Wednesday, February 09, 2022

When I was rooming with Graeber in Chicago  we sat on one of the Comaroff's dual seminars. David was done with coursework—he was waiting for funding—but he liked them both and liked to show up. A few minutes in I wanted to jump off my chair but didn't, though David saw me struggle and it annoyed him.  John Comaroff was talking about the 1922 South African miner's strike, and shamans' declaration that the mines had become taboo. He called it a great example of political art, and I fought the urge to protest.

"Political art" engages with authority, and is predicated on the existence of what it seeks, or claims to seek, escape from. This was the opposite: the disengagement from authority.  The image, or scene, that came to me at the time or shortly after—they're joined in my mind—is of two men sitting on a bench while a man behind them is screaming at them to get back to work. One of the men turns  to the other: 

"Did you hear something?"
"It's just the wind" 
"Want to go fishing?" 

And they walk away, while the man screams. Comaroff was right that that it was a brilliant act, but he wasn't able to describe what made it so good. Neither could David of course. Every defender of an independent non-ideological art (the standard argument) would smile at the shamans' refusal.

14. But Harvard’s investigation only exacerbated Plaintiffs’ nightmare. Harvard dragged the process out for over a year, foisted inordinate burdens on Plaintiffs, then willfully ignored the overwhelming evidence they marshalled. During the process, Harvard obtained Ms. Kilburn’s private therapy records without her consent and disclosed them to Professor Comaroff....

66. Professor Comaroff, meanwhile, continued to harass students with impunity. He even boasted about it publicly. At an October 2017 dinner with faculty and graduate students, Professor Comaroff compared himself to Harvey Weinstein, and remarked, “They’re coming for me next!” Professor Jean Comaroff, also in attendance, disparaged women who confront or report sexual violence, commenting, “Whatever happened to rolling with the punches?”
The filing is full of references to Jean Comaroff facilitating her husband's continued abuse. His record goes back to the 70s.  I remember her from the seminar, her manner and her scarf. And when I first heard of the case and saw the photographs of the plaintiffs, this one, of Amulya Mandava, stood out. 
Feminism and Post-feminism: the defensiveness and anger of "ladies", who willingly spent lives deferring to male attention and authority. 
It's not hard for me to imagine women following the same conservative feminine prerogative who would have spit in John Comaroff's face. But maybe they'd be the first to admit their own conservatism.

It's almost too neat: I moved in with Graeber because he was the only person I knew in Chicago when I moved there to hang out at the Art Institute, where I sat in on a class, every week, with Babette Mangolte

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