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Category Archives: thought
Friends and collaborators from …ment, new online journal on contemporary art, culture and politics, have released their first issue ‘Welfare Statement’. This first issue explores recent debates on the crisis of the welfare state and related issues. Contributors include Franco Bifo Berardi, Markus Miessen, Margit Mayer, DOXA, Patrick Coyle, The Public School, amongst others. Whilst the journal primarily operates online, a beautiful risograph print limited edition of 150, featuring a contribution fromElmgreen & Dragset, is available from various art bookshops in Berlin and shortly in London.
The London/Berlin based collective also announces a first event at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, on 16th April, co-organised with DOXA and the Amateurist Network. The event AMASS: Towards an Economy of the Commons, consists of an afternoon of round-table discussions and presentations on the notions of the commons. Participants and contributors include Anthony Iles (Mute) and the University for Strategic Optimism. Next issue is expected towards the end of the summer, and an event in Berlin is lined up in collaboration with Archive Books/Kabinett.
PUBLIÉ PAR LDN/BRU
I was complaining to one of our brilliant students the other day that there was, at Goldsmiths, something of a viral effect of reading Deleuze and Guattari for the first time and deploying their work uncritically. Against the charge that I was dismissing them, I too quickly said ‘I am actually a fan of D&G, early D&G, but no fan of those who use them willy-nilly for pap‘ and did not explain what pap I meant. So, I have been suitably called to account and now provide some explication of pap. Fun it is too.
Pap is a kind of ooze made from crushed fruit or something.
It gets better when you turn to the books – Here are some dictionary definitions of pap:
1. Soft or semiliquid food, as for infants.2. Material lacking real value or substance: TV shows that offer nothing but pap.3. Slang Money and favors obtained as political patronage: “self-seeking politicians primarily interested in patronage, privilege, and pap” Fiorello H. La Guardia..
1. a soft food for babies or invalids2. worthless or oversimplified entertainment or information3. S African maize porridge [Latin pappare to eat].
Pap rendered as ‘favours for money’ (the false coin of Governmentality) is particularly good, and topical. As is porridge (which is what the British MPs who rort the system ought to get). But at risk of making this whole post an example of pap, here is the clincher – the final one:
I’m corresponding with a certain Jen O about her prospective PhD here:
Her day job in marketing reminded me of an anecdote I’ve been meaning to post:
There once was was a workshop once that was run by our marketing/consultancy people. I think this was a rather dim excersize from no doubt excessively paid chancers, but we had fun at this workshop. They asked us to break into teams and brainstorm the five main themes of Goldsmiths mission/brand. Our group had to take the slogan – ‘Goldsmiths offers a transformatory experience’ and make it more ‘edgy’. Stage one we came up with ‘Goldsmiths will change the way you think’, which is OK and I’d been using a version of this for years in introductory talks for new students (I’ve another talk coming up on Opend Day wednesday 18th Feb). But we had to report back at this meeting in front of all the college heads of departments and other tops. All fine, the then head of finance was our designated feedback person, so – with him in a bow-tie – we had him stand up and announce to the assembled heads that our second stage radicalization of that slogan – ‘we will change the way you think’ was now ‘We will fuck with your head’. Much laughter and mock shock, credit to him for doing our bidding. Needless to say, our rewritten slogan for Goldsmiths was subsequently voted down and on the strapline and on the twee little lapel buttons they made as part of the ‘rebranding’ our slogan was not adopted. The badge instead says ‘radical’ – which is of course counter-indicative [but I could not find an image of that badge on line, so will scan it tomorrow maybe, in the meantime see the random badge pic generator to the left, and even better - see here for a better viral marketing move omn Goldies part].
Julian and I are clearly going mad. We sit in the pub after work for a pint and instead of watching football or something normal, we plan a response to the new Arts and Humanities Research Council plan to fund research on the theme ‘Beyond Text’. Our troubles with beyond text have to do with its narrow textualist framing even when it mentions sound and objects – the framing seems to be largely in terms of language, reading, vision and grammar. I am not so silly as to quote Nietzsche to the Government (‘you believe in Grammar – you believe in God’), and clearly this first draft is not the one we will want to send either. Good thing this is a weblog unread by the enemy, huh. Still, got to put it somewhere or it will burn.
Hey AHRC folks:
We welcome the opportunity to contribute some thoughts to the formulation of the research programme Beyond Text.
We are especially interested to pursue the idea of ‘literacy and competence associated with media other than written text’ because we recognise in this an implication that engages with our research on the possibilities and potentials of different conceptualisations of the formation of knowledge and meaning. In particular we would stress the reconfiguration of thinking about the senses as something we would want to push to be genuinely innovative. We agree that Beyond Text offers many opportunities for this, and we suggest the following concerns be taken into account
- the privilege of the visual concept of knowledge. We suggest that in the second part of subdivision on Text and Image in the Framework document, the question seems too narrowly framed within the visual when it asserts that ‘we read texts: it is a practice of vision’. Certainly this is the conventional conception of texts, but if the aural or other senses are taken as reference, perhaps another tone might be heard. Where the question is framed as ‘how does this visual practice differ from, and relate to, the ‘reading’ of drawings, images, objects and the world itself?’ we would want to ask if there are other conceptions of reading Beyond Text and different to the way the visual structures knowledge (deferring in time, utility, sounding acoustomatics [thanks Brian]) . For example, a critical combative model of knowledge might be asserted, questioning tone, the timbre or tenor of argument, investments in affect etc. This is perhaps to be asserted as different to the register of pointing, indicating and underscoring knowledge, and the visual-geographical division of knowledges into fields etc.
- the privilege of structure. Following on from the above, a literalist model of Beyond text could imply also a geography of knowledge. Starting here, we want to travel ‘Beyond’. We think this can be usefully complicated by thinking of Beyond Text as also implying pre- and outer-, sub- hyper and non-text.
- a privilege of inscription. We are particularly interested to note the reference in some of the documentation to silence. Text includes gaps – these gaps need not be thought of as physical or visual (space between words is time and conceptual difference, as well as a fact of typography). Amplifying the idea of silence and the un-known (known knowns, unknown unknowns etc…) we are interested in the unnameable. We are interested in projects (or abjects) that attempt to find expression for, and address, the unnameable, or the process of articulation of naming the unnameable.
- the privilege of one model of process. Instead of a given order of knowledge, we are keen to assess conceptions of knowledge, memory, performance, (interpretation, reception, witnessing) which do not begin or end with the unquestioned object. Affect, embodiment (embodied knowledges) excess, audiospherics, abstraction, obstruction and deferral (in time, in emotional impact, as decay) are also important. What kind of questions are possible if we reverse the privileges of linearity, order words, ordering grammar, structures of disciplining thought? Is it possible to transmute grammar into registers other than language? We are interested in a grammar of motives (Burke), a grammar of metaphor (Miller), a grammar of excess (Bataille). We are interested in the structuring of knowing bodies (a grammar of embodiment – Ingold, Grassini), and we are interested in the possibility of thinking knowledge as affective, emotive, moving, multiply registered, critical, dialectical, triangulated, post-visual, wild, echoing, algebraic; and we are keen to evaluate resonance, dynamism, proximation, and contrapuntal or atonal notions of knowing. We want to imagine thinking of knowledge through other than the usual ideas about memory, vision, utility, and to reconfigure knowledge as sensuous in relation to music and sound, to touch, fear, cause, consequence, import and consideration. We are interested in the potential of a challenge to things as they are seen to be. We welcome the opportunity to raise these issues.
Our research on creativity, diaspora, hybridity, communication and transmission of cultural topi, is governed by our investigation of these themes. We believe a distinct contribution is possible as consequence of rethinking Beyond Text in a radical, critical mode. Our past research investigates how sonic dimensions of migrant and diasporic culture differ from visual and written texts in the expression of subjectivity, affect and identity; and we particularly explore how the ‘embodied’ and ‘performative’ aspects of sonic cultural production register markers of (regional, ethnic, class and gender) identity, which other media are less able to do or must do in different ways. We believe such research challenges the conservative implications of essentialist ideas about migrant identity, and certain current versions of globalisation, creolisation, hybridity and multiculturalism. The innovative character of sonic research enables more productive understandings of the power relations between dominant and diasporic communities, and perhaps enables the creation of new theoretical and conceptual tools with progressive implications for other areas of investigation (e.g., how sonic rather than visual culture informs and constructs other cultural fields and social formations).
blah de blah blah bla… and this isn’t even for the money. More an indication of how anything worthwhile gets twisted when you try to write it into the formulas and forms of research council funding frameworks. Still, underneath the paving stones… the research we want to do… what we do… see the what;s on pages soon for some of it. Now, Wolves v West Bromwich Albion.
The AHRC framework consultation document is here.
Very occasionally (why?) I feel the need to restate why it is that I use the word trinketization to refer both to the dessication of all life to mere commodities, and as a word for a critique of the poverty of theorizing that remains at the level of fascination with those commodities. Remembering that Marx in Capital only starts with commodities to tell us they are the fetished and occulted manifestation of social life – the ‘erscheinungsform’ in which wealth appears on the stage of the market etc… there is a need to contextualize and theorize beyond this mere appearance. Hence 3 volumes of Kapital, and a further 3 vols of Theories of Surplus Labour, and then a subsequent effort of theory via Lenin, Lukacs, Adorno, even Debord (thanks Jeff and Tom)….
So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations:
In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journal Postcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:
“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”
This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:
“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)
And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:
“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style) trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.
A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:
“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.
Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:
“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.
The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journal Critique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:
“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).
There is more of this to come. To be filed under terminological morass.
This piece was written by Roh and published in the journal Left Curve Number 29, pages 120-121, 2005
Art in the Right Place?
‘The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to’
- Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness 1973:10
At fifteen feet high, anti-contagious and civilizing in pure white classical marble, pregnant British woman Alison Lapper, who has no arms and shortened legs due to a congenital disorder called phocomelia, will sit in pristine wholeness on the fourth plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square in London, from spring 2005 until the summer of 2006. Surrounded by commanding military heroes, excluding a replica of British football hero David Beckham and a stone cow, the fourth plinth has remained empty since 1841 when it was built by the architect of Trafalgar Square, Sir Charles Barry. Originally meant to display an equestrian statue but left empty due to insufficient funds, this year London Mayor Ken Livingston assigned ‘The Fourth Plinth Project’ as part of his ‘Culture Strategy’ for London. In March, a panel of specialist advisors recommended there be one temporary work of art that would be on the plinth for fifteen months; the public could “vote” but these would not be classified as votes and only the specialists could make the final choices. Chosen from a group of six leading national and international contemporary artists, which included Chris Burden, Sokari Douglas Camp, Stefan Gec and Sarah Lucas, British artist Marc Quinn’s sculpture “Alison Lapper Pregnant” was chosen by the Fourth Plinth Commissionary group in March 2004, to be replaced by Thomas Schütte’s pro-pigeon “Hotel for the Birds” in 2006.
Despite the Chair of the London regional council of Arts Council England, Lady Hollik, advocating that ‘London is not a museum piece…the historic and the contemporary sit side by side, distinct in their diversity yet combining to produce a fresh landscape’ it appears that it is easy to get sentimental where, within the language that celebrates difference, stereotypes can re-blossom and imitation allows us to be closed to learning. With the placing of Lapper in a public city space whose dominant historical text is that of heroism, some of us are slipping into a different kind of present response than one of “Travulgar Square” British tabloid press disgust at bad taste, political-correctness-gone-mad shock art. Instead we slide into another historically established order: one of sentimentality and high-flying well-brought-up morality. Facing the heroic Lord Nelson in wholeness and beauty, Lapper is our ultimate modern conquer – ‘I pay taxes, I am a single mother…’ – whose sculpture acts, according to Lapper, as a ‘tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood.’ She is a steadfastly self–affirmed, a self-sufficient individual and, to Quinn, represents the contemporary heroine. He says of his series of limbless sculptures:
‘Even if they refer to the sculpture of the past, they seem to me to be about the future, which is about difference and diversity. They’re celebrations of difference and of the triumph of the human spirit. Hero’s are people who conquer themselves and go on to lead full lives.’
Reverenced and idealized, Lapper’s life career becomes the thread of the story in a work of fiction. She exists within the same museum narrative of revenge, punishment, reward and retribution that we use to understand Lord Nelson’s Imperialist History and the colonization of the contagious savage other who is overcome by the civilizing hero; celebration and acceptance only exists for difference that can become triumph by way of such a heroic individual. Quinn winning this public art competition has, it seems, helped Lapper to become the embodiment of a hegemonic Imperial British history; of a way of thinking that fetishises the story of the eye – Nelson, in the battle of Copenhagen, knowing that there was no time to flee, put his blind eye to his telescope and saying, ‘I don’t see the signal’, and so continued to fight and crushed the Danish fleet – that signifies bravery and a patriotic love of country that excludes different perspectives and voices beyond the heroic.
In commenting on Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928), Roland Barthes writes:
‘its story is that of migration, the cycle of the avatars it passes through, far removed from its original being, down the path of a particular imagination that distorts but never drops it.’ (2001:119)
The eye for Barthes acts as an endless metaphor, a chain without a beginning that has no hierarchy of meaning. Open and out of reach of interpretation, there is no place for a secret reference behind the signifier. Douglas Camp’s sculpture No-o-war-r No-o-war-r aims to ‘depict ordinary people as heroes’; as complex and conflicted beings, full of doubt, hesitation, anger and conviction, Douglas Camp describes them as akin to Rodin’s sculpture of all six of The Burghers of Calais. The equal status of her protesters acknowledges the context of Trafalgar Square as a historical place of continuing protest and the assertion of rights by ordinary people. By refusing to stamp identities and form distinctions in diversity, her sculpture does not contribute to the process of creating totalizing modern molds. The Fourth Plinth Project advisors turned a blind eye to the millions who demonstrated in Trafalgar Square against the war in Iraq in 2003 and who have demonstrated there throughout its history, crushing alternative perspectives and upholding the Victory of neo-colonial thought. Simultaneously, the myopic board co-ordinate their own self-affirmation through a sense of social duty and have thus prevented Londoners the right to explore public spaces such as Trafalgar Square and learn an unexpected education.
In a world that is maintained by inequality, historic love is belief in an idea of science, knowledge and ethics to which you can sacrifice yourself. Within the archive of such a love, the perception of disease at the heart of modern living must be controlled and purified in order to free us from imagined threat and continuous conflict. The Fourth Plinth Project, goes on Lady Hollik, ‘at its heart aims to encourage Londoners to engage with the arts and with their environment in new ways.’ In many ways I would have to disagree. Marc Quinn’s sculpture offers only one history, one perspective, one hero. Instead of ‘producing fresh landscapes’, this sculpture acts to maintain the stench of diseased old ones.
it cannot ever be true to origins,
its a kind of violence,
it is always political,
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:
- 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].
I am sort of stuck in my room. Somewhat foolishly perhaps, I agreed to write an entry on Exotica and Tourism for Jonathan Gray’s encyclopedia (getting so there are too many such things about) and I agreed to a deadline of Jan 1st, possibly forgetting that I should be indulging in some tourism myself at that very time. So, while I might otherwise be buying my ticket on this damn cold London day (is that 2 degrees as top temp? Yikes – and yes, I know that its colder in New York…)… I do have to get this done before I get anywhere warmer… so…Help! This is an unfinished draft and it can’t be any longer… all comments welcome, email me or post here. Hopefully most readers are reading from their deckchairs someplace…
Tourism has several modes in which, more often than not, its cultural charge is impoverished. As a huge global industry it spans the world, and makes objects of people, places, meanings and experience. As pleasure- and treasure-hunt, tourism commodifies in several ways; it can be presented as educational horizon – since we have to take seriously the ideology that travel broadens the mind – and this has its privileges; as market for the strange, the curio, the souvenir and the remote, tourism brings all “Chinese Walls” battered and bruised into the guidebooks and snapshot albums of the bargain-hunting hordes. The reduction and destruction that tourism visits on the peoples and places of the ‘under-developed’ world are not the only ills of globalization for sure, and some may make the case for tourism as a force for cultural preservation, as opportunity for exchange, tourism as solidarity and as a kind of charitable aid, but on the whole tourism suffers from a bad press on this what, we sometimes call, our lonely Planet.
Tourist sites and experiences are glossed in promotional literatures with a well known and now instantly recognizable code: sunsets over palm fringed beaches; temples and monuments in jungles or deserts; curious modes of transport – the camel, the elephant, the ‘took took’ or tempo; smiling cherubic youth; feathered warriors or remote Masai women in costumed dance. The adventure of tourism in the so-called ‘third world’ mixes these exotics with pleasure getaways, luxury resorts (swimming pools just meters away from pristine beaches seems clearly excessive); home comforts and promises of safety, running water or fully-catered treks (with Nepalese Sherpers perhaps to carry any real weight; with political concerns safely tucked away in the non-tourist peripheries – alarmingly increasing, as the ‘axis of evil’ expands).
The trouble with much tourism literature has been that it must ignore politics, commodification, inequality and exploitation at the very moment that these matters are the very basis of the possibility of ‘third-world’ tourism in the first place. If there was not a wealthy tourist elite (or relative elite, national or foreign, gap year or package tour) looking for leisured rest and/or exotic experience outside of their everyday world, there would be no tourist economy. In a competitive market the travel brochure version of the world of tourism must present the beach, the pina colada, the ‘interesting’ cultural life of others as a package for ready sale. The educational dimension of culture then becomes benign but empty. Inequality is reduced to cultural difference, and may sometimes be presented as something the tourist economy can even alleviate. In Denis O’Rourke’s film “The Good Woman of Bangkok” you can hear sex tourists brag that their custom keeps Thai women from a life of poverty. In Indonesian hotels the artist of Wayang Kulit and Gamelan, not to mention less salubrious traditions, are maintained through nightly performances for businessmen that pay top dollar for entertainments they need not (want to) fully understand. Or rather, they pay for the experience of difference, of not understanding otherness. The exotic is its own reward – does it matter that these traditions are reduced in cultural importance by the way? Some would argue against such traditionalism, against touching nostalgia for a past that was never so neat.
The benevolence of tourism and charity work
A guilty secret resides at the heart of third world tourism. Holidays in other people’s misery seem inappropriate and yet – the beaches are beautiful; the tsunami a tragedy. This equation can be resolved by charitable donation or by the presence of the tourist themselves. After the Asian tsunami of 2004, rebuilding of destroyed tourist resorts in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were soon followed by calls for the tourists to return, as part of the reconstruction. Even though many of the needed tourist dollars are not spent in the effected countries when one takes into account the destinations of profits from tourism after airline ticketing, charter and package tour bookings, hotel and food chains (MacDonalds and Coca-Cola all over Thailand for example) and even sale of travel guides, there is a very small percentage of economic return left for local entrepreneurs in any case.
In recognition of this, some travelers (a sub-category of tourist, also known as backpackers) seek out charitable works as panacea; a few days at a Mother Theresa clinic or volunteer washing of elephants at a nature reserve or similar. This kind of benevolence is authorized and approved in many travel guides, and in newspapers advertisements, through the mechanism of a heart-tugging photograph of an (always smiling) child that would be the necessary motivator for even a gesture (‘send just a few coins’) of care or concern for dispossessed human beings. Clearly charitable activities, even where they ‘help’ a bit, are also part of the benevolent self deception of the tourist gaze; serving to deflect meaningful recognition of gross economic privilege and, along the way, turning guilt itself into a commodity form. One does a few days voluntary work in Calcutta (see Hutnyk 1996) to excuse a month of hedonism on the beach in Goa. Similar logics justify the carbon footprint calculations of even the most well-meaning environmental traveler – to walk in the pristine rain forest and leave a ‘soft-footprint’ is still to treat the planet as object for rapacious use. Locals be damned.
Tourists collect experience but we have to have mementos to remind ourselves that the fantasy was real. The same photographs of the smiling kids; various nick-nacks and trash purchased from the local flea market, from the beach trader, from the state emporium or from the airport departure lounge. This trinkets are then displayed on shelves at home, gathering dust, or gifted to relatives and friends not lucky enough to have been there. Postcards similarly gloat and preen. The overarching theme here is that world experienced is reduced to tat. The complex global forces of capital, of work and leisure, of the division of labour and the vast networks of information and infrastructure – planes, hotels, servants, right through to Kodak processing labs and internet travel blogging – is miniaturized in handy squares or convenient packets that can fit neatly into the luggage rack. The idea of the souvenir is reduction itself – the veneer of the trinket, the face, ironically, of exploitation write large. That we have learnt not to read these signs in any wider register is also part of the sanctioned ignorance that tourism authenticates.
But of course we are, many of us, fully aware of this hypocrisy. So much so that the inauthentic has become a part of the quest. Searching out the most gaudy plastic outrageous object proves one has not been duped by the exotica-merchants. To be in pursuit of the authentic is an essentialist trap, but to have continued past this to accept inauthenticity as part and parcel of the world leaves commodification intact. What kind of self-deception is this that extends tourist purchase to the most esoteric of objects at eh same time as it can buy up the mundane? I have seen tourists purchase plastic tap handles for their metropolitan bathroom fittings, or plastic models of the Taj Mahal, with flashing lights, as an ironic, high kitsch, souvenir. The post-tourist irony here (Urry 1990) does not break with trinketization at all, but rather confirms the process, and extends it exponentially.
Trinketization will stand for the process of reifying the world downwards into tat. What the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss lamented when he saw the filth of the West thrown back into the face of humanity has now become the detritus of all our lives, and we can even revel in it. Does this suggest a political diagnostic? The argument here is not for an end to tourism, thoroughly unlikely that could even be considered, but might we look towards the remote possibility of a better tourism, a revolutionary tourism. What of those travelers who expressly seek out meetings with the Maoists in Nepal, who march in hope of a meeting with the reds of the Himalaya; or those who travel to learn from the Ogoni in Nigeria of their struggle against the multinationals? More touching faith in the reed real here…
Trinketization is…more needed here…
… looking for a theorist to say the sort of things I wanted to say: that charity is a way of assuaging guilt; that it would never do for redistributive justice; that issues of representation still matter – but matter more than the those who wrote of the crisis of representation in anthropology could see; indeed, that the crisis – at least in anthropology – led us to a politics without radicalism; that the constant talk of crisis is a substitute for a sustained politics of change; and from there that the anthropology curriculum needs substantial reform; that universities have lost their capacity for critical appraisal of their role; that the current vogue for difference is misplaced and under theorized; that anti-racist work in the university and metropolis is more about avoiding guilt that acting against really existing racism… and all this is also about as “trinketization” – how our discrete studies became fascinated with discrete items, unable to theorize how it all fits together as neo-cultural imperialism. Of course Marx was the theorist that mattered, but who uses him in a way that addresses these specificities? Well, only Gayatri Spivak. Who is the one person I will always read first… [revise or exclude this]
What then of Tourism Concern etc.
Isn’t the solution to relax, stop moralizing against tourism and against those who claim tourism could be better (soft-footprinters). For tourist resorts and pleasure peripheries…
Decaying Resorts and the war of terror
Something on the fascination with the empty resorts should be included here. This writer traveled through Malaysia in 2002 and it was impossible not to notice the absence of North American tourists in that country at the peak season time. Visiting five-star hotels became a kind of entertaining post-ironic tourist exercise, meeting workers barely employed, desultorily pushing a mop across the patio, with the colonial style furniture piled up at the corner of the wide veranda of the resort, only a lizard and a palm frond in the empty swimming pools, and the jungle reclaiming the golfing greens and fairways with more than six foot grasses. Waiting on teh return of the dollar (the yen and wan filling a few gaps now…). Fear of the ‘terrorist threat’ decimated more than Afghanistan and Iraq …
The trouble with making the case that tourism turns everything into trinkets is that a theoretical approach that pursues this line is in danger of becoming a part of the problem as well. The world becomes a kaleidoscope of fascinating sites in the same way that theoretical analysis can latch onto any example and use it for its argument. What would not be subject to post-ironic touristic exoticization. The Guardian newspaper today, as I write (December 20, 2006) reports the Mayor of war torn Grozny planning tourist visits and mocks the idea with the question ‘but will bullet proof vests be supplied?’. Yes, we can imagine how the war-devastated landscape of the Chechnyan city might become a stop on some adventure tour, which might also then take in other ‘dark tourism’ sites, not all of them inappropriate as places to visit – holocaust memorials, Iwo-Jima, former prisons and locations of famous battles (Gallipoli) might also be on the itinerary. To call this trinketization would miss the emotional purchase of such investments, despite the raw fact that investment is also behind the touristification of war. The problem with trinketization here is that analytical purchase is also often reduced to a façade in much of what passes for the study of tourism, as if replicating the gloss of the brochures also amounts to a diagnostic of the global predicament (see Clifford 1997 for several examples of this). What chance is there that travel really broadens the mind of the analyst also?
Alneng, Victor ‘“What the Fuck is a Vietnam?”: Touristic Phantasms and the Popcolonization of (the) Vietnam (War)’ Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 4, 461-489 (2002)
Clifford, James Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1997
Crick, Malcolm, Resplendent Sites, Discordant Voices: Sri Lankans in International Tourism, Harwood Academic, Chur, 1994
Frommers, Guide To India, Frommers Guides, London, 1984.
Hitchcock, Michael and Teague, Ken (eds) Souvenirs: the Material Culture of Tourism, Aldershot: Ashgate
Hutnyk John The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books, 1996
Jules-Rosette, Benetta The Message of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective New York: Plenum Press 1984.
Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster, London, Cassell, 1999
MacCannell, Dean, The Tourist, reprint of 1976 version with a new introduction, Random House, New York 1989.
MacCannell, Dean, Empty meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, Routledge, London, 1992.
Olalquiaga, Celeste, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, London: Bloomsbury 1999.
Phipps, Peter ‘Tourists, Terrorists, Death and Value’ in Kaur, Raminder and John Hutnyk Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics London: Zed books, pp 74-93
Urry, John, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, Sage, London 1990.
The Banana Pancake trail. From Cape Tribulation in Australia to Marrakech in Morocco there is the budget traveler phenomenon of the cosy guest house or traveler hostel in which trusted comforts from home are served up to weary travelers. This can be glossed as the ‘banana-pancake trail’ which serves as a shorthand – an obviously gratuitous reference to the ubiquitous back-packer snack – for the contradictory ‘adventure of experience of ‘otherness’ that third world travel can be. In search of otherness but in need of the comfortable trappings of home, backpacker discussion in the guest houses and lodges is so often about where one is from, what you would like to eat when you get back, how the food gives you ‘Delhi-belly’ or similar, the mosquitoes, the toilets, the rip-off taxis. Quite often such discussions go on while the traveller is serves cola or chai or French fries or so by a 12 year old who has worked from dawn, seven days a week, sending money home to the rural periphery that the traveler will rarely see.
On Post-War Tourism: I am assured by the Swedish anthropologist Victor Alneng, who knows these things, that Lonely Planet impresario Tony Wheeler had his eyes set on Afghanistan for some time. As evidence Victor translated from a Swedish newspaper interview in September 2002 the following insights into the wheeler-dealer’s thinking: Wheeler: ‘When a place has been closed there is always a group of people that want to come there first. After them come the large hordes of travellers’. Reporter: ‘So what destinations will be the next big thing, after East Timor?’ Wheeler: ‘Angola and Afghanistan will come eventually. Maybe also Iraq. We were on the verge of sending one of our writers to Afghanistan as early as last summer, but it proved to still be very difficult to travel outside Kabul. Information ages quickly, so we chose to wait a little’. (Translation by Victor Alneng, Swedish text available at http://www.dn.se/DNet/road/Classic/article/0/jsp/print.jsp?&a=56544).
Updated – edited version appeared on page 540 or so of this huge pdf file: HERE
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)
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…
I’ve been reading more on the Sketchy Thoughts page which is providing a very useful service via translations (and no, it doesn’t only seem like ‘riot central’, the film reviews are ok too :).
It also contains this appropriate, old, but relevant, quote. Much better than the old Tory ‘rivers of blood’ speech, this is one that I’d direct at those who are writing ‘anti-terror’ laws today (such as those just going though the UK parliament this month, for example) – they must be taught that people have a right to stand up and resist tyranny:
“It needed more than one native to say ‘We’ve had enough’; more than one peasant rising crushed, more than one demonstration put down before we could today hold our own, certain in our victory. As for we who have decided to break the back of colonialism, our historic mission is to sanction all revolts, all desperate actions, all those abortive attempts drowned in rivers of blood”.
From: John Hutnyk – Academic Director, Centre for Cultural Studies