Re: [OPE-L] Differentiation and Two Socialist schools of thought

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

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
Taussig, Michael

Review Author:
Gudeman, Stephen (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)

Chicago: University of Chicago Press


xix + 336pp. , illustrations, photographs, bibliography, index

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.



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