By John Hutnyk
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I think it is symptomatic that it takes 180 pages in The Predicament of Culture before there is even a hint that Louis Aragon had taken up revolutionary politics. Leiris’ politics seem to have been elided by the literary appreciation Clifford provides. Except for a brief reference to Les Temps Modernes (Clifford 1982:197), and a few other asides, Leiris is more readily rendered as the diarist and documentarist of the everyday mundane. With a nod to towards the influence of Aimé Césaire and anticolonial struggle in Vietnam and Madagascar,6 very quickly Clifford has Leiris packed off to study with Mauss after just the one brief outrage: he is reported hanging out of a window denouncing France at a surrealist meeting before he settles down into a ‘more concrete application of his subversive literary talents’ (Clifford 1988:122).
Clifford himself is heavily influenced by the ethnographic diary style of Leiris, although we might argue that his ‘most direct literary model’ is Malinowski’s Diary, with polyglot exchanged for trinketisation. qxd 5/8/04 10:46 PM Page 38 38 Bad Marxism the South Seas, and throughout his work with plenty of references to books like Moby Dick and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Maybe not too much more of theoretical interest can be made of Malinowski’s Diary, but there is ample evidence in Clifford’s essay ‘On Ethnographic Self-fashioning’ that Malinowski’s polyglossaria is the key (Clifford 1988:97).
No solidarity politics can be successfully built on such a basis. It can be contended that this belongs to a sustained (somewhat absent-minded) anti-Marxism on Clifford’s part – here bad Marxism manifests in its negative form. Clifford’s understanding of economic production is drawn from a sketchy version of Marxism found not in Marx but in anthropological consumption texts (especially Miller 1987, 1994, 1995), and admittedly brilliant but quite idiosyncratic forms of Marxist ethnography (Taussig 1980, 1987).