Tuesday, December 29, 2015

L'Etat C'est Nous: Lordon on the Politics of Affects

After having published a book on the economic dimension of affects, followed by a book on the social nature of affects, it makes sense that Frédéric Lordon would write a book on the politics of affect. However, Imperium: Structures et affects des corps politiques is less about the classic questions of autonomy and determination, the relation of politics to economics, etc, than it is about how the affects redefine the very ground of the what is thought of as politics.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Not Even Gun Control Will Save Us Now: Notes on the Psycho-Sociology of Mass Killing

The events are both all too familiar, all too common, a mass shooting at some university, school, or public place, but at the same time they are each singular, a different person, a different town. (War might be the way history teaches Americans geography, but mass shootings are the domestic version. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Aurora, these are towns that are known for the horrors that have happened there). Always the seemingly interminable wait for the ethnicity and motives to be revealed. It takes only hours, but it is interminable because it determines the political fallout, will it be called terrorism, or will it fade into the generic terror of day to day life in America. The singularity of the events, of the different motives or malady determining the actions, would seem to preclude any general theory. Yet, the very fact that they have become so familiar, defining a particular phenomena of modern life, demands theorization. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Affective Reproduction: Thinking Transindividuality in an Age of Individualism

Paper Presented at the Affect Theory Conference

One of the many theoretical and practical promises of the so-called “affective turn” in social and political thought is that it makes it possible to conceptualize the social and political dimensions of the most intimate aspects of experience. Or, put differently, it makes it possible to think of the way in which political and economic structures can only exist, can only reproduce themselves, if they do so at the level of affects and desire. The reconceptualization that I am referring to here is not to be confused with a reduction of the individual to the mere effects of structural conditions and relations, in which individuals become simply bearers of economic and political functions, nor is it a reduction of politics and economics to individual experiences and intentions, a kind of intimate theatre of micro-politics that never becomes macro. It is a matter of thinking the mutual implication of the individual and the collective, or in a word, transindividuality. 

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 something 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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Exceptions that Prove Rules: Lordon and Jaquet on Reproduction

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. Anecdotal exceptions negate the reality of structures of domination and marginalization. 

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.