Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Borderlands, the American word "theory" and a new blog (or two)

From the journal Borderlands:
7. 'There is a devil of difference,' wrote Marx, 'between barbarians who are fit by nature to be used for anything, and civilized people who apply themselves to everything' (Marx, 1993: 105). And so, it is not surprising that the pressure for the university worker to apply him/herself to an ever-changing, manifold range of tasks coincides with a renewed rhetoric of the university's civilising mission. Here, the 'creative individual and productive citizen' implies a person who can be entrusted with the responsibility of managing their own exploitation, entering into the labour contract freely , as it were. The 'barbarian', on the other hand, is figured as naturally predisposed—deemed 'fit by nature'—to systems of slavery and the use of force, suppression, and violence. It is thus not surprising that the previous incarnation of the culture wars—the 'history wars'— gravitated around the question of 'developmental genocide'.


9. Today, the culture wars position the university within a wider battlefield in which the polemos is no longer imagined as a clash of civilisations but as a recommencement of the moral crusade of civilisation against barbarism. Today's crusade is not principally waged against those classically impugned as barbarians beyond the gates, but rather against what are perceived to be simultaneously internal and global threats. According to George W. Bush, the 'great divide in our time' is 'not between religions or cultures, but between civilization and barbarism' (2001). Such declarations, crucial as they are to the conduct of asymmetrical war, are as conventional as they are injurious. For the ascription of barbarism is redolent not only with stadial conceptions of universal history but also with the correlate notion of a social contract that ostensibly distinguishes the civilised society from a war-like state (Neilson, 1999).

10. History attests that such a social arrangement has never prevented war—no more so than today when war itself has become preventative and the armed export of democracy has emerged as the talisman of civilisation. In 1850, Robert Montaigne wrote: 'We may then call these people barbarous, in respect to the rules of reason: but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them'. Walter Benjamin went a step further in declaring that there 'is no document of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.' At stake now, however, is not simply the observation that barbarism is the repressed content of civilisation, but the fact that war has become increasingly constitutive of the socio-political realm, which orders itself ever more rigorously in accordance with military logics and exigencies. (*)

When I said earlier that there is nothing "less interesting at this point than the so-called culture wars" I was (I hope it was obvious), in a sense, not being entirely serious, also often casually referred to as sarcasm. The word, "sarcasm" by the way, must always be prefaced by the word "tired," in blogland, as a rule. Speaking of tired words, if ever there was a need for an "evasive" "theory" critical stance about something...the increasing militarization of our society, in all its facets, and from Schmitt over to Benjamin, is quite clearly it. So if you're desperate for a cause, why not choose that one? Gary, despite having temporarily abandoned Levinas, has been making some interesting progress.

By the way, the new issue of Borderlands is really very good.

Also Mezomian Community is, I think, well worth your time. Among other things, he writes:
So communities are always paradoxical, they are created in the suspense and tension of paradoxes which cannot and will not be resolved. Blanchot and Nancy are wrong to make dying the community above all – this is a contemplative view of community, which makes it the “common” ground of dying members seeing their own dying in the dying of others. The community of lonely, dying members, trying to transcend their own insufficiency in sharing the dying of the other. Such a view of community could only have been written in the aftermath of Auschwitz, which of course it was, stemming to a certain degree from Bataille. Today, this image will no longer suffice – and, incidentally, there is no community of the dying of the suicide-bomber and his victims, is there? Dying as they may be, their dying is not the same, only from a point of view which would claim all dying to be the same, no matter what life it occurs from. This makes no sense.

It's not that I disagree with this final statement, necessarily, (nor am I am quite sure, honestly, where this particular thought of his may be going), but even if our society today is one in which not all dying is reported or respected as the same (vis-à-vis Iraqi civilians and Londoners, for example––but has it ever been any other way?), I'm still not convinced that death as-such isn't still "the great equilizer." Certainly the ways we mourn (or are prohibited from mourning, such as with the Saudi terrorist attack of almost five years ago) and how that voice of a forever dying God the MSMedia reports, are different, not equal, profoundly unjust, etc. But they are a fundamental distortion of reality, and from them one should hardly expect a vision of true possibility or the community to-come. Death remains the great equilizer (though no two lives are ever the same), despite all conjuring, despite all cheaply therapeutic, cynical advertisements to the contrary.

As for the Holocaust, well...just substitute "Jews" for "terrorists" in Bush's recent speech defending the Patriot Act––just listen to the way he says "the homeland"...a speech in which his eyes alternate between those of an angry fanatic and those of an affable salesman with a bigot's smirk at every other phrase––and you see how very far we've come. This is a man who quite clearly admires Hitler (hell, it's practically a family value), only this time much of the educated world does not fail to see it. The shiny badges and straight postures, the strange mixture of boredom, occasional puzzlement and mostly death-defying empty stares behind him––that made-for-TV bleacher backdrop of working-class uniforms and badges (what's the word for this?) two blacks, one woman and four men, the silent chorus––is perhaps the eeriest of all.

Update: London, London, it had to happen twice, to justify now everything. (Forgive the following for its thinking out loud quality; but this is a blog.)

Far more important, of course, that we be routinely confronted with random searches, heavy Kevlar, machine guns, chemical dectector guns (oooh, something new!), dogs (not new), etc. (i.e. "The Tanks") in our public spaces than it is for these ridiculously macho measures to be of any potential use. (Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" notwithstanding, terrorism cannot be normalised. That is madness. We will not get used to it, their suggesting of this possibility is itself the madness.)

{Speaking of madness, Josh Ritter (not the singer, probably, but maybe his blogging double?) has been posting since November but is new to me (hat tip in this direction). His posts are generous, clear and patient, and the latest one deals with Lyotard and postmodernity.}

Of course, only Socialist countries have peacable, affordable public transportation, and we all know how Socialism is Dead. It's a new State, now, for sure, but never has it's stability and sustainability been less certain.

Inevitably enough, Bush is going mad with Mission once again; his madness given lease; who knows, maybe even "divine" vindication...He's a sick man, you say, and the disease he's spreading has just entered a new stage of development; that's all. But this is no longer irony; there needs be a far more somber word. It's not his disease much more than it would be John Kerry's, necessarily, but is it truly ours?) If anything, these metaphors of sickness and disease should not be taken lightly!

One can note how the body language and gestures are even more drunkenly overextended. How the man (and his cronies) are stuck saying "I appreciate..." and "I look forward to..." every other sentence. And appreciate he, for one, most surely does! Thank you London bombers, klutzy, alienated kids, wannabe revolutionary tools, symptoms that dignify the disease. Strange repetition compulsion at work as always, not unlike that to be found concluding each episode of "Cops". Isn't this exactly how the virtual seeks to sanction or maybe "struggle against" its own peculiar trauma. In order for "reality TV" to be reallyreal, after all, it must perform two seemingly opposed actions at once: the unforeseeable or spontaneous and the reassuring or Symbolic. First and foremost the virtual must repeat itself, and right away,so depriving each traumatic incident of its originary violence and unique momentum, while at the same denying the potentially radical or transformative work of genuine mourning. Why this need for repetition? Will it disappear or morph with time, once we have become more at home (whatever that might mean) in a potentially perpetual state of virtual trauma? A safety valve-like function, then, if you will. To finalize the reality of the real, the virtual demands its repetition. Which, perhaps not so ironically, happens to have the precise result of keeping the wound festering and open. So we are left uncomfortable with the trauma, but also rather fundamentally alienated from a position from which to assess its origins; we are confused and overwhelmed (or rather overwhelmed and underwhelmed at once). One gets the feeling, even, that sometimes these events are not really events at all so much as concocted for their own repetition primarily (as if the sequel were always already in mind, but at the expense of the present itself). That's Society of the Spectacle, Spectacle, to you, Mr. Guy Debord. But no, all this still demands to be qualified.

There is an element of hysterical preemption in reality TV, certainly; but maybe also with respect to our collective positioning vis-a-vis the virtual, in the broad sense at least. Baudrillard raises some of these questions in his mostly bullshit pamphlet on "The Spirit of Terrorism", I seem to remember. But as usual he takes it too far, trying to be provocative, ending up a slave to the symbolic (as well as his own masturbatory stream of consciousness), glorifying the worst excesses of the virtual (not to mention the terrorists themselves). As Alphonse says, he thinks it's all happening on TV, or at the very least remains rather unconcerned with combatting this rather distinct impression. In short, he gives a bad name to French theory. (Any number of passages, say from The Spirit of Terrorism or America, the ones where I once scrawled "no, no, no" "self-contradictory" or "bullshit, all" in the margins would probably suffice, some rainy day.)

So returning to the initial thrust of two paragraph's ago, this noting by itself is not enough, especially so long as it remains content to rest on the plane of the spectator, the diagnostician. The point is to take (and first of all to think) responsibility for the way in which one intervenes and affects change. This mere noting is not "honesty" as Baudrillard suggests; it is laziness. The fact that he would even deign to call it "moral" should give one pause enough. Nothing is less certain, no, but that is a far cry still from saying everything is uncertain:
JD: I do not accept this opposition between reader-based and author-based meaning. It comes from a misunderstanding of deconstruction, one which sees deconstruction as free interpretation based only on the fantasies of the reader. No one is free to read as he or she wants. The reader does not interpret freely, taking into account only his own reading, excluding the author, the historical period in which the text appeared and so on.

Just to throw a Fish in the machine.

And also to bring this little ramble, in preparation for future posts, back to the question of 'literature', understood as open, and something other than the cheap and sentimental genre of political discourse. A different kind of noting––one forever less self-assured, and trembling. A cynicism-defying disquiet, sober humility in the face of death and all that.

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