Books We Should Have Read, Or Could Also Read

25 Mar

Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man:

In what does the healing power of wildness lie? Taussig answers this question: “Wildness challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents. Wildness pries open this unity and in its place creates slippage. . . . Wildness is the death space of signification” (219).

“So it has been through the sweep of colonial history where the colonizers provided the colonized with the left-handed gift of the image of the wild man–a gift whose powers the colonizers would be blind to, were it not for the reciprocation of the colonized, bringing together in the dialogical imagination of colonization an image that wrests from civilization its demonic power” (467).


The (quite good, in this case) Wikipedia article on the author, an anthropologist at Columbia University, also notes on this book:

His case of terror is that of the rubber trade in the Putumayo river area of Colombia of the late 19th and early 20th century. Much of these acts of terror stemmed from British rubber barons of the time trying to impose a capitalist mode of production on an indigenous, “wild”, population still living under an economy based upon a gift/exchange system. In the eyes of the British, who violently pressured the natives to extract rubber from the rubber trees of the area, the Indians, “would not work appropriately”. The barons’ reaction to indigenous resistance was to carry out horrific acts of terror on the minds and bodies of the local population, which Taussig thoroughly documents through providing firsthand accounts from the time. Within the “space of death” created in the Putumayo area came also the death of communal memory and objectivity. Terror resulted in a, “society shrouded in an order so orderly that its chaos was far more intense than anything that had preceded it–a death-space in the land of the living where torture’s certain uncertainty fed the great machinery of the arbitrariness of power” (4). Interestingly enough, the powerful force of healing develops from the same space created by the other powerful force of terror: “Shamanic healing . . . like the culture of terror, also develops its force from the colonially generated wildness of the epistemic murk of the space of death” (127).

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Posted by on March 25, 2008 in Bibliography


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