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My Cocaine Museum

In this book, a make-believe cocaine museum becomes a vantage point from which to assess the lives of Afro-Colombian gold miners drawn into the dangerous world of cocaine production in the rain forest of Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Although modeled on the famous Gold Museum in Colombia’s central bank, the Banco de la República, Taussig’s museum is also a parody aimed at the museum’s failure to acknowledge the African slaves who mined the country’s wealth for almost four hundred years.

Combining natural history with political history in a filmic, montage style, Taussig deploys the show-and-tell modality of a museum to engage with the inner life of heat, rain, stone, and swamp, no less than with the life of gold and cocaine.

This effort to find a poetry of words becoming things is brought to a head by the explosive qualities of those sublime fetishes of evil beauty, gold and cocaine. At its core, Taussig’s museum is about the lure of forbidden things, charged substances that transgress moral codes, the distinctions we use to make sense of the world, and above all the conventional way we write stories.


"What’s an anthropologist to do in a country where life is magic? This question shapes Columbia professor Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum. Taussig has spent much of the last three decades in Colombia, where he has been everywhere and, it seems, met everyone, from the descendants of African slaves who pan for gold on the coast to the ministers in Bogota, digging in their cabinets for missing files. My Cocaine Museum is a report from the field, but it is hardly traditional fieldwork. Taussig begins with a description of the Gold Museum in Bogota, a collection of golden artifacts plundered from the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Colombia. What follows is a kind of anti-museum, made of meditations on the uncollectible phenomena he has encountered on the country’s remote Pacific coast: rain, stone, lightning, boredom, moonshine. My Cocaine Museum tells the story that the Gold Museum hides, about the difficulty of life in the place gold (and now cocaine) comes from, a swamp where it rains three feet a month and the heat never goes away. This story remained untold, Taussig suggests, because gold and cocaine have tricked human beings into putting it out of their minds. . . . Gold and cocaine lead people to forget time and place, cause and effect, maybe even to make basic geographical mistakes. You might think that a dose of the good old cause and effect would be the best antidote to this befuddlement, but Taussig disagrees. He constructs his Museum in accordance with the spellbound logic of gold and coke; each chapter mixes natural and human history, fiction and reportage, with the manic associativeness of, well, a coke fiend. . . . My Cocaine Museum is intended as a counter-enchantment, to free the reader, if not all Colombia, from the magic of two commodities that have had a profound and malign effect on the nation’s history. It’s an ambitious task, but Taussig invokes some powerful spirits to help him, notably Walter Benjamin, who believed (or maybe believed: Benjamin is tricky) that words have a magical connection to the world, even if this connection is also historically and politically determined, i.e., not magic at all (tricky, tricky). . . . My Cocaine Museum. . . . is a daring immersion in a Colombian mode of thought."

Paul LaFarge | Voice Literary Supplement

"[Taussig] has taken his cue for this new book from the Gold Museum in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, where the treasures of the indigenous Indians before the Spanish conquest have been installed in the depths of the National Bank. Many stories and much history have been washed away to display the country’s proud heritage. Taussig has undertaken to tell a contrapuntal tale of slavery and intoxication, of power and cartography, perverted culture, lost peoples, tyranny and material survival at the bottom. . . . More psychogeography than ethnography, a travel journal striving to the condition of prose poetry, an indulgent and enraptured trip to the ends of the earth by a writer aspiring to join the lineage of other voyagers to the extremes somewhere close to hell (Rimbaud, Celine, B. Traven)."

Marina Warner | The Times (UK)

Table of Contents

Author’s Note: A User’s Guide
My Cocaine Museum
Wind & Weather
Water in Water
Julio Arboleda’s Stone
The Accursed Share
A Dog Growls
The Coast Is No Longer Boring
Paramilitary Lover
Cement & Speed
The Right to Be Lazy
Evil Eye
Underwater Mountains

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