lundi 25 janvier 2010

The Magic of the State. Michael Taussig

Interview David Levi Strauss and Michael Taussig

I first met Mick Taussig about eight years ago,
as The Magic of the State (Routledge, 1997) was coming out. I'd read Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (University of Chicago Press, 1987) when it appeared, and was especially drawn to its treatment of images and ima­ge-making in power relations. Later I was invited to participate in an informal seminar that Mick and Peter Lamborn Wilson had gathered around the subject of shamanism. The conversation among Mick, Peter, and me, on states both fictional and non, has continued since then around frequent fires and dinners, almost always within a stone's throw of the Rondout Creek, where we all live in the Hudson Valley.

After getting a medical degree from the University of Sydney, Australia in 1964 and working as a physician in the university's main teaching hospital for a year and in general practice for another six months, Mick read for a Master's degree in sociology at the London School of Economics and worked as a psychiatric resident in mental hospitals in London. He was appointed a Research Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies of London University in 1969, and went to Colombia in September of that year, to "join the Revolution." What he saw there intrigued him, and his fieldwork in Colombia, Putamayo, and Venezuela would continue over the next four decades. His Ph.D. dissertation (with Julian Pitt-Rivers) examining the socio-cultural impact of the commercialization of agriculture was published in Spanish in 1975. He taught in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and in Performance Studies at New York University before accepting his current position as Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of eight books: The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (1980), Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man (1987), The Nervous System (1992), Mimesis and Alterity (1993), The Magic of the State (1997), Defacement: Public Secrecy and the Labor of the Negative (1999), Law in a Lawless Land (2003), and My Cocaine Museum (2004).

The Magic of the State is my favorite of all of Mick's books, because of its particular mixing of fiction and documentary. "This is the most 'fictional' of my writings,"Mick told me. "I use the Sydney expression 'fictocriticism' to convey the hybrid sense and I clearly designate the fictional quality through a variety of devices, mainly humor and tone, camp and arch-camp. An aim of such writing is to turn the attention of the reader to the very act of writing as an 'anthropological' or cultural act which engages with the desire to succumb to authority in general, and to colonial or postcolonial tropes in particular." As the New York Times put it, "Over the last several decades, as the exemplars of traditional fieldwork have been toppled from their pedestals, Taussig has been developing a radical alternative. . . . Blending fact and fiction, ethnographic observation, archival history, literary theory and memoir, his books read more like beatnik novels than sober analyses of other­ ­cultures...."

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