Anthropology as storytelling: fetishism and terror in Michael Taussig's early works

Lorenzo Angelo
Among anthropologists inspired by Walter Benjamin and the early Frankfurt School, Michael Taussig is notable. For Taussig, Benjamin is like a muse, a source of inspiration to ponder over his extended fieldwork in South America. This article outlines a possible reading path through Taussig'searly works, a path specifically influenced by Benjamin's insights into topics such as fetishism, violence, and storytelling. In particular, it examines the way Taussig approaches two issues: the Marxian
more » ... s: the Marxian question of commodity fetishism, and the question of writing against terror. The analysis of commodity and State fetishism leads Taussig to reject the symptomatic reading offered by thinkers such as Marx and Freud. The issue of violence or terror drives him to reflect on the politics of representation. In line with Benjamin's reflections on the role of the storyteller in bourgeois society, Taussig intertwines these two lines of thought and interprets anthropology as a form of storytelling. This article highlights some of the epistemological and ontological assumptions behind this provocative idea. It argues that despite the radical nature of its premises, Taussig defends a weak conception of criticism.