Henri III, who had previously been king of Poland, came to the throne of France in 1574 on the death of his brother Charles IX (the king of the St Bartholomew massacre). He was not popular, particularly in Paris, which at that time was very Catholic and traditional. His entourage was lampooned, the famous ‘mignons’ who passed their time in duels and debauchery of various kinds. He was attacked for his fantasies, his cross-dressing, his taste for lapdogs and exotic animals. Pierre de L’Estoile, gentleman usher to the chancellery and quite royalist in his sympathies, related in his diary that on 14 July 1576:
The king and queen arrived in Paris on return from the land of Normandy, from where they brought a large quantity of monkeys, parrots, and small dogs purchased in Dieppe. Some of these parrots, the majority trained by the Huguenots, gave out all kinds of nonsense and railing against the mass, the pope, and the ceremonies of the Roman church; when some people who had been offended said this to the king, he replied that you don’t interfere with the conscience of parrots.
You heard it here, folks: you don’t interfere with the conscience of a parrot. Fowl mouth and all.
Things have been so busy this semester I haven’t even been able to keep up with spreading the word about my own work! There are three major publications I wanted to let you all know about. I have been working on some of these for several years now, and I’m very proud of them:
This book was published in French under the title L’Adieu au voyage. This phrase is an allusion to the last page of Tristes Tropiques, in which Claude Lévi-Strauss invites us to seize the essence of humankind not through geographical or anthropological explorations of the planet (“fond farewell to savages and explorations!”), but through the ephemeral contemplation of the works of nature: a crystal, a perfume, or, famously, the eye of a cat. In my mind, this phrase did not refer to such a project, and even less to some historical moment: the farewell to journeying does not designate some historical realization through which, after explorations and empires, the West would observe with bitterness the end of exoticism or the vanishing of differences (these topoi date back at least to the eighteenth century). It designates rather a moment within ethnography, through which the anthropologist relinquishes any idealized conception of difference. It is thus not only a farewell to some idealized Other, but also a farewell to oneself, in other words the redefinition of the relationship between subject and object. Like in Lévi-Strauss’s original phrasing, the farewell to the journey does not point to any conclusion, or disenchantment, but to the reconfiguration of a relationship, a twofold process of objectivation and subjectivation.
The AAA Meetings were a wonderful flurry of activity that I’m just now recovering from, however one thing slipped under my radar while it was happening: my new article, co-authored with Paul Mutsaers and Jennie Simpson, on “The Anthropology of Police as Public Anthropology” is now available for early viewing*. The hard-copy version of the article is set to appear in the December issue of the journal American Anthropologist. This should be the first in a flurry of exciting things coming in the next semester or so, so keep an eye out!
*I’d prefer you download the article via Wiley’s site, if you have access through your home institution or Anthrosource. If not, however, you an find a copy I’ve uploaded onto Academia.edu
I have no doubt that nature has kinds which we distinguish. Some seem fairly cosmic: quarks, probably genes, possibly cystic fibrosis. Others are mundane: mud, the common cold, headlands, sunsets. The common cold is as real as cystic fibrosis, and sunsets are as real as quarks. More law-like regularities are known about mud than quarks–known to youths who play football, parents who do family laundry, and to mud engineers on oil rig sites. The regularities of mud do not have profound consequences for theoreticians. That does not make mud any the less a natural kind of stuff.”
All the articles in this issue will be available as Open Access, which means you will not need a University library subscription to access them. In addition, I’ve written a short new ‘postscript’ to the piece reflecting on changes since the article’s original publication.
The semiotics–the poetry–of the phrase “9/11” increasingly strikes me. For one, it removes the year from the date, which puts it in a continual, circular temporarily (there is always a recent and an upcoming September) rather than a linear annual one (by now 2001 seems so far away to my students!). The effect is that we are in constant state of 9/11-ness and always will be, rather than being able to see it as a moment, in the past, that we can move beyond. This is my understanding, and probably one of the most useful ways into, what many people mean by the state of exception.
So, as some of you might have noticed, I’ve recently decided to pick an English Premier League team. I’ve resisted this for years, because I wanted to maintain my Ligue 1 chauvinism, as that’s where my football roots lie (way back when Didier Drogba was on Marseille & Lyon won every year), but my local cable package still doesn’t include their games. So PL it is. Later, I might have some more general thought on this process, which seems to be becoming a way for a certain type of American to enter a kind of cosmopolitan ecumene. For now, however, I’ll just be giving my current power rankings, based on my first week of really watching closely.
There is a great summary of Jacques Ranciere’s notion of a “politics of police” over at Critical Theory.com
We can see how these police partitions work in the events of Occupy Wall Street.
You see, some bankers made this park on stolen native land for them to eat lunch in while they rested from robbing the world of millions of dollars with complicated derivatives and other bullshit nobody understands. When some hipsters decided they wanted to camp out on Wall Street, the police were like “GTFO bro”. And when those hipsters started camping out in Zuccoti Park and ruining those bankers lunches, the police calmly reminded the protesters that the park belonged to white people in suits. The police reminded the protesters that if they want to take part in this “politics” business they need to vote like everyone else, or at least have some sort of “concrete demands”. But they didn’t, so then they started pepper spraying kids.
That’s what the police order does, it tells you to take part in the fake politics – casting a ballot, going to a town hall – and tries to divest energy from what Ranciere calls real politics. After all, the Egyptian revolution didn’t start because people started sending nicely worded petitions to the government. It started when people manifested themselves in the public spaces that were once apolitical.
I’m a big fan of Cliff Rosenberg’s work on police as a mechanism of power operating through and in the name of the social. His work on immigration at the beginning of the 20th century in France is one of the bases for my own concept of a “post-social police,” by way of contrast with the police reforms i witnessed in the early 21st. So I was pleased to see that he made an explicit connection between regimes of the social in a recent review of Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain:
Did population policy under Stalin differ, in any fundamental respect, from those of inter-war France or other Western countries? In a radical rethinking of the Soviet experience, Stephen Kotkin said no. Magnetic Mountain moved the field of Soviet history past an increasingly sterile cold war standoff between the so-called new social history and the totalitarian school. With the social history generation, Kotkin insisted on seeing the Soviet project from the perspective of ordinary people, subject to the same kind of forces that applied throughout Europe. He had no truck with ideas like oriental despotism or Russian exceptionalism, but, with the totalitarian school, he took ideology seriously, presenting everyday life and high politics within a single analytical frame. To do so, he drew eclectically on a range of theoretical perspectives, above all on the work of the late Michel Foucault. Foucault often implied that Auschwitz and the Gulag were the logical outcome of the Enlightenment project, but his primary goal was to illuminate the corrosive, coercive nature of liberal reform efforts in Western Europe, to puncture their claims to universality. The vast bulk of his corpus avoided the twentieth century. Kotkin, by contrast, used Foucault’s perspective directly on the Soviet system itself.
Population Politics, Power and the Problem of Modernity in Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain