Day 420: The Universal

A while ago I promised to return to writing about issues of critical theory. Yet, I have barely done so. In fact, I have barely blogged as of late. I am not sure why. There is a lot of stuff going on, but most of it is too mundane to bore people with. I am trying to find an apartment in Canada (I am moving at the end of June), I’m in the process of scheduling a date for my defense, I’m making final revisions to my dissertation (mostly unnecessary, yet I can’t just let it lie around), I am copyediting the proofs of a book chapters that will come out soon (I may send links, but then again that may conflict with me trying to keep this blog largely anonymous), I am writing on form, utopia, totality and universals, and I put together several conference panels. So, lots of stuff to do but this stuff is largely not very interesting.

Therefore, here the beginning of a return to issues of critical theory. A beginning inquiry into the nature of the universal:

Thought is the proper medium of the universal. This means that nothing exists as universal if it takes the form of the object or of objective legality. The universal is essentially ‘anobjective.’  It can be experienced only through the production (or reproduction) of a trajectory of thought, and this trajectory constitutes (or reconstitutes) a subjective disposition.

Subjection, in other words, is contingent upon the fact that the particular can only be thought (and represented) in reference to the universal. Subjection is, therefore, fundamentally connected to Marxist accounts of subjectivity (and ideology) that make reference to the necessity of ‘totalizing’ in ways that are always already dialectical (and not noumenal). Now, what does that tell us about the distinction between the terms ‘universal’ and ‘totality’? As we find it, the distinction between both terms in critical theory is often qualitative or even merely rhetorical. There is, however, a logical distinction that, I suspect, has something to do with the above. Thoughts?

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Day 398: Materialist Epistemology

Consider the following sentence:

“Only those who transform reality (material and social) are able to gain knowledge of it.”

What’s wrong with this? (And, to up the level of difficulty, what is wrong with it, if you do not want to let go of the following: Hegel, Marx, the dialectic, the material formation of (self) consciousness)? Something is fundamentally bugging me about this and I think the idea of “general intellect” may get me there. This is the kind of stuff that makes me lose sleep (or, as happened today, makes me only realize that I have been standing under the shower for a long, long time, after I begin to notice that the water has started to hurt the skin on my shoulders).

Day 169: Gary Busey’s Teeth

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A four day blogging break. Wow. I just realized that I have indeed not blogged for four days. I will give you two possible reasons for this and you can choose the one that is more to your liking: a) I have been lying on a beach, getting a tan, doing some occasional surfing and spending the rest of the day being fed seedless grapes by Donald Rumsfeld, or b) I have been so stressed out during the last few days that I did not have the nerve to write something, since I have been pulling all-nighters in order to meet writing deadlines and each and every word I would have posted would have been pissy.

>No, Donald, I am writing a blog entry. Be quiet, go sit over there and stop telling other people how much smarter you are when it comes to the correct way of feeding grapes to people in a foreign country. I’ll tell you when I’m ready for my foot massage. NO! That’s a BAD Donald!<

Sorry. It’s so hard to find good staff these days. As I was saying, I have been writing a lot of stuff lately, which makes this suposed vacation quite exhausting. I’m glad when the semester finally starts again and I can relax while grading papers.

What else has happened? Let’s see: they ruined the Tour de France for me (well, at this point it has become quite funny, actually–in an insane laughter, “we’re all going to die!” kind of way)–I gotta say: all of this doping-witchhunt weirdness should be stopped and they should legalize it. Then it would just be up to a few weenies left who fetishize being “clean” (treehuggers on bikes, basically–and we all know never to trust a hippie) to step up and get with the doping business. Yes, your testicles will shrink but from the limited bicycling experience I have I believe it is safe to say that those things are a nuisance in that sport anyway. So, there we go. Problem solved.

Hmmm… maybe that was too sarcastic. Sorry. I also generally like hippies, despite the John Lydon dictum. I even saw my first jogging hippie a while ago. That again was disappointing. The long hair and beard swaying in sync with the rythmic flow of the siren-like music of the ultra-commodifier called body cult. Sad. But strangely energizing.

Huh… not a lot else happened. Oh, I can share with you a line from yesterday’s chapter, or rather the claim that sets up the discussion of the second half of the chapter (hyper-vague summary: class and race throughout US history). Maybe that line is worth discussing:

“upward-bound class mobility is anti-American.”

Do with this what you will.

Finally, I would like to come back to the Tom Cruise post from a few days ago and to some of the comments made in response to it, stressing one aspect of the post that did not get enough attention: Gary Busey. He is fantastic. He acts. Well. He smiles. Like a God. I want his teeth. Once I can afford to get them, I will singularly sleep in 30-minute increments for the rest of my life, just so that I can brush my teeth more often before and after bed. Gary Busey. Wow.

Also: I miss The Deadliest Catch. I haven’t had TV for almost two months now. Surprisingly, I survived. Now I think I am starting to be scared of my TV. Since yesterday I am also scared of giraffes–well, the rear half at least. Not sure why. Everything from the shoulders on (in direction of the giraffe butt) is scary.

And: today I decided not to like hydroculture potting soil/stones. They are too light when you pick them up. This confuses me and I really cannot afford to become any more confused than I am at this point. Oh, and just to make sure that bunny isn’t losing sleep: I like AAA batteries again.

Day 149: Revolution, Humanism, Universalisms–Good or Bad Totalities

Dear all,

there has been a very interesting discussion going on between Joanna and myself regarding revolution, humanism, the potential value of universalisms etc. You can find the discussion here: Day 140. I am sure there are some of you who might have valuable opinions to offer. Let me suggest several approaches:

a) the question of totality–there are several ways to talk about this (e.g. Zizek’s defense of Hegelianism, the reliance upon ideas such as “deliberative democracy” regarding, say, the 3rd generation Frankfurt School, neo-Habermassians, etc. [see e.g. Seyla Benhabib, or Iris Marion Young]–in this respect we could also look toward people like Jean Luc Nancy [esp. the “being singular plural” idea]–as well as Kantian liberalism as the basis for speculations regarding cosmopolitanism, hos(ti)pitality, human rights, tolerance and peace as represented by e.g. Derrida’s later writings)

b) the question of totality and universals as raised by Agamben’s recent work

c) the question of universals, esp. as represented by Badiou’s work on St. Paul (and obviously in Being and Event)

d) Deleuze and recent versions of Deleuzian rhizomatic models, schizo-analysis and ideas of de-territorialization, which are combined with Italian anarchism/operaismo and liberation theology to form a seperate idea of universals/totalities (de-territorialized and multiple, yet still “total” in their democratic nature)–obvious examples here: Hardt and Negri, or Virno

e) questioning the idea of/necessity for/alternatives to teleologies as such (in terms of devising a political program that avoids replicating previous paternalistic structures of order much like described by Fanon [a tendency within postcolonial situations])

f) completely non-academic and non-jargon-filled ideas that may be more helpful than any of the above suggested models.

Let’s try to continue this discussion–I agree with Joanna that this is a VERY important issue to discuss, especially regarding the frequent confusion of people who would like to partake in progressive political movements until the point at which they realize that the channels that are being offered to them have no answers, or that these channels have dangerously reactionary answers to our problems (in which case we need to be happy that at least some people are smart enough to realize the dangerous nature of such pseudo-answers [as you can tell, I am trying to avoid naming political organizations at this point–we can get into that later, but I fear that this might easily make this discussion digress into a People’s Front of Judaea vs. Judaean People’s Front pissing contest]).

Oh, I have also been tagged by anaj and need to come up with 8 random things about myself, as well as tag 8 other people (not sure which one’s more difficult)–I think I need a little more time for this.

Oh–and here is what I mean by PFJ vs. JPF:

P.S.: the “New Seven Wonders of the Worlds” were announced (number one, I believe, is the fact that Al Gore was able to organize a worldwide music-event but was unable to launch a decent presidential campaign). Get the list here: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TRAVEL/07/06/seven.wonders/index.html , or look up the campaign’s website here: http://www.new7wonders.com/. Not sure what the point of this was (except for making egomaniac Bernard Weber more famous and potentially boosting tourism). Maybe someone can explain it to me. Should there be an election for the “New New Seven Wonder of the World” I would already at this point like to nominate as one of the candidates the fact that people vote for shit like this but not for, say, the next president of the US, because, let me tell you, this is an occasion of great wonder to me.

Day 126: Almost Connected

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I am on my way to having internet at home! After spending almost 6 hours with the AT&T people today I have a landline now. Apparently, the problem was that a disgruntled previous tenant actually cut the phone wires in the wall, which meant that they had to re-wire my apartment (including drilling holes into the basement and all). So, not only did I have the pleasure of looking at technician buttcracks all day but they also made the time enjoyable for me by attempting to include me in their debate regarding the physique of women in my neighborhood. Haven’t been in the presence of this much masculinity since I worked in the marketing department of Old Spice deodorant. Ok, that was a lie. That department is all female.

Let’s see…what else happened? Oh, we got paid today! Yay! I am able to buy food (well, if ramen counts as food, that is)! Last night was also quite enjoyable–Q101 broadcast the first reunion live apearance of Rage Against the Machine in its entirety. Yeah, yeah, people who do cultural studies and just read Adorno’s culture industry for the first time will say that this is nothing to get excited about, since they make money off their music and are thus a part of the capitalist system–hence there is no political potential in Marxist rock music. But that is a) not a very critically rigorous attitude (rather, it is a popular beginning-grad-student-form of political critique that is pure negativity without that actually interesting Hegelian touch) and b) not a very honest account of the nature of the political, which is, after all, firmly located within the cultural realm at this point. There’s no way around it (debate me on this–I dare you!). Hence, we need to formulate much more critically rigorous accounts of how politics and ideology actually function within culture. The idea of total capitalist co-optation is a pseudo-lefty copout that arises mainly out of the “tragically hip” influence of Foucault’s formulation of discursive power–i.e. it is not a valid and accurate historical materialist argument/analysis at all. This is just one of the few examples of how Foucault has severely damaged supposedly progressive scholarship (while admittedly providing us also with some very important and helpful theoretical frameworks). But without going into a rant about all of this I will just return to my initial point: I greatly enjoyed hearing RATM play again, which is in part due to the fact that I must honestly include them in the forces that shaped my early political education–that may not be a big thing but it is certainly not nothing.

In work-related news I broke down and decided that I should re-read Dos Passos’ USA. I really do not have time for this but I figure I owe it to the editors of the textbook. The problem is that I have to focus on my MLG presentation and the conference next week, which means that I will have to write this essay over the weekend. If I just devote Sunday to writing I would have only tonight and tomorrow to speed-read my way through roughly 1300 pages. The other problem is that I got paid today, which means that I will have to have a payday beer somewhere. I cannot really get around this–it is an integral part of the Ph.D.-student-underpaid-teacher codex. Maybe I’ll just go down to my dive bar around the corner, have a quick beer and then try to get more reading in afterwards. I had also planned to be all healthy and go running by the lake tonight. Seems like the health part of the day will once again turn into lots of coffee, reading and writing, followed by a beer and more reading. Man, I hope my future job (should I actually manage to convince a university that it is worth hiring an English professor instead of another mechanical engineer) comes with a good health care plan. Oh–I also got a pretty funny list of characteristics that help you identify if you are a real grad student. Pretty damn funny. I will post that tomorrow, so that I have a quick post ready and can concentrate more on reading.

Oh: does anyone have anything smart to say about Barthelme??? God, I hate this fucking PoMo aesthetic/formal experimentation stuff–so self indulgent and politically useless (well, actually I argue that it is a symptom of a specific socioeconomic condition, which makes it at least somewhat interesting to me–but still only as an heuristic). Can someone please tell me why I should be interested in Barthelme on a level other than the one I just described? Really–any suggestion will do.

Sorry–I did not mean to end on such a negative note. Let’s go for something more positive: I took a quick shower earlier today, wasn’t partially boiled and consequently my ass feels just fine today.

Day 96: Zombies and Painful Philanthropy

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Today a random assortment of weird things–a quilt of strangeness, if you will.

Remember my coffee-related problems? Caribou phased out my favorite, which was especially devastating, since it did not only taste good, but was also organic, fair-trade coffee, certified by the rainforest alliance. After this I tried a medium-roast for breast cancer, a dark-roast for the rainforest and a french roast that, I think, supported David Beckham in the anticipation of the demise of his carreer that awaits him in L.A. Yesterday, Chicago opened its Farmer’s Market season and I went to Daley Plaza to do some shopping (for non-Chicagoans: Daley Plaza is the setting for the climactic ending of Blues Brothers–the place with the large Picasso). Apart from some greens (which I am pretty certain are poisonous to me after this long absence of any kind of vitamin in my body) I bought a coffee that is shade-grown, rainforest alliance approved, fair-trade certified and is sold by and supports the Chicago coalition for the homeless. Seriously, how can you not buy that one? Also, the fact that this is the official Mother Theresa of coffees almost makes you forget that it tastes like crap. Ah well, that may be the trouble with philanthropy (apart from its basic ideological confusion that renders it powerless well known to Hegelians, or its tendency to work in unison with the welfare state that appeases the masses to avoid a revolution and true, equal assistance for all of us).

Here the homophobic, offensive part of today’s quilt: wondering if you’re gay? Take the test:

http://www.brokennewz.com/displaystory.asp_Q_storyid_E_908gay

My favorite part of the ad for this is this logic: wondering if you’re gay? You don’t need a blood test–just take this handy quiz? I am no doctor, so can someone explain to me what this blood test is that tells you if you’re gay?

Also, about a month ago anaj found a little blog-value-calculator, which tells you how much your blog is worth. In about a month my blog seems to have accumulated roughly another $1000 in value. Again: I am not just confused by how this happened, but also as to where I can sell my blog to pay for my summer. The Chicago Farmer’s Market, maybe? Check out how valuable I am! Nothing like alienation via the commodification of the immaterial, digital expression of your self. Finally I know what I am worth. Yay!


My blog is worth $7,339.02.
How much is your blog worth?

Don’t you just love the capitalist ideology that is included in this little gadget? How much are YOU worth? Let’s make it a competition in alienation!

Finally: more zombies. I am always happy when a new zombie movie comes out (while I am waiting for Gigli II). In the recent past there have been some really fun experiments with the genre that often change the ways in which the zombie as subject signifies. Enter Fido, a zombie-comedy showing us the beauty of a society in which zombies are kept as pets and work the crappy jobs no one wants (aahhh–a continuation of the “zombie as global third estate” idea–while this is fun, here my question: why do we have to go to zombies as one of the only popular ways to represent class distinction and exploitation these days? Tells us something about our willingness to talk about this issue today, doesn’t it?). Anyway, here the info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fido_%28film%29

Day 51: The One, The Only The Fred The Jameson

Dear all,

I am happy to be able to inform you that we have just confirmed two more participants for this year’s Institute on Culture and Society, which is annually organized by the Marxist Literary Group, to be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago: Susan Willis and Fredric Jameson.

Oh, yes.

Jameson will in fact organize a workshop on the dialectic, which, as the rest of the program committee knows, made me pee myself a little. I have at this point changed clothes and will now continue to run around my building while waving a copy of Archaeologies of the Future (just because I have that in hardback and can thus more successfully fight off the policemen who try to get me to stop).