Re: Taussig

John Stevens (8859jstev@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Sat, 15 Oct 1994 12:07:25 EDT

John M. and other interested parties:

What you say in regard to Taussig is perfectly fair: "[i]n Taussig's
discussion representations are always *political*, inseparable from the
power relations of the parties involved in creating and responding to them.
They are, in addition, created and responded to in *cultural collisions*
where people from different cultural backgrounds encounter each other and, more
often than not, *violence* is an integral part of the encounter." Your
comment highlights several problems and challenges in Taussig's work. First,
he obviously has too monolithic a perception of the observer; in some way
he has constructed a certain Western "other" of his own that exists in con-
tinuous, exploitative tension with the unWesterners "he" encounters. That is
a flaw, to be sure. In my own work and the work of a few acquaintances, there
seems to be trend of turning away from the evil Cyclopean West to discussing
particular interactions. What I seem to find is that the constructions andf
representations I'm seeing spring from a more complicated process of under-
standing and conceptualizing that is not only firmly based in the context
of the moment ("the moment of inscription" as Gabrielle Spiegel calls it), but
in the events and influences leading up to that moment and the expectations
and goals of observer and observed and all others around them. What this means
is that we have to chip away at the postmodern assumption of the total evilness
Taussig, by trying to emphasis position, sort of does this, but still doesn't
escape a limited view of the observer, in my opinion.

This also influences the whole violence thing, which I don't think has been
explored sufficiently. It's hard to gauge the damage of misrepresentation, and
I think iut's inappropriate to say that all representations do "violence" to
the observed. However, neither can we say that all "objective" descriptions
and analyses are bias-free or neutrally assembled. We all know this, but
for me Taussig is providing more examples of how this process works. Again,
he is not providing "tools" per se, but some materials out of which we can
make our own. I think Taussig is pretty anti-tool, since the very represent-
ation of "tool" seems to feed into the more functional sorts of cultural
construction and analysis that he is opposing. It's not surprising that he
doesn't give us tools.


Best regards,

John H. Stevens
University of Massachusetts at Boston