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More Than WordsTransforming Script, Agency, and Collective Life in Bali$
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Richard Fox

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781501725340

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501725340.001.0001

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The Meaning of Life, or How to Do Things with Letters

The Meaning of Life, or How to Do Things with Letters

Chapter:
(p.54) Chapter 3 The Meaning of Life, or How to Do Things with Letters
Source:
More Than Words
Author(s):

Richard Fox

Publisher:
Cornell University Press
DOI:10.7591/cornell/9781501725340.003.0003

This chapter develops the contrast between styles of writing – and of reasoning – by reflecting on the Balinese notion that written letters are ‘alive’. Starting from the pragmatic assumption that ‘life’ is what living things do, it examines the ‘uses and acts of aksara (letters)’ in the village community of Batan Nangka. Here we discover that life – at least in Balinese – is less a state than it is a set of relations. As with villages, granaries and human bodies, the written characters of the Balinese alphabet are forged and perdure through their ongoing participation in a complex of relationships—both internal to themselves and with others. This may begin with the linkage of their constituent elements, and subsequent affixation to other letters (e.g., in palm-leaf manuscripts). But it seems the life of letters, as with other living objects, is ultimately contingent on a form of solidarity grounded in reciprocal obligation.

Keywords:   writing, life, agency, ritual, Bali

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