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 338: Mediations Journal

I will also quickly do my part to advertise the grand inauguration extravaganza of the second series of Mediations, the journal of the Marxist Literary Group. Issue 23.1 is a dossier of contemporary Marxist thought from Brazil. Mediations is published bi-annually. The Fall issues are dossiers of non-U.S. material of interest; the Spring issues are open submission and peer reviewed. Mediations has circulated in various forms and formats since the early 1970s, and is now available free on the web. Both a web edition and a print edition, downloadable in pdf format, can be accessed at Featured authors in the current issue include Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Paulo Arantes, Ina Camargo Costa, Francisco de Oliviera, Milton Ohata, and Roberto Schwarz (!).

Day 336: Some Kind of Monster

This weekend I had a LOONG discussion with a friend regarding monsters (we were both supposed to read/write at Intelligentsia…). Since we could not really come up with a lot of answers, here my attempt to take the debate to the streets:

1. If we assume that each specific stage of capitalism creates its own monster in cultural production (e.g. Industrial Revolution –>Frankenstein), what is the monster that corresponds to contemporary capitalism? (pre-emptory note: zombies do not count, since they do not qualify as monsters per se, since monsters must be freaks that stand OPPOSED to a norm, while zombies often are a way to represent this very norm itself in a freakish way).

2. What stage of capitalism does the alien in Ridley Scott’s Alien represent (the first movie–just by means of explanation: EVERY character in the movie is very specifically materially coded–class and otherwise–and the story itself is at heart an allegory for a transformation in international trade–remember what turns out to be the entire logic of the space mission–so how do we read that alien itself)? Bear in mind: this movie was released in 1979 (hence we must be very specific here as far as economic transformations are concerned).

Just wondering if people have any ideas.

Day 275: Another Conference

Last week’s conference went relatively well. The presentations on the panels I organized turned out to be very interesting, the people were nice, and I actually got some valuable feedback on my own presentation. No rest for the wicked, though, as the next conference is coming up this weekend. I will be giving a presentation and moderating a panel on Friday, which means that I should really get my talk together. This, however, is being complicated by two things: 1) I am still sick as a dog (whenever I begin to feel better, I have to pull an all-nighter, or spend a few days with only three or four hours of sleep per night and the flu comes back because my body seems to be too tired to kick it out completely) and 2) I am beginning to wonder if giving a paper on the end of biopolitics (as a valuable/contemporarily suitable hermeneutic principle) was the best choice for a paper at a conference where biopolitics is the dominant analytical paradigm (the Project Biocultures conference). But then again, the organizers felt they should include my paper, so I guess I should not worry about this too much. Upside: it is rather unlikely that no one will want to ask questions/have comments after the talk.

Other than that there is really not much new to report that does not revolve around my efforts to get rid of my cold (I am taking vitamins, airborne, drink lots of fluids, and even eat fruit (yes, fruit–me!), but I still seem to be unable to get healthy–I have been trying to do things my sports coaches would have advised me to do back in the day, hence I tried to “run it out” by the lake for the last three days, but surprisingly this did not work either–I may try rubbing some dirt on it a little later, usually a coach’s second universal remedy.).

Day 215: Sam Shepard

A very late post today, I know. I did not have time to write earlier and I don’t really have the time now (trying to finish a chapter revision that needs to be sent out tomorrow). So, here briefly an excerpt of a Sam Shepard play that kept me smiling today:

ELLA: Why can’t you just cooperate?

EMMA: Because it’s deadly. It leads to dying.

ELLA: You’re not old enough to talk like that.

Day 209: The Bank of Common Knowledge

Read about this in a Bruce Sterling piece. This is interesting and theoretically screwy in so many ways. Interesting concept, which, however, will once again illustrate the many similarities, yet the final political/practical differences between Hardt and Negri and viral marketing strategies. Let’s just call it “deliberative democratic capitalism.” What really happens to knowledge and its political “use-value” on the individual level if it is increasingly applied, disseminated and stored in a way that, as Lyotard suggests “externalizes knowledge with respect to the knower?” The very concept of “urban survival” becomes re-defined along the lines of this increasingly totalitarian form of alienation (of the knower from knowledge), transforming the networks of knowledge often thought to contain the possibility for creating democratic networks (directed at action) into alienated, exteriorized networks of knowledge, purely functional as a means of viral distribution, not connected to concepts of use as much as primarily and maybe singularly to the logic of exchange and reproduction. Take a look:

P.S.: “exchange and gift economy”–hee, hee! Yeah, as noble a transaction as the interaction between the knowledge-gift receiving person and the Astroturfer!

Day 192: Global Warming Means More Naked People to Look at

This or something else seems to be the message of Spencer Tunick’s latest “installation,” in which 600 people stripped naked on the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. The event was supported by Greenpeace and attempted to call attention to the drastic effects of global warming (as measured by the dramatic rate at which the glacier has been melting) and argue for the necessity of quick and significant political responses to this problem. While I certainly agree with the argument here, I am somewhat hesitant to classify this as art (there are some interesting nude “installations” Tunick has done before, yet this recent one, as so many other projects of his, does not quite fall into that category). I am simply not sure whether this fulfills the criteria of political art and would therefore categorize this more as part of a wave of opportunism that attaches itself to the global warming bandwagon, reducing much discourse about this problem to self-serving, empty gestures. So, while I have the feeling that this is not the real thing, it also makes me wonder what true political art addressing the global warming problem might look like. It’s still early in the day for me and I do not yet have a convincing idea. Maybe some coffee will help. Any ideas? The problem Tunick addresses is an important one: slow political change that is willing to make radical changes in order to counter the effects of global warming. Yet, I doubt that his recent project is a very persuasive argument, which, after all, is one of the main characteristics of political art. I am just rambling at this point and I’ll think more about it and maybe offer something of more substance (after all, there is still the question of what counts as truly progressive political art these days anyway and it is hard enough to find art that even displays the ability to imagine the future in any progressive way at all, let alone formulate a possible progressive political strategy–it seems as though the utopian impulse has died and the apocalyptic depiction of scary scenarios is the best we can do–but as we all know this does not count as true Hegelian negativity–it’s purely negative without a dialectical utopian impulse that generates progressive ideas for the future).

In any case, I’ll come back to this and in the meantime you can read more about Tunick’s recent work and see the glacier pictures/videos here.