Accepted Paper:

The sociality of death: movements and transformations in contemporary Viet Nam  

Author:

Marina Marouda (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores human-animal relations in the context of Buddhist Viet Nam and foregrounds death rituals as providing the required tropes and movements for transformations to be effected.

Paper long abstract:

In clear differentiation from both western ontology that sees humans as ex-animals and Amerindian cosmologies that construe animals as ex-humans, Vietnamese death rituals as forward looking techniques of intervention, unambiguously anticipate humans as future animals. Taking inspiration from de Castro's analysis of Amazonian notions of humanity as distributed across 'species' the paper explores human-animal relations in the context of Buddhist Viet Nam and foregrounds death rituals as providing the required tropes and movements for mediations and transformations (humans becoming animals, and vice versa) to take place. The paper therefore deals explicitly with Buddhist practices and ideas and an ethnographic case in which death is conceived not as the end of life but rather as opening life up to numerous, uncertain metamorphic possibilities. Some of these possibilities rituals seek to foreclose while others rituals seek to bring about. The uncertainties involved are intrinsically related to the posthumous 'fate' of the deceased's soul which is held as capable of becoming substantiated as ancestral spirit, restless ghost, and/or re-incarnated as human or animal. These metamorphic possibilities are clearly hierarchized according to the Buddhist cannon and are directly affected by the relations the dead enjoy with the living. It is precisely these relations which ritual processes of commemoration (and forgetting) manufacture and activate. Such relations are made manifest and embodied in the very form the soul eventually assumes which in turn serves as the index of cross-boundary sociality and affect.

Panel P02
Whirls of organisms: forms and movements of life