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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Exceptions that Prove Rules: Lordon and Jaquet on Reproducton

The Working Class Goes to Heaven

Years ago, during my final year of graduate school, I taught a class at SUNY Cortland called "Race, Class, and Gender," or something to that effect. It was a required course meant to teach kids from Long Island and upstate New York about the reality of racial domination, capitalist exploitation, and sexist oppression. One student who hated the class turned in a paper that was just a list of names, everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Ellen Degeneres; her point was that this list, a list of prominent African Americans, women, and gays and lesbians, proved that racism, sexism, and class did not exist. It was not even a paper, just a list, but it reflects a way of thinking that is all too common. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

America: Love it or Hate it (Or, on emotional reductionism and the Politics of Affect)


I tried to avoid commenting on current events in this blog, blockbuster films, new books, new television shows, but not current events. However, Giuliani's recent remarks about Obama are only interesting to me because the seem to be another event in a general trajectory of what I would call, for lack of a better term, emotional reductionism. Emotional reductionism is the insistence that the only meaningful political distinctions are emotional ones, and those emotional distinctions boil down to love and hate. I can think of quite a few instances of this in recent years, they "hate us for our freedoms," they love death, etc.  Politics has become an affair of love or hate. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Put a Drone on It: Chamayou's A Theory of the Drone

Image from Sleep Dealer 

Drones are having their cultural moment right now. They have appeared in such films from Interstellar to Captain America: Winter Soldier. While in the first film the drone's cameo appearance was used to shuffle in some post-Empire concerns (the drone was an Indian Surveillance drone), in the latter film drones do not directly appear but the the film deals with "drone anxiety." Drone anxiety is the fear that the very things that make drones strategically desirable--"precision targeting," low risk, and stealth, will make possible a massive centralization and automation of state power. (Sleep Dealer, pictured above, was ahead of the curve on this point). The unmanned ariel vehicle becomes synonymous with a breakdown of responsibility and centralization of control. In many cases the fear of the drone then just merges with fears of robots. In any case drones are hot, and the war on terror is not (or at least less so). 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Screening Infra-Ideology: On American Sniper

American Sniper: Starring Bradley Cooper and a really fake baby

It seems wrong to call American Sniper ideological in the traditional sense of the word. Racist yes, but ideological no. It only pays the most facile lip service to anything like a justification for the war in Iraq, "fighting them there versus fighting them here" is mentioned but hardly developed as an argument. It is perhaps best understood to function at the level of what Pierre Macherey calls "infra-ideology," ideology that functions at the level of norms, comportments and practices rather than beliefs. The point of Chris Kyle is not that he believes, or what he believes, but his physical dedication, his manliness. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Class Structure: On Bidet's Foucault Avec Marx




For reasons that are as much historical as they are philosophical the relation between the thought of Foucault and Marx has become a topic of inquiry again. There are multiple versions of this question, from Macherey's investigations into the concept of "norms" as a central aspect of capitalist society and social relations, to questions about Foucault's interest in neoliberalism. A question that was generally considered decided in past generations has been reopened in multiple ways, running the gambit from the speculative to political. Jacques Bidet's Foucault avec Marx adds what could be considered a structural dimension to this question. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Class Struggle at Home: Jaquet's Les Transclasses


Perhaps the best way to approach Chantal Jaquet's Les Transclasses: ou la non-reproduction is by situating it between two caricatures of intellectual positions. On the one hand, the left one, we have studies of the "reproduction of the relations of production," the work of Bourdieu most importantly, but also Althusser, that stresses how the classes endlessly reproduce themselves, or are reproduced by the institutions of schools, media, and so on. On the other hand, the right one, we have the various theories of the culture of poverty, and more importantly, various "pulled up by bootstraps" narratives, all of which stress that individual will and fortitude can overcome all socio-economic barriers. On the one hand there is a theory of the necessary reproduction of the relations of production, while on the other there is the entire anecdotal history of exceptions.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Ideology of Norms: On Macherey's Le Sujet des Normes


What does it mean to be subjected to norms, or, more to the point, to be a subject whose very existence is constituted in and through norms. This is the question of Macherey's Le Suject des Normes. While sections of this book have appeared in some form on his Philosophe au sens large website, this is a book very much unlike many of the past books on "everyday life," "the university," and "utopia." Those books were more like seminars--examinations of a central problem through a series of philosophical, literary, and sociological texts--this book is an intervention. It intervenes in a field of problems that is both old, returning Macherey to Althusser and to Marx, and contemporary, asking the fundamental question of contemporary society, of a society which has given up any grand narratives, or dominant ideology, but functions all the more efficiently through protocols and norms of action.