Trinketization before the letter (vignettes)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fire cleanses. Why wash?

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

Because soap makes us clean. They say.

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

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

Because dirt is alien, to be destroyed.

Never wash. Burn burn burn.




Finance sector alpha drone

Service sector beta drone


Decline of manufacturing/

Export of manufacturing

‘creative’ economy/

New Imperialism


The finance and creative sector is not neutral/

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

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



– immigration

– – asylum ‘fears’

— eastern Europe

– – Muslim profiling

– – racism’s histories


+++Class as articulated through above

++Gender an extension of the above


Campaigns for tolerance or hospitality not nearly enough

– acceptable face of racism used to prepare ground for:

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

– ingrained racism that leaves Africa in ‘darkness’

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

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

on the wrong side of the international division of privilege


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


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


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

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


Adorno to Benjamin

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

Adorno to Benjamin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Muslim Culture

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

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

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

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

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

Beep Beep Sputnik

Beep Beep – 50 years ago today. Happy Birthday.

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

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

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

The Story of Sputnik

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

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

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

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

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

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