Michael Taussig - Mimesis and Alterity - 1993

Chris Fanjul
Bruce Grant
Dec. 2, 1998

On Taussig's Mimesis and Alterity

While I have not gotten to the end section of the book, I am starting to see some interplay between our first Taussig readings and this one. In his discussion of sympathetic magic he outlines, using the Law of Contact, how healing depends on the abilities of the human to observe an emotion and take it in, then copy it and express it outwardly in the form of imitation in order to produce an effect. This sympathetic resembles the role of terror and fear, which the colonists had to understand if they were to then use them. Forging a copy in the conscious, or the subconscious, mind allows for control of the personal copy, which can then be imitated in action, etc. Taussig also touches on the problem of jealousy and envy, regarding Jewish attributes that people learn to hate. While the specifics seem a bit far-fetched, it follows that is we can't mimic something, there is a tension with that thing. If we can not take it in and know it, use its power, then it becomes the enemy - we fear what is misunderstood. This is like the terror created in colonists by foreign lands and savage darkness where the unknown is hiding. If they could not absorb the natives and their ways, understand their powers, then they would fear them. As noted in parts of the two books, there was a certain jealousy of the "civilized" for the "purity" of the savages. That pure state, however, is something that can not be copied, because we are already "soiled" in an irreversible way.

The idea that describing a sickness, making a verbal copy of it, in order to control or defeat it interesting in that it gives the sickness a life and persona of its own. By giving it anthropomorphic qualities are we trying to put it in our own terms, so as to better understand it and thus be able to absorb/imitate it? While reading this all I could think of was the story of Rumplestiltskin, and how, after he is named, he is powerless. I'm not sure if there is a direct correlation, but it seems that the mystery is what provides the power of the evil, and by removing the shadows, we can take away that power.

I am puzzled by the fear produced in the Cuna by the dreams of beautiful outsiders coming to make love to a villager. This clearly says that the Cuna do not want to meld with, i.e. mimic, the Other. What would be the ultimate form of absorption, something important to understanding and copying, is feared instead of embraced as we would suppose the Cuna would do, given their use of outsider (European) form in important areas such as healing. Is this a contradiction or just a special case? Is outside blood feared when it comes to the realm of dreams? Is the dream a space where the outsider figure has possible control if he/she can tempt the dreamer? Two "images", visual dream copies, in a blurry battle for the life of the native and the village?