Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Reduction to Ignorance: Spinoza in the Age of Conspiracy Theories

I was obsessed with conspiracy theories at some point in my adolescence. I listened to late night radio shows dedicated to alien abductions, satan messages on records, and a more local phenomena known as the mellonheads. These were jokes to me, or at least half jokes, I never took any of them seriously. However, they did contribute to growing sense that there was more to the world than what I was told. Adolescence and conspiracy theories go well together. In recent years, however, it increasingly seems like conspiracy theories have moved from the periphery to the mainstream, and from entertainment to politics. It is hard to avoid the fact that we are living through a profound transformation of knowledge, authority, and politics, and a revival of mystical and mythic forms of knowledge that go beyond any dialectic of enlightenment. It may then turn out that the old arguments regarding superstition have taken on a new relevance. As is often the case on this blog, I am starting here with Spinoza, I have a plan to continue this with a post on Hegel and then Marx, (we will see how it goes).

Monday, February 15, 2021

What's Love Got to Do With It? On Sarah Jaffe's Work Won't Love You Back


For the past ten years I have been teaching a class called The Politics and Philosophy of Work. At least once a semester someone mentions the phrase, or mantra, "Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." This bit of wisdom, which has been attributed to various different sources, is offered as the solution to all of the problems of work and of life. Like similar phrases of popular philosophy imploring us to live in the moment its popularity is directly proportional to its disconnect with anything resembling reality.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ghosting: The Long Life of Red Scares

 

from facebook


This post could be considered a follow up to my previous post on The Communist Manifesto.  In each case it is a matter of what could be considered an error of the Manifesto. I know that it seems wrong to pick on the Manifesto a text which is less an attempt to state everything than an intervention in a specific theoretical and political conjunction--a stunning one. My one real criticism of the Manifesto is that its length has led to be being seen as THE summation of Marx's position so that even Jordan Peterson can read it before debating Zizek. However, it is a useful text to confront some of the limitations of Marxist thought. As I argued in the previous post, the assertion of the ruthlessly modernizing of the bourgeois mode of production makes it difficult to grasp the way in which not all that is solid melts into air, some of keeps coming back. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Everybody is a Troll to Somebody: On Chris Beckett's Two Tribes (partially)

 

More than once I have made the joke that if philosophy really wanted to go back to its Platonic (or Socratic roots) then it most recognizing trolling as the new sophists. Trolling seems to be a more relevant form of "anti-philosophy," to use Badiou's term, than Wittgenstein or Nietzsche if only because the former is more prevalent, shaping the arguments that make up what passes for the public sphere, and not just a few philosophy classrooms.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

...as if it was Salvation: Dialectics of Obedience in Spinoza

 


Dimitris Vardoulakis' Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism puts forward the bold thesis that there is a dialectic of authority and utility in Spinoza. That obedience is situated between authority, between the "Potestas" of kings and God, and utility, the potentia of intellect and bodies. It is from this perspective that Vardoulakis presents a reading of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Despite the title of the book, which suggests a more modest exegetical undertaking, the stakes of this are less a matter of tracing the epicurean dimensions of Spinoza's thought, although that is done, than using those threads to expand the stakes of Spinoza's political thought. Vardoulakis' book takes on not only other readers of Spinoza, Negri, Deleuze, Althusser, Balibar, and Sharp, but also the central question of Spinoza's thought, why do people fight for their servitude as if it was salvation?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Waiting for the Robots: Benanav and Smith on the Illusions of Automation and Realities of Exploitation

All images from Starstream

In the last month or so two remarkably similar books appeared, Aaron Benanav's Automation and the Future of Work and Jason E. Smith's Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation. The books are similar without being redundant. They are too similar to construct anything like a provocative debate between them. They are perhaps best viewed not just in terms of their polemics against certain fantasies or fears of automation but the way in which they constitute an emergent, or even dominant, sensibility and orientation of Marxist thought, one that makes sense of the present through the infamous tendency of the rate of profit to fall. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pop Culture Prophecy: Empire's Decline from Fantasy to Reality


All panels and art from Tim Truman Scout, Eclipse comics

During the odd grifter's interregnum of the last few weeks a particular image came to mind. The image, reproduced above, depicts the President of a dystopian American turning into a monster and clinging to power. I am not sure how it was jogged from my memory, but it seemed to fit the last few weeks since the election. It is from the comic book Scout written and drawn by Tim Truman and published by Eclipse Comics from 1985-1987. It was one of my favorite comics growing up even though judging by its status today, and conversations with other comics fans, it has been overlooked or forgotten. I haven't been able to forget it, and in many ways it seems to be a better guide to our present than the superheroes from the same era who have only become more central to popular culture. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Solidarities: Negative, Symbolic, and Actual

 


As I write this the COVID-19 pandemic is returning to rates of infection and death in the US that exceed even the peak of last spring. The only difference is that, with a few exceptions, there are no new lockdowns. Schools are, partially in session, restaurants are open, and it might even be possible to go see a movie. The gap between the current crisis and the response is so wide that it has all of the feel of some kind of science fiction dystopia, noticing it feels like you are wearing the special glasses. I am sometimes find myself wanting to run through the streets screaming COVID-19 is still happening!

Friday, October 30, 2020

What Do Werewolves Dream of? On An American Werewolf in London



Of the three werewolf films that were released in 1981 An American Werewolf in London is that one that I have the strongest memory of even though it has had the least impact on me. Wolfen is a cult classic, and I am definitely in the cult, The Howling is a solid film, but An American Werewolf in London scared the hell out of me as a kid. This was in part because I saw it at far too young of an age. I do not know what my parents were thinking when they took me to it at ten, perhaps that it would be more comedy than horror, which makes sense given Blues Brothers and Animal House. All I really remember was asking to leave the theater after first werewolf attack scene on the moors, my parents tried to get me to stay, knowing that I loved monsters, but by the time Jack showed up as an ambulatory corpse I was done. We left the theater.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Man is a Super-Villain to Man: The Boys and the limits of Satire

 


Horkheimer and Adorno had to invent the neologism the "culture industry" to criticize the subordination of culture to commerce, these days we can accomplish the same thing by just saying "comic book movies." Comic book movies, or, to be more specific "Marvel movies" has become a shorthand for getting at the intersection of branding, commerce, and culture. I would argue that this particular shorthand leaves too many terrible, cynical, and derivative products off of the hook, like the execrable Rise of the Skywalker and the latest sequels to Jurassic Park and Terminator, but that is not the point here. My point is the way that the Amazon series The Boys takes this idea of the superhero as a figure of cultural and commercial dominance and doubles down on it.