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Archive for July 10th, 2008

the n-word

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Everybody’s talking nationalization, and of course the whisper of those six syllables makes pinko hearts go all aflutter. It’s been a bad word for so, so long – and it’s nice to hear it get current again.

That said, and persuant to some of the issues raised in the comments of this post, we should tread with caution, for all nationalizations are not created equal. In some cases, they can be great – plowing the profits from Venezuelan oil into social programs is as lovely as it gets, yes. Sometimes, they just simply have to happen, as might well prove to be the case with those strange “government sponsored enterprises,” already neither fish nor fowl, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But if anyone can locate any social benefits that have or will accrue from the takeover of Northern Rock, please do speak up in the comments. All that I can see is burgeoning moral hazard, this time for stockbuyers and bank managers rather than the usual suspects, the poor, and the preordained endstory that comes when the bank has its first profitable year, it will again be privatized lest it interfere with enterprises of the earnest, hardworking, honest gents down in the City. Whatever it is, it’s not socialism – part corporate welfare, part necessary first aid, but not socialism.

So, a modest proposal: how about, if this trend continues, each time the state has to plow money into a steaming pile of shit in the form of a dropped dead bank, downfluttering airline or the like, it by law must at the same time nationalize something really nice, enormously profitable, and potentially socially useful. Like, dunno, Mobil. Or Google. Call your congressman today…

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July 10, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Posted in economics, socialism

barthes blogging

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From this excellent book, on Roland Barthes’s “Chronique” column that ran in the Nouvel Observateur for three months toward the end of his life, from December 1978 to March 1979.

Each column comprised an average of four separately titled and unconnected entries ranging from a few lines to a couple of substantial paragraphs. In each case Barthes gave his reactions to a few things that had caught his attention that week, for example, in the first column, a book about Leni Riefenstahl, an encounter at the hairdresser’s, media coverage of the collective suicides of a sect in Guyana, and a rumor that Mayor Chirac planned to outlaw busking.


On 26 March 1978 Barthes’s readers were confronted with a single entry announcing a temporary suspension of his column that would in fact prove permanent. In ‘Pause’ Barthes outlines very lucidly what he had been trying to achieve and then explains why he feels he failed. Scotching the rumor that he was trying to resurrect Mythologies, Barthes insists that his ‘Chronique’ was an experiment, a quest for a new form of writing that would be deliberately brief, minor, and gentle, whilst at the same time political. In fact the political and moral chanrge would come from this deliberate doceur, aimed at contrasting with the overheated clamour of surrounding discourses. For Barthes, to use the pages of a political weekly to talk about incidents that had struck him that week, ‘mes scoops à moi’ (my personal scoops), was to counteract the scale of values imposed by the press’s obsession with big events. To risk talking about ‘le ténu, le futile, l’insignificant’, is to change the scale […] the media should make room for ‘weak’ events that nevertheless point to real malaises.

He even, it seems, understood what the problem is with blogging:

“The flaw is that for every incident I bring up I feel myself drawn (by what power – or weakness?) to give it a meaning (social, moral, aesthetic, etc.) to have the last word.” What prevents the columns from embodying the kind of writing Barthes had dreamt of is the seemingly irresistable tendency to moralize, to make a point, to have the last word, to lay down the law (even if it is one’s own).

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July 10, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Posted in barthes, everyday

if we were to restart theory….

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…we might start by working the following out:

So much of the quasi-materialist theory of the past, oh, sixty years has staked itself on the promotion of the random wander through city streets as opposed to the technoratic, overly-rational, heartlessly-designed urban plan, and in particular, the plan’s incorporation of tracts of uniform, utilitarian housing developments / projects / estates. The dérive, the tactical – these topographical / metaphorical practices form the underpinnings of Lefebvre’s, Debord’s, SI’s, de Certeau’s theoretical resistance to centralized bureaucratic power.

Today, however, well after Reagan and Thatcher and their descendents have “starved the beast” of government and brought to an end, in the Anglo-American world and, by influence and force, beyond, the actually-existing and potentially-constructed category of the welfare state that was known as social housing, we now know, unlike those who have come before us, the true value of what was once and now is no more provisioned. We read these earlier theorists who had, no doubt, noble intentions, as cringe inwardly, knowing that we smell in their works an ideology better suited to bourgeois gentrification and tower demolition than, you know, the provision of rooves and running water, walls and doors, simple, unglamourous things that just every single one of us are very happy to have. We understand, in short, the inadvertent complicity of previous theories that are dependent upon libertarian visions of urban space, and we cannot help but think that they were written during a period when it was easier to take for granted the fact that these things would continue to be built, and that the people that live in them would never be left to fend for themselves on the open, and irrationally exuberant!, market.

To put it another way, today, given the choice (which is, perhaps, the only choice that we have, and only if we’re lucky and persistent) between the Ideological State Apparatus and the Abolition of the State, we know that we’d take the ISA and work through the problem of the I in it, rather than the latter, which is the path the world has taken since, and we know damn well where that has gotten us and will continue to get us.

We will have to rewrite the whole thing, cognisant of and vigilant about the ennui and disciplinarity, corruption and neglect, that comes of a strong state sector, but even more careful that we know what our true priorities are, in an age where there seems to be only one single priority.

So the question is, I guess, if we were to restart theory, would we have to sell our old, well-marked copies of Debord and de Certeau on Amazon, donate them to the charity shop, in order to get the room we need to work practically, efficaciously? Would we have to banish them to the category of the merely historical document in order to get done what needs to be done?

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July 10, 2008 at 12:40 am