You are on page 1of 5

Review

Author(s): Fernando Coronil


Review by: Fernando Coronil
Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 93, No. 6 (May, 1988), pp. 1524-1527
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2780841
Accessed: 17-08-2015 19:07 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Journal of
Sociology.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 181.177.248.188 on Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:50 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

AmericanJournalof Sociology
evolvingon the big screen?The shiftto the Rightin Americanpolitics
and the religiousrevivalismof the late 1970s and early 1980s have inspiredthe "JesusSystemof WeightControl"and revivalistdiet workshops with mottoslike Joan Cavanaugh's "More of Jesusand Less of
Me."
As withanythingthathas becomeas centralto ourcultureas slimming,
a hugelylucrativediet industryhas evolved,one thatproduces91 new
dietfoods,300 diet books,and well overone billiondollarsworthofdiet
drugsales peryear. As Schwartznotes,dietingis a supremeformforthe
manipulationof desire,preciselybecause it is so frustrating:
"Capitalists
have as vitala stakein thefailureofdietersas [theydo] in thepromotion
of dieting"(p. 328). In examiningthisindustryand its repercussions
for
Americansociety,he chartsshiftsin our fundamentaleatingpatterns,
habitsof exercise,and mannersofspeech:"To becomea nationalway of
life,weightcontrolhad to be builtintothecultureas ifit had alwaysbeen
there"(p. 255).
This book is a witty,well-informed,
and well-documented
(107 pages
ofnotesfor339 pages oftext)accountoftheculturaland social constructionofrealityand itsreflection
and effecton Americansand theirinstitutionssincethebirthoftheRepublic.At itsclose,Schwartznotesthatthe
exercise involved in typing all drafts of this fat-well, pleasingly
insteadof using such
plump-book by hand on a manual typewriter,
effortless
and modernmeans of communication
as the word processor,
has been calculatedto have burned10 poundsoffatfromhis now leaner
and more healthfulframe. Such a revelationmay well inspirea new
regimenof slimmingin America-diet books (writeyourown and lose
weight),typingparties(poundthosekeysand lose thosepounds),type-rcise classes(stretchforthat"b," tuckforthat"c"). Schwartz,likeHorace
Fletcherand Jane Fonda beforehim, may have tapped his way to a
revelation and the possibilityof a slim fortune.I tried manually
Schwartzingthisreviewand, injust over800 words,workedup a heavyenoughsweat fora shower.Believe me, it works!
Shamanism,Colonialism,and the Wild Man: A Study in Terrorand
Healing. By Michael Taussig. Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press,
1987. Pp. xix+517. $29.95.
FernandoCoronil
UniversityofChicago
This mind-opening
book is a self-reflective
explorationofcolonialismand
healing,a quest fornew ways of seeingas muchas fornew insightsinto
theworldsconstructed
by colonizersand colonizedin theAmericas.The
firstsectionofShamanism,Colonialism,and theWildMan examinesthe
historicalrecordof the brutalexploitation,torture,and enslavementof
1524

This content downloaded from 181.177.248.188 on Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:50 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Book Reviews
Indians along the PutumayoRiverin Colombia duringtherubberboom
at the beginningof this century.Michael Taussig views the massive
violence perpetratedagainst Indian laborersby the PeruvianAmazon
Companyas an outgrowthof a local "cultureofterror"respondingto its
activitiesimputedto
own innerlogic,notas a resultofprofit-maximizing
the companyby economicperspectives.The second and main section,
based on fiveyears of participantobservationbetween1969 and 1985,
discussescuringritualsin southwestColombia amonghealerswho draw
to lowlandIndian shamansand to thehallucinoon thepowersattributed
of shagenic "yage" plant. Arguingagainstsociologicalinterpretations
manisticcuringritualsas imposingorder,he regardshealingas thejoint
creationby healer and patientof a "space of death" whereorderis unmade as well as made. Unitingbothsectionsis theidea thatIndiansand
non-Indianshave been definedby a commonhistoryof conquestand
colonizationthat,inscribedin potentimagery,entersintotheirongoing
makingof history.
One of the disconcertingvirtuesof Taussig's book is that it resists
suchas thoseabove. His argureductionto deceptivelyclearpropositions
mentsunfoldin a dazzling allegoricalnarrativewhose veryformchallenges the sense of orderthat anthropologicaldiscourseconstructsby
and dissecting"exotic"peoples. As in his earlierwork, he
objectifying
turnsto Colombiansto illuminateand destabilizethe"FirstWorld"self,a
risksreproducing
a colonialoptic.Tausprojectwhose self-referentiality
of thenaturalized
sig respondsto thisriskby makingthedeconstruction
sense of First World realitya challengeto colonialism.One hopes that
this challengeis not intendedto remaincircumscribed
withinthe First
World but to open possibilitiesfor overcomingthe self/other
polarity
rootedin anthropology's
colonial origins.This book bears the marksof
thisproject,bothof its limitingriskand of its liberatingpromise.
Taussig's declaredobjectiveis to analyzethepoliticsoftheinterpretation and representation
of social life-"not the being of truth,but the
social truthof being"(p. xiii). In a poststructuralist
vein,he criticizesthe
thatreinforces
thenaturalizascholarlypursuitof"system"or "structure"
tionofthedominantorder.He offershis own "book ofmagia"(p. 473) to
counterthe "magicof academic ritualsofexplanation,which,withtheir
the
alchemicalpromiseofyieldingsystemfromchaos,do nothingto ruffle
placid surfaceof thisnaturalorder"(p. xiv). His book, he states,is the
workof "a different
it conconflationof modernismand the primitivism
jures intolife-namely, the carryingoverintohistoryof theprincipleof
montage,as I learned that principlenot only fromterror,but from
Putumayoshamanismwith its adroit, albeit unconscious,use of the
magicof historyand its healingpower"(p. xiv).
In elaboratingthisprinciple,Taussig engagesa traditionofFirstWorld
thinkersconcernedwiththe politicsof representation,
primarilyBenjamin but also Brecht,Artaud,Derrida,Barthes,and Foucault. His own
in his portrayalofBenjaminas a thinker
inclinations
seemto be mirrored
1525

This content downloaded from 181.177.248.188 on Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:50 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

AmericanJournalof Sociology
in winningarguwho "didn'tplace muchfaithin factsand information
ments,let alone class struggle"(p. 368) and who felt"thatit was in the
less consciousimage realmand in thedreamworldof thepopularimaginationthat he saw it necessaryto act" (p. 369). Buildingon his understandingof Benjamin's "dialecticalimages" as "montage"-a principle
that captures"subterraneanconnectionsof dissimilars"-Taussig evidentlyseeks to conjure images capable of having in their"sails," as
Benjamin proposed,"the wind of worldhistory"(p. 369).
Shamanism,Colonialism,and theWildMan is craftedas a montageof
montages,a carefullydisorderednarrative,writtenin a strongpersonal
voice, that brings together historical accounts, social imaginings,
fieldwork
experiences,theoretical
propositions,
drawings,anecdotes,and
photographs.At timesthis design makes the book repetitiveand selfconsciouslyauthorial,the workof one in awe of the powerof words-a
minor flaw, when one considershow extraordinarily
evocative it is.
Throughunforgettable
accounts,he makes it possibleforus to understand how the conquerors'attemptsto eradicateIndians' memoryentailed at once the suppressionand the re-creation
of theirown fantasies
about the conquered: how, for instance, Indian fat came to heal
or how whitesseated
Spaniards'bodiesand feedtheirmutualimaginings,
atop thebacks ofIndian carriersinjourneysacrosstheAndesreproduced
as they
the ascentfromdamnationto salvationof Westernmythologies
togetherforgedthe fantastichistoryof America. In dialogue with this
history,and withthe imageryof wildnessand death it has engendered,
Taussig exploresshamanistichealingand offershis suggestiveinterpretationof curingas a creativeexchangebetweenhealerand patient,order
and disorder.
By means of thisjourneyintotheimageryof dominationand healing,
Taussig has shown how "civilizing"conquerorsand "wild" conquered
have woven a web of mutuallydefiningrelationsand representations.
Afterthisexceptionalaccomplishment,
it shouldno longerbe possibleto
writeabout "non-Indians"and "Indians" as iftheyconstituted
separate
peoples, a colonial "self" imposedon a pure American"other."In this
respect,the book marksan advance over his earlierwork,in whichhis
moreformalistic
thandialecticaluse ofideal types-his contrastbetween
marketand naturaleconomiesas reifiedtypesembodyingopposedmoral
and social attributes-tendedto place historyat theserviceoftheoretical
constructs,
obscuringratherthanilluminating
hisrichhistoricalanalysis.
Nevertheless,the formalistspiritof Westernepistemologies,
withits
penchantfordualism,occasionallyhauntseventhisrebelliousbook. This
occurs,forinstance,in the dichotomyTaussig establishesbetweenthe
logic of the "cultureof terror"and the rationality
of capitalistexploitation, or in the oppositionhe positsbetweenthe acquisitionof "knowledge" by thedirectpersonalexperienceofshamanisticvisionsand bythe
anonymous,abstractmeans of "books of magic" (sold in the Putumayo
regionbyvendorsofherbalproducts).These oppositionstendto recapitu1526

This content downloaded from 181.177.248.188 on Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:50 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Book Reviews
late the colonial clash betweenspiritand matter,the learned and the
popular,as well as to confusecommodityexchangewithcapitalistcommoditization,to equate standardizationwith abstraction,and to constructcapitalistrationalityas an ideal ratherthan as a diverselyconstitutedhistoricalform.
In this light,Taussig's claim that books of magic embodythe alien,
impersonal,standardized,colonizingpower of the printedword as opposed to the directIndian knowledgeof the shamanicvision appears
problematicat theleast. By hisown evidence,theEuropeanoccultbeliefs
theyexpresshave been appropriatedby the local populationsincecolonial timesand incorporatedintotheirpresentrituals.An examinationof
one of thesebooks of magic (The Book ofCipriano,whichI obtainedin
one ofChicago's"botanicas,"storessellingcuringherbs,magicalpotions,
and religiousfigurines)
formakingmoneythrougha
revealsinstructions
pact withthedevil thatbringsto mindthedevil pactsTaussig has interpretedas a local peasant critiqueof capitalism.Are notthesebookspart
of the historythatTaussig has illuminated,in whichcolonialmagichas
becomeunwittingly
subvertedfromwithinand turnedintothe redemptive magic of the colonized?To answerthis question,we need a more
thoroughstudyofthepracticesand beliefsofthepeopleofthePutumayo
region,one thattranscendstheoppositionsbetween"facts"and the"image world,""cosmos"and "chaos," "system"and "disorder,""being"and
"representation,"
and in so doing, recoverswhat Benjamin called the
"dreamworldof the popular imagination"withina richhistoricalworld
thatis the synthesisof multipledeterminations.
In the openingsentenceof this book, Taussig boldlyclaims that his
work"takes littleforgrantedand leaves even less in its place" (p. xiii).
But to the extentthatTaussig, like thewild healer,sides withchaos, he
reproducesthe existingordereven as he subvertsit. Yet, even whenhis
sails are but partlyfilledby the wind of history,theypropelus forward
and make us sense its unfathomablepower. From the vantage point
offeredby this path-breakingquest, it becomes possible to imaginea
fullerunderstandingof history.In its pursuit,we may wish to heed
Benjamin's advice and treatthe principleof montageas but "the first
stage"in whichone systematically
out of
buildshistory's
"largestructures
the smallest,preciselyfashionedstructuralelements"(p. 369). Undoubtedly,thisextraordinary
book will advance the heateddiscussionwithin
that Taussig's earlierwork has justifiablyengendered;in
anthropology
prefiguring
the journeyahead, it will encourageever morecriticaland
creativeexplorations.

1527

This content downloaded from 181.177.248.188 on Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:50 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions