Departing from anthropologists who turn to philosophy to extract general theories about the human, Veena Das proposes the notion of the anthropological tone, which suffuses the writings of the philosophers Wittgenstein and Cavell. This also allows anthropology to find a companionship with a specific lineage of ordinary language philosophy. The notion of texture through which Das takes us to the everyday life of low-income families in urban India allows her to show how lives and institutions are knitted together without imposing an external voice over on these lives.
Das shows that doing anthropology after Wittgenstein does not mean taking over a new set of terms such as forms of life, language games, or private language from Wittgenstein's philosophy. Instead, we must learn to see what eludes us in the everyday precisely because it is before our eyes. The book highlights different pathways of return to the everyday as it is corroded not only by catastrophic events but also by repetitive and routine violence within everyday life itself. As an alternative to normative ethics, this book develops ordinary ethics as attentiveness to the other and as the ability of small acts of kindness to stand up to horrific violence.
Textures of the Ordinary offers a model of thinking in which concepts and experience are shown to be mutually vulnerable. Returning to the question of what it is to inhabit a life together rather than following a linear trajectory in which answers are given once and for all to the puzzles that arise in these milieus, Das shows what a method of critical patience entails in doing anthropology.
This book will be of interest to anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, and students of literature, as well as to those interested in ethics and politics in the contemporary.
Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and adjunct professor of humanities at the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature at the Johns Hopkins University.