Even without taking into account the vast inequalities that exist on a global scale, it is clear that we are living in an age of profound anti-egalitarianism and loneliness. In our own country [the UK], there is an underworld of suffering lurking beneath a surface-world of consumerist fantasy and lifestyle myths. The essential assertion of the following essay is that the best way to counteract this climate of negativity and radical privacy is through a socialism that is founded in the extraordinary potential of the ordinary, the populist, the community level, the everyday, a socialism that derives its identity from the belief that we are better off in teams than we are as isolated individuals.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Monday, 14 November 2011
This purer capitalism of our own time thus eliminates the enclaves of precapitalist organization it had hitherto tolerated and exploited in a tributary way: one is tempted to speak in this connection of a new and historically original penetration and colonization of Nature and the Unconscious.
The majority of wines, almost all spirits, and every one of the beers whose memory I have evoked here have today completely lost their tastes – first on the world market and then locally – with the progress of industry as well as the disappearance or economic re-education of the social classes that had long remained independent of large industrial production, and so too of the various regulations that now prohibit virtually anything that is not industrially produced. The bottles, so that they can still be sold, have faithfully retained their labels; this attention to detail provides the assurance that one can photograph them as they used to be, not drink them.
He concludes: ‘Never in a drunkard’s memory would one have fathomed that drinks could disappear before the drinker.’
We could multiply instances of this melancholy nostalgia, from laments on the destruction of the Paris of his youth, to the sardonic reflections from his film In girum imus nocte et consimimur igni (1978) on the misery of the food and the lifestyles of the servants of the spectacle, who are even reduced to the state of filling their own cars with petrol. More seriously, Debord’s representation of the actions of the Situationist International through images of the charge of the light brigade or Custer’s last stand, suggest an ethics of heroic failure, in which doomed avant-gardes pass away in the waters of time. Debord’s final conclusion, in Comments, seems to echo Jameson’s:
Beyond a legacy of old books and old buildings, still of some significance but destined to continual reduction and, moreover, increasingly highlighted and classified to suit the spectacle’s requirements, there remains nothing, in culture or in nature, which has not been transformed, and polluted, according to the means and interests of modern industry.
Debord himself was notably obsessed with the baroque, and especially with the arts of conspiracy and the strategic conception of politics. The difficulty, which is obvious, is that although he might have conceived of his project as a negativity sapping forms from within without the revival of non-Leninist revolutionary politics the result could simply be a worsening ‘bad new’. Debord, at least, refused the possibility of revelling in this capitalist nihilism, but the alternative – melancholic contemplation – seems to result in auto-dissolution and self-satisfaction.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Monday, 3 October 2011
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
At Columbia University on the Upper West Side of New York, the entering history student was faced with the Historiography course (History g6000x) taught by Peter Gay, the brilliant historian of the bourgeoisie. He compared us as captives. Our problems, as students, he wrote in a brochure for each of us, were Laziness and Stupidity. ‘You are joining a profession in which competition is tough, and life is hard’. ‘In the months to come’, he warned, ‘you will hear, and perhaps tell, stories of injustice and neglect, but it might just be that not all of these stories are true.’
Friday, 16 September 2011
Monday, 12 September 2011
Now the Spaghetti Western is used as a defence against the charge of advocating violence.When Stille cites phrases from my old books they are all butchered and taken out of context. For example, he cites the ominous sentence “No pity for our enemies!” but fails to say that it was clearly in my text an ironic citation from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western film.
Friday, 26 August 2011
The theory is the model, experimentation consists of isolating the empirical correlate which materializes the model; the experimental apparatus [must allow] for a separating effect exhibiting an approximate realization of the form.(p.38)'
(p.39)It is impossible to set a theoretical conception of history against real history defined by its very complexity - its empirical impurity. In Marxist epistemology the complexity is constructed according to the concepts of a theory. . . . It is the proper task of a theory of history to give an account of the nature of real society.
Obviously, Badiou in his more Althusserian moment, but I'll leave parsing/explanation to the real experts...
Thursday, 25 August 2011
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Friday, 24 June 2011
DH Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent
Somewhat ironically I only read this novel due to its footnote mention in Badiou's The Century, but if you want anti-socialist vitalism it's the place to go. Also, don't forget the hilarious dismissal of female orgasm, and the 'man is a column of blood, woman a valley of blood' either...
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
'Debt to the situation translates into a sense of "responsibility," like the artist who today finds him/herself in the midst of capitalism in crisis - nothing new there! - and is compelled to make art out of a sense of pathos and guilt rather than affirmation.'
Of course this is, for them, a bad thing. It's not just deliberate perversity, although that may play a part, but what's so wrong about a sense of 'responsibility' (and why the scare quotes?) and making art out of a sense of pathos and guilt? Less in favour of pathos, but guilt would be fine. Also, capitalism in midst of crisis is nothing new, well not in the technical sense but isn't this a slightly larger crisis? (perhaps leave this to Paul Mattick).
Of course I've written at length critically about affirmation, but even if one is affirmative I think the unspoken obviousness that is implied here might need a little more justification. Simply to mention 'responsibility', 'pathos' or, even worse, 'guilt', is supposed to raise post-Nietzschean hackles like an inbuilt-reflex (never made the maudlin pathos of much of Nietzsche and Nietzschean - all heroic strength while complaining about being 'dragged down' by those evil Christian / socialist / anarchist masses...).
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
As opposed to the rational, 'calculating' character of the Protestant-capitalist 'spirit' which is often all too strongly emphasized, its irrational features must be particularly pointed out. There lies an ultimate lack of order at the very root of this whole way of life, rationalized and calculated down to the last detail as an 'ideal type', this whole 'business' of private life, family and firm: the accounts do not, after all, add up - neither in the particular, nor in the general 'business'. (10)
Marcuse goes on to argue that this irrationality at the base is figured in the theological and philosophical, such as in the function of the terrible 'hidden God' for Calvinism. Our de-theologized version seems to incarnate this kind of function in terms of luck or fate, or in a kind of pseudo-Machieavellian capacity for fortuna. Obviously, today, bourgeois society embraces a 'logic' of chaos, flux and perpetual revolution, rather than a logic of rationalization, but the return to the antinomy of the Protestant ethic as ideology demonstrates, I think, our living in its pseudo-reversal.
In terms of the dialectic of rationality it is, perhaps, time to rehabilitate Marcuse's insight that 'society's material process of production has in many instances been rationalized down to the last detail - but as a whole it remains 'irrational'' (11), precisely because it blocks the realization of reason. In fact, as Alberto pointed out to me, we could also take this point through the path of Badiou - in his insistence that representation is not the reduction of some eternally rich prior state but an excess that requires our 'measurement' to bring it under critique.
Therefore, what I am suggesting, is a more critical analysis of the alignments of 'rationality', an unpicking of the 'irrationality' at the basis of the capitalist order, because that's the case, and that to impute 'rationality', emergent or otherwise, to capitalism risks blocking the true realization of rationality - not least in the forms of rationality embedded already through struggle.
Sunday, 20 February 2011
Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967)
This is not only a film found on a scrap-heap, but we might say a film found on a dung-heap, considering its relentlessly ‘excremental vision’, a veritable scatological apocalypse. This is a ‘shit film’, quite literally as we will see.
The obvious reference is to Georges Bataille, the image ‘anal/yse’ appears before Corinne’s monologue – fantasy or nightmare or reality – of scenes which deliberately mimic the anal eroticism of Bataille’s 1928 novel Story of the Eye (which makes it to wikipedia’s cultural references for the novel), and we could also add the more esoteric reference that ‘Emily Brönte’ appears as a character in the film and in one of the ‘case studies’ in Bataille’s Literature and Evil is dedicated to her work. But, at the most general level, Godard adopts Bataille’s ‘heterological’ vision he articulated in the 1920s and 1930s of ‘an irruption of excremental forces’ (1985: 92) that void value. The revolution, for Bataille erupts from the ‘materialist bowels of proletarians’ (1985: 35), while class struggle, for Bataille and Godard, is an excremental apocalypse in which everything turns to shit. Here the excremental is revolutionary, the apocalyptic crisis of the bourgeois order, although Godard casts this in the satirical form of cannibal revolutionaries, producing one last ingestion of the bourgeois order and voiding we don’t know what.
In fact, as Godard’s film registers, this ‘excremental vision’ is, however, split: we have the revolutionary anality of Bataille, in which the heterological forces open a re-enchantment and re-sacralisation of reality, but also the anality of capitalist production, with its cycles of digestion and voiding in ‘creative destruction’.
Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death (1959) analyses this split vision. First, we have Jonathan Swift’s ‘excremental vision’ that reveals the anality of culture and the psyche, and Swift’s Menippean satire seems an obvious antecedent of Godard. In Brown’s words, ‘for Swift [scatological imagery] ... becomes the decisive weapon in his assault on the pretensions, the pride, even the self-respect of mankind.’ (1977: 179) And yet the revelation by Swift of the excremental core that wrecks human dignity is also the historical revelation of the anal economy of capitalism itself, as Eli Zaretsky notes: ‘Capitalism at root, Brown argued, was socially organized anality: beneath the pseudo-individuated genitality of early modern society, its driving force was literally the love of shit’ (2003), and the chapter on Weekend in the discussion between Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki on Godard is titled ‘Anal Capitalism’ (1998: 85-142).
The equivocation of the ‘driving force’ of capitalism, the question whether this anal economy of incorporation, digestion, and excretion that Bataille traces can be derailed into an ecstatic and apocalyptic voiding, is redoubled in the moment of the scatological apocalypse. Again, we equivocate on the waste of a decomposing culture, and can ask is this ‘a nourishing decomposition’? (Badiou, 2007: 45) Is Godard’s vision of the termination of capitalism, and the re-birth of a new order, or merely mired in on the scrap-heap? In Swift’s words, will we find ‘Such gaudy Tulips rais’d from Dung’? (‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’, 1732). In what sense can this rotten core revealed by Godard surpass the capitalism it relentlessly anal-yses; are we left in the shit, or can this rot manure a new order? The turn of the screw Weekend applies is that we no longer have socialism or barbarism, but barbarism per se, but is this barbarism as the way to socialism? For Farocki, ‘there is the suggestion that under the thin veneer of this “civilization” beats the heart of a more affectively vital “barbarism.”’ (Farocki, 1998: 91) For Godard’s ‘revolutionaries’: ‘We can only overcome the horror of the bourgeoisie by even more horror.’ (Godard, 1972: 98) An excremental vitalism emerges, based on the ‘nourishing decomposition’ of capitalism, the revelation of ‘a disagreeable and terminal stagnation’ destroying ‘the prestige of industrial reality’ (Bataille, 1985: 92). This is the promise that ‘Weekend is not about the end of the world – it is simply about the end of our world.’ (Wood, 1972: 11) In this case one world ends in horror to give birth to a new world presumably without horror, although whether this horror will operate peacably as a vanishing mediator seems unlikely in the terms of the film. Ironically before the moment of May ’68 that would lead to its re-invigoration, in Godard’s film we have a kind of terminal vision of Badiou’s ‘passion for the real’ (Badiou, 2007) – the revelation of the real is the revelation of cannibal extinction. The dialectic in this ‘passion’ between voluntarist vitalism and historicist confirmation is ruptured in Godard’s film through a regression as ‘vitality’ detaches itself from history, and pulverises history into a mythic space of social degree-zero and auto-consumption.
If capitalism is all shit, if we have an ‘anal capitalism’ that levels all into general equivalence, then the end of everything is required in a final voiding. The apocalyptic tone is required prior to some ‘future’, a full decomposition to consume that rotting culture. Godard, as Silverman notes ‘launches an extended assault upon all forms of abstraction.’ (Silverman, 1998: 96) With abstraction, itself the organisation of levelling and equivalence through value, voided, we have what appears to be another abstraction of absolute barbarism. This voiding and levelling of abstraction takes its own revenge, as a kind of capitalist nihilism or exhaustion that turns the film once again into shit. The signs equivocate again, and the ‘liberation’ of the anal, of the ‘excremental forces’, is, to again quote Silverman, ‘not the utopian sexual liberation hailed by Hocquenghem thirty years ago, but the catastrophic end of all singularity. What we might call “anal capitalism” decrees the commensurability of “male” and “female,” but only by consigning both, along with Weekend itself, to the cosmic scrap heap.’ (1998: 111) The apocalypse reveals then not another revolutionary order, the film as gate to May ’68 which redeems its hippy-cannibal revolutionaries into the ‘good hippies’ of libidinal revolt, but watched again at the point of the voiding of the capitalist order in crisis, seems also to reveal a terminal levelling of capital itself.
Recuperation, re-digestion, an anal biopolitical economy à la Salo beckons. The irrecuperable ‘foreign body’ becomes an object of jouissance, of self-disgust that returns to bourgeois narcissism. Revolution itself is circular: ‘There is even the familiar suggestion, rendered concretely in the film in terms of similarities and parallels in their rituals — eggs and fish between girls’ thighs – that the revolutionary society will be another formulation of the murderously bourgeois one we knew already.’ (Williams, 1971: 13) The exit is out of satire.
Few films declared their horror, their contempt for the Western bourgeoisie as explicitly and as unrelentingly as did Godard's Weekend, the work immediately preceding Le Gai Savoir. Yet the bourgeoisie adored it. In spite of some critics' outrage, this film remained eminently recuperable: it had the largest commercial success of all Godard's films. Denouncing a certain way of life, its viewing became one more obligatory ritual making up that way of life. Something more had to be done, some way had to be found to shortcircuit this embarrassing complicity with an audience he no longer sought to please. If a revolutionary film was to be made, if a film was actually to embody, rather than comfortably proclaim an absolute refusal of the status quo, it presupposed a radical reconsideration of what film is: a stepping outside of all conventions, even those of parody and satire. (Kavanagh, 1973: 52)
And yet the collapse of Godard’s political certainties, and those of his critics, re-locate the satire or parody of Weekend in our moment: the Weekend of crisis, the bursting of the bubble, abandonment of house and car as debt-loaded ‘hostile objects’ (Williams, 2011), and excremental or cannibal hostility that shapes the decomposing culture of capitalism. The impasse of Godard’s film was to be saved through political praxis, but the decomposition of capitalism and of that praxis makes the ‘levelling’ of Weekend if not ‘radically funny’, at least necessary again.
Badiou, A., 2007. The Century. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Oxford: Polity.
Bataille, G., 1985. Visions of Excess. Ed. Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Brown, Norman O., 1977. Life Against Death. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Godard, J-L., 1972. Weekend / Wind from the East. London: Lorrimer Publishing.
Kavanagh, T. M., 1973. ‘Godard's Revolution: The Politics of Meta-Cinema’, Diacritics 3.2: 49-56.
Silverman, K. and H. Farocki, 1998. Speaking About Godard. New York: New York University Press.
Williams, C., 1971. ‘Politics and Production’, Screen 12.4: 6-24.
Williams, E. C. 2011. ‘Hostile Object Theory’, Mute.
Wood, R., 1972, ‘Godard and Weekend’, in Godard, 1972, pp.5-14.
Zaretsky, E., 2003. ‘Obituary: Norman O. Brown (1913-2002)’, Radical Philosophy 118.
 ‘In Weekend the class struggle is seen as a violent, anarchistic, apocalyptic clash rather than as a struggle between socialised forces.’ (Williams, 1971: 13).
 See also Wood’s rather touching remark: ‘The film postulates, rather convincingly, the irrelevance, uselessness, and ultimate disintegration of everything I have always believed in, worker for, and found worth living for, and I don’t think I can be unique or even unusual in this.’ (11-12)
Monday, 7 February 2011
In a long passage Adorno anatomises this situation in which 'Although positivist science indignantly rejects the concept of objective spirit as metaphysics, this concept is becoming more and more palpable.' In the culture industry individuals experience a 'split consciousness' between what they consider correct and 'what they believe corresponds to the schema of the industry they disparage'. But they choose the schema, so there is no need for heavy-handed 'discipline', and when one attacks any concrete instance 'there is nothing one can get hold of'.
Adorno links this to a generalised dispersion of responsibility, and certainly I've been involved in more than a few meetings in which such 'decisions' have taken place. The worst decisions are made but no-one is responsible, because responsibility is displaced onto the imaginary Other. As a very minor example, virtually every book I've published has had its title changed by publishers, and not on their own behalf but that of 'prospective readers' (few enough...). Adorno goes on to note the effect of 'reified guilt' as we all become responsible for these 'decisions' that are never made by anyone and so made by all...
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Thursday, 13 January 2011
Sunday, 9 January 2011
In our mythology, violence is caught up in the same prejudice as literature or art: we can attribute to it no other function than that of expressing a content, an inwardness, a nature, of which it is the primary, savage, asystematic language ... [it is] an anterior, sovereignly original force.' (103)
In contrast the violence of the Zengakuren 'is immediately a sign': expressing nothing' (103). It is intransitive, concerned to create 'a great scenario of signs' (106), and exhausting itself in its immediate expression.
Of course, Barthes's caveats don't exhaust the dangers of 'Orientalism', but here we can, along with his work in Mythologies, a neo-Brechtian reaching for the 'pure sign'; in the case violence that is not primordial but signifying, but then not signifying a meaning or use, but only the 'nothing' of its own immanence.