Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ethnic Smell

“Body odor as ethnicity was too powerful an idea to fade. In the mass of strangers conjured up by frontier culture and intensified by krisis, how else might one identify one’s friends and enemies? Everything else could be mimicked, or so it was said.” (50)
I found Tsing’s description of this moment in the Indonesian rainforest captivating. In her discussion of gaps and friction, this physical manifestation embodies the gap between recordable and perceptible. She talks of haunting, the phenomena in which what is seen is not exclusively that which is known or present. This seems an intense when that disjuncture between observable and known becomes physical.
Recording is powerful, yet here the most powerful thing is that which cannot be recorded concretely. Rather, the power lies in an innate or haunted way of knowing. In the Indonesian forest, ethnicity and smell become something that is difficult to categorize or make tangible to describe your surroundings. This reliability on lo-fi solutions reminds me of the closing argument that Professor Muhanna presented during his lecture – that given a set of new, complicated, sophisticated ways to understand the world, or to argue within it, that we can rely on the most instinctive reactions to color our Is smell a physical manifestation of affect?
The description of body odor – elusive, sometimes relaxing or offensive – connects to Ahmed’s description disgust. The performative act of calling something disgusting, perhaps also of calling someone else’s smell as particularly ethnic, is distancing from the object, but also reflects an initial attraction. How different or disgusting is the smell, and how much is it reflective of participating in the act calling out the other? The stickyness of the label  of disgust or the unshakeability of the smell are so physical, and yet are iterated in non-physical ways in the global networks we have examined in class. 

No comments: