Monthly Archives: March 2008




Finance sector alpha drone

Service sector beta drone


Decline of manufacturing/

Export of manufacturing

‘creative’ economy/

New Imperialism


The finance and creative sector is not neutral/

…middle class and liberal-academic chatter provides an alibi/

… for a war on terror which is also global finance and race/class privilege/



- immigration

- – asylum ‘fears’

– eastern Europe

- – Muslim profiling

- – racism’s histories


+++Class as articulated through above

++Gender an extension of the above


Campaigns for tolerance or hospitality not nearly enough

- acceptable face of racism used to prepare ground for:

- – greater than ever use of the ‘war of terror’ and ‘clash of cultures to police

- ingrained racism that leaves Africa in ‘darkness’

… and the poor in Asian and the Americas (Mexicans, Blacks [not Condoleezza])

… … and globalized women’s labour, unemployment, lumpenization

on the wrong side of the international division of privilege


Despite well-meaning middle-class liberal urban campaigns ‘for Africa, against racism, against trafficking, for a free Tibet … for democracy…


  • Capitalist elites new imperialism bureaucrats/experts
  • Nationalists/racist right/communitarianism
  • Political Cultures/ Political Islam, Hindu Right, European, English…


Popular classes – workers and communities unite, against the comprador clergy – for new alliances against capitalism and its liberal apologists, nationalism and its nimby enablers and the clergy and its mealy mouthed tolerance.

gotta buy a notebook or pda so as to organize something better.


Adorno to Benjamin

The “Complete Correspondence of Benjamin and Adorno” (Polity 1999 or Surkamp 199towers1.jpg4) is always a good read on a cold rainy [even snowing] day.

Adorno to Benjamin:

Teddy writes to Walter trying to wean him from his trinket mania, get him to sort out the Arcades, and get him on a boat to New York. Along the way he invents a theory of trinketization. Keen to affirm his solidarity with Benjamin, Adorno is careful not to insist on any orthodox version of Marxism, but he also warns against an abdication from Marxist theory:

‘The impression which your entire study conveys – and not only to me with my Arcades orthodoxy – is that you have here done violence upon yourself. Your solidarity with the Institute, which pleases no-one more than myself, has led you to pay the kind of tributes to Marxism which are appropriate neither to Marxism nor to yourself. Not appropriate to Marxism because the mediation through the entire social process is missing and because of a superstitious tendency to attribute to mere material enumeration a power of illumination which really belongs to theoretical construction … you have denied yourself your boldest and most fruitful ideas through a kind of pre-censorship in accordance with materialist categories (which by no means correspond to Marxist ones)’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, p 284).

This suggests that Benjamin was merely coquetting with the forms of Marxist theory and not thinking them through (coquetting is Marx’s diminutive word in Capital for where he used the language and style of Hegel, in an analysis that went well beyond Hegel, see the Forward to Marx 1867/1967). On Adorno’s reading (of the draft), Benjamin might be confirmed as ‘the [nice, harmless, cute] Marxist that you could take home to meet your mother’ (as someone, I forget who, once said). Adorno is teasing and pushing him to be more inventive and rigorous – at the same time – with his connections. And it is connections to which he is attuned, noting:

‘ a close connection between those places where your essay falls behind its own a priori and its relationship to dialectical materialism … Let me express myself in as simple an Hegelian manner as possible. Unless I am very much mistaken, your dialectic is lacking in one thing: mediation’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, p 282).

Mediation then would be the theorization of connections between the ‘mere’ material observations and fascinations of the Arcades, of the baubles that interest the flaneur, of the observations of the analyst, and of the notations of the writer – mediation is the vehicle of analysis. Adorno marks this as a phantasmagorical and mystical error:

Your ‘anthropological’ materialism ‘harbours a profoundly romantic element … The “mediation” which I miss and find obscured by materialistic-historiographical evocation, is simply the theory which your study has omitted. But the omission of theory affects the empirical material itself’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno p 283).

At pains not to offend his friend, but also careful to call for something more, Adorno rephrases the same point again and again:

‘To express this another way: the theological motif of calling things by their names tends to switch into the wide-eyed presentation of mere facts. If one wanted to put it rather drastically, one could say your study is located at the crossroads of magic and positivism. This spot is bewitched. Only theory could break this spell – your own resolute and salutarily speculative theory. It is simply the claim of this theory that I bring against you here’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno 283).

Adorno goes on to write The Dialectic of Enlightenment with Horkheimer, Benjamin ends up sitting bleary-eyed far too long in the cafés of Marseilles, and finally does not make it over the mountain. The suitcase is lost, we do not know if these prods in the direction of theory had recast the manuscript.

Siddown Siddown!

tricorn.jpg“Hey you, up the front, pull yer head in, your noggins’ in the way, I can’t see the action”.

I have long been a fan of Owen Hattersley’s word and image hoard as found on “Sit Down Man Your a Bloody Tragedy”. It presents a (recently very) Keiloresque version of London that is a somehow both a well-informed mix of architectural-spotting psycho-geography and has the tone of an ethnography written by some 50′s era fixated interplanetary alien cosmonauts (with cannon ixus 750s on board). We know Owen from when he spoke at a workshop we organized at CCS a few years back and I think his stuff is pretty wonderful. I’ve been recommending it to students wanting evidence that something interesting is going on in London (and its been a constant source of great images – and wacked out soviet era postcards – for a long time).

And indeed, something must be going on in the UK since the government has released a brand new Security Strategy ‘to deal with national emergencies such as terror, disease pandemics and flooding’. I am looking forward to reading that! I betchya it doesn’t have very good pictures, but the portrait of a class cleansed urbane Britain that it offers will no doubt be crystal clear.

Own has a piece in the ‘New Statesman’, which you can find out about after directing your cursor *here*.

Frankenstein in Iraq

me-lie.jpg“wretch … it is well that you come here to whine over the desolation you have made. You throw a torch onto a pile of buildings, and when they are consumed, you sit among the ruins and lament the fall” (Shelley Frankenstein 1818/1992 228)

I was sent some systems static by a close friend from America, who feels it more than most (but just as much as we all should feel). Not without a certain justifiable anti-patriotism, she offered a lot of questions about the plight of the boy soldier returned from Iraq, and these questions were more than I can ask or extend here – and are by and by engaging. But there are so many angles that for the first time I think that to ask questions is not even part one of the story. More like: when and why did we stop asking questions with an angry passion? Why did we start mouthing the words of critique? rather than finding better ways of putting critique to use? Naive eh, sometimes I just don’t get it. I don’t get it when what seems clear turns into convoluted mud, and I don’t get it when the committed and the dedicated also stall.

I certainly don’t get it when those that were not on ‘our’ side, turn themselves over to ‘our’ side, and yet still seem to have missed the point.

I am stuck in a convoluted never never land where it is ok, and even normal, to ask what is a confession? More, what is a confession of remorse when the atrocity is a crime against us all?

What can we do with such terrible stories from the wastelands of hypocrisy?

“…next image. This man right here was my third confirmed killed. As you can see, he was riding his bicycle. Later on in the day, we went ahead, and we had CBS’s Lara Logan with us, but she was with the other squad, and so she wasn’t with us. So, myself and two other people went ahead and took out some individuals, because we were excited about the firefight we had just gotten into, and we didn’t have a cameraman or woman with us. With that being said, any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books. The man on the bicycle, he was left in the street for about ten minutes until we realized that we needed to leave where we were. And his body was dragged about ten feet to the right of him, where his body was thrown behind a rock wall and his bicycle was thrown on top of him”

So, although I was sent this confession of the winter soldier on ‘Democracy Now’, I do not know what or how it confesses. Harrowing, and yet all stuff what we already knew.

Its My Lai again, but in the desert 40 years on (the My Lai massacre was May 16, 1968 – about 500 dead by ‘unofficial’ body count). Can the confessing soldier be redeemed. Ulysses took several months beforehand, and the players will never say cafe or leave a trip… too bourgeois…. ([added later - I was so tired end of term that I have no idea what this sentence was meant to really say - Odysseus must have been coming back from war with some sort of bloodfeast on his hands, but it took him ten years to muster up the courage to go back to his son Telemachus and wife Penelope. The players saying cafe and tripping - leaving a tip for a coffee - refers to who knows what... its the end of term, I was nodding off on the keyboard])

Frankenstein’s monster is full of remorse at the end, and prepares a funeral pyre. The horrific winter soldier’s tales are less honourable and have something self serving in them.

Frankenstein himself is addled with laudanum, unable to sustain his bourgeois genius:

“Ever since my recovery from the fever I had been in the custom of taking every night a small quantity of laudanum; for it was by means of this drug only that I was enabled to gain the rest necessary for the preservation of life. Oppressed by the recollection of my various misfortunes, I now swallowed double my usual quantity… (Shelley 1818/1992:189).


Several cascading families, social turmoil, ecological catastrophe … and no return … just say maybe to drugs. The soldier will need medication to get through those stories, and with not much of a public health support infrastructure in the States, his future as a Rambo-type crazy lost in the American badlands seems guaranteed. The monster has not burned on the pyre so much as turned into a self sustaining culture industry.


Žižek sets his own curfews.

zizek.jpgSlavoj Žižek has some funny ticks – I remember him taking three and a half minutes at the end of the Lenin and Philosophy conference in Essen (February 2001) telling us all there were only six minutes left for discussions and we should not make grand statements and we should avoid extravagant declarations … and we only had five minutes before the close…. and we should not say too much and… four minutes… etc etc..

His book of Lenin’s essays is a great contribution, so I was pleased to see him still in fine fettle here on Democracy Now. Especially the first response where, worried about how he comes across on tv, he identifies himself to those who would police such things (himself), as the father of a daughter whom, if some one asked to take her out, he would not let go out to the movies – the movies! – with himself. Its a revealing slip where he accidentally identifies himself as his own daughter. I would not let him go out with me. The perfect slapstick parent-copper-oedipal-narcissistic compound …

…well, read or watch the rest for yourself (last twelve minutes of the Goodman hour). There are the usual witty wind ups about elections, the sixties, Barack… and some sharp points about war crimes, the Soviets, the liberal left and Barack… I can only think this played well in some circles and completely bamboozled Pat Buchanan (hat tip Leila):

Here is the first part:

“AMY GOODMAN: … We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Thank you very much. I am honored to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: When I asked you specifically how to pronounce your name, you said you’re nervous about people who pronounce it correctly.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Yes, because I—no, but this is more a private trauma, like I don’t like to see myself. Whenever I see myself, like there on the screen, I’m tempted to adopt the position of an observer and ask myself, if I were to have a daughter, I would never allow that guy to take me to a movie theater. So—

AMY GOODMAN: But you also said you would be concerned if it was pronounced exactly, that perhaps that person came from the police.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK: Yeah. Effectively, yeah, because only they really know. You know, this is at least my East European myth, that police are the ones who know…”

Read more here

Nepal turning red via ballots not bullets?

prachanda1.jpgComrade Prachanda addressing a mass rally in Backtapur, outside Kathmandu, on March 12. Nepal’s general election is on 10th of April and is more important than the cobra-mongoose death embrace that is the election most people seem presently obsessed about (Zizek, Kellner, the entire media, everyone except the residents of Florida who already know their result).

Oh, and did you hear there was an election in Malaysia where the opposition made massive gains despite the usual vote-tampering shenanigans (as illustrated on opposition blogs, for example by seat-winner Eli Wong – check here).

In the meantime, this picture of Prachanda says a lot about the moment of transition from feudal monarchy to modern Maoist state. Remains to be seen how the Maoists will fare, and exactly what modern Nepal will look like, but it has to be better than the Nepal that Michael Palin found so charming in his traveller’s trip (see here or here).

(pic nicked from APW – thanks)

neighbours are there for each other

march1308-006.jpgGotta say that so far moving to the new house has been a joy. And my neighbours made it all the more wonderful when last night, before I could even get a free evening (because of Tara’s party – happy birthday Tara), there was a street aesthetics rectification action. What I mean to say is that the horrible Lewisham Council funded “We are Living in Fear” posters that have appeared on every second lamppost on my street were summarily torn down overnight, and well before I got a chance to go out and do them myself. Well done. They lasted less than 48 hours – good neighbours.

I’m not really that bothered by the posters so much as the stupidity of whoever thought the idea of saturation plastering on every street might have been any sort of smart act. Dumb dumb dumb – though everyone agrees both the design and the message of the posters really are grotesque. There are two kinds march1308-008.jpgI’ve seen, both utterly obscene – and having the second one placed outside Lewisham College is particularly offensive. Who are the ‘they’ that ‘want our pods’ (the parody of hip language deployed just does not work). And why these particular silhouettes? Oooooh, its all so scary. Clearly many locals see this as just another moment in the creeping shuffle towards a pathetic unthinking half-baked police state. I am proud to see that Lewisham residents won’t stand for it. And I hope elsewhere ‘they’ will be ripping the rest down as well. Short easy work. Clean up Lewisham now.

Doc Sean

march1308-001.jpgMeant to post this a while back – Sean passed his viva. Congratulations. The picture is Sean and Lisa expressing their appreciation for my photography skills. Red Salute Dr Mckeown.

Panto Rancière

The twin towers have been so often represented that it is barely possible to see them now for the fug and smoke. In a certain sense, and for some critics, the question of representation collapsed for Cultural Studies on that day in September, 2001. Of course everything has already been said about it, and nothing heard. The towers are silent, the lives erased then, and the many more lost since (and the billions in war credits) are also verbosely inarticulate.

In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s film The Last Bolshevik and Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired – see Hutnyk 2000, chapter 1). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).


Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Godard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much? The book “Pantomime Terror” will be an attempt to work with and through these scenes towards something more than the melodrama or melancholy that Rancière diagnoses as innocence become guilty sacred mission (Rancière 2001/2006:186). In a brilliant moment he recognizes that it is what he calls the burlesque body – and what I will call pantomime – that provides us with a ‘dramaturgic machine’ for cutting ‘the link between cause and effect, action and reaction’ by throwing ‘the elements of the moving image into contradiction’ (Rancière 2001/2006:12). It is this secret contradiction that we need to see at work.

The terror for me is this delinking cause and effect. That the image becomes mute, that we become blind, is a problem. These are the terms used by Buck-Morss and Žižek in books that address the events of 2001, and it was the constant refrain of former British Prime Minister Blair in defending British foreign policy in the wake of the July 7 2005 tube and bus bombings in London.

More detail will be needed on this mutation and blindness of representation, but is it enough to note that in his 2008 book Violence Žižek calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek 2008:69) and Buck-Morss, in her book Thinking Past Terror, offers ‘the destruction of September 11 was a mute act. The attackers perished without making demands … They left no note behind … A mute act’ (Buck-Morss 2003:23). It should be said she qualifies this ‘Or did they?’ but the choice of an absent verbal – mute – message is something we should return to, listen closely to, consider again, and not just with our eyes scanning for evidence, but ears as well. In a similar tone, we might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterize the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers indicated a scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, the old psychoanalytic staples are invoked). More details to be added here on the symptomatic eventuality that has to be pathologized via fables and pantomime in order to be dismissed.

More to come…


Patrick Swayze Dance with Death

There will be no “Dirty Dancing 3″ it seems. Sad, but at least we can luxuriate in the recollections of knowing that “DD2″ (2004 – where Patch was a dance instructor) will have been the last outing for the Rambo of the ballroom, and the flame will never be dimmed. I am dismayed that he has cancer, but also not surprised since his delicate health has always been an issue. There was a time, soon after his work in Kolkata on the film “City of Joy”, that we were very concerned. Roland Joffe, director, had had to build a secure fresh water pool for the monsoon scene of that film since to have his star swim in regular Kolkata water would have been too big a risk. After the shoot we got some souvenirs too (a jar full, see below) – we were fans not only of “DD”, but also his excellent, Keanu-mocking role in “Point Break”. But it was the “City of Joy” stuff that was a worry, Swayze said at the Melbourne premier that while he could normally command a seven million dollar fee for a film, he so wanted to do this one “for the people of Calcutta” that he accepted just one million dollars. Here are some excerpts from my “Rumour” chapter on the film [with pictures added for my amusement] detailing the story of the fake slum, the fake promo shots, fake protests and fake stool – a farce all round in a city that deserves more than a dirty two-step coin trick:

Cinematic Calcutta

This chapter considers cinematic Calcuttas … The Joffe film, “City of Joy” is the primary focus because this film was made in co-operation with volunteers from the Preger clinic living in Modern Lodge. It presents highly-worked, advanced media technology, scripted and choreographed version of the rumour of Calcutta, so that the experience of travellers and visitors as portrayed in the film version … Released in 1992, “City of Joy”, directed by Joffe and starring Swayze alongside Om Puri and Shabana Azmi, offers an opportunity to evaluate the role of the movie camera in the presentation of India, and Calcutta (to the world beyond its shores). The distribution circuits of the film are all the more relevant here since City of Joy takes as its subject a ‘volunteer’ visitor who works in a street clinic very similar to that in which the travellers I met worked. Indeed, ‘the same’.

The plot of “City of Joy” is simple. The film begins with the death of an anonymous patient on an operating table in a modern American hospital. The surgeon in charge of the operation suffers anguish and despair over his failure. Cut to India.
Hasari (Om Puri) and family travel to Calcutta by bullock and cart, bus then train – the acceleration of this travel trajectory is not accidental. With warnings from a Grandmother to “stay away from the cinema”, they arrive to the crowded Howrah station amidst a Communist rally (which is the only scene which indicates any formal political presence in the city at all). They spend a first night camped by the Hooghly river and are then deceived into renting someone’s apartment by the charlatan Mr Ganguly. After Ganguly disappears, and Hasari and family begin to settle in, they are suddenly chased from the apartment, which was not for rent, and was not Mr Ganguly’s in the first place. Having lost all their savings, they mark out a space of pavement.

Dr Max (Patrick Swayze) arrives at Sudder Street’s Fairlawn Hotel (no bar fridge, offers of a “lady”) and takes a shower, musing over his absent passport, which he has left at an ashram, and his earnest quest to find enlightenment/escape from his failed life in America as a surgeon. In the first of what are many uncommon occurrences for this ‘typical’ American tourist, the porter from the Fairlawn brings Poomina, (Suneeta Sengupta) an allegedly 20 year old “lady”, with whom Max has “some problem” (a euphemism for sex?), but resolves this by going out drinking. As must happen with all Americans stranded in a ‘foreign’ city, Max ends up in a sleazy nightclub, the drinking bout leads to a bar fight, as goondas bash him – a very unusual event to befall a tourist in even the most seedy of Calcutta’s bars, more likely in New York – and he is robbed of all belongings. Hasari, from his pavement space nearby, intervenes and brings the near unconscious Max, with Poomina’s assistance, to Joan’s ‘City of Joy’ street clinic. Joan (Pauline Collins) patches up his wounds, shows him around the clinic, its small dispensary and school, and pays his way back to his comfortable hotel.

Max “doesn’t like sick people” and resists Joan’s obvious plans to recruit him as doctor for the clinic. Hasari learns to pull a rickshaw, bringing Max back to the hotel in a mad zig-zag through proverbially crowded streets. The unlikely entrance of such a rickshaw into the grounds of the hotel is not the least of the inaccuracies (or rather, artistic licence) of the film – the street protocols and hierarchy of business and propriety which operate even in Calcutta’s relatively small tourist trade are glossed over in this realist portrayal.

Rickshaw work is controlled by the family of Ghatak, whose son Ashoka (Art Malik) – the one whose gang beat up on Max – demands that Hasari ‘neigh’ like a horse if he wants to pull a rickshaw. The more pragmatic father examines Hasari’s chest (for signs of tuberculosis) and demands “loyalty”, and Hasari becomes a rickshaw wallah. While in Pilkana, the real City of Joy, hand-pulled rickshaw’s have been long replaced by bicyclist-driven ones, artistic licence again erases the contemporary conditions of Calcutta and no recognition is made of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation campaign to end the use of hand-pulled rickshaws. Although the hand-pulled rickshaw is still prevalent in the inner city area, this fictive shifting of them to the City of Joy is another calculated inaccuracy: such omissions of urban planning efforts in Calcutta are significant devices in presenting the city as the exemplar of massively abstracted ‘grinding poverty’. Upon establishing himself as a rickshaw wallah, Hasari and family move into a room in the City of Joy. Hasari plans to save for his daughter’s dowry (no criticism of this practice acknowledged, despite signs of a school, and thus by implication the usual campaigns to prevent the illegal practice of dowry and the many tragedies to which it leads through extortionate demands).

The notion that Ashoka and the Ghatak family organization are somehow, consciously or unconsciously placed in the metaphoric location of the Left Front Government and its officials in Joffe’s version of Calcutta may occur to some. As the slippage from specific characterizations to generalized ‘how things are in Calcutta’, and with the conspicuous absence of the communist parties in most of the film, it seems clear that Ghatak, as embodiment of all evil and corruption, will be associated with formal authority in the city. The message is that the only authority in Calcutta is corrupt. This crypto-anti-communist lesson from Joffe will be acknowledged and internalized to varying degrees of conscious recognition – and moreso if audiences are aware of any of the wranglings Joffe had with the Government of West Bengal, Bengali intellectuals and the Calcutta press over the propriety of making this film. While it is not possible to show that the characterizations of the Ghatak family must be seen as a Joffe slag against the CPI(M) through ‘metonymic’ substitution, this does raise questions of the motivations of those involved in this sort of film-making, and that perhaps the film is about Joffe’s, and Swayze’s, frustrations more than much else. The explorations of Swayze’s tortured self, the search for enlightenment and meaning, the works of ‘charity’, in a psychoanalysis by substitution, can be read as Joffe’s own experience. Despite criticism from almost every quarter in Calcutta – from the Government who banned his film to other film-makers, including Satyajit Ray who said he couldn’t film on the streets of the city – Joffe belligerently and relentlessly pursued his project. There were great difficulties encountered in scenes filmed in the streets, although most of the film was shot in a specially built million dollar set in suburban Calcutta. Swayze recounted the excitement of filming with a certain tension in a promotional interview: “we were forced to just set up the camera and shoot before anyone noticed what we were up to”. (Less generous critics on the roof of the Modern Lodge called this the clandestine realismo approach to film-making).
Max, meanwhile, is trying to buy a hamburger in a streetside “no beef” cafe. He spots Ashoka, gives chase, but is detained by the police. Rescued a second time by Joan, he comments upon her work in the street clinic: “are you just nuts, or are you doing penance here?” Joan replies with the first of many pro-charity soliloquys that would not seem all that out of place at a Modern Lodge roof-top meeting: “I came on a whim in the first place, but then I stayed. In the beginning it was really frustrating trying to convince them not to be so bloody passive, and then I realised I was fighting a thousand years of passive acceptance”. The theme of passivity is the recurrent explanation of people’s predicament throughout the film.

Max: “Maybe you should stop doing this”. Joan: “Maybe I should … but I’m not very good at loving just one person, it seems to work out better if I spread it around a little bit”. After this exchange Max reaffirms his faith in the Dallas Cowboys, American cinema and Mickey Mouse. Joan’s “simple-minded, but tidy” three part explanation of the ways of the world – there are runaways, observers, and the committed – does not seem to impress as Hasari invites him to share a meagre dinner. After a planting ceremony of seeds in a pot on behalf of his daughter’s dowry, the farmer who must always watch something grow, asserts the ‘simple’ joys of life. But very soon after, this tranquil scene is disrupted by an emergency which only Max can deal with, and although there is no morphine, diazepam … local anaesthetic, he is able to assist in the delivery of a breach birth – an awesome scene in which the doctor asserts the full authority of the medical tradition contra indigenous superstition and fear. Amidst all this, Hasari’s wife Kamla (Shabana Azmi) assists the doctor on the strength of her experience as a mother of three, and earns a position as his nurse when – after the loss of his airticket home, and a little soul searching: “I don’t even feel good about what we did down there today, bringing another little mouth to feed into this cesspool” – he ‘volunteers’ to help in the clinic on a continuing basis. Max: “You call this a clinic!” Joan: “We’ve got no brain scanner either Max, but we’re doing the best we can” (these lines, and a scene involving the sale of donated milk, were offered to Joffe, I suspect, from the chief humourist at the Preger Middleton Row clinic).

In the meantime Poomina has been ordered to attend school under Max’s directive. Max and Joan visit Ghatak (Shyamanand Jalan), who offers Max a lesson in goonda philosophy: “I have learnt not to trust those who say they do things for the benefit of others”, which Max violently rejects. This is an interesting refusal which encodes much of Joffe’s message; unlike the passive and yoked people of the City of Joy, Max will not bow down before the power of the oppressor Ghatak. He calls upon the people of the City of Joy to rise up against the Ghatak family: “You should get pissed at the people who are really using you”. This is as admirable a message as it is naive. Even the most cursory history lesson about Bengal would have taught Joffe that any suggestion that Calcuttans need American coaching in order to organize a political mobilisation is wholly absurd. Passivity here works as Western arrogance and denial displaced by self-importance. Near the beginning of the film Grandmother had warned Hasari’s sons Shambu and Manooj to “stay away from the cinema”, but Max, a film-buff’s fanatic, had taken them to see an action-hero epic. Max is the agent of (cinematic) change, although a mature assessment of the effects of cinema upon him in his youth, where his adulterous father packed him off to the movies while pursuing his affairs, might lead to other evaluations of the impact of paternal directives. While Joffe does not take up the metaphor of movies and paternalism which could be read into this scene, the self-referentiality of Joffe’s cinema jokes may have unforeseen dysfunctions which should not be lost on critical audiences who are likely to note that the real “users” in this film are the Americans, Swayze and Joffe, and the imperialist system which makes possible this sort of cinematic characterization of Calcutta by wealthy celluloid “bosses”. Fatherly protection and paternalistic charity are the guiding themes. The rest of the film follows the script of classics like The Wild Bunch and The Seven Samurai, as Max leads the people of the City of Joy to organise and, subsequently, Hasari inspires the rickshaw wallahs to rebel against the oppression of the Ghatak ‘family’. There are several almost predictable setbacks: Hasari contracts tuberculosis, a common complaint among rickshaw wallahs; he loses his rickshaw to Ashoka and he is forced to sell his blood (a sensational aspect of poverty included in the story and around which the author of the book “City of Joy”, Dominique Lapierre, was severely criticised); an attack is organised by Ashoka and his goondas upon the leprosy clinic; and there is a near-death action-camera experience for Max during the monsoon flood (the 250,000 gallons of water for the flood was specially pumped into the watertight set Joffe had built to enable monsoon filming without regular ‘polluted’ monsoon water – the entire project overseen by Star Wars trilogy special effects wizard Nick Allder).

There is one terrible scene where Ashoka traps Poomina and uses a razor to cut her cheeks to “accentuate that beautiful smile”, although Max’s surgical skill is sufficient to restore her beauty. Moving from active woman to silent ‘child’, Poomina’s character develops in a way that underscores certain gendered and ethnocentric assumptions about Indian women. From an assertive, but fallen woman who initiates all interaction between herself and Max, and brings him to the City of Joy clinic, her increasing passivity contrasts to her initial resourcefulness as she is ordered off to school, is attacked with the razor by Ashok, is carried to safety by Max who sews her slit mouth shut – making her unable to speak in the entire second half of the film. After functioning as the catalyst for Max’s arrival in the City of Joy, as well as providing a hint of exotic and erotic intrigue, Poomina is silenced almost as completely as Hasari’s daughter, who, without a word, and possibly in Poomina’s place, is married at the end of the film with the dowry that Hasari has almost killed himself to earn.

After this, the film’s denouement is a scene reminiscent of the manger sequence in Jerusalem in late December two thousand years ago. Amidst a grey Calcutta, just one shining light beacons for all Christian souls – the clinic of the City of Joy – as the camera pulls back to a full panorama and the credits roll.


There is much in “City of Joy” that people could find offensive. The simplicity of the emotive codes in which poverty and the conditions of Calcutta are explained away as problems of passivity, and localized exploitation, avoids any analysis of the global economic factors which depress such sectors in Calcutta. Max, even though the audience recognizes that he is from the wealthy ‘West’, is still presented as the man with the answers, despite the self-help rhetoric of the clinic. It is never acknowledged that Max’s own patronizing attitudes and ‘answers’ are founded upon the full might of neocolonial exploitation of Calcutta by international capitalism. Nor does the representation of women in the film, as smiling, passive, beautiful and increasingly silent beings, provide any degree of analytic sophistication. Such formulaic representations of bodies cannot achieve more. The absence of those who in other (local) narratives of the city are seen to be doing things in Calcutta, be it the Corporation, or the militant communists and CPI(M), simply affirms the film’s misrepresentations of Calcuttans as passive (apolitically joyous), and Americans as those-who-have-answers. This is not Calcutta, and although I’m not sure what is, or how its diversity could be represented (but see the films of Mrinal Sen), it is possible to argue that despite being ‘about’ Westerners in Calcutta, Joffe’s film does not at any stage address an explanation of the problems of Calcutta in terms of international relations, nor does it consider the dimensions of local conditions – positive and negative – in the context of Calcutta’s political history, or provide more than a gloss over the factors of class and caste which should take at least some place in any narrative. That he prefers instead to lay all blame on a local petty bully boy, in an emotional and sentimental heart-throb wild west adventure in which Patrick Swayze saves the day – hi ho Silver – is nothing short of amazing.

Can the camera, in the hands of a Western visitor, see otherwise? If “images of Calcutta are restless and constantly shifting in meaning” as Joffe says (Filmnotes 1992) is it possible to disrupt the code that he has played out here? There are other films of Calcutta, but I do not think the ‘difference’ that these films display is a difference that enters or effects the codifications that determine Joffe’s images. The reasons for this are prejudices and ethnocentrisms that are not specific to the camera, but are neither disrupted nor displaced by it either. Imperialist business-as-usual seems to be the order of the day – the camera is a fold in perception, and yet nothing much has changed. Similarly, Joffe can present himself as a more sensitive film-maker, alert to many of the pitfalls and assumptions of cultural difference, able to recognise at least a degree of the indeterminancies of meaning in which he is involved – “Calcutta taught me to take nothing at face value” (Joffe, Filmnotes 1992), and yet still make a very conventional film which reiterates Kipling-like arrogances.

There are too many of these bad news stories in a city which gets a bad press. Its inscription as the exemplary site of photogenic poverty and overcrowding is continually reinforced, the analysis and action which might address Calcutta’s problems is not forthcoming, and despite all this Joffe persisted in forcing his production onto our screens. In Calcutta the filming was bizarre; riots outside, and invasions of, the set, hijacking of the cast’s food truck, union bans, huge crowds come to see the Indian film stars, stone throwing, police lathi charges (bamboo baton), delays of all kinds, the shooting of the film attracted much – perhaps too much – attention. There were, it seems, also some problems with Patrick Swayze’s bowels: in April 1991, Modern Lodge volunteer workers were able to auction off a stool sample bottle with the star’s name upon it found among junk donated by the departing film crew. If we were interested in authenticity we might expect to find Dr. Max in “City of Joy” spending most of his time in the bathroom attending to his diarrhoea. This, of course, would be unseemly in a popular film, however much it would resonate with the experience of visitors and their ongoing shit-talk. The viscous limit of “City of Joy” is reached by blood, childbirth and a fairly sanitized focus upon the stumps of leprosy. With a fabricated slum, with imitation monsoons from pumped bore water, hand-pulled rickshaws where there are bicycles, joy in destitution, and what the film crew described as ‘chaos all around’, it is still a wonder that the film appeared at all (a tribute to Joffe’s cash reserves). During the period of filming there were numerous reviews, pro and con, and promotional articles in the Calcutta press reporting the sensations of riots and intrigues on the set. A whole gossip and rumour system in itself. Subsequently the whole affair has entered more literary writings as a background event in other stories about Calcutta. For example a character in Sunetra Gupta’s novel “The Glassblower’s Breath” announces his successful tender for the contract to build Joffe’s set: “So he would be building a slum, a slum to slum all slums in this city of slum, for no slum had proved slum enough for the City of Joy … Do you feel no shame?” (Gupta 1993:233).

Wholesome purchase and transportation of slum dwellers’ houses went into the construction of the ‘City of Joy’ set. One volunteer noted that the bustee dwellers must have thought Joffe was mad; ‘he comes in, sees the broken down roof of hessian and the tin sheets and says, “I love it, I’ll have it” and peels off three or four hundred rupees to give to the owner. Then his henchmen get to work, remove the old wrecked roof as carefully as possible and replace it with a strong solid new roof!’ (Kath). Yes, it is crazy. The old roof is fitted into Hollywood’s authentic Calcutta.

As a coda to this, the scene in “City of Joy” where Max gives a rupee to the begging children can stand as an emblem for all the themes of third world tourism and charity. Max plays this out as a sleight of hand in a way that recalls Derrida’s presentation of Baudelaire’s counterfeit coin tale. Unlike Lévi-Strauss who dismisses the begging child’s call for one anna as ‘pathetic’, Max engages with the children, and amuses them with coin tricks. Here we can read a routine of savage curiosity over colonial magic often played out to remind Western audiences of their technological advantages. Max is soon overwhelmed by the numbers of children his offer of coins attract and he is forced to flee – the very same scene appears in John Byrum’s 1984 film version of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, where Bill Murray arrives on the steps of the Ganges in Varanasi4. What does the coin trick signify here? Is it that the Western visitor has the power to give and yet also to fake the gift, and abandon the effort when the demand gets too much?

The coin, as symbol of money, is not, here, the universal marker of value that it is in the money form for Marx. The burden of money in Marx is to be both a commodity exchangeable for itself as well as for all other commodities. Max’s coin cannot be exchanged. The coin, however, is a marker of an exchange in another way – the coin given to a beggar is a marker of power. This is a transaction which shares its structure with the appropriation of photography or film, an abstract directional exchange. Max exchanges his coin for the return that comes to all who give … The coin Max gives has its value “stripped away” (Marx 1858/1973:147) and it comes to stand for a social relation, so that the trick of this scene is that the gift of a coin, as any similar scene of ‘poverty’ is reinvested through the media circuits and wider economy of received images of India. This scene travels. In another context Spivak provides an analysis of this counterfeit and quotes Marx as saying: “in the friction with all kinds of hands, pouches, pockets, purses … the coin rubs off” (Marx in Spivak 1985:81), recalling that Nietzsche too mentions coins which have lost their face through rubbing. This occurs in his famous comment that truths are only metaphors, of which we have forgotten their illusory nature – “coins no longer of account as coins” (in Spivak intro to Derrida 1967/1976:xxii). Another formulation; in Capital, Marx says, “During their currency coins wear away” (Marx 1867/1967:125). “Im Umlauf verschleissen namlich die goldmunzen, die eine mehr, die andere weniger” (Das Kapital p.139).

From: The Rumour of Calutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation. Zed 1996.

The pictures I have included here also tell a story – here they are in order:Patrick and Suneeta; advert for City of Joy with Howrah bridge in background (remember this pose); Howrah Bridge itself; original scene for the ad pic with Art Malik as goonda-henchman – with no Howrah Bridge; and finally, a two-step trick just to show my love for PS is boundless – our two families; made into one, since we are all having the time of our lives…

and I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you”

ASA – From Post-Imperial Anthropology to Post-Anthropological Empire?

A cross post from the Association of Social Anthropology site, filed here (awaiting moderation), but check the original if interested.

As I cannot face reading the papers with War Hero Harry splattered (in the wrong way) across the front today, I visited the site of the Royal Anthropological Institute looking for comment, then landed on the ASA site. Predictable I guess, but a few comments in an otherwise interesting post have me queasy, as Subir Sinha writes on

“Over time, of course, anthropology began to exceed its imperial beginnings to become perhaps the most self-aware discipline in the academy…”
“Anthropology, consequently, has had little to do with the current imperial iteration. Deep knowledge has been replaced by ‘adequate’ knowledge …”
“Of course …geo-positioning satellites and allegedly ‘smart’ bombs made intimate knowledge of terrain unnecessary …”

[As if we should lament this latter missed opportunity and the consequent book sales, but my point is not this]…

Subir continues:

“In fact, much as knowledge was a constituent element of the previous iterations of empire, ignorance is a constituent element of this current imperial project…”

What provokes me to respond harshly here is that it is surely not a case of supplying the armed forces with a reading list or a manual for cultural exchange – though it seems that’s already underway from the anthropologists who brought us COIN – rather, the responsibility to combat the ignorance that fuels the current crusades is a much more active engagement with anti-war pedagogy.

Because I feel that anthropology, despite many well meaning and lovely-smart-critical people, has abandoned its responsibility in the face of total war, Subir is half correct to end with:

“Now that anthropology has become post-imperial, has empire itself not become post-anthropological? If so, what are the implications?”

For mine, I think the implications are grave if we accept this portrayal of anthropology. I can be sympathetic with the intent and the problematic, but I am somewhat amazed at the claim that anthropology is both the most self-aware of disciplines and somehow ‘in fact’ not implicated in the iteration of imperialism today. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the workings of what I will call the Jedi Mind Trick of liberal-civilizational abstention.

I do not line up with Fukayama-Rumsfeld or the turn-coat Ignatieff, but I do think to ignore the profound role anthropology has had in providing ‘knowledgeable’ alibis and cultural awareness for the war effort is dangerous. Not intentional of course, but a failure of intent – publicly anthropology has become not much more than a code word for a smattering of relativism and the ability to manage a greeting in several languages: (namaste, namaskaar, sat sri akal). It is a false and limited cultural-literacy that appeals as a resource in our numerous graduates that enter paid employ of the state and commerce. The even more numerous non-graduates – those who might sit in on one or two courses, a few lectures or accidentally sign up to an interesting sounding conference, or even ‘heaven forbid’ read a work of a stray anthropologist-public intellectual – and who might gain their degrees or pursue their work in a mistaken belief that they do have some greater degree of self-awareness, knowledge of others and, at most, experience in cultural difference via the ‘rough travel’ auspices of Lonely Planet Guides…it is these people that we enabled to run the war of terror. In Subir’s post, how can the ideological role of liberal cultural expediency be so systematically ignored, and responsibility for this ignorance not placed at our departmental door?

Needless to say, in the circumstances I balk a little at Caroline’s expression of pleasure that someone is positive about anthropology (in this way), and find Mils comment that ‘there is almost no possibility of a policy-maker (junior and especially senior) reading an ethnography’ at least slightly reassuring – though in my experience it is patently wrong. Jonathan Spencer is wise as ever, and usefully takes us elsewhere. But that Mils ends his last comment with a plea to oust the experts strikes me as more productive:

“I know terrorism theorists who have spent approximately none of their academic lives worrying about terrorism. And it’s them who get approached to address classified seminars; produce research strategies and review policies and plans (formally and otherwise). That’s influence. It could be benign, could be malign – but such folk are not shy … why let them continue unchallenged?”

Well and good at one level (if you know these terrorist experts, list names and addresses, and the times of the next meeting), but the challenge is certainly not to buy into the alibi game, become the critical paid lackey (not handmaiden of colonialism but court jesters of globalization) for those who would like more cultural awareness for the troops, a little sexing up of the dossiers, an imprimatur of scholarly credibility for the business-as-usual bombing campaigns. A worrying scenario presents itself: it does not strike me as much good if some anthro gets themselves invited to speak on Marcel Mauss and the Gift Economy at a closed session of the Defence Procurement Budget Strategy Team in Whitehall – I don’t think anthropologists are self-aware enough for that just yet.


Writing Diary

The diary, a memoir, notebooks, letters from the field – the ephemeral residue of the research process of anthropology has increasingly attracted attention, become raw data for cultivation, sifting the soil. This text offers an elaboration and personal appropriation of the flux of comprehension across the unusual long-time visitation of a peculiar mode of culture vulture inscription practiced by some of those we call ‘ethnographers’. Ethnographer – the one who writes culture, but in the examples I want to consider here, does so over a long dureé, returning, in person and in purpose, not always both, to the site of a certain fieldwork. I am interested less in the fly-by-night consultancy that seems to gain in popularity as anthropology as an academic discipline wanes, nor do I mean that first year ‘training’ visit of the apprentice doctoral student that most anthropologists once were (they sometimes stay, they often return, I am not dismissing these visits, but looking to the recidivists). I am interested in the dynamics of a certain commitment, and its lacunae. Consider for example the anthropologist that returns each year for twenty or thirty years to the same village, town or urban area, watches families grow and places change, gets to know the locals and becomes part – if a somewhat irregular part – of local lives. Such a person – at first a stranger, more and more a familiar stranger – accumulates friends and debts, histories and enemies, may forget as much as recall, possibly learns to not jump to conclusions, explanations, understanding, and so understands all the better, and less. Over twenty years it is common that youthful enthusiasms are tempered by the realization that one ever knows less and less as knowledge grows. I am interested in this, and have diaries, notebooks and letters to help me make something of the scene.

Indeed, I have been worrying about this little corner of my office for a while – a pile of books and notes, some of them my own diaries, those of my grandfather, those of friends accumulate. Also, there are a good many great texts to be considered. For the moment I am leaving aside some of the best – Claude Lévi-Strauss and his “Tristes Tropiques” (he is 100 years old quite soon), Jean Genet in love in Palestine, Michel Leiris’ examining his Manhood, even the more conventional anthropology of Victor Turner and Sandombu or M.N.Srinivas and “The Remembered Village”. I will not forgoe some of the worst, or rather some of the most heavily cultivated, already over-farmed, franchised and perhaps turned into show-garden displays suited only for exercises in flower arrangement. I will write again about Malinowski’s diary, of which ‘everything has already been said’ (Rapport 19 XX). And I will dig about in my own soil a little too, at risk, great risk, of indulgence.

“My works are only waste matter, once they leave my body they cannot stand up by themselves” – Artaud.

I also want to talk about war. Wars and knowledge. Writing and its ephemera as a record of war. To think of the diary as analogous with warfare is one of Michael Taussig’s conceits in “Law in a Lawless Land”, his Colombia diary, published 2003. In that text, after some thirty years visiting a town in the Cauca Valley, the ethnographer published an elaborated diary (diary entry reworked at home – in New York and in London) documenting the rise of the Paramilitary in Colombia, who kill, assassinate and ‘cleanse’ towns and villages in response to/death-embrace with the left-wing FARC Guerrilla . To think of writing a diary as cathartic engagement, also a cleansing, means to think of writing as tactic and strategy of a war machine analogous with the Frieikorps of Germany and the henchmen of Hitler’s SA (Taussig 2003:11). Not a fashionable association by any means, suggesting an indictment of writing. Editing is glossed as tactics and strategy and the cut-ups of William Burroughs are a weapon. I suddenly remember that Malinowski’s diary is a war diary too.

In 1914, at the outset of World War One, Malinowski found himself in Australia…

[…here I would put a bunch of stuff about Malinowski as a war exile, right up to his comments on anthropology as a way of dealing with ‘the problem of Black Bolshevism’]

What I mean to say is that all diaries are war diaries, at least in the anthropology I read, whether it be the traditional far far away reports on the Third World and other brutal fictions, or the slight narratives inadequately rendered as ‘anthropology at home’ which persist in finding a patronising tribalism in the activities of locals that are merely not anthropologists: called migrants, marginals, deviants, exotics – diasporics, subcultures, women, the working class. This paternalism structures writing even when attempts are made at ‘study up’ or at ‘multi-site’ fieldwork: simulation tribal subjects are still made to conform to the ethnographer’s authority and expertise under the professional credo of a social science that says, ‘see these strange people, look closer and I will show you they are not so strange at all’. We do not have many diary format studies for the metropolis or for corporate sociology, and there are reasons for a lag in the uncertainty and doubt in the author-writing-structure where the powerful are concerned. Which is itself revealing, I guess.

But Taussig looks back over his ‘notes scribbled down at the time’ and ponders ‘over the frankness, the naiveté, and the imprecision’ (Taussig 2003:47). I am struck that such scribblings do not often appear in the texts of the urban anthropologists, and know the doubts of reflexivity, and the consequences of a political reassessment, have not (yet) transformed certitudes and authorities ‘at home’. This does not mean I am easily convinced, or that I even want to be easily convinced, by the enactment of uncertainty and doubt in the text of the Colombia diary. Easy queasy. There is still a very big problem of the subaltern and proprietary rights and writing at several levels. A longer quotation on the gang and guns-infested squatter settlement at the end of town might illustrate the tos and fros:

“Variously known as ‘the barrio’ … I keep wondering if the people who tell me about [it] in such vivid detail have ever been there. And what does it mean if all this imagery comes second- or third- hand? The logic is cruel. Because the barrio is so dangerous, nobody goes there, so people feed their fears through telling on another these stories. But can it be entirely fantasy? There must be some crucial connection with reality. But maybe that’s the inferiority complex of the ethnographer, not to mention the friend, who defers to the native’s point of view? What I mean is that you always submit to the authority of the trusted confidante, that because she lives here all her life, and sees so many people from different walks of life each day, she must get a true picture. But maybe that’s wrong? For surely a collective fantasy resists truth and makes its own reality? I go round in circles, which only gets more confusing when she tells me that either the police or the guerrilla supply the barrio with arms” (Taussig 2003: 61)

So many of the sentences in this paragraph begin with ‘but’ in a way that belongs only to the diary form, even if added to the scribbles later. It is important to remember that the published diary is always edited, for Malinowski in several ways, and this is true even where Eric Michael’s sad and tragic “Unbecoming” unravels the conceit of the locked journal with a vivid terminal urgency. Taussig’s diary elaborates in a way that stages diary-writing but has a greater purpose. It is the form of the diary at the service of ethnography, and may be the best way to tell the personal stories or terrible violence he collects from the people he knows in the town. Brothers, uncles, neighbours are killed, retributions, revenge, stalled legal proceedings and threats, fear and silences: ‘the more violence and horror, the more my work seems worthwhile’, writes our diarist (Taussig 2003:28) – but I suspect this was not written in the real-time diary itself, it must surely, necessarily be post-hoc, mustn’t it? This is ok. The diary form facilitates a writing that is not not ethnography, and includes phrasings like ‘in my opinion’ at he end of controversial sentences (Taussig 2003:31). To find a form of writing that best conveys what is so hard to convey is itself a great ethnographic skill, in my opinion.

Longer rhythms of fieldwork – sometimes – offer from anthropology a longer contextualisation of economic and political history. Usually a tragic story, these can be narratives of encroachment, invasion, ‘development’ and transformation, at best a heroic tale of resistance, more likely the notebooks tell of corporate appropriation and capitalist transition (not without romantic and pastoral nostalgia). Taussig laments the lost beauty of the ‘three-dimensional farming’ of the integrated forest and mixed economy (Taussig 2003:20) now replaced by sugar cane.

Transition is the context of so much ethnography, and for a long time has been impossible to ignore – already noted my Bronislaw, but made manifest in the work of the Manchester School and Gluckman et al

The war is always a part of a bigger war, and that is what we need to also understand. The encounter and the specificity are suspended in vicious webs of signification, or concentric circles, or venn diagrams that accumulate and overlay each other until the forest blocks out the trees. Yet this is the task of the little stories we will tell. That an encounter in a village in the tropics off the coast of Papua New Guinea is a part of a wider struggle between capital and those not yet pacified for commerce is a long bow. It can be drawn, and I only sometimes think this is a task only for Oddyseus, who has travelled twenty years from island to island.

Anthropologists today have learned to take an interest in ‘state declared tax-free zones called “industrial parks”’ (Taussig 2003:21)

What is the contribution that a diary can make that other forms of writing cannot? Is it a gentler form of persuasion, is it a more nuanced way of getting into the personal complexity and out and out messiness of lived experience, even amidst war, is it to remind our readers, and moreso ourselves, that the everyday has a greater impact than clinically calculated sentences do not capture? Does the diary form capture? Kidnap? Detain? Render (as in rendition)? Execute? Does it do all this all the more viciously for its mufti disguise? Camouflage is a uniform too, and khaki is not by accident the base colour of choice for the military since the 1840s.

More to come on: Rachel Corrie diaries, and War diaries from the Mass Observation project; my Grandfather’s war… more on jottings and idle talk…


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