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Voice Literary SupplementWhat's an anthropologist to do in a country where life is magic? This question shapes Columbia professor Michael Taussig's My Cocaine Museum. Taussig has spent much of the last three decades in Colombia, where he has been everywhere and, it seems, met everyone, from the descendants of African slaves who pan for gold on the coast to the ministers in Bogota, digging in their cabinets for missing files. My Cocaine Museum is a report from the field, but it is hardly traditional fieldwork. Taussig begins with a description of the Gold Museum in Bogota, a collection of golden artifacts plundered from the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Colombia. What follows is a kind of anti-museum, made of meditations on the uncollectible phenomena he has encountered on the country's remote Pacific coast: rain, stone, lightning, boredom, moonshine. My Cocaine Museum tells the story that the Gold Museum hides, about the difficulty of life in the place gold (and now cocaine) comes from, a swamp where it rains three feet a month and the heat never goes away. This story remained untold, Taussig suggests, because gold and cocaine have tricked human beings into putting it out of their minds. . . . Gold and cocaine lead people to forget time and place, cause and effect, maybe even to make basic geographical mistakes. You might think that a dose of the good old cause and effect would be the best antidote to this befuddlement, but Taussig disagrees. He constructs his Museum in accordance with the spellbound logic of gold and coke; each chapter mixes natural and human history, fiction and reportage, with the manic associativeness of, well, a coke fiend. . . . My Cocaine Museum is intended as a counter-enchantment, to free the reader, if not all Colombia, from the magic of two commodities that have had a profound and malign effect on the nation's history. It's an ambitious task, but Taussig invokes some powerful spirits to help him, notably Walter Benjamin, who believed (or maybe believed: Benjamin is tricky) that words have a magical connection to the world, even if this connection is also historically and politically determined, i.e., not magic at all (tricky, tricky). . . . My Cocaine Museum. . . . is a daring immersion in a Colombian mode of thought.
— Paul LaFarge