Archive for July 2011
Feels like the old days, sitting here typing away at an academic review in my flat with the CNBC Europe playing silently on the television. Dow Futures are down 130 or so…. Suggests that things are about to get nasty and interesting in about 22 minutes when the NYSE opens. Shall I go buy a six pack of lager and settle in for the show?
Pretty sure you need to live in the UK to do this, but if you’d like a free yearlong subscription to the LRB, write me an email with your name and address. First to contact gets it. I get a £5 gift voucher to the lovely LRB bookshop, which I will assuredly use on morally-improving literature and definitely not Penguin coffee mugs, if you do.
UPDATE: It’s claimed!
I’m not sure there’s a clearer index of the basic intellectual dysfunction of the anglo-american theoretical left than the persistent popularity of Zizek and his work. The dysfunction is this: rather than conceive of themselves as participants in an on-going conversation, a-a theorists see themselves as the passive recipients of truths formulated elsewhere, generally on the continent. These passive recipients then apply these truths as they will – questioning them, revising them, arguing with them, developing one’s one alternative or oppositional versions and takes is not really part of the bargain. Theory is something, in the end, that happens elsewhere – not here.
Unthinking acceptance of the arguments of those deemed to be the master theorists has to be behind their continuing popularity. How else could one square the fact that individuals otherwise engaged in democratic activism, say, line up for hours to hear Zizek give one of his whistlestop talks at Birkbeck? Or those out on the streets in defense of state-funded education return to their rooms to work on translations of Badiou?
At any rate, there’s an incredibly sensible piece by Alan Johnson on Zizek and his fascist tendencies up at Jacobin. Here’s a bit from the beginning:
Mark Lilla in his book The Reckless Mind predicted that the “extraordinary displays of intellectual philotyranny” that disfigured the twentieth century left would not simply disappear just because the wall had fallen. So it has proved. Since 2000, Žižek has established his “New Communism” on two foundations. First, a system of concepts – Egalitarian Terror, the Absolute Act, Absolute Negativity, Divine Violence, the Messianic Moment, the Revolutionary Truth-Event, the Future Anterieur, and so on. Second, a human type and an associated sensibility – that ideologized and cruel fanatic, contemptuous of morality and trained to enormity that Žižek calls the “freedom fighter with an inhuman face.” In his passive-aggressive way, Zikek has even admitted what this so-called New Communism amounts to: “[Peter] Sloterdijk even mentions the “re-emerging Left-Fascist whispering at the borders of academia,’ where, I guess, I belong.”
Žižek’s philosophy is, to be blunt, is a species of linksfaschismus. This is true of its murderous hostility to democracy, its utter disdain for the ‘stupid’ pleasures of bourgeois life, its valorization of will, ruthlessness, terror and dictatorship, and its belief in the salvific nature of self-sacrificial death.
(Hat tip to Sofie Buckland for the link via FB…)
Hint: you might want to get yourself down to your local Waterstones* and grab yourself a copy of this. It’s on 3 for 2, so the price is right. It’s post-Ballardian eco-catastrophe cut to follow the lines of Heart of Darkness - just right for reading in the here and now. Perfect for the beach, the bath, the garret, the park, the couch, the sweaty summer bed, the well-worn scholar’s desk or anywhere else you might care to read it. And if you come by the Fitz afterwork on selected days of the week with your copy, I will, I promise, secure you an autograph from the esteemed author himself. **
* Obviously you can also buy it from your local independent. I think the author gets more if you do, you get ethical-hipster points, either way James Daunt will flourish even more than he’s flourishing, blossoms will bloom, etc etc. Or just grab it on 3 for 2. That’s the beauty – it’s your call.
** If you buy me a Taddy Lager, as Alpine is out of stock for the summer. But it’s Sam Smith’s, and therefore only £2.41.
Never been a huge McSweeney’s fan, but this is quite good…
Harry Potter is also a business, and like any business, it is protected by large men in uniform. In Trafalgar Square, private security guards in lurid orange high-vis jackets step through the crowd, clashing with the glowering green decorations Warner has laid on for the event. The security guards stand firm at the gates to make sure no undesirables get in, shooing around clusters of quiet young people in pyjamas and sleeping bags, as if professional heavies have been dispatched to ensure everyone gets to bed on time.
Tell me Penny’s not actually tonally and thematically blurring together the student demonstrations and, um, a fucking Harry Potter premier? Children’s Revolution indeed. “In a chimeric clash of cultural signifiers, one young man with dreadlocks has accessorised a grubby green Che Guevara hoodie with a Gryffindor scarf.” Um, right. Watch, it gets worse:
Harry Potter, however, was always about far more than trade-marked tat. As a light rain begins to fall, young people who were strangers a few days ago huddle together under umbrellas and makeshift canopies, sharing midnight snacks and curling with torches around chunky copies of The Deathly Hallows, like the last, best sleepover of adolescence. “It’s just so friendly here,” say two Belgian teenagers in matching raincoats. “When we arrived in London, we didn’t know where we were supposed to go, but then we spotted some people in Gryffindor scarves, and we followed them, and now we’re friends. People are brought together by Harry Potter.” There is an atmosphere of innocence here that is utterly bewitching. “It’s like the best parts of fandom come to life,” says my friend, and we find ourselves staying far longer than we planned. Nobody wants to go to bed. Nobody wants the magic to end.
It’s a veritable Tahir Square of adolescent friendliness! Tonight “we are beautiful. Nothing can stop us”… from writing yet another “generational” article that sprays a damned kid movie premier with tear gas, just as she’s already coated the demonstrations with a thick coat of made-for-tv romantic drama. The adjectives and adverbs begin to flow like the blood of overly-kettled schoolchildren through the streets:
The next morning, Trafalgar Square is completely shut down, with screaming fans lining every sun-drenched road. The noise is incredible. Schoolgirls cluster as politely as possible to catch a glimpse of their favourite characters, chanting the names ecstatically when the stars appear on the enormous screens.
As if things aren’t exciting enough, before too long it starts to get all Riefenstahl on Laurie:
Many of the fans have drawn wobbly spectacles and lightning scars onto their faces as they shout in chorus, and I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ observation that the lightning-bolt on the forehead was also the symbol of Oswald Mosley’s fascists. Fanaticism, however twee, is always disturbing.
Eventually, she ties the knot and brings the one and the other together. Good thing she’s definitely not making the most viable student movement in generations look absolutely ridiculous:
Over the past six months, several groups of students and schoolchildren who attempted to camp out in Trafalgar Square for less Potter-specific reasons were all evicted by police. On the 26 March, I was here when 200 young protesters, mostly school pupils who had gathered for a picnic after the TUC demonstration, were kettled for hours in the freezing cold. Nathan Akehurst, 18, was also there. “A riot cop pointed his baton at me, and I don’t know why, but I grabbed whatever was in my hand – a water bottle, I think it was – and I shouted: ‘Expelliarmus!’. The policeman just laughed.”
I’ll bet he did. Christ, I’ve spoken about how refreshing it was that the occupations weren’t stacked with beanbag chairs and incense sticks, but I think I’d actually take a Bertolucci inspired Parisian-redux to this. It’s called, you know, journalistic condescension, even if it’s posing as yet another bizarre Laurie’s-liberal-lifestyle piece:
Harry Potter is not just a corporate racket, or a cheesy public-school fantasy in clunky prose. It’s also about decency, and fairness, and courage. That’s why young anti-cuts protesters carried placards declaring themselves members of ‘Dumbledore’s Army’. This particular fairy tale is coming to an end just as young people are learning that sometimes good does not automatically triumph. Sometimes the stupidest, meanest adults wind up in charge, and they can’t be defeated simply by going on a quest to destroy Horcruxes, or finding an unbeatable wand.
Ah, so the kids really are as stupid as they’ve been made out to be, as you can see by the turn to free indirect, sub-normal babytalk in the last line.
Goddamn internet. No getting away from UK hackery, even if it’s now for the moment on its backfoot. Whatever there is to say about the NYT, and there’s a lot to be said to be sure, at least serious papers in America wouldn’t touch this crap with a pole the length of the north Atlantic.
No, I don’t mean me… But it’s good to see a review of Owen Jones’s Chavs in the paper of record, hereside.
(It took me a year or so of English living to learn to pronounce the word in his title correctly… Hints for Americans: there’s a little bit of a J, at least to our provincial ears, in the opening sound, and it definitely doesn’t sound like George Bernard Shawvs…)
I’m staying in Brooklyn for the next two or so weeks. I’d like to get back to blogging – the better me, in some senses, is the me that blogs… rather than leaving all the passing thoughts to quick dissolve in time or silent suppression. So watch this space – I’m already working on a couple and should post soon.