The ontological antinomy: Food, surfaces, and transcendence in the village of Awim, Papua New Guinea

Tomi Bartole


In anthropology, antinomy has generally been conceived negatively, metaphorically, and within the limits of epistemology alone. In presenting the ontology of the Sepik people of Awim, which is drawn from their conceptions of and practices related to food, I engage with Martin Holbraad’s Cuban-based ontological project, due to similarities in its ethnography, but also due to its differences in the approach to antinomy. I show that antinomy is not necessarily an obstacle to the discipline’s progress, but rather offers the possibility of its advancement. By taking antinomy seriously, that is, ontologically, it is shown that a prefigured possibility for such advancement resides dormant within Holbraad’s work itself. In ethnographically giving shape to ontological antinomy, I propose the concepts of surface and resurfacing to rethink the difference between immanence and transcendence as well as the form and site of ontological transformation.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/711879