The Genealogical Imagination: Two Studies of Life over Time
Michael Jackson is Distinguished Visiting Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University, and the author of numerous books, including Critique of Identity Thinking and The Varieties of Temporal Experience: Travels in Philosophical, Historical, and Ethnographic Time.
In The Genealogical Imagination Michael Jackson juxtaposes ethnographic and imaginative writing to explore intergenerational trauma and temporality. Drawing on over fifty years of fieldwork, Jackson recounts the 150-year history of a Sierra Leone family through its periods of prosperity and powerlessness, war and peace, jihad and migration. Jackson also offers a fictionalized narrative loosely based on his family history and fieldwork in northeastern Australia that traces how the trauma of wartime in one generation can reverberate into the next. In both stories Jackson reflects on different modes of being-in-time, demonstrating how genealogical time flows in stops and starts—linear at times, discontinuous at others—as current generations reckon with their relationships to their ancestors. Genealogy, Jackson demonstrates, becomes a powerful model for understanding our experience of being-in-the-world, as nobody can escape kinship and the pull of the past. Unconventional and evocative, The Genealogical Imagination offers a nuanced account of how lives are lived, while it pushes the bounds of the forms that scholarship can take.
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