This article is about an anthropologist who blends fact and fiction in his work, a tendency that is not limited to anthropology.  Another example is Dutch:  A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, by Edmund Morris.  which included a fictional character. not explained to be such, who served as a narrator.  Another was a widely used "anthropology" book, I Rigoberta Menchu, which purported to be a factual story about the exploitation of a Guatemalan Indian by white people, when the real story was a family dispute.  This was introduced by an anthropologist and widely used in college classes because of its politically correct message.  Inher defense, she argued that she didn't lie and if she did, it didn't matter.

Taussig is open about the fact that his works include both fact and fiction.

             April 21, 2001 NYT

            Anthropology's Alternative Radical

             By EMILY EAKIN

               Among students at Columbia University, Michael Taussig
                 has a glamorous reputation. An anthropologist who
             specializes in South America, he has hung out with shamans and
             tripped on yagé, a potent hallucinogen, dozens of times. He
             keeps an enormous rainbow-colored hammock in his campus
             office. And his lectures are famous for their dramatic flourishes;
             he once gave a talk with his head in a paper bag (a homage to a
             Dadaist artist). Not surprisingly, his classes are always filled to
             capacity. "He's like a rock star," said one graduate student in
             anthropology. "He's the professor that all the students think is

             Among his colleagues in anthropology, however, there is no
             such consensus. Mr. Taussig owes his academic reputation to a
             body of highly unconventional work on topics like devil
             worship, shamanism and state terror. Ominous and
             otherworldly, his subject matter is inherently provocative. Yet
             it is his experimental approach to ethnography, or case studies
             of other cultures, as well as his occasional diatribes against the
             work of more traditional colleagues that have made him a
             polarizing figure in the field.

             Over the last several decades, as the exemplars of traditional
             fieldwork have been toppled from their pedestals the current
             debate over the ethics and accuracy of Napoleon A. Chagnon's
             work with the Yanomami Indians being only the latest example
             Mr. Taussig has been developing a radical alternative. He is
             the innovator and most extreme practitioner of what he calls
             fictocriticism and what might fairly be described as gonzo
             anthropology. Blending fact and fiction, ethnographic
             observation, archival history, literary theory and memoir, his
             books read more like beatnik novels than sober analyses of
             other cultures.

             Typical is this passage from "The Magic of the State"
             (Routledge, 1997), a more or less fictional ethnography of a
             place Mr. Taussig calls "European Elsewhere," but which bears
             some similarity to contemporary Venezuela: "The decay. The
             gloom descending. The rain dripping from the haze on the
             mountain where life and death ferment in the dankness of plastic
             everywhere, holy and unclean, garbage everywhere, rocks
             painted with the national colors, caves with their interiors
             painted with the national colors, people lying still in front of
             their shrines under giant trees in the stillness of the night."
 Now the strange thing about this silly if not desperate place between the real and the really made-up is that
it appears to be where most of us spend most of our time as epistemically correct, socially created, and
occasionally creative beings.  We dissimulate.  We act and have to act as if mischief were not afoot in the
kingdom of the real and that all around the ground lay firm.  That is what the public secret, the facticity of
the social fact, being a social being, is all about. . . .  Try to imagine what would happen if we didn't in daily
practice thus conspire to actively forget what Saussure called "the arbritrariness of the sign"?  Or try the
opposite experiment.  Try to imagine living in a world whose signs were "natural." (xvii-xviii)

Taussig, Michael.  "The Report to the Academy."  Mimesis and Alterity.  NY: Routledge, 1993.

             During a recent interview in his office, Mr. Taussig said the
             goal of fictocriticism was to "duplicate in the writing something
             about the culture itself." (The scholar, 60, declined to be
             photographed, saying he thought author photos were vain.) He
             said that in "The Magic of the State," the atmospheric prose was
             meant to capture the aura of fantasy and superstition surrounding
             the state: the way, for example, abstract concepts like "the
             economy," "the market," and "the government" are imbued with
             human qualities and take on a magical life force of their own.

             Reviewing the book in the journal American Anthropologist,
             Stephanie Kane, a professor at Indiana University, pronounced
             it a "remarkable achievement," teeming with "uncanny
             observations." But Micaela di Leonardo, a Northwestern
             University anthropologist, writing in The Nation, dismissed it
             as "a terrible book" whose style she likened to "Allen Ginsburg
             on a very bad day." Mr. Taussig's "contempt for scholarship
             leads him into lengthy absurdities," she wrote.

             As Gastón Gordillo, an anthropologist and visiting scholar at
             the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at
             Harvard University, put it: "There are people who love him to
             death and people who have big problems with his work. Even if
             I don't always agree with him, I think he's one of the most
             original and brightest thinkers in anthropology."

             To his admirers Mr. Taussig is something of a visionary, a
             scholar who found a way out of the paralysis that first gripped
             his discipline in the mid-1980's. Under the influence of French
             literary theory that held sway at the time, American
             anthropology took what scholars refer to as a "linguistic turn."
             Ethnographic writing, once considered merely the means for
             transmitting data, came to be seen as a politically loaded act.
             Cultural biases, under this new thinking, were built right into the
             language; ethnographies did not so much represent cultures as
             invent them.

             Meanwhile the work of the discipline's stalwarts was
             scrutinized and found lacking. Margaret Mead, Colin Turnbull
             and Marshall Sahlins were charged with error and
             exaggeration. Anthropology had caught what seemed like a
             terminal case of self- doubt. Was there anything an ethnographer
             could say with certainty about another culture?

             "After the crisis of representation in the 1980's, people got
             nervous," said Kathleen Stewart, a professor of anthropology at
             the University of Texas at Austin and a former student of Mr.
             Taussig. "Much of anthropology backed off asking basic
             questions about what culture is. Michael Taussig is one of the
             few people who was able to continue to ask those questions."

             One reason was that he paid little attention to academic debates
             in the first place. For one thing, he never intended to become an
             anthropologist. Born in Australia, he studied medicine at the
             University of Sydney and sociology at the London School of
             Economics. When he went to Colombia in 1969, it was to serve
             as a doctor for rural Marxist guerrillas. Culture shock led him
             to change his mind. "Nothing was black and white," he recalled.
             "It wasn't a place a first-world person could just drop into."

             He began writing about what he saw instead. His first two
             books were more or less conventional ethnographies, albeit
             heavily influenced by Marxist theory.

             It wasn't until he wrote "Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild
             Man" (University of Chicago Press, 1987) that Mr. Taussig
             found his signature message and style. While reading archival
             reports about the atrocities committed by early-20th-century
             rubber traders in the Putamayo Valley, including the maiming
             and murder of dozens of Indians, he had a revelation.

             "The facts were so bad, so stark, and yet I wanted to see more,"
             he said. "I started becoming a kind of violence junkie. I wanted
             the material to get wilder and more violent, and I started
             wondering about that: What is it in me? Am I a bad person?"
             Alternately fascinated and repulsed, Mr. Taussig realized that
             his reactions were a clue to understanding the violence, which
             otherwise made no sense.

                                                         Under the rubber companies' rationale, torture and murder were
             required to keep their recalcitrant Indian workers under control,
             he found. Ultimately, however, as Mr. Taussig pointed out, the
             station managers were simply killing off their labor supply.

             Irrational, then, as well as horrifying, the terror in the Putamayo
             was part of what Mr. Taussig called culture's "epistemic murk."
             It may have been motivated by fears and fantasies about savage
             Indians, he concluded, but in its extremeness, it was a
             phenomenon that defied explanation. Instead of analyzing the
             violence, Mr. Taussig wrote at the beginning of his book, he
             wanted to present it "as something you have to try out for
             yourself, feeling your way deeper and deeper into the heart of
             darkness until you do feel what is at stake, the madness of the

             The result was a book both lurid and mesmerizing. Drawing on
             the detailed reports of witnesses and investigators as well as
             gruesome archival photographs, Mr. Taussig spent the first half
             recreating the atmosphere in which the violence took place. The
             second half he devoted to the healing rituals performed by the
             Indian shamans with whom he had studied. Perversely, he
             observed, the white population that once tortured and killed
             Indians also depended on them for magical cures.

             In short, he concluded, the relationship between the colonizers
             and the colonized was riddled with the kind of contradictions
             that only something like fictocriticism was adequate to convey.
             "I had this notion that the best we could be was storytellers,"
             Mr. Taussig said.

             For the most part anthropologists were impressed. "He was
             trying to infect you with the ideology of terror, to give you a
             case of it," said Renato Rosaldo, a professor of anthropology at
             Stanford University. "He was talking about the world as we
             know it, the culture terror in Argentina and Chile and in the
             background the Nazi period. He was saying that people get off
             on terror. They get addicted to it. And most efforts to comment
             on it fail to account for the grip it has on us."

             Implicit in Mr. Taussig's visceral take on terror, however, was
             an attack on his field's obsession with meaning. For
             anthropologists who had not gotten that message, he published a
             long, harshly negative review of books by two of the
             discipline's most respected scholars, Sidney W. Mintz and Eric
             R. Wolf. But that did little to diminish Mr. Taussig's reputation
             as a rising star. In 1988 New York University wooed him away
             from the University of Michigan, and in 1993 Columbia lured
             him uptown, hoping he would help revitalize its foundering
             anthropology program.

             His presence proved divisive, which some say Columbia
             should have predicted. "There's a danger in hiring a person who
             is a critic of the discipline as a key scholar in your department,"
             observed Katherine E. Hoffman, who received her Ph.D. from
             Columbia last year and is now a professor of anthropology at
             the University of Illinois in Chicago. Though many say tension
             in the department has lately abated the hiring of five new
             senior faculty members has helped Mr. Taussig's scholarly
             provocations have not.

             Not long ago, for instance, he recruited local artists and poets to
             take part in a yearlong series of performances inspired by a
             report on corruption in the New York City police force.

             Mr. Taussig said his latest book project, tentatively titled "My
             Cocaine Museum," would focus on the Pacific coast of
             Colombia, the world's rainiest region. Each chapter will be
             devoted to a different aspect of the landscape: mud, rain, heat,
             humidity, gold and the cocaine that has largely replaced it. "I
             want to give a nature a voice which is not the clichéd voice of
             environmental science," he said. "I don't know if it will work."