Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.
Question: Do people need ritual
Dovey: Absolutely, yeah. And it’s . . . It’s fundamental to who we are. It’s one of the things that sets us apart as a species – you know our ability to, you know, have a symbolic life. And it’s a major source of meaning and purpose, I think, for all human . . . human beings. And if you look, you know, what anthropology can give us is a sort of . . . both a universal perspective; and it’s always ___________ the sort of father of American anthropology always emphasized what he called the “psychic unity” of mankind. So it’s the sort of, you know, acknowledgment and, you know, reassurance that we are all human; and that we are all the same; which unfortunately at certain times in human history, you know that hasn’t always been taken for granted. But it also gives us the kind of specificity of life in this incredible diversity and variety of the ways that humans think; or about finding meaning and purpose in their lives sort of on the ground. And there’s a tension, I think, between that. I’m not sure how you ever really resolve that tension. Because the moment you start to universalize, you start to generalize. And it doesn’t really do justice to us as a species and the diversity on the ground. But the moment you start to hone in too closely on any particular ritual, you risk sort of exoticizing that behavior and not having it be a standard for kind of general human need. Recorded on: 12/6/07