Tag Archives: exotica

Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW

Gael Clichy 5

This one is really from the Vault. It was printed in the Melbourne art magazine Agenda, in about 1989 or so. The totally irrelevant picture I have chosen to illustrate this is not of Weary’s art, but since Man City beat the Gunners 4-1 yesterday I thought it amusing that when I searched ‘weary’ this picture turned up, with the caption ‘a weary Arsenal…’ Apologies, but the image that illustrated this piece in its original form will be retrieved when I’ve dug still further down into the swamp…

‘Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW’

- by John Hutnyk

There is no way that the ‘main event’ could be ignored in this tale.

In a room tucked away beneath the Guggenheim collection, which dominates attendances at the NSW Gallery this summer, Geoff Weary’s video installation waits for an audience.  Weary had been artist-in-residence at the time when Emperor Hirohito was slowly dying, in hospital and in the national press, an event which had its significances in all parts of Japan.  Now Weary is located down under the visiting treasures of American Art collection, and Japan is somehow again made ephemeral in the process.  Given a basement-like room in which to set up his elaborate commentary upon his ‘residence’, Weary’s video rolls over and over, and while it doesn’t immediately offer an easy set of linkages, it is nevertheless not too strange to attribute a narrative intentionality to the arrangements.  People want to tell stories about Japan – making meaning of the enigma.  Yet how we construct the ‘empire of signs’, as Barthes called it, raises questions about storytelling and fidelity of representation that deserve more attention.  In Weary’s room a few people enter – the door is hard to find – and sit before his ‘Faraway’ – a Sony large-screen video projector, two Bose hi-fidelity speakers and some twenty-three black and white images arranged upon the walls.  At various times across the last month three videos have been shown over: ‘From Occupied Japan’, ‘Faraway’ and ‘House of Whispers’.  I saw the third of these, secreting its messages from a Japan that seemed so much more distant than the masculanist European glories haphazardly collected upstairs.  The Emperor and wartime Imperial Nippon is remote in place and time, and yet the economics of ‘whispers’ – a suggestive piece of video set in the Tokyo stock exchange – could, perhaps should, be so much closer to us than the ‘valuable’ art of Mondrian, Modigliani and so on – for all the influences of the ‘east’ that might be traced in those works.  Slamming the American Imperialism of the Guggenheim, however, is another project.

Weary tells us a story. There are seven photographs of world war two airmen, there are seven photographs of coins, and there are seven civilian faces, five of these quite obviously evocative of ‘youth’, or perhaps the ‘future’ of Japan.  There is a larger photograph of the Emperor, and another large piece which is the front page of the newspaper which announced his death: ‘The Emperor died at 6.33 am today and the 55 year old Crown Prince succeeded immediately to the Chrysanthemum throne’.  In the catalogue essay, Spivak’s comment that money resembles writing as a ‘sign of a sign’ resonates further here in the context of the empire of signs.  All but one of the coins in the photographs are caught spinning, over and over; the seventh, in the centre, is one of those coins with its centre chopped out – a device of old mints to extend coinage without producing further coins – as if the centre of value has been removed and spent elsewhere, and yet there remains a currency in Japan.  The Emperor is important even at the stock exchange, site of the economic ascendancy of the nation, even as the coin is clipped in this way.  Clipped coins are of a different, more convoluted order, but they are still money.  Why then have they become so strange, so exotic, in this context?

Weary has the exchangists tell a story.  In the video we watch accountants accounting, inscribing value upon small sheets, scribbled wealth.  Money in its most abstracted and international form in the stock exchange – yet still strange, mysterious.  Hands gesture signals to the stock board – to buy so many units, to sell so many others, to wave goodbye, to wipe away a tear – the hands dance in their language of value.  The writers inscribe.  And each interlude away from the exchange – to the landfilled area of Tokyo bay, to the world of T.V. advertising – ends with a staggered frame effect which resembles flicking through the pages of a book (wasn’t this the form of the most originary animations?).  Figures of exchange value are superimposed over a shouting face.  The camera presumes to read for us, making its images into text, through writing, through pages, and alongside the text of the death of the Emperor, the text of the war and the text of value in ‘faraway’ Japan. The contradiction of the money form which can make equivalences of everything all over the globe appears in its strangest manifestation in the very forum of international money.  The stock exchange should be the most familiar of places for us, the point at which we can calculate equivalences, since money allows us to do so – but here we cannot.

Then Weary tells us a fishing story.  Amidst the stock exchange scenes the editing has included a coloured sequence shot on the reclaimed lands of Tokyo bay.  Many people are fishing, a small fish is caught, the city is ‘faraway’ in the background.  What is value here?  Across this sequence the music is ‘traditional’, everything else had been Bach violins (Partita in D Minor).  Is fishing valuable?  As a pastime or as commodity, another coin has been clipped, on land reclaimed, as if at some point Tokyo reclaimed this as its centre, not yet constructed, developed, not yet part of the city, and still resonant with the music of an older Japan.  The huge wealthy urbanity of the metropolis, with which cinematography so likes to conjure up images of our own future, is presented from afar, from a reverent distance perhaps, so as not to succumb to the imperialism of icon building where the building of Tokyo as Empire becomes the sign of world value.  Yet if Weary does want to avoid, as it says in the catalogue, ‘the Western postmodernist definition of Japan as an archetypical cultural other’ and not enter into ‘a mindless unproblematised celebration of Japan’ as the exemplary sign-scape, then his city has to be built from some other position than that of the seduced voyeur of the traditional value of the gesture.  Fishing rods and close-ups of hands may entail a fidelity with ‘what is’, but the cliché of the Tokyo-proto-metropolis remains.  And this is what can feed Tokyo into the gluttonous exchange machine of the money-for-cultural-difference relation – even the strange can be calculated and commodified finally – coins can be found to represent its enigma.  As we so often find, stereotypes work precisely because they are stereotypes, reductively meaningful, and capable of working their effects even at a distance, even under criticism.  For all Weary’s ‘other’ Japan, it is Japan as other that is presented in very conventional ways.  Mysterious again, the place cannot be demystified under Weary’s signs of money, or of Emperor, nor of fishing.

There is a story here that is difficult to tell. The camera – both video and photographic – begins to read for us, but we are also drawn over to ‘faraway’ Japan.  Voyeurs of our own impressions and failures of comprehension – Japan becomes a story since it is difficult to tell, because it resists our conventional narrations.  Yet we can gain a purchase on this, since our stereotypes of the war, our iconic image of an Emperor, the all-transmutable value of coins and the whispered values of the stock exchange only become stories through our sitting before these images across time.  Wandering around the Guggenheim is not very different from this, but the time-based arts of Weary tell in so many different ways than the paintings in the main exhibition that it is inappropriate to compare, and yet unavoidable, because to visit Weary is, usually, to have already visited the Guggenheim.  Value asserts its priorities again, the Emperor is dead but Weary’s Japan story remains faraway buried beneath the grand history of ART upstairs, and buried beneath the gestures of avoiding clichés, avoiding our constructions by making an object of construction – Japan as a sign of a sign of value – even as it might allow us to speak of more than this.  It is always important, I think, to look at context and its conditioning effects, and ask where value is to be found, who has put together the collection, and how.  The Emperor is dead, the coin is clipped, a hand inscribes the exchange, yet the same old imperialisms abound.  Upstairs the punters pay money to see the booty of American collectors, and value is left in a spin.

Montreal

Houses with steps outside and balconies galore. People play the guitar twenty feet above the street, rooftop b-b-qs on a fantasy sunshine twilight Franco-bohemian wannabe New Orleans evening (after the flood = after the terrific snows). Singing in bars. Excellent seafood, wide streets, blue sky like Sydney, strange mushroomy aromas in the underpass, beer sold in separate shops to wine and liquor. Ice-skating hockey team tragedy (C-H lost). Ukrainians and Portuguese. Very good coffee, random conversations with relatively deranged beggars, accented French ‘you can’t go wrong with THAT’, histories of amusing god-bothery (tabarnac a term of abuse). Murals on all walls. Painted roofs – some garish. Dogs, great danes and shepherds. Harley Davidsons and all the other trappings of a 1970s aesthetic. Reminiscences of Melbourne, missing only the trams. And maybe a bit more public transport (queues at all bus stops). Enthusiastic students, clean and bright. Souvenir bears.

Reflections on Complicity

Good pre-Goldies rectification stuff here from Leila on CASA [CASA is a Spanish acronym for Colectivos de Apoyo, Solidaridad y Acción. In English, that's: Collectives of Support, Solidarity and Action]:

“Reflections on Complicity
by Leila
June 18, 2007

It’s a party with too much food, an endless beer supply and a whole cast of music snobs (myself included.) In short, a Friday night filled with all of the standard tropes of our extravagant merry-making.

As the evening warbles past midnight and the conversation starts repeating, I slip away from the garden barbeque. At some point the beer has gotten warm and the decadence of the food left abandoned on the table has become upsetting to me. Troubled, I retreat to the house and lay down on the couch to sort through my cluttered thoughts.

The flat, green lawn shimmers in the moonlight and the white walls and ribbed, bare wood rafters of the quaint house remind me of a ski lodge. In the garden, fresh spring flowers blossom in perfect order around the fence and gate, which is black, tall and resolutely locked. Outside, around the grill, the sound of confused but exuberant chatter and trendy Ipod music drifts back to me.

It’s not until the next morning that my discomfort crystallizes into clarity. As I’m being driven back into San Cristobal in the backseat of a car with power-locks, automatic windows, and a deluxe CD player, I watch the life of the colonia I’ve spent the night in glide past me…”

Read more here

More on Hybridity

Nabeel makes some very good points in response to my post yesterday on Timothy Taylor’s discussion of hybridity. Especially interesting bit about seeing things through the peculiarities of your local predicament. He also pointed out a book I did not know – Marwan Kraidy on Hybridity as the cultural logic of late capitalism. I’ve published much on the idea of hybridizing capital, so will read Kraidy with interest. For the record, here below a little more on hybridity as such – an attempt to systematize my problems with the term. This was for a ‘Box’ that was eventually dropped from our book Diaspora and Hybridity:

****

Perhaps in the end we can identify the main parameters of a ‘career’ of the term hybridity as it has been discussed here:

– implications of biological and botanical heritage, the mongrel as infertile mix contrasted to the creative splicing of horticulture
– the term redeployed and reconfigured for culture and creativity
– creativity more often than not located at the margins, where the mixing ‘is’
– hybridity implies an anterior pure, a centre, or a tradition
– or it implies that everything is hybrid, and if so, what is gained from using the term when the old categories of race, class and gender are not exhausted?
– the term as noun is
essentialising and fixed, processes of hybridization suggest agency
– the term does duty to exclude a more adequate attention to politics, social inequality, economics, the South
– but what sort of politics can be founded on hybridity that might be adequate to oppose the cultural logic of capital, co-option and commercialization?

Does it matter what model or structure is used to map these terms? Is identity a double play or a network? Is hybridity a mix of two or more? To what degree are these terms interwoven? Is it clear that difference is relational, if not necessarily binary in terms of self and other, or of identity and difference, so if there is a range of relations at play and the term implies a positional dramaturgy? Could this argumentation be repeated for each of the terms under discussion in the culture salons? Does it matter that the specificity of these models remains opaque? The social construction argument is old and tired, however attractive, surely it offers nothing more than a means of erudite self satisfaction? So what does it mean to say cultural identity is fictional, constructed, a socially agreed illusion? And then to recognize that it still has its effects? This is a necessary but ultimately barren step if it leads only to the consequence of appreciation of some sort of complex reality: so what? It has become commonplace to declare that meanings are always translated, interpreted, negotiated and contextual – not fixed, but shared – so does greater awareness of the context of these translations offer a possibility? Any possibility? Is there a potential intervention around race to come in these discussions of identity, difference, hybridity and translation? Why are there so many that claim so? Is it impertinent to want to make a critical evaluation of these claims and to do so with an ambition that would both reject and extend them?

****

And finally, I’ll also carry forward these references from the comments page after the Taylor post. My response to Nabeel includes this:

I found you can read the first chapter of Kraidy here: Kraidy pdf. I had not seen this when I wrote my bits for the book “Diaspora and Hybridity”, but those bits can be seen in short form here: as Contact Zones, or here, and in fuller form in the journal ‘Ethnic and Racial Studies’, Volume 28, Issue 1 January 2005 , pages 79 – 102.

My other favourite texts on hybridity are mostly pretty well known, but I list them here anyway:

Brah, Avtar and Coombs, Annie 2000 “Hybridity and its Discontents”, London: Routledge.

Garcia Canclini, Nestor 1995 Hybrid “Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity”, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Papastergiadis, Nikos 1998 “Dialogues in the Diaspora: Essays and Conversations on Cultural Identity”, London: Rivers Oram

Papastergiadis, Nikos 2000 “The Turbulence of Migration”, Cambridge: Polity Press. Lowe, Lisa (1996) Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics.

Beyond Exoticism

Timothy Taylor has a book out with Duke, 2007, called Beyond Exoticism. I asked him if he’d seen my book Critique of Exotica from 2000 – I note that he cites an early edited version of what became the first chapter – but he says it did not get in. Damn. So I wrote him while I was reading his chapter on hybridity and what he calls ‘Bhangra Remix’.

Of course I told him I thought it a pity he’d not discussed mine, given similarity of title and some themes – so it goes. Pique pique. But then also asked him if he also knew the Graham Huggan book out the year after mine, The Postcolonial Exotic, 2001? And David Toop’s earlier Exotica? All are interesting. Of course then I looked back at Taylor’s book, and saw the Toop volume is mentioned there. That’s good.

Anyway, as I’ve just read Taylor’s chapter on hybridity, I want to start a debate… he briefly discusses work that a group of us have been doing for some 15 years now. So, given his comment that we ‘set aside’ important political aspects of the music (this is not the usual criticism we get), I’m disappointed he didn’t get a chance to see that we have often explicitly discussed Asian Dub Foundation et al., in terms of a black politics, and that we did so especially in the 1996 book (Dis-Orienting Rhythms), again in the two journal collections (that I’ll list below), and again in mine (Critique of Exotica, chapter 2). There, black politics is not at all ‘set aside’, but rather is a very important guiding framework for our work. Sanjay Sharma and Shirin Housee also wrote a very important piece in the book Storming the Millenium that contextualises this discussion. How could all this work be overlooked? I think there are reasons, and will explain below. But before I do, lets admit its true that there are perhaps ways in which someone writing today – seven years after Critique, and more than ten years after Dis-Orienting Rhythms – might need to discuss the shifts in politics occasioned by increased attacks on Asians in the wake of the War On Terror. Such writing is of course underway – and much discussed at our conference in December last year at Goldsmiths. I’m disappointed Taylor does not adequately address these shifts (that some might think of as a shift away from a ‘black’ politics, but I am not convinced – the category black as a political term is not a skin tone), but at least it is a welcome change to be tested on this score by a musicologist, rather than always hearing complaints that we ignore the music in favour of radical leftism.

I’ve some minor quibbles with Taylor’s description of ADF as hip hop, not drum and bass, or as a ‘could have been Public Enemy’. This strikes me as too easy – a kind of imperious assumption that hip hop is the prism through which all parts of culture production must only be seen – a kind of blinding by bling perhaps, and though we do not ignore it, we do address more dexterous translations of hip hop and other influences – not merely as hybrid mash-up. There is a book edited by Dipa Basu that examines just this. Now, its heart warming to see Taylor endorses some of what I say – about commercialisation of exotica and on radical hybridity for example – but I think he misses a lot of the detail because he is thinking these things through the prism of a west coast musicology frame. Nothing clearly wrong with that I guess, but I would have liked to see some involvement with the politics of these issues, not only scholarly comment. That’s black, that’s not. He endorses my question ‘What would a radical hybridity look like?’, but now I want to ask for a radical scholarship alongside radical hybridity. Yep, this is something I am very keen to promote. Can Taylor fire up? Not everyone has to join the communist party or even sign up with Adorno within the academy – but I am concerned that scholarship slides into knowing quietism. And why does he seem to not like Adorno? – saying at the end of the book that he is ‘not ready to follow the Adorno route’. This of course is not necessarily to endorse the fabricated and erroneous versions of Adorno that prevail in universities these days, but I am curious to know why he felt the need to end the book with the usual ‘Adorno-thought- consumers-were- all-just automatons’ routine? I think its good to remember that Adorno wrote his essay ‘On Jazz’ under the pseudonym Hector Rottweiler

But back to the hybridity chapter – I have issues with words. If Taylor had given us something on Bhangra Remix’s non-London roots, or even acknowledged them, this would have been good. Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester are a very big part of the story. There is a sense that the Anokha clubnight that broke the scene commercially was just the mainstream cash-in on a music that was middle and northern England well before then – as Virinder Kalra keeps on pointing out, most of the interesting early stuff – Bally Sagoo, Malkit Singh, Apache etc., – comes from a one mile square block of Birmingham. So I think ‘Bhangra Remix from London’ is not the best term – and describing early Bhangra as ‘a kind of rock/pop played by South Asians in London’ also erases some important specificities, the Melas, the various clubs, the nights at the Hacienda, Sankeys Soap, etc. Debates about terminology were, as Taylor says, all important – and the bands themselves, at least Hustlers HC, ADF and FDM, were first to insist theirs was not ‘Asian Cool’ (Aki said the only Asian Cool he’d heard of was the street protests in Manningham, circa 1995) and I never heard anything on Nation called ‘Bhangra Remix from London’. I wonder why Taylor settled on that term? I know it later became the phrase most often used in the NYC scene – by Sunaina Maira, for example, in her first article for us in Postcolonial Studies 1998, but even there in NYC, Vivek Bald complicates the terms – see his great film Mutiny. My worry here is that musicology becomes scenic (hegemonic) definition, and engagement in politics, or in the politics of knowledge, gets left aside a little if these things are not continually destabilized. And here is the clincher – it demands a radical scholarship, engaged and involved. As Taylor says in the very last lines of his text, ‘the stakes have never been higher if we are to understand the world and leave it for the better’ (p212). For mine, understanding and leaving it at that ain’t the best way to translate an earlier version of this sentiment. Let’s rephrase the terms: ‘The philosophers [musicologists?] have only interpreted the world [music], the point is to change it’ (11th Thesis on Feuerbach – old beardo, my brackets of mirth]

Ah, now I’ve written this out these seem like minor matters of disagreement on the whole. Even jealousy (clearly). And this is not a book review, not yet – I should say there is much in the earlier chapters that is great, and there is a fun chapter, after the hybridity one, on country music that is very cool. The trouble is that here a critique of hybridity that should have been attractive just did not live up to the billing – it marrs an otherwise pretty good book. So let me just clearly say that on the whole I enjoyed the book very much, especially the early chapters, and most of all the commentary on the opera Schehrezade.

Just to be thorough (this’ll no doubt look like harassment, but its not meant to be) I’ll list some of the relevant stuff we’ve done on Asian musics here:

1996 Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. Zed books, London

1998 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Postcolonial Studies Vol 1 no 3, (co-ed Hutnyk and Virinder Kalra)

1999 Sharma, Sanjay and Housee, Shirin ‘“Too Black, Too Strong?” Anti-racism and the Making of South Asian Political Identities in Britain’, Jordon and Lent (eds) Storming the Millennium: The Politics of Change. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

2000 ‘Music and Politics’ special issue of Theory, Culture and Society Vol 17 no 3 (co-ed Hutnyk and Sanjay Sharma)

2000 Critique of Exotica: Music; Politics and the Culture Industry. Pluto Press: London.

2005 Diaspora and Hybridity – authors Virinder Kalra, Raminder Kaur John Hutnyk. Sage: London

2005 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectics of European Hip-Hop: Fun^da^mental and the Deathening Silence’ South Asian Popular Culture 3(1):17-32

2006 Ali, Sayyid V.Kalra (eds) A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain – Hurst, London

2006 Hutnyk, John ‘The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘At Home’ and British Asian Communism’’ Social Identities 11(4):345-361

2006 Dipa Basu and Sid Lammelle (Eds) The Vinyl Ain’t Final London, Pluto

Mind Boggling Trinketization


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.

Nabeel on Panto

This generous synopsis of my Auckland talk from Nabeel (who has a show on BASE FM – where you might have heard a rant last weekend!):

“PANTOMIME TERROR

And I’ve been working like a dawg. Time for an Easter break. I can tell I’m physically and mentally tired when I start to use the word ‘interesting’ too much in a lecture every time I’m trying to introduce a ‘significant’ point. Found myself doing that today when talking about ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the Popular Music on Screen course. I even attempted some defensive drolery about it with the students (about 90 of the 130+ roll), apologizing for using the word too much and then telling them that it was OK in a lecture but not in their essays.

That was today but yesterday I finished powerpointing the Beatletastic images with a few Warhols, then went to a talk by John Hutnyk who does anthropology and cultural studies at Goldsmiths College at the University of Londinium. John was one of the editors of Dis-orienting Rhythms (1997), a book about the new Asian dance music in the UK which I read religiously just after I finished my PhD in 1996 and was thinking about ways in which to rewrite it into a book. DR marked out a space to share knowledge and debate the British Asian peeps pop culture. That’s when ‘TranslAsia’ was as hep as the Nu Asian Kool or the Asian Underground. Well, there’s always a place for a nifty title. I agreed with many of the authors in Dis-orienting Rhythms though I disliked the way some of its politics seemed to ignore issues of musical pleasure and gender and suggested that the only ‘worthwhile’ British Asian music was the stuff that was clearly anti-colonial, anti-racist and on the barricades. It didn’t have many light touches.

I had heard John speak about Asian Dub Foundation and Fun-da-mental in a Calcutta (now Kolkata) 1998 conference about globalization and music and I’ve read a fair bit of his other work. His talk yesterday was called Pantomime Terror and took place in ALR5 in the Architecture Building which is one of the worst designed buildings on our fair campus. John is working toward a way of narrating the ‘war of terror’ and the paranoia in Londinium using the detritus of popular culture and the different inflections of radical chic. Walter Benjamin, Michael Taussig and James Clifford in Adorno dub stylee. Fundamental are in panto mode when they dress up with their keffiyahs and pose for photographs, though they are trying to do something different to Madonna when she dons Che’s beret for a record cover. John suggested a difference but didn’t elaborate how we judge that difference. Is it just a matter of political utility that distinguishes this type of semiotic play/warfare and its value from this or that po-mo articulation? We must choose certain truths and rights, as Johnny Osbourne would sing: “Render your arms and not your garments. The Truth is there for who have eyes to see”. I’d like to believe it but cannot pray to this claim five times a day. It’s true but not true.

John’s powerpoint presentation included images of the July 7 bus after the top of it was blown off, a posed Fun-Da-Mental pic from The Guardian July 2006 that seemed to juggle all the signifiers of the London transport terror like backpacks, the St George’s Cross, rightwing soccer clichés, and the ubiquitous double-decker bus. He screened a rollicking Fun-da-mental video for their Cookbook DIY song about making dirty bombs in an Islamist bedsit and bigger bombs in US military installations. Cher appeared in Che’s beret, Kylie in her Che T-shirt. John’s working on a related project about trinkets and lefty memorabilia like Chairman Maos and the mass reproduction of Che. Motorcycle diarists of the world unite.

John returned to the Arabian Nights and imagined Sheherezad telling her stories night after night because they might save her from torture at Gitmo. This clicked with my own feelings about the absurdities of the current political moment and a hunch that fabulist forms of expression such as surrealism, situationism, science fiction and reworks of populist modes might have some mileage for telling stories that a million documentaries, news and current affairs segments cannot. We are after all living in the age of John Stewart ‘s show, which is proud of its status as the best fake news. I think we can give magic realism a bit of a rest though. But you can’t deny the power of exotica to get people fired up.

All the playlists are my way of working through the craziness of what it means to be ‘Terrormade’ using muzik. To my distant ears Sarf London dubstep captures paranoid Londonistan better than any other music. Donning a rabbit’s head or becoming a comic book terrorist with a pirate eyepatch is a way to talk back to the nonsense. Hollow po-mo irony maybe but if you don’t snigger at it you’re gonna go crazy like Gnarls Barkley, probably. Nothing that new about these fictions and rhetorical tactics. Maybe it’s just that combination of a sense of failure with my academese and the need to use a different voice. The ‘Guantanamo, Here We Come’ essay on the Smiths’ album Strangeways Here We Come was a start for me. Still waiting to hear back on the first draft which still needs a lot of work but has some good bits. At this early stage of a critical-autobiographical Islamopoppy project, it was reassuring to find someone looking for other ways to represent. Ended up enjoying more than a few drinks, vittals and rapping with John and Tara and other post-seminarians at the Mezze Bar. Cheers John.
# posted by nabeel @ 9:09 PM

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.]

‘television from Harlem’ and the ‘anti-Hoon laws’

Its not all that often that I get really homesick, but this item twanged a few lumpen-nostalgia chords. The article contains some choice quotes. Councillor Roz Blades in particular seems the most stupid with her ‘television from Harlem’ quip, and the very idea that there are ‘anti-hoon laws’ makes me not at all surprised that ‘flares were thrown’ and ‘police were pelted with bottles’. I do want to know how this is related to the Cronulla beach race trouble of a little over a year ago? So, is there a racial element to this? I mean beside Councillor Blades’ racist analogy? From afar it seems like normal Dandy friday night entertainment – people brought their sofas out to sit and watch the burn-outs in style. I suppose they trashed the DVD store because it did not have enough rental copies of the video of the hoon event…

This is from Melbourne’s newspaper The Age:

Burn-out crowd goes on the rampage

This Blockbuster Video store was trashed and looted by a mob of youths early on Saturday.

This Blockbuster Video store was trashed and looted by a mob of youths early on Saturday.
Photo: Justin McManus

Chantal Rumble
January 14, 2007

Six men face charges after a crowd turned on police during an illegal burn-out gathering in Melbourne’s south-east early yesterday.

More than 1000 people, including women and children, congregated at the corner of the Princes Highway and Elonera Road, Noble Park, on Friday night for a regular illegal burn-out session, but police cordoned off the intersection soon after 1am yesterday and the crowd became violent.

A DVD store was trashed and looted, and police were pelted with bottles.

A pizza shop and an electrical goods store were also damaged, two bus stops were smashed, bins were set alight and road signs destroyed. Witnesses reported seeing flares thrown.

“My reaction is complete and absolute horror,” said Roz Blades, councillor and former mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. “In 30 years in this area, I have never seen anything like it. It looks more like something you’d see on television from Harlem.”

Fifty extra police and the dog squad were called in to control the situation. Six men, aged between 18 and 32, were arrested and released but are expected to be charged with traffic and criminal offences.

Police seized five cars, some under new anti-hoon laws.

The busy corner, with a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant on one corner, has been a favourite Friday night hang-out for hoons and their fans for decades.

Cr Alan Gordon, chairman of Dandenong Council’s community roads reference group, said the site’s popularity had been growing, attracting some 2000 people last weekend, many bringing couches from which to watch the illegal burn-outs.

The trend attracted extensive talkback radio coverage last week, which witnesses said added to the hype and the push towards violence, similar to the build-up to the Cronulla riots in December 2005.

“They are just Aussie kids going out for a Friday night,” Cr Gordon said.

“It just amazes me that they are so organised: the radio, SMS, their website. They are just so well equipped. I would never have thought we’d have this sort of thing in Melbourne, but now we do. It’s a bit of a shame.”

He said the police and council had worked closely last week to prevent violence at the burn-out events, but to no avail. “A lot of the residents around here have been here for many, many years and I don’t think they are going to take things into their own hands, but I think they expect both the council and police to work together to fix the problem,” Cr Gordon said.

“Police and the council have been working together this week and look what we’ve got to show for it.” He described the police response of about 50 officers and a dog squad as inadequate. “I would have thought you would have had more police. Fifty or 70 cops, compared to over 1000 youths, isn’t enough.”

Victoria Police acting Assistant Commissioner Gavin Barry said although extra traffic units were in the area on Friday night, “we had no way of knowing that the gathering would become so hostile and threatening towards police”.

Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said officers were “hopelessly outnumbered” and called on Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon to urgently audit police resources.”

Mrazek – framing exotica – are you sitting comfortably?

Gotta take risks to get the image you need:

There’s a revealing warning reported in what is a really excellent book by Rudolph Mrazek (from 2002, called Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony (Princeton, Princeton University Press, on P. 108) where the author relates the story of a colonial era photographer of Indonesia who advises caution when necessarily using quite large ‘doses’ of flash powdor in the dark ‘easily inflammable’ native huts of the dyak people. In addition, he noted that insects, bacteria, sweat and “primitive people not accustomed to sitting still” are also difficulties for the colonial photographer. Awww.
.

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).

Trinketization: ‘Third World Tourism’ and the manufacture ofthe Exotic


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…

Abstract:

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.

Tourism

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.

Souvenirs

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.

Post tourism

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

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…

More here…

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 …

More here…

Limitations

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?

Further Reading:

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.

Sidebar 1:

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.

Sidebar 2:

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).

Indian curry powder – theory of translation

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. [Thanks Kaori for trinkets from Japan].

Che and Beret…part one


I can’t get that annoying little ditti by Kylie out of my head today – na na na, na na nana na… And I have to go give a talk later at Aga Khan University about music. This does not bode well. In the afternoon I might swing by the Victoria & Albert Museum for the exhibition that has just opened, that Peter Conrad wrote so annoyingly about in the Observer this weekend. He did mention some of the images I planned to use, but won’t now. I was going to do a riff on berets. Starting with the ones PC mentioned – Cher (just ad an r – heh heh Pete, what smarm-charm you have) I guess he means the one where she is on the Sleaze Nation cover. Then the Madonna Life one – Madge, whom bell hooks described as like a kind of plantation mistress for her tidying up of dance music etc – note she also managed to bring so-called ‘Asian’ music into the big house too, back when she did that album Ray of Light, wailing seemingly about Heidegger (‘your eyes only see what your eyes want to see’) in the Tundra of the song Frozen… (Virinder and I rant on her career redeeming [?] South Asian turn here)…

Then there is Che himself with camera, which shows a certain charm. And its not something the left was not fully cognizant off, long before the V&A retrospective… as can be seen from my pic from an ESF stall year before last… It seemed the stalls witht he most Che t-shirts were from our italian comrades, and I guess with the cost of life in London, we hope they made some sales….

The funny bit is of course that Che has a beard, but Gerry Adams appearence was considered inappropriate for the opening of this exhibition (well, I guess his mates did bomb a few of Old Vicky’s relatives on the way to forcing them to the negotiations table…)

….continued… in pt 2 (cos blogger cannot seem to cope with more than a couple of pics at a time)…

Che and Beret part 2

[continued from part one]

But most annoying of all in the kiss-off-the-revolution in favour of a quick publicity buck is when – na na na – Kylie also dons a Che shirt… My trouble with this is that the absinthe pixie (her best role in a film was just a few minutes and she was in miniature green) soon after also wore a beret, but this time the very very wrong sort of beret, on a mission to support the troops in their imperial adventures – oops, mixed messages there KM. The War of Terror continues…

See also: RAAF aircraft named after Kylie Minogue

maria_technosux’s Journal


maria_technosux’s Journal: “7:12pm: Intellectual guilt and take-no-prisoners
Sometimes I feel a little guilty for bashing avant garde whiteboys. They deserve it, of course, but I’m a softy deep down inside and I feel like I’m picking an easy target. I think it’s because they’re so damn infantile (intellectually lazy) that makes me feel like I’m picking on the lil’kids.

On the other hand, no one let me off the hook, so why the fuck should I cut them some slack? Buncha self-satisfied soggy whitebread kids, grrr!

Compared to Hutnyk’s _Critique of Exotica_ I’m relatively modest. When Hutnyk bashes Kula Shaker’s Crispian ‘India is the Ibiza of concepts’, Mills… ‘I don’t cut a deal’ doesn’t quite capture it.

http://www.leftcurve.org/LC22WebPages/souvenirs.html

Thanks Maria – but scary news stories abound – like the caption from the pic above which says: “The Jeevas have split up.Kula Shaker have reformed. It’s like 1996 all over again.” – The Jeevas were Mill’s failed project of 2003, lets all tremble with anticipation at the return of the nasty shakers… stifled yawn, etc.

.

Trinket Exit Strategy of our Press


Something from the newspaper yesterday which confirms all I was saying about Nepal – on the very day the Maoists declared a three month cease fire, all The Guardian saw fit to publish was just half the face of this Sadhu. Exotica unabashed.

This is an old complaint about media representation however – of course they go for the easy option – colour, anonymity, alluring otherness.

Another version of the debate – this time releveant to writing about hip hop, might be found in the new collection “The Vinyl Ain’t Final” – edited by Dipa Basu and Sid Lamelle, out with Pluto/UniMinnesota here (and chapter about Fun*da*mental therin as well, heh heh).

.

In beer Mat Veritas Us


A bright new moment to soak up your time in the bar. Significations are ablaze, globalisation appears at its micro-moment, culture in a mass-reproduced, absorbent, four inch square: there is no other way to adequately describe advertising other than the ubiquity of abundance – we got it all here, ready to buy.

It would be bad humour to complain of the new gimmicks dreamed up by the marketeers of Cobra and Kingfisher beers, but there are reasons to wonder if the sales pitch of these Indian refreshments isn’t self-defeating. How many beers can a lager lout down before closing time [as it then was] and still have room for a couple more alongside the post 11pm balti. The popularity of a ‘late night Indian’ has been attested to in all manner of cultural style-watch forums – from the literary world of Jeff Noon (Nymphomation) to the Eastern Eye curry awards through to the British Prime Minister’s recognition of the Asian community’s ‘contribution’ to catering. But isn’t this all a bit of a mythology? Doesn’t the equation of Asian culture with brightly garnished and turmeric coloured post booze-up stomach filler mitigate against any recognition of Asian culture as more than a flavoursome trinketizing accompaniment to business-as-usual service economy. ‘Good news for Curryholics’ the Cobra placemat add proclaims. Yet, with humour Cobra beer offers to ‘ventilate your vindaloo’ and with less gas than ‘fizzy Euro brews’ you can also avoid any ‘internal argy-bhaji’. The Kingfisher approach avoids the cheap word puns (formed no doubt through the malicious influence of waking up in time for one or two lectures in postmodern design during third year of ad-school) to tell us that Tikka or Balti is not compete without a lager. Why am I concerned? What can you expect from beer sales publicity? Its just a beer-mat John. I wonder if I am getting too grouchy. No surprise that it reinforces all the stereotypes and clichés, but at least its not a nodding-head Peter Sellers style melodrama… Well, I get all grumpy at the way Australia is advertised too, even at the very same time that I laugh out loud at that Fosters’ commercial with the Kangaroo on skis taking the piss out of pretentious Europeans. The point is not that I’m left unamused, but that the side-effect of these cheap jokes is that everything else about the country is occluded, thus reinforcing all too easy drunken assumptions. And anyway, Australia has a great many better beers than Fosters (a beer company owned by the right wing conservative politician John Elliot). But only to keep to the association of Australia with that symbolic kangaroo (or a koala, or the Sydney Opera House and so on) is to occlude the less savoury realities of that society – its racism, the continued expropriation of Aboriginal people’s land, the profiteering of the mining industry, the war on Bougainville, its growing class privilege and wealth for some, poverty for more, and so on. The kangaroo image is also a way of faking and forgetting the egalitarian element in Australian popular culture, the refusal of conscription, the ‘fair-go’ ethos, and other aspects now lost to commercialisation and cheap sentimentality. India too, is much more than a curry and most people know this most of the time (but not always after downing six pints in the last half hour before the bell). So, if our mass media were no more than just a string of crap ads this wouldn’t worry at all, but these days everything else is sequestered to a few obscure journals, and Sky Sports, The Daily Mirror and lousy billboards call the tune. There is a whole world of politics sitting there underneath your pint, soaking up the spillage.

ps. (‘D’ya fancy and Indian tonight?’ was a slogan used by Outcaste records club night in London 1997)
(from Crash Media 1998)
[the pic is to remind us that none less than V.I.Lenin used to collect German beer mats]
.

Shiva takes the Goldsmith Elephant’s head – to what purpose?


Now its getting really weird. Shiva has been at Goldsmiths!

And probably, a new Ganesh is in the area. Ganesh?

Yep, him with the elephant head. You know the story. Parvati is having her bath, Shiva has been tempted down off the mountain and he is keen to see her. Their son, who Shiva doesn’t recognise (he’s been away meditating – as one does), is guarding his mum’s door – but the overeagre Shiva storms in and lops off the boys head with his sword when he tries to prevent entry to the washrooms. Parvati is, to say the least, annoyed, and she insists Shiva repair the mess he’s made. The God, I guess in a bit of a hurry to get on with it, sends out an aide to find the first head that would serve as a replacement. Unfortunately, its a quiet day and the only creature that the aide can find is an elephant. Parvati is spitting chips unless the situation is put to rights, so Shiva agrees this elephant head will have to do. Hence, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god is (re)born [the prognosis for our elephant was of course not so good before this recent auspicious intervention, see here].

Ganesh is a useful god – he’s a patron saint of sorts for students. The reason being a great story – when Valmiki was telling the tale of the Mahabharata he said he’d only tell it once and only if there was a scribe who could take it all down in a sitting (its 100,000 verses or so, and can be twisted to all manner of ideological ends). For such a daunting task only the memory-enhanced son of Shiva could be considered for the job. But even he got into trouble when his pencil failed part way through. Not to worry, he broke off one of his tusks and carried on writing. Brilliant. And this dedication is maybe why there are campaigns to ban trade in ivory. [strangely, reported by the Jehovah's here]

You can read the rest of the story in many places, but to get a really good take on it, including the ways the Ganesh story has been used by the hindu right etc., check out comrade Raminder Kaur’s excellent book on the Ganapati festivals of Western India.
.

On Dennis’s Work of Art

Book chapter abstract – to be written over the next two months or so…(I hope)

‘Documentary Provocations: Dennis O’Rourke’s Sex Tourism Revisited’

‘I would not recommend that movie as an educational tool’
– Thelma Burgonio-Watson quoted in The Filmmaker and the Prostitute p 128

My proposed chapter revisits Denis O’Rourke’s 1992 ethnographic film
on sex tourism in Thailand. “The Good Woman of Bangkok” is examined in
the light of increased, or at least differently inflected, media
reportage of sex tourists in Asia (cf Gary Glitter in Cambodia and
Vietnam; the controversies over US military personnel in Japan; the
closure of the Subic Bay base in the Philippines). What was O’Rourke
trying to achieve with this film with its ‘Brechtian’ cinematic
apparatus, its theoretical ambiguities, its intentionally provocative
staging? Are the ‘theoretical’ issues, as well as the moral(istic)
conundrums, insofar as O’Rourke was able to broach them, to be
evaluated differently now in changed ethico-political circumstances?
Or does sex tourism, and indeed travel-as-exploitation, continue as
‘business-as-usual’? As Jennie Martin wrote about the film’s
characters: ‘it is the western working class which inherits the role of
colonial rapist’ (Martin 1992 ‘Missionary Positions’ Australian Left
Review, May). Does this position remain valid in response to
O’Rourke’s nuanced argument, or has the subtlety of his theoretical
arabesque always been inappropriate, given the structural conditions
in which the filming, and the treatment of the issues, had to be
played out?

The chapter also takes into account use of the film as a ‘teaching
tool’, in Gayatri Spivak’s sense, in over ten years of Anthropology
classes, suggesting that difficult material can, and in some ways
cannot, provide educational and ethical ‘instruction’.
.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,685 other followers

%d bloggers like this: