Neoliberalism has become an increasingly popular word in contemporary critical thought and philosophy. Its popularity has come at a cost, however, as the meaning of the word has been reduced to a few vague inclinations about the truly bad kind of capitalism held together by invocations of competition, markets, and individualism. It has become what Althusser called a descriptive theory at best, and at worse a way to speak about capitalism without speaking about capitalism. In the worse case it became the name for a kind of nostalgia for an earlier kinder and gentler capitalism, one that we could get back to as soon as the full impact of the recession was felt and people started really paying attention to Paul Krugman.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Having written something about the first two Iron Man films on this blog in the past I felt obligated to write at least something about the third. My thoughts on this film are framed by Hassler Forest's assertion that the superhero film is a post 9/11 cultural form; the genre not only emerges after that historical event but it provides sufficient fantasy difference to confront both historical trauma and to legitimate the emerging historical security state. It makes large scale destruction, often of New York, palatable and it, more importantly, it makes generalized surveillance and extra-judicial forms of enforcement not only acceptable, but cool.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Paper was originally presented at the Futures of the Common conference at the University of Minnesota in 2009. Some of this has been taken up into my current work, and some of it has been abandoned. I am posting it here for the gnawing criticism of digital mice.
The common has become a central term for political action and philosophical reflection. At first glance this would seem paradoxical; after all, Marx argued that capitalism confronts us as immense accumulation of commodities, as a situation in which all that exists, exists as a commodity, as private property. The attention to the common would then seem to be the worst sort of nostalgia, a lost Eden before the fall of primitive accumulation. Proponents of the concept, however, argue that the term does not just shed light on the origins of the capitalism, on the destruction of the agrarian commons that constituted the necessary condition for the emergence of labor power, but reveals its current function, as capital appropriates not just the commons in terms of land and resources, but the common, understood as the collectively produced and circulated knowledges, habits, affects, and concepts that produce our cultural life. It is worth noting, however, that this distinction between past and present, material commons and the immaterial common, is not that rigid.
Sunday, April 07, 2013
Draft of Paper Presented at University of Memphis
The current economic crisis has returned the economy to the center of politics. The economy no longer functions as the silent backdrop of political contestations over rights and responsibilities, but has itself been politicized, at least in terms of rhetoric. Central to this new rhetoric of politics is the status of work, albeit in an ambiguous and contradictory manner. Occupy Wall Street, and the various occupations around the globe, framed the question of work, to the extent that they addressed in, in terms of a divide between Main Street and Wall Street, a divide between those who work, producing goods or at least services, that could be useful and beneficial to society, and those who only exploit this labor, whose elaborate and complex formulas for generating debt, and thus have no productive value or worth in society. It is a division between productive labor and unproductive labor, workers and parasites. This division is mirrored, which is to say reflected and inverted, in the rhetoric surrounding various government programs for austerity, cutting social services and programs, which are almost always framed in terms of “putting people to work” of ending the “entitlements” which have coddled the retired, disabled, or lazy, allowing them to parasitically live off of the hard work of others. We are no longer haunted by the spectre of communism, but by the spectre of the free-loader, but the identity of this free-loader is shifts across the political spectrum. Work is thus the basis for a left populism or right populism, in each case “work” represents the people, the masses, the majority, whose interest and efforts need to be defended against a parasitic minority of either venture capitalists or state employees, the unemployed, and retired. Between this war of competing populisms there is the social and technological transformation of work, the growing realization that the jobs, especially those that sustained the idea of a “middle class” jobs that provided a degree of comfort, security and stability, might be gone for good, replaced by some combination of technology and outsourcing. (When the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat imagines a world without work things have gotten very weird). Work is placed at the center of political life, defining the people, and the exact moment when its technological and political conditions are radically changing.
Friday, March 29, 2013
I have always been more on Team Anti-Oedipus than Team A Thousand Plateaus. Partly this is autobiographical. I read Anti-Oedipus at a very impressionable time, too soon--in undergrad. I picked the book at City Lights in San Francisco partly because Hampshire Professor Margaret Cerullo had a blurb on the back. (This was the old Minnesota copy with the cover designed by Harold and the Purple Crayon.) At the time I was trying to navigate the world of "theory," designing my own major which combined anthropology and philosophy. I was positioned to understand less than a quarter of it, but the rest I thoroughly enjoyed. I stayed up all night on a red eye reading it. The other reason that I have continued to gravitate towards Anti-Oedipus, writing on it and teaching it, is that I felt that I could do more with it, plug it into my various conceptual machines, producing readings of primitive accumulation and Marx's ontology. In contrast to this A Thousand Plateaus seems to descend down so many rabbit holes that I cannot follow. I just don't know enough about birdsong and geology (another reason that I will never be a speculative realist, I suppose).
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I was introduced to David Lean's A Brief Encounter by Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes A Pervert's Guide to Ideology. The film is about a married doctor and a woman (also married) who meet in a train station and fall in love. The film documents their brief affair against a stifling atmosphere of propriety in Post-World War Two England.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Steven Soderbergh is a somewhat mercurial director. He more or less started "independent film" with Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, but then went on to spend subsequent decades making everything from Julia Robert's star vehicles to a two part epic about Che Guevara. Soderbergh seemed to be at times deliberately avoiding the trappings of the auteur to cultivate the idea of a jack of all trades that shifted from the bloated star vehicles of Ocean's Eleven to the intentional obscurity of Bubble, adapting everything from Elmore Leonard to Franz Kafka in between.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Lately I have been interested in the question of gesture. This interest is framed by two different lines of inquiry. The first, and dominant, one is in the transindividual dimension of gestures, or, perhaps gesture as a way of both illustrating and examining transindividuality. While gesture is not specifically named by Gilbert Simondon, the dominant theorist of transindividuality, there is a great deal of interest in it by Paolo Virno, Bernard Stiegler, Yves Citton--although only the last specifically names it as such. The general problem is the same, however, gestures, habits, and comportments are both the constitution of collectives and individuals. Gestures mark one's historical moment, one's class, nation, and other groupings, but also define and delimite a singular way of inhabiting the world.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Hegel wrote that all events in history occur twice, he forgot to add: the first time as theory, the second as reality. This is of course not the famous passage from Marx, but it did occur to me in thinking about contemporary politics. For decades, at least throughout the eighties and nineties, there was a great deal of attention paid to "the imaginary." This imaginary was approached from multiple angles, with multiple theoretical sources, Lacan, Spinoza, Castoriadis, and qualified alternately as social, political, and historical. However, this work, the work on the politics of the imaginary was left to comparative literature departments and continental philosophers. Real politics, it was claimed, were always elsewhere, where competing interests and perspectives debated.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
A combination of vacation travel reading and gifts made it so I read Dan Hassler-Forest's Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age and Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story over the same few weeks. At first glance these books could not be more different. Hassler-Forest's book deals with the superhero film viewed from the perspective of the political and cultural transformations of the post 9/11 era. In sharp contrast this treatment, Howe's book is a kind of "inside baseball" look at the history of Marvel Comics. Hassler-Forest's book is an entry in Zero Books catalogue, which seems destined to single-handedly rescue cultural analysis from the excesses of cultural studies and the dismal "philosophy and [blank]" series at Open Court. Sean Howe is an entertainment journalist of a more traditional variety, albeit one whose "Deep Focus" series on films also tries to traverse the no man's land between the popular and the scholarly. Despite these differences of perspective and approach, the two very different books converge on a singular object of inquiry, that of a dominant cultural form, the superhero comic and film.