OK, it got rapidly silly but no-one should be surprised that the Russell Brand Jonathan Ross said-fucking-on-the-radio absolute pap story was manufactured to distract us. Distract us from the front page news obsession with ‘the’ crisis – which, I am so sorry to say, is not the end of the world everyone thinks – and if you find yourself afraid that things are suddenly falling apart, please consider Afghanistan for the last thirty years, life in Iraq, Palestine, Congo, Colombia, other global atrocities of capitalism, etc etc. In the meantime, lets not try to present this ‘radio event’ as the dreaded consequence of a – wait for it – scheming ‘situationalist’ comedian- as Russell was described tonight on Channel Four news – but rather take the opportunity to consider his excellent early work ripping into a foolish young Nazi. Maybe now that he has honourably resigned for offending Grangpa and that Georgina from that obscurely named band, he can get back to this kind of worthy journalism. Watch Russell among the Young Nazi’s here.
On October 24th an all white jury found Lex Wotton, an Aboriginal man from Palm Island, guilty of ‘rioting with destruction’ for his involvement in the 2004 Palm Island uprising. On November 26th 2004 the people of Palm Island set fire to the local police station, court house and police barracks after a pathologist’s report claimed that the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee, a 36 year Aboriginal man in police custody a week earlier was an ‘accident’. Mulrunji died in a police cell, one hour after he had been arrested for being drunk. He suffered massive internal injuries, including a ruptured spleen, four broken ribs and a ‘liver that had been ‘almost cleaved in two’ from a huge compressive force.’ Following Mulrunji’s killing, Queensland’s then Premier, Peter Beattie declared a state of emergency. Balaclava clad Paramilitary style police, armed with semi automatic weapons, roamed the streets arbitrarily arresting Aboriginal people. Police unnecessarily tasered several people, including Lex Wotton. Houses were stormed and children were forced facedown onto the ground with guns pointed at their heads.
The officer who arrested Mulrunji, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, claimed that Mulrunji had fallen on stairs. A coroner’s inquest found that Hurley was responsible for Mulrunji’s death, as the injuries were consistent with a fierce beating. However, Hurley was found not guilty for manslaughter (by an all white jury) and has since been promoted to the position of police inspector on Australia’s Gold Coast.
In comparison Lex Wotton is now facing a possible life sentence in prison. He is being held in custody until his next court appearance in the Townsville District Court on November 7. Aboriginal Australians are still over 10 times more likely than non-Aboroginal Australians to spend time in prison, and are significantly more likely to die in prison than non-Aboriginal prisoners. The over-policing and criminalisation of Aboriginal Australians is a clear continuation of the colonial policies that have been violently enforced on them since the white invasion.
Following Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd’s apology for past injustices to Aborigines earlier this year many people in Australia and around the World assume indigenous Australians are no longer treated as second class citizens. The continuing unjust imprisonment and persecution of Lex Wotton shows that Aboriginal Australians are still treated with racist contempt.
November 6th is a global day of action to free Lex Wotton. Lex’s friends and family are calling out for people around the world to picket Australian High Commissions and Consulates. Please send any details of demonstrations, solidarity messages and pictures of protest action to email@example.com. They will all be passed on to Lex inside of prison.
Stand up in solidarity with the people of Palm Island against racism and police brutality!
For Roh – at the top of Penton Rise.
Please Go <here> for the more detailed (in process) Beyond Borders archive for this Project. There are a number of posts that lead up to the event described below, and a number of posts related to its aftermath, and details of the upcoming events in Berlin in April and Copenhagen in November will be posted there in dues course.
Draft Programme for:
Sonic Border/ Sonic Diaspora/Beyond Text
Monday 3rd – Saturday 8th November 2008
Centre for Cultural Studies
Goldsmiths University of London
Monday, 3 November
2:30 –3:00 pm – Rooms 137a and 138
Introduction by Julian Henriques – ‘Thinking Through Sound’
3:00 – 4:00 pm Chair: John Hutnyk
David Graeber. ‘Prisoners of Sound’
4:00 – 4:20 pm
Coffee and tea break.
Johannes Anyuru and Aleksander Motturi ‘Clandestino Festival in an Age of Ethnicism’
6:30 – 7:00 pm
Explanation of Coventry Event, introduction of those from Kolkata and other guests.
Drinks and dinner.
Tuesday, 4 November
1:00 – 2:00 pm – Rooms 308 and 307
Les Back ‘Siren’s Cry: The War on Terror and the Carceral City’
2:00 – 2:15pm
Coffee and tea break
2:15 – 3:45 pm Chair: Anamik Saha
Rangan Chakravarty. ‘Sound and Fury: The Language of Music: Contemporary Bangla Bands’
Paramita Brahmachari. tbc
3:45 – 4:00 pm
Coffee and tea break
4:00 – 6:00 pm Chair: Leila Whitley
Marc Teare. ‘The Secret History of a Musick Yet To Be.’
Carla Mueller-Schulzke. ‘Transcultural Soundscapes: Creative Musical Practice and the Politics of Sound.’
Kiwi Menrath. ‘Sounds Aquatic: From Oceans and Flows to Muddy Waters.’
Rico Reyes ‘Echolocating: Barrionics, Colonial Melancholia, and Technological Euphoria’<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–>
Tuesday evening we will be travelling to SE1 to join Thomas Altheimer for an event.
52 mins film Europe For President at Alma Enterprises’ project space on November 4th in Glasshill Street, SE1 (no street number, signs in the small street will lead you to the venue). Altheimer will open the event at 7 pm with an ‘Act Of Concession’.
The film documents Altheimer’s attempt to launch a European candidate for president in the US. It is produced by German, French and Austrian television and premières on French/German broadcaster on Nov 1st at 6 pm (see German press release: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFde/inhalt/28/0,1872,1404028_idDispatch:8094208,00.html ).
Wednesday, 5 November
College Open Day. Free Morning
In the afternoon we will attend this separately organised (by GMD, Deptford TV and CUCR) film/talk event in Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF
4.30-5.15 – Deptford.TV Premieres: Black History Month
Four short films made by Goldsmiths MA Screen Documentary students for Deptford.TV on Deptford’s black history. They look at the story of reggae sound systems in the area, the growth of the black community here, and the racist violence of the 1970s and 1980s, including the New Cross Fire.
5.30-8.00 – Talkoake on se14 6af: What will New Cross be?
Goldsmiths, University of London, is located in the heart of the dynamic and diverse neighbourhood of New Cross. The area is home to emerging creative businesses, deprived council estates and large numbers of students. How do these different communities interact?
see details at the end of the full program here .
Thursday, 6 November
THE PERFORMANCE OF CRISIS
November 6 2008 Rooms 137-138
Chair: Hanna Kuusela
11:00- 11:30 Introduction: Performing Crisis- Nicolás Salazar-Sutil
11:30-11:50 Crisis? What Crisis? Perspectives on the Credit Crunch- Andy Christodoulou
11:50- 12:30 The Madness of Decision- Dr James Burton- Goldsmiths College.
12:30- 13:30 Lunch break
Chair: Yuk Hui
13:30-14:30 Keynote Contribution: ‘Politicizing Crisis’ Professor Teivo Teivainen, University of Helsinki
14:30- 15:00 Value formation and crisis – Operativity of narrative – Lee Wan-Gi
15:00- 15:30 Something Between us: exploring social-fragmentation, philosophical anxieties and the economic crisis in America – John Ferrara
15:30- 16:00 Coffee Break
Chair: Cristóbal Bianchi
16:00-16:50 The inchoate situation of decline and the rhetoric of crisis- Dr Ina Dietzsch, University of Durham
16:50- 17:20 HO2Crisis: Water Wars and its trickling effect- Eva Slotegraaf
17:20- 17:50 Debord, Lautreaont and the aesthetics of negativity- Tom Bunyard
17:50- 18:30 The financial crisis as a window of opportunity: Hanna Kuusela
Friday, 7 November
11:00 – 1:00 pm – Rooms 308 and 307
Film: Jahaji Music, India in the Caribbean
Presented by Surabhi
1:00 – 2:30pm
2:30 – 4:00 pm
<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–>
John Speyer and Music In Detention
‘Identities and Interactions in Border Institutions: Music in Immigration Removal Centres’
4:00 – 4:30 pm
Coffee and tea Break
4:30 – 6:00 pm
Karen Tam Songs not quite from Impanema.’
Camille Barbagallo. ‘Crossing borders. The xtalk project: free English classes for migrant sex workers.’
David Hysek ‘Quinta del Sordo – sense, theatre and sound’
6:00 – 7:00 pm
Future Events: February in Berlin, May in Copenhagen.
Saturday, 8 November
Noise of the Past – a poetic journey of war, memory & dialogue
Free bus to Coventry for this event (you have to book a place by emailing Leila on . Limited spaces available.
see the full program here .
Again, please Go <here> for the more detailed (in process) Beyond Borders archive for this Project. There are a number of posts that lead up to the event described below, and a number of posts related to its aftermath, and details of the upcoming events in Berlin in April and Copenhagen in November will be posted there in dues course.
Thomas Altheimer would love to see friends and enemies for a screening of his 52 mins film Europe For President at Alma Enterprises’ project space on November 4th in Glasshill Street, SE1 (no street number, signs in the small street will lead you to the venue). Altheimer will open the event at 7 pm with an ‘Act Of Concession’.
The film documents Altheimer’s attempt to launch a European candidate for president in the US (see pics and pitch below). It is produced by German, French and Austrian television and premières on French/German broadcaster on Nov 1st at 6 pm (see German press release: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFde/inhalt/28/0,1872,1404028_idDispatch:8094208,00.html).
Europe For President
Inspired by the spectacle staged in Berlin by still-citizen-Obama in July 2008, Thomas Altheimer, decides to not only stage a presidential campaign of his own in America but also to take the message to Barack Obama that Europe is not a part of his constituency.
At a casting session in LA Altheimer picks the beautiful Hannah Jefferson to front the Europe 2008 campaign. From LA the campaign sets out to capture the hearts and minds of Americans in small towns. But the real challenge quickly proves to be to capture the heart and mind of the candidate herself.
Disagreeing on pretty much everything, the culture-clashed Altheimer and Jefferson goes to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Altheimer to tell the delegates of the European alternative, Jefferson to take pictures. In the end Altheimer brings out a sign that sours the mood—not only of the convention but also of the Europe ’08 campaign.
Wednesday 29 October 08
WHY IS EVERYTHING FOR SALE?
1-2.30pm MRB Screen 2
Why a Likeness Cannot be Bought – Les Back (Sociology)
Foreign policy for sale – Bart Moore-Gilbert (English)
A history of debt: slavery in the broadest sense of the word? – David
1-2.30pm MRB Screen 3
Commodification of Irishness – Ben Levitas (Drama)
Brains for Hire: Intellectual Labour under Neoliberalism – Alberto Toscano
Free labour in cultural work – Susan Kelly, Janna Graham and Kirsten
3-4.30pm RHB 142
Intellectual property and the enclosure of creativity – Matt Fuller (CCS)
Why the market fails the media – James Curran (Media)
culture research commerce inc. – John Hutnyk (CCS)
3-4.30pm RHB 150
‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe
to be beautiful’: William Morris and kitsch – David Mabb (Art)
Commercialising the past: the trade in cultural heritage – Kate Devlin
The market for art – Gavin Butt (Visual cultures)
3-4.30pm RHB 355
Workshop on free labour in the cultural industries (convened by Susan
Kelly, Janna Graham and Kirsten Forkert)
5-6.30pm RHB 142
The market in crisis: Resisting neo-liberalism
What’s gone wrong with the economy? – Graham Turner (author of ‘The Credit
Campaigning against marketisation in Higher Education – Jonathan White,
Deputy Head of Campaigns, UCU
What was neo-liberalism? – Des Freedman, President Goldsmiths UCU
Students and the campaign against marketisation – Jennifer Jones,
Campaigns and Communications officer, Goldsmiths NUS
Symposium, Saturday, November 29th 2008, 9.30 am – 18.30 pm
Goldsmiths Media Research Centre and Centre for Cultural Studies, London
Bernard Stiegler (Centre Pompidou, Paris): The Alternative of Metadata: Automated Voluntary Servitude or Economy of Contribution
Götz Bachmann (Goldsmiths): The Power of Metadata Time
Yuk Hui (Goldsmiths): The Production of Networks and the Networks of Production
Kuan Foo (Bocconi): Innovation, Metadata and Firm Growth
Harry Halpin (Edinburgh): Metadata and the Dialectics of Post-humanism
Stanza (Artist, London): The Emergent City
Lev Manovich (UC San Diego): Title to be announced.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Artist, Montreal): Antimonuments and Subsculptures
Metadata rules the web. Its power goes beyond merely ordering descriptions of data. Metadata administers access, pre-decides preferences, enables surveillance, automates transtextuality, and shapes our experience. As metadata management becomes more and more effective and ubiquitous, it is time to ask: Are we witnessing the birth of a new regime of attention, of media control and media power? What are its chances, constraints and power relations? How does a social imaginary operate with the means and within
the limits of metadata management? Can metadata acquire the power to generate content? Is it, indeed, productive itself?
Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths, University of London
Saturday, November 29th 2008, 9.30 am – 18.30 pm, followed by a drinks
Access is free. To attend this event, please email Elisabeth
The first “Laboratory” of the Centre for Cultural Studies Beyond Text project will be on “Sonic Borderlands” and will be held 3-8 November 2008 (at Goldsmiths College all through ‘reading week’ and on the saturday at Coventry Cathedral in conjunction with Nirmal Puwar’s *Noise and War* event with Nitin Sawhney). Workshops at Goldsmiths will include David Graeber on the sound of protest; Les Back; considerations of the border and philosophy, crisis, periphery and frontier, streets, porousness and location; and presentations by Clandestino, Music in Detention, from visiting scholars Rangan Chakravorty and Paramita Brahmachari out of Bengal, and including Surabhi Sharma’s film “Jahaji Music, India in the Caribbean”, and more.
We are still looking for presentations/papers from CCS people that broadly deal with the question of sound and the border. Please send suggestions. Presentations should be up to 20 minutes.
The deadline for submissions is October 20, 2008. For further information or to submit your contribution please contact us in CCS (John or Leila)
Please note there is a “Border Crisis” day within this week of events – and some of you may have been contacted separately about this. If you are involved with that day, all well and good, but we are also organising additional talks on other days.
The Beyond Text project gathers Border activists and artists from a couple of organizations to meet for six connected week-long laboratory workshops over the next two years in London, Berlin and Copenhagen. Those involved include Clandestino music festival Gotebourg, Re:Orient theatre Stockholm, Migrant Media London, various people from Kolkata and colleagues from Berlin FU and Copenhagen Doctoral School. These casual meetings will be variously on music, theatre and film and will work on border activism, transnationality, diaspora, streets as borders, and the border between ourselves, everywhere, everyday. The workshops seek ways to break with conventions of border arts and pursue border activisms – and of course tamper with border patrols.
He’s behind you – we are all terrorists when, listening to the security announcements to leave no bag untended we accept that some higher authority is watching out for us on the platform. They will come and destroy the bags, they are watching behind a bank of screens somewhere, say hi mom.
She’s behind you – the academic analyst searching for new metaphors and stories to think and rethink, to think differently in a time of total war.
He’s behind you – Aki Nawaz, but actually Aki is in Pakistan having just run the Gaza blockade.
He’s behind you – the policy strategist in the Pentagon, the under-assistant west coast arms procurement officer, the new media radiological cybernetic transfer consultant, the sociologist with a penchant for pop-psych warfare, the anthropologist writing the counter-insurgency procedures manual, the shooter behind the screen..
He’s behind you – in Rocklands, having cracked their skulls dragging moloch to heaven. Yes, it is the stupid economy. And no surprise that the War on Iraq costs as much as the Bank bailout at circa 700 Billion
He’s behind you – they have something of which they are very proud, they call it education and it distinguishes them from the goatherds…
He’s behind you – driving home from Bakersfield listening to gospel music on the coloured radio station where the preacher says you always have the lord by your side.
He’s behind you – I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran 20 red lights, thank-you Jesus, thank-you Lord. (Let us by all means discuss religion, but not from the normative comparative scenario that compares Christianity with Islam, Christianity with Buddhism, Christianity with the Ghost Dance religion or some Pagan Wicca Druid Festive Wig Wam… and let us not appoint Tony Blair to a lectureship in Religion and Globalization, as Yale has done)
She’s behind you – and her name is Scheherazade, no longer telling stories in the Nawab’s boudoir but this time she’s been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them and provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but her stories can never set her free and she will never become queen while a thousand and one terrors assail us all.
I imagine Roshan Seth, forlorn pissed fool, receiving pleading SMS alerts, but with his Bloody Mary he has no defence against too many years of persecution and disappointment. Papa Hussein is drunk in bed watching Bollywood reruns and maybe Stephen Frears later confections like The Queen (2006). Scheherezade’s story cannot get out – sunk in the depths of a massive archive of forced confessions. Roshan Seth’s journalism cannot save her, and we need more than sozzled rants.
There have been bits of the Panto talk on here before. The Aki as Suicide Rapper routine was rehearsed here, while Žižek on the buses is glossed here (for the next Stimulus Respond). So its a little cut and paste getting towards a finalized version (not even close to complete – having just found Raymond Williams comments on Pantomime and class in his book on Television). Anyway, after the Aki section…:
I want to suggest that this suicide rapper event is a part of the culture of terror anniversary syndrome – like clockwork it becomes the norm to raise annual threat-awareness through fabricated events. In 2006 Aki Nawaz, in 2007 the Glasgow Car Bomb hero – John Smeaton, airport baggage handler and Glasgow kisser (Telegraph August 1st 2007). In 2008 it has been the trials of the carry on luggage video surveillance bombers, and Britain’s youngest terrorist, 15 year old schoolboy Hammaad Munshi – Guardian September 20th 2008), the Nottingham University case in 2008 – the theatricalization of everyday life, but as slapstick, absurdity, farce. Similarly around 9-11, a series of circumstantially significant alerts, breakthroughs, trials and incidents. I am not suggesting some of these are not ‘real’, but if you think of the case of Samina Malik, the lyrical terrorist’ given a nine month suspended sentence, after 6 months in detention) in 2007 (Guardian June 18 2008) as a more nuanced attention getter compared to the presence of tanks outside Heathrow in 2003 you might want to do more than repeat the scaremongering mantra of ‘suicide bomber, suicide rapper’ in a allegedly critical broadsheet.
In his 2008 book Defense of Lost Causes, Slavoj Zizek (who has never had a thought that was not published, twice) writes:
“happy are we who live under cynical public opinion manipulators, not under the sincere Muslim fundamentalists [who are] ready to fully engage themselves in their projects” (Zizek 2008:160)
To follow the logic of this provocation, those who lament the decline of principles should probably not support cynical politicians but rather should put their faith in the fundamentalists since they really do believe their ideals. I am not so sure this irony is misplaced, but I prefer Les Back’s warning of the ‘damaging sense of emergency and paranoia that seduces the most principled’ and endorse his ‘challenge’ of ‘how to acknowledge these complicities without giving into phobias produced by the so-called war on terror’ (Back 2007:138).
That, I hope makes the abstract make sense.
THEN (a bit more Walter):
On the eve of the second imperialist world war, the one that he did not live through, Walter Benjamin writes ‘The Storyteller’ (October 1936). In this essay, ostensibly devoted to the works of the writer Nikolai Leskov, but also about fairytales, reading, buying books, magic, Macbeth and Marxism, teaching and tall tales, Benjamin first suggests that the idea of a storyteller seems remote to modern sensibility. The reasons for this are many, but one of them is set out starkly in a way that might give us pause in the context of today’s world of terror, fear, hype and spin. With a foreboding of what is to come, Benjamin writes of war stories:
‘Every glance at a newspaper shows that it [storytelling] has reached a new low … our image not only of the external world but also of the moral world has undergone changes overnight, changes which were previously thought impossible. Beginning with the First World War … wasn’t it noticeable that at the end of the war those who returned from the battlefield had grown silent – not richer but poorer in communicable experience’ (Benjamin 1936/2002:144).
I think maybe storytelling is the mediation, the mechanism in theory which processes and gives form to the patina of ideas, the plethora of interpretation that needs to be negotiated in thought. The storyteller asserts and fights for authority, the passive aggressive late night campfire insistence of ‘listen to me, I’ve a story to tell, a web to spin’. Ideologies of war, children’s morality, Scheherazade, The Guardian, and the international seeking-telling of ethnographic effort, all participate in this mediation. Not immediacy, but retelling, repetition, recitation.
But Walter Benjamin does identify Scheherazade as the emblem of epic memory – able to link up stories, to tell one after the next so as to tell a greater history (Benjamin 1936/2002:154). What she remembers is also the message or the meaning – the point of remembering – of her wider program: i.e., that things were not always like this; that they need not remain like this; that adversity may be overcome. Scheherazade. Scheherezade gambles on storytelling to change the world, to fight the oppressor, to liberate herself and others.
Storytelling is not of course analysis, but it provides a framing for bringing the flux of isolated instances, experiences and events together. It may also have a critical intent – Scheherazade’s gamble is hostile to the audience she will persuade, change, and love – rearranging dangerous desires through patient narrative towards justice. The gamble of storytelling, at least for Scheherazade, is hedged by way of repetition, but it is not simply the next next next of iteration that succeeds, rather the timing is crucial. She must start and end at the appointed hour. Tactics.
What I think is terror/terrible is that the Guardian did not hear out the three verses of Cookbook DIY. Our theorists and critics settle for mute, silent, blind singularity of the event that has no message. They forget that pantomime follows the rule of three. One verse was enough for the Guardian to hop on board and confirm the anxious prejudice, ignore the dark public secrets which they dare not name, the unknown unknowns that stare us in the face – the self-parody paranoid (replacing the authoritarian personality – cf Adorno) curtails the very ‘freedoms’ of which ‘our enemies are so jealous’ (Bush). I do not doubt the arbiters of conformity want to erase any difficult material from the record but I do not think this happens intentionally – it is more or less a conspiracy of decorum – ‘nothing should be moist’ as Adorno once quipped. Habits of civil society are invisible until they are jolted into recognition by the incommensurate, and quick smart resumption of polite service transmission is preferred. But such pathologies cannot be allowed to stand. The focus upon the instant, the trinket, the event, the example without recognising the repetition and remembering the ur-story that holds all this together is insufficient. Look not to narrow questions of meaning, but rather aim for questioning, provide context, transnational literacy, verses two and three as well as the complex interstices. Having jettisoned the grand narrative, we are in danger of a journalism without content, and theory without example.
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)”
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”
Roshan Seth’s dress ups is my flimsy excuse that allows me to talk about the theatre – tangentially – and in particular Pantomime. I am interested in Pantomime because of its storytelling facility, because it is – very often – the contemporary home of the 1001 Nights, and all the Orientalism that adaptations of that story, so favoured by Kureshi, might entail.
There is also a literary point to this storytelling frame – I take it from Walter Benjamin that the Storyteller – in his essay ‘The Storyteller’, first published in 1936 in the journal Orient and Occident, Benjamin mentions Scheherazade three times. His point here is to distinguish between memory and mere information, and I think it worth pursuing the line that the trick is to tell better stories such that despotism might be overcome (In the interval before the formation of a genuine people’s army that can win, this narrative gamble. Scheherezade, you will remember, tells her stories to buy time from the despotic King Shahryar).
But I first became interested in Pantomime after reading Alain Badiou’s Handbook of Inaesthetics (in translation – thank-you Alberto Toscano) and his comments on dance and theatre as a metaphor for thought (well, dance as restraint, theatre as acting, and as ideas [Badiou 1998/2005:72]). Though I have differences with Badiou on this, it is interesting to try to retrieve a critical thinking in the lease likely academic performance I can think of – within pantomime as story.
So – a detour through the theatrical – and for the purposes of this discussion, the comic theatre of British pantomime.
Thinking about pantomime terrors deserves a little historical play. The popular Christmas and summer holiday entertainment form has roots in vaudville and melodrama and might also be traced back through French mime, Italian Commedia dell’arte, or even to Roman mythology and the flutes of the god Pan (Miller 1978:52-54). A more detailed history of course would have to contend with the relation of the Pied Piper of Hammelin to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with issues of role reversal, double entendre, drag, slapstick, superstitions (left side of the stage for demons, right side for fairy princesses) and theatre ghosts if not more. end insert]
Yet pantomime is also dynamic – not just a Christmas entertainment beloved of children, seaside theatres, shopping malls and B-list celebrity actors, an actor gets to play many roles, tinker with rhymes, song, dance and humour, appear in drag, men act as bawdy women, women as adventurous sexy boys, there is plenty of word play, double entendre, burlesque, knowing morals and audience involvement. For all the family then. The Harlequin character – a trickster for anthropologists – becomes Clown later – for sociology, a broker, a Faust figure for Literature, a shape-shifter for Sci Fi. Fairies enter from the right, the villains Stage Left.
Pantomime is very often topical (no wonder Cromwell banned them – they provided the first licensed public spaces, the prototype of gin-joints…):
“From the very beginning the pantomime was acutely aware of the world around it … no other form of entertainment has ever devoted itself so wholeheartedly to holding up to the public, for its approbation, censure, or mere amusement, the events, manners, whims and fancies, fads, crazes and absurdities of the time (Frow 1985:136)
There is reference to Saddam Hussain in Snow White – he was found hiding in a cave (Taylor 2007:137). Dick Whittington offers endless opportunity for jokes about the London Mayoral position, Red Ken or Bombshell Boris each giving the guy dressed up as a cat a run for his money. The Dick Whittington story involves a merchant being accused of minor theft and having to leave London only to turn back – the bells tell him to – and he makes his fortune in the orient (Morocco, from a Sultan and returns to electoral success in the city, and banking fortune).
These Panto’s use the tradition of wry or ironic political analogy to raise questions for school kids about stereotype, terror and racism. I find this useful and will go on to consider the role of hip hop video as something similar. There is afterall a long pop music involvement in Panto. Cliff Richard played Aladdin way back in 1962 (with the Shadows as Wishee, Washee, Poshee and Noshee). Tommy Steele also, and the Spice Girls not so long ago – and Keith Richard dressed up in Pirates of the Caribbean, while not strictly Panto, is really.
“Pantomime continues to develop in response to the cultural norms of society with the inclusion of topical and political references, references to the media and the inclusion of contemporary music and dance’ (Taylor 2007:69-70)
At the same time, Pantomime is a site where we might unexpectedly find the ‘aftermath’ of the war on terror. You may have 9-11 fatigue, but what about the kids? (Get ’em while they’re young). There has been a lot – perhaps endless – talk about the events – 9-11 or 7-7, Madrid and Bali, as events, but I am more concerned to recognise these anniversaries as events that come around more and more, not on their own. There is a repetition and extension of the event into all other parts of life. It is now of great interest for me that – following Gargi Bhattacharyya – to see how a ‘cultural project’ runs alongside the war on terror and impacts upon a very diverse range of practices, from militarization and public policy (obviously – watch the news) right through to entertainment and ‘child-rearing’ (Bhattacharyya 2008:55,92). And I have in mind Marx’s 18th Brumaire opening – you know all the great lines of this text, ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’, ‘let the dead bury the dead’ and the one that chides Hegel for saying historical events happen twice, but forgetting to say the second time they happen as farce.
Pantomime is just the kind of farce I need here – and it’s a play repeated over and over.
In recent years several amateur pantomime troupes have performed critical versions of classic stories from the Alf Laylah – the 1001 Nights – as parables of the war
– Aladdin and his magic opium smuggling lamp
– Sinbad the Sailor and his Open Sesame cave at Tora Bora
– Ali Baba and the 40 Oil Thieves
The 1001 Nights provides a great many Panto tales – Cinderella as well, it is the classic old school Orientalist text, translated by the French Ambassador to Istanbul, Antoine Gallard in 1712, it has fascinated ever since (Lathan 2004:110)
There are of course dangers in the theatrical metaphor for thinking politics such that the jester-critic is easily dismissed/contained in the comic-entertainment section of the press. I suggest we take the pantomime clown more seriously, but I may already have been fooled. I must admit Capitalism thrives today on something like the controlled chaos of pantomime. It sells hybridized, multiply reflexive forms; it thrives on contradictory niche markets (jokes for the kids, different jokes for parents; it celebrates inversion, cross-dressing, transgression and emotes – for a profit.
(Aside): It is then, quite useful as allegorical frame.
So, Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Man.
(pic – its Julian Clary, Goldsmiths own, here as Cinderella’s sidekick Dandini)
Once Upon a Long Ago, Far Away a Time… Roshan Seth <pic 1> was in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), a Stephen Frears film from a Hanif Kureishi screenplay. Kureshi, a *force* in British theatre and film, once said of The 1001 Nights – a book I will speak more of later – that it was ‘the greatest book of all’ (in My Son the Fanatic [Kureishi 199x:xii]). His own story in Laundrette <pic 2 Laundrette ad> includes a portrait of a vodka-swilling, bed ridden, socialist-journalist father of ‘white-boy kissing’ Omar (see Desai 2004:vii), played by Seth. There are problems with the film, but I was happy to organise the first ever screening in Australia back in 1985. Controversy over its troubling sexual politics – an Asian boy fucking a fascist – possibly overshadowed the economic crisis built into the plot – financial meltdown and social decay mixed with Thatcherite opportunism and rampant greed, a volatile mix that might seem familiar today.
Roshan Seth was in a lot of films – from Monsoon Wedding, London Kills Me and The Buddha of Suburbia, right through to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) <pic 3> , and instead of showing Seth, I have a picture <pic 4> that is the height of exotica-schlock-porn-horror – is the heart-tearout scene where Amrish Puri who played Mola Ram>. Here I’d just point out how this is a classic image of cod-exotica… this is a classic orientalist film …the Temple of Doom houses a Thuggee cult – I’ve written about this in relation to Calcutta and Exotica, thugs would take a rupee, tie it one end of a length of cloth (a dupatta?), and strangle their victims from behind – causing terror on the roads). Anyway, in the film Seth was Chatter Lal, Prime Minister, and I don’t have a photo of him. He (and Puri) had a role the year before in Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) – the story goes that some protested about Gandhi being represented at all, since he was like a saint and he should be presented simply as a white light crossing the screen. <Gandhi pic #5 – seems from this still that Attenborough tried to achieve that effect with Ben Kingsley>. Seth was Nehru in the film, prime minister again. When I was in Manchester I went to a fundraiser for Akbar Ahmed who was keen to make a rival bio-pick of Pakistan founder Jinnah (eventually released 1998). It was to be equally respectful of the other leader of the anti-colonial struggle. A thousand ponds a head dinner, I was there as ‘anthropologist’ and they were thinking of having none other than Ben Kingsley also play Jinnah. In the end they got Christopher Lee, with disturbing vampire associations, he faced death threats and needed body guards as people in Pakistan were, perhaps rightly, concerned at the quality of the movie. Ahmed himself, a Cambridge University Islamic scholar said his film would be respectful and truthful, not at all going in for scurrilous point scoring, it would report Nehru’s affair with Edwina Mountbatten, but not try to suggest the then soon to be Indian Prime Minister was corrupt or complicit in any way.
Roshan Seth was also Beria in the bio pic of Stalin (1992 – Robert Duvall in the lead role <Stalin Beria pic 6>). So the whole gamut of dress up roles are his – socialist-journalist in bed, thrise times Prime Minister of India, and NKVD executioner.
[more parts of my talk from last night will come when the hangover subsides… Thank-you to everyone who came last night, the students, past and present, who wrote in my little red book (great gift) and for the flowers, wine, books, more wine. thanks to the staff of the college who made it possible – from the media technicians hassled with a last minute panic, through to Geoff who contrived such a marvellous introduction. Thanks to everyone who came, from near and far – hi Cheryl – and Ange, Johhny and Freddy… Thanks Adela for the video record that appparently captures all four mentions of Emile. Thanks everyone who came.]