Monday, November 12, 2012

The Moral Climber

I just wrote this in response to my  friend pointing out a high-horse post by Chris Hedges abiout how liberals suck but he doesn't....

I just co-organized a panel of public housing activists here in Chicago, and work, and therefore have colleagues who work, in some of the city's poorer communities.  And I just presented a project on police torture I worked on with my students, and showed another piece about a former student killed for being gay.  

And I have to say, people like me are obnoxious.  The whole Thomas Paine "Humanity is my religion and the world my country" thing has undeniable moral force, and equally undeniable arrogance.  The somber, reverent candlelight-vigil recitation of every place in the world where there is suffering is a masquerade of ethicized piety; not that it can't inspire good action, but it is a masquerade.  

And it is obnoxious because it's so often all about ME.  Where's my Pulitzer?  Where's my Nobel?  Where's my emeritus professorship?  I got this innocent tortured man freed from prison, but where's my honorary plaque?

Anyhow- I understand the emotional strain of the well-intentioned person, since I experience it, and I understand how good validation feels-- pride, as an aspect of gratitude, is not all bad.  But there needs to be another reference point beside oneself as St. George and the corporate-ogre dragon.  There needs to be some happiness and giddiness and celebration, not of or against trauma, but as a universal side-effect that can channel transcendence.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hysterical Plastical Tragsicle

Roman Jakobson may say language has six functions- eat, breathe, sleep, mate, poop, die-- but who needs flowcharts? Anyway, I believe in diluted mutilations of Lacan, so I say any language chunk does these three things all at the same time.

1) It is technical. This is what you (your body) can make happen. Not just descriptive or referential, but connecting things "outside" language in a way that is meaningful "outside" language. Not to comment on the possibility of anything existing outside of us thinking about it (except of course it does), but "don't touch the hot stove," or "my horse likes raisins," or math... all of those generalities can be reliable or unreliable, partially or completely true or false, but to be useful they have to point at something. Usually we think that this is why we talk. Language as content./

2) It is nonsense. This is what happens to you (your body), including your drives and sensations and ineffable experiences. It's the plenitude of negativity holding arbitrary phonemes in circulation around an empty center, with every part given a place negatively, a gap representing a gap, as structuralists say. But now you've forgotten what the "it" is that I was even talking about. Case in point. This is that which is so submerged in chaos that only the teeniest nub(s) actually even expresses that chaos, This is "semiotic" space, the first thing that has to exist before one can operate "technical" -- or, if you like, Symbolic-- language. Nonsense gets mined for humor and cosmic enlightenment, but also all attempts at objectivity; that all happens in the next and last step before we get back to technique.

3) It is magical. This is the murky mirror that is also a warped prism, the confounded bridge between nonsense and technique which situates you in your body by forgetting your body. It subsists on the delusion that subjective experiences can be represented in the same way that physical phenomena can be repeated, but it can only fail as a mirror. Anything unquantifiable or nonexistent belongs here in this pure realm-- because it can only not exist once you've thought about it. It's the way in which we use language as a tool in and of itself, as an extension of our inner experience (which is all external, and all nonsense). Commands, declarations, names, metaphors, pure narrative. Language as form.

So, anything we could call an "idea" is a syllogism, a story, and a song at the same time. Because time is built into language, like everything else, so linking syllogisms together makes a story, putting songs together makes a syllogism, and whether or not it feeds the poor or induces mass suicide, it's too easy to say that anyone isn't using language right when they take a story for a syllogism or a song for a story. Because in a way it is.

But it also isn't. Stories are "presence," the bugbear of deconstruction, but they motivate every way in which we relate what we experience and what we do- if any thought is involved. Sneezing happens to your body, just like sunburn or poverty. If there is anything cohering those things together, it is a story. And the value of stories is not their transparency at revealing nonsense or technique, representing either our personal experiences or our proper behavior-- it's the way in which the story does what a story does-- appreciates a song or formulates a syllogism for use outside the story. A story is neither the reality we experience or that we act upon.  But the stories about this isolation from reality are also stories.   And they will not be televised.

The End

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Modernists Are Snootified Typographers

Has anyone seen that Family Guy where Chris' English teacher says something like "So basically, Orwell was saying, give a little, get a little?" Anyway, This is Noah and I talking a little about Frederioc Jameson and post-Marxism.


I guess this is what you have to do if you're a marxist, but he basically just dismissed folks who are concerned about Stalin as reactionaries and blames counter-revolutionaries for making the revolution violent.

Maybe I'm just a wishy-washy liberal, but I really don't think that's adequate. Sneering at 1984 is fine, but the thing about 1984 that I've been discovering recently is that it actually isn't as horrific as reading memoirs from the Stalin period. There's nothing in 1984 that's as hideous as the Ukrainian famine. Orwell basically seems to say that the Moscow Trials were the absolute worst thing about Stalin. I really don't think that's the case


I don't think Zizek dismisses Stalinist mass murder. Jameson is neck-deep in academic Marxism though, Lukacs vs. Althusser etc. He illustrates, despite Zizek's best efforts, that Marxists are classic idealists- and thus somewhat fascists.

NoaH:'s hard to imagine Zizek downplaying Stalin, isn't it?
Anything that apocalyptic he'd like to make the most of.

I've hardly read any of the academic marxist debates, so when Jameson
gets into it at the end it was a bit of a shock. He spends a bit of
time arguing that representations of struggle interfere with the
struggle, and he means the media but it's hard not to wonder how it's
possible that his own endeavor never crossed his keyboard. He's great
and really smart, but to the extent that he thinks he's advancing the
revolution (and he definitely thinks that to no small extent) he's
kind of a clown.

Which is why people make fun of academic Marxists, I guess. Zizek and
Eagleton both manage to be public intellectuals, which makes their
pretensions to actually be talking to somebody less absurd.


Yeah, exactly! Zizek says Stalin was a bloodthirsty criminal, and then goes on at length to talk about how interesting he was. It would mean something different to utilize Hitler in that way.

Zizek and Eagleton are also less serious-- they're less modernist. They may not reject the revolution-- nay, they may in fact pine for it-- but they are more or less willing to talk about it as a miracle on par with the Second Coming, rather than the thing that will put all of this silly capitalist nonsense to rest for good.


It's interesting...I think that they're Christianity is actually part of their populism, isn't it? The revolution is a spiritual need, which everybody has; it's about people's souls. Whereas with Jameson — he's really insightful and smart, but the revolution never really rises above the level of a technocratic, academic fix. It's not about souls, it's about Althusser.


Althusser would agree (about himself being the revolution, that is). Which is why Ranciere rebelled against him and said that modernists were all just snootifed typographers.


Hah! I don't even know who Ranciere is! That makes him even more postmodern I think.


Also unlike Eagleton and Zizek, by the way, Jameson actively sneers at scholars who take up religion as part of a philosophical/theoretical perspective.

And you've heard me talk about Ranciere before-- he wrote that Politics of Aesthetics book I've talked about. He had a great Flaubert quote about how Flaubert wasn't interested in the poor, he was interested in the lice infesting their bodies.