Monthly Archives: July 2007

Kamata

Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.

Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.

In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.

The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).

From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).

I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):

“Author: Robert Keser (rfkeser@ix.netcom.com) from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”

Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.

Take the skinheads bowling – Camper van Beethoven 1985

Must see: Take the skinheads bowling, remembering the Shout Bros in the Sandringham Hotel Enmore, circa 1991

narco-analysis

Dave Boothroyd’s book “Culture On Drugs” (2006) is a sound and entertaining read, and is just as much a carefully argued account of the influence of various substances on theory and theorists across a wide field – Freud and Cocaine, Benjamin and Hashish, Sartre and hallucinogens – as it is a commentary on, and plea for, a narco-analytic turn in culture theory. Good. All the way through the book there were important questions raised and important answers offered – and experimental writing is approved here and there (but perhaps not adopted in the text as much as might be anticipated).

All that said however, I think there was something held back…for example, I expected something on Marx and the opium wars: old beardo advocated that the Chinese not prohibit homegrown manufacture of the stuff so as to thereby undermine the East India Company’s efforts to force their trade advantage via Indian producers. So basically Marx comes out in favour of legalising Class As! And while I think I would have preferred – or is it that I fear – an extended treatment of Sartre’s experiences with amphetamine sulphate (those huge books on Flaubert, more on Flaubert than Flaubert wrote himself), I do appreciate Dave’s attempt to cover all the bases in an even handed way. Especially when he works through the Freudian cocaine versions. Freud as experimenter and advocate; Freud as liberated by use; Freud as promoter.

But it was weird to be reading this text just a day after writing out my own notes for a piece on Irma’s injection as mentioned by Slavoj Zizek in his little starter book on Lacan. (on Zizek, see here and here). Irma’s story – Freud’s first dream analysis – is cited in an admittedly perfunctory way by Zizek in order to explain Lacan’s contribution to Freud’s insight that the melancholic is ‘not aware that he has lost the lost object’ as a realization [by Lacan] that it is not an inability to mourn a loss, so much as a loss of desire for an object that he may still possess, but which has lost its efficiency, that governs melancholia.

This might have been a great opportunity to consider Freud’s own melancholia and mourning in relation to the Irma dream. And here there is much more to be said about the figure of Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow [somehow Dave leaves out the second part of his hyphenated surname]. It is this E-v-F-M to whom Freud had recommended the ‘superdrug’ cocaine in large quantities, as a substitute for morphine, which Ernst then took in large intravenous injections and became more dependent upon the marching powder than on the M he was into in the first place. So much into it that he died of related complications of the substitution (or what could be caled a ‘speedball’ syndrome, thanks uncle bill). All so far just a footnote… but what if the guilt Freud exhibits in relation to the faulty diagnosis of Irma’s injection in the dream that founds psychoanalysis (in The Interpretation of Dreams Irma has pride of place) were to be read in relation to the later guilt (some 80 or so pages later) that Freud reports in a footnote in relation to Fleischl-Marxow’s death? We are familiar with displacements in the dream work, so why not here find the symptomatic explanation of Irma in the text of the dream book itself, and Freud’s feelings of responsibility for having introduced his (ten years) older colleague to the drug that would allegedly kill him – though it was more likely to have been a dirty needle, as also noted in relation to the diagnosis of Irma herself. Perhaps I am not expressing this well, but I would be lying if I did not share a little in the melancholia of having read Dave’s book, seen mention of E-v-F-M, and yet not seen the connections laid out as clearly as they so seemed to me when we read (thanks Carrie, Nicola, Atticus, Miriam, Saul) the Interpretation in our reading group back in 2001 (on its 100th anniversary). It could be that Freud’s loss of his colleague is one he can only admit via a displacement in a dream that forces itself down Irma’s neck. Indication – that Irma should be prescribed some of that very same acetate.

So, narco-analysts to be deployed – the deflection of Irma into the text of Lacan deflects once again a forensic investigation that would explain both Freud’s interest in injections and Irma’s throat, and might lay some blame where blame might-maybe-ought to lie. Dirty needles, guilt and melancholia – time perhaps to lift the lid off this (La)Can of worms, and get back to work…

Mark has skillz

Writing Controls

The beautiful arabesques of the writing of Raymond Roussel, still evident in translation, are most interesting as discipline (contrivance, organisation, code, device), and made all the more alluring by the discovery, in 1989, of a trunk full of manuscripts. I have always been interested in the manufacture of text, and the versionings required. First draft, second draft, the processes of revision… The mechanizations we invent in attempting to get around the ways words are always already prefigured, so as to say the same thing anew.

Writing as a craft is not besmirched by a patent ‘method’. Roussel wrote according to a calculus, as has often been remarked (Ford 2000, Foucault 1963). There are sentences with parentheses inside parentheses that multiply into entire books. Meanings are deferred and referred back to each other, and the first word is both clue and angular destination. Sure, there are cryptograms in Jules Verne – and these fascinated Roussel so much he went to meet that author in 1898 (Ford 2000:17) – but experimental writing was never more elaborate before Roussel, or so it seems from the cache found in the attic in 89.

Unleash the word hoard. Cubist, Dada, Oulipo, Lettriste. Experimental writing, even where obscure, retains a special critical potential; perhaps best outlined in English by Burroughs as a work against control. The word cut-ups were something he considered a useful way to expose control orders. Burroughs as political oracle may seem reckless – an extravagant, untamed, rampant, enthusiasm – and a writing greedy for meaning (thanks Tinzar) – but isn’t this just what might sidestep control?

The orders of language certainly have us in a tight squeeze – grammar, spelling, typography, layout, html, the aesthetic use of empty space (black here, white there). What do we need to do so as to sidestep this pious complex? Nietzsche proud as punch to write such good books? Ginsberg running hysterical naked in the negro streets at dawn [Moloch still being dragged to heaven]? Kathy Acker attacks on high school and on Don Quixote? Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave harmonic mumbling even? Amidst the welter of words there is precious little time to stop and consider our faith – an experimental church, with a god-botherin clergy raging at our misdemeanours, and demanding sacrifice on altars. With Roussel as the fallen high priest become demonic victim, and hero.

Refs
Ford, Mark 2000 Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber
Foucault 1963/1989 Death and the Labyrinth, Editions Surkamp

The pics are of a Japanese Communist Party rally in Tokyo. Pink t-shirts! Talked with the comrades about war, and housing. Still translating their policy document.

Nagoya-Bird&Rabbit-4-Tim Stelfox-Griffen

So I am posting these pics to Ellen, but they can also rest here for a while. Bird and Rabbit went to Japan. To Nagoya in fact. They came with me to give a talk at Nagoya City University – the talk was about Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian lad murdered by police on the tube at Stockwell two years ago this week. No police charged, (perhaps Cressida Dick will be censured on Health and Safety grounds – executions of members of the public inside a tube carriage being considered that serious). The talk was about repetition, violence, the manufacture of terror, scapegoats and fear – and the social construction of the figure of the ‘suicide bomber’ – for all that critique of that process may or may not help us. Recently I have been reading Talal Asad’s excellent new book “On Suicide Bombing” [Columbia Uni Press] and I find his arguments compelling. Spivak has a good paper on the topic too – ['Terror' in Boundary 2, summer 2004].

Anyway, Nagoya City University is where I taught for six months in 2003 as visiting professor. I wrote much of the book “Bad Marxism” there, and taught a course on film in the Intercultural Studies department – I was screening lots of Hollywood gangster films and things like The Godfather trilogy. The students were great – though by the end of the term there had probably been a bit too much late night Karaoke and I can only thanks the gods no-one ever recorded me singing Dylan’s “Times Are a Changin'”.

So, this is the place Rabbit and Bird came to visit their friends Manekineko and, as the night wore on, some dudes they were seen hanging out with at a fairly disreputable back street surfer bar in the very small hours. That’s very fine scotch whiskey they are drinking there. The ambient tones courtesy of some obscure Blondie tracks. It was about the fifth bar they visited that evening, but frankly, some of the pictures from the other places are too blurred for the public record (Rabbit does look a bit dishevelled). “Futatsu beeru onagaishimasu!”

I guess you should know that this adventure travel Rabbit and Bird thing is a tribute to the memory of Tim Stelfox-Griffin, a friend who died far too young, about a month or so ago. At Tim’s wake, Ellen handed out some pages with markings on, which, when cut out and assembled, became bird and rabbit. Apparently Tim quite liked this sort of thing – gotta admit the guy was somewhat eccentric, and I guess that’s what I miss most. So, with a little help from Kaori who took the pics and provided scissors (and some glue for bird’s beak), here they are, adventure travelling in Japan as perhaps Tim might well have done. Should have done. Peace. On the anniversary of the death of Jean Charles as well. Sad, mad, bad planet.

FDM – compulsory viewing.

Ubiquitous Media

The conference theme (TCS 25th anniversary meet at Todai U Tokyo) has set loose a plague whose epidemiology can only be described as the onset of a ‘digital Adorno’ virus (I adapt this from Anthony King – I see Adorno referenced but not read, glossed via secondary readings, named but ignored, as ever it always has been…) and, worse, the conference alibis what looks like isolated individualism positing a corresponding technological determinism, such that new gadgets directly relate – without other mediation – to ‘subjects’ independent of corporate, commercial, or co-ordinating engagements (King again). The avoidance of politics seems to sum up what was wrong when it went wrong (plus the painful moment[s] when Hansen went on and on in a narcoleptic tone), but on the whole the conference was very very good. Despite typhoons and earthquakes, there was hardly a session that was not full of good papers; it was well organised, and the local food fabulous (okinawa bar – thanks Shinji). I’m pleased to know more about Bernard Steigler (from Ben and Jeremy) and to have met Dave, Mia, Tania, plus Shaun, Sean and Tomoko again. Toshiya’s argument that Transformers transformations are linked to the transformation problem of former leftists who went into cultural work was quite brilliant, and of course the best bits happened in between sessions and late at night in obscure bars.

My presentation had to do with ubiquitous paranoia, on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings, the fear/scapegoat manufacture of sleeper cells and tube bombers in England excuses an annual ‘event’ related to the efficient production of paranoia. ‘He’s behind you’ is the panto-demonization response, but the court cases and car bombs that coincided this year (2007), and the ‘suicide rapper’ routine of last year (2006), deserve a more detailed response. I have pursued this using the idea of ubiquitous narrative, ubiquitous critique, and retelling the story of that very mild mannered suicide rapper (aka Aki Nawaz) and the bed-time tales of Scheherezade – now captured, renditioned, detained and forced to tell stories to interrogators at Guantanamo for the rest of her days – one thousand and one nights is overdetermined, akin to infinity plus one…

My case is that the incomplete character of Scheherezade’s stories is what saves her. So when it comes to Fun^da^mental’s presentation of a recipe for bombs (readily available on the internet, but somehow also ‘secret’), there is a curious coincidence of interest in secrets on ‘both sides’. The ambiguous space of politics lies here – really lies – the gaps, the appearance and disappearance, the unknowns – this is what we might look at. The lie and deception are structured into story (they call this ‘spin’) and this seems to be an increasingly potent site of struggle.

So the fact that the conference had a great deal to say about repositories of secrets: about archives, about the empire of signs, investigations of code, attention to all kinds of message – this makes me want to ask questions. For example: is it mere coincidence that the proliferation of scholarly interest in code and archive – and of course the desire of google to document EVERYTHING – seems to be symbiotically related to the demands of the security forces that there be no secrets at all, that all information be admissible in court, that every bag be searched at the airport… No-one should have anything to hide – certainly not any Middle Eastern looking Brazilians on the tube….

These parallel information obsessions (archive/security; interpretation/interrogation) amount to what I’ll call the hermeneutics of anxiety. Isn’t it the case that worrying about the known unknowns has reinvigorated scholarship and vibrant debates about non-representation, cognitive systems, archives and code? And is this, not insignificantly, aligned to the homeland security demand to know the whole story, as most clearly and viciously enacted in the endless banality of the interrogation cells at Guantanamo.

The trouble with combating stereotypes is that they continue to bounce back up at you the more you knock them down. The suicide rapper (Aki Aki Aki, ) is not enough to counter the ideological hegemony of the spinsters; but what is? What is adequate to win, where the stereotype and the demon are known knowns, deployed knowingly as objects of paranoia, as necessary targets of a fear that binds the nation (I mean here Eurasia, Oceania, etc., those blocs Orwell had described in the nightmare of 84).

Ubiquitous digispeak. Ubik. Tokyo July 16.

[Photo by Naoko Sakurai]

And it was still raining…

Heaven and Earth

Once more in Shimokitazawa, where there is a small 5th floor club called Heaven & Earth, and where, after dancing sweaty hot electro and hip hop all night (and gospel for Charlie K), you can sit on the balcony as the typhoon rolls in over Tokyo and then you can get noddles on the way home with the salary men on their way to work. Its my favourite hedoistic hideaway adn always a lot lot lot of fun. Feel lucky to land there (another planet).

But it was not all play – I did at least do a little bit of a presentation for Tech/Animation (and sang) before the all night mad dancing come split level mutli-sited chaos-relief from the rigours of the TCS conference and reception (after Kittler’s talk) and much jet lag come self-induced sleeplessness took over. Walking home an epiphany about the styles of writing, and pleasure at meeting new comrades, getting gift books (“Culture on Drugs” looks good [Dave Boothroyd, MUP 2006] – and I was only just before taking notes on Freud’s guilt about the fate of Max von Flieschl-Marxow…).

Hence the rather subdued interventions at the conference today, but probably that’s probably good thing eh. Probably it was raucous enough as it was, this ubiquitous media routine. Jeremy Gilbert on Steigler tomorrow, in the presence of the man hisself, should be better.

Many thanks to Toshiya for organising (pic 1) and to the enthusiasts who turned up for the second year in a row (i am overwhelmed – pic 2) and to Midnight Snacks (here somewhat obscured, except for t-shirt slogan, in pic number 3).

And it was a fine thing that there were a good number of Goldsmiths CCS and associates in the crowd, and various other digniied (and as the night wore on elegantly un-dignified) peoples, and lots of very fine sounds, people willing to talk endlessly about interesting projects (Tokyo pirate radio post soon; anmation special; and perhaps reviews of Ian Condry and Dave B’s books – though probably just shout outs as they look quite good and don’t need to be trashed by me: “shortcircuiting the exasperating detourof communication” [Boothroyd 2006:47]). On the whole a fun nght had by all. But as a consequence, I’m skipping tonight’s visit with SL to La Jetee’ cafe-bar (sumimasen Chris Marker).

Some of this may seem a tad cryptic. When the jet lag subsides I may turn this diary entry into more proper commentary.

Christina Sornito


My excellent Coney Island tour guide, Christina Sornito has a fieldwork blog in the Philippines. I recommend very highly that you paste her url or atom feed into your google reader (or whatever feed reader you use)and keep up with the stuff. She promises to write about Islands, which is gonna make us all pine for those sunshine days…

http://recordingangels.blogspot.com/

and its really not just the place to go in search of pirates

The Eigteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar


So, with Laura, a paper for the conference on bsg planned for end of the month. My notetaking has been so frakking slow I cannot tell you, but parts of the plot now seem to show up on Draidis. So say we all. (Mere notes, sorry, see other Sci Fi bits in labels for more):

The Eigteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar

Repetition is the key to both the opening of Marx’s great text The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Boneparte and the back story to BSG, this has happened before and it will happen again. We are cylons, we forget we are, we build cylons, we repeat the forgetting…

Things repeat themselves, says Hegel, but Marx adds that he forgot to say the second time round it happens as farce. Hence Gaius, the comical hero of the new Battlestar Galactica remake (3 series done, the final one starts again in Jan).

So, I think this gives us an opportunity to demonstrate how a dexterous analysis from Marx’s text can make sense of the changing fortunes/opportunisms of both Gaius Balthar and the Mentat Roslin. And deploying this reading of bsg might then further show how the nuances of Marx’s class analysis in his book from 1852 – no simple binary plottings – can help us make sense of the convoluted violences of our lives today – in 2007.

But there should be no simple reading-off from the text to ‘correlated’ examples from the real, or vice-versa. The search for one-to-one correspondences is forlorn, the borg are not Intel or Microsoft – though its helpful to sometimes see that resistance is not useless (Picard as open source/or Shakespeare)

We project contemporary anxieties into stories, into space, into the future (Feuerbach critique of religion here?). Our constructions of what we do and desire are played out as farce. Gaius is our faulty and insufficient image – a pale mechanism through which greater hopes than his declared intentions are filtered. Gaius himself is cylon (how did he survive the original nuclear destruction of Planet Caprica if not – he just forgets, this little nephew, that he is reborn).

So, its not so much a questiion of who represents who in bsg. Sure, there are elections and unions (both yellow) and so on, but the potatoes in a sack are the (number declining) ‘people’ in the fleet – represented only by Galactica, or in the figures of Starbuck etc. There is a confusion here, analysed so well by Gayatri Spivak, between darstellung and vertreten (two words in German for one – in English). In Gaius we have the (farcical) representative of the people (their president, because they cannot represent themselves), and the picture of them (their number, they must be represented).

Though suddenly reading CLR James on Moby Dick I am not sure that Adama isn’t really Ahab. As all captains are.

Can we plot the co-ordinates of bsg, 18th Brumaire and Melville’s novel…
.

1857 – the cheeky chapattis

150 years ago. This text is somewhat overdue, as it as promised, then delayed, and reworked, then neglected, viciously, for too long. And its still not finished – these notes at least tell themain tale… Which is… That, in an important book which pretty much started the Gramsci influenced ‘school’ of Indian historiography called Subaltern Studies, Ranajit Guha tells a snappy little story about some chapatti’s that utterly confused the operatives of the British East India Company. Huzzar!

It seems worthwhile retelling the story once again, as has happened before. Guha writes in “Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India” that various numbers of chapattis – usually six – were transported from village to village as some sort of signal. The British noticed this, but had no explanation as to the meaning of the phenomenon. Guha notes that there were also circulating arrows and other weapons, but it is the chapattis that seem most to hold most interest, and the most promise. This was in 1855, and Guha of course relates this to questions of organisation in the lead up to the so-called ‘mutiny’ two years later.

One of the main innovations that Subaltern Studies historians offered was the idea that the historical record, in this case reports about mysteriously circulating sheaves of leavened bread, could be read against the grain so as to open up possible alternate readings, alternate histories (from below?). The historical record, written by the East India Company, shows certain troop movements and certain ‘intelligence’ concerns related to what can now be read as an organised preparedness on the part of villagers otherwise assumed to be sleepily subject to colonial rule. Guha here quotes Mao Zedong to underline his theoretical interest in the ways the peasantry, assumed to belong to a fragmentary polity, disaggregated (potatoes in a sack) and dispersed… Here, Guha suggests, is something similar to the solidarity of shared experience of oppression that Mao also found among the peasants of Hunan – subject to imperial power, they organise across perceived or assumed differences. The chapattis are a message that can be read as political communication today.

Unfortunately, when this story is retold in some social theory, the concerns of theory outweigh questions of organisation. Homi Bhabha also retells the story, but for him the chapattis are a sign of ambivalence, a cipher, open to … well, a theoretical arabesque that I appreciate – since the story of the chapatti is funny – but which misses the politics of rumour as organisation, or rather as evidence that questions of organisation must be asked.

[Here I want to bring forward a paragraph from chapter 8 of my Bad Marxism - I'm retelling, as I said]: “The debate hinges on Guha’s reading of the ‘revolutionary consciousness’ of the peasantry, which is born of their shared ‘subjection … exploitation and oppression’ (1983:225). In the context of his discussion of the 1857 Rebellion, Guha quotes Mao Zedong’s 1928 argument that conditions of counter-revolutionary suppression in provinces that are adjacent to each other serve to unite the diverse elements of the peasantry in a shared and ‘common struggle’ (Mao 1928/197593). The people are united against the oppressor. Guha’s discussion is of the ways that rumours circulate to establish and support this shared consciousness. The key story is of the greased bullets that soldiers were required to use in the Enfield rifle, with the defiling fat being an affront to religious sensibilities, and, as is well known, a ‘mutiny’ of soldiers in Meerut sparked off an India-wide insurgency. Of course, to see the events of 1857 primarily in terms of the rumour of greased cartridges only facilitates the colonialist view that it was a ‘mutiny’ within the military rather than a more wide-ranging rebellion and revolutionary fervour that caught the public mood, but there is no question that this confrontation has its role.”

So when I get to read Bhabha, I wonder at the way he elevates what he calls ‘the slender narrative of the chapatti’ to do service for a theoretical argument about the ways rumour and panic circulate. Myself, I like chapattis, and I think the story of a very British officer (of the EIC), scratching his stiff upper lipped head trying to work out what on earth the chapattis mean, is a great one.

[Again from BM]: “In reading this episode, Bhabha wants to emphasise the ‘rumour and panic’ involved, and suggests that the ‘slender narrative of the chapatti’ symbolises the wider contexts of the rebellion (1994:202). Following Guha, Bhabha wants to read the rebellion and the ‘subject of peasant insurgency’ as ‘a site of cultural hybridity’ – the rumour of chapattis indicates a panic that ‘constitutes the boundary of cultural hybridity across which the Mutiny is fought’ (1994:206–7). The chapatti is a displacement of the Enfield rifle and its greased bullet, the ostensible trigger. For Bhabha, ‘Panic spreads. It does not simply hold together the native people but binds them affectively, if antagonistically – through a process of projection – with their masters’ (1994:203). He then identifies the British ‘projection’ of their own binding panic on to the story of the chapatti. The British did not know what to make of the stories of travelling bread.”

Rumour and panic. Guha is careful to tell us that he finds ‘nothing in the contemporary evidence to tell us what the circulating chapatti meant’ (1983:239). Bhabha sees them as symbolic of the ways the coloniser was bound up, however much in a hybrid and ambivalent way. Panic circulates, confusion. But I regret that Mao and organisation drops out of the discussion – the peasantry was organised we should not forget. And Mahasweta Devi’s tale of the Rani of Jhansi shows this clearly too [if you have not read this book you should, this year of all years - The Queen of Jhansi - Seagull Books, Kolkata. See Devi post].

[BM 8]: “It must be said that here Bhabha usefully notes that the coloniser is bound up with the colonised (co-constitution), but that he displaces the politics of this into the realm of translation is revealing: ‘in the very practice of domination the language of the master becomes hybrid’ (1994:33). The chapattis, drums, arrows and rifles become signs of hybridity as the ‘address of colonial authority’, in the discourse of the evangelical Christian missions, is threatened by ‘the oppositional voices of a culture of resistance’ (1994:33). This resistance is ambivalent so long as it remains talk. But, in a brilliant coda to his discussion, Bhabha evokes other rumours that spread panic, in particular about Christian conversion (hybridity) and an earlier mutiny, this time in Vellore in 1806, where the leather of belts and topis (hats) provoked panic (1994:210). The trouble is that we don’t hear much of the mutiny as an organisational question. When Guha mentions Vellore it is not hats but stories of salt contaminated by the blood of pigs and cows (1983:267) that are the focus. What has happened to common struggle? Apprehension of loss of freedom through forced conversion to Christianity is identified, with a glance towards Marx, as ‘a product of self-alienation’ (Guha 1983:268, Marx and Engels CWIII:339).

The key absence in Guha’s narrative, but more so in Bhabha’s distillation of the story, is the question of organisation that must necessarily be asked in terms of what is required for any ‘revolutionary consciousness’ to succeed against oppression. Clearly rumour is not enough, even if chapattis are part of the story; the arms cache has more political significance. The section Guha quotes from Mao, though he does not draw attention to it in the passage, is from Mao’s critique of localism in a subsection called ‘Questions of Party Organization’. Here Mao is writing against opportunists and ‘blind insurrection’ so as to build the Red Army into a ‘militant Bolshevik Party’ (Mao 1928/1975:93). Mao does not mention hybridity, but gives a subtle analysis of what is required for a political struggle that can succeed. His text, ignored at the time by the Chinese Communist Party leadership, then under Comintern influence, later became a key analysis of the character of agrarian revolutionary mobilisation.

Guha actually refers a number of times to exactly this Hunan-Kiangsi Report in his Elementary Aspects (1983:29, 48, 58, 67, 89, 135–6, 163). Indeed, he refers almost exclusively to this one text by Mao. In the retelling of the story by Bhabha, hybridity is admirably foregrounded, but what recedes is any chance of, or need for, a discussion of the shared experience of oppression that binds the peasants together sufficiently to organise an uprising. We are left with rumours, chapattis and only a faint echo of ‘revolutionary consciousness’.”

Refs:
Bhabha, Homi 1994 The Location of Culture, London: Routledge.
Bhabha, Homi 1996 ‘Culture’s In-Between’ in Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (eds) Questions of Cultural Identity, London: Sage. pp 53-60.
Devi, Mahasweta 1956/2000 The Queen of Jhansi, Kolkata: Seagull Books
Guha, Ranajit 1983 Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India Delhi: Oxford University Press
Mao Zedong 1928/1975 ‘The struggle in the ChingKong Mountains’ Selected Works vol 1, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, pp73-104
Mao Zedong 1937/1975 ‘On Contradiction’ Selected Works vol 1, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, pp311-347.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, 50 Volumes 1975-2005 MECW Moscow: Progress Publishers & Lawrence and Wishart

This is a draft. It is destined for the publication for 1857.org.uk
Lal Salaam

The Banana Pancake Trail

I’ve seen a lot of new discussion recently of comfort foods on the tourist trail. I thought I would excavate comments on this from my “Rumour of Calcutta” book. Hence the following reminiscence:

From Chapter One: “The confusion which reigns in this kind of tourism derives from a predicament where the consumption of its product – insofar as the product of tourism is more than snapshots and souvenirs – entails no obvious or easily accumulatable tangible possession. ‘Good works’, experience, and cultural capital is less easy to reinvest. However, all the productions of these travellers – comments, letters, photos, and so on – amount to an overwhelming ethnographic archive that would repay investigation as the script of the ongoing dynamics of capitalist appropriations and ongoing constructions of cultural difference. More than this, low-budget back-packer tourism plays a significant role in the world order of the capitalist cultural economy, and not only through the enormity of representations it helps produce. The ability to move to conveniently inexpensive market and service centres through the facility of international travel yields a relatively high buying power with attendant ideological, habitual and attitudinal consequences – back-packers who can live like Rajas in Indian towns at low financial cost. An expanding economy revolves around middle-class youth travellers, and engraves the principles of consumption upon even the most ethereal aspects of their lives. The hypocrisy with which some travellers are condemned for renouncing materialism while looking for the cheapest guest house room or dorm for their ashram stay is relevant here. It would be an error to think that the global low-budget ‘banana-pancake trail’(4) is not an important component of the ideology as well as the economy of touristic consumption.”

FN: 4 “I have used this term to refer to the duplication throughout Asia of budget guest-houses serving touristic ‘comfort foods’ which are little different to the fare available in such places world-wide. Peter Phipps takes up this issue in a thoughtful study of Australian budget travellers (Phipps 1990:16). A number of the ideas I raise in this work were originally worked out at the Gnocchi Club, and I am indebted to Nick Leneghan, Chris Francis and Peter Phipps.”

From Chapter Two: “Much remains to be understood about the ways we justify our actions to ourselves, and travellers are no different than other communities in this. The conventions of the banana-pancake-trail provide confusion minimising familiarities, as does the sense of closed community developed in the Modern [Lodge Guest House]. Volunteers have their roles already defined to an extent, there is little demand upon them to invent their own cultural spaces and responses to what they find as unfamiliar.
“The worst thing about travellers in India is listening to them moan about what a bad time they’re having – prats” (Catherine)”

From Chapter Four: “While travellers who stop ‘long-term’ in Calcutta disconnect from the conventional circuits of tourism to a degree, the non-glossy aspects of Calcutta can be ‘marketed’ as well. When the ‘everyday’ becomes more interesting than the monumental, difficulties and incongruities become routines of pleasure. Large hotels and swimming pools are ignored in favour of the rough romance of the banana-pancake trail and cheap ‘local’ colour. New conventions emerge to cater for market differentiations, so that recently one large travel publisher released a City Guide to capitalise on a very suburban experience of the city. The map promoted an ‘informed’ experience of Calcutta, including sites of various charity organisations selling handicrafts, emporiums, missions, and cultural markers for a kind of ‘alternative’ or ‘intelligent tourism’ that doesn’t seem too far removed from any other mode of consumerism. The danger here is that everything can be fitted into the mould of consumption (in this case through a kind of alternative policing of space).”

From Chapter Seven: “of course it is not enough just to raise questions about the moral propriety of first world youth taking holidays amongst the people of the third world; it is not enough to encourage discussion of such contradictions in cafes along the banana-pancake trail (as twelve year olds fetch tea from 7am till midnight)”

There is much more to say about the comforts of home, about the possibility that backpackers have in the third world of living the lives they can only read about in glossy celebrity lifestyle mags at home, about the psychic economy, and material economy, and of security in the ‘guest house’… much more… check the signage in the photo of the glorious Hotel Modern Lodge: ‘ideal place for foreign tourist’. Says it all really – and so I am off to Japan on wednesday – Tokyo ikimasho!.

Jesus Trinketizaton

This disturbingly interesting post is from youth worker Mark Oestreicher. The convolutions of owning and believing are curious indeed. I normally would not bother with god-botherin’ types, but this is almost authorization from above when he wants to get the law involved in terminologies/normative ideal typologies or whatever we might call em, that I am prone to use on the main pages of this blog, am I right? I reckon he can go ahead and copywrite “Trinketization of Jesus”, but I do hope (and pray?) he will give me a free chain to put on the altar to Trinketization that I keep in my office at Goldsmiths. Whatever the ins and outs on smoking with the lord and so on, I think the best bit is the comment on the ipod picture by Patrick… Here is Mark O’s post in its glorous entirety:

“a clarification on
the trinketization of jesus,
and, this doesn’t qualify as
jesus junk”

Friday July 06th 2007, 9:56 am
Filed under: church, humor

“so, you may know that i post these fairly irregular “jesus junk of the month” awards. they’re not monthly, in case you haven’t noticed. deal with it.

people mostly find them annoying or hilarious (as i do). but occasionally, i recieve a comment or email from someone who wonders why i feel the need to point out this stuff, because “it’s just good people”, and “can’t you just leave them alone and not buy it?” no, sorry. first, i think it’s funny stuff. but even moreso, i have a deep level of disdain for what i’m officially naming “the trinketization of jesus” (i just copyrighted that, and will be selling keychains with that phrase embossed on them in a few weeks). i’m not opposed to all products that have a christian angle to them; just those that cross the semi-fuzzy line into trinket-land. tchotchkes for jesus.

here are a few of my ‘favorites’:
the colors of faith duckey
p31 dolls
‘we are fishermen’ jesus figurines
weddings on water houseboat chapel (that’s a BIG trinket!)
the fire bible
‘your best life now’ board game
gospel golf balls
the jesus pan
jesus as a teenager painting

that said, i have a bit of hypocrisy on this subject. here it is: my stomach does not turn when the trinketization is done by someone outside christianity (most of the time). in fact, it’s at that point that i sometimes even want the product! yes, they are often kitchze. but that’s part of their charm! i bought a christian friend who smokes an ashtray with jesus’ face on it, and the phrase, “jesus hates it when you smoke”. i still think these bible jump drives are kinda fun. if they made this cross mp3 player, i might want one. i love wearing the t-shirt a friend made for me with a classical painting of jesus wearing a larry-the-cucumber t-shirt, or the one with a classical painting of jesus wearing a ys t-shirt.

and in that vein: i cannot give this “hymn book leather book cover for ipod” the coveted jjotm award. if it were in a christian bookstore, i’d disdain it. but created by a company called “suck, u.k.”, somehow i love it. sorry. my bad. jesus is probably rolling his eyes in my direction right now”.

(ht to seth for the ipod cover link)

5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

the best part of that hymn book ipod case is that in the picture, the selected tune is a gorillaz track. from the album ‘demon days’. classic.

Comment by patrick 07.06.07 @ 11:53 am

Makes sense to me. This stuff kills me. Christian bottled water? I mean, seriously … let’s take the greatest gift in the history of all time, a relationship with God, and try to make money on it any way we can. Nobody is getting a testa-mint (Christian candy), and finally realizing they need a savior. I always try to explain to believers that this stuff makes them look like the extreme Star Trek fans. The ones that everyone else thinks is weird because they have bumper stickers, t-shirts, and Vulcan candy (which, by the way, I would totally buy in a heart beat). In other words, it only attracts other Star Trek geeks – to the rest of the world, it’s a giant “steer clear” sign!

Comment by Matthew McNutt 07.06.07 @ 2:11 pm

Marko – you should see the Youtube I’ve come across entitled Jesus Junk

Comment by Gman 07.06.07 @ 3:12 pm

This really does make a good ipod disguise. Someone sees an ipod on the seat of your car, he/she may take it. But who’s gonna nick a hymn book. Not b/c its a “religious” item (God will strike you dead, if you steal a hymn book!) – but your average joe just isn’t in the market for hymns these days.

Comment by doodah 07.06.07 @ 5:22 pm

The Jesus bobblehead doll is still my favorite. I received one a few months ago from Ship of Fools.

No Borders Gatwick

first notes for a Migrating University to be held at Gatwick International Airport amidst the No Borders Camp(link below)

The No Borders camp at Gatwick in september (19th-24th) is an ideal opportunity for the local uni to rouse itself from sleepy London and show its solidarity with Britain’s new settlers, condemn the Government’s asylum and detention practices, and expose the hypocrisy of having unregulated capital flow alongside racist fortress-europe restrictions on people.

So, let’s get Goldsmiths on the move.
- tent university, courses and workshops on race, migration, Muticulturilism, gender and sexuality, Media, culture, literature, music, activism and education etc.
- practical and theoretical programs, taught by current Goldsmiths and invited international(ist) professors, general staff, gaduates and students,all welcome.
- a non-elitist and democratic administrative structure, not a teaching factory governed by commodity servicing
- a fighting representative education union, open to everyone, no i.d cards
- for critical radical intellectual renewal drawing upon the vast creative and expressive resources of people’s movement(s)

Etc.
please add things to this… and of course read the Invitation to the No Borders Camp proper

The No Borders Camp invite is here and No Borders proper is here.
.

No Borders Gatwick in Sept.

An Invitation To The Gatwick No Border Camp 2007

From 19th to 24th September 07 we will gather at Gatwick Airport for
the first No Border Camp in the UK. This camp will be a chance to work together to try and stop the building of a new detention centre, and togather ideas for how to build up the fight against the system of migration controls.

Gatwick Aiport – The Border Point
Gatwick is a border in the middle of Britain. People arrive hereeveryday. People are forcibly deported from here everyday. It is a place where people are imprisoned for unlimited lengths of time withouttrial, where people are forced to hide underground and be invisible,where people are treated as criminals for the ‘crime’ of crossing the border.In Britain, the government has recently announced its intention tobuild a new detention centre, near Tinsley House, another detentioncentre at Gatwick airport. This will be another in a long line of barbarous prisons across the world, imprisoning people who migrate.Unless we stop it from being built.Not far from Gatwick there are other border fortifications: theimmigration reporting centre at Croydon, the airline companies who charter deportation flights and the ID Interview centre in Crawley. Anda few miles away are the border posts at Dover and Folkstone, wherefear of detection by the border police forces people to risk theirlives hiding under lorries, or in suffocating containers.
While the physical borders get fortified, governments also tighten upthe internal controls: from international databases to videosurveillance, biometric ID cards to electronic tagging. Just recently,the UK government has announced the introduction of the Sirene System.
This will grant Britain access to the SIS (Schengen InformationSystem), a EU wide police database for refugees and migrants, plannedto be extended to keep protesters from moving around.
A Tactics Laboratory
How does daily life, from the need to work for survival to the welfaresystem, reinforce these borders? How can we fight against the commonacceptance of borders, the idea of an inside and outside? How can we claim freedom of movement as a basic right? How do we assert ourability to decide whether to go or stay, according to our needs anddesires, not the needs of the state or the economy? How can we escapecontrol, and start building a movement powerful enough to challenge the
divisions between people?We need to share knowledge with those who have broken these borders,the hackers who escape control, those who survive without work andmoney, those who fight the detention system , those who question identities, those who have learnt to organise themselves withouthierarchy or divisions.Camp(aign)ing Against BordersThis camp is continuing the tradition of the No Border camps across the world since the late 1990s, and like the camps taking place this yearin the Ukraine in August and on the US/Mexican border in November. Itwill be a space to share information, skills, knowledge andexperiences. A place to plan actions together against the system of borders which divides us.We are aware that the struggles for “no borders” reach far beyond “openborders”. Without borders the idea of states will become obsolete,without states the national economies will be history. In a world without borders, nobody will ask for papers anymore.The camp will also be a laboratory of political and practicalself-organisation. The camp will consist only of people’s contributionsto this. We are aware of the borders which divide ourselves from each other, be it sex, class, race, nationality, or whatever. The bordercamps are experiments in how to overcome these artificial andseparating identities.
No Borders
No Borders is a network of groups struggling for the freedom of movement for all and an end to all migration controls. We call for aradical movement against the system of control, dividing us intocitizens and non-citizens.We demand the end of the border regime for everyone, including ourselves, to enable us to live another way, without fear, racism andnationalism.
We move, we meet. We talk, we fight. Come camp with us.

< http://noborders.org.uk/>

And an idea for something to bring to the Camp… Let’s bring a Uni. See here.
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Bombs don’t go bump in the night …

So there are Bombs that don’t go bump in the night … The new/not so new development in wartime-Britain this week is that relatively mundane places … a trashy nightclub, a regional (!) airport, a carpark … have become targets™. And, more importantly, this targeting is an admitted consequence of robust security at more prestigious and high profile locations: according to ‘an intelligence source’, symbolic targets are now ignored in favour of a policy aimed at a more general destabilization, by way of ‘easy to make’ car bombs (‘Independent’, 1 July 07). Suddenly (how sudden?) Mike Davis is required routine reading on all sides, as the anniversary of ‘7/7′ approaches. [see buses]

The surprise is not that there was a car bomb (which was defused), but that it took so long for London to get one of its own. I am not suggesting that Davis’s bestseller tome on ‘The People’s Air force’ hurried this traffic along, but as a vehicle of critical thinking some will find his book so predictable that it stalls any attempts to read all the way through. On a slow news day speculation as to motive and meaning of this thwarted/botched attack on a trashy London club gains more space than might be warranted. Or rather, the space that warrants conspiracy theorizing-cum sane calculation of the anticipated blowback of the bloodless coup that installs Brown in place of Blair (don’t blink) means that all news seems to wash over us, seamlessly now … we are left contemplating jazz … Even the terror alert is business-as-usual today, there’s no surprise when here in paranoid London the return-to-normal is unseemly fast. The Pride march (the London one is a week after NYC) was the manifest character of this return to normal (how ironic) … and it hardly registers that the very first reports pondered whether the bombers were really targeting the gay parade, when it turns out it was more likely to be the so-called “hen’s nights” frequenting the razzle-dazzle club who would have been splattered, bleeding forlornly, from Piccadilly Circus through to Park Lane.

The burning vehicle outside Glasgow airport evokes other flaming cars in the traffic of images in our time. Recently a sports presenter narrowly escaped death after tumbling a rocket powered dragster end over end in a field for a TV show … he was soon on heavy rotation celebrity talk-back … here ‘Top Gun’ car porn still has its heroes … And then an anniversary tabloid tele-exposure of Princess Diana had her dying in her drink drive accident Paris smash, aired just before her 46th birthday party … the boy-Princes made a point by staging an event immediately after, as public concert … the ‘candle in the wind’ spluttering once again, with feeling … I think we need a vehicular appreciation of the war … instead of the tread of the Panzer tank tearing up the paved cities of Europe as they did just 60 years ago, a burning jeep tries to squeeze through the revolving doors of the arrivals hall at Glasgow. Instead of buzz bombs, bus-bombs, I guess. Travel gets invested in warfare once again, with a new fold … the stirrup and the war machine I think D&G were on about, now transmuted into transport terror … and there are close links between troops on the march and the unfolding violence of grammar … the ellipses in these sentences here are both tank tracks and a tribute to Burroughs, scourge of mere Mildred Pierce style reportage … the dots trace an absence you can do more with as ‘no-man’s land’ than as writing. Mind the gaps in the story, the pieces out of place, the jig-saw yet assembled, the cell is still at large … paranoia takes hold and strangles you in sequence …

… and every moderate Muslim is called upon to alibi yet another round of random stop, search and harass procedures … yet another escalation of quivvering anxiety … yet another set of calls for increased police resources ‘in order to cope’ … and an ever more robust assertion that the murderous blitzkrieg of foreign intervention that provoked this entire debacle will not be dulled … the new Premier continues with the old … and democracy on the march will be carried forcibly, if need be, to those who deserve it so much … we are on the bus and the destination is marked ‘Crusade’ …

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