Taussig/Reply to J. Stevens

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 6 Oct 1994 15:19:28 JST


I'll buy your/Wilk's characterization of Taussig as a trickster. We do
seem to share a sense that there's something worth noting in what he
writes, but also that he makes us work to hard to find it. The question
is: where do we go from here?

You say that you, "admire Taussig's attempts to uncover or revisualize
meaning. In attempting to strip away representation, he can only
reveal other representations, and I think he knows that. So he merrily
chugs along, reveal-ing and re-creating, making fictions and popping
conceptual balloons." I'd like to hear you say a bit more about why you
admire this way of proceeding.

One need not be committed to a high-Romantic essentialist view of
cultures as isolated wholes to be a bit more hopeful of actually getting
somewhere. For my part, I've always like Levi-Strauss' image of the
nebula, where, although our analysis never exhausts the whole, it does
gradually clarify what's going on in the region where the analysis

You also raise the "fiction" issue. Do you not fall into a pit by assuming
the fiction (in the strict sense) is totally made up? All fiction assumes
enough shared experience on the part of the reader to make reading
possible: what hermeneutical philosophers call [pre] understanding.
Some authors, moreover, pride themselves on how well they include
real-world knowledge in their work. Tom Clancy (to whom I refer again
for the sheer bloody-minded pleasure of provoking certain people) is a
good example. Whatever else his novels do, they demonstrate a
profound knowledge of how modern military technology works--based,
in part, on the fact that Clancy is so popular at the Pentagon that he
gets access to stuff that mere mortals like you and me don't get to see.

Again, I read Taussig, I read Clancy. Reading both gives me a kind of
perverse thrill. From one I learn a few things: that Cuna figurines are
carved to look like white people; that the phonograph has played a
remarkable role in encounters between the West and its Others; that
mimesis has long been associated with something "primitive" --a sign of
childish, femine, racial "otherness"... (could add to the list but I'll stop
here). From the other I learn about stealth fighters, cruise missles,
antitank weapons, etc., and patterns of thought and emotion
characteristic of people who wield them. Which has the greater
relevance to the world in which I live? Which "other" do I need to
understand most urgently?

Over to you.