Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Few Symptoms

A specter twice-removed, a meta-specter, haunts the US. First the fiasco with banks: it’s socialism, the right cries out, suspecting that Bush and Paulson have, in their enormous ineptitude, accidentally gone communist, sucked into some strange wormhole that unites the far left and the far right of the political continuum. . .

But then the plot thickens: the uppity Democratic candidate is secretly a Marxist; he wants to redistribute wealth; his first, middle and last names are an anagram of anti-American terror; the color of his skin a secret semaphore of racial solidarity and frightening Gospel music. . .

And so the established parameters of ideology collapse. One is reminded of Jameson’s claims at the end of The Political Unconscious that even the most reactionary ideology is utopian since it responds to, and therefore records, the drive for an egalitarian world. . . Now that these old, mouldering ideologies emerge from the rag-and-bone shop of middle class ressentiment, now that free-marketeers are departing the Republican Party for the conspiratorial melodrama and confused monetarism of the Libertarian Party, we must attend to the empty space their charmed circle of hysteria marks out.

Yes, of course, the bank “nationalizations” are nothing more than glorified governmental loans that force no writedowns of worthless or near-worthless fictitious capital nor direct the streams of available funds to the real economy; of course, Obama—surrounded by the deregulator and ex-Chairman of Citibank Robert Rubin, by the shock doctor Lawrence Summers, by the former Fed Chairman who induced an artificial recession in 1981 to kill off working-class power and with it inflation—is about as much of a socialist as Clinton. . . Still, the right is crying out for a worthy enemy. It looks at the empty spot called socialism, that ghost of the ghost which once haunted the US, with wistfulness. Up, socialists, wherever you are! Someone’s calling you!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


1) If you've recently lost your job and find yourself with lots of time on your hands and are looking for more reasons to be pissed-off or more confirmation of the fact that capitalism truly sucks, or if you're just trying to figure out the short and long-term causes of the current crisis, you'll find your work greatly simplified by visiting this aggregator: Radical Perspectives on the Crisis. Also: good stuff here and here, and translations of Mario Tronti and Alain Badiou weiging in here and here. You can also learn a lot by reading Nouriel Roubini, aka Dr. Doom . . .

2) Last week, the Chicago area (Cook County) Sheriff announced that he would halt all foreclosure-related evictions. Under legal pressure, he has since resumed the evictions. Right now, the Alameda County Sheriff is considering a similar moratorium. You can call the Sheriff's Office and leave a message for the Sergeant of the Civil Branch (the one responsible for evictions), at 510.272.6878. Let them know you support a full moratorium on evictions.

Technically, the Cook County Sheriff's concerns were only with tenants in buildings and homes whose owners were being foreclosed on, and not those who had gotten hustled into bad loans with exploding interest rates. That's not acceptable, of course, but a full moratorium would be, I think, a good pragmatic start, and form one face, ideally, of a larger movement to get debt relief for homeowners (rather than debt relief for the holders of securities), as well as extension of unemployment benefits and other entitlement programs for the poor, money for job creation, health care, infrastructure projects, education, etc., all the stuff we would need to keep this recession/depression from dragging on and weighing down disproportionately on the least well-off, and which, as Mike Davis and everybody else who's paying attention suggests, we're unlikely to get from a victory for Obama and his team of "compassionate" neoliberals. Unless, of course, some people start threatening other people's property. . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A conference I'm organizing. . .

Recent crises in global capitalism have functioned, as crises often do, to reveal the historical contours of the present, providing new opportunities to read history against the grain and to unsettle established assumptions. This call for papers proposes that as our economies enter a period of potentially profound structural transformation, it is all the more necessary to examine the relationship between the economic mode of production and cultural and social forms in the period after WWII.

We seek work that brings together analysis of the modes of economic accumulation which have characterized the last 60 years—their actors, institutions, histories, and structures—with analysis of the forms of subjectivity, ideology, culture, and resistance they have produced and been produced from. How have attempts within sociology, geography, political science, and history to explain the economic transformations of the 70s influenced accounts of cultural forms before and after this shift? Where do accounts of the novel, of poetry, of film, of visual art, and of architecture stand in relation to broader economic and political histories? How does work in sociology, cultural studies, and anthropology on the collectivities and cultures of economic production—from day traders to migrant workers—negotiate the relationship between subject and structure? How can consideration of economic processes like risk management, collateralization, foreign and consumer debt structuring, privatization, and data collection give us access to related transformations in national security, war, and neoimperialism? What has been the social or cultural effect of new forms of labor, including not only new modes of “immaterial” knowledge work but also the labor being done in sweatshops and maquiladoras? Other potential topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following: cultural globalization and uneven development; anti-capitalist social movements; experiments with value in literature and the arts; the management, exploitation, or creation of risk; other capitals (cultural, social) or other economies (symbolic, affective, libidinal, spectacular); financialization and culture; class contradiction and conflict in literature and the arts; technological transformations in economy and culture; race, gender, or sexuality and the economic.

We hope this conference will provide an opportunity for dialogue between all participants of the sort often not possible at larger conferences. As such, we will not schedule panels concurrently, and request that papers presented not exceed 20 minutes so that each panel is followed by ample time for Q&A. All panels and events will be free and open to the public and accepted participants are expected to attend as many panels as possible to enable a sustained conversation over the 2 days of the conference. On Friday, March 6th we will feature a keynote presentation by New York University Professor of Art and Public Policy Randy Martin, whose most recent books include The Financialization of Everyday Life and An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management, searingly critical and engaged interdisciplinary accounts of how life is lived, war fought, and ideology sustained within a financialized present.

Paper proposals should be no more than 600 words (1-2 pages double spaced) and should be accompanied by a brief cover letter—this letter may, if applicable, give a sense of any larger project from which the proposed paper emerges, list other conferences or symposia in which the submitter has participated, and provide any other useful information. Proposals and cover letters should be submitted via email to as attached documents by Monday, December 1st and all accepted presenters will receive their invitations to participate no later than January 1st. One or two meals will be provided by conference organizers and if housing costs are a prohibitive burden, arrangements for housing with local participants can potentially be arranged. This conference is designed to be an opportunity for current graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, although beginning independent scholars and writers may submit proposals as well.

This event is organized by the Interdisciplinary Marxism Working Group, a group which has, for the last ten years, provided an opportunity for graduate students, faculty, and others to read and discuss together works of both classical and contemporary Marxism and to frame those conversations around interdisciplinary—historical, structural, and theoretical—concerns. The conference is additionally funded by the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities and affiliated departments and groups across UC Berkeley.

Deadline for proposals: Monday, December 1st

Email address for proposal submission:

Conference date: Friday March 6-Saturday March 7, 2009

Contacts for conference co-organizers: Jasper Bernes ( & Annie McClanahan (

Friday, October 10, 2008

The only things anybody wants are T-Bills, yen, bullets and bottled water."

In his statement, Mr. Bush said the federal government has “immense resources and a wide range of tools” to combat the crisis, and will use them aggressively.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Spirit of Utopia

Noah and I were talking about one of his favorite movies, Prehistoric Planet--the CGI recreation of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous reptile life. The final minutes of the movie depict the extinction event at the beginning of the Cretaceous period--you know, raining meteorites, walls of flame and tidal waves, the sun squelched behind a thick overhang of smoke and dust. . . It's rather adult material, and though I let Noah watch it, I always find these concluding scenes, for reasons you will no doubt quickly grasp, rather sad.

And so, the other night, Anna and I wouldn't let him watch this part before bed and, as is the custom of his tribe, he asked why. "Because it's too scary," I said. And then this morning, having given the matter some thought, he assured me, as I put the DVD on again, that "death of the dinosaurs," as the chapter is called, isn't scary at all.

Me: Well, it's kind of sad.
Noah: Why?
Me: It's sad to think of a whole form of life disappearing and never coming back.
Noah: But daddy, let me tell you something . . . in the next evolution we're going to live forever.
Me: What's going to happen in the next evolution?
Noah: The dinosaurs are going to come back to life and never die and the surface of the sun is going to cool down so we can walk on it.
Me: When's that going to happen?
Noah: In eight million months.