August 15, 2004

Spent week in Venice. Had to get out of Oakland. And so i gathered up all my frequent flyer miles and went to visit friend who had apartment there for a few months. Flew business class. Apparently when you fly business class internationally you can do things like take showers in the Red Carpet club or where ever. I had no idea.

Venice is weird. I think it might be as Las Vegas 500 years later. It is the home of tourism. And this alone made me glad I went. It will help me think about Hawai'i some more. And I'm now convinced that no one can do tourism studies without a trip to Venice. The place has been all about tourism since the crusades, since they lost their shipping monopoly. Also: it is the perfect place to think about art and imperialism since most of the art celebrates Venice's imperial conquests. Also good place to think about art and hubris. And the lies that get told in art.

The city is dead. It is really Dead. And somewhat interesting as a result. One part of it is full of fellow tourists. We walk from San Marco to the Rialto. Along that path there are so many of us. We step on the backs of your shoes and we stop in the middle of the walkway with our baby carriages and we eat lunch standing in any spare space. At the Rialto we stand four deep along its edges. The line to get into the church at San Marco goes around the square. Pigeons are in these places. The lines are full of newlyweds and nearly deads as they say of Hawai'i.

The rest of the city is empty. So you can walk all day long in the rest of the city and see no one. Or maybe another fellow tourist will be also be walking by his/herself. This part of it has the great image of what it must be like to be in a city after plague has struck it.

Otherwise, along the path, it is a place where notebooks cost $90. And there is no convenience store. And soup can cost $18 if you are not careful. To go to grocery, one gets on boat and goes out of Venice to the Lido. There are no movie theaters. I saw a few video stores, but i'm not sure there are any record stores. The book stores are very mundane. The place is basically one giant murano glass and carnival mask store. Bring all supplies you might need if you ever visit as if you are going on safari. Nothing of any practical value can be bought in Venice.

The boats are great fun. Nothing better than taking boats around all day. Then at night the room sways. We tourists all run to the back when we get on so we can get a view. The back serves as a make out room at night, full of couples kissing.

When I had art and walking burn out sat at various cafes and read. Also read through several nights of jet lag.

Among the list...

On the flight over read Michael Taussig's My Cocaine Museum which I think is stunning. None of the frustration (or provisionality; not sure what the right word is here) that I felt with Law in a Lawless Land. The cocaine museum is imaginary and this is wonderful. And this seems to be one of those commodity books that Bruce Robbins has been talking/complaining about, but a commodity book with a difference that manages to avoid all he is complaining about. Taussig gets the layers into the book; the commodity shows bad history and does not cover it up. The book spends a lot of time on gold and cocaine, two products of Columbia's Pacific Coast. The parts on gold are horrifying. Images of people meaninglessly and endlessly panning for gold (most of it seems to have already been found). Horrifying description of how people will put on wet suit and hose for breathing and dig themselves into the bottom of the river, searching for gold, despite constant danger of collapse.

The book uses Benjamin as a sort of touchstone. And I had my usual why the high culture again?; can't I get a break from the reference to the western tradition even in books about Columbia? (This is probably the reaction of a tired literary studies person who is reading anthropology to get away from too much Frankfurt school and how it depolitizes at moments and not of an anthropologist who might find Benjamin popping up less usual? I don't know.).

But then there is this wonderful afterword, which explained the Benjamin:

"So these thoughts began with mud--and the rocks and the hands and the water and the gravel and the hands--of gold mining up the Timbiqui with the heat and the rain and the overcast skies. Language was king. But this mud was my imminence. I mean, it was all around you and then inside you, as when the gods formed us, they say, from mud itself. All mud. The task then was the old one of getting the soul and the body to work together, meaning language and things, language and mud, but this time around the stakes are truly frightening. The end of the planet?

"This is why I am fascinated with Walter Benjamin's mimesis project--meaning the mystical idea that words and things are materially connected, and that such connections open out like an artist's palette into pictures that come and go, at times with fantastic speed, depending on the state of emergency and the degree to which we enter into those pictures or, vice versa, the degree to which pictures engulf and absorb us. A movie. What is so strange about Benjamin is this regard is his equally strong conviction that such connections are intensly playful and political, what he called 'allegorical,' by which he meant that the space between a symbol and what it means is always subject to history and is therefore completely incomplete." (312-313)

And so I forgave the Benjamin and started to see him as friend, not just convention.

But it was this, a few paragraphs later, that really got me and what I need to absorb for own writing:

"In this I have been attentive to the claims of reflexive anthropology as I think it obvious that all objective recording is nothing more than what has been first run through and experienced by the observer. Such experience comes before representation, yet it is the writer's responsibility to the reader to try all means and modes to make that experience as full and as obvious as possible. Just as in this era of globalization, there is no place so remote as to remain unaffected by the world at large, so there is no anthropologist who does not straddle two or more worlds simultaneously. Indeed, what is anthropology but a species of translation made all the more honest, all the more truthful, and all the more interesting by showing showing--i.e., showing the means of its production? The task before us, then, is to see what anthropology has been, all things: namely, telling other people's stories and --in the process--generally ruining them by not being sensitive to the task of the storyteller. We do not have 'informants.' We live with storytellers, whom too often we have betrayed for the sake of an illusory science." (313-314)

Still trying to figure out the "role" of anthropology. Went to get some books the other day in Krober library at Berkeley (Krober had key role in the Ishi brain internment). Walls circled with fancy photographs of Berkeley faculty. Some staged shots taken in a studio; some out in the field. Mainly rugged white men. A woman here and there. Left creeped out. Reading anthropology at moments makes me feel like I'm creeping around in other people's backyards. But then when I read something really excellent, like this Taussig book, then I realize that it is the only way to find out about elsewhere and when it works it is so valuable and necessary and helps me understand things like globalization. These are old observations. Makes me sad that I'm still wrestling with them. Why can't I learn that the problem is never with genre/division but more specific than that always?

Moved from that to article I printed out from web in latest NLR, "Afflicted Powers: the State, the Spectable, and September 11." I remember enjoying it when I read it but I have to confess that I could not begin to tell you what it says anymore that might distinguish it from any other essay in a lefty journal on 9/11.

Then spent most of the rest of the trip either reading endless writing on various paintings in Venice and essays that I was considering for this art and political education project that may or may not happen at some time in the future but I'm enjoying reading for it anyway.

Among them...

John Moore, "Composition and Decomposition: Contemporary Anarchist Aesthetics"
Glauber Rocha, "An Esthetic of Hunger"
Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism"
Eisenstein, "A Dialectic Approach to Film Form"
Eisenstein, "Montage of Attractions"
Kwame Nkrumah, excerpt from I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology
Leopold Senghor, The Mission of the Poet
Raymond Williams, excerpt from Culture
Robert von Hallbert, "Libertarian Imagism"
Langston Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"
Marie-Claire Picher, "What is Theater of the Oppressed?"
Michael Palmer, "Poetry and Contingency"
Richard Huelsenbeck, "En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism"
"Rimbaud very well understood that literature and art are mighty suspicious things--and how well a man can live as a pasha or a brothel owner, as the creaking of the beds sings a song of mounting profits." (29)
Tomas Rivera, several essays
Carmen Bruna, "Poetry: an Incitement to Revolt"
Jacqueline Lamba, "A Revolutionary Approach to Life and the World"
Claude Cahun, "Surrealism and Working Class Emancipation"
Penelope Rosemont, some essays
Suzanne Cesaire, "1943: Surrealism and Us"
Cedric Robinson, last half of Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition
Paulo Friere, Cultural Action for Freedom
Stephen Spender, "Poetry and Revolution"
a bunch of essays from Irving Howe's Literary Modernism
Cornelius Cardew, Stockhausen Servers Imperialism and Other Articles
downloaded this off the best thing i carried with me in this stack. really interesting and really reductive. why does reductive feel so pleasant right now? (related to sick of frankfurt school problem?)

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