Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Vidal address

Gore Vidal, for DemocracyNow (via The Decline):
"We've had idiots as Presidents before; he's not unique. He's certainly the most active idiot we've ever had."

Can't say that I listened to the other thing, so I won't carefully rebut it. (If that makes me a delusional new leftist resentnik, well then, so be it.) That said, Juan Cole strikes about the right note (the careful rebutting comes later). Update: Pandagon Pam does one better.

In other eternally-returning news, we have apparently ten years to dramatically address unprecedented global climate change (that is, to make all those SUV's you see disappear). Ten years. Not to mention peak oil. Since we're practicing being afraid already, just thought I'd further fan the flames. John Kerry, with the best environmental record in the senate, never really seemed to bother.

To make a long story aptly short: if you don't already read Limited, Inc., you really ought to.

Monday, January 30, 2006


So much of blogs is 'elsewhere.' For those of you who may not be familiar, anytime you click a hypertext link or read something indented, and unless the author be engaging in a bit of Guy Debordian self-plagiarism (an interesting topic in itself, for sure), you are reading what is (optimistically, yet necessarily) "someone else's words."

Nathanael Robinson has graciously translated several passages of Arno Klarsfeld's report, "Law, History and the Obligation of Memory." I like to consider myself "serious" about French history and politics, but in truth I remain mostly ignorant, so this is helpful. Perhaps the multilingual readers of this humble blog will take the time to critique his work, or comment on the passage, I don't know. I don't know enough about the context of this document, but his translation strikes me as lucid. In summing things up, he reads
Toutes ces mémoires sont différentes, parfois elles sont antagonistes, mais toutes ont été meurtries et font partie de la mémoire collective française. Leur devoir de mémoire respectif leur impose de militer pour que les injustices et les souffrances subies collectivement par leurs ascendants soient solennellement reconnues par l’Etat, que ce soit la Nation, la République ou la France.. Les enjeux de la mémoire sont importants pour assurer la cohésion de la société ce qui amène le politique et donc le législateur à intervenir [...]

Les signataires estiment qu’il appartient aux seuls historiens « d’écrire l’histoire » Les historiens n’écrivent pas l’histoire, les hommes, les peuples font l’histoire; les historiens se contentent d’écrire sur l’histoire.

Les pétitionnaires concluent : « L'histoire n'est pas un objet juridique. Dans un Etat libre, il n'appartient ni au Parlement ni à l'autorité judiciaire de définir la vérité historique... Nous demandons l'abrogation de ces dispositions législatives indignes d'un régime démocratique ».

Ces historiens se trompent. Apprécier le passé c’est aussi le champ du politique et bien sûr des parlementaires représentant la Nation. Il est essentiel de promouvoir parfois des lois mémorielles qui, comme ce fut souvent le cas dans le passé favorisent l’union de la Nation et de notre peuple et aussi de reconnaître l’ensemble des identités qui coexistent dans la République.

Si ’historien établit les faits avec rigueur et précision, il ne peut assumer la tâche du législateur qui est de protéger et de concilier ces mémoires dans le souci prioritaire de la cohésion nationale. Les lois mémorielles ne sont pas une exception spécifique à notre République.

All memories are different, sometimes they are antagonistic, but all have been painful and all are part of the French collective memory. The respective obligation of memory forces [those who suffered] to militate so that collective injustices and the suffering are solemnly recognized by the State, whether it is the nation, the republic, or France. [...]

The signatories claim that it is only for historians to ‘write history.’ Historians do not write history, men, people make history; historians content themselves to write about history. The petitioners conclude: “History is not a juridical object. In a free state, neither Parliament nor judicial authority defines the truth of history ... We demand the abrogation of these legislative provisions that are unworthy of a democratic regime.”

These historians are wrong. Interpreting the past is also a domain of politics, especially for the parliamentarians representing the nation. Sometimes one must promote memorial laws, like those of the past that favored the union of the nation and the people and also that recognized the ensemble of identities that coexist in the republic. If the historian establish facts with rigor and precision, he cannot assume the task of legislating who is to be protected and consoled in the interest of national cohesion.

In the past legislators often organized commemorations of historical events in giving them a political meaning, and organized compensation for victims of global and colonial wars, or even domestic events .... France is not alone among the democracies where the legislatures “write history.”

Opinion You Should Have

Indeed. And yet. And yet. Political blogging is like so.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

light not heat

Light not heat.

Light not heat

Light not heat

Light not heat

Light not heat

Light not heat

Light, not heat.

nb. Would love nothing more than to reference old and lively discussions from this "humble" "blog's" "past," (there have been a few), but Haloscan has...no cache. Which tends to make of the looking a very weird experience, to say the least.

in another mood

That's it, Steve Gilliard is going on the roll. He is just that damn good.

Friday, January 27, 2006

your scare quotes, they are really "scaring" me

Theory is under siege, of course. And nothing very new about that. But it sure would help deflect the world's understandable sniffs, smirks and groans if we could all agree on some basic rules of punctuation. Hence, I have come up with some–I hope–relatively mild and harmless suggestions, take them as you will:

1. "Scare" quotes

This would be a misnomer, albeit one that has itself now permanently infiltrated popular usage, so much so that there is virtually no competition for describing what "scare quotes" describes: the resistance to or questioning of the self-evidence of specific words or phrases.

The funny thing about scare quotes is that there is nothing even mildly scary or scaring about them. On the contrary, they should only be used when referencing a merely popular idiom, or common usage. Rather than "look out!" their tone is always one of "duh, you know, I mean to reference this word in the banal sense of course, though without subscribing to it. It's just that much more convenient; I trust you understand."

If there is any doubt on the part of the writer that the desired reader may not catch the reference or share in the assumption of its meaning, then this banal sense one has in mind should probably be made explicit. In other words, scare quotes should only be used for stuff that is almost too obvious to even bear mentioning.

If the writer uses quotation marks at all deceptively, or even ambiguously, it may henceforth safely be assumed that the writer is merely being cutely, pedantically "ironic," and referencing yet again, in an entirely tiresome formulaic-parodic fashion the very scare-quotidity of the scare quote as a genre (or what is more likely some abstruse theorist) as it (or she) procedes to further conquer the optimistically alleged "post-ironic" and "globalized" planet, always already, and so on.

Scare quotes may be saying EITHER, "I do not think this word means what you think it means," OR "this common term is perhaps not the most useful. It may even be deeply unhelpful. But in the absence of the immanent arrival of another, better one - or perhaps toward that end - well, you understand of course that I will have to compromise."

Thus, the scare quote would only be serious cause for fear if one insisted on overestimating what it is in fact saying (thus inviting, naturally enough, all kinds of speculation about the listener's knee-jerk fidelity to the dogma and ideological encrustations invariably imbedded in common sense everyday language, etc.)

But wait. Of course the term, "scare quote," was itself always already ironic, or was it rather simply and pedantically mocking. The fact that this mocking has sometimes been well-deserved does not, unfortunately, alter the fact that it remains at root nothing but a knee-jerk, or an habitual wink nudge nudge, if not a tired form of the allegedly "Socratic" conservativism that permeates analytic philosophy and groups deriving their impetus and identity from their willingness to "subversively" employ anti-PC language, alike.

The rhetoric of the "scare quote" - on the part of those who have decided this is what such politically-correct or self-conscious use of quotation marks around everyday words shall be called - is quite simply, structurally, that of the bully on the playground; on par with a sarcastic taunt: "oooooh, you're scaaaring me." And so the bully seeks to mask, in typical fashion, his own insecurity and fear by perpetually intimidating others, to transform his fear into a tangible object to be conquered, to transfer it onto the other he bullies, in order that he may forget for a moment his own fear, etc. Nothing new about that. The popular name itself, "scare quote," is thus at root anti-intellectual.

It is perhaps not so funny when you have to point it out.

(nb. Things are more complicated of course, particularly when it comes to the potential irony of irony, ad infinitum. In which case, I would recommend a particular brilliant, maddening essay on all this by David Foster Wallace, if only I could find it. A quick google search turns up, among other less than helpful things, a previous post of mine in which I also state that I wish that I could find it. Maybe some kind reader has it?)

2. Inverted commas

Contrary to what everybody and their mother (and especially in England) seems to think, these are not to be used interchangably with scare quotes, or as a more sophisticated (or lazy, or both) substitute for regular quotation marks. Rather they should be used as sparingly as possible, if the writer has any helf-decent sense of integrity, humility or intellectual history. Like a fine wine, inverted commas require time and patient investment to develop and mature and acquire their taste. Only in this case taste is meaning. Inverted commas are asking the reader to take an entirely more substantial leap. In short, the precise status of the inverted comma in a text is, and should be, a much more difficult thing to ascertain. As a general rule, inverted commas should be left to the philosophers. One should not employ inverted commas unless one is prepared to refer the reader to either a)the way a particular philosopher has developed, over the course of a lifetime of work, a unique sense for this word; b)a particular philosopher's particular book; c)one's own book, providing one has the gall to call oneself a philosopher or; d)a poem, provided the poem is written by a poet who is also a philosopher.

...To be continued, on dashes that cleave one word in two. Also known as hyphens. And their silence.


Tom Nairn, world's leading citizen of necessary nuance on all things global-like, reviews for OpenDemocracy The Collapse of Globalism:
Suffixes like "-ism" aren’t accidents. They appeared in the 19th century for good reason, and are to be found still sprouting in the 21st: information technology may have changed the semiotic soil a bit, but not yet all that much. They stand for modern myths: the grander, more colourful belief-structures made necessary by general literacy and the compulsion of all state forms to maintain a minimum of non-coercive unity in the societies they govern. Modern -isms and -ologies signal not simply an idea-system, but its importance — its nature as a cause, a banner in history’s wind[...]

In America itself, the non-voting party represents half the electorate, and the constitutional order was profoundly shaken by its inability to elect a president in 2000. A few supreme court judges chose the man who, in 2001, decided to revive the popular spirit with an expeditionary war.

In Saul’s view, these are all tragedies of the -ism. He doesn’t dispute the real gains of global commerce and expansion. The point is that these have been systematically exaggerated and turned into a pretentious catechism, by corporations, proprietors, banks and their political and cultural servants. Cold war victory was in part engineered by this contemporary mythology, and went on to exalt it farther. In Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, the Hegelian dialectic bestowed an academic halo upon this "no alternative" mantra — pleasing American Christians without surrendering too blatantly to their Godly imprecations.

Yet the signs now are that all these forces have at last overreached themselves, and forced a counter-movement into existence. However, this should not be identified with "anti-globalism" and the World Social Forum. Without decrying such trends, or the rising significance of non-government organisations, Saul points out they are also ideological in origin — in effect, like globalism’s negation or antithesis[...]

And "positive nationalism"? Saul’s argument is that globality, not to be confused with its -ism, impels peoples towards a greener, more democratic, accountable, participatory and public formula. Making their soul their own is essentially a constitutional question, and involves acknowledging "major failings in the formal political system". Some elements of the unmade revolution need to be retrieved, by outward-looking, patient reform, and the construction of a political system less "at odds with our real situation and our real needs".

This demands more politics, not less, and an earth-shift towards a national identity that does not need to seek revalidation of its meaning on distant shores, additional blood-sacrifice, or fulsome applause from the great powers of the moment. By these criteria, Australia joined in the Iraqi crusade for outdated motives, to rekindle a makeshift identity formed by remoteness (and of course, Canada refused, in spite of the North American Free Trade Agreement). But globality has really dispelled re-moteness, and a different, more democratic identity should be on Shaun Carney’s agenda. It’s no use decrying nationalism as such. More plausibly, John Ralston Saul’s positive brand might be the answer: a nationalism of the global village, rather than of the windjammer and the desert.

Not saying I agree unconditionally of course. But Nairn is a rather exceptionally good critic to follow on such matters. The careful embrace of a glob-ality distinct from both ideology and counter-ideology strikes me as accurate.


Let's read that one again. In contestation with dogmatic misinterpretations of both his own work (especially Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, as paradigmatic rather than para-digmatic) and that of Foucault (as purely "metaphorical" rather than paradigmatic), and with Kant (whose 'example' remains "the example of a [universal] rule which cannot [itself] be stated") – contestations which go to the heart of his philosophical project (as signaled most clearly in The Coming Community and Potentialities), Agamben wishes to show that, on the contrary, "the logic of the example has nothing to do with the universality of the law." Right then.

More precisely:
In order to have the appearance of rigor of seriousness, academic disciplines which have no epistemological status, such as those in the humanities, specialize in a chronological context, for example "Eighteenth-century German literature". This is really ridiculous, because the century is just a convention for measuring which has no reality at all. It’s also very recent, because the use of the concept of century came into popularity only after the French Revolution. The apparent seriousness of metonymical contexts, like the chronological and geographical, have no epistemological basis at all. Let me now try to describe the logic of the paradigm. Usually scholars refer to Foucault’s methods as "metaphorical"-this isn’t true, it’s just the paradigm. Let’s try to describe this logic which is, so to speak, a forgotten chapter, or even a better a displaced concept in the history of Western philosophy.


Philosophy very rarely refers to the problems of paradigm and analogy; Aristotle is perhaps the first, however briefly. Aristotle says that the paradigm, the example, does not concern a part with respect to the whole, nor the whole with respect to the part, it concerns a part with respect to the part. This is a very interesting definition. This means that the paradigm does not move from the particular to the universal, nor from the universal to the particular, but from the particular to the particular. In other words, we first have deduction which goes from the universal to the particular, we have induction which goes from the particular to the universal and then the third we have the paradigm and the analogy which go from the particular to the particular. But what does this mean? What kind of movement is this, and how can a paradigm, which is a singularity, create a new analogical context, a new generality, as we saw in Foucault? To understand how a paradigm works, we first have to neutralize traditional philosophical oppositions such as universal and particular, general and individual, and even also form and content. The paradigm analogy is depolar and not dichotomic, it is tensional and not oppositional. It produces a field of polar tensions which tend to form a zone of undecidability which neutralizes every rigid opposition. We don’t have here a dichotomy, meaning two zones or elements clearly separated and distinguished by a caesura, we have a field where two opposite tensions run. The paradigm is neither universal nor particular, neither general nor individual, it is a singularity which, showing itself as such, produces a new ontological context. This is the etymological meaning of the word paradigme in Greek, paradigme is literally "what shows itself beside." Something is shown beside, "para". Yet Aristotle’s treatment of the paradigm is in a way inadequate, though he had these beautiful ideas of the paradigm as going from the particular to the particular, he does not seem to develop this point and like Kant still sticks to the idea that the individuals concerned in the example belong to the same genus. Thus in the "Rhetorics", 1357b, he writes that the two singularities in the paradigm are under the same genus. But then he has a very enigmatic statement immediately afterwards: "But only one of them is more knowable than the other." It’s a very interesting point. The important thing is not that the two are homogenous but precisely that one is more knowable. Why is the example, the paradigm, more knowable? What is the sense of this excess of knowability?...


A paradigm, an example, is something which is what it seems. In it being and seeming are undecidable. Philosophy and poetry coincide insofar as both are contemplation of phenomenon in the medium of their knowability, as examples.

The discussion that follows is perhaps especially revealing:
Audience: The fragment as a pure singularity, it seems that in your phrasing, the paradigm is a means for comprehending the set, yet at the same time it’s a singularity.

Agamben: This is the para problem, precisely as you’ve said. It’s a singularity which in some way stands for all the others. I try to show it’s an element of the set which is withdrawn from it by means of the exhibition of its belonging to it. This is the strange movement of the example.

What is most significant, Agamben's unique ontology remains a "para-ontology, an ontology which is still to be thought" though the latter, obviously a reference to Derrida, might still be a bit optimistic, as a bridge between Badiou and Derrida? (Clearly he would like to position himself somewhat so.) But in any case, for Agamben this "para-" quality, rather crucially, cannot be reduced to straight (Heideggerian) phenomenology:
The problem here is that it’s not the phenomenon as such which is being seen, but only by means of the example which is a kind of strange movement beside, it is not itself, but beside itself. This para is the essential problem of the example, so we have to invent and define the para-ontology, paradigm, paradoxa, it’s still to be defined, it’s kind of a pataphysics [n+1?]. What adds itself to be metaphysics, what is besides metaphysics, a para-ontology. It is the problem of this being shown beside and not the immediate knowability of the thing itself. The problem is this para, beside being.

Obviously, for those of us with a serious interest in Agamben, some reckoning with Badiou is in order. It is only a matter of time.

nb. Very sorry, no pretty pictures with this blog. For those see Form of Life.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Admit it, you were beginning to take Long Sunday for granted, weren't you. Yes, we're working on it. Should be up within 48 hours, or about a week, blogtime, from the look of things.

In the meantime, why not read Riverbend's reflections on the new year in Iraq.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

blog is a blog

Essayist, poet, Celan and Blanchot translator (and jazz aficionado) Pierre Joris has a blog, named Nomadics (since May, it would seem). Used to link to his fantastic web page, you may remember back in the Year of the Infinite Sidebar. I am told and then reminded of this exciting news by Mark and Steve, respectively, naturally.

Marjorie Perloff briefly considers the new Celan translations inBoston Review:
"Take the poem “Todtnauberg,” whose title refers to Heidegger’s famous cottage, the Hütte in the Black Forest. On July 24, 1967, Celan gave a reading at the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau that was attended by more than 1,000 people, including Heidegger. The next day, Celan was invited to visit the great philosopher at Todtnauberg itself, where Heidegger had conferred with so many disciples and composed so many of his most important works. But the meeting’s outcome was equivocal, as Celan’s inscription in the guest book shows: “Into the Hütte-book, while gazing on the well-star, with a hope for a word to come in the heart / July 25 1967.” The hoped-for word was evidently some form of apology, or at least recognition of the role Heidegger had played in the Nazi regime. But that apology was never to come. The poem dates from August 1 and can be found here."


Meanwhile David Cole is proving himself maybe the most valuable democratic citizen about.

Update: Before the Law has more. And I learn from those insufferable dolts at "Harry's Place" (well no, of course I haven't really ever bothered, and something tells me not to start now; just clicking by chance, idly down the Crooked Timber blogroll) -that the excellent Daniel Brett is blogging again. So, thanks for the update, fellas.

Update: damn.

poshlost' (ii)

As in, hints at the positive (un)patheticizing potential thereof?

"Ah, hahahahahahaI'm a disgwace to the wegiment!" (found here).

• Elsewhere, the superbly objective wikipedia deadpans:
Since the passing of this date, there have been unsubstantiated reports claiming that Kaufman is back from the dead and has a blog apparently chronicling his comeback. [1] However, these claims are highly questionable and are even self-contradictory in places (on the blog he contradicts the, now suspended, press release which he apparently wrote and paid for himself). Potentially dozens of fake Kaufmans were expected to appear around this time and this appears to be another example of urban legends inspiring real events.

(This has been a (s.a.g.) post, for DS.)

Today's Theory Philosophy

Agamben, speaking in August 2002 (at what we would call, again for polemical purposes only, The School of Theory Philosophy par excellence):
I always have the impression, as once Heidegger put it, that we have here people busy sharpening knives when there is nothing left to cut.

The comments concerning Entvicklungsfahigkeit and the logic of the example, and the discussion that follows, also interesting; not to mention, clearly written.

Speaking of which...
Of course we should try to express ourselves as clearly, and with as little obscure language, as possible. But there is a contradiction that has to be dealt with – much of what is known as “common sense” is the medium or currency for the circulation of the taken-for-granted dominant values of this society. To express the subversive through language it is sometimes necessary to use words that have retained a clearer meaning through less use. Everyday language is a terrain largely occupied by the enemy: we tend to speak the language of our masters. (A beautiful example of a counter-tendency to this occurred in the 1992 LA Riot when the rioters coined the phrase “image looters” to describe the media: a neat reversal of perspective.)

In a world where appearances and the truth of things almost never coincide theory is necessary to penetrate the lies. This society encourages a fragmented consciousness that craves only immediacy in its consumption (e.g. tabloidism). But a partially understood text that resists complete immediate understanding may not be just unnecessarily dense and wordy. It may be that it has a depth, subtlety and value that is worth pursuing. And it may grasp and reflect more accurately the real complexities of class society. “I assume of course they will be readers who will be prepared to think while they are reading.” – Marx on ‘Capital’.

quote found on this page, which to be honest I thought was sort of funny, cultish, quaint and interesting all at once.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Will Not Support Hillary Clinton for President

Pas au-dela endorses the spirit of Molly Ivins's statement (via). As far as we're concerned, she's the closest thing to a Republican next to Leiberman, maybe closer.

Update: Thanks to Dan Green for a related article on old school George McGovern (though he was before my time, I have been known to proudly sport a handed-down T-shirt adjuring us still, to vote for him, from time to time):
He calls the Patriot Act “completely unnecessary … a contradiction of the Bill of Rights” and counsels resistance if and when the federal police come for our library cards: “I’ll go to jail rather than accept such an invasion of my freedom as an American.”

At 83, George McGovern remains a voice for peace and freedom in a party that looks ready to nominate the militaristic schoolmarm Hillary Clinton as its next standard-bearer. Oh, how the Democrats could use a bracing shot of McGovernism

Friday, January 20, 2006


Colin McQuillan in July 2005's Kritikos:
Judith Butler seems to think that Agamben argues for the expansion of the concepts of “humanity” and “politics” to include marginalized and excluded elements of the community.2 Yet she fails to realize that, for Agamben, it is life itself which is at stake. That Butler has not appreciated this is evident in her new book Precarious Life, where she fails to explain why it is life–bare life–which is precarious, excluded, and imperiled, even as she considers the fragility of human rights and the rights of citizens, and a host of other critical political categories.

Slavoj Zizek, reads something different in Agamben, when he says that Agamben shows that liberal democracy is a mask hiding the fact that “ultimately, we are all homo sacer,” that is, in Zizek’s understanding, we are all subject to totalitarian domination and the mechanisms of biopolitical social control. He uses Agamben to make the further claim that there is no democratic solution to this problem. However, inasmuch as he equates bare life merely with the subject of domination and control, Zizek has failed to grasp the potentiality of bare life, that is, life itself, that Agamben develops, in Homo Sacer and elsewhere. This leads Zizek to abandon the intricacies of Agamben’s analyses, and to champion a heroic politics of decision–a politics that Agamben clearly does not share.


My contention, in this paper, is that Agamben’s conception of the political life is the result of a radical rethinking of the potentiality of life, and life as potentiality.

To begin to explore this theme in Agamben’ work, I think it is important to note the Heideggerian matrix of Agamben’s thought. It is important to realize, against Negri, that Spinoza is not the only philosopher of the positivity of potentia and its necessarily political character. These can also be found in Heidegger.


Further, Agamben understands thought, as Heidegger did, as the appropriation that lets beings be, which lets there be a world. Agamben even calls thought “the nexus that constitutes the forms of life in an inseparable context as form-of-life,” so that only where there is thought can there be a form-of-life “in which it is never possible to isolate something like [bare] life,” clearly echoing Heidegger’s claim that thought is a way of dwelling whose essence is “being-in-the-world.”12 World is the “abode” or “dwelling” of Dasein, its essential context–there is no Dasein without a world, the world is the da- of Dasein, its place. For Agamben, this “essential context” or “indissoluble cohesion” is the “inseparable unity of Being and ways of Being, of subject and qualities.” And this “inseparable unity” is the potentiality of bare life, comprising both its power to be and its power not to be.

This bears some explaining. Agamben reads Aristotle’s claim that “all potentiality is impotentiality of the same and with respect to the same”–as meaning that potentiality “maintains itself in relation to its own privation... its own non-Being.”13 In the Arabic tradition, this was known as “perfect potentiality.”14 But it has the curiosity of understanding potentiality only with respect to impotence. Thus, to be a potentiality or to have potential means “to be in relation to one’s own incapacity” and “to be capable of [one’s] own impotentiality.” “Other living beings are capable only of their specific potentiality,” Agamben writes, “they can only do this or that. But human beings are the animals who are capable of their own impotentiality. The greatness of human potentiality is measured by the abyss of human impotentiality,” by what Heidegger and Agamben will call “poverty.”15

It is only on the edge of the abyss of this impotence, in poverty, then, that “the two terms distinguished and kept united by the relation of ban (bare life and form of life) abolish each other and enter into another dimension.”16 In rendering the very opposition of these terms ineffective, Agamben thinks impotentiality opens a space–a margin, a threshold–on which life can survive, free from the sovereign decision, unhinging and emptying the “traditions and beliefs, ideologies and religions, identities and communities” which have borne it.17 This impotence does not, however, negate the potentiality of life. Rather, impotence is an integral part of potentiality–it is that part of potentiality that makes “a life directed toward the idea of happiness and cohesive with a form-of-life”–in which “the single ways, acts, and process of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always above all power”–possible.18 It is the power of thought. As Agamben writes in The Coming Community:

…thought, in its essence, is pure potentiality; in other words, it is also the potentiality to not think... Thanks to this potentiality to not-think, thought can turn back to itself (to its pure potentiality) and be, at its apex, the thought of thought... What it thinks here, however, is not an object, a being-in-act, but that layer of wax, that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity, its own pure potentiality... In the potentiality that thinks itself, action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself, or, rather, writes its own passivity.
(you might read the whole thing)

In further pursuit of questions raised already here, here and here.

Some of Agamben's own thoughts here, seemingly responding to criticisms vis-à-vis pornography.

Update for non-RSS-slaves: You may also wish to see comments to Kotsko's post here, or the two posts by printculture culminating here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Richard Rorty jumps aboard

I took down the post linking to Rorty's darkly ironic plea for academic freedom, yes. Let's put it back up but in doing so make some remarks about context. Here's Rorty's context. The reader is invited to compare, if she will, with that of another country, for instance one that has already experienced Fascism. I am thinking of pages 166-173 in David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day (if you don't have a copy, you may see The Site for the first three pages, and then The Google for one more--to get a sense. There is ample humor in such cultural comparisons).

But in this country especially, the fact remains that universities and colleges are mostly conservative places, despite the prevailing popular myths. This would seem too obvious to even mention, were it not for the calcified, persistent voices always rising to the occassion, in equal parts chanting, and subtly implying otherwise.
Updated: Tim has more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Yesterday's news

I'm starting fires elsewhere, apparently. More of related interest here and especially here (maybe beginning with part one).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Critical Theory in South Africa

Based in South Africa, Theoria is an engaged, multidisciplinary and peer-reviewed journal of social and political theory.

Unfortunately, they seem to have stopped pulishing in April of '05, and very little is online. I don't suppose anyone has back copies?

In other last year's news:
"Making fun of something does not prevent you from taking it much more seriously..."

The questions in the second part are more interesting, in response to which, incidentally, Z. sounds a lot like Habermas.

jouissance and boredom

And so, as a currupt nation watched the next Eichmann drone on and on, it's attention was increasingly drawn to the warmly rigid, quasi-smiles of the female mannequins strategically propped behind him, one in puritan frill and the other a sexless dark suit. Their every facial tick, once every few long minutes, provided infinite more of interest than the platitudinous lies floating somewhere in the background. Everyone agreed this meant the strategy was working. (Thank God that, once again, everyone was wrong(?)) Of course if the democrats don't stand up now, they never will.


Mark Crispin Miller, best Daily Show foil yet. Cruel and unusual, or just payback's a bitch? On the latest trends at Satire, Inc., Jodi Dean has more.

not much Internets in Africa

...of the last 100 visitors. Totally forgot for a while, the things sitemeter can do.

Here's Long Sunday, as it sleeps (or rather, collects trackback spam)

And we can zoom in on each of those little dots, with satellite precision and everything.

Friday, January 13, 2006

"(in any case, Heidegger never avoids anything)"

Resistance––for this was a resistance on my part––often indicates the sensitive point in a reading, the point of incomprehension that organizes it. "How can he write this?" I asked myself. And of anyone?....When Paul de Man dared say that Rousseau's text bore no "blind spot" I felt the same impatience. Impatience is never justified. It should incite one to take one's time and to submit oneself to what is not self-evident––without avoiding it....work at reading and rereading these difficult texts....work at going along with their strategy, made up of audacity, cunning and prudence, and with the intractable necessity that contrains them, with their rhythm, above all, their breath....Their time is that of a long-distance run during which you follow someone who continually addresses you....If sometimes you have the feeling that you are dealing with a thinker who is panting or harried, don't kid yourself: you are reading someone who on the contrary is tracking––polemos without polemics––the most powerful thoughts of our tradition.

JD, Introduction: Desistance, in Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics

from Dream Songs #14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights and gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its! tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

-John Berryman

Boredom, boredom, boredom.

Let the junkspace war,
(bludgeons of soft
war) on boredom rage,
though at safe distance
from potential of those private selves,
in the form of shouts
through plexiglass, always.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Franco Moretti and a UR-blog

Three critical pieces on the celebrity scholar, one here and one here and one here. Elsewhere, a response, abeit rather glib and polished, and perhaps not exactly reassuring.

And if 'literature' is not graspable as genre? If it is uncomfortable and homesick with itself as genre, or as novel, and must be so, by very definition?? Ah, but then the crickets chirp: "all good / all good." To them the grass is mountains. Their song distracts us from the moon.

It's journal season again (to adopt briefly a journalistic tone). New issues of Contretemps (may I recommend the Carolyn D'Cruz), Foucault Studies and IJBS are out, though not yet PMC...you may also wish to read this apt review on the rhetorics of class in the film, "Sideways." Update: also Radical Philosophy (via Theoria).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

from The Most High, Aminadab and The Infinite Conversation

"In every room there's a constant coming and going of the most serious working people, an extraordinary buzzing of activity, everyone's busy, and yet the visitor is struck by something sad and useless, as if everyone were yawning in idleness and boredom."

-Maurice Blanchot, The Most High
"With the exception of a few who lost their senses and who had to be reduced to silence, most everyone was on their best behavior, and we witnessed a great effort of solidarity, concord and mutual aid that established a new atmosphere in the house. Nevertheless, although nearly everyone enjoyed a pleasure and comfort they had never known before, no one was happy. Something was missing. Boredom cast its shadow over people's faces. We did not know why the days remained empty, or why, on rising in the morning, we thought with such melancholy of the long hours we would have to live through before the consolation of sleep. At the same time, we began to observe some strange phenomena, or that seemed strange at least to our idle, disengaged minds. First there was a relaxation of enthusiasm and of discipline. This was, you might say, very normal. Enthusiasm gave way to half-heartedness; charity and patience gave way to ill will."

"As we discover through the experience of boredom when indeed boredom seems to be the sudden, the insensible apprehension of the quotidian into which we slide in the leveling out of a steady, slack time, feeling ourselves forever sucked in, yet feeling at the same time that we have already lost it and are henceforth incapable of deciding whether there is a lack of the everyday or too much of it––thus held by boredom in boredom, which develops, as Friedrich Schlegel, just as carbon dioxide accumulates in a closed space where too many people find themselves together.

Boredom is the everyday become manifest: consequently, the everyday after it has lost its essential––constitutive––trait of being
unperceived. Thus the everyday always sends us back to that inapparent and nonetheless unconcealed part of existence that is insignificant because it remains always to the hither side of what signifies it; silent, but with a silence that has already dissipated as soon as we keep still in order to hear it, and that we hear better in the idle chatter, in the unspeaking speech that is soft human murmuring in us and around us.

The everyday is the movement by which man, as though without knowing it, holds himself back in human anonymity. In the everyday we have no name, little personal reality, scarcely a figure, just as we have no social determination to sustain or enclose us. To be sure, I work daily; but in the everyday I am not a worker belonging to the class of those who work. The everyday of work tends to draw me apart from that membership in the collectivity of work that founds its truth..."

-The Infinite Conversation

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

good things in the world

Courtesy of Chekhov's Mistress, I learn that Dan Wickett of The Emerging Writers Network is offering a 3-for-2, or 4-for-3 deal on subscriptions, from a list of 24 participating literary journals. This sounds like an excellent idea, though I wonder which of these may be most worth reading? Thoughts?

Elsewhere, Marco Roth reviews Kafka: The Decisive Years; and Steve Mitchelmore takes a look at How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett.

without content, precisely

Daniel Morris, writing for BOOKFORUM:

Agamben explains how the dependence of the spectator on that which he cannot produce becomes wholly alienating: "the spectator sees himself as other in the work of art, his being-for-himself as being-outside-himself; and in the pure creative subjectivity at work in the work of art, he does not in any way recover a determinate content and a concrete measure of his existence, but recovers simply his own self in the form of absolute alienation, and he can possess himself only inside this split." But what happens, then, to the function of aesthetic judgment and art criticism? Enter Agamben, philosophical chiaroscurist at large. Piercing the crepuscular contours of art, he recognizes that "every time aesthetic judgment attempts to determine what the beautiful is, it holds in its hands not the beautiful but its shadow, as though its true object were not so much what art is but what it is not: not art but non-art." He notices further that "we must admit, even against ourselves, that everything our critical judgment suggests to us before a work of art belongs precisely to this shadow. . . . When we deny that a work of art is artistic, we mean that it has all the material elements of a work of art with the exception of something essential on which its life depends, just in the same way that we say that a corpse has all the elements of the living body, except that ungraspable something that makes of it a living being."

Contemporary critics of Agamben at times accuse him of reveling in the indeterminacy of naked life. Some even charge that he aestheticizes the denuding of life as a pornographic transfixion for his gaze, and that therefore his understanding of human life is left wanting. These critiques are usually launched against Agamben's two best-known books, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995 [1998]) and Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1998 [1999]). I mention these criticisms here not because they are facile and misinformed (though they are) but because they emerge from a refusal to understand the full range of Agamben's philosophical project. Agamben is today in his early sixties. When he published The Man Without Content, he was twenty-eight. For decades, his thought has been sailing in search of that ungraspable something that not only constitutes life but also makes it worth living. The Man Without Content begins to chart that course in order to resist the dark temptations of unknowability and ineffability. Kant says somewhere in the Critique of Pure Reason that all possible knowledge and experience are marooned on an island surrounded by the dangerous waters of the unknown. The trick is to discover the best way to set sail. Only when there is no mast in knowledge or experience that can be raised are we in trouble. "In civilizations without boats," Michel Foucault remarked in a 1967 lecture, "dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates." The boats of thought capsize when they no longer carry ideas, categories, and concepts as brigand chasers of our dreams.

Part of the misadventure of aesthetic thought for Agamben is that it traffics in nothingness, death, and the skeletal remains of the living. "Whatever criterion the critical judgment employs to measure the reality of the work," he argues, "it will only have laid out, in place of a living body, an interminable skeleton of dead elements. . . . What has been negated is reassumed into the judgment as its only real content, and what has been affirmed is covered by this shadow. . . . Caught up in laboriously constructing this nothingness, we do not notice that in the meantime art has become a planet of which we only see the dark side, and that aesthetic judgment is . . . the reunion of art and its shadow." In contemporary art, art criticism reaches its terminus: extreme object-centeredness, as Agamben dubs it, "through its holes, stains, slits, and nonpictorial materials, tends increasingly to identify the work of art with the non-artistic product. Thus, becoming aware of its shadow, art immediately receives in itself its own negation. . . . In contemporary art, it is critical judgment that lays bare its own split, thus suppressing and rendering superfluous its own space." Many critics, theorists, and philosophers have phlegmatically resigned themselves to this space of abnegation. Art is important to us because it has no purchase on meaning, significance, or the world. That it does not have to matter is perhaps the only reason it does. Yet Agamben won't go there. Where will he go? In a phrase: to Aristotle, Benjamin, and Kafka.

Agamben finds in Aristotle a radical conception of rhythm that anticipates Benjamin's idea that messianic time itself explodes the continuum of time. He draws a lovely analogy between music and art. A musical piece, though it is somehow in time, allows us nonetheless to perceive rhythm as "something that escapes the incessant flight of instants and appears almost as the presence of an atemporal dimension in time. In the same way, when we are before a work of art or a landscape bathed in the light of its own presence, we perceive a stop in time, as though we were suddenly thrown into a more original time. There is a stop, an interruption in the incessant flow of instants that, coming from the future, sinks into the past, and this interruption, this stop, is precisely what gives and reveals the particular status, the mode of presence proper to the work of art or the landscape we have before our eyes." Agamben proceeds to say that beholding a work of art is not a static experience but rather an ecstatic one: "It means ecstasy in the epochal opening of rhythm, which gives and holds back. . . . In the experience of the work of art, man stands in the truth, that is, in the origin that has revealed itself to him. . . . In this being-hurled-out into . . . rhythm, artists and spectators recover their essential solidarity and their common ground."

What art, then, can offer is a solid sense of where we are without itself becoming the ground underneath our feet. If Agamben is right, then chiaroscuro as a philosophical attitude inspired by art makes all the sense in the world. In any case, the work of art as the site of both mystery and epiphany leads Agamben from Aristotle to Benjamin. As is well known, Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" was penned in Paris while he was working on his Arcades Project. By far the most famous of the theses is the stunning reading of Paul Klee's painting Angelus Novus as an image of the angel of history. The angel sees the sorry debris of the past before its eyes because it is looking in that direction. But the angel can do nothing about this. The storm of progress catches hold of its wings as a violent hurricane, propelling the angel forward. It is throttled headlong into the future but with its eyes and back turned away from what lies ahead. So it cannot see where it is going. All the angel can witness is debris mounting ever more violently as the singular disaster that appears to be history itself. As it is buffeted by the storm of progress, it witnesses less and less this disastrousness. What may have been painfully clear is now a faraway shine. The debris becomes dross. And dross cannot be exchanged for gold. If history is sadness, if what hurts cannot be healed, the angel of history must be a very melancholy angel. "The angel's melancholy," Agamben suggests, "is the consciousness that he has adopted alienation as his world; it is the nostalgia of a reality that he can possess only by making it unreal." Just as artists and spectators belong together, so the angel of history and the angel of art must inhabit the same damaged world. "The past that the angel of history is no longer able to comprehend reconstitutes its form," Agamben therefore claims, "in front of the angel of art; but this form is the alienated image in which the past finds its truth again only on condition of negating it, and knowledge of the new is possible only in the nontruth of the old."

In a rather novel way, Agamben brings Benjamin and Kafka into dialogue as a way of imagining the historical redemption of the aesthetically alienated image of the past. He finds in Kafka "the figure of the guilty innocent, of the tragic hero who expresses in all his greatness and misery the precarious significance of human action in the interval between what is no longer and what is not yet." Even though tragedy lies in this interval, the interval itself cannot be totally tragic. As revelatory appearance, as truth, this space returns to us our essential solidarity and common ground. But that means returning to the original space of art in the wake of aesthetics exposed in its nakedness: cadaverized categories of analysis useful only for men without content......

Monday, January 09, 2006

well, fuckit, ok

Tens of thousands of people used the ImpeachBush.org web site to send an email or fax to their elected official demanding that Bush and Cheney be impeached for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. More than one thousand people per hour sent letters in the first twelve hours alone.

Stupid fucking sanctimonious waste of paper.
Update: Help this blog atone for its deplorable veneer of cynicism by clicking a link, or two.
Update II: Oh that's it man, Yglesias has got to go. This has been a pas au-delà event.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

these debates they are not new

"The quarrels about “pure art” and about art with a tendency took place between the liberals and the “populists”. They do not become us. Materialistic dialectics are above this; from the point of view of an objective historical process, art is always a social servant and historically utilitarian. It finds necessary rhythm of words for dark and vague moods, it brings thought and feeling closer and contrasts them with one another, it enriches the spiritual experience of the individual and of the community, it refines feeling, makes it more flexible, more responsive, it enlarges the volume of thought in advance and not through the personal method of accumulated experience, it educates the individual, the social group, the class and nation. [A pre-toast to Matthew Arnold here.] And this it does quite independently or whether it appears in a given case under the flag of a “pure” or of a frankly tendencious art. In our Russian social development tendenciousness was the banner of the intelligentsia which sought contact with the people. The helpless intelligenstia, crushed by Tsarism and deprived of a cultural environment, sought support in the lower strata of society and tried to prove to the “people” that it was thinking only of them, living only for them and that it loved them “terribly”. And just as the “populists” who went to the people were ready to do without clean linen and without a comb and without a toothbrush, so the intelligentsia was ready to sacrifice the “subtleties” of form in its art, in order to give the most direct and spontaneos expression to the sufferings and hopes of the oppressed. On the other hand, “pure” art was the banner of the rising bourgeoisie, which could not openly declare its bourgeois character, and which at the same time tried to keep the intelligentsia in its service. The Marxist point of view is far removed from these tendencies, which were historically necessary, but which have become historically passé . Keeping on the plane of scientific investigation, Marxism seeks with the same assurance the social roots of the “pure” as well as of the tendencious art. It does not at all “incriminate” a poet with the thoughts and feelings which he expresses, but raises questions of a much more profound significance, namely, to which order of feelings does a given artistic work correspond in all its peculiarities? What are the social conditions of these thoughts and feelings? What place do they occupy in the historic development of a society and a class? And, further, what literary heritage has entered into the elaboration of the new form? Under the influence of what historic impulse have the new complexes of feelings and thoughts broken through the shell which divides them from the sphere of poetic consciousness? The investigation may become complicated, detailed or individualized, but its fundamental idea will be that of the subsidiary role which art plays in the social process...

[T]he Formalist school...leads to the superstition of the word. Having counted the adjectives, and weighed the lines, and measured the rhythms, a Formalist either stops silent with an expression of a man who does not know what to do with himself, or throws out an unexpected generalization which contains five per cent of Formalism and ninety-five per cent of the most uncritical intuition."
–Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, trans. Rose Strunksky, 168-172


"Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo–these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost' in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, mothmythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know..."

Vladimir Nabokov

King Kong. Baudrillard. Shopping Malls. Disney Land. MTV. Dave Eggers. *

On some level one cannot help but recognize the sheer dominance of these forces. Speaking generally, they are the air we breath. This does not mean that they are natural. Liberals (the politicians, not the ideals of any philosophy - which for many reasons, such as Capitalism, do not exist) would have more nuanced cooking shows, a slightly better quality of life for slightly more people for a slightly longer time. A stronger, more gentle war on various emotional states. Their prospects, of course, hinge on a fundamental delusion of sorts – namely a world where conservatives (at their current stage on the several-decades-developing road to fascism) simply do not exist. Indeed, much of the liberal delusion consists of an elaborate maintainence of this snobbery.** (And, to be fair, much of the conservative machine depends on exploiting the resentment springing from this impression.) But those are all familiar enough complaints, to be sure. And like everywhere, such generalizations are perhaps only useful up to a certain point.

But if it is even worth mentioning (and I'm not convinced it is), this realm is where a stupid film like Team America hits hardest. It "hits" in the sense that it literally performs a kind of violence on its audience (for which we have few words yet, really – apart from the usual phrases, "beating over the head," "insulting the intelligence," etc.) Lenny Bruce's form of satire comes to mind (and yet, is it funny? Really?). That it panders equally to liberals and conservatives is perhaps worth a chuckle. It's also very much of Zizekian topicality, in fact. I wonder if he's seen it.

Having so warned against generalizations, I will now proceed to generalize rather grossly. I do think there is some wisdom in making an effort not to speak of the banal, or at least carefully, and not in a manner that treats it with any more dignity than that with which it may handles us. But faced with such wanton excess (itself a symptom, or a kind of virus, yes of course, if one that also seems now like a sort of pre-requisite for writers of all stripes to catch, and especially if one is to be such a thing as the voice of one's generation – and what alternatives for "success" are there, really?) - faced with such wanton excess (and now it's merely reactionary cousin, cuteness or "the new sincerity"),.....actually, you know what? I'm not at all sure we even understand the original context of this "new sincerity" enough to comment, and certainly not enough to...what's the word for such lazy dismissive gestures, albeit founded on a bedrock of initial intelligence, anyway? Maybe before denying it of any and all potential for future good, we should take another look. (Then again, maybe not.)

Ah, but if only these problems were simple.

*This list is dangerously unfair. One order not to be taken as a t-rist, one should probably be more precise.

** Unwilling as they are to confront their own embeddedness in the class and warfare about which they may not ever philosophically speak, knowing full-well that communism and Jack Kennedy are long dead and of course underground.

Update: This post tries to say far to much in one breath, and should probably be destroyed entirely, discreetly and quietly.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

all your philosophy is belong to chatter; Or: 'resistance' to the present

"that the interpretation of dreams may enable us to draw conclusions as to the structure of our mental apparatus which we have hoped for in vain from philosophy"

"our vain waiting for philosophy is now to be replaced by the positive work of doing something else, call it psychoanalysis [Or...] that our waiting for philosophy is at last no longer vain, that philosphy has now been fulfilled in the form of psychoanalysis."

and Herbert Schwaab, writing to the film-philosophy listserv this morning, adds:
Good films compel us to think, talk and write about them. We cannot prove that they are good films, but we can let others participate in the experience of the films. Good readings of good films succeed in communicating this experience, turning the reception of the reading itself into a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It is a also transformative and teaching experience. That's when the philosophy embodied in them is more than a simple illustration of philosophical items. The film themselves contribute to philosophy.
I'd like to discuss a contrasting phenomenon: What are bad and uninteresting movies doing to us? Do they lead to something which could be called philosophical chatter? Cavell is very relunctant to talk about more recent films. In "Cities of Words" he refers to "The Matrix" as a film of some interest, but there is nothing that compels him to write about it. Isn't all the writing on "The Matrix" philosophical chatter? We have already discussed the topic of philosophically overrated movies in the salon some months ago (The Usual Suspects) but it is one of those items which should be discussed again and again. Cavell offers some good thoughts on that topic, because whereas as films such as "The Matrix" and "The Truman Show" have the label philosophy pinned on clearly visibly for everyone, Cavell deals with films that are not forcing philosophy on us.

Imagine the stray jobs that will drop* when the anti-Theorists finally come to realize that not everyone responding to/and in an age of analysis...

More interestingly, a wonderful new blog on the horizon.

And their seminar.

*"Stray Jaws; Straw Jobs" – maybe a good and honest political slogan?

Update: Relatedly, John Holbo has a fascinating post on Heidegger and baby toys an ear for irony, lest there be any doubt.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

more quickly than we thought, we


Gary is absolutely right of course.


The brilliant national dialogue continues. (For those who need it (?) an obvious translation of the latter.)

Medea Benjamin's list of good things is pretty much spot on. From the t r u t h o u t community, this handsome frustration with the Democrat big mommy party stands out.

Juan Cole (now with sporadic comments) and Roberto Unger have some actual thoughts.

Iran: Cold Warriors on the spittle march (how many times will the American consumertorturee let this bad episode rerun––and if you haven't seen "The Power of Nightmares" by this point....well pffft. You're simply not a public citizen.) All options remain on the table. (For the stubborn, envious little Bush, every problem is just so much sapling brush, begging to be cleared and burned.)