An ethnography carries beings of one world into another one. This is a
promise that our writing shares with fiction, poetry, cinema, and most
other expressive arts. It is also a capacity we share with more literal modes
of transport: the flatbeds, planes, ships, and mobile devices that take us in
and out of the field, put our interlocutors in motion, and allow our stories
to travel from place to place on their own. When it comes to such move-
ments, we get caught up too often in ideas of origin and destination— where
someone is coming from, where a text must go. The “how” of transporta-
tion is easily lost: the means of conveyance, the transformative potential of
movement, the techniques our works rely on in taking their readers else-
where. Writing is a transitive pro cess of communication, a material prac-
tice no less participatory and dynamic than ethnographic fieldwork itself.
This is a volume of experimental ventures in anthropological writing, at-
tempts to explore and extend both the medium and its basic modes of
displacement.
Our title is borrowed from a phrase in Paul Schmidt’s translation of “The
Drunken Boat,” a poem composed by Arthur Rimbaud in 1871. Here’s how
the poem ends:
If I long for a shore in Eu rope,
It’s a small pond, dark, cold, remote,
The odor of eve ning, and a child full of sorrow
Who stoops to launch a crumpled paper boat.
Washed in your languors, Sea, I cannot trace
The wake of tankers foaming through the cold,
Prologue
ANAND PANDIAN AND STUART M cLEAN
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