Thursday, December 21, 2006

The only person you need to read on Thomas Friedman is Matt Taibbi

Reluctantly, but necessarily, Taibbi follows up his prior definitive commentary with another:
Reading Friedman is fascinating–the same way that it’s fascinating to watch a zoo gorilla make mounds out of its own feces. The gorilla is a noble, intelligent animal that will demean itself in captivity. Friedman is a less noble animal of roughly the same intelligence, whose cage is the English language. [Also, apparently, the NY Times, and the practical jokers at that first cocktail party who decided he'd be a good thing there, etc - mc] It’s an amazing thing to behold (read more...)

Over vacation have been reading Taibbi's new book, Spanking the Donkey - also good and funny.

Glen Greenwald is okay too:
Someone e-mailed me several days ago to say that while it is fruitful and necessary to chronicle the dishonest historical record of pundits and political figures when it comes to Iraq, I deserve to be chastised for failing to devote enough attention to the person who, by far, was most responsible for selling the war to centrists and liberal "hawks" and thereby creating "consensus" support for Bush's war -- Tom Friedman, from his New York Times perch as "the nation's preeminent centrist foreign policy genius."

That criticism immediately struck me as valid, and so I spent the day yesterday and today reading every Tom Friedman column beginning in mid-2002 through the present regarding Iraq. That body of work is extraordinary. Friedman is truly one of the most frivolous, dishonest, and morally bankrupt public intellectuals burdening this country. Yet he is, of course, still today, one of the most universally revered figures around, despite -- amazingly enough, I think it's more accurate to say "because of" -- his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq, likely the greatest strategic foreign policy disaster in America's history.

This matters so much not simply in order to expose Friedman's intellectual and moral emptiness, though that is a goal worthy and important in its own right. Way beyond that, the specific strain of intellectual bankruptcy that drove Friedman's strident support for the invasion of Iraq continues to be what drives not only Tom Friedman today, but virtually all of our elite opinion-makers and "centrist" and "responsible" political figures currently attempting to "solve" the Iraq disaster.

Lest we forget the perfume he first spread on Clinton's "free" trade flatulence, either...but that is even older news, and not a little boring.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Historicism's God Complex

The latest salvo in an onging exchange (linked previously):
Academics will recognize this magician as a stand-in for the protagonist of the old New Historicism. A school of criticism that flourished in the 1980s and by the early 1990s had been declared old-fashioned, at least by its enemies, the New Historicism put forward a version of “total system” (I quote from a discussion of Michaels by America’s foremost Marxist critic, Fredric Jameson) that specialized in outsmarting any attempt to critique or resist it, revealing said act of critique or resistance “to have been yet another feature of the system itself . . . programmed into it in advance.” Michaels’s readings of Dreiser’s The Financier and Sister Carrie are classics of the genre, cleverly exposing the vain illusion (again in Jameson’s words) “that Dreiser’s work, which is immanent to the market system and its dynamics and deeply complicitous with it, could somehow ‘stand outside’ that, achieve a ‘transcendence’ with respect to it (normally even characterized as critical distance), and function as criticism of it, if not indeed outright political repudiation of it.”

Whatever you think of the plausibility of this vision, it’s a major problem for Michaels’s argument. A capitalism that can do magic tricks like this one would obviously have no trouble with any collective action, however race-blind, that tried to equalize life chances for the poor. Given his assumptions, Michaels cannot really expect any more from the trade unions whose weakness he claims to bemoan than from the feminism he mocks. For he has to assume that any gains the unions might wrench from the corporations would be instantly confiscated from other employees elsewhere. Ditto for raising the minimum wage. Its opponents maintain, anticipating Michaels, that this will only make the wages of others go down. (If that were true, the corporations and their representatives wouldn’t fight tooth-and-nail against raising the minimum wage.) The way Michaels writes about the struggle for racial justice knocks the legs out from under the struggle for any justice.

Obviously Michaels doesn’t really believe that corporations can never be forced to give up any portion of their profits, that there can be no redistribution of wealth until a messianic coming of the Revolution, that in the prolonged meantime nothing meaningful can ever be accomplished. Otherwise he would not revive such excellent proposals as pushing for a 100% inheritance tax or delinking school funding from local property taxes. The problem is that in his strange and overpowering compulsion to discredit the movement against racism and sexism, he draws on a model of total system—the adjective “paranoid” doesn’t seem too strong to describe it—that guarantees failure for everyone. And this despite his certainty that all we need, as he says, is to do what’s right. Those of us who are fighting racism or sexism because (in his words) “it’s the right thing to do” are supposed to stop short, no longer certain of what’s right. Why? Because Michaels himself is so certain that in pursuing our sense of what’s right, we are inevitably if deviously furthering the cause of neoliberalism. Which is it, total system or what’s right? Like divine omnipotence and free will, his two certainties collide. As I hope my review made clear, I really admire Michaels’s feisty secularism. But this is not secular thought. This is theology. (read more)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

les vendredis de la philosophie

La philosophie voyou, avec Avital Ronell (via)

Musical someday

Top mp3 blog Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2006 more or less speak for themselves. Not to be missed.


Does anyone out there have access to the Liverpool Law Review. Trying to read this (and yes, I've tried bugmenot, but once logged in it will only allow me to buy a copy for someone else, someone living in a place called Liverpool).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ultra rich get ultra-richer

A new study: on World Distribution of Household Wealth [pdf]
The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth according to a path-breaking study released today by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER).

The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.

… Surprisingly, household debt is relatively unimportant in poor countries. As the authors of the study point out: ‘While many poor people in poor countries are in debt, their debts are relatively small in total. This is mainly due to the absence of financial institutions that allow households to incur large mortgage and consumer debts, as is increasingly the situation in rich countries’

The authors go on to note that ‘many people in high-income countries have negative net worth and—somewhat paradoxically—are among the poorest people in the world in terms of household wealth.’

via s lot, via Relentlessly Progressive Economics

Elsewhere: WBM responds to a critic

And MB responds to WBM...

Sunday, December 03, 2006


This is lovely. And of course, for Mallarmé


To think there was a time when I could play like this (about this age-with all the madness one may borrow at such age).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Butler Class

They are undoubtedly (over-broadcast) everywhere.

Thomas Friedman: all-purpose phrases failing in Iraq
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman is considered by many of his media colleagues to be one of the wisest observers of international affairs. "You have a global brain, my friend," MSNBC host Chris Matthews once told Friedman (4/21/05). "You're amazing. You amaze me every time you write a book."

Such praise is not uncommon. Friedman's appeal seems to rest on his ability to discuss complex issues in the simplest possible terms. On a recent episode of MSNBC's Hardball (5/11/06), for example, Friedman boiled down the intricacies of the Iraq situation into a make-or-break deadline: "Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."

That confident prediction would seem a lot more insightful, however, if Friedman hadn't been making essentially the same forecast almost since the beginning of the Iraq War. A review of Friedman's punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer.

"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time."
(New York Times, 11/30/03)

"What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's the rush? Can we let this play out, please?"
(NPR's Fresh Air, 6/3/04)

"What we're gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 10/3/04)

"Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile."
(New York Times, 11/28/04)

"I think we're in the end game now…. I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that's my own feeling— let alone the presidential one."
(NBC's Meet the Press, 9/25/05)

"Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time."
(New York Times, 9/28/05)

"We've teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it's going to come together."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 12/18/05)

"We're at the beginning of I think the decisive I would say six months in Iraq, OK, because I feel like this election—you know, I felt from the beginning Iraq was going to be ultimately, Charlie, what Iraqis make of it."
(PBS's Charlie Rose Show, 12/20/05)

"The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful."
(New York Times, 12/21/05)

"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding. In which case, I think the American people as a whole will want to play it out or whether it really is a fool's errand."
(Oprah Winfrey Show, 1/23/06)

"I think we're in the end game there, in the next three to six months, Bob. We've got for the first time an Iraqi government elected on the basis of an Iraqi constitution. Either they're going to produce the kind of inclusive consensual government that we aspire to in the near term, in which case America will stick with it, or they're not, in which case I think the bottom's going to fall out."
(CBS, 1/31/06)

"I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq."
(NBC's Today, 3/2/06)

"Can Iraqis get this government together? If they do, I think the American public will continue to want to support the effort there to try to produce a decent, stable Iraq. But if they don't, then I think the bottom is going to fall out of public support here for the whole Iraq endeavor. So one way or another, I think we're in the end game in the sense it's going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there's an Iraq there worth investing in. And that is something only Iraqis can tell us."
(CNN, 4/23/06)

"Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."
(MSNBC's Hardball, 5/11/06)

Thomas Friedman iv: the word is "Hack"

A series dedicated to those who still speak glowingly of Thomas Friedman, only God and gullible white liberal hawks know why.

Surely the definitive skewering (in case you had missed it, and were curious) was always here.

The Progressive Magazine deserves credit, I suppose, for being among the first (nearly a decade ago, if memory serves) to definitively place the whole episode, repulsive swaying sack of solipsistic cowardice. Their utterly devastating review of Lexus is sadly not available online, but in suitably weathered tone the editors are, I see, still at it as the times demand.

Thomas Friedman iii: Toxic Tourism

Kipling On the Loose
Thomas Friedman’s Toxic Tourism
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, July 5, 2006

LIMA, Peru—The best part of this job is being able to step outside of your routine and occasionally look at the world through a completely different lens. The Peruvian Amazon rain forest is such a lens, and looking at the world through this dense jungle has given me new perspectives on two issues — Middle East violence and the spread of the Internet.
—The first lines of Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column, July 5, 2006

From the doorway of La Crónica Santiago looks at the Avenida Tacna without love: cars, uneven and faded buildings, the gaudy skeletons of posters floating in the mist, the gray midday. At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?
—The first lines of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral (1974).

One quote appears to have nothing to do with the other. But neither do Friedman’s juxtapositions, or his quests for the soppy metaphor. You’d think the New York subway would be as good a place as any, jungle-wise, to “look at the world through a completely different lens.” There’s a subway stop half a block away from Friedman’s office. Timesmen who work on the building’s eleventh floor must think the underground peruvia non grata. So the juxtaposition begs the question: at what precise moment did Thomas Friedman go Peruvian on his own Amazon rear? Answer: January 1, 1995, the day he published his first “Foreign Affairs” column for the Times and heralded the age of imperialism with a liberal face. Or Rudyard Kipling minus the poetry, the style, the occasional substance, the ear for irony.

So we get sentences like Wednesday's: “What is so striking about the rain forest, when viewed up close, is what an incredibly violent place it is—with trees, plants and vines all struggling with each other for sunlight, and animals, insects and birds doing the same for food.” Funny. I could say the same about the copse of woods in back of my Floridian house, or any stage where two or more lobbyists compete for a legislator’s price. Seen up close of course the last thing any of this jungle stuff is is violent. It’s placid, well-mannered, immobile. It takes perspective, a bit of analysis, seeing the forest for the trees sort of thing—doing what Friedman seems incapable of—to reflect the ecosystem’s violence. It takes abandoning the very preconceptions and presumptions going to a place like the Peruvian jungle was meant to do. So he goes from vines and jungle animals competing “with an identifiable purpose” to describing the violence between Israelis and Palestinians as “utterly without purpose.”

Leave aside the subtle comparison of someone in this equation—certainly not the Israelis—to irrational jungle-bunnies (what Kipling would have called “lesser breeds without the Law”). Friedman’s conclusion, after two paragraphs profoundly reminiscent of the intellectual quotient of soldier beetles, is this: “Species that behave that way in the rain forest,” meaning like Palestinians, “become extinct.” And here we were thinking globalism’s fixation on rapid growth, untrammeled lucre and luxury (and global warming) were driving species to extinction! Silly us. I also recall my post-adolescence in early-Reagan America when becoming extinct at the drop of a Mirved missile had us marching in the streets in the shadows of Reagan’s turgidity for Pershing missiles and ICBMs, while the Soviets were pointing their own arsenals of mass extinction at us all the way up to the Berlin Wall. Compared to that, even the jungle’s most derelict species look like models of civility. And from that, Friedman jumps to this: “As for the Internet in the rain forest, my point is this: There is none.” This, ladies and gentlemen of the jungle, is what earns the man a twice-weekly perch on the world’s most august op-ed page.

And we wonder why he never had a doubting word about the “war on terror” (“Semper Fi,” is how he ended his first post-9/11 column) and the war in Iraq until it was pointed out to him, with the sort of repetitive insistence perfected by laboratories devoted to researching the abilities of simians to learn, that at some precise points in the genesis of both—namely, when the Bush administration declared both wars as their playground—both wars were, are, a sham. And still, he has doubts. His trips to the jungles of the world are not really attempts at seeing the world from different lenses. They’re exercises in reassertion, in exporting his unchanging, neo-imperialist world view to those places that have as yet been spared the reach of his religion (globalism), but not quite its effects. Friedman, in his travels to those lost corners, is not just Kipling without style. He’s America’s latest Lewis or Clark without enlightenment—the advance scout of civilization’s grasp and crass, its pretend humility wrapped in the wide-eyed props of the ingénue. It might have worked in the age of The Quiet American. It ain’t working now, not least because the American has become so loud.

Speaking of his jungle guide, Friedman concludes, unresisting before that last entomological pun: “He was totally disconnected from the Web, but totally in touch with the incredible web of life around him. I wonder if there’s a lesson there.” He went to college, too.

Thomas Friedman ii: the Geraldo Rivera of the NY Times

Edward S. Herman (read the whole thing):
The principal diplomatic correspondents for the New York Times, from Cyrus Sulzberger through Flora Lewis, James Reston, and Leslie Gelb to Thomas Friedman, have always and necessarily been apologists for U.S. foreign policy. The NYT is a self-acknowledged establishment paper and hardly makes any bones about its close connections with policy-makers. James Reston was greatly honored for his intimacy with high officials and even co-wrote one of his NYT opinion columns with Henry Kissinger. Another Friedman predecessor, Leslie Gelb, had stints in the State Department and Pentagon interspersed with his position as diplomatic correspondent.

Thomas Friedman has served consistently in this apologetic tradition. He differs from his predecessors mainly in his brashness, name-dropping, and self-promotion, and with his aggressive, bullying tone; e.g., WTO protesters are “ridiculous…a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.” In these respects he brings a now fashionable, Geraldo Rivera in-your- face touch to the NYT, which has borne his effusions stoically for the last three decades. Of course, Friedman has also brought honors to the NYT with his three Pulitzer Prizes—which some argue have done for the reputation of Pulitzer what the Nobel Peace Prize award to Henry Kissinger has done for the reputation of the peace prize...

Friedman has been a long-standing apologist for Israeli state terror and ethnic cleansing...

Friedman is also a racist, regularly denigrating Arabs for their qualities of emotionalism, unreason, and hostility to democracy and modernization...

In a widely quoted line from his book The Lexis and the Olive Tree (1999), Friedman says, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” This is not said with any hint that it might be wrong to use force to impose the market on people who don’t seem to want it. It recalls Kissinger’s famous line justifying the U.S. intervention in support of the Chilean coup and followup terror and mass murder, that the Chilean people had been irresponsible in voting in Allende.

Friedman is an enemy of democracy at home as well as abroad. The Lexis and the Olive Tree is a celebration of corporate globalization, which he sees as bringing the triumph of market ideology and market domination of both the economic and political world. Money and capital flows will prevent any policy deviations from “the core golden rules” of the market; “political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke” and any government trying to serve its poor people or protect the environment in opposition to the consensus of capital will be brought to its senses by capital flight. For Friedman these are admirable developments and he lauds Maggie Thatcher, who “should be remembered as ‘the Seamstress of the Golden Straitjacket’” (“All About Maggie, NYT, May 5, 1997)...

Isn’t it wonderful that the seemingly reactionary Bush administration, so miserly with money for its own civilian population, has invaded Iraq and is spending these huge sums for the liberation of the Iraqi people? All those pre-war documents by the Bushies that talked about geostrategic advantages to the United States in regime change in Iraq; all the evidence of Bushie officials’ and advisers’ links to Likud and eager service to Israel; the long Clinton-Bush sanctions policy that killed so many civilians and actually served to consolidate Saddam Hussein’s power. These all disappear for a Friedman, wallowing in crude apologetics.

Of course “liberation” must proceed slowly and Friedman agrees with Bush, rather than those traitorous French and an awful lot of Iraqis, that self-rule must not be bestowed too hastily. It doesn’t seem to cross Friedman’s mind that the Bush desire for a slow pace might be based on the desire to restructure Iraq in accord with Bush-Cheney-related economic interests and to make sure that control remains in friendly Iraqi hands. Those words “decent” and “modern-looking” are perhaps a giveaway on the Friedman-Bush approach. To be “modern-looking” requires privatization and entry into the global market, with foreign investment and free trade. To be “decent” means that respectable people who can win the trust of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the IMF should be in power. This might require a period of non-democracy that will keep out radicals and Islamists who have not seen the light, oppose privatization and U.S. bases on Iraqi soil, and want closer relations with Iran. We must keep in mind that Musharaff, Karimov, and Putin are apparently sufficiently decent and modern-looking to deserve support, and so was Suharto for 32 years. Once decency and the modern look prevail, the market will rule and, if there are elections, they will offer that choice of only “Pepsi or Coke” that Friedman finds quite acceptable. “Liberation”—for subservience to the market, at best...

Friedman reached what might be a new low in chauvinist apologetics for the invasion-occupation in his “Our War With France” (NYT, September 18, 2003). France, he tells us, is not just “annoying,” it is “becoming our enemy.” They made it “impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war” and they seem to want us to fail in the hope that France “will assume its rightful place as America’s equal.” What they should have done is agree to help rebuild Iraq, while asking for “a real seat at the management table.” But this intransigence is also to be expected because “France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world…”

The implication that the United States has been promoting democracy in the Middle East is almost too funny for words, given the U.S. record of support of the Shah of Iran, the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, and even Saddam Hussein when he was in a serviceable mode. Friedman’s further implication that that is what the Bush administration is aiming at in Iraq is also straightforward official propaganda, as noted above. The business about a “real ultimatum” and avoidance of war fails to take account of the fact that there were no WMDs and that the Bushies were using all those tricks as an excuse to invade and occupy. The “real ultimatum” would only have accelerated and put a UN gloss on the invasion that was going to happen no matter what. Friedman’s assertion that France just wanted to enhance its status in opposing the Bush program omits several facts and possibilities: one fact is that the French people and most people of the world opposed the Bush policy; the other fact is that the Bush invasion-occupation plan was a planned aggression in violation of the UN Charter. The French were speaking for many governments, most of the world’s people, and for the rule of law...

In sum, the diplomatic correspondent for the NYT supports ethnic cleansing and terrorism, but only when done by the United States or one of its clients; he repeatedly supports policies that involve the commission of war crimes, again only when the United States or one of its clients engages in them; he is hostile to real democracy at home or abroad, preferring a plutocracy and sharp market restrictions on popular sovereignty; he assails countries like France for failing to support the United States, always attributing dubious motives to the U.S. opponent, while putting a benevolent and chauvinistic gloss on the objectives and actions of his own country. His analyses of matters such as globalization and the current Iraq crisis are full of rhetoric, contradictions, ideological assumptions, and intellectually they barely make it into the featherweight class. That he is an institution at the NYT, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and is well-regarded elsewhere reflects the degraded state of U.S. mainstream commentary and intellectual life.

Thomas Friedman i

Friday, November 17, 2006

On not standing up, after being grabbed and tortured

Cell phone videos show LAPD identifying fully with the ideological apparatus. More citizen-surveillance likely to result.

One shows LAPD pinning a man to the ground with a knee to the throat, and beating him repeatedly in the face, after the man claimed he couldn't breath. Another shows a handcuffed, shouting man, already locked in the back of an LAPD police cruiser being blasted with pepper spray directly in the face, apparently as punishment for being homeless, and for screaming.

A third, spell-binding video has UCLA LAPD using a Taser stun gun at least 5 times on an overworked and underslept Iranian student who had forgotten his library card and, apparently, did not very much appreciate being manhandled over it, in the library. (Or for that matter, being shot and then immediately commanded to "get up, or you'll get tased again," including after already being handcuffed. Students coming to his aid, as well as those asking for officer names and badge numbers, were likewise summarily threatened.) (Corrected from Urtext here.)

Update: Massive protests are planned today at both UCLA and UC Berkeley. There is a petition you may sign. And here is the UCPD wepage: you could email or call to tell them what you think.

Video (as of this morning the most popular on all of YouTUbe) and story link via the excellent lnc listserv.

* A person may be physically immobilized for 5-15 minutes after being tasered, a practice from which 148 people have died in the last six years.

Update: It occurs to me that as soon as the student starts screaming, the police recognize they are in public relations/control the situation territory. All this superfluous, hypocritical command to "stand up" is just so much mantric cover, just what they've been trained to do.

As Angela states, some of the apathetic students found by local media are equally, if not more horrifying.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

'what matters now'

...will always be to insist, on something more than "now" ('now-time' does not simply celebrate the present, but on the contrary punctures it in order to redeem the past). And so in light too of this recent reminder, we turn to Heidegger's ghost explaining the true paradox of Marx's famous statement.

To which Zizek's comments in the "Theory Matters' section of his film are not, one wagers, entirely unrelated. Nor, for that matter, his Adorno-like loathing for all the "'trasgressive'...postmodernist...nomadic subjectivities" floating about (particularly evidenced, one might add, in certain literary circles, economies of interest), and so on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Communist Manifesto

and Disney, rather naturally. About either this or Milton Friedman's tardy demise I got nothing to say. Update: Oh, but then Crooked Timber gives us the ironic choir (one can only hope):

Sunday, November 12, 2006

further proof of the affinities shared

Timothy Deines on Dylan, Melville and Nancy:
Dylan will not, cannot, satisfy the calculated desire of the reporter to know him, or affirm what others may wish to know of him, of his ‘popularity.’ And even if he were to tell everything he knows or thinks he knows about himself, he could never satisfy others’ desire to know him, nor even his own for that matter. Besides, ‘others’--in this case a reporter surrounded by other media types--simply wish to capture the social phenomenon called ‘Dylan’ in a consumable, commodified form, a form they can put to work for the profit industry. But even if they wanted to know the ‘authentic’ Dylan, such desire would still know no satiation, since authenticity is also a fetish. Thus, there is no suitable reply; he literally must remain a secret to them, and to himself...

Today, immanent community is always at stake because where community unceasingly works towards the fulfillment of its own essence, or the confession of its secrets--for Nancy, this means liberal regimes as much as totalitarian ones--it extinguishes thought itself. Nancy’s sense of thought, however, is not that of calculation but of the intellectual experience of intellectuality’s limits. At this limit, in the experience of this limit, not only does freedom become available as its own kind of experience, but more generally the opening, in space and time, that thought frees is the opening through which futurity itself may enter. The alternative is, literally, self-immolation. Strong as this language is--language only possible, perhaps, after having endured the twentieth-century--it is the problematic Nancy invites us to share. The problem is thus how to think ‘community’ in such a way that remains a question of ‘resistance to immanence’ and ‘to all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ (Nancy, 1991: 35)...

Another reason for taking up these texts--and Bartleby, yet again--is to gain some perspective on what I perceive to be a developing tendency in Americanist literary criticism, a tendency that everywhere claims for itself the mantle of political activism, progressivism, and justice. It is in the work of Russ Castronovo, for example, who writes of recovering ‘material prehistories’ and ‘specificity’ of ‘the dead’ as ‘the first step toward thinking about democracy’ (2001: 23, 249). It is in Lauren Berlant, who seeks ‘a new form of American historical consciousness’ and the ‘counter-memory’ to fill up this form (1991: 38, 6). And it is in Priscilla Wald, who recognizes a ‘need for a new, an expanded, official [national] story’ (1995: 304). This concern with storytelling, national or otherwise, is not troubling in itself. But can such storytelling ever do justice to the finitude of singularities? Are these historiographical strategies capable of overcoming the violences of subjectivity for which Nancy expresses concern? In Americanist scholarship, is subjectivity the end of thought where community is concerned? I can only register these questions here. One thing is certain: after deconstruction, Bartleby can no longer be appropriated in the traditional ways. Deconstruction resists those readings that would reduce Bartleby to a narrative about existential humanist anxiety in a bureaucratized world or a psychoanalytic portrait of a split, even psychotic, personality. Nor can Bartleby continue to be read as a historically-inflected meditation on the alienating effects of modern American capitalism. Deconstruction even troubles recent Americanist approaches to literature that attempt to identify literary scenes of historical effacement in an empty, formalized world of statism and citizenship. At stake in all of this, then, is the imposition of a kind of revelation of secrecy, through the strategy of ‘history,’ upon the singular in the name of social justice, the full historical manifestation of subjectivity, so to speak, in the name of political activism. One can raise these concerns without also abandoning the ‘cause’ of justice.1

Bartleby, in short, can no longer so easily be read as a narrative about a subject. If Americanists are persuaded by Nancy’s critique of immanent community--particularly with respect to the strong claim that liberal ideology is as beholden to ‘all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ as the worst political regimes, even if the former are therefore not reducible to the latter--then they cannot affirm ‘the pragmatic workings of citizenship and democracy’ without the equal and opposite affirmation of what these pragmatic workings entail, which is precisely ‘all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ (Castronovo, 2001: 247). Too often, in my view, this affirmation of liberal polity is not sufficiently qualified by an equal and opposite denunciation and a refusal of the violence that such a polity presupposes. How is it possible to affirm ‘pragmatic’ community--‘citizenship and democracy,’ for example--while simultaneously denouncing the ‘violences of subjectivity’ that such pragmatism presupposes?

The entire issue is worth reading.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A post on Derrida and Europe

Over at Long Sunday. It takes up many familiar themes and, further develops them.

Ticklishly, I have often had cause to wonder (in addition to whether he ever caught his own mistake in reading Hamlet - too closely?), if Derrida's particular conception of 'hauntology' (i.e., glibly, the death contained in images) might help to diagnose The Zizek's terror:

And yet, when asked if he is satisfied about the outcome of his latest media foray… 'I have not seen it', Zizek declares. 'I'm just terrified by myself on screen…' For someone who has already been the subject of several films, including last year's 'Zizek!', which tracked his freewheeling global itinerary, this is a perhaps surprising revelation. But, despite the fact that he appears in almost every frame, 'The Pervert's Guide…' held a particular appeal. 'It's not about me,' he claims. 'Me and Sophie, we have a focus outside ourselves. That makes it tolerable.'


It began shortly after returning home from work. After 500 pieces of candy we had to turn the lights off around 7:30, lock the doors and escape inside for dinner. Not a single kid was willing to perform a trick, though quite a few were asked. In fairness, we didn't perform any tricks either (though we joked about how easy it would be to swindle these costumers like gullible Americans in San Salvador changing money. The temptation to make candy on each exchange was strong but finally proved not strong enough). Some said, yes, they knew a few tricks, but by then they had already gotten their candy and. S and I were dressed up in each other's costumes, or half-assed combinations thereof. (At the adult party on Saturday she was Ann Cultoir or however it spells itself. Double-takes all night- blond wig disconcerting - not to mention the things issuing from her mouth. I was simply a billionaire for Ann, sidekick in other words, stetson hat and pinstripe gel in hair long overdue (for a cut).) But tonight we sat on the swing and S was pinstriped (and to be honest, I wasn't wearing anything, costume-like) drinking beer in bottles. Cameras flashed; parents were recording our hand outs, silly puddy for silly faces, engaging each child just patronizingly enough in brief, adorable discourse.

The boy with "bring them home" duct-taped on the back of his soldier suit got...three pieces of candy. (Some unfortunate grabbers got a photo of Dick Cheney - we'd placed them in the bowl just for the grabbers (as opposed to the reluctant chorus-chanters).) Every animal was asked to roar, and did. (nb. I do believe one carrot also roared.) Too many batmans, princesses and bloody knives, for sure. It was like a cattle drive at moments, or assembly line. Personally I blame the neighbors, who were showing movies on giant screens, with popcorn and (wtf?) pizza. Some had decorated weeks in advance. The dogs seemed to enjoy the carnival (and in fairness, most kids seemed more excited to see dogs, or rather as they summarily insulted them, "doggies"...than any of that other tacky shit).

Composed on a bottle and 2/3 of wine with all rights to re-edit firmly witheld.


DUMBFUCKMcDOESNTEXIST, and, birds chirping...

Bike messengers are on crack

I could watch this many times.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musical Friday

Not boring at all. And for which with any extraordinary luck (such as, receiving a donation for at least $100 so I can have a free day), I hope to have a contribution ready by, oh, mid-week, maybe. Just as soon as I finish that Balibar translation for no one in particular, those poem translations for a friend, that Murakami review (before others steal my ideas, you know, and fail to take them anywhere), right after that post on Derrida and democracy, that essay on blogging, that inevitably self-congratulatory post on Long Sunday's appearance in the American Book Review, right after unpacking my library and building that bed frame and tree trunk slice table and those bookshelves, on. But for right now, just (barely) time to walk the dogs. Dutch has a small tooth-mark incision on his shoulder (from God knows where) requiring attention (just a dab of antibiotic ointment after cleaning should do it), Lucy still limps a bit and they both have yet to see a vet for a thorough examination, but, otherwise everyone is pretty much bored happy. Or you might say spoiled, in moderation of course. (I work all day, S and I are both permanently exhausted, but the neighbors lend a hand, and every evening we walk, or visit the dog park (about which we are still somewhat endearingly baffled–expect more posts in the vein of dog sociology, shortly), and on weekends we hike and they each get a ridiculously oversized bone of some sort, to be demolished in under an hour.)


Badiou "Homage to Jacques Derrida", lecture at UC Irvine. Not sure it quite measures up against the statements of others let alone the thoughts themselves, but there it is.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

one of many many many

I think it comes off as pretentious still, but there it is: some off-the-cuff (and not brief enough) thoughts on blogging from about a month ago. John Baker responds to his own questions here.

To clarify something, if only slightly: the scene in "Mulholland Drive" when the parents walk in shreiking and shrunken, under the door...or, not dissimilarly, the first appearance of the midgets in "Time Bandits," or for that matter the giant exiting the sea. The way such radical changes in the scale of one's vision unsettle the world, or more precisely, unsettle the larger gaze that orients "the world" as we inevitably contain it/shrink it/curtain it off (forgetting for instance, to include an awareness of the space behind our heads)...these moments make me laugh. Moments that do strange things with time, as well. The world as möbius strip and Escher painting, someone once said, referring to such films. So these are among the moments that make me laugh in--what is rather unusual for me--spasmodic and inhaling gulps, almost as if it wasn't myself laughing. The laughter comes from outside and overwhelms, impersonal and foreign. It is not in honor of something "funny" exactly, or at least certainly not as we popularly debase the term--so much as strangely neutral. And yet vigorously affirming the experience, one of displacement, otherness, and yes, uncanniness. Fiercely and ruthlessly autonomous, I want to say, where there is no chance for a laughter in harmony, no echo and no adequate response. It is a great relief.

Likely I haven't said it very well. In other news, Naked Punch Magazine now has a blog. More magazines should, really (though I understand why they do not). Do check out their latest issue on Latin America, because it sure is sexy looking and the writing's also good.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Via 3QD comes this reminder:
It would be an oversimplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

OBSESSION. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort [...]

The bigoted Communist who changes in a space of weeks, or even days, into an equally bigoted Trotskyist [or the obvious example in our time, the bigoted Trotskyist into the bigoted Neocon...or Neosocialist] is a common spectacle. In continental Europe Fascist movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite process may well happen within the next few years. What remains constant in the nationalist is his state of mind: the object of his feelings is changeable, and may be imaginary.

But for an intellectual, transference has an important function which I have already mentioned shortly in connection with Chesterton. It makes it possible for him to be much MORE nationalistic--more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest--that he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red Army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realises that this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place. In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion--that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware--will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself...


Saturday, October 07, 2006

A la faveur de l'automne

Deux, Trois, La ballade de Oogie Tsuggie (Les temps changent)

A toi qui naguère professais
La dissidence et le maquis,
Tes cres de guerre
Qu'en as-tu fait?
L'hymne et la carte du parti...

Et ces manières si policées,
Toutes ces danses de salon,
Ces airs qu'avant tu vomissais,
C'est comme un gant qu'ils te vont.

Les temps changent

Tu as troqué tracts et slogans,
Mots d'ordre et manifestations,
Pour des choses plus élegantes
D.R.H., golf et stock-options...

Tu l'as vite apprise la chanson
Qu'importe, puisqu'il est de bon ton
Autant se mettre au diapason
C'est pour le bien de la nation.

Les temps changent

L'ami je ne te salue pas
Ni ne te félicite, d'ailleurs,
Tu as ta conscience pour toi
La chose est affaire de valeurs

Okay, c'est un peu démago
Je te le concède, je l'entends
Avoue, c'était bien trop tentant
Entre gauchos on se comprend...

Les temps changent

Translated, hurriedly:

To you who not long ago professed
dissidence and resistance*
Your war cries
What have you done with them?
The hymn/belief and the map/card/calling card
of the person who left...

And these affects of the revolutionary/policed mannerisms (also archaic: civilized)
All these ballroom dances
These mannerisms that you regurgitated/vomited up
They fit you like a glove/mask.

The times are changing

You traded tracts and slogans
Commands/decrees and demonstrations
For more elegant things
D.R.H. (?), golf and stock options...

You quickly learned the song that matters
It's a good tune
Many put themselves in pitch with the tuning fork
It's for the good of the nation.

The times are changing

Friend, I don't wish you well/salute you
Nor congratulate you,
You have your conscience to reckon with
It's a question of values

Okay, so it's a little ideological/pedantic
I'll concede that, I hear you
Admit it, it was much to tempting
Among leftists we understand each other.

*reference to the French resistance to the Nazis

Some more eclectic new stuff at Mountain*7...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some Reading

in The Valve.

And just for the hell of it, a reminder of things past.

(Re: the ever-too-easy generalizations regarding a homogenous Thug Theory Brigade(!), et cetera – Yes, I know it is a joke.) Update: Ah, peace (of sorts) at last. People...just don't know each other well enough, is all. Or, each other's otherness, sometimes.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

This is what waterboarding looks like

here (update 9/29: and now also here).

Update 10/04: And someone or other without a day job, locates this video.


Michel Onfray deserves to be translated better.

Monday, September 25, 2006


The revolution starts sometime.

On Salman Rushdie

In additon to Stephen Mitchelmore, Amitava Kumar makes an interesting point:
The trouble is that despite all his invention and exuberance Rushdie remains to a remarkable extent an academic writer. He is academic in that abstractions rule over his narratives. They determine the outlines of his characters, their faces, and their voices. Rushdie is also academic in the sense that his rebellions and his critiques are all securely progressive ones, advancing the causes that the intelligentsia, especially the left-liberal Western intelligentsia, holds close to its breast. This is not a bad thing, but it should qualify one's admiration for Rushdie's daring.

In the wake of the fatwa, writers all around the world sent letters to Rushdie and to the press, expressing their support for the man who had been forced to go into hiding. One of these letters was from Norman Mailer: "Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something very fundamental in the world, and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation is not ungrounded."

There can be no doubt that the threats that Rushdie faced and also the book-burnings and other protests were shameful and unacceptable. But I do not for a moment support Mailer's assessment. I don't believe that Rushdie has even found his most dangerous voice. In fact, I don't believe that Rushdie's is the most dangerous voice writing today. His is no doubt a powerful voice; often, it has been an oppositional voice; but it is a voice of a celebrity promoting commendable causes; more seriously, in some fundamental way, it is the voice of a metaphorical outsider, and therefore incapable of revealing to ourselves, in an intimate way, our complicities, our contradictions, and our own inescapable horror. I don't deny that it is a voice that can engage and delight and of course annoy, and yet it is very important to make a distinction: what Rushdie writes can easily provoke, but it is rarely able to disturb.

Not sure of course about this distinction wrt "abstractions" (as opposed to what exactly, reality? Reality of feelings?) but nonetheless.

nb. See Marco Roth's review of Shalimar the Clown, and also re: nuisance value. Though I suppose something more radical than nuisance even may be the case. The idea of literature as something ultimately beholden, for example, to a foundational Terror for its generative force.

journal watch

Collapse...looks interesting.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dutch & Lucy

Too busy to blog, working as a carpenter and, after three weeks, still moving in. But not too busy to adopt these two apparently. Dutch is mostly shepard/collie. Lucy's got some Ridgeback in her. The humane society volunteer caring for them the last few years, sweet older man with a heavy southern accent, says he found her one night lying in four inches of water, chained to a truck. Both beyond sweet and gentle, independent and intelligent. Companions for 35 years now, dog-years-counting, and I like the idea of them keeping each other company for a variety of reasons. Also in a day and age when mature dogs are being put down right and left before their time, it is practically criminal how many people prefer-indeed, demand-puppies. Or ratty and exotic, yapping punt-pooches.

I look forward to being a benevolent, sparing sort of God.

10 years or less

Good speech by Gore (all necessary caveats implied, of course. As in, needless to say).

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Excellent interview with Sylvère Lotringer:
Now artists are turning into curators of their own works, or rather managers of their own brand-name. The name-of-the-author (of any gender) has replaced the name-of-the-father famously coined by Jacques Lacan. Artists now can claim the paternity of their own artistic identity in partnership with the media-machine that manages their career to everyone’s satisfaction. No wonder art is losing its artistic identity and can be found at work everywhere, engulfed by advertisement, performing in politics, entertained by entertainment. Art “innovators and change agents” are now being sent to the outer world the way sociologists used to be sent to factories with the mission of easing boss-worker tensions and making the workers’ unbearable life more tolerable. But they will hardly be the only ones to be working at it, the entire society is geared to that, from Hollywood to the entertainment and advertising industries, not to mention politicians polishing their act at the expense of politics, all making art for the “new creative economy,” pushing products on happy consumers, or better yet: turning consumers themselves into a product, satisfying their desires even before they begin to surface in what still passes for collective consciousness....There’s an aesthetic pollution of art in every way similar to the pollution of distances. Globalization makes things look small, even if they try to stand tall. One doesn’t look at any of it in the same way. The world interferes with our perception. It was the same with theory after it was so massively appropriated by a horde of fickle fans. Deleuze’s ideas didn’t become less interesting or generous after people started raving about them, but it took me a lot more effort to keep them fresh in my mind.

(Courtesy of archive : s0metim3s)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

humanist quantifiers on "why we enjoy music"

Farhad Manjoo in Salon (for those relishing cogscispeak):
Contrary to long-held assumptions, the cerebellum did turn out to play a role in some emotions -- particularly the way we derive pleasure from the rhythm, or groove, of a piece of music. When we listen to a song, our ears send signals not only to the auditory cortex, the region of the brain that processes the sound, but also straight to the cerebellum. When a song begins, Levitin says, the cerebellum, which keeps time in the brain, "synchronizes" itself to the beat. Part of the pleasure we find in music is the result of something like a guessing game that the brain then plays with itself as the beat continues. The cerebellum attempts to predict where beats will occur. Music sounds exciting when our brains guess the right beat, but a song becomes really interesting when it violates the expectation in some surprising way -- what Levitin calls "a sort of musical joke that we're all in on." Music, Levitin writes, "breathes, speeds up, and slows down just as the real world does, and our cerebellum finds pleasure in adjusting itself to stay synchronized."

But it's not just the cerebellum that perks up to songs. What's interesting about how our brains respond to music -- rather than, say, language -- is the large number of systems that are activated by the experience. In addition to the cerebellum, music taps into the frontal lobes (a "higher-order" region that processes musical structure), and it also activates the mesolimbic system, which Levitin explains is "involved in arousal, pleasure, the transmission of opiods and the production of dopamine." This is why certain music can feel so pleasurable, producing such deep emotions -- it's simultaneously operating on various parts of our brains, and the response is something on the order of taking a hit of heroin.

Yeah, or something...(via)


The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

-Auden (via)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

teh funny

Lore Sjöberg on the ultimate blog post:
Creating your own blog is about as easy as creating your own urine, and you're about as likely to find someone else interested in it...However, there are many popular blogs already in existence, and if you want people to think you're cool, you're probably better off claiming you were a "guest blogger" for one of them. Your average blog has so many guest bloggers and such a crappy search feature that nobody will ever be able to prove you wrong."

See especially the parodies. Personally I always sort of mumble it under my breath, with a half-apologetic shrug and ever-so-briefly overturned palm: "...well, and I'm a blogger too, you know, so a wireless connection would then be nice. But it's not essential, no..." Which is not to say it can't sometimes be a force for good, of course.

(via here)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

music for a rainy day


Not bad. A little rushed, but not bad. Of course in the infinite deferral begging (or praying?) always what comes next... (still too mechanically, and monotonously rushed for my taste–I much prefer Nikolaeva, or indeed the man himself–incidentally no enemy to the avant-garde–anyway via here–part of the excellent here). More on Shostakovich and Nikolaeva at the wiki.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Who needs TV

Karl Rove's father was gay a new book reveals; Woody Allen once met Billy Graham; Parodies of Spike Lee's Katrina doc already; the ghost of R. Murrow embraces the risk of appearing today a little forced, not once but twice; Riverbend presents a re-description of Bush's Iraq War history more honest than some, and I am glad.

How to avoid being paranoid

A review of the later Sedgwick via wood s lot:
It is a genre of criticism that has spread through various disciplines and relies on an imagined hiddenness: `What marks the paranoid impulse... is... the seeming faith in exposure... as though to make something visible as a problem were, if not a mere hop, skip, and jump away from getting it solved, at least self-evidently a step in that direction' (139). This preoccupation with exposure worries Sedgwick because of its reliance on:
    an infinite reservoir of naïveté in those who make up the audience for these unveilings. What is the basis for assuming that it will surprise or disturb, never mind motivate, anyone to learn that a given social manifestation is artificial, self-contradictory, imitative, phantasmatic, or even violent?... How television-starved would someone have to be to find it shocking that ideologies contradict themselves, that simulacra don't have originals, or that gender representations are artificial? (141)

Acknowledging that the paranoid impulse may have been valuable for making sense of particular historical conditions, Sedgwick wishes to question the inherent usefulness and radicality of this reading practice in every context.

Still missing her

Following on...

Also: very cute.

Update: damn.

"Fish Swim...."

    "Radio is the theatre of the mind; television is the theatre of the mindless."

    -Steve Allen

    "To be avant-garde is to know what is dead; to be of the rearguard is still to love it."

    -Roland Barthes

Dylan's radio shows continue to bless the summer, with due reference to John Peel and an entire generation (an aside to Ellis: have spotted yet another, barely neutral Zion reference. Not only that, but the man reads an email from Alan Dershowitz! Anyway regarding such matters, I'm with Eric, who really says it best:
But what’s fascinating in the documentary is Dylan’s refusal to play along. My interest is not, as it is for Dylanheads, to protect the messiah from persecution so much as it is to point to the value of Dylan’s resistance to interpreting, to explaining his work. Dylan refuses to read for his audience, which is also a refusal to recognize the distinction between (passive) listener/subject and (active) artist/leader. In this sense, his “mutiny from above” (as Posthegemony called it), his refusal to interpret, is mirrored by his turn away from (obviously) protest songs. At one point in the documentary, Baez remembers that she had a grand plan for the music she and Dylan would do together and laments that her political-artistic project was never carried out. They would sing clear-thinking protest songs and draw clear political lines. In other words, Baez was advocating a sort of pop paternalism, a program in which their music would enlighten the people about the evils of racism, war, etc. It was this soft authoritarianism that Dylan turned his back on.

Love him or be underwhelmed by phases of him–and it's probably true that all the born-again stuff didn't simply go away, or not entirely, but only became suppressed to some degree–these shows are something special, and not just to borrow from Bukowski, "radio with guts." They are also a glimpse of an America (of which there have always been many) and perhaps most intriguingly from a certain distance.

One wonders about the nature of this distance, as it seems to encourage something other than sentimental attachment. It is not only that one feels far enough away from these songs to be released from the power (of fear) they once may have exercised on the collective unconscious–as always the generative force, the foundational tension that gives birth to any 'subject' (or so people say). Their cultural moment has decidedly passed and therefore, being still not purely foreign or forgotten they are said to "endure." One neither desires a return nor to forget completely. One is pleasantly surprised to be reminded of these songs, each one an act of resistance and therefore affirmation in the humble manner that only songs can be. As testimonies of the everyday, to moments of pause and of taking imperfect account, of small transcendences. But like Nietzsche said of friends, in order to preserve their force one ought to keep them close but not go over to them.

Anyway here's to the day when it doesn't take a celebrity to sell a responsible re-working of the archive, ever more accessible though parts of 'it' become. Call it nostalgia touring if you must, but for most people confronted these days by the unbearably homogenous and mantric Viacom robot playlists, or the canned music of working-class "classic rock" permanent teenage therapy, one wagers it's an education.

    "One must always reaffirm something of the past in order to avoid a relapse into something far worse. Strategic problems are therefore also essential, and always inevitable in philosophy. Philosophical concepts, sentences, discourses, or arguments are always also stratagems."


Back to Basics

    "But I wonder whether this conceptual apparatus will continue to survive for long. I may be mistaken, but the id, the ego, the superego, the ideal ego, the ego ideal, the secondary process and the primary process of repression, etc.–in a word, the large Freudian machines (including the concept and the word "unconscious"!)–are in my opinion only provisional weapons, or even rhetorical tools cobbled together to be used against a philosophy of consciousness, of transparent and fully responsible intentionality. I have little faith in their future...

    "I prefer in Freud the partial, regional, and minor analyses, the most venturesome soundings. These breaches and openings sometimes reorganize, at least virtually, the entire field of knowledge. It is necessary, as always, to be ready to give oneself over to them, and to be able to give them back their revolutionary force...(Derrida, "In Praise of Psychoanalysis," in For What Tomorrow)

    "It is probable that Marx had in mind the impression felt in the Crystal Palace when he wrote the chapter of Capital on commodity fetishism. It is certainly not a coincidence that this chapter occupies a liminal position. The disclosure of the commodity's "secret" was the key that revealed capital's enchanted realm to our thought–a secret that capital always tried to hide by exposing it in full view.

    "Without the identification of this immaterial center–in which "the products of labor" split themselves into a use value and an exchange value and "become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social"–all the following critical investigations undertaken in Capital probably would not have been possible.

    "In the 1960s, however, the Marxian analysis of the fetish character of the commodity was, in the Marxist milieu, foolishly abandoned. In 1969, in the preface to a popular reprint of Capital, Louis Althusser could still invite readers to skip the first section, with the reason that the theory of fetishism was a "flagrant" and "extremely harmful" trace of Hegelian philosophy.

    "It is for this reason that Debord's gesture appears all the more remarkable, as he bases his analysis of the society of the spectacle–that is, of a capitalism that has reached its extreme figure–precisely on that "flagrant trace." The "becoming-image" of capital is nothing more than the commodity's last metamorphosis, in which exchange value has completely eclipsed use value and can now achieve the status of absolute and irresponsible sovereignty over life in its entirety, after having falsified the entire social production. In this sense, the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, where the commodity unveiled and exhibited its mystery for the first time, is a prophecy of the spectacle, or, rather, the nightmare, in which the nineteenth century dreamed the twentieth. The first duty the Situationists assigned themselves was to wake up from this nightmare. (Agamben, "Marginal Notes," in Means Without End)

(via Blogging for Resistance)

    "But the very aim, and I do say the aim, of the psychoanalytic revolution is the only one not to rest, not to seek refuge, in principle, in what I call a theological or humanist alibi. That is why it can appear terrifying, terribly cruel, pitiless. Even to psychoanalysts, even to those who, on both sides of the couch, more or less pretend to put their trust in psychoanalysis. All the philosophies, the metaphysics, the theologies, the human sciences end up having recourse, in the deployment of their thought or their knowledge, to such an alibi.

    "Among the gestures that convinced me, seduced me in fact, is its indispensable audacity of thought, what I do not hesitate to call its courage: which here consists in writing, inscribing, signing theoretical "fictions" in the name of knowledge without alibi (therefore the most "positive" knowledge)....(Derrida, "In Praise of Psychoanalysis")

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

World Beat (another plug)

...this time for these guys, "a think tank without walls."

An Antidote to Info Vertigo

Remember 1993? Bill Clinton was sworn in for his first term at the beginning of the year, the Mogadishu debacle took place in October, and the fighting in Bosnia was getting worse. You followed these issues in the newspaper, by radio, or on television. It's not likely you received your news on-line. After all, 1993 was the first year of the World Wide Web. By the end of 1993, there were only 623 websites.

Ah, those were the days. The world was at your fingertips. With Mosaic, the first web browser, you could visit the entire Web in a couple days of intensive mousework.

Now, according to an article I just found through Wikipedia, there are more than 11.5 billion web pages. The Web is reproducing faster than the human population.

Wikipedia itself didn't even exist until five years ago. It now has 1,343,574 articles. Weblogs or blogs began back in 2003. For the past three years, the blogosphere has doubled in size every six months. There are now over 50 million blogs. The verb “to google” debuted not too long ago. OhMyNews, the largest grassroots news service, began in 2000 with 737 citizen reporters. It now has over 41,000 throughout the world.

So, what's the relationship between foreign policy and the tremendous upsurge in information and opinion available on the Web? Traditional media have not disappeared. We still read newspapers and watch the television news. But the foreign policy content in these traditional sources has declined (except for the occasional spikes around war). U.S. media coverage of foreign affairs has declined by as much as 70-80% over the last two decades. Foreign news bureaus are downsizing (or simply shutting down).

That's where the Web comes in. We now have a virtual infinity (a googolplex, to be precise) of sources to learn about the daily slog of war, poverty, and repression. If you don't like The New York Times, you can get your news from hundreds of alternative sources. And if you don't like depressing news, well, you can personalize your news delivery so that you receive Brangelina 24/7.

All of this information is enough to make anyone's head spin. And create a new syndrome: info vertigo. Now everyone can be as time-crunched and info-inundated as the average policymaker.

So, is Foreign Policy In Focus part of the problem or part of the solution? Are we adding richness, nuance, and subtlety to your understanding of foreign policy? Or are we just adding more white noise to the info-barrage you receive on a daily basis?

Let's say that you have the right intentions to read all of the FPIF content, but you simply don't have the time. Then you might like our new feature, 60-Second Expert. You give us 60 seconds and we'll give you 250-word versions of key articles on our site. For instance, check out the talking points version of Stephen Zunes' analysis of the Lebanon ceasefire. You don't have to be a busy policymaker to take advantage of this new service.

Don't worry: this is not FPIF Lite. We will still provide you with in-depth analysis of the stories behind the headlines. This week, for instance, you can read FPIF analyst Saul Landau's piece on U.S. misperceptions of Cuba, which appeared at TomPaine. We have Ariela Ruiz Caro's contribution to Americas Program on U.S. trade pressure on Latin America. And there are two pieces from Right Web, one on Elliott Abrams and the other on Hezbollah.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Unapologetic blockquote, revisiting Adorno ("..." and "...." mine)

Adorno (sounding, for all the world, very much like JD, all jabbings at phenomenology, French philo and literary studies notwithstanding):
For it is mere superstition on the part of a science that operates by processing raw materials to think that concepts as such are unspecified and become determinate only when defined. Science needs the notion of the concept as a tabula rasa to consolidate its claim to authority, its claim to be the sole power to occupy the head of the table. In actuality, all concepts are already implicitly concretized through the language in which they stand. The essay starts with these meanings, and...takes them farther; it wants to help language in its relation to concepts, to take them in reflection...Unapologetically it lays itself open to the objection that one does not know for sure how one is to understand its concepts. For it understands that the demand for strict definition has long served to eliminate–through stipulative manipulations of the meanings of concepts–the irritating and dangerous aspects of the things that live in the concepts. But the essay does not make do without general concepts–even language that does not fetishize concepts cannot do without them–nor does it deal with them arbitrarily. Hence it takes presentation more seriously than do modes of proceeding that separate method and object and are indifferent to the presentation of their objectified contents. The manner of expression is to salvage the precision sacrificed when definition is omitted, without betraying the subject matter to the arbitrariness of conceptual meanings decreed once and for all. In this, Benjamin was the unsurpassed master. This kind of precision, however, cannot remain atomistic. Not less but more than a definitional procedure, the essay presses for the reciprocal interaction of its concepts in the process of intellectual experience. In such experience, concepts do not form a continuum of operations. Thought does not progress in a single direction; instead, the moments are interwoven as in a carpet. The fruitfulness of the thoughts depends on the density of the texture. The thinker does not actually think but rather makes himself into an arena for intellectual experience, without unraveling it...

The way the essay appropriates concepts can best be compared to the behavior of someone in a foreign country who is forced to speak its language instead of piecing it together out of its elements according to rules learned in school. Such a person will read without a dictionary. If he sees the same word thirty times in continually changing contexts, he will have ascertained its meaning better than if he had looked up all the meanings listed, which are usually too narrow in relation to the changes that occur with changing contexts and too vague in relation to the unmistakable nuances that the context gives rise to in every individual case. This kind of learning remains vulnerable to error, as does the essay as form; it has to pay for its affinity with open intellectual experience with a lack of security that the norm of established thought fears like death. It is not so much that the essay neglects indubitable certainty as that it abrogates it as an ideal. The essay becomes true in its progress, which drives it beyond itself, not in a treasure-hunting obsession with foundations. Its concepts receive their light from a terminus ad quem hidden from the essay itself, not from any obvious terminus a quo, and in this the method itself expresses its utopian intention....

The more it strives to consolidate itself as theory and to act as though it held the philosopher's stone in its hands, the more intellectual experience courts disaster. At the same time, by its very nature intellectual experience strives for such objectification. This antimony is reflected in the essay....

Rhetoric was probably never anything but thought in its adaptation to communicative langauge. Such thought aimed at something unmediated: the vicarious gratification of the listeners. The essay retains, precisely in the autonomy of its presentation, which distinguishes it from scientific and scholarly information, traces of the communicative element such information dispenses with...

The essay uses equivocations not out of sloppiness, nor in ignorance of the scientific ban on them, but to make it clear–something the critique of equivocation, which merely separates meanings, seldom succeeds in doing–that when a word covers different things they are not completely different; the unity of the word calls to mind a unity, however hidden, in the object itself. This unity, however, should not be mistaken for linguistic affinity, as is the practice of contemporary restorationist philosophies. Here too the essay approaches the logic of music, that stringent and yet aconceptual art of transition, in order to appropriate for verbal language something it forfeited under the domination of discursive logic–although that logic cannot be set aside but only outwitted within its own forms by dint of incisive subjective expression...(emphasis added)

-from Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen

nb: The Long Sunday symposium on Spivak, perhaps also of related interest–being one of several things that prompted this.

Friday, August 25, 2006

naked plug

Dear Friends,
Naked Punch is currently looking for collaborations for two different cultural projects; details below. Please distribute this email to anyone you think might be interested.

Specific Projects - Call for Proposals

Please get in touch with Lorenzo Marsili (l.marsili (AT) for further details on the projects below

1) Independent Cultural Realities Symposium.

Naked Punch is currently organising, as part of the Festival of Europe, a one-day symposium with the participation of representatives of numerous independent cultural and artistic collectives.
Talks will explore the concept of avant-garde, and the significance of collective independence in cultural experimentation. Each organisation will also be asked to contribute with a small work of art to a collective exhibition that will be shown during the Festival in London. Details will soon be added.

2) Naked Punch International Desks Series

Naked Punch is currently looking for individuals interested in taking part in a photographic project. We are looking to accumulate a large number of quasi-surreal photographs presenting a "desk" of naked punch in the most unthinkable places imaginable. Desks (a "foreign desk" is also the name of an office of the magazine abroad) can be decorated with the photographer's personal understanding of naked punch, or as he/she wishes. Example of locations include subway stations, forests, street crossings, islands, etc.

The photographs received will be presented on the website, and exhibited at one of the naked punch events in London.

Let me also use the occasion to announce that the new issue of naked punch will be out in late September, featuring a special on Latin American politics, a Dossier on contemporary art in Lebanon, interviews with Ernesto Laclau and Gayatry Spivak, and more. Why not easily subscribe from our website, receive the copy to your doorsteps, and help our independent collective?

No, I really cannot see why not.

Tristan Tzara

on behalf of naked punch collective

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

between citation and accusation

Where to draw the line? There can be no pure formula. But one way of approaching this question arose recently in the course of a discussion with Ellis Sharp (see his reply to my reply). My argument, such as it was, was of the sort wishing primarily to raise questions about the way Markson's This is Not a Novel–for lack of a better word– argued. That is, how seriously are we to take it? Markson sure seems to be citing an awful lot, and citing cocktail gossip-type nuggets of information, bits and pieces and shards of what is often called "autobiographical" reference, with cavalier concern for accuracy or the fullness of the truth at best. Of course, such "not-novel" would lose something crucial were it entirely fabricated (instead of a performative and self-returning and self-referring emptying of the head, it would perhaps only be the emptying of an empty head). Accuracy matters, surely. And giving free circulation to slander of the worst, most pernicious sort is no small matter, either. But I still wonder if Markson (that is, personally) may in some sense be forgiven for citing here, or rather for having his "Writer" cite what is, whether justly or not, still cocktail knowledge of the generally accepted sort. Which maybe raises another question: where does the recourse to irony fall short?

nb. On another, admittedly more interesting note, on Genet and frenemies, please see one and two by Angela.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lebanon's Exxon Valdez

Here, and everywhere.

How does Bush sleep at night. Maybe he dreams there is someone in charge, someone very powerful with a plan a, plan b and c. How comforting for him.

Elsewhere in the world:
The topsoil has been removed from some front yards in an attempt to clean up the oil, but black bubbles are already seeping back up through the ground.

Right then.

Critical distance

Following on from here...

"So if we want to be guided by Lenin’s reply to Luxemburg on the National Question, we should support Hizbollah or the Iraqi resistance insofar as they resist the oppressor, but when they stand for their own bourgeois nationalism, we should oppose them. Have I got it right?

Leaving aside the dubiousness of calling Hizbollah (whose name means “God’s Party") bourgeois nationalists, I suggest the following imaginary scene:

'Good news, comrade! George Galloway, even the same which slew the mighty Hitchens, has declared himself for our cause--and if that were not sufficient reason to rejoice, the Monthly Review online site has done so as well!'

'Good news indeed, my brother! I had almost lost heart and determined to surrender to the Zionist enemy, but now my courage is restored. Yet stay: is their support absolutely unequivocal?'

'Indeed it is not. Should we fall into the error of bourgeois nationalism, we will incur their opposition.'

'Say not so! Let us then subject our theory and our practice alike to self-criticism on the lines suggested by immortal Lenin, lest we lose through political error that invaluable support which our valiant resistance ha[th] but lately won!'

Posted by rootlesscosmo on 08/09 at 02:17 PM