detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Saturday, December 14, 2002


: . Discrepant Visions:




From The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature and Art by James Clifford (163):
    Several years ago, while doing archival research on the history of ethnographic photographs, I found in a file a face that stuck like "an overly insistent friend, like a too-faithful regret, like a mute wanting to ask a question." No amount of flipping through other files -- countless images of Indians, Africans, Melanesians, Eskimos -- could fan this face away. Nor could I penetrate its fixed eloquent silence.
    The archive's caption records an "Igorot Man"* (brought from the Philippine Highlands to be exhibited at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis). If we look intimately into this face, what disturbances appear behind? (Don't turn around.)

I've recently come across James Clifford's personal website and was astonished by the sheer brilliance of his most recent essays. For those interested on the politics of identity politics, check out his Taking Identity Politics Seriously which lucidly presents a "realist" alternative to the "prescriptive anti-essentialism" that has been sweeping through American academia. The essay appears in the collection
Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall. The version on Clifford's site is less "finished" -- it's missing a few bibliographic references and is riddled with typos -- and is therefore much more charming than the published version. An excerpt:
    Cultural politics is not secondary to more "material" political/economic agencies. Effective democratic mobilizations begin where people are (not where they "should be"): they work through the cultural discourses that situate groups, that provide them with roots (always spliced), with narrative connections between past and present (traditions), with distinctive social habits and bodies.
    This hooking-up and unhooking, remembering and forgetting, gathering and excluding of cultural elements--processes crucial to the maintenance of an "identity"--must be seen as both materially constrained and inventive. Of course it is difficult, analytically and politically, to sustain this double vision, just as it is hard to work with the ambivalence inherent in processes of identification: the practical inseparability of empowerment and chauvinism, of community and exclusion, of performance and commodification, of positioning and governmentality. And yet it is precisely in this uncomfortable site of cultural process and politics that we begin, and begin again. Moreover, it is here that we can cultivate a kind of historical "negative capability," aware of our own partial access to other historical experiences, tracking interference patterns and sites of emergence, piecing together more-than-local patterns, big-enough stories of the "global," of intersecting "historical" trajectories.

More later, after I recover from this hellish week and the hellish week to come.

*Igorot man, Philippines, exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Neg. No. 324375. Courtesy Department Library Services, American Museum of Natural History, New York.

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