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Archive for June 20th, 2009

more on kpunk

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Look, I understand that some people’s projects are so scaldingly pertinent that they are as it were under a sort of quasi-divine mandate to break the rules of, well, rational discourse, conversation, critique and response…

But everyone who’s been blogging for a bit knows what sort of bullshit it is to respond to someone’s post without attribution – without a link or even an unlinked mention of the post or blogger that you’re responding to. Not only is it disrespectful, but it leaves the responded to party in a weird position of not knowing what to respond to or whether to respond in the first place. It’s the internet equivalent of the sucker punch in a crowd, and it’s the sort of thing people do when they want to lash out but they’re scared of the consequences of doing so.

(Before anyone responds that not linking to your interlocutors is some sort of exercise in performative “facelessness,” let’s be clear that Mark is happy to link to those who agree with them… Facelessness simply isn’t the point.)

Anyway, so Mark wrote a response… to something. Whether to me or someone else or some paranoid fantasy of a generic group of antagonists, we’ll never know unless he tells us. We can only guess. He’s already done this once, in a post who’s addressee was obvious even to the uninitiated. Again, it’s an uncourageous tactic from a guy who likes to lecture his interlocutors on what is and isn’t acceptably punk in these conversations. And this from someone who’s constantly lecturing all of us about our failures to exhibit a set of refutable claims for which we can be held accountable!

I’m not even sure whether this bears addressing at this point, and for a few reasons. First of all, Mark’s just now said that he’s not really interested in hearing critiques of his argument, er, project. For the record, I can’t distinguish at this point between the Troll and the Grey Vampire, so I’m lumping them both together. My suspicion is that both simply mean “haters,” “those who disagree with Mark.”

I would agree that [Trolls] pose a threat to themselves, but in some ways they are more toxic to those with projects than the trolls. It’s quite easy to identify and distance oneself from a troll: once you’ve established they are a troll, sever all contact with them and – this is imperative – don’t read anything they write. This requires a little discipline, but not much, and after a while you’ll completely forget the upset they caused. For what is usually a very short period, trolls cause a great deal of incendiary, fruitless antagonism, but it seldom leaves much of a lasting trace. The final victory over them is achieved by simply persisting in the pursuit of a project, refusing to allow yourself to be ensnared in the self-doubts and impotent autocritique that disables them and which they seek to transmit to you.

Hmmm…. Again, I understand that we’re supposed to sign on against rational conversation, but doesn’t this seem like the sort of thing you would say when you’re not so much resolute in your ideas, single-mindedly committed to your project, but rather scared shitless that someone’s found a hole or holes, someone is asking questions that you simply don’t have the guts or brains or honesty to answer? I mean, if you’re commitment is as solid and vivid as Mark claims his is, surely you can allow yourself to read the responses of others without suffering some sort of debilitating panic attack….

Here he is, again, on the Grey Vampire:

The debilitating effects of the Grey Vampire are often much harder to identify and combat. They are ‘friendly’, they seem to be positive, they make their points respectfully – what’s to dislike? Ultimately, though, their stance is precisely the same as the Troll – they are profoundly suspicious of commitments and projects, except that their anti-productivity comes out as sunny scepticism instead of outright aggression. One of their favourite tactics is the devil’s advocate appeal to what someone else, not them, might think. Might not things be seen in another way? (This would be completely different if they were making a point that they were prepared to subjectively identify with: then we could get somewhere, then there would be an actual difference of positions, instead of one position confronting an infinite series of movable obstacles and promissory notes.) Another tactic – particularly effective at wasting time and energy this one – is the claim that all they want is a few clarifications, as if they are just on the brink of being persuaded, when in fact the real aim is to lure you into the swamp of sceptical inertia and mild depression in which they languish.

Grey Vampires are not a standing reserve because – this is the awful tragedy, the terrible revelation that eventually strikes you about them – they will never be mobilised. Like the Troll, their alibi – to themselves as much as to others (and to the big Other) – is that they are always about to do something major – their scepticism, equivocation and vacillation is just a temporary phase, soon to be set aside. But the Grey Vampire never has much of a sense of urgency. That’s partly because they don’t feel that they have to justify themselves to the world (sometimes there is a class dimension here – the GVs tend to have an implacable core of inner confidence which is the birthright of the dominant classes). They worry about their vacillating drift, but not too much. They have doubts, but – sadly in many ways – those doubts will never harden into a breakdown, any kind of subjective destitution.

The fact of the matter is that there are no conversational slots to fit into other than fawning agreement apparently. Respectful criticism is in fact disrespectful passive-aggressiveness, but disrespectful criticism won’t even be countenanced. Just as with the anti-humanism he’s taken up, it seems to me to be a case of someone who’s read a bit of philosophy and theory but simply doesn’t understand the subtlety of the claims advanced therein – or has allowed himself to get carried away by them such that they shut down thought rather than advancing it. “Anti-humanism” isn’t a fantasy of the annihilation of the human, just as materially-minded discourse critique isn’t aimed at the terminal disruption of discourse altogether. The analysis of social structures and their deformative effect upon discourse isn’t meant to be employed as a sort of defensive wall, an affirmative action programme for the bad ideas of the (self-positioned) abject. Anyone who disagrees with Mark disagrees because they are the over-confident agents of power and class. Sorry, though. Whatever the social dynamics at play, it could be that your ideas are simply wrong.

It’s all very strange. Mark and his friends take a rather ungrounded poke at Badiou, and when others respond, he writes a series of posts against people taking pokes at Great Thinkers like himself. He claims that academics are always locked up in the meta and passive-aggressive contentless argument, yet he responds to critique with a maddeningly complex meta-argument about discursive circumstances, never getting anywhere near the point at hand. He attacks the failure of nerve on the part of his critics, yet can’t even muster the chutzpah to throw a punch at any actual person. He positions himself as oppressed by class characterizations, but can’t respond with anything but vague ad hominems about the upbringing and confidence of his interlocutors. He seems to be caught in a trap of terminal performative contradiction. Above all else, he accuses everyone else of convictionless slickness – when it looks, with each post, more and more unlikely that there’s anything other than polish and PR behind the stuff he’s peddling…. If it’s not true, well, it’d be a good thing to stop with the brand defense and claims of unfair treatment and just explain what he’s talking about.

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June 20, 2009 at 11:46 am

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