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Pigeon Trouble

Pigeon Trouble: Bestiary Biopolitics in a Deindustrialized America

Hoon Song
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Pigeon Trouble
    Book Description:

    Pigeon Trouble chronicles a foreign-born, birdphobic anthropologist's venture into the occult craft of pigeon shooting in the depths of Pennsylvania's anthracite coal country. Though initially drawn by a widely publicized antipigeon shoot protest by animal rights activists, the author quickly finds himself traversing into a territory much stranger than clashing worldviews-an uncanny world saturated with pigeon matters, both figuratively and literally. What transpires is a sustained meditation on self-reflexivity as the author teeters at the limit of his investigation-his own fear of birds. The result is an intimate portrayal of the miners' world of conspiracy theory, anti-Semitism, and whiteness, all inscribed one way or another by pigeon matters, and seen through the anguished eyes of a birdphobe. This bestiary experiment through a phobic gaze concludes with a critique on the visual trope in anthropology's self-reflexive turn. An ethnographer with a taste for philosophy, Song writes in a distinctive descriptive and analytical style, obsessed with his locale and its inhabitants, constantly monitoring his own reactions and his impact on others, but always teasing out larger implications to his subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0009-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-18)

    I have what you might call bird phobia or ornithophobia. My heart races uncontrollably at the tumult of a legion perched on electric wires, like too many musical notes in too rapid a rhythm. My hair stands on end at the imagined feel of the cold, flinty beak materializing out of a soft , warm body; at the unsightly shape of the wrinkled, sinewy fork of legs wired to the fluffy torso with its unfathomable mass in disguise under the feathers. And of all the monstrous combinations, there is the feral pigeon: its rapid red eyes of rapaciousness, its bobbing,...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Cruelty through Glassy Eyes
    (pp. 19-38)

    I could not have missed the Labor Day Pigeon Shoot controversy while conducting fieldwork among Chicago-area animal rights groups in the early 1990s. Though a relatively minor event in terms of the number of animals involved, the event’s gratuitous exhibitionist inclination was widely anticipated to stir up a new level of passion in the entire animal rights movement (Animal’s Agenda 1992). In response to my curiosity, my informants flooded me with videotapes and newspaper clippings on the shoot and the protest against it. I studied them carefully, at first because of the singular emotion this decidedly working-class slaughter of a...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Gloved Love
    (pp. 39-63)

    There is more than the cleverness of protesters’ change of rhetoric at stake in the presence of gloves. We have to appreciate a certain paradox in the protesters’ demand for the hygienic relation with animals in all its strangeness. Simply put, the paradox is this: despite their professed “love” for pigeons, the protesters seem to require many provisions in their physical contact with them—in addition to rubber gloves, bird-catching nets, feeding tubes, and so forth. Gloves or not, protesters are generally awkward with pigeons, in radical contrast to the unflinching familiarity the shoot’s supporters display. Wounded pigeons “rescued” by...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Hooliganism
    (pp. 64-92)

    In retrospect, it was no accident that I found myself in the middle of the memorable skirmish between the protester and the boy on that unlucky afternoon. It was the first (and last) time that I equipped myself with a camera at the shoot—and a brand-new photographer’s vest to go with it.¹ Call it an identity crisis of some sort: having already had two fruitless visits to the shoot, I was anxious to display myself as occupied and vainly sought to blend in with dependably industrious reporters. Because I had been recognized by participants and protestors as a media...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Pests and Outcasts
    (pp. 93-117)

    I was perched with a benchful of local elderly men under the shade of a tree one scorching Labor Day afternoon near the entrance of Hegins Community Park. “Pest control,” blurted out an old man from one end of the bench. “Pigeons are rats with wings,” he said. “They don’t belong in the countryside; they live off grain yards and make hay go moldy.”

    When I moved to his side, he repeated his favorite singsong: “Rats with wings.” “That’s what they are, flying rats,” he intoned with self-righteousness and a look of disgust at this imaginary monster with the body...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Mimesis and Conspiracy Theory
    (pp. 118-140)

    The discussion of knowledge in the previous two chapters brings us to the issue of conspiracy theory. Around Labor Day, conspiracy theories were rampant among the residents. In hushed tones, as if wanting to shelter the bliss of my ignorance, they told me of the secret alliance between animal rights protesters and all other “outsiders”—particularly the “Jew-controlled” mass media and the state troopers. Accusations were grave, touching on nothing less than end-of-the-world scenarios and UFOs. But these sessions were fleeting and the imparted ideas merely suggestive; only one peep at a time is allowed into this unfathomably intricate and...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Representationalism’s Animal Other
    (pp. 141-170)

    The “garbled logic” we saw in the previous chapter can be summarized as this: There was a loss of the past . . . and so pigeons must be killed. I am positive that this abrupt logic invokes “sacrifice” in the readers’ minds. The invocation would be a small proof that there is an almost instinctive comprehension in us of the fundamental unreason of this ritual, of its senseless bloody repetition, of its notoriously mindless mechanical “economism”—“Here is the butter, where is the offering?” Also instinctively comprehended is the fact that we often come across non-human animals at these...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Line of Flight, Out of Bird Phobia
    (pp. 171-204)

    Sitting on a swing on the western end of the park, I watched ripples made on a puddle by my cigarette butt. Dense fog and drizzle seemed to muffle what little sound there was in the first place. It was eleven-and-a-half months till the next Labor Day Shoot. For me, the post–Labor Day depression was almost unbearable. I suspect that the mood was common throughout the Hegins community. But the official rhetoric of the shoot having been about an “outsider intrusion” prevented anyone from complaining about the anticlimax. There were obvious absences that could have caused the depression: the...

  11. CONCLUSION: Self-Reflexivity and Finite Thinking
    (pp. 205-220)

    The fieldwork upon which this book is based was conceived during the time the so-called self-reflexivity movement was raging in the disciplines of ethnographic writing. It is not surprising that “seeing oneself seeing” became my central trope. I was partially attracted to the challenge of giving a “self-reflexive” account to already hyper-reflexive practices, be they “frivolous” hooliganism or the mimetic doubt in conspiracy theorizing. What is the relationship between this reflexivity and that reflexivity—one that “reflectively” stops the turn and the other that “irresponsibly” (in the sense developed in Chapter 5 per conspiracy theory) proliferates? Is the distinction as...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 221-242)
    (pp. 243-254)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 255-260)
    (pp. 261-266)