Tag Archives: trinketization

Orson

Notes for lecture one:

How to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital, of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms?

For all the interest in Marx, in the past and renewed today, it is at least worth attempting at first to read anew. Yet this vast accumulation of commentary stands before us. While it would be possible, and even plausible, to insist on a Dead Poets’ Society moment and rip out the spurious introductions, for example that of the Secretary of the Fourth International, Trotskyite Ernest Mandel, in the Penguin Edition, there is not much to be gained from this merely theatrical gesture.

Instead, I would like to turn to cinema. And another accumulation that seems a dull dead half-life of narrative. That which surrounds the film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles might be a good choice for this illustration because he is both actor and director, at the same time working to a script and writing that script. Marx of course is famous for saying something similar in the 18th Brumaire – we make our own history but not in conditions that we have chosen (Marx 1852/202:19). Welles is also interesting as an overexamined, already known, and yet little understood, figure – famous and notorious in advance, myths and rumours abound. He is much maligned for his politics, he was often attacked for threatening bourgeois norms (or its complacency); his work a coded vehicle for other fears (Japan, Germany, Russia); and, I will argue, never more relevant than now (financial crisis, do-gooder philanthropists as alibi for business as usual). Welles of course, in advance, is already known – as dozens of biographies attest, and as the pre-publicity and staged controversy of his most famous film confirms. Perhaps the question to ask is whether it is possible to reclaim such a figure from the vast accumulations of biography and myth. Already in Citizen Kane Welles mocked such ambitions. The first image is of a sign that says “No trespassing”.

The biographers are on the march – dozens and still counting. Simon Callow begins part one of his multi volume biography (part two released 2006) with a quote that might be read as revealing as much about the anxieties of a biographer about to approach ‘the fabulist Orson Welles’ as it does about its subject’s self-consciousness:

“If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I must protect my work.Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man – and not the contrary. Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 (Callow 1995:xi)

Callow continually takes away Welles’ stories about his life, even the place where he was said to be conceived is labelled a fabrication – much energy devoted to undoing the Welles myth only confirms it. Welles had already anticipated these moves. Seven years earlier in Touch of Evil he had Marlene Dietrich say of his character Quinlan, who had just been found dead, that: ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’

Welles is surrounded by myth. Among the routine retinue, it has become commonplace to sort commentators into two camps – defenders and opponents – Pauline Kael who raised the stakes of the controversy over the writing credit for Citizen Kane into an international brouhaha on the one side, Peter Bagdonovich still attempting to finish Welles’ final masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind (caught up in legal disputes) on the other. In between, sects and factions, a host of divergent positions and jockeying for favour, and a massive publishing culture industry that has made a commodity, franchise and brand out of the good name of the citizen.

Welles himself deserves some praise for this. In cases where there is so much written, this will always be offered with some perspectival bias. Should it matter than that the following highlights are only a selection?:

- 1915 born, his mother a suffragette who once served time in prison for her radical views (Welles and Bogdanovich 1988:326), a ‘brilliant public speaker’, she was the first woman in Kenosha to be elected to political office (Callow 1995:9)

- 1936 an all black production of Macbeth– admittedly there are issues of exoticization here in the move of action from Scotland to Haiti, and where Welles contrives a voodoo withes scene (see Callow 1995: 235). Nevertheless, an important production

- 1938 campaigns for and champions various leftwing causes, including speaking against Franco at ‘Stars for Spain’ – a medical aid benefit. Welles gives a series of talks on the ‘People’s Front’ at the Workers Bookshop and writes for the Daily Worker. Plays Signmund Freud on stage, gets to know Hans Eisler, Count Bassie, Vincent Price, Lucille Ball.

- October 30th 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

- 1941 Wells is ‘attacked as subversive and communistic by leaders of the American Legion and the Californian Sons of the Revolution in Hearst papers (Rosenbaum 1998:363). The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover writes a memo linking Welles to various ‘communist’ organizations (Bogdanovich 1998: xxxvi)

“FBI director J. Edgar Hoover writes a “memorandum for the assistant to the attorney general Mr Mathews F. McGuire” stating: “For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character: Negro Cultural Committee, Foster parents’ Plan for War Children, Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Theatre Arts Committee, Motion Picture Artists Committee to Lift the Embargo, Workers Bookshop, American Youth Congress, New Masses, People’s Forum, Workers Bookshop Mural Fund, League of American Writers [and] American Student Union…” (See James Naremore, “The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles, “ Film Comment, January-February 1991” (Rosenbaum 1998:364).

- May 1st 1941 – Citizen Kane. In a scene edited out of the film, Kane’s first wife’s son was to have been killed ‘when he and other members of a fascist organization try to seize an armory in Washington’, with the son’s body shown interred in a mausoleum where a wall inscription from the 1001 Nights begins ‘The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever’ (Carringer 1996:148).

- 1946 Welles gives protest speeches against the nuclear tests on Bikini Atol (Rosenbaum 1998: 397) and uses his ABC program Orson Welles Commentaries to campaign to bring charges against a policeman who had beaten and blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodward. With heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Welles draws 20,000 people to a benefit for Woodward. The culpable policeman is finally identified in mid August (Rosenbaum 1998:398-9).

- 1955 on a television program Welles speaks out against passport control and immigration bureaucracy, a subject later dramatised in Welles’ film Touch of Evil.

‘the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off; the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. If you fill in one form, he’ll give you ten’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:262)

- 1962 Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial in part conceived as a commentary on Displaced Person Camps (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:281).

- Filming Don Quixote, incomplete, but the Knight is the emblem of a quixotic politics

- 1972, Welles reports that he still wants to make a film of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, emphasizing the contemporary political associations (Rosenbaum 1998:512). Seven years later Francis Ford Coppola releases Apocalypse Now.

- 1977 ‘the original Rosebud sled turned up in a prop warehouse at Paramount that used to belong to RKO. (Custom-built in the RKO property department, it was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue … three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming’ (Carringer 1996:49-50)

- 1973 F is for Fake – if you have not seen this, see it now.

On the above grounds, then, after tallying the votes from the members of the Academy, we are proud to announce that the Oscar goes to Orson not only for his film on Kane – patron saint of trinkets – but because of this exchange from the book This is Orson Welles:

Bogdanovich: ‘well, do you have a theory about possessions, or just an inability to keep things from getting lost’

Welles: ‘Both. The things you own have away of owning you’

Bogdanovich: ‘How about things like letters andbooks’

Welles : ‘I’m not laying this down as a law for anybody else. It’s just that I feel I have to protect myself against things, so I’m pretty careful to lose most of them’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 183)

More to come:  where Kane is the embodiment of Money-Bags, yet curiously he himself tries to fight for the ‘common man’ and has sentimental attachment to things (Rosebud), nevertheless he is still a representative of his class, a class who – as capitalists – do not care about things, only the possibility of recouping profits (valourization of appropriated surplus value) through the exchange of things. So much fun to be had with this. And then on to The Trial, and F is for Fake. Soon…

trinketing

So, the trite thing to ask is ‘What would Benjamin have to say about the Boxing Day sales?’ If you think that the Arcades equation goes: Capitalism > Paris > Arcades > Flaneur > Snowdome then you have probably missed the entire premise. Condensation is not all that goes on here – the world is not desiccated trinkets. It’s the constellation that can be discerned in the appreciation of trinkets that matters. The book remains unfinished (and I hate to say it but that also seems to be my excuse, though the mountain and the morphine are not yet in reach).

uses of trinketization

IMG_2763Various posts from the interwebtoday using the term trinketization (I claim no copyrite):

From Maverick Kansas: “So I’m part New Yorker, so what? But that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot, because it’s a part of my identity that has a lot less purchase now that I am back in New Zealand. About three months after I returned here I was invited to what I was told was a “Natives Party”. And, after forgiving the hosts for the horrid example of the trinketization of culture that such a party theme provokes, I decided to attend, and so began the business of imagining what kind of a native I was”.

From Devu Dada: “this kind of change is known as or the process of becoming smaller is known as trinketization. since the art becomes touristic product, the artist will not follow iconography. this means the art becomes fake which has no originality”.

From High Peaks Alliance: “Social Costs May introduce lifestyles, ideas, and behaviors that conflict with those of residents • May create crowding, congestion, and increased crime • May encourage “trinketization” of local arts and crafts”

From SlackBastard: “speaking of expensive trinkets, john hutnyk (sounds troublingly foreign to me) has a blog called trinketization, and on it a post all about rock against racism”

From Absent Narrative: “It is somewhat disheartening to think of how commercialized modern holidays have become, what I call the trinketization of celebration; there isn’t one major American holiday where you can’t find enormous amounts of junk decorations”

Coleridge invents trinketization

coleridge1_2Samuel Taylor Coleridge was ahead of the game in so many ways.  His other work is of course crucial, stuff about an albatross, and the opening sequence to the newsreel section of Citizen Kane. A massive influence and to be adored. This piece is a small fragment written around 1800.

To a critic

Who extracted a passage from a poem without adding a word respecting the context, and then described it as unintelligible.

Most candid critic, what if I.
By way of joke, pull out your eye.
‘Ha! ha! that men such fools should be!
Behold this shapeless dab! – and he
Who own’ed it, fancied it could see!’
The joke were mighty analytic,
But should you like it, candid critic?

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge Selected Poems.

The eye as trinket is excellent – it cannot see on its own. Though Bataille finds other functions.

resemblances

1976Any similarity of this pic to persons living or dead, or having been in a band variously called “Stomp Stomp Wild Dance Crazy Turkey”; “The Thirteenth Battalion of Mind Raiders”; “Uncle Salty” or “Hoax” – or having a son named Emile – are purely co-incidental it seems. There are several things I hate, one of them being how slow I can be with the prefect rejoinder to a stupid comment (I usually get the right come-back three minutes later).  The other thing I hate is that if anyone thinks this sort of long hair was a bit out of date for 1976, they have to be reminded that the sixties happened later in outer suburban Melbourne. But we were still saved by punk. Our band name Uncle Salty, I should note, was ripped from a 1975 Aerosmith b-side track – the reverse of “Walk This Way” – itself later redone, as everyone must know, with Run DMC (and from there hip hop crossed over to a million Caucasoid ears). The effort to learn the ‘Walk’ and the ‘Salty’ riffs was worth it back then (no longer the done thing, as another gripester tells it): (file this under deep dark confessional & gripes):

Lyrics: S. Tyler, T. Hamilton

Uncle Salty told me stories of a lonely
baby with a lonely kind of life to lead
my mammy was lusted, Daddy he was busted
they left her to be trusted till the orphan bleeds
but when she cried at night, no one came
and when she cried at night, went insane

Uncle Salty told me when she was just a baby
that she’d get by and maybe someday she’d see
but soon she found her mother’s love for all the others
the pushers and the shovers was the life to lead
but when she cried at night, no one came
and when she cried at night, went insane

oooh, it’s a sunny day outside my window
oooh, it’s a sunny day outside my window
oooh, oh yeah
oooh, oh yeah, yeah yeah

now she’s doin any for money and a penny
a sailor with a penny or two or three
hers is the cunning for men who come a-runnin’
they all come for fun and it seems to me
that when she cried at night, no one came
and when she cried at night, went insane

oooh, it’s a sunny day outside my window

listen & watch here.

Google clouded my book

BAD-MARXISMAccursed Share Adorno Althusser analysis anthropology anti-capitalism archive bad Marxism Bataille Bataille’s Bhabha called capital capitalistchapattis circulationCollege of Sociology colonial commodity communism communist contemporary context critical critique cultural studies debate debt Derrida and Sprinkler dialectical discussion displacement economic Empire engagement essay ethnography example exchange exploitation fascism fieldwork Freud Gayatri Spivak Georges Bataille gift global Goldsmiths College Hardt and Negri Hutnyk hybridity imperialism imperialist India labour learning to learn Leiris Malinowski Maoist Marx’s means metaphorMichel Leiris mode of production movement nation-state offer organisation party perhaps police political possible postcolonial Poverty of Philosophy programme question reading Marx recogniserelation revolutionary seems social solidarity Specters of Marx speed Spivak struggle Subaltern Studies subsumption suggests superexploitation Surrealism Surrealiststheorists theory tion trade trinketisation Trobriand workers writing

So that’s Bad Marxism in a nutshell, shell of nuts, googlenut, whatever. Each word is a live link to a couple of tear out and throwaway quotes, bar food style. Trinketized.

What is Trinketization

For an explanation of Trinketization – never fully codified as yet – you might start with the following old posts:

dth2Mind Boggling

Before the Letter

Jesus Trinkets

Plastic Stuff

Kane’s Snowglobe

Kuffiya Spotting

Third World Tourism

Communist Tat

Vignettes

And this picture is a trinket gesture itself – you should read Paul Hendrich’s piece on the Deptford Town Hall slavery statues; also check Rosie Wright on Trafalgar Square plinth (here), and Imogen Bunting on May Day posings (here) – the three of us often talked trinkets, working out a critique of objects and their multiple meanings. The three of them really are each very much missed.

Do bee do bee do

beesHere is the first of ‘Eleven theses on art and politics’ for my talk in Copenhagen on thursday (‘Forms of engagement, Configurations of politics’ conference):

1. Do Bees have art?

“what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax.” – Marx, Capital I, p284

In Marx’s passage about the bees and the architects, clearly it is the bees who do not have representation, despite their excellent construction skills. The (human) architect constructs a structure in the mind (or on paper) before building it in the world. We can call this art. If we are to take Marx’s analogy seriously, bees do not have art, they have sting and a love of nectar, but no art.

But if art is different to politics, do bees have politics? Is the art of politics one of opportunity and struggle in the real? Or is strategy and tactics the equivalent of art in the human? Debord’s interest in strategy, as well as that long tradition within communism, will be relevant here. It may be that bees, with their hierarchy in the hive, but also their expansive quest to pollinate, have in fact a politics that can teach us.

But perhaps the bees have been caught up and caged. In England, we are told that bees are under threat and our entire biosphere is in danger if bees cease to do the endless work of pollinating flowers – which connects up nature to culture to economy in ways only hinted at by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Meanwhile, in the advanced sectors of capital:

Nicole Pepperel writes: I have to admit, I’ve never particularly thought about the industrial organisation of crop pollination, until I read this column from the New York Times discussing possible responses to Colony Collapse Disorder – the mysterious plague that causes adult bees to desert their hives, leaving honey and larvae behind. I found this image particularly striking:

“…it is important to add that, here in the United States, the majority of our crops are pollinated not by wild bees, or even by honeybees like mine, which live in one location throughout the year, but by a vast mobile fleet of honeybees-for-rent”.

“From the almond trees of California to the blueberry bushes of Maine, hundreds of thousands of domestic honeybee hives travel the interstate highways on tractor-trailers. The trucks pull into a field or orchard just in time for the bloom; the hives are unloaded; and the bees are released. Then, when the work of pollination is done, the bees are loaded up, and the trucks pull out, heading for the next crop due to bloom”.

(Originally posted by N Pepperell 29/01/2009 http://www.roughtheory.org/content/worker-bees/)

Clearly there is a politics of bees, and it is of more importance than we often concede. So, as Adorno says…

[added:

11-theses-on-art-and-politics-continues-parts-2-3/

11-theses-on-art-and-politics-4/

11-theses-on-art-and-politics-567/ ]

The Marx Trot

27276~Karl-Marx-Brand-Cigar-Box-Label-Karl-Marx-PostersTo mark the end of the course work part of their degree, MA Cultural Studies students have proposed the ‘Marx Trot’. This being a pub crawl with a revolutionary excuse. Having done significant research as per my brief to lead said Trot, I propose the following:

Marx is buried in Highgate. So we start  at the end. Meet at the East Cemetery gate at 4pm. Watch the film ‘High Hopes’ beforehand if need be. Bring cigars.

The Marx family would often walk from Haverstock Hill to Soho, so we can too. As its a nice day. We’ll walk through the park. Hamstead Heath in fact, though other parks might distract our thoughts. Marx took part in a Hyde Park demonstration against the Sunday Observance laws and wrote an article on the Anti-Church demonstration of July 1855. We can read this on the way and contemplate the production of nature.

At the far end of Hamstead Heath is a favourite pub of the Marx’s – so we could visit Jack Straws castle. I found the following info on a cursory search:

Jack Straws Castle

NW3

Jack Straw’s Castle ought to be the perfect place for an inspiring pint. The situation is good, the history intriguing and the ghosts distinguished. Karl Marx drank here on the corner of Hampstead Heath, high above the foul air of 19th-century London. So did Charles Dickens, Leigh Hunt and Max Beerbohm. Jack Straw himself – one of the leaders of the peasants revolt of 1381 – allegedly rallied his pitchfork-wielding mob from a haywagon nearby.

From here we can walk down Heath Street to Chalk Farm and Grafton Terrace.

Marx lived at 3 Roxburgh Terrace, now part of Prince of Wales Road Kentish Town. Then he moved to 9 Grafton Terrace. He drank at the Lord Southampton on the corner of Southampton and Grafton. We’ll obviously have to spend some time here.

Then we head to central London.

Marx fenced in a salon off Oxford street – in Rathbone Place (not far a from Tottenham Court Rd tube).

The Manifesto was drafted and approved at (according to internet gab – which I suspect is apocryphal):

The Red Lion, Soho [Closed] – pub details

Address: 20 Great Windmill Street, London, W1D 7LQ

Not many people know this but this pub is where Marx and Engels and others used to meet, where the first meetings of the Communist Party were held and where the Communist Manifesto was initially drafted and approved. This is a historic building in the history of Politics and it should have a Blue Plaque on it. I hope the people that live there when its converted know the relevance of this place.

Now apparently reopened as an “AT One” – we could I suppose heckle them a little [its an awful bar - heckle a lot - they have no idea where they are, adn beers were 4 quid for a bottle of sol - pah!]

When he first came to London Marx lived on Dean Street – We can visit Marx’s House and Blue Plaque – its on the second floor.

Then across to the British Museum. Obviously. There will be a test on your recall of particular passages from the footnotes. Someone will recite the bees and architects passage.

And finally, though I disagree with much of what Comrade Germain has done with Stop the War (or rather unstop it), here I think there is a hint of what is to be done as the evening closes in – a crawl up Tottenham Court Road starting at the Rising Sun.

“Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were refugees following the defeated 1848 revolutions in Europe. Marx wrote Capital in the reading room of the British Museum. He and Engels enjoyed pub crawls on Tottenham Court Road” [from an article by Lindsay Germain]

And by then wee should be able to make up our own after dinner entertainments. I do think one day a less ad hoc version of this walk is necessary – and I will prepare it – but this seems ok for starters. Leaving now.

No Borders Italian Style (excuse)

tv3BAGAGLIOnoBORDERS
Information for 29 November Italia Pulita/Clean Italy Event.

BAGAGLIOnoBORDERS is a political/artistic group of Italians, people from Britain and other countries, based in London. It is an anti-sexist, anti-racist and pacifist group.

Our aim as Europeans is to raise consciousness among people in the UK of the worrying change in political atmosphere in Italy, which has come about under the administration of Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, in alliance with Lega and Alleanza Nazionale. Recent events are all signs of an increasingly
disturbing climate in Italy:
• The proposed legislation to finger print Roma people
• Proposals to segregate schooling for children of immigrant families
• The frequent racist and homophobic physical attacks
• The exodus of young Italians to other European countries

BAGAGLIOnoBORDERS works to create and to support visible occasions to promote cultural and political awareness through open live-events and demonstrations. We are in support of all minorities (racial, religious and sexual) who live in Italy and are continuously misrepresented by the mainstream Italian media.

Our first performance-art event, ‘Italia Pulita/Clean Italy’, to clean Italy of corruption, racism, sexism and homophobia, will be held:
• Outside the Italian Embassy at 4 Grosvenor Square, London W1
• On Saturday 29 November at 12 (noon)
We invite everyone to come along with cleaning cloths, feather dusters etc, to join us in symbolically cleaning the outside of the Italian Embassy.

www.myspace.com/bagaglionoborders
facebook: bagaglio noborders

See also here.

Trinketization before the letter (vignettes) …. [one more time]

REDUX TWO: (another bit brought forward – from here).

[random detritus - This was excised from an early draft of 'Jungle Studies', in 1995. I'm sure you can see why]:

It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit.

There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc.

Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere).

Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad.

Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity.

Responses to “Trinketization before the letter (vignettes)”

  1. Anonymous Says:
    July 3, 2008 at 4:22 pm eThe fact I am leaving this anonymously tells you something about the state of anthropology and sociology and the broader academic ‘world’ that currently exists here, where I am writing to you. That’s Johannesburg. That’s a particular university here, a grand, old university once famous for its activism against apartheid. Today, today, today, it is this that you describe. The post in its post-colonial myopia taken to ridiculous, absurd and sometimes deeply upsetting publications, discourses and lectures. Here, a liberal elite of largely white anglo-saxon and jewish factions run the colleges, the lecture halls and the public debates. The hypocrisy is noted by many, including this appallingly low-paid cleaner who told me today: “They write about people they don’t know anything about. They write books about people they are scared of. And they become famous and everyone praises them. But they don’t even know how to speak to the people they write about. They have no experience of mixing with us. But they write about us.” And when he’d finished talking to me, he smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Go and eat your lunch in the sun.”

  2. john hutnyk Says:
    July 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm eThere is a scene in Anand Patwardan’s 1982 (?) documentary film “Bombay Our City” where a woman from a bustee (slum) says to camera something like: “hey you. What can your film do for me? Hey? Nothing! Go on filming” – or similar. Vishwapriya Iyengar was happy to say Anand was right to leave that bit in.

    Myself, writing about tourists in Calcutta, I still got the comment – ‘and you John, staring at people then writing books about them’.

    Reflexivity had already become passive when Adorno denounced it – so what can our writing do then? Spivak as ever: Its not a matter of who is speaking, but what that speaking might do.

    greetings anon – be well. J

Mind Boggling Trinketization [again]

REDUX: Since several people have asked, here is one of the posts that explain the name of this blog. Its from a year and a half ago. [comments imported too]


Very occasionally (why? [indeed, see above - ed]) 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 cotextualise and theorise 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.

Responses to “Mind Boggling Trinketization”

  1. Renegade Eye Says:
    April 28, 2007 at 6:11 am eDuring the sixties, the radicals used the word coopt all the time. It meant as turning Afro-American militants wearing their hair Afro style, into a way for capitalists to introduce new lines of hair grooming products. Is that similar to what you’re saying?

  2. John Hutnyk Says:
    April 29, 2007 at 8:38 am eYep. I guess examples like that might be considered under the category of subsumption (real or formal?), though perhaps its more symptomatic than systemic as old Beardo had intended it. Certainly there can be discussion of how Capital today manages to turn everything and anything into product – a kind of hybridizing commerce, adapting and adapted to selling all differences all the time, everywhere (battering down all Chinese walls). Perhaps also relevant is Adorno note that every product strives to convince us of its uniqueness, which is always the same. Hair products for every imaginable style – the artist Sonia Boyce would be relevant here too, once forcing the Manchester anthropology department to handle bits of her collection of off-cuts from various black hairstyles. A dry and wry provocation.

  3. Suyi Says:
    September 30, 2007 at 5:20 pm eHmm… I thought you used the idea of ‘trinketization’ even earlier (albeit if a slightly different way). From McKenvie Wark’s review of The Rumour of Calcutta:

    “Here Hutnyk practices another kind of tourism, an intellectual one, “trinket collecting” in high theory. His sources are the writings of Georg Lukacs and Martin Heidegger, who were concerned with the effects of commerce and contraptions on our ways of seeing and thinking. What Hutnyk takes from them is a thorough kind of materialism. Every perception that we have is the product of an act of labour, an effort shaped by particular tools”.

  4. John Hutnyk Says:
    September 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm eyep, trying to be consistent, though that rumour book was more than ten years ago now.

    Lukacs though, I am reading more carefully these days. – j

Burn Burn Photocopier

A guardedly polite letter from Lisa to the Reprographics Department of Goldies regarding our efforts to rid ourselves of the now Suicidal Copier, first mentioned here:

Acquiring a new photocopier has really been a ridiculously lengthy and frustrating process. It feels as though the main thing we have all worked on for most of 2008 has been a) pushing to get a new machine b) getting it working and c) getting rid of the old one. And we are still not there.

The old machine is still sitting right in the middle of our only communal space. It is induction week. We are trying to welcome new students to the Centre. Could you please confirm when – this week – it will be moved?

The new machine works for basic copying but has still not been networked. We cannot print or scan from it, nor even submit a meter reading. The new machine was justified financially on the basis that we it would perform multiple functions. You told me we needed to use it for office printing. We have had it quite some time and have not been able to do that. I am extremely concerned that the small number of copies we have actually been able to use the machine for will work out to be inordinately expensive at this low-level useage. We have also had no staff raining beyond the engineer on the day of delivery showing me how to make a basic copy. The engineer set up folder on the L:/ drive for documents from the printer to be sent, but networking has not taken place and none of us are set up to use any of its more sophisticated printing/scanning functions.

I do understand that you, like all of us, are very busy. Even so, this has been going on for ages. Most of our correspondence to you is simply ignored. If you can give me the relevant contact details to make a) the removal and b) networking happen, we will be pleased to see to it ourselves [see pic - ed]. Otherwise, please let me have firm dates for these small jobs to be completed.

Thanks,

[we will send it to the place where all Terminators must go]

Trinketization before the letter (vignettes)

[random detritus - This was excised from an early draft of 'Jungle Studies', in 1995. I'm sure you can see why]:

It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit.

There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc.

Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere).

Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad.

Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity.

Bathtime.

Fire cleanses. Why wash?

Because instead of clarifying matches, Boots, Tescos, Unilever, etc want to sell us soap.

Because soap makes us clean. They say.

Because cleanliness is next to the best way there is to sell more soap to get you more clean.

Because every time to eat off a plate you foul it and Unilever want you to believe that their chemical restores the plate to pristine purity.

Because dirt is alien, to be destroyed.

Never wash. Burn burn burn.

Schematic

3-cover-anime-1.gifSchematic/algebraic:

Capital

Finance sector alpha drone

Service sector beta drone

 

Decline of manufacturing/

Export of manufacturing

‘creative’ economy/

New Imperialism

 

The finance and creative sector is not neutral/

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

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

 

Race:

- immigration

- – asylum ‘fears’

– eastern Europe

- – Muslim profiling

- – racism’s histories

 

+++Class as articulated through above

++Gender an extension of the above

 

Campaigns for tolerance or hospitality not nearly enough

- acceptable face of racism used to prepare ground for:

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

- ingrained racism that leaves Africa in ‘darkness’

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

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

on the wrong side of the international division of privilege

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Adorno to Benjamin

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

Adorno to Benjamin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Muslim Culture


I follow comments on trinketization to find new things. The Tasneem Project is a blog about Muslims in Britain but also a novel in waiting. Its erudite author writes:

“I’m writing a novel. It’s called THE TASNEEM PROJECT. I’ve been messing about with creative fiction for years, but recently I’ve started pulling stuff together. This is the blurb on the cover sheet for the agent/publisher: Part autoethnography, part postmodern science fantasy, part Tafsir (Quranic Exegesis), The Tasneem Project chronicles the thoughts and travels of new-age Muslim Eschar Eschar and his band of off-beat time-space investigators, whose pursuit of arch-criminal Ofelo Pandect Godoid leads them onto an obscure, post-apocalyptic timeline fifteen thousand years hence, to witness a spiritually famished remnant of humanity recover one of the most mysterious and beautiful books in the history of the Universe, The Glorious Qur’an. But is this a second revelation, or a mirror of a million others? And can Eschar escape the wrath of the darkest of all religious fanatics, the High Mufti of Nottingwood?”

And then I read something that is truly strange, but somewhat gratifying: that A Postcolonial People has an afterlife:

“I want to spice this dialogue up and give it some depth. One aide de pense is a collection of essays called ‘A Postcolonial People: South Asians In Britain,’ edited by Ali, Kalra and Sayyid. I want Lanky to be a vehicle for discussing some of the ideas in this book, which has a different take on the topic compared to most academic tomes, combining at it does scholarly writings with first person narratives”.

The rest of this post is here, the rest of the blog is invaluable. Look here.

current mood – dubious


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Not sure which foto to offer for the ‘virtual graduate school’ page. Perhaps this one, taken by Tara in Melbourne earlier this year.

Beep Beep Sputnik

Beep Beep – 50 years ago today. Happy Birthday.

From the fine folk at Needham High School’s History Crib

The Launch of Sputnik
“Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation.”
– Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience

The launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, brought the dawn of the space age, and increased conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The people of the United States had begun to feel as if they were unsurpassable in every aspect of life. However, the launch of Sputnik alarmed society and created a wide spread panic in suspecting that their country was vulnerable and could be outshown.

The Story of Sputnik

Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957 by the U.S.S.R. It was little more than the size of a basketball and weighed 184 pounds. Sputnik was not equipped with any scientific instruments, but orbited the earth once every 98 minutes. It contained a single radio transmitter, which did little more than issue an incessant beeping that allowed even the most primitive instruments to track it. As an instrument used for gathering data, Sputnik was relatively insignificant. However, Sputnik did usher in the new age of space exploration, and initiated the U.S./ U.S.S.R. space race that would lead to the creation of the manned space shuttle and utilization of the space station.

Why the U.S. Did Not Beat the U.S.S.R. into Space

Conflict between military branches had hindered the progression in creating a satellite before Sputnik’s launch. Also, it was not until the U.S.S.R. got Sputnik launched that the U.S. saw their own space program as something more than a leisurely hobby. Satellites were predicted to have no military value to the U.S., and so sufficient funds were not put into the Vanguard project. A lack of qualified personnel contributed to the slow progression of the U.S.’s satellite projects as well. After Sputnik’s launch, however, money was pumped into education and satellite projects.

….
continues here if you want to read what Eisenhower did next.

but better might be to seek out:
“Soviet Claiming Lead in Science.” The New York Times. 5 Oct. 1957: 2.

Happy Birthday, ball of tin. Erm, RED ball of tin. Yaay!

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