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"Footnotes" to Tokyo Cancelled
novel, stories, imagination, magic, global
Sunday, February 20, 2005 04:32 GMT

Here are "footnotes" to some of the stories in Tokyo Cancelled. More extensive background to the book, including press reviews, can be seen here.

The House of the Frankfurt Mapmaker

The hallucinogenic nature of this story of a Turkish immmigrant to Germany owes a lot to Nancy Scheper-Hughes' fascinating analysis of the structure of "superstition" in Brazilian shantytowns - particularly of the "urban legends" pertaining to organ stealing:

Organ Stealing: Fact, Fantasy, Conspiracy or Urban Legend?

Such legends are very complex, and it is difficult to answer the question of their "truth"; but, whatever else they do, they clearly dramatize a number of fears that are more general, and that range from the highly abstract to the very real and bodily. Recent media reports of similar stories arising in different places can be seen here:

The "monkey man" of Delhi (May 2001):
Mysterious "Monkey Man" Strikes Delhi
Chaos in Delhi: Monkey Man

The demon rapist of Tanzania (May 2005):
Belief in Sex-Mad Demon Tests Nerves in Zanzibar

The nineteenth century generated a lot of these legends in Europe. Among all the reasons for this was the real phenomenon of "bodysnatching" for dissection. Though this mainly involved seizing freshly-buried bodies from graveyards, it could also, as in the notorious case of William Burke and William Hare, involve serial murder. All this is described in Ruth Richardson's Death, Dissection and the Destitute: The Politics of the Corpse in Pre-Victorian Britain (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2001).

More current in modern western societies, however, is the other perspective. My story makes reference to some of the celebrated African "curiosities" taken around World Fairs and other celebrations of modernity - people whose particular place in modernity made them subject to its most pornographically violent aspects. Since no one was very interested in the subjectivity of these people we have little idea how they tried to represent this reality to themselves, and we remain in the situation of the observer-perpetrators. For further reading about some of these (heartbreaking) stories:

Ota Benga:
The Case of Ota Benga
Ota Benga: The Story of the Pygmy on Display in a Zoo

Sara Baartman:
Exhibiting "Others" in the West
The Life and Times of Sara Baartman

The Store on Madison Avenue

Inspired by a traditional folktale from south India, which you can read here:

The Rendezvous in Istanbul

This story owes a lot to the fascinating research carried out by Deniz Yükseker into the workings of the clothing market of Laleli in Istanbul. A lot of research into "informal" markets centres on the issue of trust which is a prerequisite for credit when creditors do not have recourse to any system of penalties if a debt is not honoured. Yükseker's research described how merchants, mostly women, from the former USSR forged these bonds of trust with sellers in Istanbul. A summary of this aspect of things can be found here:

"Embedding" Trust in a Transnational Trade Network

Riad's life as a sailor owes a lot to Allan Sekula's Fish Story, a spectacular cycle of photographs and essays about maritime lives and industries that I recommend to all. I was also very indebted to the installation by the Italian collective Multiplicity at Documenta 11, "A Journey Through a Solid Sea", which presented the 1996 sinking in the Mediterranean of a fishing boat, sailing under the Maltese flag, with 283 Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan clandestine refugees on board.

The Changeling

Richard Preston's amazing article from New Yorker on smallpox and its historical relationship with human beings was important for this story. You can find it online here:

The Demon in the Freezer

The Recycler of Dreams

The dire situation of many people in Argentina during the economic crisis that reached its climax in 2001 received a lot of press. This article, for instance, describes the macroeconomic situation and its effect on everyday life (especially the garbage collectors who became iconic):

Reporter's Notebook from Argentina

Out of necessity, however, this crisis led to very fascinating new imaginations which are described best in all the work Naomi Klein did in 2002 and 2003. Her two-part piece in The Guardian can be seen here:

Out of the Ordinary (part 1)
Out of the Ordinary (part 2)

An extract:

"In the past year, between 130 and 150 factories, bankrupt and abandoned by their owners, have been taken over by their workers and turned into cooperatives or collectives. At tractor plants, supermarkets, printing houses, aluminium factories and pizza parlours, decisions about company policy are now made in open assemblies, and profits are split equally among the workers.

"In recent months, the "fabricas tomadas" (literally, "taken factories") have begun to network among themselves and are beginning to plan an informal "solidarity economy": garment workers from an occupied factory, for example, sew sheets for an occupied health clinic; a supermarket in Rosario, turned into a workers' cooperative, sells pasta from an occupied pasta factory; occupied bakeries are building ovens with tiles from an occupied ceramic plant. "I feel like the dictatorship is finally ending," one asamblista told me when I first arrived in Buenos Aires. "It's like I've been locked in my house for 25 years and now I am finally outside.""

Other interesting pieces here:

Diary of a Revolution
Do Cry for Argentina