Archive for the ‘autonomia’ Category

Dystopian Practicality

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

I’m back.

David Graeber recently threw down a new piece / excerpt, called The Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse. It’s got lots of good things to say, namely that revolutionary activity is the driving force in history. This is an important thing to say when suffocated with the wet blanket of complacency that coddles the overdeveloped world. The impact of an event is not always in the here & now, but has ripple effects. These ripple effects can only be discerned by studying the waves that past revolutionary events have made in the fabric and institutions of the social order. This is what Graeber does, and he makes some excellent points: that, for example, the French revolution, even as it was co-opted, nonetheless led to various modern democratic institutions including universal education in the West (even if they were “distributed” by Bonaparte).

But there are two critiques of Graeber’s piece I want to advance, in the spirit of adding more to this discussion from the same side of the fence, as it were:

(1) For Graeber, the big event of the ’60s was Paris ’68. I’m going to say that May ’68 is a nice bedtime tale that boomer French Lefties tell their kids. A counter-history is available here: May ’68 is the echo of the early 1960s Algerian riots in Paris in which dozens of activists were killed and dumped in the Seine — that’s the revolutionary moment. Not May ’68. Why? I’m not trying to find the “real” revolution, though it may seem so. But I can’t help but notice a white streak in Graeber’s analysis that passes over struggles for Civil Rights and anti-colonial revolts against European and imperial empire. Graeber focuses on white, bourgeois struggles for class equality within empire, where brief moments of “playing revolutionary” resulted in few deaths because nothing really was at stake, and where, after everyone got their catharsis on, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. By this I mean: all the soixante-huitards got to return to society. They got their jobs back, went back to university. They even got a new, radical university: Vincennes. A few had a rough time, but in the end (Cohn-Bendit!) they became part of the party system and came into power with Mitterand. They weren’t ghettoized, incarcerated, hunted down, strangled, dumped in the Seine — like the pieds-noirs were. That’s my point. And that’s also why we saw the ban lieu riots a few years back: because shit didn’t change much for the others.

Let’s look at blowback. What did ’68 result in? Yes, there are all the good things, Mitterand came in, they got rid of the cobble stones, there were “concessions”. But the big blowback of the ’60s in general? The ’60s struggles led to (as in fed back into) a much more complete and comprehensive system of consumerism designed to sell “revolutionary” values back to the white kids. Silicon Valley and what on Nettime was critiqued as “the California Ideology” is part of this: utopian technocapitalism led by cyberhippies. iRevolution from Apple. Once the “personal became political” it was sold & packaged to the boomers as all manner of retreat-oriented lifestyle products. Then this strategy was marketed worldwide. The Situationists were right; they did warn us. We all know this of course. It’s precisely what we went into the streets for in the ’90s, all Adbustin’ & symbol-wreckin’, following innovations in graffiti 15 years previous. But I digress.

Where are we today with ’68? Well, some of the former brick-tossers are theorizing Being & Event and claiming to be Maoists on the lecture circuit — let’s compare that to where the black revolutionaries ended up: either assassinated or incarcerated during the ’60s  (Malcolm X, MLK Jr., Edgar Mevers, numerous Black Panthers, Mumia Abu Jamal, etc.) or driven to the breaking point by COINTELPRO (notable exception: Angela Davis). Power is unevenly distributed along lines of “race”. So we need to look where it has been handed down with the greatest force & violence — because that is where the State saw the most disruptive revolutionary activity coming from.

(2) I also want to make another point: that downplaying certain trajectories, such as US military operations, doesn’t help our understanding of the impact of revolutionary events. Graeber says that the various events of the ’60s kept the US out of major conflict for 30 years until 9/11. This claim ignores the changing strategies of a globalized military. The US simply moved their military operations into covert ops, funding paramilitary and fascist organizations throughout the Middle East and Latin/South America. The military supported Contra drug lords to channel ghetto crack back into the US — why? To shut down black revolutionary activities by creating structural impoverishment, crime, and addiction (check The Black Power Mixtape above). The US also went on a spree of illegal strike force assaults worldwide thanks to the real lessons they learned from Vietnam — of the Colonel Kurtz variety. My point here: while Autonomia in Italy were theorizing disappearance & exodus, the US military was practicing it. The US didn’t step back from military engagements: it just changed the strategy and re-packaged them for home consumption. Just like the military used Nazi scientists & their rocket technology to build the space program they put to good use military expertise in terror-tactics learned from Vietnam for “surgical” operations, abroad and at home by militarizing local police forces to surpress black urban ghettoes so that Watts would never happen again. But it did, of course: the 1992 LA riots, leading to increasing militarization of the police, suspension of civil liberties, and the surveillance NSA State that the US is today. Yes: I am suggesting a counter-history here. That it is not the reactionary response to 9/11 that created the surveillance state. The framework was already in place to control insurgent populations, namely the large number of disenfranchised African Americans. What 9/11 did was simply allow the State to sell the loss of civil liberties to its citizens as the “price of freedom”: it was the cover to make public what was already going down.

So while I like the theses put forward here by Graeber in their general form, they could be more powerful, and convincing, if they dealt with the revolutionary activity around Civil Rights, anti-colonial revolts, and — in the underdeveloped world — slave insurgencies. Because these are the critical points of struggle. Critical because they concern anti-slavery.

No pep talk should be erasing race from the narrative or limiting an understanding of revolutionary activity to a few Western, primarily white, hotspots. The struggles against enslavement and dehumanization should not only be “included”, but understood as the more powerful side of the equation — especially where such struggles refuse the Enlightenment values of white humanism. Because there is a macro-counter-history to that of the ongoing progress narrative of the French revolutionary subject under which Graeber’s piece has been inscribed.

As Ian Baucom argues, it is not the French revolutionary subject that is the birth of the modern subject. The “birth of man” requires its condition of possibility: the $lave, the ideal commodity form. It is to slave revolts and its insurgencies and anti-colonial revolutions that we need to turn. Why? Because the struggle is doubled, against slavery but also against the white narrative of Enlightenment humanism that instituted and produced modern slavery in the same moment that it invented the revolutionary citizen.




blind signifiers in the new age

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
No More Potlucks 17

No More Potlucks 17

The seventeeth issue of the illustrious No More Potlucks, edited by Sophie Le Phat Ho, is dedicated to inducting its readers into magic — magie no. 17 | no more potlucks.

The choice of ‘magic’ as a topic came out of a concern – une préoccupation qui semble être partagée, vu la richesse des contributions présentées dans ce numéro – for what we are up against… En effet, la magie relève de la technique, de la pratique, du procédé, de l’art, de l’action. Elle est donc intimement liée à une analyse de la réalité, de l’environnement, et ne serait être de l’ordre du divertissement, de la fantasmagorie… Bref, this is serious. [Sophie Le Phat Ho, editor]

This issue features a brief piece I writ entitled Blind Signifiers in the New Age, introduced by a recent communication sent to Hakim Bey.

Blind Signifers is a condensed text on magick as the art of the slippage between signifers, the minimum distance of which constitutes consensual reality. Magick in this respect is a force in the sense that it generates effects wrought from symbolic subterfuge. Magick traverses the realms of the illusionary and the imaginary; it is precisely that viscosity that allows us to conceive of that which would puncture reality with its surreality or irreality. In this sense, magick (a) is generative through effects of signifying systems and (b) is not to be trifled with. Its underlying principle is that CHAOS NEVER DIED.

on the plains / Hakim Bey postcard

on the plains / Hakim Bey postcard

The principle point is that magick is very much in use all around us: it connects the surface of things; it is especially engaged to ensure consistency of action/reaction in systems of capitalist desire, notably consumerism. It is not magic at work here, not the mere trickery of an illusion, but magick, the technics of signifier slippage, the art of symbolic subterfuge. These be the darker arts when used to deceive.

Any such concept of magick as a praxis of symbols follows from the work of Hakim Bey, whose creative work with chaos theory (and the Mandelbrot Set), connecting anarcho-politics to the folds of physics and geography as well as the deconstruction of semiotics and philosophy some 25 odd years ago is, I would argue, indispensible to grasping semiocapitalism. Yet like all texts, including this one, it is writ with a cleaved-edge. Beware the folds.

There are many good essays in this collection (do read them) but relevant to my own work is Magic, Strategy and Capitalism: An interview with aladin by Anja Kanngieser and Leila, who pose the question “what happens to magic once it is embedded in the languages of business and industry?”. Indeed; this is the fundamental question that founds the dark art of advertising and second order cybernetics. However this question ought to be reinscribed: how is it that magick is the basis of capital? How is it that magick constitutes the language of capital itself?

To this end, I would suggest a deeper reading into the “tradition” of magick, as well as that of Marx. Perhaps magic has always been about entertainment and tricks, but magick operates at ways far more embedded into the technics of perception, which is to say, the way in which value is inscribed and perceived.

In this sense—which needs qualifying—the language of magic has been, as the article suggests, “put into use for capital,” but only as a secondary effect or diversion from the magick of capital itself.  Reading Marx, magick is that operation which derives exchange value from use value. Capital operates by way of magick. It is that which makes the “commodity stand on its head” in Das Kapital. Marx often discusses capital as “phenomena” and “illusion,” as a “phantom,” but none of these are terms meant in the tradition of cheap tricks: a social relation is masked behind the relations of capital. Violent, dark magick, in other words, the magick of turning quality into quantity, humanity into slavery, world into resource, is at the heart of capital. Capital is no cheap trick; its cost is Faustian.

As Marx writes, capital’s effects are phantomic; it is precisely this haunting effect, this “specter” of capital which, according to Marx, needs to be exorcised. Over a century later, in 1994, Derrida argued in Specters of Marx that the phantom in general—hauntology—cannot be exorcised. In short, the revolutionary magick proposed by Marx (which was famously unthought) against the magick of capital cannot eradicate the fundamental principles (of magick) upon which capital is based. Why? For the principles of capital—magick—are also those of its antithesis. Any possible antithesis. One cannot eradicate the simulacra; for at base, there is only a doubling of simulacra. Or to put it another way: to attempt to exorcize capital would obliterate the very principle of revolutionary communism, the imaginative magick of a collective ideal. To attempt to practice absolute exorcisim only unleashes the violence at the core of all magicks claiming to unveil or obliterate the true origin or the true illusion (the two being equivalent in force). One cannot exorcise ghosts nor dark magick in toto or ex nihilio. The principle of magick is always thus always doubled: (1) magick never comes from nothing; it always draws from another power and (2) thus it always produces unintended effects and consequences that remain in excess to its intentions. As Derrida thoughtfully explored—in a way few have—one has to learn to live with ghosts. To speak with them. Speak to it, Horatio. Learn to speak the language of magick. One does not exorcise magick; one seeks to practice it as the art of samizdat and containment. Infiltration. And other creative arts that destabilize the easy yet dangerous magick of commodification.

Likewise, when Marx wrote that “All that is solid melts into air” as effect of capitalism, he had in mind the magick of substantial transmutation, not as trick or hoax but as the slippage of signs in which an object of use value (the table) is stood on its head, begins to walk, and becomes the commodity of exchange value—out of which evolves further signs:

But, so soon as it [the wooden table] steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was. (Marx, “The Fetishism of Commodities” in Capital Vol 1)

Magick breeds magick; we are deep now in the realm of these wooden, grotesque ideas of semiocapitalism. In the 21st century, magick has revealed itself as operative mechanism of capital in-itself; this is the meaning of the 2008 financial crisis. This is a crisis of the system of signifiers which determines valuation, a crisis of completely speculative levels of capital which are completely estranged from what Marx called “use value.” It is the beautifully complex world where negative effects (debt) are valued as positive on a completely speculative basis of future returns—returns which, as the various complex operations of debt transfer and futures demonstrate, are expended infinitely until “all that is solid melts into air,” completely suspended, and crashes. And the effects of this crash are disastrous.

Herein lies the “trickle down” effect of capitalism: all the debt culled from below and profited from above returns with a vengeance, as it does not trickle but torrents down and pools in the trenches. At the bottom, those impoverished drown in debt. This is what smiling Reagan meant when he sold trickle-down capitalism to the masses. Shit runs downhill. While all shall inherit the debts of the financial crash, those at the bottom, unable to dodge the wreckage, will reap its total effects, as all of semiocapitalism, as all that dark magick and uncollected emptiness, trickles down into a whirlpool of poverty. This is the lesson of trickle down capitalism: those above, unless clinging to the burning hulk as it splits apart, never even have to open an umbrella. The metaphors are pushed here, but you get the point.

A keyword missing from this discussion with aladin would be afrofuturism, where the dark arts of magick take on another dimension, that of the transmutation of concepts such as race. Perhaps more on this soon.

double p/androgyne: s/he is (still) her/e

double p/androgyne: s/he is (still) her/e

I would also highly recommend the evocative Sex Magic in One Act: Exploring the Properties of Extensional Sex by Lolix. The reversal of inside to outside using sex magick’s gendered body from female to male is here rendered explicit in creative sex work. Pan/drogyne, in short. Lolix explores a shift that takes us beyond -x to +x, presence of the phallus/absence of the vaginal interiority, and into the  z/y axes to a third-eye dimensional sense of the chiasmus. This text and its images work on many layers. It brings to mind the latest incarnation of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, as s/he becomes neither male nor female, yet both, as the physical incarnation of Genesis’ now deceased partner. The signifying magick be: S/HE IS (STILL) HER/E, the permutations of which continue to unfold in the flesh.


in hiding (from language)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

05 july 2011

To return to Los Angeles [following the Rodney King beatings in 1991], some people have demanded that henceforth all police activity be monitored by video, that everything be filmed, in order to submit police surveillance itself to surveillance. There would thus be “black boxes” recording the police, their movements, their actions and gestures, a constant recording and an immediate archiving of police activity, which itself consists in attempting a panoptikon of civic space—of the political, and of political space itself. If all this in turn is under surveillance by satellite, we would then see the determination of an optimal optification of what could be called the ontopolitological: the totality of what binds the political to the topological and politics to space in the present (on, ontos) would be gathered together in the present, devoid of any shadow, beneath the gaze, exposed to an all-powerful photographic apparatus: no more secret, no more private life, instantaneous totalization: the totalitarian itself, etc. —Jacques Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 47)

Had I know of this quote, excerpted from a short interview conducted in 1991, I would’ve included it, and a discussion of its terms, in “No More Pirate Islands! Media Ecology and Autonomy” (Interculture 6:1, 2009). At the time, I viewed the earth-orbiting eye as the ascendance of an ecotechnics, an entire surveillance apparatus, and mark the dates of Sputnik (4th October 1957) as well as Google Earth (February 8th, 2005—Derrida did not live to see the watched watch the watchers, into infinite regress, filtered and selected, ad infinitum).

Even with the possibility of totalization of the eye, from above, I retain the following possibility of the gap or glitch between map and territory, the delay or deferral between the point of the image and its taking-place, also the inherent possibilities of subterfuge, camouflage, encryption, withdrawal, exodus, hiding, etc.,  as I would, I think, Derrida—that “the TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone] is an event born among technics that undermines if not counters the eschatology of collapse for it demonstrates the possibilility of heterotopic autonomy within a technical worlding” (62).

Whomsoever suggests that Derrida was only concerned with “language” in the narrow sense (I’m looking at you, Harman, and your strange avoidance in tackling the hard problematic of arkhe-writing in Tool-Being) has evidently never (a) read carefully his thetic assertions concerning the autonomy, alterity, and “expansion” of writing-in-general nor (b) taken seriously the thetic possibilities put forward by the undertaking of deconstruction as applicable everywhere, as an analysis of the technics of différance, which is to say, its effects and force(s).

We can no longer oppose perception and technics; there is no perception before the possibility of prosthetic iterability; and this mere possibility marks, in advance, both perception and phenomenology of perception. In perception there are already operations of selection, of exposure time, of filtering, of development; the psychic apparatus functions also like, or as, an apparatus of inscription and of the photographic archive. —Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 15)

—Which is Derrida reiterating much of his work on Freud’s Wunderblock, the “mystic writing pad.” But this is not only about human perception, and the alter-logic of arkhe-writing, the trace of différance, extends beyond the human per se. In fact, as Derrida writes in Of Grammatology, consciousness is but an effect of différance (166). Indeed, language is alien. The consequences of this alterity to language in relation to Harman’s narrow insistence that language is irrevocably human will have to be dealt with improperly, insofar as it complicates Harman’s negation of all differences marked in Heidegger, and the reduction of difference itself, to the opposition between Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit. Insofar as the trace does not exist (OG 167), it suggests something other than the totality of Being that Harman adheres to, wherein Zuhanden/Vorhanden is taken as a difference between two modes of being.

The hard argument from Derrida is, in part, this: that language, taken as arkhe-writing, as the technics of the trace, is precisely that which articulates cucumbers, dust, and blades of grass, in which all Things speak. The nature of this articulation is that of “prosthetic iterability,” or “supplementarity as structure” (OG 167). Harman’s  desire to elevate the primacy of one difference above all others—objects and tools as first philosophy—needs to be critiqued for the dogmatic return it is to precisely the logic of a transcendental signified (“we cannot know Zuhandenheit; thus it is First, to which everything else is Second”) he elsewhere wishes to subject to an intriguing, refreshing and stimulating speculative realism. In short, Harman’s conception of the radical difference of Zuhandenheit is impoverished, and it is strange indeed that he draws so much from Levinas—who requires God to hold steady—and not Derrida, who delves much farther into the “infinite regress” to which Harman admits to (in his passage on Rorty in TB), yet with much more interesting result, namely, the thesis of supplementarity at the origin and the origin as the effect of prosthetic iterability. (Yet perhaps not so strange that Harman prefers Levinas, insofar as, in Tool-Being, Harman retains the pyramid of power in which some binary needs to occupy the top spot.)

So the second thetic effect of Derrida’s hard argument is this: language-objects-tools-etc. constitute a string of substitutions, not a hierarchy of precedence in which all differences ought to be submitted to the authoritarian pair of Tool Beings. Will Harman be able to contend with the hard arguments from Derrida, and not just the soft “linguistic turn” he posits, in the narrow sense of a consideration of language only as equivalent to human speech? Can Harman handle the trace and how its inexistence nonetheless generates “real effects,” which is to say, the objects Harman loves to offer in nice, contrasting lists, but so far in Tool-Being, has nothing to say of? (I will grant him this chance in his later work.)

If the thought of différance can be introduced into speculative realism, it offers a fascinating bridge between the media ecology of technics, and media studies in general, and that of object-oriented philosophy. Why? Because différance, as in my essay above and Derrida’s work on photography, has offered an interesting way to take apart and rethink all kinds of fields, from photography to art, physics to architecture, politics and the political to gender; it has proven incredibly fruitful, not to introduce “language” in some narrow sense but to focus on the technical specificity of substituting difference—which is where Kittler and media theory comes in, as well as Latour, for that matter (I have yet to pick up Harman’s earlier essay and newish book on Latour).

A philosophically robust concept of timing-spacing-difference—différance—also offers a bridge between physics and other sciences of time, space, the universe, and so on. But if Harman rejects différance as “language”, then he also tosses out the very interesting correlative work between this thinking of spacing-timing and that of Einstein’s general relativity and Bohr’s quantum physics (as writ explicitly by Arkady Plotnitsky in Complementarity). I need also mention the immense work done by Deleuze and the entire field of studies surrounding Deleuze and Guattari to think science and philosophy here. But perhaps Harman’s speculative realism has no interest in correlative work between science and object-oriented philosophy whatsoever? Is such science—the thinking of numerical logic and probabilities, constants of light and relatives of timing-spacing, for example—”merely” all Vorhandenheit? Indeed, how convenient that would be, being able to leave reality behind entirely, so that philosophy can once again ensure its complete seclusion from the world. A true philosophy of the Zuhanden! I would hope this is not the real effect of speculative realism.


multitude & moloch

Friday, November 5th, 2010

The evil within is worse than that without

For awhile I thought the inferences I had been drawing – of an unevenly distributed but nonetheless disastrous collapse of democratic institutions, from the precarization of labour to the corporatization of the university – were in part the afterglow of reading deep into the analyses and experiences of all-out totalitarianism. I had just completed Harrison Salisbury’s The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, which had me imagining not only the horrors of war, but the horrors of a paranoid dictatorship seemingly incapable of recognising the danger in its midst, caught instead in a ceaseless and senseless purge of its own people…

The siege of Leningrad, which killed some 1.5 million through forced starvation alone, could not only have been avoided if Stalin had acted upon the early warning signs of Germany’s treachery, but was further compounded by Stalin’s paranoia, which froze independent thought and action among his generals and armed forces, paralyzing the defence of the Soviet Union from the Nazi blitzkrieg. Besides the fact that Stalin failed to heed the many reports and indications that Nazi Germany was amassing an army ready to annihilate the Soviet Union, the Kremlin politics of Stalin and his right-hand man Police Chief Beria ensured that the many who valiantly defended Leningrad, from the upper military echelons to the lower, as well as the many who sought to memorialize its tragedy, from artists to playwrights, from officers to museum directors and staff, were purged from within while the city was laid waste from without…

For years I have been reading William L. Shirer on the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Seven years ago nearly to the month, I began conducting historical studies on the topic, writing of some of it briefly in this post and here. Much has changed. At the time the figures involved were media supercaricatures, with the terrorist-fighting superduo of Bush and Blair paired up neatly against the evil  outlaws, the mysteriously invisible Bin Laden and the poster-boy of evil, Saddam Hussein. These supercaricatures rendered cartoon-like the embodied power of the sovereign even as their power operated, like classic Roadrunner cartoons of seemingly innocuous violence, through the politics of fear. To this end Massumi and Dean’s analyses of Reagan, the actor-president, the fiction of sovereignty – as the “Last Emperor” – proved uncanny and useful.

Each supercaricature had its trading-card qualities. Bush seemed so incredibly inept, so affable and stupid, that the violence of his gesture and the menace of his speech were all the more amplified. Bin Laden, gentle and effeminate, articulate and seemingly intelligent, was all the more horrific for he had successfully used his wealth to spawn a terrorist network that would live on even if he, as the head, was decapitated. Hussein was the most pitiful of them all. Dressed in the trappings of his ornamental uniform and adorned with the dictatorial moustache, Hussein the egoist tyrant seemingly never understood what he had done to upset his friends the United States, whom had previously supported his regime in the war against Iran. When Hussein was pulled from his hiding hole like a rat from the sewers, he had become a cartoon of power, and a convenient bogeyman for the noose.

The mad, mad multitude

Now it is not the supercaricature that rules the day. Rather, it is the undefined, faceless mass, the screaming, nonsensical, overabundance of flesh that weighs among the shouting many, the madding crowd, gun-toting, SUV-driving, flag-waving patriots, mouth agape, eyes angry and yet — so vacant, so devoid of worldliness. We are indeed witnessing the clash of the uncivilizations, whether it be a crowd of clerics screaming for the stoning of a women accused of dishonour because she was raped, or the mad yelling and gun-brandishing of Tea Partiers demanding that income tax be rescinded so that they can… so they can what exactly?


“cultural fascism”

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Speaking of “cultural fascism” and the Weimarization of the United States is no longer an isolated phenomena. A couple of days ago I was reading The Pique here in Whistler and noticed not one, but two columnists deploying terms of analysis that took the rise of the extreme right in the United States at its full value. Check out the talented and thoughtful Michel Beaudry, who in his Alta States column wrote:

Look at what’s happening to our neighbours down south. For the last two years, a group of very disturbed people have been repeating the fiction that President Obama is a secret Muslim. Makes me think of the Converso claims against Jews in Europe in medieval times. Turns out that strategy was a great way to scapegoat a segment of the population that chose to live outside the maintream. Maybe that’s what these modern racists are thinking

But what really disturbs me is that in a country increasingly dominated by talk show hosts discussing the sexual peccadilloes of its celebrities, a growing minority of people are actually beginning to believe that Obama is a Muslim. Doesn’t matter that this has absolutely no basis in fact. Doesn’t matter that Obama and his family are regular church-goers. It’s all about destruction by innuendo. And it seems to be working.

Which begs the obvious question: would it matter if Obama were a Muslim? Would it really change what Americans thought of him? And if so, what does that say about the state of that once-great American “democracy.” Sounds more like cultural fascism to me. (Michel Beaudry, Alta States, October 21st, 2010 in Pique)

Beaudry outlines aptly the strategies of doublespeak and doublethink analysed by Orwell and deployed so aptly by totalitarian regimes the world over. Then there’s G.D. Maxwell’s column Maxed Out, entitled “Stupid is where it’s at.” Max’s column couldn’t have come closer to my own last post; it hits upon similar points concerning an increased culture of stupidity (and short-term memory). He writes:

Stupid is where it’s at now. If you want to do well in politics these days, you can’t be too stupid, too narrowly self-interested, or too vitriolic. And god help you if you actually know what vitriolic means because if you do, you’re probably too intellectual, too effete, too – horrors – elite, to appeal to a populace enthralled in their quest to discover who can dance better than a 5th grader but too indifferent to pay any real attention to the adult problems surrounding them. […]

Smart ain’t cool anymore. As an expat American, I can only shudder at what’s happening on the other side of the border as mid-term elections approach in a couple of weeks. Card-carrying and stubbornly proud idiots are about to take control of congress and finish the job they started under St. Reagan and tried mightily to complete under Bush the Stupid – driving the country and, if they have their way the world, back into the Dark Ages.

Stupid attacks the other, whether the other is eastern-educated elites, religious minorities, racial minorities, homosexuals, fact-based science or, gasp, even Canadians. Canadians!?

Yet again this week, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle – who stands an inexplicably good chance of unseating majority leader Harry Reid in Nevada’s senate race – claimed Canada’s “porous” border allowed terrorists, and by direct implication 9/11 terrorists, into the US. That most of them were in the country on student visas was just an annoying fact. “Fact? We don’t need no stinkin’ facts.” (G.D. Maxwell, Maxed Out, October 21st 2010 in Pique)

The Rise of the New Dumb

Friday, October 29th, 2010

A new project — resurrection of authoritarian analysis, but with a twist, taken from the Good Doctor, Hunter S. Thompson: the Rise of the New Dumb.

The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic. – Hunter S. Thompson

The New Dumb

(1) The inability to comprehend basic maths. That lower taxes cannot provide more services. That lower taxes for the wealthy will not result in more plasma screens or digital gadgets for the average lumpenurbanite. That lower taxes will not reduce car traffic. That lower taxes will not cure cancer, or make you lose weight. That the reduction of taxes has little to do with the size of government, which demonstrably increases under all politicians and parties whose main platform is to lower taxes.

(2) Analysis of the lumpenurbanite. A new class of the Dumb. In which the urban periphery views the city core as the playground of sexual fantasy and violence, where the cheap clothing accessories, made in global sweatshops, can be displayed as symbols of urban power. And this urban power exists; it elected a Mayor whose entire platform culminates in the negation of the city, with no positive vision of its future other than as a parking lot.

(3) Properly, all movements of the New Dumb are not politics. The New Dumb seeks to negate the space of the polis. Speaking in tongues, carrying weapons, obliterating spaces of gathering, destroying means of human-powered transport — these are all movements against the political in its generality, the heritage of the space and time of speaking and gathering collectively, the polis.

*Note to self: will write further on this claim vis-a-vis Rancière’s notion of politics as dissensus. What I suggest is that the New Dumb is not producing dissensus, but actively seeking to cleanse the political of such. It is a new police order or distribution of the sensible that aims to render the political terrain impassable.

(4) Analysis of this Mayor, in which the politics of the negative become a fetish, physically displayed, outwardly, in the slouch of the body. Negative politics in which the scapegoat is the apparatus of administration and election itself. The bodily affect of the negative is physical largesse, which is the sign of what is to come: bureaucratic bloat. Listen not to the words — look at the belly. That there is a certain irony in an elected Mayor who wants to “stop the gravy train” and yet appears to have swallowed it, whole. This is analysis of affective politics where power resides in a centralized body (see Massumi and Dean).

(5) This Dumb Politics encompasses a destruction of the city core, and its transformation into a fantasy playground for the car culture of the lumpenurbanite. The city is a parking lot, a highway, a place for the expression of suburbia’s expressive resolution of what it views on television of the Big City – the horrors, gleefully watched, of mob violence, cop culture, whores & drugs – by making it more real than Real. Which includes, as a positionless political platform: the negation of cyclists and bike lines; the negation of public transit; the negation of non heteronormative cultures (if not peoples); the negation of immigrant populations and neighbourhoods. The city core is to be transformed into a Fat Playground. Once tooled as the shopping centre for illicit pleasures, the city will be blamed for its ills and immoral being, as corruptor of the youth. And so He struck down Sodom and Gomorrah — in His Hysteria.

(6) When HST ran for Sheriff in 1969, his second campaign promise was to change the name of Aspen to Fat City. HST saw it coming, and wished to head it off at the pass by calling a spade a spade, and by doing so, allowing the symbol to denigrate itself. His campaign points (which I believe were entirely serious) included:

1. Rip up all city streets with jackhammers and sod the streets at once.

2. Change the name Aspen to Fat City. This would prevent greed heads, land rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name ‘Aspen’. These swine should be fucked, broken, and driven across the land.

3. It will be the general philosophy of the sheriff’s office that no drug worth taking shall be sold for money. My first act as sheriff will be to install on the sheriff’s lawn a set of stocks to punish dishonest dope dealers.

HST realised that the only way to resist the New Dumb is to become an opposition so radically unpalatable that it cannot be swallowed. To become the vicissitudes of a radical pleasure — not a consumable pleasure of patriarchal violence and property. Outright, organised, elected, autonomous Freak Power.

(7) The Rise of the new Dumb is explicit. Like early 20th century Fascism, it wears its heart on its sleeve. We can all see it coming. It has a platform. It is destructive, and above all, selfish. Incredibly selfish. It appeals to the most selfish, senseless attributes of the human condition: to defeat minor, bureaucratic power through the assumption of a power more destructive and violent than all that came before; to overcome the complexities of the world by rendering it into banal, childish terms; to ignore the world’s dangers by remaking it as a pleasure dome; to target and scapegoat all those who not only refuse to live inside the bubble, but all those who would tear down its catastrophic illusion.

(8) The New Dumb revels in its stupidity. It signs off without content, it signals no argument, it has no reasons, it just operates blind, steering through life like a consumer with a free credit card. It only has its exit, in the end, to play. This exit must be refused, lest it take all of us down with the ship.

Rob Ford (to CBC’s As It Happens): Pardon me? I can’t talk to you right now—I’m really, I’m on a really tight schedule, so I hate to be rude, but I gotta let you go, and we can chat another time. Really nice talking to you, all the best, buh-bye.

(9) Which is worse — an organised Fascism hellbent on overtaking the world while methodically exterminating its opposition, or a disorganised Dumb hellbent on destroying the world in its mass stupidity? There is no equivalence here; there is no worse than worse; there is only the Worst for our times, and as such, it ought to be taken with pitchforks in hand, and fought without quarter.

Rise Freak Power.


Monday, August 2nd, 2010

the gonzo academics of soniculture return

Without too much further ado I would like to point you toward issue 1.2 of Dancecult, which features – among other gonzo academic explorations of soniculture and the rave underground – “Technics, Precarity and Exodus in Rave Culture.” This piece of mine, under works in various forms for approximately a decade, explores rave culture from the perspective of political theory of autonomia, the political economy of contemporary labour, and philosophy of technology, proposing that rave culture – which I consider deceased as of 2000 – be considered one of the 20th century’s greater movements of exodus from the constraints of consumer capitalist monoculture, by way of precarity of labour and the technics of its soniculture. Undoubtedly this thesis requires all the more exegesis. La lutte continue.

edition 1.2



Making a Noise – Making a Difference:
Techno-Punk and Terra-ism

*Graham St John

Technics, Precarity and Exodus in Rave Culture
*tobias c. van Veen

The Aesthetics of Protest in UK Rave
*Ramzy Alwakeel

Memory and Nostalgia in Youth Music Cultures:
Finding the Vibe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rave Scene, 2002-2004

*Eileen M Wu


Insurrection & Slave Rebellion in Civil War America

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Black union soldiers taking aim.

In The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom, Stephen Hahn makes the case for insurrection – if not a rethinking of rebellion – among Southern slaves during the American Civil War. The title of chapter two places this claim within the context of American history on the subject: “Did We Miss the Greatest Slave Rebellion in Modern History?” Hahn’s casually inclusive “we” invokes the primarily white American scholars who have sculpted something of a glorious history of the Civil War as America’s struggle against slavery. In this narrative – somewhat whitewashed – the Union North took up arms against the slave-owning Confederacy South, if not at first over slavery, then at least by the end of the war broadly claiming emancipation as its raison d’être.

As Hahn is at delicate pains to point out, what this narrative presupposes is the passivity of the slave class (58; 160-161). Slaves have little or no agency in regards to their emancipation. While Northern African-Americans as well as freed southern slaves fought in the Civil War, southern slave plantations did not rise up against their white masters en masse. Why was this? Of course, Confederate mythology, exemplified in films such as D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, depicts a rose-tinted relationship between benevolent white masters and singin’ & dancin’ black slaves, both who view the Civil War as an invasion. Even among centrist, Abolitionist or integrationist accounts of the War, slaves were often praised for not rising up against the South. In their passivity, the Southern slaves demonstrated civility in this “white man’s war” — a war which was nothing less than a struggle over the fate of black labour.

Hahn poses an alternative reading to the simplism in which passivity marked black patriotism. By contrast, Southern slaves were knowledgeable enough of the conditions of the War, as well as the tricky political terrain in which the War was fought – in short, aware of the ideological role of emancipation, and suspicious of the North’s apparent “freedom” – to carefully navigate between full-scale rebellion and widespread insurrection:

Together, the evidence suggests that slaves could be acutely aware of conflicts that erupted between white people and nations ruled by white people; that slaves often imagined a set of possible allies and enemies; that slaves could be cognizant of the national and international struggle over slavery and the slave trade and, depending on where they resided, of momentous emancipations; that slaves often became conversant with institutions and issues of local and national politics and might develop sophisticated understandings of how the American political system operated; and that slaves fashioned interpretations of what seemed to be afoot, at times in ways that moved well beyond the intentions of the political actors. (Political Worlds 75)


the terrible community of financial capitalism

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

the terrible community of financial capital (spiral formation)

IV. 2

As post-authoritarian formations, the corporations of the “new economy” constitute terrible communities in the fullest sense.  And no one should see any contradiction in the similarity between capitalism’s avant-gardes and the avant-gardes of its opposition: they are both prisoners of the same economic principle, the same need for efficiency and organization, even if they set themselves up on different terrain.  They in fact serve the same modalities of the circulation of power, and in that sense they are politically quite near one another. Tiqqun, Theses on the Terrible Community

In Tiqqun’s Theses on the Terrible Community [translation / French original], what is the terrible community? The community is an illusive circulation of isolated dividuals — subjects struck through with the schizophrenia of capital. Sacrifice holds it together, to an ideology or cause, be it for profit or for the people, and every terrible community revolves around a Leader. The terrible community can take many forms: a corporation is a terrible community, as is any workforce. In particular, Tiqqun seems to have in mind the activist community, or any anarchist squat, insofar as it projects itself as outside to, or at least resisting against, what Tiqqun calls democratic biopower. Yet the activist community just like the business community are both terrible communities, beholden to rituals of sacrifice, isolated existences, vertical hierarchies, and even worse, self-policing and self-censorship. I would like to ask Tiqqun (if they can be addressed) as to what they think of the branding of communities – the Muslim community, the gay community, etc. – in terms of their alleged coherency, unity and collective responsibility within the mediasphere of Spectacle.

Tiqqun flattens all communities to the relations of their form.


Contesting Civil War: Tiqqun & Agamben

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Semiotext(e) have recently published the text Introduction to Civil War by the pseudonymous authorial collective Tiqqun. The text is number 4 of the Intervention series which has set for its mission the publication of recent works in political philosophy and political economy, including Christian Marazzi’s The Violence of Financial Capitalism (a crucial analysis of the recession) and The Invisible Committee’s manifesto of contemporary insurgency, The Coming Insurrection [download here].

These texts should not be taken lightly – or rather, these texts weigh heavily on the paranoia of the French state. In France, the alleged author(s) of The Coming Insurrection were violently arrested under “preemptive” measures that identified them as “pre-terrorists”. What is striking – and frightening – is that the Tarnac 9 by all accounts were not a revolutionary cell, but a small alternative commune living off the grid. Apparently such existence, outside of a few norms, is enough to invite the living nightmare of State hostility. Whether Julien Coupat wrote The Coming Insurrection is irrelevant. The text resonates with the zeitgeist that exploded in the banlieu riots of 2005. It is rightly anonymous as its claims are that of a world. Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War suggests the experience of the Tarnac 9:

Spectacle’s genius is to have acquired a monopoly over qualifications, over the act of naming. With this in hand, it can then smuggle in its metaphysics and pass of the products of its fraudulent interpretations as facts. Some act of social war gets called a “terrorist act,” while a major intervention by NATO, initiated through the most arbitrary process, is deemed a “peacekeeping operation.” Mass poisonings are described as epidemics, while the “High Security Wing” is the technical term used in our democracies’ prisons for the legal practice of torture. Tiqqun is, to the contrary, the action that restores to each fact its how, of holding this how to be the only real there is. (Civil War §82: 189).