Notes on Taussig’s Beauty and the Beast
Why using the fairytale? Taussig begins by acknowledging his unusual prose and justifies it by saying that he chose a fairytale style for “what is best to heighten reality?” What is a fairytale?
Well, the first definition we obtain from the web reads like this: “[a fairy tale] is a type of short story that typically features European folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.” But exploring Colombia’s or any Latin American country through the vary tale involves using the formal structure (or whatever other resources he wanted to) -but at the same- time going beyond it as a framework. Gnomes, goblins and trolls are not to be found in the region but we have our equivalents and our re-appropiations which have fascinated many writers and scholars alike. Taussig is not the first one to ditch a specific mode of narrating when trying to make sense of our incomprehensible societies. For one thing, it’s easy to recall Latin American fiction of the 20th Century and find parallels. Reading him -at times- it seems that he’s not too far for the Magical Realists that considered Latin America’s reality so different from the Old World’s that a new language and a new method had to be founded to attempt a description of the new lands. Nevertheless, these fairytales from the depths of South American narco culture do not finish as the classic «Contes des Fées» with happy endings. Rather, the terror and the beauty that intertwine his narration seem to be perfect candidates for the inevitable fall from grace into a perfect Faustian hell.
Changing gears now, when readings parts of the section “The Designer Body” one is tempted to ask: Is not the galore and despense the unproductive surplus of beauty as objectified on the body just an extreme of the same logic that operates in the world of fashion in the North? I ask myself then is this exaggeration on the body a more direct and honest extension of a way of thinking and living that materializes in the unproductive South, in places like Colombia but also Brazil, Argentina (where a curious correlation of highest cosmetic operations per capita and Lacanian psychoanalysts in the world exists), and some countries in Africa. The point is that -for me- the economy of despense reflects our distinct modes of production. Whereas the North tries to balance out production and consumption, work and pleasure (using the logics of the management of affects in periods of extreme consumption and indulgence like the weekend, the commercial excesses such as holidays and recesses like spring break and winter [read tropical vacations] breaks); in the South the resource extraction modes of production (or non-production) accompanied by the Catholic ethos of moderation and a lax work ethics (if any) become reflected in practices that make the north look like a fairytale or individual cases of goths and punks as childish silly boys just burning energy before switching to the career-oriented-mode, and the job-hunt middle class aspiring life.
In these southern hot-lands one is tempted to risk following McLuhan, the medium is the message. The body is the message itself, and the surplus of desire does not objectivise itself in expensive fabrics, high-couture or forbiddingly expensive design, but on the body itself, in tattoos, “cosmic surgery,” haircuts, as well as artisan-ship and craftsmanship in torture, body dismembering and mutilation practice by the complementary underworld that corresponds to the street beauty (and the inflated obsession and shamelessly display of the female body). A generation with no future after the global recession finds its future not in work and accumulation of capital but in cheap ways of beautification or better “pornotization” of the body and the mode-of-life.