Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Present as Conspiracy: Vaughn and Martin's The Private Eye


Brian Vaughn and Marcos Martin's The Private Eye is a web only comic that has a critical view of the internet. Set in the not too distant future, in the year 2076, it takes place in a time in which values regarding privacy and anonymity have been completely transformed, or "revalorized"--to use Nietzsche's terminology. Privacy is held as a sacred right, so much so that everyone has a secret identity, or several, and masks to wear when they go out in public. A generalized secret identity might seem like a critical take on the conventions of the superhero comic, but Vaughn and Martin's critical target is less the conventions of their medium than those of our world. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Personalized Ideology (or Ideology Personified): Silva's Mood Economy


Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize’ by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generation of de-individualization.  Michel Foucault, Preface to Anti-Oedipus. 

In the past few weeks I have returned again and again to the idea of "negative solidarity" that I outlined on this blog. I found myself mentally bookmarking news reports and articles that seem to be evidence of hostility to any collective organization for wages or benefits, not to mention larger or more structural transformations. The affect of ressentiment, the distinct sense that someone somewhere was benefiting at your expense, seemed prevalent. (Of course the "someones" in this situation are always those on social welfare programs, state employees, etc., never capitalists, investors, etc.) However, negative solidarity risked having all of the characteristics of what Althusser called a "descriptive theory," a sophisticated sounding recasting of what one already knows and thinks. The dangers of descriptive theories is that they provide a moment of recognition, ("That is it, dude; totally,")but no way to move forward. So the question which I returned to again, is how to account for the genesis and constitution of negative solidarity, how to move beyond description. This is a question of socio-political theory, but it is a necessary precondition of political action as well.  Negative Solidarity is in that sense another name to the barrier of any politics whatsoever. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Economies of Affect/Affective Economies: Towards A Spinozist Critique of Political Economy



Presented at Historical Materialism London 2013 

Antonio Negri argues that, “...in the postindustrial age the Spinozian critique of representation of capitalist power corresponds more to the truth than does the analysis of political economy.” Many of the contemporary turns to Spinoza in Marxist thought have followed this trajectory, turning away from the critique of political economy towards critiques of ideology or, in Negri’s case, the representation of power. This is perhaps not surprising, it is easier to make connections between Spinoza’s critique of superstition and theories of ideology than it is to connect his understanding of desires and striving to consumption and production. As much Spinoza offered a trenchant critique of the religious, monarchical, and even humanist ideologies of his time, he had little to say, at least directly, about the emerging capitalism. Money is only mentioned once in the Ethics, where it is defined as the universal object of desire that “occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else” (EIVAPPXXVIII). While such a statement intersects with critiques of greed and the capitalist transformation of desire it remains to partial and incidental to developing a Spinozist critique of political economy. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

What Would Hegel Do? Preliminary Remarks on the Problem of Action in the Phenomenology of Spirit


If one dispenses with all of the various reified and received ideas that frame almost any reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit then it is perhaps possible to see to what extent the idea of action repeats throughout the text as something of a refrain.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Production of Belief: From James to Lazzarato (and Back Again)


My approach to William James is necessarily oblique and eccentric. I am not a scholar of James or Pragmatism. My entire approach to James’ The Will to Believe is framed by a reference to it in the work of the post-autonomous thinker Maurizio Lazzarato. While such an approach is perhaps outside of the of James’ scholarship, the emphasis of on the shifting context as different philosophers and different historical moments is perhaps faithful to the spirit if not the letter of James’ writing. From this perspective philosophy is less a Kampfplatz, a particular battlefield between different positions, than a hall of mirrors in which the perspectives shift and change as time progresses. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Community of Those Who Cannot be Affected: On Lordon's La Société Des Affects


Frédéric Lordon's La Société des Affects: Pour un Structuralism des Passions is comprised of a series of essays which develop and expand upon his "energetic structuralism," his synthesis of regulation theory, Marx, and Spinoza developed in such works as Capitalisme, Désir, et Servitude: Marx et Spinoza.  It is also a book that continues Lordon's interest in the intersection of philosophy and the social sciences, specifically Spinoza and political economy. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

"The Only Thing That We Have In Common Is The Illusion of Being Together"*: Connecting with Don Jon


Joseph Gordon Levitt's first film, Don Jon is a surprisingly perplexing film. On the one hand it is one of the first mainstream films in the US to deal with internet porn, but, at the same time, it is not about porn, or even an addiction to porn. Its aspiration is use pornography as an allegory for something, but for what?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!": Breaking Bad as Austerity Allegory


What follows should perhaps have the subtitle "Scattered Speculations on Breaking Bad" because it started as a post a few episodes into the final run and was finished after the penultimate episode. Edits were made along the way, but it is less a coherent essay taking into consideration the entire narrative arch of the last season than it is a series of observations as it unfolds. It is a bit long, and, if you have not seen the last season, spoiler alert.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Brutality Today: Brief Remark on Chamayou's Manhunts


When I first heard of the publication of the book, Manhunts: A Philosophical History it immediately occurred to me that it was the kind of book I would want to read. I have a well known obsession with The Most Dangerous Game and its various remakes. In fact if you place me in a room with at least two hunting trophies I will immediately start doing my impression of the rich bored hunter, claiming that "Man truly is the most dangerous game." So I knew that I would find the book interesting. What I could not initially understand is what the book would offer besides some rather dark trivia of man's inhumanity to man. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Geeks Versus Hipsters: Scattered Speculations on the Affective Economy of Popular Culture

Image from The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin

There are two basic models of affective orientation towards popular culture. The first is the nerd, or more properly, the geek. I prefer the latter term because it shifts the focus away from content, comic books, sci-fi, etc, and towards the relationship of intense identification and pleasure; a relationship often summed up by the phrase "geek out."Framed in such a way the geek contrast nicely with the hipster, the latter is defined less by content, beards, bands from Brooklyn, etc., than by an affective relation of either irony or detachment. The hipster would not be caught dead wearing the band of the shirt that he is going to see, while the geek shows up at the convention in full costume of her favorite character.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Not to do Dystopia in a Dystopia: A Brief remark on Elysium


In an instance of "first time as protest, second time as product" Elysium has been described as a movie of the 99%, a film that expresses the same sentiments as Occupy Wall Street. I think that this is accurate, but not in the way it is meant. What Elysium expresses is not some radical message in the trojan horse of a late summer blockbuster, even less some kind of Marxism, but the limits of the populist imaginary of the Occupy moment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Please Stand By: Or, Print Killed the Blogosphere Star


Dear friends, readers, and people who ended up here by poorly formulated search terms:

In order to complete a long overdue book project I will put my blog on hold for at least the remainder of the summer. As much as I would love to offer reviews of summer blockbusters,  the various books that I have read, and weigh in on current economic and political crises, all to the delight of dozens, I have to focus my writing energy and time on the book. So, for the summer I am eschewing the digital and its short term gratifications for print and its long term frustrations. My tentative schedule is to return at the end of Breaking Bad, because I really cannot resist writing about that. Thanks for reading. In case you are curious, I have posted a somewhat dated version of the prospectus of the book, which I am completing for Historical Materialism, below. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

We are all Neoliberals: Dardot and Laval's La Nouvelle Raison du Monde


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. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Untenable Subtexts: Iron Man Three


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 national security state. It makes large scale destruction, often of New York, palatable and, more importantly, it makes generalized surveillance and extra-judicial forms of enforcement not only acceptable, but cool. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Figures of the Common: Species Being, Transindividuality, Virtual Action



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.[1] 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

Contradictions at Work: The Task for a Philosophy of Labor (with Hegel, Marx, and Spinoza)

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

We Other Cannibals: Viveiros de Castro and Deleuze and Guattari


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

A Brief Encounter: Between Analysis and Affect


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

Hitchcock in the Age of Psychopharmacology and Finance: On Side Effects


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

Deviant Gesture Catalog: Between Mechanization and Spectacle


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

The Imaginary Institution of Realpolitik: Or, When Theory Becomes Practice


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

Captain Contingent Versus Doctor Necessity: The Rise of The Superhero Genre


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.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

What Remains of an Emancipation: Lincoln and Django Unchained


If the predictions of the handicappers and insiders are correct, then 2012 will prove to be a strange year at the Oscars. It will include two films that deal with slavery. This breaks not only a long trend which has kept slavery out of American Cinema, at least in the post-civil rights era, but with the general trend of comfortable distance that defines the pictures that win awards, films of safely bygone atrocities with heroes one can "identify with." Slavery featured more prominently in the age of apology and justification, forming the basis for the two canonical films, Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, than it has in the decades in which racial hierarchy has been openly contested.