Sunday, July 31, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik and the Rise of Extremism

The Oslo massacre by right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik has sent shock waves throughout the world. His motto is "never surrender to cultural Marxism" and he views Islam as a great threat to European Christendom. Most white Christian Europeans do not sympathize with his tactics, but it is naive to assume he does not have a large number of silent sympathizers of his views.

It is interesting how Breivik is often termed a "lone extremist" by US media. Ridiculous Bill O'Reilly claimed that Breivik in no way can be considered a Christian, even though Breivik claims he is and celebrates famous Christian Crusaders from times past. Clearly there is a double standard to his approach when it comes to Muslims committing acts of terror. Right-wing radio goon Glenn Beck did not shy from comparing the victims of the shooting to Hitler Youth. I'll refer to this as a political Freudian slip of where the right-wing's sympathies really are (many of the victims were multicultural socialists).

Yet, make no mistake, demographics in Europe are changing. Popular Egyptian-European Muslim preacher Amr Khaled makes a prediction that Muslims will be the majority in Europe within twenty years. Social tensions will no doubt be exasperated by the global economic crisis. One can argue that Islamic extremism and the rise of right-wing nationalism will only be two out of many "-isms" to surge in growth as a result of destructive global capitalism. Especially with the ongoing dismantling of public institutions.

The second youtube post is Anders Behring Breivik's "Deceleration of European Independence." It reveals a lot.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"All Arrighians Now"

The Los Angeles Review of Books has published a review essay by Joshua Clover, entitled "Autumn of Empire," which considers the relatively recent work of Giovanni Arrighi (Adam Smith in Beijing and the recent edition of The Long Twentieth Century), Robert Brenner (The Economics of Global Turbulence), and Richard Duncan (The Dollar Crisis). I must say, in the company of Arrighi and Brenner, it is difficult to see why Duncan's book is featured in the essay, aside from the way it functions within the rhetorical structure of Clover's essay (or, perhaps, it's there to balance the three books from Verso), but otherwise it's an interesting article that has the merit of dodging a lot of jargon.

Here's the general idea:
Like democracy itself, this official thought [within the predominant strains of economics] presents itself as having subtleties, wings, parties. But the oppositions on offer — NYT vs. WSJ, Krugman vs. Cochrane, saltwater vs. freshwater schools of economics — can’t begin to grasp the fullness of the situation. Whether discovering “green shoots” or hand-wringing over a “jobless recovery,” they think unquestioningly in terms of a return to normalcy, debating only the rate and method: the crisis a mere blink in the long stare of empire.
But the scandalous lesson we learn from heterodox thinkers like Brenner, Duncan, and Arrighi is quite a different one: that the American experience is grand, outsized, but not entirely novel. Industrial growth is bound to undo itself as a profit center, to be replaced by a regime of finance; this regime’s profit mechanism is always the bubble and its total crisis inescapable; and this is how empires end. Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s book on the delusions that accompany bubbles is called, with a wink, This Time It’s Different. Meaning, it never is. We must admit the same about the course of empire, and the current conjuncture. Empires rise and fall.
We live in an epoch in which the great question is how to bid farewell to the U.S.-centered empire, and what the transition to another global arrangement might look like. Whether we know it or not, we are all Arrighians now.
As the title Adam Smith in Beijing conveys, Arrighi paints a picture of a market alternative to capitalism that is too optimistic in its considerations of Adam Smith's work and the Chinese economy (we've talked about David Harvey's take on China here). He doesn't consider extensively (nor does Clover in this article) that alternatives to capitalism that could arise in a place other than the likely site of the next hegemonic power (although to be fair, Arrighi does mention India). This possibility of an alternative is why Latin America and more recently North Africa have received so much Left-leaning critical attention lately.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cigarettes and Cell Phones

An interesting passage from William Gibson's Zero History:
She hung up before he could say goodbye. Stood there with her arm cocked, phone at ear-level, suddenly aware of the iconic nature of her unconscious pose. Some very considerable part of the gestural language of public places, that had one belonged to cigarettes, now belonged to phones. Human figures, a block down the street, in postures utterly familiar, were no longer smoking.
Until reading this, I had never made an explicit connection between the two. Gibson is on to something given the ubiquity of cell phones, but cigarettes still carry something that cell phones don't (is that due to recent transformations?); that is, they are a marker for sub-cultural group distinction in some situations (think of certain groups who go outside to smoke at concerts) or the way that bumming a smoke  or asking for a light can (in very limited instances) have an inter-subjective appeal.

In any case, Gibson's brief observation is more subtle that recent 'philosophical' takes on the problem, such as Giorgio Agamben's well-known rant from What is an Apparatus?, which reads like a bad joke at a conference that doesn't translate to the printed page (the essay also includes the ridiculous-- and historically unverifiable-- claim that our era possesses the "most docile and cowardly social body that has ever existed in history"):
I live in Italy, a country where the gestures and behaviors of individuals have been reshaped from top to toe by the cellular telephone....I have developed an implacable hatred for this apparatus, which has made the relationship between people all the more abstract. Although I found myself more than once wondering as how to destroy or deactivate those telefonini, as well as how to eliminate or at least to punish and imprison those who do not stop using them [which would then give Agamben-land a higher rate of incarceration than the international leader, the United States], I do not believe that this is the right solution to the problem.
He does not then describe the solution, just has he did not advance our understanding of cell phones as an apparatus. We do, however, have a clearer vision of at least part of Agamben's fantasy life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

K'naan: People Like Me

Somalia is having a severe famine, the global economy is in the poop-house, wars are raging as usual, and racial tensions are building even in quiet places such as Norway. I felt like simply putting up a performance by the Somali-Canadian musician K'naan.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Free Time

I am currently reading Michael Perelman's The Invention of Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2000). One of his central theses is that primitive accumulation is a technique of expropriation that continues during the historical development of capitalism, rather than a process that only occurred before, or during the formation of, capitalism.

Part of the process of primitive accumulation, or what, following David Harvey, I prefer to call accumulation by dispossession, requires curtailing free time. Perelman writes, in a striking passage on page 17:
Although their standard of living may not have been particularly lavish, the people of precapitalistic northern Europe, like most traditional people, enjoyed a great deal of free time. [...] Joan Thirsk estimated that in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, about one-third of the working days, including Sundays, were spent in leisure. Karl Kautsky offered a much more extravagant estimate that 204 annual holidays were celebrated in medieval Lower Bavaria. [...] Even as late as the 1830s, we hear the complaint [from the moralizing elite, no doubt] that the Irish working year contained only 200 days after all holidays had been subtracted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuart Elden Reviews Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoir

Stuart Elden has published a review of Michel Foucault’s Leçons sur la volonté de savoir-- the 1970-1971 lectures at the Collège de France:
One of the things that is striking about the course is that here we find a Foucault who is deeply engaged with Greek thought. This alone should act as a correction to those who thought his turn to the Greeks was a late phase in his work. It should also be noted that here the project of genealogy is very clearly a complementary analysis to that of archaeology, rather than its replacement, and that genealogy is first brought to bear on knowledge, then truth, and only subsequently to concerns with power. Yet while the discussions of knowledge and truth in themselves are important, it is likely their links to the question of power that will prove the most interesting for readers.
It is in the analysis of juridical and political practices in ancient Greece that perhaps the most striking analyses are found. These include the management of agrarian crises, particularly in terms of fragmented lands and the legacy of colonization; advances in the army, especially in terms of the developments of mining techniques and the use of iron, and the new types of inter-city and intra-city warfare; the emergence of a new class of artisans; and wider political transformations including production, slavery, and the development of urban civilization. There is an important discussion of the development of written legal codes (nomos) and money as an institution, not simply of exchange, but of distribution, allocation and social correction. Foucault also spends a good deal of time discussing popular power, as the reverse side of the plans of Plato, Aristotle and the legislators. As well as the conceptual aspects of this discussion, it is important to link this to Foucault’s own activism, especially the foundation of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons at the same time. Their manifesto was read by Foucault on 8th February 1971; about midway through the delivery of this course.
There is one other aspect of this publication that Elden has mentioned elsewhere, but that he does not develop here: "Unlike the other courses published to date, this volume is based almost entirely on Foucault’s manuscript for the course, rather than transcribed from tape recordings of the actual delivery." In his first thoughts on the text, posted on his blog, Elden writes:
The ‘no posthumous publications’ injunction, previously circumvented by publishing transcriptions of tapes in the public domain, is now being entirely ignored. Might an edition of The History of Sexuality volume four, Les aveux de la chair, now be conceivable?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Senator Michele Bachmann, Gays, and the Christian Gene

Senator Michele Bachmann is running for the Republican nomination to make a bid for the US presidency. Michele Bachmann and her husband's clinic(Bachmann & Associates) tries to "rehabilitate" gays into straightness. Brian Ross from ABC News reports:
A former patient who sought help from the Christian counseling clinic owned by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, told ABC News he was advised that prayer could rid him of his homosexual urges and he could eventually be "re-oriented."

"[One counselor's] path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay," said Andrew Ramirez, who was 17-years-old at the time he sought help from Bachmann & Associates in suburban Minneapolis in 2004. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."
Senator Michele Bachmann has personally stated:
It isn’t that some gay will get some rights. It’s that everyone else in our state will lose rights. For instance, parents will lose the right to protect and direct the upbringing of their children. Because our K-12 public school system, of which ninety per cent of all youth are in the public school system, they will be required to learn that homosexuality is normal, equal and perhaps you should try it. And that will occur immediately, that all schools will begin teaching homosexuality.” -- Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004.
The evidence shows that she wants a theocracy that does not tolerate lifestyle values that conflict with hers.

In honor of such people and their views I'm posting a humorous news parody. It pokes fun at fundamentalist Christians such as Senator Bachmann and her husband. I want to clarify that I'm aware that many Christians do not judge homosexuals and some even allow them as members of their congregations. On the topic of gays and Christianity I recommend the book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) by the historian John Boswell. To my surprise, this book revealed a lot of unexpected information on this subject. Enjoy the clip.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Infighting about Trotsky

It was amusing to read (at Lenin's Tomb) of some recent infighting occasioned by a damning scholarly review of Robert Service's Trotsky: A Life (Harvard, 2009), involving a pair of fellows from the same nook of the anticommunism industry, the Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace.  While Service's book has been criticized by several leftist reviewers, it had generally been well-received in academic circles. This changes with Bertrand M. Patenaude, who writes, in The American Historical Review (see here):
In his eagerness to cut Trotsky down, Service commits numerous distortions of the historical record and outright errors of fact to the point that the intellectual integrity of the whole enterprise is open to question. 
By the end, he concludes (but read the whole review, it's worth it):
Harvard University Press has placed its imprimatur upon a book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship. 
At Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee puts the review in context and requests comments from the author, the review's author, and Harvard. Service's response is to accuse Patenaude of being a 'Trotsky romantic.' From Harvard, McLemee gets no response.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Trouble with Titles

I'm not very good at giving my work good, let alone catchy, titles. Take, for instance, the title of my book on Schelling: long ago in the dissertation proposal process, I had a series of clumsy titles that ended with my advisor crossing out whatever I have proposed, and writing underneath, "Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art." As we all know, the name stuck.

For my tentative project on Rancière, I've struggled as well--what would capture the unity of the various chapters, ranging from discussions of Descartes, Marx, Schiller, and many others (one must allow for a few surprises...)? At the moment, I think this does it: Political Aesthetics: Reading Philosophy after Jacques Rancière. This is, of course, subject to change.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Julian Assange, Slavoj Žižek, and Amy Goodman: What is Truth?

I hate to overly saturate my blogs with Žižek, but I swear he is always around the places I want to refer. If we take the Socratic question, "Is he popular because he is insightful, or is he "insightful" because he is popular?" I argue that he is popular because he is insightful. It is not that I always agree with him or understand him, but his ideas are often outside the box. When I say "box" I mean the Leftist one. He was a fitting complement to a presentation with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. After watching this, the truth of the matter became much more clear; the issue is the Truth. For Žižek the Truth does not exist as a real asset until it is contextualized: Assange and WikiLeaks wielded by a revolutionary philosopher. This approach to knowledge is the difference between Žižek and Noam Chomsky. To know is of little value unless one understands.

Friday, July 8, 2011

No! No! No! We Need the Elite!

Peter Gratton has found an exemplary specimen of reactionary republicanism. Today's Der Spiegel has an article by Herfried Münkler entitled "Democratization Can't Save Europe." Münkler argues that:
In light of this failure of the elites, it is hardly surprising that we are hearing renewed calls for the democratization of Europe. Suddenly, the people are expected to fix what the elites have botched. Since they are already being asked to pay for the problems caused by the elites, many believe that the people should have more say in how and by whom Europe is controlled.
As reasonable as this might sound, by no means does it make as much sense as it seems at first glance. Even after the democratization of Europe, the elites in Brussels and Strasbourg will still be in charge. The only option available to the European people, to the extent that they can be referred to as such, would be to react to obvious failure by voting their leaders out of office -- and to vote an opposing elite to take their place. Whether this would fundamentally change anything is open to question. [...]
Pushing for the democratization of Europe is akin to playing a reckless game that can quickly lead to European disintegration. Those who see democratization as a logical reaction to the crisis may not even be aware of this risk. They see democratization as an automatic reflex in response to the crisis. But democracy needs the kinds of conditions that do not exist in Europe today.
Not convinced? Me neither. Peter points out that Münkler has recycled all the usual arguments as to why democracy won't work outside of the Western world, and turned them toward Europe itself. But these claims aren't the only howlers. Without any irony, Münkler points out that Europe has always been run by elites (which is why, apparently, it can't ever change...):
Europe was a project of the elites from the very beginning, but with the proviso that democratization would happen at the next available opportunity.
Of course, all promises of democracy have really been a "proviso" (read "noble lie") to legitimate the European project in the eyes of the people. And yet he concludes with the same promise he's just deflated:
The key step is a political reconstitution of Europe, a reconstitution in which democratization would be a real option and would not pose the threat of decline and disintegration.
This is the world of austerity: the elites fail but don't really fail, finance capital crashes but people's benefits, mortgaged homes, collective bargaining, decent wages and job security are blamed and attacked.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zizek's Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle

My first publication, in 2005, was a book review of Zizek's Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (Verso, 2004), entitled "The Step Outside: The Act, Democracy, and Its Discontents." It was published in Critical Sense (a graduate student journal at UC Berkeley that seems to have been discontinued), Volume 8, number 1. I've decided to try something new and post the PDF directly to this blog HERE.

Like any first publication, perhaps, this one has a story. I don't know why exactly I chose to review a book by Zizek first, although its topicality was probably the impetus. I started writing it in summer 2004, which is around the same time I moved to Ottawa. This move ended up interrupting the review in more than one way; somehow I managed to save the file incorrectly (or it was corrupted at some point), meaning I had to rewrite the entire thing. After some searching, I found a printed draft, which I could use to recover about 70% of the document, but the printed draft ended up in my book bag next to a container of Indian food that leaked, producing a review curry (which, for some reason, I stored in the refrigerator in case I absolutely had to reference it--otherwise, it just sat in there on one of the shelves). I ended up rewriting the entire the end producing about two and a half reviews (there's also an original ending that is much more strident, but it wouldn't work for a review).

The reader will see a few things of note. It starts with a bang. The first few sentences read:
Zizek’s Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle picks up the thread from his previous book focused on the war on terror, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, somewhere between the months leading up to the war in Iraq and the exposure of torture at Abu Ghraib.  So, while we miss an encounter between Zizek and the torture scandal—which unfortunately, in the minds of many Americans, is just another scandal—he has nonetheless been constant in criticizing all “musings” about whether torture should be used in the war on terror as a soft step to its legitimation.  And who knew— legitimate torture and you too could become Attorney General!
The reader will also note that I don't stray far from Lacanian reference points. At the time, I was trying to work out a kind of account of those who I called 'event theorists,' Zizek, Badiou, and others, and it shows. Today, of course, I'm doing something very different.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another Schelling Reference: Flaubert

Bouvard and Pécuchet decide to become writers, but inevitably they run into trouble and hit the books:
They labored to relate these vague concepts to things provided by memory, removed, added. Pécuchet was interested in feelings and ideas, Bouvard in images and colors. And they began to argue, each on amazed at how obtuse the other could be.
Perhaps the science called aesthetics could help them through their differences. A friend of Dumouchel, a philosophy professor, sent them a list of works on the subject. They worked separately, communicating their reflections to each other.
First of all, what is beauty?
For Schelling, it is the infinite expressed by the finite; for Reid, an occult quality; for Jouffroy, an integral fact; for de Maistre, something that pleases virtue; for Father André, what suits reason....
Given that I've suggested before that Schelling's contemporaries, near and far, understood his philosophy of art to be, as he once said, the "keystone" to the system, it's always pleasing to find references to his work along these lines.

(I am reading the Dalkey Archive's translation, which can be found here.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Weekend in Reviews

Sure, it's a long weekend in the US and Canada. But don't let that get in the way of checking out a few notable book reviews. 

First, here's Hasana Sharp, author of the forthcoming Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization (see here) reviewing Michael Mack's Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity (Continuum, 2010). One of the highlights:
As a Spinoza scholar, I was most interested in Mack’s interpretation of Spinoza’s principle of conatus, the striving by which each being aims to preserve and enhance its life.  He suggests that the conatus gets taken up by later thinkers not only as a doctrine of self-preservation, or as the ultimate source of all human (and nonhuman) motivation, but also as a critique of how self-preservation can be narrowly construed so as to yield self-destruction (and, in his concluding discussion of Freud, a “loss of reality”).  Mack reads Spinoza’s conatus as a principle of self-sustainability that can only be actualised by virtue of a contribution to the well-being of the other forces with which one is intertwined (Chapter 2).
And the verdict:
Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity highlights a number of fertile connections to Spinoza and adumbrates modern thought and culture in new ways.  It suggests several avenues for future research and goes some way toward correcting the false portrait of Spinoza as an uncompromising rationalist who has little appreciation of the imaginative fabric of cultural life.
Then, at Marx and Philosophy, Mirko Hall reviews Uwe Steiner's Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2010):
There are many critical introductions – e.g., from Cambridge, Polity, Routledge, and Totem – available on Benjamin. What makes this book particularly valuable is the discussion of people, texts, and contexts that are sometimes relegated to the periphery of Benjamin Studies. Steiner does not fetishize later canonical writings (such as the artwork essay, the notes on the Parisian Arcades or the theses on the philosophy of history). He also explores lesser texts that involve Benjamin’s earliest investigations into the essence of language and the practice of literary translation and criticism. These fields are extremely important, because they allowed him to recognize the continued afterlife of cultural artifacts. Steiner also emphasizes the importance of occasionally marginalized thinkers, who are invaluable for understanding Benjamin’s intellectual outlook: Germanist Norbert von Hellingrath, essayist Carl Gustav Jochmann, art historian Alois Riegl or author Paul Scheerbart. There is a strong interest in Scheerbart, who provided Benjamin with significant political impetuses for his techno-utopian visions.
And don't forget my review of Rancière's The Politics of Literature here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Every Time the Left Sins God Sends Another Working-Class American to the Tea Party

The Left in the US must blame itself for its weakness and inability to draw in lager numbers of working-class Americans into its fold. Walter Benjamin wrote that, "behind every fascism is a failed revolution." The growing popularity of the Tea Party movement in the US is the resulting failure of Leftists to address righteous popular anger over corrupt politics. I think there are several reasons for this.

Many Leftists articulate American working-class needs by using overly intellectual rhetoric. The Left does not need to dumb down information, just break it down. Many Leftists use other countries' revolutionaries and revolutions as symbols of liberation and outright ignore American equivalents. What about heroes of struggle such as Thomas Paine,John Brown, and Mary Harris "Mother" Jones? What about celebrating movements such as the BOSTON TEA PARTY? What is so amusing about the right-wing using the Boston Tea party, as a symbol of their movement, is that its very history undermines much of their political positions. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 sabotaged commerce, destroyed private property, and broke the rule of law, for the greater moral value of actual justice, opposed to legal injustice. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 fits more into the tradition of progressives than so-called conservatives. On a more extreme level,one could argue that the Boston Tea Party has more similarities with the Earth Liberation Front than it does with the Republican Party or the twenty-first century Tea Party.

I argue that the Tea Party is not truly conservative anyway. Two of the most popular politicians in the Tea Party movement are Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Both are women. Women being involved in politics and having the right to vote is not a conservative value, if "conservative" means going back to the proverbial good ol' days. The Founding Fathers, limited in their wisdom, would have told them to stay home, make babies, and cook for their husbands. It was liberal women and radical women that fought the law to get the right for women to become active members of politics. Liberals and leftists are accused of breaking with tradition: for picking and choosing ethics opportunistically. That is exactly what the right-wing does. When there was prayer in public schools there was legalized racial segregation and children working in sweat-shops: most right-wingers do not openly claim to want all of those things, hence they are not truly conservative, they are right-wing liberals.

A large portion of the Tea Party's constituency rightly are disgusted with the bank bailouts that Bush started and Obama continued. Somehow the Tea Party has convinced working Americans that this is socialism. Big finance manipulates the government to save capitalism at the American public's expense and this is socialism? No my fellow Americans, this is the natural outgrowth of Capitalism. The saddest naivety is the belief that big business is a better alternative to big government. The world is not marching into global one-world-order-socialism, it is crashing into disaster neo-liberal capitalism. Why is Republican Congressman Ron Paul viewed as a fringe politician and not fully endorsed by the financial sector? Because he has faith in the "free-market." Big capitalists do not want a free-market, they want Government to intervene on their behalf: in favor of capitalists and against the working-class or any other obstacle. Big business favors its international agenda at the expense of America or any other country, NAFTA is a good example. These are some of the points the Left in America should be exposing to the public at large. This great country is falling apart, is being ripped apart, and the actual creators of this destruction need to be stopped.

I picked two music videos. One is an official Tea Party Video and the other appears to be an average American musician. The lyrics in their songs demonstrate much of what this blog discussed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Politics of Literature Review

My review of Jacques Rancière's The Politics of Literature, which I wrote during our sojourn in Paris, is now available at the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books here.