Monday, June 18, 2007

After I Argued with the Learn'd Astronomer

I came across this truly chilling U.S. government document, and its equally chilling website. Indeed, I wasn't sure, at first, that it wasn't some kind of NGO that ran the website, but no. Singling out Jews like this (no one else has their own page, right?), as especially deserving of protection from campus discrimination, is so nauseating that I can't even imagine what I might say in response. Coming on the heels of Alan Dershowitz's libel campaign against Norman Finkelstein, which succeeded in getting the dean at DePaul to deny Finkelstein tenure, despite his absurdly long list of qualifications and credentials, one has to take one's hat off to the attack dogs of the Jewish right. They're really getting things done.

No doubt, the "reverse racism" page will be up soon, too.

The whole thing, with its blurry warnings about criticism of Israel, is ugly, but it definitely crosses the line here, in this definition of anti-semitism

* Comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or comparisons of Israeli/Jewish leaders to Nazi leaders, or comparisons of Jewish symbols such as the Star of David with the swastika.

The most absurd item though, is the one that defines remarks to the effect that "Zionism is racism" as anti-Semitic. Looks like academics should be careful about what they say. But, oh wait, it seems the the website has acknowledged that there's NO legal precedent for their definitions.

Glad they've gone out of their way to enforce something other than the law. As for civil rights law itself, well. . .

Some Responses

[Update: not incidentally, there's a post on related questions over at Style of Negation]

In the
comments box of Kasey's Limetree, Sweet Jane and the indefatigable Kent Johnson were debating the merits of Zizek's recent interview in Soft Targets, a journal that imagines itself a Bataillean investigation into violence, a latter day Documents. Kent, misconstruing the points that Zizek made (who was sounding more reasonable than usual, it must be noted) declared that Marx would probably have "largely" discarded the Labor Theory of Value today (Simon chimes in, equally incorrectly, to my mind). The only possible response to this is, I think, like

(insert strange facial contortion here, upturned palm, here)?????

I respect Kent and think that, when he's not paranoiacally worrying that Flarf has gone all Baader-Meinhof on him, he's capable of making strong arguments, but huh? Last time I checked almost everything within my range of vision was produced by, to some extent, people who, not owning the means of production for such books, tables, foodstuffs, diapers, etc., did not receive as compensation for their labor its social value. . . Is everything made by machines where Kent lives? Does he have one of those Star Trek mystification-thing-a-mabobs? Can I get one? As for the following idea, of Simon's:

There is a great deal of "violence" in captialism; what I am most engaged by is that this is a deeply indirect violence, a violence done to the psyche, to the soul, to the spirit. It's an armchair thought in many ways, but I, at least, am aware that the greatest suffering of this psychic violence are precisely those that we -- meaning people like Josh and I -- are most concerned with politically.

I can only say I would like to see Simon explain this to a Pakistani person who works 16hrs/day for less money than it takes to feed his/her family. Do you think this person wants a psychic solution? Or the value of his/her labor? Therapy or health care and full remuneration? OxyContin of the masses? This sounds to me like the worst of liberal idealism. Sadly, this is a tendency that anarchist thought, much of which is very valuable to me, and important to my anti-vanguard politics, can fall into quite quickly (cf. Chomsky channeling Rousseau and telling Foucault, ridiculously, that he thought that people were basically foundationally good ). I think I take the side of Marx in The German Ideology against Stirner/ Feurbach. Idealist thinking like this only further proves that Marx is, in fact, deeply useful today. To the extent that I am not aware, every time I drink a cup of coffee (as big of a commodity as oil), that this is a relationship between me and somebody working a plantation in Nicaragua, then Marx's analysis of the commodity still holds. . . And it's not common sense if nobody ever talks or thinks about it when they invite you over for coffee.

The point that Zizek makes in the beginning (via Benjamin) and that Joshua reiterates, that capitalism involves a repetitive, sustaining (law-preserving) violence, that is the very foundation for those soi-disant acts of poor on poor violence, needs to be repeated until people understand it. Unemployment, broadcasting of classist/racist ideology, lack of adequate housing, social services, education, etc., these are bases for Simon's poor on poor violence. I don't know if therapy (psychic solutions) or religion (spiritual solutions) will be much help here. From the idealist, pre-Roussauvian tradition, how about this:

I conceive there is more barbarity in eating a man alive, than when he is dead; in tearing a body limb from limb by racks and torments, that is yet in perfect sense; in roasting it by degrees; in causing it to be bitten and worried by dogs and swine (as we have not only read, but lately seen, not among inveterate and mortal enemies, but among neighbors and fellow-citizens, and, which is worse, under color of piety and religion), than to roast and eat him after he is dead. (Montaigne, "On Cannibals)

I agree, for sure, that there's a contradiction between Zizek's advocation of, on the one hand, absolute refusal, and on the other, the seizure of state power for the purposes of socialist political change. [What do you get when you cross these two? A state that does nothing?]. In any case, Zizek does say he only supports Hamas to the extent that they want to destroy the increasingly the rogue state of Israel, not kill Jews. More and more, that seems like the rational response to the political situation.

Below, an excerpt from an essay I'm writing for Johannes's and Joyelle's Action, Yes, might constitute some kind of response to Kent and Simon.

6. In the internet, the commodity appears to have committed suicide. This is the “communism of capital.” The abundance of the developed world, those final fruits of a half millenium of exploitation, are delivered right to your living room, they are manipulable, plastic, they have a history that recedes into the future. But they are also completely purged of any substance. An equality without qualia. Everyone gets their fifteen embarrassing minutes of fame, yes, but everyone is always someone else.

6.1 That is, everything arrives “just in time,” meaning never. Without an ideological enemy in sight, without opportunities for fixed capital investment, and with an increasingly dephysicalized work force connected more and more by cheaper communication networks, but who were without adequate health care, unable to buy houses, unable to afford the luxuries constantly promised them, it seemed that, for the legendary “average American,” social unrest would be the order of the day. The internet gives this unrest an arena. Riot on the discussion boards, not the streets. So, too, were the rise of “alternative” and “indie” and “non-mainstream” forms of cultural production a means of capuring truly anti-capitalist sentiment at the end of the American era. The methadone of the masses. Pseudo-satisfactions for real needs.

Information is the New Body Armor

7. The internet is not separated from the real geography of the world by a continuous border. Rather it is folded intensively into this geography. It lives in the pores of the real geography of the world, copresent. Without our knowing it has walled, sectioned, cantonized and infiltrated at multiple levels the space of the real. When a real geographical space is enveloped on all sides, without egress, alternate temporalities, too slow or too fast, begin to form. These can spread and are, in other terms, what is known as revolution. Fredric Jameson’s important call for a cartography of the totality of postmodern space is, ultimately, victim to a certain structuralist predisposition to synchronic spatialities. Sadly, the structure of the internet is subjected to the shuffle play of capitalism’s unconscious and so, on its own, a map will merely allow one to wander in weird ellipses inside the lung-sac of the breathing, sweaty folds. Rather, we need a a kind of proprioception of the collective, a form of class hatred, hatred of capital, a compass that blinks, brightly, beside the red light of TINA (There is no alternative) the green light of EXIT.

8. The internet, then, is a Green Zone, a distribution of autonomies and dollar-forms, templates, in which the miseries of the world arrive shorn of all their burdensome material determinators and accumulates. With nasal, aristocratic delectation, the provisioners of MySpace toss out the m’s and n’s to the multitudes in order that it not spell “internment” or “interment.” We are all interns at Google, producing value whose redemption is scheduled for a future to which we will not be invited.

9. Social software: the porous, osmotic hyper-sensitized softness of which masks the rigidity of its regulative supports: it feels like consumption, but it’s really production. Anywhere a price is prominently missing, it’s production: of false needs, of distraction, and most importantly a production of social relations vital to the precarities of the present. I will not say, like some, that the petit-bourgeois of the blogs and listservs, laboring in para-corporate purgatorial cubicles, have become a revolutionary class. If there is to be revolt against capitalism, it must no doubt occur from and with the developing world, the massively displaced peasantry of China, the orbits of dispossession and immiseration, hunger and disease and bad faith ringing Sao Paolo and Lagos, not to mention the least developed parts of the post-industrial world. But laboratorial leisure, leisure made labor, provides a crucial supplement, a clean distribution of experience necessary for the functioning of capital today. As this petit-bourgeois class becomes, more and more, a kind of second proletariat, as the teaching adjuncts and clerks and “executive assistants” who provide much of the content of the internet get forced below a living wage, such tertiary or quaternary production becomes more and moe necessary. These classes need to organize as well. Their—or our—refusal is essential. Those who would controvert such a notion, by pointing to the absence of internet commodities produced for exchange and assigning to web denizens the role of cultural reproduction, misunderstand the nature of the post-Fordist economy. Rather than commodities arising to mark the unevenness of development between classes and countries, it is this uneven development itself which the web produces.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Two Old Posts

1. As ever, proofreading, I am aware of the strange punctuational malady from which suffer: hyphenism, characterized by gratuitous and ornamental bridging of modifiers and nouns with hyphens. (Not to be confused, of course, with hyphy-ism [more on this later]). I am anxious about connections, anxious to make them. Am I making sense yet? I want you to nod your head. But, oh, things fall apart--nor all the king's adverbs, nor all the king's sutures, prevent the unchaining of the signifier after the cops visit the party and tell the people in charge to turn the music down and then drive away to do cop-type things.

Nor does the recourse to the indirect style of the fragment really help matters, forcing an attention to the types of coherence that are internal to phrase units, to meaning units. The layering and proliferation of polysemousness, of vernaculars, puns, auras, mediations, icings and smogs is, it seems, also another attempt to make things stick, connect.

The pin near the top of the assemblage pops out. It holds a thread which, wrapped anxiously and multiply around each of the links, those little dead spots in thinking, makes it seem as if these words actually fit together, had receptors and nodes and agendas and budgets and all that. But no, they just drift away from each other in zero-g.

2. One month ago or so: a perfect day (clear, windy, cloudy-sunny) for looking at office park sculpture, most daring and difficult of art forms. I left my phone (see: 1, things fall apart) in the lecture hall at CCA after the tremendous Ed Roberson/Evie Shockley reading, and some kind soul found it and then found me and, after driving over to pick it up, I decided to finally head down to UCSF Mission Bay to see Richard Serra's sculpture installation there. A gigantic cruise ship was beached in a parking lot that was pretending to be water. The parking lot stretched from the early 20th century to the early 21st century. There was monumental architecture and monumental absence, construction debris, machinery and light rail, as in, perhaps, Antonioni's Red Desert or any number of Pasolini's films.

Ballast, the Serra installation, consists of two 50 ft. high rectangular steel slabs, tilted off vertical--both laterally and frontally-- by some very minute number of degrees. They are 133 ft. apart and communicate on some sonar dolphin-frequency to which ordinary perception has no access. I got up close, underneath one of the slabs, and looked up along its oxidized surface. Because the slab was off vertical, that's how I felt too, and on that day in particular, with low, fast clouds moving overhead opposite the tilt, a kind of weird counterbalance, I felt as if I were both improbably weightless and impossibly heavy.