Saturday, October 03, 2015

What the Shopkeeper Knows: Reading Contemporary Capitalism

Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historians have not yet won even this trivial insight. They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it says imagines about itself is true. 
--Marx and Engels, The German Ideology
One of the persistent themes in Peter Fleming's The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself is a critique of Lordon's Willing Slaves of Capital. What is criticized is not the particular synthesis of Marx and Spinoza, but how Lordon reads management literature. Fleming criticizes Lordon for taking management discourse at its word, for seeing motivation and the various demands to "love one's job" as nothing other than smokescreens for a strategy of fear and anxiety. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Genysis of a New Film Form: Reflections after Watching Several Hollywood Films on a Long Flight

Top: Terminator, Bottom Terminator Genysis

The repetition that defines Hollywood is not without its difference. It constantly mutates in response to new conditions. This transformation has gone from the sequel to the prequel, from the remake to the reboot. Following this summer's Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, and Terminator Genysis it is possible to chart yet another mutation, not a remake or a reboot but a "callback."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Conceptually Barking Dogs: Between Spinoza and the Frankfurt School

This post will be illustrated by pictures of my 
dog, Bento. *
(This picture was not staged. He stole this book)

"The concept of the dog doesn't bark" --Spinoza 

Idit Dobbs-Weinstein's Spinoza's Critique of Religion and its Heirs: Marx, Benjamin, and Adorno is a book that challenges many commonly held conceptions. The first is in the title itself, which suggests a strong relation where many, myself included saw at best a non-relation and at worst a repudiation of Spinoza by the Frankfurt School. Spinoza often appears less as a precursor for the Frankfurt School than as part of what the latter consider to be the dark side of the Enlightenment. I am thinking specifically of the passage of the Dialectic of the Enlightenment which states, "Spinoza's proposition: 'the endeavor of preserving oneself is the first and only basis of virtue," contains the true maxim of all Western civilization, in which the religious and philosophical differences of the bourgeoisie are laid to rest." It is thus somewhat surprising to see Dobbs-Weinstein recast a line of descent moving from Spinoza through Marx to Benjamin and Adorno. This reordering of the various philosophical precursors follows Dobbs-Weinstein's argument larger argument for the repressed materialist (islamic and judaic) Aristoltean tradition. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Liminal For Life: On It Follows

At first glance it is possible to consider It Follows to be a kind of meta-horror, a film which makes the rules of the genre explicit to the narrative itself. In this case the rule in question would be the one in which sex is instantly followed by death in slasher films. The sex/death connection becomes the film's central mythos, and only explanation for the "it." However, It Follows is not a knowing wink at the horror genre, as in the case of the Scream films, nor is it a film like Cabin in the Woods, which explains genre conventions by displacing them into another genre.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Stories We Tell: Event and Mythocracy

Let me begin with an observation that is perhaps obvious and an analysis that is a bit pedestrian (even more so than usual). The current political moment, what could be called the #blacklivesmatter moment in the US, is punctuated by particular events, the killing of black men by white police officers or other individuals: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice., etc.. Immediately after the event there is a struggle, waged in the media and in conversations, to make sense of and situate the event. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Naturally Historical: On Paolo Virno's When the Word Becomes Flesh and Déjà Vu and the End of History

Paolo Virno's philosophical trajectory is an interesting and strange one. He first became known to the English speaking world through The Grammar of the Multitude. This book's particular grammar, or rather vocabulary, defines  the central terms of post-autonomist thought, multitude, general intellect, Post-Fordism, etc., in a somewhat idiosyncratic manner. Marx and Spinoza are cited, but so are Aristotle, Sohn-Rethel, Heidegger, and Simondon. Virno has been drawn as much to the philosophical presuppositions and effect of these terms, of this new grammar, than to their economic basis or political implications. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Madness: On Subjectivity and Society in Mad Max

Mad Max perhaps invented the reboot. One of the most interesting things about the Mad Max films is the way in which the backstory has changed from film to film. Nuclear war is not even mentioned in the introductory voice over of The Road Warrior only to be included in the backstory of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Mad Max: Fury Road changes the backstory as well, adding "the water wars," to the blood and fire that have made the apocalypse. It is possible to argue that each film reflects changing nature of apocalyptic fears, from gasoline shortages, to nuclear war, and finally to dwindling water supplies. We get the apocalypse we fear.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Tragicomedy: On Better Call Saul

"Spinoff! Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul?" Troy McClure, The Simpsons

Better Call Saul confronts a series of hurdles in its first season. The first has to do with the low success rate of its specific lineage. Spinoffs have long been considered the lowest form of television entertainment. A position perhaps now occupied by reality shows, or, to be more precise spinoffs of reality shows. Better Call Saul stacks the odds against itself by combining the lowest form of television entertainment, the spinoff, with the lowest form of film, the prequel. While the spinoff is hated for its derivative nature prequels are not only derivative but deprived of at least the modicum of narrative uncertainty that would compel one to follow a plot. While viewers of Breaking Bad could be relatively certain that things would end badly for Walter White, there was at least the question of how he would meet his doom--cancer, Mexican Cartels, Hank Schrader, Jesse? Finding out how was half the fun. We know exactly how things will end for Saul Goodman. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

From Desiring Production to Producing Desire: Between Anti-Oedipus and Lordon

Art by Fernando Vicente

Upon rereading and teaching Lordon's Capitalisme, Désir, et Servitude (or, as it is called in English, Willing Slaves of Capital) I was struck by certain productive similarities between the book and Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. These similarities are not of influence; Lordon is much more influenced by recent Spinozist thinkers such as Bove and Sévérac (even embracing the latter's critique of Deleuze) than he is by Deleuze's reading. Nor are the similarities of a shared point of reference, despite Deleuze and Guattari's invocation of Spinoza in the opening pages Anti-Oedipus is not a very Spinozist book. Rather the connection is one of a shared problem, or, more to the point it brings out particular elements of Deleuze and Guattari's book obscured by the '68 reading (what a crazy book!) or the more current, accelerationist interpretation.