Essay / 18 May 2020


Part 2

Close-Up: Inheritance


Given the current unfurling of the Covid-19 virus, a virus pulled out of its habit and habitats by routes and worlds that hold and enhance extractive capitalism, I have selected two short excerpts from what I am tentatively titling The Inheritance (Duke, 2021) The Inheritance juxtaposes hand-drawn and montaged images with personal reflections in order to investigate the social infrastructures that differentially define our individual and collective pasts and futures. It begins in the American South during the 1960s and 1970s, a period of renewed struggle against white supremacy, following “Elizabeth” and her siblings who struggle to make sense of their fraught relationship to their ancestral Alpine village, Carisolo/Karezol. It then moves across the stories her grandparents told about why they fled their village, nestled in the violent frontier between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italian Risorgimento at the turn of the century, only to return to the conditions of her inheritance not seen from this violent, dislocated past, but from the violent ongoing present of racial settler colonialism. Rather than discounting the physical and psychic harms of her inheritance, “Elizabeth” situates them within the material networks that differentiate the wreckages of settler histories — the built infrastructures of mobility and possibility that certain kinds of persons are moved along and while impeding others.

The first set of pages is a selection from Act II, in which I recount my paternal grandmother’s story. The second set is a selection from Act III, in which the narrative returns to Louisiana of the 1960s and 1970s. In combination, I hope that these pages provide a glimpse of the book’s premise — namely, that even when tragedy strikes those at the apexes and depressions of power, what is shared is all too likely to be quickly redivided once those in power discover they don’t have more of the best of whatever is available.

To view images in full size, please click on them.


Elizabeth A. Povinelli

Elizabeth A. Povinelli is an anthropologist and filmmaker. She is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, New York; Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy for the Humanities; and one of the founding members of the Karrabing Film Collective. Povinelli’s writing has focused on developing a critical theory of late liberalism that would support an anthropology of the otherwise. This potential theory has unfolded primarily from within a sustained relationship with Indigenous colleagues in North Australia and across five books, numerous essays, and six films with the Karrabing Film Collective. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism was the 2017 recipient of the Lionel Trilling Book Award. Karrabing films were awarded the 2015 Visible Award and the 2015 Cinema Nova Award Best Short Fiction Film, Melbourne International Film Festival and have shown internationally including in the Berlinale,The Biennale of Sydney; Melbourne International Film Festival, the Tate Modern, documenta-14, the Contour Biennale; MoMA PS1 and numerous others.