Friday, January 01, 2021

Everybody is a Troll to Somebody: On Chris Beckett's Two Tribes (partially)

 

More than once I have made the joke that if philosophy really wanted to go back to its Platonic (or Socratic roots) then it most recognizing trolling as the new sophists. Trolling seems to be a more relevant form of "anti-philosophy," to use Badiou's term, than Wittgenstein or Nietzsche if only because the former is more prevalent, shaping the arguments that make up what passes for the public sphere, and not just a few philosophy classrooms.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

...as if it was Salvation: Dialectics of Obedience in Spinoza

 


Dimitris Vardoulakis' Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism puts forward the bold thesis that there is a dialectic of authority and utility in Spinoza. That obedience is situated between authority, between the "Potestas" of kings and God, and utility, the potentia of intellect and bodies. It is from this perspective that Vardoulakis presents a reading of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Despite the title of the book, which suggests a more modest exegetical undertaking, the stakes of this are less a matter of tracing the epicurean dimensions of Spinoza's thought, although that is done, than using those threads to expand the stakes of Spinoza's political thought. Vardoulakis' book takes on not only other readers of Spinoza, Negri, Deleuze, Althusser, Balibar, and Sharp, but also the central question of Spinoza's thought, why do people fight for their servitude as if it was salvation?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Waiting for the Robots: Benanav and Smith on the Illusions of Automation and Realities of Exploitation

All images from Starstream

In the last month or so two remarkably similar books appeared, Aaron Benanav's Automation and the Future of Work and Jason E. Smith's Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation. The books are similar without being redundant. They are too similar to construct anything like a provocative debate between them. They are perhaps best viewed not just in terms of their polemics against certain fantasies or fears of automation but the way in which they constitute an emergent, or even dominant, sensibility and orientation of Marxist thought, one that makes sense of the present through the infamous tendency of the rate of profit to fall. 

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" .