Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water is an odd and improbable creature, a monster movie that is a critical darling. The critical responses for the movie have themselves understood the movie as a different sort of chimera, a combination of "fairy tale" and nostalgia film, something at once timeless and caught in its own relation to a vanishing past.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
I decided to illustrate this post with images from
Reading Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It) was an interested and somewhat bewildering experience. At first I thought that I agreed with everything she said, but only differed in how I would say it--a difference of philosophical style or orientation--but, the more I read, the more I thought that there might be some substance to this difference of style.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
I started reading Malcolm Harris' Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials in probably the ideal location and context. I was visiting my mother at a retirement community in Florida for Christmas. I was reading it by the pool when I actually overheard someone go on about "kids today" and their phones and video games. The general worry about the current generation was all around me.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Matt Damon has the odd distinction of staring in two science fiction dystopias, one bleak action movie the other farce, that are absolutely confused on the role of work and capitalism. The first was Elysium and the most recent is Downsizing. The confusion is not just a product of the director or screenwriter's particular confusion, but is in some sense symptomatic of a more general ideological elision in which capitalism is lived but never named, or, more to the point, never named because it is lived--just like the proverbial fish in water.
Friday, November 17, 2017
Presented in Santiago, Chile
Of all the various provocations in Lire le Capital there is perhaps none more provocative than structural causality. In this case the provocation can be measured in this case in the gap between the implications of the concept, its effects on social relations, subjectivity, and history, and its formulation, which is provisional and partial—mutilated as Spinoza might say. Structural or metonymic causality posits that the economy and society, base and superstructure, is neither a linear transitive cause, nor a relation of expression, but a cause which only exists in and through its effects. Or, put otherwise, the effects of the economy in the spheres of ideology must be thought of as causes as much as effects, as conditions of its reproduction. Framed in this way the concept of “structural (or immanent) causality” is not just a concept limited to its appearance in Lire le Capital, but it becomes integral to Althusser’s later examination of ideology and reproduction. Reproduction is the necessary condition for seeing ideology as not just an effect of economic structures but their necessary precondition. Reproduction is another way of viewing the immanent nature of the mode of production, how its effects in the sphere of subjectivity and social relations, become necessary conditions. Althusser’s writing shows a different trajectory, not only did reproduction become the specific theme of Sur la Reproduction, but the manuscripts on “aleatory materialism” also return to reproduction, thinking necessity from contingency, as the becoming necessary of the encounter. It is a matter of thinking the coexistence of reproduction and non-reproduction, which is to say class struggle, without resorting to a voluntarist conception of political action. Non-reproduction must be as immanent as reproduction, the conditions of the unraveling of a given mode of production must be as integral to it as its perpetuation. It is this trajectory which has been taken up by subsequent readers of not only Althusser, but of Spinoza and Marx as well.
Thursday, November 02, 2017
A Bento/Marx image
In Des Universels Etienne Balibar writes, “Conscientia sive ideologia” (Consciousness, that is ideology). Balibar’s formulation is applied to Marx, specifically to the theorization of ideology from The German Ideology, but its word brings to mind Spinoza’s famous Deus sive natura, his strategy of the sive in which philosophical oppositions are overcome with the assertion of their fundamentally interchangeability. It is at once a Spinozist injoke and a provocation, the strategy of the “sive” does not just identify two terms, but opens the question of their identity and difference. Between the joke and the provocation is of course Louis Althusser, not just because Althusser was both a Spinozist and a Marxist, but because Althusser’s various formulations of ideology, formulations indebted to both Spinoza and Marx, continually thought ideology in both its spontaneity and its universality, seeing it as coexistent experience and consciousness. Such an assertion, as with all strategies of the sive, raises as many difficulties and questions as it resolves. These questions hinge on the way in which the concept of ideology is caught between universality and specificity, structural condition and particular content, or, ultimately, between necessity and contingency, an integral element of experience or a particular effect of a given social formation. The closer ideology gets to being coextensive with consciousness, the more it loses its socio-historical specificity, becoming something like a constitutive error, or antinomy of thought. The extension on the epistemic register is not without its effects on politics, if ideology is coextensive with consciousness, than what possibilities are there for radical critique and change? The opposite pole is no less fraught with difficulties, ideologies considered in terms of its specific content and concepts, as bourgeois, capitalist, or neoliberal, raises the question of its conditions of production and dissemination, at worst collapsing into a kind a conspiracy. Ideology is caught between the poles of necessity and contingency, form and content, and structure and history.
Monday, October 23, 2017
I will begin with the personal story. At some point in my awkward adolescent years when I was too old to trick or treat yet not yet old enough to do anything else on Halloween I was left with the responsibility of giving out candy. Left alone and somewhat bored I decided to make it fun. In between rings of the doorbell I gathered up an old "Creature from the Black Lagoon" mask and my "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." The record supplied atmosphere and then I would jump out from behind the door. As the night went on I became more creative, leaving a hatchet covered in ketchup in view of the door, placing an iron black cat doorstop in the window, and so on. My brother soon came home and found scaring kids to be way more fun than going door to door getting candy.
Monday, October 16, 2017
How to make sense of the daily brutality that seems to surround us? Balibar's Violence and Civility can be seen as offering a sort of solution to this problem. Balibar's solution is framed in terms of three moves. First, he dubs inconvertible violence cruelty, the name suggests an excess, or in Balibar's terms inconvertible form of violence; it is violence that cannot be placed on any trajectory of progress, even the cunning of reason. Second, cruelty is differentiated in terms of ultraobjective violence, the violence of populations that are exposed to natural disasters, wars, or the effects of the market. This is violence without a face or name. Ultraobjective is contrasted to the cruelty of ultrasubjective violence, violence that is not only intended, with a face and name, but often is aimed a particular group. Third, and this is the most important point, there is the question of the relation between these two forms of violence, unified under the same name, but differentiated. As Balibar writes,
Saturday, October 07, 2017
I think that I may have grown up watching Blade Runner. I do not mean that I watched the film several times growing up, although that is probably the case, but something happened when I first watched that was integral to growing up. All of this is because I grew up, in the first sense, watching Harrison Ford; Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark were a big part of my childhood imagination, I had the toys and I am sure I went as Indiana Jones one Halloween. So when I saw Blade Runner for the first time, I think on VHS, I expected the same comic book morality of good versus evil and the same wisecracking character (Let's just be honest and admit that Han Solo and Indiana Jones are the same character). The movie both thwarted and ultimately exceeded my expectations: in its failure to live up to my action packed expectations it redefined what made a good film. I do not think that I could watch films again in the same way; incidentally, I am fairly sure that it was my attempt to see the film on the big screen a few years later that drew me to my local art house theater, the Cleveland Cinematheque. It is not just that Blade Runner has a formal connection to film noir and larger film world, for me it had an anecdotal one as well.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The critique of hypocrisy did not begin with Trump, but it has been fueled by his campaign and presidency. It is hard not to see signs of hypocrisy everywhere, in the leaders of the evangelical community who have rallied behind a philanderer who has admitted sexual abuse; in generals who have stood behind the tough guy rhetoric of a draft dodger whose idea of discipline is getting seconds on dessert; and even in so-called business leaders who kowtow to a man who has gone bankrupt six times running a casino (you know, where the house always wins). As much as Trump represents the culmination of hypocrisy critique he also represents its limit. None of these critiques have stuck.