Bloggers will love ‘The Museum of the Mind’, a new exhibition in The Great Court at the British Museum: odds and sods assembled to support a larger purpose – a sort of physical semantic web. The show is a clever window onto the museum’s vast collections focused on memory in all its aspects. Materials from just about every collection in the building are gathered together, in a well-organised single-room show.
There’s a gorgeous (and specially made) Mexican Day of the Dead shrine to the museum’s founder Sir Hans Sloane, an amazing twig-and-shell mnemonic device used by Pacific navigators, ancient Roman and Greek memorial statuary and a Ghanaian coffin carved in the shape of a Cadillac.
The paradoxical thing about clever, information-rich shows like this is that they can only undermine the case for retaining the huge Western hordes of looted artefacts. Once you wrap the object in its human context – making connections – its status actually declines. It may be a beautiful, haunting object but here it’s just part of the information mix – a plaster cast would work just as well. Retaining the originals just seems like more indefensible Imperial greed.
There’s also an instructive comparison to be made between the ancient artefacts, most of which were looted, and the more recent items, most of which were probably bought on the open market or commissioned from their makers: the expropriatory economics of empire vs. the consensual economics of trade.
The accompanying book, by the museum’s top ethnographer, John Mack, is also pretty good.
I supported this war. I did it in a queasy, compromising way ? like all the pro-war lefties I know. I have a phrase: “…conditional support”. I don’t feel any more comfortable now than I did before the invasion began but my support holds, although I’m keeping open the possibility that I’ve made an enormous mistake. It’ll probably be a brilliant article like this one, by Edward Said, a man I admire hugely, that convinces me I have:
“This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology. What winning, or for that matter losing, such a war will ultimately entail is unthinkable. But pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally ‘liberated’.”
Absolutely compelling war writing in this week’s New Statesman. John Pilger’s article is bitter, Messianic, despairing stuff. For him, the actual conduct of the war confirms everything he said and thought in advance: “…a glimpse of fascism”. John Lloyd – one time editor of the magazine – is a pro-war Blairite. His angry article is the last he’ll write for the anti-war Statesman.<(You can now buy a 24 hour pass to read New Statesman articles online for a quid. Very clever idea and a pioneering effort for a small, impoverished political zine. Admirable)
On Monday night I blogged BBC Producer Stuart Hughes’ excellent Northern Iraq weblog. This is from the BBC the following day:
“A cameraman working for the BBC in northern Iraq has been killed after stepping on a landmine. BBC correspondent Jim Muir and producer Stuart Hughes, who were working with Kaveh Golestan, were also injured in the explosion. The incident happened when the three men and a local translator were driving near the town of Kifri.”
His last post before the incident is scarily prescient. Matt sent me the story.