Monthly Archives: January 2007

Guevara Convention Sound Out

Dave Watts from Fun^Da^Mental had a great idea a few months ago that is now seriously taking shape. It links up with stuff I am into re Che, but takes it to another level, as they say. Dave has a blogspot site now at Earconditioning – which you will agree is another in a long line of great FDM semantic reworkings (remember the phrase ‘Global Sweatbox’?). Dave writes:

“…The past week also brought communication with John Hutnyk.He´s a professor at Goldsmith´s University, and participated in one of the talks at the Clandestino Festival in Gothenborg where Aki (yes, the notorious terrorist-apologist Aki Nawaz) and I dropped a Fun´da´Mental DJ set a few years ago. John has twice invited me to talk with his students about the politics and presentation of Fun-da-mental videos. Coming back to last week, John and I were discussing this idea of a compilation that has been sitting in my brain for the last couple years. This year is the 40th anniversary of the death of Ernesto ´Che´ Guevara, and I wanted to compile an album of contemporary artists who have felt touched by revolutionary spirit, thought, actions, etc. The idea is not for all the music to focus on ´Che´ himself, but for expression of whatever the contributing artists feel regarding being subject to living on their knees for the sake of ´The Man´or ´System´. John has came up with a phrase which I immediately responded, “That should be the title!” So, we are going with “The Guevara Convention”.

Emails have been sent out to collegues, friends, associates etc. and so far the response has been good…we have Dj/Rupture, Filestine, Coldcut, Fermin Murguza, Fun-da-mental, Las Ratas, DJ Klandestino, Dr. Das, Shaheen (former Prophets of da City producer and vocalist) and IR, saying ´yeah´ musically. Cecilia Parsberg http://this.is/parsberg/ put me in touch with a woman from Uruguay who was 14 years old when Che was killed. She became active in the Marxist Tupac Amaru group in Uruguay. She has said she´ll provide some words for the text, really looking forward to reading what she has to say.

fyi: The following link is for the animation that Cecilia and co-conspiritors put together about the Israeli occupation and for which they asked me to provide a soundtrack.http://this.is/TheWall/

Javi Jiminez, a teacher and music writer here in Tenerife has also come on board, so we are moving. All we need now, are a few more artists and a label, distributor. The potential for this is huge. Oh, I must say, inspiration for this album also came about through an album that Fun-da-Mental soundman Bernard Maiquez lent me several years ago, El Che Vive!, (Last Call Records) which was released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of ´Che´´s death. I ended my first DJ stint in Tenerife (an AntiWar night at the original Cafeoteca de Arte in Puerto de la Cruz/2003) with the classic ´Hasta Siempre´ by Carlos Puebla y sus Tradicionales, from the aforementioned album, and the place erupted….everybody sang along! My girlfiend´s mum knows the song, kids know the song….so a chord was struck! If you got something for this project, please bring it. More as it happens….”

So I would say without doubt this is the best form the Guevara Convention could take. As discussed here, there is a lot at stake in these days to the terror-spectacle. Hope it comes together – look out for it in September.

Marcuse

LENIN’S TOMB has posted a Danish documentary about Marcuse, his support for the radical movements of the 1960s, and his clash with Governor Ronald Reagan. It includes commentary by people like his student Angela Davison (on his involvement helping kick down doors in occupations of the university senate at UCSD etc) , and he himself talks about branding, planned obsolescence and ‘vulgar psychological misinterpretations of the student movement’. Fred Jameson is also in it, and there is an amusing section of attempts by conservatives to buy out Marcuse’s job contract. Its an hour long – but worth a Look. Ahh, he paid anonymously for the door he smashed. Strange. But the bit with the Marine Recruiter is funny – and very topical still – and the guff about ‘poisoning young minds’. Very dangerous. Ha Ha Ha. See also here.

The Guevara Convention

The old code of conduct for the horror that is war is not much mentioned in these days of the terror-spectacle, but the spirit of the Geneva Convention, whatever its shortcomings (ie., that wars of greed go on at all), is what Bush flouts every day in Bhagram and Guantanamo – and which is transgressed each day in every US prison, (i.e against Mumia, and where all those prisoners of other ‘social wars’ languish); in UK prisons and police stations (see the film “Injustice“); under the ISA in Malaysia; and with Afzal Guru in India (the protest outside the Indian Consulate in London against hanging, and which was held on Republic Day of India – almost in snow! – was joined by some Khalistani brothers who brought hot very sweet tea – see my post on Guru here)…

Anyway, the full title of the convention is the “Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War”,

What I want to draw attention to is a quite different initiative: a “Guevara Convention”. This is not just to acknowledge the 40th death anniversary of a great revolutionary leader, and it is also noting that Guerilla Warfare must proceed differently today. But a Guevara Convention would certainly be relevant to the treatment of the prisoners of the War of Terror – beside the ‘enemy combatants’ in direct incarceration, Bush and Blair are making prisoners of us all, wherever we are – border controls, surveillance, terror threat codes, detentions without trial, bio-metrics etc – Our response must be to organise the people…

The text of the Geneva Convention is here:
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/91.htm

Clause three – the one that mentions detention and says such persons “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria” also talks about the following, which are ALL clearly being contravened as we speak…

“(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples”

I can’t even begin to think about this without wanting to tell EVERYONE to march on Geneva carrying pictures of the man with the cigar.

Red Cigar!
(And of course to Dave Watts, who provoked this – and comments below)

Megacity topic: Street.

Megacity topic: Street.

I’ve just come back from the TCS workshop on Megacity – a volume of the TCS-NEP New Encyclopaedia Project… Megacity is a term for those urban conglomerations that – ill defined as yet – have about 10 millions or more population, expand beyond the confines of the modernist city (whatever that means) and are something more, or different, from the ‘global city’ of a certain urban sociology…. I was asked to present on the idea of the street, and I wondered how a certain kind of urban anthropology might reconfigure what as yet seems a pretty inchoate conceptualisation of Mega… but I was happy to have a go. Here are some of my first, somewhat pedestrian, ground zero perspectives on the city as it transmutes from modernist to megalopolis… This is a proposed encyclo entry that will either canvass the street as a single article, or suggest a cluster with several authors (as is the format of the NEP).

It might be good to start by trying to reverse the perspective that framed the discussions of the first part of the day. These had been about how to conceptualise the megacity, how to map it, diagram it, how to represent that which ‘cannot be represented’ (Andrew Benjamin with a new context for the words of Marx from the 18th Brumaire). I do not disagree with attempts at abstract comprehension, but I wonder – given the task of ‘problematizing the urban’ what it might be to start – so to speak – at the other end. So I began with a phrase, with the idea of ‘the word on the street’.

The assumption to break with here, to challenge, is the idea that at ground level there is chaos and disorder. That an intrinsic disarray was articulated as the condition of the rampant growth of the city into megacity seems to me to have missed something important about urban space. There is order, and it can be examined – though this takes time. For me to hold onto an image that evokes this, I have this terrible trinket of a lighter-representation of the twin towers with aeroplane which reminds me, all too graphically (see pic) of one among the many striking scenes of that precipitous urban event of 2001: people on the street staring up at the towers in shock and awe as the planes crashed into the world trade centre on September 11, 2001.

Quotidian street protocol does not often include such moments – people look up at advertising hoardings, or the increasingly prevalent public screens of the city, but generally they mind their own business and carry on. Head down, sidewalk traffic, hustle and bustle, going somewhere. It was much more besides, but September 11 in New York was a neck strain, televised to all.

So I started to read the classic city texts – Whyte Street Corner Society, Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and newer ones like Duneier’s Sidewalk, and Berman’s On the Street, – which are each great – deeply worked, reliant on long fieldwork. And all that makes me wonder if we need to rethink the focus on the street in the megacity so as to be careful not to jump far too quickly to suggest uniformity, replication or a typology. The mass observation scenario of looking up on high as the image of the city transforms before our eyes is perhaps a reminder that life in the megacity cannot be grasped all at once or forever, that the city has many different and changing facades (sometimes brutal-tragic and sudden) and that the teeming cultural plethora of the city, for good or bad, is peopled by crowds of multiple provenance who come together on the sidewalk sometimes, but are otherwise also variously divided. The street is as complicated and complex here as it is, differently, just around the corner, or a few moments later in time. Would we need a reminder then that whether the aim is to plan, to theorize, to segment into creative or economic quarters, or to otherwise conjure the city, there will always be more, and more than a supplement or remainder, rather a glorious excess; a bleeding beyond the prescriptions of definition.

How would the protocols of urban anthropology look if we were to rethink them through the idea of the megacity? I wonder if we can ever think the street in a way that goes past those earlier renderings, updates them, or at least learns from their specificity. There have been many versions of urban anthropology that seek out the word on the street. The street is thought, a path of thinking; the street-map the synapses and dendrites of the mind (Simmel), an intersection a thought; if the road is a sentence (Derrida), the city is a text to interpret (Lefebvre); if the square or the crossroad is a node amongst flows (D&G), and traffic networks; labyrinthine plans and perspectives and views; transformed mapping with new technologies (Kittler), google earth and sat-nav replace the a-z, the imaginary city tracked through poster, project and propaganda, networked (AbdouMaliq Simone), the aspirational city of planning and commerce (Holsten) photogenic street-scenes to draw and attract; the vibrant, viral and virtual city which makes an image site of the street, overexposed (Virilio), heterotopia, hetero-dysfunctional.

If the street of the megacity is as likely to be a major thoroughfare such as Broadway Manhattan as it is to be a tiny, winding, obscure lane in Salt Lake City (Bidhanagar) the ever growing ‘edge’ of Kolkata. The point is that in such cities, people live. Questions of how they live (demography, quality, strategies), if its possible to live (adequate shelter, sustenance, services) and if its possible to live better (policy, organization), remain.

It may be that megacities are only coherent at a distance, as organisms that can hardly even be diagrammed. Sprawl/scrawl. When moving along the streets, when speeding along the city’s arteries, what we feel is the rush, and yet when on the street we can’t see the street we’re on (for all the street vendors, drug dealers, shop fronts, commuters, sweepers etc) but when we can see the whole of the street, we’re not really on it). The map is not the territory, the name is not the person.

Derive.

Walking down Broadway with Marx’s Capital in hand, reading the signs, or down Nimtollah Lane with a dictionary (my Bangla is poor), I am faced with the multiple character of the megacity when the sheer abundance of ways the life of the street connects not so much to other streets on an A-Z map of the nation, but rather direct to the global ecumenium. The megacity has streets peopled by citizens of the world. They might be going somewhere or staying put, even stuck; they might be movers and shakers or ‘illegal’ and on the run. The city though is global when the street hosts the peoples of the world. This heterotopia is to be mapped otherwise than in a national history – rather start with the idle flim-flaneury of Benjamin in Paris, the derive of the situationists, or Ian Sinclair’s London wandering. (see Robert Bond 2006 ‘Speculating Histories: Walter Benjamin Ian Sinclair’ Historical Materialism 14(2):3-28). This is not old fashioned, though some may be walking with eyes locked on personal or public screens, saturated space of advertising, walking with one’s eyes on an electronic horizon.
I have walked, and plan again to walk, the length of Broadway ‘as research’. The Walking Day. From fetish object to so-called original accumulation.

A vast apparatus.

I have to take account of changing neighbourhoods and the abundant sociality of the street, the community and the suburb. The street is the place of sociality, and so of people Sidewalk by Duneier, Everyday Life de Certeau, or Lefebvre, but also exclusions, the banlieues, the barrio, the reserve army/dormitory suburbs, the commuters, from cleaners to office staff, to transport workers. I think of street culture and creativity, and the culture industry entrepreneurs and corporate opportunists that jump on it for packaging. Parafunctional spaces (an essay by Nikos Papastergiadis and Scott McQuire I have to dig out, given at an ArtSpace conference in Sydney), decay and renewal, from warehouse to gallery-zone…

The people of the street are quintessentially the crowd, the masses of festivals, street party (lights out in New York), café’s (Ash Amin), conviviality, the rows of shops, the enticements to buy, the seductions of commodification that grab us and make as part of the all consuming apparatus. The street market, with its connections and flows – commerce to the illicit trades, drugs, street people, organized crime.

Infrastructure of the street. Power supplies – underground cables, roadworks, traffic disruptions; a massive network of material labour still produces the street.Lighting – streets as avenues of neon (Scott McQuire), CCTV (Jeff Heydon). Security guards, doormen (Jane Jacobs). Taxis (Virinder Kalra, Biju Mathew). In Cairo I am greeted by a taxi driver who says without taking a breath: “in my taxi I will take you anywhere you want to go to my brother’s emporium”. Cars. Delivery vehicles. Trucks and buses. The street also as the site of accidents, car crashes, stalled or too fast, traffic.We watch them from bars, cafes, as we munch street food (Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay). Amusement arcades while away the boring hours.

Pollution – rubbish – detritus held up to the gloaming by Siegfried Kracauer. Pollution – sewerage, drains, the gutter – garbage disposal – Boy George, rag-pickers (Kracauer was not the least of these, whatever Benjamin says). Who makes and maintains the street? Monsieur Hulot has been mechanized, the steamroller more rapidly paves what took aeons before, a team of pavers pave the footpaths and painters paint the signage in rapid time.

This makes me think of Marx’s lists – describing the lumpen in the 18th Brumaire – the discussion I visited in Zizek’s slum (HERE), and echoing Derrida’s list iterations on the voyous that I plan to elaborate, having started HERE). Derrida does not quote Marx’s great text in Rogues, but I think its clear he has it in his head as he writes:

‘Voyoucracy is a corrupt and corrupting power of the street, an illegal and outlaw power that brings together into a voyoucraticregime, and thus into an organised and more or less clandestine form, into a virtual state, all those who represent a principle of disorder … a threat against public order … This milieu, this environment, this world unto itself, gathers into a network all the people of the crime world or underworld, all the singular voyous. All individuals of questionable morals and dubious character whom decent, law-abiding people would like to combat and exclude under a series of more or less synonymous names: big man, bad boy, player … rascal … good-for-nothing, ruffian, villain, crook, thug, gangster, shyster … scoundrel, miscreant, hoodlum, hooligan … one would also say today banger [loulou], gangbanger [loubard], sometimes even outside the inner city, in the suburbs, the suburban punk [loubard des banlieues]’ (Derrida 2005:66).

‘The word voyou has an essential relation with the voie, the way, with the urban roadways [voire], the roadways of the city or the polis, and thus with the street [rue], the waywardness [dévoiement] of the voyou consisting in making ill use of the street, in corrupting the street or loitering in the streets, in “roaming the streets”, as we say in a strangely transitive formulation. This transitivity is in fact never far away from the one that leads to “walking the streets”… Today the voyou sometimes roams the roadways [voies] and highways [voiries] in a car [voiture], that is, when he or she is not stealing it or setting it on fire’ [stealing or setting it on fire!– those rogues, note they are soon to be linked to greater rogues, in a strangely transitive formula -JH] … Voyous might also, on an international scale, and this gets us right into the problematic of rogue states, be involved in drug trafficking, in parasiting, or actually subverting, as terrorists in training, the pathways [voies] of normal communication, whether of airplanes, the telephone, email or the Web’ (Derrida 2005:65).

I just want to remark on these listings. The transitive next next next that escalates. It moves from the small metaphor to the hyperbolic of global connectivity. Even way back in his 1967 book Of Grammatology was a call for a meditation on the road and writing: ‘one should meditate upon all of the following together: writing as the possibility of the road and of difference, the history of writing and the history of the road, of the rupture, of the via rupta, of the path that is broken, beaten, fracta, of the space of reversibility and of repetition’ (Derrida 1967/1974:107).

And then – having to show that this is not just JD mouthing off – on to Marx, writing of how Boneparte gathered together in the society of 10 December, the riff raff of Paris:

On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither (page 63 18th Brumaire)

So, my version of the street will include an expanding list, not all deviants or miscreants: but those who play the rackets, the numbers, the dealers, the look-outs, with scams, pyramid schemes, passport and visa forgers, job search entrepreneurs, denizens of the doorstep, visitors to the soup kitchens, survival strategies of the many, street-peddlers, organ-grinders (!), Iskon krisna consciousness devotees offering free vegetarian recipe booklets, muggers, petty thugs, street-smarts, wise-guys, the cleaner, the fixer, marabout (Simone 2004:41), criminal slumlords, drunks, musicians, money-changers, carum players and pan-handlers, Reclaim the night, dykes on bikes, the strip, at sunset, and after hours, sex workers, meter maids, hawkers, buskers, vendors of sweets and treats.

Vertical

Lists, though, are Flat – and the City is High. Rossolini was apparently asked if he would make a film of New York, and replied that he would not do so as long as screens were not also vertical.

Maybe at this register the street must always be the horizontal plane if we are to see people there – if we go up the lifts of the towers, even those in the Eiffel tower, we see the city as plan, as flattened space. But this view from the gods erases diversity and community in favour of a privileged and sanitized position. On the horizontal plane, the issues are about sanitary drainage and the cacophony of the crowd.

The class and racial hierarchies of the megacity are visible at street level as much, if not more, than in the high-rise and boardroom. An equally important but less uniform global heterotopia assembles at street level – in what Koolhaus called a culture of congestion – the urban jungle is worryingly described as a ‘potent yet troubling term’ (Cairns 2000:125 – ‘jungles’ 125-7 in Thrift, Nigel and Steve Pile City A-Z New York: Routledge) but there are reasons to both valourize and worry over this scene.

The ethnicity of the street scape is apparent, but cannot be adequately discussed without reference to shifting articulations of racial hierarchy, national chauvinism, communal politics and geo-imperial consequences such as the war on terror or economic restructuring. Los Angeles as city of migration is differently diasporic than the migrations that have swollen Mumbai or Shanghai

Immigrants – the megacity is always one of movement and babel

Street Pirates – the island in New Cross.

Later I want to write of street politics, the police and control. Of reading the word on the street on the side of the Buses. And of house-to-house street fighting, the Arcades and Benjamin on the street and war. Also, of course, the sci fi streetscape: those imaginary simplistic multiculturalisms at the bottom end of Bladerunner and Fifth Element that deserve a much more critical (all too exotic) argument…

The Hanging Channel

On friday we have a protest meeting about the Afzal Guru lynching planned in India. Many are disturbed by the trial in which a Kashmiri man, picked up after an attack by some ‘miscreants’ on parliament, was allegedly tortured into confession, which was then telecast, and the courts decided Guru was to be hung.

Afzal Guru was not actually a part of the Dec 13, 2001 attack on the Parliament in Delhi by five men – who were all killed in the action – but he was picked up with three others the next day under the ‘Prevention of Terrorism’ act.

A stay on execution was gained by campaign groups when the hanging had been scheduled for October 30th 2006, but the television station NDTV screened the confession, and questioned whether it was extracted under torture (as the court itself had been forced to admit). The bizarre thing is that the television station then held a text message vote on whether he should be hung. Did that really happen – a television SMS text-in vote to promote a hanging? Alongside the Shilpa Shetty – Jade Goody et al racism row on Celebrity Big Brother here in London (with international diplomatic impact and commentary by Prime Ministers and more), we can only conclude that today, increasingly, television is terror-vision, as entertainment and as news. Both are worse, as Lenin would say. The televised hanging of Saddam of course also comes to mind, such that I now think a Hanging Channel on satellite cannot be that far away. Especially as it is also reported today that Britain’s prisons are ‘full’. I can imagine Rupert Murdoch will happily fund such a channel for SKY, with OJ Simpson as guest compere perhaps.

I’ve written on the displacement that the racism row on Big Brother achieves elsewhere (Jade was racist, but bombing Afghanistan and Iraq and sending still more troops is more … here) and I’ve written on Saddam’s Swing (here), but I am afraid that writing, and even filming – remember Injustice – seems somehow inadequate in these terror-vision days. Last night I went to a benefit screening of the Peter O’Toole vehicle “Venus” organised by English Pen for the Writers in Prison programme. O’Toole being nominated for an Oscar the day before, seems like something. But writing against death, torture, detention, war… all I can do I guess is turn up and, like PEN, however meagre my rants in comparison to their campaigning, to keep on saying such stuff to whoever few may listen, if they have open ears, to whisper, to suggest, to promote the rumour of another potential…

Scenario:
Writing as a way to open ears,
a pen as a spike to the brain…

The details for the friday protest and case background are:

“TORTURE, LIES AND A FABRICATED CONFESSION:
NO DEATH PENALTY FOR AFZAL GURU!

PICKET OF THE INDIAN HIGH COMMISSION,
Friday, 26 January 1.30pm-4.30pm
India House, The Aldwych, London WC2
(nearest tube: Holborn)

On December 13, 2001 the Indian parliament was attacked by five men. They were killed by the security forces but even today their identity remains a mystery. Three other men, who according to the police masterminded the attack, have also not been found.

However, on 14 and 15 December, 2001 the investigating agencies together with the Special Cell of the Delhi Police picked up four persons, all Kashmiris, and charged them with the offence of conspiring to attack the parliament under India’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

After a nationwide campaign for a fair trial, two of them, Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani and Navjot Sandhu who was jailed along with her newborn baby, have been acquitted of all charges, a third, the husband of Navjot Sandhu, has had his death sentence converted to ten years in prison. But the fourth Afzal Guru was due to be hanged on October 20, 2006. A stay on his execution has been obtained by the Save Afzal Campaign through a Mercy Petition, and he is now being held in Tihar jail inDelhi. But he is still facing a death sentence.

Who is Afzal Guru?

AfzalGuru was involved with the JKLF for only three months in 1990 when large numbers of Kashmiri youth were attracted to the movement. During these three months he neither received any training nor took part in any activities. For details see his wife Tabassum’s letter:http://justiceforafzalguru.org/background/tabassum.html

After he surrendered he was constantly picked up by security forces, asked to spy on people and also routinely tortured. He eventually decided to move toDelhihoping to be left alone but even here the notorious Special Task Force caught up with him and continued to harass him.

Afzal’strial

His trial was a mockery of justice since he was denied an opportunity to defend himself – he did not even have a lawyer.Afzal was not involved in the actual attack on the Indian parliament and he did not kill or injure anybody and the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that there was no direct evidence against him, only circumstantial. However the court has sentenced him to death because in their words the“the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender… The appellant, who is a surrendered militant …is a menace to society and should become extinct.”

Abu Ghraib style torture and media collusion

In the Special Cell of the Delhi police Afzal was kept naked for two days and beaten mercilessly – once by a man who later appeared as a prosecution witness; police officers urinated in his mouth saying ‘This is the way you can break your Roza(fast)’. After he was tortured he was handcuffed and made to sit on a chair and forced to ‘confess’ at a media conference. But television broadcasts did not show the handcuffs and did not show the men who tortured and humiliated him. On the 15 and 16 of December 2006, New Delhi Television (NDTV) re-ran the ‘confession’ several times although they had been informed that by now that the Supreme Court of India had rejected it and the High Court had reprimanded the police for it. The programme was accompanied by remarks such as‘See how natural, how truthful, how fluent his statement appears’ and ‘Who can believe that such a statement can be given under torture’. They then invited viewers to act as a virtual lynch mob by soliciting SMS messages from them asking whether Afzal should be hanged in light of the tape telecast by them.

Right-wing Hindu chauvinist forces of the Sangh Parivar have continually harassed members of Afzal’s campaign while calling for Afzal to be hanged.

Afzal Gurufaces a death penalty although:

  • There is no direct evidence against him and he is known not to have injured or harmed anyone
  • The Courts have found that the investigating agencies deliberately fabricated evidence and forged documents against him and others accused.

Currently Afzal is waiting for the results of a Mercy Petition but the decision of the courts is extremely uncertain. Even after enormous efforts by his campaign he is being denied basic rights in prison – he is not allowed to go out of doors for even half an hour of sunlight and the Red Cross who have access to Kashmiri prisoners have not been allowed to visit him.

SAVE AFZAL GURU!

See you there.

War Mongering Minds – Hearts & Wallets.

Ben moved his site yet again, so catch up on his latest here.

He has posted on war and research most recently. University warmongering is rife wherever anyone cares to look. I’ve commented before on such University-Military Complex links – here – in an incident that might entertain as much as it appals. Buckets of money for terror research. Glory glory. Bastards. The program was pulled after criticisms, but I did hear the other day that its resurfaced in more benign looking forms – details when someone digs out the documents. Meanwhile…

There were a couple of good books on Camelot and other war-research by anthros recently. Check out David Price’s War and Anthro page here. His ‘weaponizing Anthropology’ is a pretty sweet title, but sometimes he advocates an ‘undamaged’ scholarship, and frankly I wonder if that old trick could ever have worked.

Ben Writes:

Given the ever-developing forms of subsumption of universities into capital, militarization cannot really be discussed separate from processes of commodification and commercialization in institutions of education and research. Nor can such militarization be understood divorced from the newer forms of integration of military, policing and intelligence activities, as part of ambitious projects of expansion and reorientation of systems of surveillance and control manifest in the War on Terror and the ‘revolution in military affairs’. The goal centres on massive and high tech expansion of intelligence and surveillance integrated with equally high-tech reorganization of communications, intended to make possible new practices of warfare and social control – reconstituting if not collapsing any distinction between them. Such, at least, is the more-or-less declared intent to which enormous energies and capital are being devoted.

The relation of Australian universities to this set of interrelated projects is not widely understood, and it is this which I intend to document. Theory of the offensive.

Celebrities and heroes

Homesickness is hard to sustain when things seem to lurch still further towards cultural doom. This little photogenic scenario did it for me this morning: – a post by Ange from Melbourne where the state watches a little too closely. Howard’s cops having released 28 photographs of people they want to talk to in connection with a recent protest. It makes me feel even more happy that you can see these pics on The Age news site in what looks like a flickr type slideshow format.

“January 18, 2007: In the wake of the protests against the G20 in Melbourne, and as numerous arrests continue to take place, police tonight released a series of photos, each one euphemistically labeled “person of interest.” Police are indeed perfecting their methods of surveillance and control …” [archive S0metim3s]

That bit of surveillance no doubt has more value as a curious juxtaposition with the scenario everyone is watching too closely in London – the Celebitchy Big Brother race & bullying scam. BB/C4 offer us a screen onto which to project the vicious underside of the war on terror. Amply exposed on Lenin’s tomb, from where I nicked the image, but reminding me of things said about other similar distractions from the main game. Despite my previous fascination with BB, this rich Celeb version makes me ‘homesick’ for the unadorned nastiness of the cop-photo-shoppery above. Below I include some choice excerpts from what is an (almost twice as long) excellent post from L-T:

“The whole point of Endemol’s shit-fest on Channel 4 is to force together personalities so incompatible that normal human comity would be impossible, never mind solidarity under the stress of sensory deprivation and constant surveillance. … I suppose we had better be grateful that the recipient of the abuse was not a Muslim. If she was, we’d be hearing from many quarters that Muslims are far too sensitive about legitimate criticism. “Ah, complaing about being called a ‘dog’, is she? What do these Muslims have against canines, I wonder?” Had those who burned the effigy in India been Muslim, we would no doubt be hearing about the sinister Islamic threat to free speech. Not that it matters what religion she adheres to inside the ‘house’, eh? Shilpa Shetty is variously a “dog”, a “Paki” (this bit C4 denies, saying the word was “cunt”), someone who – being from India – must be unhygeinic and eat with her hands, thus giving other housemates “the shits”, someone who both needs to “go back to the slums” and also visit them for the first time and be “real”, someone who is “trying to be white”, and someone who should “fuck off home”. … The reactions have been, er, interesting: Channel 4 greasily asserting that there has been no overt racism, titter titter (as if we didn’t know that they had assessed their candidates down to the last tic, and fully expected outbursts of racism); New Labour politicians covering their already hideously mired flanks by uttering obsequies about tolerance; David Cameron saying that anyone “who doesn’t like this racism, there’s a great regulator, its called the ‘off’ button.” The latter is a curious response, surely designed to tickle the fancy of racist Tories and those obsessed with whatever is called ‘the nanny state’ this week.” [L-T]

1 Comments:

John Hutnyk said…
Feeling a bit Jaded now? It is disappointing me a lot that all over the commentary on the Shilpa Shetty – Jade Goody Big Brother scam people are debating whether its racist or not, class or not, bullying or not [yes, all of the above, of course], but no-one seems keen to see this as a much bigger and more revealing displacement of the unspoken debate and politics we know is right there in front of us but the press and the piggy-pollies refuse to have, or are unable to have. That is the peculiar spin-cycle that makes up the contemporary system-wide racism of the global order. It amazes me that the Prime Minister has to face discussion of BB at question time in parliament, but carries on bombing, killing, destroying Afghanistan, and Iraq, regardless. And with little time for questions of anything that matters, it all gets displaced into television (and The Trial of TB was another example of the same). Even the much beloved Russell Brand suddenly feels the need to preface his comedy routines with seriousness, but does not make the displacement equation. Is it only my dysfunctional take on things that makes me see this as the ‘dream-work’ of the war on terror? For me this is the consequences of foreign policy as clear as day, but we cannot debate that. The double take is cod-outrage, and the February 15 2003 mobilisation against the war remains unanswered. Ahhh, damn it, f only there were opportunities for Davina McCall to interview Blair after he was voted out of the house…

12:04 AM

Doc Smith

Doc Smith. Congratulations.

Joins a motley crew – Saul, Howard, Nicola and Ji-Yeon. KUDOS-tastic.

Rodney Needham


Rodney Needham was Professor of Anthro at Oxford and died on December 4th, aged 83. He was the person who first invited me to pommie land, claiming Oxford was the place for me. Turned out that part was not true, but I did like much of his work. The obituary in the Guardian explains that when Levi-Strauss repudiated some obscure point about kinship that Needham had defended, the portrait of the great structuralist that hung in Needham’s office was turned to face the wall. I love that. May his old curmudgeon bones rest in peace.

Read his book ‘Against the Tranquillity of Axioms’.

War Crimes of Tony Blair Redux

I hate to have to say so, but I am disappointed it has become mere entertainment, and yet this was probably all that would ever have happened. – ‘So much murder death kill on my TV’ I wrote back in September, and tonight I am watching a tele-novella style sit-com called ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’. It is so badly acted, but in a way amazing that Channel 4 have got away with so much (its on E4 satellite right now, on terrestrial later in the week). The best line so far has been Blair berating the guy who was going to publish his memoirs with the line about how leftists and the chattering classes were the ones who hated him. Well, this TV show is definitely chatter TV. It’s such a shame it washes over us with minimal effect. Blair is in jail now, about to be extradited to the Hague, probably gonna get out of it through becoming a catholic or having a seizure. So I figure I should retrieve, if only for some sort of twisted version of what passes for the record, my post from last September. Now the fantasy has come true I want fiction to be even more real [and Josiah Bartlet to run for Prez again]. Here below I repost and run shrieking into the wild…

18.9.06

People’s Tribunal on the Many and Varied War Crimes Trial of Tony Blair


I was invited to a small workshop at Tate Modern last friday (with folks like Chantal Mouffe, Mike Shapiro, John Armitage, Naeem Mohaiemen and many others – the ‘overly romantic’ Bernadette Buckley was enthusiastic) to discuss the possibilities for an ‘Art’ event next year at Tate. One of their big events, well funded, they were looking for suggestions and dominant thinking was along the lines of having a conference on Art and War and maybe commissioning an artist to do a ‘piece’. My humble contribution, based on frustration and fury at so much murder death kill on my TV, was to denounce the idea of yet another coffee chat and champers soiree for the elite about artists and contemporary conceptual arabesques that are worthy but do little but pat us on the back for being alienated angry and helpless art lovers. The issue for me is what would be adequate to win the war against the terrorists and criminals that run our lives and ruin so many others (cf Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran…). So, lets instead have an event in the turbine hall that does something that at least suggests the direction in which adequacy might be found – the People’s Tribunal War Crimes Trial of Tony Blair. Gore Vidal as the prosecutor, I guess Chris Hitchens as the defence. Who to get as judge to do the thumbs up or down at the end still open? And some other logistical matters to be decided… The thing to do afterwards will of course require more than touching faith in legal process, but a successful people’s tribunal at the most successful gallery in the world could also then help legitimise the people’s march on Westminster to ….

The point was made that it does not matter if this degenerates into farce or parody of ‘the law’ or ‘the courts’ – when the law suggests there might be a non-criminal way to bomb Afghanistan/Iraq etc, then anything that gets masses of people fired up enough to do more than march past Westminster to Hyde Park is better. Thus instead to rather march into the halls of power and turf out the jokers that sit on those plush chairs (boards of directors, lords and lairds) means something that seems more like justice (not legal justice, but people’s justice) might be on the cards.

Idealistic? Overly romantic? Perhaps. But always possible, and necessary now more than ever.

Labels:

posted by John Hutnyk at 9:04 AM 18.9.06

‘television from Harlem’ and the ‘anti-Hoon laws’

Its not all that often that I get really homesick, but this item twanged a few lumpen-nostalgia chords. The article contains some choice quotes. Councillor Roz Blades in particular seems the most stupid with her ‘television from Harlem’ quip, and the very idea that there are ‘anti-hoon laws’ makes me not at all surprised that ‘flares were thrown’ and ‘police were pelted with bottles’. I do want to know how this is related to the Cronulla beach race trouble of a little over a year ago? So, is there a racial element to this? I mean beside Councillor Blades’ racist analogy? From afar it seems like normal Dandy friday night entertainment – people brought their sofas out to sit and watch the burn-outs in style. I suppose they trashed the DVD store because it did not have enough rental copies of the video of the hoon event…

This is from Melbourne’s newspaper The Age:

Burn-out crowd goes on the rampage

This Blockbuster Video store was trashed and looted by a mob of youths early on Saturday.

This Blockbuster Video store was trashed and looted by a mob of youths early on Saturday.
Photo: Justin McManus

Chantal Rumble
January 14, 2007

Six men face charges after a crowd turned on police during an illegal burn-out gathering in Melbourne’s south-east early yesterday.

More than 1000 people, including women and children, congregated at the corner of the Princes Highway and Elonera Road, Noble Park, on Friday night for a regular illegal burn-out session, but police cordoned off the intersection soon after 1am yesterday and the crowd became violent.

A DVD store was trashed and looted, and police were pelted with bottles.

A pizza shop and an electrical goods store were also damaged, two bus stops were smashed, bins were set alight and road signs destroyed. Witnesses reported seeing flares thrown.

“My reaction is complete and absolute horror,” said Roz Blades, councillor and former mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. “In 30 years in this area, I have never seen anything like it. It looks more like something you’d see on television from Harlem.”

Fifty extra police and the dog squad were called in to control the situation. Six men, aged between 18 and 32, were arrested and released but are expected to be charged with traffic and criminal offences.

Police seized five cars, some under new anti-hoon laws.

The busy corner, with a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant on one corner, has been a favourite Friday night hang-out for hoons and their fans for decades.

Cr Alan Gordon, chairman of Dandenong Council’s community roads reference group, said the site’s popularity had been growing, attracting some 2000 people last weekend, many bringing couches from which to watch the illegal burn-outs.

The trend attracted extensive talkback radio coverage last week, which witnesses said added to the hype and the push towards violence, similar to the build-up to the Cronulla riots in December 2005.

“They are just Aussie kids going out for a Friday night,” Cr Gordon said.

“It just amazes me that they are so organised: the radio, SMS, their website. They are just so well equipped. I would never have thought we’d have this sort of thing in Melbourne, but now we do. It’s a bit of a shame.”

He said the police and council had worked closely last week to prevent violence at the burn-out events, but to no avail. “A lot of the residents around here have been here for many, many years and I don’t think they are going to take things into their own hands, but I think they expect both the council and police to work together to fix the problem,” Cr Gordon said.

“Police and the council have been working together this week and look what we’ve got to show for it.” He described the police response of about 50 officers and a dog squad as inadequate. “I would have thought you would have had more police. Fifty or 70 cops, compared to over 1000 youths, isn’t enough.”

Victoria Police acting Assistant Commissioner Gavin Barry said although extra traffic units were in the area on Friday night, “we had no way of knowing that the gathering would become so hostile and threatening towards police”.

Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said officers were “hopelessly outnumbered” and called on Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon to urgently audit police resources.”

The Guantanamo Cages

Gaston Bachelard suggests fire is the metaphor of metaphor (1938/1987:111 Psychoanalysis of Fire).

I have been watching harrowing reports from Guantanamo detention camp on the late night news. They shine lights in the eyes of those unjustly interned there – the camp has been open for five years – they play loud music at all hours (see Eroica), they interrogate and interrogate, forcing narrative (this is not just storytelling, though I glossed it as such for effect) and force-feeding those who protest their rights; and we now hear more and more and cannot avoid recognizing that the guards do much worse, much worse… beatings, broken ribs, degrading and sadistic tortures, deaths…and we have known this for too long…

While the inmates in their cages in the camp might be in danger of slipping from our memory, yet they are the brutal truth of our world today. Television has to do more than this to wake us up – I see it as the real Big Brother house, this is the Palace of Dreams, this is the Home of the Brave. This is where we really live, but do not see.

The way in which we manage to accept and excuse continued detention without charge or trial, deaths in custody, atrocity and crime, makes me think we need to rewrite our books and change our thinking. How to do this? Perhaps a shot of philosophy – what if we were to think of the scene on screen as a possible contemporary parable which is displacing or radicalizing the old cave scenario in Plato. Guantanamo might be our new founding myth – an indictment of the way we think, and a guide to how we might rework our ways so that it is not truth and the sun we seek, but justice and redress.

I hope then that it is not too strange to take up the metaphor of the fire-screen in Plato’s cave and rework it as a spark for Guantanamo. There could be many associations with the screen and the flame and this seems as good as any a place to start. In an overdetermined and well known passage, Plato presents us with a primordial cave in which we are offered the image of shadows flickering on a wall. Those watching the shadows – which flicker because they are caused by a fire in the cave – are incredulous when an early release tells them of a greater light, of the sun shining outside the cave, which reveals greater truths. As the story goes, the proto-television shadow wall retains its viewers, who after all are chained to the scene and cannot look away.

That this Plato-routine is mere storytelling is well known – and so it is with a great number of other scenes of media screen and fire. Television hardly moves us. Yet fire, as we know, is both creative and destructive. It is endlessly fascinating (more than television) – ‘hard to light, it is difficult to put out’ – a malevolent spirit (Bachelard 1938/1987:64). A symptomatic examination of flames on the screen might remind us that this is a political place – think of grainy images of the Reichstag fire, of the Hindenburg zeppelin crash, of the burning monk during the Vietnam war, and of late night reruns of Cinema Paradiso. Nevertheless, Plato’s cave establishes the precedent with those shadows on the wall – television, fire and political narrative are inexorably linked from the start – and so I also want to invoke a mythic register as perhaps more than as metaphor, or as heuristic device. I have in mind myth as it might have been narrated in a ‘reverie’ of those gathered around a camp-fire not unlike the one in the cave or as told to the interrogators. There are any number of televisual and cinematic moments that might provide a kind of archive to enable this – I invite readers to come up with their own greatest moments in flames, but let us always remember the storytellers of Guantanamo that we barely hear. The long questionings, the beatings, the torture, the loss of life – though not yet all dead, the dying…

To cite television news reportage as a burning issue under a register of fire is a kind of contrivance no doubt, but a necessary one, and it allows us to rethink storytelling as politics, and so television as ideological social origin myth. The only trouble is that this extravagant metaphorics could lead almost anywhere, and if we free associate television with fire, light, luminosity and insight we might merely meditate upon knowledge and vision, the daylight (let there be light…), the lantern (Zarathustra…) and the lamp (Aladdin…). Stories are not enough here. As if enlightenment were an unproblematic advance (as an alternative to detention camps and god-bothering leaderships on crusade, it surely is… but), fire is also a weapon (literally as fire-power, and also as firewater). So burn your TV. And burn down the camps. Though it destroys, fire may also cleanse. It is divine avenging spirit and productive furnace of hell, with Lucifer it is both the fall and purgatory. May Day though is the celebration of both Beltane and workers’ power; fire produces both steam and ash; energy and residue. It is made by friction or a spark; a smouldering beginning or a sudden crash of lightning; the image of god, spirit, cherubim; yet also hocus pocus, and obscurantist smoke and fug; fiery, inflamed, incandescent, excited; related both to flagrant and flamboyant. Why then is it that so often television does not at all encourage that ‘reverie’ that Bachelard identified in fire (this is also discussed in Moore 2000:130 Savage Theory). Late night TV is especially evocative of the narcoleptic camp-fire – flickering shadows the only light lulling us towards unconsciousness. The embers of the late late show shine with a soporific glow and contemplation need not be profound. We need that torture light smack in the eyes.

I hope old Plato will turn in his cave (and perhaps see the sun). The inmates of Guantanamo do not have sets in their cages, but they are the screen on which our social conscience is shown, and it is found wanting.

For all those in detention everywhere, and for Kadhr, Bisher, Hicks, El Hadj Boudella, the Bosnian Six, Abbasi, Sharif, Shah and all the others.

Kufiya-spotting

This great post and meme by Ted Swedenburg deserves your attention. I used to play this game but never thought to collect – this is trinketization as well after all. One of my favourites was the news reporter on Japanese television when I worked in Nagoya, who presented all his Baghdad reports during 2003 wearing a Kufiya. Some people have mistaken Jade Goody’s pirate scarf on Big Brother as one as well, but I think we can let that pass – great as Jade is, her support for Pirates will do. Aki Nawaz of course is a prominent UK wearer, among millions in the UK, but though my own is now a bit tatty as its one of my oldest items of clothing, it does come out often. I got it from Palestine Solidarity in Melbourne in 1986 – we ran ads for their campaign group in the journal I edited, Criticism, Heresy and Interpretation. Anyway, this is Ted’s latest addition, gently mocking ‘Urban Outfitters’, but it’s worth pursuing the other posts as this one is number 12 in his series.

Kufiyaspotting #12: Urban Outfitters Markets Kufiya as “Anti-War Woven Scarf


Urban Outfitters’ “early spring” catalogue is now online, and the featured item in Men’s Accessories is the (Palestinian) kufiya, marketed as an “anti-war woven scarf” (thanks, Hisham).

If you click on the photo of the male model, you will find the kufiya (only $20), in the classic mode, checkered black-and-white, but also available in red, turqoise (my fave), and brown.

It’s remarkable that “anti-war” is now so mainstream that Urban Outfitters feels comfortable using it as a marketing tool. By contrast, back in the late ’80s, the Banana Republic catalogue carried an item called the “Israeli Paratroopers Bag.” It’s also remarkable that despite even though the Palestinians, since the onset of the al-Aqsa Intifada, have been indelibly re-associated with terrorism and suicide bombings, the Palestinian kufiya remains so deeply rooted in hipster clothing style and the outfits of oppositional movements that it remains hip/commercial/”resistive” symbol. Something on the order of Che Guevara t-shirts, full of contradictions, capable of making money, yet still giving off the whiff of danger. Probably it’s the hint of danger and the exoticism that, combined, (still) makes the kufiya marketable.

I’d hate, of course, to see wearing the “anti-war scarf” as accessory substitute for actual activism against the war/occupation. (And my friend Joel Gordon reminds me: the kufiya “originally” symbolizes resistance, and in fact, armed resistance (the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, the fedayeen of the sixties and seventies), not “anti-war.”

No doubt this is also related to the “hipness” of things Islamic today; an article by Jill Hamburg Caplan will soon appear in New York magazine, and I’ll comment on it when it comes out.

I wrote an article on the kufiya as style back in 1992, in an article in Michigan Quarterly Revies, and I discuss its uses, in Palestine and the US, in my book, Memories of Revolt. I’ve also been attempting to document various “sitings” of the kufiya in this blog”.

Great stuff as ever Ted – hence reposted in full (of awe).

Saddam Hussain Superstar, who do you, what do you…

Saddam Hussain has been remade into a modern myth, reminiscent of him 2 millennia ago who was nailed on the cross by those god-botherers who thereafter suffered with the Christ-sickness and deified a carpenter. Saddam was no carpenter, but was the CIA-installed puppet of cold war skulduggery in the middle east – and now, having offended his gun-toting buddy Rumsfeld at some point perhaps, this martyr for a new millennium is set up with a founding narrative that repeats, as farce, a history with which we have already much conjured.

Think of Saddam’s palaces – the pay-off for his earlier compliance before he went rogue – they were often seen on news reports in the early flush of the arrival of US troops in Iraq. Beautiful palaces with ponds and the like. I have observed such scenes on screen somewhere before have I not – yes – at Herod’s place. In the Superstar version of Christ, there was talk of ‘walking across swimming pools’ and ‘turning water into wine’. JC Superstar was more all-singing, all-dancing cinematic than Saddam’s rope trick ending, but PM Blair’s reluctant, forced and late condemnation of the way it was done was very much like a rerun of Pilate washing his hands of dereliction and delegating the case elsewhere. And Bush is guilty too – whether we want to call those that hung Saddam US patsies, or if we recognise a certain modicum of vicious revenge, it is, as Slavoj Zizek has said, strange that there was no talk of dragging Saddam to the Hague tribunal. Instead we got a show trial and a show-business hanging, on prime time TV over the New Year when we were all at home with the family to watch.

Zizek has also compared the US to Rome, and found them lacking: “recall the common perception of the United States as a new Roman Empire. The problem with today’s America is not that it is a new global empire, but that it is not one. That is, while pretending to be an empire, it continues to act like a nation-state, ruthlessly pursuing its interests” (NYT 5.1.2007). The trouble seems to me that, rather, the timing is all too convenient, such that the troubles of Rome 2000 years ago do resonate with the troubles of US as faulty empire today. It took a good while for the Christians to extricate themselves from the lions and topple Caesar and all that, and of course there was the nasty middle ages and inquisitions and all sorts to get through… But what has been achieved with the televisual hanging of Saddam is perhaps a glorious sequel. An epic story of struggle and the next greatest story ever told – but instead of Max von Sydow (Christ in the 1965 version) or Cecil B. DeMille directing, we are likely to get Mel Gibson, as director and hopefully star (Mel as Saddam doing his own stunts – you’d have to laugh). Opening soon at a cineplex near you.

Lets remind ourselves of some of the lyrics:

Herod’s song:So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do, then I’ll know it’s all true.
Come on, King of the Jews.
Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about, the wonder of the year.
Oh what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you tried.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
Come on, King of the Jews.

AND

Pilate’s refrain (slower):

Don’t let me stop your great self-destruction.
Die if you want to, you misguided martyr.
I wash my hands of your demolition.
Die if you want to you innocent puppet!

AND

finally:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
Don’t you get me wrong.
I only want to know.

Now we do have mass communication, but it seems we also need long memories. And, I’ll wager, ear-plugs.

[pic - from the audition: Much hand-washing needed, Rumsfeld leads the way, but Bush, Blair, Brown and Prescott also need a scrub. 'What's the buzz, tell me what's happenin, what's the buzz...'.
Disclaimer: Please note that I do not endorse any carpenters in any form, not even Richard and Karen; nor musicals, unless they star Barbara Stanwyck ("Lady of Burlesque", "Roustabout" - with Elvis Presley, and "US Canteen" to name a few)]

glossy anthropology

In the introduction to their edited volume Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy”, Greg Downey and Melissa Fisher speculate a little on corporate compromise on the part of social scientists:

They write:

“During the past decade an unprecedented number of cultural anthropologists have been hired by companies to work as consultants in consumer design, and workplace research”

And then they ask:

“How can we begin to account for the migration of anthropologists out of academia into business? Has the increasing demise of tenure-track jobs in the discipline forced academics to look elsewhere for employment?” (2006:18)

Strike me down if this hasn’t been going on far far longer than the last ten years. Few jobs, lousy pay, and a lack of political direction in what’s often been a deeply conservative discipline. I had a go at exposing corporate buy-outs of anthropologists in the late 1980s. The mining company Rio Tinto Zinc has a long and dubious history of recruiting anthropologists to its schemes: among several examples, their hire of graduates in the discipline to act as information-gatherers spying on pro-Bougainville campaigners at La Trobe University; and lets not forget the dirty subsidiary money they off-loaded via Monash’s Khan in 1991 for work on the ‘creation of community’ around a mine-site in Kalimantan (‘community’ here seemingly a rephrasing of what was in fact a Suharto-regime transmigration programme); and not just rio tinto, later in the mid-1990s there was the involvement of a certain Jerome Rousseau with the Bakun Hydro-Electric scheme [see Left Curve vol 23]. But a cosy relationship between anthropology and capital was already old news even then, and there was a dubious phrase coined to expose, or contain, the deals: remember ‘handmaidens of colonialism’ anyone? That old argument was rehearsed over and over, but now seems to be forgotten again as anthropologists rush to become the hand-holders of neo-liberalism.

The corporate anthropology Downey and Fisher have in mind is the take up of ethnographic research as culture machine for marketing, product testing, sales profiling and the like, but capital interest in having anthropologists broker access to the entire planet goes further than newfangled market research strategies (but see Saatchi and Saatchi’s strange culture vulture effort here). I’m dismayed to hear of mining companies still making efforts to recruit the best and brightest to their ‘social responsibility’ spin-mongering.

I remember that Riotinto were particularly concerned to proclaim their environmental credentials a few years ago – crowing about how they were protecting rainforest frogs and had set up a crocodile park. Keeping in mind their many years of plunder of Aboriginal land, rights, livelihoods, responsibility for the Bougainville war etc etc (see Roger Moody’s book Plunder or any issue of Partizans) such corporate do-gooder deeds are particularly despicable, even in a world that spins to their tune more and more. At least the price of copper is falling – though I bet the Riotinto Board still got massive end of year bonuses.

[The pictures in this post are all taken from the brochures that Riotinto produce to alibi their profiteering - I've been collecting these quite a while and there are many more howlers. Frogs, bad jokes about the dispossessed, Rachel as mining-boy's-own fantasy. See sidebar topics for more. Just have to call this glossy anthropology - it takes the shine off the pursuit of knowledge]

Spectres of Marx – A Christmas Carol?

Cadavers, lifeless bodies, the return of the dead. Over the holiday period the quiet streets of London have been bothering me a little. Alarmed as I am with Christmas carols and hangings on the news – a veritable hauntology has me walking about as if in a dream. Yet people keep on bringing me ghosts. Three times this week, and all through the first term course on Capital, and with two PhD students working the theme (if slowly) into new areas… frightening me to reach for my familiar references – Ghost of Chance by William Burroughs was my first suggestion: it’s a pirate story about Captain Mission (drug fiend, utopianist) and his pet lemur called ‘Ghost’, battling the Christ-Sickness and other plagues destined for the Museum of Lost Species. The Captain himself becomes a ghost on death – stranger than anything Johnny Depp saw Keith Richards do… Of course much more worthy reading on this theme would pursue spirits in Hegel, Marx, the spectral…

So scholars may be worried by spooky stories. But what, I wonder, is all this anxiety about really? Haunting and ghosts are interesting as metaphor or trope certainly. But incorporeality and disembodied form just doesn’t do much – it seems intangible, somewhat vacuous. These ghosts on their own are a bit whispy, shady and faint. I need to find bodies that matter – and I want to know just what point of connection all the current death-talk might have to the socio-political world. It seems a bit abstract at present. So I have two sets of questions:

A. Should not all this talk of ghosts first of all be connected to the forgotten inmates of Guantanamo? To the spectral dead of the twin towers? To the thousands killed by imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia? These ghastly scenes should surely scare us. Somebody needs to organise more than a séance to set the creaking of the system into context – this entire planet is haunted, the walking dead are legion. Vampires suck our flesh.

B. The theme of ghosts might also be questioned as a focus for social theory – I mean, why have these apparitions returned with a vengeance just now? Perhaps the abundance of ghost writings that have appeared since Derrida wrote Spectres of Marx indicates the powerful return of Christianity and/or Christmas pasts: Scrooge and/or the Holy Ghost struts the world stage in a way not seen since temperance. Is this secularism in retreat before the new manifestations of fundamentalism(s)? Or was secularism always underpinned with a faulty reading of Marx’s opiate routine? The first cry of the oppressed masses is a commune with the dead…

Is this the fetish character of capital turned into demons and ghouls? The residue of the dead body. In many stories ghosts can travel through walls and now they seem to have infiltrated everything everywhere. I have been disturbed the past few days by a story Mick Taussig tells in his great new book Walter Benjamin’s Grave, where our intrepid anthropologist-hero is asked by a Putumayo farmer if he knows how to smuggle cocaine past the police and army guards. He did not. “Well, you get a dead baby and open up the abdomen, remove the intestines, pack cocaine paste in, sew up the abdomen and, with the baby at the breast the good mother cuddles her precious cargo through the roadblocks and, who knows, perhaps to Miami and New York as well” (in Taussig 2006:86).

The residue is now also in the body. We certainly welcomed the New Year in high spirits. I find all this as shocking as the grainy images of Saddam on his string. No longer pantomime.

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