Afterlives of Affect

Science, Religion, and an Edgewalker’s Spirit

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: August 2020

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Affect Theory

In Afterlives of Affect Matthew C. Watson considers the life and work of artist and Mayanist scholar Linda Schele (1942–98) as a point of departure for what he calls an excitable anthropology. As part of a small collective of scholars who devised the first compelling arguments that Maya hieroglyphs were a fully grammatical writing system, Schele popularized the decipherment of hieroglyphs by developing narratives of Maya politics and religion in popular books and public workshops. In this experimental, person-centered ethnography, Watson shows how Schele’s sense of joyous discovery and affective engagement with research led her to traverse and disrupt borders between religion, science, art, life, death, and history. While acknowledging critiques of Schele’s work and the idea of discovery more generally, Watson contends that affect and wonder should lie at the heart of any reflexive anthropology. With this singular examination of Schele and the community she built around herself and her work, Watson furthers debates on more-than-human worlds, spiritualism, modernity, science studies, affect theory, and the social conditions of knowledge production.


Afterlives of Affect is a remarkable and highly original work that pushes the boundaries of scholarly writing in creative and challenging ways. It speaks to science studies, the history of anthropology and anthropological theorizations of meaning, new materialist scholarship, the posthumanities, and the renewed interest in experimental anthropological writing. A work of outstanding importance, this book is an eminently accessible and hugely enjoyable read.” — Stuart J. McLean, author of Fictionalizing Anthropology: Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human

“In this riveting and meticulously researched hybrid work of scholarship and shamanism, Matthew C. Watson raises the dead and conjures the spirits who animated a world upon whose edge I was raised, but never really knew or understood. With mind-bending intelligence, exuberance, and heart, Afterlives of Affect brings back to life the ancient power of Palenque and the passionate intellectual energy of the scholars and amateurs who fell under its spell. I have never read, or even imagined, anything quite like it.” — Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Matthew C. Watson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Edgewalking Affect  1
1. Sacrilege  24
2. Animals  43
3. Cosmos  63
4. Bones  96
5. Genius  115
6. Love  145
Notes  175
Bibliography  223
Index  253
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0843-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0797-5