In (2003) and (2005) anthropologist Richard Fox published two articles on “the Old Javanese text as an object of knowledge” that were not without controversy among Old Javanists for his critique of classical philology, which they saw as the key to a nuanced understanding of the past. But the larger point was that we should pay closer attention to how we constitute the objects of our study and should problematize the neutrality of textual products, seeking instead to address the lived experience of language.
With More Than Words (MTW) Fox has given us a volume that represents the mature development of his views. In MTW he focusses on the unique roles played by Balinese script (Aksara Bali) in the life of Balinese communities. Beyond their role in “transmitting knowledge” Fox found that uses of Aksara Bali include “purification,” “animation,” “protection,” and “attack” among those that may seem strange to non-Balinese ears. By bringing out the social agency of Aksara Bali and their implication in broader networks of meaning Fox challenges us to rethink demarcations between textual and social meanings and to reinvigorate our ethnographic and archival studies by looking at textual artefacts in terms of the language practices revealed in sedimentations of the text.
Six discussants will enliven the discussion: