Monthly Archives: April 2007

Mind Boggling Trinketization

Very occasionally (why?) I feel the need to restate why it is that I use the word trinketization to refer both to the dessication of all life to mere commodities, and as a word for a critique of the poverty of theorizing that remains at the level of fascination with those commodities. Remembering that Marx in Capital only starts with commodities to tell us they are the fetished and occulted manifestation of social life – the ‘erscheinungsform’ in which wealth appears on the stage of the market etc… there is a need to contextualize and theorize beyond this mere appearance. Hence 3 volumes of Kapital, and a further 3 vols of Theories of Surplus Labour, and then a subsequent effort of theory via Lenin, Lukacs, Adorno, even Debord (thanks Jeff and Tom)….

So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations:

In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journal Postcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:

“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”

This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:

“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)

And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:

“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style) trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.

A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:

“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.

Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:

“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.

The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journal Critique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:

“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).

There is more of this to come. To be filed under terminological morass.

Let Us Now Praise Lost Comrades

We were in New York for that first day, you lent me your copy of the Agee/Evans book, and we spent ages in the Revolution shop, then larked about outside the New School, saw a busker singing Guthrie songs in Union Square, ate at some outside bagel cafe, then there was a bar with too many margaritas, and later we ended up getting these RED juice drinks at some cafe, because you were thirsty for more

Do You Love Me?

This video posted on Hawgblawg by the always engaging Arkansasawian Ted Swedenburg deserves wider airing:

Is this the best video clip of Arabic music ever?

“Do You Love Me?”, from the Bendaly Family عائلة بندلي
Kuwait, 1978.


Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies

The Politics of Cats.

Cat, n. Small mammal with an attitude problem.

I imagine that cats are aphorists, composing dialectical koans and licking their whiskers at the elegance of their arabesques. Though I recognise that Adorno himself noted that aphorisms were not admissible in dialectical thought, which should always abhor isolation and separateness (1951/1974:16), I concede that cats are separate and aloof. Since they are never owned by their humans, they stand apart, domesticated only by choice, self-grooming, dreaming of mice (rather than hubcaps – go figure), ignoring us in ways that transcend normal social, political and geophysical categories. We know these routines already, and recognise their outsider status with a mix of awe and disregard.

Projection. The anthropomorphic charge is more difficult to lay upon our conception of cats, yet it does apply. To think of them as yoga-masters, or as independent outsider spirits, is still to malign them as merely human. I am sometimes paranoid in thinking that my cat is mechanical. A twisted automaton designed especially to distort my brain. Uncle Bill Burroughs said that paranoia was being in possession of all of the facts. So let us consider the evidence: cats purr – this could be very cute, or is it rather the calculated industrial production if cuteness?; cats wash themselves with their tongues – and if they were electric they would short-circuit (though consider how coffing up a hairball might just be that); cats growl and hiss when interrogated – clearly they could be detained as non-combatants if only we had the will, and a strong leader. Cats have whiskers… More examples would only trap us in a dialectical game of catch and release, and so cats will have once again won. They always do, toying with us; ask the mice.

So I think we need to learn to learn from these philosophers of composure. First of all I imagine Uncle Bill, stoned in the Bunker, communing in some feline comprehension with his cat Fletch: ‘wouldn’t you?’. But why is it that Lévi-Strauss exchanges a look of understanding with that cat at the very end of his book Tristes Tropiques? Why a look; a visual metaphor for knowledge? Well, not so much a look of knowing, but a ‘brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness’ (1955/1973: 544). Do cats forgive? Are they theorists of hospitality? That look bothers me some. If I were to elaborate on the metaphors of vision for knowledge I would ramble on about the way our disciplines are divided up into fields; how one strives to see the point of an argument; how instead of seeing your point, I hold a different view – so many ways in which the assertions of knowledge are visual. But with cats you do not know – the enigmatic Cheshire smile prevails.

Kurt Vonnegut died recently, having once written a great book called Cats Cradle (1963) which was later accepted by the University of Chicago anthropology department as a Masters thesis. In that book, the narrator, Jonah (referencing Moby Dick) investigates the life of the now deceased Felix Hoenikker, developer of the atomic bomb. Of course we all know Felix is a quintessential cat’s name (my first cat), and this Felix is appropriately enigmatic also, concerned only with higher science, the pursuit of knowledge as calculation, and absent-minded outsider. Though I suspect a certain identification on Vonnegut’s part, only this narrator, as Jonah, could hunt him down, tempt him with the fish perhaps… It’s not just the bomb, Felix invents a substance that threatens the planet – Ice-9, and his children take it and… To tell more would ruin the story for those who have yet to read it – as far as thesis goes, its anyone’s guess how Chicago Anthropology managed to assess this as a scholarly work. Credit due.

Burroughs also pursued anthropology. This at Harvard as part of the G.I. Bill, where returned WW2 service personnel were offered places in university. Uncle Bill reports that he found the department grim: ‘I had done some graduate work in anthropology. I got a glimpse of academic life and I didn’t like it at all. It looked like there was too much faculty intrigue, faculty lies, cultivating the head of department, so on and so forth’ (Burroughs 2001: 76). It makes me wonder how any of those cats ever get their act together and sit for their degrees. Concentration seems awry; consistency suspended. And a mischievous outsider’s critical countenance continues to leave them disturbingly set apart.

Burroughs in London in 1970 was strangely prophetic when he described America as vulnerable: ‘extremely vulnerable to chaos, to breakdown in communications, particularly to a breakdown in the food supply [a typical cat concern]. Bombs concentrated on communications, random bombs on trains, boats, planes, buses could lead to paralysis. But you must consider the available counters. We spoke about the ultimate repression that would be used. Once large-scale bombings started you could expect the most violent reactions. They’d declare a national emergency and arrest anyone. They don’t have to know who did it. They’ll just arrest everyone who might have done it’ (Burroughs 2001:156).

There are suggestions that all cats be detained in Guantanamo. We are close to such a repression. Just presenting the look of being an outsider is a dangerous thing. Cats threaten the western way of life in this time of ‘war on terror’, and do so because we cannot ever tell if they are with us or against us. And they are not afraid of sacrifice – they believe they have nine lives! They adhere to ancient cult traditions (from Egypt no less, training camps in the desert we suspect). They are long past masters of undercover operations (consider CatWoman’s wily ways of entrapping the hero of Gotham). Just read the old eastern book of war tactics, I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume (1905/2002) to see how internecine and dialectical warfare offers tactical advantage to these furry miscreants. Danger, hiss, pttfft, grrrr.

The thing about cats, aberrant and inscrutable, is that they are the antithesis of the rat-race, and for this reason alone it is worth changing their kitty-litter. Meow!

John Hutnyk (for Daisy Cumberland)

Theodor Adorno 1951/1974 Minima Moralia New York: NLB.
William Burroughs 1971 Burroughs Live: Interviews New York: Semiotext(e).
Claude Lévi-Strauss 1955/1976 Tristes Tropiques, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Soseki Natsume 1905/2002 I am a Cat Berkeley: Tuttle Publishing.
Kurt Vonnegut 1963 Cats Cradle New York: Dell Publishing.

cats stretch
[& cat pic from Dr Who]


If you are in New York City this weekend (20/4/7-22/4/7) you can go see this ‘must see’ collection of films. If you are not able to attend, the texts are worth reading – collected below. Excellent.

Emergences & Emergencies
New British Asian Films

Curated by Sukhdev Sandhu

From the companion catalogue:
1. Sukhdev Sandhu on “India Calling” (Sonali Fernando, 2002)
2. Michael Vazquez on “Otolith” (The Otolith Group, 2003)
3. Naeem Mohaiemen on “Bradford Riots” (Neil Biswas, 2006)
4. Jon Caramanica on “Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music” (V.Bald, 2001)
5. Vijay Prashad on “The Road To Guantanamo” (Winterbottom 2006)
6. James Brooke-Smith on “England Expects” (Tony Smith 2004)
7. Karen Shimakawa on “Skin Deep” (Yousaf Ali Khan: 2001)
8. Kamila Shamsie on “A Love Supreme” (Nilesh Patel, 2001)
9. Mohsin Hamid on “My Son The Fanatic” (Udayan Prasad, 1997)
10. Bharat Tandon on “The Warrior” (Asif Kapadia, 2001):
11. Gautam Malkani on “Young, Angry and Muslim” (Julian Hendy, 2005)

Thanks to Naeem Mohaiemen for the collection of texts – visit Shobakorg.

one evening on a Melbourne side street there was a bloody foreigner… (though this is a bit of an in-joke … for an in-group of one)

The Queen’s duck

When someone mentions the English Queen, I’m afraid I always think ‘unaccountable and irredeemably wicked shareholder of major corporations of the likes of Riotinto‘ (though that is spurious rumour of course). Well this week, while Riotinto reels under the PartiZans activist intervention at its annual shareholders meeting, and while the Queen’s grandson Billy dumps his consort (already I forget her name – [Capital Kate I think]), I found this on the Community Radio 3CR radio compere Suzanna’s news round-up. The wooden and pale imitator of celluloid glam Helen Mirror is still doing her bit for commodity sales. This time ducks (made in China I expect – which is fine – [sing the song]):

“Rubber Duckie shares Royal bath
The Queen is reported to share her bath with a yellow rubber duck that wears a crown
According to The Sun, the toy was spotted by a decorator as he refurbished Her Majesty’s Buckingham Palace living quarters
The newspaper also says a spokesman for the Queen would not comment on the duck
The paper reports the unnamed decorator saying: “I was repainting the Queen’s bathroom walls in the same colour she’s had for the last 50 years when I glanced down at the bath. “I nearly fell off my step-ladder when I saw the yellow rubber duck with an inflatable crown on its head
“I suppose she was given it by her grandchildren as a joke.” It was revealed recently the Queen has a mobile phone and a Big Mouth Billy Bass novelty singing fish
Now sales are soaring”

At least that has the merit of being a little funny, whereas unaccountable Royals and their filthy riches, even as they do duty as faded tourist attractions and tabloid fodder in the low season, are not always so amusing.

Australians of course voted her to stay in power (it was rigged – the only other choice was a Howard appointee – ie, Georgie B2’s appointee…) but here in England she is in power by habit and by default. Still in power.

Fear & Loathing In Teheran – by Sarah Gillespie

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fear & Loathing In Teheran – by Sarah Gillespie

‘The blood drained from her face and Faye whispered, ‘there’s going to be a rape involved in this’ Operator Maintainer Arthur Batchelor Daily Mirror 9th April 2007

Faye Turney, the ‘she-man’ Seaman captured in Shatt al-Arab last month, claims her captivity in Teheran was marred by fear of rape, torture and a lifetime of incarceration. Despite having been released unharmed, a bizarre scene is emerging from the dark recesses of Turney’s imagination in which the saintly mother of little Molly (3) was subjected to floundering indefinitely in a dingy jail wearing nothing but pair of knickers and a floral headscarf. According to Faye’s ‘worst fears’ her ‘evil captors’ spied on her through her cell door slat, cracked jokes about her imminent martyrdom and most bizarrely of all, felt compelled to fit her out with her very own hand-crafted, bespoke coffin. Here is our first hint that we are dealing with the humiliation fantasies of a serious narcissist; while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard indeed have affiliations with the Moral Police responsible for public executions, I doubt very much that they throw a made-to-measure coffin service into the deal.

Nothing here adds up. But it doesn’t have to because the press have finally dispensed with the pursuit of truth altogether. Faye Turney’s fears are being treated by the media as if they were facts. Do a Google search on ‘Faye Turney rape’ and over 80,000 results appear. Remarkable really, given the woman has not been raped at all and is even claiming that she was not. Such is the ravenous appetite in Britain for titillating tales of defenceless damsels and wicked Arabs, the Sun-reading British electorate doesn’t care anymore if the narrative is absolute fantasy or not, so long as the victim is a westerner and the aggressor is a Muslim.

Thus, it doesn’t matter that Turney & Co were well-fed, clothed, even supplied with Marlborough Lights and Presidential ‘goodie bags’. It doesn’t matter that none of the 15 were exposed to torture, sexual abuse or humiliation. It doesn’t matter either that the worst trauma they endured was having their I Pods confiscated and forced to wear outfits that looked a bit ‘last year’. Arthur Batchelor, one of the Seaman, who we can assume has received at least some Military training for coping with stress during captivity, said: ‘Those suits were an insult. Not only did mine not fit, but it was cheap and tacky and the Hugo Boss shirt was a fake.’ What? So this is the ‘mental torment’ he insists on peddling for cash? The message is clear, the Seamen were treated well. Another message is also clear; the news-consuming public refuses to internalise this. Fay’s abuse was in her disturbed mind and what is even more disturbing is the fact that our minds are deviant enough to consume her sickening fantasies. Without delving too deeply into the collective perversion of an entire nation, it is crucial to note that the British, who built their pseudo-egalitarian, post-industrial, mega-economy on the backs of two centuries of colonized labour, just love to feel like they are the victim. Check out the streets of Soho if you need proof.

What is more alarming, is that British media are quick to mobilise this penchant for humiliation in order to spoon feed us fictional narratives that reinforce the binary underpinning Anglo-American-Israeli foreign policy: Muslim=terrorist/Westerner=liberator. Since Turney traded in her phantasmic trauma for a substantial wad of Rupert Murdoch’s cash we are inundated with stories about her not being raped. Without the popular fear of Islam bestowing a veneer of feasibility into this narrative, Turney’s confessional would be exposed for the absurd non-event that it is. Try to imagine an equivalent news flash without the anti-Muslim agenda: ‘Man Thought He Was Being Followed Home by Rabid Gunmen, But Then He Realized It Was His Mum & He Was Just Being Paranoid.’ Or ‘Footsie Share Index Plummets to Record Lows Thought City Worker When He Accidentally Leant on His Apple Mac Keyboard Earlier Today.’

The rape, the torture, the execution didn’t happen but still it is reported over and over again simply on the proviso that it was temporarily imagined to be true in the mind of one woman. Truth is elusive, murky territory, impossible to fix or locate, impervious to the tyranny of technological mapping devices that offer objective comprehendible absolutes. Truth is relative, deceptive, it is in process, it never arrives at its destination and yet, we all insist on chasing it into oblivion. What has happened in the case of Faye Turney is that we seem to have given up the quest altogether, we have willingly surrendered to the absolutist reassurance of fear, at the expense of truth. Not only are we cut adrift from facts, we are not even pretending to look for them anymore, we are heading for a terrain were facts no longer matter.

On 9th April 2007 Blair, a man who, among his many sins, incarcerates Muslims for months on end without charge, dubbed Iran a ‘cruel and callous’ nation. So complicit are we in the demonisation of an entire civilization, we knowingly consume this fantasy of cruelty rather than consider the real possibility of humanity. We are invited to believe that Turney, the giant Viking of the Gulf Sea, is the ultimate victim, while Ahmadinejad, who hopes, albeit naively, one day to defend his country from foreign invaders, is the ultimate evil. The tragedy is we are no longer concerned as to whether this is true or not.
# posted by thecutter @ 17:12

Nabeel on Panto

This generous synopsis of my Auckland talk from Nabeel (who has a show on BASE FM – where you might have heard a rant last weekend!):


And I’ve been working like a dawg. Time for an Easter break. I can tell I’m physically and mentally tired when I start to use the word ‘interesting’ too much in a lecture every time I’m trying to introduce a ‘significant’ point. Found myself doing that today when talking about ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the Popular Music on Screen course. I even attempted some defensive drolery about it with the students (about 90 of the 130+ roll), apologizing for using the word too much and then telling them that it was OK in a lecture but not in their essays.

That was today but yesterday I finished powerpointing the Beatletastic images with a few Warhols, then went to a talk by John Hutnyk who does anthropology and cultural studies at Goldsmiths College at the University of Londinium. John was one of the editors of Dis-orienting Rhythms (1997), a book about the new Asian dance music in the UK which I read religiously just after I finished my PhD in 1996 and was thinking about ways in which to rewrite it into a book. DR marked out a space to share knowledge and debate the British Asian peeps pop culture. That’s when ‘TranslAsia’ was as hep as the Nu Asian Kool or the Asian Underground. Well, there’s always a place for a nifty title. I agreed with many of the authors in Dis-orienting Rhythms though I disliked the way some of its politics seemed to ignore issues of musical pleasure and gender and suggested that the only ‘worthwhile’ British Asian music was the stuff that was clearly anti-colonial, anti-racist and on the barricades. It didn’t have many light touches.

I had heard John speak about Asian Dub Foundation and Fun-da-mental in a Calcutta (now Kolkata) 1998 conference about globalization and music and I’ve read a fair bit of his other work. His talk yesterday was called Pantomime Terror and took place in ALR5 in the Architecture Building which is one of the worst designed buildings on our fair campus. John is working toward a way of narrating the ‘war of terror’ and the paranoia in Londinium using the detritus of popular culture and the different inflections of radical chic. Walter Benjamin, Michael Taussig and James Clifford in Adorno dub stylee. Fundamental are in panto mode when they dress up with their keffiyahs and pose for photographs, though they are trying to do something different to Madonna when she dons Che’s beret for a record cover. John suggested a difference but didn’t elaborate how we judge that difference. Is it just a matter of political utility that distinguishes this type of semiotic play/warfare and its value from this or that po-mo articulation? We must choose certain truths and rights, as Johnny Osbourne would sing: “Render your arms and not your garments. The Truth is there for who have eyes to see”. I’d like to believe it but cannot pray to this claim five times a day. It’s true but not true.

John’s powerpoint presentation included images of the July 7 bus after the top of it was blown off, a posed Fun-Da-Mental pic from The Guardian July 2006 that seemed to juggle all the signifiers of the London transport terror like backpacks, the St George’s Cross, rightwing soccer clichés, and the ubiquitous double-decker bus. He screened a rollicking Fun-da-mental video for their Cookbook DIY song about making dirty bombs in an Islamist bedsit and bigger bombs in US military installations. Cher appeared in Che’s beret, Kylie in her Che T-shirt. John’s working on a related project about trinkets and lefty memorabilia like Chairman Maos and the mass reproduction of Che. Motorcycle diarists of the world unite.

John returned to the Arabian Nights and imagined Sheherezad telling her stories night after night because they might save her from torture at Gitmo. This clicked with my own feelings about the absurdities of the current political moment and a hunch that fabulist forms of expression such as surrealism, situationism, science fiction and reworks of populist modes might have some mileage for telling stories that a million documentaries, news and current affairs segments cannot. We are after all living in the age of John Stewart ‘s show, which is proud of its status as the best fake news. I think we can give magic realism a bit of a rest though. But you can’t deny the power of exotica to get people fired up.

All the playlists are my way of working through the craziness of what it means to be ‘Terrormade’ using muzik. To my distant ears Sarf London dubstep captures paranoid Londonistan better than any other music. Donning a rabbit’s head or becoming a comic book terrorist with a pirate eyepatch is a way to talk back to the nonsense. Hollow po-mo irony maybe but if you don’t snigger at it you’re gonna go crazy like Gnarls Barkley, probably. Nothing that new about these fictions and rhetorical tactics. Maybe it’s just that combination of a sense of failure with my academese and the need to use a different voice. The ‘Guantanamo, Here We Come’ essay on the Smiths’ album Strangeways Here We Come was a start for me. Still waiting to hear back on the first draft which still needs a lot of work but has some good bits. At this early stage of a critical-autobiographical Islamopoppy project, it was reassuring to find someone looking for other ways to represent. Ended up enjoying more than a few drinks, vittals and rapping with John and Tara and other post-seminarians at the Mezze Bar. Cheers John.
# posted by nabeel @ 9:09 PM

Crackin Up

I had wondered, as I stumbled towards the cafe early this morning – awake far too close to dawn – why there were so many coppers in Kennington. The news this evening reveals that 150 of our intrepid gang had raided the Rastafarian Temple at the long-term squatted houses down the road from where I live. It is possible someone has been telling them fat porkers as apparently they have been searching the Temple all day for crack and so far have not found any ‘evidence’. Motive for the raid: there is a grainy surveillance photo in the paper from last week where allegedly someone outside the premises is waving a gun. It could, however, be a carrot. So, residents coming home from work today are agog in this well-to-do leafy inner London village type community place thing (leafy it is for the main part, but the tree outside my house was chopped down while I was away. Gnnnng). For mine, I thought the headlines outside Kennington Tube this afternoon were worthy of note – crack no longer available locally, so catch a flight to Miami. BA has it sorted.

Blair, meanwhile, back from his Florida holiday at the Gibbs Mansion, has today declared that gun and knife crime in London is not a consequence of poverty, but is caused by Black culture (Guardian, page 1 13 April 2007). Angry responses from all sides to such so called refusal to be cowed by political correctness. Sure, poverty should not make you want to wave a carrot or a gun… or smoke crack for fun… just smile, and wish you lived in Islington, or in one of those well-to-do sarf-London crack-den suburbs, like Kennington.

Update 14 April. The evening news reported that the cops had found Marijuana in the Rastifarian temple. I am flabbergasted.*

[*The Free Dictionary:

Adjective: flabbergasted - as if struck dumb with astonishment and surprise; "a circle of policemen stood dumbfounded by her denial of having seen the accident"; "the flabbergasted aldermen were speechless"; "was thunderstruck by the news of his promotion"
dumbfounded, dumfounded, stupefied, thunderstruck surprised - taken unawares or suddenly and feeling wonder or astonishment; "surprised by her student's ingenuity"; "surprised that he remembered my name"; "a surprised expression"]

Hong Kong

I spent a day in Hong Kong on the way back from New Zealand and the best thing about the day was the statue of Bruce Lee on the harbour front Kowloon side.

Why be interested? Well, check out Viajay Prashad’s book Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting. And Ko Banerjea’s chapter in the book Travel Worlds (available here).

And recall (sing even) the immortal tune:

KUNG FU FIGHTING - Carl Douglas – 1974 (Also recorded by The Drifters).

Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they fought with expert timing

They were funky China men from funky Chinatown
They were chopping them up and they were chopping them down
It’s an ancient Chineese art and everybody knew their part
From a feint into a slip, and kicking from the hip

Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they fought with expert timing

There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung
He said here comes the big boss, lets get it on
We took a bow and made a stand, started swinging with the hand
The sudden motion made me skip now we’re into a brand knew trip

Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they did it with expert timing

(repeat)..make sure you have expert timing
Kung-fu fighting, had to be fast as lightning

Revolutionary Tourism Tuesday 10 April 07

I prepared these notes on the plane back from Hong Kong for a talk in the afternoon yesterday – went well, though it got a bit ropey towards the end (I blame the jet lag – arrived Heathrow Tuesday 5.40am, gave talk at 2.30 PM. Wide awake again from 2 through to (so far) 6AM Wednesday – gnnnng):

“Plenary One – Enchantment”

“Abstract. Revolutionary Tourism: Everest Turns Red

The double visage of South Asia abroad is fantasy and sensation. On the one hand, the Hindi film glitz or traditional exotica of temples, rich fabrics, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. On the other, disaster, war, cotton-clad politicians discussing nuclear weaponry, Maoists, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. This doubled representation follows an ideological investment that eases and erases imperial guilt. From afar, it is clear (the wish is) that the vibrancy (temples, fabric) of South Asia has not been destroyed despite the (rarely or reluctantly acknowledged) impact of 300 plus years of colonialism and more recent structural adjustment programmes. Reassured by tourist brochures and travel reports that most of the temples and holy sites remain, the disasters are attributed to contemporary dysfunctions: poverty, corruption, mismanagement and revolutionaries. Such reasoning, sometimes explicit, affirms that South Asia’s problems are South Asian, and that the departure of paternal colonial rule was perhaps premature: a self-serving ideological psychic defence, to be resolved by more ‘development’ aid. This paper addresses the ways a new revolutionary tourism trades on the same (the same?) double aspect – the exotic charge of ‘alternative travel’ means meeting with the Maoist adds a frisson of excitement to what was by now a standard brochure scenario. The Maoists themselves take part in this representation game – Everest turns Red. I have a Communist Party of Nepal souvenir visa stamp to prove it (1000 rupees).”



I was pleased to hear the opening paper of this session, and indeed of the ASA ‘Thinking Through Tourism’ conference, started with an generous dedication by Tom Selwyn to Malcolm Crick. Malcolm was a provocative writer on themes like the silmilarities between tourists and anthropologists, on the anthropology of knowledge, on colonialism, and much more. He was also, despite some eccentricities like lecturing with his eyes closed, a very great teacher. A supervisor with dedication and a bibliophile to emulate. He is much missed.

Thank you for inviting me to talk. I presume this was done on the back of what is now an old book on Travel – 1996, The Rumour of Calcutta – a book I now hear may be out of print… Even the last time I discussed travel in print was also long ago, and suddenly I feel I must seem old and grumpy, lurching into middle to late youth, a grizzled veteran of the banana-pancake-trail, but too sclerotic to live that lifestyle anymore, to carry a backpack, or sleep in those budget dorms. Yet, I have come to tell travel tales once again. I’ll start with invocations of the famous quotes, here from that last piece in print: (in Bell and Haddour eds, City Visions 2000), where, when it comes to travel stories:

“perspective and ordering selection are the themes of this work which take up Derrida’s call (his is not the only call of this sort) alongside a Marxist analysis of money, for a ‘systematic reflection on the relations between tourism and political analysis’ at a time when tourism has become highly ‘organised’. Derrida writes that such an analysis ‘would have to allow a particular place to the intellectual tourist (writer or academic) who thinks he or she can, in order to make them public, translate his or her ‘travel impressions’ into a political diagnostic’ [Derrida 1993:215]” (Hutnyk 2000:40).

Derrida’s comment deserves attention but it is something of a rehash of Claude Lévi-Strauss lament in Tristes Tropiques:

“Nowadays [1955], being an explorer is a trade, which consists not, as one might think, in discovering hitherto unknown facts after years of study, but in covering a great many miles and assembling lantern-slides or motion pictures, preferably in colour, so as to fill a hall with an audience …For this audience, platitudes and commonplaces seem to have been miraculously transmuted into revelations by the sole fact that their author, instead of doing their plagiarizing at home, has supposedly sanctified it by covering some twenty thousand miles” (Lévi-Strauss 1955/1973:16)

So, while I am interested in the ways some parts of Anthropology for a very long time have failed to take tourism studies, and exploration for that matter, seriously, and while I note that Travel Writing has entire conferences devoted to it (oh, so do we now, but travel writing also has a separate section in the LRB bookshop etc…) – I am not really that moved by the need to defend the disciplinary demarcations, or the interdisciplinarity that can now see us having papers in a tourism studies conference with themes as diverse as tourism and ghosts, tourism and Cuba, tourism and food; on airports, on souvenirs, on the post September 11world, and so much more. This is healthy, welcome, about time – we are no longer malarial and diffident, well not all the time – and despite the ways some colleagues continue to scoff (“you call that fieldwork?”. Well, do you cal that fieldwork?), I do not want to indulge in any boosterism for travel studies. Without needing a visa stamp, tourism is subject for many and different debates, and this conference is welcome if it can be that.

My debate, today then, will be a small corner of the global travel apparatus. I have returned from new fieldwork in South Asia. Having been interested for a long time in travellers who visit the city of Kolkata, and more recently Orissa, Bengal, and the Red Everest of Nepal, I’ve spent my last three research visits to India interested in tourists who are interested in Maoism. (I used to run an alternative tour of Calcutta’s left sites – the CPM bookshop; the India coffee house; Seagull Presss to pick up Mahasweta Devi’s texts; the US embassy located on 1 Harrington St, where the name of street was changed to Ho Chi Minh Sarani; the Marx and Engels statue; the Lenin statue; and the CPIML(TND) Saifuddin group office on S.N.Banerjee Rd – Zindabad….

I started out on this new research with an interest in souvenirs and trinkets.

Trinketization is a double diagnostic of exactly the type Derrida might despair:

- critique of focus that neglects material objects as the world is seemingly reduced and desiccated into commodity-souvenirs, but critique of neglecting to contextualise this process, a critique of remaining at the level of the commodity when the souvenir needs to be related, variously, to the market, to circulation, to memory, to the state…

Lévi-Strauss’s lament about slide-shows might now be lent to the status of the souvenir in anthropology – we sit grinning like monkeys in a zoo at the latest cultural curio, the hybrid post-tourist irony, the plastic Taj Mahal, the Kali figure refashioned to do service as Santa Klaus…

The curio-souvenir that got me going first of all is one now quite easy to collect. I first saw it, of all places, in a scene in Michael Palin’s fairly light entertainment TV mini-series Himalaya.

A prime time BBC show it was – and I watched it the same week the Nepaleses Maoists had blockaded Kathmandu, and a BBC News report declared:

‘Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprised’ (BBC Paul Reynolds, April 22, 2006).

I am amused that Shangri La can be relocated so often – in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, – See The Razors Edge, 1942 version Tyrone Power, Later 1984 Bill Murray… [some ad lib here about Murray searching for enlightenment up the mountain, burning books to stay warm]

But back to the Python… [Summarize this from earlier]: Palin’s epic presents what London academic Paul Gilroy calls a ‘postcolonial melancholia’ (Gilroy 2004 After Empire Routledge). Palin holds a candle, as they say, for the good old days of the British Raj. This is a Raj of nostalgic fantasy, where enemies, subjects, and infuriating lackeys, are now renovated and romanticized in a battered picture book of faded glories. Yet there is the semblance of ‘news’ reportage built into this picture. Episode three, for example, begins with an announcement from Palin that disavows the tranquillity that a romantic traveller might well expect, and he will soon learn that: ‘things in Nepal are not always the way they look, as communist insurgents have been waging war against the government’. After a spectacular micro-jet flight across the mountains, Palin arrives first of all in Lekhani in the company of a recruiting agent for a British Ghurkha regiment. The irony of arriving with the military is lost on him (‘this has been a tradition for over 200 years’) and the ‘problem’ of ‘the Maoists’ is made manifest only when the stiff-lipped British Gurkha agent, Lieutenant Colonel Griffith, does not return to the village in which Palin is camped. Understanding that the Maoists have ‘kidnapped’ Griffith, the crew and entourage nervously depart a place that had previously ‘seemed like a rustic backwater’, but now ‘friendly villagers seem like potential kidnappers’. There is a rush for the main road and it is only in Pokhara that it transpires that the agent was unharmed. This reassurance coming not before Palin has an encounter with three Israeli budget travellers who tell him that at the start of their trek they had been stopped by Maoists who demanded 1000 rupees and issued them with receipts, with a red flag stamp, that authorized travel in the region. Palin’s budget does not extend so far, and there is no need to name, or interview, any really existing Maoists, but he has the drama his story needs.

[Later on the BBC ‘Culture Show’, Palin admits that he has been criticised for ‘not getting to the bottom of why the Maoists were in Nepal’, and for not visiting detention camps and the like. On this show Palin is described as a ‘national treasure’ who presents a nostalgic, if bumbling, lost imperial grandeur. (‘The Culture Show’ BBC 7 October 2006).]

But our intrepid presenter Palin is here on a quest. He carries the viewer into the mountains in a way wholly unlike the load bearing Sherpas who carry our kit.

Contrast the adventure news items of the BBC reportage, or Palin’s ultra-light arrival story, with this from the internet:

Nepal Maoists bomb TV station (February 26, 2005 10:35 IST)

Heavily-armed Maoists torched and bombed a regional station of the state-run Nepal Television, causing damage worth over Rs 4 crore and disrupting the broadcast indefinitely even as the security forces gunned down 10 rebels and lost four of their own men in a clash in the west of the kingdom. The regional station of Nepal Television at Kohalpur in Banke district of mid-western Nepal was torched and bombed by hundreds of Maoists on Friday, NTV sources said. The regional broadcast of the NTV has been disrupted indefinitely after the explosion. … The Maoists also looted seven cameras and several other equipment from the station. However, no one was injured in the incident, the sources said.

Not sure how much of this report should be taken with a grain of salt – ten gunned down but no-one injured?? But the revolutionary struggle in Nepal has for a long time been producing stories like these. I am collecting, but omit here, a large archive of revolutionary tales… Yet after 10 years of insurrection, the BBC can still preface reports on Nepal with mock astonishment: ‘Just when it seems that revolutionary communism has all but disappeared in the world’ (Alistair Lawson BBC 6 June 2005).

My beef with the travel story version of Nepal is that, like the rest of South Asia, the country appears on the world screen most often as a ‘realist’, but usually tragic, news item. Palin later says, ‘I perhaps make it too easy to see these places that might otherwise only appear as news items during a crisis or disaster’ (‘The Culture Show’ BBC 7 October 2006). [It does seem significant that developments subsequent to the King’s climb down have not had the prominence of the strikes and protests of April. In August a deal on weapons and UN monitoring was reported, but not widely. See BBC website article by Charles Haviland ‘Why Nepal still faces many hurdles’).]

In South Asia this plays out a double game: the focus is always on what I might call ‘Exotica-Terror’. Images of photogenic but stranded villages awaiting rescue from cyclone, flood, earthquake, riot or famine. Images of high mountain military stand off and besieged temples, mosques. Tourism and television are particularly well suited to containing tragedy in a box. On the small screen it is images, stereotypes or clichés that move. ‘Things happen to images, not people’ as the French theorist Gilles Deleuze once said (and I quote this like a souvenir, which equally contains). But representation of Asia indicates a corresponding nether side to the tragic image – there is also a simultaneous positive gloss that is equally ideological – the fascination with tradition. Sound bite emotional containment fuels the global rumour of a mythical third world Asia that is both traditional in dress and architecture (the Taj Mahal, camels, rustic musicians) and is a modern mess born of a debased modernity, that perhaps (the argument implies) only the restitution of colonialism could redeem, (in the mindset of the imperialist powers).

The double play of terror and exotica is often remarked by the travellers I’ve met, and who also collect these souvenirs. ‘They had huge guns’; they had ‘home made guns’; their eyes ‘burned with fervour’; they were ‘so committed’; ‘women revolutionaries’. The double play here is ‘good native field native’ – a disciplinary routine from old colonialism now gone global (at home this ideological couplet is: moderate Muslims v. sleeper cells who reject British values).

I am reminded of Gyanendra Pandey on the duplicitous designations of violence. His book, Routine Violence 2006 contrasts items that are counted as violence alongside some that are not:

- Hindu Muslim violence at Partition, but not World War Two

- kamikaze, but not carpet bombing

- suicide bombings in Iraq but not the razing of houses by the Israeli forces (add invasions of Lebanon, and CPM attacks on peasants in Bengal – pic of the Bandh)

- 1857 natives killing and raping English women (Veena Das in her 2006 book Life and Words reports this as false for Cawnpore at least) versus the English response – executions by hanging, tourching of entire villages

- warlordism in Afghanistan but not Guantanamo bay

- public beheading but not the electric chair


I note that in Palin’s Himalaya a critique of the militarization of Nepal by the Maoists comes just after the section on British recruitment of Gurkhas…

But my interest is in those Moaist visa stamp souvenirs as an event for traveller tourists – souvenirs from the dark side – risqué. Like the image of Che, Mao badges, or Cultural Revolution posters, the erotic terrorism of tourism is more pronounced. A frisson of excitement.

As Maoism becomes a tourist attraction (at least for academics), the Maoists themselves are not slow to see… Will Maoists continue to recognise opportunities for tourism? Can there be a Maoist tourism? Maoist tour guides? Brochures for Red Everest?

- there are reports of Maoists allowing safe passage to National Parks, charging a fee for entry to base areas

- or is this just a red tax scam that anyone with a khaki shirt and a gun can play for 100 rupees

The question of what revolutionary tourism might otherwise be has been discussed by the Maoist leadership – most recently by Comrade Gaurav AKA Chandra Prakash Gajurel. Will it be merely a cash cow, or is something more possible?:

- Souveniring flags, badges, leaflets, posters, pictures of wall graffiti (banned in Kolkata last election)

- Or educational visits, road building campaigns, solidarity, information tours

The trouble is that my double visage view of Terror-Exotica must also apply to revolutionary tourism as well. The servicing of postcolonial melancholia proceeds apace even amongst the red brigades. We look for hope in foreign struggles but do not advance a revolutionary politics at home – in the heartless heart of imperialism that seems implausible. We cannot even imagine revolution here but we can (entertain ourselves) with the idea over there. ‘We’ here of course slides in reference for us explorer/knowledge worker/ESRC funded radicalization experts, and as knowledge worker drones of Empire ‘we’ also can be what Mahasweta Devi calls the comprador Bhadrolok elites of a city like Kolkata, enamoured with critiques of the CPM, but distant, and out of touch with the MCC – safe in the College Street Coffee houses discussion the possible meanings of the 40th anniversary of Naxalbari.

I am of course also waiting to see what use the Maoists make of the seven video cameras looted from the Kohalpur television studio while the station was burning. Mao TV!

[The first image is of Red Everest, taken from Palin’s Himalaya. The second picture is from the Bandh called after Nandigram; the third picture is self-explanatory (from the camping goods store, Auckland, soon after doing a radio slot with Nabeel on [corrected] Base FM [oops, it was the same building as George FM]). The second picture of McDonalds is from Opening Night of the first store in Kolkata – the queue was 250 people long when I walked past. The CPM foreign capital investment project can even turn great Calcutta nightclubs – the site of the Jazz venue Blue Fox – into Gold(en arches). Comes as no surprise.]


For a while I have been reading this blog – its well worth the what’s on and the curios:

A Transpontine Top Ten

A big weekend is planned in Deptford and New Cross on May 5th and 6th, with loads of live music happening in local pubs and other venues (including one very exciting international act, fingers crossed). Keep an eye on Rocklands for emerging details. Anyway for the programme I’ve come up with a Transpontine Top Ten of songs/artists linked to the area. In no particular order, here it is:

1. The Only Living Boy in New Cross (1992): Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine had a top five hit with this tale of ‘greboes, crusties and goths’
2. New Craas Massakkah – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1984): dub poet’s take on the 1981 New X Fire.
3. Up the Junction – Squeeze (1979): South London kitchensink drama from band who started out on Deptford Fun City records
4. Mad Dot – The Band of Holy Joy (1986): ‘when I walk up the New Cross Road when I’m starved and I haven’t been fed’.
5. Nancy Boy – Placebo (1996): former Drakefell residents who met in a pub in Deptford.
6. Action Time and Vision – Alternative TV (1978): Deptford and ATV’s Mark Perry started Sniffin’ Glue, the original punk fanzine.
7. Gravity’s Rainbow – Klaxons (2006) :first single on Angular records when they were just a little band in New Cross. The song title references Thomas Pynchon’s novel, which features a rocket explosion in Greenwich Park.
8. Cloudbusting – Kate Bush (1985): Kate started her career living in Brockley and playing gigs at the Royal Albert in New Cross Road and the Rose of Lee (now Dirty South)
9. Judy Teen – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (1974): glam rocker grew up in New Cross.
10. Death Cab for Cutie – Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (1967): Bonzos met at Goldsmiths in New X, performed this song in The Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film and gave a name to current US emo rockers.

Fairly arbitrary I know, the list could be a lot longer. What would your suggestions be?

[I've added the image - from the compilation album of a couple of years back - used to be able to buy it downstairs in the NX MoonBow Cafe]

New Left Curve Published.

The new Left Curve is out, with Publicity Section, lots of good stuff, including a piece by Roh Wright.
More details when I am back at my desk.

****** If you live in the Bay Area [USA], please join us for the

New Issue Release Event for Left Curve no. 31:

Wednesday, April 18, 7 p.m.

City Lights Bookstore

461 Columbus Ave., San Francisco


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