Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Abandoned Roads (Tsing)

Tsing says her goal for the first chapter is to be "both practical and poetic." (28) And one of my favorite passages in the book was one of its most poetic. On page 29, she writes,

An abandoned logging road has got to be one of the most desolate places on earth. It doesn't go anywhere, by definition. It you are walking there, it is either because you are lost or you are trespassing, or both. The wet clay builds clods on your boots, if you have any, sapping your strength, and if you don't have any boots, the sun and the hot mud are unmerciful. Whole hillsides slide down beside you into the stagnant pools where the mosquitoes breed.

I enjoyed this passage first for its style. Tsing has left the boundaries of her discipline (ethnography) for a more "poetic" style, the essay. I think much of the book functions best as a descriptive theory rather than as a work of explicit theory. This mirrors what Tsing found in her Indonesian travels: narratives competed on different levels (global, national, local) and in different forms (corporate, journalistic, oral).

Later on, Tsing asks "How does cosmopolitan specificity come about?" (124) My answer would be that it comes about through the deceptively un-aggressive power of narrative: when a story goes "viral" it can be repeated without appearing foreign or oppressive. Is there any way to fight a story without another story? "Words and concepts betray us," Tsing says, when we talk about freedom. (205) Could fighting against words and concepts in themselves be a way of fighting against one's perceived enemies (e.g. international timber companies)?

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