From Publishers Weekly
If Hunter S. Thompson had been trained by Boaz in anthropology, Engels in economics and Arendt in philosophy, he might write something like Taussig, whose ninth book follows on the heels of Law in a Lawless Land, and is a further study of the ways and means of south Colombias poor communities. Taussig literally imagines his book to be a "cocaine museum"; its a conceit that brings Taussigs first-person outsiders perspective together with Colombias major cash crop, and with the things that people make and use around it. Short chapters riff on a particular person, place or thingtown officials who clap out death warrant-like denuncias on manual typewriters; citizens who distill the lighter fluid-like drink biché as their only income-generating activity; children who mine gold by hand and can go years without finding anyand then spiral out into the entwined histories of slavery, drugs and colonialism, as well as into philosophical speculations. "Transgressive substances," Taussig writes, "make you want to reach out for a new language of nature, lost to memories of prehistorical time that the present state of emergency recalls." A book of "spells, hundreds and thousands of spells, intended to break the catastrophic spell of things," Taussigs virtual museum feels as real as the hot, damp rainforest where its set.
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"What's an anthropologist to do in a country where life is magic? This question shapes Columbia professor Michael Taussig's My Cocaine Museum. Taussig has spent much of the last three decades in Colombia, where he has been everywhere and, it seems, met everyone, from the descendants of African slaves who pan for gold on the coast to the ministers in Bogota, digging in their cabinets for missing files. My Cocaine Museum is a report from the field, but it is hardly traditional fieldwork. Taussig begins with a description of the Gold Museum in Bogota, a collection of golden artifacts plundered from the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Colombia. What follows is a kind of anti-museum, made of meditations on the uncollectible phenomena he has encountered on the country's remote Pacific coast: rain, stone, lightning, boredom, moonshine. My Cocaine Museum tells the story that the Gold Museum hides, about the difficulty of life in the place gold (and now cocaine) comes from, a swamp where it rains three feet a month and the heat never goes away. This story remained untold, Taussig suggests, because gold and cocaine have tricked human beings into putting it out of their minds. . . . Gold and cocaine lead people to forget time and place, cause and effect, maybe even to make basic geographical mistakes. You might think that a dose of the good old cause and effect would be the best antidote to this befuddlement, but Taussig disagrees. He constructs his Museum in accordance with the spellbound logic of gold and coke; each chapter mixes natural and human history, fiction and reportage, with the manic associativeness of, well, a coke fiend. . . . My Cocaine Museum is intended as a counter-enchantment, to free the reader, if not all Colombia, from the magic of two commodities that have had a profound and malign effect on the nation's history. It's an ambitious task, but Taussig invokes some powerful spirits to help him, notably Walter Benjamin, who believed (or maybe believed: Benjamin is tricky) that words have a magical connection to the world, even if this connection is also historically and politically determined, i.e., not magic at all (tricky, tricky). . . . My Cocaine Museum. . . . is a daring immersion in a Colombian mode of thought."
(Paul LaFarge Voice Literary Supplement
"[Taussig] has taken his cue for this new book from the Gold Museum in Colombia's capital, Bogota, where the treasures of the indigenous Indians before the Spanish conquest have been installed in the depths of the National Bank. Many stories and much history have been washed away to display the country's proud heritage. Taussig has undertaken to tell a contrapuntal tale of slavery and intoxication, of power and cartography, perverted culture, lost peoples, tyranny and material survival at the bottom. . . . More psycho geography than ethnography, a travel journal striving to the condition of prose poetry, an indulgent and enraptured trip to the ends of the earth by a writer aspiring to join the lineage of other voyagers to the extremes somewhere close to hell (Rimbaud, Celine, B. Traven)."
(Marina Warner The Times (UK)