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Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Sorcerer's Head

Amongst anthropologists and their musical counterparts, ethnomusicologists, one of the shared pleasures is story telling.

Widely shared are stories during dinner, recounting what has been eaten with whom, where and how, and what the consequences were. I have not many stories to share, I must say; yes, we eat raw fish in the Netherlands, I ate dried worms in South Africa, barbecued shark in Yemen, buried and then dug-up shark in Iceland, stinky tofu in China recently, and mock-dog in Timor (they threatened to feed me dog every day but never did). But all that's nothing to compare with what many of my fellow researchers had to eat all over the world, so usually I keep my mouth shut - and most of the time I try to keep my ears shut as well; I have a too vivid imagination.

Less shared are stories about atrocities witnessed in 'the field', though some of my fellows have had their share of it. But those apparently are stories not to be shared widely; maybe the more (un)edible variants mentioned above function as their substitutes for some of them? In the monographies written by researchers you do occasionally find references to the incomprehensible cruelty of daily life, but those are never transferred to the table or the pub.

It was therefore astonishing to witness a paper presentation lately by an ethnomusicologist studying Balinese witchcraft and its music where the presenter showed, in his second slide, a mob of people carrying a head of a sorcerer on a stick. More astonishing was the fact that the slide had some sort of novelty- or freak-character; no story was given about the slide, it did not play any crucial role in the presentation, it was just shown - with a warning beforehand to maybe close your eyes if you were not up to terrible pictures, but that was it.

No-one asked a question afterwards about this strange slide in a for the rest interesting an quite good presentation; including me. But the ease with which we apparently allow ourselves to show and be shown, under the pretext of research, the most terrible things shocked me.

I know people generally seem to think recent James Bond movies are violent-but-innocent; and when I sometimes point out that I don't want to be confronted with such an amount of violence on my screen people reassure me that it is just a movie; it's not real, really.

Yeah; who do you think I am? Still.

The same counts for the arts world (I commented earlier on it in a side remark). I remember being presented an Art Work in which you could make a puzzle or another funny something out of the image of the corpse of Khadaffi - or was it Saddam Hussein? I remember talks on art showing the pictures of the corpse of Pim Fortuyn. I know those pictures exist, I know they represent a reality in which they all have been killed. But the question is: am I really so close to those people who talk to me because I am in their audience that I have silently invited them to cross all boundaries about what I think is still decent to show someone unasked for?

I often sympathize with mr. Gautama, father of Siddharta, who tried - says Wikipedia - 'to hide from him  the sick, aged and suffering'. I know it is undo-able - eventually mr. Gautama didn't manage to keep hiding the lot, and you all know where that led to - but living my life as if walking around in candid camera full time is the other extreme, I think.

Oh yeah, by the way: I saw a girl walking through town yesterday with a T-shirt announcing "Fuck you". Or was it an invitation rather than an annnouncement?

Anyway, I am also not going to the exhibition "Fuck Off part II". I rather fuck off, as it were, to hide in the shade and watch the people go by, including the sick, aged and suffering..

What do I need research, movies or art for anyway?

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