Starting on Monday, Critical Inquiry brings together, over the course of a week, five scholars – three philosophers and two anthropologists – to discuss Veena Das’s Textures of the Ordinary: Doing Anthropology after Wittgenstein (2020), a book in which Das re-turns, differently, to persistent questions in her thought over the course of an entire work – or, we might say, a life. Treating philosophical and literary texts, anthropological modes of being in the world, and autobiographical moments on the same plane, Textures offers us a picture of thought that arises from paying attention to ordinary human forms of life and life forms. Textures thus exemplifies Wittgenstein’s philosophical method and shows how anthropology might be a continuation of this philosophy through an attention to detail.
The commentaries gathered here will respond to this picture of thought in various, overlapping ways. First, as Sandra Laugier remarks, we see in Textures how Das offers a new departure for ordinary language philosophy. In her abiding interest in life in language and the life of words, Das has been one of the most important commentators on Wittgenstein as read within ordinary language philosophy (Cavell and Diamond). In Das’s writing, we never see philosophy standing by itself, but as Piergiorgio Donatelli remarks, philosophy responds with “its own intensity to the intensity of voices in the streets and houses” that inhabit this book. Thus, the ordinary in Das is never one of an aestheticized ordinary but one lined by the threat of skepticism and marked by suffering and violence. Second, we see how the autobiographical is marked by texts and by actual lives, such that we are presented with what Michael Puett aptly describes as “the complexities with how a self inhabits an ordinary reality that is itself multiple, layered, and requiring constant re-interpretation.” Third, as Penelope Deutscher elaborates, Textures offers us ways to receive how skepticism takes gendered forms while also having us critically engage the various ways authority is established. Yet, as Clara Han discusses, Textures also shows us how skepticism comes to be absorbed within concrete relations, thus recasting our understanding and description of human intimacy. As Han notes, Das’s method of close attention to detail reveals paths to imagining an ordinary realism; and in so doing, it gives anthropology a new lease on life.
In her response to the commentaries, we will get a sense of the open character of Das’s thought and the intellectual community that she so beautifully describes as embroidery. We hope readers will find their own ways of taking Textures and these commentaries further in their own research, reading, and lives.
 Veena Das, Textures of the Ordinary: Doing Anthropology after Wittgenstein (New York, 2020).
One response to “Introduction to a Forum on Veena Das’s Textures of the Ordinary: Doing Anthropology after Wittgenstein”
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