Beauty and the Beast
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Beauty and the Beast begins with the question: Is beauty destined to end in tragedy? Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Colombia, Michael Taussig scrutinizes the anxious, audacious, and sometimes destructive attempts people make to transform their bodies through cosmetic surgery and liposuction. He balances an examination of surgeries meant to enhance an individual’s beauty with an often overlooked counterpart, surgeries performed—often on high profile criminals—to disguise one’s identity. Situating this globally shared phenomenon within the economic, cultural, and political history of Colombia, Taussig links the country’s long civil war and its bodily mutilation and torture to the beauty industry at large, sketching Colombia as a country whose high aesthetic stakes make it a stage where some of the most important and problematic ideas about the body are played out.
Central to Taussig’s examination is George Bataille’s notion of depense, or “wasting.” While depense is often used as a critique, Taussig also looks at the exuberance such squandering creates and its position as a driving economic force. Depense, he argues, is precisely what these procedures are all about, and the beast on the other side of beauty should not be dismissed as simple recompense. At once theoretical and colloquial, public and intimate, Beauty and the Beast is a true-to-place ethnography—written in Taussig’s trademark voice—that tells a thickly layered but always accessible story about the lengths to which people will go to be physically remade.
GIBSON, Neuromancer contents Author’s Note Gift of the Gods El Mexicano A Rare and Delightful Bird in Flight Winnypoo Spending Cool The Designer Smile The Designer Body Mythological Warfare Beauty and Mutilation The Exploding Breast Virtual U The History of Beauty History of the Shoe Surgeons of the Underworld The Designer Name Law in a Lawless Land The Tabooed Cleft The Fat Kid and the Devil Acknowledgments Notes Works Consulted Index author’s note Beauty and
history of the birth of cosmic surgery came across to me in Pereira—which I take as a microcosm of both the nation and the notion of beautification of women, Pereira being legendary for its mix of splendid cosmic surgery and splendid prostitutes. As for the fame of its prostitutes, how can one explain such a thing? My guide tells me that its reputation came about in the mid-nineteenth century, when the town was a privileged “truck stop,” so to speak, for mule trains. This is where the north-south
the story of the Cake Queen, the best story of depense comes from Colombia. It is said that the notorious cocaine traIcker known as El Mexicano had his toilet paper embossed with his initials in gold—real gold! That’s a lot of gold down the chute when you consider how many initials he had. JGRG. José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha. And this was long before Mexico became the privileged route for Colombian cocaine. The story no less than the name is prophetic. Why do people love to tell this story? (It
Afrca (Windhoek, Namibia: Gamsberg, Macmillan, 1981), 53 (photograph by K. Schettler, number 32). Surgeons of the Underworld 1 Roger Caillois, “The Sociology of the Executioner,” in The College of Sociology, ed. Denis Hollier, trans. Betsy Wing, 234–47 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988). 2 Ibid., 240. 3 Ibid., 243 4 Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (New York: Grove, 1964), 65. 5 El Tiempo, August 8, 2007, 3. 6 El Tiempo, September 19, 2009. The Designer Name 1 Article by
monstrous and the maddest, the immortal thirst for beauty has always found its satisfaction.”1 That immortal thirst is certainly active in Nima’s town today, with its cult of the body and craze for style and fashion, alongside record levels of violence. Yet it is more than beauty with which beauty dazzles us. It is beauty-as-depense, a tsunami of extravagant consumption reaching ever more baroque splendor that is beautiful—that tight pink swimming costume, that caustic cream, that waist-length