Sunday, January 15, 2006

Has Burmese history disappeared?

Or has post-modernist "theory" finally rushed in to fill the void of information and hard facts regarding Burma and its history?

Is "Karaoke Fascism: Burma and the Politics of Fear" an attempt to make academic press books more lurid and appealing to mass markets?

Or is it just that editors at the University of Pennsylvania Press just couldn't get enough accurate information to actually edit this book, to spot a book full of factual inaccuracy and hype instead of hard scholarship. The review linked to above says it all:

"Skidmore parades the trendy theorists of several academic disciplines: Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault, Taussig and many others....She defeats herself when she becomes theoretically pretentious and disturbingly voyeuristic.

"Metaphors are employed liberally: soldiers are scorpions, tanks are giant scorpions used by the state, prostitutes are black crows flying overhead and haunting Skidmore

"....most Burmese are “still as wooden puppets” through fear, and dusty construction workers are symbolically covered with the heroin that funds the new high-rises. This is all very clever, but is it accurate?

"Factual errors abound: Aung San and the “entire cabinet” were not killed by a bomb in 1947 (several pages later it’s a hand grenade); Thamanya monastery isn’t in Southern Mon State (go looking in Karen State, east of Hpa-an); Aung San Suu Kyi wasn’t “released from house arrest in May 1996,” nor did the comedian Par Par Lay die in jail where he was imprisoned for telling a few jokes (he was released in 2001).

"When theorizing becomes more important than getting things right, then truth suffers, something most Burmese would be aware of...

"...academic gimmickry is given more priority than Burmese reality.

"Resisting the constraints of orthodox research methodology, Skidmore pursues a participatory role where she tries to act as scared as she thinks the locals are, ...including vignettes of nightmares of being murdered by Burmese soldiers, freaking out when she constantly mistakes Loi Htei (a drink company) with Lon Htein (riot police) and hiding in her house when her self-generated fear becomes too much. Is this participation or paranoia?

"Karaoke Fascism is clearly more concerned with making an impact within the academic field than speaking to a broader audience about life lived in mundane fear, poverty and misunderstanding."

There is more to Burma than its military present. Scholars should start actively uncovering the other layers of Burmese culture and society.