Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Liberalizing Ideology of the Internet

written for AGGRESSION conference, Small Press Traffic, 5/31

[for a recent example of the liberalizing ideology in action, see Kenneth Goldsmith's summary of Marjorie Perloff's talk here]

It is spring 2007. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, perhaps as many as a million, have died in the US wars. My government tortures people—it always has, but now it tortures lots of them—and holds them in an extra-judicial space that, like the internet, does and does not exist. The Democrats are hateful because, like the internet, they are doing nothing to stop this. Americans are hateful, mostly, because they like the internet and are doing nothing to stop this. Poets are hateful too. They are like the internet and they like it.

Johannes Göransson asks me to write something for his magazine Action, Yes. At first, I think to write something about poetry in public space and my researches into the theory and practice of the Situationist International, but I’m feeling the hate, I’m liking the hate, I have all of this aggression that’s bottlenecked because it’s supposed to fit through these tiny pixel-sized perforations, and increasingly, what I find impossible to stomach is this idea that the internet is a democratic space, that the technology is democratizing, anti-hierarchical, equalizing, when it seems clear to me that alongside the surge of troops into Iraq, also under the pretenses of democracy, there is a surge of voltages into the space of the internet, and that, instead of one surge stopping the other surge, they are mutually enabling surges, they are pals, these surges, and contrary to predictions about new media enabling new forms of resistance, the internet has, mostly, become, like, a giant deterrence machine, virtualizing and disembodying resistance, it is something like the Free Speech zones set up at protests and on campuses, a merely formal space of freedom surrounded by massive unfreedom, and because I read a good number of books about capitalism, this seems like an old story, this one about freedom and unfreedom, and I want to tell it.

I begin to think about the internet and what it does and what it’s for and I have, at the end of the day, two or maybe three main arguments about it. They are not very original, these arguments, and anybody who reads the same books about capitalism, particularly the ones written by Karl Marx, who was a pretty sharp guy, could probably come up with the same arguments.

I. Information Wants to Be Free

The internet is a screen, a series of screens. It’s true: everyone can have their own blog, can publish their poems online so that the whole world can not read them, can peruse and produce the contents of the internet freely (in all senses of this word). But below this level of freedom, this level of leveling and equalization, the old exclusions and inequalities still obtain—differences in literacy and knowledge, differences in access to free time, differences in positionality with regard to social networks and cultural capital. This is a public that requires, paradoxically, an immobilizing and privatizing of individuated bodies: in rooms, in front of screens. And it is offered, I think, as compensation for the destruction of our cities, the privatization of social entitlement programs, the decay of our schools, infrastructure, etc. The freedom of the internet is, in this sense, the freedom of the marketplace. Its democracy the democracy of, well, the U.S. Its equality the equality of money, the general equivalent, through which equivalency buyers and sellers confront each other as equals. Every dollar is equal to every other dollar, stupid. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar.

In his notebooks from the 1850s, referred to as the Grundrisse, Marx, who encountered similarly vexing arguments about the democracy of the marketplace, decided that the best way to deal with such claims would be to create a mock-up of the market, of the “simple sphere of circulation,” taking at face value the claim that all participants were equals in order to demonstrate the contradictions and impossibilities of such a stance, and therefore force us to plunge into the noisy and highly unequal sphere of production—where capital and labor meet as antagonists—upon which the market rests. I find his analogy for this type of “equality” cheering. For the bourgeois economists, he says, it is “as if it were asserted that there is no difference, to say nothing of antithesis and contradiction, between natural bodies, because all of them, when looked at from e.g. the point of view of their weight, have weight, and are therefore equal; or are equal because all of them occupy three dimensions. . .” And he goes on: “In present bourgeois society as a whole this positing of prices and their circulation etc. appears as the surface process, beneath which, however, in the depths, entirely different processes go on, in which the apparent individual equality and liberty disappear” (Grundrisse, 247). Replace prices with information and you get the picture.

If you believe, then, that the equality and democracy of the internet floats in an emulsion of unfree and unequal social relations—let’s call it the difference between those who do and those do not own the means of production (whether knowledge, hardware, software, or data)—then the supposed freedom of the users resembles, in my view, two types of political subject. First, the nineteenth-century liberal subject endowed gradually with rights (able to vote, to own things, to appeal to the courts) and, secondly, the free and rightless proletarians of the transition to capitalism. This is by no means to suggest that the majority of the people who use the internet today are as brutalized as the lower classes during the transition to capitalism or during the nineteenth century, but merely that, and I owe this insight in part to Standard Schaefer, a similar dialectic is operating, that we should consider the spaces of the internet as ones of enfranchisement and access which sit next to, and cause/are caused by, some of the most extreme disenfranchisement, dispossession, atrocity and destruction in recent memory. That is, we should think of this in terms of Marx’s account of “so-called primitive accumulation,” the process whereby the European peasantry was dispossessed of the access to commonly-held land in order that they were forced to rely on the sale of their labor-power. The argument here, and the actual history, is rather complex, but you get the picture.

It is with some impatience, then, that I encounter positions like that of Kenneth Goldsmith who, for all his salutary antihumanism, must surely be accounted one of the internet’s liberalizing ideologues. In a post on the Poetry Foundation’s
“Harriet” blog, he writes: “Now is the time of possibility we can be everyone and no one at all. With digital fragmentation any notions of authenticity and coherence have long been wiped. When we're everywhere and nowhere at once—pulling RSS feeds from one server, server-side includes from another, downloading distributed byte-size torrents from hundreds of other shifting identities—such naïve sentiments are even further from what it means to be a contemporary writer. Identity politics no longer have to do with the definition of a coherent self, rather it [sic] has to do with the reconstructed, distributed, fragmented, multiple and often anonymous selves that we are today. We're infinitely adaptable and changeable minute-to-minute. Shouldn't our notions of art expand once again to include these as well?” I think Marx already dealt with this quite well, don’t you? What Goldsmith can’t countenance is the thought that whether you get an identity of an infinitely malleable sort or a regulation issue identity has to do with, basically, class, race, gender. Indeed, despite his protestations, this is quintessential identity politics—it’s whitey’s identity politics.

Lest I seem like I don’t get the joke, I should say, at this point, that I’m not immune to Goldsmith’s charms. He has cool hats, and I find his works fascinating and even, if only for short periods of time, pleasurable. I admire his intelligence, however perverse it is, and I realize that he positions himself rather self-consciously as a gadfly. But irony is a great way to disavow things you actually believe. The value of Goldsmith, no doubt, is that he has a sense of humor and under no conditions, blessedly, does he claim that his version of conceptual poetry is in the slightest politically radical, or in the least threatening to the functioning of the political status quo. On the contrary, his is “a pro-consumer poetry,” and as we’ll see in the next section of my talk, his virtue is that he reminds poets how little the experiments of today are a threat to capitalism and imperialism—indeed, in his version, conceptual poetry, as we’ll see, works as advertising, product design, and job training for office managers.

Things are a bit trickier when claims are made for the liberalizing ideology of the internet being politically progressive. Stan Apps and Matthew Timmons, for instance, in their stimulating Editor’s Statement for Fold Magazine, have the virtue of being so clear about their own intentions, and often so accurate in their analysis but so disastrously wrong in the conclusions they draw from this analysis, that they make critique all the easier. I don’t even need Marx. One of their claims is that the new aesthetics of information enabled by the internet are anti-capitalist. “Capitalism,” they write, “has no understanding of what to do in a %100 saturated marketplace in which no significant profit is possible.” The poetries of cut-and-paste are virtuous because the “the romantic paradigm of replication remains gloriously immune to the marketplace—which is to say, these forms of self-expression are produced for selfless reasons.” But this demonstrates a particularly weak grasp of the nature of capitalism—assembly-line work, for instance, depends upon replication and automation. While they themselves note that “distribution is the new production,” this apparently does not lead them to conclude that distribution—the production of new information through consumption of that information—is capitalist. They write: “The primacy of distribution is the greatest lesson of capitalism; ultimately it will be understood that capitalism has nothing to do with money or profit at all: capitalism is simply the recognition that the connections between people are more important than the information or objects they exchange.” By now, such ideas should sound familiar. Ditto the response.

II. The Internet as Work

In what ways is the distribution of information on the internet capitalist? For me, answering this question involves demonstrating that the internet is, largely, work—unpaid work and unpaid job training, and that, similarly, in Goldsmith and in the Apps-Timmons tendency’s accounting, the work of art has become the art of work. I can’t cover much of this argument here, but I’ll do what I can.

The work of the internet is the dialectic counterpart to the primitive accumulation discussed above. Essentially, with the internet, capitalism gifts the masses with a false commons where people can work, off the clock, creating information and relationships that the ruling class can enclose, appropriate, commodify, and sell back to us at a later date. It’s a way of letting the process of primitive accumulation work as a perpetual, and because of the stagnation of the economies in the advanced capitalist countries, vital, supplement to the mechanism of exploitation, and one that should be seen alongside the other forms of primitive accumulation that are occurring right now and are, for sure, much more important: the direct seizure of Iraqi resources, the copyrighting and commodifying of the material of our bodies, and most obviously, the accumulation by dispossession that is occurring in Africa, in China, in Latin America, as capitalism pushes to its limits and attempts to expunge from the earth any trace of commonly-held land.

Thus, back to Kenneth Goldsmith, who writes: “How I navigate—rather than how I create—is what distinguishes me from another writer. I am an intelligent agent carving a unique path through this thicket of language; what distinguishes my practice from yours is the particular swath I carve.” The conceptual-processual poem that he champions, then, is a series of transportable techniques for the management of flows of information; it is a kind of aestheticized Google, one that promises the information consumer an endlessly protean and fungible identity. Despite his somewhat Kantian claim that his writing is purposeless, its consonance with information-management products does not escape me. It is poetry not only for information consumers but for the administrators and managers who work in the distribution of information. Tools for managing and mastering flow of data are also, in this sense, tools for managing and mastering populations—or, what’s better, as with viral marketing, letting populations manage and master themselves. It is a technocrat’s art. The nice thing, though, about Goldsmith’s attempt to aestheticize current working conditions is that he refuses to sex it up, to make it interesting. The mind-numbing boredom of the office job, of phonebank work, data entry, and proofreading, comes through crystal clear. You’ll never clock out, again. Goldsmith’s poetics of boredom is the revenge of work in postmodernity. If, as Adorno and Horkheimer claim, “Amusement under late capitalism is the extension of work,” in his poems the profound alienation of work can longer be covered over, eroticized, or made interesting. We’re dying of boredom and we know it. In this sense, given that the dominance of financialization over the last thirty years has been all about making distribution (of capital, of information) profitable, it seems, in response to Apps and Timmon’s remarks, that capital does, in fact, know what to do. Indeed, Apps, Timmons, Goldsmith and the ideas they present are what capital does—creating and prohibiting the conditions and types of access to information that will allow for the profitability that they claim, somewhat exaggeratedly, is lost by the free exchange of information. It’s true that, as they say, capitalism is all about the relations between people, that its fundamental truth is what Marx calls the relations of production, that political relations are, in a sense, capital’s ontology. But what Apps and Timmons don’t see is that the poetics of distribution is a way of altering, managing and directing those relations.

This is not a blanket critique of all processual writing—some flarf, for instance, does not seem to partake of this technocratic rationality and, instead, by a process akin to what Benjamin calls “profane illumination,” manages to manifest those material conditions and inequalities which subtend the supposedly symmetrical plane of the internet.

I’d like to see more writing like this, obviously, and I’d like to understand more about the effects that internet life does and does not have on the lives we live offscreen. Because you are all smart people, I’m sure you’ve noticed a contradiction in my account. On the one hand, I’m saying that the internet has no effects except indirectly: it’s a smokescreen. On the other hand, I’m saying it’s a tool for mastering and dominating people, for generating saleable information, for directly producing social relations. I think both of these things are true. Sometimes it’s a screen, and sometimes it’s domination, and these two effects are mutually enabling. I do think that there’s an uncanny timing to the arrival of the internet as a full-on social force directly after 9/11. In my view, in the last decade, people were essentially given this domain for experiment with alternate forms of communication and confederation and, in ways that served the interests of the ruling-class, an ideology developed which encouraged people to conflate manipulation of political symbols with the manipulation of political bodies. It’s an old ideology but it has come in handy over the last decade.

Sometimes symbolic freedom is just that, symbolic, and sometimes it’s something more. Symbols can be powerful, and the manipulation of them can have real effects that need not be technocratic and dominating. My piece in Action, Yes, finished with a call for a translation of poetic strategies into strategies for activism in the world at large. I still think that’s what’s needed. And I still think the question for us is how connections between symbols and bodies, languages and bodies can be consciously and effectively put in the service of, for lack of a less ambiguous term, equality.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm giving two talks in the next couple of weeks. These are the twins of the twin readings I gave in February.

1)This Saturday, as part of the Small Press Traffic's conference on Contemporary Poetry and Political Antagonism, @ 11:00 a.m / CCA's Oakland campus / Macky Hall. This is sort of a follow-up to On the Poverty of Internet Life. Those who were irritated by the style of the Action, Yes essay will, perhaps, find my offering on Saturday a bit more lucid. There are some links to materials you can read/view on the website. I also wanted to point people in the direction of Tony Tost's "System Says" (commentary here), which is rather germane to my thoughts, but I forgot to tell Stephanie Young to link to it.

Thanks to Cynthia Sailers, Chris Chen and Stephanie for putting the conference together!

2) I'll be giving a paper on Bernadette Mayer at the National Poetry Foundation conference in Orono--June 13th (a Friday!), 2:30. You can see a list of the papers here, but no schedule yet.
Publish Post

Sunday, May 25, 2008

pedagogue, pedagog 1. Originally, a man having the oversight of a child or youth; an attendant (or slave) who led a boy to school; (now obsolete)

Thanks to Voyou: I almost never do memes, but I like this one. There are nine pictures instead of one.


I usually teach writing courses or literature courses. In all of these, even in creative writing, I think my primary job is to teach students what to do with a poem, a novel, a story, how to talk about it in a way that will be useful to others.

At the most general level, what I want students to ask themselves when encountering a literary object is an adaptation of the perennial question: Why is there this object and not another?

I want students to look both at and through texts, to see poems and novels and essays as constructs, as arrangements of given materials that, if not indifferent or endlessly pliable, at least permit a small multiplicity of configurations. I’ll let them run with any number of notions of causation for these arrangements: authorial intention, psychology, intellectual and social histories, metaphysics, little green martians, whatever. What’s most important, though, is that they see the text against a backdrop of social, cultural, historical and biographical material, and, as such, attend to why it is the way it is. It’s dispiriting to me when, after I work to convey these concepts, it’s clear that students still think that a character who is mediated by a third-person narrator is speaking in her or his own voice, when they don’t attend to the way something is plotted, to forms of syntax, diction, rhetoric, tone. This takes time to learn, of course, and it takes even more time to be able to see this in relation to the forces, narratives and processes of historical conflict, which is of course the way I prefer to read things.

Robert Smithson, Mono Lake Nonsite (Cinders Near Black Point), 1968, Part I

Mono Lake Nonsite (Cinders Near Black Point), 1968, Part II

Smithson’s dialectic of site and nonsite, I think, forces the understanding of figure and ground, material and relation, historical force and textual object, that I’m getting at above. If you look through the books in his library at the time of his death, you’ll notice that there is no Hegel and no Marx. I’m sure he read these authors, but it’s interesting that he does own copies of Plato and Mao. I don’t have a copy of his essays at hand, but it seems fair to say that his dialectic in the later works is, in part, classical (rhetorical) and in part Maoist (Manichaean, refusing totalization). He has a few Lenin books, too.

The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems, Martha Rosler, 1974-1975

And, of course, I want students to think about the shape of their argument, that they are themselves going to have to take a certain slice of the given objects, and form it according to a certain insight, a certain aperçu, cut:

Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque, 1977

There is almost never time for this, but one thing I’d like to get better at is stimulating in the receptive portion of my students an appropriate feeling of rage and resentment. I’d like to get better at setting the pleasures of the text in relation to the misery of history and the present. This has to come after the other work if it’s going to work. But I’m increasingly dissatisfied with the liberal-humanist philosophy of the university, in which I simply present critical thinking skills to students and allow them to make their own decisions. What I’m dissatisfied with is the fact that I’m encouraged to think of this as a mechanism of emancipation and equalization when it is, in fact, a mechanism for reproducing class relations. But how develop a committed pedagogy, one that doesn’t cover up political antagonisms with false universalism but teaches to them? Or, differently, how to make the false universalism a real one?

Two Stills from Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

Los Angeles, 1992

VALIE EXPORT, Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969

Ice ICE, Baby, 2007

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Schwarzenegger as Bartleby?

On the recent Californian Supreme Court ruling that overturned same-sex marriage ban. (I can't find a link to the quote, but it was on the evening news):

Governor Schwarzenegger:"I have no problem with it, but I'm against it."

Ah, ambiguities of the indeterminate pronoun! This is increasingly the rhetorical form of all American politics within the two parties.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

News from the University of British Petroleum

So I passed! I'm ABD.

And then, afterward, meeting Anna for dinner, who should I run into in the restaurant? My 20th-cent. examiner, Charles Altieri! Oh, eternal return of the same!


I have a stack of grading to get through, but among my immediate projects is working with other graduate students to protest the truly devastating funding cuts to the English department and to other departments within the university (particularly French, German and the truly savaged East Asian Languages and Cultures). Graduate students at UC survive, and are able to complete their dissertations, by teaching sections of Reading and Composition courses (R&C). This year, the English department staffed 58 of these courses, and asked the university for funding to teach 65 next year, since undergraduates are required to take a full year of R&C and since these courses are already massively over-enrolled. Some students can't complete the requirement until they are in their 3rd year--fairly absurd for a course that's supposed to give them the core writing and critical thinking skills that they'll use in upper-division courses. But the tentative budget we've received for next year gives us funding to teach only 42 courses. Which means that close to 17 graduate students are without any support whatsoever. Many undergraduates will not be able to complete their degree in four years.

GSIs in the UC system are unionized, and we have a decent contract, even if we can't expect all that much from the rather feckless UAW. But our contract does not have any stipulations for job security. The Graduate School only guarantees us 2 years of teaching, despite the department's implicit guarantee of 4 years. This is barely enough, given that most students only have three years of fellowship, if that, and only go out on the job market in their 7th year, and increasingly stay on the market for 2+ years. For the most part, professors in the department have been really terrific in their commitment to try and find ways to keep students alive--giving up money from their endowed chairs, from research funds, etc., and yesterday at the department meeting, a few of them even suggested such radical options as a strike (although most likely the fake kind of strike that happens at colleges, where people continue to teach off-campus) and refusing to admit any graduate students next year. I doubt these options will find support among the majority of the faculty, but the professors who suggested them have earned my admiration. I'd definitely be happy to stand next to them on the barricades.

These cuts are the UC Regents' response to the brutal budget that Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing (he is the Terminator, after all), and because of the byzantine complexities of funding streams, another name for division of labor, and because professors' salaries are guaranteed, they hit hardest the people who are least able to support them--the already brutalized staff, GSIs and lecturers. Furthermore, the R&C courses are crucial for equipping the under-represented students who didn't get a great high school education with the skills needed to excel at UC Berkeley. The better-off students, who took AP classes and SAT prep courses in high school, could survive here without the courses. Given that the diversity in terms of class and race at UC Berkeley is already declining due to Prop 209, UC is essentially fast becoming a private university. The goal, I suppose, is to reduce guaranteed labor to a skeleton-crew and then rely on precarious, part-time labor to adjust the workforce as needed. As Marc Bousquet and others have been pointing out, this is the nature of the neoliberal, corporatized university.


It's worse in other parts of the California education system, and truth be told, I place more value on the funding of high schools, community colleges, and public assistance programs for those without food or housing (a growing number), all of which have been slaughtered by the Governor's budget, over support for the UC. If the talk that Robert Brenner gave last week is correct, these are the initial symptoms of an economic crisis on a scale equal to the Great Depression. Firing 100,000 California teachers (pdf!), cutting people off of public assistance, and spending money on Iraq and bailouts for investment banks, seems like a pretty good way to reduce the consumer demand that keeps the economy afloat. If there was ever a time for the left to get its shit together, it's now. Obama, it must be said, won't do a damn thing here. He's a democrat of the "balanced budgets" sort, where balanced budgets mean slaughtering the poor.

What might the governor do in response to our demands to diminish the force of the cuts? Well, since food prices are already skyrocketing, make the poor pay for it with an increase in the sales tax, of course! And build prisons to house all of the people that are driven to crime in order to survive or who, perhaps, might find in the use of illegal drugs some relief, however illusory, from their current predicament. Oh yes, and let the federal government round up immigrants like cattle . . .


Following are my proposals for dealing with the budget shortfall in the UC:

1) Socialize the university, of course! Make the university free for the poorest students, cheap for others, and as expensive as Stanford, Harvard or Yale for students who can afford it.

2) Turn the president's house into a sex club (for the meeting of mutually-consenting partners, of course), marijuana club, and delegalized drug zone. This could be staffed by Lacanians and Deleuzians from Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, who would offer seminars on becoming a body without organs and sinthomaticity.

3)Institute a white privilege and patriarchal privilege corvee. All male students, and all white students, would be forced to volunteer a nominal amount of time each semester (10 hours perhaps).

Any other suggestions?


P.S. We're interested in learning about what other graduate students in the UC system are facing. If you have information, let me know.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Going over my notes, and distracting myself with silly jokes, I'm tempted by the idea of a Faulknerian workout video: Abs! Abs!

Man-Horse-Demon: Sutpen's Hundred.

More later.

What I Did This Year

Below are my lists for my qualifying exam, which I take on May 13th (not a Friday, sadly). The irony of doing a independent study on the Situationist International on the 40th anniversary of the "évènements de mai" has not escaped me, of course. But I can't shut down a university all by myself, can I? There were about 50 people at the immigrant rights rally at Berkeley on Thursday, so I fear that the inspiring dockworkers strike and the marches over in S.F. on May 1st are about as good as things are going to get this month. First time as tragedy, second time as documentation. Better luck next year, I suppose. The historical fields are partly a negotiation between my own predilections and the "canon," such that it is. There are may holes. History is ugly, the present world is ugly (and the people are sad) and thus are these lists a record of violence.

I. 19th-Century American (Mitch Breitweiser)

1. Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (1798)

2. William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis” (1817)

3. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819)

4. James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (1826)

5. Nat Turner/Thomas Gray, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831)

6. Ralph Waldo Emerson

a. “Nature” (1836)

b. “The American Scholar” (1837)

c. “The Snowstorm” (1841)

d. “The Divinity School Address” (1838)

e. “Self Reliance” (1841)

f. “Experience” (1844)

g. “The Poet” (1844)

7. Margaret Fuller, “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” (1845)

8. Henry David Thoreau

a. “Civil Disobedience” (1849)

b. Walden (1854)

9. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

a. “A Psalm of Life” (1838)

b. “Hiawatha” (1855)

10. John Greenleaf Whittier, “Snowbound: A Winter Idyll” (1866)

11. James Russell Lowell, “Fable for Critics” (1848)

12. Edgar Allen Poe

a. Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838)

b. “Ligeia” (1838)

c. “Fall of the House of Usher” (1839)

d. “The Tell Tale Heart” (1839)

e. “The Man of the Crowd” (1840)

f. “The Purloined Letter” (`1844)

g. “The Raven” (1845)

h. “To Helen” (1845)

i. “Sonnet: to Science (1845)

j. “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

k. “The Purloined Letter” (1844)

l. “Annabel Lee” (1849)

13. Nathaniel Hawthorne

a. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (1832)

b. “Young Goodman Brown” (1835)

c. “The Maypole of Merry Mount” (1835)

d. Wakefield” (1835)

e. Rappaccini’s Daughter (1844)

f. “The Birthmark” (1846)

g. The Scarlet Letter (1850)

10. Herman Melville

a. Hawthorne and his Mosses” (1850)

b. Moby Dick (1851)

c. Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852)

d. “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853)

e. Benito Cereno (1855)

f. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866)

11. Frederick Douglass

a. Narrative (1845)

b. “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (1852)

c. My Bondage, My Freedom (1855)

14. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

15. Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall (1855)

16. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

17. Walt Whitman

a. 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass

b. “Song of Myself” (1855)

c. “The Sleepers” (1855)

d. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” (1856)

e. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1860)

f. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” (1865)

g. Drum Taps (1865)

h. “Respondez!” (1871)

18. Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems (1850-1888)

19. Mark Twain

a. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

b. Pudd’nhead Wilson (1893)

20. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

21. Henry James

a. Daisy Miller (1878)

b. “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896)

c. “The Turn of the Screw” (1898)

d. “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903)

e. The Ambassadors (1903)

22. Stephen Crane

a. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893)

b. “The Open Boat” (1897)

23. Frank Norris, McTeague (1899)

24. Sarah Orne Jewett, “The Country of Pointed Firs”

25. Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

26. Charles Chestnutt

a. The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales (1899)

b. The Wife of His Youth (1899)

27. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)

28. Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)

29. W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)


II. 20th Century (Charles Altieri)

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)

W.E.B Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Edith Wharton, House of Mirth (1905)

Henry James, The Ambassadors (1909)

Gertrude Stein, Three Lives (1909)

James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (1914)

Robert Frost, North of Boston (1915)

T.S. Eliot, Prufrock (1917)

Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1918)

Willa Cather, My Antonia (1919)

T.S. Eliot, Poems (1920)

Ezra Pound, Personae (1912-1920), Gaudier-Brzeska (1916)

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1923)

W.C. Williams, Spring and All, (1923)

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium, (1923)

Mina Loy, Lunar Baedeker (1923)

Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)

John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer, (1925)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1925)

Hart Crane, White Buildings (1926)

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

Hart Crane, The Bridge (1930)

Poems by Laura Riding, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Countee Cullen. Essays by Eliot and Pound.

Gertrude Stein, Stanzas in Meditation, (1932), Lectures in America (1935)

Ezra Pound, A Draft of XXX Cantos (1933) / XXX Cantos in New Directions vol.

Charles Reznikoff, Testimony, (1934)

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936)

Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (1936), Owl’s Clover (1936)

----, The Man with the Blue Guitar, (1937)

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Laura Riding, Collected Poems (1938)

Nathanael West, Day of the Locust, (1939)

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, (1939)

Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)

Selected poems by Oppen, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Marianne Moore.


Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947 /1952)

Wallace Stevens, Notes toward a Supreme Fiction (1942), The Necessary Angel (1942)

Gwendowlyn Brooks, A Street in Bronzeville. (1945)

Langston Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951)

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955)

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955)

William Carlos Williams, Paterson (1958)

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, (1959)

Barbara Guest, The Location of Things (1960)

Donald Allen, ed., The New American Poetry (1945-1960)

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

John Ashbery, Tennis Court Oath (1962)

Frank O’Hara, Lunch Poems (1964), Odes (1969)

John Berryman, 77 Dream Songs (1964)

Sylvia Plath, Ariel (1965)

John Ashbery, Rivers and Mountains (1966)

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

George Oppen, Of Being Numerous (1968)

Amiri Baraka, Black Art (1969)

Philip K. Dick, Ubik (1969)

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972)

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)

John Ashbery, Three Poems (1977)

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (1977)

Lyn Hejinian, My Life (1978)

Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day (1978)

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1979)

Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)

William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless (1988)


III. Spectacle and its Interlocutors (T.J. Clark)


Agamben, Giorgio. “Marginal Notes on Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle,” “Notes on Gesture,” Notes on Politics.” Means without Ends. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2000.

Anderson, Perry. The Origins of Postmodernity. New York: Verso, 1998.

Atkins, Guy. Asger Jorn: The Crucial Years: 1954-1964. New York: Wittenborn. 1977.

---. Asger Jorn: The Final Years: 1965-1973. New York: Wittenborn, 1977.

Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. New York: Verso, 1996.

---. Simulacra and Simulacrum. Cambridge: MIT, 1991.

---. The Mirror of Production. New York: Telos, 1975.

Beller, Jonathan. The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle. Hanover, NH: UPNE, 2006.

Bernstein, Michèle. Tous les chevaux du roi. Paris: Buchet/Chastel,1960.

Berréby, Gérard. Documents relatifs a la fondation de l’I.S. Paris : Edition Allia, 1985.

---. Textes et documents situationnistes: 1957-1960. Paris: Allia, 2004.

Clark, T .J. “The Origins of the Present Crisis.” New Left Review: No. 2, March-April 2000.

Constant, The Activist Drawing. Drawing Center/MIT. Ed. Mark Wigley, 2001.

Debord, Guy, et al. Sur Le Passage De Quelques Personnes à Travers Une Assez Courte Unité De Temps : à Propos De l'Internationale Situationniste, 1957-1972. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1989.

---.Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. New York: Verso, 1998.

---. In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Trans. Lucy Forsyth. London: Pelagian, 1991.

---. In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni. Paris: Gallimard, 1999

---. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

---. With Asger Jorn. Mémoires. Paris: J.J. Pauvert aux Belles Lettres, 1993.

---. Ouevres Cinématographiques Complètes. Paris: Gallimard 1994.

---. Panegyrique: Volumes One and Two. New York: Verso, 2004.

Donné, Boris. Pour Mémoires. Paris: Allia, 2004.

Harvey, David. The Conditions of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into its Origins. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1986.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

---. The Cultural Turn. New York:Verso, 1998.

Jappe, Anselm. Guy Debord. Berkeley: UC Press, 1999.

Jorn, Asger, and Guy E. Debord. Fin De Copenhague. Copenhague: Permild & Rosengreen, 1957.

Kaufmann, Vincent. Revolution in the Service of Poetry. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2007.

Knabb, Knabb ed. Situationist International: An Anthology (Revised and Expanded). Oakland: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006.

Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of Everyday Life: Vol II. New York: Verso, 2002.

---Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes September 1959-May 1961. New York: Verso, 1995.

---. The Production of Space. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991.

Lotringer, Sylvere ed. Italy: Autonomia: Post-Political Politics. New York : Semiotext(e), 2007.

Lukacs, George. “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.”History and Class Consciousness. London: Merlin Press, 1971.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

McDonough, Tom. "The Beautiful Language of My Century" : Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007.

--- ed. Guy Debord and the Situationist International : Texts and Documents. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.

RETORT. Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. New York: Verso, 2006.

Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City. Cambridge: MIT, 1994.

Vaneigem, Raoul. A Cavalier History of Surrealism. San Francisco: AK Press, 1999.

---. The Revolution of Everyday Life. London: Rebel Press, 1993.

Vienet, René. Enragés and Situationist in the Occupation Movement. New York: Autonomedia/Rebel, 1992.

Virno, Paolo. A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life. Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e), 2003.

--- “General Intellect.” Historical Materialism. Volume 15, Number 3 (September, 2007): 3-8.

---. with Michael Hardt. Radical Thought in Italy. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1996.

Wigley, Mark. Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1998.


In Guy Debord’s film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, while an appropriated scene from the 1936 film The Charge of the Light Brigade runs on the screen, a voice intones the following: “Avant-gardes have only one time, and the best thing that can happen to them is, in the full sense of the term, to have had their time. After them operations commence on a vaster scene.”[1] This remark—it is one of the central points of his film—goes some way in explaining the curious status of the Situationist International today and, specifically, Debord’s theory of the spectacle—universally mentioned, familiar as any number of departmentally-approved names of French theory, but rarely engaged directly. More militant tactician than philosopher, Debord suggests that his theoretical contributions were historically delimited, meant to disappear and surreptitiously infuse the social field once they had outlived their moment: “These perspectives have today become part of some people’s way of life, and everywhere they are fought for, or against” (In girum, 159).

Debord’s remarks have proved prophetic. For instance, a recent book, Jonathan Beller’s The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle heads many of its chapters with quotes from Society of the Spectacle, but does not theoretically engage with the work until its fifth chapter, and then only cursorily. With a few exceptions, this is an exemplary engagement with Debord, rather than an anomalous one. Thus, the researches I project for my third field would trace the impact that the ideas of the SI and Debord could have—and could have had—on our understanding of late capitalism, art after modernism and political organization after the failure (however this is understood) of the project of an international socialism. In many cases, this will require teasing out—in Fredric Jameson, in Jean Baudrillard, in Perry Anderson—the contours of an absence, a potential engagement that never occurs, and imagining the corrections or syntheses that might have been possible on both sides had this occurred. For the writers above, the SI is rarely ever more than a noun phrase, a fragment, a historical marker, something one supposes is too obvious to warrant any critical attention: the society of the spectacle. As Debord predicted, his work has become part of culture, as anonymous and undetermined as he himself was in the last two decades of his life.

And yet, it seems that spectacle in Debord’s very specific account remains poorly understood—either confused with the image-machinery that is its synecdoche, or given, by way of various currents in poststructuralism, a quasi-ontological, fatalistic contour that does not match with the complexion of Debord’s thought. As for the theory and practice of the SI itself, the full range of its (sometimes contradictory) pronouncements and activities still seems to me not fully digested within any of the available studies—marred on the one hand by a will-to-hagiography that is incapable of speaking clearly of shortcomings, and on the other hand, by attempts to use the earlier period of the movement, with all its cultural flowering, to authorize certain artistic developments in the 60s and 70s while, at the same time, disregarding the larger, yet nonetheless central critique of art in late capitalism that accompanied it. Furthermore, aside from its assimilation into the Italian autonomist Marxism of Paolo Virno and Toni Negri, for example, few people have explicitly engaged with its critique of revolutionary organization, of the changed nature of ideology and value production in late capitalism, let alone assimilated this to its pronouncements on art. Aside from a few people whose remarks on these subjects are rather abbreviated, where this work has been done, it has gone on under other names.

A proper study of the movement would need to do several things. The first order of business is a thorough account of the notion of the spectacle that locates its origins in the Western (or Hegelian) Marxism of Lukàcs, Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer and others, and sketches its coincidence with and departure from these models. Secondly, we need an immanent critique of the multi-form and complex notion of spectacle, which as I see it complicates three crucial notions in Marxist theory: 1) ideology 2) reproduction of class relations and 3) value production. It is my contention that spectacle is an account of a supplementary mechanism of value production that is not figural—as in Baudrillard—but actual. Some attempt to expand upon this aspect of spectacle is found in the Italian theory mentioned, but the connections are tenuous as they stand now and problematic in several ways. If these aspects of spectacle were clarified, however, it would become clear that spectacle is not a new name for Lukàcs’s reification but an actual dialectical shift within capitalism, one with real consequences for the left. Thirdly, we need a study that ties the various (and perhaps irreconcilable) aesthetic positions within the SI to their political and social consequences. Too often the earlier, more generous stance of the SI around the time of its founding is used to authorize art that the later SI would have anathematized. Perhaps the position of the SI in 1967 vis-à-vis art is incorrect, untenable, or overly utopian; however, only argument and not repression will establish this. My sense is that one cannot have the SI of ’62 and the SI of ‘67 unless a new theoretical framework is found. Obviously, for those who are interested in researching art and writing in the 60s and 70s, such a theoretical project is indispensable. It is also of utmost importance for those who would consider the place, or non-place, of a politicized art and writing in response to the calamities that confront the world today.

[1] Guy Debord, “In girum nocte et consumimur igni,” trans. Lucy Forsyth, No: a journal of the arts (# 6, 2007), New York: 166.