Evelyn Schuler Zea

Evelyn Schuler Zea

Evelyn Schuler Zea started her formation as anthropologist, translator and video editor in São Paulo, where she grew up bilingual (Brazilian Portuguese and Swiss German). Since 1996 she is attached to the “Núcleo de História Indígena e do Indigenismo” (NHII-USP) and realizes ongoing fieldwork in northern Amazonia among Amerindians known as Waiwai.

She graduated in Ethnology, Philosophy and German Literature at the University of Basel in 1999 and received her PhD from the Institute for Social Anthropology of the University of Bern in 2006, where she also worked as scientific assistant teaching on Amerindian anthropologies during two semesters. In January 2007, she entered the Postdoctoral Program in Social Anthropology of University of São Paulo, which includes lessons as visiting professor in a postgraduate course on Amerindian translations and relations. Evelyn Schuler Zea received a Differenzstipendium from the University of Basel, a PIBIC-CNPq-Scholarship from University of São Paulo, a pre-doctoral funding from the Janggen-Pöhn-Stiftung and doctoral and postdoctoral grants from SNF and MHV and from FAPESP, respectively.

She is author of Zwischen Sein und Nicht-Sein: Fragmente eines kosmologischen Tupi-Guarani-Diskurses in der neueren brasilianischen Ethnologie (Curupira, 2000) and co-editor of the review Sexta Feira: Antropologias, Artes e Humanidades, writing articles on the interface between metaphor and translation, anthropology and cinema. Participating in international interdisciplinary research groups (“Projeto Temático Redes Ameríndias,” “Dynamiques des circulations migratoires et mobilités transfrontalières entre Guyane, Surinam, Brésil, Guyana et Haïti”), her current research concerns conceptions of ‘translation’ and ‘relation’ in Amerindian anthropologies, grounded in Waiwai conceptual images and social dynamics.

Research Project

Translation Rituals: Detours in Northern Amazonia

During the year as resident fellow in Berlin within the research project ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, my aim is to redesign as hypothesis and introduce in the context of interdisciplinary theatre studies some conceptual figures of rituals among Amerindians known as Waiwai in Northern Amazonia. Their rituals work on motives on the mode, conditions and effects of the relations that weave Amerindian networks. My fieldwork among the Waiwai allowed me to see thought images of detour, impropriety and transfiguration as articulations of the model of translation performed in their rituals. Rather than from an anthropology about the Waiwai such distinctions proceed from an anthropology practiced by themselves in their ways of treating different human and non-human others. The rituals constitute remarkable essays (also in a reflexive sense) of their anthropology that, from another margin, seems to connect with the claim of Talal Asad for an anthropology that goes beyond textuality of ethnographic discourse and is open to translate a foreign life through other means such as a theatre play, a dance choreography or a music improvisation: it should not be merely a matter of interpretations but of transformed moments of the original (Asad 1986).

With this in mind, I followed the trail of some especially cultivated configurations in Waiwai anthropology: the enacting of ‘eye vitality’ (yewru yekatî), the search of ‘unseen people’ (enîhni komo) and the performances dealing with different animals or their respective ‘owners’ or ‘cloth owners’ (ponoyosomo). Their description motivated the introduction of concepts such as ‘resonance,’ ‘redundancy’ and ‘repetition’ (the one that generates difference) and pointed to the wider cultural topics of impropriety and detour as cardinal vectors in Waiwai relation nets, where the first is attached to distance and opposed to every form of transparency, directness and immediateness of relation and the second indicates the oblique trace (yesamarî) of their paths. In so doing, I attempted to outline the design—in Waiwai manner—of an oblique anthropology, which moves through digression and turns the detour in a pertinent recourse. These assumptions are connected through varied meanders with proposals arising from metaphorology (Blumenberg), reflections about the work on translation (Benjamin) and specific forms of appropriation of impropriety (where Agamben sees turning one of the meanings of Er-eignis).

The dissolution of representation in the Waiwai translation rituals also motivates a critical approach to the semiotic paradigm, whose revision encounters a supporting feature in the concept of ‘circulation’ that appears in the other Saussure (Fehr 1997, Maniglier 2006). Through their caricatures, exaggerations and excesses, the Waiwai rituals display that seeing the other is a matter of seeing with an oblique and lateral gaze, in the sense that rendering something/someone cannot be brought or made present directly, but whose surviving can be transmitted as a life through translation. As a supplement, the translation rituals point to the correlation between seeing and being seen as yet another attempt to deviate from an immediate relation, in this case from a frontal and supposedly unambiguous gaze. Waiwai seeing (especially seeing supernatural beings) is an action as well as a passion, something dangerous and full of risks, whereby the agent also becomes exposed to the effects of seeing.