Full story here: The Rumour of Calcutta
Full story here: The Rumour of Calcutta
I am gathering material for a review of this area and found a dissertation that discusses The Rumour of Calcutta:
“Hutnyk (1996: 10) also states that the massive tourism and infrastructure development in India and above all in the major cities might require brutal readjustment and restructuring for adapting to the West. Tourism experience in India is hybrid and mixed-up. He also suggests that without Mother Theresa and the Lonely Planet guidebook, Kolkata would have maybe been portrayed as less impoverished and run-down. Its reputation revolves around the main themes of poverty, urban decay and overcrowding (Hutnyk, 1996: 55) stemming from tourism literature, media and government and other official and institutional reports.
Slum tourism as a rather recent phenomenon in India might portray this day-to-day routine in an urban environment and might help to abolish stereotypes about the working poor, urban decay and extreme poverty. Hannam and Diekmann (2010) argue that slum tourism can nevertheless be potentially damaging for both visitors and residents if they happen on a superficial, commodified and non-mutual basis. Rolfes (2009) claims that there is only one professional and regular slum tourism operator in Mumbai which is Reality Tours. Thus, Rolfes’ (2009) analysis of tour operations in Mumbai is based on one tour operating business and might be too one-sided.
However, Hutnyk (1996) described and analysed his personal experience in Kolkata with backpacker tourists and volunteer tourists coming, watching and leaving the poor people of the city and calling their medical help and volunteering ‘sick tours’. He is one of the first to have mentioned the questionable morality that is involved once tourists come to see poor people in Third World countries already assuming the participative “voyeuristic consumption of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 11) because the poor are always and unavoidably the subject of tours in India, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Almost ironically he mocks these very tourists coming to Kolkata to see ‘the extreme’ which is expected to be unusual and different to what he calls “the rumour of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 20). In line with Hutnyk (1996), Hannam and Diekmann (2010) …
[Dunno if mocking is how I would describe the critique, but…]
Nevertheless, very much enjoying the thesis and hope it was turned into an article: Well done Linda Klepsch, 2010. A critical analysis of slum tours: Comparing the existing offer in South Africa, Brazil, India and Kenya,
UNIVERSITE LIBRE DE BRUXELLES
INSTITUT DE GESTION DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT ET D’AMENAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE
FACULTE DES SCIENCES
Read it here
22 years ago my first book was typeset and laid out in the days before electronics – well, an electric typesetting machine was plugged into a wall, but no digital file was produced. Nevertheless, I had crossed out the digital rights clause in my contract with Zed so I own this. At last some kind anonymous soul has bootlegged it and set digital copy free on the nets, though its a large scanned file and the bibliography was left off (I’ve made a rough scan of the biblio but that too is a large file). Nevertheless, notwithstanding, and such like phrasings, the book is still one of which I am proud, if nothing else for trialling a way of citing tourist backpacker-informants, for its stuff on photography and maps and for the reviews it got (and indeed keeps getting discussed, for example on films – see diekmann2012) and especially for its critique of charity and what charity is for. In the context of do-gooder well-meaning hypocrisy, the effort of charity workers serves wider interests as well as their own, and only marginally any individuals they help – who would be better helped in better funded state-run facilities if the funds extracted through business-as-usual colonialism were, you know, made as reparations for the several hundred years of colonial plunder. Ah well, the critique stands up, the charity industry sadly thrives, second only perhaps to weapons in terms of so-called development, writing books does not yet always change the world as much as you’d like (and no, I did not ever think a book would single-handedly stop Mother Theresa, but…).
I would welcome new readers.
Download The Rumour of Calcutta here: [John_Hutnyk]_The_rumour_of_Calcutta__tourism,_ch
Biblio here. Rumour biblio
And this retrieved by Toby:
This volume had escaped my notice, and the introduction makes the rest look worth getting. Have a look here at WandaVrasti.
[JH comment: now if you were plying the illicit opium trade on behalf of dodgy East India Company officials, you’d also need to stop by the Tavern and deal. I guess]
From; The Milennium Post
by Nandini Guha | 28 Feb 2018 12:20 AM
Kolkata: An 18th Century Danish tavern that was in ruins, has been finally restored into a 120-seater café and lodge overlooking the Ganges at Serampore, by the Ministry of Tourism and the Government of Denmank. The heritage property will be inaugurated on Wednesday by Indranil Sen, the minister of state for Tourism and several ambassadors representing the Nordic countries. The tavern dates back to 1786. Restoration work was taken up by heritage architect Manish Chakraborti and his team in 2015. “A lot of European vessels used to ply on the river during that time. They used to spend a night in transit at the tavern. When we took over restoration though, it was in ruins. The roof had collapsed and there was debris everywhere. Now the old building has been restored to its old classical beauty,” Chakraborti told Millennium Post. The cost of restoration has been borne by the National Museum of Denmark (Rs 3.5 crore) and the state Tourism Department (Rs 1.5 crore). The Tourism Department is presently looking for an operator to run the café and it is expected that it will be fully operational in a month. “The important thing is that the government is investing in a heritage building that has now been converted into a reusable commercial space. As far as the menu is concerned, the operator has to keep in mind that this is Serampore and not Park Street. The pricing could be similar to cafes like Flury’s or Mrs Magpie. And of course, it will be a boost for the state’s tourism prospects,” added Chakraborti. Chakraborti had earlier won a UNESCO award for restoring the 200 year old St Olaf’s Church in Serampore, again an initiative of the Government of Denmark and the West Bengal government.
From: The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice
edited by Dr. Greg Richards, Dr. Julie Wilson 2004
And From: A Common Mission: Healthy Patterns in Congregational Mission Partnerships
By David Wesley 2014
Reviews of a twenty year old book. Yup, Thanks heaps:
this came through today, and is interesting enough to recycle. I hope they will not mind, given a certain promotional tone, I suspect not. Dunno exactly how or why the connection came, but through the Marx Trot, and very welcome.
Dear John, welcome to Mythogeography (under its cover name).
We hope you will enjoy (and join in) the exchanges on MG FB.
If you want to understand the multiple ideas that keep mythogeography in motion, then please read this – http://www.triarchypress.net/mythogeogeography.html – and for more deep background have a look at this www.mythogeography.com . If walking is your thing – http://www.triarchypress.net/on-walking.html and http://www.triarchypress.net/walkings-new-movement.html And if you enjoy movies, for an extended exploration of mythogeography please watch the three parts of this, starting at – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdEYlYJpkl0&feature=related .
One of our recent projects is our counter-tourism initiative; the details are here – http://www.countertourism.net/
Mytho, Crab Man, ‘Phil Smith’ and all at Mythogeography
new book from pavement with chapters by Ffrench, Collier, Launchbury, Gledhill, Fuggle etc.,…
Edited by Sophie Fuggle and Nicholas Gledhill
As a trope, theme, myth and very real space, what is at stake in the frequent artistic, cultural and philosophical articulations of the beach in French thought? Adopting a variety of approaches, this is the question that the essays in this collection seek to address. The beach in twentieth and twenty-first century French philosophy, literature and visual culture represents both limit and liminal space. It is a site of multiple encounters with both the other and the self, of arrivals and departures, of both hedonistic freedom and colonial subordination. At the same time, it is the no-man’s land where, as Michel Foucault suggests at the end of The Order of Things, man’s image is literally washed away.
The essays compiled in this collection, explore the French and Francophone beach via the various encounters this complex and multiple space engenders alongside the role it has come to play in both a French and global cultural imaginary. Bringing together a range of critical perspectives from scholars working in fields such as literature, film, philosophy, gender and cultural studies, the collection analyses the violent erasures and appropriations associated with the French beach whilst also calling for a reimagining of the beach as creative, ethical space.
£18.99 (inc. postage)
Table of Contents
SOPHIE FUGGLE & NICHOLAS GLEDHILL
I. Beach Archaeologies
Beneath the Cobblestones, the Beach: An Idea in Everyone’s Mind?
Devant la mer: Thresholds of Fiction and Theory
Death on the Sand: From Tragic Humanism to Depressive Realism
II. Framing the Beach
Proust and the Beach as Écran
Vacance: Vacancy and Vacation in the Films of Jacques Rozier
III. War Zones
Bodies on the Sand: Corporeality and the Beach in the Films of Catherine Breillat and François Ozon
Colonies de Vacances
‘Elle ne sera bientôt qu’une épave soudée à ses rochers’: Women Writing the Wreck of Beirut
IV. Eroded Identities
Between Real and Ideal Space: Embodiment and the Beach in Michel Houellebecq
The Beach as Liminal Site in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Heremakono
THÉRÈSE DE RAEDT
Buy it here: http://www.pavementbooks.com/lalignedecume
From the vaults, this has been digitised:
‘Calcutta Cipher: Travellers and the City’ in Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, No. 32 (December 1992), pp. 53-65
Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, Taipei, December 2015
Co-written with John Hutnyk
Although this will no doubt change in years to come, Jing-Mei currently seems to occupy a tricky position as both memorial site, prison museum and cultural park. It is missing from the current edition of the Taiwan Lonely Planet whose maps of Taipei narrowly crop it off. Both the 2-28 Memorial Park and Museum and the Chiayi Prison museum are given decent attention.
Visiting Jing-Mai on New Year’s Eve (31 December 2015), it was almost completely deserted bar a woman exercising her border collie. Although it was a damp, grey afternoon which over-emphasized the new brutalism of some of the sites architecture, it was still difficult to imagine the appeal of the space as a cultural park in better weather given the proliferation of creative and cultural parks throughout Taipei and Taiwan. The logic of defining the space in relation to other restoration and repurposing also seems problematic given many of these parks such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park (a former winery turned into a series of design-concept stores, cafes, galleries and an arthouse cinema) celebrate culture as consumerism first and foremost.
So who exactly is Jing-Mei aimed at?
The history of the site is documented in the park brochure. Its military education, military prison and military court uses are the stuff of the exhibitions, but especially the ongoing court functions (until 2007) also fold into the emerging story the museum. As with the first displays at Abashiri prison museum in Hokkaido, a portion of the work of the brochure is to document the efforts made to preserve artefacts and buildings for the prison museum – a narrative about itself, which is revealing in its frankly told tale of political manoeuvres. In 2001 the vice president of Taiwan, Annette Lu Hsui-Lin visited and learning that the Ministry of Defence proposed to reconstruct the site, she recommended preservation, and in July 2002 the Human Rights Advisory Panel under the Office of the President tasked the Council of Cultural Affairs to preserve the site as a park. Relocating the Ministry of Defence court functions was largely completed by 2007, and this very valuable and large urban area was renamed, from the ‘Memorial Park of Court Martial During the Communist rebellion’ to, on Human Rights Day, 10th December 2007, as ‘Taiwan Human Rights Jing-mei Park’. Change of Government in Taiwan in 2008 meant another change of name ‘after much deliberation’, with ‘opposition from various human rights groups’ and a public hearing in April 2009 so that in 2010 the park and the facility at Green Island in the south were made a part of the newly announced ‘Taiwan Human Rights Museum’. The brochure ends with a flourish: ‘The objectives of the museum were to preserve the two historic sites and to promote human rights education by fully utilizing the four major functions of museum: to preform studies and research, to handle collections and preservation work, to organise exhibitions and publications, and to educate the public and promote knowledge’ (Brochure of preparatory Office of the National Human Rights Museum, middle pages).
Having visited Jing-Mei a few days after Chiayi prison museum, it was difficult not to draw direct comparisons between the two sites and to reflect on the ways in which different forms of prison museum underpinned by apparently very different ideologies and political objectives re: audience and narrative might nevertheless be complicit in reproducing dominant discourses on incarceration. The Chiayi inmates were absent but in Jing-Mei they are very much present as dissidents, readers, mistaken identities, unjustly jailed or otherwise put upon victims. They are referred to throughout as ‘victims’ by the English language audio-guide. The narrative of their everyday experience structures the layout of the displays in the buildings, from courtroom and lawyer consultation room (though lawyers are de-emphasized as court appointed) through health and shopping, living quarters (bugs), eating, reading, washing and relaxing. Guards are absent in this case.
There is a strange tension at work where the careful reconstruction of the various living spaces of the prison facilities ‘humanizes’ the experience of those detained there and, as such, does more perhaps to affirm a well-regulated carceral state which includes a prison library, provisions store and visitor room than spaces (such as Chiayi prison museum) now devoid of such markers or in which such referents have been repositioned within glass cabinets.
There is an attempt to ‘reconstruct’ objects within the space in which they were used, arrangements on a doctor’s desk, packets and tins on shelves which despite being ‘under glass’ are focused less on the authenticity of the objects (many are replicas or ‘imagined’ as representative of the time and space) and more on creating scenes of snapshots of how life was for those incarcerated under the White Terror than a celebration of relics and fragments taken out of context.
The yard outside the cellblocks which it is possible to walk around was where the inmates were allowed to exercise for 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Although the yard is compact in line with the small size of the prison itself, it is difficult not to draw comparison with the cages where those kept in solitary confinement in today’s U.S. supermaxes (but elsewhere too) get their exercise. In this respect, the role of memorials such as Jing-Mei but also places like Robben Island and Camp des Milles should not simply be about collective memory of human rights violations associated with now defunct political regimes. Calling to mind the notion of ‘human rights’ in this way seems to echo Slavoj Žižek’s now dated but no less relevant ‘Against Human Rights’ paper in New Left Review. In it he claims that human rights are evoked to designate those who have lost all possibility of their ‘humanity’, stripped of personal, national, religious and cultural identity. Human rights only come into play when there is nothing left of what makes us more than biologically human. Might not the same be true of human rights memorials if they only work to ‘remember’. If once again ‘human rights’ only come into play after a moment is past? Instead, we might look at how such spaces permit a questioning of the ongoing techniques of exclusion, punishment (torture) and surveillance which rely on extra-judicial acts regardless of whether those subject to such techniques have been sentences via judicial or non-judicial procedures and, in turn, consider the ways in which the domestic criminal ‘other’ is constructed and framed within contemporary sites of detention according to the same or comparable discourses of fear associated with notions of global terror.
Coming out into the yard from the cells was itself something like a role-play. It was, I think, inevitable to look up and imagine what life within the courtyard, with only a rectangle of sky, despite being in the middle of a large city, would be like. Immediately sound became more important, and the sight was of either walls and security towers, or the distant but small sky. Isolation cell – an experience often depicted in cinema and literature, but here for the first time in my experience enacted thought the sequence of leaving the oppressive close cells and moving into the yard. And these cells were nowhere near as small or as claustrophobia inducing as the ones at Chiayi.
This too was perhaps set up through the earlier role-play with the telephone. We have long been aware that the issue of prisoner or detainee presence in the narrative is an important marker, perhaps something taught by the critique of older histories by the subalterns school and other modes of counter-privilege discourse, that of course then fetishise and celebrate resistance narratives in a kind of mirror exoticism way, but in this case the prisoner experience foregrounding the narrative is seductive. It sets up experiences of albeit remote but empathetic connection. The phone connects the ‘victims’ to the visitors. But the central place for victim narratives just also be considered with its filters. No prisoner, convict or detainee narrative is not recorded under duress. Even where such records are admitted as interrogation transcripts, the intervening screen of perspex and perspective sits between the visitor and the inmates. Role-play with the telephone does not invoke this dilemma, but rather pretends towards accessing unmediated experience – what is it like to talk with my son on an old black telephone through a mediating glass, with security camera by the ceiling corner looking down at us recording? The screen does not convey the duress that was always, to some degree is always, the undertone of prisoner testimony.
Do such sites via both role-playing and their status as ‘exceptional’ sites allow a persistent ‘bracketing’ out which encourages complicity and passivity on the part of those who visit and attempt to engage at whatever level, from whatever background? Or do they demonstrate the difficulty of calling into question the carceral within contemporary society?
As an aside, I also wanted to include a reference within this post to a slightly bizarre collection of laminated posters stuck to the toilet doors in the female restrooms. The stock images of famous, primarily European monuments with short maxims printed below in English and Mandarin seem both at odds with the site’s curated narratives and exhibits but also lacking in an obvious objective as either affirmation or critique of the official curation. I have no idea who posted these here, why or how long they had been there for. Nevertheless, there was clearly some intentionality behind them even if this was simply to provide some amusement to those based at the site.
Without trying to read anything into their existence or the choice of images (celebrated monuments from elsewhere), they did make me think about the potential to disrupt or subvert curated historical narratives evoking in some sense (despite the intentionality) Barthes’ idea of the punctum. Although the punctum is, precisely, not something we can actively seek out, it does strike me that there will always be something, an object, a reaction, an act, occurring within the space of the prison museum that doesn’t fit the intended narrative, curation or guided visit. In future I’m going to pay more attention to these. SF
get it here: http://zedbooks.co.uk/node/13018
Introduction to this issue
Arrivals, perceived and actual
A San Diego Cultural Narrative
Tourism Research as “Global Ethnography”
Michael A. Di Giovine
The Social Conceptualization of Tourists
Visual Anthropology: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Angela Merkel in Saudi, Blair with Gadaffi, Obama with Mubarak, Cameron in Kuwait… presenting these pictures is also not without a certain exotica, but it tells a story that I think should be up front and centre – the uprisings in the Middle East are not just those people ‘over there’ struggling against ‘their’ despots, but must also become our revolutionary struggle against ‘our’ despots, who are in fact the same despots.
If its not that, it’s a kind of sick tourism. As Jody Mcintyre argued at Goldsmiths last night – the bullets killing protesters in Bahrain were ‘made in Britain’…
The resurrection of Led Zeppelin at their 02 Arena event evoked long suppressed memories that lurch from the awful to the wonderful. In the awful column: bad versions of ‘stairway’ being hacked out by spotty youths in guitar shops (and now, I am appalled to report, regurgitated by buskers on the London tube where everyone is well sick of Crimbo carols – do these people know any good songs? we need a better soundtrack for the struggle home from bargain shopping/return of dodgy gifts).
And in the wonderful column, Led Zep’s return reminds me of this picture of a spiral staircase that once stood on the corner of Stuart Lane and Sudder Street in Kolkata (pic is from a slide, now covered in dust – click to enlarge). This as not, I hasten to add, a functioning spiral, nor have I gone all otherworldly heaven-oriented god-botherinly religious for the silly season – though the disorderly mental state of some denizens of the lodge in those days (circa 1988) might have meant several attempts to climb this thing were made. There was quite a bit of paranoid anxiety that perhaps suggested to some that escaping the mortal coil was a viable flight path (‘I’m a jumbo jet, I’m a jumbo jet’).
As everyone will no doubt gather from their papers this morning, South Asia in the news a lot today – Bhutto family rivaling the Gandhis for martydoms; cricket (India needs 499 runs to save the series); anti-tourist campaign in Goa – awful, wonderful and comic this time.
Awful: Benazir was memorably described as ‘the virgin iron pants’ by [Shlomo] Rushdie, which is now disturbingly ironic given Rushdie is firmly in the maw of the US ideological project, but in a lesser way than Bhutto, even as she was ever a pawn in the superpower democracy-terror game. Rushdie cowered down and changed sides, from left-ish wag to playboy gimp. She, however, only ducked occasionally, and seemed far more concerned with her power moves. Super-pawn might be a better description, since she saw her way to power paved with compromises born of Washington. Certainly we can be skeptical of her democratic record (awful and awful), elected to rule at Oxford Union and Pakistan (twice). Surely when we think of the democracy drive in Pakistan or elsewhere, supported generously by both the US and UK[!], we should wonder why personages, such as the General or the Iron Pantaloon, are so keen to play this figurehead role. Head of the People’s Party or General-not-in-uniform Musharraf, neither seemed likely to be able to do much more than the bidding of imperial masters.
No surprise that I’d say this is not democracy in any radical sense – as none of us know it. In Pakistan, as elsewhere, there is no disarticulation from the colonial machinations of ‘the great game’, of the border writing routines, of the geo-political intrigue (and yes, we also need a democracy movement in the UK). It is time again to ask why we have these pantomime leaders, whether local despots or their Global avatars – why are they tolerated at all? Why do we put up with these ‘leaders’? I am reminded of Voltaire’s suggestion for those who wonder why monarchs do not give up their hereditary power when most people would ‘prefer’ a republic: he said we should go ask the mice who wanted to put a bell round th neck of the cat…
Cricket: I also recall that there is a Led Zeppelin tune called ‘Kashmir’, and I am fighting temptation to dig it out to listen for any hint at all of people’s movement. In 1987 I also visited Srinagar and thereabouts, stayed on Dal Lake – and got to met some of the Kashmiri separatists. The place is again in the news today as the Indian Army are apparently ‘suppressing’ protests in the wake of the Benazir assassination. (I remember Yusuf Chopra who ran a Houseboat called The Neal Armstrong – there was a gold framed letter in the guest house from NASA pointing out that ‘Professor Armstrong thanked Mr Chopra for the invitation, but had no intention of visiting’). The soldiers patrol the Lake today (it freezes over in December, we played cricket on the ice – hence years of bronchial bleargh…hack hack).
Anyway, tourism to Kashmir was scuppered after 1989 (and today Goa, for different – SEZ – reasons, may soon be off limits), but the problems of Kashmiris have not been settled – go ask Mohammed Afzal. Again a set of troubles that reaches back to superpower geopolitics and the consequences of Imperial border design.
My grandfather once wrote of seeing a Zeppelin in WW1, saying his elder sister called him inside from the road when the Zeppelin drifted by, saying ‘ere Tommy, come orf the road before yer get bombed’ – no doubt in a Geordie accent I cannot reproduce.
The Goa protests, and the comedy antics of white dreadlocked waifs on winter sabbatical from Manali, will I hope be reported by Lia – I’ll put a link on the links page when that comes through.
Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.
Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.
In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.
The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).
From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).
I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):
“Author: Robert Keser (email@example.com) from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”
Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.
So I am posting these pics to Ellen, but they can also rest here for a while. Bird and Rabbit went to Japan. To Nagoya in fact. They came with me to give a talk at Nagoya City University – the talk was about Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian lad murdered by police on the tube at Stockwell two years ago this week. No police charged, (perhaps Cressida Dick will be censured on Health and Safety grounds – executions of members of the public inside a tube carriage being considered that serious). The talk was about repetition, violence, the manufacture of terror, scapegoats and fear – and the social construction of the figure of the ‘suicide bomber’ – for all that critique of that process may or may not help us. Recently I have been reading Talal Asad’s excellent new book “On Suicide Bombing” [Columbia Uni Press] and I find his arguments compelling. Spivak has a good paper on the topic too – [‘Terror’ in Boundary 2, summer 2004].
Anyway, Nagoya City University is where I taught for six months in 2003 as visiting professor. I wrote much of the book “Bad Marxism” there, and taught a course on film in the Intercultural Studies department – I was screening lots of Hollywood gangster films and things like The Godfather trilogy. The students were great – though by the end of the term there had probably been a bit too much late night Karaoke and I can only thanks the gods no-one ever recorded me singing Dylan’s “Times Are a Changin'”.
So, this is the place Rabbit and Bird came to visit their friends Manekineko and, as the night wore on, some dudes they were seen hanging out with at a fairly disreputable back street surfer bar in the very small hours. That’s very fine scotch whiskey they are drinking there. The ambient tones courtesy of some obscure Blondie tracks. It was about the fifth bar they visited that evening, but frankly, some of the pictures from the other places are too blurred for the public record (Rabbit does look a bit dishevelled). “Futatsu beeru onagaishimasu!”
I guess you should know that this adventure travel Rabbit and Bird thing is a tribute to the memory of Tim Stelfox-Griffin, a friend who died far too young, about a month or so ago. At Tim’s wake, Ellen handed out some pages with markings on, which, when cut out and assembled, became bird and rabbit. Apparently Tim quite liked this sort of thing – gotta admit the guy was somewhat eccentric, and I guess that’s what I miss most. So, with a little help from Kaori who took the pics and provided scissors (and some glue for bird’s beak), here they are, adventure travelling in Japan as perhaps Tim might well have done. Should have done. Peace. On the anniversary of the death of Jean Charles as well. Sad, mad, bad planet.
From Chapter One: “The confusion which reigns in this kind of tourism derives from a predicament where the consumption of its product – insofar as the product of tourism is more than snapshots and souvenirs – entails no obvious or easily accumulatable tangible possession. ‘Good works’, experience, and cultural capital is less easy to reinvest. However, all the productions of these travellers – comments, letters, photos, and so on – amount to an overwhelming ethnographic archive that would repay investigation as the script of the ongoing dynamics of capitalist appropriations and ongoing constructions of cultural difference. More than this, low-budget back-packer tourism plays a significant role in the world order of the capitalist cultural economy, and not only through the enormity of representations it helps produce. The ability to move to conveniently inexpensive market and service centres through the facility of international travel yields a relatively high buying power with attendant ideological, habitual and attitudinal consequences – back-packers who can live like Rajas in Indian towns at low financial cost. An expanding economy revolves around middle-class youth travellers, and engraves the principles of consumption upon even the most ethereal aspects of their lives. The hypocrisy with which some travellers are condemned for renouncing materialism while looking for the cheapest guest house room or dorm for their ashram stay is relevant here. It would be an error to think that the global low-budget ‘banana-pancake trail’(4) is not an important component of the ideology as well as the economy of touristic consumption.”
FN: 4 “I have used this term to refer to the duplication throughout Asia of budget guest-houses serving touristic ‘comfort foods’ which are little different to the fare available in such places world-wide. Peter Phipps takes up this issue in a thoughtful study of Australian budget travellers (Phipps 1990:16). A number of the ideas I raise in this work were originally worked out at the Gnocchi Club, and I am indebted to Nick Leneghan, Chris Francis and Peter Phipps.”
From Chapter Two: “Much remains to be understood about the ways we justify our actions to ourselves, and travellers are no different than other communities in this. The conventions of the banana-pancake-trail provide confusion minimising familiarities, as does the sense of closed community developed in the Modern [Lodge Guest House]. Volunteers have their roles already defined to an extent, there is little demand upon them to invent their own cultural spaces and responses to what they find as unfamiliar.
“The worst thing about travellers in India is listening to them moan about what a bad time they’re having – prats” (Catherine)”
From Chapter Four: “While travellers who stop ‘long-term’ in Calcutta disconnect from the conventional circuits of tourism to a degree, the non-glossy aspects of Calcutta can be ‘marketed’ as well. When the ‘everyday’ becomes more interesting than the monumental, difficulties and incongruities become routines of pleasure. Large hotels and swimming pools are ignored in favour of the rough romance of the banana-pancake trail and cheap ‘local’ colour. New conventions emerge to cater for market differentiations, so that recently one large travel publisher released a City Guide to capitalise on a very suburban experience of the city. The map promoted an ‘informed’ experience of Calcutta, including sites of various charity organisations selling handicrafts, emporiums, missions, and cultural markers for a kind of ‘alternative’ or ‘intelligent tourism’ that doesn’t seem too far removed from any other mode of consumerism. The danger here is that everything can be fitted into the mould of consumption (in this case through a kind of alternative policing of space).”
From Chapter Seven: “of course it is not enough just to raise questions about the moral propriety of first world youth taking holidays amongst the people of the third world; it is not enough to encourage discussion of such contradictions in cafes along the banana-pancake trail (as twelve year olds fetch tea from 7am till midnight)”
There is much more to say about the comforts of home, about the possibility that backpackers have in the third world of living the lives they can only read about in glossy celebrity lifestyle mags at home, about the psychic economy, and material economy, and of security in the ‘guest house’… much more… check the signage in the photo of the glorious Hotel Modern Lodge: ‘ideal place for foreign tourist’. Says it all really – and so I am off to Japan on wednesday – Tokyo ikimasho!.
The Karachi Tram, in Melbourne, was hilarious fun – especially all those people who got on during a monsoon-style downpour and were stunned (ecstatic, bemused, one even annoyed) to find chai and samosas served up, loud beats, dancing and a film crew all rattling along the tramjatra route (there was a Calcutta tram sometime back and a book version called Tramjatra).
W-11 tram is about… (the short trip version)an art of journeys
travelling the Melbourne City Circle tram route
4.30 – 9.30pm Fridays during summer 2006/07
free entry…no bookings…all welcome
W-11 TRAM is a collaborative art project exploring dialogue, performance and hospitality through providing conditions for the experience of journeys. With its sides bearing the words in Urdu and English: ‘piyar zindagi hai / love is life’, the W-11 TRAM creates a dynamic and mobile public space with a disarmingly warm atmosphere. The project, involving collaboration with Pakistani vehicle decorators, was one of the most celebrated offerings of the cultural festival of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Sadly, I cannot say when the next tram trip trips out. In the meantime seek out the film Malcolm for your W11 fix.
Tram Connies Zindabad! (Thansk Mick, Peter, Rohan).
2006: I am sort of stuck in my room. Somewhat foolishly perhaps, I agreed to write an entry on Exotica and Tourism for Jonathan Gray’s encyclopaedia (getting so there are too many such things about)
and I agreed to a deadline of Jan 1st, possibly forgetting that I should be indulging in some tourism myself at that very time. So, while I might otherwise be buying my ticket on this damn cold London day (is that 2 degrees as top temp? Yikes – and yes, I know that its colder in New York…)… I do have to get this done before I get anywhere warmer… so…Help! This is an unfinished draft and it can’t be any longer… all comments welcome, email me or post here. Hopefully most readers are reading from their deckchairs someplace…
[A version of this text appeared in: Battlegrounds: The media Vols 1 & 2 eds Robin Anderson and Jonathan Gray. 2008. Link at the bottom]
Tourism has several modes in which, more often than not, its cultural charge is impoverished. As a huge global industry it spans the world, and makes objects of people, places, meanings and experience. As pleasure- and treasure-hunt, tourism commodifies in several ways; it can be presented as educational horizon – since we have to take seriously the ideology that travel broadens the mind – and this has its privileges; as market for the strange, the curio, the souvenir and the remote, tourism brings all “Chinese Walls” battered and bruised into the guidebooks and snapshot albums of the bargain-hunting hordes. The reduction and destruction that tourism visits on the peoples and places of the ‘under-developed’ world are not the only ills of globalization for sure, and some may make the case for tourism as a force for cultural preservation, as opportunity for exchange, tourism as solidarity and as a kind of charitable aid, but on the whole tourism suffers from a bad press on this what, we sometimes call, our lonely Planet.
Tourist sites and experiences are glossed in promotional literatures with a well known and now instantly recognizable code: sunsets over palm fringed beaches; temples and monuments in jungles or deserts; curious modes of transport – the camel, the elephant, the ‘took took’ or tempo; smiling cherubic youth; feathered warriors or remote Masai women in costumed dance. The adventure of tourism in the so-called ‘third world’ mixes these exotics with pleasure getaways, luxury resorts (swimming pools just meters away from pristine beaches seems clearly excessive); home comforts and promises of safety, running water or fully-catered treks (with Nepalese Sherpers perhaps to carry any real weight; with political concerns safely tucked away in the non-tourist peripheries – alarmingly increasing, as the ‘axis of evil’ expands).
The trouble with much tourism literature has been that it must ignore politics, commodification, inequality and exploitation at the very moment that these matters are the very basis of the possibility of ‘third-world’ tourism in the first place. If there was not a wealthy tourist elite (or relative elite, national or foreign, gap year or package tour) looking for leisured rest and/or exotic experience outside of their everyday world, there would be no tourist economy. In a competitive market the travel brochure version of the world of tourism must present the beach, the pina colada, the ‘interesting’ cultural life of others as a package for ready sale. The educational dimension of culture then becomes benign but empty. Inequality is reduced to cultural difference, and may sometimes be presented as something the tourist economy can even alleviate. In Denis O’Rourke’s film “The Good Woman of Bangkok” you can hear sex tourists brag that their custom keeps Thai women from a life of poverty. In Indonesian hotels the artist of Wayang Kulit and Gamelan, not to mention less salubrious traditions, are maintained through nightly performances for businessmen that pay top dollar for entertainments they need not (want to) fully understand. Or rather, they pay for the experience of difference, of not understanding otherness. The exotic is its own reward – does it matter that these traditions are reduced in cultural importance by the way? Some would argue against such traditionalism, against touching nostalgia for a past that was never so neat.
The benevolence of tourism and charity work
A guilty secret resides at the heart of third world tourism. Holidays in other people’s misery seem inappropriate and yet – the beaches are beautiful; the tsunami a tragedy. This equation can be resolved by charitable donation or by the presence of the tourist themselves. After the Asian tsunami of 2004, rebuilding of destroyed tourist resorts in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were soon followed by calls for the tourists to return, as part of the reconstruction. Even though many of the needed tourist dollars are not spent in the effected countries when one takes into account the destinations of profits from tourism after airline ticketing, charter and package tour bookings, hotel and food chains (MacDonalds and Coca-Cola all over Thailand for example) and even sale of travel guides, there is a very small percentage of economic return left for local entrepreneurs in any case.
In recognition of this, some travelers (a sub-category of tourist, also known as backpackers) seek out charitable works as panacea; a few days at a Mother Theresa clinic or volunteer washing of elephants at a nature reserve or similar. This kind of benevolence is authorized and approved in many travel guides, and in newspapers advertisements, through the mechanism of a heart-tugging photograph of an (always smiling) child that would be the necessary motivator for even a gesture (‘send just a few coins’) of care or concern for dispossessed human beings. Clearly charitable activities, even where they ‘help’ a bit, are also part of the benevolent self deception of the tourist gaze; serving to deflect meaningful recognition of gross economic privilege and, along the way, turning guilt itself into a commodity form. One does a few days voluntary work in Calcutta (see Hutnyk 1996) to excuse a month of hedonism on the beach in Goa. Similar logics justify the carbon footprint calculations of even the most well-meaning environmental traveler – to walk in the pristine rain forest and leave a ‘soft-footprint’ is still to treat the planet as object for rapacious use. Locals be damned.
Tourists collect experience but we have to have mementos to remind ourselves that the fantasy was real. The same photographs of the smiling kids; various nick-nacks and trash purchased from the local flea market, from the beach trader, from the state emporium or from the airport departure lounge. This trinkets are then displayed on shelves at home, gathering dust, or gifted to relatives and friends not lucky enough to have been there. Postcards similarly gloat and preen. The overarching theme here is that world experienced is reduced to tat. The complex global forces of capital, of work and leisure, of the division of labour and the vast networks of information and infrastructure – planes, hotels, servants, right through to Kodak processing labs and internet travel blogging – is miniaturized in handy squares or convenient packets that can fit neatly into the luggage rack. The idea of the souvenir is reduction itself – the veneer of the trinket, the face, ironically, of exploitation write large. That we have learnt not to read these signs in any wider register is also part of the sanctioned ignorance that tourism authenticates.
But of course we are, many of us, fully aware of this hypocrisy. So much so that the inauthentic has become a part of the quest. Searching out the most gaudy plastic outrageous object proves one has not been duped by the exotica-merchants. To be in pursuit of the authentic is an essentialist trap, but to have continued past this to accept inauthenticity as part and parcel of the world leaves commodification intact. What kind of self-deception is this that extends tourist purchase to the most esoteric of objects at eh same time as it can buy up the mundane? I have seen tourists purchase plastic tap handles for their metropolitan bathroom fittings, or plastic models of the Taj Mahal, with flashing lights, as an ironic, high kitsch, souvenir. The post-tourist irony here (Urry 1990) does not break with trinketization at all, but rather confirms the process, and extends it exponentially.
Trinketization will stand for the process of reifying the world downwards into tat. What the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss lamented when he saw the filth of the West thrown back into the face of humanity has now become the detritus of all our lives, and we can even revel in it. Does this suggest a political diagnostic? The argument here is not for an end to tourism, thoroughly unlikely that could even be considered, but might we look towards the remote possibility of a better tourism, a revolutionary tourism. What of those travelers who expressly seek out meetings with the Maoists in Nepal, who march in hope of a meeting with the reds of the Himalaya; or those who travel to learn from the Ogoni in Nigeria of their struggle against the multinationals? More touching faith in the reed real here…
Trinketization is…more needed here…
… looking for a theorist to say the sort of things I wanted to say: that charity is a way of assuaging guilt; that it would never do for redistributive justice; that issues of representation still matter – but matter more than the those who wrote of the crisis of representation in anthropology could see; indeed, that the crisis – at least in anthropology – led us to a politics without radicalism; that the constant talk of crisis is a substitute for a sustained politics of change; and from there that the anthropology curriculum needs substantial reform; that universities have lost their capacity for critical appraisal of their role; that the current vogue for difference is misplaced and under theorized; that anti-racist work in the university and metropolis is more about avoiding guilt that acting against really existing racism… and all this is also about as “trinketization” – how our discrete studies became fascinated with discrete items, unable to theorize how it all fits together as neo-cultural imperialism. Of course Marx was the theorist that mattered, but who uses him in a way that addresses these specificities? Well, only Gayatri Spivak. Who is the one person I will always read first… [revise or exclude this]
What then of Tourism Concern etc.
Isn’t the solution to relax, stop moralizing against tourism and against those who claim tourism could be better (soft-footprinters). For tourist resorts and pleasure peripheries…
Decaying Resorts and the war of terror
Something on the fascination with the empty resorts should be included here. This writer traveled through Malaysia in 2002 and it was impossible not to notice the absence of North American tourists in that country at the peak season time. Visiting five-star hotels became a kind of entertaining post-ironic tourist exercise, meeting workers barely employed, desultorily pushing a mop across the patio, with the colonial style furniture piled up at the corner of the wide veranda of the resort, only a lizard and a palm frond in the empty swimming pools, and the jungle reclaiming the golfing greens and fairways with more than six foot grasses. Waiting on teh return of the dollar (the yen and wan filling a few gaps now…). Fear of the ‘terrorist threat’ decimated more than Afghanistan and Iraq …
The trouble with making the case that tourism turns everything into trinkets is that a theoretical approach that pursues this line is in danger of becoming a part of the problem as well. The world becomes a kaleidoscope of fascinating sites in the same way that theoretical analysis can latch onto any example and use it for its argument. What would not be subject to post-ironic touristic exoticization. The Guardian newspaper today, as I write (December 20, 2006) reports the Mayor of war torn Grozny planning tourist visits and mocks the idea with the question ‘but will bullet proof vests be supplied?’. Yes, we can imagine how the war-devastated landscape of the Chechnyan city might become a stop on some adventure tour, which might also then take in other ‘dark tourism’ sites, not all of them inappropriate as places to visit – holocaust memorials, Iwo-Jima, former prisons and locations of famous battles (Gallipoli) might also be on the itinerary. To call this trinketization would miss the emotional purchase of such investments, despite the raw fact that investment is also behind the touristification of war. The problem with trinketization here is that analytical purchase is also often reduced to a façade in much of what passes for the study of tourism, as if replicating the gloss of the brochures also amounts to a diagnostic of the global predicament (see Clifford 1997 for several examples of this). What chance is there that travel really broadens the mind of the analyst also?
Alneng, Victor ‘“What the Fuck is a Vietnam?”: Touristic Phantasms and the Popcolonization of (the) Vietnam (War)’ Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 4, 461-489 (2002)
Clifford, James Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1997
Crick, Malcolm, Resplendent Sites, Discordant Voices: Sri Lankans in International Tourism, Harwood Academic, Chur, 1994
Frommers, Guide To India, Frommers Guides, London, 1984.
Hitchcock, Michael and Teague, Ken (eds) Souvenirs: the Material Culture of Tourism, Aldershot: Ashgate
Hutnyk John The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books, 1996
Jules-Rosette, Benetta The Message of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective New York: Plenum Press 1984.
Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster, London, Cassell, 1999
MacCannell, Dean, The Tourist, reprint of 1976 version with a new introduction, Random House, New York 1989.
MacCannell, Dean, Empty meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, Routledge, London, 1992.
Olalquiaga, Celeste, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, London: Bloomsbury 1999.
Phipps, Peter ‘Tourists, Terrorists, Death and Value’ in Kaur, Raminder and John Hutnyk Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics London: Zed books, pp 74-93
Urry, John, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, Sage, London 1990.
The Banana Pancake trail. From Cape Tribulation in Australia to Marrakech in Morocco there is the budget traveler phenomenon of the cosy guest house or traveler hostel in which trusted comforts from home are served up to weary travelers. This can be glossed as the ‘banana-pancake trail’ which serves as a shorthand – an obviously gratuitous reference to the ubiquitous back-packer snack – for the contradictory ‘adventure of experience of ‘otherness’ that third world travel can be. In search of otherness but in need of the comfortable trappings of home, backpacker discussion in the guest houses and lodges is so often about where one is from, what you would like to eat when you get back, how the food gives you ‘Delhi-belly’ or similar, the mosquitoes, the toilets, the rip-off taxis. Quite often such discussions go on while the traveller is serves cola or chai or French fries or so by a 12 year old who has worked from dawn, seven days a week, sending money home to the rural periphery that the traveler will rarely see.
On Post-War Tourism: I am assured by the Swedish anthropologist Victor Alneng, who knows these things, that Lonely Planet impresario Tony Wheeler had his eyes set on Afghanistan for some time. As evidence Victor translated from a Swedish newspaper interview in September 2002 the following insights into the wheeler-dealer’s thinking: Wheeler: ‘When a place has been closed there is always a group of people that want to come there first. After them come the large hordes of travellers’. Reporter: ‘So what destinations will be the next big thing, after East Timor?’ Wheeler: ‘Angola and Afghanistan will come eventually. Maybe also Iraq. We were on the verge of sending one of our writers to Afghanistan as early as last summer, but it proved to still be very difficult to travel outside Kabul. Information ages quickly, so we chose to wait a little’. (Translation by Victor Alneng, Swedish text available at http://www.dn.se/DNet/road/Classic/article/0/jsp/print.jsp?&a=56544).
The airlines have gone insane, banning cabin luggage: – mobile phones and cameras to be crushed in the hold; ban on all liquids (though you can take on personal medications – see pic); baby food to be tasted by mothers before being carried on board (better check their nappies too eh – for baby bombs!); spectacles to be taken out of cases (why – if they are high powered could they be used to focus the sun’s rays onto detonator touch paper?); and no newspapers or books (just in case you were planning on making a text bomb, or an origami gun?). This last restriction means I am island marooned – shipwrecked even – as the thought of crossing the atlantic without a book to read means the ‘terrorists’ have already won. So far 24 of these alleged plotters have been arrested by the OB, infiltrated (hmmm, not entrapped?) by the heroic paranoids that also brought us the shootings at Stockwell and Forest Gate – cos we all know they must be guilty and only a conspiricy theorist (101) would ask if its not just another cover for that other news story that was interrupting Blair’s Caribbean holiday. [note, not mediterranean holiday – he was warned off going there, cos someone else had some plans for scorching the region]…
Among other interesting responses in the last 24 hours, both Aki Nawaz from fun^da^mental and the dodgy archbish of cant have denounced Bush jr’s use of the phrase ‘islamic fascists’. Quite a strange conjunction – but there are fascists everywhere that should already have been exposed often enough (look in a mirror George). Should we not be a bit more circumspect and not rush too quickly to use the fash term – reserving it for special foes, like those who dispossess people of their land, homes and lives in a kind of programmed extermination… as has been infliced on people in, say, Lebenon… OK – Bataille, Adorno and Spivak on fascism and terror are gonna be the topics of my PhD seminar classes for next term (that’s so sure to be a help, eh!). At least Aki gets his point across – BBC news last night, and:
on the new album, which at last is available (download tracks 99p each)
Fun Da Mental
“All Is War” album
Exclusively and only from
I am guessing though that you can’t take your Ipod on international flights either, since music is a weapon of mass destruction. Right. We are living in heaven. New options needed.
Jacques Derrida knew this, commenting on travel narrative – he identifies two ‘risks’ of travelogues in the possible meanings of the terms we use: ‘The first is that of selectivity’ and he describes a ‘recit raisonne’ as a ‘narrative that, more than others, filters or sifts out the supposedly significant features – and thus begins to censor’ (Derrida 1993:197-8); and the second, from the first; ‘raisonner also signifies, in this case, to rationalise … active overinterpretation’ (Derrida 1993:198). These two themes of perspective and ordering selection are the themes for a necessary work which will take up the call (this is not the only call) for a Marxist analysis of trinkets, and of the coin the buys them, so as to open up a ‘systematic reflection on the relations between tourism and political analysis’ at a time when tourism has become highly ‘organised’. Derrida writes that such an analysis ‘would have to allow a particular place to the intellectual tourist (writer or academic) who thinks he or she can, in order to make them public, translate his or her ‘travel impressions’ into a political diagnostic’ (Derrida 1993:215).
So, here is another little travel story. From the London Tube. And about a trinket called Dum Dum – double stupidity.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission report on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was revealed today – six long months after it was given to the Crown Prosecution Service, way back in January, and only now they are about, perhaps, to act on it .The report has been said to recommend that the 2 Police who shot Jean Charles, and the chief cop running the action (Cressida Dick), should be prosecuted for manslaughter. (Why not murder?). We have been here before, and everyone knows from the film Injustice that talk of even a manslaughter charge doesn’t mean there is much hope of a conviction of cops who kill (too many other examples go against that forlorn hope for legal justice). The resonances in this case are too strange for me not to think something very weird is going to happen every time I mind the gap.
For starters, the strange peripheral bit that grabs me is that the police shooters operating under Kratos shoot to kill ‘rules’ of engagement used Dum Dum bullets and these little beauties were said to be less dangerous for the general public. Of course this is madness – what are the BBC thinking in saying this? Is that what it said in the advertising brochure when the MET went to the arms fair to buy them, from the Lord of War himself AKA Nicolas Cage?.
It also seems patently wrong that there is a body set up to decide in advance that cops who kill should face watered down charges. Even though the Independent Police Complaints Authority does say the 2 cops and Commander Dick should be charged, they mean charged only with manslaughter – and this comes after the operation report of the action was ‘corrected’ or amended. Surely the courts themselves (if not the people’s court) should get to decide the significance of this? What is to say there are not other tamperings and fiddlings with the facts? And in singling out Dick and the trigger happy killers, have they not let Commissioner Ian Blair (head MET cop) off the hook as well – all these people are involved in a murder; I mean, they had him held down, pinned, motionless… this was a death in custody, wasn’t it? Another one.
I hate to say it, but this just presses all of my buttons. Dum Dum is in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, where you can find the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport, itself built on the site where British Raj era soldiers invented the bullet also known as ‘dum dum’ – an onomatopoeic name from the sound of the bullet leaving the gun, then exploding inside the target – a doubled report, a nasty little piece of weaponry, brutal in its effects. Used to kill Afridi tribesmen in the North West Frontier. Which charmingly links the police of the Stockwell killing directly to the colonialism of many years ago, but no-one will really be surprised. And of course this kind of Police protection (protection of us, they are there using Dum Dum bullets to protect us – I believe it!) is clearly linked to the themes of the film Injustice and deaths in custody – Jean Charles was in custody when he was killed, they have a duty of care. This is something I have written about elsewhere, both in terms of the concerns of the film, and in general with detention issues in the wake of the War of Terror. But now I am interested in how operation Kratos is an updated version of those old manuals of procedure that James Bond must have memorised, that offer up the blow by blow (literally) guide book of how to deal with protesters, miscreants, threats to the state and other average citizens. What did that Nick Cage type goon say at the arms fair anyway: ‘Hey, pssst, over here … these bullets are great, they explode inside the victims head’; ‘Yeah, wow, gimme a couple of dozen boxes, we can use them on public transport’; ‘Safety first, dib dib dib’.
Finally, it drives me nuts to endure the stupidity of BBC news reports that continue to repeat the fudge that implies Jean Charles was somehow not just a member of the public – a public, qivvering before its screens, that is now going to be so much safer because the Kratos shoot to kill policy is mitigated by these Dum Dum bullets… Such is the danger to our tube travellers and other denizens of the city that by the middle of last year this Kratos policy had been called upon 250 times, and almost used 7 times – and, obviously, really was used the once. Dum really Dum.
I am reassured once again that only in Nepal has there been any repeal of new terror laws – the rest of us are protected, so we can travel safe. As I keep saying over and over (refine and streamline, diagnose, repeat). Tubes run on time thank Ken, and they are safer now, thank Bliar. Aren’t we living in the best of all worlds?
> The travel text is from Derrida, Jacques 1993, ‘Politics and Friendship: An Interview’, in Kaplan, E. Ann & Sprinkler, Michael 1993, The Althusserian Legacy, Verso, New York, pp. 183-232.
> The picture is honour of Jean Charles de Menezes, tube traveller. In need of proper justice.
This essay was written as what we call a ‘practice essay’ in Imogen’s third year at Goldsmiths. I had lectured on the films of Denis O’Rourke for nearly ten years and always asked a question something like ‘who spoke for who (or who xxxx’d who) in the Good Woman of Bangkok?’. After this effort, I had to retire the topic as there was no chance of a better one being written. Imogen I miss you. Jx
Thoughts on ‘The Good Woman of Bangkok’ or, A Critique of the (mis)appropriation of Brecht.
‘In any case the object is to fob us off with some kind of portable anguish – that’s to say anguish that can be detached from its cause, transferred in toto and lent to some other cause. The incidents proper to the play disappear like meat in a cunningly mixed sauce with a taste of its own.’
The ‘poetics of prostitution’ and the ‘ordeal of contact’ are the two faces of O’Rourke’s project of ‘documentary fiction’. His film, The Good Woman of Bangkok (TGWOB) is, he advises about, ‘prostitution as a metaphor for both capitalism and sexual relationships,’ or at least these are the flavours of his pseudo-Brechtian sauce. The meat, of the international division of labour, the economics of global capitalism , Australia in (post) colonial Asia, misogyny, imperialism, the list could go on…are, like O’Rourke’s implicit phallus, always awkwardly elsewhere. After all, in TGWOB, like all classic pornographic films, it is the phallus, (O’Rourke) that is the real star of the show. So powerful and omniscient that he need hardly appear in the film itself.
The confession, however much of an ‘ordeal’ it may be for the artist, can never be didactic. Implicit in the notion of confession is the process of absolution and in this is the very essence of Aristotlian catharsis which Brecht’s didactic theatre fought to challenge. This is not a negation of emotional response, but it is a strategic privileging of a critical response in order to recognise the possibility of change. It is only when the actions on stage/screen are alienatory, in order to re-present us to life, that we are able to glance a critical eye over highly emotive subjects. Above all, what we must avoid, according to Brecht, is a kind of emotional orgy in which the social and political consciousness of the audience is superficially purged by the cathartic experience of the performance.
Whilst O’Rourke’s film is undoubtedly ‘unsettling’, an ‘ordeal’, even sometimes a shock, it enabled the spectator to submit to its own grotesque and augmented pathos, rather than to examine, CRITICALLY and here Brecht would clarify, ‘and with practical consequences,’ the politics of prostitution as an industry, maintained by and because of global capital economics and neo-colonial politics. Whilst O’Rourke wants the audience to feel, ‘self-recognition and embarrassment’, the very issues he raises deserve/require more than for western film consumers (converted or otherwise) to wallow in the revelation of their own prudery.
What O’Rourke fails to address is the fact that for Aoi, prostitution is anything but metaphorical. Two distinct but interconnected points must be made here. Firstly, that the idiosyncrasy of Aoi’s experiences are lost in O’Rourke’s aestheticization of her. And secondly, that prostitution is portrayed by O’Rourke as, ‘a metaphor for capitalism’ rather than as a structural politico-economic neo-colonial form of exploitation. So, from macro to micro, O’Rourke tells us nothing much more than we (who?) already know about Australian/Asian sex-tourism. The ‘meat’ of Aoi’s story and of sex tourism as a particular example (not metaphor) of global capitalism are disguised by the sauce of the film itself.
This is not didactic.
O’Rourke writes how he wanted to, ‘resist the lure of earnest statements to the converted,’. Brecht writes,’ the new alienations are only designed to free socially-conditioned phenomena from that stamp of familiarity which protects them against our grasp today,’p192. There seems to be a discrepancy here. Whilst O’Rourke can be celebrated for not being moralising, prudish, dogmatic, evangelical per se, TGWOB seems at once contrived and titillating. It was grotesque and it was uncomfortable, and perhaps so it should be, but not merely in order that the filmmaker can become a martyr to his own cause. The emotions evoked by the socio-political issues of the film and their portrayal must be pushed through their own limit. As Spivak describes the subaltern studies collective trying to create a space of possibility from the impossibility of the subaltern voice. So, we might envisage a film about Thai prostitution which doesn’t make the audience feel before they think.
‘I am willing to talk, but you should not have doubts about my words. There is the image of the woman and there is her reality. Sometimes the two do not go well together!’ (a ‘character’ in Trinh T Minh Ha’s Surname Viet, Given name Nam)
The image of the woman (Aoi) and her words seemed to go very well together, as O’Rourke’s final edit showed a narrative of Aoi’s relationship with the camera changing through the course of the film. There seems to be a difference between the first time Aoi asked O’Rourke to stop filming, ‘I am eating. This has nothing to do with your film,’ and the second, when the camera really does stop (or at least that is what happens after the edit). Aoi’s confidence has grown, she is embellishing the power she sees she has over the outcome of O’Rourke’s work, and the audience begins to question the degrees of dramatisation, the ficitiousness, the staging, the manipulation. We are betrayed when we discover that the shots of Aoi on the bed which we see are the fifth take.
‘The difference between so-called documentary and fiction in their depiction of reality is the question of degrees of fictitiousness,’(Trinh T Minh Ha). The ‘staging’ of the ‘real’, challenges our boundaries of both. The fetish of authenticity is shaken by O’Rourke’s work in so much as the montage of interviews differ significantly from softly lit mirrored bathroom ‘soliliqueys’, to ‘casual’ and incredibly clipped dialogues. However, unlike the work of Trinh T Minh Ha in Surname Viet, Given name Nam, in which the close up shots and overlays of subtitles force the viewer to question both the objectifying lens and the overcoding of the interview, O’Rourke’s film seems to linger in the discomfort of confession, before, (and this is the critical point) the absolution.
The very visceral ontology of Aoi’s life is constantly subsumed by O’Rourke’s own, now fetishised, ‘ordeal’ of the filmic process. In the words of Spivak, ‘the other has been appropriated by assimilation’. O’Rourke aligns himself with Aoi, as he describes them as, ‘united in their shared experiences of helpless victimisation,’.
O’Rourke cites Brecht’s play The Good Person of Szechwan as his inspiration, ‘an ironic parable about the impossibility of living a good life in an imperfect world,’.
Interestingly enough however, there are significant differences between Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan and O’Rourke’s The Good Woman of Bangkok. Whilst O’Rourke concludes his film with his own narration of Aoi’s statement, ‘it is my fate’, Brecht’s play concludes with the main character, Shen Te saying, ‘help’. This signifies a much wider separation in both (ideology?) and intent.
Whilst O’Rourke’s film is an ‘uncomfortable metaphor for the collective identity of the (post)-colonial Australian’ (Berry) precisely because the world is very much ‘imperfect’. Brecht’s play, as a manifestation of his experiments with didactic theatre (lehrstucke) is exactly about challenging the imperfection of the world. This is not idealistic so much as politically imperative. Brecht’s portrait of Shen Te is historically and poltically contextualised in order that the particular relations of power be made visible to the audience. From which point, more general critiques can be extrapolated and understood.
Whilst O’Rourke’s film is undoubtedly ‘unsettling’, an ‘ordeal’, even sometimes a shock, it enabled the spectator to submit to its own grotesque and augmented pathos, rather than to examine, CRITICALLY and here Brecht would clarify, ‘and with practical consequences,’ the politics of prostitution as an industry, maintained by and because of global capital economics and neo-colonial politics. Whilst O’Rourke wants the audience to feel, ‘self-recognition and embarrassment’, the very issues he raises deserve/require more than for western film consumers (converted or otherwise) to wallow in the revelation of their own prudery.
O’Rourke is right, we are all implicated in some way, and that is precisely why an analysis of the structures of this sort of exploitation that can be extrapolated from the ethnographic account are what is called for…
It would have been poetic perhaps to conclude this with some choice words of Aoi, extrapolated from O’Rourke’s text. However, this would be somewhat tokenist if not to say besides the point. The good guy’s don’t always get the last word, the meek shall not inherit the earth, and it is not their ‘fate’ so much as it is the workings of an exploitative global economy and imperialist politics. The subaltern here was certainly unable to speak, but perhaps creating that impossible space was never the point. If however, O’Rourke’s point was to challenge the preconceptions and petit-bourgeois moralising smugness of western documentary viewers, the method might more creatively and usefully been a more didactic, yes, Brechtian film, rather than the shock tactics of the theatre of O’Rourke’s confession.
It is tempting then, to end with Spivak, ‘The subaltern cannot speak. Representation has not withered away,’ but perhaps that sounds too fateful, too impossible.
Instead we return to the texts of the literary misappropriated, Brecht himself. Whilst Chris Berry suggests that we should, ‘rekindle the discomfort’, of the film in order to create something in the spaces it opens up, I prefer to call on Brecht who recognises the imperative of forging a narrative which is both ‘disconcerting but fruitful’, this is not the confessions of a white, middle class, male film maker and his ‘emotional imbroglio’. But it is the beginning of an experimentation with the possibility that, ‘there is such a thing as pleasurable learning, cheerful and militant learning,’ p73.
…and of course all of this is cheerfully inconclusive…
Imogen Bunting – for Anthropology, Representation and Contemporary Media. lect. J.Hutnyk, Dept Anthro, Goldsmiths 2001
I am watching television and Nepal is on screen. It is unusual to see anything other than documentary curios from the land locked Himalayan kingdom, but this week the place is news. Strikes, curfews, shoot to kill, the King forced to promise elections, a new interim government and an ongoing series of protests and demonstrations by the people in the streets. Each night for two weeks another glimpse of Nepal on the evening news. Globalising Asia right here in my living room. I want more.
I have long been a revolutionary tourist. Years spent in Kolkata where the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) has been the ruling – democratically elected – party for over twenty years. There even the opposition parties are mostly communists too, though sometimes this has lead to fratricidal conflicts as comrade kills comrade, I was out on the streets souveniring red flags and photographing political wall slogans, demonstrations and million person rallies. The wall slogans have been banned in West Bengal’s present election – a blow to political expression most agree, but Kolkata is still the city of politics, I visit every twelve months. Its an easy place to travel, despite the reputation it has abroad, as a site of Mother Theresa-enhanced, reputation distorting, photogenic poverty. I have written on this imaginary urban pathology elsewhere, especially in The Rumour of Calcutta (Zed books 1996). But despite what everyone usually hears of Kolkata in global media, when it appears as news it is either as curio or as another kind of politics, as sight of impoverishment or as ‘the longest freely elected communist democracy’, none of the representations seem to measure up to the reality.
I cannot help but think the same of Nepal. Today the revolution was called people power on the BBC. Pictures of a rally dominated by the red flag, I swoon before the telly with anticipation, but its merely a fragment. There are no interviews with revolutionary leaders – Prachanda, or even the more moderate UML spokesperson Madhav-Nepal. Instead, the camera turns to a sadhu (a Shiva devotee) looking on bemusedly as youths smash the windows of a Royal hostel in Kathmandu. This is not to say one cannot find interviews with the leadership, even on the BBC – at least on the web version of the BBC – a full transcript of an interview with Prachanda in February 2006 includes some judicious assertions, for example on the future of Nepal: ‘With the unity that has developed between the seven political parties, us and the civic society, and the way that the autocratic monarchy and the royal army have been cornered, with this very shortly Nepal will become a republic.’ And on the future of the King: ‘The king I think will either be executed by the people’s court or he might be exiled. For the king, today’s Nepal has no future. We don’t see a future for him and the Nepali people don’t either’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4707482.stm).
So should the King flee now? Seems not a safe place for him, but the scene seems more coherent and determined than might be suggested by comments such as the BBC default presentation of ‘riots in shangri-la’ and the Guardian’s characterisation of Nepal as ‘a country gone awry’ (Guardian April 22, 2006). What chance for a less hypertronic discussion? Instead, stereotypes and routine – concern about safety, about the economy and geo-political worries – ‘terrorism’ a word that crops up over and over. There are a few western tourists in Nepal just now, but they are mentioned as having avoided the firings, that have killed 14 in two weeks as I write, though the Police held back somewhat today. Phew! Why this angle and spin if not just for the reassurance of viewers, and capital, at home. The caption to a photo showing a westerner at Kathmandu airport reads: ‘Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprised’ (BBC Paul Reynolds, April 22, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4933866.stm). More substantial news is harder to come by.
Was it always like this – that the view from afar was like a postcard from Everest – recognisable but somehow mute? Its there, and can be visited, but most will never go so far and get so close. Those that do, are they/we condemned to rehearse perspectives and conventions that we/they carried with us in our heads like the packs they carried on their backs (the Sherpas carry the packs, the backpackers carry the traps)? Visions of Nepal have long been a matter of contest.
I turn to other versions of Nepal I have seen on screen recently, and I want to concentrate on, in particular, the six part special Himalaya presented on British television last year by Michael Palin, the former Monty Python comic and now respected travel compare (can such a category be deployed?)….. [There follows an extended trashing of Palin’s show Himalaya…. well, an easy target… but its also a chance to further discuss the revolution in Nepal, wonder aloud at just what the Moaists are up to in the hills, and why it still seems strange to see them on my telly…]
(pic by Sarah Kate Watson – the repainting of the Modern Lodge, Kolkata)
John Hutnyk 1996 Zed books, London.
An original study in the politics of representation, this book explores the discursive construction of a ‘city of intensities’.
The author analyses representations of Calcutta in a wide variety of discourses: in the gossip and travellor-lore of backpackers and volunteer charity workers; in writing – from classic literature to travel guides; in cinema, photography and maps. The book argues that Western Rumours of Calcutta contribute to the elaboration of an imaginary city which circulates in ways fundamental to the maintenance of an international order.
Throughout, the focusis on the technologies of representation which frame tourist experiences of Calcutta, particularly Calcutta as an image site of decay. For example, volunteer charity workers’ explanations of their experience fit into a framework which attributes blame locally. In this perspective tourist volunteers cannot acknowledge complicity in its own production of the city as a phantasmagoric space of poverty. Travellers visiting Calcutta are shown to be located in a place through which ideological and hegemonic effects are played out in complex yet coordinated ways which are to be analysed within the context of international privilege and domination. Here specific practices and technologies, of tourism, representation and experience, are intricately combined to reinforce and replicate the conditions of contemporary cultural and economic inequality.
A provocative and original reading of both Heidegger and Marx, the book also draws up on writers as diverse as Spivak, Trinh, Jameson, Clifford, Virilio, Bataille, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari.
Available from Zed books
7 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF
Tel 020 7837 4014
Edited by Raminder Kaur
and John Hutnyk
Zed books, London 1999.
Pb ISBN 1 85649 562 0 Price UK£13.95/US$22.50
(see below for ordering details)
(cover photo Karoki Lewis)
Everyone’s got a traveller’s tale,
but TRAVEL WORLDS tells them with a sting:
African-American musicians head East for Kung-Fu kicks while
paedophiles go for cheap sex pilgrimage; Western bible-bashers adopt
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an Arab soldier in Britain; the scars of Partition mock the protocols
of transit, while nomadic insurgents resist the Bangladeshi nation
state with lyrical persuasion; Kula Shaker and Madonna trinketize the
‘Orient’ while dead tourists exchange values with travelling
‘terrorists’; British Mirpuris and Black women travel back to the ‘Old
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ethnographers collide with tourists in the carousel of Goa’s resorts.
Including poetry and fiction alongside academic essays, this book
refuses simplistic dichotomies of north/south and east/west and
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– the shortcomings of border theories and nation-state parameters
– the politics of diasporic and transnational travels
– the relations between tourism and terrorism
– the limitations of ‘alternative’ tourism
TRAVEL WORLDS plots the politics of diverse journeys;
it is ‘something of a travel guide,
something of a hold-all backpack,
and something of another compass’.
`Travel Words dares you to embark on a variety of journeys
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journeys across old borders that have become terribly real by virtue
of being more psychological than territorial. This collection explores
exciting psycho-geographical spaces through journeys that somewhere
along the way become journeys into the self.’ – Ashis Nandy.
In Europe order from Zed books, 7 Cynthia St, London N1 9JF, UK
tel +44 (0)171 837 4014/8466 email: FAROUK@zedbooks.demon.co.uk
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