206 Chapters
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Medium 9780253006875

9. Who Owns the Past?: Constructing an Art History of a Malian Masquerade

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub

MARY JO ARNOLDI

 

Since the 1980s anthropologists have paid increasingly more attention to issues of ethnographic authority, fieldwork reciprocity, and the way that collaboration through interviews profoundly shapes the production of scholarly narratives.1 This chapter focuses on the critical role that interviews have played in my field research and in the writing of an art history of youth association masquerades in Mali.2 My analysis considers the ways that interviews are both collaborative and cumulative processes. I examine my interviews with various individuals and groups and look at the ways that my casual conversations, as well as more formal taped interviews with men and women performers and with male blacksmith-carvers, have been instrumental in the production of an art history of this art form. These collaborations represent different but intersecting domains of knowledge and experience that have each contributed in critical ways to shaping, reshaping, and extending the scholarly narrative about these masquerades.

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Medium 9780253348920

6. Warrior Theatre and the Ritualized Body

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub

6

WARRIOR THEATRE AND THE RITUALIZED BODY

The body of a warrior is both an aesthetic locus and a site of signification, bridging what often appears to be a conceptual discontinuity by blurring the structurally imposed boundary between nature (the body experienced as an anatomical fact) and culture (the body as aesthetic object and signifier). Moving from artisan back to warrior again, this chapter explores the issue of how not only certain objects (masks, spears) but also the decorated, mutilated, or sexually androgynous body as an artifact of culture acquires meaning in relationship to the institution of warriorhood. Both Idoma and Samburu warriors were deeply enmeshed in their own ritual systems and their respective systems of objects that structured cultural practice at the beginning of the twentieth century. These two systems were linked through a series of performative practices that included dancing and masquerading for the Idoma, dances and lmugit ceremonies for the Samburu, and of course warfare itself, also a type of performance. The most ritually marked objects were (at least so far in this reading) Samburu spears and Idoma enemy heads and mimetic carved representations of such heads.

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9 No Literal Connection: Mass Commodification, U.S. Militarism; and the Oil Industry in The BigLebowski

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

David Martin-Jones

DUDE: Walter, I don’t see any connection with Vietnam, man.

WALTER: Well, there isn’t a literal connection. Dude.

The majority of material written on the films of the Coen brothers has focused on their status as auteurs (Körte and Seesslen; Bergan; Woods; Romney). This trend has ensured that interpretations of their films as products of American national cinema (i.e., as expressions of American ideology, or national identity) are in the minority. It has also meant that, especially in the case of The Big Lebowski, political subtexts have been either missed or ignored by film studies academics and film critics. Somewhat typical of the conclusions reached by such an approach is William Preston Robertson’s assertion that the film is “nothing less than a pop cultural potpourri” (37). Similarly, Carolyn Russell labels the film—when viewed in relation to the rest of the Coen brothers’ oeuvre—“an exercise in overbranding” (166). While these writers come at the film from different viewpoints, they seem united in viewing its myriad popular influences and intertextual references as ultimately meaningless.

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16 Professor Dude: An Inquiry into the Appeal of His Dudeness for Contemporary College Students

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Richard Gaughran

On the first day of classes in the fall of 2006, I walked into a James Madison University class of fifteen students, none of whom I’d met before. I had the usual plan for the first day: a short welcome and introductions, the distribution of a syllabus, followed by explanations and answering of questions. Before any of this, however, I planned to distribute a questionnaire to anyone who has seen the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski. But I had left the surveys in my office, so I placed my other books and papers on a table and mumbled something about having to return to my office to retrieve some forms I wanted the students to complete. When I returned about two minutes later, I asked, “How many of you have seen The Big Lebowski?” For some reason the room erupted in laughter. I didn’t think much of that until some weeks later, when one of these students, in my office for a conference, told me what occurred when I was gone from the classroom. After I had dropped my belongings on the table and left for my office, she asked the rest of the students if they had seen The Big Lebowski, and didn’t I remind them of the Dude? No wonder they thought my question to them, moments later, was funny.

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Medium 9780253007414

6. Rethinking Mbari Mbayo: osogbo Workshops in the 1960s, Nigeria

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Chika Okeke-Agulu

On the contrary, no experience that is interpreted or reflected on can be characterized as immediate, just as no critic or interpreter can be entirely believed if he or she claims to have achieved an Archimedean perspective that is subject neither to history nor to a social setting.

EDWARD W. SAID (1993:32)

The Osogbo group of artists, particularly those identified with the Mbari Mbayo Club and summer schools and art workshops between 1962 and 1966, has been compared with other contemporary workshop-trained artists elsewhere in Africa. Often their work has been treated as direct products of the colonial or romantic imaginations of European teachers. However, critics have questioned the cultural authenticity of such work—produced, as it was, under the influence of primitivist European teachers. These positions presuppose the gullibility, even naïveté, of the workshop-trained artists; the cunning, imperialist ideas of their European teachers; and a skewed, unequal power relationship between the semiliterate African student and the European teacher.1 Put simply, they raise questions about the authenticity of the work produced by these artists and, related to this, the pedagogical and thus power relationship between the European workshop masters and their African students. I am equally interested in these issues, but not along the same lines as previous commentators on the work Osogbo artists. Whereas most observers see another familiar story echoed in other workshops elsewhere on the continent, I argue that Osogbo was a trans-genre phenomenon in which the person and creative vision of Duro Ladipo loomed large in previously unacknowledged ways. Ladipo’s contribution to the making of Mbari Mbayo was not only fundamental but also significantly placed it outside the horizon of one single disciplinary domain. In other words, Osogbo’s uniqueness, it seems to me, lies in its production, through individual and collective work of those involved in it, a veritable Gesamtkunstwerk in the Wagnerian sense, which ultimately calls for a closer examination of how this might dislodge assumptions about the work produced by the artists, their relationship with their so-called teachers, and the nature and vectors of influences and ideas within the collective.

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9. Samburu Warriors in Hollywood Films: Cinematic Commodities

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub

9

SAMBURU WARRIORS IN HOLLYWOOD FILMS: CINEMATIC COMMODITIES

Prior to the 1970s, the Samburu living in the closed Northern Frontier District of Kenya were known only to their fellow pastoralists and a few district administrators and traders. Like Papua New Guinea highlanders, their entry into the global flow is recent, so their exoticism quotient is still high. The way they have been represented in commercial feature films and some of the ways the Samburu have learned through this experience to trade on their own commodification form two aspects of a complex story. In addition, Samburu perceptions of the films and their making were markedly different from those of the filmmakers, and I examine these contrasts in interpretation for what they reveal about cultural identity and its volatility.

DREAMS AND GHOSTS, MAU MAU, AND BASKETBALL

In Justin Cartwright’s 1993 novel Masai Dreaming, the protagonist-author is in East Africa researching and writing a film script about the incommensurate lives of Claudia, an ill-fated young French Jewish anthropologist in the early 1940s and her equally ill-fated Maasai lover, Tepilit. The writer discovers that Claudia’s legitimacy among the Maasai with whom she lived was undermined by an accident involving an American film crew and a staged lion hunt that went tragically wrong and resulted in the death of two warriors and a major fight between two Maasai sections.

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Medium 9780253009036

12 Tempered Nostalgia in Recent French Films on the ’68 Years

Daniel J Sherman Indiana University Press ePub

JULIAN BOURG

The representational heterogeneity of 1968 is self-evident. The events of that year were multiple; they advocated multiplicity, generated countless instant accounts, and have been interpreted and polemicized in a myriad of ways. Film is a fitting form for reckoning with the sixties as a whole and 1968 in particular not only because impressions of 1968 at the time and since have trafficked in images, and not only because film lends itself to capturing diverse temporalities and spaces, but also because of the simple fact that no one has stopped making films about “the ’68 years.” Where do we stand today in relation to 1968 with respect to film? I would like to discuss two films: Philippe Garrel’s Les amants réguliers (Regular Lovers, 2005) and Christian Rouaud’s Lip, l’imagination au pouvoir (Lip: Imagination in Power, 2007).1

Both of these films return to les années soixante-huit (the ’68 years), that period in France that opened with the student and worker strikes of May–June 1968 and continued into the mid-1970s. Even against the backdrop of worldwide upheaval, the French events of May and June were noteworthy. Nowhere else did matters go so far. Beginning in the student milieu, the largest general strike in twentieth-century Europe led to upward of ten million workers leaving or occupying their workplaces. The government of Charles de Gaulle experienced a shuddering crisis of confidence as the president dramatically left the country in late May for a military base in Germany to check on the loyalty of the army. Although the student-occupied Latin Quarter was cleared in June and special elections later that month strengthened de Gaulle, the events of 1968 were considered by many, as was said at the time, the “beginning of a long struggle,” a “breach” in the wall of conventional society, an opening of historical possibility that militant action would keep open and extend (figure 12.1).2 The late 1960s and early to mid-1970s saw an upswing of left-wing radicalism, the formation of new social movements, and the abrupt emergence of the French counterculture. This climate of radical social and political action began to taper off in the mid-1970s.

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3. Colonial Rupture and Innovation: The Colonizer as Inadvertent Patron

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub

3

COLONIAL RUPTURE AND INNOVATION: THE COLONIZER AS INADVERTENT PATRON

Narrating warriorhood in early colonial Kenya and Nigeria invoked parallel stories of what the British referred to as “spear-blooding” and “headhunting.” In both situations, the British colonial administration directly intervened to contain (in Samburu) or suppress (in Idoma) a cultural practice that seemed to flagrantly undermine what the colonizers saw as their civilizing mission. I now take up the backstory, which is about the spears and the heads and their own subsequent transformations, for what they reveal about the capacity of colonialism to affect artisanal practice. Far from suppressing the inventiveness or creativity of blacksmiths and woodcarvers, colonial interventions unintentionally stimulated it. Quite simply, while literary representations and informal discourse both reflected and influenced colonial policy, those policies often misfired, and what began as an attempt to coerce or control was either impossible to implement or contained internal spaces and contradictions that allowed unintended and unforeseen results to emerge. This was the case for both the Samburu spear ban and the banning of Idoma war dances that used skulls.

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1. Maa Warriorhood and British Colonial Discourse

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub

1

MAA WARRIORHOOD AND BRITISH COLONIAL DISCOURSE

If ever the dreams of European colonists are realised in Central Africa it will, without doubt, be on those portions of the Leikipia and Kenia [Kenya] plateau which are between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above the sea-level.

LUDWIG VON HÖHNEL, Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie (1894)

The vultures are dropping on the Pinguan to eat one loved by the people of Nairobi.

—Song of Samburu warriors after the Powys murder, quoted in Atieno Odhiambo “‘The Song of the Vultures’: Concepts of Kenyan Nationalism Revisited” (1973)

The Samburu (Lokop)1 are Maa-speaking pastoralists who herd cattle, sheep, goats, and sometimes camels in the remote mountain fastnesses, temperate highlands, and hot dry lowlands of the Great Rift Valley corridor and its surrounding ranges south and east of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.2 Their social relations are structured and mediated by an age-grade system in which formal warriorhood occupies an extended period of up to fourteen years between the major life-cycle transitions of circumcision and marriage.3 It is a stage of life that is not only ritually marked but sharply focused on body arts and weaponry as highly visible and volatile metaphors for virility and bravery. Admired by their girlfriends and indulged by their mothers, these young moran4 exist in a state of tension and rivalry with both the warriors of unallied Samburu sections and the older age-sets of men who have left warrior status for a more sober and powerful (but considerably less glamorous) elderhood.

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Medium 9780253013873

10 Zombie Postfeminism

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

The corpse is death infecting life.

Julia Kristeva

While Julia Kristeva doubtless did not have in mind the undead corpse of the zombie when she wrote of the abject and how it forces death upon the living, the walking dead undeniably embody abjection. It is not strange, then, that in representations of zombies, in film, literature, television, or other media, the primary focus is on how the humans who have not been infected confront and battle those who have returned from the dead. Those who engage in zombie fighting are necessarily confronting and denying the death (among other things) that the posthuman monster represents. This analysis of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) looks at how the heroine of his contemporary novel is rewritten to be physically strong, capable of independence, and yet still chained to the necessity of finding the ideal mate that is the touchstone of the original Jane Austen text. The pervasiveness of postfeminism is apparent in the book as Elizabeth Bennet fights off the monsters even while the ideal end for her is to marry well.1 Her education and the fact that she is one of the best in her field are subsumed under the ability to use these skills to secure a man. In fact, it is her very prowess in fighting the zombie offensive, her abilities with a sword, and her capacity for killing that win her the esteem of those around her and garner her the greatest prize of all: Mr. Darcy, a rich and handsome (and equally well-trained) husband. Despite the fact that her militarized body and violence are constructed as being first and foremost for the defense of herself and her loved ones, her finely tuned body is heteronormatively attractive, though this is presented as an added bonus, the result of so much training for the defense of others and not the primary motive for her training. Her body is of primary concern, especially because it is one of the principal tools in the fight against the zombie hordes. It contrasts starkly with the zombie body: where one is contained, in control, and integral, the other is messy, falling apart, and contagious. Arguably, though, the difference between the body of the zombie and that of the zombie slayer hides a more chilling similarity: that both raise the heteronormative necessity of eliminating the other.

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Medium 9780253340481

Chapter Two How All This Writing Began

Samuel S. Bak Indiana University Press ePub
Medium 9780253011596

1: Small in Stature, Large in Spirit 1854–1881

Rachel Berenson Perry Indiana University Press ePub

1854–1881

THE OHIO RIVER REFLECTED SEASONALLY BRILLIANT yellow and orange leaves of shoreline hardwoods when William Jefferson Forsyth emerged into the world on October 15, 1854. He was to be the first of seven children born to Elijah John Forsyth Jr. (1820–95) and his bride of less than one year, Mary Minerva Hackett (1830–1910).

Elijah John Jr.'s grandfather, Alexander Forsyth (born 1740), emigrated with his wife, Rachel O'Neal, from the north of Ireland. Settling in Baltimore, Alexander was listed in the first American census in 1790 as a tavern keeper.

Alexander and Rachel had three sons and three daughters. The third son, Elijah John, married Mary, the daughter of Bernhard Zell of Baltimore. The couple had seven children. Elijah John drowned while hunting, and in the late 1820s his wife succumbed to the first cholera epidemic in the United States. The children, including Elijah John Jr., were scattered among relatives and orphanages.

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8. Politics of Narrative at the African Burial Ground in New York City: The Final Monument

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub

ANDREA E. FROHNE

 

 

The African Burial Ground located in lower Manhattan was used by Africans and people of African descent from approximately 1700 until 1790. It covered five to six acres and likely contained the remains of ten thousand to twenty thousand people. A small portion of the African Burial Ground was unearthed in 1991 when the General Services Administration (GSA) built on top of the cemetery a thirty-four-story Federal Office Building at 290 Broadway between Duane and Reade Streets. The eighteenth-century colonial cemetery was located in what has become today's Civic Center of lower Manhattan, surrounded by City Hall, Federal Plaza, and the New York Supreme Court. Because the plot of land at 290 Broadway is prime real estate, it was initially treated as such, rather than as a sacred, historical burial site. Eventually, after community activism and governmental involvement, several commemorative art projects were eventually commissioned for the site.1

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4 Metonymic Hats and Metaphoric Tumbleweeds: Noir Literary Aesthetics in Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Christopher Raczkowski

In his important study of film noir More Than Night, James Naremore argues for a rethinking of noir in terms of discourse, as “an evolving system of arguments and readings that helps to shape commercial and aesthetic ideologies” and, as Naremore goes on to elaborate, political ideologies (11). In other words, noir is less a set of formalized cinematic gestures—visual styles and narrative procedures—than a cultural strategy that resonates across multiple artistic, commercial, and intellectual forms. Thinking noir as Naremore does, as discourse rather than genre, provides an answer for a question that has vexed me for some time about Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski: can this movie be meaningfully grouped with Miller’s Crossing (1990) as a noir text? Certainly, both draw inspiration from the well of classic Hollywood noir films; indeed, the movies are frequently referred to as the first two installments of the Coens’ “noir trilogy.” And, yet, they are jarringly antithetical in look and feel. It is this gap between the noir aesthetics of Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski that interests me the most and animates the analysis that follows. The virtue of Naremore’s definition is that it treats relations between noirish texts as dynamic rather than categorical and restrictive; only such a protean and yet tactical conception of noir will do for making sense of the complex relation of Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski. While commentators tend to ignore the aesthetic divide between these movies or reject the proposition that The Big Lebowski can be sensibly grouped with other noir films at all, I argue that the tension is fertile and productive of a noir dialectic evolved by the Coens in the two movies.

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2 A Once and Future Dude: The Big Lebowski as Medieval Grail-Quest

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Andrew Rabin

Although medieval allegory might seem distant from Lebowski’s “parlance of the times,” references to the Middle Ages—and to the Grail-quest in particular—form a crucial component of the film’s narrative world.1 Like the Old French Queste del Saint Graal, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, or Malory’s Morte Darthur, The Big Lebowski recounts the adventures of three companions seeking to restore a lost fetish-object. This quest leads them through a contemporary wasteland to the castle of a crippled king whose paraplegia marks him as both sexually and politically impotent. Here, the object is found and lost again, and the goal now becomes to restore the king’s potency, as well as to recover the original object of the search. On his journey, the principal Grail knight experiences allegorical visions and confronts the temptations of the flesh. He encounters both Jesus (Quintana) and Arthur (Digby Sellers) and receives dubious aid from an “Irish monk” (the “brother Seamus,” Da Fino). In perhaps the most obvious Grail allusion, the Dude’s second meeting with the “Big” Lebowski takes place in a neo-Gothic great hall with Wagner’s Lohengrin, an opera based on Wolfram’s Parzifal, playing in the background. The adventure finally ends with the death of the most innocent of the questers and the return of his two companions, sadder yet wiser men. However, despite such obvious similarities between the medieval and modern narratives, the inhabitants of the Dude’s world remain as ignorant of their Arthurian analogues as they seem to be of the Iraq War beginning around them. In this film, the voice of history is that of “a Stranger.” Like the child who wanders in in the middle of a movie, they have, as Walter tells Donny, “no frame of reference.”

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