Wednesday, May 25, 2016
The state of permanent economic emergency does not mean that the left should abandon patient intellectual work, with no immediate ‘practical use’. On the contrary: today, more than ever, one should bear in mind that communism begins with what Kant, in the famous passage of his essay, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, called the ‘public use of reason’: with the egalitarian universality of thought. Our struggle should thus highlight those aspects of the current ‘re-structuring’ that pose a threat to trans-national open space. One example would be the EU’s ongoing ‘Bologna Process’, which aims to ‘harmonize the architecture of the European higher education system’, and which is in fact a concerted attack on the public use of reason.- Slavoj Zizek, "A Permanent Economic Emergency"
Underlying these reforms is the urge to subordinate higher education to the task of solving society’s concrete problems through the production of expert opinions. What disappears here is the true task of thinking: not only to offer solutions to problems posed by ‘society’—in reality, state and capital—but to reflect on the very form of these problems; to discern a problem in the very way we perceive a problem. The reduction of higher education to the task of producing socially useful expert knowledge is the paradigmatic form of Kant’s ‘private use of reason’—that is, constrained by contingent, dogmatic presuppositions—within today’s global capitalism. In Kantian terms, it involves our acting as ‘immature’ individuals, not as free human beings who dwell in the dimension of the universality of reason.
It is crucial to link the push towards streamlining higher education—not only in the guise of direct privatization or links with business, but also in this more general sense of orienting education towards the production of expert knowledge—to the process of enclosing the commons of intellectual products, of privatizing general intellect. This process is itself part of a global transformation in the mode of ideological interpellation. It may be useful here to recall Althusser’s notion of ‘ideological state apparatuses’. If, in the Middle Ages, the key ISA was the Church, in the sense of religion as institution, the dawn of capitalist modernity imposed the twin hegemony of the school system and legal ideology. Individuals were formed into legal subjects through compulsory universal education, while subjects were interpellated as patriotic free citizens under the legal order. The gap was thus maintained between bourgeois and citizen, between the egotist-utilitarian individual concerned with his private interests and the citoyen dedicated to the universal domain of the state. Insofar as, in spontaneous ideological perception, ideology is limited to the universal sphere of citizenship, while the private sphere of egotistical interests is considered ‘pre-ideological’, the very gap between ideology and non-ideology is thus transposed into ideology.
What has happened in the latest stage of post-68 capitalism is that the economy itself—the logic of market and competition—has progressively imposed itself as the hegemonic ideology. In education, we are witnessing the gradual dismantling of the classical-bourgeois school ISA: the school system is less and less the compulsory network, elevated above the market and organized directly by the state, bearer of enlightened values—liberty, equality, fraternity. On behalf of the sacred formula of ‘lower costs, higher efficiency’, it is progressively penetrated by different forms of PPP, or public–private partnership. In the organization and legitimization of power, too, the electoral system is increasingly conceived on the model of market competition: elections are like a commercial exchange where voters ‘buy’ the option that offers to do the job of maintaining social order, prosecuting crime, and so on, most efficiently.
On behalf of the same formula of ‘lower costs, higher efficiency’, functions once exclusive to the domain of state power, like running prisons, can be privatized; the military is no longer based on universal conscription, but composed of hired mercenaries. Even the state bureaucracy is no longer perceived as the Hegelian universal class, as is becoming evident in the case of Berlusconi. In today’s Italy, state power is directly exerted by the base bourgeois who ruthlessly and openly exploits it as a means to protect his personal interests.
Even the process of engaging in emotional relations is increasingly organized along the lines of a market relationship. Such a procedure relies on self-commodification: for internet dating or marriage agencies, prospective partners present themselves as commodities, listing their qualities and posting their photos. What is missing here is what Freud called der einzige Zug, that singular pull which instantly makes me like or dislike the other. Love is a choice that is experienced as necessity. At a certain point, one is overwhelmed by the feeling that one already is in love, and that one cannot do otherwise. By definition, therefore, comparing qualities of respective candidates, deciding with whom to fall in love, cannot be love. This is the reason why dating agencies are an anti-love device par excellence.
What kind of shift in the functioning of ideology does this imply? When Althusser claims that ideology interpellates individuals into subjects, ‘individuals’ stand here for the living beings upon which ideological state apparatuses work, imposing upon them a network of micro-practices. By contrast, ‘subject’ is not a category of living being, of substance, but the outcome of these living beings being caught in the ISAdispositif, or mechanism; in a symbolic order. Quite logically, insofar as the economy is considered the sphere of non-ideology, this brave new world of global commodification considers itself post-ideological. The ISAs are, of course, still here; more than ever. Yet insofar as, in its self-perception, ideology is located in subjects, in contrast to pre-ideological individuals, this hegemony of the economic sphere cannot but appear as the absence of ideology. What this means is not that ideology simply ‘reflects’ the economy, as superstructure to its base. Rather, the economy functions here as an ideological model itself, so that we are fully justified in saying that it is operative as an ISA—in contrast to ‘real’ economic life, which definitely does not follow the idealized liberal-market model.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Jacques Lacan reminds us, that in sex, each individual is to a large extent on their own, if I can put it that way. Naturally, the other’s body has to be mediated, but at the end of the day, the pleasure will be always your pleasure. Sex separates, doesn’t unite. The fact you are naked and pressing against the other is an image, an imaginary representation. What is real is that pleasure takes you a long way away, very far from the other. What is real is narcissistic, what binds is imaginary. So there is no such thing as a sexual relationship, concludes Lacan. His proposition shocked people since at the time everybody was talking about nothing else but “sexual relationships”. If there is no sexual relationship in sexuality, love is what fills the absence of a sexual relationship.- Alain Badiou, "In Praise of Love"
Lacan doesn’t say that love is a disguise for sexual relationships; he says that sexual relationships don’t exist, that love is what comes to replace that non-relationship. That’s much more interesting. This idea leads him to say that in love the other tries to approach “the being of the other”. In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic. In sex, you are really in a relationship with yourself via the mediation of the other. The other helps you to discover the reality of pleasure. In love, on the contrary the mediation of the other is enough in itself. Such is the nature of the amorous encounter: you go to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is. It is a much more profound conception of love than the entirely banal view that love is no more than an imaginary canvas painted over the reality of sex.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Tracey Herd, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
Holly Golightly haunts the streets of New York.
Look into the distance. The girl is gone,
and each diamond is simply a star in the dark
that she followed far from the well-worn track.
Now the stars are her jewels, the night, her gown.
Holly Golightly haunts the streets of New York.
Her reflection was elegant, slender and stark.
She toasted each dawn by strolling downtown
to the diamonds that spilled like tears from the dark.
Her moon river still leaps like a cat over rocks,
her small voice floating its singular tune.
Holly Golightly haunts the streets of New York
Slipping on shades to mimic the black
for she knew that the party would be over too soon
and that diamonds are lovely tricks of the dark
In each life, that solitary walk
into a distance that is ours alone.
Holly Golightly haunts the streets of New York,
And each diamond? Just a diamond, lost in the dark.
Monday, May 16, 2016
- Weldon Kees, "Interregnum"
Butcher the evil millionaire, peasant,
And leave him stinking in the square.
Torture the chancellor. Leave the ambassador
Strung by his thumbs from the pleasant
Embassy wall, where the vines were.
Then drill your hogs and sons for another war.
Fire on the screaming crowd, ambassador,
Sick chancellor, brave millionaire,
And name them by the name that is your name.
Give privilege to the wound, and maim
The last resister. Poison the air
And mew for peace, for order, and for war.
View with alarm, participant, observer,
Buried in medals from the time before.
Whisper, then believe and serve and die
And drape fresh bunting on the hemisphere
From here to India. This is the world you buy
When the wind blows fresh for war.
Hide in the dark alone, objector;
Ask a grenade what you are living for,
Or drink this knowledge from the mud.
To an abyss more terrible than war
Descend and tunnel toward a barrier
Away from anything that moves with blood.
- Langston Hughes, "Juke Box Love Song"
I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.