Category Archives: anthropology

December 2009 in Kolkata

113_1387I am lucky enough to have been invited to go to Kolkata in December for a symposium on the “Cultural Politics of Preservation”, organised by Gayatri Spivak. Was asked today what I would present on. Gulp. I have no idea yet. How about this:

To work among the masses – co-research, institutionalization or vanguard intervention?

I am interested in the ways intellectual work, debates around method, and the ethical position of both the academic researcher and the vanguard political intersect with questions of preservation and globality.

Inspired by, and critical of, several examples in relation to this, I have three themes: a) I want to talk about the Co-Research or Class Recomposition Studies approach that emerges from Autonomist Marxism in Italy in the 1970s and which has been discussed a great deal by European activists in recent years (eg Kolinko group); b) my second ‘case study’ is the traditional project of ‘Anthropology’ as an institutionalized way of both ‘going to have a look for yourself’ and of inscribing ‘peoples’ inside a global knowledge apparatus (libraries, textbooks and the like); and c) my third example is the problem of the vanguard party and what, and how, it knows about the ‘masses’ (from Mao’s report on Hunan to the critique of Leninism today).

In this way, a perspective on the critique of cultural preservation might be developed drawing on my previous work on cultural exotica, rumour, writing and activism.

[I am not sure if this will work out, but I think its where I am just now]

There was also a request for some relevant representative work (let’s debate that term, ‘representation’). I sent this lot:

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/junglestudies.pdf

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/ershybrid280104.pdf

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/bataille.pdf

(pic -taken on the train to Kolkata)

“funny how the ‘trickle-down’ is so much more effective when it’s the redistribution of loss” -IT

img_7678Eating hot soup in my Taipei room at 5am, aircon and airlines contrived to make this visit feel like a crash landing, but the paper went well – I think, and I’m told – even if Andrew Strathern’s response spun off into the anthropological-inevitable, ritual, Victor Turner, Rene Girard, Gregory Bateson and other similarly bongo bongo themes (I was talking about machines, war and education, but it was at an anthropology conference – I will post a link to the paper soon). Yet there was a good discussion – Andrew’s small aside chastising me for saying indexicality was finally broken by CGI (= Computer Generated Imaging for orthodox anthros who should get out more) was perhaps the most interesting part of the response and generated some hostile comments from the floor. He’d missed the point that I reported this as someone else’s view – but it was fun to argue that indexicality was always broken, always subject to question for its partiality, metaphoricity (see Miller – The Reason of Politics) and that I’d like him (Andrew) to explain to me why translation wasn’t a more relevant word here. Yes, we got that obscure. But I was talking about education, sort of like here, but also something like what is well done by IT here. Examining the cost of fluctuations of the economic cycle upon our practices in the teaching factory/sausage factory is perhaps a good way to find resonant and relevant explanations of what is going on. We can say this to students in ways that might have more ‘purchase’ than abstract News-reporter chatter about bail-outs, bank rates and house-prices. Trickle, Crash and Crisis are in the end quite empty – not indexical – metaphors for the economic ‘downturn’ and the inevitable squeeze on those not resource-able enough to resist the vampire sucking, body-stealing, asset stripping zombie stomp of capital eating its young in order to survive. See the crisis bite next time you are asked by the vice-chancellor to tighten your belt – Ho Chi Minh was told something similar by Mao when he had asked for help from China during the war. Tighten your belts, Mao said. Send us belts, Uncle Ho replied.

The pic is from the WLA – a prize for working out what that has to do with the index.

Bakun and other damn floods

My friends at Suaram have been vigilant where no-one else has. I wrote on Bakun dam, resettlement and anthropological complicity in the journal Left Curve years ago (see link at the end of this post), and I remain interested in the politics of dams in general (from Aswan to Narmada to the Snowy Mountains). That there be opportunist politicians and compromised anthropologists comes as no surprise, but that they think they can pass themselves off as do-gooders (or at best naive) is not something that should pass unremarked. That Bakun and Suaram activists keep working at this juncture no doubt needs more support than this, and of course it would be good to see more than calls for an economic rethink, more than an expose of the schemings of piggy pollies, and surely more than a solidarity blog post like this. But the first step is to be informed, and Dr Kua Kia Soong leads the way.

THE SARAWAK DAMS: MULTIPLE FOLLIES

By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 22 August 2008

The recent announcement that the Sarawak government intends to build 12 more dams in Sarawak apart from the ill-fated Bakun dam is cause for concern. It is a cause for grave concern. Malaysian tax payers, Malaysian forests and Malaysian indigenous peoples will again be the main victims of this misconceived plan.

The stop starting since the damned project was first proposed in the seventies, the proposal and abandonment of the aluminium smelter, the upsizing and downsizing of the dam, the inclusion or exclusion of the undersea cable project are all symptomatic of a wanton disregard for planning. Let us remind Malaysians of the ludicrous inconsistencies of official policy on this damned project:

On Off On Off On

In 1980, the Bakun dam was proposed with a power generating capacity of 2400 MW even though the projected energy needs for the whole of Sarawak was only 200MW for 1990. The project was thus coupled with the proposal to build the world’s longest (650 km) undersea cable to transmit electricity to the peninsula. An aluminium smelter at Bintulu was also proposed to take up the surplus energy.

In 1986, the project was abandoned because of the economic recession although the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir announced just before the UN Conference on Environment & Development at Rio that this was “proof of Malaysia’s commitment to the environment” (NST, 13.6.90)

In 1993, with the upturn in the Malaysian economy, the Government once again announced the revival of the Bakun HEP project. To cushion the expected protests, the Energy Minister Samy Vellu gave Parliament a poetic description of a “series of cascading dams” and not one large dam as had been originally proposed. Before long, it was announced that the Bakun dam would be a massive 205-metre high concrete face rockfill dam, one of the highest dams of its kind in the world and it would flood an area the size of Singapore Island. The undersea cable was again part of the project. There was also a plan for an aluminium plant, a pulp and paper plant, the world’s biggest steel plant and a high-tension and high-voltage wire industry.

Then in 1997, with the onset of the Asian financial crisis the Bakun project was put on hold for the second time. But the scandal was, while the anthropologists in all the Malaysian universities were sound asleep, the Government proceeded to remove 10,000 indigenous peoples made up of fifteen different ethnic groups from their ancestral lands. All this happened while the project was on hold and Malaysians shouted “Malaysia Boleh!”

In 1999, after the economy had recovered, the Government again announced that the project would be resumed albeit on a smaller scale of 500MW capacity.

Before long in 2001, the 2400MW scale was once again proposed although the submarine cable had been shelved. Today we read reports about the government and companies still contemplating this hare-brained scheme which is now estimated to cost a whopping RM21 billion! Not only that, we now hear that the 12 more hydroelectric dams will be generating a total capacity of 7000MW by 2020 – an increase of 600 per cent from current capacity!

Who Pays?

Ultimately it will be the Malaysian consumers who pay for this expensive figment of the Chief Minister’s wild imagination. Enough tax payers’ money has been wasted – Sarawak Hidro has already spent some RM1.5 billion on the project. The human cost has been immeasurable – 10,000 indigenous peoples have been removed from their ancestral lands in 1998 even while the project had been shelved.

Improve the Efficiency of our Power Stations

If the Prime Minister really wants to know the state of the Malaysian energy industry, he should ask for independent audits on every power station in the country. These should preferably be done by reputable international audit authorities from outside Malaysia. We are told that TNB is now selling off property, power stations are not working at full capacity and that the electricity industry is hugely indebted.

Right now, the country is being fed conflicting reports about energy demand. There is supposed to be a 43% oversupply of electricity capacity in peninsula Malaysia. Experienced Bakun dam watchers will tell you such conflicting and mutually contradictory assertions have been used by the dam proponents to justify every flip flop of this misconceived project.

Show Us the Plan!

Apart from the economic cost and the wastage, how are investors supposed to plan for the long-term and medium term? What is the long-term plan for Bakun? Can Bakun compete with the rest of the world or for that matter, Indonesia?

Aluminium smelters to take up the bulk of Bakun electricity have been mentioned ever since the conception of the Bakun dam project because they are such a voracious consumer of energy. Even so, has there ever been any proper assessment of the market viability of such a project with the cheaper operating costs in China?

Does it matter that the co-owner of one of the smelters is none other than Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) Bhd Group that is controlled by Chief Minister Taib’s family business interest?

Clearly, Bakun energy and Sarawak’s tin pot governance do not give confidence to investors. First it was Alcoa, and then Rio Tinto also had second thoughts about investing in Sarawak.

Damn the Dams

Concerned NGOs have all along called for the abandonment of this monstrous Bakun dam project because it is economically ill-conceived, socially disruptive and environmentally disastrous. The environmental destruction is evident many miles downstream since the whole Bakun area has been logged by those who have already been paid by Sarawak Hidro.

The social atrophy among the 10,000 displaced indigenous peoples at Sungei Asap resettlement scheme remains the wicked testimony of the Mahathir/Taib era. The empty promises and damned lives of the displaced peoples as forewarned by the Concerned NGOs in 1999 have now been borne out.

The economic viability of the Bakun dam project has been in doubt from the beginning and the new scheme to build 12 more dams merely represents multiple follies and a scandalous flaw in planning.

.

This was from Suaram. The money shot is from a blog post a few days back noting that ‘some 2,000 people from 400 families living downstream of the RM6bil Bakun hydro-electric dam project site in Belaga district in central Sarawak had been served eviction notices by the State Land and Survey Department’.

On the Politics of large dams, see Patrick McCully’s book Silenced Rivers, and an old piece of mine on the Bakun scheme from Left Curve #23 1999 ‘Resettling Bakun: Consultancy, Anthropologists and Development’.

First Human Terrain Team casualty

As anyone who might have looked at my writing in ‘Jungle Studies’ (here) or ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’ (in Critique of Anthropology and reprinted in Bad Marxism) knows, I am not much of a fan of the close embrace that anthropology has with imperialism. Having argued that the old ‘Anthro as Handmaiden of Colonialism’ argument needs to be updated to ‘Anthro as Globalization’s Filthy Pimp’, I am also not a fan of the mealy-mouthing of ‘pledges’ and worthy declarations (Catherine Lutz art CASCA was ok but too mild). I think a more active resistance to the disciplinary apparatus of war – knowledge in the service of death – is required. So, while no doubt upsetting for his family and friends, the death of Michael Bhatia cannot be taken just a marker of why this stuff is wrong, but why opposition to military anthro has to be a part of the opposition to the war in general. From Bill Stamets article from In These Times

“In 2007, his 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was the first to use a Human Terrain Team. It was also the first to have an HTT fatality. On May 7, 2008, a roadside bomb in the Afghan province of Khowst killed Michael Bhatia, an Oxford doctoral candidate and the brigade’s field social scientist. After his year-long contract, Bhatia had planned to finish his dissertation titled “The Mujahideen: A Study of Combatant Motives in Afghanistan, 1978-2005.”

A year long contract – another reason why lack of adequate funding for research and why forced temporary and short term employment contract research ain’t a good way to run a University. Thanks Kee, who pointed out the piece, which links up nicely with this.

Pic is of Major Robert Holbert, Anthropologist!

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 http://blog.theasa.org/?p=56:

“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.

john

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…

Talk to me

Thinking I did not have enough to be annoyed about, I went to an anthropology conference. Disturbing – a battering of oft-rehearsed routinization that seemed decidedly anti-communist anti-socialist anti-intellectual and certainly anti-interdisciplinary (these are not the same complaints) – even if I liked hearing old routines drawn from the archive that is Meyer-fortes, Durkheim and Weber, spiced up with mischievous sub-Kantian platitudes – the main problem with anthropologists is that they only ever seem to want to talk to themselves, saying to a room with a mixed crowd (well, mixed in terms of affiliation, certainly not mixed in other ways…) um, saying things like: ‘as anthropologists we need to do x or y’ and – stunning this – calling for anthropologists to ‘study up’ [what, 30 years after Laura Nader?]. But with someone also suggesting that maybe anthropologists cannot really study capitalists because an anthropologist should love their informants and ‘we’ don’t love capitalists. Crikey. I had to leave after three hours.

[pic of 'my' tribe, 'Preger Clinic Middleton Row 1988. See Rumour]

Terrorvisionaries (part two)


A talk at Nottingham University Politics department last night gave me a chance to elaborate my worries over new media anthropology in South Asia, pantomime terror and the hanging channel – following on from the talks I’ve given about the Mohammed Afzal case and the DIY Cookbook video from Fund^da^mental. The notes below presume you have read the earlier posts which are linked at the relevant points (sorry, a bit clumsy and it presumes a lot eh – still, these are notes to myself really – just a little more public than usual – but then all our data seems to be very very public these days, thanks to the chancellor and the lost personal details from the Child Support Agency – ha).

Televisonaries (part one) here should be read first, then come back here to read this post, but half way through slot in the DIY Cokbook and Bus posts as indicated after about four paragraphs…

Thus:
‘Terrorvisionaries (part two)':

The second example of cross platform public media storytelling is a diasporic one that involves my British-Pakistani mate Aki Nawaz. I have detailed the Aki story elsewhere, so merely refer you again to the links here.

In “Echographies of Television” (Derrida and Steigler) Derrida notes that televisual recording both captures immediacy more and can be more readily edited and manipulated, such that there will need to be a change in the legal axiomatics of the courts (p97 and 93). There is much that Derrida has to say of interest on television, the archive and justice, but sometimes Gayatri Spivak is much better on Derridean themes than Derrida himself. She apparently was working on the text of the Mahabharata – let us hope she will take it up again, and perhaps share views on elder brother Karna. Though he is not exactly subaltern, his position on the side of the Kauravas is at least interesting and the archival exclusion is operative, gridded over by a counter-female patriarchy and, as national and global reworkings of the narratives insert stories onto developmental teleology, neoliberal hype as well. The archive in Spivak is difficult, requires more effort than we usually can manage (‘more’ – persistent, language learning, privilege-unlearning, patient, painstaking scholarship) but her work on terror, suicide bombings and planetary justice is inspirational.

On the telematic, Spivak is more epistemological than Derrida – for her media would be something like knowledge, reason, responsibility, and so something to be conjured with, interrupted in a persistent effort of the teacher through critique to rearrange ordained and pre-coded desires. Not just to fill up on knowledge but to further transnational literacy and an ethics of the other. On terror: the ethical interrupts the epistemological. There is a point at which the construction of the other as object of knowledge must be challenged: ‘the ethical interrupts [law, reason] imperfectly, to listen to the other as if it were a self’ (Spivak 2004:83 “Boundary 2″, summer 80-111).

The task suggested here that seems most difficult to get our heads around is to accept complicity in a way that makes possible an identification, ‘alive to visible injustice’ (Spivak 2004:89) as well as ‘not to endorse suicide bombing but to be on the way to its end’ (Spivak 2004:93). Is there a message we can hear without an automatic move towards punishment or acquittal? Here the ethical and archival task of knowledge is to learn to learn what is in the mind, and what is the desire (or motivation?) of the suicide bomber. DIY Cookbook does something like this in a different way.

7/7 – buses, camera phones – Aki in the Guardian, backpacks, Charles De Menezes, DIY Video. As already riffed in the earlier posts on the Buses and on DIY Cookbook, here and here

Then return to the current post to continue:

The point is that here again an anthropology of media can be said to have made important moves to acknowledge cross platform significance in the media – saturated India – but also we might note that the acknowledgement that music tracks are a crucial make or break component of Bollywood film marketing only barely begins to get at the range of issues to be discussed in this field today.

The war on terror has achieved something that was previously only hinted at, partial, or only aspirational with regard to the place of South Asia in the world. Blown forcefully into the frontal lobe attention of all political actors, the obscurity of the previous Afghan wars, the regional nuclear detente, the peasant insurgencies or rural and hill tribals, these are no longer ignored. Front and centre, Islam on display, Pakistan a strategic player, India on alert. What multiculturalism and Bollywood could do only in a marginal and somewhat exotic way is exploded by a new visibility. But this is not just a media scare. Visibility maters where something is done with it – it is the first opportunity for a politics of redress that would build upon this (global) attention.

Call centres, news media, satellite, language, popular culture, tourism, humour, obscenity, gender, sex, digitization (of tradition), software and diaspora (India 2.0) all this suggests that media studies in this area are taking a broader scope and have advanced beyond the ‘coming of age’ stories that greeted Ramayana and Mahabharata, live cricket, and Bollywood on cable. This is to be welcomed.

Yet all is not rosy in storytelling land.

For all the publicity Sarai has garnered, it remains a small operation run out of CSDS. What it stands for however is more important – a still somewhat neglected area of academic and creative interest, deeply marked by a version of a technological cringe – the idea that new media is somehow new to India – and that the old politics are not also played out in the new news formats.

The exotic story of the new media arrival is the same orthodox binary obscurantism that ensures that stories of India abroad are either about rustic romance and tradition, morality, and colourful clothing, or else they are the dark side of communal violence, suicide bombing and disaster – the mismanaged nation post departure of the British, or blamed on Islam/Pakistan/Moguls/or Maoists. More nuanced positions are lost in favour of ‘the invisible or the hypervisible (stereotype)’ (Gopinath 2005:42). The ideological message here is that an India untainted by the ravages of imperial plunder might be preferred, and the NDTV ideal would have the Mahatma reading the news, but unfortunately the crisis is upon us, and in a flap chaos prevails. Anthropologists join the military effort (New York Times October 2007).

If we were to understand this material not only in juridical terms, or as requiring a transformation of the protocols of legal evidence and admissibility (no doubt this is necessary, as Derrida says), but also recognising that comprehension of media storytelling perhaps requires an appreciation of a wider sweep of mythological knowledge or epistemological reference (as Spivak might suggest), then to read the stories of Aki Nawaz as pantomime, or Mohammed Afzal as melodrama is somehow also warranted. This is not to disavow or diminish the urgent politics around the immediacy of these events – to challenge the demonization of Muslims in Britain, to oppose the death penalty and torture, to defend an individual from trial by media. But it is also to recognise something that shifts at a more general media level, where journalism gives way to SMS poll popularity, court procedures mimic docu-drama, tabloid sensations become the tactics of security services and similar.

To develop this is to recognise how patterns of melodrama and performance are played out in the way these events come to our attention. The pantomime season at Christmas is now matched with a sinister twin in July that commemorates the bus bombings with an equally ideological storytelling round – teaching kids fear and hate just as much as Christmas teaches them commoditization. The idea that pantomime is educational, rather than Orientalist – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – is just as much training in stereotype and profiling as are the melodramatic terror alerts each July (and September). These are constructed ‘panics’, each no doubt grounded in real evidence, solid intelligence, and careful analysis by Special Branch and MI5 – as Charles de Menezes and Mohammed Afzal both surely can attest. Aki Nawaz as ‘suicide rapper’ might almost be funny if it were not symptomatic of a wider malaise and complicity in our media reportage – a failure to examine critically and contextually what is offered up to us as unmediated ‘news’. What did it say on the side of the bus if not ‘Total Film’?

One way perhaps to disrupt the walled enclave or ‘green zone’ that is civil society, polite discussion and public commons also known as the privileged space of television news might be to hark back to older storytelling forms.

Its 30 years since Edward Said delivered Orientalism and though I might have some quibbles with what has happened in the wake of that text (too many historical studies, not enough now) I do believe it alerts us to something important and not yet nearly resolved. I can’t help but think looking to old texts might help us rethink new ones – hence the Mahabharata and the Arabian Nights as away to refocus television…

The Mahabharata rehearses a fratricidal drama that tears everyone apart. Pakistan and India are not referenced there, but the tale of brothers split and fighting is a well worn trope, such that I think its time to move to other stories as a break. For me, its not so easy, inducted into the Arabian nights as a child, I feel betrayed because…

Instead, I imagine Roshan Sethi as a new kind of despotic Shahjah, entertaining Scheherezade only by email or SMS – because she was caught, detained and then by ‘special rendition’ she was interred in Guantanamo Bay, she texts out intermittently to Roshan. Forlorn drunken fool, her anguished reports reveal her having been interrogated all day yet again to the Gitmo Military Intelligence. This version of the 1001 nights is particularly obscene, but because Omar’s father is drunk in bed, watching Bollywood reruns, or Stephen Frears’ later fluff, the story just cannot get out. This is politics, its good to think something might more might be done today.

The character played by Roshan Seth might rant against the kind of journalism that enables this new cretinized media propaganda, but more than sozzled rants are required.

[image is the Nation logo - it should be spinning but blogger can't cope]

Spivak – critique of postcolonial reason 1.1

Gayatri Spivak is visiting Goldsmiths – so some of us have returned to reread her Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Such a great, difficult, suggestive book.
These are some subjective comments and reading notes on the Philosophy chapter. The first part is on Immanuel Kant.

1. Kant

Although this is at best an inverse aside (p.6), I think it is a generous if necessary move to note that the native informant is taken seriously in ethnography, where ethnography as sanctioned methodology of the discipline of anthropology produces texts unlike those Spivak addresses in this chapter. Kant, Hegel and Marx are not ethnography, yet even this methodological precept, emergent only just in Spivak’s text, popping up in the footnotes on occasion, threatening to be taken seriously itself, is not without its problems, well rehearsed elsewhere (the native informant in ethnography does not, for example, get credit for co-authorship, there are issues of authority, perhaps intellectual property, and questions of surveillance and voyeurism not far away).

So, this might serve as a ‘deconstructive lever’ to open up Spivak’s discussion. Her strategy seems to me to be consistent – whether the topic is Kant or Hegel, or even more clearly in the next chapter with Bronte, she shows she knows ‘the’ debates around a particular author or field with a quick sketch, then she shows she knows the critical angles on these debates and that these could be fruitful, but are often not without problems, but then, rather than detailing or extending these, she takes some moment or oblique angle on the text – say in Jane Eyre, after a quick survey of the standard repertoire, tracking of the comprador figures, we then see her opening up the text with attention to Bertha Mason, the creole Jamaican… In Kant, Hegel and Marx, in chapter one, we see something similar. As the book declares at the beginning, the recoding of the native informant by the postcolonial subject is the narrative frame, in this first chapter we are identifying the first figure in key texts of philosophy – proper names Kant, Hegel, Marx (the three wise men). The perspective of the native informant is the figure Spivak tracks through the heteronomy of the determinant, becoming reflexive in Kant, in the move of Spirit from unconsciousness to consciousness in Hegel and through the modes of production narrative and value in Marx.

In Spivak’s first section the text of Kant is mined for asides that indicate this (im)possible perspective of the native informant. Two characterisations are crucial, mention of the raw man (dem rohen Menschen) on page 13 and the Neuhollanders (and inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego) on page 26.

The Raw Man is the one who is terrified by what for the cultured, cooked, programmed, tuned, reasoning man is the sublime. The uneducated, and alien, natural, and outside raw being over against the cultured, receptive, moral person for whom desire is subject to reason, and freedom is a coherent choice to deploy ideas and imagination over mere sensibility. A supra-sensuousness that gives a greater freedom (though this itself is a supplementary and even ‘faked’, sensibility, since all truths are tropes).

To expose the workings of this figure of the native informant in Kant requires a ‘mistaken’ reading, but we get the point that Kant is insulting a large portion of humanity here. Thus, deconstruction can help reading in this task even as for Kant the raw man or the Neuhollander is not part of his text proper, and barely even an aside (it appears in brackets). To read up on the Neuhollander however is too huge a task (fn p28-9), and while Spivak gets a few details slightly wrong, she indicates the parameters of where a deconstructive reading might inform itself better than Kant – Neuhollanders are Aboriginal (not aborigine) Australians and these are differentiated, (though Warlpiri are not Koorie and there are further heterogeneities that deserve attention, especially regarding urban and outback Aboriginal politics – fns p27-8). So, this justification seems acceptable –to reprimand Kant for not knowing or caring for the specificity of life for Neuhollander does not mean we are also not just as ignorant. An effort to change this would be beyond the scope of the book – the task of reading a way well enough into the scene of Australia, colonial invasion, local differentiation, history of war-extermination-smoothing the dying pillow, right through to ongoing Howard Government interventions of unprecedented paternalism (police interventions not unlike the old Protection Society routines) is a huge task indeed. So much resides there, where, in a long and almost longing for time paragraph, she writes ‘I cannot write that other book that bubbles up in the cauldron of Kant’s contempt’ (p28n).

The imperial mission in philosophy comes across as the task of helping all men move from fear of the abyss (terror of nature) to appreciation of the sublime, through culture, programme, the ‘cooked’. Receptivity to ideas is the program of humanity (through culture). The plan is hierarchical and civilisational – polytheism equals a bad demonology, Christian monotheism comes closer to philosophy (p31). Something here returns to a point made in a certain interview in an earlier book – The Postcolonial Critic – where many gods are less good than few gods and the one god is best of all – leaving the raw man, Aboriginal and other animist or such like cosmologies outside of the text-civilizational path completely. And so ‘sanctioned inattention’ (p30) to the itinerary of the native informant on the path to postcoloniality via discussions of ethics and ethnicity allow this (im)possible perspective of the native informant to be both frozen and erased (foreclosure) and, we will see, into this space steps the self-appointed metropostcolonial, marketing culture from the home over there in that place now home over here (echoes of that old 1970s we were here because you were there intended).

That the native informant is both needed by the narrative of imperial aid, and by its continued privilege is clear (the south is not in the north, but is needed to maintain the North’s privilege, it is both excluded and included, and so (im)possible, we may say). That this today impacts upon neo-colonial post-Soviet, UN and IMF programmed globalisation, finance capitalism and the feminization of exploitative labour is another of Spivak’s key points. That these concerns should be first articulated through a reading of key founding texts of western modernity – Kant, Hegel, Marx – is genius.

The ‘dredging’ operation here is an effort to broach the mainstream education that permits a ‘sanctioned ignorance’ (p2) that learns to ignore the ways these key texts reveal the flotsam of their prejudice, and often loose their moorings. A counter narrative that makes visible the foreclosure of the subject without access to the position of narrator (p9) is her corrective intervention – an attempt to destabilise productively (p15).

This relies upon deconstruction in two steps 1) to show that truths are tropes, and 2) to show how the corrective to this obliges a further lie (p18-9).

In Kant, this is where God is smuggled in – moral inner determination, or reason, requires a moral author of the world, a purpose and a programme require an intelligent design – a god. (p23).

The tropes here are aporia that in Kant must be ignored in order to read how theory as the analysis of the sublime is already normed by the practice of having to assume a moral being. These are then displaced in the correctives by that smuggled god. And the imperialism that lets this pass unnoticed (p34) – sanctioned ignorance – and this is both geographical and hierarchical and named in those two casual asides about the raw uncultured man quaking in terror before nature and the ‘natural’ Neuhollanders. That civil society is then mapped onto the reason that was built on both the social mission of imperialism and the cultured taming of desire by reason is the opening of a possible rereading that might displace some of our ignorance.

2. Hegel

The section on Hegel is more a section on the Gita. It requires some homework with a difficult script which is much overlain with versionings, from the television serialisations and oleographs of popular culture in India today, to the chantings of Iskon in the streets of every major western metropolis and their sometimes very good vegetarian restaurants through to inanities like the pop band Kula Shaker’s exoticist Krishna consumptionism. Similarly, some effort is needed to move beyond simple received versions of caste, and several necessary texts should be consulted, especially ‘Hindus of the Himalayas’ by Berreman, and ‘Imagining India’ by Inden.

This is continued here.

But because this needs a bit of work, only just not even started here, I’ll leave it for tomorrow. Got to go to the anti-war teach in (here) just now…

Televisionaries

For a long time I have wanted to pay homage to the character played by Roshan Seth in “My Beautiful Laundrette”, a Stephen Frears film, written by Hanif Kureshi. Despite some problems with the film itself – ‘we did not fuck fascists, we fucked them up’ said one of my anti-racist South Asian comrades many years ago, there are some delicate touches – tee hee – in the film. The portrait of the vodka swilling, bed ridden, socialist journalist father of ‘white-boy-kissing’ Omar is among Seth’s best (see Desai 2004:vii). Seth has also played a wide range of roles in all sorts of films, including “Monsoon Wedding”, “Buddha of Suburbia”, right through to utter crap like “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, his take on Nehru in Attenborough’s “Gandhi” and most memorably, as the KGB’s own Beria in a biopic of “Stalin”.

Trouble is, watching the films is the best way to pay homage, so instead I offer a few notes for a talk on Media in India, given on saturday at Sacred Media Cow.

Mythologicals from the very ‘start’ of film in India, with Raja Harishchandra, and on television from the serialization of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the late 1980s, have become the new stock in trade of media anthropological commentary. It is now a standard opening to mention how many ‘anecdotes abound’ (Dwyer – “Filming the Gods” 2006) about these shows – my own version as I have detailed elsewhere revolves around a TV set manifest as shrine, where the oil burner burns a little too well and the TV is reduced to ash, charred wood, and the short circuiting of an entire bustee area of Kolkata. Apocryphal or not, I can no longer remember. But in those days it was rare to see mention of television or film in ethnography, except perhaps as a knowing guilty indulgence.

Attention to Bollywood film changed all that. No longer was the art cinema of Bengal the primary visual media focus. [Though it took a little longer for diasporic films to get the attention they deserve (see Desai and Gopinath books recently out)]

To some degree we are still working through this opening today. There are a great number of anecdotes and studies of the hindi and other language filmi stars, the politics of film, the national allegory (pace Jameson v Ahmad) and the secret politics of our desires (Nandy) as well as a series of excellent conferences at Jadavpur University, Bangalore, Delhi and so on. Film Studies attest to a burgeoning sophistication. Add to this initiatives like SARAI at CSDS, and I think some of the directions of this conference are such that things can be said to have…

– I do not want to say that new media has ‘arrived’ with an explosion in the subcontinent. I would like to make an argument that there has always been a media sphere in India. That cross platform televisual media (satellite with talkback and audience participation via phone or street interview) has always been an Indian phenomena – television an Indian format accidentally invented by the British (to adapt a cricketing phrase by Ashis Nandy). We have to welcome further research on the various imbrications and innovations that bring the Adda to the screen, that offer cybermohalla, or Media Nagar, even doordarshan, ha ha, or that posit the information age – duly explained on the front page of their website – as Sarai. (though there is something slightly inappropriate in this perhaps – CSDS is not exactly a street people’s scene, nor is it a tavern). In any case, to elect Sage Vyasa and Elephant head, broken tusk, Ganesh, the co-producers of the extended family drama of the Pandava Five, as the patron deities of the media age, is not far-fetched, but I think perhaps there are other possibilities – I think of Karna, the disenfranchised sixth Pandava brother, son of Kunthi – this sixth brother might also prove to be significant.

Whatever the case, the media space of India has always been one of a certain density. I want to explore just two examples today where the convergence of television and other media seem to raise questions of an explosive character that might lead one to do as Omar’s papa did in Thatcher’s Britain – grab a bottle of vodka and take yourself to bed.

I once wrote a critique of the way South Asia and its diasporic cultural production (music and music video) was consumed as exotica. Still earlier I described how and entire city was constituted through various media – books, films, stories as a phantasmagoric site of poverty in need of benevolent Western aid. Today I want to look more closely at the dark side – the telematic mediation of terror – or terror-vision.

The first case is that of Mohammed Afzal and the English language news channel NDTV…

On December 13th, 2001, little over two months from another now overdetermined date, five men (at least) piled out of a white ambassador car that had driven into the grounds of the Parliament building in Delhi. The winter session was on, and guns blazing these miscreants/terrorists attacked, killing 9 people and then dying themselves in a hail of bullets, having failed to set off their car bomb as the detonator had been damaged in a collision with the President’s parked vehicle. Military deployed and border with Pakistan sealed, Terror legislation and terror threat level on high for a year, high profile court case, debate all through the press. Much to discuss.

As many commentators have said, it was a fairly incompetent raid. But among the commentators, Arundhati Roy for example, in ‘The December 13 Reader’, has questioned the swift ‘case cracked’ response of the police in arresting and bringing to trial four accomplices of the dead attackers. The reader published in December 2006, as well as a commentary on Kashmir published by the brother of one of the accused (Geelani, a lecturer at Delhi University), raises a whole series of disturbing questions that have become fairly common knowledge, but also something of a media circus – Vikram Chandra hosted a teleconference in a boxing ring to illustrate the stakes involved…

Three of the cases were eventually dismissed, only Mohammed Afzal was found guilty and sentenced to hang, so as to appease the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation. Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, had been a 20 year old border crossing militant youth in Kashmir, but had ‘surrendered’ to authorities in the early 1990s and then enrolled at university in Delhi. His experience with said authorities was of course not all pleasant – tortured and found to be ‘clean’ by one Davinder Singh, a man who proudly ‘tortures for the nation’, chillies and petrol enemas being the facilitators of storytelling here (even petrol seems to get the red hot vindaloo treatment now) – Afzal’s video ‘confession was judged illegally obtained and unsafe by the Supreme Court, making his conviction based upon serious, yet ‘circumstantial’ evidence of him being seen by a shopkeeper buying the mobile phones and explosives used in the Parliament raid (the phones left in the Ambassador), renting rooms to the five men (or were there in fact six attackers –CCTV footage restricted) and having possession of the computer upon which the fake ID cards were made, well, at the very least this is circumstantial. Media signs proliferate.

Found guilty and slated for hanging on October 20 2006, the television station NDTV screened Afzal’s video confession. They did so without mentioning that this was five year old and discredited piece of footage. It turns out, from reports by a Police Inspector, that this video was version three of a rehearsed statement. NDTV omit to mention the Supreme Court rejection of the footage, all the while allowing an on screen SMS commentary to announce, the ‘collective conscience’ view, that terrorists should hang, that Pakistan was behind it all, that the national institutions of law must be respected and due process must take its course. Let him hang.. At this time, Afzal’s execution was being reviewed on appeal, but the SMS poll seems to have decided his fate. The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on January 12 2007. Only a plea for clemency by his wife forestalls the hanging. President Abdul Kalam has yet to decide.

I am particularly interested here in the justice process as it is played out through the televisual public sphere. Arundahati Roy and other prominent intellectuals speak out, television stations set up opposing views and spokespersons of note. This is an elite mohalla discussion with commentary by SMS and phone of the lynch mob variety. I have written about the Hanging Channel as a satellite slot that could aggregate scenes such as Saddam Hussain’s hanging, movies like the Dead Man Walking, and reality TV scenario of the Afzal appeal, with SMS voting to allow the people to decide. For me this is quite bizarre.

NDTV then go on to host the successful show Airtel Scholar Search UK – a mobile phone company sponsored reality TV vehicle to bring a media and cultural studies scholarship student to Cardiff (they will get a surprise – winner announced September 22, 2007) also management students to Warwick, etc. A great publicity coup for UK teaching factories, in which the cultural construction of fantasy India and tamed public spheres proceeds apace (it was once thought the university was a place for rampant intelligence, now its sold like soap in TV, not even as smart as Crorepati).

The rest of this, discussing Derrida, Spivak, Steigler, I’ll save for another post, but the second example retold the story of the buses and my mates Aki and Dave’s singalong bomb song: DIY Cookbook. See Here and here.

Also see Sacred Media Cow

Anthropology lite benchmarking

The bureaucrats of academe have been busy, scheming up formulas to amuse themselves, to justify their tedious employment, to require still further employment of ever more and more of their own, and to reconstruct the world in the dull tones and mediocre lack of enthusiasm which governed their own choices of career. I admit that the following rant may seem slightly intemperate…

Far too late on a very humid and hot evening, I started reading the draft QAA [Quality Assurance Apparatus or some such] benchmark document that has been prepared for Anthropology as a university level discipline, but I am appalled. While I can see some convenience in having a bunch of bland statements to dump into programme specification documents that no-one ever reads and which do not govern good teaching or research in any discipline (as far as I can tell – though there may be some automatons out there who believe otherwise), the general tone and the idea that this should pass without censure is, erm, somewhat worrying… Where to start?

OK. A couple of pages in and absolutely no mention of politics, let alone of colonialism, imperialism etc. The constant refrain is “the social, cultural and biological diversity of humans”. This wouldn’t even cut it as New Labour rhetoric. I started reading 3.3 and wanted to gag – the list of subdivision there is traumatising – I can only hope that most anthropologists I know fall under the subdivision ‘and others’. Only by 3.5 does politics get a mention, and even then relegated to the nether end of a continuum that starts with kinship, and the rest of the paragraph is some waffle about the difference between North American and British anth. Is this really something anyone would want to benchpress (benchmark, whatever)? If Goldsmiths accedes to this version of anth, I think its a light-weight cop-out.

The following two clauses are outright lies: 3.10 & 3.11.

“3.10 Many anthropologists engage in applied and policy aspects of the subject and advise government and non-government organisations, health, social welfare and development agencies, the media and legal professions.
3.11 Relative to the size of the discipline, anthropology has had a disproportionate influence on many social, economic and political policies for much of the twentieth century, and can be expected to do so in the twenty-first century”

Which anthropologists have a disproportionate influence on policies, of which governments? At best they are ignored, not even commenting on big brother… Mostly harmless as the Hitchhikers Guide would have it.

3.16 Ethnomusicology sounds insipid. Whadayamean ‘as well as musical analysis’?? An afterthought?

I’m still looking for anything that might make it possible to include, say, Talal Asad’s great book ‘On Suicide Bombing’ as part of this versioning of anthro.

Far too many paragraphs on biological anthropology. Is this symptomatic of a certain anxiety? A brief mention of its relative insignificance in all but a couple of departments would suffice.

.. as I scroll down it just gets worse. I can barely read it…

No I can’t read any more, its utterly dire. Who on earth cobbled together this mish mash of halting postmodern undecidability and rampant unreconstructed empiricism? This does not describe a discipline for the twentieth century, let alone the 21st. Fifty years ago maybe this would be ok if it were a matter of offering up the ideological support (handmaiden) of colonialism argument for some sort of devil’s bargain deal that helped an embattled few survive, but in today’s context where culture has become industry, where clash of civilizations is the rhetoric of state, where murder-death-kill is played out on our screens every day, this version of anthro would not even do as absent-minded dimwitted complicity with (pimping for) imperialism; and I fully expect those in the know at Haliburton, the mining industry, the pharmaceutical companies, and the opportunists in charge of education funding – all of them will be doubled over laughing at this. I think its is the surest way to get anthro pensioned off to the pastures of irrelevance. Insipid compliance is not necessary, and need not be tolerated. Abolition/cancellation of programs loom as a consequence. Whatever whatever whatever happened to a critical anthropology that posed a challenge,that changed minds? Why can that not be articulated? Why was it buried so deep as to disappear? I don’t believe that fight is over, but this text makes me think it may now be.

OK, This deserves a more detailed treatment, especially where students of anthropology are recruited as participants in this versioning. I wonder which students were consulted. For mine, I welcome the opportunity to have a say, but it might be just some late night random whiskey fuelled rant – anyway, its something I wanted to share. Since this is a public document (here), I feel its existence is a threat to all who have a lasting commitment to a critical version of scholarship, and so silence and compliance are not an option.

Oh, and check out the web page of QAA where this doc appears – there’s a picture of some students working at – wait for it – a bench. From above. In response, I post Malinowski’s tent on the beach (see pic). Bits of this tent are now for sale on ebay.

Red Salute.

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

New York Parades

I have more than I can write, to write, to transcribe from notes, to reconstruct. To meditate on the relation of the road to writing, and to vehicles for writing, and how the vehicular mode of writing keeps the narratives of the next next next chugging along.

But right now – in New York. I am stuck here at JFK. Our plane was hit by lightning and sustained some sort of damage that makes it unroadworthy or whatever the aeronautical equivalent of a flat tire might be. So, by the facility of airport wi fi provision…

Working backwards. Today I watched the Pride parade. Big bikes hurtling down 5th avenue. Men and women in leathers. Leather men. New York parades are very parade like – the dykes on bikes have band-leader like co-ordinators – a cross between the person who waves the flag at the end of the grand prix and the one with the little paddles that waves in planes at the airport (only rainbow-striped).

The day before Christina took me to the ‘last ever’ Coney Island Mermaid Parade. If anything, this was more colourful and more raunchy than the Pride parade. Apparently they are selling off all the rides at Coney Island so as to develop the site for condominiums. Christina wanted me to bid for the Cyclone (wooden roller coaster – would be great to have that in Kennington Park). The picture above is from that parade.

Friday evening I spoke at Revolution Books. They say its provided a model for future discussions of the type, so I am happy with how it went. How did it go? – they sat me in one of those big comfy drawing room chairs with 19th Century style wings, surrounded by audience on a further curiously diverse array of seating, and the bookshelves providing suggestive diversions for what was an unstructured talk (that I will write up soon) but which generated a further two hours of discussion even after I’d finished my 1.5 hr ramble through my issues. I signed books afterwards, which usually makes me feel very strange, but which was handled really well by the organisers at Rev Books, and Ray Lotta who masterminded it all. The write up will extend from the Plassey and the Black Hole, via the ‘mutiny’ also known as the first all India war against the British East India Company, through to issues of organisation and theory debates today, and all that stuff about chapattis I mention in Bad Marxism. Seemed to go well. I’ll posta link when its written up.

The days before were spent in High Falls, upstate New York (Camp Taussig). A meeting of about 14 keen people started with a discussion of road travels (from Daniella) that suggested the opening for this post above, but now that I come to try to write it up I realise there is far too much that went on for me to append it all here while sitting so angular in an airport lounge chair. Mick’s talk was great – slight ref here - and debates with Al Lingus, Todd Ochoa (there will be cowboy boots for all after the revolution, and is ‘journalist’ an insult for you as it is for me?), Lenyo, Daniella (the road to lyrical erudition really started us off well), Kostas (the bread story on friday morning was great), Bina, Christina (shout out to Quigley), Dora and more. There is much much much to say on this, but… the sterility of the airport lounge and waning batTery power means my current predicament is not all that conducive to talking about riverside feasts and late night campfire philosophizing… and video activism amidst the fireflies….

And being here has meant missing Imogen very much, and Roh too. Both are fondley remembered at 113 and Broadway.

Lal Salaam, NYC 24 June 2007.

Camp Taussig

I promise there will be more reports here and on Trinketization about our visit to Camp Taussig, where we have much discussed over and under, inside and outside (by the river, by the campfire) the anthro predicament, the writing premedicament, the global indictment… and despite my well rehearsed reservations, there is something to be said for gatherings that challenge and provoke a revaluation/change of temperament… So, more to come, but for the moment this little bit will have to serve as a holding report on a talk Mick gave here in High Falls (I am writing by the river now) and just this gap in time will be all there is to evoke the deep method-anti-method thought that has churned out Indigo lives here. Hate to have to say it, yet there are reasons to think anthro can still be redeemed (if it changes completely). Yet even this only if everyone takes the time to work through politics/ghosts/writing/voodoo/imperialism/beauty/institutions/… and much more besides.

American Anthropologist reviews our Celebrating Transgression book.

Click on the image to enlarge.
Celebrating Transgression.

Stimulus Respond


Jack Boulton is on fire…
The Stimulus team proudly present it’s eighteenth issue – Animals.

For more information on Stimulus and to subscribe for free, please visit www.stimulusrespond.com.

Articles edited by Tara Blake Wilson include:

Animal Astronauts
Words by Janet Harbord

Dead Meat
words by Michael Taussig
Illustrations by Cecilia Piemontese

The Politics of Cats
words by John Hutnyk
Images by Jan Cihak

Zoosex
Words by Rebecca Cassidy

Download the entire magazine here
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Revolutionary Tourism Tuesday 10 April 07

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

“Plenary One – Enchantment”

“Abstract. Revolutionary Tourism: Everest Turns Red

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- kamikaze, but not carpet bombing

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

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

- warlordism in Afghanistan but not Guantanamo bay

- public beheading but not the electric chair

etc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terror as a State action. Contextualized ESRC Reprise/Response from an Unusually Quiet City

On that Terror Research Initiative from the ESRC. I just wrote in support of those Goldsmiths anthros that are preparing a critical response from across the college. I thought I would share my text since its a way to update on what I am doing here/preoccupied with just now. Earlier news and views about the research call, and some comments from other folks, is here.

Why do this? I think it is important to make ESRC recognise that their version of research and how people [they are only interested in Muslims] get ‘radicalized’ is so viciously simplistic that its dangerous, mercenary, and wholly ignorant of just how complicated events can be ‘in the round’ [not that I found much round here yet, still]. So, here is my letter to the College movers and shakers, followed by some contextual notes on current ‘research’ environs:

Hi from Kolkata

I certainly support a response from Goldsmiths that censures the ESRC et al for making research difficult in this way – its not just about risk, but reputation and political affiliation. In this part of the world, and in my research in Kolkata, the status of the researcher, their associations, affiliations etc, are a matter of intense scrutiny. Reputation and credibility are crucial.

And its already come up – as I work in an environment that is, to understate it, very tense at the minute. A total strike today, since the CPM State Govt set the police upon villagers who did not agree it was a good idea to raze their huts to make way for a Special Economic Zone. At least 14, but maybe 50, dead on wednesday, unknown number yesterday… In a symmetry response it seems, ‘Naxals’ killed 55 security personnel in Chhattisgarh. In this environment, moving anywhere near this action means being called to account. As a researcher from a University in England I can pass where, were I a journalist, things might not go so smoothly. This would change I expect when researchers are rebranded by the ESRC as security operatives in the war on terror…

best
John

I guess some further explanation might be in order. Not sure I can make things all that clear – still seeking. Though, I should point out that I am not trying to get to Chhattisgarh - that was just a piece in the news today that ran alongside the CPM firings – but I did look to travel to check out Nandigram – but no chance. Some background will suggest anyway that staying in Kolkata is sensible: here the CPM (Communist Party of India Marxist) is the ruling state power and has been – since elected – the ruling partner in the Left Front Government of Bengal for about 30 years. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the present Chief Minister – I once handed out how to vote flyers for him (for about 20 minutes – that was 92 I think, a little left tourist-exotica-mongering really. I did not get to meet him, but his Party cadre were enthusiastic). Now, in search of foreign investment, CPM want to set up a special economic zone in Nandigram,where an Indonesian group called Salim PLC will develop the zone, It is said to impact upon many thousands of local people who lived, until now, in this agricultural region (its across the harbour from Haldia – a place I visited in 1988 – pretty ‘underdeveloped’ I’d say, rice fields, ponds, fisheries). Over the past two days CPM have been ‘reclaiming’ the villages where ‘Maoists’ were arming the peasantry. Seems strange that a ‘communist’ government called in the police on a Maoist opposition. Chaos… The fluctuation in the numbers of dead has been strange too, no-one can agree on a figure and it seems surreal. The dead and injured were mostly female peasantry defending their villages from ‘development’. Yaay Government, yaay Capital!. In the city, Mamanta Banerjee, a kind of opportunist from the Triminool Congress, inflamed the situation somewhat, trying to score points, joining the Maoists in the call for the Bandh… perhaps threatening another hunger strike… Setting off to Nandigram, she was blocked by CPM activists. BJP making noises. The BJP, Triminool and Maoists v CPM seems like an unholy array of forces. Police insisting the Maoists fired on them first. Some say 50 dead. It is hard to get a clear idea of what is really going on, and the city is shut down.

Roh Wright

I am tempted to think Anthropology at Goldsmiths might be cursed.

A friend and former student, Rosie Wright, was killed on Friday – she was on her bike in traffic – riding on these London roads that are too full of Capitalism transporting its abundance of product in huge lorries, with wide bus lanes to get us to work or to the shops, but insufficient space for bikes, inadequate bike lanes, and too little space for pedestrians as well, as it happens. She was too young. Gutted.

We just had a meeting on saturday to talk through her MA plans; another long discussion over food – we’d bought various delicacies from the local Italian deli – artichoke pate, parma ham, a baguette, asparagus and three cheeses. That such lunches are over is unforgivable.

I do not understand how or why this can happen to the brilliant ones – Roh earned a First Class Honours degree graduating (2003), the year after Imogen, with similarly brilliant marks and having been at many Left political demonstrations, events, solidarity campaigns, etc., she wrote great things for the PubliCity section of Left Curve… Her critical engagement was always at the same time generous, considerate, and inspiring. I wish I had that some of that grace..

I will put some of her published work from Left Curve on another page (here), and there will be a second piece from the new edition published soon, I think on 2 April. I do not know when the funeral is yet, but I know there are so many people viciously wounded by this tragic loss that … there is nothing to it but anger… and wrenching anguish for her family and (so many) others that were close…

Added 16 March: Asked to write something for the funeral the best I could come up with (I wish it was far better) was this:

For Rosie.

I am distraught writing this for many reasons, but not least among them is that Roh’s death means the loss of another of our most gentle and generous revolutionaries and one who had not given up on the project of inspiring others – and institutions – to do better. Having a critique of anthropology or of the power games, sexism and racism of the university is one thing, but remaining generous and optimistic within it is inspiring.


Roh wrote an amazing final year dissertation – another of her papers which achieved first class marks – it was on the limits built into the institutionalisation and commercialization of knowledge, yet she did not ever give up looking for more. In theatre or performance, in film or the craft of writing, in solidarity movements or issues of sexuality, Roh’s critical sensibility was uniquely open – never a condemnation. Even when critical of herself she retained this amazing openness which I would – will forever – strive to emulate. While learning she taught. What we have lost then is a possibility of a humanistic resuscitation of the university – Roh was discussing ideas for a Masters degree with many of her friends in the past few weeks, and even this was undertaken in an open way as a kind of group survey, as a process of gathering and sifting advice as a shared project. Roh bought her generosity and community to the life of ideas – passionately, excitedly and gracefully – what we have lost cannot be measured.

Her results in essays were measured in fact – a range of the very highest marks of course. A first class honours degree and a grant for postgraduate study beckoned – but these incidentals were second to her interests, enthusiasms, ideas and plans… She is another stolen from us, too young, too brilliant…


John



Update 10 June: Roh Zine draft here.
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translation slippage

“I am first of all against translation as it is mad,

its impossible,

it cannot ever be true to origins,

its a kind of violence,

it is always political,

it transforms,

it is creative,

it is heroic to try,

it is the essence of communicability,

it is exchange,

it disrupts parochialism,

it is the foundation of internationalism,

it is what we all should be trying to do,

it is the most revolutionary activity,

it is social,

it is life itself,

I am for it”.
.

So, translation slippage… my old post above from November 2005 is brought forward again as its both on Victor Alneng’s door in Sweden, and because here at Goldsmiths Ana Ama has activated a research project requesting examples of translational slippage – good term… As I replied to her just now:

“My favourite one is a typo (or was it?) in a bar in the northern Thai town of Chiang Rai – a real cowboy town. At this bar, part restaurant and not obviously a go-go joint, the menu offered a ‘Mixed Girl with Salad’. I do hope it was mixed grill, but …

Lonely Planet’s guide to India used to offer a lot of these sort of things. I remember them mentioning the great Scottish stable breakfast food “Podge” – And in my “Rumour of Calcutta” book (1996) I also mention the miswritten ‘Fried Children’ – instead of chicken.

There are some philosophical issues to be raised about this kind of translation-mockery humour however. So, I hope with the help of Blogospheric collaborationm she can achieve a fine global distribution of cultural put-downs…”

And from the comments page of the original post, Boris Buden translated it:

“3 Comments:

Carrie said…
And to think they call you “The Enemy of Anthropology.” 

24/11/05 10:30
Victor said…
beautiful, John, simply beautiful 

25/11/05 14:12
Boris Buden said…
“Prije svega ja sam protiv prevodjenja jer je to ludost, jer je ono nemoguce, jer nikada ne moze biti vjerno originalu, jer je oblik nasilja, jer je uvijek politicno, jer transformira, jer je kreativno, jer je herojski pokusati ga, jer je prevodjenje bit komunikabilnosti, jer je ono razmjena, jer podriva parohializam, jer je temelj internacionalizma, jer je to ono sto bismo svi trebali ciniti, jer je prevodjenje najrevolucionarnija aktivnost, jer je socijalno, jer je zivot sam, ja sam za prevodjenje.” John Hutnyk in CBS (Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian) 

9/12/06 15:13″

[Thanks – again – Kaori for trinket [image] from Japan].
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