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Archive for May 2005

Charming as ever…

with 6 comments

Apparently, the Guardian thought it’d be valuable to bring the brothers Hitchens together for a nice chat. I do like that they left the following in the transcript:

Female audience member
Excuse me. I’m not usually awkward at all but I’m sitting here and
we’re asked not to smoke. And I don’t like being in a room where
smoking is going on.

CH (smoking heavily): Well, you don’t have to stay, do you darling. I’m working here and I’m your guest. OK . This is what I like.

IK Would you just stub that one out?

CH No. I cleared it with the festival a long time ago. They let me do it. If anyone doesn’t like it they can kiss my ass.

(Woman walks out)

Contrarian as evah.

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May 30, 2005 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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May 30, 2005 at 1:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Brooks as Marxist

with 13 comments

So, David Brooks has an, um, interesting column today in the Times in which he encounters / poses as Karl Marx – in order to deliver to the even-minded readership of the sunday paper a quasi-Marxist sermon. Here’s the middle parts:

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy –
seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades – and
then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance
of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental
veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little
meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to
marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which
is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify
social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers
– trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work
longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their
greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled
in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate
themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade
their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies
that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to
Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of
the professional class, where they are given the social and other
skills to extend class hegemony.

The information society is the only society in which false
consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university
that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more
loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The
more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the
views of the left.

OK, even-minded reader (like the Dad in those obnoxious tv ads the Times puts on – know what I mean?), this is a bit confusing isn’t it? What’s Brooks – who, after all, is the official mouthpiece of enlightened neo-conservativism at the paper of record – up to? You’re especially thrown by the strange, italicized conclusion of the piece:

I don’t agree with everything in Karl’s manifesto, because I don’t
believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes
some good points.

Bizarre. So, the "thinking man’s conservative" has turned Marxist – or almost. (Weird line that, about the "incessant class struggle" from a guy whose bread and butter is the "red/blue" divide in the US…)

Anyway. One of Atrios’s apprentices has put on her/his decoder ring so that you don’t have to:

There really is a class war (though Brooks doesn’t believe in it)!
But it’s not between the moneyed classes and everybody else; it’s
between those latte-sipping liberals in their ivory towers and
everybody else.

This seems just about right. Oldest play in Brooks’s book, right. He makes his living writing pieces that seem reasonible – even seem to contradict the party line that he’s purported to represent. But between the lines, when you look very closely, it’s always the case that somehow he’s pinned it all the more tightly on the left – or at least upon the coastal elites, the bobos, the hihis, the nynys… Whatever…

That’s absolutely what’s going on here. But still – begs the question doesn’t it – there’s a serious grain of truth in what Brooks is saying here… In the end, this is how the class system works in America, isn’t it?

When are the universities here going to wake up to the system that they’re entangled in, perpetuating.

It’s funny. When you’re on your way out of an "elite" institution, bound for a position at a state university, everyone slaps you on your back, tells you what a meaningful thing you’re doing. Teachers at "elite" insitutions complain all the time about the nature of the students – the "less than diverse" population.

Isn’t there anything more we can do about it than complain? Something more than applauding gratefully when we hear of a single-digit increase in minority enrollement (better all the time!). Brooks nails the financial aid alibi in the piece:

The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to
the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top
146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The
educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who
attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure
that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

Why can’t we do something about this?  Why can’t the Harvard faculty start doing something about this? Like stop what we’re doing, along with all of the hallway nervous joking, and not come back until, I don’t know, everything’s changed…

Idle fantasy, I know… Here…

From a photo series a few days ago in the Times:

Specialist Jason W.
Huff, 28, joined the Guard after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He
never much liked school, Specialist Huff said, recalling how his
father, a marine, disparaged a college education. "Dad would always
talk about the people who were from college, and he didn’t like them,"
he said. "He said they knew more about books than about the job." His
wife, Amy, carried their daughter, Karly, in seeing him off.

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May 30, 2005 at 12:49 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Antiseptic Modernism

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Went to the optometrist today, because it’s time for reading glasses. (Was glad that the new floater, just at the focal point of the right eye, was the “good kind of floater” rather than the “bad kind”…)

Anyway, you know when the optometrist (or ophthalmologist, if you’re a snob like that) puts you through the “this one or that one” “one or two, two or three, three or four” game with the lenses. Well, one or two?

Here’s one:

And they went back over their lives.
    They’d both been failures, the one who’d dreamed of Love and the one who’d dreamed of Power. How had it come about?
    “Perhaps it was lack of perseverance?” said Frédéric.
    “For you maybe. For me, it was the other way round, I was too rigid, I didn’t take into account a hundred and one smaller things that are more crucial than all the rest. I was tooo logical and you were too sentimental.”
    Then they blamed it on bad luck, the circumstances, the times in which they had been born […]
So one Sunday, while everyone was at Vespers, Frédéric and Deslauriers, having previously got their hair curled, picked some flowers in Madame Moreau’s garden, left by the back way over the fields, took a roundabout path through the vineyards, came back via the fishery and slipped down to the Turkish woman’s house, still clasping their large bouquet.
Frédéric held his out like a sweetheart offering flowers to his bride-to-be. But the heat, fear of the unknown, a vague feeling of guilt, and even the thrill of seeing, at one glance, so many women at his disposal, upset him so much that he went very pale and stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak. The women were all laughing, amused by his embarrassment; thinking they were making fun of him, he turned tail and fled; and since he was holding the money, Deslauriers was obliged to follow him.
    They were seen leaving the house; the scandal this aroused still lingered on three years later.
    They told each other the story at great length, each filling in the details left out by the other, and when they’d reached the end:
    “Ah, that was our best time!” said Frédéric.
    “Could be? Yes, that was our best time!” said Deslauriers.

Here’s two:

    Yes, society must go on; it must breed, like rabbits. That is what we are here for. But then, I don’t like society–much. I am that absurd figure, an American millionaire, who has bought one of the ancient haunts of English peace. I sit here, in Edward’s gun-room, all day and all day in a house that is absolutely quiet. No one visits me, for I visit no one. No one is interested in me, for I have no interests. In twenty minutes or so I shall walk down to the village, beneath my own oaks, alongside my own clumps of gorse, to get the American mail. My tenants, the village boys and the tradesmen will touch their hats to me. So life peters out. I shall return to dine and Nancy will sit opposite me with the old nurse standing behind her.  Enigmatic, silent, utterly well-behaved as far as her knife and fork go, Nancy will stare in front of her with the blue eyes that have over them strained, stretched brows. Once, or perhaps twice, during the meal her knife and fork will be suspended in mid-air as if she were trying to think of something that she had forgotten. Then she will say that she believes in an Omnipotent Deity or she will utter the one word "shuttle-cocks", perhaps. It is very extraordinary to see the perfect flush of health on her cheeks, to see the lustre of her coiled black hair, the poise of the head upon the neck, the grace of the white hands–and to think that it all means nothing–that it is a picture without a meaning. Yes, it is queer.

OK – it’s obvious that one wins. Not really fair. But why these two together? Both Flaubert and Ford, at the end of L’Education sentimentale and The Good Soldier are involved in the long secularization of literature that some like to call “modernism.” Flaubert after the romantically-inflected bildungsroman, and Ford after the society romance – the health-spa idyll or whatever it should be called. Straining the fluffy elsewhereness and otherwisity out of the forms – turning these forms so deeply affiliated with the event back toward the everyday.

But what’s interesting, I think, is the way that Flaubert’s everyday is always haunted by the event that explodes out of it – even if it never quite (never does) escape the gravity of the everyday. Starting from Madame Bovary, about the codependency of the two terms – what’s learned in his (first) novel of “education” is that what comes after the brotherly brothel episode

Ford has to turn his anticlimactic climax baroque – gothic – in order to sell it… Imagine leaving out the stuff about Nancy in the paragraph above. Ford wants – needs – the flatly round world of the secular and quotidian to cap his “exposure” of the base reality behind the appearance of the “good people” who hangout at German resort towns.

This dirty little bit of madwoman come down out of the attic to dinner, tea-party between Humbert Humbert and a lobotomized Lolita – it spoils the antiseptics of Ford’s novel, it’s true (if mindnumbingly tedious) modernity…

Anyway, just trying to figure out what to say about Ford, because I think I’m going to teach The Good Soldier in the fall… Hadn’t read it in awhile, and it’s not the most teachable book in the world…

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May 24, 2005 at 2:15 am

Posted in literature

Long Sunday

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Make your way over to the new group blog – Long Sunday. Proud to be a member of what promises to be an exciting new forum… It’s got all your favorites on board: Charlotte Street, pas au dela, Alphonse van Worden, Commonplace Book, I Cite, CProbes, Fort Kant, Infinite Thought, Observing the Observer, and even the reincarnated Young Heglian…

And it has nothing at all to do with this.

OK. Maybe it does a little bit. At least that got the emails a flying…

I’ll be posting something there soonish. But do add it to whatever does your reading for you…

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May 23, 2005 at 12:20 am

Posted in Weblogs

Hard to copy edit when you’re loaded…

with 11 comments

…but the Hitch seems to have pulled it off. Review today of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism in the NY Times. Sounds like he’s been hanging around The Valve lately – right down to the title of the piece, slathered in Holbirony.

Anyway, a selection of Hitch’s penetrating, substantive critiques of the guide and those who have a spot in it:

Words continue to lose their anchorage in meaning as one turns the
pages. ” ‘The question of gender is a question of language.’ This
statement is Barbara Johnson’s . . . and her succinct formulation of
the relationship between gender and language does much to characterize
the approach of a group of feminists who draw upon the discourses of
poststructuralism.” What, apart from its brevity, is ”succinct”
about an assertion — not at all a formulation — that asserts both too
much and too little and that proves nothing? If it is indeed true that
such a remark characterizes a school of thought, then so much the worse.

Ouch – really got her there. And then there’s this bit on Spivak:

Sometimes an unconscious humor infects the leaden pages: ”The
sometimes formidable challenge of Spivak’s work as a whole derives
partly from the effortless and eclectic way that she draws on
discourses as diverse as. . . .” Hold it right there. Does the
mercurial Prof. Gayatri Spivak really want to be depicted as
”sometimes” formidable? And isn’t ”effortless” a bit backhanded?
The three words ”as a whole” are a sheer waste of text. ”Eclectic,”
however, seems more or less right.

Hitchens seems to like sniffing out "unconscious humor," as he ends with a trademark zinger of this sort:

In another unconsciously funny entry, on the Kenyan Marxist Ngugi Wa
Thiong’o, Nicholas Brown appears to praise his subject for a
postcolonial essay entitled ”On the Abolition of the English
Department.” Like the other contributors to this shabby volume, Brown
ought to be more careful of what he endorses. The prospect of such an
abolition, at least in the United States, becomes more appetizing by
the minute.

This is a lot like the attacks on "theory" that you find on Crooked Timber, the Valve, and in certain musty corners of American academia in general. Theory is written badly, the bad writing serves no purpose, it’s elitist but inelegant, self-promotional, etc… We learn that by "1980, Althusser had been exposed as the utter fraud he later confessed himself to be," and that Raymond Williams is an "exploded figure… wrongly credited as the pioneer of cultural studies." News to me, on both counts.

But the one thing we don’t find is an actual approach to the contents, arguments, assertions of the works themselves. Hitchens botches his closest attempt, when he misunderstands the place of Bodies that Matter in the course of Judith Butler’s work:

So the dancer and the dance are not the same after all. But does one
really require a new language or theory to disprove the claim — made
by whom, incidentally? — that gender is a mere role, or only a costume
for that role?

Well, the answer is Butler herself – Bodies that Matter is a refinement or clarification of her previous work… Gender Trouble, which asks the question "What… foundation categories of identity – the binary of sex, gender, and the body – can be shown as productions that create the effect of the natural, the original, and the inevitable." The refinement is to ensure that we hear both the "create" and the "effect" in that sentence.

Anyway, whatever. Too late for Hitchens now. But do wonder how he felt when his own boundaries were so devastingly transgressed by Galloway’s less than unconscious humor:

Before the hearing
began, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn
left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher
Hitchens. "You’re a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr
Galloway in formed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another
drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens’s questions and staring
intently ahead. "And you’re a drink-soaked …" Eventually Mr Hitchens
gave up. "You’re a real thug, aren’t you?" he hissed, stalking away.

Boo hoo, Mr. Contrarian.

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May 23, 2005 at 12:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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9610185Ok – way too early to say it – but I’m reading this right now, and it includes two bonus Lovecraft stories at the back of the book. While I’ve read everything by Houellebecq, I’ve never before tonight read a single thing by Lovecraft. So I skipped to the back and read "The Call of the Cthulhu"… (The other included story is "The Whisperer in the Darkness.")

Don’t be angry if you’re a huge Lovecraft fan, but I just don’t get it. Guy finds uncle’s documents, lots of people are acting strange, sailor finds exactly what we would expect him to find… Just not working for me. (I had the same reaction to The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers…) Anyway, I tried… I’m already wondering if it’s not one of those weird Gallic over-reactions to American lit – a la Paul Auster. Perhaps Lovecraft gains something in translation…

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May 12, 2005 at 1:26 am

Posted in literature


with 24 comments

Know I’m being a bit of a jerk, but it’s hard not to find it a bit funny to watch the atrios crowd discover that there’s only one thing their other hero, Brad Delong, hates more than the economic policy of Bush administration. Apparently, to offer even the mildest criticsm of global capitalist hegemony – criticism mild enough to make it on to the op-ed page of the NY Times forgodsake – is to expose yourself as "Crypto-Nazi scum." Take a look – especially at the comments – here.

Anyway, calls to mind an charming passage from Bob Woodward’s book about Greenspan. We could subtitle it, borrowing a phrase from Hobsbawm, "Clinton Learns the Rules of the Game." The game in question being the relationship between full employment and inflation.

All the economic models built
on years of history showed there was a limit to how high growth could go
without triggering inflation. To complicate matters, the economists believed –
and recent American economic history showed – that there was a level of
so-called full employment. There was a limit on how low the unemployment rate
could go without triggering inflation, and it was thought that the range was 6
to 7 percent. This lower limit was called the NAIRU – the non-accelerating
inflation rate of full employment. The unemployment rate had started the year
above 6 percent and was heading down.
    Even [Robert] Rubin insisted that there was an
optimum full employment rate of growth.
    The president [Clinton] was skeptical and even outraged. So the problems were too much economic growth and too many people working! It was ridiculous, he seethed.

But you know how the story ends.



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May 11, 2005 at 12:28 am

Posted in Current Affairs


with 10 comments

Stanley Fish chimes in on Ward Churchill in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education (why is this still coming in the mail?) I must admit I don’t understand what’s happening in the following three paragraphs. Can someone explain them to me?

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that Churchill can’t be disciplined
or even fired. The analysis he presented of the September 11 attacks in
his controversial essay was part and parcel of an avowedly polemical
set of political recommendations, a veritable call to arms. He has
every right to issue that call, as long as he doesn’t do it in the
classroom and, as it were, on the state’s dime. While Churchill cannot
or should not be disciplined for the political views he urges in his
role as a citizen, he can and should be disciplined for urging those
views in venues designated as academic and financed as such by state
revenues or by tuition.

I am not saying that political matters can never be raised in an
academic setting; such a draconian requirement would mean the end of
departments of political science, philosophy, sociology, English,
criminal justice, and more. I am just saying that when political
matters do enter an academic setting, they must do so in academic
terms. A few years ago, a national conference was held at my university
on an important topic. A flier advertising the conference went out
before I saw it. One sentence in that flier began, "Now that we are
fighting a racist war in Afghanistan … " Because the flier carried
with it the imprimatur of the University of Illinois at Chicago, it
seemed to be the university that was issuing that judgment.

The case would have been entirely different if there had been a list
of the conference’s panels on the flier, and if one of those panels had
been titled, "Are We Fighting a Racist War in Afghanistan?" That would
have been perfectly appropriate because it would have identified the
question as one that would be debated at the conference: Speakers would
give their answers and back up what they said with evidence, and other
speakers would give opposing answers and cite alternative bodies of
evidence. That’s what we do in the academic world, and if Churchill is
doing something else (and I don’t know that he is), he is taking money
under false pretenses, and he should be called to account for it.

So, we have:

1) Churchill can’t or shouldn’t be fired for extra-curricular utterances of any sort, but if he’s in the classroom he can and should be disciplined for urging controversial, polemical views.
2) While banning political matters from the classroom is impossible, the discussion of such matters should take place in academic terms. The assertion that the war in Afghanistan is racist is a judgment, is not properly "academic."
3) On the other hand, it would be OK to have a conference entitled "Are We Fighting a Racist War in Afghanistan," since this would inspire debate backed with evidence. "Speakers would
give their answers and back up what they said with evidence, and other
speakers would give opposing answers and cite alternative bodies of

So, from the three, it sounds as though a polemical utterance ("the war in Afghanistan is racist") is only academic, and thus appropriate, when it comes in the course of a debate, a dialogue. A classroom isn’t a classroom when there’s someone from the otherside to talk back? Is this what Fish meant to say? Did he mean to say anything at all?

And given this, what do we make of his dismissal of just this argument a few paragraphs later?

So again, what do you do? One thing administrators sometimes do in
this kind of situation is understandable but academically suspect. They
go for "balance"; that is, they don’t withdraw the invitation to a
Churchill type, but they surround him on the stage with persons from
the "opposing side," say someone who advocates expelling or imprisoning
or (at the very least) registering all the Arabs living in this
country. The idea is to inoculate the institution from criticism by
multiplying the points of view represented so that no one of them seems
to be endorsed or valued. The model for that strategy is to be found in
those U.S. Supreme Court cases in which it was held that you couldn’t
put a cross or a crèche on the courthouse steps unless you placed next
to it a menorah or a Buddha or a wigwam or something. In that way, the
state gets to display those symbols — and its tolerance — without
taking any of them seriously.

But that’s just the trouble. The academy flourishes when it takes
ideas seriously; turning the occasion of a talk on a particular topic
or question into a pledge of allegiance to balance and First Amendment
neutrality blunts the edge of any of the arguments that might be made
and makes them theatrical in the pejorative sense: They are just part
of the "see how ecumenical we are" play. It may look like the
protection of academic inquiry, but in fact it is the evacuation of
academic inquiry.

In other words, discourse isn’t academic when it takes the form of a staged debate, debate for debate’s sake, empty ecumenicalism. Hmm… I’m afraid he’s lost me. Just like he lost me, a month after 9/11, when Fish published in the Times his satantically torqued defense of postmodernism – as a technology built for some serious terrorist ass-kicking. Here’s the piece, hearteningly titled "Condemnation Without Absolutes."

When Reuters decided to be careful about using the word
"terrorism" because, according to its news director, one man’s
terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, Martin Kaplan, associate dean of
the Annenberg School for Communication at the  University of Southern California, castigated
what he saw as one more instance of cultural relativism. But Reuters is simply
recognizing how unhelpful the word is, because it prevents us from making
distinctions that would allow us to get a better picture of where we are and
what we might do. If you think of yourself as the target of terrorism with a
capital T, your opponent is everywhere and nowhere. But if you think of yourself
as the target of a terrorist who comes from somewhere, even if he operates
internationally, you can at least try to anticipate his future assaults.

Is this the end of relativism? If by relativism one means a cast of mind that
renders you unable to prefer your own convictions to those of your adversary,
then relativism could hardly end because it never began. Our convictions are by
definition preferred; that’s what makes them our convictions. Relativizing them
is neither an option nor a danger.

Only when you get past the false essentialism of assuming that the whole world is out to get you, can you begin smart-bombing the right set of bad guys. To paraphrase a popular Vietnam helmet motto, "Kill ’em all, let postmodernism sort it out."

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May 10, 2005 at 12:17 am

Posted in academia

Female Circumscription

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From the Smoking Gun:


A more interesting story, perhaps, is that of this Lynne who wrote the letter. With a legal pad at the kitchen table, carefully delineating the parallels between "the Will banks distubed woman" and the oeuvres complets of Julia. (In Lynne’s mind, it’s simply "Julia"…) Perhaps, after jotting down three or four of these "coincidences," which the Duluth police and the liberal media had simply failed to note (or is something more sinister at work?), she placed the first disc in the player and settled into the lazy boy, pen at the ready… Taos, NM, sure as hell ain’t no Yonville… All night, as "Julia" matured, never graying, she kept the vigil, jotting down an exhaustive list of parallels. (What to do with Erin Brockovitch? Two precious hours wasted…) At dawn, she culled the 5 best, sent her fax to Duluth, and downed a bottle of…

"Cet affreux goût d’encre continuait."

Sorry for the horrific quality of recent posts. Still suffering from nicotene withdrawl…

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May 9, 2005 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

But can it detect bullshit?

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Pretty amazing, this. Buried way down deep in another flaccid self-criticism today, the New York Times admits that it is considering turning to plagiarism detection software, the same sort in use in colleges and universities…

It also said The Times had discussed plagiarism-detection with
Lexis-Nexis, which was working with iThenticate, a firm that develops
detection software for use in academia. Once the software is refined,
the committee said, The Times should use it when plausible suspicions
are raised.

If the Times would like to hire me, a few days away from the completion of a year of teaching first-year writing, to supplement the plagiarism detection software with some good old fashioned bullshit detection (Ms. Miller, we need to talk after class), I’m ready to go with my red pen.

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May 9, 2005 at 10:27 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Tom Nairn on the ism

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Tom Nairn on the "ism," in his review of Hardt and Negri’s The Multitude in this weeks of LRB.

[T]he authenticity of the multitude represents an apotheosis of the ism: that is, of a specific way of processing ideas that emerged in the mid-19th century, and has remained a distinctive feature of modernity. An ism ceased to denote just a system of general ideas (like Platonism or Thomism), and evolved into a proclaimed cause or movement – no longer a mere school but a party or societal trend. Ideas acquired banner headlines and ‘stood for’ an aim or tendency, and eventually for a civilisational choice: individuals could in turn stand for this choice, and be ‘conscripted’ on one side or another. Social development linked to industrialisation, urbanisation and the formation of nations was bearing formerly voiceless masses into the political picture. These had to be formed into appropriate groups, whether Italians, Liberals, Conservatives, socialists (or whatever).

Identity in a more than bureaucratic sense had arrived. Its artificers were new too: the intellectuals. As Gramsci wrote in the Prison Notebooks, the function of modern intellectuals is inseparable from being torn between past and future. Their task is to reconcile the ‘tradition’ of established rulers with the inescapable appeal of the new, whether by compromise or through rejection. The formation and reformation of ‘philosophies’ now meant something dangerous, or reassuring, and that was their stock-in-trade.

Spinozism is a last-ditch salvationist movement, aimed at redeeming the status of isms. It stands for ‘ismhood’, a necessarily total secular faith fusing conceptual satisfaction and moral-political guidance. The aim is redemption, guaranteeing the future of the intelligentsia in this postmodern, and post-everything sense. Entrancing the globe by multitude-speak, the role of intellectuals is to fuse the coat of many colours into a consummate internationalism. And what can the warp and woof of this fabric be, but politically correct love?

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May 5, 2005 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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Not that they’re asking, but no anyway. Unfortunately, I’m a citizen of the United States of Foregone Conclusions. Here’s an explanation.

Scary, the imminent neoliberalization and foxnewsification Alphonse predicts. Still, a bit jealous that les jeux aren’t so completely faits over there. Yet. Perhaps we all decamp, in spirit if not body, to BA, MC, Brasilia?

Went through exactly the same learning process as Matt, via Alphonse’s postings/clippings. Over here, it’s pretty easy to be reflexively pro-Euro integration… Feels like we live in the middle of a never ending low-pressure system, and it’s comforting to think there’s sunny summery stuff somewhere else. But now I see: Vote no to insist yes.

Like this bit though:

If you stop people on the street in central Paris, for example, most of
them know roughly what the French state’s income is. I don’t think one
in five in Britain know what the state’s income is. In the US, one
maybe in a hundred or less.

(This is because the budget is discussed on public television in France and printed in the  mainstream daily newspapers.)

Think that’s very true. When wife and I spent a summer in Paris back in college, the guy whose apartment we sublet taught economics at a high school. This seemed very odd to our americanears. Here we had (and god knows will probably have again, the way things are going) home economics for the ladies…

Anyway, go read Alphonse’s comments on Alphonse’s site.

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May 5, 2005 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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Terrific little find over on Reason Thunders, who I hope doesn’t mind if I clip in full:


      In case you’ve ever wondered what Adorno would say about the decline in family values:

realizes with horror that earlier, opposing one’s parents because they
represented the world, one was often secretly the mouthpiece, against a
bad world, of one even worse. Unpolitical attempts to break out of the
bourgeois family usually lead only to deeper entanglement in it, and it
sometimes seems as if the fatal germ-cell of society, the family, were
at the same time the nurturing germ-cell of uncompromising pursuit of
another. With the family there passes away, while the system lasts, not
only the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the
resistance which, though repressing the individual, also strengthened,
perhaps even produced him. The end of the family paralyses the forces
of opposition. The rising collectivist order is a mockery of a
classless one: together with the bourgeois it liquidates the Utopia
that once drew sustenance from motherly love.

capitalist order without the traditional family is a bigger threat to
Utopia than a fully bourgeois world. Perhaps it’s time for an alliance
between radical Marxism and Focus on the Family.


From Minima Moralia of course… I think it’s a good question…

Just finished The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian, who, according to the dust jacket bio, "left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987, shortly before his books were banned in China." And the dissidence of this dissident novel seems to be very much on Adorno’s or Reason Thunder’s point: a Schnitzlerian circle of interlocking stories, all pointing in one direction: that socialist totalitarianism has rid China’s population of empathy, fellow-feeling, love, affection… Socialism (or is it the totalitarianism?) paradoxically, perversely, informs the emergence of a population entirely driven by the profit motive, with love and money.

So we find in this novel, among other things, an entreprenurial son who kills his mother, a boyfriend who indifferently allows his girlfriend to kill herself on stage, a gang rape in the middle of town… Jian suggests that contemporary China is one big Hubert Selby novel dragged out of the Red Hook night into the light of the Shenzen noon-time, repeated across the nation’s nearly innumerable population.

But of course, as soon as we start speaking of such things, we know whose camp we find ourselves in… We become reticent, and for good reason.

For instance, in real life, I attended more than 12 years of Catholic school, was a full-bore true believer until about age 16. I cannot be sure that without this early faith, I wouldn’t be doing something altogether different with my life – that I wouldn’t have altogether different interests and aims. But this is not a fact that fits comfortably with the world as I’d have it now, the work that I do, the demands that I would make if I were in a position to do so… Interesting…

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2005 at 1:35 am

Posted in literature

Switching Crisis

with 5 comments


A few items, all variations on a common theme… All picking up, perhaps, where I let off here.

1) Get yourself a copy of this quarter’s New Left Review and take a look at Giovanni Arrighi’s "Hegemony Unravelling." (The essay is here
if somehow you have subscriber’s privileges at NLR). The first part is
more or less a recapitulation of David Harvey’s descriptions of /
arguments about "spatial fixes," "switching crises," and current
affairs vis a vis the war on terror, the end of US dominance, and the
rise of China. In a sense, Arrighi (and Harvey) seem to be arguing that
the backstory of the war on terror is a reluctance on the part of the
US (a reluctance crystallized in the documents of the Project for a New American Century)
to pass forward the torch of economic and cultural centrality to
China… (the torch handed by Venice to the Dutch, from the Dutch to
the British, and from the British to the USA…) Anyway, tough article
to summarize that itself is an extremely lucid summary of recent
events. Arrighi develops a more subtle understanding of the
relationship between new imperialism and capitalism than the usual "war
for oil" line… Go take a look…

2) Was trying to explain this article to my wife at dinner tonight,
sounding a little sinostruck and gleefully paranoiac I imagine, only to
come home to these in the mail:


3) The sneak-preview after last week’s episode of 24 showed Jack
Bauer kicking some PLA-uniformed ass. I was like, huh, that’s
interesting. There’ve never been any Chinese involved in the terrorist
plots featured by the show in previous seasons.

Well, it turns out (spoiler alert!) that some sort of dissident
Chinese engineer sold nuke technology to the terrorists… And then
promptly sought shelter at the PRC consulate in Los Angeles. OK. The
Chinese govt won’t hand this guy over, and so Jack has to take matters
into his own hands. In the crossfire, the Chinese consul is shot and
killed (friendly fire – weird translation of the bombing of the Chinese
embassy in Belgrade?) and now it looks like the US and Chinese are
headed toward nuclearish confrontation.

OK – why am I telling you all of this? First of all, it’s always an
important sign in US "political" "culture" (both of course in quotes)
when the bad guys change on tv and in the movies. Seriously – I’m not
kidding. Germans, Japanese, Native Americans, Russians, narcolatinos,
swarthy Arabs, and now, suddenly, the Chinese… There’s a sort of
attunement that goes on, the US public has to get used to the idea of
its enemies. And this is how it does it. 24.

Further – the scenario in 24 is an interesting inversion of
Arrighi’s thesis about the relationship between the war on terror and
the Chinese. Where 24 casts Chinese tension as the result of an
accident, a misunderstanding, in the course of the real battle with
Arab fundamentalists, Arrighi persuasively argues that Afghanistan,
Iraq, have both been at root displacements and deferrals of a
confrontation with China. The US, the PNAC, wishes, in other words,
that Iraq was the battle that needed to be fought in order to
concretize a "new American century."

4) On China Daily today: "Workers of the World Unite and Go Shopping." Contains some gems:

An online poll by shows nearly 66 per cent of voters prefer to stay
at home during the so-called Golden Week.

And 80 per cent say they want to celebrate May Day by shopping.

And that’s good news for the country’s retailers.

Here’s the best one, a case study of tortured discursive transition if there ever was one:

"Enjoying more leisure time is an essential index in measuring human rights."

Apologies if all of this is terribly incoherent. But I am, believe it
or not, quitting cigarettes today (very un-PRC)… Trying the patch,
which works a lot better than I would have expected. Confident that
it’s actually going to work this time. But needless to say, I’m not
myself, and the writing would be the first to go… Anyway, never
thought there’d be a shoutout to GlaxoSmithKline on Cultural
Revolution, but there it is. Switching crisis indeed…


Written by adswithoutproducts

May 3, 2005 at 12:36 am

Posted in Current Affairs