Monday, June 24, 2013

A long one.

"Immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, intellectuals, politicians, and pundits - not on the radical left, but mainstream conservatives and liberals - breathed an audible sigh of relief, almost as if they welcomed the strikes as a deliverance from the miasma Buckley and Kristol had been criticizing. The World Trade Center was still on fire and the bodies entombed there scarcely recovered when Frank Rich announced that 'this week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade-long dream.' What was that dream? The dream of prosperity, of surmounting life's obstacles with money. During the 1990s, Maureen Down wrote, we hoped 'to overcome flab with diet and exercise, wrinkles with collagen and Botox, sagging skin with surgery, impotence with Viagra, mood swings with anti-depressants, myopia with laser surgery, decay with human growth hormone, disease with stem cell research and bioengineering.' We 'renovated our kitchens,' observed David Brooks, 'refurbished our home entertainment systems, invested in patio furniture, Jacuzzis and gas grills' - as if affluence might free us of tragedy and difficulty. This ethos had terrible domestic consequences. For Francis Fukuyama, it encouraged 'self-indulgent behavior' and a 'preoccupation with one's own petty affairs.' It also had international repercussions. According to Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the cult of peace and prosperity found its purest expression in Bill Clinton's weak and distracted foreign policy, which made 'it easier for someone like Osama bin Laden to rise up and say credibly "The Americans don't have the stomach to defend their interests. They are morally weak."' According to Brooks, even the most casual observer of the pre-9/11 domestic scene, including Al Qaeda, 'could have concluded that America was not an entirely serious country.'

"But after that day in September, more than a few commentators claimed, the domestic scene was transformed. America was now 'more mobilized, more conscious and therefore more alive' wrote Andrew Sullivan. George Packer remarked upon 'the alertness, grief, resolve, even love' awakened by 9/11. 'What I dread now,' Packer confessed, 'is a return to the normality we're all supposed to seek.' For Brooks, 'the fear that is so prevalent in the country' after 9/11 was 'a cleanser, washing away a lot of the self-indulgence of the past decade.' Revivifying fear eliminated the anxiety of prosperity, replacing a disabling emotion with a bracing passion. 'We have traded the anxieties of affluence for the real fears of war.'" - Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

"In 1940, when Petain became the French leader, he explained the French defeat as the result of a long process of degeneration of the French state caused by the liberal-Jewish influence; so, according to Petain, the French defeat was a blessing in disguise, a shattering and painful reminder of one's weaknesses and thus a chance to reconstitute French strength on a healthy base. Do we not find the same motif in many a conservative critic of today's permissive-consumerist Western societies? The ultimate threat does not come from out there, from the fundamentalist Other, but from within, from our own lassitude and moral weakness, loss of clear values and firm commitments, of the spirit of dedication and sacrifice.... No wonder that, in their first reaction, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson claimed that, on September 11, the USA got what it deserved. What, then, if exactly the same logic sustains the 'war on terror'? What if they true aim of this 'war' is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act? What if the 'terrorist attack', no matter how 'real' and terrifying, is ultimately a metaphoric substitute for this Act, for the shattering of our liberal-democratic consensus?" - Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real

"Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the U.S., such as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of U.S. states.

"As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the U.S. democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.

"What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.

"The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in Washington and Colorado, it was obviously not legal for personal use.

"Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? [...]

"We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible. This is why same sex relationships, in violation of sodomy laws, were a necessary precondition for the legalization of same sex marriage. This is also why those maintaining positions of power will always encourage the freedom to talk about ideas, but never to act." - Moxie Marlinspike, "Why 'I Have Nothing to Hide' Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance"

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Hey Commander! I am talking about people who wipe the tears of street dogs while they themselves are under attack. They are not doing this for '3-5 trees' anymore. But it is obvious that you are not doing it for a shopping mall, either. So why do you tell so many lies Commander? Why do you still keep marching your angry little soldiers on us, telling lies about us drinking in the mosque, having sex in the tent? You want us to die, don't you? We die and you feel relief, don't you? People dying just make more people rally to the cause, but you know better. They stand tighter when they are humiliated; they get stronger when they are threatened. You know better, of course. Do you think that these people have less pride than you? Ask your slaves and they will show you the footage. Look at the faces of those children. Look at whom you try to kill. See what suns set in the name of your shopping mall, in the name of your power, see it, Commander!"

Letter to Erdoğan.
"In an outstanding reading of Walter Benjamin's 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', Eric Santner elaborates Benjamin's notion that a present revolutionary intervention repeats/redeems past failed attempts: the 'symptoms' - past traces which are retroactively redeemed through the 'miracle' of the revolutionary intervention - are 'not so much forgotten deeds, but rather forgotten failures to act, failures to suspend the force of social bond inhibiting acts of solidarity with society's "others"':

symptoms register not only past failed revolutionary attempts but, more modestly, past failures to respond to calls for action or even for empathy on behalf of those whose suffering in some sense belongs to the form of life of which one is a part. They hold the place of something that is there, that insists in our life, though it has never achieved full ontological consistency. Symptoms are thus in some sense the virtual archives of voids - or, perhaps, better, defenses against voids - that persist in historical experience."
-Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

???

"Time and again, when questioned or interviewed, one is asked about one's hobbies. When the illustrated weeklies report on the life of one of those giants of the culture industry, they rarely forego the opportunity to report, with varying degrees of intimacy, on the hobbies of the person in question. I am shocked by the question when I come up against it. I have no hobby. Not that I am the kind of workaholic who is incapable of doing anything with his time but applying himself industriously to his task. But as far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies - preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time - had I not become hardened by experience to such examples of this now widespread, barbarous mentality." - Theodor Adorno, "Free Time"

"Those influenced by Adorno and Horkheimer came to believe that no political response was possible to a regime of rational and enlightened domination - a totally administered society. Instead they sought to avoid personal incorporation into an industrialized culture through the 'aesthetic philosophical intensification of subjectivity'. Those who believe that 'Enlightenment is totalitarianism' seek consolation in a 'private' life of detailed and energetic discrimination. Adorno's Californian exile, with its air-conditioning, classical music and homesickness, provides a romanticized model for this disastrous retreat into the 'aesthetic' sphere. The rigorous distinction between a 'private' life of culture and refinement and a 'public' life of compromises conducted in an ironic style disguises the extent to which such a form of life embodies total subordination to the logic of corporate production. In such cases, common in modern business, the exercise of independent intelligence provides a restorative holiday from 'the real world' of work. It does not engage critically with it. The discerning, civilized self survives as a strictly recreational identity. The old ideal of intellectual and artistic autonomy degenerates into a lifestyle, a set of choices about one's leisure activities, a form of 'power-protected inwardness'." - Dan Hind, The Threat to Reason

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Anti-anti-determinism.

"The interpellation of the individual as subject, which makes him an ideological subject, is realized not on the basis of a single ideology, but of several ideologies at once, under which the individual lives and acts his practice. [...] What results is a play and a space of multiple interpellations in which the subject is caught up, but which (as contradictory play and as space) constitutes the 'freedom' of the individual subject, who is simultaneously interpellated by several ideologies that are neither of the same kind nor at the same level; this multiplicity explains the 'free' development of the positions adopted by the subject-individual. Thus the individual has at his disposal a 'play of manoeuvre' between several positions, between which he can 'develop', or even, if you insist, 'choose', determine his course, although this determination is itself determined, but in the play of the plurality of interpellations." - Louis Althusser, letter to Fernanda Navarro, 8 April 1986

 "Each of us belongs to a class, but also to a particular section or stratum of it. Each of us belongs to a family, i.e. to a micro-social entity which often presents major discontinuities with respect to society's general degree of development. Each of us lives in a society in which the classes stand opposed to one another but also influence one another and have periods of partial 'collaboration' in which one exercises hegemony over the other. Through the medium of culture, each of us (even without being specifically an intellectual) undergoes influences which come from afar both temporally and spatially. Each of us can become a part of a class different from his or her origins (either as a result of an actual change in socio-economic status or through a transfer of allegiance dictated by 'ideal' considerations), without for that matter ever being able to erase the traces of the past. Each of us under the influence of mystifying ideologies, can feel a national, religious or racial solidarity which overlays class solidarity. The list could be continued. A Marxist theory of the person must confront this entire complex of problems [...] and must attempt at least to sketch the general outlines of a materialist ethics." - Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism
"Whatever relates to the essential gratuitousness of intellectual activity, being both difficult and illuminating, should be supported and honoured in its very essence, against the norm of profitable technological application." - Alain Badiou, The Meaning of Sarkozy

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"[T]here are cruelly destructive forms of surplus as well - as when culture, our creative surplus over Nature, fails to ground itself in the finitude of Nature and the material body and [...] fantasizes that humanity is infinite."

"What is infinite about humanity is desire; and communism, as I have argued, is about the conversion of desire in its 'linear', unstoppable sense, which has a lordly way with the particulars, to an unending exploration and enjoyment of the world for its own sake. What the transcendence of material need accordingly frees us from is, paradoxically, the immaterial. It is the immateriality of ceaseless acquisition which it seeks to rebuke. The transcendence of the material thus returns us to the material, in the sense of freeing us from those wants and practices which prevent us from savouring the sheer material use-values of the world. Only through communism can we come to experience our bodies once again." - Terry Eagleton, "Communism: Lear or Gonzalo?"

Fuck the EDL.

"After the Boston Bombing a few weeks ago, a CNN anchorman asked a so-called expert whether there was anything in the background of the alleged bombers that might help to explain their actions. Unsurprisingly, the expert didn't reply: 'Yes, there is, actually, it's called western foreign policy.' Instead, he jawed on about the possibility of early childhood trauma. If political motives are inadmissible then psychological ones will have to do instead. Maybe these two young Chechnyans were dropped on their heads as infants, or rudely yanked from the breast."

Terry Eagleton on the Woolwich murder.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Never work.

"The later Leopardi, while he did not believe that the growth of knowledge would produce a growth of happiness (and in this sense he was not and never had been an Enlightenment thinker, at least in the more narrowly defined sense of the term), was nevertheless convinced that it was necessary, against the Italian and European 'moderates', to develop a materialist and pessimistic culture for all. That it was necessary to cease 'pacifying' the masses with the opium of religion, and instead to found a common morality, based on the solidarity of all men in the struggle against nature: a struggle that is, in the final analysis, a desperate one, but which alone can make all men brothers, outside all paternalist hypocrisy and all the foolish pride of those who will not acknowledge that men 'are no more than a tiny part of the universe.'" 
- Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism

The noble nature is the one
who dares to lift his mortal eyes
to confront our common destiny
and, with honest words
that subtract nothing from the truth,
admits the pain that is our destiny,
and our poor and feeble state;
who shows he's great and strong in suffering 
and doesn't add his brother's hate or anger,
worse than any other evil, to his ills
by blaming man for his unhappiness,
but assigns responsibility
to the truly guilty: she who is
mother of mortals when she gives us birth,
stepmother ruling us.
Her he calls his enemy, and believing
the whole human company
arrayed against her,
as they are in fact,
considers all men allies from the outset
and embraces all of them
with true love, offering
and expecting real and ready aid
in the alternating dangers and concerns
of our common struggle. But to take up arms
against a man, or set a trap
or make trouble for his neighbor
seems to him as stupid as,
surrounded by hostile soldiers
during the heaviest fighting on the field,
to forget your enemies
and battle fiercely with your friends,
inciting your own men to run
by threatening them with your sword.
When such ideas become
known to the populace as they once were,
and the fear
that first joined mortals in a common pact
against unholy nature
shall be revived to some extent
out of real wisdom, then an honest,
just society of citizens
and right and piety will take root
from something more than vain mythologies;
and on this foundation
the people's probity may stand as firm
as something based on error.


-Giacomo Leopardi, La Ginestra (The Broom)