Thursday 26 February 2009

A New Political Subject?

Three new reports on the Greek revolts, an excellent account in the Guardian(!) and two reports in the latest RP (not yet up on the website). In all cases the writers agree that the struggle is as much against precarity as against state violence, that a new 'transversal' political subjectivity has emerged outside and against the usual coordinates of mediation, and the difficult struggle to articulate that subjectivity against the political channels which, it appears, are thoroughly corrupted. A key question is the way in which the revolt depends on contextual specificities - the history of repression and violence, the precarity of the €700 generation, the failures of the Greek state, the strength of political resistance - and how much it might be generalisable. This was obviously the fear in France, although it's depressing to say not in the UK (which certainly has seen a wave of occupations).

Most unexpected of all was the occupation of a call centre operated by the Altec telecoms group by employees threatened with redundancy without compensation. Altec was part of the recent break-up into the private sector of Greece's formerly state-run telecommunications system.

"There was a complete lack of political culture in the place," says Giorgos Sotiropoulos, who worked as part of the technical support team. "A call centre is as alienated as you can get. It's insidious. You're pitched against your co-worker by the fact that the supervisor is counting how many sales you make in how many calls and minutes. So it really mattered that it was a call centre we occupied, because the kind of enemy this insurrection in Greece is fighting is typified by this work. The enemy is amorphous, it is virtual, and that makes fighting it far more challenging than fighting a junta of colonels. Our enemy is a society which offers procedural freedom, and perceived freedom, but no physical, substantive freedom. But this situation is not irreversible, and we demonstrate this by finding a way of being free through uprising.
(From the Ed Vuillamy and Helena Smith piece in the Guardian, my italics)

Tuesday 17 February 2009

The Political Metaphysics of Time

"Avant-gardes have only one time; and the best thing that can happen to them is to have enlivened their time without outliving it."

In his commentary on the themes of his 1978 film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (a Latin planidrome meaning "We go round and round in the night and are consumed by fire") Debord comments that the primary thematic is "water" as the evocation of evanescence and the flow of time, while its secondary theme is that of "fire" as "momentary brilliance", although the water of time will always extinguish this brilliance. It's perfectly possible to give this a mystical or even Jungian reading (although I doubt Debord would have had much time for such "mystical cretinism"), but instead if there is a "mysticism" here it is as a result of a political metaphysics of time.

In Debord and Sanguinetti's "Theses on the SI and its Time" (1972) they note that "since its origin, the SI had been a vaster and more profound project than a simply political revolutionary movement." (# 41) The reason for this, I would argue, is not some supplementary mysticism but the relation of the SI to time, which is not to fear time because "it is made up of qualitative leaps, irreversible choices, and opportunities that will never return." (# 29) In the refusal of work, better its detournement, the SI revealed capital's subsumption of time and the "momentary brilliance" of the possibility of a time which is not "empty and homogenous" (Cf. Benjamin). And yet this cannot be revealed by the simple repetition of the SI, but rather through mastery of its own strategy of time.

This, then, is something of the aporia of the present, in which time ebbs in the sense of not being "enlivened" the test becomes the possibility of re-tracing the possibility of this political metaphysics of time.

Sunday 15 February 2009

The Seventh Continent in Images

The only trace of Austria? (The L refers to Linz)

The exit door leads in

The utopian trace

Money as voidable excrement

The labour of destruction
Dying Fish
The power of love
The terminal image

Thursday 12 February 2009

Deptford Black and Red Base

From the Institute, and good to hear about black & red cooperation

Tuesday 10 February 2009

He's Just Not that Into You (an 18thC solution)

Eliza Haywood was known as 'Mrs Novel', and a best-seller of the early novel alongside Defoe (although you wouldn't know it unless you happen to be be taught by someone who has got beyond Ian Watt). She was, charmingly as usual, described by Alexander Pope in the 'Dunciad', 'With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes'. She has an excellent novella 'Fantomina' (1725), which I've just read in the rather nice Broadview edition. Spoiler alert, but the story concerns a gentlewoman heroine who decides to disguise herself as a prostitute to see what it's like (!). Being approached by the dashing Beauplaisir (they don't name them like that any more) she decides to go the whole hog (so to speak), knowing her reputation will be intact. She invents the identity of Fantomina and proceeds to have some fun.

Keeping up the deceit she realises that Beauplaisir is fickle, like all men, and becoming bored with her. Rather than chucking things in, she tries a new disguise, Celia the saucy country girl:
The Dress she was in, was a round-ear'd Cap, a short Red Petticoat, and a little Jacket of Grey Stuff; all the rest of her Accoutrements were answerable to these, and join'd with a broad Country Dialect, a rude unpolish'd Air, which she, having been bred in these Parts, knew very well how to imitate, with her Hair and Eye-brows black'd, made it impossible for her to be known, or taken for any other than what she seem'd.
This only allows a brief dalliance so then she moves on the another disguise, as the saucy widow Bloomer. The result is that 'She had all the Sweets of Love, but as yet had tasted none of the Gall, and was in a State of Contentment, which might be envy'd by the more Delicate.' As Haywood wrote conduct manuals, Fantomina seems to offer what we might call an 'alternative' reading.

At one point, thanks to her disguises, she ends up two-timing herself in the two identities of Fantomina and the widow:

When the expected Hour arriv'd, she found that her Lover had lost no part of the Fervency with which he had parted from her; but when the next Day she receiv'd him as Fantomina, she perceiv'd a prodigious Difference; which led her again into Reflections on the Unaccountableness of Men's Fancies, who still prefer the last Conquest, only because it is the last. — Here was an evident Proof of it; for there could not be a Difference in Merit, because they were the same Person; but the Widow Bloomer was a more new Acquaintance than Fantomina, and therefore esteem'd more valuable.
Eventually this all grinds to a halt when she becomes pregnant, but, as the editors of the Broadview edition point out, her finally taking up of a place in a Monastery in France can only be considered moral closure if one ignores the somewhat dubious reputation of such institutions at the time, and the wide range of eighteenth-century pornography focused on such institutions.

'And thus ended an Intreague, which, considering the Time it lasted, was as full of Variety as any, perhaps, that many Ages has produced.'

Monday 9 February 2009

It's gonna rain

“I learned very early to question fate in silence. Especially on those long rainy days when it seemed to me that the whole universe had withdrawn into the depths of a swamp of misery. There, men seemed to have given up, abdicated, as if it was their destiny to go around in circles in the slimy mud of their impotence.”
Pierre Vallières, White Niggers of America [1968] (1971)

Seems appropriate for an afternoon sat in the computer centre staring out of the window at the rain, feeling like I certainly am going round 'in circles in the slimy mud of [my] impotence'.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Copernicus V Porn

Thanks to Helen for this example of hyperbolic claims on behalf of porn (can it be bettered?):

Pornography’s truths are subversive because they claim that people can empower themselves and create their own erotic norms. Political structures just hate when ideas or cultural products empower people. This is the recurring lesson of Copernicus, Guttenberg, Margaret Sanger, Lenny Bruce, and Timothy Leary.
Marty Klein

So, when you take a break from reading Collapse V to indulge in a little porn you can rest safe in the knowledge that they are equally 'empowering'...

Thursday 5 February 2009

Resistance (is futile / or not)

This argument from Pasolini, quoted by Barthes in his inaugural lecture at the College de France, presents a neat solution to the problem of recuperation:

'I believe that before action we must never in any case fear annexation by power and its culture. We must behave as if this dangerous eventuality did not exist .... But I also believe that afterward we must realise how much we may have been used by power. And then, if our sincerity or our necessity has been controlled and manipulated, I believe we must have the courage to abjure.'
This kind of Pascalian wager, or Vaihingerian deployment of the political 'as if', at once avoids the paranoia of the position of 'always-already co-optation' (Chris Connery), and the 'happy' naivete that presumes the eternal revolutionary truth of a position, rather than, to quote Debord, that theories exist, and die, in time.

The paranoia of the first position can be found most symptomatically in Baudrillard's later texts, but with a twist. He passes from death as resistant to power (or symbolic exchange), to the system itself as auto-deconstructive - hence the passivity of accelerationism. Rather than having to think through recuperation, to 'abjure' our works, we simply rely on the providence of the 'system' to produce its own collapse, in which its 'obscene underside' suddenly chaotically 'jumps' into complete collapse.
This kind of paranoia also characterises the position of the Telos group in the 1970s with their concept of 'artificial negativity', in which virtually every protest of the 1960s was somehow constituted or manipulated to the advantage of capital. In later incarnations Telos came to believe a new populism would somehow evade this dialectic, again leaving an exit door open. This 'cunning of (capitalist) reason' argument is particularly beloved of renegade leftists (Marcuse wisely remarked on the fact that the cunning of reason always seems to work for power, never against it).

The alternative often canvassed is to build-in an ontological grounding that 'resistance comes first', more metaphysical in Deleuze's reading of Foucault (who otherwise might well seem to fall into position one) and more political in the autonomists, where labour-power does the work.

What concerns me is how these two positions fold-into each other: paranoia over complete recuperation finds that resistance comes to infiltrate itself as, or within, the 'system'. On the other hand, the primacy of resistance licenses the reading of any recuperation as somehow always the effect of resistance, thereby functioning as an apologetics for the system.

I'm not sure there can be an absolute solution to this kind of aporia, but Pasolini's wager offers a deliberate wager in the symbolic, to act 'as if' recuperation does not exist in advance, then afterwards abjuring works that are recuperated, w/o bad conscience.

Monday 2 February 2009

Social Negativity

I'm not sure I'm exactly glad to know that I'm not the only one subject to random snowball attacks the moment there is exactly one inch of snow. I obviously have an amazing ability to attract social negativity "into my life" (as New Age types like to say). When I used to have a regular appointment in Brighton which involved walking along the main road by Preston Park I was regularly subject to abuse screamed from passing cars (usually the "c" word). Many out there would no doubt feel I deserve such treatment, however I continue to find it harrowing, what have I done?

Collapse V out

Now the anti-Kantian fun can begin (again)

Mine arrived this morning (no.71, trump that), and it's a big one, thanks to meetings, teaching, supervision, and in last place bodily needs like to eat and sleep, I doubt I'll be reading it for a few weeks at least.

Gazumped (academically)

Check out this review (pdf here) by Negri of Agamben latest (although the translation seems a little unsteady, or it may be the maestro's style). Annoyingly it appears that:

1. Agamben has already taken-up providence as a model for subjectivity (although it appears to be a negative model)

2. Negri critiques Agamben's lack of agency / subjectivity for his thinking of inoperativity (which is the argument of an article of mine which may/may not be forthcoming - I haven't heard back from the journal).
Back to the drawing-board...

Sunday 1 February 2009

Rome-phobia: A Conceptual Art Proposal

Now let us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past – an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development would exist alongside the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still be rising their old height on the Palatine and the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beautiful statues which graced it until the siege by the Goths, and so on. (Civilization and its Discontents, 257-8)
A conceptual art project for any digital architecture types who want to spend a long time in Rome: to recreate digitally Freud's fantasmatic simultaneous Rome qua unconscious (the Freud quote goes on in further detail for quite a long time). This is close, but not quite - although perhaps close enought to ruin your arts council funding bid.