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Archive for May 5th, 2005

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

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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

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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…

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May 5, 2005 at 1:35 am

Posted in literature