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.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Ideological Tendencies: Machiavelli, Spinoza, Marx

Graphic by Joelle Glidden

 It is perhaps because my first real philosophical love was Gilles Deleuze that I have been drawn to the idea that traditions and precursors in philosophy where less a matter of hallowed traditions than retroactive constructions, framed by new readings and new problems. As much as I got this idea from Deleuze, I have been drawn to different inventions of traditions, Balibar's creation of transindividual thread in Spinoza, Hegel, Marx, and Freud; Althusser's creation of a subterranean current of aleatory materialism that encompasses Machiavelli, Spinoza, Rousseau, Marx, and Darwin (to name few); or Negri's creation of a tradition of constituent power. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

God's Fortune: Reading Machiavelli in Spinoza

 

Posing with Machiavelli and Spinoza


Since Vittorio Morfino's The Spinoza-Machiavelli Encounter: Time and Occasion , and since I am teaching both Machiavelli and Spinoza this semester, I thought that I would write a short response to the book. The strength of Morfino's book is how it manages to both do its due diligence, tracing the influences and intersections of Machiavelli and Spinoza, while simultaneously making that encounter something truly inventive. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Another Dialectic of the Other Scene: This Time It is Tosel


I am aware, but only vaguely aware, that there is a schism of sorts between so called "class reductionists" and "identity politics," between those who claim that matters of class and economics are all that matter and those that claim that such a reductive insistence on class overlooks the reality of oppression around race, gender, and sexuality. It is hard to summarize this lines of demarcation since it is less a debate than a series of epithets and insults, and to be honest I do not listen to enough podcasts to keep up. Anyone looking for a summary should look to Asad Haider, who has been doing some of the best work on this ongoing "debate" . 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Seeing the Better and Doing the Worse: The Assistant and Work

 


Kitty Green's The Assistant was immediately greeted as the film of the #metoo movement. It is hard not to see it that way. The film, referred to by the director/writer as "scripted non-fiction" deals with one day in the life of an assistant to a Hollywood producer, who, for all intents and purposes, seems like a Harvey Weinstein character, right down to the supply of aliprostadil syringes he keeps stocked in his office. What is interesting about the film is that we never seen this character, only hear his yelling voice and see his manipulative emails, the film is not interested in the proverbial "bad apple, " as Green puts it, but on structural conditions that make such a person possible. 

Friday, August 07, 2020

The Interruption of Individuation: Some Tertiary Retentions in Memory of Bernard Stiegler




In memory of Bernard Stiegler I thought that I would post the following excerpt from The Politics of Transindividuality.  As an introduction I will return to the idea of interruption that I wrote about in my first response to Stiegler.  

According to Stiegler, as much as Marx interrupted Hegel, positing proletarianization as that which interrupts the passage from slave to master, he never fully grasped the full implications of proletarianization. Which is to say Marx never grasped the extension of proletarianization from the hidden abode of production to consumption. Marx primarily examined consumption as a necessary endpoint and part of the economic process, but not as a transindividual individuation, a process of the production of subjectivity. The consumption of use values is predominantly left outside of the examination. While this is the dominant tendency, Marx’s writings do suggest that consumption needs to be historicized as the transformation of the mode of production, a transformation that includes its effects on social relations, but such remarks are marginal for reasons that are both historical and philosophical. Consumption at the time of Marx’s writing was only formally subsumed, as capital produced and circulated the commodities of food, clothing, and shelter that existed in previous economic conditions, hence the coats, coal, and linen that illustrate Capital. Which is not to say that Marx does not sometimes historicize consumption. Stiegler cites Marx’s statement in the Grundrisse that, ‘Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail and tooth,’ as an oblique reference to the constitutive role of consumption.[1] However, such isolated remarks do not constitute anything like a theory of the mode of consumption, in which consumption is considered alongside production as a specific transindividual individuation.[2] While Stiegler’s comments would seem to contradict Marx’s theorization of the sphere of circulation as the production of “freedom, equality, and Bentham,” it is important to differentiate exchange, which produces individuals isolated and separated from each other and productive relations, and consumption, which demands a disindividuation that exceeds isolation. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Use and Abuse of Blockbusters for Life: Movies and Memes in the Age of Viral Collapse





Lately, I have been considering a hopelessly naive question, namely: What is popular culture for? Or, more to the point how does it function for us as culture, as a way to make sense of the world and express our desires. I have been prompted by this question by two unrelated events. First, I am currently preparing a Freshman Seminar on Politics and Culture which has me reviewing some of the classic arguments about the use and abuse of culture from Williams to Adorno and De Certeau. Second, and more immediately, when I am not working on this course or doing anything productive I am doing what nearly everyone is doing and that is trying to figure out what movie or TV show might pass the time of lockdown.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Habitus for the Rest of Us: Lantoine on Spinoza and Disposition



Jacques-Louis Lantoine's L'Intelligence de la pratique: Le Concept de disposition chez Spinoza is a contribution to what I have called Spinozist Social Thought. Social thought here is understood as distinct from but not entirely separable from the political, social thought is more concerned with social relations, imitation, affect, and habits, rather rights, powers and states. The book is a dissertation completed under the guidance of Chantal Jaquet and Frédéric Lordon (among others), two of the thinkers at the center of this turn to the socio-political in and after Spinoza. It is also a follow up to Lantoine's Spinoza Après Bourdieu: Politiques des Dispositions.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

The Most Dangerous Myths: On Ready or Not and The Hunt





Hollywood B pictures often come in twos. Somehow, almost inexplicably, we get two movies about undersea monsters, Leviathan and Deepstar Six, Volcanoes, Dante's Peak and Volcano, and asteroids hitting Earth, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Last year, in the brief interregnum between blockbusters and prestige pictures we got two pictures about people hunting people for sport, or at least we were supposed to.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Anti-Racist Noir: On Odds Against Tomorrow


For Ted Stolze

A few weeks into the pandemic lockdown I went through a brief noir phase. It was somehow easier to watch films from a very different time than have the uncanny experience of watching people inhabit a world that looked like the present but was governed by very different social norms. Watching people walk around and go to bars and restaurants unmasked and unaware of social distancing was a bit too much, it was easier to watch people wear fedoras and ties, make calls from pay phones, and live on a diet of alcohol and coffee. A world long gone was easier to watch than a world that had just disappeared.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Work and Production: On Fischbach's Après la Production



One of the common criticism of Marx is that his thought is dominated by production. Philosophers from Jean Baudrillard to Hannah Arendt have criticized Marx for the way in which his thought is dominated by production, with its corollaries of instrumentality, teleology, and mastery of nature. All of these different critiques have taken on added salience and importance in the anthropocene which has exposed the limitations of ideal of production as Promethean overcoming of the limits of nature. Infinite productivity confronts the limits of finite planet and its resources

Monday, May 18, 2020

Writing Rifts: On Balibar's Écrits I and II


Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am influenced by the work of Etienne Balibar. His work has profoundly shaped my published work. I have even considered writing a book on Balibar, and have dedicated a few notes to what the book would entail. A provisional title of this book is Etienne Balibar: A Study of the Unity of his Thought. The title is stolen from Lukács’ book on Lenin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Everybody Loves Kim: Breaking Bad on Better Call Saul




Breaking Bad and its spinoff/prequel Better Call Saul began with a premise that is familiar to nearly everyone. A mild mannered chemistry teacher moonlights as a producer of crystal meth in order to save his family from being bankrupted from his cancer diagnosis. However, as the title suggested it was initially a show about, well, breaking bad. This is particularly true of the first season in which Walter White is between two deaths, liberated from his life as a chemistry teacher, he not only cooks meth he also does all those things that we dream of but never do. He confronts someone who is bullying his son and blows up the car of an obnoxious lawyer.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Right Workerism: Or, Class Struggle in Reverse


I had played with the concept of idea of what I called "right workerism," the way in which work, and the value of work, became not a critical perspective on capitalism but its justification previously on this blog.  The protests against lockdowns in various states has provided the opportunity to reflect on its meaning again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

We Other Monsters: Living in the Interregnum with Citton and Rasmi


Yves Citton and Jacopo Rasmi's book Générations Collapsonautes: Naviguer par temps d'effondrements either arrived at the best time or the worst time.  It showed up in my campus mailbox in the week before spring break. Under different circumstances this would be a great time to get a surprise book. However, this year, the week before spring break was also the week that I learned that my campus would be closed after break, and all classes moved online, it was also the beginning of social distancing, and a week in which I did many things, visit friends, go out to eat, practice aikido, for the last time. In other words, I received it as the world began to collapse.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Procession of Monstrosities: On the Ghoulish Turn of Contemporary Capitalism



What Follows is heavily indebted to a conversation about zombies and vampires at Red May Seattle in 2017, and is in some sense written as a reflection on the powers of collective thinking (in other words, I am not entirely sure who said what about zombies versus vampires)


In Capital Marx  famously writes, 


"Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him."


It is a great line, one that gave birth to not only memes but also entire subfield dedicated to the analysis of monsters in capital. What follows is a contribution to that study. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Return of Lucien Sève: On the Anthropological Turn of Contemporary Marxism

The young Lucien Sève looking a lot like Jon Hamm

In graduate school I only knew one thing about Lucien Sève and I do not even think I had the facts straight. I knew him only as Althusser's interlocutor within the PCF, and I think that I imagined him as some kind of party apparatchik. I only corrected this image very lately, after reading Yves Schwartz as well as Isabell Garo and André Tosel. What is striking to me about Sève's work, at least as much as I have read, is how much of it anticipates and intersects with the anthropological turn in contemporary Marxism, in the work of Balibar and Virno.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Romero Prepared You for This: Lessons from the Dead Films for Getting Through a Pandemic



1. The television (and the internet) will always be on, filling up time. That is their job. It doesn't mean that you have to watch, or that the information will be useful.

Friday, February 21, 2020

When Sequels Become Self-Aware: On Terminator: Dark Fate



I give blood regularly, platelets actually. I started giving blood in high school when it could get you out of class. Sometime ago I was convinced to start giving platelets. There is a tradeoff to this, you recover more quickly from giving platelets but it takes nearly three hours when everything is said and done. Oh, and once you give platelets the red cross will hunt you down for the rest of your life asking you to give again and again. The big plus is that you get to watch a movie. 

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Marx's Finitude: On Hägglund and Tosel

Image from here


One of the many merits Martin Hägglund's This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom is that it makes a connection between finite, our mortality, and not only Marxist but the broader product of democratic socialism (Hägglund's democratic socialism often sounds a lot like communism, but life is too short to mince words). For far too long, in philosophical circles, finitude, the fundamental fact that we are going to die, was see as the exclusive purview of Heidegger with all of its corollaries of authenticity, individuality, and seizing one's historical destiny.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Be Fooled By the Rocks that I Got: On Uncut Gems and Contemporary Subjectivity



The question of the relation between the individual psyche and social relations is a perennial question. This is largely due to the fact that we are so ill-prepared to understand it. The fields of psychology and sociology each claim one side of the relation as their domain pretty much ensuring that the question will not be properly posed, let alone answered. With the division of labor in academia is left to its own devices we have the world of film (and television) which gives us figures that are at once singular, reflecting their own neurosis, and general, expressing in their own way the cultural moment. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Follow Your Passion: Subjection and Subjectivity in Macherey's Sagesse ou Ignorance

I am eventually going to get to a point about obedience 
and posses (multitudes)


The recently published Sagesse ou ignorance? La Question de Spinoza constitutes a return to Spinoza by Pierre Macherey, who after dedicating much of the 90s to a thorough study of the Ethics has spent the last decade or so writing on everything from "daily life," "utopias," "the university," to a general examination of subjection and subjectivity in contemporary philosophy. While it could be argue that all of these studies were undertaken in a "spinozist way" they where largely free of references to Spinoza. These books were driven less by names and figures in the history of philosophy than the perennial problems of political and social life. Macherey's return to Spinoza is not a simple retreat into scholarship for its own sake, but a return infused by the intersection of politics and philosophy.