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Images of Anti-Temporality: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience*

  • Victor Turner (a1)


Let me explain the jagged, cacophonous title of this talk, which must jar on ears expectant of a disquisition on immortality, the leitmotiv of the Ingersoll lecture series. By “anti-temporality” I denote that which is opposite in kind to being temporal, that is, pertaining to, concerned with, or limited by time. By “time” I provisionally accept the first definition offered by the Oxford English Dictionary: “A limited stretch or space of continued existence, as the interval between two successive events or acts or the period through which an action, condition or state continues: a finite portion of ‘time’.” Here, however, I would detect a certain ambiguity in the phrase, “interval between two successive events or acts,” for such intervals may, in many societies, be culturally detached from natural or logical sequentiality and formed into a domain governed by anti-temporality. Here the very definition of time implies its opposite.



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1 Blair, Robert, The Grave (London: M. Cooper, 1743) 479.

2 Moore, Sally Falk and Myerhoff, Barbara, Symbol and Politics in Communal Ideology (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1975) 220.

3 Unfinished notes from general conclusion to Gennep, Arnold van, Manuel de folklore français contemporain (Paris: Picard, 1937).

4 “The Rites of Passage and Kutiyattam, The Sanskrit Theater of Kerala,” The Communication of Ideas (ed. Yadava, J. S. and Gautam, Vinayshil; New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 1980); and Richmond, Farley and Richmond, Yasmin, “The Multiple Dimensions of Time and Space in Kutiyattam, The Sanskrit Theater of Tuala” (Paper delivered at the 9th Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, 7–9 November 1980).

5 Richmond, “The Rites of Passage and Kutiyattam,” 2.

6 Ibid., 11–12, 13.

7 Richmond and Richmond, “The Multiple Dimensions of Time and Space,” 1–3.

8 Ibid., 3–5.

9 Ibid., 7.

10 Ibid., 8.

11 Ibid., 9.

12 Hügel, Friedrich von, Eternal Life: A Study of Its Implications and Applications (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912) 383.

* The Ingersoll Lecture, delivered 5 October 1981 at the Divinity School, Harvard University.


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