The Incurable-Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film and Media Arts
by Tarek Elhaik
Edinburgh University Press, 2016, 198 pages
Tarek Elhaik’s first book—an ethnographic examination of multi-media artists, curators, and fellow anthropologists loosely centered around Mexico City—is a bold, highly theoretical effort to revive something of the experimental ethos of Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986) and the works that followed in its wake. Rather than experiment with textual form, however, Elhaik seeks to formulate a new vocation for contemporary anthropology, one that is both “critical and clinical.” Drawing liberally on the vitalist philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, Elhaik aspires to reconceptualize anthropology as a kind of “symptomatology”: that is, as a means of diagnosing cultural ailments and of identifying pathways to other, more salubrious “forms of life.” The Incurable-Image consists of a collection of interconnected essays that identify the symptoms of a “post-Mexican condition” (Bartra 1992, 2002) before drawing lessons from contemporary efforts to “curate” it. Medical anthropologists and scholars working in science and technology studies will find here a complex reconceptualization of film and media arts as twenty-first-century forms of care.
The 1980s saw Mexico grow increasingly permeable to transnational flows of capital in its various forms, a cultural and economic process that reached a new plateau in the mid-1990s with Mexico’s participation in NAFTA. This new permeability was accompanied by the country’s so-called “transition to democracy” after the single-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party was fundamentally (albeit not irrevocably) shaken. Together, these political and economic developments posed an insuperable contradiction to nationalist narratives of Mexican exceptionalism, deeply undermining the unitary national identity that had been forged in the early twentieth century by a coalition of politicians, artists, filmmakers and anthropologists.