Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses
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In his most ambitious and accomplished work to date, Michael Taussig undertakes a history of mimesis, the practice of imitation, and its relation to alterity, the opposition of Self and Other. Drawing upon such diverse sources as theories of Benjamin, Adorno and Horckheimer, research on the Cuna Indians, and theories of colonialism and postcolonialism, Taussig shows that the history of mimesis is deeply tied to colonialism, and more specifically, to the colonial trade's construction of "savages." With analysis that is vigorous, unorthodox, and often breathtaking, Taussig's cross-cultural discussion of mimesis deepens our understanding of the relationship between ethnography, racism and society.
do ubly su re, " he ad ds, " it is desira ble to imp regnate the effigy, so to say, with the personal influence of the man hy pass ing it clandestinely befor eha nd o ver him o r hiding it, un bek nown to him, in his clothes o r under his bed." (61) This "i mpregnatio n" of the image wit h th e person al influence of We m an whose ima ge it is, is cr ucial here ; ir would see m that likeness is not sufficient in itself. N o r, fo r that ma u er , is the "impregna tio n" with th e personal influ
ritual prac tice of myth and magic provide far more of a basis for the mimetic faculty than wha t th e young Darwin called "the more practiced habits of perceptio n and keener senses common to all men in a savage sta te"? To gauge the intensity of such ritual pra ctice in Tierra del Fuego one has on ly to consult Bridge's detailed memoir as well as the extensive works of the ta lented Austrian ethnographer, M art in Gus inde, who worked in the region between 1918 and 1924 . n Both pr ovide vivid
14.1 THE C Ol OR. OF ALTH IT'l' 11 T HE COLOR OF ALTERIIT In the summary of his resea rch of what he quaintly called. following U.S. an thropological convent ion, "the con tact continuum." among the Cuna in the early 19405, the ant hropol ogist Dav id Stout has left U~ with the int imation of an arresting idea: tha t the cultu ral r oHrin o f a lrcnry shoul d be seen as co mposed nor simply of one-on -one, fo r instance Ame rica ns a nd Ca nas. bu t as a hierarchy o f alreruies withi n a co
ers ,1IlJ the subjugated masses from 1 15 - Anroinerre -, 1'][ .. I Planng . , ,Ia ldulc imer - Marie Mark of the mimetic: (auto maton.) 2" 2 17 HIS MASTER'S VOICE Mark of the mimetic: Isis (automaton). reverting to mimetic modes of existence, starting with the religious prohibition on images, going on to the social banishment of actors and gypsies, and leading finally to the kind of teaching which does not allow children to behave as children, has heen rhe condition for civilization:
sugges ts th at the an thropological project can continue un abated with the same old desire for intellectual mast ery of the object of study and the same old desire fur the enigma of the "pow erful exp lanation." But worl d history has decreed otherwise. Mastery is mocked as First World an d Other W orlds no w mir ro r, interl ock, an d rupt ure each other's alt eriry to such a degree tha t all that is left IS the cxccss-c-rhe self-consciousness as to the need for an Ident ity, sex ual, racial,