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Archive for March 2007

hallward

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Interesting summary of a Peter Hallward seminar entitled entitled ‘Dialectical Volunterism’ up at An und für sich. Here’s a slice:

He began by re-stating his conviction, present in his Deleuze book, that the choice for philosophers is still to contemplate or change the world. It is clear that this is not a hard duality, as contemplating the world is the very beginning of any attempt to change it. The urge to change the world comes about when we examine the world, how we think it will make sense and find that it does not make sense. In this way, Hallward said, the world is a scandal for philosophy. He related this to liberation theology, which he has been reading as of late, where the liberationists were presented with ‘poverty and the sinful structures surronding it’. At this point there must be a decision of the collective will to change the world. This became a point of contention for Neil Turnbull, a radical sociologist in the audience, as one could read this as a reactionary motif and not at all a revolutionary one. However Peter Hallward wants us to leave behind Adorno and Marcuse as our model for revolutionary leftist change and embrace Lenin, Mao, Aristide, Chavez, etc. In actuality Hallward betrays himself on this point for he did not discuss Lenin or Mao and his discussion of Haiti, while generally pro-Aristide, focused on the work of Paul Farmer and the reclimation of unused land in the industrial belt for youth football by another private citizen. Despite his seeming pro-State logic in ‘The Politics of Prescription’ it is obvious from this talk that his own position is closer to Hardt and Negri than he may want to admit.

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March 8, 2007 at 10:51 am

Posted in theory

loss of methodological rigor

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Near the start of Barthes’s lectures on the Neutral:

I hope (I dare to believe ) that my topic is not so manic, for I took the Neutral for a walk not along the grid of words but along a network of readings, which is to say, of a library […] Then, what library? That of my vacation home, which is to say, a place-time where the loss in methodological rigor is compensated for by the intensity and the pleasure of free reading.

I negotiate with myself constantly about my own reading patterns. There is this horrible image that my wife and I cackle about sometimes. We were at one of my tenured colleagues’ house for dinner, one of the first dinners we had here. She took the baby upstairs to breastfeed, and they shuffled her (graciously, graciously) into their bedroom as a good spot for that sort of thing. And she noticed once there, stacked right next to the bed, an enormous stack of books, obviously his bedtime reading. X in the Victorian Y. X, Y, and the Victorian Z. A in the Victorian B. C and D in the Victorian Moment. That sort of thing.

The fact that we cackle about this marks us as who we are. My wife can get away with this sort of attitude, as she’s not an academic, but me? Look, I read the stuff, but not as willingly as what simply drifts up to me, what lands on the shelf of to be reads without direct professional import.

More important: almost every good idea I’ve ever had has come to be out of the random shuffling of books and websites, newspaper articles and other junk that I read irresponsibly. It is no wonder, really, that Barthes is one of my favorites, one of my great teachers, even if I’m gearing up to write something very nasty about him, his politics, the relationship between his aesthetics and his politics (or lack thereof…) But, really, I shouldn’t be reading him tonight.

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March 8, 2007 at 1:33 am

Posted in academia

adbusters and the “existential divide”

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(xposted to Long Sunday)

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I wasn’t quite a charter subscriber to Adbusters, but fairly close to it. Maybe issue 10 or so, if memory serves. I cancelled about a year ago. While it has a certain connection to some of my perennial interests (see the name of my personal blog), I just started to feel increasingly out of touch with, what was it, the tone, the tonal politics, and the plain old politics of the magazine.

Here’s part of a post salvaged from my old site, just about when I wrote Adbusters to cancel out:

I’ve always been unsettled – in the wrong way – by the approach to politics embraced by Adbusters and the like. Seems to me to be an infinitely foreseeable adaptation of left politics to the self-help, self-fulfillment culture that marks the current tidal mark of the American experiment. Marie Antoinette-ism… What the magazine prescribes for its readership is something other than politics, I think. At base, it’s a strange sort of “lifestyle” magazine. It is full of stuff like this, from the current issue…

Here in rural Telemark, Norway, my husband and I have an ancient, 100-acre farm without a road, without electricity, without running water, without a computer or mobile telephone or washing machine or CD player or remote-control carrot-dicer… without corporate products, including Barbie dolls or Nike sneakers. We have a fjord-horse to do most of the heavy farm work (and so on…)

And a subscription to Adbusters, it would seem…

Anyway, they sell the magazine at the snazzy co-op where I buy my food, and the other day I bought a copy to see if anything has changed, either about the magazine or about me or both.

Nope.

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Right from the first pages – which feature a “visual essay” by Kalle Lasn, the founder and editor – I found some material that I can only classify as disturbing, symptomatic, symptomatically disturbing. Here are a few snips:

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March 7, 2007 at 12:05 am

news roundup from dystopia

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KANSAS CITY (AP) – Exterminators began sweeping a Kansas City neighborhood infested with rats after one of the rodents crawled into a baby’s crib and severely disfigured the girl’s face.

Authorities said the girl’s parents put her in a crib next to their bed early Sunday and awoke a few hours later when a heart and breathing monitor alarm went off. The 4-week-old baby, which had been born prematurely, was lying in a pool of blood with her nose and part of her upper lip chewed off.

****

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

***

“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I’m – so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards, so I think I’ll just conclude here and take your questions,” said Coulter, whose comment was followed by applause.

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March 5, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Posted in america

bizarro

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From the NYT:

“I don’t think Brazil will accept the idea of being any type of American surrogate in the region, or to moderate or contain Chávez,” said Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 to 2001. “But the United States wants to bolster Lula as a counterweight, to show that you can have a leftist government with a strong focus on social issues, income distribution and poverty reduction, without being radical.”

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March 5, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Posted in america

banned in china (thread)

with one comment

(xposted to Long Sunday)

Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber has banned abb1 from further comments on any threads that he authors. I’d rather not rehash the entire issue at hand, so go take a look and come back.

From what I can tell, the tipping point seems to have been reached with a comment of abb1’s on the Tiananmen Square revolt and suppression of 1989.

Marc: remember the students in TS?

Funny, though, that according to wikipedia:

Although the initial protests were made by students and intellectuals who believed that the Deng Xiaoping reforms had not gone far enough and China needed to reform its political systems, they soon attracted the support of urban workers who believed that the reforms had gone too far.

Obviously there are many more urban workers than students and intellectuals, so, why don’t you hold your venom and think about this one for a few seconds.

This drew quite a negative response from several of the other commenters. But, as I’ve said in the comment thread in question, everything that I’ve read – and I’m not an expert, just an amateur – indicates that the story of the June 4th Movement and the suppression of it was quite a bit more complex than “they wanted democracy, votes and Levi jeans, and the commies ran them over with tanks.”

From, for instance, an interview with Wang Hui in One China, Many Paths (2003):

In 1989, why did the citizens of Beijing respond so strongly and actively to the student demonstrations? It was largely because of the adventurist reforms to the price system that Zhao Ziyang had twice imposed, without any benefit to ordinary people. Their earnings suffered from the agreements they were forced to sign by factories, and their jobs were at risk. People felt the inequality created by the reforms: there was real popular anger in the air. That is why the citizenry poured onto the streets in support of the students. The social movement was never simply a demand for political reform, it also sprang from a need for economic justice and social equality. The democracy that people wanted was not just a legal framework, it was a compreshensive social value (64-65).

It seems clear that this point is at least open for discussion, but, it seems that challenging the conventional wisdom on sacred moments of the end of political history, like Tiananmen Square, provokes a flailing response from the Timberites… In short, an inappropriate response…

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March 4, 2007 at 12:30 am

after-school activities

with 4 comments

(xposted to Long Sunday…)

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In a post about a post in praise of a critique of a supposed revival of the SDS at American University, Michael Kazin notes the lack of student protest at Georgetown, where he teaches:

But activists who don’t focus on electoral politics–or, as in the late ’60s and early ’70s, flip off the major parties altogether–seem far less numerous. At Georgetown, where I teach, pleasant spring and fall mornings bring out a dozen or so tables on the bricked-in quad (known as “Red Square” for its color, not the shading of its politics). Small knots of students promote pro-choice and pro-life and a living wage, recruit for various ethnic and race-based clubs, and sing the virtues of tutoring homeless children or teaching in an inner-city school. Hardly anyone on campus still defends the war in Iraq; even a student of mine who once interrogated prisoners at Abu Ghraib thinks the invasion was a stupid mistake. Still, it’s been months since I saw or heard a single undergrad seek to channel that sentiment into protest. If anyone is trying to organize a local SDS chapter, they must be doing it exclusively on line.

One reads articles like this quite frequently, and certainly it’s hard not to agree that there is a distinct disinvestment in protest culture at US universities. This is not to say that there aren’t mobilized, engaged students – there certainly are. But, in my experience, like Kazin’s, what protest there is seems to be limited to a very small subsector of the student body – a sort of special interest club like any other special interest club. There are small demonstrations, there are ubiquitous photocopies plastered on doors and walls, there are meetings and listservs and discussion groups and hosted speakers. But it never seems to grow or make much of a dent.

Story.Students.Ap-1

So the first item for discussion: do you think this is an accurate rendition of the situation at universities, at your university, if you’re at one? Or is it stupid to fixate so strongly on what happens on campuses in the first place? We are used to thinking of students as the shock troops of revolt and protest, but this hasn’t always – or even often – been the case when you take a slightly wider historical perspective.

Second item for discussion: Why don’t articles like this ever try to make a real stab at why protest culture is now so anemic at universities? One either throws up one’s hands (“politics have changed, huh…”) or blames the kids, their cultural decadence (really, students today are more “decadent” than they were in the 1960s? Not sure of that…) or, more deviously, maps one’s own political perversity on to the student body today (me as a kid = students in the 1960s / me as a grownup who writes for TNR = students circa now).

I think all of these answers are lazy and/or constructed in bad faith – some worse than others. What do I think is the issue? Personally, I think it’s the pressures (both real and perceived, fantasized) of the labor market. The perceived diligence and persistence that it takes to stay ahead of the “acceptable life” curve (which of course varies depending on the university we’re talking about – what is an acceptable end for many of my students would represent a catastrophic collapse to most Harvard students). Constant self-monitoring, constant presentation-of-self or anticipation thereof on the market of work and life and status, a grating sense that only the visible people matter is the name of the game. In particular, those students who might be the most likely candidates to participate in or even lead a protest movement – those in the humanities and social sciences – are haunted by a sense that everything worth doing is becoming increasingly impossible to do (collapse of the art market, collapse of the market for creative writing, rationalizing constriction of academia, etc etc) and thus in order to escape the soft hellishness of the cubicle, they need to keep their eyes on the prize.

This is an extremely worried generation of college students. Do you know how many nervous collapses (with hospitalization) happen in my undergraduate classes a semester? I’m teaching a single class of 45 undergrads this semester, and I’ve had 3 psychiatric hospitializations. I think, for reasons both real and not, students today are too stressed and anxious about their futures to worry about anything at all other than their school work, their internships, and the improbability that they will get to live the life that they would like to live.

The club tables that Kazin sees on the quad are an echo of the clubs they joined or led in high school. The spirit of protest has been pressured into the form of CV fodder; there is no time or energy for revolt save as an “after-school activity,” a hobby.

How do I know? Because the same logic structures my own life and work. Obviously, obviously. I am terrified of losing what I have, or not getting what I ultimately want while simultaneously being incredibly disheartened at the absurdity and issuelessness of what it is that I do. Pseudonymous blogging is my after-school activity; it has likely the same use-value as plastering anti-war posters on the designated placarding walls on campus.

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March 2, 2007 at 1:03 pm