Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Circle" and the Spirit of Capitalism

There's a really interesting (or at least suggestive) story in May's issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction: "Circle," by George Tucker. Oh, it's got plenty of standard SF devices: Billy Black is a Seminole shaman who never seems to get hurt at the cursed construction site he's working on in Miami (a la the "Miami circle"). Eventually, he's hired on to "exorcise" the spirits from the site and, after a couple of complications, everyone profits: the condo complex goes up, complete with the cultural "value-added" of a seminole shaman and Billy can finally buy the plot to his grandfather's grave in order to stop developers from dis-interring his body . . .Kind of a Heinlein-esque-free-market-conquers-all story.

But, there's other things afoot here as well . . .The resolution of the story rests on Billy's realization that the "spirit of place" must be given recognition in order to be palliated. But what kind of recognition? Commodified recognition, occupying advertising and gallery space in the commodified topologiies of the new condo complex. This is certainly a prominent theme in contemporary anthropology: tracing the encroachment of commodities into ritual spaces, such as Laurel Kendall's 2008 article in american ethnologist examining the influx of global commodities in a Korean shaman's "kut".

But the question I had reading the story was: which spirit is being mollified? The spirit of space (genius loci) or the spirit of capitalism? In other words, the spirits that demand recognition are ultimately subsumed within another spirit: the spirit of perpetual, autochthonous growth, the ability of monster-developers like George Perez to develop Miami into a perpetual growth machine. Not the spirit of place, but the spirit of money.

But this is not just a case of commodification, wherein all forms of pre-capitalist culture become commodities to be bought and sold. Instead, the story gestures to more ghostly dialectics . . .one spirit in concert with another spirit. In the process, Tucker alludes to the what we can construe (not ironically) as the mystical trappings of the real estate boom, the sense that these commodities, animated by the spirits of capitalism, can generate endless, logarithmic growth. In another words, Tucker takes us to into the animism of the West.

Friday, May 2, 2008

CONTACT lives!

The word last year was that this wonderful, annual convocation of anthropologists, astronomers, artists, science fiction writers, visionaries and the occasionally wacky was on indefinite hiatus. But--they've met again at NASA-Ames, and the world is, I think, much better for it.