Saturday, June 30, 2012

"America", the song...

The song is over

except in one note, pure and easy
Playing so free like a breath rippling by...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Theory Includes the Production Process? Eyck!

Arnolfini Portrait, Van Eyck (1434)
THESEUS: More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
-Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream (Act V Sc I)

The Void at the Heart of Capital...

Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"
.....For example, a nation exists ONLY insofar as its members take themselves as members of this nation and act accordingly, it has absoluely no content, no substantial consistency, outside this activity; and the same goes for, say, the notion of communisim - this notion "generates its own actualization" by way of motivating people to struggle for it.

This Hegelian logic is at work in Wagner's universe up to and including "Parsifal", whose final message is profoundly Hegelian: "The wound can be healed only by the spear that smote it [Die Wunde schliesst Speer nur der Sie schlug]." Hegel says the same thing, although with the accent shifted in the opposite direction: Spirit is itself the wound it tries to heal; that is, the wound is self-inflicted." What is "Spirit" at its most elementary? It is the "wound" of nature: the subject is the immense - absolute- power of negativity, of introducing a gap or cut into the given and immediate substantial unity, the power of DIFFERENTIATING, of "abstracting," of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity. This is why the notion of the "self-alienation" of Spirit (of Spirit losing itself in its otherness, in its objectification, in its result) is more paradoxical than it may appear: it should be read together with Hegel's assertion of the thoroughly non-substantial character of the Spirit: there is no RES COGITANS, no thing which also has the property of thinking, Spirit is nothing but a PROCESS of overcoming natural immediacy, of the cultivation of this immediacy, of withdrawing-into-itself or "taking off" from it, of - why not?- alienating itself from it. The paradox is thus that there is no self that precedes Spirit's "self-alienation": the very process of alienation creates/generates the "self" from which Spirit is alienated and to which it then returns. Spirit's self-alienation is the same as, fully coincides with, its alienation from its Other (nature), because it constitutes itself through its "return-to-itself" from its immersion in natural Otherness. In other words, Spirit's return-to-itself creates the very dimension to which it returns.

What this also means is that communism should no longer be conceived as the subjective (re-)appropriation of the alienated substantial content - all versions of reconciliation which take the form "the subject swallows the substance" should be rejected. SO again, the "reconciliation" is the full recognition of the abyss of the de-substantialized process as the only actuality that exists: the subject has no substantial actuality, it comes second, it emerges only through the process of separation, of overcoming its presuppositions, and these presuppositions are also only a retroactive effect of the same process of their overcoming. The result is thus that there is, at both extremes of the process, a failure or negativity inscribed into the very heart of the entity we are dealing with. If the status of the subject is thoroughly "processual," it means that it emerges through the very failure to actualize itself. This brings us again to one possible formal definition of the subject: a subject tries to articulate ("express") itself in a signifying chain, this articulation fails, and by means of and through this failure, the subject emerges the subject is the failure of its signifying representation - this is why Lacan writes the subject of the signifier as $, as "barred". In a love letter, the very failure of the writer to formulate his declaration in a clear and effective manner - his vacillations, the letter's fragmentary nature, and so on - can in themselves be proof (perhaps are the necessary and only reliable proof) that the professed love is authentic: here, the very failure to deliver the message properly is the sign of its authenticity. Were the message delivered smoothly, it would only invite suspicion that it is part of a calculated approach, or that the writer in fact loves himself, or the charm of his writing, more than he loves his beloved, that his love-object is effectively just a pretext for engaging in the narcissistically satisfying activity of writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anti-Semitism, The Jew as the Emergent Objet Petit a in Capitalism

Two worms struggle for the rod of power
One slowly releases, the other grasps more tightly on...

Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"
One of the supreme ironies of the history of anti-Semitism is how the Jews are made to stand for both poles of an opposition: they are stigmatized both as upper class (rich merchants) and as lower class (filthy), as overly intellectual and as too earthly (as sexual predators), as lazy and as workaholics. Sometimes they stand for a stubborn attachment to a particular lifestyle which prevents them from becoming full citizens of the state thet live in, at other times for a "homeless" and uprooted universal cosmopolitanism indifferent towards all particular ethnic forms. The focus changes with different historical epochs. In the era of the French Revolution, the Jews were condemned as being overly particularistic: they continued to hold onto their identity, rejecting the possibility of becoming abstract citizens like everyone else, this accusation was turned around: the Jews were now considered all too "cosmopolitan," lacking all roots.

The key change in the history of Western anti-Semitism occurred with the Jew's political emancipation (the granting of civil rights) which followed the French Revolution. In early modernity, the pressure on them was to convert to Christianity, which itself created problems of trust: have they REALLY converted, or are they secretly continuing to practice their rituals? By the later nineteenth century however, a shift occurs which will culminate in Nazi anti-Semitism: conversion is now out of the question, effectively meaningless. For the Nazis, the guilt of the Jews is directly rooted in their biological constitution: one does not have to prove that they are guilty; they are guilty soley be being Jews. The key is provided by the sudden rise, in the Western ideological imaginary, of the wandering "eternal jew" in the age of Romanticism - precisely when, in real life, with the explosive development of capitalism, features attributed to Jews began to permeate the whole of society (since commodity exchange became hegemonic). It was thus at the very moment when the Jews were deprived of their specific properties (which had made it easy to distinguish them from the rest of the population), and when the "Jewish question" was "resolved" at the political level by formal emancipation (by granting them the same rights as all other "normal" Christian citizens), that their "curse" was inscribed into their very being - they were no longer misers and userers, but demonic heroes of eternal damnation, haunted by an unspecified and unspeakable guilt, condemned to wander, and longing to find redemption in death. It was, then, precisely when the specific figure of the Jew disappeared that the ABSOLUTE Jew emerged, a transformation which conditioned the shift of anti-Semitism from theology to race: the Jew's damnation was their race, they were not guilty for what they had done (exploiting Christians, murdering their children, raping their women; ultimately, betraying and murdering Christ), but for what they WERE. Is it necessary to add that this shift laid the foundations for the Holocaust, for the physical annihilation of the Jews as the only appropriate final solution of their "problem"? Insofar as the Jews were identified by a series of properties, the goal was to convert them, to turn them into Christians; but, once Jewishness concerned their very being, only annihilation could solve "the Jewish question."

The true mystery of anti-Semitism, however is why it is such a constant, why it persists through all its' historical mutations. One is reminded of what Marx said about Homer's poetry: the true mystery to explain is not its' origins, how it was rooted in early Greek society, but why it continued to exert its supreme artistic charm even today, long after the social conditions which gave birth to it have disappeared It is easy to date the original moment of European anti-Semitism: it started not in Ancient Rome, but in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as Europe began to awake from the inertia of the "dark ages" with the accelerated development of market exchange and the role of money. AT that precise point, "the Jew" emerged as the enemy: the usuper, the parasitic intruder who disturbs the harmonious social edifice. Theologically, is also the moment of what Jacques Le Goff called the "birth of the Purgatorium": the idea that the choice was not only between Heaven and Hell, that there had to be a third, mediating place, where one could make a deal, pay for one's sin's (assuming they are not too great) with a determinate quantity of repentance - money again!
...and other paranoiac misprojections.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mapping Man in the City, the City in Man

One Man is an Individual, Many Men, a City
Shouldn't a City's 'Functional' Parts Therefore Consist of the Equivalent Parts Found in A Man?
Part II

We may now divide this art of measurement into two parts; placing in the one part all the arts which measure the relative size or number of objects, and in the other all those which depend upon a mean or standard. Many accomplished men say that the art of measurement has to do with all things, but these persons, although in this notion of theirs they may very likely be right, are apt to fail in seeing the differences of classes—they jumble together in one the 'more' and the 'too much,' which are very different things. Whereas the right way is to find the differences of classes, and to comprehend the things which have any affinity under the same class.
- Plato, "Statesman"
The Cortical Homunculus
Source of Man's Feelings of Anthropocosmos

Friday, June 1, 2012

Zizek to OWS, "Use the Ink, Already!"

Slavoj Zizek. Occupy Wall Street what is to be done next The Guardian April 24, 2012
What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the centre, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world?

In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s:

"They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time."

Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the "occupied" places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, "capitalism" is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:

"The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality."

Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:

"Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?"

Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled.

One should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over? It is at this crucial point that we encounter the fatal weakness of the protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a minimal positive program of socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

Reacting to the Paris protests of 1968, Lacan said:

"What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one."
It seems that Lacan's remark found its target (not only) in the indignados of Spain. Insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a call for a new master, albeit disavowed.

We got the first glimpse of this new master in Greece and Italy, and Spain will probably follow. As if ironically answering the lack of expert programs of the protesters, the trend is now to replace politicians in the government with a "neutral" government of depoliticized technocrats (mostly bankers, as in Greece and Italy). Colorful "politicians" are out, grey experts are in. This trend is clearly moving towards a permanent emergency state and the suspension of political democracy.

So we should see in this development also a challenge: it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternate forms of organization, to search for the germs of the New. Communism is not just or predominantly the carnival of the mass protest when the system is brought to a halt; Communism is also, above all, a new form of organization, discipline, hard work.

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them, but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture. In boxing, to "clinch" means to hold the opponent's body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton's reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are "on balance … a positive thing", but he is worried about the nebulousness of the cause. Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan, which he claimed would create "a couple million jobs in the next year and a half". What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of "concrete" pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New. The reason protesters went out is that they had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the third world troubles is enough to make them feel good.

Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests.

It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the "apolitical" social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing "democratic" banks under people's control. In such "democratic" procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the "bourgeois" state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn't know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aaware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends:

"Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false."

After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink:

"Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the west, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing unavailable is red ink."

And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants – the only thing missing is the "red ink": we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict – "war on terror", "democracy and freedom", "human rights", etc – are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it.

The task today is to give the protesters red ink.