From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu May 17 2007 - 20:51:47 EDT
Paul C wrote: I see no practical > way of eliminating the illegal drug trade in an economy with money and markets. > Yes indeed. The war on drugs most often leads tragically to a war for drugs waged for example in Colombia as Michael Taussig has shown in his Cocaine Museum between paramilitaries and rebel groups. And the black market, this economy of transgression is anything but marginal today while the phastasmsic qualities of cocaine and gold (once the bedrock of the Colombian economy) make a mockery of the laws of supply and demand. My Cocaine Museum Author: Taussig, Michael Review Author: Gudeman, Stephen (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities) Publisher: Chicago: University of Chicago Press Copyright: 2004 Pages: xix + 336pp. , illustrations, photographs, bibliography, index Review: Normal museums contain glass cases, dead objects, and labels. Michael Taussig’s “museum” is very different: Through his “displays,” a visitor is treated to an imagined journey in Colombia. The trip starts in Bogotá at the Gold Museum, which is located in the Banco de la República at the nation’s financial center. The gold museum contains nearly 40,000 spectacular, well-protected artifacts. The traveler then proceeds to other areas of the country, through Taussig’s own hum drum collection of artifacts mostly drawn from Colombia’s humid west coast, and comprising descriptions, photographs, drawings, local voices, and meditations. The book defies easy description, which is surely one of its purposes. Sometimes it brought to my mind the title of a John Adams piece—“Short Ride in a Fast Machine”— at other times I found myself saying, “Only connect.” On occasion, I would recall the melancholy and final disappointment in Tristes Tropiques, although structuralism is hardly Taussig’s style. Other visitors to Taussig’s collection will have their responses, which happens when different people wander through a museum. If gold provided the currency and lure for the Spanish conquerors and other historical adventurers in Colombia, cocaine is the currency and attraction for the buccaneers who are ravishing the country today. But an opposition between gold and cocaine does not define the book because Taussig erases borders to explore and to find words for the unsaid. Always interested in fetishes (such as gold and cocaine) and in mimesis, he never reduces qualities or even quantities to a fixed set of features. Taussig’s museum has no rooms, and I am not certain that it even has walls. It is a product of his wanderings, curiosity, and the way things come together for him in a place, which is perhaps just good ethnography. But Taussig is more likely to invoke Walter Benjamin, William Burroughs, and geographers than anthropology’s standard authors. The book consists of 31 relatively short chapters connected by diverse themes. If gold for the Spanish was yielded through slavery and the power of the state, the coastal people today toil in economic slavery under both the power and the neglect of money capital. They seem to exist beyond the interests of state and parastate forces, including the national guard, the guerillas, and the paramilitary, however violence ripples through their lives. But I have hardly described the museum’s treasures. One series of chapters revolves about the “senses,” which are not usual anthropological fodder. Taussig evokes the weariness and lethargy that are felt in these humid, torrid zones and that are produced by the state’s neglect. Near the end of the book—stimulated by chance—he presents the sloth who crosses boundaries, is eaten by others, and seems close to death. Is the slow-moving, transgressive sloth the local people or the anthropologist? Taussig’s depiction of miasma, swamps, and bogs tells us much about the pollution, fear, and sickness created by cleaning up everything in bureaucracies and in ethnographic writing. His museum also contains many real artifacts and technologies: for example, through a series of connections (centering on the uses of limestone and coca chewing), the history of cement making occupies a place in his museum. After recalling the historical methods of mining gold, Taussig describes the similar ways it is collected today, by women using shallow wooden bowls and by men using traditional diving devices that perilously supply them with air. Years of digging may produce nothing or entanglements with the devil. A never-mounted museum plaque expresses the admiration that Taussig has for these folk. At the farthest reaches of the museum lies the island of Gorgona, which is now a highly controlled nature preserve open to the wealthy but once was a fearsome prison—appropriately named. The difference between preserve and prison, between managing unruly nature and unruly humans turns out to be very narrow. Taussig—the anthropological sloth—and his young daughter are quickly thrown off the island when they try to visit without properly stamped official papers. Some may read this book as an exercise in surrealism or magical realism, as a play on mimesis and fetishism, as untamed ethnography, or even as a mode of geography. I enjoyed it as a fast ride in the author’s feral museum of the mind. rb .
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