Category Archives: t8

George Henry Linney – circa 1932, Mayor of South Shields.

G.A

Iron foundry worker and Mayor of South Shields, Great Grandpa Linney

Mayor Linney

 above: walking by the corner of Ocean Road and Mile End Road, Mayor’s sunday 1932

GHLinney St Hildas ChurchAbove: leaving St Hilda’s Church, circa 1932

Mayor south ShieldsAbove: Mayor’s Sunday 1933 Mayor: Coun. Samuel Lawlan, Retiring Mayor; Coun. George Henry Linney (on the left of picture), Town Clerk Harold Ayrey. South Shields. Photographer: Cleet James Henry.

Thomas Mouat Tate

Thomas Moaut Tate…among many other things, timekeeper for The Basin Football Club, Vic. Australia (circa 1970-1980), formerly trolley bus driver, iron-foundry work, ships stoker (on The Welshman – Malta Convoy, and others), service 1940-1943, sunk three times, a.w.o.l. in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt 1944, returned to service 1944-45, demobbed 1945, emigrated to Australia, painter (of houses), and singer of songs.

Museums

pharlapMuseums no longer smell like death and formaldehyde, but I remember the great Pharlap, stuffed and fascinating in the museum on Lonsdale Street. A publicity still was my most treasured possession when I was about 6. Those yankees poisoned him, or so the story went – captivating for young minds. In the first image he seems too fast to even fit in the frame, they had to encase him in glass forever.

pharlap2

For toast and marmalade in the afternoon.

The pain of loss so great that only distraction measure it’s significance. Unbearable to forget, unbearable to remember, a sort of planned denial is the only survival. I miss her so, and still cannot understand her death. I cannot introduce her to my boy, who she would have loved as if the world. It is surreal that I can must and just cannot bear to write this, with stupid angry tears caught in my chest and pain in my eyes. Five years ago today.

meanwhile, in Cairo…

 

“Activists are under the threat wherever they go, Dina (17 yrs old) and Israa (19) Abdallah Abo El-Azm, two sisters detained by the army three days ago for distributing flyers are now to be sentenced in front of a military court. In reality they were only walking down the street in Cairo at midday. They were kidnapped by the army and falsely accused. Not just the activists themselves are in danger, anyone who looks like what came to be stereotyped as a Tahrir Square protester, risks detention or beating”.

I do not know more about who has written this, but that the Military mates of Mubarak remain in place was always a concern – though not for the BBC who of course went on to other stories quick smart. Someone on Al-Jezeera did anticipate something like this, but I didn’t note who said it. More than one person for sure. Anyone got more on detentions in particular?

The entire article is here.

When the army hits the fan!

Posted by Leil-Zahra on 3/16/11 •

The Egyptian people have always loved the army, especially that they haven´t seen much of them since 1973 apart from a controversial participation in the Desert Storm war on the side of the United States. The army was always the romantic figure of glorious times under Nasser who stood in the face of Israel and pumped Arab nationalism and pride in Egypt and beyond. Movies, TV series, documentaries, songs, popular tales of heroics and braveries, novels, and school books all glorify the participation of the army up to 1973.

The popular memory froze in time in 1973, maybe because the Egyptian people didn´t have much to celebrate or take pride in under the rulers that came afterwards. Both Sadat and Mubarak destroyed the spirit of the people in every way possible and on every level imaginable (though this doesn´t mean that Nasser was the best thing that happened to this country). It became once again the tale of Pharaohs in the center-stage, the slaves building the Pyramids forgotten and marganilized.

Egypt is the country of romanticism par excellence. For decades while tens of millions of Egyptians were famished for collective self-esteem, reminiscing and nostalgia were the only survival tool available. The Pharaohs and the army were at the core of it all, equally present in the memory of the people and equally ancient history in the tangible reality. It was all memories of glorious days that lived in the reality of the people. Even some of those who found it emotionally hard to oust Mubarak did so because they respected him as a leading military figure from the war of 1973.

Full article continues: here.

 

Salute Vera Lynn

vera-lynn-001My mother was pretty much an unreconstructed (though we made the effort) anglophile, despite having lived 54 of her 65 years in Australia, but for sure she would have been wholeheartedly supportive of Vera Lynn’s current dalliance with the legal process. All salute Vera Lynn, at 91 still doing the job for an anti-fascist Britain (lest we forget):

From Today’s Guardian:

On one side is the woman who became the symbol of British patriotism in adversity. On the other is the far-right party which claims to embody that spirit now. Last night Dame Vera Lynn, once the forces’ sweetheart, was consulting her solicitor after discovering that the British National party was selling a CD compilation of second world war songs to members under the title of her most famous hit, The White Cliffs of Dover.

The album is on sale on the BNP’s website for £4.95 and has helped the party raise funds for its European election campaign. As well as The White Cliffs of Dover it also includes Dame Vera’s All Alone in Vienna. But the 91 year-old singer’s solicitor, Nigel Angel, said: “Her position is that the song was included without her approval. She does not align with any political party and I will be discussing it with her.”

So this was a strange article to be reading on the same page as the one where University staff are warned to watch for ‘radicals’ and violent extremists organising on campus. We are asked to be vigilant. Well, I have to report that I have seen violence perpetrated on campus – a number of bovver boys and girls have taken over the administrative apparatus of the university sector in order to extort profit from a public recourse. They charge fees, make alliances from business, speak a weirdo corporate speak (‘business-facing’!!) and generally think that the ideal model for running education was forged in the offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland Speculation division. Its not even the BNP that’s the trouble here, its the managerial class. Raise the Vera spirit and do them down as if it were the blitz all over again. Mother would agree.

Eyeballs on the Rats

I played guitar (somewhere between competent and bad) in the 1970s. King Rat, a band of mates I rehearsed a bit with, took their name from the 1962 James Clavell novel about the wartime Prison Camp called Changi in Singapore (now name of the airport). (They eventually went on to Metal rock god fame as the Bengal Tigers, I went to work with Maoists in West Bengal). King Rat was also the name of the 1998 debut novel by China Miéville, and is also an up and coming band in the present day (see here). Cavell however, it seems, took the name King Rat from the pantomime “Dick Whittington“, which references rats as carriers of the plague.

Lets sing:

“Ring a ring a Rosie

A Pocket full of posie

a-tissue, a-tissue

We all fall down”.

- and they still sometimes say Pantomime is just for kids right. I got my eye on them (and the first pic for this post – above – is a picture of my eyeball, kindly provided by the optometrist who did my recent Glaucoma test – I think it looks not totally dissimilar, at least in colour, to the cover of Miéville’s book – and only one of these is guaranteed free of myopia/glaucoma). My sister – the older of the two – visited Kolkata while I was there and the first line of her diary records the fact that there were rats as big as cats in the dormitory I was staying in. Actually, I thought the 8 rupee dorm (it was 1988 by then) was pretty luxurious for the price. The bathrooms were a shooting gallery most days, there was a few crazies (the Mother T god-botherers, and a guy who lost it in room 2 I’ll never forget – the first death I saw up close). Some of this is documented in The Rumour of Calcutta, but a lot of it is not – it will go in the T8 file to be explained later.

Snowy Mountains Scheme

The Snowy Mountains River (hydro-electricity) Scheme was a massive building project in the eastern areas of Australia in the 1950s/1960s which, along with steel/shipping projects like Port Kembla, employed my father and lots of other migrants to Australia – a massive industrial hydro project, which redirected rivers and tunneled through mountains, and – more importantly – effectively invented multiculturalism. More than 120 people died in accidents ‘taming’ the river, and some of the left union organisers for the scheme entered politics, and along with people like Al Grassby, who went on into govt in 1972, under Whitlam, their efforts meant Australia was never the same again. Powered up multiculti, Italians, Balts and Ukrainins learning English as in the pic alongside. Ivan Hutnyk was not well served by these ‘lessons’ and said it was mighty cold in the snowy (yes, there is snow in Australia). He didn’t start speaking good ‘strine till the early 60s. Ahh, the lucky country. Well, lucky but not without the hiccups that goofed Gough out in 1975, and led to the scourges we call PM Malcom pantsdown Frazer, PM silver-bodgie Hawke, PM Paul timepiece Keating and, PM John bumbling battler/razor gang Howard, who led the ultra-right resurgence of the dull in the mid 1990s. Rudd(erless) leadership seems set to continue, the old Left orgs have dried up like the river.

“The Scheme also absorbed many of the migrants who were arriving in Australia in response to the Commonwealth Government’s Immigration Scheme in the post-war years. Overall, 100,000 people worked on the Scheme’s construction between 1949 and 1974 two-thirds of them migrant workers. The workforce reached a peak of 7,300 in 1959.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is widely recognised as the birthplace of multiculturalism in Australia. Workers from over 30 countries including Australia, Austria, Finland, Jordan, Russia, USA, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, Estonia, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Rumania and The Ukraine worked on the Scheme through planning and construction”. Ref

So, of course there have been debates about privatization, ecopolitics of river systems, cheesy films and dodgy poetry, better films, govt reports (and flip flops) and active campaign groups. On the Politics of large dams, see Patrick McCully’s excellent book Silenced Rivers, and an old piece of mine on the Bakun scheme in Malaysia in Left Curve (follow the links from here). The present campaign to restore flows to the Murray river has forced a 6% return. Go fish!

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…

Stairway to Heaven

The resurrection of Led Zeppelin at their 02 Arena event evoked long suppressed memories that lurch from the awful to the wonderful. In the awful column: bad versions of ‘stairway’ being hacked out by spotty youths in guitar shops (and now, I am appalled to report, regurgitated by buskers on the London tube where everyone is well sick of Crimbo carols – do these people know any good songs? we need a better soundtrack for the struggle home from bargain shopping/return of dodgy gifts).

And in the wonderful column, Led Zep’s return reminds me of this picture of a spiral staircase that once stood on the corner of Stuart Lane and Sudder Street in Kolkata (pic is from a slide, now covered in dust – click to enlarge). This as not, I hasten to add, a functioning spiral, nor have I gone all otherworldly heaven-oriented god-botherinly religious for the silly season – though the disorderly mental state of some denizens of the lodge in those days (circa 1988) might have meant several attempts to climb this thing were made. There was quite a bit of paranoid anxiety that perhaps suggested to some that escaping the mortal coil was a viable flight path (‘I’m a jumbo jet, I’m a jumbo jet’).

As everyone will no doubt gather from their papers this morning, South Asia in the news a lot today – Bhutto family rivaling the Gandhis for martydoms; cricket (India needs 499 runs to save the series); anti-tourist campaign in Goa – awful, wonderful and comic this time.

Awful: Benazir was memorably described as ‘the virgin iron pants’ by [Shlomo] Rushdie, which is now disturbingly ironic given Rushdie is firmly in the maw of the US ideological project, but in a lesser way than Bhutto, even as she was ever a pawn in the superpower democracy-terror game. Rushdie cowered down and changed sides, from left-ish wag to playboy gimp. She, however, only ducked occasionally, and seemed far more concerned with her power moves. Super-pawn might be a better description, since she saw her way to power paved with compromises born of Washington. Certainly we can be skeptical of her democratic record (awful and awful), elected to rule at Oxford Union and Pakistan (twice). Surely when we think of the democracy drive in Pakistan or elsewhere, supported generously by both the US and UK[!], we should wonder why personages, such as the General or the Iron Pantaloon, are so keen to play this figurehead role. Head of the People’s Party or General-not-in-uniform Musharraf, neither seemed likely to be able to do much more than the bidding of imperial masters.

No surprise that I’d say this is not democracy in any radical sense – as none of us know it. In Pakistan, as elsewhere, there is no disarticulation from the colonial machinations of ‘the great game’, of the border writing routines, of the geo-political intrigue (and yes, we also need a democracy movement in the UK). It is time again to ask why we have these pantomime leaders, whether local despots or their Global avatars – why are they tolerated at all? Why do we put up with these ‘leaders’? I am reminded of Voltaire’s suggestion for those who wonder why monarchs do not give up their hereditary power when most people would ‘prefer’ a republic: he said we should go ask the mice who wanted to put a bell round th neck of the cat…

Cricket: I also recall that there is a Led Zeppelin tune called ‘Kashmir’, and I am fighting temptation to dig it out to listen for any hint at all of people’s movement. In 1987 I also visited Srinagar and thereabouts, stayed on Dal Lake – and got to met some of the Kashmiri separatists. The place is again in the news today as the Indian Army are apparently ‘suppressing’ protests in the wake of the Benazir assassination. (I remember Yusuf Chopra who ran a Houseboat called The Neal Armstrong – there was a gold framed letter in the guest house from NASA pointing out that ‘Professor Armstrong thanked Mr Chopra for the invitation, but had no intention of visiting’). The soldiers patrol the Lake today (it freezes over in December, we played cricket on the ice – hence years of bronchial bleargh…hack hack).

Anyway, tourism to Kashmir was scuppered after 1989 (and today Goa, for different – SEZ – reasons, may soon be off limits), but the problems of Kashmiris have not been settled – go ask Mohammed Afzal. Again a set of troubles that reaches back to superpower geopolitics and the consequences of Imperial border design.

My grandfather once wrote of seeing a Zeppelin in WW1, saying his elder sister called him inside from the road when the Zeppelin drifted by, saying ‘ere Tommy, come orf the road before yer get bombed’ – no doubt in a Geordie accent I cannot reproduce.

The Goa protests, and the comedy antics of white dreadlocked waifs on winter sabbatical from Manali, will I hope be reported by Lia – I’ll put a link on the links page when that comes through.

Travels in the war

One of the things I have been doing on and off for a while is writing about my Grandfather’s adventures in the second imperialist world war, and following him to places he visited – Malta, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon… Somehow the idea is that I’d do a travel diary during the ‘war on terror’ to match the text I made with him years ago about his WW2 war stories, which were themselves written out versions of what he used to tell when I was a homeless 14 year old camped out in his back shed…

Anyway, grabbing stuff to take home from my office for the xmas research break, I just found an old faded photo of grandfather and some of his mates in sailor uniform. Typically, holding bottles of beer. On the back in grandfather’s handwriting it says:

“This snap was taken in the mountains at Beruit in Jan 1943. I managed to save it. The lad behind me belongs to Sunderland and was the only other survivor”

Sunderland being sort of just across the way from Grandfather’s home town of South Shields, and where my Great Aunt Aggie was from – it was she who got me my first aussie rules football, for xmas circa 1973, saying she found it in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra (a likely story).

In the pic Thomas Mouat Tate is the one on the front left. I did promise, a year ago, that I would come back to this stuff.

Zen choice

Hey hey hey – take me back to the dyakshya yoga youth refuge I first ran to after Grandpa Tate thought I shouldn’t keep camping out in his backyard shed… I was 14 – Crikey, there is a long story I have to tell one day… but already I can see this is going to be far too autobiographical, because its late and holiday-time, but all the same… I want to preface this ‘link’ [tribute, reference - yo Steve, its your fault too] with some arabesque like hedging cos I used to be so opposed to the random use of Zen in western academic work. Because, clearly, it was often little but a form of exoticist shorthand rendering-reduction of a philosophy deserving of respect to the somehow lesser status of ‘eastern’ philosophy (at best this is trinketization, orientalism, etc) and, even where there was cursory reference to Allan Watts (rarely with the level of scholarship/obsession that would honour his learning) or even reference to some actually existing and even named monk, teacher, guru (think of Verela’s pretty much single questionable, saffron-enrobed, source for… – and there is still an old debate with slash on the validity of such narrow fly-by-night adventure mysticism, including versions of Confucius, Meiji-‘capital’ or Tiger-economics which does little, for mine, to open up the particularities of Asian capital or the ‘magic’ of new media, finance flows, monad, rhizofcukic… etc. [why not world systems?]). Anyway, all that was way back then (five minutes ago, and its this afternoon’s set text).

Nowadays I am easily impressed and often plain emotional, and sometimes prepared to welcome an exception. Actually, I always was – I liked Watts very much because his scholarship opened up several other worlds in the midst of the ‘main’ one… [so - formative bio moment - my first paid teaching job after picture framing and other scams that paid for my degree, was a course on History of Religions in Geelong, see footnote 1]. But here, at last I start to get closer to the meat – at the beginning of Steve Wright’s very useful commentary on immaterial labour in a recent issue of Mute Magazine, a koan-like bit of mischief that serves him well. As epigram, Steve offers us a pithy tribute to Zen thought, as a short-hand/short-arm way into critique. He does this economically, in a way my hedging refuses to allow… in a way, that, on a good day, I think means that … well, this one below (wait, patience, we will get there) … could be adapted for many purposes, and it is not unlike the story William Burroughs used to tell about when he heard the hippies had been giving flowers to the police and he responded that the only flower he would give them was one in a pot dropped from a three story building (I think this was after he had witnessed the Chicago 68 democratic convention where Mayor Daley unleashed all kinds of brutality on the flower power set). Oh my god, will we ever get there…. its taking ages, what is the hold up… anyway, what I wanted to note, was that in a sort of arabesque, in a delaying tactic, in a feint, avoidance, side-step, en passant, and in defence of a more nuanced reading of Marx on value (hurrah), Steve Wright starts out with this:

 

A priest once came across a zen master and. seeking to embarrass him, challenged him as follows: ‘using neither sound nor silence, can you show me what is reality?’
The zen master punched him in the face.
[from a story told to Steve by Hobo, from the article: 'Reality Check: Are we living in an immaterial world?' in Mute Vol 2 No 1 p 34 _ (pp34-45).]

Whump. And laugh. Of course its just a little bit disappointing that Steve ends his piece with the obvious line from Madonna on living in a [historical] materialist world [as Ange sang circa 1990], but then, as he himself notes, there is much more to do to displace the Negri-ite consensus that affronts us today. This is still an unmissable start. And all this preface bumble preamble is meant just to say go buy his book “Storming Heaven”.

The immaterial labour argument is important, and its welcome that folks are interested in labour and value, again. And it implies an interest in the question of how to organise. To move this along beyond the platitudes of multitude, perhaps a reading of value as desire, as Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay suggests, might be a good place to start to r/mend fences.

Footnote 1. History of Religions was a course at Deakin University taught usually by Purushottama Bilimoria but he was away for just over a year and fluke of flukes I landed the job. Head of School Prof Max Charlesworth was kind enough to employ me, explaining that it was comparative religion that we did – Hinduism,. Buddhism, Aboriginal beliefs, animism would all be compared – in turn – to Christianity… So, that really started a debate, though I do remember his generosity in adding a thanks to me in his ethnography of the scientists at the think tank that was Eliza Hall (this is well before Bronio Latour, Paul Rainbow, etc – it was called “Life Among the Scientists”. I saw a second hand copy in Oxford once, but was stupid not to buy it… I’d love to find a copy as besides some obscure early poetry its the first glorious mention I got in print – very proud was I, as was mum).

Trinket Crimbo

XMAS TEACHES KIDS TO LOVE CAPITALISM

This old graffito favourite (I will post pics sometime) returned to mind this morning when I was rudely awakened by some god-bothering Bishop (Nazir Ali) on Radio Four’s Today Programme complaining in ever so slow plummy tones that something about diversity legislation – vaguely referenced as ‘political correctness’ – meant that some employers were stopping employees from putting up tinsel at work or employees were reluctant to put up workplace xmas trees for fear of offending co-workers of other faiths. This being an issue in the workplace strikes me as ironic and beside the point – as in missing the point by a whisker, but certainly missing. The trouble is – as the BBC went on to explain – they could find no employers who had actually ‘banned’ christmas; that there was no expectation that the churches would not be well attended come the day; and that calls for a return to celebration of the ‘summer festival’ that was colonised by Christianity were not really likely and frankly seem a bit, um, medieval.

Now it might surprise some that I am a fan of old Charlie Dickens, but maybe he did not make the connection between work, money and christmas clear enough when he got the ghosts to work their sentimental magic on old Ebeneezer. At least he made the connection, unlike the radio this morning. Maybe the BBC team were just filling the Today programme stocking with a seasonal puff piece, and I shouldn’t be bothered, but I do get misty eyed when I think of all the misery – work work work till you die, ho ho ho – that is inaugurated with the early years’ induction to capitalism that 25/12 and the fondly remembered fat fool (‘money bags’) entails.

Redistribute wealth in commemoration of the day after – 26 December is Mao’s birthday – instead of this conjunction of church and capital that jingles your bells in mockery of your creative labour – only a few coins left rattling in your pocket, creativity appropriated by the bosses, entombed in a data entry capsule, force fed on stale fruit cake to fatten you up for a slaughter that takes about 50 of your very best years…

Off to the beach then – bah humbug. ha ha ha. (the pic is from Xmas 1962)

Kim’s Game


I have a brother called Kim (Hiya) and in the book I am writing now (‘Jungle Studies’) I will have some sharp things to say about Rudyard Kipling the creator of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Akhela, as well as about his close friend, Baden-Powell, founder of concentration camps and of the Scouts.

It was in the Scouts that my brother and I endured various militaristic drill sessions, were forced into a peculiar form of (mild) child-labour collecting newspapers, beer bottles and doing ‘bob-a-job; (which I liked because I worked for a certain elderly woman called Mrs Chandler, one-time girlfriend of Ned Kelly) and it was as Scouts and ‘cubs’ that we learnt of “Kim’s Game”. This game was a memory test where you would be shown a tray of objects (I would now call them trinkets of course) and after a minute these were covered up and you had to list as many as you could remember. I forget what the reward was, if any. Our troop happily was not a site of paedophilia or of any crazy rafting accidents, as seems to be the scare story about Scouting for Boys today, but it was certainly not the ‘make-a-man-of-him’ routine for which my rough and tumble action figure of a father had hoped. In my case it taught me horticultural skills and an appreciation of mushrooms. Later on, returning to the town where I grew up, I was pleased to find the old Guide Hall had become the State’s (Victoria, Australia) first Hindu temple. Kipling and Baden-Powell have other connections in this book too, some of which I will trace. But Kipling’s Jungle Book offers only a title or a metaphoric code. The jungle itself, is mostly ignored, and Jungle music – beyond some discussion of ADF – is avoided as well: and this is not a book about the forest as such, or of forest people (I have written elsewhere on Colin Turnbull’s work, The Mountain People, and owe him a better review for his greener book). I am more interested in the jungle as powerful trope. My copy of Kipling’s book begins with Lisa Makman’s pithy (even pith-helmeted) passage on jungles which well deserves citation:

“The term “jungle”, derived from the Hindi word jangala, entered the English language only in the eighteenth century; today it evokes dangerous terrain: impenetrable equatorial forests, menacing urban landscapes, and overall mayhem (as in, “it’s a jungle out there”). Even as jungles have gained a new designation – rain forest – and we have learned of their life-sustaining role in the biosphere, the word continues to conjure images of imperial adventure: the white man cutting his way through the bush to hunt big game, or Tarzan swinging from a vine. We owe our deep associations of jungles with mystery, threat, and the struggle for survival in large measure to Rudyard Kipling (Makman, intro to Kipling 2004:xv)”

I want to underline the collision here between forest danger and the urban menace, remember that the big-game hunter could be a sociologist or anthropologist, and suggest that the stalking metaphor for the trinket collecting of social science factification might be the character Kaa, who also had some wisdom, let us not forget: ‘The jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think and be still’ (Kipling 2004:33). Kaa is a storyteller too, not just an old snake: ‘I also have known what love is. There are tales that I could tell that…’ (Kipling 2004:42). My copy of Hobson-Jobson, that amazing compendium of Anglo-Indian loan words, without which magical realism, Midnight’s Children, Merchant Ivory and so much more, would not be the same, offers “Jungle” as derived from Sanskrit, chiefly used in medical discourses, ‘the native word means in strictness only waste, uncultivated ground’. Therein we read a citation from Valentia, in the year 1809: ‘The air of Calcutta is much affected by the closeness of the jungle around it’ (Yule and Burdell 1886/1996:470). I have also elsewhere written on the bad reputation of Calcutta, and here treat of it again, with Kipling in mind… So, on to urban stories, both critical and evocative, for we be of one blood, ye and I.
.

The picture is of UFO’s over Berlin at night, or maybe they were Euro bees, sorry, memories just a bit shaky…

.

Box


The Box Brownie camera, circa 1962, was clearly designed for ease of use. Anyone can just pick it up, focus, and shoot. Rather hard to see the image in the viewfinder if I remember correctly – but I am not so sure I do remember this – its taken on the veranda of grandfather Thomas Tate’s house in Melbourne. Jx

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,744 other followers

%d bloggers like this: