Sunday, January 30, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

((Activity)) ((2))

The second and third steps in this argument go to the critique of Foucault's discourse theory. The end of the first step established the context for a conceptual critique of the scientific adequacy of Foucault's model. But before we start that level of criticism, I want to point out one reason Marxists are prone to react vehemently to Foucault's work. In short, he is anti-Marxist and anti-Communist, and anti-Marxism and anti-Communism are one of the purposes of his work. Foucault's disavowal of Marx and hostility to Communism are complex and comprehensible enough to require a little examination in order to understand the specific hindrance they represent to contemporary Left theorizing of politics and liberatory struggles.

When I first read Foucault, his explicit rejection of Marx, and the implicit presentation of his work as a preferable alternative seemed self-evident. As I became acquainted, admittedly to a limited extent, with the reception of his work in the U.S., I was surprised that this obvious and obviously significant motive had apparently escaped his American readers or mattered so little to them that it did not merit mention. To me, the most telling indication was his objections to the notion of "ideology" and to the discourse strategy, to couch the issue in his own terms, of dialectics. Ideology and dialectics are both inextricable components in the Marxist theory of capitalism and its operations. To reject dialectics alone means the rejection of Marxism in toto. To reject "ideology" means the rejection of specific determinations of the form and content of "discourse" by commodity relationships. These questions belong to the conceptual critique of Foucault, and we will return to them in the third and fourth steps of this argument. But, now we need to look at Foucault's rejection of Marx from a practical perspective.

Foucault's anti-Communism and anti-Marxism have a history, an unfortunately comprehensible one recounted in the interviews with Duccio Trombadori published in English as Remarks on Marx. In these interviews, Foucault actually remarks very little on Marx, but at length on the French Communist Party and his experiences with it. He belonged to the Party briefly at one point and found it an incongenial, dogmatic environment. Anyone familiar with the operation of the fraternal parties of the Soviet Union from the 1930s on will have no trouble finding Foucault's dissatisfaction credible. Subsequently, the intellectuals associated with the Party received his work with pronounced hostility. That reception seems to have genuinely disappointed and frustrated Foucault. From his description of events, it sounds, again credibly given the standard operating procedures of the Stalinist parties, even in their post-Stalinist phase, as though this hostility was more one of ostracism than of substance. In passing let me say, if there is an account of this reception, it would be vital for assessing the sustance of Foucault's response to his treatment by the Party and its intellectuals.

The problem for the post-modern Left, particular in the U.S. and for young intellectuals, is that in his best known works, Foucault uses "Marx" as he uses "dialectics" and "ideology" as metaphors for the Party, its practices, its offical positions and its propaganda. Instead of a productive, valuable critique of a mistaken approach to revolutionary politics, Foucault's Francocentric and Eurocentric perspective assumes that the conduct of the European Communist parties is common knowledge and he can indulge himself in indirect references and imprecise formulations of hiscomplaints. His indirection and imprecision leaves his readers today with a misplaced, blanket rejection of historical and theoretical contributions deserving much more serious respect.

When Foucault mentions Marx for his own sake, and not just as a code-word for the Communist apparatus and its machinations, he only compounds the misinformation and misdirection. To be blunt, in the interviews on "Marx" as well as in a few direct comments in The Birth of Biopolitics, his lectures from 1978-79 on neoliberal political economic discourse, it is clear that Foucault knows and grasps even Marx' best known works so superficially and inaccurately, that it is reasonable to wonder whether he ever actually read them. It would seem that we can safely conclude that Foucault rejected "dialectics" and "ideology" as that method and those terms featured in the discussions and publications of the Party and its intellectuals and, to put it summarily, their use in those venues was dubious indeed. Nonetheless, however well-taken his objections ot the doctrinaire, apologetic orthodoxies of the French Communist Party, Foucault had unfortunately little idea what those methods and ideas mean in Marx' work itself. One strand of the third and fourth steps in this argument is clarify and justify the sense, the utility and the value of these elements in Marxist theory.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(((ACTIVITY))) (1)

This post continues a discussion begun elsewhere and in that way starts in media res. Neither the medium of the original discussion, Facebook, nor the demands on my time encouraged, or even allowed, me to pursue that discussion then. But it delighted me to see one of Qlipoth's constant topics taken up vigorously on both sides. I ask Qlipoth's regular readers to bear in mind that these comments, while they address a familar topic, were really motivated for a rather different audience, so the first step may seem like treading water.

The discussion began with the brief comment, "I hate the postmodern condition." It evolved into a debate on the proprieties of the polemic between Marxists and post-structuralists. It consisted largely of a committed defense of the utility of Foucault for leftist critical theory. The original poster urged the necessity for Marxists to recognize and address post-modernism as a detriment of today's liberation struggles.

Naturally, Qlipoth takes up that task and defends that necessity. The argument has four steps. First, a little reflection on what it means for a statement on post-modernism to steer into a discussion of Foucault. Following that a defense of why Marxists are justified in criticizing Foucault and why they may do so sharply at times. Then a critique of the narrower topic of Foucault's theory of discourse. Finally, some suggestions about what directions a materialist theory of discourse might take, although this last point is basically technical and likely to prove less interesting for most readers.

Foucault has probably exercized the widest and most sustained post-modern influence on the left in the imperialist centers. Understandably so, since he addresses recognizable issues and offers discussions more cogent than those found in other varieties of post-modern theory. But if a discussion of the post-modern narrows to a discussion of the post-structural, a term that effectively codes 'Foucault,' it obscures the concern common to all those varieties, the common character of their formulations of that concern, the political potential of their theoretical formulations, and the profound difference between their theoretical constructs and Marxist ways of critically tackling social relations.

All the varieties of post-modernism revolve around the "subject." In other words, they discuss how and why people feel what they feel, know what they know, think what they think and do what they do. They draw on late-19th-century innovations in the description of human psychology and human language, psychoanalysis and structural linguistics, to argue for the limits of reason and consciousness in the functioning of the subject and for the fundamental role of discourse in shaping and expressing the relations that comprise the "subject." As the basic terms of these theories imply, the theories must define "discourse" and establish a dynamic for the relationship of "discourse" and "subject."

The theories treat discourse as a system of signs that are able to convey denotative, referential meanings because they are organized into a system of formal contrasts. They characterize the relation between "subjects" and "discourse" in several ways. This relation can be purely psychological, resulting from inherent properities of human feeling and mind and inherent properties of structurally organized referential symbols, the model proposed by Lacan. This relation can be a formally cognitive as the structure of discourses provides a set of meanings, organized on different levels of generality, which determine the options for the "subject" to know and express itself, the model proposed by Foucault. This relation can escape any proper formulation, but can be explored by philosophical speculation on the properties of the categories in the underlying theoretical models and their assimilation to ethical discussion drawn from theology and literature, the model proposed by Derrida. These models all assume that "discourses" exist abstractly and autonomously and that they exercise a direct, determinative influence on an equally abstract and autonomous individual or "subject."

These post-modern theories originated in the first half of the 1960s, but the Left in the imperialist centers of Europe and the United States did not become interested in them until the late 1970s. Until that point, much of that Left had oriented itself to Marx and to socialist organizations. As the mass movements against military intervention, in support of national liberation, and in quest of civil and social rights, for liberation waned, the Left needed explanations for the failure of these movements to develop sustained revolutionary momentum. Academic leftists looked for that answer in post-modern theory. The abstract, abstruse language of those theories simultaneously satisfied the terms of legitimate political questions and of intellectual, institutional career building. The substitution of one abstract system for another also belonged to the academic protocols of theoretical. These models also provided their answers in the prevalent common-sense terms of "individualism" implicit in highly capitalized societies. Through the steps of partial assimilation between Marxist and post-modern theory and the increasing abandonment of the Marxist elements as their conceptual incompatibility became evident, the academic Left became an increasingly post-modern Left.

The reduction of political consciousness and political movements to a relationship between "subjects" and "discourses" turned out to furnish a resource for very problematical political theorizing. In this model, the failure of revolutionary consciousness results from inherent characteristics of the "subjects." The theoretical posture of the post-modern Leftist demonstrates their own adequacy as a "subject." The failure of movements lies in the defective "subjects" who fail to attain the same understanding. The "discourse" model lends itself to the scape-goating of the working class that has failed the political desires of the post-modern Leftist. The post-modern Leftist is also absolved of examining conjunctural relationships of power on the social scale or of engaging in the social movements that do exist, because these processes are determinede by "discourses" independent of our intervention and by the mechanics of their reception by "subjects."

So much for step one, the general characteristics of post-modern theory that we will need in order to appreciate the conceptual pitfalls behind the surface plausibility and appeal of Foucault's particular model of discourse.

Let me say, I publish tonight with some reluctance, since I can only hope that I will be able to post second step tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

the national need for Black pathology to be displayed absent any appropriate context or history in order to justify the dominance of the Settler

All one of my Black female students would say after seeing Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls was, “Who would want to be us?” It was really this question that finally made me go see the movie and having gotten to it so late let me just say this about it: Ishmael Reed is right. Lionsgate Films has found a partnership with a nominally Black man to make anti-Black films which are made for and marketed to White audiences. And worse even than the pro-Nazi propaganda films preparing Jews for death camps twice now in back-to-back films, this one and Precious before it, this team has depicted Black people engaging in the ultimate taboo of incest. This is all done to preempt any attempts at raising popular criticism of structural inequality or from ever popularly asserting the humanity of Black people at all.

The film is of necessity anti-Black. It focuses blame only on Black men and women and completely absolves White supremacy and capitalism as permanent structures of violence waged against their victims. The only good Black man in the movie is a New York City police detective which as an anti-reality cinematic trope is only outdone by the broader two hours of non-stop psychic abuse waged against Black people. One trauma after the next; from rape, to incest, to babies dropping from windows. And, like Reed has said of their previous releases, Lionsgate and Perry have again come through to satisfy the national need for Black pathology to be displayed absent any appropriate context or history in order to justify the dominance of the Settler, the Master, of White society itself.

Jared Ball, "For Colored Antagonisms"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Something that needs a name

Beckett, Dante...Bruno, Vico...Joyce:

The danger is in the neatness of identifications. The conception of Philosophy and Philology as a pair of nigger minstrels out of the Teatro dei Piccoli is soothing, like the contemplation of a carefully folded ham-sandwich. Giambattista Vico himself could not resist the attractiveness of such coincidence of gesture. He insisted on complete identification between the philosophical abstraction and the empirical illustration, thereby annulling the absolutism of each conception – hoisting the real unjustifiably clear of its dimensional limits, temporalizing that which is extratemporal. And now here am I, with my handful of abstractions, among which notably: a mountain, a coincidence of contraries, the inevitability of cyclic evolution, a system of Poetics, and the prospect of self-extension in the world of Mr. Joyce’s Work in Progress.

Badiou, The Century:

What is a century? I have in mind Jean Genet’s preface to his place The Blacks. In it, he asks ironically: ‘What is a black man?’ Adding at once; ‘And first of all, what colour is he?’ Likewise, I want to ask: A century, how many years is that? A Hundred? This time, it’s Bosseut’s question that commands put attenion: ‘What are a hundred years, a thousand years, when a single instant effaces them?’

Johann Hari, Blair's foreign policy legacy lies in the Baghdad morgue

As the crowd clapped along to the old back-to-the-nineties tune of 'Things Can Only Get Better' in Trimdon Labour Club, awaiting Tony Blair's swansong, there was a bleaker postscript to the Blair years piling up half a world away.

In Baghdad morgue, these days they separate out the hundreds of Shia bodies and Sunni bodies that are dumped on them every day. It's easy to do: the Shia have been beheaded, while the Sunnis have been tortured to death with power-drills.

I phoned an Iraqi friend in Baghdad whose family was murdered by Saddam. Like me, she supported the war because she thought anything - even an Anglo-American invasion headed by Bush - would be better than Saddam and his sons slaughtering onto the far horizon.

"Oh, is Blair going?" she said acidly. "You know, I'm more worried about the three bodies at the bottom of my street that have been there for a week now. I'm more worried about how I'm going to get through the next day without being killed. I'm really not thinking about Tony Blair. Not ever again."

How did Blair's story end here, with 650,000 dead Iraqis, according to a medical report described by Blair's own scientific advisors as "close to best practice"?

Christopher Hitchens, A War to be Proud Of

LET ME BEGIN WITH A simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."

I could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day. How is it possible that the advocates of a post-Saddam Iraq have been placed on the defensive in this manner?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The protagonist...

...of redemptive violence, in the revival of this crypto-fascist radicalism generated in universities and marketed as Marx-flavoured radical thought, is an agent of white supremacist patriarchy.

Even dyed-in-the-wool liberals are now vending info- and commentainments which consist of nothing but the flaunting of their pique and dudgeon. A genre emerges – let’s call it BritCrit – wherein the complaint is usually some scarcely disguised version of the kvetch of the 70s skinheads, those loyal subjects of a once so awesome empire reduced to poor neighbour, sneered at as crude and second rate by Europe on matters of old and elite values, annihilated by the US in those few areas in which they could boast of superiority to the continentals (mainly pop music, theatre and cinema/tv humour).

It's fashionable again for the imperial petty bourgeoisie to celebrate itself for its "anger" - about them, of course, about the loss of national integrity and apex predator status, the escape of subject markets, whose native competitive industries like linen or cotton were abolished, like India and Ireland: to these growling, perpetually enraged whites, deprived as they see it of their full share of the imperial legacy, the ruling class’ rearrangement of its exploitative operations is envisioned as a Heimat de-industrialisation repeatedly painted as collapse of erection and onset of effeminacy, and (not always but) too often as racial degeneracy as well.

Empire alone can create and sustain whiteness, despite the common fantasy of its self-sufficiency. The Black Swan must be mastered and absorbed to save whiteness from enervation and sterility. (As Odile in the poster, the heroine’s genuine essential whiteness is in question; having absorbed the whiteness-creating blackness of Lily, the Prima Donna is red-eyed like an albino and thickly painted white.) The bourgeois culture industry has deconstructed only to reconstruct as indestructible because ideal; it has discursively destabilized with “gynesis” the hierarchies of white supremacist patriarchy only to reaffirm them, killed them to give them the eternal life of spectres. Spectacle’s layerings – able to create the illusion of that DeManian “infinite” irony through a kind of seductive hypnosis – assist in the re-establishment of debunked mythology deploying a levelling operation whose main move is to place reality under an erasure it cannot re-emerge from entirely.

When hipster bourgeois theory reasserts an ancient mind/body, spirit/matter dualism draped in philosophical jargon and declares some labour "immaterial" (divine, supernatural), then distinguishes between potent masculine intellectual labour and an impotent "feminised" labour, it's expressing a resentment not at the loss of muscle of the "white working class" labourer but at the white petty bourgeois clerk's loss of his admiring dark slave. It is not power-steering, nespresso machines and telecom technology that "feminise" the imperial core worker but what is perceived as a transformation in the human hierarchy of the imperial order which deprives the ever "immaterial" whiteness of Mind of control and ownership over dark animal Body. This is the castration that petty bourgeois crypto-fascist dissident cocaculture bemoans and attempts to reverse.

ZizNey of course provides the crassest, most obvious instances:

1. For the multiculturalist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are prohibited, Italians and Irish get a little respect, blacks are good, native Americans are even better. The further away we go, the more they deserve respect. This is a kind of inverted, patronising respect that puts everyone at a distance.

2. Why should revolutionary politics not take over the Catholic cult of martyrdom? And one should not be afraid to go to (what for many liberals would be) the end and to say the same about Leni Riefenstahl. Her work seems to lend itself to a teleological reading, progressing towards its dark conclusion. It began with Bergfilme which celebrated heroism and bodily effort in the extreme conditions of mountain-climbing; it went on to her two Nazi documentaries, celebrating the political and sport forms of bodily discipline, concentration, and strength of the will; then, after World War II, in her photo albums, she rediscovered her ideal of bodily beauty and graceful self-mastery in the Nubi African tribe; finally, in t he last decades, she learned the difficult art of deep-sea diving and started shooting documentaries about the strange life in the dark depths of the sea.

We thus seem to obtain a clear trajectory from the top to the bottom; we begin with the individuals struggling at the mountain tops and gradually descend, till we reach the amorphous thriving of life itself at the bottom of the sea — is not what she encountered down there her ultimate object, obscene and irresistible eternal life itself, what she was searching for all along?

We can easily see how the white supremacist, aryanist, fascist schemes vended by Zizney to the centre and left and NewsCorp to the right are necessary to the intelligibility of the hipster cocaculture Black Swan, which need not itself teach the audience its underlying material. A typical mass culture commodity, the film has enough ambiguity then to be the object of interpretative disputes regarding whether it simply articulates, or “subverts”, the clichés and formulae of which it is constructed, which disputes themselves serve to maintain the unassailable validity and signifying power of the symbolic foundations.

Suzanne Moore in the Guardian longs for Shulamith Firestone and Andrea Dworkin, two ferocious champions of whiteness and imperialism whose fervent fantasy of world improvement involved destroying the genitals of masses of the most vulnerable people. These were bourgeois authors obsessed with power and violence, coveting the former and dreaming up plans for massive infliction of the latter. Moore calls up the vision of these absent "angry women" to romanticise their anger as itself laudable and revolutionary. The ostensible excuse for evoking them is to address a purported trend in feminism to be problematically polite to male oppressors (she doesn’t mention hooks’ The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love as the target but one supposes that is the sort of thing in Anglophone feminism that has gotten her back up). Moore’s choice of inspiration is eloquent. She doesn't lament the absence of say Olive Morris, Rosa Parks, Gloria Anzaldua, Queen Mother Moore, Flo Kennedy, Valerie Solanas, Myriam Merlet; she doesn't honour the memory of Claudia Jones or Rose Pastor Stokes; she doesn't celebrate and appreciate the thousands of very present and plenty (but not only) angry feminists like Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva, Gayatri Spivak, Silvia Federici, Angela Davis, Gerda Lerner, Charlene Mitchell, Selma James, Rosa Amelia Plumelle-Uribe, Sheila Rowbotham, Heidi Hartmann, Cherrie Moraga, Caryl Churchill, Leslie Marmon Silko, Toril Moi, Assata Shakur, Ntozake Shange, Carmen Boullosa, Naomi Wallace, Arundhati Roy, and countless others whose fancy can conjure ways toward a better world other than the bourgeois favourites of despotic control and mutilation of humanity by "enlightened" elites. Firestone and Dworkin are exemplary of the type of angry egoist individual whose anger and personality are modish now. The problem is other people. There are just too many of them; they reproduce “unchecked”. (Especially black people and Palestinians.) And since there's not enough wealth or land to go around to solve the fact of their poverty and statelessness by eliminating the poverty and statelessness, it will have to be solved by eliminating them. Since the poverty and the statelessness, beyond being a blight on the planet's decor, makes the surplus population depraved menaces to the privileged and enlightened, the elites really have every right and reason to submit masses of people to whatever measures may be necessary to secure their own comfort and safety. Meanwhile, until that can be carried out, Firestone and Dworkin devoted themselves to being very angry about how vile all these surplus people are, and also about how hard it is to please those who are depended on to master the majority. They won't love you if you are not pretty and deferential. And even if you are, and do everything they seem to require, they even sometimes prefer...

Black Swan

In his dual review of Black Swan and Runaway, Armond White noted:

Our dumbed-down film culture is likely to prefer Black Swan precisely because: 1.) It is insipid; 2.) It glamorizes white petulance without specifically identifying its sociological or cultural sources; 3.) Its nonsense is familiar.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jared Ball:

After another semi-hostile run-in with an elder statesman over Obama I am further convinced of the brilliant strategy the president represents in complicating real left-of-center discussion and organization. I am also further convinced of the serious dilemma facing the real Black left. And by that I don’t simply mean progressives who may have one or two things to say about Obama’s shortcomings but who ultimately support him. I’m talking about those of us who would hope for more radical left politics to at least be put on the table.

No Adequate Words

Why Aristide Shouldn't Be Allowed Into Haiti
By Tim Padgett, Time

Friday, January 21, 2011

Farmished and Fartumult: Manufacturing Befuddlement

It's typical that the most prestigious bourgeois dissident theoretical product is harping now on the ungraspable complexity of reality and the staggering difficulty of "cognitively mapping" "contemporary global capitalism" at a time when a) social relations are simplifying amazingly (class polarization, single superpower, financialization etc.) b) information is far more easily gathered, stored and analysed than ever and c) the computing power and data resources of single firms like Goldman Sachs can represent historical reality in far greater detail than anyone would ever need and can in fact track the most minute changes almost in real time and instantly analyse them in more ways than anyone could possibly make use of.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

White Supremacy And Demonising The Left

That grey braid makes the State Senator's lawyer Billy Murphy (Don King's lawyer) a type and also, in this specific situation, a combination of William Kunstler and his successor Ron Kuby.

The scene: a black hustler evades justice with a meretricious histrionic performance of righteous political blackness and fools a jury of people of colour (to whom he appeals fraternally as "my peers"), thwarting the sincere efforts of a genuinely righteous and baffled white woman to make the system function for the good of all. The manipulation of gender in the scene functions in a Tom Wolf-ish* way to intensify the perception of the weakness of white virtue in confrontation with this destructive black power (to which the white male in the scene has gone over - his long braided hair underscoring that he has gone "native"** - treacherously).

The blaxploitation dramedy boasting of its "authenticity" and fearless "realism" presents itself as revealing the painful truth in brave (and subscription funded) disregard of a liberal political correctness which is imagined to rule commercial television convention despotically.The target here is African-American grassroots activism, which Simon proceeds to smear and discredit as the mere sentimental mythology of a ruthless, criminal opportunist. With courtroom theatrics recalling "if the glove doesn't fit...", Simon shamelessly prods the bitter resentment of white men over O. J. Simpson's acquittal, and by interweaving that "racial moment" into a braid of other fragments of the mass culture's race discourse, HBO's daring journey into the "dark corner of the American experiment" works to confect a dense composite of raced black demons and distill an essence of blackness (key quality familiar from minstrel tradition: fraudulence, inferior imitation, sham, comically attempting the emulation of civilised people) as object of its white audience's fawned-upon virtue, concern and critical gaze. After going on Simon's Baltimore safari, the audience is not only infuriated but wised up, can no longer be fooled, and is additionally emboldened to say what the cowardly, accomodating liberal and progressive cultural establishment, the Kunstlers in the courtrooms and the Lumets their chroniclers, refused in their pathetic idealism, chic radicalism and unwholesome mingling to concede. The scene (among others) warns the audience against the spectacles of African American progressive politics that deceive them, and of the conmen who take advantage of their white liberal guilt and credulity. Simon's densely allusive spectacle poses as an antidote to another type of reality tv, teaching his audience that they must not believe the black progressive or leftist in politics (Charles Rangel, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton); behind the facade which the white progressive shysters help him maintain, he is this character, Clay Davis, a "race hustler", scam artist, master manipulator. In league with this ponytailed lefty hippy demagogue sidekick and straightman, he plays expertly upon white desire to believe in black goodness and pretends to serve his community (in, Simon has him put it, the "jungle") only to fleece them.

Offered as an unavoidable part of a (sequence of racist clichés advertising itself as) courageous, biting, knowing, streetwise insider's critique of political elites, decrepit democratic institutions and the corruption of "the system", the manner in which Simon races his social evils is provided its alibis (1. verisimiltude, 2. necessary dramatic service to the noble cause of unsparing social criticism), and his white audience is provisioned with the means of its self-congratulation (it takes courage to dare to take a good long look at black depravity) as bonus on top of its pleasure of joining Simon in the examination of how unscrupulous black hustlers and their venal lefty white allies poison and corrupt our "American experiment" and its institutions of Justice and Democracy.

The endless reproduction of these stereotypes and this narrative serves a purpose beyond the entertainment and flattery of a white audience. The protection of David Simon's class interests requires pro-active interference in the development of the political consciousness of progressive "middle class" Americans, and the constant instilling of suspicion and contempt for the African American left, which has always been not only the backbone of working class struggle in the US but the leadership and most strongly socialist and internationalist element of that struggle.

As Jared Ball writes:

It doesn’t happen enough but when it does we should revel in the example and perhaps even build from it. The “it” to which I refer is the acceptance of Black intelligence into predominantly White spaces. And regardless of what some may think of interracial exchange the simple fact is that without sustained and serious inclusion of Black knowledge into segments of the White Left there is simply no hope for either or any other community. The general absence of Black intelligence in White media, specifically that which is defined as White Left or Progressive media, inhibits broad social movement building. It prevents those engaged in Black struggle from receiving the necessary support they deserve from White potential allies with greater resources and makes impossible the “revolution of social values” called for by Dr. King from occurring within the dominant White society; a revolution of values without which no greater form of Black American liberation can emerge. We may not like it but without significant changes from within White America the already bleak condition of the Black struggle can only worsen.

So recently when one of the White Left mainstays in my own media diet, Media Matters with Bob McChesney, had one of those rare moments where Black intelligence was welcomed and almost gave a sense of what is possible. His guest was Dr. Sundiata Cha-Jua, noted scholar of history and African American Studies at the University of Illinois and current president of the legendary National Council of Black Studies. In an exceptional display of knowledge and principle Cha-Jua demonstrated the hopes and fears represented in just this kind of interaction. The hope is found for Progressives in some measure of inclusion of the analysis of Black America, the fear is represented, as explained by Cha-Jua, in the absence of press coverage of the interracial solidarity shown among those participants in the recent Georgia prison strike.

*from James Collins' piece "Race and Power" in the NYTimes:

I think any fair-minded person would agree that Wolfe shows neither prejudice nor favoritism toward any of the ethnic groups found in “Bonfire” — at least when it comes to their moral qualities. The blacks, the Jews, the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons all come off equally badly.

Still, I think Wolfe could be accused of portraying the races in a way that is both false and, ultimately, unfair to blacks. The problem is not with any suggestion that one group is more or less admirable than another; rather, it arises from the way Wolfe shows how power is distributed among them.

If a Martian read Bonfire, he would think that in this world it was the blacks who had all the power. In the book’s very first episode, the Jewish mayor is shouted down by a black crowd in Harlem. He is frightened, beleaguered, and allows himself to be hustled away by his security detail, a decision he instantly despises himself for making. Sherman and Maria take a nightmare ride through the Bronx — “dark faces … dark faces … more dark faces” — and have a terrifying confrontation with “the elemental enemy, the hunter, the predator.” In the Bronx courthouse, even though the white judges, assistant district attorneys and cops have the official power, they seem like the oppressed and beleaguered ones. They are oppressed by their jobs and by the endless flow of black defendants; they are too scared to leave the building and are forced to “wagon train” their cars at night. Meanwhile, the defendants, with their Pimp Rolls, are cocky. The perpetrators are the ones who act in this world; the judges, assistant district attorneys and cops are reacting and just trying to keep up with them. After he’s arrested, Sherman has a frightening and humiliating (and very realistic) encounter with a black man in the holding pen. In the book’s last episode, Judge Kovitsky is just about to confront a demonstration by blacks outside the courthouse, but the court officers try to prevent him, and he loses heart. Overall, it is hard to find a single encounter between a white and a black in the book that the black does not “win.” Even the black man who shines Sherman’s shoes takes advantage of him.

**David Simon: Given that the American frontier is now a mere trace memory in our national consciousness, the inner city has become the dominant stage on which we perform our morality plays, the new, untamed wilderness in which men and women are challenged and judged.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gender and the Work of Art


from "Minimal Art", by Richard Wollheim (1965):

[I]t would seem that our existing concept of the work of art has built into it two propositions, of which the first can be expressed as:

Works of fine art are not types, of which there could be an indefinite number of tokens;

and the second as:

There could not be more than one work of fine art that was a token of a given type.

The second proposition needs to be carefully distinguished from another proposition with which it has a great deal in common: i.e.

There could not be a work of fine art that was of a type of which there was more than one token;

which, I want to suggest is clearly false.

For this third proposition would have such sweeping and totally objectionable consequences as that a work of art, once copied, would cease to be a work of art. It is indeed only when this sort of possibility is quite artificially blocked, by, say, a quasiempirical belief in the inimitability of genius, that this Draconian principle could even begin to acquire plausibility.


I suspect that our principal reason for resisting the claims of Minimal Art is that its objects fail to evince what we have over the centuries come to regard as an essential ingredient in art: work, or manifest effort. And here it is not an issue, as it was in certain Renaissance disputes, of whether the work is insufficiently or excessively banausic, but simply whether it took place at all. Reinhardt or Duchamp, it might be felt, did nothing, or not enough.


around 1917 I guess

Qlipoth's grampa Yudel on the left.

He was cool wasn't he.

White Supremacy And Spectacle

from Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature

Chapter One: "A Sign of the Times: Lynching and Its Cultural Logic"

On February 1, 1893, a black man named Henry Smith was arrested in Paris, Texas, for raping and murdering a three-year-old white girl, Myrtle Vance. Smith was taken into custody after being tracked down by a search posse some two thousand members strong; so large a group was thought to be needed because the suspect had bolted out of the state for Arkansas, where he ws eventually captured. On his return to the small town located in the northeastern corner of Texas, a thunderous tribunal of ten thousand spectators, many of whom had been ferried to the scene of the crime by specially arranged railroad junkets, met up with Smith to kill him.

Fir paraded around the business district for those “thousands in the city who wanted to see the fiend of fiends and monster of monsters,” Smith was carted off to a clearing just beyond the city limits of Paris. There, atop a scaffold bearing a placard entitled “Justice,” the dead child’s father exacted the vengeance he had been waiting for. With fire-stoked iron rods Henry Vance burned the black man’s arms, legs, chest, back and mouth. Then, to complete his deed, Vance set all of Smith’s body aflame as final punishment for his daughter’s murder. “And so did death come to Henry Smith,” one commentator wrote in 1893.

When death came to Henry Smith, it was no clandestine affair. As local resident J. M. Early bragged: “If we, locally speaking, [had] been an insignificant moiety of a great nation with no other notoriety than suspected sturdiness, we are no longer. Wherever print is read, wherever speech is the vehicle of thought, the people of Paris, of the United States of America, are now geographically located, and for moral stamina and worth, we are known.” In newspapers around the country, front-page headlines spread word of the events in Paris, Texas. From Chicago to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Kansas City – even to London – did the mob’s grisly feat come to be known. The town photographer J. L. Metrins copyrighted and deposited as many as twelve images with the Library of Congress (ensuring the pictures and archival home in the national repository). Another technophile preserved the event in an equally astonishing way: a sound recording of Henry Smith’s trial by fire was made, copies of which – like Mertin’s photographs – were reprinted and sold throughout the nation.

Later that year another black man, Samuel Burdett, encountered these records of Henry Smith’s lynching in Seattle. “Whiling away an hour seeing the sights” in the city he called home, Burdett came upon a crowd “that was attending some sort of entertainment.” “ Curious,” he approached the group, threading his way to the front “where a man was mounted on a stand or platform of some sort.” At the center of the circle, Burdett clearly saw that the attraction was not an impromptu theatrical performance or a street-corner oration, but a carefully planned display of the newest technology America had to offer in 1893. An exhibit “for civilized citizens to enjoy according to their individual relish for the awful – for the horrible,” Burdett recalled in anguish, the presentation “consisted of photoghraphic views, coupled with phonographic records of the utterances of a negro who had been burned to death in Paris, Texas, a short time before.” Mounted on easels and placed in chronological order, the photographs tracked the Paris lynching from the discovery of Myrtle Vance’s corpse to the capture, torture, and cremation of Henry Smith. Adjacent to these images was a gramophone with several listening devices – what we would today recognize as headsets. As its disc plate spun, listeners could hear a recording of the confrontation between Myrtle Vance’s father and the child’s alleged assailant.

This remarkable combination of sight and sound intrigued Burdett, who “had never heard or seen such a thing.” “Like the others who were there” on that street corner in Seattle, he “took up the tubes of the phonographic instrument and placed them to [his] ears.” What Burdett then saw and heard profoundly unnerved him; gripped by guilt nearly a decade later, he described the moment: “Oh, horror of horrors! Just to hear that poor human being scream and groan and beg for his life, in the presence and hearing of thousands of people, who had gathered from all parts of the country about to see it.” Printed on the page, Burdett’s torment is clear. The clichéd exclamation (“Oh, horror of horrors!”) sounds out his struggle to find language to express his encounter. Underscored by his compound phrasing (“scream and groan and beg”), Smith’s cries press on the reader’s ears, forcing us to imagine the agony of both black men. However, as his prose also demonstrates, it is unclear who horrifies Burdett more: the mob that watched the murder in Paris, Texas, or the entranced audience of onlookers in Seattle.

Certainly Burdett did not share the Texans’ reasons for wanting to see Henry Smith killed; as a member of the International Council of the World, he was an avid anti-lynching activist. Nonetheless his interest in witnessing something new, something novel, something modern – his own admission of being “curious” “like the others” – enticed him to look at the photographs and to listen to the sound recording of Henry Smith’s murder. And for that reason, the function of the audio-visual display confused Burdett’s perception of his relation to the murder scene. Was viewing the simulation a way to protest the lynching, or did watching amount to a vicarious act of complicity with the southern mob? How different could Seattle and Paris, Texas be if the deaths of black people were openly sought out as public events worth seeing and without the risk of legal reprisal? These questions, raised by Henry Smith’s murder and by Samuel Burdett’s anguished memories of his place in the crowd, suggest we should re-examine the history of lynching in America, to explore more broadly why mob violence was indeed a “horror of horrors” for African Americans and how mechanisms of modernity served to mediate the public’s experience of the violence at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Monday, January 17, 2011



Yet another approach to a critique of the institutional frame is indicated by Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s 1973 series of “maintenance art” performances at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. In two of the performances, Ukeles, literally on her hands and knees, washed the entry plaza and steps of the museum for four hours, then scrubbed the floors inside the exhibition galleries for another four hours. In doing so, she forced the menial domestic tasks usually associated with women – cleaning, washing, dusting and tidying – to the level of aesthetic contemplation, and revealed the extent to which the museum’s pristine self-preservation, its perfectly immaculate white spaces as emblematic of its “neutrality”, is structurally dependent on the hidden and devalued labour of daily maintenance and upkeep. By foregrounding this dependence, Ukeles posed the museum as a hierarchical system of labour relations and complicated the social and gendered division between the notions of the public and the private.

In these ways, the site of art begins to diverge from the literal space of art, and the physical condition of a specific location recedes as the primary element in the conception of a site. Whether articulated in political and economic terms, as in Haacke’s case, in epistemological terms, as in Asher’s displacements, or in systemic terms of uneven (gendered) labor relations, as in Ukeles’s performances, it is rather the techniques and effects of the art institution as they circumscribe and delimit the definition, production, presentation and dissemination of art that become the sites of critical intervention. Concurrent with this move toward the dematerialization of the site is the simultaneous deaestheticization (that is, withdrawal of visual pleasure) and dematerialization of the art work. Going against the grain of institutional habits and desires, and continuing to resist the commodification of art in/for the marketplace, site-specific art adopts strategies that are either aggressively antivisual – informational, textual, expositional, didactic – or immaterial altogether – gestures, events, or performances bracketed by temporal boundaries. The “work” no longer seeks to be a noun/object but a verb/process, provoking the viewers critical (not just physical) acuity regarding the ideological conditions of their viewing. In this context, the guarantee of a specific relationship between an art work and its site is not based on a physical permanence of that relationship (as demanded by Serra, for example) but rather on the recognition of its unfixed impermanence, to be experienced as an unrepeatable and fleeting situation.

Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: site-specific art and locational identity

Joyful Science

"I think this anthropology is just another way to call me a nigger." So observed Othman Sullivan, one of many informants in John Langston Gwaltney’s classic study of black culture, Drylongso. Perhaps a kinder, gentler way to put it is that anthropology, not unlike most urban social science, has played a key role in marking "blackness" and defining black culture to the "outside" world. Beginning with Robert Park and his protégés to the War on Poverty-inspired ethnographers, a battery of social scientists have significantly shaped the current dialogue on black urban culture. Today, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and economists compete for huge grants from Ford, Rockerfeller, Sage and other foundations to measure everything measureable in order to get a handle on the newest internal threat to civilization. With the discovery of the so-called underclass, terms like nihilistic, dysfunctional and pathological have become the most common adjectives to describe contemporary black urban culture. The question they often pose, to use Mr. Othman Sullivan's words, is what kind of "niggers" populate the inner cities?

Unfortunately, too much of this rapidly expanding literature on the underclass provides less an understanding of the complexity of people's lives and cultures than a bad blaxploitation film or an Ernie Barnes painting. Many social scientists are not only quick to generalize about the black urban poor on the basis of a few "representative" examples, but more often than not, they do not let the natives speak. A major part of the problem is the way in which many mainstream social scientists studying the underclass define culture. Relying on a narrowly conceived definition of culture, most of the underclass literature uses behaviour and culture interchangeably....

...In the Harlem and Washington Heights communities where I grew up in the mid- to late 1960s, even our liberal white teachers who were committed to making us into functional members of society turned out to be foot soldiers in the new ethnographic army. With the overnight success of published collections of inner city children’s writings like The Me Nobody Knows and Caroline Mirthes' Can't You Hear Me Talking to You?, writing about the intimate details of our home life seemed like our most important assignment. (And we made the most of it by enriching our mundane narratives with stories from Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O and Speed Racer.)

Of course, I do not believe for a minute that most of our teachers gave us these kinds of exercises hoping to one day appear on the Merv Griffin Show. But in retrospect at least, the explosion of interest in the inner city cannot be easily divorced from the marketplace. Although these social scientists came to mine what they believed was the "authentic Negro culture", there was real gold in them thar ghettos since white America's fascination with the pathological urban poor translated into massive book sales.

Unfortunately, most social scientists believed they knew what "authentic Negro culture" was before they entered the field. The "real Negroes" were the young jobless men hanging out on the corner passing the bottle, the brothers with the nastiest verbal repertoire, the pimps and the hustlers, and the single mothers who raised streetwise kids who began cursing before they could walk.

-Robin D. G. Kelley, Yo' Mama's DysFunktional, 1998

Even histories of race as a construction risk reifying what they seek to dismantle by treating it from the start as explanandum rather than explanans. When first invented, race was an answer to questions we no longer ask, and conceived in terms of schemes of human diversity we barely remember. Kant lectured on human diversity against the backdrop of geography and history throughout his career out of an eighteenth-century sense of diversity as real and inevitable as well as potentially meaningful. The critical turn and his mature ethics did not displace these concerns. They reframed them and, as they did, "race" became a term claiming at once scientific, providential and pragmatic significance. In this essay I will explicate Kant’s writings on race of the 1770s, 1780s and 1790s, not in terms of the disingenuous "science" his work helped make possible, but rather in relation to the concerns of Kant's practical thought in their true home.

Scholarship on Kant's contributions to race theory tends either to focus on his appalling views of non-Europeans, especially Africans, or to see him as engaged in a classificatory exercise, albeit one connected to understanding man's place in nature and history. But Kant didn't need the concept of race to maintain noxious views of non-Europeans, and classification of human varieties is never innocent. Scholars also often fail to distinguish between writings from different stages of Kant's career, allowing others to draw false comfort from the possibility that Kant dropped his hateful views with the critical turn of the 1780s or his theory of race with the cosmopolitan turn of the 1790s.*

Kant's views did change in important ways. Once invented, however, the race concept only became more complex and ambitious, moving from geography to anthropology and from discussions of "what nature makes of man" to those concerning "what man can and should make of himself".

Kant's theory of race shows the importance of reading together elements of his oeuvre that tend to be studied in isolation: practical philosophy, philosophy of history, anthropology, physical geography. But race is more than an instance of their interrelation. Both before and after the critical turn, Kant was committed to race for its potential to anchor his larger understanding of human diversity and destiny, and reserved a special place for Whites beyond race.

In a manner paralleled by his characterizations of the German national character and one of his accounts of moral autonomy, Kant argues not that Whites are a superior race but that they are the pre-emption and redemption of race: Kant's invention of race was attended by the simultaneous invention of "whiteness" as an escape from it. Seeing in Kant race’s pivotal role linking nature, diversity and freedom raises difficult questions for Kant scholarship.

It can also help us understand the appeal of this pseudo-concept and why it was able to exert such widespread influence throughout western culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

*Important arguments that fail to distinguish pre-critical from critical works by scholars such as Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Achieving Our Humanity: The Idea of the Postracial Future (London: Routledge 2001), ch. 3) and Charles W. Mills ("Kant’s Untermenschen", in Andrew Valls (ed.), Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 2005), 169 /93) allow scholars like Thomas E. Hill and Bernard Boxill ("Kant and race", in Bernard Boxill (ed.), Race and Racism (New York: Oxford University Press 2001), 448 /71), and Robert B. Louden (Kant's Impure Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press 2000), 93 /106) to claim that Kant's racism was confined to his precritical thought. Pauline Kleingeld has recently shown that Kant's racial views persist well into the critical period (she goes so far as to assert that he supported slavery during this time), but argues that he renounced his view of race in the 1790s; Pauline Kleingeld, "Kant's second thoughts on race", Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 229, October 2007, 573 /92.

Mark Larrimore, PDF Antinomies of race: diversity and destiny in Kant PDF

Very Creepy News

Baby Doc returns to Haiti.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

To my old master,
Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee.

I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that yor wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than any body else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in a better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particulary what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy. The folks here call her Mrs. Anderson, and the children Milly, Jane, and Grundy go to school and are learning well. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves down in Tennesssee." The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost Marshall-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for 32 years, and Mandy 20 years. At 25 dollars a month for me, and 2 dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,608. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.

Please send the money by Adam's Express, in care of V. Winters Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the Good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Surely, there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die, if it comes to that, than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits. Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when your were shooting at me.

From you old servant,

Jourdan Anderson

Peter Bailey on Malcolm’s ‘epiphany’ about white people in Mecca. from MXP on Vimeo.

Robin Kelley on Malcolm’s use of the “house Negro” and “field Negro.” from MXP on Vimeo.

"MacDonald’s is a Happy Place !"

I really believed that slogan when I began working there in 1978. For many of us employed at the central Pasadena franchise, Mickey D’s actually meant food, folks, and fun, though our main objective was funds. Don’t get me wrong; the work was tiring and the polyester uniforms unbearable. The swing managers, who made slightly more than the rank-and-file, were constantly on our ass to move fast and smile more frequently. The customers treated us as if we were stupid, probably because 90 percent of the employees at our franchise were African Americans or Chicanos from poor families. But we found inventive ways to compensate. Like virtually all of my fellow workers, I liberated McDonaldland cookies by the boxful, volunteered to clean “lots and lobbies” in order to talk to my friends, and accidentally cooked too many Quarter Pounders and apple pies near closing time, knowing full well that we could take home whatever was left over. Sometimes we (mis)used the available technology to our advantage. Back in our day, the shakes did not come ready mixed. We had to pour the frozen shake mix from the shake machine into a paper cup, add flavored syrup, and place it on an electric blender for a couple of minutes. If it was not attached correctly, the mixer blade would cut the sides of the cup and cause a disaster. While these mishaps slowed us down and created a mess to clean up, anyone with an extra cup handy got a little shake out of it. Because we were underpaid and overworked, we accepted consumption as just compensation – though in hindsight eating Big Macs and fries to make up for low wages and mistreatment was probably closer to self-flagellation.

That we were part of the “working class” engaged in workplace struggles never crossed our minds, in part because the battles that were dear to most of us and the strategies we adopted fell outside the parameters of what most people think of as a traditional “labor disputes.” I’ve never known anyone at our McDonald‘s to argue about wages; rather, some of us occasionally asked our friends to punch our time cards before we arrived, especially if we were running late. And no one to my knowledge demanded that management extend our break; we simply operated on “CP” (colored people’s) time, turning fifteen minutes into twenty-five. What we fought over were more important things like what radio station to play. The owner and some of the managers felt bound to easy listening; we turned to stations like K-DAY on AM and K-ACE on the FM dial so we could rock to the funky sounds of Rick James, Parliament, Heatwave, The Ohio Players, and – yes – Michael Jackson. Hair was perhaps the most contested battleground. Those of us without closely cropped cuts were expected to wear hairnets, and we were simply not having it. Of course, the kids who identified with the black and Chicano gangs of the late seventies had no problem with this rule since they wore hairnets all the time. But to net one’s gheri curl, a lingering Afro, a freshly permed doo was outrageous. We fought those battles with amazing tenacity – and won most of the time. We even attempted to alter our ugly uniforms by opening buttons, wearing our hats tilted to the side, rolling up our sleeves a certain way, or adding a variety of different accessories.

Nothing was sacred, not even the labor process. We undoubtedly had our share of slowdowns and deliberate acts of carelessness, but what I remember most was the way many of us stylized our work. We ignored the films and manuals and turned work into performance. Women on the cash register maneuvered effortlessly with long, carefully manicured nails and four finger rings. Tossing trash became an opportunity to try out our best Dr. J moves. The brothers who worked the grill (it was only brothers from what I recall) were far more concerned with looking cool than ensuring an equal distribution of reconstituted onions on each all beef patty. Just imagine a young black male ‘gangsta limpin’ between the toaster and the grill, brandishing a spatula like a walking stick or a microphone. And while all of this was going on, folks were signifying on one another, talking loudly about each other’s mommas, daddys, boyfriends, girlfriends, automobiles (or lack thereof), breath, skin color, uniforms; on occasion describing in hilarious detail the peculiarities of customers standing on the other side of the counter. Such chatter often drew in the customers, who found themselves entertained or offended – or both – by our verbal circus and collective dialogues.
- Robin Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Serial Racist Slanderer

Zizek, Violence:

For the Western Liberal there is also the problem of the brutal and vulgar anti-Semitic and anti-Christian caricatures that abound in the press and schoolbooks of Muslim countries. There is no respect here for other people and their religion - a respect that is demanded from the West. But there is little respect for their own people, either, as the case of a particular cleric exemplifies. In the autumn of 2006, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric, caused a furore when, after a group of Muslim men had been jailed for gang rape, he said; "If you take uncovered meat and place it outside on the street...and the cats come and eat it...whose fault is it - the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meatis the problem." The explosively provocative nature of this comparison between a woman who is not veiled and raw, uncovered meat distracted attention from another, much more surprising premise underlying al-Hilali's argument: if women are held responsible for the sexual conduct of men, does this not imply that men are totally helpless when faced with what they perceive as sexual temptation, that they are simply unable to resist it, that they are utterly in thrall to their sexual hunger, precisely like a cat when it sees raw meat? In contrast to this presumption of a complete lack of male responsibility for their own sexual conduct, the emphasis on public female eroticism in the West relies on the premise than men are capable of sexual restraint, that they are not blind slaves of their sexual drives.

The Australian.

The Age.

(But yes, agreed, that's enough of him.)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

"The Crisis of Multiculturalism"

  • Videos from ICI Berlin workshop. (Very basic but impeccable presentations from Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley)
  • The naming of the analogy between Nazi anti-Semitism and contemporary Islamophobia - a show of awareness and apparent concern - serves to license the articulation of the latter. In a typical move available to the possessors of white supremacist privileges, the writer adopts the position of moderator, standing above the question of the reproduction of racist discourse and practise rather than participating in it. He evaluates the rival claims of two Jewish Dutch intellectuals regarding whether Muslims in the Netherlands should be viewed as the victims or perpetrators of a revived anti-Semitism. As proposed by Defenders of the Faith, "our" ruthless critique of Islam and Muslims is now undertaken, a ritual of our European liberal generosity and advanced customs of critique and self-criticism from which the objects are only naturally excluded.
  • From "dot", the excellent RaceFail09 linklist.

Monday, January 03, 2011

"an experiment in constructing the figure or model of the inexpressible phenomenon that is capital."

I think the two annoying things deplored here are related -

a) the bizarre obtuseness, this strange now widespread tone-deafness to Marx' texts (which seemed to set in in the late 70s in certain academic circles and appears to have been the combined creation of Althusser, who had never really read Marx and just looked at famous fragments, and the oxbridgy Analytic Marxists like Cohen who were profoundly not getting the "historical" in "historical materialism") and

b)the object of Nate's main objection, capital described as "inexpressible phenomenon" (invisible monster?) of which a "figure or model" may be "constructed".

These seem to be artifacts of the same surpassing of language by image and spectacle.

Tracing the increasing marginalization of language by images, in his “Language, Images and the Postmodern Predicament,” Wlad Godzich, probably borrowing from Roger Munier’s pamphlet Against Images, puts it thus: “Where with language we have a discourse on the world, with human beings facing the world in order to name it, photography substitutes the simple appearance of things; it is a discourse of the world….Images now allow for the paradox that the world stages itself before human language.” To register the crisis that the proliferation of images poses for language and thus for the conscious mind would be to agree with Godzich that today language is outpaced by images. “Images are scrambling the function of language which must operate out of the imaginary to function optimally.” The overall effect of an ever-increasing quantity of images is the radical alienation of consciousness, its isolation and separation, its inability to convincingly “language” reality and thus its reduction to something on the order of a free-floating hallucination, cut away as it is from all ground.

When linked to the rise of image technologies, this demotion of language and of its capacity to slow down the movement of reality suggests that the radical alienation of language, that is, the alienation of the subject and its principal means of self-expression and self-understanding, is a structural effect of the intensification of capitalism and therefore an instrumental strategy of domination. In addition to Marx’ description of the four-fold alienation produced by wage-labor (from the object, the self, other, people and the species), bodies become deprived of the power of speech. This image-consciousness, or better, image/consciousness in which consciousness is an afterthought of the spectacle, participates in the rendering of an intensified auratic component, theorized as “simulation” or “the simulacrum”, to nearly every aspect of social existence in the technologically permeated world. Beyond all reckoning, the objective world is newly regnant with an excess of sign value, or rather, with values exceeding the capacities of the sign. Frenzied attempts to language “reality” (what appears) become hysterical because everything is a symptom of something else. Such a promiscuity of signification, what Baudrillard called “the ecstasy of communication,’ implies, in short, a devaluation of signification – a radical instability, unanchoredness, and inconsistence of consciousness to such an extent that consciousness becomes unconsciousness by other means.
- Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Just Because It Snowed

As I watched the snow through the window, I wanted to translate this poem by Gunter Kunert. From 1966, when he still lived over there.

Annunciation of the Weather


Thanks to the self-sacrificing work of the clouds
It's raining. Sure: Sometimes they simply can
Not hold the water. Nonetheless
A complete success. And no question
About the reasons.


Thanks to the alienation and the great cold
Which seizes the water drops
It's snowing: thanks thanks thanks


The government offices clothe themselves
With white vests. Cities slip
Into the colorless status of innocence. The squares
Marked with the concentric tracks of cars form
Expectant targets.
Put on caps of another power
Than that they, calling it to mind, otherwise serve.
The window sills the roofs the shoulders
Yet once more wear the flag
Of capitulation.


Neither the snow that layers itself on it in London
Nor the rain that flows indifferently
Over the great calm of his bronze skull
Knows: Marx is dead.


And yet has
Never lived like just now. Like now. Like right now.
Like in the weather of the dark shafts
From which the coal, still not under its own power,
Rises from light.

Like there where
You break wrists to give us
A well-tempered climate;

Where your hide goes on the market who want
Than that hides go on the market;

And where the factories don't want to turn into churches
Even if they urge them in earnest and inscription
To do it;

Since Marx did not rise up on the third day, not
Even on any day at all. Instead is there
And over there
In the frightful fruitful chaos of earthly


There there lives
What sometimes calls itself by his name. Sometimes
Something completely different. Sometimes nameless
Looks around collapses and strange
Raises itself up again.
Which means more
Than snowed in bones than coffined rain
Than sunshine pressed between book covers
The solemn annunciation of the weather.


Thanks to certain bases for rain and snow
There is also discord and hope. One
Above all others and everything: To arrive.


Not like the runner at the finish. Not
Like the dead at the grave.


But perhaps
Like the so vulnerable lump of flesh
Arrives from the body of a woman
In the dawning Somewhere: At the beginning
Over and over again. Over and over at the start. Over
And over at new beginning.
Like the rain drop. Like the snow flake.


"Don't romanticise them!" warns Zizek. These children are dangerous foreign intruder vermin and the state shirked its duty to do something about them to protect the landowners of Ambrus from the menace of their proximity.

Borut Peterlin (rootless cosmopolitan fiend no doubt) says instead:

While I was waiting I was playing journalists with Strojan’s children. Miranda Strojan age 6 years was a journalist and played the role incredible as she is really bright. When Elvis age 9 years answered that when he’ll grow up he’ll buy bulldozer and he’ll torn down all houses in Ambrus, she started to convince him that that’s not right. Here is an MP3 recording (size 4,2 MB) of the interview. We had really jolly time! Please do laugh at my silly questions, but asking silly question relaxes the person and it makes it easier to talk.

Today on Sunday, (Dec. 2006) Strojan family moved to a new location on the suburb of Ljubljana. I hope this is the end of agony of this family. Personally the whole story helps me understand the human nature and in this christmas time sheds a new understanding of the Bible.