Day 18&19: Six More Months of Winter

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As the representation of the groundhog in this picture is supposed to indicate, I have recently seen the shadow of my dissertation and thus predict for myself six more months of winter, i.e., groundhog-like existence in a dark hole, accompanied by several hundred books and my laptop.

Yesterday I was sadly neither able to put up a substantial post, nor able to engage in the discussions people have suggested. I have finished one piece of writing, but the next two to three weeks will be quite packed with the anxiety-filled tension involved in finishing two chapters. I will try and be better about posting and responding, but as for yesterday and today: I’ve simply got nothing.

I do, however, have a new timeline for the completion of the dissertation, which I will try to enforce via small electric shocks. There is hope, but as is true for all hope, it needs to be realized through repression. Yes, I may be slightly cynical these days, but much like noise relates to prior periods of silence, hope mostly gets meaning in negative opposition to prior periods of its complete absence. I am looking forward to a large and meaningful amount of hope in the future.

Day 17: Herbie Full Throttle, Act II.

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Today part two of the Marcuse etxtravaganza. I want to make this brief today, as I need to get some serious writing done, so I will only introduce one concept. This is something I am trying to think through at the moment and an example of a concept that appears quite timely: repressive desublimation.

Yes, people who know me know that I have been occasionally playing around with this for the last two to three years, but I have as of yet not been completely able to articulate the ways in which this concept relates to contemporary capitalism (I tried to do this initially through the weirdly (and morbidly) sexualized economics of Bataille and Lyotard’s writings on libidinal capital, but that did not get me quite to the rigorous explanation I was looking for–still good fun to read Bataille every once in a while–I highly recommend it). I do have a theory of this now which is formulated in relation to he Social Structures of Accumulation School, but I’ll  save this discussion for a future post.

So, about repressive desublimation: I will try to get at this by referring to culture, which seems to be the medium we are all the most comfortable with. This part of Marcuse is, as some of you may notice, strangely similar to Jameson’s discussion of the effect of postmodernity on cultural production, which I explain simply via the fact that Jameson was a student of Marcuse’s at Brandeis. Marcuse writes: “what is happening now is not the deterioration of high culture into mass culture but the refutation of this culture by reality. The reality surpasses its culture. (…) Today’s novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional culture takes place not only through the denial and rejection of “cultural values,” but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale.” This then is what Marcuse means by “one dimensional society,” a society in which the supposedly “democratic” move toward increased tolerance, inclusivity, de-marginalization, pluralism etc. results in the ultimate erasure of a possible working political dialectic that allows for the formation of true progressive negativity. Hence he describes this tendency as the “conquest of the unhappy consciousness.” I contend that it is precisely this logic of the conquest of the unhappy consciousness, of creating a social situation of one dimensionality that is built upon the supposedly democratic idea of inclusivity (which stands opposed to the supposedly overcome repressive nature of former social arrangements that rested upon marginalization and various forms of discrimination), that erases at its climax the very possibility of progressive negativity. In short, I would argue that this is precisely what characterizes the logic of neoliberalism. It is thus within this critique of the effects upon the workings of the unhappy consciousness that we must debate issues such as diversity (the foto above, just for your info and amusement, is taken from the Pepsico homepage), or pluralism in general (and to an extent here also the logic of postmodern theory founded upon the linguistic turn which contains a similar forms of desublimation–i.e. Foucault, Lyotard, etc.). In short, analyzed from this angle neoliberalism is indeed what one could call the end of history–the end of any possible dialectical forward move of history (see yesterday’s post).

Just wanted to quickly throw this out there as a suggestion.

Day 16: Herbie Full Throttle

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First: yes, I think if one were to compare Herbert Marcuse to a car, it would surely be a Volkswagen, especially a Vokswagen Kaefer. Oh yes, I said it: Herbert Marcuse is one of the few Vokswagens of philosophy (just to remind people quickly: “Volkswagen” translates to “car of the people”–hard to make that association looking at the Phaeton, isn’t it?).

I have been threatening people with a Marcuse post for a while now, so here it’s first part. Several things are on my mind:

1. Marcuse’s conception of labor in relation to Marx in relation to the currently popular Autnonomia movement/Italian anarchism. I have to reduce the complexity of this argument, but it runs as follows: Marcuse, for whom the idea of a rational society is central, argues that within such as rational society labor can win back its “originally libidinous” character and can become a joyful experience again. Marx, however, suggests e.g. in the Grundrisse, that labor will not automatically become “free play” in a free society. He thus combines a critique of Fourier’s romanticized idea of free labor with a relativization of the role labor plays in the Hegelian dialectic–it cannot in an uncomplicated manner work within the lordship and bondage dialectic. Autnomonia suggests that a move toward true, less mediated forms of sovereignty must be built upon a total abolition of the concept of labor. Both Marx and Autonomia are thus, for example, directly opposed to the logic of, say, trade unions here as a means to think a free society (they would fall into the functional category of e.g. the welfare state). Marcuse’s assertion similarly erases the necessity for trade unions, as they are not a part of and not a way toward a rational society. How to resolve this dilemma? In other words, what is the precise relation between labor and Being in a Heideggerian sense, or subjectivity in a purely materialist sense? How do we formulate a theory of the relation of labor to consciousness, thus to subject position and processes of self-valorization in a situation where one of the most central desires of mentally disabled people is to be able to work in order to feel like a productive part of society? What is the link between the social bond, the ideology of productivity and capitalist definitions of productivity on the level of Being, or Dasein (both again in a Heideggerian sense–or, for that matter, in relation to Georg Lukacs)?

2. Jameson suggests: “always historicize!” Good idea. Now let’s figure out what history is. Jameson’s second suggestion: “history is what hurts.” Thanks. Now let’s try to work toward a somewhat more workable definition of history and compare Jameson to the famously most optimistic pessimist of philosophy Herbert Marcuse. What Jameson suggests is that history must be regarded as the history of repression, which makes sense in the Marxian tradition, as negativity, or more concretely, struggle, is the motor of the deialectical progress of history. So repression and its resolution, or the productive conflicts it produces move history forward. I can see that. See for example the Civil Rights movement as such as forward progress due to the engagement with repression. Now, within that same materialist dialectic, however, even within the classic Hegelian dialectic, we find one other possibility for a theory of history, namely the one suggested by Marcuse. For Marcuse history is the arena for the realization for human potentiality, i.e. it moves toward what Hegel would call Spirit by the gradual negation of all negativity on the basis of which, e.g., critical theory gains its transformative power. These are two very different formulations of history within the same logical system, which may not seem like a big deal, but they do result in the ultimate depiction of a very different force field and study quite opposed subjects–especially when one looks at cultural production, or aesthetic engagements with history in general. Anyone willing to finally put a lid on that discussion and provide us with a workable definition of history that makes historical materialism concreteand not relative again?

Just to restate the suggestion here: Jameson looks at history in a classically Marxian dialectical way: what are the forces of struggle, conflict and negation that resulted in a forward movement of history? Marcuse, on the other hand, presenting a different version of the materialist dialectic, suggests to me a VERY interesting alternative conception of history, namely “a theory which analyzes society in the light of its used and unused or abused capabilities for improving the human condition.” Doesn’t this have something critically quite rigorous and at the same time strikingly beautiful to it? History in part as the history of unused or abused potentiality for improving the human condition? Especially when one supplements it with Lukacs’ description of abstract and concrete potentiality. I think this is great–at least for rhetorical and demagogical purposes. If there is a movement that wants to write a new manifesto that attemtps to rally the masses to improve their condition, this logic should be its foundational element.

Ok, I will continue this tomorrow with special regards to Marcuse’s One Dimendional Man, which is a) an absolutely beautiful read and b) is becoming incredibly timely again.

I would like to close with a recommendation for further reading, as I still believe that there has not been a philosopher since Marcuse with such a passionate regard for the human condition and there has been no philosopher whose writings have been able to emotionally move me, make me hopeful and fill me with screaming anger at the “unfulfilled and abused potential” quite like Marcuse’s. As an illustration of this I urge you all to read the elegy/eulogy for Max Horkheimer given by Marcuse at Horkheimer’s funeral. Absolutely beautiful! It is re-printed in one of the volumes called The Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse–I believe it is the one with the subtitle: Toward  a Critical Theory of Society. But I will try to find a link.

Day 15: I Feel Like Modernism–Exhausted

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Damn, what a week! What a day, for that matter. Had a good meeting about my dissertation though, the jouissance produced by which could only be lessened by the slight dizziness caused by the 9 cups of coffee I had trying to finish my writing before the meeting, as well as by the approximately 3 pints of blood I had lost during the attempt to reduce my dissertation-induced cro-magnon factor with a last-minute shave. I am using old-school razorblades now, by the way, which is truly the way to go if you like a close shave, anemia and pirate scars. Cool thing about the fact that it is finally Friday night: nothing. Yes, that’s right. The nice thing about writing a dissertation and being on fellowship (as I am sure Harvey and Justin can confirm) is the disappearance of the weekend, since there is really no difference between a weekday and the artist formerly known as “the weekend.” I have to read, write and repeat as needed. Hence my short-lived Friday enthusiasm appears to me at present to be something like phantom-pain. I have an itch where my leg used to be, i.e. I feel temporary, confused enjoyment about something that no longer exists: the weekend. But at this point the repressive structure that there is the dissertation has become internalized to the degree that the desire for a weekend does not make sense any more anyway (thus functioning like classic Freudian repression)–whenever I take even only half a day off I am so guilt-ridden for not writing, or reading that I cannot enjoy whatever it is that I am doing during that half-day break that was supposed to make me stop thinking about the dissertation. My dissertation functions thus much like Scientology, or the mob: just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Ok, ok, I should not complain. I know my life really is not THAT bad. It’s not like I am a coalminer. But seriously, has anyone read Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning? Yes, the worker just lives for the drunken stupor on saturday night and the regret and hangover on Sunday morning, but damn it, can’t I have even that at least once in a while as well? If I did the saturday drinking thing, all I would be thinking about is how this will make me get up later and how I will have to make up that lost time by staying up longer, probably multiplied by the factor of two because the hangover will make my brain work more slowly. Aaah, to be coalminers! (Isn’t this one of the classic signs of yuppieness? romanticizing the working class and the simulacrum of the simple life?).

All that is to say that I really do not have the brain capacity left to write anything intelligent, or witty tonight. Instead this will have to suffice. I will now just look for the weirdest possible picture to put above this and then call it a night. Yes, it is not even 9 p.m. on a Fridy night and I will go to bed so I can get up early and do more writing. Wow, us academics really are the coolest!

Ok, found the picture, but you already saw that about two minutes ago.

Hey: are vampires feudalists/capitalists and werewolves communists? Or are they anarchists? Maybe Italian anarchists even? Would make sense. Werewolves can’t play soccer either.

Day 14: Mapping The Anti-Oedipus

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Dear all, I woke up this morning and was all out of sorts. What used to make sense to me in my dissertation all of a sudden has taken on a degree of complexity that has surpassed my own control, which is ironic, as part of my dissertation focuses on complexity theory. In any case, it seems as though my dissertation has grown into an autonomous entity (I long suspected it had a life of its own, but this morning it basically presented with with its official declaration of secession from the union that used to be my mind). I am still producing apple turnovers, have run out of good coffee and just noticed that just yesterday I purchased two giant tubs of cream cheese, which expired two days ago. So I am not really sure what to do today. I should be working toward finishing another chapter, but now I am wondering if I even agree with the things I wrote over the course of this last week. Tricky. I am thus wondering what to do in order to avoid that problem. I am currently looking into the possibility of also suing for the rights to Anna Nicole Smith’s deceased body. I do not really have a plan for what to do with it, but I assume having her dead body and writing a monograph on how that changes my life can still get me a job in a cultural studies program. Ok, that was mean. Maybe I should just re-read White Noise today.

As I increasingly felt that I was indeed all out of sorts, I decided to, well, get me some new sorts. So I figured what better place to look for new sorts than the place where you can get pretty much anything: amazon. Upon looking for sorts, the first things that came up, however, were a “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” T-shirt, a novel called The House of All Sorts (which I should probably read–could provide me with a possibility to inform myself about what kinds of sorts are our there before I decide to purchase new ones), as well as a DVD of Pimp my Ride. Strange. Made me think, though. Not sure if I want to look into pimping my sorts, or pimping my dissertation first. Again, it seems as though it would increase my job prospects for cultural studies departments if I put some nice rims and maybe an LCD screen that plays episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my dissertation. Ok, sorry, I will stop now.

By the way, I would like to propose a new sport called “extreme amazoning.” Two disciplines: 1) find the weirdest thing amazon sells, 2) find something amazon in fact does not sell (amazon’s seller-network included). I will put one out there: they do sell a guide for how not to get burned while trying to obtain mail order brides.

Now my actual concern for today: postmodernism. Figured when things get too complicated I need to get back to the basics. My question for you today is: where do we locate the beginning of postmodernity (i.e. the actual period, including socioeconomic changes, corresponding subjectivity, etc.)? I would like this explanation to be as precise as possible. What is the date? If there is not a precise date, what historical moment do we consider the marker? Yes, we are all familiar with Lyotard, Jameson and all those people, but when did the whole thing practically begin? By this I mean: we talk about decentered subjectivity, all of us becoming postmodern etc. If we look at postmodernity as a state of Being (in a Heideggerian sense) the question is simply: are we postmodern? Why? Why not? If so, how precisely does that manifest itself (in actual, practical consequences on the level of being)? Can anyone help bring more precision to this debate apart from quite imprecise theoretical cliches that dominate this debate. Just to put that out there: I would argue that we have not become truly postmodern when it comes to Being until recently. I disagree with Jameson on the timeline here. But there are other timelines as well (Harvey: 1973, Nick Brown: 1964, …). This is precisely what I mean by being all out of sorts. This is a very basic question with large consequences. What does it really mean to be postmodern? Is this a cultural dominant, or something emergent? When has it become dominant? May it even be over? How so? Just wondering if people have ideas here, or if you can suggest someone who has put this in writing other than the already slightly dated biggies (Jameson, Haraway, Lyotard, Hassan, Baudrillard, Foucault, Harvey, Deleuze/Guattari, etc.).

Day 13: Papa Smurf Part II

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So I woke up this morning and felt even worse than yesterday. Isn’t this cold-thing supposed to go away? Maybe it is a result of me having not yet tried any onion-related treatments (I did buy onions, though). I also tried to remember what I ate yesterday. Chinese takeout and pizza. Seems like they are not putting enough vitamins in junk-food these days. Shocking.  On the upside, however, I am able to remain heavily Nyquiled every night, which, at least for me, always results in incredibly vivid dreams (not always of the good kind). Last night I dreamt about sandcastles and I also seemed to be incredibly worried about what would happen to the sand-producing industry, now that all of Europe is banning smoking and public ashtrays do not need sand any more (yes, weird, I know–I already posted something to that effect somewhere else this morning–apparently at least my unconscious is funny). My apparent unconscious concern for the working sandman (if we want to interpret my dream as that–I would also be willing to go in the direction of sandman equalling desire to finally get a good night’s sleep, some displaced/overdetermined experience from yesterday, or, and thus might be the most disturbing interpretation, Sandman as in Freud’s “The Uncanny” in which case I shall be wearing squash goggles for the rest of the day–“ring of fire, spin about”–thanks E.T.A. Hoffmann!)–wow, long parenthetical interjection–so my concern for the working sandman will form the basis of of today’s post: February 21 as the publishing date of the Communist Manifesto.

The sad thing about the Communist Manifesto is that its over the top rhetoric that was supposed to rally the masses back when it was published is now the thing that drives the masses away from it. I would thus like to simply post some passages from the manifesto to remind people of how even over 150 years after its initial publication its criticism still not only rings true, but should inspire intellectual and scientific dialogue, rather than outright, idologically motivated, unquestioning and ignorant rejection. Here some passages:

“[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom–Free Trade.”

“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

“[The bourgeoisie] has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons–the modern working class–the proletarians. In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, is developed, is developed, in the same proportion, the proletariat, the modern working class–a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”

 “The lower middle-class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle-class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.”

“Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, however, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly that population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.”

Two things that should seriously be discussed here regarding the persistent logic of capitalism and the populace’s reaction to it (and to its critique): 1) “revolution” being such as scary word in the US today (ironically, after this country was founded on a revolution), it should be noted that the bourgeoisie is really the revolutionary class; 2) that this bourgeoisie even within the logical paradigm of running an unjust and exploitative system cannot even get that right, meaning we need a continued openness regarding what indisputably forms the character of capitalism, namely that it is based upon central systemic and logical inadequacies and contradictions.

yours in global and sandy solidarity

Day 12: The Few, The Proud, The Marine…Animals???

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One of my favorite weekly rituals is to read Harper’s Weekly with a nice cup of coffee and then spend ten minutes deciding whether I should laugh at, or cry about the state of the world. Given this nature of the ritual one would think that I have lost the ability to be surprised at the weirdness that there is human activity on this planet. Sometimes, however, reports come along that still stun me.

I remember one of my professors frequently digressing into musings on his father’s stories about the military. His father was a Marine and one of his apparently most frequent assertions was that he thinks that the Marines’ slogan should be changed from “The few, the proud, the Marines” to “The few, the proud, the dead on the beach.” Now, be that as it may, but at least back then it was human military that was lying dead on the beach–humans still fought their own battles. In the future, however, we will see the service of anti-terror dolphins and sea lions patrolling a Washington state military basis. We all were aware of the fact that the military uses marine animals to defend ships against bomb attacks in the Persian Gulf, but I had no idea that they actually train sea lions for one-on-one combat. Apparently the sea lion’s job is to attack enemy divers and put a clamp around one of their legs so that “a human with a weapon is able to reel the hostile subject to the surface.” “A human with a weapon???” So this means that they also have animals with weapons? What, like friggin’ shark’s with friggin’ lasers attached to their heads (pardon my Dr. Evil digression here)? Am I the only one who finds this deeply disturbing? Also, please visit: http://www.spawar.navy.mil/sandiego/technology/mammals/, the military’s site for the Marine Mammal Program. Feel free to marvel at the machismo of the sea lion cartoon, complete with angry eyebrows and American flag. You have got to be friggin’ kidding me!

In other news a Florida production of “The Vagina Monologues” was forced to change the title of the show after a woman complained that the title was offensive. The title of the show is now “The Hoohaa Monologues.”

Seriously, is this the rapid progression of what T.S. Eliot meant when he famously talked about the world ending not in a bang, but in a whimper?

We are the hollow men and marine animals.

Poo-tee-weet? (is this quote known well enough to be used for satire?)