Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation
Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include
Contracting Nostalgia: On Renato Rosaldo
In Renato Rosaldo’s recollections of the political and cultural conditions of his life and work, he invariably finds himself enmeshed in the aporias of translation. We see this in his attempts to navigate among the rhetoric of a colonial popular discourse on “savages” during his fieldwork among the Ilongots in the Philippines, photographs he took of Ilongot men, and the recovered notes of his late wife’s ethnographic description of Ilongot mourning. Grappling with the enormity of his own grief after his wife’s death, he recalls the Ilongots’ shock and grief at hearing the mechanically recorded voices of natives preparing to hunt heads years after the practice had been outlawed by the Marcos government. Rosaldo’s account indicates how ethnographic nostalgia becomes a practice of witnessing at the same time that it spawns the proliferation of ethical dilemmas. The ethnographic transcription of the Ilongots’ visceral longing for headhunting allows him to see something of the historical spread of nostalgia made possible by the uncanny and unjust transformation of the experience of being “at home” in the postcolonial world.
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