Monday, 23 June 2008

Greenwich Mean

For IT
The results of these lightning-like movements of immense quantities of money around the globe are incalculable, yet already have clearly produced new kinds of political blockage and also new and unrepresentable symptoms in late-capitalist everyday life.
Fredric Jameson

Beyond the obvious riposte (late capitalism, late for what?) the Greenwich riverside walk does not so much demand a reading in terms of Jameson's analysis of the aesthetic of financialised capital but actually seems to have been planned with it in mind.
Later they developed symptoms that recalled those suffered by the actors in Tarkovsky's Stalker.

A future reserve in the event of nature's extinction

'Creation as the ultimate way to exploitation.' Franco 'Bifo' Berardi

'the lakes of non-being, and the viscosity of matter.' Gilles Deleuze

Destroy what destroys you!

Once, the car was brightly painted, and on the back, in big letters was written: ‘Careful, Dynamite Transporter!’ And there were really bombs in it, and [the police] just looked at it and said, ‘Dynamite Transporter! – Idiot. Just go on.
Charmingly, and keeping within the doxa on the 1960s, Michael ‘Bommi’ Baumann claims he cannot remember if he coined the slogan ‘Destroy what destroys you!’ or not. After repression, the experience of defeat, historical amnesia and retrospective vituperation (including the ‘revelation’ that Baumann was a Stasi informer), Baumman’s 1975 book Wie alles anfing [How it all Began] – Terror or Love? In English (1979) is a rare internal unapologetic autocritique of this cycle of struggle (‘adventurist’, ‘terrorist’, or ‘urban guerilla’, according to political taste).

The book charts Baumann’s political evolution from the refusal of his proletarian position, his time as a counter-cultural dropout in the ‘Roaming Hash Rebels’, and the development towards armed struggle via Tupamaros West Berlin to the Movement of the 2nd June [M2J] (named after the date on which, in 1967, the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot and killed during a demonstration in Berlin against the Shah of Iran).

The antinomian cultural milieu is charted as a strange cocktail of the beats, Maoism, Guevarism, drugs, anarchism, and even Satanism:
People like Proudhon, the old anarchists, often were also Satanists at the same time; Bakunin too. God and the State is actually in some ways a Gnostic piece. It has religious content when he says that once we take the Bible seriously, we can only say at the end, ‘Hail Satan.’ That story fascinated us.
Unfortunately what is absent is any sense of a link to a German musical counterculture, with Baumann’s references entirely American.

The M2J was the most libertarian / anarchist of the armed groups and, Baumann claims, it more proletarian composition produced a contrasting attitude to violence to that of what he regards as the ‘abstract’ and student-based Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF):

We’d lived with violence from the time we were children; it has material roots. On payday, when the old man comes home drunk and beats up the old lady – it’s all that stuff. At school, you get into scrapes, you have to make your way with fists, for you that’s a perfectly normal thing; you have to fight at your workplace, you fight in bars, you have a more healthy relationship to it. For you, violence is a completely spontaneous thing that you can unroll quite easily. There was always this split between the R.A.F. and ourselves, in the source of violence, where it was coming from.

For Baumann M2J’s amateurism was both its weakness and strength, making it vulnerable but also avoiding the professionalization of struggle that created new apprentices’ of revolution.

In fact the link Baumann draws between his refusal of apprentice work on building sites and then the tendency to re-compose 'apprentice structures' in the radical groups is one of the most useful points of criticism concerning this form of struggle. As he notes this drive to performance involved also over-concession to the function of the media and a machismo of struggle: ‘Only rigid continuation, total pressure to achieve, and it keeps going, always gets worse, until at some point, some guy collapses – he just can’t go along with it anymore, he can’t do it.’ (this might also stand as a reflection on Baumann's own 'informing' - along with a number of sections of the book on inflitrators and those who abandoned the armed struggle and/or informed).

Linked to this conception is Baumann’s reflection on the position of M2J, which appears very different from what one might take from their actions:

The June 2nd group had a theoretical base similar to ‘Gauche Prolétarienne’ in France, or ‘Lotta Continua’ in Italy – that is, to give a militant solution to work conflicts in the factories. When the people in the factories are falling over from the bad air, then the owner’s villa must be put on fire, to show the people you can defend yourself if you attack the guy directly.

One of the ‘forgotten’ facts of the 70s cycle of armed struggle is how often it emerged from counter-violence in the workplace, also the case of the Red Brigades, before becoming more spectacular and separated from any proletarian milieu.

To be more precise the nature of this workplace violence has been forgotten; not only the various forms of alienation but also the ‘direct’ violence of the factory police, often coupled to union resistance to any radicalisation (including physical resistance). In the case of GP their strategy was to compose a new autonomous workers’ movement uniting ‘the anti-authoritarian aspirations as they were expressed and continue to be expressed by youth and the new forms of battle in the working class, anti-despotic forms of battle.’ These anti-despotic forms included plant occupations, hostage taking of senior managers, resisting the CRS, and workplace sabotage. This struggle intensified with the call, in 1969, for ‘the non-armed but violent revolt of the partisans’ (referring back to the partisan activity of the French resistance as much as to Maoist strategies) and for militants to ‘lead the resistance, to lead the violent struggle’. Blow for Blow was the line, and the struggle intensified to the point of the killing of GP militant Pierre Overney in 1972 by a Renault plant security policeman Jean-Antoine Tramoni.

Of course GP did not make the escalation into ‘terrorism’ or armed struggle, although the killer of Pierre Overney was himself killed in a commando ‘action’. A former editor of their paper La Cause du Peuple, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec later reflected that the strategies of GP had an unfortunate influence on German and Italian groups in their turn to armed struggle (he also criticised the killing of Tramoni). What seems to be the missing link in Baumann’s account is the collapse of this link to workplace struggles, although a similar dynamic developed with the Red Brigades. We see a locked spiral of escalation, illegalisation, mediatisation, and alienation of struggle. Baumann himself proves the best critique of this departure from any grounding milieu and the strange transformation of the urban guerilla into a figure dressed like a young executive, robbing banks, and developing new technical skills.

What ‘terrorism’ constructed then, in this spiral of complicity pointed out by Debord,[1] was the occlusion of this ‘mass’ dimension of violent struggle. One of the valid points made in Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions (2007) is the widespread nature of acts of violence never reported and never claimed. [2] In the Italian context the concept arose of ‘counter-power in the pocket’ of ‘my comrade the P 38’ (giving an unlikely link to the debates about Spinozan ‘potential’). Here the use of the weapon was posed as self-defence within the context of the demonstration or action. Of course, both forms of action collapsed under militarised repression. Instead of ‘One, Two, Three, Many Vietnams’ it became a matter, as one Italian radical put it, of ‘One, Two, Three, Many New Yorks’: the counter-attack of not only direct repression but also fiscal capitalism (passing now under the name of neo-liberalism) that dislocated the forms of mass agency that supplied some minimal consistency to the violent (if not always armed) struggle.

All the confusions of Baumann’s memoir can perhaps be summed up in this lapidary reflection: ‘Stalin was actually a type like us: he made it, one of the few who made it. But then it got heavy.’

[1] ‘Quite to the contrary, it is because a large number of Italian workers have escaped being enrolled by the Stalinist trade union police that the "Red Brigade," whose illogical and blind terrorism could only embarrass them, was set in motion, and that the mass media seized the opportunity to recognize in the "brigade" their advanced detachment of troops and their disquieting leaders beyond the shadow of a doubt.’

[2] The major historical problem with the novel, leaving aside various flaws or problems in its formal construction, is the running together of the history of the Angry Brigade with that of the R.A.F.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Lovecraft Event Part 3

Agreeing with Houellebecq we could say that racism is at the core of Lovecraft’s texts, although this molten core of jouissance is unstable and even illusory. In this way Lovecraft’s texts can capture the chaotic effect of the promise of jouissance, incarnated through the surplus “value” of capitalism in what Lovecraft calls “amusement value”. For Lovecraft horror at this demands the response of a

psychology of non-calculative, non-competitive disinterestedness, truthfulness, courage, & generosity fostered by good education, minimum economic stress, and assumed position, & just as achievable through socialism as through aristocracy. (Lovecraft in Joshi, 2000)

It is racism, however, that still plays the factor of embodying the degeneration and horror of the “chaos” of capitalist relations, which is of course linked through the concept of the “alien” to his cosmic horror. In this sense Lovecraft disavows the loss of jouissance that he recognises as the function of a deceptive “amusement value.”

Therefore the “Lovecraft event” remains poised on this fault-line of chaos, at once registering horror and trying to constrain or limit this effect of chaos to the racially Other or to his own weird fictions. In a sense we could say that unregulated capitalism and quantum physics both feed the destabilising effects that Lovecraft “diagnoses” in his fiction. It is not a matter of reducing one to the other, and offering either a social or a naturalistic “explanation” of this chaos. Neither, I would say, is it a matter of complete separation between them, but rather a matter of tracing a continuity or entanglement between them in terms of matching the impasses of the “social” and the impasses of “nature.” Chaos is the limit of both, and marks the point where neither can provide a stable prop to the other. In that sense it is the point of mutual collapse, where both “nature” and the “social” no longer function consistently. Allied with the sense of horror at this inconsistency we can suggest a refusal to simply celebrate chaos, which could slip all too easily into the celebration of the symmetry of “chaotic” nature with the deregulated forces of free-market capitalism.

The celebration of chaos is also found in those reversals of Lovecraft, which play on his own texts’ attraction to horror to suggest we love the alien. In this way Lovecraft’s horror at and fear of chaos is passed off as the effect of his reactionary position, whereas today our avant-garde references support the chaotic. This is explored in Grant Morrison’s excellent short story “Lovecraft in Heaven” (1994), which skilfully traces Lovecraft’s monsters in terms of his anxieties concerning miscegenation and femininity. Morrison stages an exchange between a dying Lovecraft and his character Professor George Angell from “The Call of Cthulhu”. Where Lovecraft decides that a world of chaos is a nightmare Angell replies “Only if you fear it” and Lovecraft’s hallucinatory recitation of his misogynist horror, which he names as hell, is, for Angell “Quite the reverse” (18). In this narrative the character of Angell “opens Lovecraft like a door” (18), a door leading to a new perception where what was seen as horror is no longer seen as such. Morrison’s anarchist aesthetic shifts away from Lovecraft’s reactionary fear of chaos into an embrace of chaos and the richly archetypal resonances of Lovecraft’s anti-mythology.

This gesture is common to a number of contemporary readings and elaborations of Lovecraft (such as those by Alan Moore and a number of other occultists and “chaos” magicians). It develops from the re-positioning of his work within the context of contemporary avant-garde experimentation in both the arts and the sciences. In art we have seen the emergence of new forms of body art or abject art that probe the potential of human bodies to be transformed, whether biologically or technically. This is what the film director David Cronenberg has called “the new flesh,” which only appears as horrible from within the confines of the traditional image of the secure and fixed boundaries of the body. Also, in science, there has emerged the new “paradigm” of chaos, which emphasises the complexity that can be generated by simple systems. Although “chaos science” might equally be described as a science of order, because it traces the emergence of order from chaos, in the popular imagination it has come to suggest instability, unpredictability, and disorder. The new valorisation of the body and the chaotic marks a shift towards what we could call the optimistic reading of Lovecraft.

Certainly this is an attractive vision, after all who wants to be a reactionary racist and old positivist like Lovecraft? However, I want to make a qualified defence of Lovecraft’s sense of horror at chaos and the body. Although Lovecraft was a reactionary (despite a shift to the centre-left in his political views later in his life), the question concerns what he was reacting against? His horror of chaos could be seen as not simply a rejection of hybridity, femininity, and new perceptual modes, but also the rejection of new forms of dominance that take on a chaotic form – the lure of “amusement value” as promised realisation of jouissance. Alain Badiou has remarked the emphasis on the powers of the body might present itself as revolutionary but it mirrors the ideology of contemporary capitalism. The body that transforms itself is the body that conforms to the chaos of market capitalism, which demands a malleable body open to new desires and new patterns of consumption. At the same time, chaos science and the merging of machines and biology have been promoted as consonant with the free-market ideology of cyber-capitalism (this is particularly evident in the work of those around the US computer journal Wired, and has been nicknamed “the Californian ideology”).

Lovecraft’s horror might well be inflected, or re-evaluated, today by anti-capitalists as straining to represent the “unrepresentable” horror of capitalism – particularly in its “chaotic” form. Therefore fidelity to the “Lovecraft event” involves the rejection of the ideological dominant of a capitalism that exploits avant-garde strategies. At the same time, perhaps seemingly paradoxically, it involves us welcoming the destabilisation hyper-chaos inflicts on reality and ontology; not for its supposed consonance with market capitalism but for a destabilisation in which reality disturbs the humanist dominated conceptions of philosophy and imposes a real impasse. While this chaos seems to only offer radical disorientation it also demands the making of new forms of orientation without any guaranteed structure of discipline and orientation. Not jettisoning “reality” or, which amounts to the same thing, leaving it as the infinitely malleable result of human “construction” or perception (itself consonant with a capitalist ideology of “perpetual transformation”). The pass through this impasse is the Lovecraft event.

References (Part 3)
Alain Badiou, “Democratic materialism and the materialist dialectic.” Trans. Alberto Toscano. Radical Philosophy 130 (2005): 20-24.
Michel Houellebecq, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (1991). Trans. Dorna Khazeni. Intro. Stephen King (San Francisco: Believer Books, 2005), pp.105-109.
S. T. Joshi, ‘H. P. Lovecraft’, The Scriptorium 2000.
Grant Morrison, “Lovecraft in Heaven.” In The Starry Wisdom: A tribute to H. P. Lovecraft. Ed. D. M. Mitchell (London and San Francisco: Creation Books, 1994), pp.13-18.

Lovecraft Event Part 2

Although the common, and false, image of Lovecraft is as a reclusive antiquarian obsessed by a heavily idealised New England past, we have seen how he is familiar with the most advanced and experimental currents of his time in the arts and sciences. His relation to these currents is, of course, a reactive or even reactionary one. Does this preclude formal inventiveness? Alain Badiou states, ‘[t]o resist the call of the new, it is again necessary to create arguments of resistance adjusted to the novelty itself. From this point of view, every reactive disposition is contemporary with the present against which it reacts’ (in Clemens 290). In the formation of “reactionary novelties” (Badiou) Lovecraft can be aligned with those forms of “High Modernism,” such as T. S. Eliot’s, that constituted themselves, in Peter Nicholls words, as “an attack on modernity” (251). The difficulty, in terms of Badiou’s evental tracings, is how Lovecraft’s “novelty” is something artistically “new” while at the same time “politically” reactionary (and reactionary against other artistic innovations); it suggests the intersection or imbrication of events: in this case art, science, politics.

His reaction against these currents of the new produces a “reactionary novelty,” but actually also a true novelty of disruption that exceeds its primary evental site – Gothic fiction; this may be why that it only outside of the Gothic that we find Lovecraft’s true disciples: William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, and Michel Houellebecq, artists like H. R. Giger and John Coulthart, and muscians like The Fall and Patti Smith. The Lovecraft event therefore problematises Badiou’s formulation of the artistic event by being a reactionary event that produces something new.

For the “Lovecraft event” the experimental forms of the “New” provide the points of resistance against which he forms his “images” of horror qua chaos. The “reactionary novelty” of his position is that is through this opposition “gratified by images” that Lovecraft forms an “image” of the real as the “structure” (or better said “anti-structure”) of the physical universe. His horror emerges precisely through the rupture with our usual perception of this physical universe as bound by law, and results from “a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” (Lovecraft in Joshi 2000) This then is the moment of the suspension of the laws of physical reality itself. In Lovecraft’s own case such an intuition of horror emerges from his struggle with the damage inflicted on his mechanistic materialism by the new discoveries in quantum theory, as S. T. Joshi remarks “I do not know how well Lovecraft really came to terms with indeterminacy” (2000). I’d be tempted to add very well, if we conceive it under the sign of horror. At the same time this “reactionary novelty” is also what generates the true novelty in Lovecraft.

For Lovecraft the bulwark against this “chaos”, this horror, the “one anchor of fixity” (in Joshi 2000), is tradition. This is why this horror of chaos is not only figured at the level of physical matter but also folded onto a horror of mass democracy, not least through the dimension of racism. The forces of “democracy” threaten the eroding of tradition, although Lovecraft recognises the role played by capitalism in this process as well. These forces find their representation in the figures of the masses of alien Others that throng the spaces of the city (cf. “He” (1925) and “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925)). Rather than seeing Lovecraft’s racism as an inexplicable lapse (pace Joshi) I would suggest we see it as the “anchoring point” that meta-sutures tradition. As Lacan predicted in Television racism arises again in the competition over jouissance engendered by the fracturing of social relations and, as Miller puts it, “is founded on what one imagines about the Other’s jouissance.” (79) The monstrous imaginings Lovecraft has about the Other’s jouissance stabilise the forces of chaos outside and in opposition to the forces of tradition. It is just this schema which Lovecraft’s own fictions undermine and collapse through their admission of miscegnation, most effectively in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1931); in this story “chaos” is at once warded off but only to become the very foundation and origin of the universe, the world, the human race, and the Lovecraftian hero himself.

“The Call of Cthulhu” locates and stabilises the core of racism in the “degenerate” cultists who “worship” Cthulhu in the swamps of Louisiana. These cultists form an “indescribable horde of human abnormality,” composed of “hybrid spawn” (152); once again we can see the link with the fears of mass democracy and the crowd. Those captured during the police raid led by Inspector Legrasse are found to “be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type.” (153) This racism is also correlated with jouissance, not only in the ceremonies themselves but also in the state promised by the return of the Great Old Ones:
The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. (155)
The result is a kind of Nietzschean materialist “heaven” on earth, recognisable later in the libidinal materialisms of Deleuze and Guattari or Lyotard. It is also, very probably, the result of a category error that supposes the Great Old Ones require “worship” and the mediation of humans to return – the story is somewhat ambiguous on this second point. This traditional topos of the rewards for the devil-worshipper is displaced by Lovecraft’s cosmicism of an indifferent universe.

References (Part 2)
Justin Clemens, 'Had We But Worlds Enough and Time This Absolute, Philosopher...'
, Cosmos and History 2 (1-2) (2006): 277-310.
S. T. Joshi, ‘
H. P. Lovecraft’, The Scriptorium 2000.
H. P. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. and Intro. S. T. Joshi (London: Penguin. 1999).
Jacques-Alain Miller, “Extimité.” In Lacanian Theory of Discourse. Eds. Bracher, Mark et al (New York and London: New York University Press, 1994), pp.74-87
Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995

Lovecraft Event Part 1

Fundamentally, my position comes down to the nonadmission of chaos as the ultimate referential figure of the universe.
Alain Badiou (“Matters of Appearance” 322)

The Lovecraft event is the result of a singular knotting of art, science, and politics that produces a new materialist fiction of chaos. Lovecraft writes:

The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality – when it must be ratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and mensurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt – as well as to gratify the cognate sense of curiosity? (Lovecraft xvi)

Abandoning a semi-mystical discourse of contradiction, which would oppose another “weird” world to this one, Lovecraft insists on the supplemental and non-supernatural form of his art. These supplements do not contradict the laws of the known universe but they suspend them to re-inscribe chaos within law (prefiguring the work of Quentin Meillassoux).

To achieve this suspension of the law Lovecraft forces a pass through the avant-gardes of his time, in both art and science. The key text in which Lovecraft provides a kind of “manifesto” of this forcing is “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928). This point arrives reaches saturation in Lovecraft’s description of Cthulhu’s “home” – the ancient and alien city of R’lyeh:

Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city; for instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces – surfaces too great to belong to any thing right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention this talk about angles because it suggests something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He has said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours. (Lovecraft 165-6)

What we find here is the precise combination of avant-garde art (futurism) with avant-garde mathematics (non-Euclidean) as the resources for the figuration of horror.

In the case of Futurism Lovecraft could not be further from the Italian Futurists enthusiastic endorsement of the new machine age and longing for a new type of “biomechanical man,” which can be found in a work like that of the second-generation Futurist Tullio Crali’s “Nose Dive on the City” (1939).
While Lovecraft does not share this machine aesthetic he does share the Futurists’ anti-humanism and materialism. This link is most evident in the Futurists’ more cubist fragmentation of the body, such as in Severini’s self-portrait of 1912. In this image the figure of the face and body is broken down into multiple perceptual planes that disrupt the coherence of the face in particular – exploding it. This rupturing or expansion of human perception is typical of Lovecraft’s own references to alien realms “crowded with indescribably angled masses of alien-hued substance” and composed of “clusters of cubes and planes” (“Dreams” 118).

This gesture of fragmentation is reinforced by Lovecraft’s reference to the non-Euclidean geometries discovered by Gauss, Lobatchevsky, and Bolyai in the 19th Century. In the words of the historian of mathematics Morris Kline: “[i]t is fair to say that no more cataclysmic event has ever taken place in the history of thought” (Kline 478). This cataclysm is the result of severing the link, supposed by Kant for example, between Euclidean geometry and the actual geometry of the physical world. The fact that non-Euclidean geometries could be valid descriptions of physical space forced the slow recognition that Euclidean geometry was simply a system of thought, different from physical space. This also problematised the accepted truth status of Euclid’s axioms; these axioms were “true” but they were not the fundamental or absolute truth of the physical universe. Lovecraft would exploit this “cataclysm” in the cause of horror – with the non-Euclidean as “abnormal”: while the accepted truth of Euclidean geometry is that the sum of the angles of any triangle always equals 180°, for the non-Euclidean geometry of Bolyai and Lobatchevsky this sum is always less than 180° and for Riemann’s geometry always greater than 180°.

In “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (1933) Lovecraft actually cast a student mathematician named Gilman as his unlikely hero. With amusing understatement the story states:

Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard. Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.
(“Dreams” 113-114)
Quite so. This quotation shows how Lovecraft integrates science with horror to demonstrate that his horrors have a scientific basis, with occult texts providing “terrible hints” (“Dreams” 114) of the new quantum order of reality – in the “suspension” of physical “laws” (at least in the mechanistic form of Lovecraft’s own materialism).

References (Part 1)
Alain Badiou, “Matters of Appearance: Interview with Lauren Sedofsky.” Artforum XLIV 9 (2006): 246-253, 322.
Morris Kline, Mathematics in Western Culture (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987)
H. P. Lovecraft. “The Dreams in the Witch-House.” In At the Mountains of Madness (St. Albans, Panther: 1968), pp.113-148
H. P. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. and Intro. S. T. Joshi (London: Penguin. 1999).

The University

IT with some thoughts on what the university is (good) for (avoiding Jacques-Alain Miller's Maoist phase argument 'absolutely nothing' - strangely the French government thought that might conflict with his role as a university academic). In so many of the situations of the new bureaucracy this comment from Žižek comes to mind: ‘in a bureaucracy caught in the vicious cycle of jouissance, the ultimate crime is to simply and directly do the job one is supposed to do’
(‘Odradek as a Political Category’, Lacanian Ink 24 / 25 (Winter / Spring 2005): 136-155, p.140).

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Horror, The Horror

For those not sated by Collapse IV Reza has a very fair-minded review of the issue coupled to a revised version of the paper he was kind enough to provide for the booklet for one of the weird event days at Goldsmiths. In particular I find these comments are valuable:
"Ironically nothing has been more disastrous for thinking horror than the overabundance of vacuous cruelties or absurd maladies; for it is relatively easy to mimic a battlefield, a bodily decomposition in a text, image or music. If horror is already everywhere, or in other words, if horror has already been culminated, thinking horror can easily turn into a case study, counting its countless manifestations."
"There is something profoundly wrong and terrible with humans"
"The openness of humans toward horrors is inevitably an economical venture for mining that which is affordable."
I hope to post a short series on Lovecraft that was distributed for one of the weird events shorn of their Lacanian elements. They provide a little clearer context for my paper in Collapse IV and indicate a rather primitive attempt to coordinate the political with a naturalism of horror.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sharpen the Contradictions

This new post by Steven Shaviro speaks closely both to the conjuncture and my concerns in my ongoing book project The Persistence of the Negative. I share his scepticism concerning the symmetry between absolute pessimism and voluntarism / subjectivism, although, as I'll hopefully be elaborating at length, I would argue for a negativity that precisely acts on the ontological fabric of capitalism qua real abstractions. Such a negativity would not cultivate the subject or restore it as spectacle, in fact I'm not sure negativity can be entirely correlated with the subject at all (this is a speculative, not to say unsubstantiable, argument...).
It is worth reading Shaviro's post alongside Gregory Elliott's remarkable (although also very expensive) Ends in Sight (2008). Elliott too makes the point that Marx's success as analyst of capitalism means little when cut off from possible agency to destroy it. Contrary his earlier more sceptical discussion of Perry Anderson (in The Merciless Laboratory of History) now Elliott comes around to Andersonian pessimism. As he puts it in his conclusion, regarding the alter-globalisation movement, 'The cruces of an alternative - agency, organisation, strategy, goal - that could command the loyalties and energies of the requisite untold millions await anything approaching resolution.' (p.111)
This pessimism feeds into a query prompted by the fascinating paper by Nick Gray and Rob Lucas: "Formal and Real Subsumption - Logical or Historical Categories?" at the Marxism and Philosophy day. They quoted Jacques Camatte's argument that real subsumption absolishes formal mediations (unions, the welfare state, the parties of the third international; all 'positive' conceptions of the proletariat) and so leads to a sharpening of antagonism. What, however, if its doesn't? Perhaps this situation accounts for the oscillation noted above: in the absence of the mediating instances (no matter how flawed) and without the sharpening of antagonism oscillation between voluntarism and pessimism become 'structural' features. Badiou's work of the 1970s, soon to be issued by, is relevant here as he traces the symmetry between Althusserian structuralism and the voluntarism of Gauche Prolétarienne.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Correlationism Ha Ha Ha

By materialism we understand above all acknowledgement of the priority of nature over 'mind', or if you like, of the physical level over the biological level, and of the biological level over the socio-economic and cultural level; both in the sense of chronological priority (the very long time which supervened before life appeared on earth, and between the origin of life and the origin of man), and in the sense of the conditioning which nature still exercises on man and will continue to exercise at least for the foreseeable future. Cognitively, therefore, the materialist maintains that experience cannot be reduced either to a production of reality by a subject (however such production is conceived) or to a reciprocal implication of subject and object. We cannot, in other words, deny or evade the element of passivity in experience: the external situation which we do not create but which imposes itself on us. Nor can we in any way reabsorb this external datum by making it a mere negative moment in the activity of the subject, or by making both the subject and the object mere moments, distinguishable only in abstraction, of a single effective reality constituted by experience.

Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism (1975), p.34

This is not to simply make a rather vacuous point of intellectual priority, and neither is it to deny the way in which Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude offers a devastating 'internal' ruination of correlationism. It is, however, to signal a certain number of anxieties I have concerning his work and its take up.
  1. The anxiety that renaming his speculative materialism as speculative realism is a sign (admittedly minor) of de-politicisation. This is reinforced by the tendency to dissociate Meillassoux from Badiou.
  2. The uninhibited lumping in of all Marxism with correlationism. This was the point of my fortunately tiny intervention in the debate on Speculative Realism recorded in Collapse III. While Timpanaro was fighting against Hegelian and Platonic interpretations of Marxism, and his work is a minor and not unproblematic current (I especially have my doubts concerning his critique of Freud), he at the minimum signals difficulties with this maneuver.
  3. Certainly so-called materialisms can merely amount to inverted idealisms - erecting one type of matter above all others in the function of an ideal. This point was made long ago by Bataille and commented on here. When Graham Harman re-insists on the point it seems to me to veer dangerously close to excluding Marxist forms of materialism for problems which haunt many (even all?) materialisms.
  4. Meillassoux's article 'Spectral Dilemma' in Collapse IV compounds these issues. On a cursory reading, which I realise is not philosophically acceptable, the article seems to me to use his radicalised reading of contingency to rehabilitate ethics and theology ('inexistent God' yes, but...) towards a new irrationalism. Robin was kind enough to position my very poor article as a critical response despite it being written without awareness of Meillassoux's piece.
  5. To choose just one example from those lumped in as correlationists - the most deeply unfashionable - isn't Derrida's quasi-concept of the 'trace' resistant to simple characterisation as correlated to the human subject?