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Consoling Ghosts

Stories of Medicine and Mourning from Southeast Asians in Exile

2013
Author:

Jean M. Langford

Consoling Ghosts

The ghosts—and varying ideas about death, dying, and the aftereffects of violence—emerging from the stories of emigrants from Laos and Cambodia

Inspired by conversations with emigrants from Laos and Cambodia, Consoling Ghosts is a sustained contemplation of relationships with the dying and the dead. Jean M. Langford invites us to consider alternate ways of facing death, conducting relationships with the dead and dying, and addressing the effects of violence that continue to reverberate in bodies and social worlds.

Consoling Ghosts is a truly exceptional work. It is both tremendously moving and terrifically insightful. The writing is brilliant and shimmers with both subtlety and lucidity. This is all the more striking, in this instance, given the complexity of thought conveyed in the book. What is ostensibly a rich ethnographic inquiry into a logic of ‘ghosts’ and ‘haunting,’ and notions of unfulfilled reciprocity, is actually a much richer meditation on themes regarding the repetitions of violence that haunt émigrés from Cambodia and Laos to the United States.

Andrew Willford, Cornell University

In conversation with emigrants from Laos and Cambodia, Jean M. Langford repeatedly met with spirits: the wandering souls of the seriously ill, dangerous ghosts of those who died by violence, restless ancestors displaced from their homes. For these emigrants, the dead not only appear in memories, safely ensconced in the past, but also erupt with a physical force into the daily life and dreams of the present.

Inspired by these conversations, Consoling Ghosts is a sustained contemplation of relationships with the dying and the dead. At their heart, as Langford’s work reveals, emigrants’ stories are parables not of cultural difference but rather of life and death. Langford inquires how and why spirits become implicated in remembering and responding to violence, whether the bloody violence of war or the more structural violence of social marginalization and poverty. What is at stake, she asks, when spirits break out of their usual confinement as symbolic figures for history, heritage, or trauma to haunt the corridors of hospitals and funeral homes? Emigrants’ theories and stories of ghosts, Langford suggests, inherently question the metaphorical status of spirits, in the process challenging both contemporary bioethics of dying and dominant styles of mourning. Consoling Ghosts explores the possibilities opened up by a more literal existence of ghosts, from the confrontation of shades of past violence through bodily ritual to rites of mourning that unfold in acts of material care for the dead instead of memorialization.

Ultimately the book invites us to consider alternate ways of facing death, conducting relationships with the dead and dying, and addressing the effects of violence that continue to reverberate in bodies and social worlds.

Consoling Ghosts

Jean M. Langford is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Fluent Bodies: Ayurvedic Remedies for Postcolonial Imbalance.

Consoling Ghosts

Consoling Ghosts is a truly exceptional work. It is both tremendously moving and terrifically insightful. The writing is brilliant and shimmers with both subtlety and lucidity. This is all the more striking, in this instance, given the complexity of thought conveyed in the book. What is ostensibly a rich ethnographic inquiry into a logic of ‘ghosts’ and ‘haunting,’ and notions of unfulfilled reciprocity, is actually a much richer meditation on themes regarding the repetitions of violence that haunt émigrés from Cambodia and Laos to the United States.

Andrew Willford, Cornell University

An unexpected parallel to the Southeast Asian engagements with souls and ghosts.

Southeast Asian Studies

Beautifully written and sensitively portrayed.

Anthropological Quarterly

In her excellent book, the stories of Langford’s interlocutors allow for a deeper understanding of Southeast Asian migrants.

American Anthropologists

Consoling Ghosts

Contents


Note on Transliteration

Introduction: Afterlives

1. Violent Traces

2. Displacements

3. Disciplines of Dying

4. Dangerous Language

5. Syllables of Power

6. Postmortem Economies

7. Spirit Debt

Afterword: On the Status of Ghosts


Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index