More on Taussig

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 8 Oct 1994 11:45:25 JST

Dear Friends,

This reply is for John Stevens.

I've been leaning pretty hard on the frustrating side of reading
Taussig. I like what you say about looking to him for inspiration
instead of data. In that spirit I'd like to return to where he caught
my interest: those Cuna figurines that are carved to look like white

Why do these figurines catch my eye? I'm working myself on trying
to sort out the various ways in which Chinese popular religion
represents the spirits its rites invoke. I'm writing against a long
tradition of studies that repeat the proposition that the yin world of
gods, ghosts and ancestors is modeled on the yang world of officials,
strangers and kin: the old vulgar Durkheimian religion-reflects-
society stance. It's quite clear (1) that the mirror is distorted (gods,
for example, are much more approachable than yang-world officials)
and (2) that the physical appearance of gods and ghosts in pictures
and images is increasingly out of synch with how officials and
strangers actually look in contemporary Chinese settings. Here the
problem is, in a sense, the reverse of Taussig's. The people are
looking more "Western," which makes the "traditional" spirits,
more and more "other."

Switching scenes: I think of Renaissance images in which figures
from the Bible appear anachonistically wearing Rennaissance-style

Switching again: I think of classic Science-Fiction illustration, in
which the future is inhabited by people wearing nylon long-johns
(the Star Trek version) or Conan the Conqueror neo-Feudal/barbarian

Working out how and why we choose our images of "others"? There's
work for several lifetimes here.