Taussig and PMC

Stephanie Nelson (NELSON@USCVM.BITNET)
Mon, 13 Dec 1993 15:58:18 PST

I am enjoying the discussion of PMC, though I'm still not certain what we
are arguing over, exactly. I get weary of arguments over which worldviews
are the clearest--if an idea helps you to do good work, then use it. I
certainly don't mind the deconstructing of texts (postmodern or other) that
goes on here. That is something we all need to do in order to be able to say
anything more (or else). I do think Geertz and some others take themselves
very seriously and are certainly not laughing at us--perhaps that is
the problem. My theory on Geertz is that he gets as much play as he does
simply because he is very good at stringing pretty words together.

I promised to say more on Taussig. I think I've said this before here, but
at the risk of repeating myself, I'll tell the story of why I think Taussig
deserves bashing. I attended an invited panel on AIDS and anthro at the 1992
AAA meeting on which Taussig appeared with Renato Rosaldo and Nancy Scheper-H.
and a woman from Brown whose name eludes me. This panel gained some notoriety
and some press in our newsletter when it was "disrupted" by a group of gay
anthropologists who wore T-shirts with the words "These Natives Can Speak for
Themselves" emblazoned across their chests. These men challenged the
authority or expertize of the panelists--only Scheper-Hughes had actually done
research in the area--and wondered why no other anthropologists who were
working in the area had been invited, and none were being cited either. If,
as the panelists seemed to be saying, there was a critical gap in the field
that needed addressing, why, for instance, was Rosaldo not considering any
candidates who met those criteria in his hiring search at Stanford?

During all of this, Mic Taussig was silent, safely wrapped in a very dark pair
of shades, which he wore at all times during the panel, except when he gave
his presentation. Taussig is a very handsome, charismatic man, who knows this
& seems determined to capitalize on it. His "paper" (if that's what it could
be called) was an immoral, outrageous, incomprehensible, and loathesome
aestheticization of dying from AIDS. His point, as I understand it, was that
if death is inevitable, one ought to "get into it" in a sublime way--celebrate
it, so to speak. Easy for him to say. No one spoke up to him, but if I'd had
the chance, I would have told him that dying of AIDS is not beautiful, it's
tragic. And I would have told him, "hey, lose the shades, dude--this ain't
the beach."

I haven't seen it yet, but there's an article in the most recent Visual
Anthropology Review that calls his bluff. Most people I know who have read
Taussig whisper to me that they don't really know what he is talking about.
Apparently, the author of the article makes the point that Taussig doesn't
seem to know either.

Not very nice words, but he deserves them in my opinion. Back to my
dissertation. Anyone know any anthropologists working with the ideas of
Mikhail Bakhtin?
Stephanie Nelson