Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag


Susan Sontag has passed away.

She spoke quite passionately at Vassar two and a half years ago. Her books, On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others, as well as a certain refusal to slide down a dangerous and irresponsible slope after the likes of Baudrillard, was a source of inspiration for many. When I go into a video store I still consult a rather tattered piece of paper containing an excerpt from an interview she once gave, in which she fondly lists her favorite films and directors. The recent tragedy--shortly an entirely predictable consequence of global warming, already a result of inadequate safety measures, and WTO policies of perpetual poverty and debt--must surely have struck her, of all people, particularly hard.

Link updated. And here's another. And another. There is a word for the Bush administration, and it is Stingy. Also cheap, cheeseparing, chintzy, churlish, close, close-fisted, costive, covetous, curmudgeonly, extortionate, grasping, greedy, grudging, ignoble, illiberal, ironfisted, mean, mingy, miserly, narrow, near, niggard, parsimonious, pennywise, penurious, petty, pinchpenny, rapacious, Scotch, scrimping, scurvy, selfish, skimping, sordid, tightfisted, uncharitable, ungenerous, ungiving, carnivorous, craving, desirous, devouring, edacious, esurient, gluttonous, gobbling, gormandizing, grabby, grasping, grudging, gulping, guzzling, hoggish, hungry, impatient, insatiable, insatiate, intemperate, itchy, miserly, niggardly, omnivorous, parsimonious, penny-pinching, penurious, piggish, prehensile, rapacious, ravening, ravenous, selfish, stingy, surfeiting, swinish, tight, tight-fisted, voracious...

Saturday, December 25, 2004


What should one do in order to read everything? And even if one can read everything here, quoting everything "integrally" once more, the everything would still be missing... I turn some three pages and read again: " he/it: at the border of writing [il: au bord de l'écriture]...".
It-paralyses it. Is this the coat of arms of his name, this "barred zero, heraldic"? of his name without name (not Without-Name, this is still too much), or equally, of an anonymous island, bordered on every side, as the borders of the o or the o of the borders, without any other quality or determination, white or black island, white water [eau]/black water, zero degree of the appearance, of the first step [pas] or of the first word, when this begins to walk or to speak, to heave up upon itself or to raise its voice. The white and the black are just as suitable to this o of the name without name. Isn't the eau, white or black, the o, clear or obscure, day/night, this double zero, this "equal power of the 0 and the 2 in the distance not marked and not measurable as difference", this equal power that the Eternal Return neither permits nor identifies, nor resembles, nor excludes the one nor the other? Thinking of the o, I then allow myself to drift towards what he says about 0/2 in Le pas au-delà, or about the "word-gap" in L'Entretien infini ("a hole-word, hollowed out in its centre by a hole, the hole in which all the other words should have been buried": so he quotes Marguerite Duras and he [il] is this word-gap, "immense, endless, an empty gong", he is the "narrative voice"), but there is also a similar hole in all names, in all words, in his name, in his words hollowed out by the o at [p. 110] their centre (le bord [border], la bouche [mouth], le mot [the word], le mort [death, the dead], le trou [gap], le nom [name, noun], le non [no], le moment [moment]). The double colour (white/black) of the o, the opposition day/night is effaced without confusion in the night remarked upon as follows: "All that which Anne still loved [...] were called the night. All that which Anne hated [...] were called night. Absolute night where there were no longer contradictory terms, where those who suffered were happy, where white found a common substance with black. And yet, night without confusion..." I read this in Thomas l'Obscur which you [vous] described, at the moment when, from the start, from first word, "Thomas sat down and looked at the sea", as a genesis of colour, from the "absolute night" "where white found a common substance with black. And yet, night without confusion..."

-We test only a preface here, scarcely, failing [échouant: can also mean grounding a boat] before Thomas l'Obscur, "To the pages entitled Thomas l'Obscur, begun in 1932..." (Thomas l'Obscur's warning).

-Is it for this, a prelude to the warning of a first récit, that you said viens to me?

-Listen when I say viens. I yell and hold back a murmur that nobody has heard, this unique time, in the close and transparent place. My cry is very imperious and very soft, it obeys you, it replies to you. Its urgency allows you the eternity in order to give me, the first, the affirmation that I repeat once more again, the unique time. Viens-speaks and elaborates nothing, cries out, but patiently, silently, upon each of our bodies, writes itself. You understand it yourself, now, here, very close to you, as if you just pronounced it but you remembered it and would remember it eternally, in the same forgetfulness where he will have left us, when finally what will happen to the other...

-Which you called: death, the other name of viens-which thus only happens to the other...

-To you [A toi]

Friday, December 24, 2004

...not yet on my shelf

Um, also these. To pay the bills or buy the books...

After Eagleton

I have just been handed a copy of After Theory from my brother, in order that I may "tell" him "which parts" he "needs to read." My response after an admittedly cursory look so far is as follows:

First of all, Eagleton's Introduction to Literary Theory is, for everyone who will never read Barth, Kristeva, Foucault, T.S. Eliot, I.A. Richards, Leavis, Jakobson, Saussure, Shklovsky, Bakhtin, Marx, Freud, Shakespeare or Derrida for themselves, an indispensable read. Even if one does read on one's own, or does consider oneself someone who likes to "do theory," Eagleton's books generally provide a rare and valuable combination of sweeping anthology and critical insight. Like Zizek, Terry Eagleton is something of a self-appointed, popular spokesman figure: someone valiantly trying to make theory accessible to the public. It's a noble mission, sort of. And some do it better than others. But while they hop on the backs of others and crack their whips, these two writers cannot help but imply, along with the likes of Baz Luhrman, that everything, including philosophy, is, in the end, merely popular. A somewhat tiresome routine, for those who have bothered to read for themselves, if not one that contradicts the true calling of philosophy, which cannot be popular merely and still remain philosophy (place-less, trembling, homesick). Therefore I always find it intriguing when Eagleton uses an (unacknowledged) Althusserian Marxism to align himself most fervently against all the rampant sophistry that is, apparently to Eagleton anyway, the self-evident entity, "postmodernism:"
Those who oppose norms, authority and majorities as such are abstract universalists, even though most of them oppose abstract universalism as well.
The postmodern prejudice against norms, unities and consensus is a politically catastrophic one. It is also remarkably dim-witted. (15-16)

This is a useless exercise in laying empty, purely rhetorical blame on something that just doesn't exist as such. Eagleton is conflating what he calls "postmodernism" with (an idealized vision of) the conditions of late capitalism--he even says as much himself:
The new norm now is money; but since money has absolutely no principles or identity of its own, it is no kind of norm at all. It is utterly promiscuous, and will happily tag along with the highest bidder. It is infinitely adaptive to the most bizarre or extremist of situations, and like the Queen has no opinions of its own about anything. (16-17)

When he explicitly reduces "postmodernism" to that which merely "tends towards..relativism, and celebrates...heterogeneity" (13), Eagleton is simply conjuring a well-established indictment of the hypocritical tolerance of liberal democracy. Who established it? Well, Derrida, for one. But Eagleton's conceptualization, while not short on confidence or bravado, remains on the level of a cliche. He is fighting one prejudice with another.

To be fair, Eagleton's critique (to the extent that it is even his) does touch on some extremely important points, and in an immediately entertaining, vilifying sort of way:
Postmodernism seems at times to behave as though the classical bourgeoisie is alive and well, and thus finds itself living in the past. It spends much of its time assailing absolute truth, objectivity, timeless moral values, scientific inquiry and a belief in historical progress. It calls into question the autonomy of the individual, inflexible social and sexaul norms, and the belief that there are firm foundations to the world. Since all of these values belong to a bourgeois world on the wane, this is rather like firing off irascible letters to the press about horse-riding Huns or marauding Carthaginians who have taken over the Home Counties.

He then proceeds to CYA quickly:
This is not to say that these beliefs do not still have force. In places like Ulster and Utah, they are riding high. But nobody on Wall Street and few in Fleet Street believe in absolute truth and unimpeachable foundations. (17-18)

Eagleton seems to be at his best when he's able to drop the snide sarcasm in favor of beautifully sweeping arguments that, notably, remain far more responsible than most. Such passages excuse, to some degree, his frequently gross simplifications (particularly and predictably with respect to Derrida). There is a lightness to Eagleton's prose. (A lightness? You mean a sort of Blanchot, stripped of the near-constant tropings of oxymoron and paronomasia?--No, but that is still unfair to Blanchot.) Here he is again, 100 pages and eons of pop-philosophy later:
The absolute self-abandonment which death demands of us is only tolerable if we have rehearsed for it somewhat in life. The self-giving of friendship is a kind of petit mort, an act with the inner structure of dying. This, no doubt, is one meaning of St Paul's dictum that we die every moment. In this sense, death is one of the inner structures of social existence itself. The ancient world believed its social order had to be cemented by sacrifice, and it was perfectly correct. It was just that it tended to see such sacrifice in terms of libations and slaughtered goats rather than as a structure of mutual self-giving. Once social institutions are so ordered that such self-giving is reciprocal and all-around, sacrifice in the odious sense of some people having to relinquish their happiness for the sake of others would be less necessary.

A society which is shy of death is also likely to be rattled by foreigners. Both mark out the limits of our own lives, relativizing them in unpalatable ways. But in one sense all others are foreigners. My identity lies in the keeping of others, and this--because they perceive me through the thick mesh of their own interests and desires--can never be an entirely safe keeping. The self I receive back from others is always rather shopsoiled. It is mauled by their own desires--which is not to say their desire for me. But it remains the case that I can know who I am or what I am feeling only by belonging to a language which is never my personal possession. It is others who are custodians of my selfhood. 'I borrow myself from others,' as the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty remarks. It is only in the speech I share with them that I can come to mean anything at all.

This meaning is not one I can ever fully possess, since neither can those who fashion it. This is because it is not simply a matter of their opinions of me. If this were so, why not just ask them? It is a matter of the way in which my existence figures within their own lives in ways in which neither I nor they can ever be fully conscious. To trace the rippling effects on others of the most trifling of my actions, or just of my brute presence in the world, I would need to deploy a whole army of researchers. (After Theory, 211-22)

Well, one researcher might be enough, sometime, when he has the time, to rescue Eagleton from so transparently betraying his contempt for Derrida. A sample from the more substantial passages where Derrida is mentioned (usually his name is simply summoned amidst a host of others in order to condemn them all in one glib glob):
For Jacques Derrida, ethics is a matter of absolute decisions--decisions which are vital and necessary but also utterly 'impossible', and which fall outside all given norms, forms of knowledge and modes of conceptualization. [As proof of his authority on this, Eagleton here cites 'Donner la mort', the original French version of Derrida's latest (well, almost) book, The Gift of Death.] One can only hope that he is not on the jury when one's case comes up in court. (154)

Huh. Hilarious. Another sample:
When it comes to a thinker like Jacques Derrida, the more apt accusation might be that he is far too painstaking a reader--that he stands so close up to the word, fastidiously probing its most microscopic features, that like a painting viewed from too near it theatens to disintegrate into a set of streaks and blurs. (92)

I don't know if Eagleton is aiming a facile stab at William Burroughs and Brion Gysin here as well, but this accusation, though common enough, simply isn't true. Derrida did both, and with more scope and rigor than virtually anyone else. Eagleton may have a whip, and a library, but whether or not to be impressed by his spurs remains a question for debate. I do not mean to imply that glibness in itself is a bad thing, and Eagleton does make some decent attempts to defend his style as if it were a philosophy here, but mabye that is just the problem: glibness begging to be compensated for with a certain defensiveness. Separating the valuable insight from betwixt the two is never easy. Perhaps Eagleton remains, primarily, a writer for "smart people" (including professors) who wish to stay current but no more. And yet, he is a pretty smart guy, and you just might learn a thing or two from him. Perhaps being made to feel uneasy, at times, by an author's sweep and stroll, is finally not such a bad thing after all.

Update: This was written in a somewhat arrogant, inhospitable spirit, which I regret but will nevertheless let stand. Please see a later post on the subject for a bit more balance and less snark.

A somewhat related discussion at John & Belle may also be of interest (but first see Michael Bérubé if you please).

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Does Bush Wear a Defibrillator?

I didn't know what that was either, until just now. What's that? Bush is having little strokes, suffering from demensia and frequently falling on his face before important speeches? Incredible. The West Wing may be about to become the most prophetic pop-culture show of all time. But hey, the debates were a long time ago; give The Cunt a break. It's hard work.

Lemming-Underground Web Productions

Blink. They have a Graduate Student Workshop.


Shakespeare Illustrated

See also Shakespeare Online

The Freedom

Not that it qualifies as art, or literature, but a new book by Christian Parenti (author of the must-read Lockdown America) is out (via).

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Protest. Also January 6. For the mentally challenged, a reason:
Naughty: Department of Homeland Security, for omitting "major sites" like chemical plants and dams from its unfinished national database of potential terrorist targets.
Nice: Department of Homeland Security, for including "water parks and miniature golf courses" in the national database. At your local putt putt, the terrorists never win.

Courtesy of The Center for American Progress

Not to mention the utterly irresponsible, bank-rushing, corporate hand-out fiscal policy of these lifetime crooks. How about some ads attacking Joe Republican instead of muppet Bush. You morons voted for the guy just because you're proud to be Rebublican, you have no time for reasons or for reality, you and your kids can pay for it, how 'bout. And plenty more...yawn.


This is turning into a hopeless pastiche of a post. Stumbling around after the who/what, where the last post had led me, I stumble across this and realize, once again, how far out of the loop one can be, with very little effort. Some not-so-subtle scribbling likewise appeared during said stumbling:
Why do conservatives shirk and then endlessly bitch about academia? Two words for the day: Queer Theory. It makes them squirm. Hence the misplaced anger, the emphatic whining, the victim-complex. (A question of sequence? Whose worldview comes first? No. A question of dependency, of whose worldview is most dependent upon on a mirror image of itself, on a falsely "opposing" worldview. A question of what is a worldview for-itself (grossly), and what needs does it serve. What is a worldview if not the very insistence upon the hegemony of worldviews, of large, convenient fictions to frame all debate, above and beyond all else. Worldviews, including neoliberal ones, are totalitarian. Their definition of "the political" leaves little room for hope, or a future. They hinge upon an essentially reactionary view of what may constitute the "political" itself.) But maybe there are no closets in cyberspace.

Links: disClosure: A journal of social theory

The Yes Men

They have not been arrested yet. Why is this? Surely "The Man" is not so willfully blind as to miss such explicit self-marketing, or to fall for the gig just like the sucker bureaucrats who are their targets/victims? But who/what is the real target here? The brilliant style of such groups resides in their ability to pre-empt the game of spectacle, to subvert it from within. The real victim remains, as it should, the entrenched assumptions and hegemonic passivity of a certain structure, of a discourse and its habits of self-legitimization. But even this is saying too much. Passivity itself is not to blame, as if something purely isolated, externalized. Rather a capacity for self-critique is exposed indirectly through parody. A disquiet from 'the outside' is made briefly present, but without securable presence--intangible, fragile, and disquieting. Maybe this is still saying too much. In any case, they provide refreshment. Surely the FBI is just waiting, for an incriminating moment when the benefits outweigh the risks? To arrest them on shallow charges would be to publicize martyrs for free. In presuming to announce the dissolution of the WTO in favor of a new organization beholden to a sincerely-funded, ballsy U.N., and even based in a Third-World country*, the Yes Men articulate what indeed appears to be the will of a majority of the world's people, not to mention that of the bureaucrats attending these bogus conferences themselves.

*Well hell, why not? Are the Neo-Con-Artists the only ones permitted to have radical ideas, crazy enough that they just might work? How about mandatory, Instant Run-off Voting for all U.S. citizens? How about radical campaign finance and election reform? Effective yesterday. As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that "bureaucrat" necessarily qualifies as a universal slander. "Simple-minded" might be more accurate.

In order to describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions, and the forces that work against it, it is necessary to make some artificial distinctions. In analyzing the spectacle we are obliged to a certain extent to use the spectacle’s own language, in the sense that we have to operate on the methodological terrain of the society that expresses itself in the spectacle. For the spectacle is both the meaning and the agenda of our particular socio-economic formation. It is the historical moment in which we are caught.

The spectacle presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned. Its sole message is: “What appears is good; what is good appears.” The passive acceptance it demands is already effectively imposed by its monopoly of appearances, its manner of appearing without allowing any reply.

The tautological character of the spectacle stems from the fact that its means and ends are identical. It is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the globe, endlessly basking in its own glory.


The agent of the spectacle who is put on stage as a star is the opposite of an individual; he is as clearly the enemy of his own individuality as of the individuality of others. Entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomous qualities in order to identify himself with the general law of obedience to the succession of things. The stars of consumption, though outwardly representing different personality types, actually show each of these types enjoying equal access to, and deriving equal happiness from, the entire realm of consumption. The stars of decisionmaking must possess the full range of admired human qualities: official differences between them are thus canceled out by the official similarity implied by their supposed excellence in every field of endeavor. As head of state, Khrushchev retrospectively became a general so as to take credit for the victory of the battle of Kursk twenty years after it happened. And Kennedy survived as an orator to the point of delivering his own funeral oration, since Theodore Sorenson continued to write speeches for his successor in the same style that had contributed so much toward the dead man’s public persona. The admirable people who personify the system are well known for not being what they seem; they attain greatness by stooping below the reality of the most insignificant individual life, and everyone knows it.

-Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Update: A link.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


A simple, common lament: Francois Truffaut died too soon. Yes, he certainly did. While Truffaut's memoir/tribute to Andre Bazin seems hard if not impossible to find out here, Cahiers du Cinema does have a PDF-based web home, since 2000.

From a confrontation between the underclass intellectuals and the ruling-class intellectuals: "You princes of thought, jewels of the intellect..., since you have moved to disown us, we in turn have abjured your paternity; we have disdained your crowns and impugned your coats of arms. We have cast aside the grandiose titles you formerly sought for your labors: we are no longer "The Elan," "The Star," or "The Will-o'-the-Wisp,"...but instead are "The Pretentious Fool," "The Penniless," "The Promised Land," "The Enfant Terrible," "The Tragic Pariah," or "The Bohemian," and thus we protest...your egotistical authority." Charles Pradier, "Peres et fils," Le Boheme, 1. no. 5 (April 29, 1855).

-from Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 584

Monday, December 20, 2004

Impact Press

Especially noted: The other election story: The demise of a third party presence in the U.S.. They also have a music section. (Thanks, Alfredo)

Update: Also, from Australia, Jacket Magazine certainly has some decent writing. Quickly getting out of hand over here. Well, roll with it. Struck by the following whilst (whilst!) grazing the new additions of Rexroth at the Bureau of Public Secrets site:
It sounds glib to say that Baudelaire embodies within himself the “contradictions of capitalism,” as though he was a sort of ambulatory Falling Rate of Profit. Perhaps it can all be traced back to economics, but the tragedy of the modern world, the metaphysical horror, the Social Lie, the World Ill, these are catch phrases masking total moral breakdown, the alienation of man from his work, from his fellows, and from himself. Organized society in our epoch simply has nothing good about it. It is deadly fraud from start to finish. We are so used to it that we forget, or we never face, what writers like Veblen, or Riesman, or Wright Mills mean in actual human terms.

Baudelaire or Céline face the monster all the time. They can never forget for an instant. The horrors of a world where man is wolf to man struggle all through every moment in the very bloodstream, like leukemia.

Does this mean that, as the Marxists used to say, all great writers of the past two centuries have been revolutionaries, conscious or unconscious? Certainly not. Such a notion only reveals the lack of what the Russians, in signs warning you not to spit in the subway, call “culture.” Léon Blum had a career and a program; Céline had a life and a work of art. Leon Trotsky said that, long ago, in the best thing he ever wrote. In the final showdown, all our revolutions have turned out to be careers for some and programs for others. The stuff of life, of art, is not only vaster far than all programs and careers, it is the material of a different qualitative world altogether.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Oscillation, Hospitality

Inspired by Adam, I have just carefully revisited the following two extraordinary essays. While of course no substitute for reading Derrida, Agamben, Nancy, Negri or Zizek directly, both provide rich introductions, in a way, without sacrificing either rigorous scholarship or clarity. Both remain accessible, I think, to a more general or popular audience. Genuine interest is perhaps the only prerequisite.

() Postmodern Communities: The Politics of Oscillation, by Heesok Chang

() Liberal Multiculturalism and Ethics of Hospitality in the Age of Globalization, by Meyda Yegenoglu:

Although Negri's analysis of the ways in which constitutive power tames and suffocates constituent power is a useful one to think how laws of conditional hospitality limit the unconditional welcoming of foreigners, it nevertheless suffers from certain limitations. Negri does not use the concept of constituent power as a theoretical or philosophical device that enables him to better understand how constitutive arrangements limit a more expansive politics. Rather, he treats constituent power as something that can actually be established as such by its affirmation or as a self-affirming power. Moreover, Negri posits the relation between constitutive and constituent power as an opposition or a dialectical contradiction; he poses the relation between constitutive and constituent power as an either/or question. The heterogeneity between the two is reduced to an antinomy. As such, his analysis risks leaving intact the very structure it aims to criticize; it risks repeating the same desire for a sovereign position, shifted now to the side of the hegemonized second term.

27. In an attempt to rethink another philosophical and theoretical framework that might help us to envision the possibility of reinventing a political space that is neither locked within the limits and congealments of conditional hospitality nor one that pretends to go beyond the law by simply reversing it, I want to discuss Derrida's reading of the relation between conditional and unconditional hospitality and law and justice.

Really now, with a publication like PMC available online, who needs grad school?

The New Pearl Harbour

A theologian asks the hard questions about 9/11:
So why did this soft-spoken professor from the high-ranking Methodist-rooted School of Theology at Claremont, Calif., feel it necessary to risk his hard-earned reputation as a religion scholar to write one of the most incredible -- in all senses of the word -- political books of 2004?

Because no one else in mainstream America seemed prepared to do it.

The result? Griffin's book, The New Pearl Harbour: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Interlink Publishing, $22.50) has already sold an astonishing 80,000 copies.

Griffin's unflinching analysis of the unanswered questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has made Amazon.com's bestseller list despite receiving virtually no reviews in North America's mainstream media.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


From We know too much these days:
Like everyone I was inadvertently becoming informationalised. I remember feeling the need for more information, more knowledge in order to understand these changes. This enormous shift from our collective industrial past was transforming not only work and social practices, but how an individual sees the world, others, and ultimately how they understand their self. As Hardt and Negri[4] put it, at the point where industry is replaced by information in economic terms it’s not so much about de-industrialising the human condition as “informationalising” it. This shift, at least in terms of labour and manufacture, has been taking place since the early 1970s as growth in western economies was increasingly linked to the service industries and information technology I would like to propose that conceptually, as a sort of meta-narrative, it can be traced back to the Macy Conferences on cybernetics 1943 to 1954. (Johny Spencer, 2003)

From 'What is to be done?' – Approaching the task through Debord and Negri:
Politics has been emptied of any content and no one any longer has any hope in the development of history. The problem with critique is that it will not live up to its self-fascination or its absorption in the object. We have to avoid the solidity of activism and its ideological security, keep its promiscuity and fervour at bay. The complex density of existence is suspended in a racketistic standpoint identity, i.e., in following. After Debord it seems clear that the critical analysis of society cannot be performed as a personal contestation. The critical analysis of society can either be based on a realistic gathering of knowledge and observations or be a matter of ideology or political conviction. It is no longer possible to try to connect a critique of everyday life with a critique of capitalism, where the sole outcome is that the revolutionary feels revolutionary. "We know the possibility of other vital insurrections, but we also know that their scarceness in history […] make them fall fatally into this mythology of subversion and mythology of a subversive-self that is among the most efficient means to avoid the revolutionary experience".(88) This very suspect self-knowledge is caught between narcissism and the desire for condemnation. It is not possible to locate any kind of revolutionary mode de vie or capital-negating philosophy of life. But it might be possible to live in a revolutionary way, that’s all we are left with. The problem with the desire for action might exactly then be ‘desire’ and not ‘action’. The desire for action. The word ‘desire’ raises a lot of difficult questions that reveal the fragile character of this undertaking. Can desire be substituted with need? Is it simply an emotional response when I feel aroused by the destinies and thoughts of Kronstadt, The Commune of Paris, the group around Miasnikov, May’68, Sapronov-Smirnov, April’77, LEF, Barcelona, the Makhnovians, etc.? Perhaps the weight of the question of ‘what is to be done?’ is so tremendous that we do not even dare pose it in these times. Perhaps we are left with Pierre Guyotat’s judgment that until we have grown eleven fingers on each hand the revolution is still to come, meaning that we want a world where all is not already enshrined in a destiny, nor still entirely to do. (Mikkel Bolt, 2001)

A new interview with Michael Hardt (via).

t r u t h o u t

John Douglas

T.V. Security #1

T.V. Security #2

(via Metafilter)

A Flood of Troubled Soldiers Is in the Offing, Experts Predict (NYTimes)

Chickens Come Home to Roost (t r u t h o u t):
The day before Thanksgiving, the Defense Department released a report by the Defense Science Board that, for the first time, critically examines Bush’s "war on terror." The report candidly admits: "Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies."

"The Green Mountain Manifesto," Thomas Naylor, Second Vermont Republic

1. What is the Second Vermont Republic?
The Second Vermont Republic is a peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist movement opposed to the tyranny of the U.S. Government, Corporate America, and globalization and committed to the return of Vermont to its rightful status as an independent republic as it once was between 1777 and 1791.

2. What is the primary objective of the movement?
Independence. To extricate Vermont peacefully, legally, and democratically from the United States as soon as possible and create an independent nation-state based on the Swiss Model...(Autonomedia)

Vermont to Secede from Bush's America? (Infoshop.org)
Of course 'America' is hardly his to begin with.

Comparison of Libertarians and Anarchists (monumental mistake (infoshop blog))

Blanchot, again

() The question he did not ask him. "What would you do if you were alone?"--"Well, the question wouldn't be asked."--"You mean there'd be no one to ask it."--"And no one to answer it."--"There'd be no time for that."

() For there to be a play of questions and answers, time must keep its unitary structure with its three variables. The predominance of the present as thought and as life (the intemporal present and presence to oneself in the living distant) is perhaps all the more marked by the near impossibility of not relating past and future to an actuality that has become or is to come; that is, of not thinking one and the other as a present that has fallen due or will fall due. The accomplishment of history would be this taking back, in the present henceforth actual, of any historical possibility: being always thinks itself and speaks itself in the present. When the affirmation of the Eternal Return of the Same imposes itself on Nietzsche, in the revelation that overwhelms him, it seems at first that it privileges, in giving it the colors of the past and the colors of the future, the temporal demand of the present: what I live today opens time to the depths, giving it to me in this unique present as the double infinity that would come to reunify itself in the present; if I have lived it an infinite number of times, if I am called upon to relive it aninfinite number of times, I am there at my table for eternity and to write it eternally: all is present in this unique instant that repeats itself, and there is nothing but this repetition of Being in its Same. But Nietzsche came very quickly to the thought that there was no one at his table, neither present in the Being of the Same, nor Being in its repetition. The affirmation of the Eternal Return had provoked either temporal ruin, leaving nothing else to think but dispersion as thought (the open-eyed silence of the prostate man in a white shirt), or, perhaps even more decisive, the ruin of the present alone, henceforth stricken with prohibition and, with it, the unitary root of the whole torn out. As if the repetition of the Return had no other function than to put in parentheses, in puttting the present in parentheses, the number 1 or the word Being, compelling thereby an alternation that neither our language nor our logic can admit. For even if we dared to designate the past conventionally in numbering it 0 and the future in number [sic] it 2, while postulating the suppression, with the present, of any unity, we would still have to mark the equal power of the 0 and the 2 in the unmarked and unmeasurable distance of their difference (such as the demand by which the future and the past would affirm themselves as the same supposes it, if, in the catastrophe of the Eternal Return, it were not precisely any common denominator or numerator that had disappeared with the form of the present) and to mark that this equal power would not allow us to identify them, nor even to think them together, but not to exclude them from one another either, since the Eternal Return says also that one would be the other, if the unity of Being had not, by an inadmissible interruption, in fact ceased to order the relations.

() The past was written, the future will be read. This could be expressed in this form: what was written in the past will be read in the future, without any relation or presence being able to establish itself between writing and reading.

() "I can do no better than to entrust myself to your loyalty."--"You do better, nonetheless, and rightly, because even if I am loyal, how would we put up with a loyalty without law?"

() I am not master of language. I listen to it only in the effacement, effacing myself in it, towards this silent limit where it waits for one to lead it back in order to speak, there where presence fails as it fails there where desire carries it.
(Le Pas au-dela, Trans. Lycette Nelson, 29-30)

Go Mainstream

Dear Matt,

We’re building an army, and you are among the first to sign up.

GoMainStream.org was launched when Mark Sundeen and I joined up with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and asked ourselves -- could we combine Bobby’s dedication to defending the environment with our lessons from the Dean campaign and revitalize the conservation movement in the United States?

We formed GoMainStream.org as an answer to that question.

We formed GoMainStream.org because more than 90% of Americans hold our values in common -- clean air, clean water, open lands -- yet 40% think that "most environmental activists don’t really care about people."

We formed GoMainStream because the corporate plunderers have hijacked our public lands and the public process.

And we formed GoMainStream because they’ve hijacked our language. They call polluting the air "Clear Skies" -- and they call it "development" and "access" when they lock Americans out of the public lands that we hike, hunt, fish and love.

We’re going to change that. And we’re going to change it by building a new coalition from the bottom-up -- an organization that helps Americans take action and that works to reframe the debate about the future of our country.

We’re going to do it by connecting hunters fighting to maintain access to elk habitat with suburbanites combating urban sprawl.

Because conservation is not an issue of right or left, or urban versus rural, or red versus blue.

It’s an issue of who we are as Americans.

In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out the online elements of GoMainStream.org -- tools that will speed up the networking potential of online activists, and that empower Americans to defend our way of life.

But first we have to build the army, and you can help today.

Take one minute to forward this email to everyone you know, and ask them to join us. They can sign up by clicking here:


Thank you for being with us at the very beginning.

Mathew Gross

From Orion Magazine (Winter 2001):
One of the rarest turtles in North America sits in my left hand, peeing. The spring sun is hot on my shoulders, turtle urine wet in my palm. The toes of my rubber boots have sunk out of sight in a marshy meadow a few miles northeast of Baltimore, Maryland. Three hours ago I had left my home in mountainous western Maryland, forty-five minutes ago I was doing fifty-five miles an hour in Interstate 95 rush-hour traffic through the city, and now I'm nose to nose with a small creature who first appeared with dinosaurs in the Triassic Period and has changed very little since...

Ecologists consider most turtles a successful group of animals, meaning they haven't been wiped out by predators or by an inability to adapt to changing environments. They're reptiles, not amphibians. Amphibians spend part of their lifecycle in the water, often with gills, and later, when they develop lungs, move to more permanent residence on land. A kind of part-one, part-two existence. First you're an adolescent, splashing around in the neighborhood pond, and then your body begins to change, and you grow legs, move onto land, spend your days sober and dry. The bog turtle, however, is born in a bog or swamp or marshy fen and spends its whole life there, burrowing into mud, hauling itself out to bask on logs, back and forth between wet and dry. As if it can't make up it's mind and spends its whole life trying them both. Maybe it's this flexibility that has made these turtles one of the creatures that have changed least over the millions of years. And maybe it's the ambiguity of their habits that interests me.

Ambiguity means being susceptible to two different interpretations, indefinite, uncertain. It comes from a Latin word meaning "to wander." And no places are more ambiguous than swamps and bogs. Their identity wanders between solid and liquid, sloshes back and forth over the line between firm and yielding. Irish poet Seamus Heaney, in fact, called the bog a place that "missed its last definition by millions of years." How did such a sloppy place get past the creator?

Last night was my first washing dishes at a local Italian restaurant. Afterwards the chef cooked us all a delicious sit-down meal, complete with wine and beer. I love eating dinner at 10:30pm, French-style. I also love having my predisposition toward being a passive aggressive, self-loathing, intellectual snob challenged by the direct demeanor and politically incorrect jokes of my co-workers. One of them, a certain demonstrative and earnest type, is considering joining up, although he doesn't support this war. I may have mentioned the 5,500 deserters, but really who am I to tell him what to do? One gets the impression he has always been told, but needs to believe himself autonomous at all times. There is a hint of genuine strength withdrawing/residing in this need, I think. Anyway, how menial labor can open up the sinuses, comradery built around tempers and bullshit endured, Sopranos and Seinfeld jokes. My hands are still tingly pink. Time to finish the leftovers.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


He remembered the first steps, the first warnings, the first unforeseeable signs of friendship, the first temptations that he hardly noticed. "Where did you leave them? What are they looking for? What are you looking for? No search, and the room--with the tables placed end to end--freed him from the desire to find anything. "The name that would fit...the book that has been opened...the streets where they walk..." It was a murmur, the deceitful entreaty. And all of a sudden: reflect. "I have reflected that we love the places in which something has happened."--"You mean, things that one could tell about, could remember."--We're not that demanding: something."--"Something that would reduce or enhance the feeling of boredom."--"We're not bored."--We're not capable of it."


The question he did not ask him. "What would you do if you were alone?"--Well, the question wouldn't be asked."--"You mean there'd be no one to ask it."--"And no one to answer it."--"There'd be no time for that."
(Blanchot, Le Pas au-dela).

I don't have a copy of the original French, but the above translation by Lycette Nelson (the only one) seems often to lack the sensitivity of, say, Ann Smock or Lydia Davis.

Lenin's Trousers

Found on the excellent Zoilus Press Web Site (courtesy of Scarecrow):
Dead Iraqis

In a society like ours there are bound to be disagreements about this and that. It is only natural. But although we may disagree on many things, I think we can all agree on one thing. The nice thing about dead Iraqis is they don't smell.

Some years ago, as you may remember, dead Iraqis were turning up all over the place. At the time there were various theories about why this was happening but thankfully all that is behind us now and we can set aside our differences and get on with the business in hand.

Let me say something else about dead Iraqis. They are not nearly so much of a nuisance as dead Paraguayans. Dead Paraguayans are cumbersome, frequently blood-splattered and almost always attract flies. They smell disgusting. Dead Iraqis, on the other hand, are lightweight, portable and, on the whole, easy to manage. At most they give off a light powdery odour, not at all unpleasant, redolent of potting compost in a rose-bordered rural shed.

Of course, I am not pretending that there aren't sometimes difficulties. For example, you can (with much smoke, gasoline and difficulty) burn dead Paraguayans, whereas dead Iraqis are already so scorched and charred there simply isn't any more you can do in that quarter, no matter how great your resolve or your store of boxes of matches and jerrycans of flammable liquid.

It was a bright May morning when my wife Giacinta first came across Iraqi remains in the house. There must have been three or four dead Iraqis involved (it is always hard to be precise where dead Iraqis are concerned, because of the intermingling). They were scattered across the kitchen floor when she went down to make the breakfast. After the trouble we'd previously had with dead Sudanese she said it came as a pleasant surprise to find that all she needed to do was vaccuum them away with her portable electronic "Dust Devourer" (it re-charges itself at night and is a real money-saver). The handful of coal-black specks left smeared on the linoleum she wiped off in a jiffy with a few drops of lemon-scented liquid multi-surface cleaner specially forumlated to cut through greasy dirt, grime and human-remains with the minimum of fuss.

Then there was the time my son Jason came home late one night and found half a dozen dead Iraqis in his room. Not at all perturbed, he called up his friends and invited them round. Soon Mike, Jake, Jute, Ike, Jock, Pete, Jack, Packer, Dibs and Luke were sitting around, drinking beers and poking at the Iraqi remains with my daughter Dune's knitting needles. Dune didn't know of course, she was in Glasgow attending a conference on Dutch elm disease. After taking turns to taste the ashy remains on the tips of their tongues the boys decided dead Iraqi was best described as "gamy", "smoky" and "piquant". They popped half a cupful in the coffee grinder, then sprinkled the powder on eleven steaming hot bowls of tomato soup. "Hey, Jason, this is brill!" "Not half!"

All through the night they played loud music by Iron Maiden and discussed setting up a rock group called The Argonauts. Until dawn they argued about who should learn to play guitar, who should sing, and who should drum, then they all went home to sleep...(more from Ellis Sharp, Lenin's Trousers)

Update: Whaddaya know, Ellis Sharp has started a blog. Fittingly enough, it's called The Sharp Side.

an interview with William Burroughs...from 30 years ago

From CenterForBookCulture.org:
PM: Would you say that Kerouac also belonged to the picaresque novel?

WB: I would not place Jack Kerouac in the picaresque tradition since he is dealing often with factual events not sufficiently transformed and exaggerated to be classified as picaresque.

PM: Isn't it a bit striking that a major verbal innovator like you has expressed admiration for writers who are not mainly verbal innovators themselves: Conrad, Genet, Beckett, Eliot?

WB: Well, excuse me, Eliot was quite a verbal innovator. The Waste Land is, in effect, a cut-up, since it's using all these bits- and-pieces of other writers in an associational matrix. Beckett I would say is in some sense a verbal innovator. Of course Genet is classical. Many of the writers I admire are not verbal innovators at all, as you pointed out. Among these I would mention Genet and Conrad; I don't know if you can call Kafka a verbal innovator. I think Celine is, to some extent. Interesting about Celine, I find the same critical misconceptions put forth by critics with regard to his work are put forth to mine: they said it was a chronicle of despair, etc.; I thought it was very funny! I think he is primarily a humorous writer. And a picaresque novel should be very lively and very funny.

PM: What other writers have influenced you or what ones have you liked?

WB: Oh, lots of them: Fitzgerald, some of Hemingway; "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was a great short story.

PM: Dashiell Hammett?

WB: Well ... yes, I mean it's of course minor, but Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in that genre, which is a minor genre, and it's not realistic at all. I mean this idea that this is the hard boiled, realistic style is completely mythologic. Raymond Chandler is a writer of myths, of criminal myths, not of reality at all. Nothing to do with reality.

PM: You have developed a personal type of writing called the "routine." What exactly is a routine?

WB: That phrase was really produced by Allen Ginsberg; it simply means a usually humorous, sustained tour de force, never more than three or four pages.

PM: You read a lot of science fiction, and have expressed admiration for The Star Virus by Barrington Bayley and Three to Conquer by Eric Frank Russell. Any other science fiction books that you have particularly liked?

WB: Fury, by Henry Kuttner. I don't know, there are so many of them. There's something by Poul Anderson, I forget what it was called, Twilight World. There are a lot of science fiction books that I have read, but I have forgotten the names of the writers. Dune I like quite well.

PM: There is no particular science-fiction author that has notably influenced you?

WB: No, various books from here and there. Now, H. G. Wells, yes, The Time Machine, and I think he has written some very good science fiction.

PM: What about the other Burroughs, Edgar Rice?

WB: Well, no. That's for children.

PM: In The Ticket That Exploded you write: "There is no real thing-- all show business." Have Buddhism, Zen, and Oriental thinking in general exerted a strong influence on you?

WB: No. I am really not very well acquainted with the literature, still less with the practice of yoga and Zen. But on one point I am fully in agreement, that is, all is illusion.

PM: Has the use of apomorphine made any progress that you know of since you started recommending and advocating its use?

WB: No, on the contrary. Too bad, because it is effective.

PM: In a recent interview, you said that apomorphine combined with Lomotil and acupuncture was the remedy for withdrawal. What was wrong or insufficient with apomorphine to require the combination of two other elements?

WB: I found out about Lomotil in America some time ago, and then doctors have been using it here with pretty good results. The thing about apomorphine is that it requires pretty constant attendance. In other words, you've got to really have a day and a night nurse, and those injections have to be given every four hours. And it isn't everybody that's in a position to do that. But at least for the first four days, it requires rather intensive care. And it is quite unpleasant.

PM: And it's emetic...

WB: Well, no, there's no necessity; see, it's not an aversion therapy and there's no necessity for the person to be sick more than once or twice when they find the threshold dose. They find the maximum dose that can be administered without vomiting, and they stick with that dose. You'll get decreased tolerance; sometimes the threshold dose will go down. Usually, almost anyone will vomit on a tenth of a grain. So then they start reducing it, but as the treatment goes on, you may find that a twentieth of a grain or even less than a twentieth of a grain produces vomiting again. You may get decreased tolerance in the course of the treatment. So it's something that has to be done very precisely, and of course people must know exactly what they're doing. It's very elastic, because some people will take large doses without vomiting, and some people will vomit on very small doses. Continual adjustments have to be made.


PM: You have kept an unchanged point of view about the origins of humanity's troubles. In The Naked Lunch you wrote: "The Evil is waiting out there, in the land. Larval entities waiting for a live one," and in Exterminator!, "The white settlers contracted a virus," and this virus is the word. But who put the word there in the first place?

WB: Well, the whole white race, which has proved to be a perfect curse on the planet, have been largely conditioned by their cave experience, by their living in caves. And they may actually have contracted some form of virus there, which has made them what they've been, a real menace to life on the planet.

PM: So the Evil always comes from outside, from without?

WB: I don't think there's any distinction, within/without. A virus comes from the outside, but it can't harm anyone until it gets inside.


PM: You hate politicians, right?

WB: No, I don't hate politicians at all, I'm not interested in politicians. I find the type of mind, the completely extraverted, image-oriented, power-oriented thinking of the politicians dull. In other words, I'm bored by politicians; I don't hate them. It's just not a type of person that interests me...(more here)

Was intending to post some more personal reflections on The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles, which I have just finished, finally (begun back in July). But then the above just seemed more interesting. So mabye later.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

another kind of echo

From an objectively literary or rational perspective this echo of a manifesto, regardless of its authenticity, is remarkably more coherent than the original. "The resistance" seeking to market itself here is smart to oppose the metonyms: Bush/Bin Laden. But it does so only superficially, and in fact ends up only reinforcing them, I think. In the end such simplistic alignments (sure to inspire a reactionary backlash, to be taken as merely confirmation of the PNAC worldview) remain a dead-end, one-way fundamentalist street. The fact that these greivances, however indeed genuine, are being couched within apocalyptic rhetoric is as predictable as it is ill-boding. Hardt and Negri fans feel free to disagree. Or maybe one should only expect such public statements to be contaminated by the worst excesses of the political power struggles taking place. All I am saying is: what if "the resistance" were to articulate a manifesto that remained on topic, precise, factual and entirely devoid of such end-of-history rhetoric? Such a thing would not be market-able, or would it? It would be a product of genuine, rather than superficial, cynically calculated faux-opposition. For the moment the frame of the debate remains, "you are either with us or you are with us." And the outlook for elections hardly augurs well.

Update: Christopher Allbritton at Back to Iraq 3.0 raises a few eyebrows and more, for suggesting he supports the proposed ID policies being imposed upon Fallujah...policies indeed eerily reminiscent of those imposed by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. And the Brits think they have it rough. Got Agamben, anyone?

echoing the call

Call for Papers -- Contretemps 6: Democratic Futures

Calls for democracy today come from various quarters—national, subnational, and supranational. Never before has the idea of democracy been so popular. Yet as the current attempts to impose democracy at gunpoint in the Middle East bear out, a functional democracy requires more than just the formal presence of institutions—it requires a liberated citizenry inspired by the dream of democratic futures. This issue of Contretemps invites provocative submissions on the theme of democratic futures. What are the futural dimensions of democratic experience, and how does this temporality affect political life in general? If the call for democracy is traversed by dynamics of hope and becoming, how well are these served by current political-economic institutions? Does the future of democracy require a rethinking of modern forms of political representation? How does the futural dimension of democratic experience indicate a horizon for other forms of democracy to come? How might we imagine a democracy that transcends nations, borders,
even the limits of the possible? How might the dream of democracy enable us to renegotiate our familiar institutions, public and private spaces, things and experiences, allowing for a rethinking of the "we" that is shared? Today, the politics of fear works to smother the utopian impulses that fired the democratic movements of the later twentieth century. What might be the spark that reignites the passion for the event of democracy, inspiring the reinvention of democratic futures?

Deadline for submissions: 20th March 2005

Please direct all enquiries and submissions to contretemps@mail.usyd.edu.au
For more information (including submission guidelines), visit Contretemps
at http://www.usyd.edu.au/contretemps

(Not that anyone here works for these people, wish as we might.)

an exchange

"You know, I liked this blog more when there was less ego, or less posturing of ego involved."

"Posturing of ego, really."

"Had made the mistake of becoming hirself an example. A way to stop thinking. It was only a matter of time."

"Ah Sartre, you dumb ass."

(Nothing is inevitably.)

anthology of pistols

In perusing a memoir written by a recently deceased (and "very Greek," we are fond of saying) close family friend, I am reminded, for neither better nor worse, of that, well, Stalin-doting Pablo Neruda:
Mexico in those days was more gun-toting than gunfighter. There was a cult of the revolver, a fetishism of the .45 Colts were whipped out at the drop of a pin. PArliamentary candidates and newspapers would start their "depistolization" campaigns, but would quickly realize that it was easier to pull a Mexican's tooth than wrest his beloved gun from him.
Once a group of poets entertained me with an outing...

Well, during the ride, after a good many tequilas, one of the poets insisted that, as a special honor of a different kind, I should fire into the sky his beautiful pistol whose grip was decorated with silver and gold designs. The colleague nearest to him whipped out his own pistol and, carried away with enthusiasm, slapped aside the first man's weapon and invited me to do the shooting with his. Each of the other rhapsodists unsheathed his pistol on the instant, and a free-for-all ensued: they all raised their guns over my head, each insisting I choose his instead of one of the others. As the precarious panoply of pistols being waved in front of my nose or passed under my arms became more and more dangerous, it occured to me to take a huge, typical sombrero and gather all the firearms into it, asking the battalion of poets for their guns in the name of poetry and peace. Everyone obeyed and I was able to confiscate the weapons and keep them safe in my house for several days. I am the only poet, I believe, in whose honor an anthology of pistols has been put together. (Neruda, Memoirs, 156-7)

Ah, yes. And everyone is a poet. Are you sure it wasn't for a whole week, or maybe a month, Pablo?
Well it would seem I am still reading Neruda. I read some things slowly, meeting the book where I find it and not always where it is. But it is Neruda's fault for permitting, if not encouraging this, and I am not chastising fondly. In fact, I think it is bad writing. Of course some writers also get caught up in merely entertaining themselves...


From Freud, "The Moses of Michelangelo:"
In my opinion, what grips us so powerfully can only be the artist's intention, in so far as he has succeeded in expressing it in his work and in getting us to understand it. I realize that this cannot be merely a matter of intellectual comprehension; what he aims at is to awaken in us the same emotional attitude, the same mental constellation as that which in him produced the impetus to create. (Writings on Art and Literature, 123)

Unfortunate as it is to canonize an author's intention, alleging one's interpretive work with a piece of art final and complete once the "correct" psycho-analytic (or materialist dialectic, marxist, feminist...) solution has been discovered, Freud's essay on Michelangelo's statue of Moses admits in the end, if vaguely, to its own failure, and thus remains open. The ambiguity lies not only in the mysterious realm between "intention" and "impetus to create," but also in the fact that the artist may have failed to be faithful to hirself, or to hir original act of seeing. Freud wonders whether he has taken his analysis of minute details too far, guilty of being "too serious and profound:"
And finally we may be allowed to point out, in all modesty, that the artist is no less responsible than his interpreters for the obscurity which surrounds his work. In his creations Michelangelo has often gone to the utmost limit of what is expressible in art; and perhaps in his statue of Moses he has not completely succeeded, if his purpose was to make the passage of a violent gust of passion visible in the signs left behind it in the ensuing calm (148)

Interesting that Freud uses a canonizing trope to excuse his own interpretation from the canon. If the artist is "no less responsible that his interpreters," then why is failure of interpretation "modesty" in relation to an artist of "often enough...utmost limit?" In his postscript, perhaps sensing that he had ended on a vaguely contradictory note, Freud forcefully (or is it forcedly?) concludes that "a new piece of evidence increases the probability that the interpretation which I attempted in 1914 was a correct one" (150).

Is it true that photos never record an act of seeing in the manner of such things as sculptures and paintings? Perhaps if one considers the acts of composition or framing-the mechanics of timing, lighting, or shutter speed, say-then we are all indeed fishes in front of the glass, the lens our tank (D'ailleurs, Derrida). (What 'haunts' in Sebastio Salgado's photos of turtles is their eyes, he feels like saying, but photographs do not haunt. In all frankness, his original post titled, "Metaphysis" was a playful poke at Giovanna Borradori, who had asked whether her question about the "primary focus" of this blog was "too metaphysical...for a deconstructionist [sic] like yourself...") But what if digital technology complicates this distinction? That is, what if the "reality" captured on film is just as much a creation or text as the "impetus" sought to be re-created by a painting? Doesn't the act of re-posing or re-contextualizing always involve a transformation of a reality that was never quite stable to begin with? That is, one chooses how seriously to take photos; they consist also of the reality they exclude just as much as the perspective they record. Paintings as merely an early form of photography? Husserl would probably object.

But certainly there are degrees of openness and ambiguity to photos just as there are to sculptures? The big Other functions in both, or perhaps in neither. The mechanics of filmic reproduction are closer to those of the human eye, but the fixidy of what is suggested is no less assured. Is it time to declare the almighty 'aura' dead?

see Gender, Julia Kristeva

Ok, maybe now I am just trawling for justifications. The truth ("I always tell the truth") is that I have a complex relation with photos. Derrida did too, it would seem. Mine may have more to do with mere vanity, I'm afraid.
N.b. I am perfectly in fact eagerly willing to admit that this is all scriblogging sophistry and simply wrong, and possibly even deranged, if given the chance. Derangement does seem all the rage these days. But maybe it won't even be read, and I will get away scot (Scott?) free! That would really be the ideal scenario here, I think.

Update: Some more careful, related thoughts here.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Soldiers show off their hillbilly armor

Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in Twentieth-Century Aesthetics, by Sianne Ngai (2000, PMC)

Executive Overspill: Affective Bodies, Intensity, and Bush-in-Relation, by Jenny Edbauer (2004, PMC)

Barrett Watten's Bad History: A Counter-Epic of the Gulf War, review by Philip Metres (2003, PMC)

Stupid Undergrounds, by Paul Mann (1995, PMC):

Nothing could be more quintessentially American than the stupid underground. It is more basic, more historical, than all the structures and pseudo-guarantees of liberal democracy. If America as such can be mythologized as a nation of dropouts and a shadow underground of Europe, it also immediately begins to generate its own dropouts--a subunderground that is the "first" of the stupid undergrounds, of those who went "native," which is to say: disappeared. The stupid underground is the latest bordertown, the liminal scene of this disappearance, and of
the becoming-imperceptible of American history itself. This history has always moved simultaneously toward the spectacle and toward the invisible; that is why there is a familiarly native intensity to the figure of the solitary, hermetic hacker jacked into the so-called Net.

Towards Theorising Postmodern Activism: A Foucauldian Perspective (Ali Rizvi):
One of the main functions of the capitalist governance is to normalise the ideas, to neutralise them, take the sting out of them etc. through placing them within the discourse and then constantly multiplying the discourse rather than repress them through inhibiting the discourse. Repression is not a chosen strategy because it is not effective in the long run among other things.

b) In order to be normalised through discourse it is important that one speaks, expresses and produces a discourse. Capitalism cannot manage some body who refuses to speak, refuses to produce a discourse and refuses to ‘come out.’ Silence is what terrorises capitalism and not the discourse. The horror that haunts capitalism is the horror of the unknown, that which cannot be situated in and explained within the discourse. Thus capitalism is the only ‘civilisation’ we know that is compelled to produce and reproduce and multiply discourses about its real and imaginary enemies on such a large scale. It is important in order to normalise, ‘explain away’ and trivialise that the ‘other’ is brought in to discourse.


Capitalism thrives on creating desires and multiplying them. Without the constant production and multiplication of new desires the capitalist system would dry up. It is important for the continuous production and reproduction of the system that each and every element of the system keeps ‘desiring’ more. Thus the movements that turn into movements of the safeguarding people’s rights and basing their struggles on the charters of demand really fulfil the functioning of the system. This is because they work on the false premises that capitalism suppresses desires...(more at Foucauldian Reflections (see "papers, works in progress, notes, etc."))

It would sure be nice to be able to read this review of Agamben's latest in full, if anyone feels like sharing...

Call for papers

Want to write about blogging for the journal Reconstruction? (sample article)

Herbert is not Hamlet

Because sometimes titles are simply vague dreams of essays not written yet. Dreams are often not all that profound, really. For instance last night I was chasing little chicks around a yard, with my co-workers (wilderness camp counselors/trip leaders) from this summer. The chicks would sprint-book it, really-from one edge of the yard to the other. Bizarre, and mildy disconcerting, but fascinating to watch, really. One even tried to fly-she pointed her beak skyward and propelled herself like a rocket, straight up and nearly out of sight. Brave fool that I am, I was waiting with open palms when she dropped back down to earth, but the force of impact was so strong that her skull imploded. In fact this cute, little, yellow, astronaut-aspiring chick had suddenly become the image of the Iraqi(?) boy shown on Aljazeera, flaps of his hollow skull lying open on the ground (you know the picture). Anyway, it was that kind of operation, you know, where a certain softness of touch is demanded, when the things one is pursuing (or more often simply trying to protect from themselves) are simultaneously have-mad with survival feistiness and yet extraordinarily fragile.

On another note, the below may be a somewhat tired argument, but the magazine is one I have recently sort of fallen in love with.

Progressive, open-minded people, will keep trying to make sense, to talk rationally, and I'll be among them. But for the sake of bettering my country, I may also be willing, just for a brief while (until we win back our real freedom), to sink to new lows and simple logos. If it will give me a voice in America; if it will give me back my home.

Orion Magazine (Oh, if only their issue featuring Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison were available online...)

Also, another potent letter to the Canadian Prime Minister.

Update: The magazine's photos are extraordinary, but the writing is disappointing. A bit sentimental.


Anyone else find it unfortunate that the opening and closing refrains of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana so entirely overwhelm the parts in between? Also a bit hard to listen to the music, or just to the side of the music, without being constantly assaulted by all sorts of Hollywood war-epic fantasies, Mel Gibson's on the cross, etc. Maybe this is why the folks at Left2Right don't watch much TV? We were however silently pleased with ourselves for letting in a urine-stained, sockless, probably homeless woman to the packed hall of artsy fartsies at the last minute (we were ushers, very important ushers*). To their credit, nobody seemed to mind once she settled down with her crinkly plastic bags. Truly distracting were the enormous, amateur stencil drawings of bloody scenes being projected onto the opposite wall. Sort of reminiscent of Giacometti, but Biblical. An orchestra concert is not the best time for a slide show. For one thing it turns the spectators into those of a tennis match. The grey heads vigorously bobbing and nodding is bad enough. There were a lot of young people too though, which was nice, for a classical concert.

*Actually she was an important usher; I was a more impish, cynical usher ("look, the tight turtleneck potbelly is back, 2 O'Clock. Why do his black pants have shiny stripes down the sides, is he British?")

Moving abruptly away from pictures of old men and somewhat shallow attempts at humor, certainly there is something to be said for the slower rhythm of postings at sites like N+1 (a journal) and This Space (a blog). What makes certain blogs truly peerless, it seems to me, is a certain refusal to merely entertain. But for the moment continuing to merely entertain, perhaps: a snippet from a first English translation of Alexander Kluge, courtesy (truly) of N+1:
-- What is the problem?
-- The state must be able to restore reality at any moment. But how is that possible after an unreal event like the terrorist attack?
-- Didn’t the U.S. administration do anything at all?
-- They protected their own leaders. They kept watch on the roof of the White House in case of further attacks. They tended to the burning Pentagon. They called up the fleet that has been stationed at Pearl Harbor since 1941, brought it through the Panama Canal to the coast of New York. Two days later, aircraft carriers and battleships were lined up there. What is real about that?
-- What are you suggesting?
-- The U.S. administration has to find something, no matter the cost, a handle that gave it some hold on reality. They have to find an enemy to suit the weapons.
-- So you think there was never a LOGIC OF WAR, but rather a LOGIC OF FINDING REALITY?
-- Something like that.
-- When there is no reality, we have to invent it?
-- Otherwise we would be left exposed, so to speak.

Becker, the productivity expert, counted this dialogue as part of the 0.8% of the conference that could be described as CRITIQUE, as opposed to the 99.2 percent consisting of INTELLIGENCE AS SERVICE. However, he allowed a margin of error of 0.9%, because he included effort devoted to FORMALITIES under the heading of intelligence, although strictly speaking they represent a different kind of labor.

Friday, December 10, 2004


On the recommendation of Majikthise, I've added a link to Left2Right, a new academic group blog "exploring how American political discourse can get beyond the usual talking points..." If only because Richard Rorty is on the list of authors. Although he has yet to contribute anything...

Unrelated Update: An interesting criticism of The Power of Nightmares is on the MediaLens blog.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

philistine, popular, philistine

A toast to The Reading Experience for joining Splinters in lambasting "Farts and Fetters Daily." Man, does that site suck. But feel like laughing? Go here. Shit and garbage post, typos corrected (blogging slightly drunk).

from Fear and Trembling

"Not just in commerce but in the world of ideas too our age is putting on a veritable clearance sale. Everything can be had so dirt cheap that one begins to wander whether in the end anyone will want to make a bid."

-Soren Kierkegaard (via and more)


I would encourage anyone even mildly interested in doing more than just blogging to join and contribute to this group, despite the fact that they are indeed, as Nick Lewis says, something of "the McDonalds of online politics." But especially in light of Howard Dean's speech yesterday, I thought I would share the following email. Time being of the, er, essence:

Dear MoveOn member,

Who will lead the Democratic Party? The answer may come as soon as this weekend, when the state Democratic Party leaders gather to discuss who should chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for the next four years.1 The election for chair is rarely competitive. But this year, with the race wide open, we have the chance to elect a leader who will reconnect the Democratic Party with its constituents -- us.

For years, the Party has been lead by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers. In the last year, grassroots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the Party doesn't need corporate cash to be competitive.2 Now it's our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back.

We've made it easy to contact your state Party leaders and ask them support a chair who will represent all of us OUTSIDE of the Washington beltway and engage us in a fight for a bold Democratic vision. If we get enough signatures today, we'll deliver your comments to their meeting this weekend, so please click below NOW to make your voice heard:


MoveOn includes Republicans, Greens, and independents. But all of us who are struggling for health care, clean air, decent jobs, and a sane foreign policy can agree on one thing: we're better off with a vibrant, populist Democratic Party that's strong enough to challenge the extreme-right Republican leadership.

Why haven't we had one? Under outgoing DNC chair Terry McAuliffe, the Party cozied up to many of the same corporate donors that fund the Republicans -- drug companies, HMO's, media conglomerates, big banks, polluting industries. The result was watered down, play-it-safe politics that kept the money flowing but alienated traditional Democrats as well as reform-minded independents in search of vision and integrity. And so the Party lost ground.

But in 2004, something incredible happened: hundreds of thousands of small contributors gave millions and millions of dollars and changed the way politics works forever. New we have an opportunity to birth a new Democratic Party -- a Party of the people that's funded by the people and that fights for the people. Tell your state Party leaders that you want a DNC chair who will use this new grassroots energy to catapult us to victory at:


The Democratic National Committee is the national backbone of the Democratic Party, and it matters who ends up as the new chair. With Democrats out of power in Washington, the new chair will play an unprecedented role as the voice of the Party. And no one will be in a better position to orchestrate a Democratic revival.

The state Party leaders -- who play a pivotal role within the DNC -- understand the importance of the DNC Chair. They have helped to make the election process more transparent, by inviting candidates for Chair to a public forum at their meeting. And for the first time, they are considering endorsing a candidate en masse. If they vote as a bloc, they could determine the next Chair. They represent all of us who knocked on doors, who gave money, who made phone calls -- and it's time for us to weigh in.

The movement for change that we built during the last election is still gathering strength. We need leadership that will break the chains of corporate funding so we can fight -- really fight -- for a better America.

Thank you for all that you do,

--Eli Pariser, Justin Ruben, and the whole MoveOn PAC team
December 9, 2004

Unrelatedly, guess who didn't have an FBI file. Maybe there is still hope.

Update: Suggested reading for those still not convinced that the US Left (such as it is) needs to critically address the issue of economic class, embrace rather than patronize the activist roots (in the least fundamentalist sense), and tap into the unprecedented wellspring of discontent with the Rump and Residue DNC:

David J. Sirota (AlterNet):
Encrypted within the 2004 election map is the Democrats' road map to political divinity. It is time for the party's centrists to make way for the economic populists who racked up wins on Nov. 2.
If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, crying "class warfare" is the last refuge of wealthy elitists. Yet, inexplicably, this red herring emasculates Democrats in Washington. Every time pro-middle-class legislation is offered, Republicans berate it as class warfare. Worse, they get help from corporate factions within the Democratic Party itself.

But as countless examples show, progressives are making inroads into culturally conservative areas by talking about economic class. This is not the traditional (and often condescending) Democratic pandering about the need for a nanny government to provide for the masses. It is us-versus-them red meat, straight talk about how the system is working against ordinary Americans.

In Vermont, Rep. Bernie Sanders, the House's only independent and a self-described socialist, racks up big wins in the "Northeast Kingdom," the rock-ribbed Republican region along the New Hampshire border. Far from the Birkenstock-wearing, liberal caricature of Vermont, the Kingdom is one of the most culturally conservative hotbeds in New England, the place that helped fuel the "Take Back Vermont" movement against gay civil unions.

Yet the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights Sanders' economic stances help him bridge the cultural divide. In the 1990s, he was one of the most energetic opponents of the trade deals with China and Mexico that destroyed the local economy. In the Bush era, he highlighted the inequity of the White House's soak-the-rich tax-cut plan by proposing to instead provide $300 tax-rebate checks to every man, woman, and child regardless of income (a version of Sanders' rebate eventually became law). For his efforts, Sanders has been rewarded in GOP strongholds like Newport Town. While voters there backed George W. Bush and Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in 2004, they also gave Sanders 68 percent of the vote.

Sanders' strength among rural conservatives is not just a cult of personality; it is economic populism's broader triumph over divisive social issues. In culturally conservative Derby, for instance, a first-time third-party candidate used a populist message to defeat a longtime Republican state representative who had become an icon of Vermont's anti-gay movement.

Richard Rorty (forum at The Nation):
As far as I can see, the only recourse Democrats have is to reverse the drift toward the center that began after McGovern's defeat in 1972, and once again put themselves forward as the Party of the Poor. This may not work, but it is the only card they have left to play. They should beat the drum about the widening gap between haves and have-nots, about the humiliation and misery of families without health insurance, about the scandal of disappearing pensions and about outrageous corporate tax dodges, about fabulously overpaid corporate executives, about Halliburton and Enron. If they adopt this strategy, at least they will be positioned to take advantage of any future economic downturn, and can hope for something like a reprise of the 1932 election. If they instead edge still further to the right, the Republicans will simply shift the goal posts by doing the same.

Related posts at the Progressive Blog Alliance.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Agamben, Critchley

A new issue of the kick-ass Contretemps focuses entirely on Agamben. The opening piece is penned by Agamben himself, and takes Derrida's Politics of Friendship as a loose point of departure. Flippantly, for now, it seems to me that Agamben's reading of Aristotle (and in particular his certain faith in etymology) and his remarks about this painting are at serious odds with Derrida's project. That is, I'm not sure Derrida would be so inclined to stress the near-blind closeness of 'friendship' so much as a certain vigilance and silence, a wariness or discomfort, even. On the level of ontology, Agamben and Derrida are perhaps rather at odds, but it would be expecting too much, I suppose, for Agamben to acknowledge these differences, at least in a public manner. In any case, the entire issue looks essential. Elsewhere, while touching on "Crypto-Schmittianism" and deriding those who call Bush stupid, Simon Critchley seeks to encourage laughter.

Mimetic Rivalry

From this site and courtesy of pseudopodium, an interview with Rene Girard:

Can your theory of "mimetic rivalry" be applied to the current international crisis?

The error is always to reason within categories of "difference" when the root of all conflicts is rather "competition," mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures. Competition is the desire to imitate the other in order to obtain the same thing he or she has, by violence if need be. No doubt terrorism is bound to a world "different" from ours, but what gives rise to terrorism does not lie in that "difference" that removes it further from us and makes it inconceivable to us. To the contrary, it lies in an exacerbated desire for convergence and resemblance. Human relations are essentially relations of imitation, of rivalry.
What is experienced now is a form of mimetic rivalry on a planetary scale.


Would you go so far as to say that the dominant figure of Islam is the warrior and in Christianity it is the innocent victim, and that this irreducible difference condemns any attempt at understanding between these two monotheisms?

What strikes me in the history of Islam is the rapidity of its expansion. It was the most extraordinary military conquest of all times. The barbarians dissolved into the societies they had conquered, but Islam did not and it converted two‑thirds of the Mediterranean world. It is not therefore an archaic myth as has been said. I would even go so far as to say that it is a resumption – rationalist, from certain points of view – of what happened in Christianity, a sort of Protestantism before its time. In the Muslim faith, there is an aspect that is simple, raw, and practical that has facilitated its spread and transformed the life of a great number of peoples in a tribal state in opening them to Jewish monotheism as modified by Christianity. But it lacks the essential thing in Christianity: the cross. Like Christianity, Islam rehabilitates the innocent victim, but it does this in a militant manner. The cross is the contrary, it is the end of the violent and archaic myths.

But aren't the monotheisms the bearers of a structural violence because they gave birth to an idea of unique Truth, excluding any competing expression?

One can always interpret the monotheisms as sacrificial archaisms, but the texts don't prove that they are such. It's said that the Psalms of the Bible are violent, but who speak up in the psalms if not the victims of the violence of the myths: "The bulls of Balaam encircle me and are about to lynch me"? The Psalms are like a magnificent lining on the outside, but when turned inside out they show a bloody skin. They are typical of the violence that weighs on humans and on the refuge that they find in their God.
Our intellectual fashions don't want to see anything but violence in these texts, but where does the danger really come from?


You dwell in your latest book on Western self‑criticism, always present beside ethnocentrism. You write, "We Occidentals are always simultaneously ourselves and our own enemy." Will this self‑criticism continue to exist after the destruction of the towers?

It continues to exist and it is legitimate for rethinking the future, for correcting, for example, that idea of a Locke or of an Adam Smith according to which free competition would always be good and generous. That's an absurd idea, and we have known it for a long time. It is astonishing that after a failure as flagrant as that of Marxism the ideology of free enterprise doesn't show itself any more able to defend itself. To affirm that "history is finished" because this ideology has won out over collectivism is quite clearly a deception. In the Western countries the divergence in incomes continues to grow greatly and we are heading for explosive reactions...(Le monde)

The Young Hegelian highlights a certain passage from Un Couer en Hiver that strikes me as not only timely, in a general sense, but also, in a certain context, as a very fair possible criticism of this blog.
What is a blog if not the pursuit of a certain relation-albeit by necessity through degrees of distance and discretion? A relation neither smug with indifference nor content with illusions of intimacy. A pursuit that is threatened by various tendencies (such as excessive linking, or producing merely for a certain projected or expecting audience, as if on demand-as Derrida says of Fukuyama); tendencies that often increase with the force or habit? More personally though, and somewhat tangentially perhaps, the potential for flippancy, arrogance and false posturing with hypertext has always bothered me. Sometimes, I would like to think that my first exploratory use of the medium has been just as much aimed at a sort of parody as anything else, but that is still something of a lazy excuse. (And here I am now, using this word "lazy" when I had sworn to myself never to engage in the sort of faux apology so common to weblogs.) Too often I feel as though I am not risking enough of myself here to begin losing myself, or to be worthy of the loss of self proclaimed by the promiscuous anonymity of links, cuts and pastes. That I am avoiding something under the mere guise of a genuine desire to simply share. There is certainly much of value in this more or less spontaneous sharing in itself, yet how does one begin to distinguish between a genuine sharing and its guise, between sincere offerings unto "the void" (that is never purely a void) and something less honest, perhaps more akin to compulsive collection, statistics idolatry, or a (less hospitable) narcissistic avoidance? Of course such anonymity is mostly an illusion; the self still shines through in ways, and those with the sensitivity to see this are perhaps the true readers. God forbid that one should appear merely pompous to one's true readers! I suppose what I am saying is that I feel immensely privileged and very grateful for the quality of (what I perceive to be, anyway) this blog's readers, (as opposed to a readership maybe, or mere market to be coveted, courted, cornered and maintained). While at the same time I cannot help but feel a little conflicted that I have been disingenuous to some degree in perhaps posturing as an academic or as beyond my years or knowledge (something in such posing, as long as it remains also listening, is worth retaining, surely). But I am applying for dishwashing jobs right now, at age 24, for Christ's sake. I am not yet an academic. I am a real person. There are also quite a few academics like whom I do not in the slightest wish to become, to further belabor the obvious. I would like to begin posting more substantially, more thoughtfully, in the near future, but I make no promises. In short, I hope these comments won't be read as simply betraying some sort of pathetic inadequacy complex. Perhaps to confess this way (beginning every sentence, either explicitly or implicitly with an "I" just like the repugnant Al Gore or John Kerry) is at heart merely a form of self-flattery. But this is a blog; it is being read on a computer and not in a book. And so I end up making one of these faux apologies after all, because the distinction is worth retaining.