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Archive for October 4th, 2009

sunday post: marxist cream teas and gnarly geolocatable trees

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Very much regret that I couldn’t come along on Owen’s Piccadilly Line tour today. But then again, I’m pretty sure that none of the Holden designed stations feature one of these, which I saw today doing the same, um, walking tour I do almost every weekend – Highgate to Hampstead, hitting every playground in between.

I took a lot of nice pictures of Hampstead Heath along the way. Really starting to develop extraordinarily warm feelings for the Heath and for this stretch of North London more generally. Starting to wish that I lived even closer to the former than I already do (it’s about a 15 minute bus ride from my house).

The country is so very verdant, that even the dead trees have a bit of life in them.

Here is where you go if you want to have sex in the Heath. Just watch out for the police cameras – this is the UK after all.

There are few directional signs in the Heath, and many forks in the path, some of them leading through fairly dense old growth forest. So the first time I walked from Highgate to Hampstead, I used the GPS system on my iPhone to naivgate my way through. Worked like a charm. But it has a funny effect, this GPS thing – maybe something worth thinking about / writing about a bit more. I had anticipated taking a picture of the following the last time I was there – had the camera with me this time.

But as I took it, I couldn’t help but think – probably given the way I’d navigated last time – of what the tree I was taking a picture of would look like on google maps. In fact, I persistently today thought of myself as walking through a map, a satellite image – couldn’t stop thinking about myself from an imagined god’s eye view. Here’s the tree again, as well as the path from which I took the picture:

Odd to think that men and women walked around for so many centuries thinking, at least in part, from the god’s eye view, only to lose it, to see for themselves and at level angle for a bit, only to resume where they had left off due to gps and google maps. At least google’s satellites don’t care about your sins. Er….

At any rate, we made it to Hampstead, I put the camera away. We delivered our daughter to a birthday party, had a nice dinner (accompanied by a semi-sleeping infant – the other daughter), didn’t buy any books at Waterstones or Daunt, and then came home via one bus and then another. I’m getting my most hits ever today, by the way.

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October 4, 2009 at 10:14 pm

obama on k street

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Frank Rich and Thomas Frank, both excellent on Obama’s failure to “tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over,” as he promised during his campaign. If you read carefully, you’ll see where Rich seems to lift a bit from Frank only to double it down quite nicely – has to do with the poster above.

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October 4, 2009 at 8:39 am

Posted in america

militant preciousness

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Reading some of the “militant dysphoria” papers that have been posted, the same problems that I’ve been on about a bit re-appear. Adolescent insanity just about sums it up, but to be slightly more specific, let’s start with absolute vagueness when it comes to the payoff. Here’s the problem. If the point is simply to recognise the dysphoria and then work to get rid of it, that’s fine, but it’s certainly not news. This is what has always been said, and generally said with a lot less theatricality and more substance than here. So rather the point (from a marketing perspective, I guess) is to angle towards the recognition and embrace of the dysphoria. Which of course leads to a fairly simple problem: why the fuck would anyone get onboard with a politics that promises only to make the problems, the things that make us unhappy, worse?

Yeah I know. What a sellout to neoliberalism I am for saying it. Here, have some splintering bone ashes:

To systematise briefly: a world protects its consistency by rendering itself a black box, invincible and invisible, taken for granted. The human world is one determined by vitalistic principles, and it is these which are undone in dysphoria, hence undoing the world which they construct. If capital has subsumed the world of life, has exploited and manipulated its processes to such an extent that it becomes synonymous with life, and indeed a form of life itself, then perhaps the way of death, of non-life, of the freezing over of the vital offers a way out of its particular strictures. It is certainly true to say that capitalism as it stands now requires a degree of acquiescence with the “big other”- to at least pay lip service to the affirmationist common sense. This means that at the level of microeconomics, we must “enjoy” or at least pretend to do so, and at the level of macroeconomics that the dogma of growth of gross domestic product as strictly equivalent to the common good and the elevation of the general standard of living of humanity must be maintained. So in identifying with the state of dysphoria itself and hence to subtract from this world, the militant dysphoric effectively abandons a world already made cold by capital’s alien life, and then perhaps, undoes it. Perhaps.

The final “perhaps” is precious, isn’t it? Some of us, however, hold out for the chance that it might, just might, be possible to enjoy stuff outside of the framework of capitalism – or, Christ, even within it if that’s the lot we’ve drawn for now. A refugee enjoys her or his refuge, a starving man his food. Sometimes its nice to read a book or talk to a friend. Some of us even like sex sometimes (though maybe not these guys) that’s neither paid for nor framed within some subsuming logic of capital.

Oh and just to be clear: making strange never meant just being confusing and vague, or saying things that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. And also: Baudrillard did all this in Symbolic Exchange and Death, better, though no more convincingly. Here, have a bit more, from Nick Srnicek:

-To some degree, we can see this in Dominic’s discussion of the killing of Finke – the bystander who was killed by the RAF when they broke Baader out of custody. In the militant’s frame, this innocent bystander never enters into the calculations involved in their path. It’s rather bourgeois morality which would force this calculation onto the agencies involved, but it’s excluded here by the assemblage that has framed the militant. Whereas bourgeois morality would have paralyzed action by trying to calculate every possible consequence in advance, the militant has their frame contracted to a much more myopic vision.
-It is this aspect which makes the militant – potentially – a progressive and transformative agent, rather than a reactionary and conservative impediment. A sort of willful blindness, a contraction of the frame beyond everyday concerns, and the focusing of energies on a singular path.

Boy, well, that takes care of the tricky business of collateral damage, doesn’t it? Just to be clear, one could replace the word militant with US military at any single point in the above, and it would work out just as cleanly. Ever seen The Battle of Algiers? Notice the way that it stares the soon-to-be-dead right in the face? Have to say, the thought of toussled-haired hipsters, laptopped and bespectacled, writing such things leaves me just a little bit raw. Know what I mean?

In general: all seems like a lot of grad seminar smokebreak nonsense, the sort of things that the kids get up to when the instructor is out of the room. Or, worse, the sort of thing that irresponsible, comfortable people say when they’re bored. Which is maybe how all the very worst sorts of politics get started. The reveries of frustrated junior stock-brokers. It’s a simple test, easily dismissed as “guardianistical” by the initiates, but if your politics wouldn’t make sense to some poor fucker in a camp in Africa, or migrant worker caught just outside the tunnel, or a prostitute working the outer bits of the outer boroughs, you should stop and shut the fuck up think very carefully about what you’re up to. Only the rich want to die, only the rich privilege their own unhappiness. If you read this blog, you know that I am unhappy about 99 percent of the time – but I’d never, ever mistake that for a politics. Afraid we can’t really spare the bandwidth.

Perhaps I’ll say a bit more when I’m in a better mood. For now, I’ll just say I’m not regretting missing the event for drinks with undergraduates.

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October 4, 2009 at 12:57 am

Posted in theory