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My Cocaine Museumby Michael Taussig
Synopses & Reviews
On a warm summerandrsquo;s night in Athens, Georgia, Patrik Keim stuck a pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Keim was an artist, and the room in which he died was an assemblage of the tools of his particular trade: the floor and table were covered with images, while a pair of large scissors, glue, electrical tape, and some dentures shared space with a pile of old medical journals, butcher knives, and various other small objects. Keim had cleared a space on the floor, and the wall directly behind him was bare. His body completed the tableau. Art and artists often end in tragedy and obscurity, but Keimandrsquo;s story doesnandrsquo;t end with his death.
A few years later, 180 miles away from Keimandrsquo;s grave, a bulldozer operator uncovered a pine coffin in an old beaver swamp down the road from Allen C. Sheltonandrsquo;s farm. He quickly reburied it, but Shelton, a friend of Keimandrsquo;s who had a suitcase of his unfinished projects, became convinced that his friend wasnandrsquo;t dead and fixed in the ground, but moving between this world and the next in a traveling coffin in search of his incomplete work.
In Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, Shelton ushers us into realms of fantasy, revelation, and reflection, paced with a slow unfurling of magical correspondences. Though he is trained as a sociologist, this is a genre-crossing work of literature, a two-sided ethnography: one from the world of the living and the other from the world of the dead.
What follows isnandrsquo;t a ghost story but an exciting and extraordinary kind of narrative. The psycho-sociological landscape that Shelton constructs for his reader is as evocative of Kafka, Bataille, and Benjamin as it is of Weber, Foucault, and Marx. Where the North Sea Touches Alabama is a work of sociological fictocriticism that explores not only the authorandrsquo;s relationship to the artist but his physical, historical, and social relationship to northeastern Alabama, in rare style.
"If Hunter S. Thompson had been trained by Boaz in anthropology, Engels in economics and Arendt in philosophy, he might write something like Taussig, whose ninth book follows on the heels of Law in a Lawless Land, and is a further study of the ways and means of south Colombia's poor communities. Taussig literally imagines his book to be a 'cocaine museum'; it's a conceit that brings Taussig's first-person outsider's perspective together with Colombia's major cash crop, and with the things that people make and use around it. Short chapters riff on a particular person, place or thing — town officials who clap out death warrant-like denuncias on manual typewriters; citizens who distill the lighter fluid-like drink biché as their only income-generating activity; children who mine gold by hand and can go years without finding any — and then spiral out into the entwined histories of slavery, drugs and colonialism, as well as into philosophical speculations. 'Transgressive substances,' Taussig writes, 'make you want to reach out for a new language of nature, lost to memories of prehistorical time that the present state of emergency recalls.' A book of 'spells, hundreds and thousands of spells, intended to break the catastrophic spell of things,' Taussig's virtual museum feels as real as the hot, damp rainforest where it's set." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Taussig's latest work continues his anthropological research among the inhabitants of Colombia's western coast. Taussig's ethnography critically reflects on the representation of Colombia's past embodied in the Gold Museum in the Banco de la Republica, which, in his view, fails to address the history of slavery and exploitation surrounding gold mining, and further obscures the reality that cocaine has replaced gold as the nation's principal product. The exhibits in Taussig's own museum give glimpses of the effects of cocaine production on the lives of his informants. But while the ethnography provides portraits of Colombians caught up in the violence and danger surrounding cocaine production, the lives of those producing and controlling the production of cocaine remain in the shadows. In place of the details surrounding the production of this elusive commodity, he provides philosophical reflections on the more mundane realities of the western coast — rain, heat, and wind. Taussig's museum appeals to a wide audience, including those inside and outside the discipline of anthropology." Reviewed by David Strohl, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In this book, a make-believe cocaine museum becomes a vantage point from which to assess the lives of Afro-Colombian gold miners drawn into the dangerous world of cocaine production in the rain forest of Colombia's Pacific Coast. Although modeled on the famous Gold Museum in Colombia's central bank, the Banco de la Repanduacute;blica, Taussig's museum is also a parody aimed at the museum's failure to acknowledge the African slaves who mined the country's wealth for almost four hundred years.
Combining natural history with political history in a filmic, montage style, Taussig deploys the show-and-tell modality of a museum to engage with the inner life of heat, rain, stone, and swamp, no less than with the life of gold and cocaine.
This effort to find a poetry of words becoming things is brought to a head by the explosive qualities of those sublime fetishes of evil beauty, gold and cocaine. At its core, Taussig's museum is about the lure of forbidden things, charged substances that transgress moral codes, the distinctions we use to make sense of the world, and above all the conventional way we write stories.
About the Author
Micheal Taussig is a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of eight books, including Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A study in Terror and Healing, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
Author's Note: A User's Guide
My Cocaine Museum
Wind and Weather
Water in Water
Julio Arboleda's Stone
The Accursed Share
A Dog Growls
The Coast Is No Longer Boring
Cement and Speed
The Right to Be Lazy
What Our Readers Are Saying
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