The interpretation of lives or life as interpretation: Cohabiting with spirits in the Malagasy world

by Michael Lambek

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By Michael LambekFull Article:

What happens when we shift from the interpretation of cultures to the interpretation of lives and from interpreting action to understanding action as itself a form of interpretation? I describe interpretations by three Malagasy-speaking spirit mediums of the life of a single powerful ancestral figure who cohabits with each of them and how their respective interpretations constitute, in effect, their lives. What we read over their shoulders is not (only) the common symbol or text but their distinctive interpretations, people making sense of their lives in the course of living them—and, hence, that culturally mediated human action is itself a form of interpretation.