For it is the duty of the good man to teach others the good that you could not work because of the malignity of the times or of fortune, so that when many are capable of it, someone of them more loved by heaven will be able to work it.
Friday, 26 February 2010
Apocalypse Now or Later
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Ghandi / introduced by Etienne Balibar (because of his work on Lenin and Ghandi)
The Situationists / introduced either by TJ Clark and Dan Nicholson-Smith or Anselm Jappe
The Wobblies / introduced by Thomas Pynchon
Malcolm X / introduced by Mike Davis
William Morris / introduced by Perry Anderson (circa Arguments in English Marxism)
Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex) / introduced by Nina Power (and Firestone herself?)
Paul Lafargue 'The Right to be Lazy' / introduced by Owen Hatherley
Further suggestions for this rather odd parlour game...
Also, the Daniel Bensaid archive is available at the MIA; a tragedy that he would not be able to write for this series.
Registering with the Big (Commercial) Other
Friday, 19 February 2010
Start with the 'Good New'?
Perry AndersonProtesting my reserve towards them, Ginzburg advocates Brecht’s motto that it is better to start from the bad new things than from the good old ones. I’ve always been puzzled by the popularity of this dictum on the left. Why should we restrict ourselves to this simpleminded pair – what about the bad old things and the good new ones?
The striking example from Anderson is, of course, the achievements of feminism. On this, of course, see Nina's work, and we might also consider the depth of regression in this rationality - as only reported to me, the terribly depressing debate about rape on This Morning. The pitifully low conviction rates, and the fact public discourse still rotates around 'short skirts', 'asking for it', and if you're drunk that permits rape (what about if you're in a coma? Then you can see the hyper-distasteful Kill Bill), all indicates the implicit social sanctioning of rape as mechanism of 'discipline and punishment' for supposedly unruly female (and of course male) bodies.
Of course that might seem to undermine my point, but once articulated and put into practice these forms of rationality are the 'good new' against which existing 'irrationality', or simple value-reproduction 'rationality', can be assessed and critiqued. This is the power of both Nina and Mark's book: they generate a sense of recognition, the transformation, in Gramscian terms, of 'common sense' to 'good sense', by drawing out implicit forms of rationality we have got so used to ignoring, ideologically dismissing, or living as 'irrationality'.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Labour / Time
First, my understanding of class struggle qua negativity is classical, in the sense of finding its origin in an experience of commodification and alienation that bears, primarily, on time. In Marx's classic statement from part 7, in the chapter on 'The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation':
within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour-process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour-process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life-time into working-time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of capital. (my emphasis)
The despotism of capital is a despotism of time, which finds it locus on the labour process through the extraction of value. Of course this is not the only form of capitalist alienation or commodification, but time is, I would argue, its privileged vector.
Capitalism, therefore, negates our experience of time, subjects that temporality to 'capture' and deployment within the value form. This capture produces the effect of negativity in this relational 'friction' as a felt need. This is true of even the most anti-humanist forms of Marxism, as we see in this statement from Althusser's Reading Capital:
In the capitalist mode of production, therefore, the time of economic production has absolutely nothing to do with the obviousness of everyday practice's ideological time: of course, it is rooted in certain determinate sites, in biological time certain limits in the alternation of labour and rest for human and animal labour power; certain rhythms for agricultural production) but in essence it is not at all identified with this biological time, and in no sense is it a time that can be read immediately in the flow of any given process. It is an invisible time, essentially illegible, as invisible and as opaque as the reality of the total capitalist production process itself. This time, as a complex 'intersection' of the different times, rhythms, turnovers, etc., that we have just discussed, is only accessible in its concept, which, like every concept is never immediately 'given', never legible in visible reality: like every concept this concept must be produced, constructed.
Capitalist time is rooted in biological time, but not identified with it; it overrides and negates this time, creating a new temporal experience of knotted times, that are never given or legible as such. Hence, at least Althusser implies, the difficulty of transition from the felt need of resistance to an actual knowledge of capitalist time.
It is the immediacy of the relational extraction of value in labour that provokes resistance, which is vectored through 'lived experience' (historically conditioned of course), and through the necessary strategic knowledge of this extraction. This is why I would suggest the impossibility of retreating into some 'reserve' of negativity, but only its articulation 'within and against' the capitalist despotism of time, which is to say its strictly relational form.
Of course, the further difficulty is the fragmentation and destruction of the worker's movement, which did play a role in the development of capitalism through the valorisation of labour, but which did also, often despite itself or against itself, carry the utopian traces of the critique of labour itself. While we have individual negativity if you like, often in the truly negative forms of psychic or physical distress and suffering, what is truly missing is a collective articulation of this negativity. Here the labour process still, negatively, offers points of collective articulation in terms of collective resistance to the imposition of the value form, as would also consumption.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
The Dictatorship of the Lens: Notes on Gillo Pontecorvo's Queimada
Queimada is a film of gazes: exchanged, elicited, refused, and denied. All this takes place under another gaze – the totalising gaze of the camera, which subordinates all other gazes, and which Pontecorvo identifies as the ‘dictatorship of the lens’ that we must fight against. The camera, he argues, makes us ‘prisoners of reality’, or, we could say, prisoners of ‘reality’ qua the imaginary (in a Lacanian or Althusserian sense) – which is the visual ‘contamination’ of daily reality for the oppressed. To break this specular fascination, this miring into accepted reality, Pontecorvo stages this film as an iconography of gazes, a veritable dialectics of the gaze – at once Hegelian, Marxist, and Fanonian. This iconography traces a double movement: our exposure to a series of gazes between characters, looks of intensity, of literally life and death, and our exposure to gazes that direct themselves to us, the audience – in engagement, but also in hostility and indifference. This double movement is a double pedagogy, or a double subversion of pedagogy, which takes place within the film and which takes place between the film and the spectatorial gaze.
It ends with another set of mass gazes – this time a direct look at the camera, at the audience by the slaves now become workers, and incipient revolutionaries, eteched by a final freeze frame. This is not the gaze of equality but of sullen hatred, of potential future revolution, which has developed through the revolutionary pedagogy of the rest of the film.
These are the gazes of the masses, as a ‘choral personage’, as a character or protagonist, which Pontecorvo had developed in The Battle of Algiers (1966). It is the epic of the masses, those masses ‘who make history’ (Mao), but enclosed within a different frame, within a different dialectic. We can imagine the whole film reduced to a dissolve between the first image and the second, a truncated Fanonian dialectic of reversal and truth achieved through the violence of refusal, a meeting of the gaze with the audience that exchanges nothing but the ‘blow for blow’, and the achievement of revolutionary consciousness.
But between these two moments we have another series of ‘gazes’, which will preoccupy my analysis, exchanged between the characters of Jose Delores (the non-professional Columbian peasant farmer Evaristo Marquez) and the British agent William Walker (Marlon Brando). It is the metonymic and microscopic ‘pedagogic’ relation of this gaze that condenses the whole dialectic traced macroscopically between the two images of the ‘masses’. The exchange between Jose and Walker is itself split and fragmented. It is not only the gaze between the professional agent provocateur and the emerging ‘professional’ revolutionary, the gaze between the one who acts as a revolutionary, but only in the service of the state, and the one who by acting becomes the true revolutionary, but also the gaze between the professional actor and the non-professional actor. To the pedagogy of revolution that takes place in the film, and the pedagogy of revolution between the film and the spectator, we can add the pedagogy of acting ‘outside’ of the film, all of which cross and become inextricable.
Solinas, having written Salvatore Giuliano (1962) for Francesco Rosi, had a pedigree in political films. He wrote all or part of four different pictures, each with the theme of an uneasy alliance between a cynical gringo and a revolutionary peasant (¿Quien sabe? , Tepepa , A Professional Gun , and Burn! )[.]
Queimada belongs, as might already have been suggested by the Ennio Morricone soundtrack, to this ‘cycle’ of politicised films, which all concern the allegorical dimension of US intervention in Latin America and Vietnam. Of course this proximity might not be recognised because of the usual condescension to the ‘Spaghetti Western’. The singularity of Queimada is, however, that this relation is placed within the context of slavery, and within Fanon’s return of the master-slave dialectic to the dialectics of racial identity.
Contrary to Stone’s point, we should first note that Fanon’s dialectic does not assume an intrinsic or ‘instinctive’ radical refusal by the colonised as the condition for ‘purified’ revolutionary violence. In fact, the precise point of his dialectic is that the rupture of conflict and division must be produced relationally. Fanon is concerned with a pacified dialectic that results, he contends, from the fact that: ‘One day the White Master, without conflict, recognised the Negro Slave.’ In Fanon’s remarkable contention this lack of conflict means that there has been no dialectic of recognition, no struggle that risks death, but rather merely a passive shift from slavery to freedom (he has in mind the French situation, although seemingly ignoring the Haitian revolution, from which Queimada borrows, and of which Fanon is well aware). The result is that conflict is required to begin a real dialectic of recognition: ‘Alterity of rupture, of conflict, of battle.’ The dialectic of Queimada is a complication of Fanon’s dialectic of radicalised conflict, and his insistence on the necessity of forgetting the past to create the ‘new man’; what we could call, after Badiou, Fanon’s passion for the real. In Fanon’s declaration: ‘I am not the slave of the Slavery that dehumanized my ancestors.’
In contrast, for all its allegorical dimension, Queimada re-stages that dialectic of conflict historically, in the context of slavery that Fanon denies in the name of the future. It also problematises the issue of the donation or giving of freedom, precisely through the bifurcated staging of freedom: the first freedom that is manipulated by Walker and ‘granted’ by the new politically independent but economically dependent bourgeoisie, and the second freedom which does not (fully) arrive, but is signalled by that immediacy of hatred that emerges from the ‘pedagogic’ relation of the first moment.
Again, contrary to Stone, there is immediacy on the conflict between slave and master, in Dolores’s reaction to being struck down while trying to help one of the chained slaves. He does not obey the usual attitude of the slave, as described by Simone Weil: ‘Pushed, they fall. Fallen, they lie where they are, unless chance gives somebody the idea of raising them up again.’ Instead, Dolores picks up a rock and is ready to strike back in an act of ‘instinctive’ rebellion. It is this which draws Walker to him as a prospective revolutionary, because, as Walker states, ‘Someone at least once in his life has thought of killing his Portuguese master’.
There is no doubt that this dialectical relation initially unfolds in the form of training and tutelage, precisely tutelage into the kind of mortal conflict that Fanon, in true Hegelian fashion, sees as essential to the dialectic of recognition. It is only after the bank robbery (of the brilliantly named ‘Bank of the Holy Spirit’) and the necessity to defend their own gains that Dolores’s group can recognise that: ‘Portuguese die to’.
And yet Dolores is not merely the pliant and manipulable ‘material’, nor Walker merely the arch-master and manipulator that we might suppose. The dialectic between them, not least the dialectic of the gaze, is a pedagogic relation for both. After the successful revolution of the colonies bourgeoisie it is Jose who remarks, ironically, that ‘it’s all the same as before, eh?’ Even the scene of departure, when Dolores carries Walker’s bags for him again, perhaps doesn’t have the same sense of subservience as before. This is reinforced by Walker’s fate after leaving – to be re-encountered years later after the film’s hiatus as ‘drop out’ from his allotted role, which suggests the necessity of this dialectic of ‘recognition’ to his self-image, or his self (as do the concluding scenes of the film). When Walker returns it is because Dolores is leading his own revolution. This revolution is not against slavery, but against neo-colonialism: ‘If a man works for another, even if he’s called a worker, he remains a slave’. In this case, although Walker successfully captures Delores, we have the final moment of achieved refusal, a true dialectical moment of ‘abstract negativity’, in which Delores refuses to be saved by Walker. This moment, utterly inexplicable to Walker, indicates true reversal of the pedagogic dialectic:
His defeat is a comparison between himself and Dolores, who grows up. His development symbolizes the maturing of the third world, a moral growth which continues to the moment when Jose Delores refuses to speak any longer to Walker. Walker is defeated because he can no longer manipulate. His consciousness is that of the European who can be very friendly, but who must always be the one who decides. Walker encounters, in contrast to his emptiness, someone who is full of purpose. And this is his great defeat.
Although focused on the refusal of verbal communication Pontecorvo notes that ‘He [Walker] sees his own emptiness before his eyes.’ In fact, in shooting the scene Pontecorvo decided to remove the dialogue and replace it with Cantata 156 of Bach. The scene becomes visual, and the visual representation of the refusal of words and the gaze.
Of course, this might seem the usual final fate of abstract negativity, in this case hanging, rather than the guillotine, but still ‘the coldest and meanest of all deaths, with no more significance than cutting off the head of a cabbage’. What is striking, however, is the symmetry of the acceleration of revolutionary consciousness that has taken place in the ‘time’ of the film. Rather than the process of pedagogy requiring repetition, now, when Walker leaves the island, his bag is taken not as the act of a prospective servant or slave, but as the prelude to an act of mortal violence against him.
‘Civilisation belongs to the whites, but what civilisation and until when?’
 Joan Mellen, ‘An Interview with Gillo Pontecorvo’, Film Quarterly 26.1 (Autumn 1972): 2-10, p 2.
 Joan Mellen, ‘An Interview with Gillo Pontecorvo’, Film Quarterly 26.1 (Autumn 1972): 2-10, p 8.
 Joan Mellen, ‘An Interview with Gillo Pontecorvo’, Film Quarterly 26.1 (Autumn 1972): 2-10, p .10.
 Alan A. Stone, ‘Last Battle’, Boston Review (April / May 2004),
http://bostonreview.net/BR29.2/stone.html [consulted 12 August 2009]
 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp.xvii-xviii.
 Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Spaghetti Western (Harpenden, Herts: Kamera Books, 2009), p.116.
 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (London and Sydney: Pluto Press, 1986), p.217.
 Fanon, Black Skin, p.222.
 Alain Badiou, The Century, trans., with commentary and notes, Alberto Toscano. Cambridge, UK, and Malden, Polity, 2005; ‘The Algerian nation is no longer in a future heaven, it is no longer the product of hazy and fantasy-ridden imaginations. It is at the very centre of the new Algerian man. There is a new kind of Algerian man, a new dimension to his existence.’ (p.18) Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970).
 Fanon, Black Skin, p.230.
 One might argue that the film therefore addresses the point made by Françoise Vergès, that Fanon’s dialectic of violence involves the fantasy of a self-engendering ‘brotherhood’ (in the Algerian revolution), that denies the historical experience of defeat within slavery, see Monsters and Revolutionaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), pp.14-15.
 Simone Weil, ‘The Iliad, or the Poem of Force’ (1940), trans. Mary McCarthy, in Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, War and the Iliad, intro. Christopher Benfey (New York: New York Review of Books, 2005), pp.3-37, p.8.
 Joan Mellen, ‘An Interview with Gillo Pontecorvo’, Film Quarterly 26.1 (Autumn 1972): 2-10, p 9.
 Ibid. p.9.
 Hegel, G. W. F., Phenomenology of Spirit , trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p.330.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
At the Mountains of Madness
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Apocalypse Tendency Crisis (on Mute)
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Concrete v Abstract
The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought. In this way Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind.
While the 'concrete' and 'real' can have, as Althusser notes, polemic and critical effects in the ideological field of knowledge, as well as generating valuable empirical work (although it's worth noting the amount of such material generated by Althusserianism), their limits need considering and marking. This is especially true in the context of crisis, in which returns to the 'real' and 'concrete' (as in the real versus the speculative economy) gain a certain pseudo-leftist 'grace'. Here again, we can see the missing of abstraction being touted as the cure to the disease it caused - as in the desire to keep the bankers and return to 'normal' in the political field, after all the bankers are (supposedly) the only ones who know how the 'system' (or 'network') works...
A certain effect of bewitchment operates, which is what concerned Adorno in Benjamin's Arcades project. Contrary to usual opinion something in that criticism does seem to hit the mark, and we need to break the 'fetish' of the 'concrete'.