This essay is one of more than a dozen in this volume to honor the late Mary Margaret Steedly. The paper’s theme is “telltale.” Telltale speaks to the acute attention and thinking that Steedly brought to her work, to the subtlety, nuance, power, and persuasiveness of her writing, and to the way Indonesianists and other scholars may recall and draw on her insights and contributions for years to come. “Telltale” evokes Steedly’s method and the pleasure of surprise and sense of adventure that she found in her fieldwork and ethnography. Steedly had a keen alertness to the telltale in the sense of an outward sign, an indication of something, however slight, that marks a difference, discloses a possibility, intimates a shift in direction. Occasionally, something telltale clamors for attention. More often, it is small, even modest in its singularity, a telling detail that stands out from its surroundings, gives pause, catches the eye, makes one listen more closely or look again. Telltale assumes myriad forms—a word, a gesture, a tone, a silence, a change of posture, something scuttling at the edge of the visual field. Telltale is not just noticeable but suggestive, since it betrays the presence of something else—another way of telling, someone else speaking, or a fugitive site of ephemerality … exactly the sorts of things that characterize Steedly’s writings and ruminations.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 37-44
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
reading order; unlocked