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Grounded in ethnographic and archival research on the Indonesian island of Bali, More Than Words challenges conventional understandings of textuality and writing as they pertain to the religious traditions of Southeast Asia. Through a nuanced study of Balinese script as employed in rites of healing, sorcery, and self-defense, Richard Fox explores the aims and desires embodied in the production and use of palm-leaf manuscripts, amulets, and other inscribed objects.
Balinese often attribute both life and independent volition to manuscripts and copperplate inscriptions, presenting them with elaborate offerings. Commonly addressed with personal honorifics, these script-bearing objects may become partners with humans and other sentient beings in relations of exchange and mutual obligation. The question is how such practices of "the living letter" may be related to more recently emergent conceptions of writing—linked to academic philology, reform Hinduism, and local politics—which take Balinese letters to be a symbol of cultural heritage, and a neutral medium for the transmission of textual meaning. More than Words shows how Balinese practices of apotropaic writing—on palm-leaves, amulets, and bodies—challenge these notions, and yet coexist alongside them. Reflecting on this coexistence, Fox develops a theoretical approach to writing centered on the premise that such contradictory sensibilities hold wider significance than previously recognized for the history and practice of religion in Southeast Asia and beyond.
Richard Fox is Professor and Chair of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada.
Joel Kuipers, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, The George Washington University:
In this innovative ethnography, Richard Fox shows how Balinese use their Indic script in activities such as healing, sorcery and self-defense. Fox explores how their beliefs and practices can help us think about larger problems regarding the nature of the sacred, human agency and collective life.
George Quinn, Australian National University:
Richard Fox's inventive, carefully researched study draws us deep into the world of Balinese script, especially its multitude of functions beyond the semantically informational. Thoughtful, original and well-grounded in theory, More Than Words has much to tell us about letters and literacy beyond the immediate environment of Bali.
Kostas Retsikas, author of Becoming:
More Than Words problematizes our assumptions about what texts are and do. Written in vivid and evocative style, this book presents a wondrous universe where palm-leaf manuscripts are alive. A fine study of the potency of writing, and a must read for all students of Southeast Asia.
Joseph Errington, Yale University:
More Than Words brings moral philosophy and philology together with traditions and practices of Balinese literacy; it joins history with the everyday particulars of Balinese lives. Richard Fox’s eloquent voice brings analysis and fieldwork together to present a comparative account of literacy that provides much more than mere words.
Ronald Lukens-Bull, University of North Florida:
More than Words is of the highest quality. Richard Fox’s ability to combine a concern with text and a refined ethnographic sensibility is excellent and engaging.
Dick van der Meij, DREAMSEA:
Richard Fox has written the present book to elucidate what is going on in Bali and he has managed to do so in an attractive and readable way...The book is a breath of fresh air because of its admirable lucidity. It has been written in an accessible way and does not run away with theoretical language and thus does not alienate non-experts. This is crucial because it can now be read by non-specialists but also by specialists in other fields. It would be extremely useful if this book would be seen as an example of how indeed to study this kind of subject.
In eight carefully focused and crafted chapters—each of which could stand alone—Fox explores the what, when, where, and why of writing on Bali. Fox more than delivers on his promise to add to an understanding of the local belief that the inscription itself is animated and as such venerated.... Fox more than surpasses his two stated goals: to make a "modest" contribution to the study of the Balinese system of beliefs, and to rethink human writing itself. This important work is a must for those interested in Asian religions and recommended for those interested in humanity's unique abilities.
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