Kane’s Snow Globe

An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before – beginning again with the opening scene of Citizen Kane. I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss.

Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters.

My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book “Film Cultures”, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow-globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf).

Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the the snow dome as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78). Just after the snow globe room-trashing scene in Kane there is a beautiful painted 3-piece scene. And a printing error in the eye of a cockatoo – see DVD special edition ‘Anatomy of a classic’ – Barry Norman. I’ve more to do on this I guess, but would an ‘error’ in a film print count as a kind of parapraxis, a Freudian slip in the reel?

Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153).

This will continue, some of it rehearsed earlier here.

But before I go, can I note another symptom of Welles’ wit – toying with the psychoanalysts, Welles lets us in on another triangle of distraction, another ephemeral ancillary aspect of the show, a scene inside a scene, (Rozencrantz!): just in the middle scene of Susan’s opera, itself stubbornly sponsored by a now demented Kane, disgraced yet still yearning for glory, we see his old newspaper buddy (and conscience) Jeddadiah sitting in the audience, bored, he seems to have made a 1,OOO,OOO Poems out of his shredded program.

Now you can purchase your own rosebud snow globe moment to commemorate the film here for $31.95. Its from PERZY, the Original Vienna Snow Globe manufacturer! – which ushers in a whole new world of possible trinket-movie tie-ins. What a great idea for xmas – get a rosebud globe/snowsled etc etc. Other ancient movies surely can also be given the Mattel-Star Wars plastic toy movie merchandising treatment – little kiddy versions of the False Maria of Metropolis, the movie-camera from Vertov, ships from Potempkin… the plastic possibilities are endless, and what a good education it will be. Although a plastic Maria might be indistinguishable from CP3O I guess. Still, do it now, festoon your young takker’s crib with a toy puss in the shape of Holly Golightly’s cat (‘He’s all right! Aren’t you, cat? Poor cat! Poor slob! Poor slob without a name!’) and how about a teething ring made from the gun used by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity? I’m riffing now, but why paint young Tamsyn’s room with elven fluff from mere fantasy when she could have wall-sized stills of the Unicorn scene in Bladerunner for her room decor. You want her to have ambition don’t you, you want her to direct? I can see a business plan forming already.

10 thoughts on “Kane’s Snow Globe

  1. gONZALEZ-prICE says that anthropologists used to arrive with ‘notebooks, trowels, tape-recorders and cameras’. Trowels? I knew I was doing something wrong. Now it seems they arrive in camoflage with guns – again – back to the old routines, but now longer in safari gear as ‘handmaiden o colonialism’ rather in safari gear and ‘pimping for regime change’. Not much more we can say about that then. gnnngg. xj


  2. I take the liberty of reposting this exchange below from a closed list since the discussion became interesting… good to see anthrops straining at their tethers… [I’ve not heard back from the names involved about permission to repost, so have not yet included identifications, all are prominent and respected authors]

    To Anth-L from JH

    I think its worth looking at this Couterpunch article referenced by Ben below – anthropologists arrive with ‘trowels’?? – but otherwise good.



    To JH from DG

    Have they sent you this yet?


    annoyingly they want us to print it and actually send the thing.

    To Anth-L by KH

    I don’t know if Goldies inmates are too hip to read Anthropology Today, but Gustaaf Houtman, the latter’s editor, has been conducting a high-profile campaign on this and similar issues for over a year now, featuring David Price, Roberto Gonzales, Jeremy Keenan and various apologists for the regime. This has also included providing a vehicle to fight the ESRC initiative to identify and counteract likely Islamic terrorists.

    To Anth-L by DG

    I like Gustaaf. I was supposed to write something for him on… maybe on anarchist anthro, he said, but honestly what would I say that I haven’t said already? I should contact him. I should also read his

    To Anth-L by JH

    yep, thanks Keith, I’m following that, and Gledhill’s various earlier posts. I recycle such things on both tawdry souvenirs and trinketization – eg here. Still, there seems little action right. A pledge not to do it doesn’t really scan. – John

    To Anth-L from DG

    I’m not sure how this got on the list since I thought I’d taken that out of the cc.
    Oh well. Anyway I think this is a pretty important initiative and Cathy Lutz among others said they’d like to have as many people sign on as possible, and not just in the US. Unfortunately they also want you to mail it in on paper, of all things! So as long as I’m here, let me encourage people.

    To Anth-L by ED

    Thanks for that, John. I also think the pledge of non-participation is a bit ineffectual, especially for people like me who do ethnography of the Dogpatch double-wide and are unlikely to be recruited for counterinsurgency ops until the FBI start planning the next Ruby Ridge.

    I also note – though this doesn’t detract from their political point, with which I fully agree – that all but one of the founders of this Network of Concerned Anthropologists appear to be waggling a finger about which jobs the adjunct masses shouldn’t take from a comfortably tenure-track position, which, in the absence of some context as to the disorder of anthropology’s own house, leaves a bitter taste.

    Also – “Network of Concerned Anthropologists?” Steady on, they almost raised an eyebrow there.


    TO ED from JH

    Ha ha – I’m replying off list as carrying this discussion on without further substance may seem unseemly on my part, but the idea of ranks upon ranks of anthrops with raised eyebrows beating back the Crusaders just gives me a belly-wobbling cascade of laughter.

    But Ruby Ridge is not far away – here they call it Stockwell Tube… and ethnicity, diaspora, migration, hybridity etc are the code words.


    To Anth-L by ED

    So far as I know, what came of the AAA counter-insurgency brawl of the 60s/70s were the twin COEs – the Committee on Ethics and the Code of Ethics, the former a relatively toothless panel which listens to ethical grievances but doesn’t do much about them, the latter a relatively toothless document which encourages researchers to do no harm to informants but makes no provision for sanctions if they do. If the recent accusations of counter-insurgency research resonate with the older scandal, then any possible course of action at the institutional level is likewise going to dredge up all the shortcomings of the older “resolution,” which didn’t really resolve anything at all.

    This particular pledge strikes me as both individualistic and passive, and doesn’t do much to (a) clarify who is doing what or (b) engage with those allegedly doing it, something that stuck in the craw of the Camelot activists as the clandestine nature of the research itself left its opponents open to charges of false accusation (cf. the Mead report). I’m not sure if it’s comforting or nauseating that at least some of the suspects this time around seem to be blogging openly about their stint at counter-insurgency boot camp.

    I don’t think the failure of the current campaign to contextualise these hires within the broader terrain of the brutal academic job market is necessarily a fatal flaw, but it’s certainly a soundbite-ready irony it can do without: reserve army of anthropological labour joins actual army in search of a living wage. And it does beg the question: what are we training all these anthropologists for?

    I’m an avid reader of CounterPunch, but I think this debate needs to reach the kind of audience that would force a response from on high. Much of the scandal over counter-insurgency anthropology in Thailand played out in the New York Review of Books back in the day:


    I wonder if it isn’t time for a reprise. If only we still had Eric Wolf to throw down the…er…trowel.


    To Anth-L by DG

    (I’m not sure how I got on this thread – I thought I’d sent a private response back to John, then he replied pasting anth-l back into the cc line without my knowing it, but anyway, as long as I seem to have initiated a public debate with no intention of doing so…)

    Well, yes, I’m rather unlikely to be recruited either, unless they think maybe I’d be willing to rat on my anarchist friends. I thought a pledge was pretty minimal, actually, and their request that everyone sends their response on paper actually ensures their list of anthropologists who declare they will not do counterinsurgency work on principle is likely to be far, far, smaller than the actual number of anthropologists who would not do counterinsurgency work on principle anyway.

    It’s interesting, after the Project Camelot scandals in the ’60s, working for this kind of government operation became – I thought – quite explicitly taboo in US anthropology. I’m not sure if the AAA passed a resolution against it but they might have. But as Eliza reminds us, back then tenure track jobs were quite easy to get – it was only in the ’70s you started to get the jobs crunch and then the ’80s the beginning of the present wave of casualization. At present in the US, I think only 32% of college teaching is carried out by tenured or tenure-track faculty. I wonder if we might not suggest to the authors an additional statement, of opposition to the pattern of casualization of academic labor that puts people in a situation where they are vulnerable to such recruiting to begin with?

    They’d probably say it’s too late to change the document.

    The current political climate on US campuses is pretty poisonous: the combination of explicit political pressure on profs not to be too ideologically impertinent (at least on anything that bears on concrete policy issues), the generalized fear and hence extreme pragmatic conservativism that results from casualization – a timidity that somehow seems to affect those who do have tenure just as much as those who don’t – the fact that, within a system dominated by private universities, forms of political action (petitions, demos, let alone unions) that are considered normal features of democracy in most parts of the world are seen as intrinsically threatening to a “scholarly” environment, even by supposed radicals… There are those who suspect there’s an explicit blacklist at this point of activist scholars – at least untenured ones – and even if not (probably they don’t need a formal one) there’s a de facto, informal equivalent, as the fate of many of my friends and colleagues dropped from their positions in far less public ways than myself, and who found themselves despite exemplary qualifications mysteriously unable to get jobs, or often even interviews, has made apparent. The one thing I learned from all this though is that you absolutely cannot separate the issues of precarity from conservativism (I mean, conservativism of instinct and of practice – almost everybody involved claims to be radicals of some sort or another in theory but this means nothing).

    But how would one actually address that connection politically? Ironically, I don’t have a lot of experience doing campus activism so it’s hard for me to say. Anyone have any ideas?

    To Anth-L by JH

    Hi David

    Nope, I did not put the anth-l cc back into that email, go back and check. I was replying to Keith via anth-l, which is why you were in on the thread… But, whatever the provenance, I do think perhaps some people on this (closed) list have not seen that Pledge you sent me, so I think you might have to send it round to everyone. It is a joy to behold..

    Now given that I think Eliza, in her second post, has said the most sane thing on this list so far I am of the view that the discussion, on the part of anthropology, should be far more public (although the image of finger-waving ranks of trowel-wielding anthros with their eyebrows almost raised thereby presenting themselves as the last bastion of anti-war politics here on Airstrip One … well that does fill me with dread). Can this exchange be posted – does anyone object to that? Eliza, David, Keith? And maybe beyond the Royalist press (not that I dislike RAI’s AnthToday, its just kinda select and exclusive right).

    As to ‘campus activism’ – there is an anti-war effort still, a march on the 8th Oct that leaves Goldies at 12 (Students Union organising buses – this can be announced at lectures at least), how about non-compliance with all sorts of teaching factory stuff, there is a UCU – SU teach-in on the war on 24th Oct (at which I’m supposedly speaking, you should too) and… well, a variety of things go on…. Nationally, the Stop The War coalition is stacked out with SWP/Respect types, but there are still reasons to be organising round this. Murder death kill on the TV every night being not the least of these.

    lal salaam


  3. The current fights in and around the American Psychological Association also come to mind: see here for example. In that case the ‘professionals’ lend their services to torture and interrogation.


  4. I do hope this Moorhead-Slaughter creature, ‘Chair of the 2005 PENS (Presidential Ethics and National Security) Task Force’, doesn’t ever get ambitions and expand her brief to cover national and Internal security – that would spell trouble for the abbreviation on her letterhead. Moorhead-Slaughter, PENIS to the Bush Regime.


  5. all but one of the founders of this Network of Concerned Anthropologists appear to be waggling a finger about which jobs the adjunct masses shouldn’t take from a comfortably tenure-track position, which, in the absence of some context as to the disorder of anthropology’s own house, leaves a bitter taste.

    I don’t think the failure of the current campaign to contextualise these hires within the broader terrain of the brutal academic job market is necessarily a fatal flaw, but it’s certainly a soundbite-ready irony it can do without: reserve army of anthropological labour joins actual army in search of a living wage. And it does beg the question: what are we training all these anthropologists for?

    Glad that at least someone pointed this out
    . FINALLY! FINALLY! SOMEONE JUST SAID THIS! I don’t know who she is but that Eliza rocks.

    May I suggest that the founders of this Network of Concerned Anthropologists concider giving up their tenured positions and flipping burgers for MacDonalds (certainly more ethical than tracking down terrorists, no?) or plucking asparangus on a workffare job for welfare wages (such “options” will have anyone running into the open arms of the the ESRC initiative).

    But how would one actually address that connection politically?

    This question from the people who read the kind of books you do to the people who read the kind of books you do!!!

    BTW, thanks for posting this discussion. I BUed it in case they want it all removed.



  6. If you could upload the following I would be very grateful:
    “I am one of the 11 authors of the pledge, and would like to correct some
    misinformation about the pledge campaign I see here. It is stated as fact
    that only 1 of the 11 authors of the pledge is non-tenured. I’d like to
    know how that research was done. Actually, the 11 authors include one
    graduate student, one adjunct, two untenured professors and one untenured
    journal editor. Also, the website
    http://concerned.anthropologists.googlepages.com/home does now feature a way
    to sign the pledge electronically.
    with best wishes,
    Hugh Gusterson


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