Thursday, 24 December 2009

HM talk, the ideal Christmas gift

Many thanks to Evan and Mike for putting up the MP3 of my HM talk - I don't much like the sound of my own voice (insert sarcastic expression of surprise) but it was amusing. It's possible a version will appear in Mute, if not it will be posted here in due course.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


In lieu of anything particularly seasonal or intelligent on the blog, instead I review Jameson's Valences of the Dialectic in The Philosophers' Magazine (2010) under the excellent title 'Wal-Marx' (not mine I add, perhaps Infinite's wit), and have a review essay on Gregory Elliott's Ends in Sight in Historical Materialism 17.4 (2009) (email me if you want the pdf - although I'm off email from 24 December to 4 January).
In the meantime completing a review of Heller-Roazen's The Enemy of All for Radical Philosophy, perhaps amending the piece on Black Metal for the collection, writing something on Queimada to be presented with Alberto on 12 February 2010, and writing some substantial pieces on politics and time for the conference Waiting for the Political Moment, and on Negation and Affirmation. That's the next six months sorted...
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Remain true to the earth!: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal

[Paper presented in absentia at Hideous Gnosis Black Metal Theory Symposium 12 December 2009]

‘Remain true to the earth!’:
Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal

Benjamin Noys (2009)

Der Feind is unsre eigene Frage als Gestalt.
Carl Schmitt

If we were to define a degree zero of Black Metal (BM) politics then it would be an unstable amalgam of Stirnerite egoism and Nietzschean aristocratism: a radical anti-humanist individualism implacably hostile to all the ideological ‘spooks’ of the present social order, committed to creating an ‘aristocracy of the future’ (Nietzsche 464), and auto-engendering a ‘creative nothing’ (Stirner 6). The instability lies in the coupling of a disabused hostility to liberal-capitalist ideologemes with a Nietzschean ‘grand politics’ of natural degrees and ranks. More precisely it lies in the retention of certain radicalised ‘spooks’ – notably nation, race, historical tradition or counter-tradition, and war – that perform the dual function of disrupting the limits of acceptable discourse within modern liberal democracies and grounding the abyssal draining of all ideological contents. Of course these are often ‘spooks’ associated with the extreme right, Nazism, fascism, and ultra-nationalism. Whereas Stirnerite individualism might be regarded as anarchist, or at best indifferent to politics, this racial-national metaphysics is often, although not always of course, deployed to re-territorialise and establish a ‘grand politics’.

It is of course perfectly possible to detach such a politics, which often seems at best secondary or contingent, from BM. A contrast can be drawn between a musical radicalism that is betrayed or constrained by these ‘remnants’ of theo-politics. In this way the critic from the left can safely handle and enjoy BM and proclaim their own sophistication by condescending to the naiveté of such adolescent political posturing which ‘unfortunately’ marks an otherwise admirably radical aesthetic. We can also imagine a more sophisticated Deleuzoguattarian version of this argument: the deterritorialising or dematerialising effect of BM qua music requires a reterritorialising grounding, but only to produce a necessary site of radicalised intensification; after all, the nomad performs their deterritorialisation by staying in place. In this case we could argue that the various territorialised ‘spooks’ are mere thresholds or sedimentations that, despite its own proclaimed territoriality, BM works over, exceeds, and puts in flight. In Evan Calder Williams more Marxist version of this type of argument: ‘the lesson to be drawn from black metal is the way in which its concrete sonic expression dismantles its spoken ideology.’ What concerns me is that both these options, tempting as they are, refuse to take seriously the kind of coherence between aesthetics and politics argued for from within BM. Instead of a splitting or contradiction between place and music, to be resolved by us politically or theoretically, I want to take the internal discourse of BM at its word.

Here I want to take one specific example of what we might call, in terms that would not doubt horrify him, an ‘organic intellectual’ of BM: Sale Famine.[1] My choice is dictated by the fact that Famine refuses any notion of the contingency of the link between BM and the extreme right, instead insisting on the necessity of such a link. BM is, in essence, right-wing: ‘To my mind, without being necessarily N[ational] S[ocialist], real BM is always extreme right-wing music — be it from Asia or Latin America as extreme-right politics are not the appanage of the white race — and it is always Satanic.’ (Famine, Zero Tolerance) In a recent interview Famine is probed further on this statement, with the interviewer raising the case of a possible ‘left-leaning’ BM band such as Wolves in the Throne Room. Famine is unequivocal in his re-iteration: ‘Now, I have never heard of WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, but if they praise cultural blending, common ownership and equality of all human beings, then no, they have absolutely no right to play BM. They just have the right to make me laugh.’

To prevent any misunderstanding Famine’s negatives are my positives and, of course, from his position that automatically eliminates anything I could have to say about BM. In what follows, however, I want to reconstruct Famine’s position through his statements and through a consideration of Peste Noire’s aesthetic practice. I want to stress, in particular, how his statements and his aesthetic work together to construct a particular political position.

Chthonic and Telluric
What is the reason for Famine’s claim of an essential articulation between BM and the politics of the extreme right? It is because BM articulates itself on the earth, on the chthonian and telluric, to establish its aesthetic identity:

Black Metal is the musical memory of our bloodthirsty ancestors of blood, it is the marriage of Tradition, of old racial patrimony with fanaticism, with the rage and the rashness of a youth now lost. It is a CHTONIAN religion: a cult of the EARTH and a return to it, therefore a nationalism; a cult of what is BELOW the earth: Hell — the adjective “chthonian” applies to the Infernal gods as well. BM is a fundamentalism, a music with integrity (from Latin integer, complete) which helps me to remain complete in a dying world, amidst a people in decay, unworthy of its blood. It is the apology of the dark European past. It is a psychosis which helps us to flee a reality we cannot tolerate anymore.

Therefore, an authentic, real, or true BM, can only, for Famine, be a BM that is essentially territorial, selective, and hierarchical about the privileging of a singular and integral territory. The implication is that BM can never exist in the abstract but only as a particular national, regional, ethnic, or racial, form. This is a politics and aesthetic of the One but which, as we will see, can only ever appear in the form of the Two.

The result is a peculiar, to say the least, form of nationalism; although one not quite so strange when one notes the occult strains raining through Nazism, fascism, and extreme right cultures:

I am a nationalist, not a socialist... My two nations are: France d’Oïl and Hell. BM is a double nationalism, temporal and spiritual, horizontal and vertical. 1° TEMPORAL as it is always the heritage of a BLOOD and of a material EARTH it has to worship. 2° SPIRITUAL (vertical) in that it is metaphorically a nationalism from Hell and from Darkness, an ethical and aesthetic allegiance to the Kingdom Of Evil. Of course I share (I say “I” because it is not necessarily the case for the other members) some principles of National-socialism but I reject some too.
To paraphrase Famine’s axes, BM articulates together a horizontal axis of history, that precisely establishes a synedechocal continuity from the obscured European past that can be recovered only in its dispersed traces, and a vertical spatial grounding, an inverse spiritual hierarchy in neo-Platonic style, in which the ‘ladder’ of Being descends into the earth in terms of its participation in degrees of darkness.

This territorial politics plays an explicitly shaping role in terms of the aesthetics of BM. No matter how ungrounded or abyssal this territory may appear, being ‘below the earth’, it underpins the essential resistance against any deterritorialising and / or democratising ‘abstraction’. The very contradictions of Peste Noire’s aesthetic, its own fractured and strange parataxis of cultural elements, are related precisely to this spatio-temporal territorialisation
As far as the traditional/non-traditional contrast is concerned, I would say Beauty, Grandeur, Nobleness emanate when PN evoke the European PAST (which explains that melancholy, which is nostalgia) with a Black Metal in accordance with our forefathers’s tradition (BURZUM, MÜTIILATION, VLAD TEPES). Hatred, terror, DISORDER, madness break out when we conjure up the CURRENT democratic world. Naturally that disorder is expressed in forms which are less conventional.
The irony is that the aesthetic elements of BM most likely to appeal to the left, or left-leaning, cultural critic – its use of ‘forms which are less conventional’, its evocation of terror or madness – are simply contingent elements that result from the mimetic parsing of the fallen world of modernity which Famine despises.

Evan Calder Williams notes that Peste Noire’s album Ballade cuntre lo anemi francor (2009) plays between the ‘impossible return’ to a lost past and ‘the bare noise and pulse of a modern world’. This is often played out in the contrast between an ‘angelic’ female vocal, and the ‘demonic’ Gollum-like rasping and wheezing of Famine, or, in the track ‘La Mesniee Mordrissoire’ between Famine’s voice and the harmonious martial male voice. At the level of the lyrics and the music it comes in the deliberate provocation of corrupting traditional military and royalist songs with singing the praises of Satan and the recognisable, although inimitable, elements of black metal. The difficulty is that we can just suppose this split as given? Can we have the ‘bare noise and pulse of the modern world’ as the nihilist critique of what Badiou calls ‘capitalo-parliamentarianism’ without the embarrassing archaic fascist nostalgia? For Peste Noire, or for Sale Famine, this splitting is impossible, as the elements of the lost past constantly clash against the ‘noise’ that is representative of a fallen modern world – this quasi-‘dialectical’ tension cannot be divided. Famine’s ‘boyscout Satanism’ – Sieg Hell instead of Sieg Heil, and Nietzschean übermensch sodomy – is predicated on the retention of an aesthetic and political ‘fractured unity’.

Cultural Partisan
To specify more closely this imbrication of politics and aesthetics I want to consider Carl Schmitt’s work Theory of the Partisan. Schmitt is attempting to articulate the disturbance caused by the figure of the partisan in the usual state-logic of warfare, in which the partisan creates an indistinction between the conventional combatant and civilian. In Schmitt’s analysis the ‘good’ partisan is the one that retains their telluric character: ‘He defends a piece of land with which he has an autochthonous relation.’ (92) For this reason the partisan, although disturbing to the usual order of the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction by which Schmitt defines the space of the political, remains within it by having a ‘real enemy’. The ‘bad’ partisan, which Schmitt unsurprisingly identifies with communist militancy, has no telluric grounding and instead generalises their struggle to create an ‘absolute enemy’. In this case ‘the partisan also became absolute and a bearer of an absolute enmity.’ (93)

Of course it might be thought to unduly flatter Famine to regard him as Peste Noire as a ‘partisan group’, although it would be congruent with their own self-image. What concerns me, especially in the context of Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor, is the aesthetic and political construction of the figure of the ‘enemy’. Schmitt, in Nietzschean fashion, regards the figure of the enemy as the shape or configuration of our own question: ‘The enemy is who defines me. That means in concreto: only my brother can challenge me and only my brother can be my enemy.’ (85 n89) In Schmitt the figure of the enemy also has a pacifying function: the construction politics around the friend-enemy distinction is to define ourselves and also to regard our enemy as an enemy, rather than as someone to be exterminated. If the partisan threatens to unbind this function, their telluric and political grounding in a defensive national struggle is the means Schmitt uses to retain the partisan within the nomos of the earth.

In the case of Famine and Peste Noire we could argue that their own telluric identification with a defensive national cultural struggle performs a similar function. The vituperative construction of the figure of the plural ‘enemies’ of France gives a figural coherence to their cultural struggle. They try to remain partisans in the positive sense Schmitt gives this function, and so ‘remain true to the earth’. This project is, however, in tension with the fragmentation and dispersion the plural indicates. Here the disturbance lies on the side of what is being struggled against – the capitalist effects and forces of real abstraction. These uprooting and emptying dynamics of disembedding and deterritorialisation are, precisely, the effect of social relations and resist localisation in particular figural enemies. The threat is not here an abstract politics of equality, although, almost quaintly, Famine still seems to regard this as on the table. Instead, it is the abstractive politics of equality of ‘one market under God’, to use Thomas Frank’s felicitous phrase.

The result is that we can interpret this singular instance of the politics of BM as an instance of resistance, but of a particular type. Famine/Peste Noire try to inhabit, metaphorically, the position of Schmitt’s telluric partisan to give form and figure to their enemies. The escape of their ‘enemies’, due to the de-figuring effects of capital, constantly evacuates this project of content – hence the possibility, which I feel is too quick, of simply locating the politics of Peste Noire or BM in some category of postmodern parody or blank irony. It is not that these effects do not occur, but rather they are the effect of operating within the cultural framing of real abstractions. If the enemy we define at the same time gives us self-definition then the figural struggle of Famine/Peste Noire is endless and endlessly failing. Hence I would suggest that there is real anguish here, whatever the parodic desires of Famine, or the parodic effects of the socio-economic forms of the law of value. Theirs is a political / cultural desperation, although one that certainly, and necessarily, takes malignant telluric forms.

Certainly I have only focused on one singular instance of the politics of BM. I am not taking this instance as strictly metonymic of all BM positions and politics. I do want to argue that it is symptomatic, and revealing because of its explicit form and ambition, as well as, why not?, its aesthetic success. This is a politics which conforms to Badiou’s analysis of the ‘passion for the real’ and the twentieth century as the century of war and scission – a stalled dialectic of the division of the One into an antagonistic Two that can never stabilise. The aesthetic of Peste Noire cannot be separated from this antagonism, but inhabits it as the effect of fusion of the aesthetic and the political to give figuration to an always elusive ‘enemy’. Of course, contra Famine’s desire, the abstractive figural desire of his work makes it available to those non-telluric and non-chthonic enemies he professes to hate – he would, of course, despise this analysis. This is not to take the easy path of postmodern ‘everyone reads in their own way’, or limitless politics of re-inscription that would license a reading ‘for socialism’. Instead, I have tried to take seriously a depth of commitment, which I unequivocally reject politically, in the cultural articulation of the political and aesthetic. I remain, however, one of the enemies of France.

Badiou, Alain, The Century [2005], trans., with commentary and notes, Alberto Toscano (Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007).

Birk, Nathan T., “Interview with La Sale Famine of Peste Noire”, Zero Tolerance, pdf.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power, trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, ed. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1968).

Schmitt, Carl, Theory of the Partisan, trans. G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Publishing, 2007).

Stirner, Max, The Ego and His Own, trans. Steven T. Byington (New York: Ben R. Tucker Publisher, 1907). Available from The Egoist Archive: pdf

Travis (Diabolical Conquest), ‘Interview with Famine of the French Black Metal band Peste Noire’, Diabolical Conquest: Underground Extreme Metal Webzine, August 12 2009,

Williams, Evan Calder, ‘Three hours (misanthropy)’, Socialism and/or barbarism blog, 9 June 2009,

Peste Noire, Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor, De Profundis, France, 2009.

[1] It should be noted that a Gramscian politics of hegemony has been invoked by the far right, in particular in France by Alain de Benoist, ideologue of the ‘new right’. His culturalist rascism and anti-Americanism bear many similarities to the views of Sale Famine, however Famine’s elitism and anti-popular stance incarnate a peculiarly constrained vision of hegemony – one occult and elitist.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

We will bury you!

Owen already draws notice to what was a pretty frantic and manic HM this year. I have previously written a conference report but, for a range of reasons, this is not possible this time round. I would just say that (for once) I really enjoyed my own session, with Evan chanting down Babylon and Mark on capitalism as the 'Terminator with a human face'. The Q&A was great as well - the Infinite one pushing me to confess my concept of human nature, China on 2012 as the bukake of the Earth, and Knox and Evan debating the finer points of Mad Max 2 and 3 with, as Alberto put in, the same amount of intensity and attention usually devoted at HM to debating volumes 2 and 3 of Capital. I also hear that Fredric Jameson (!) could not get in because the session was so full...
Thanks to any one else who asked a question and had the patience to listen to my answers.

Hurry Up Please It's Time



Utrecht & Rotterdam, June 17-19, 2010

‘Hamm: What’s happening?
Clov: Something is taking its course.’
Beckett, Endgame

Over the last decades, several political and cultural theorists have argued that the domain of politics, and even the very idea of the political, has been hollowed out. Politics today appears to have lost its proper status or has been submerged in the more powerful and encompassing infrastructures of late capitalism. Instead of frantically affirming or denying the emptying-out of the political, this conference traces the appropriation of the political by apparatuses of state, church, capitalism and media in modernity to look for ways to reinvigorate it. To do so, the conference focuses on a key concept: the political moment – the moment in which political agency becomes possible, as well as the formative role of the moment in politics.

To get to grips with the political moment we not only need to understand our current moment; we need to have an idea of how it developed over time. Not considering the political moment from an exclusively contemporary point of view, this conference also calls for proposals that focus on the formation of the political in relation to its emptying-out from the late Middle Ages to the present.

Contributions in the form of a 4000 words positioning paper distributed in advance and to be discussed in a seminar setting could address (but are not limited to) the following issues: what is a political moment? What does the emptying-out of the political imply? How has the appropriation of the political by state, religion or media shaped the conditions of possibility of the political? What is the role of the moment in politics?

Confirmed speakers include: Mieke Bal, Bruno Bosteels, Rosi Braidotti, Simon Critchley, Martin van Gelderen, Olivier Marchart, Patchen Markell, Benjamin Noys, and Alberto Toscano.

If you are interested in participating, please send in a 300-words paper proposal and a short résumé of your current research by January 15 2010 to Frans-Willem Korsten, Professor of Literature and Society, Erasmus University Rotterdam, email:; and/or to Bram Ieven, lecturer in comparative literature at Utrecht University, email:

For more information see:

Thursday, 26 November 2009


The book launch for various zero books is on 2 December - details here. I should say I really enjoyed both Nina and Mark's books and really hope they get a wide readership. I especially thought my students would benefit from reading them as they are both acute and engaging political analyses of the present and because they make me feel old and out of touch (which is true). I can't go because we have a PG student evening that night, ironically.

Thanks to Owen I find I look like Ludwig Hilberseimer, but still he's a famously nihilist architect and urban planner...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Light the way

We are lamp-bearers ... we inspect the political place in order to discern therein the staking out of antagonism that will relay the promise and organize the future.
Badiou, Theory of the Subject (p.108)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Historical Materialism 09: be there, or be not Marxist

SIXTH HISTORICAL MATERIALISM ANNUAL CONFERENCEAnother World is Necessary: Crisis, Struggle and Political Alternatives27 - 29 November 2009Birkbeck College and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)Thornhaugh Street, London XC1H OXG




Speakers include:
Gilbert Achcar * Robert Albritton * Kevin Anderson *Jairus Banaji * Wendy Brown * Alex Callinicos * Vivek Chibber * Hester Eisenstein * Ben Fine * Ferruccio Gambino * Lindsey German * Peter Hallward * John Holloway * Fredric Jameson * Bob Jessop * David McNally * China Mieville * Kim Moody * Leo Panitch * Moishe Postone *Sheila Rowbotham * Julian Stallabrass * Hillel Ticktin * Kees Van Der Pijl *Hilary Wainright
(and Benjamin Noys...)


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Savoy Disturb

Savoy mircofiction competition at the Ballardian for the truly disturbed amongst you... (deadline 5 December)
Also, an interview with Michael Butterworth (of Savoy)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Better Living through Psychopathology

[This is my presentation at the Future event with, as Owen noted, references and quotes - I stand attached to my academic transitional objects, which should come as a relief to all as you wouldn't like me if I improvised...]

The image of the future which I have selected is one of the series of J. G. Ballard’s pseudo-advertisements that he published in Ambit no. 33 in 1967. Ballard explains that:

Back in the late 60s I produced a series of advertisements which I placed in various publications (Ambit, New Worlds, Ark and various continental alternative magazines), doing the art work myself and arranging for the blockmaking, and then delivering the block to the particular journal just as would a commercial advertiser. Of course I was advertising my own conceptual ideas, but I wanted to do so within the formal circumstances of classic commercial advertising – I wanted ads that would look in place in Vogue, Paris Match, Newsweek, etc. To maintain the integrity of the project I paid the commercial rate for the page, even in the case of Ambit of which I was and still am prose editor. I would have liked to have branched out into Vogue and Newsweek, but cost alone stopped me ... (R/S 147).

The actual image is a still from Stephen Dwoskin’s 1963 film Alone (USA 1963 13min), of a woman masturbating. The text is a typically concise and forensic manifesto for Ballard’s own counter-science fiction.

The reason for my fascination with this image as an image of the future, which is in fact over forty years old, is that it represents the deliberate attempt to construct an image of the future that can resist the obsolescence of the future. This might seem an ironic proposition when we consider the fact that this image was created in the mid-60s – a time when, as Ballard retrospectively notes, ‘people … were intensely interested in the future’ (1994). Yet, he also notes that ‘[s]adly, at some point in the 1960s our sense of the future seemed to atrophy and die’ and that, by the 70s, only ‘a few romantics like myself still believe[d] that our sense of the future remain[ed] intact’ (1994). In fact, the atrophy of the future took place because of the impoverishment of our images of the future. The possibility of the future became blocked by those images of the future that seemed to attest to faith in a better tomorrow: the space race, two years away from the moon landing, pop futurism, the consumption-driven Keynesian compact, ‘the dreams that money can buy’, ‘advertising and pseudoevents’ (R/S 96). These images of a promised land of ‘outer space and the far future’ (R/S 97) had been predicted and generated by the science fiction of the 1950s. Locating himself as a science-fiction writer Ballard recognised the exhaustion of this tradition in its realisation: ‘by an ironic paradox, modern science fiction became the first casualty of the changing world it anticipated and helped to create.’ (R/S 97)

Ballard’s image is a counter-image to this atrophy and impoverishment of the future. It is a ‘chromosome of the future’ designed to ‘divide and grow in the reader’s mind’ (Ballard 1994). We can understand it as belonging to that conceptual Third World War Ballard would later invoke in The Atrocity Exhibition: ‘The blitzkriegs will be fought out on the spinal battlefields, in terms of the postures we assume, of our traumas mimetized in the angle of a wall or balcony.’ (AE 11) With the threat that ‘the future is ceasing to exist, devoured by the all-voracious present’ (R/S 97), the counter-image tries to extract a new future; the obsolete science-fiction of outer space has to give way to the new science-fiction of inner space. Reviewing Hitler’s Mein Kampf in 1969 Ballard remarks ‘[t]he psychopath never dates’ and speculates that: ‘perhaps one reason why the American and Russian space programs have failed to catch our imaginations is that this quality of explicit psychopathology is missing.’ (R/S 104) In response conventional science-fiction can only ratify its own transition to archaism, by producing images of the future that are ‘a kind of historical romance in reverse, a sealed world into which the hard light of contemporary reality was never really allowed to penetrate.’ (R/S 97) (Ballard’s reference is 2001, but I also think of Star Wars).

The colonisation of reality by fictions requires a dialectic of involution and externalisation. We turn inward to the body and the psyche – fiction is a branch of neurology – as ‘the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads.’ (R/S 98) And yet that inner reality has been turned inside-out, as our innermost desires are always-already realised by science, pornography, and advertising. For Ballard the usual elements of the so-called ‘human condition’ – sex and death – are the first casualties of this war. Instead of de-conceptualising them, to recover their ‘natural’ form, à la Reich or Marcuse, we must take them as manipulable elements ‘of a wholly conceptual character’ (AT 80). The ‘node of reality’ is not even some residual or surplus (Lacanian) capital ‘R’ Real, which could resist the totalising forces of mediatisation. Instead, ‘We’re living in an abstracted world, where there aren’t any values, where rather than fall back, one has to, as Conrad said, immerse oneself in the most destructive element, and swim.’ (R/S 161)

To wage this Third World (Image) War we have to move deeper into our own psychoses (AT 9) – to immerse ourselves in the image-stream to wrest the future from the perpetual present by an ‘elective psychopathy’ (Ballard 2008). The subsumption of the psyche makes it available for further re-conceptualisation, for the invention of new pathologies and new perversions. Ballard’s image is a radicalisation of the fact ‘that sex is becoming more and more a conceptual act, an intellectualization divorced from affect and physiology alike’ (AT 56). We can imagine it as the creation of one of the psychiatric patients in The Atrocity Exhibition, the future image guerrillas of this Third World War: ‘these bizarre images, with their fusion of Eniwetok and Luna Park, Freud and Elizabeth Taylor’ (AT 7). The involution to inner space, to scenarios of nerve and blood vessel, forms an alternative ‘conceptualized psychopathology’ (AT 99) of re-externalisation.

The ‘future’ is now an image concocted from the iconography of the mediatised unconscious, in which Jung’s archetypes and Freud’s drives are re-figured in ‘the nasal prepuce of L.B.J., crashed helicopters, the pudenda of Ralph Nader, Eichmann in drag, the climax of a New York happening: a dead child.’ (AT 20) The result is that these images become reversible; as one character ponders in The Atrocity Exhibition: ‘Are space vehicles merely overgrown V-2s, or are they Jung’s symbols of redemption, ciphers is some futuristic myth?’ (AT 84) Instead of merely being quaint and anachronistic technologies harnessed to an anodyne future, we can re-conceptualise and re-pathologise space vehicles. The science-fiction writer creates a new ‘predictive mytholog[y]’ (R/S 42): myths of the future that are also performative acts to create and construct that future.

Through the choice of psychopathology as a conscious act we can shape new written mythologies of memory and desire. The images of the ‘future’ that previously closed-out the future can now become the material for mythologies of a truly new future. Of course, the problem of such a mythology is that the more successful it is the more it is absorbed by the very mediascape it mimetizes. As Ballard writes ‘A lot of my prophecies about the alienated society are going to come true’ (R/S 155), however, if they come true, then they become superfluous. In The Atrocity Exhibition a ‘Festival of Atrocity Films’ is put on in a venue presumably very much like this one: ‘the results were disappointing; whatever Talbot had hoped for had clearly not materialized. The violence was little more than a sophisticated entertainment. One day he would carry out of Marxist analysis of this lumpen intelligentsia.’ (AT 19) Leaving aside the interesting question of what that analysis might be, and its relevance today, Ballard presciently probes the neuralgic point of his own fiction. The coinage ‘Ballardian’ is the very sign of this ironic success, as Ballard’s own fiction succumbs to the fate he had sketched for the science-fiction of the 1950s: ‘bec[oming] the first casualty of the changing world it anticipated and helped to create’.

It appears that the angle between two walls does not have a happy ending. Ballard’s own creation of himself as a brand or concept becomes another image in the media stream. This, however, is the essential risk of Ballard’s own active nihilism, which accepts that abstraction and conceptualisation operate all the way down: there is no point of immunity or safety from which one might safely create a ‘pure’ image of the future. His images of the future are always, explicitly, transitory, with ‘in-built-obsolescence’. In response we could extrapolate two possible positions from Ballard’s work. The first is that of a quasi-Weberian re-enchantment of a denuded reality through re-conceptualisation. In The Atrocity Exhibition the character Travers ‘has composed a series of new sexual deviations, of a wholly conceptual character, in an attempt to surmount this death of affect’ (AE 80) We could also cite Ballard’s retrospective tendency to position The Atrocity Exhibition as a work of moral commentary. We fall back from the future into a kind of Swiftean satire, at once reactionary and conservative.

The second position is something like what Nietzsche calls ‘completed nihilism’: the traversal and transcendence of the nihilism Ballard anatomises. In this case, Ballard’s dialectic proceeds by the ‘bad side’: the worse the better. He remarked in a 2006 interview that: ‘I’m somebody who stands by the side of the road with a sign saying, Dangerous Bends Ahead – Slow Down.’ He pauses. ‘Although it is true that I sometimes seem to be saying Dangerous Bends Ahead – Speed Up.’ (in Brown, 2006: 20) That speeding up, this accelerationism, of course risks passing from an active nihilism to a mere passive nihilism: the embrace of what is, and the closure of any possibility of the future, or the courting of a deliberate cynicism that re-converges with the position of the moral critic as disgusted and disenchanted observer.

This unease or instability is I want to suggest the reason why Ballard’s image of the future is so resonant. This image, of course, appears as a very 60s image, imbued with the kind of deliberately perverse utopianism that no longer registers with us except in the forms of nostalgia or cynicism. The difference is that this image disjoints itself from that moment by its prescient refusal of the usual models of repression, liberation, and recuperation. In The Atrocity Exhibition Ballard notes that images of elective psychopathy, in which Vietnam combat films are shown with a muzak soundtrack, create an environment ‘in which work-tasks, social relationships and overall motivation reached sustained levels of excellence’ (AT 94). The release of repressed desires can be made to serve the logic of the ‘perpetual present’ of accumulation. This is the mechanism of ‘repressive desublimation’, sketched by Marcuse, in which our desires are ‘liberated’ as the ‘dreams that money can buy’. In response the writer can only immerse themselves and swim, by imagining ‘an optimum torture and execution sequence’ (AE 93). This image fascinates me as an image of the future because it embraces fully the saturation of the future by abstraction and the only remaining possibility being further abstraction. For all its kitsch retro-sixties styling the encrypted moment of resistance figured in this image is the embrace of a future that never really took place, in which the only form of a future we can construct is one that takes place through absolute abstraction.

Ballard, J. G. (1984), Re/Search: J. G. Ballard 8/9. [R/S]
___ (1985) The Atrocity Exhibition [1970], London: Triad Granada. [AE]
___ (1994) ‘Introduction’ in Myths of the Near Future, London: Vintage.
___ (2008) ‘An Exhibition of Atrocities: J. G. Ballard on Mondo Films’, An Interview with Mark Goodall, The Ballardian.

Brown, M. (2006) ‘From Here to Dystopia: Interview with J. G. Ballard’, Telegraph Magazine 2 September: 16-22.

Nietzsche, F. (1968) The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Workshop Announcement

Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University

Subject and Appearance:
On Alain Badiou's Theory of the Subject & Logics of Worlds

Friday 20 November, 10am to 5pm (followed by a drinks reception).

Confirmed speakers include: Ali Alizadeh (CRMEP, Middlesex) Bruno Bosteels (Cornell) Peter Hallward (CRMEP, Middlesex). Nina Power (Roehampton) Kristin Ross (NYU) Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths)

The workshop will take place in Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DL

Further details and the schedule are posted here
Brief extracts from Badiou's books, intended for particular attention during the workshop, will be posted shortly via this link, also you can register via the link, which is 'essential'.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Future

[I am speaking at this, on an image from JG Ballard (to be revealed, and the talk will be posted here after). No one, as far as I know, is speaking on the above image. I just chose it in contemplation of Ballard's remarks about the space race lacking the ability to excite the imagination / or any 'manifest insanity'.]

Accompanying the exhibitions The Sculpture of the Space Age and The Object of the Attack (2/10/09-19/12/09) at the David Roberts Art Foundation

The Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at University of Westminster, in association with the David Roberts Art Foundation, presents:

Thursday 5 November 6:30
Location: The David Roberts Art Foundation Fitzrovia, 111 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RY

Presenting images of the future with:

Tom Corby is an artist and writer whose research is concerned with relocating digital imaging processes within wider aesthetic and social frameworks. He is the deputy Director of CREAM at Westminster and coordinates the digital art research cluster in the school of arts and media. His experimental digital artworks (produced in collaboration with Gavin Baily) have been internationally exhibited and have won numerous awards.

Benjamin Noys is Reader in English Literature at the University of Chichester. He is author of, among other works, The Culture of Death (2005) and Georges Bataille: A Critical Introduction (2000), and is a member of the editorial board of the journal Film-Philosophy. He has a forthcoming book entitled The Persistence of the Negative due in 2010.

Kester Rattenbury is an architectural journalist, critic and writer, whose many publications include the edited collection This is Not Architecture. She is a consulting editor for the Architects Journal, series editor for the SuperCrit series with Routledge, and leads the ExP research group at the University of Westminster.

John Timberlake is a photographer and writer, who also leads the BA in Fine Art at Middlesex University. He has exhibited widely in Europe and North America and is an alumnus of the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Programme. A former editor of Everything Magazine, his most recent publication is the book Bussard Ramjet (Artwords 2008) and he is currently exhibiting work at the Pittoresk: Neue Perspektiven auf das Landschaftsbild group show at MARTa in Germany.

David Cunningham is Principal Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster. He is an editor of the journal Radical Philosophy, co-editor of the book Photography and Literature in the Twentieth Century (2005), and has published widely on modernism, aesthetics, architectural theory and urbanism.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Badiou, critique of SR avant la lettre

'The fact remains that they are turned off by the partisan taking of sides. The asymptotic perspective of flight makes of the empiricist a wandering materialist, a vagabond philosopher of natural substances. Ignorance of the mirror turns the empiricist into the mirror - of the world.' (209)
Badiou Theory of the Subject

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Postone online

With thanks to Principia Dialectica for this link to a collection of work by Postone - easier than reading Time, Labour and Social Domination...

Monday, 26 October 2009

plumpes Denken

In the handbooks of philosophy, you will see that like the epithet of a two-bit Homer, the adjective "vulgar" almost invariably attaches itself to the noun "materialism". Well yes! There is something trivial about reading the abject secret of a speculative permanence in the densest of social hierarchies. But that is how it is.
Badiou, Theory of the Subject (p.185)

An excellent post by Infinite on the risks of a dialectics of nature and the rush to ontology (btw I don't have an ontology...). A rapid reply by Nick as well.

To add my meagre thoughts I'm not so concerned with deriving politics from philosophy / ontology / metaphysics, but rather with making a theoretically-informed political critique of philosophy etc. This is primarily because I regard it as perfectly possible to read a bad politics off SR / ANT whether they deny being political or not (allowing for the variants of SR). To be more particular, and this is elaborated at somewhat tedious length in my book, ANT is bad politics and bad metaphysics, precisely because the bad politics is derived from the bad metaphysics. Despite all the claims to make networks malleable and to regard capital as merely fragile network, these conceptions constitute a reformist voluntarism because of the fundamental desire to protect such networks from change and because they obscure, for me, the actual nature of the value-form.

I also doubt SR returns politics to its autonomy because, contra Nick, the tendency seems still to be to derive political consequences from metaphysics (see Graham's remarks about ethics and politics in the debate with Peter Hallward at 21st Century Materialism - vacuum-packed proletariat and all). Even if it does somehow make politics autonomous, we still have the problem of what SR adds then qua philosophy, which seems to be to return to certain 'traditional' questions (which is not bad in itself) but in ways that deny any connections with politics (which is bad). Finally, again, we have the possible political reading of SR precisely in this mode of detachment and refusal of politics. Perhaps a salutary dose of Lukacs is required.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The University as Event-Site

Excellent post from Evan on the university as Kampfplatz (I really like the German better...). I think it's exactly true that we don't have to wreck the university, that's being done for us.

Black Metal

Black Metal Theory Symposium
December 12, 2009
The Public Assembly
70 North 6th St
Brooklyn, NY
1:00-7:00 p.m.

I: 1:00-2:15
The Light that Illuminates Itself, the Dark that Soils itself: Blackened Notes from Schelling’s Underground
Steven Shakespeare

The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances
Erik Butler

BAsileus philosoPHOrum METaloricum
Scott Wilson
(moderator: Niall Scott)

II: 2:20-3:30
Transcendental Black Metal
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix

Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya
Nicola Masciandaro

Perpetual Rot: Obsessive Cycles of Deterioration
Joseph Russo
(moderator: Steven Shakespeare)

Interlude: 3:30-4:30
Nader Sadek, Baptism in Black (Phase II)
Sym-posium (together-drinking)

III: 4:30-5:45
‘Remain true to the earth!’: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal
Benjamin Noys (in absentia)

The Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Evan Calder Williams

Black Confessions and Absu-lution
Niall Scott

Meaningful Leaning Mess
Brandon Stosuy
(moderator: Scott Wilson)

IV: 5:50-7:00
Black Metal and Evil
Aspasia Stephanou

Red in a World of Black: A Discussion of Blood in Black Metal
Murray Resinski

‘Goatsteps behind my steps’: Black Metal and Ritual Renewal
Anthony Sciscione
(moderator: Erik Butler)

Sunday, 18 October 2009


An excellent article from Mute by John Cunningham on 'Communisation', putting together the Tiqqun / Invisible Committe with Theorie Communiste / Dauve. Altough I personally tend more to the TC line, and would be less 'Deleuzian', this is a remarkably clear and even-handed summary.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Militant Dysphoria - some thoughts

I've only been slightly following / intervening in the debates that have followed the Goldsmiths event for Dominic's Cold World. To be a Habermasian hippy (a surprise to many, no doubt), I think the debate is part of the intellectual point, and certainly one way to get out of or minimise the elements of 'hype' and 'promotion' that are bound to surround any commercial venture (except perhaps academic publishing...). I also hope many of the contributors to the debate get to publish their works via Zero, to go all Maoist: 'let a thousand disputes bloom'.

I was thinking of Cold World in terms of Perry Anderson's remark that for revolutionary agency we need a coordination of knowledge and will. The dysphoric relation, whether aesthetic, political, or actual, seems to me a relation of knowledge: the preceptual awareness of the stark and delibidinised mechanisms and structures of the 'practico-inert'. In this it's quite unusual, because I think often the focus of contemporary work has fallen, understandably, on the necessity of will (See Peter Hallward's essay - pdf). I think that Cold World traces the absence of agency, or its antinomy - drawn out between stylised despair (as in BM) or frantic (manic?) activism (the RAF).

The problems noted, which I have some sympathy with, is how such a relation of knowledge might produce a new form of will? The old, and for that reason essential and difficult, question of what used to get called the 'negation of negation'. Dysphoria essentially often seems to lead to a paralysis of will, or at least its collapse / attenuation.

(I think here the other crucial problem raised by many is between the singularity of particular forms of suffering / depression / dysphoria as lived experience, the diagnostic / psychiatric categories (of which I am highly suspicious), and then the question of dysphoria as figure / cultural diagnosis. Certainly some may remember the heyday for such cultural diagnostics in the 1960s / 1970s - Deleuze and Guattari's schizophrenia, Jameson's 80s addenda, Christopher Lasch's Culture of Narcissism, Norman Mailer's hipster as psychopath, and I'm sure there are many more. Similar problems were raised in respect of all these, not least related to Freud's comment about the difficulty of supposing a cultural or societal 'standard of health' against which we could measure social pathology).

As I've said I'm very suspcious of any politics of the worst in the current conjuncture, which is not to say it couldn't have a role to play at other points. But what I think 'militant dysphoria' probes is our concept of the will - and also the point made by Badiou concerning the translation or integration of affects within the consistency of the truth-process. I think Dominic on this is far more interesting than, say, Franco Berardi's similar remarks on the 'intellectual potency' of depression - which definitely lead straight to Baudrillard (in a bad way). Perhaps I'm imposing my own modest reading on Cold World, but I see it as a manual of the antinomy.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum

Scare in the Community
Saturday, 24th October 2009, 6-9pm

A one night art event at Core Arts in Homerton showcasing video, performance, 2D and 3D works by artists addressing issues relating to community care and institutional critique both inside and outside the context of art.

Core Arts
109 Homerton High Street
London E9 6DL
train: Homerton
(London Overground)
buses: 236 / 242 / 276 / 394 / W15

Frank Bangay, George Barber, David Blandy, Ian Bourn, Boyle and Shaw, El Vonne Brown, Enda Burke, Leona Christie, CoolTan, Tessa Garland, Julika Gittner, Alex Ingram, IRE-MIND, Stephen Jackson, Terry Jones, Jean-Paul Martinon, Octavia Arts, Jo Panter, Laure Prouvost, Jon Purnell, Natasha Rees, Erica Scourti, Temple of Mithras, Josephine Wood

Society is an insane asylum run by the inmates’, Goffman, E. (1961) Asylums
The theme of the show resonates with current tendencies to prioritise principles of care in the community over extended hospitalisation. The idea of the mentally ill being free to roam the streets and mingle with the general public has caused much fear amongst communities and frequently leads to sensationalist news headlines in the tabloids such as "Armed and dangerous: public at risk as mental patients escape the care net." (Sunday Express, 2006).
On the other hand, the art world has shown a revived interest in the ‘outsider’ artist. The fantasy of the ‘outsider ‘ who, ignored by society, obsessively practices his ‘authentic’ and untrained creativity has lead to exhibitions such as Inner Worlds Outside at the Whitechapel Gallery (2006). While giving artistic credibility to the work of self-taught artists by exhibiting it next to the work of established artists, such exhibitions do not challenge the authority of the art institution to select who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

Scare in the Community aims to confront both sides of the coin by showing art, which relates to ideas of institutional ennui and social norms alongside work that responds directly to the implications of the closure of asylums over the past decades.

Scare in the Community is curated by Julika Gittner and Jon Purnell.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Strategy and Tactics

I find it difficult to comment on the UCSC occupation due to reliance on the statements, but I would say I probably find myself on the side of sympathetic disagreement, ie not agreeing with the tactics, but recognising the genuine nature of the protest (see the SW interview).

First, I personally doubt the 'terminal crisis of capitalism' thesis (I'd like it to be true...), or at least that the crisis will (a) lead to collapse anytime soon, or (b) lead to an accumulation of new radicalised forces (or automatically lead to such an accumulation). Maybe it's pessimism, which I certainly have, but I don't see the capitalist 'practico-inert' simply falling away or disintegrating except on a very much longer time scale (to be honest, at a minimum fifty years, and probably longer), unless there is a far more global and substantial development of alternative social forms (ie socialist / communist / non-commodified). These forms would also be required to prevent the 'common ruin of the contending classes' or simply authoritarian solutions. This is not a spectre of fascism argument, but a recognition of the risk of re-tooled authoritarian forms and national-popular mobilisations.

Second, I'm doubtful about maximalist 'demandless' occupation as a tactic. I have no real knowledge of the US university experience, but I do think actually particular administrations here are responsible for their responses to the crisis, and how they work within the crisis - and they should be held accountable. In fact, precise demands are what are required I think, and I know this is not my own original argument, far from it. This is especially the case in the context of the 'solutions' being offered of more business to solve the problems business caused.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Commandeering the Commons

Evan's final statement on the occupation, and here on tv. My comments to follow.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Trash Heap of Political Economy

It's pretty weird but Baudrillard's Forget Foucault is a rather precise critique of accelerationism avant la lettre, of course only if you ignore Baudrillard's own alternative to Deleuze&Guattari / Lyotard / Foucault, with seduction / reversibility, et al (a kind of negative accelerationism). As Baudrillard says 'Beware of the molecular!'; here are some further quotes:

This compulsion toward liquidity, flow, and an accelerated circulation of what is psychic, sexual, or pertaining to the body is the exact replica of the force which rules market value: capital must circulate; gravity and any foxed point must disappear; the chain of investments and reinvestments must never stop; value must radiate endlessly and in every direction. This is the form itself which the current reailzation of value takes. It is the form of capital, and sexuality as a catchword and a model is the way it appears at the level of bodies.

to rediscover a phantasmal and instinctual truth of the body in desire, is still only to unearth the psychic metaphor of capital.

it is the kind of generative inscription of the code that one expects - an immanent, ineluctable, and always positive inscription that yields only to infinitesimal mutations.

For I Know Not What I Do

Negation results from affirmation: this means that negation arises in the wake of affirmation or beside it, but only as the shadow of the more profound genetic element – of that power or “will” which engenders the affirmation and the difference in the affirmation. Those who bear the negative know not what they do: they take the shadow for the reality, they encourage phantoms, they uncouple consequences from premises and they give epiphenomena the value of phenomena and essences.

Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (my emphasis)

Sounds a good programme to me...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Having at one point been a true Derridean, and now coming to try and write critically on Derrida for the new book (it's virtually impossible btw, and probably pointless), I came across the new issue of Diacritics on Derrida and democracy. Even back in the day the 'democracy to come' stuff never really impressed me, and nothing much so far in the issue prompts me to change my mind. I did find this, however, me raised my post-Derridean ire - from a paper on Derrida's 'nonmaterialism':

'As the undoing of the power of the subject, the force of materiality cannot lead to a political program. Indeed, it is what resists and confounds any teleology such as that of Marxism and even any purposive or end-oriented action that is based on rational calculations or the projection of an ideal end.'

Great... say goodbye to rational calculation, end-oriented action, or an 'ideal end' (like, say, a fairer society, or avoiding a class-stratified environmental catastrophe). Or, welcome the irrational contingencies of the market, in which the only teleology is accumulation...

Of course we are supposed to respect this as about theory and not the dread empirical, and no doubt if I could be bothered to read my own work I might well find similar such acceptance of contemporary commonplaces. I can't help but find this stuff depressing. In the interest of fairness here is the next part of the passage:
'But as that which opens power up uncoditionally to the other this force also has a messianic dimension. It aporetically implies an absolute or incalculable hospitality to the other that demands a response in which we calculate the given conditions in order to act in a responsible manner.'
That, however, doesn't seem to me to provide the answer, especially considering the later comment that although the impossible other 'is not unfigurable as such, [it] is not easily instantiated by concrete figures that are recognizable by political discourse.' Well quite...

Of course Mark and Owen are the people to refer to here when discussing the knee-jerk ideological rejection of planning.

Enough of my spite, look at Nina's fine photos, especially this one, for Owenem Hatherleyem - currently gracing the cover of the NLR as his alter ego Owen Hatherley.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Black and Red papers

Some of the papers from the 'Is Black and Red dead?' conference are available here, for mine scroll down this blog to 'Space is the Place'.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The State of Theory

The re-drafting of the Persistence of the Negative is currently taking up most of my time, and I'm very grateful to all the readers/commentators who have at least prevented some of the more major errors. Certainly I'm a lot happier now with the Derrida chapter (more streamlined), the Latour chapter (nastier), and the Negri chapter (fairer).

I just got some overall comments from John Roberts, author of this excellent book, and they form their own analysis of the state of theory, this is an extract:

"It [Persistence of the Negative] renders the theory and philosophy as moments within a collective 'research programme', despite all the professional and political animosities of the given writers (an approach that Badiou pursues himself in his recent essay on post-French philosophy in NLR). Your decision then to connect this body of writing through the concept of 'affirmationism' is vivid, insofar as it becomes clearer forty years after May 68 and 10 years after this 68 philosophical legacy begins to fall into decline, that in these authors’ shared desire to accelerate away from a certain crisis in the form and affective life of revolutionary politics, the celebration of the actual becomes a chronic liability. I myself see this as a result, firstly of a misreading and then abandonment of Hegel (and Marx's fundamental indebtedness to Hegel), in the widespread turn within this tradition to discontinuism, conjuncturalism, alinearity, and anti-causality, which finds its perfected form, of course, in Logics of Worlds, where causality is exchanged for a kind of telescopic historical abridgement. The relations between affirmation, negation and historical development, therefore, have been sundered in this tradition, which, in a sense is where your book enters the fray. But as I said, in our discussion, the absence of a discussion of Hegel renders the critique of a post-historical affirmationism (certainly in Badiou) without a philosophical anchor."

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Post-Lapsarian Anarchism

Two events for the libertarians out there. The first is this:

Imperceptible Strategies, Unidentified Autonomous Organizations
:: A Drifting Seminar :: London, October 23rd, 2009 ::

Anarchist and autonomous politics are often associated, in a kneejerk way, with a celebration of chaos and disorder: a rejection of all forms of organization. The reduction of radical politics to a cheap joke (‘anarchist organization, what’s that?’) comes to substitute for an actual understanding of autonomous organizational practices. Far from rejecting organization all together, the history of autonomous politics contains a wealth of different modes of organizing, from the formation of temporary autonomous zones to affinity group models, maroon communities to networks and collectives.

These are forms of organizing that not always acknowledged as being organizations because they do not conform to what it is assumed organizations necessarily are: durable, static, and hierarchical. This understanding of organization obscures and makes difficult an actual engagement with the merits and weaknesses of different forms of organizing. But what would be found if rather than working from a fixed and unchanging concept of organization, one that excludes temporary forms of organization from consideration, it was attempted to tease out the organizational dynamics from all the temporary alliances and alliances that appear and disappear?

Might it be possible that we are already enmeshed in a world of unidentified autonomous organizations, a milieu of potential liberation that has remained imperceptible because of a narrow understanding of what organizations are? And might it not be that this imperceptibly, rather than being a condition to be addressed as a problem, could rather be part of building of what Robin D.G. Kelley calls an infrapolitical sphere: a space for politics coming out of people’s everyday experiences that do not express themselves as radical political organization at all.

The aim of this encounter is to explore the connections between anarchism, autonomism, and the revolutions of everyday life, drawing out conceptual tools useful to developing and deepening the politics of these infrapolitical spaces and organization. How can we strategize and build from the connections and movements of the undercommons, working from everyday encounters to compose new forms of social movement? How can we connect and work between spontaneous forms of resistance without forcing them into some larger form that ossifies them?

This event will not be based around formal presentations, but rather will rather take the form of a drifting seminar. Participants will be asked to read several pieces of text that will form the basis of discussion and exploration.

Registration for the event will be approximately 10 quid. There will be some limited travel funding available. If you wish to be considered for this funding indicate this when you register.
For registration and information contact: stevphen [NO SPAM] autonomedia [DOT] org / Sponsored by the Anarchist Studies Network & Minor Compositions

The second is this series of seminars, for details contact Saul Newman:
The Libertarian Impulse
From October 2009 until March 2010 RUPE will hold a series of seminars on the theme of libertarian politics and theory. With the collapse of state socialism, the unseemly decline of social democracy, and with the devolving of liberalism into a narrow politics of security, we believe it is high time to turn to political heresies like anarchism, left-libertarianism and autonomist Marxism, which have existed until now on the margins of more recognized political traditions. With the unprecedented deployment and expansion of state power and surveillance post-9/11, and with the symptomatic crisis of legitimacy experienced by representative party politics, we think it is important and timely to investigate alternative sites of the political – the autonomous and anti-systemic social movements and activist networks which have proliferated across the global horizon in recent years. The series will focus on different ways of thinking about individual and collective liberty, difference and equality, as well as political identities, practices, modes of organization, action and democracy outside the state order.

This seminar series will explore related themes of: anarchist theory, utopian thought, cosmopolitanism, the politics of direct action, new social movements, social liberty, autonomous politics, piracy and biopolitics, and continental radical political philosophy. It will bring together a series of experts and thinkers from different disciplines – Politics, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy and Social Policy – who are all moved in some way by the libertarian impulse.

The seminars will be held on Tuesday evenings 6-8pm in the Senior Common Room (Level 2 RHB), Goldsmiths. Drinks will be provided, and everyone is invited. The program is as follows:
Autumn Term
6 October – Professor Kevin McDonald (Sociology, Goldsmiths): 'Between autonomy and vulnerability: grammars of action and experience in movements today'

13 October – Dr. David Graeber (Anthropology, Goldsmiths): Title TBC

10 November – Dr. Carl Levy (Politics, Goldsmiths): ‘Anarchism and Cosmopolitanism’

17 November – Dr. Simon Griffiths (Politics, Goldsmiths): Title TBC

1 December – Professor Gianni Vattimo (Philosophy, Turin): Title TBC, Venue TBC

Spring Term
19 January – Dr. Alberto Toscano (Sociology, Goldsmiths): ‘Freedom, Claustrophobia and Colonisation: Lessons from the Anarchist Geography of Elisee Reclus’

2 February – Dr. Ruth Kinna (Politics, Loughborough): ‘William Morris: Time & Utopia’

9 February – Dr. Nicola Montagna (Criminology, Middlesex): Title TBC

2 March – Amedeo Policante (Politics, Goldsmiths): Title TBC

16 March – Dr. Saul Newman (Politics, Goldsmiths): Booklaunch: ‘The Politics of Postanarchism’

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Life v Capital

Stewart Martin's article 'Artistic Communism - A Sketch' in the new issue of Third Text (which yes contains yours truly as well) offers a fascinating periodisation of 'Marxist vitalism'. His argument is that this vitalism passes through a number of phases, from the 'spiritualist vitalism' of German Idealism to Marx's 'materialist vitalism' in the first instance. Marx, and I think this is the most disputable part of the periodisation, poses a situation of 'life versus capitalism' (489).

Then we have Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Englightenment, which registers the dissolution of the independence of culture, or the subsumption of culture. This leads to a disclosure of capital as 'dead labour' - their mordant images of capitalism qua dead and deadening force. In Debord, capital's colonisation of life is registered, but only the beginnings of this process. This leads to an affirmation of the unity of culture and life and the insistence that life remains uncolonisable.

Finally, we have the current situation in which the colonisation of life is played out through the medium of art and culture ('creative' / 'artistic' / 'cognitive' capital). In this situation life, and so vitalism, can no longer play the unequivocal role of point of resistance.

'Capital would no longer be opposed to life as its other. Rather than a form of non-life or death, capital becomes itself a form of life [from vampire to zombie?]. And opposition to capitalism is no longer grasped by the affirmation of life tout court, but by an affirmation of non-capitalist life or communist life, which is thereby also a negation of capitalist life.' (493)

I think what is key for me here is the possibility of formalising and historicising the passing of vitalism as point of resistance, notably in the passage from formal to real subsumption - at least as a tendency or, in Martin's phrase, 'an imminently approaching horizon' (493). There is plenty to cash out here, and I am not knowledgeable enough to truly assess the relation of Marx to German Idealism, especially in relation to art, but Martin's work, as usual, is both insightful and provocative.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Always Already Co-Optation

With thanks to Bram for this from Pynchon's Inherent Vice:

Was it possible, that at every gathering—concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in, and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever—those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear? (130)

The whole thing sounds compulsory reading for Evan, since inherent vice 'is a legal tenet referring to a "hidden defect (or the very nature) of a good or property which of itself is the cause of (or contributes to) its deterioration, damage, or wastage. Such characteristics or defects make the item an unacceptable risk to a carrier or insurer. If the characteristic or defect is not visible, and if the carrier or the insurer has not been warned of it, neither of them may be liable for any claim arising solely out of the inherent vice." (Business Dictionary)

The LRB review by Thomas Jones is good as well, although the conclusion that it is not as good as Gravity's Rainbow should be a given for any new Pynchon novel by now. I hope it's more Mason & Dixon than Vineland, the latter being a nadir for me.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Historical Materialism series at Haymarket

Go here to see some of the HM books being released in editions by Haymarket, and so cheaper (hooray). These two interest me:

Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism
Edited by Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis
This international and interdisciplinary volume aims to provide a thorough and precise panorama of recent developments in Marxist theory in the US, Europe, Asia, and beyond.
ISBN: 9781608460304US $50

Criticism of HeavenOn Marxism and Theology
Roland Boer
A critical commentary on the interactions between Marxism and theologyin the work of Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Antonio Gramsci, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek and TheodorAdorno.ISBN: 9781608460311US $28

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Space is the Place

Presentation at ‘Is Black and Red Dead?’ Conference, The Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, University of Nottingham (7-8 September 2009)

If, according to Sun Ra, ‘space is the place’, then what type of space is the place we want to be? From Hakim Bey’s mystical-Stirnerite ‘Temporary Autonomous Zone’, to Alain Badiou’s post-Maoist invocation of ‘independent spaces’ subtracted from the State, from the ‘offensive opacity zones’ of the neo-Agambenian anarchist group ‘Tiqqun’, to Masteneh Shah-Shuja’s libertarian communist ‘zones of proletarian development’, the answer appears to be the ‘zone’, or its equivalent, as the space of liberation.

There is no doubt that the zone of resistance, or of liberation, has been a recurrent and attractive theoretical and practical trope. I want to suggest that this is because the zone appears to offer an answer to the central problem of any radical spatial politics: on the one hand, this politics must be rooted or grounded in a particular space to have traction; on the other hand, this politics cannot remained confined to a particular space, but must (potentially at least) spread out and develop across all spaces. The attraction of the zone is that it appears to answer both these needs: fixed but fluid, rooted but rhizomatic. Of course where the emphasis falls accounts for a great deal of the political diversity of these ‘zones’. Usually in Marxism the stress has been on the strategic recognition of particular privileged sites of antagonism linked to the socio-economic contradictions of capital: from Lenin’s call to strike at the ‘weakest link’ in the imperialist chain, to Tronti’s argument that the capitalist chain will break at the point where the working class is the strongest. In contrast, anarchists, in Antonio Negri’s characterisation, ‘have always refused to define a time or space as privileged moments of uprising … thinking that there are one or thousands of spaces and times of revolt.’ (2008: 144) And yet all forms of radical spatial politics, I would argue, must negotiate with the problem of this dual imperative.

While not denying the attractions of the ‘zone’, both theoretically and practically, as either a resolution to this problem, or, in a more Deleuzian sense, as a better way of posing the problem, I do want to consider here what might be elided or evaded in the invocation of the ‘zone’. In his discussion of radical spatial politics David Harvey inflects the tension I have noted by distinguishing between place and space. Place is correlated with particularity, and the mobilising and empowering effects of localised or materially-grounded identities (which can include class, minority, gender, or sexuality, based identities). This is contrasted with the wider and more fluid domain of space, conceived of as the more generic and global site of politics. As Harvey notes, place-based groups are ‘relatively empowered to organize in place but disempowered when it comes to organizing over space.’ (Harvey 1990: 303) However, even this relative gain in power is problematised in the context of the capitalist organisation of space: the ‘assertion of any place-bound identity’ states Harvey, ‘[risks] becom[ing] part of the very fragmentation which a mobile capitalism and flexible accumulation can feed upon.’ (Harvey 1990: 303) The desire to invest place with an aesthetic and political meaning as a site of resistance ‘meshes only too well with the idea of spatial differentiations as lures for a peripatetic capital that values the option of mobility very highly.’ (Harvey 1990: 303) Instead of drawing an immediately pessimistic conclusion from this critique, can we find a more fine-grained understanding of the potential pressures on any existing or prospective ‘zone of resistance’?

I want to refer to one comparatively under-discussed staging of this problem of radical spatial politics: the work of Ranajit Guha. One of the founders of the Gramsci-inspired school of Subaltern studies, Guha is concerned to recover peasant insurgency in colonial India from, to use E. P. Thompson’s famous and felicitous phrase, ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’ (Thompson 1991 / 1963: 12). Contrary to the usual teleological historiographical models, whether colonialist, nationalist, or Marxist, Guha argues that this particular form of peasant politics ‘was by no means archaic in the sense of being outmoded’ (Guha 1982: 4). In spatial terms Guha rehabilitates the reliance of peasant mobilisation ‘on the traditional organization of kinship and territoriality’ against the abstract ‘national’ spatiality of elite mobilisation (Guha 1982: 4). Guha, however, is still haunted by the constraints of this form of mobilisation, noting that: ‘the numerous peasant uprisings of the period, some of them massive in scope and rich in anti-colonialist consciousness, waited in vain for a leadership to raise them above localism and generalize them into a nationwide anti-imperialist campaign.’ (Guha 1982: 6) Leaving aside the question of leadership, no doubt crucial to the disputes between anarchists and Marxists, here I want to focus on the spatial coding of the problem. Again we can see the tension between localism as the condition for radicalisation, and localism a constraint on radicalisation.

This is further cashed out in Guha’s later monumental work Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983 / 1999), which, in a chapter titled ‘Territoriality’, specifically takes on Marxist criticisms of the spatial confinement of peasant politics. In particular he rejects Engels charge, made in The Peasant War in Germany (1850 / 2002), that the defeat of the German peasants was specifically the result of their ‘stubborn provincialism’ (in Guha 1999: 279). In contrast Guha asserts ‘territoriality as a positive factor of rebel mobilization’ (1999: 305; my emphasis). Territoriality composes two overlapping axes of mobilisation: one based on common lineage and the other on common habitat. Peasant mobilisation operates spatially in terms of the identification of colonial power and its native protégés as alien, and this definitional act can either be negative – defining space in terms of the otherness of the alien – or positive – defining conflict in terms of the self-identity of the insurgents (Guha 1999: 281). Through a series of detailed historical reconstructions Guha emphasises the motivational power, and political dimension, of local struggles in which familial and ethnic ties overlap with that of spatial determinations.

He also raises the question of the articulation between a spatial politics and temporality, noting that: ‘A correlate of the category of space was a sense of time.’ (1999: 291) The ‘rootedness’ of peasant insurgency expresses a particular temporal politics, which is, as Guha states:

Expressed in its most generalized form as a contrasted pair of times (then / now), a good past negated by a bad present, its function was to endow the struggle against the alien with the mission of recovering the past as a future. (Guha 1999: 291)

Holding on to a particular territory becomes coded as holding on to a particular time – the ‘good past’ – but now refigured as a possible future. The reappropriation of past and future time is therefore staged through the spatial reappropriation of territory. This second point is crucial to Guha’s argument. It is vital for him to resist the usual model of such peasant insurgencies as resolutely backward looking, and so archaic. Instead Guha insists that: ‘The domain of rebellion extended thus in both directions [past and future] from the subject’s locus in an embattled present.’ (1999: 294) In exactly the same fashion as the question of spatiality, temporality also has to be re-thought to avoid the sense of confinement and archaism usually invoked to dismiss such insurgencies.

Confinement in a particular place, whether spatial or temporal, is resisted by Guha’s insistence that the two axes of territoriality – ethnic and physical space – do not completely overlap (Guha 1999: 330). It is this spatial difference that produces the expansive drive of peasant insurgency as it comes to fill in these ‘gaps’, creating the capacity to enlarge and define a wider domain of insurgency – a kind of expanding zone of insurgency. It is the non-coincidence of place and space, the very fact that territoriality is permeable and dis-located, which makes possible a non-archaic radical spatial politics. And yet, once again, Guha is forced to note the limits of such insurgencies in the context of later militant mass movements, writing that the peasants can only attain a ‘fragmented insurgent consciousness’ (Guha 1999: 331). The fragmentation of consciousness is mirrored in the spatial fragmentation in which the rootedness of territoriality eventually blocks the connection of insurgents in space, and blocks a generic or unified consciousness that can transcend territoriality. Contrary to Guha’s express intention, it appears that localism has its revenge, and these insurgencies remain merely prefigurative of later national or global insurgencies.

We could argue, however, that Guha’s problem does not lie with the object of his research, but with his inability to give-up on his residual Marxist commitment to historical teleology. Regarding the proletariat as the true generic subject of history, and the only subject able to universalise itself spatially through the immanent rupture with the ‘false’ universality of capital, Guha can still only leave the peasant insurgent as a prefigurative moment. In Provincializing Europe (2000) Dipesh Chakrabarty aims to radicalise Guha’s work by freeing it from its residual teleology. The refusal of such teleologies, and their correlation with privileged carriers or bearers of history, allows us to free spatial and temporal difference from metaphysical and political subordination.

What is interesting is that Chakrabarty does not, at least initially, simply abandon Marxism. In fact, he argues that the question of spatial and temporal difference is posed within the horizon of capital and, more particularly, within our conceptualisation of capital as a spatial and temporal order. We can regard such differences as: (1) inevitably overcome by capital in the long run; (2) negotiated and contained within capital; or (3) produced by capital (Chakrabarty 2000: 47). In each case difference is essentially tractable to capital, and this produces a narrative of historical progress or development. It is just this conception that Chakrabarty contests by ‘show[ing] how Marx’s thoughts may be made to resist the idea that the logic of capital sublates differences into itself.’ (2000: 50)

Contrary to the usual conceptions of Marx’s thought as irremediably ‘stagist’ and teleological Chakrabarty insists that ‘Marx … does not so much provide us with a teleology of history as with a perspectival point from which to read the archives.’ (2000: 63) Unpacking this statement Chakrabarty distinguishes in Marx a history posited by capital itself as its precondition, as universal and necessary, which he calls ‘History 1’. This is opposed to ‘History 2’, which is composed of the antecedents of capital, but they are encountered by capital ‘not as antecedents established by itself, not as forms of its own life-process.’ (Marx in Chakrabarty 2000: 63) In this case we can distinguish historical differences that lend themselves to the reproduction of capital and those that do not. Chakrabarty summarises the result: ‘Marx accepts, in other words, that the total universe of pasts that capital encounters is larger than the sum of those elements in which are worked out the logical presuppositions of capital.’ (2000: 64)

The surprise is, as Chakrabarty notes, that Marx’s own examples of History 2 are money and the commodity. The reason for this counter-intuitive selection is that money and the commodity, as relations, can exist in history without necessarily giving rise to capital. In fact, capital had to destroy the previous forms of money and the commodity to subsume them to its own reproduction. History 2 is not a separate and alternative history to capital’s History 1, in the style of a communist version of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962). Instead the plural moments of History 2 ‘inhere in capital and yet interrupt and punctuate the run of capital’s own logic.’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 64) They can never be fully subsumed in History 1, but exist as its constant interruption. In this way historical difference and, we could add, spatial difference, ‘writes into the intimate space of capital an element of deep uncertainty.’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 64)

While Marx’s more teleological moments conceal this uncertainty, Chakrabarty excavates History 2 as the means for an immanent critique of the teleological narrative of capital. Chakrabarty argues is that difference is neither external nor internal to capital, but ‘lives in intimate and plural relationships to capital, ranging from opposition to neutrality.’ (2000: 66) This intimacy does not simply equal alignment with capital, along the lines of a teleological historicism of subsumption. Instead, alignment is the labour of capital, produced through its own disciplinary matrix. The despotism of capital is a work of real abstraction that signals a dependence on History 2, but also its over-coding or re-territorialisation as History 1. Chakrabarty also insists that we should not simply think of History 2 (or plural History 2s) ‘as precapitalist or feudal, or even inherently incompatible with capital.’ (2000: 67) Such a position might appear to be anti-capitalist, but leaving History 2 spatially separated from capital would only have the ironic result of confirming capitalism as internally coherent, as absolute and inescapable Weberian ‘iron cage’. What I want to take more seriously, especially in relation to the zone, is how, to quote Chakrabarty, ‘the idea of History 2 allows us to make room, in Marx’s own analytic of capital, for the politics of human belonging and diversity. It gives us a ground on which to situate our thoughts about multiple ways of being human and their relationship to the global logic of capital.’ (2000: 67)

To conclude, the attraction of the zone as a site of resistance lies in the fact that it incarnates an actual territory of politics in the face of the hegemonic ability of capital to re-organise social, economic, and political space seemingly at will. It is this effect, I would argue, that has drawn so many to it from opposed and antagonistic political orientations. Its problem is that it appears to always risk succumbing to the historical irony of becoming merely another site of capital, precisely because of its resistance and inventiveness. Such a conclusion courts cynicism, of the kind Christopher Connery has described as ‘always-already cooptation’ (2007: 87), in which resistance is not only recuperated after the fact, but recuperated in its becoming. Capital wins the game in advance, with every move against it inscribed within its own unfolding.

I am suggesting that the virtues of Chakrabarty’s position are first that it refuses the consolation of valorising the zone as radical per se, as the automatic incarnation of History 2. As Marx’s own examples indicate History 2 might not always be the obvious moment of resistance, and it would have to be form of resistance that can negotiate its own intimacy with History 1. Second, it would also refuse the automatic assumption that all such zones are already fatally contaminated by capital, mere ruses of real subsumption. Instead, to think the spatial politics of the zone requires the politicisation of the intimacy of History 2 and History 1. Without this thinking we are left with either abandoning the zone as irremediably contaminated by capital, or positing it as uncontaminated outside. In either case the result is the same: we confirm capital’s own fantasmatic self-image as a total temporal and spatial order, and leave radical politics with only consolatory and symmetrical fantasies of inexplicable and yet somehow total revolution.

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