Surrealpolitik: Culture of Terror/Space of Death

Author: Michael Taussig

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Quick Summary

A journal article in which Taussig reflects on the problems of writing about terrorism and torture, in particular the problem of engaging their ritualistic and hallucinatory aspects, retaining the hallucinatory quality without aestheticizing the horror.


There are 3 quotes currently associated with this book.

From Timerman's chronicle and texts like Miguel Angel Asturias's El seƱor presidente it is abundantly clear that cultures of terror are based on and nourished by silence and myth in which the fanatical stress on the mysterious side of the mysterious flourishes by means of rumor and fantasy woven in a dense web of magical realism. It is also clear that the victimizer needs the victim for the purpose of making truth, objectifying the victimizer's fantasies in the discourse of the other. To be sure, the torturer's desire is also prosaic: to acquire information, to act in concert with large-scale economic strategies elaborated by the masters and exigencies of production. Yet equally if not more important is the need to control massive populations through the cultural elaboration of fear. (page 469)
Tags: [Surrealism, Surrealism & Politics, Terror, The Other, Myth]
Conrad's way of dealing with the terror of the rubber boom in the Congo was Heart of Darkness. There were three realities there, comments Frederick Karl: King Leopold's, made out of intricate disguises and deceptions; Casement's studied realism; and Conrad's, which, to quote Karl, "fell midway between way between the other two, as he attempted to penetrate the veil and yet was anxious to retain its hallucinatory quality." [ Frederick R. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1979), 286]

This formularization is sharp and important: to penetrate the veil while retaining its hallucinatory quality...The political and artistic problem is to engage with that, to maintain that hallucinatory quality while effectively turning it against itself. That would be the true catharsis, the great counterdiscourse whose poetics we must ponder in the political terrain now urgently exposed today; the form wherein all that appeals and seduces in the iconography and sensuality of the underworld becomes its own force for self-subversion. Foucault's concept of discourse eludes this aspiration and concept of dialectically engaged subversion. But it is with this poetics that we must develop the cultural politics appropriate to our times. (page 471-472)
Tags: [Surrealism & Politics]
There is a problem that I have only hinted at in all of the accounts of the atrocities of the Putumayo rubber boom. While the immensity of the cruelty is beyond question, most of the evidence comes through stories. The meticulous historian would seize upon this fact as a challenge to winnow out truth from exaggeration or understatement. But the more basic implication, it seems to me, is that the narratives are in themselves evidence of the process whereby a culture of terror was created and sustained. (page 482)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Surrealism & Politics, Truth & Real, Terror]