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Variants of Frontier Mimesis

Colonial Encounter and Intercultural Interaction in the Lao-Vietnamese Uplands

Oliver Tappe

At the turn of the twentieth century, the French colonial administration adopted various strategies and tactics to ‘pacify’ and control the culturally heterogeneous regions dividing the lowland realms of the Lao and Vietnamese courts, while upland powerbrokers aimed to forge strategic alliances with the new colonial power. This article takes the concept of mimesis as a means to explore the interplay of alterity and identity. With reference to the work of Michael Taussig, along with other theories of imitation, I will discuss processes of mutual appropriation and differentiation within the precarious relationship between colonizers and colonized. Mimesis here provides an alternative reading of upland Southeast Asian history beyond the binaries of dominance and resistance prevalent in James C. Scott’s recent work on the anarchist history of zomia.

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Dances with Heads

Parasitic Mimesis and the Government of Savagery in Colonial East Timor

Ricardo Roque

This article explores the conjunction between mimesis and parasitism as a colonial mode of relating with forms of ‘savagery’ in state administration in relation to both the colonial Self and indigenous Others. The article examines the participation in 1861 of Portuguese Governor Afonso de Castro in a headhunting ceremony, the ‘feast of the heads’, which was held in colonial East Timor. By following a dispute concerning the problems and merits of the governor’s compliance with this ritual, it conceptualizes the trade with savagery within colonial government praxis as a parasitic form of mimesis. In this context, the dangers of bracketing the self and surrendering to the forces of otherness allowed for headhunting ritual energies to be extracted and exploited to the colonial state’s advantage.

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Two Failures of Left Internationalism

Political Mimesis at French University Counter-Summits, 2010–2011

Eli Thorkelson

After the unsuccessful end of the spring 2009 French university movement, faculty and student activists searched for new political strategies. One promising option was an internationalist project that sought to unite anti-Bologna Project movements across Europe. Yet an ethnographic study of two international counter-summits in Brussels (March 2010) and Dijon (May 2011) shows that this strategy was unsuccessful. This article explores the causes of these failures, arguing that activist internationalism became caught in a trap of political mimesis, and that the form of official international summits was incompatible with activists’ temporal, representational, and reflexive needs.

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Mimesis and Conspiracy

Bureaucracy, New Media and the Infrastructural Forms of Doubt

Michael Vine and Matthew Carey

Conspiratorial thought is one of the hallmarks of late modernity. This article focuses on the wealth of conspiracy theories that crystallized around chemtrails and the Californian drought to examine the genre more generally. It suggests that the particular constellation of certainty and doubt present in conspiracy arguments is a product of the fundamentally mimetic nature of conspiratorial thought, which espouses the contours of the infrastructural environment in which it emerges. In our case, this infrastructural environment is that of bureaucracy on the one hand and the architecture of the internet on the other. Each of these infrastructures helps to shape conspiratorial thought in a distinct manner, and the confluence of the two imparts to the genre its particular flavour.

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Introduction

Mimetic Governmentality, Colonialism, and the State

Patrice Ladwig and Ricardo Roque

Engaging critically with literature on mimesis, colonialism, and the state in anthropology and history, this introduction argues for an approach to mimesis and imitation as constitutive of the state and its forms of rule and governmentality in the context of late European colonialism. It explores how the colonial state attempted to administer, control, and integrate its indigenous subjects through mimetic policies of governance, while examining how indigenous polities adopted imitative practices in order to establish reciprocal ties with, or to resist the presence of, the colonial state. In introducing this special issue, three main themes will be addressed: mimesis as a strategic policy of colonial government, as an object of colonial regulation, and, finally, as a creative indigenous appropriation of external forms of state power.

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Tony Fisher

The article develops Sartre's remarks on the paradox of the actor in two ways. Firstly, it derives from them an 'existential ontology' of mimetic performance - an 'onto-mimetology'. Secondly, it uses this reconstruction in order to put pressure on Sartre's analogy of the actor with bad faith. In grasping the problem of acting from a Sartrean perspective, I show that this analogy is not as clear cut as he assumes and that a crucial difference exists between the situation of the theatre and that of bad faith. To master the paradox of his own being I argue the actor's technique indeed utilizes the same 'non-persuasiveness-of-belief ' thesis identified by Sartre as the condition of possibility for bad faith, yet in the actor's case it need not necessitate the condition of bad faith. In conclusion, I propose that through the notion of play, the actor sheds intriguing light on Sartre's notion of freedom.

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The Colonial State and Carnival

The Complexity and Ambiguity of Carnival in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa

Christoph Kohl

Carnival performances and their political implications underwent significant transformations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. By focusing on two periods of colonization, this article examines carnival as an event that involves a multitude of meanings and forms of imitation that could imply resistance to colonialism, but were by no means limited to critique and upheaval. Colonizers, colonized, and the people mediating and situated between these overarching categories could ascribe various meanings to specific performances, thereby underlining the multi-dimensional character of carnivalesque rituals and their heterogeneous significations. In these performances, mimicking the colonizers was an active, creative, and ambiguous undertaking that repeatedly and increasingly challenged colonial representation. However, the colonial state proved to be far less controlling and totalizing than is often assumed.

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Earl Jeffrey Richards

Within the enormous body of critical writings dedicated to literary

works devoted to the Shoah, the possibility of its very representation

and the problems arising in the potential deformation of memory

are frequent topics. In light of these issues, it might be helpful to

examine a well-known work of literary scholarship, Erich Auerbach’s

Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, written

between May 1942 and April 1945, as a potentially overlooked

example of a highly sublimated allegorical meditation on the contemporary

murder of Europe’s Jews. Auerbach’s classic work, which

explicitly takes literary representation as its central theme, seems to

use carefully and subtly selected examples from western literature as

figures for current events.

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Learning to Be a Kanaka

Menace and Mimicry in Papua New Guinea

Neil Maclean

Self-identification as a kanaka is a common rhetorical ploy in highlands Papua New Guinea, used to emphasize both a sense of economic and political marginalization, and a continued identification with tradition. However, I argue that the figure of the kanaka is not simply that of the villager, but of that terminated project of education, the ‘school leaver.’ I juxtapose the reflections of one such ‘school leaver’ on his exclusion from the educational trajectory with the celebrations and rhetoric surrounding the opening of a new village school. This throws into relief a village perspective on education, and what it means to be a citizen of the nation-state of Papua New Guinea. Bhabha’s (1987) analysis of colonial ‘mimicry’ informs my identification of the contradictory quality of this perspective. As a critique of the legacy of postwar education policy from the perspective of a contemporary generation of village leaders, the article is also intended as a response to Pels’s (1997: 178) call for “more ethnographies of decolonization.”

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Imitations of Buddhist Statecraft

The Patronage of Lao Buddhism and the Reconstruction of Relic Shrines and Temples in Colonial French Indochina

Patrice Ladwig

From 1893 onward, French colonialism sponsored and restructured Lao and Khmer Buddhism in order to create an ‘Indochinese Buddhism’. Over a span of several decades, the French promoted monastic education, reconstructed the major temples in Vientiane, and renovated the That Luang, the most important Buddhist relic shrine of Laos. This article explores the motivations and strategies for this endeavor, specifically focusing on French efforts to ‘re-materialize’ Lao Buddhism’s religious architecture. I argue that the renovation of these monuments as symbols and centers of power under the auspices of the École française d’Extrême-Orient was based on mimetic processes that should be understood as a form of ceremonial governmentality and colonial politics of affect, whose goal was to win the ‘sympathies’ of the colonized.