The Magic Of The State (Book Cover) by Michael Taussig. Taussig, Michael. “Tactility and Distraction”. The Magic of The State / The Nervous System. Routledge. February 21, 1997.

Taussig’s book entwines and alternates anthropological facts with narrative fiction as a means of opening a view to mysticisms inherent to the creation and sustenance of a State. Pointing to the mythological attributes of nationalism, the assumptive authority attributed to representatives of the State, and to affective qualities of prescribed history and identity, the author locates and demonstrates the magical properties of State existence. By associating his narration to common perceptions pertaining to the primitivity of non-Westernized cultures, Taussig’s fictive mountain reveals contemporary power dynamics and modernist methodologies which might been seen as akin or parallel to, rather than having contrast with, these so-called superstitious cultures.

Taussig credits a concept proposed by Georges Bataille, surrounding death rituals, for his inception of this book. In this chapter, the author begins by distinguishing contemplation from distraction by describing the latter as an apperceptive mode of engagement, a “barely conscious peripheral vision” in the everyday life. He suggests that a certain tactility grows out of distracted vision, which “confounds” the subject with the object so much that “the unconscious seems to reside in an object”, rather than in the perceiver. He notes that photography revealed this process by making visible in the everyday, that which was not usually isolated in our perspectives while immersed and distracted in a given environment.

Taussig refers to our associatively assigned meanings to such imagery as relating to an “optical unconscious”, and cites technologies as producing a new tactility that is ascribed to objects, upon which a transference of magical properties has occurred. He describes the transference as a demystification and re-enchantment process. An example provided is the “artfull practice” of advertising, which blends aesthetics with practicality and associates with attributes of identity, it’s mimesis implies a copying while making a substantial materialist connection – and both are viewed as necessary to contagious magical ritual. He suggests that advertising imagery might be seen as replacing wax portraits of an adversary or loved one, for example, which would typically be actuated by a hair or nail or property of that person. The object or target of the magic requires optical likeness, sensual objectification, and the material substance which links it’s concept to the everyday life. He states that is precisely in such ways that the power of advertising resides in it’s visceral impact and affects.

Taussig states that the sociological structure of research and specialized disciplines obscure these impacts, and that media and imagery not only represent an issue of literacy but also a new tactility, and thus a new form of magic.The author asserts that while a poesis of everyday life (citing Michel De Certeau) may be expounded upon, the question of resistance rests instead (not with universal semiotics but) within context of capitalist mimetics. He also describes Foucaultian notions of subjugation as overlooking the “dubious luminosity of meanings” and the intellectual containment of the body’s understanding of everyday life. This analogy reframes discourse surrounding mind/body paradoxes and identifies the body as subjugated by the mind – thus biasing, diluting, or confusing our interpretations of physical experience (of say, the urban landscape, for example). Taussig criticizes mimetic approaches to research and analysis also, noting the effort to garner legitimization and the reconstituting of “the obvious” in analysis, as opposed to challenging the predominate critical practice. The latter of which he suggests should be referred to as an “allegorizing” mode of reading into events and artifacts.

Sections of this text provide another layer of meanings to investigate in regard to the character of an engagement and experiential meanings, as it might also pertain to technological art making and presentations.


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