Posts Tagged ‘Deathpower’

This blog and it’s changes

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 at 1:11 pm

gate gate paragate parasamgate, bodhi svaha!

(gone, gone, really gone, truly really gone, hail wisdom!)

Well, not actually gone. But in keeping with the obvious observation that everything changes, and given that I’ve returned to blogging here on a slightly more regular basis, I thought I would take a moment to note some of the changes.

I started this blog way back in 2004, if memory serves, not even on wordpress. I learned HTML and hard-coded everything using a now disappeared java-based app to write up ongoing reflections, unsorted thoughts, and links to interesting things from my fieldwork in Cambodia (2003-2006). Later on, I switched over to this wordpress format, which I continue to find relatively congenial, but as my writing focus shifted more toward scholarly publication and the end of fieldwork, the blog became more of a place for sharing news stories about Cambodia, while retaining the occasional beginnings of thought, unfinished reflections, etc. I also managed a separate blog to update family back in the USA about my growing family, since we turned from two to four during fieldwork, and this was before Facebook!

I now use Twitter for news broadcasting. If that’s your thing, you can find me there at @erikwdavis . The same warning that I include on this blog applies to my twitter account:

I have a job! In that job, I teach some of the same subjects I discuss on this blog! But this page doesn’t represent my employer’s positions, or my manner as a teacher. They haven’t reached out to endorse this page, and I haven’t asked for it.

An additional caveat applies to my @twitter account: I often share news and opinions there that are far from my scholarly fields of expertise, and have more to do with elements of my personal life and interest, such as the multi-faceted and crucial struggles of feminism and gender equality – including trans equality, unions, and neurodiversity. Sometimes these will overlap with Cambodia – most especially in regards to feminism and unions, but very often they will not. Even better than following me, just add #Cambodia to your saved search list in the Twitter app. I do not use nor encourage Facebook, though I’m aware of its astonishing popularity in Cambodia; with no apologies to its founders, I find it a bit of a cesspool, encouraging the worst behavior. At least on twitter, there’s no expectation that you’re speaking only to your friends and people who already know you.

I have a book, with the working title “Deathpower: Imagining Religion in Contemporary Cambodia,” under contract and review with an academic press. I’ll be promoting it shamelessly once the process has moved further along, but I’m hopeful that it will not only be received and read by a wide variety of people, ranging from professional and amateur academics, to English-reading Cambodians, to the merely curious. Parts of it are intentionally provocative, and I sincerely hope to provoke debates and conversations that can move our collective knowledges forward. I don’t know everything, and consider true scholarship a process of conversation and collective knowledge-building. I hope that my book and my articles can provoke knowledge better than they themselves represent.

One quick note: Udaya, the trilingual academic journal on Cambodian studies cofounded by Ang Choulean and Ashley Thompson, has made the leap to Open Access online, as has the Khmer sister publication, Khmer Renaissance!. I cannot recommend these enough. Please go check them out.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite Cambodian video of the last couple of weeks, a cover of Pharrell WIlliams’ “Happy” performed by folks associated with Epic Arts Cambodia in Kampot.

Fragment: Death Doesn’t Exist

In fragment on June 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Death doesn’t exist. Certainly not as an entity, or a place. Even if we consider it a process, we have no good way to determine its limits: where does it begin? When does it end? Either way, we argue over when precisely it happens, and even disagree with each other occasionally over whether someone is or isn’t dead. When I write ‘Death doesn’t exist,’ part of what I mean is also that the word death refers to the absence of something, and that an absence isn’t itself a thing. The Buddhist notion of rebirth arranges these familiar difficulties into a complementary loop of sorts: death begins at birth, and begins again with the next birth. Ending only happens if you attain enlightenment. No more birth, no more death.

Who Shall Bind …

In comment on April 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Who Shall Bind the Infinite? – William Blake

Making great progress on my manuscript, so instead of writing more substantive work, let me leave you with this quote from William Blake, which for me encapsulates so much about my work on deathpower:

I bring forth from my teeming bosom myriads of flames,
And thou dost stamp them with a signet; then they roam abroad,
And leave me void as death.
Ah! I am drown’d in shady woe and visionary joy.

‘And who shall bind the Infinite with an eternal band
To compass it with swaddling bands? and who shall cherish it
With milk and honey?
I see it smile, and I roll inward, and my voice is past.’

She ceas’d, and roll’d her shady clouds
Into the secret place.

Architecture, especially funerary architecture, is ritual materialized and perfected

In comment on April 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

Architecture, especially funerary architecture, is ritual materialized and perfected.

Peter J. Wilson, 1991. The domestication of the human species. Yale UP, p. 130. cited in Bailey and Mabbett, The Sociology of Early Buddhismp. 96.

Great Coverage of Samdech Euv (King-Father) Norodom Sihanouk’s Funeral

In comment on April 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

I’m working great guns on my manuscript and the associated Book Proposal for publishers that I’m sending out in the next week. The book has a working title of Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia, though the only thing I really care about in there is the word “Deathpower.” 

I’m also teaching and doing other stuff. Did I mention the kids had Spring Break last week and so were home all week while I was teaching, and then my eldest got some sort of pukey-flu that kept him home yesterday, too?

While I do that, I’m not writing on Sihanouk’s funeral, yet. I did promise to do so, and do plan on it.  In the meantime, let me recommend the single-best web-coverage in English I’ve found on the funeral, including day-to-day coverage and reports, and collections of newspaper links, over at LTO Cambodia. LTO stands for Long Time Observer, and his stories, photos, and commentary are worth regular attention.

Reading Report

In read on August 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

No real reviews here, but a short list on what I’ve been reading this Summer, and how I generally feel about the books or articles.  What have you been reading?  Anything I should know about?  Let me know in the comments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Alfred Gell describing ‘deathpower.’

In quote on August 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Both of my long-term readers know that the key concept in my work on Cambodian funerals and religion is deathpower, the social power created through the proper (moral or amoral) management of death. A colleague recommended Alfred Gell‘s monumental 1998 volume Art and Agency: an anthropological theory to me, and what do I find on p. 149 but this gem, which practically describes my work:

A Buddha statue celebrates the possibility of a ‘good death’ and monks are semi-dead individuals who aspire to the ultimate good-death condition….In a sense, then, what the relic does is make the Buddha state like the Buddha, by making it ‘dead’ through the insertion of a ‘death-substance’–in the rather paradoxical sense that Buddha-hood implies death-in-life.


Sounding on “The Social Disciplines”

In sounding on April 30, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Yeah, so….everyone has a ‘junk drawer,’ right? That place where you stick all those things you are, inexplicably, interested and fascinated by, but unable to describe succinctly?  The ‘social disciplines’ is my attempt to name that junk drawer for the purposes of this blog: stuff I’m interested in that is otherwise nebulously categorical.

  • 18 levels of Chinese Hell
  • Fire to the Commons! An essay you should read – ‘further theory’
  • Why bureaucracy matters when you are trying to “DIY” your own funeral
  • Downsizing Chinese Graves
  • Racialization or Denominalization of Worship Styles
  • Understanding Society – a Blog You Should Be Reading. Read the rest of this entry »

South Korean Coffin Rejuvenation Ceremony

In comment on September 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Looks like the new Pansukula ceremonies in Thailand are catching on elsewhere, though I have no idea if there’s any actual transmission, or if this is mere ‘morphic resonance.’

Hitchens, Bolivar, Chavez, and Necrophilia: Deathpower in the Media

In religous studies on August 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Christopher Hitchens is a hack.  Here’s how I know.  A non-hack would situate a seemingly weird story in context, rather than attempt to exaggerate its supposed uniqueness to demonize an enemy.  He’s also smart, so I can’t give him the excuse that Hitch is just stupid.  See, if there’s one thing I’m pretty well-trained in, it’s the theory of necrophilia. Seriously. It’s at the heart of much of my work on death rituals, though I focus less on the psychoanalytic aspects of the theory than I do in the practices, and the commentaries on those.

So, while I’m happy to have no less of a prose stylist than Christopher Hitchens address my topic of choice, he presents it as news, when it’s nothing more than another chance for him to lob his anti-Left IEDs into the interwebz. First, let me be clear: there are great reasons to criticize Chavez, though these criticisms are rarely shared by those who most loudly criticize him. Nope, the people whose criticisms of Chavez get heard are right-wing journos like Simon Romero (his NYT page) and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, who was a prolific writer of left-oriented journalism prior to his right-wing conversion has spent his time since advocating “The Clash of Civilizations,” attacking supposed “Islamo-Fascism,” attempting to transform George Orwell into a conservative fellow-traveller, and sneering at any and all leftist attempts to pry the fingers of the neo-liberal regime away from their necks.

So, when Hitch starts running on and on about Chavez’ necrophiliac love of Simon Bolivar, I get to say ‘balderdash.’ Also, would someone please check the Hitch’s sources? This is o l d news. And it’s much much bigger than Venezuela. In what remains, I make two points by snarkily referring to three texts which should have served to deflate Hitchens’ and Romero’s ‘graverobbing’ rhetoric. First: Chavez’ idealization of the Liberator is very very old news. Second: this ‘grave-robbing’ by Chavez is classic nationalist ritual. This is hardly ‘graverobbing,’ but instead ‘nationalist mortuary ritual’ of an extraordinarily common type. The characterization that Hitchens and Romero are involved in is disingenuous at best; Hitchens at the very least should be aware of the way Chavez’ worship of Bolivar falls very squarely in the most common of national rituals (sure, it’s still weird, but hey – humans are weird).

First of all, Chavez’s idealization of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, is hardly unusual in South America. Read the rest of this entry »


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