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.