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Sense/Nonsense: Unmaking Language
New York, April 2001


The Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, New York, NY 
invites submissions for the 2001 Boas-Benedict Conference, entitled 
"Sense/Nonsense: Unmaking Language"
April 14-15, 2001

Deadline for the submission of abstracts is March 20, 2001

Since the "linguistic turn" in anthropology, a linguistic or symbolic
model has emerged as a prevalent model for understanding "culture" and the
social writ large.  This conference proposes to explore the borders of
this model for knowledge, the guarded line struck between sense and
nonsense that makes our knowledge tenable.  The point is not to debunk the
implications that anthropology's "linguistic turn" has generated for our
knowledge, in as much as it is to adequately come to terms with the
ontological implications that the recourse to language, broadly
understood, might entail, indeed might be made possible by.

The conference is an invitation to think the nature of the sovereignty of
language/the symbolic in the constitution of our "sense" of the world.  
What are the limitations of what we generally understand by a linguistic
or symbolic construction of the world?  What problems plague this
particular understanding in the social sciences?  In other words,
notwithstanding the political and ethical relevance and purchase of this
approach to knowledge, what are the issues with which it cannot
necessarily engage?  Crucially, is it possible that the very materiality
of our existence relates to us, or communicates with us, in a manner that
is not reducible to what the terms of an analytic of language/symbolic
make available for us?  How do we make sense of that "murmur" (in
Foucualt's sense of the word) that is not the putative language of

What, then, does it mean to have a "sense" of something otherwise than
linguistic/symbolic?  Is such a sense "always already" linguistically
constructed or is it ever given over to us with an immediacy that does not
necessarily call upon language? If so, what is the nature of this
immediacy? Further, in this scheme, what is the status of what might
tentatively be called nonsense (non-sense)? That is to say, how can we
think, talk, imagine a 'sense' and/or 'non-sense' not already locatable
within - that might even challenge - linguistic, symbolic, cultural
structures and structurings of meanings?

Topics to consider for this conference include:
 the ways in which sense and nonsense interrupt the play of signification
  in instances of shock, trauma, and mental illness, for example;
 what relationships attain between the linguistic/symbolic and the
 what do we mean when we use "experience" as a category;
 translation and un-translatability;
 the relationship between sensory perception and representation;
 the role of sense and nonsense in performances (ritual, theatre, music,
 the analysis of  "habit," "commonsense," "the everyday," and "discipline";
 the limits of language and language of limits;
 are anthropology and other social sciences in any way equipped to enable
  us to engage with this problematic?

Please send 250 word abstracts by March 20, 2001 to:

ATTN: Boas Benedict Conference
Department of Anthropology
Columbia University
452 Schermerhorn Ext.
New York, NY  10027

Or, email abstracts as attachments to

Please direct all questions to Goutam Gajula ( or Vishnupad
Mishra (