Boy Scout

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“‘There is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism‘” (Walter Benjamin Illuminations)

 

William Burroughs’ annotated Boys Scout’s manual has been reissued, and I am waiting for it to arrive so I can have another go a trying to reconcile the whole boy scout thing. Militarism in the blood by dint of generations of just doing what kids do when their fathers did it before them. The dodgy old hyphenated, Colin Baden-Powell had invented the concentration camp in Mafeking during the Boer War too. Can’t say a Boy Scout history is a reason to be proud. I first heard of the Burroughs manual from Mick T, so I rifled through an old travel diary into which a news clipping was folded. It included a photograph of five young Americans in combat gear beside a ‘Homeland Security’ bus. From the front page of the New York Times I collected it on May 13 2009 when last visiting Mick in New York. The image caught my eye and I recall this was the same day when newly discovered atrocity photos from CIA ‘facilities’ in Afghanistan and Iraq were to be published but were censored so as to avoid undermining the war effort and the troops at the front.[i] Anxious excuses were conjured for spin and impression management… Instead, we got the unbelievable shot of Explorer scouts tooled up for the kill.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s long-time missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and fire-fighters. Rereading the text ten years on is bracing, and Burroughs does not help the dark forebodings of the text.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.” (New York Times, 13 May 2009)

Blocking the atrocity images, then president Obama said he would fight any release of the new set of detention images,[ii] backpeddling from an earlier ‘release them all’ position after a word from Pentagon chiefs. This old strategy or submerging truth is reported on the same front page as the scouting story). But the bus picture contains a curious quirky little detail. Look at the line of action-figure scouts in the shot. The very last one doesn’t seem to think the situation is all that real. A big grin on his face, forgetting the seriousness of the security role-play; has he tapped his colleague on the shoulder to say he likes his combat trousers? ‘Dude, I got these on special at ‘Old Navy” says his colleague. ‘Awesome’. I wonder if there is perhaps-possibly-maybe a little chink of critique, on the part of the New York Times’ photographer or picture editor in this edge-of-the-image smile? Such good terror-fighting teeth too. I would ‘hope’ we read this scene against the grain. ‘Yes we can’.

The article offers a great many other howlers – including strange juxtapositions: one such follows on from the news that neophyte Explorer Cathy is ‘attracted by the guns’ and says: “I like shooting them … I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.” We then get the observation that the police who supervise this ‘training’ have been exploring in their own perversions: “There have been numerous cases over the last three decades in which police officers supervising Explorers have been charged, in civil and criminal cases, with sexually abusing them”.

It seems though we are safe. This is after all only a role-playing game, with Arab dress-ups and other harmless pantomime fun. We are assured that ‘the training … is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting’. OK.

Meanwhile, collected from the same paper, another photograph of another line of troops had caught my eye – commemorating the body of a soldier being returned to the US. RIP Michael P Yates, killed by one of his own in the counselling tent.[iii] The televised reporting of the return of troop bodies was of course suppressed by the previous President, Bush W, but the correspondence between the line of Explorer scouts and the solemn line of the troops in the second picture is poignant. (The death toll of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan topped 5000 soon after). This picture too appears a few pages before a full page ad taken out by a right wing group, suitably named the ‘Torture Truth Project’ that condemns those who would embarrass the US internationally by mentioning the ‘only three’ detainees that endured the notorious torture technique known as water boarding. The text of the ad takes on its own special rhetoric when it tortures the truth by warning that ‘we are losing the goodwill of people across the world’. Welcome to the USA today, in the New York Times.

The Scouts, as spawn of Sir Colin Baden-Powell, cannot be disassociated from the logic that developed the detention camp at Mafeking. Be Prepared. I remember this slogan and the implication of youthful disciplining, as is surely true for anyone who was a scout (sure, it was mostly fun of course, smoking behind the troop hall). My grandfather in the UK and father in the Ukraine were also enthusiastic adventurers. William Burroughs might have been a safer bet as father figure.

[i] New York Times, 13 May 2009

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/politics/14photos.html?scp=6&sq=obama&st=cse accessed 13 May 2009

[iii] curiously, the image is not reproduced in the online version of the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/14victims.html accessed October 20 2009.

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Palma Africana – Taussig

For my notebook on glossy anthropology, this incandescent page from Michael Taussig’s New 2018 book discusses a brochure promoting the devil’s own crop – (the world choking slowly to death but not seeing it for the trees).

Taussig’s negative sublime

From Palma Africana (2018)

“irradiation of the negative sublime”…

“With this admittedly top-heavy phrase I am referring to the death pall cast by the (X)paras and palm plantations; death of people and death of rivers, swamps, and land. This must seem a strange and melodramatic formulation, “irradiation of the negative sublime.” It sounds like a curse, plucking at language, twisting it into knots and reality too. What I have I mind is the spectral quality of evil or, in less biblical terms, the spookiness of cutting throats” (p140)

Notebooks (Artaud’s for example)

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 22.09.17Rereading Jay Murphy’s book Artaud’s Metamorphosis and thinking about the 30,000 pages of notes Marx is said to have written in the last ten years of his life – and which are only slowly being released through the MEGA. Then find Jay has the following on page 207:

Artaud’s last works are above all, an action, a setting of forces into motion. In examining how he accomplishes this, largely from the springboard of the copious 406 lined school notebooks of which there are some more than 30,000 pages, at times there is the temptation to mimic his method by fracturing the field, separating out the elements that come into conflict, such as sound image text, or even their constituent bodily sources, and it is by such recourse that I isolate the treatment of the face and the voice at the end of this chapter; to see better how they interact, meld, hover, disintegrate or invade other elements…

I won’t reproduce his analysis because the whole book needs to be bought, and the notes still need to be written, but along with Walter Benjamin’s obsession with certain notebooks, whatever was in that case, add also anthropology’s note-writing fix exemplified in Mick Taussig’s drawings for I swear I saw This, and the entire complex of more or less uncanny parallels that revolve around the lined page, schoolbook or not, I’m hankering to generate some sort of method for handling the detritus of the (allegedly) declining years. Plus starting a new journal for my eldest now.

Artaud’s Metamorphosis is available in Berlin at Buchhafen. Or by post from Pavement.

 

Taussig on Kobane-Ocalan-feminism-anarchism-ISIS-Turkey-non-hierarchy-Mauss

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 12.09.10a incandescent reflective comment by Michael Taussig on his visit to Kobane, with images:

“Walking through the dust of the wind-blown ruins, I was greeted enthusiastically like the Pied Piper by well-dressed, well-fed, happy kids attached to a women in her forties in a long yellow gown who spoke effusively about resistance to the siege without once pausing for breath. It seemed like she really wanted to — had to – talk, and the kids hung on every word as well as teased us a little. One ten year old had a toy camera with which, held upside down and back to front, he would photograph us photographing Kobane.”

and on Ocalan

“The legend is all here: solitary confinement on a prison island for seventeen years since his 1998 capture in Kenya by the CIA and Turkey (with rumored Mossad support); an imprisonment that seems to have greatly boosted his charisma and power and, be it noted, given him the time to write and read widely; his quasi-religious conversion in prison from the Stalinist model of the hierarchical party to the anarchist idea of horizontal structures of democratic governance; the underlying, all-encompassing effulgence of feminism as not simply gender equality but as a cultural revolution in the meaning of maleness; plus a pronounced emphasis on care for the environment with all the heebie-jeebies of nationalism and ethnicity cast to the winds along with the hocus-pocus of the nation-state.”

You have to read the whole thing to get the context.

Also reports on the Suruc Cultural Centre bombing.

Thanks Ulker for the link