Day 359: Mad Crocs and Other Forms of Advertising–Crikey!

If you’re like me and drink a lot of coffee to stay awake, you may also run into the occasional upset/cramping stomach. In order to fight this, I have been increasingly turning toward energy drinks as a substitute for late-night coffee–works just as well for keeping up energy and alertness during all-nighters, yet spares you the stomachache (mostly, at least). Also, they are available as low-calorie versions, which is not a bad idea in the face of a general absence of physical exercise. One problems remains, however: these energy drinks tend to taste like moldy ass. In order to spare you some major disappointments, I will therefore provide you with the top five list of energy drinks that pack a nice punch, while still being not too brutal in taste (even though, I must confess, the ass-like taste of some drinks definitely does its part in keeping you awake). Hence, here the results of my totally non-Kantian, yet more than semi-disinterested taste test:

1. Red Bull Sugar Free (the classic, decent taste, nostalgically reminiscent of gummy bears, does its job)

2. Mad Croc Low Cal (more B-vitamins, yet too Guarana-y in taste–overall, not bad)

3. Radioactive No Carb (insane amounts of B-vitamins–5000% of B12–, caffeine and Taurine, also comes with Ginseng, Gingko, L-Carnitine…really does the trick, yet tastes like ass–reason for rating it number 3: it glows in the dark–and I am not even kidding–taste has many faces–and, before you write comments about the sense or nonsense of filling my body with chemicals, let me quickly go Kantian again and remind you that only a disinterested view will prevent the “degustibus non est disputandum” logic–but if you claim to have that kind of view and base your argument on it I will, of course, mock you for being a Rawlsean liberal by showing you the original position of one of my fingers–nicely, of course–just thought I should preventively mention this)

4. Monster Lo-Carb (decent taste, nice variety of vitamins etc. yet overall doses are too low–you’ll have to drink too much of it–which is probably why it comes in large cans)

5. Full-Throttle Low Carb (also decent taste and a variety of ingredients, yet it does not really have the effect it is supposed to have–closer to a sports drink with a little energy blend)

And now for the other part of this advertising post:

please help out some over-caffeintated academics by visiting the following, super-duper-fantastic websites: (the course blog of a class on multiethnic US literature is waiting for your comments) (the journal of the Marxist Literary Group–great new articles!)

Day 347: It’s Bakhtin Time!

Yes, it is true: the dialogic imagination is in the house! (Maybe, if we’re all really lucky and keep our fingers crossed, the dialectic may even stop by–that is, as long as the dialogic does not deteriorate, as is common, into the logic of the carnivalesque).

Ok, enough pseudo-comedic references to weird Russians. The point of this post: the course blog for my Multiethnic U.S. literature class is off the ground (and, in case I have not yet mentioned this yet, my Intro to Multiethnic U.S. literature course this spring is now 25% more multi-ethnic–for the same price–what a great deal!). Students have posted their first response papers and now it is up to the online community to test their logic. What this means is, that I invite you to read some posts and comment on critical method, logic, ask further questions, or voice your criticism. This, of course, should not be competely devastating (remember: they are beginning literature students and this is a general education course), but, as you will see, there are problems with logic and underdeveloped arguments that need to be pointed out–i.e. students need to get into the habit of thinking through their arguments/analyses/logical frameworks in detail and more carefully before releasing them into the world. Any feedback will be greatly appreciated. The next set of papers on Octavia Butler will be posted by Monday.

to visit the site, click this link:

Day 341: Multiethnic Literature

This semester I am experimenting a bit with alternative teaching and writing formats in my course on Multiethnic Literatures of the U.S. I have created a course blog that will be (at some point–hopefully) pretty much completely student-run. Students are signed up as contributors/authors and will post short responses, as well as longer critical essays on novels. The point of the blog is to ensure that students don’t simply write each paper in one long all-nighter every four weeks. Instead, I want them to be responsible for taking care of and respond to outside comments on their writings (and to each others’ posts). This will hopefully get them into a regular writing routine, which, so I hope, will result in more carefully framed research questions and more complicated critical arguments.

I therefore invite all of you to visit this blog and participate in the discussions, since even very brief comments, ideas and, criticism will help them think through problems more critically. To that end, this blog will not only focus on literary and cultural issues, but also invites students and outside readers to discuss the social and political problems that are mediated by cultural production. The general topic of my course this semester is “race, diversity, neoliberalism.”

You can visit the blog here:

Check back often for constantly updated student writing (the first batch of papers will be posted next Thursday)–we all greatly appreciate your feedback. Also, feel free to spread the word about this, send the url to people you know, or maybe even advertise the blidget (the blog is also available as a blog widget for your own blog, facebook, etc.)–this would help us a lot and hopefully ensure that we get some outside comments. Thanks–cj

Day 279: No Underwear

After a few weeks that were very busy again (and after another weekend spent at a conference–this time here at UIC) I took a close look at my apartment today, something I haven’t done in a long time. Result: I really need to do some cleaning and a LOT of laundry (since it is getting too cold here to keep going commando). After this conference, I was actually looking forward to having some time for other kinds of writing again (i.e. an article I have to finish, as well as further revisions to my dissertation). It seems, though, that I will first have to devote some time to housekeeping and grocery shopping (which will probably also be good for my health, since pizza by the slice and other forms of takeout, the only food I have been eating for the last few weeks, probably does not contain the nutrients my body needs at this point).

Quick report on this conference: my argument that biopolitics is an analytical paradigm utterly unsuited for the analysis of contemporary power structures (and the ways they are exercised) did not keep people from giving papers on contemporary power/political issues that were based on an uncritical use of this very concept, there were some scary talks fetishizing empiricism and reducing issues of power in governmental information gathering to a problem of trust and informed consent, and some male participants insisted on being referred to as “she” (which I sadly could not consider as revolutionary an act as I was apparently supposed to). Overall, it was a good conference, however annoying the overall praise of a politics of diversity may have been (which too many people still seems to think results in some form of liberation, not realizing that it is actually the politics of neoliberalism).

I will now go grocery shopping and buy some healthy things that will hopefully help me finally get over my cold, which, per Anna’s suggestion (my favorite this far), means: brandy. cheers y’all

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: , or look up the campaign’s website here: 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 105: Season Finale of Lost et al.


So the third season of Lost is over. We had good fun with John Locke becoming more and more, well, Lockeian (see Two Treatises of Government). That guy knows how to labor the land! (Locke joke? Anyone? Well, ok then–nevermind). Also we were able to further practice our fear of Others and exercise our conviction that the Western subjects we identify with are the good guys. Hey, after all the most romantic moment in the finale was presented as the Korean fisherman’s ability to speak English! Assimilation is just too cute (and apparently necessary in order to save a marriage, be considered a hero and, well, generally to get laid). Finally we managed to push the Asian subject into its intended role as part of the model minority. Wohoo! And the general fear of Others and Western logocentrism: important ideological practice in times of terrorism, no? It just provides us with a feeling of safety when we can divide the world into a binary system of negative oppositions. Us good. Others bad. Nice.

But let’s talk about the season finale. First: pacing. It was too rushed. Since they seemingly had left so many plot strings open for the finale they really had to rush through all of them to get to this season’s cliffhanger. Slightly reminded me of the remake of the classic film Long Hot Summer (the original stars a young Paul Newman, Ava Gardner and Orson Welles) starring Don Johnson and Cybil Shepherd, which tried to complicate the plot of the original movie (the original script was written by William Faulkner, immediately telling you how necessary a further complication was), ran out of time toward the end of the movie and actually forgot to pick up some plot strings. Makes for one of the funniest endings in film history. You have scenes of a village mob running excitedly into the woods in order to …well, we don’t really know. They forgot to get back to that. Anyway, back to Lost. Badly paced. We did not even have time to do what is expected from us as gullible viewers, such as being outraged that three people were shot. I was just trying to muster up some outrage to get into the spirit of the show (after obviously knowing that they were not dead) and they just ruined it by telling me the shooting was fake. Give me more time to buy into this stuff! This fast-paced stuff was almost ironically Brechtian in its inability to provide me with some much desired mechanism for escaping the real world. Same thing with Locke’s suicidal thoughts. Lasted about 5 seconds. Not even enough for me to say the stereotypical things that are expected of me. I only got to: “oh no, not John, he…”–and the suicidal thing was already over. Nice resolution here, though, via bringing back Walt. Definitely made me smile. Also remarkable in this respect: two black characters that had not even been in a single shot for the entire season had multiple lines in the finale. Seems like they are beginning to realize that killing off all the black people was a little strange (to put it mildly). My favority suspension-of-disbelief-enjoyment moment: Hurly’s rescue. Aah, good old cheering-for-the-underdog satisfaction.

But about the most important aspect: the ending. We have had three seasons of flashback narrative and we have three seasons to go until the end of the show. Will those three be flash-forward narrative? And: was there anyone who liked the flash-forward? Don’t really think so. It tends to appear as a move that limits the previous open-endedness and unpredictability of the show in dramatic ways. But then again, the future, as opposed to the past, is not necessarily static–meaning, we know things may change (see Desmond’s personal struggle). The thing that interests me, however, is the fact that people really hated the future narrative. It is not because it was negative. There were a lot of negative past narratives in the show. It is because it is a determinism arising out of the positing of a(negative) teleology, which again tells me something I have mentioned before about the ways in which we are currently willing to imagine potentiality. Rather than turning toward the future we tend to locate potentiality and jouissance in the past, an affective structure mediated through nostalgia that manifests itself in the escapist fantasies perpetuated by Lost. It is this play on our present psychological struggles surrounding the ways in which we articulate our existence to the changed structural temporality of our global environment (especially in a post-9/11 world) together with the introduction of a new Other that makes me quite excited about season four (and this is also the thing that makes the show for me a valuable object of study–i.e. a mediation of the current US psyche in a post-9/11 global situation). But this is all obviously just the beginning of a discussion I would very much like to continue. So write me your thoughts on Lost and on the finale in particular, especially those that deal with the show’s connection to contemporary forms of anxiety and desiring structures.

Oh: and, of course, send me some possible answers to these important questions:

Will Jack be able to redeem himself and change the future, which seems to be an effect of his tragic decision to make the call?

Is Charlie truly dead?

Kate or Juliette? (I am still very much torn here.)

What’s up with Jacob (and the re-appearance of Walt, for that matter)?

Who is (will/might be) in the coffin?

Day 90: The 2007 MLG Institute on Culture and Society (June 20-24, 2007)

Dear all, instead of useless personal ramblings today the following announcement:

we just finalized the program for this year’s Marxist Literary Group Institute on Culture and Society. After being held at Georgetown University for the last two years the Institute returns to the University of Illinois at Chicago this year. Apart from presentations it will feature an intensive reading group on Capital I, which will be led by Nicholas Brown, Richard Daniels, Neil Larsen, and Ronald Strickland.

All events are open to the public–so if you are in the area, feel free to stop by (my apologies for the formatting–can’t be bothered to fix it right now).

***EDIT: ok, after several failed attempts I’ll try this one more time–crap! remains all messed up–sorry, I’m out of time–this will have to do for the moment:
* * *WEDNESDAY, 20 JUNE* * *
9:00 –10:15 Panel

Kevin Floyd
On neoliberalism, Queer Studies, and the question of totality

Stephen Healy
On the economy of non-all and the politics of health care reform

Heidi J. Nast
On neoliberalism and pet-love
10:30 – 12:00 Panel

Peter Gardner
What Class War? “This hyar is the War o’ Races!”

Anna Kornbluh
On the isomorphism of capitalism and Victorian realism

Kat McLellan
On seventeenth-century contract theory

Harvey Partica
On Frank Norris’ dialectical monsters
12:00 – 1:15 LUNCH
1:15 – 3:00 Reading Group: Capital I, Chapters 1, 6, and 7
3:30 – 4:30 Panel

Grover Furr
On falsifying Soviet history of the ‘Stalin’ period

Pat Keaton
On Argentinean documentary films
5:00 – 6:15 Panel

Akin Adesokan
On CLR James and Marxism in Africa

Richard Iton
On coloniality and diaspora

Joseph Keith
On labor and the Limits of citizenship in C.L.R. James

* * *THURSDAY, 21 JUNE* * *
9:00 – 10:15 Panel

Robbie Lieberman
On African American radicals and the Cold War

Brian Thill
On Frederick Douglass, Black Power and the Frankfurt School

Aaron Winslow
On Amiri Baraka’s political poetry
10:45 – 12:00 Panel

Natascha Müller-Hirth
On the issue of partnerships and neoliberal governance in Africa

Michael Ralph
On Marxism in Africa and Senegalese (im)mobility, post 9/11

Mark Estante
On labor discipline and the maintenance of apartheid in Coetzee’s Life &
Times of Michael K
12:00 – 1:15 LUNCH
1:15 – 3:00 Reading Group: Capital I, Chapters 2-5
3:15 – 4:30 Panel

Christian Dogbe
On Ahmadou Kourouma and Marxism

Aisha Karim
On the movement of political desire in African literature

Allison McGuffie
On Eisenstein and African film
5:00 – 6:15

Ato Quayson
On dialectic and failed synthesis in the drama of Wole Soyinka
Presented by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s African-American
Studies Department

* * *FRIDAY, 22 JUNE* * *
9:00 – 10:15 Panel

Laura Hudson
On Marxian species-being and the anthropological machine

Erin Paszko
On historicizing political violence through Leila Khaled’s My People Shall

Michelle Yates
On an ecological contradiction within capitalism
10:45 – 12:00 Panel

Paul Smith
On Boltanski’s _The New Spirit of Capitalism_

Ariane Fischer
On critical theory and the concept of ideology

Ed Wiltse
On scientific certainty and criminal justice in Sherlock Holmes stories and
12:00 – 1:15 LUNCH
1:15 – 3:00 Reading Group: Capital I, Parts Seven and Eight
3:15 – 4:30 Panel

Neil Larsen
On the unique difficulty of reading Capital volume I, chapter 1

Eleanor Kaufman
On poetic surplus in Badiou

Reiichi Miura
On singularity and postmodern pluralism
5:00 – 7:00

Peter Hitchcock
On the failed state and the state of failure

* * *SATURDAY, 23 JUNE* * *
9:00 – 10:15 Panel

Jeff Carr
On capitalism, socialism, and labor in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

William Q. Malcuit
On the resuscitation of history in McKay

Todd Thompson
On irony and heritage in the Harlem Renaissance
10:45 – 12:00 Panel

Lee Medovoi
On Marx, Foucault, and the current conjuncture

Mathias Nilges
On the work of art in the age of cognitive capitalism

Myka Tucker-Abramson
On the labour history of deindustrialized literature
12:00 – 1:15 LUNCH
1:15 – 3:00 Reading Group: Capital I, Appendix
3:30 – 5:00

Walter Benn Michaels
On praising famous (white) men
5:15 – 7:15

Fredric Jameson
On the Dialectic

* * *SUNDAY, 24 JUNE* * *
9:00 – 10:30 Panel

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo
On (un)writing diaspora and the route(lessness) of capitalism

Bimbisar Irom
On reification, totality and the agony of the radical novel

Ann Mattis
On domestic service and kinship in Gertrude Stein’s “The Good Anna” and “The
Gentle Lena”

Wesley Sims
On incarceration in Gayl Jones’ Eva’s Man
10:45 – 12:15 Panel

Jolan Bogdan
On denial and ideology: the Romanian example

Steve Macek
On Marxism and the media reform movement

Joe Ramsey
On Babouk and revolutionary spectacle

Laura Sullivan
On television and the spectacle of giving
12:15 – 1:30 MLG Business Meeting / LUNCH
1:45 – 3:15 Roundtable: Labor and Memory

Courtney Maloney, Jamie Daniel, Carol Stabile, and Joel Woller
3:30 Susan Willis / Don Hedrick responding
         On playing the penny slots

Day 68: Is Political Satire Dead?

Ok, I have to write about something else than Virginia Tech. I just saw this South Park spoof on 300 and in typical South Park fashion it pushes the envelope regarding the troubling politics of the movie even further. Does that automatically make it into a progressive critique? If not, why should South Park get away with its reproduction of regressive politics? Does it get a free pass because it is SO over the top, so uninterested in hiding its problematic political project, that we cannot judge it? It seems like over the years people have just come to assume that South Park is doing something progressive and that therefore we are able and allowed to laugh at their brand of social critique. Is this, however, the kind of one-dimensional work satire (if we even want to call this satire, as satire is far more complex and intelligent than a mereover the top repetition and exaggeration of problems) has been reduced to, merely reproducing stereotypes in exaggerated form and acting as though this were immediately a deep analysis and strong commentary? I personally am quite weary of the political project of South Park, especially after I saw Team America World Police, which I had hoped would be funny in precisely a progressive way, but which turned out to be troublingly regressive and conservative. The latest example of this is the episode you can see an excerpt from below, which, if we are honest, does not do anything to counter the politics of the film its references. If anything, it concretizes deep seated cultural stereotypes. The only difference is that it does so in a way that invites Persians to laugh at them as well, which seems to be the standard brand of contemporary Comedy Central humour: we are all so anti-racist that it is ok to laugh at stereotypes again. It is just important to make sure that the people who are being ridiculed can laugh along with us. This reminds me tragically of Adorno’s dictum: “there is laughter because there is nothing to laugh about.

Viacom seems to be removing this video from youtube quite quickly, so if you cannot see the embedded video, go to: (that should still be there)


Day 60: Don Imus, Hate Speech and Today’s Racism

After days of watching the airwaves being flooded with various discussions surrounding this topic, I do feel like I should write about something that has been bugging me, namely the dangerously outdated approach to defining and debating contemporary racism that does not only fail to address the actual issue, but which is in fact partly to blame for perpetuating the forms of racism we are facing today. Let me illustrate this visually:

these are NOT the faces of contemporary racism:



Now, don’t get me wrong. These pictures do obviously show racists. But they do not synecdochically stand in for contemporary racism. There is a severe disjoint here we must address.

If we are looking for pictures the illustrate the problems of contemporary racism, we need to look at these:



Why would I put up a picture of cute children and associate them with racism? Why would I put up a picture of a major film label (one belonging to Disney!–where Disney was just nice enough to finally make an animated film starring a black female main protagonist) and suggest that it may be racist? Exactly! Why would anyone today be racist?! Early on we are trained to value multiculturalism and diversity, every major corporation has diversity training officers, laws and regulations, as well as hiring policies. We celebrate diversity (mainly, however, via other cultures’ food and clothing, and, if our name is Tarantino, via their cinema–but that is a different problem, one mainly regarding the function of multiculturalism within the contemporary socioeconomic structure). There is no room for racism in our society these days any more. We are all anti-racists (that is, all of us who are intelligent–actually, let me take that back: even the our government’s right-wing folks are decidedly anti-racist). As soon as something like the Don Imus scandal breaks loose (or the Mel Gibson one, or the one “Kramer” one, or the Rev. Sharpton one (yep–even he “misstepped” once) we are all outraged. And rightly so. Racism is bad and we all know it. This, however, leads to a problematic logical situation: we have effectively revived a binary distinction regarding race/racism: we are anti-racists (inside) and racists/racism are/is out there (outside). We need to protect the inside from that dangerous outside, making sure these rightly marginalized opinions do not again find their way into mainstream discourse and politics. Hence we tend to logically assume that the inside is a clean-space regarding race and that racism is to be sought on the outside–hence our outrage directed at Don Imus. We need stereotypical redneck, cowboy-hat wearing people like him (or the structurally outdated image of hooded KKK people, etc.) in order to find a way to articulate our anti-racism in opposition to what we define as racist (Imus, KKK, rednecks beating up black people, etc.). Sadly, however, and this is the problem I am alluding to here, that is NOT the kind of racism that is crippling our society these days. Or do we really think that Don Imus is the face of the kinds of adversity racial minorities are facing these days? The Rutgers coach, while addressing the press and nation yesterday, continuously used phrases such as “what you do not seem to understand…” Who was she talking to? Apart from these stereotypical hooded, freaks, some rednecks and whomever else we associate with our own pop-cultural definition of racism, who really listened to Imus and said “wow, he’s right!” We were all outraged. And even the freaks who did not immediately disagree with him were probably far from making this into a public debate: you CANNOT be a racist these days without facing severe consequences. At least, that is, not a racist such as Don Imus, who states it openly. We know that racism is bad and we know that we must combat it. So why do I have a problem with what is happening?

To reiterate this: in order to define racism in a social situation in which we all believe that we are anti-racist (“hey, I have a black friend…!”) we require freaks such as Imus, “Kramer,” and Gibson to form the opposite to our liberal conception of race/racism (and I am using “liberal” as a negative word here, criticizing it from a Marxist/Critical Race Theory persepective, which sees precisely within this form of liberalism the structural dangers of contemporary racism). But if we need those freaks we agree that racism is located on the outskirts of society, that it is an exception to the anti-racist rule, an exception we all clearly recognize as bad. Hence, all the talk of “we finally get the chance to speak up against racism” that has been disseminated in the last few days appears rather ridiculous, ignoring “small things” such as the CRM, or recent events such as Katrina. The media cannot seem to decide what it wants to claim: pride in being part of the effort to “finally speak out against racism,” or doing so because it is a social norm (hence far from an exceptional event we finally have come to). Are we supposed to be anti-racist because racism is a big social problem and we have not solved it yet, or are we supposed to be anti-racist because it is the norm and Imus has departed from it, requiring all of us to be outraged and signal the fact that anti-racism is a dominant discourse in our society which will not tolerate people like Imus? In an age of diversity and multiculturalism we all must agree that it is the latter, right? We are anti-racist and we recognize that we MUST be so in order to be good human beings. No question. Then why, if the majority of us is anti-racist and we mark Imus as a transgression that is greeted with national outrage, do we simultaneously act as though racism is also socially dominant? Isn’t that a non-sequitur? Yes. It is. And it is precisely this fact, this logical problem, that marks the function of anti-racism in our society as mainly an identity category, a functional part of our contemporary society and production apparatus, rather than as a means of actually addressing contemporary forms of capitalism. It reveals that the structure of contemporary racism is not addressed by these discussions. The discussions we are listening to at the moment do little else than mark us individually and collectively as good people. Consequently, it is possible that we can forget this discussion quickly and a few weeks later go to the movies and see the new flic directed by Mel Gibson. We have done our civic duty (at least one that is reduced to the spectacular, entirely dissociated form actual political and social action) and can ignore things such as the legal mess surrounding the dismissal of all charges against the white students in the Duke Rape Scandal (which, compared to Imus, has been getting hardly any airtime today).

What am I trying to suggest? I am suggesting that racism does not function any more in the ways it used to function, i.e. in ways that today makes it easy for us to identify ourselves as anti-racists (i.e. as a structure that openly marginalizes and disenfranchises a group of people based on their race). Obviously, there are incidents that display this kind of racism today. But they are not what we should mainly be worried about. They are what we need to them to be: aberrations. There is racism in our society, but it is not the racism we are so happy to fight (stereotyping, hate-speech, racial violence, etc.). There is the racial segregation capitalism still profits from (see property values, as e.g. argued by George Lipsitz)–to make this short: there is still a lot of institutional racism, howver, not as outlined by Carmichael, but insitutional racism operating in more subtle forms. It the disjoint between being anti-racist (as defined based upon outdated categories of racism) and actual racism today that makes us able to not have any long-term memory regarding racism–we go back to the movies, we leave the structures that allowed Imus to make racist remarks several time before unchanged and we are anti-racist to the degree that we feel like it is fine again to make racist jokes (we know they are funny, since we do not take them seriously because we are all so anti-racist–look at the programming of comedy central–would barely work without comedy based upon racial stereotypes). What this social climate ignores are the power structures that are still in place that operate upon a changed form of assigning racial division a function, i.e. a productive role in our socioeconomic situation. As Baldwin famously asserted, racism needs a system of power in order to assert itself. I.e. if there is one black person in an entirely white city and that person says that he hates whites we cannot compare this to the history of white racism. It is not purely a function of ideology–this one person simply does not possess the means of institutionalizing racism as a system of power to the degree that white people were able to. However, there are two assertions we tend to agree with today: racism is bad and being anti-racist is good, hence should be the norm. What this means is that we agree that racism is not a huge structural problem any more. We have rules and regulations in place, we have ideological safe-guards and the only time we are willing to actually talk about racism is not when it comes to, say, economic exploitation still deeply rooted in racial discrimination, but only when we can attack clearly marked racists such as Imus, making us all feel good about the fact that we apparently have great social structures in place that recognize and eradicate the little bit of racism that still exists (outside of the mainstream). What we leave untouched are the power structures that assign contemporary racism a radically different function than during the 50s and 60s (yet, we remain attached to the pop-cultural images of Civil Rights discourses, aking us unable to abalyze the ways in which race functions today). Our diverse society is anti-racist. However, as Yamashita writes, usually multiculturalism is just “a white guy in a flannel shirt wearing dreadlocks.”

In short, I am quite weary of he shoulder-patting that is going on in the context of discussions such as the one regarding Imus’s comments, nostalgically acting as though MLK and Malcolm are our best friends today, while afterwards returning to our condo in a white gated community whose value would drop if a black family moved into the neighborhood, watching Apocalypto while eating boneless, white chicken breast for dinner that has been cleaned by immigrant workers we tend to demonize as a security problem, while refusing to speak about the fact that their presence allows us to pit them against US workers who compete for the lowest jobs in an effort to lower wage levels, low-level US workers who are usually still as a norm anything but white.

***EDIT: consider this: a leading board member of CBS news and former president of the NAACP just stated the following on CNN (paraphrased, thus not directly quoted–comments made: April 11, 12:45): as an African-American and as an American I believe that Imus should be fired for his actions. As a member on the CBS management that story is more complicated and I cannot speak to this at this point (they are weighing money issues, such as the recent $10 million contract extension and the reaction of corporations investing sdvertising money in the program). What does this indicate? The existence of two subjectivities: one, a human being and responsible citizen who can recognize and speak out against racism clearly and easily (i.e. anti-racism as an identity category). And two, a capitalist subject that has to defer judgment to economic interest. Is this the anti-racism we are celebrating? Anti-racism only in the private sphere, or in the public sphere only in so far as it does not conflict with economic interests (or, at least not negatively–we know how well anti-racism can be used to contribute to economic interests)–i.e. conditional anti-racism. Doesn’t the very absence of unconditional anti-racism itself suffice as an argument about the practical absence of political anti-racism itself? Is it truly just an identity category and must take a step back when it truly comes to systemic considerations (the second form of subjectivity)? Can there be a true argument (i.e. separated from economic interest) for NOT firing Imus? I am pretty sure firing a teacher for spreading such racist hate-speech would not only happen a lot faster, but no one woud seriously object to it (our universities have laws for this kind of stuff–doesn’t CBS radio and MSNBC have them? Pretty sure they do. So what’s keeping them from following their own rules and is to legal to subordinate such judgment based upon these rules to capitalist interest? If so, then what is the function of these rules in a corporation? Should we then not be honest, abolish diversity policies in these corporations and leave only one true rule: the need to accumulate capital? What then, besides profit, makes Imus exempt from that treatment that would follow the convictions we all agree we should live by?

BTW: all three Duke lacrosse players were just acquitted of all charges–press conference to follow–let’s see how race is discussed in this press conference and in the following media debates***

***EDIT II: ok, as of ca. 5 p.m. today he’s fired. Let’s have a vote, shall we? Who thinks he has been fired because our society is so anti-racist? Now, who thinks he has been fired because overt racism is counterproductive to capitalist accumulation (remember: we are merely talking about the dumbass, stereotyping, filled with hatred racism–not the structural racism that made CBS radio and MSNBC ignore previous incidents and upon which capitalist accumulation is still based–btw: this is one example of how capitalism today operates in much more compley ways than before: it can have a commitement to both racism and anti-racism at the same time)? And finally: who thinks that an important step in the fight against racism has been made and that this has made our society less racist? (not to imply that we should not have done it, but that we shoud have done and publicly discussed it differently)***

Day 55: The Politics of Ecology


As indicated in an earlier post, the debate about global warming is increasingly being reduced to a politikum. Today the first half of the United Nations’ Report on Global Warming was published. It paints an obviously bleak picture for our future, which no sane scientist honestly contradicts any more at this point (as the report indicates, there are no reports in any respected scientific journals that contradict the findings outlined in the report). But not only do we have to face a future in which we have to deal with the fact of global warming and the potential for rapid climate change, necessitating the debate about our possibilities for progressively “terraforming” our planet. We also witness the return of quite traditional political problems, such as a trend that has been referred to as “ecological colonialism,” describing the fact that the nations that are the major producers of greenhouse gases etc. are the nations that are the least affected by climate change. The nations bearing the brunt are those in South America and the nations in the equatorial region of Africa (those who ironically produce the least amount of greenhouse gases), the very nations that had to face the horrors of slave trade and colonialism.

However, we are finding ourselves in a political climate that makes it quite difficult to address these vital questions, indicating the degree to which Kim Stanley Robinson may be right when he suggests that making moves toward ecological responsibility is inextricably linked to issues of social justice. We are not merely facing the opposition of the conservative right as represented, e.g., by Christopher Horner. The argument of the right is that arguments for progressive ecological action are just camouflage suits that disguise lefty arguments calling for economic regulation (hence arguing that today’s ecologist is just yesterday’s communist in different clothing). Seemingly opposed to this we also face resistance from the left. Last weekend Alexander Cockburn (in an interview on C-SPAN) claimed that he is weary of the ecological argument, as he believes that it mainly operates within the context of the lobbying efforts for nuclear energy. In between all this (well, not really in between–more as the always scary mixture of both) we find the libertarians–the Ayn Randians of the Cato Institute etc. Last week’s NY Times Book Report contained the following section:

“Libertarianism has now arrived at an interesting juncture. The moment for its grandest ambitions seems to have passed. President Bush is no longer talking about privatizing Social Security, and his free-market approach to rebulding Iraq has proven disastrous. The libertarians at the  Cato Institute, meanwhile, are struggling to persuade people that global warming–the archetypal free-market failure–is a hoax. Yet in an irony worthy of Rand’s collective, the solution to climate change will probably have a libertarian tinge. The global-warming debate is coalescing around a “cap and trade” solution in which energy-efficient companies would be rewarded by the market. In fact, across a range of major issues–energy policy, health care, retirement savings–a hybrid form of laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism seems to be ascendant. The market will be allowed to work its efficient magic, but government will step in to correct the market’s failures. “Libertarian paternalism” is the name two University of Chicago professors, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, have devised for one version of this philosophy.”

The politically troubling tendency for me is here the limited choice we have: namely one between a dialogue that turns out to be paralyzing when it comes to actual action, and another discussion that is in itself logically colonized by capitalism, as it is hegemonically occupied by capitalist logic in its attempt to find answers to the problem. Once again, we are attempting to find answers to a problem capitalism has caused (see the ecological colonialism of African countries) within capitalism itself. This should at the very least suggest (to everyone with a small investment in logical thinking) that we are tragically limiting ourselves in our attempts to fix an important problem by remaining defiant when it comes to realizing that free-market capitalism is indeed proven empirically catastrophic when it comes to the one thing capitalist production needs as its basis: the reproduction of the conditions of production. It in fact has proven that it is unable to self-regulate the very destruction of these conditions of production, instead progressively robbing itself of its own basis: a functional, healthy, stable environment. How, then, can someone like Cockburn rightly slam Thomas Friedman’s utopist and out of touch with reality free-market arguments that even the most uninformed reader must recognize as ridiculously ignorant, while himself ignoring the connection between free-market ideology and ecological exploitation and destruction, instead reducing it to a localized argument about lobbying? What is it really that we can do to make a move toward progressively terraforming our earth? It cannot, as people suggest, begin with “sustainable development” (as this leaves the destructive free-market ideology intact). It must instead begin with changing our political climate–potentially, an ecological revolution will bring about the needed revolution moving toward social justice to which it is logically connected as suggested by Robinson. Can ecological political revolutions thus be a better way to logically mobilize people for political change, freeing progressive political action from the cobwebs of outdated and too often uninformed left orthodoxy and fragmenting dogmatism. Can we develop a progressive ecological left that does not have to carry the left’s historical stigma in the US, hence be appealing to a broader basis of the populace?