral literature, primarily among Tswapong of Botswana. Its evocative praise poetry has no known author, is archived in the memories of experts who are diviners, and is recited selectively during diagnostic séances with interpretations in plain speech for the edification and puzzlement of the diviners’ clients.  Over centuries, this poetic archive, a source of imaginative moral reflection along with practical wisdom, has been highly valued in the quest for well-being by many people across a vast part of Southern Africa. Yet anthropologists and literary scholars have not taken the oral poetry seriously. Against that, this article documents the acrobatic stylistics of the divinatory poetry and shows how it appeals artfully for reflexivity and heightened consciousness, unmasking the hidden in everyday life. The analysis discloses the enduring stress on patriarchy and, somewhat in tension with that normative order, the dynamic force in persuasive ideas of personal knowledge, in transformational images of appearance and reality, and in paradoxical, disturbingly agonistic representations of the ambivalence felt in the intimacies of kinship, age and gender.

Following the seminar, discounted and signed copies of Professor Werbner's book, Divination's Grasp, will be available with free accompanying DVDs of Shade Seekers and the Mixer.

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