Monday, October 29, 2007

Slaughtered Lambs

I'm not sure how much the categories and concepts we've encountered thus far help us to think through this example, but I thought it was worth posting a link to an article in today's Guardian regardless. The article is being framed in terms of 'animal welfare', but I think it's interesting to think about it in terms of (so-called free) markets, supply and demand, and price/value.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Politics of Utopia

Here is a link to the pdf of the Jameson essay, 'The Politics of Utopia', that I mentioned in the seminar. Anyone interested in sci-fi or utopia should definitely check out his Archaeologies of the Future, which features chapters on Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson's Pattern Recognition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marxism vs. Neoclassical economics

In light of Masashi's presentation yesterday that asked some important questions about the differences between marxist economics and neoclassical economics I found a link that might be useful:

A book by Wolff and Resnicks, Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical. I haven't looked through it myself but they have it at Senate House. There is a review of the book in Monthly Review as well.

If anyone has any other reading recommendations please email me and I can add them or put them in the comments.

Dance of the Dialectic

In the second seminar yesterday I mentioned Bertell Ollman's Dance of the Dialectic as a good book on Marx's methodology and dialectics as a whole. There are a few chapters of it available on his NYU web site here.

Gold Farming

This is another interesting case study to test Marx's categories against:

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Sacred Conspiracy

A nation already old and corrupted which will courageously shake off the yoke of its monarchical government in order to adopt a republican one will only be able to maintain itself by many crimes, for it is already in crime, and if it wants to pass from crime to virtue, that is, from a violent to a gentle state, it will fall into an inertia which will soon result in its certain ruin.

That which had a political face and imagined itself political will unmask itself one day and reveal itself to be a religious movement.

Today solitary, you who live separated, you will one day be a people. Those who appointed themselves will one day form an appointed people – and it is from this people that will be born the existence that surpasses man.

What we have undertaken should be confused with nothing else, cannot be limited to the expression of an idea and even less to what is justly considered art.

It is necessary to produce and to eat: many things are needed that are yet nothing, and this is equally the case with political agitation.

Before fighting to the bitter end, who thinks to leave his place to men it is impossible to look upon without feeling the need to destroy them? But if nothing could be found beyond political activity, human greed would meet nothing but the void.

WE ARE FEROCIOUSLY RELIGIOUS, and insofar as our existence is the condemnation of all that is recognized today, an internal requirement wants us also to be imperious.

What we are undertaking is a war.

It is time to abandon the world of the civilized and its light. It is to late to want to be reasonable and learned, which has led to a life without attractions. Secretly or not, it is necessary to become other, or else cease to be.

The world to which we have belonged proposes nothing to love outside of each individual insufficiency: its existence is limited to its convenience. A world that can’t be loved to death – in the same way a man loves a woman – represents nothing but personal interest and the obligation to work. If it is compared with worlds that have disappeared it is hideous and seems the most failed of all of them.

In those disappeared worlds it was possible to lose oneself in ecstasy, which is impossible in the world of educated vulgarity. Civilization’s advantages are compensated for by the way men profit by it: men of today profit by it to become the most degraded of all beings who have ever existed.

Life always occurs in a tumult with no apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and reality in ecstasy and ecstatic love. He who wants to ignore or neglect ecstasy is a being whose thought has been reduced to analysis. Existence is not only an agitated void: it is a dance that forces us to dance fanatically. The idea that doesn’t have as object a dead fragment exists internally in the same way as does a flame.

One must become firm and unshakeable enough that the existence of the world of civilization finally appears uncertain. It is useless to respond to those who are able to believe in this world and find their authorization in it. If they speak it is possible to look at them without hearing them, and even if we look at them, to only “see” that which exists far behind them. We must refuse boredom and live only on that which fascinates.

On this road it would be vain to move about and to seek to attract those who have vague impulses, like those of passing the time, laughing, or becoming individually bizarre. One must advance without looking back and without taking into account those who don’t have the strength to forget immediate reality.

Human life is defeated because it serves as the head and reason of the universe. Insofar as it becomes that head and reason it accepts slavery. If it isn’t free, existence becomes empty or neuter, and if it is free, it is a game. The earth, as long as it only engendered cataclysms, trees, and birds was a free universe; the fascination with liberty became dulled when the earth produced a being who demanded necessity as a law over the universe. Man nevertheless remained free to no longer respond to any necessity. He is free to resemble all that is not he in the universe. He can cast aside the idea that it is he or God who prevents everything else from being absurd.

Man escaped from his head like the condemned man from his prison.

He found beyond him not God, who is the prohibition of crime, but a being who doesn’t know prohibition. Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is headless, who fills me with anguish because he is made of innocence and crime. He holds a weapon of steel in his left hand, flames like a sacred heart in his right hand. He unites in one eruption birth and death. He is not a man. But he isn’t a god, either. He is not I, but he is more I than I: his belly is the labyrinth in which he himself goes astray, led me astray, and in which I find myself being he, that is, a monster.

What I think and represent I didn’t think or represent alone. I am writing in a small cold house in a fishing village; a dog has just barked in the night. My room is next to the kitchen of Andre Masson, who is moving happily about and singing. At the very moment I am writing he has put on the phonograph a recording of the overture of “Don Giovanni.” More than anything else, the overture of “Don Giovanni” ties what is given me of existence to a challenge that opens up a ravishment outside of the self. At this very instant I look upon that headless being, made up of two equally strong obsessions, become “Don Giovanni’s Tomb.” When a few days ago I was in this kitchen with Masson, sitting with a glass of wine in my hand while he, suddenly imagining his own death and that of his kin, his eyes fixed, suffering, almost crying out that death had to become an affectionate and passionate death, crying out his hatred for a world that made weigh even on death its worker’s hand, already I could no longer question that the lot and the infinite tumult of human life are open not to those who exist like poked out eyes, but to those who are like clairvoyants, carried away by an upsetting dream that could not belong to them.

Georges Bataille 1936

Bataille's Tombstone

Georges Bataille

Those substances where the eggs, germs and maggots swarm not only make our hearts sink, but also turn our stomachs. Death does not come down to the better annihilation of being - of all that I am, which expects to be once more, the very meanings of which, rather than to be, is to expect to be (as if we never received being authentically, but only the anticipation of being, which will be and is not, as if we were not the presence that we are, but the future that we will be and are not); it is also that shipwreck in the nauseous. I will rejoin abject nature and the purulence of anonymous, infinite life, which stretches forth like the night, which is death. One day this living world will pullulate in my dead mouth.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Death by a Thousand Cuts

I've kept the image small for the feint of heart. If you click on it you'll see a bigger version. More images can be found here.

The image was sent to Bataille in 1925 by Adrien Borel. 'The torture victim was Fu Chou Li, guilty of murdering Prince Ao Han Ouan. The emperor's leniency granted that he should not be burned as decreed, but cut to pieces, into a hundred pieces: cut up alive. Georges Dumas may have been and Adrien Borel certainly was present at this execution on 10 April 1905, and brought back photographs of it.' (From Surya's biography, p. 93)

I still can't find the bit I paraphrased in class though. I'll keep looking.

Bataille on Crustaceans

Crustaceans. – One day, Gérard de Nerval went for a stroll in the gardens of the Palais-Royal with a living lobster on a leash. The idlers crowded around him, flabbergasted and roaring with laughter at the strange retinue. One of his friends having asked him why he was making such a fool of himself, Nerval replied: ‘But what are you laughing at? You people go about readily enough with dogs, cats and other noisy and dirty domestic animals. My lobster is a gentle animal, affable and clean, and he is at least familiar with the wonders of the deeps!’
A painter friend of mine said one day that if a grasshopper were the size of a lion it would be the most beautiful animal in the world. How true that would be of a giant crayfish, a crab enormous as a house, and a shrimp as tall as a tree! Crustaceans, fabulous creatures that amaze children playing on beaches, submarine vampires nourished on corpses and refuse. Heavy and light, ironic and grotesque, animals made of silence and of weight.
Of all the ridiculous actions men take upon themselves, none is more so than shrimping. Everybody has seen that elderly gentleman, bearded and red-faced, a white piqué hat on his head, wearing an alpaca jacket, his trousers rolled up to his thighs, a wicker basket on his belly, his shrimping-net at the ready, hunting shrimps in a rock-pool for his dinner. Woe betide the poor shrimp that lets itself be caught! In desperation she wriggles, she slides, she flutters in the triumphant fingers. Elastic animal flower, graceful and lively as mercury, petal separated from the great bouquet of the waves. She is also a woman. Who has not heard of La Môme Crevetteı?
Among crustaceans, the crab known as the ‘sleeper,’ the image of eternal sleep, is the most mysterious, the most deceitful, the shiftiest. It hides under rocks and its mobile eyes watch for passing prey with a cruel malice. It walks sideways. It combines every fault. There are men who resemble it.
The crayfish and the lobster are nobles. They are cultivated like oysters and tulips. They are present at all human ceremonies: political banquets, wedding breakfasts and wakes.
All these beasts change their carapaces, grow old, harden, make love and die. We do not know whether they suffer or if they have ideas concerning ethics and the organization of societies. According to Jarry it would appear that a lobster fell in love with a can of corned beef…
Crustaceans are boiled alive to conserve the succulence of their flesh.

Georges Bataille (Taken from Encyclopedia Acephalica) Translated by Iain White

Erik Satie

Here's a link to some Erik Satie mp3s.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing

Here's a great letter by the young Marx to Arnold Ruge from 1843, often published under the name 'For a ruthless Criticism of Everything existing'. I thought it was quite relevant to today's discussions about the Marxism(s) radical self-critique.

For a Ruthless Criticism

The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions. Our whole object can only be – as is also the case in Feuerbach’s criticism of religion – to give religious and philosophical questions the form corresponding to man who has become conscious of himself.

Hence, our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or a political form. It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality. It will become evident that it is not a question of drawing a great mental dividing line between past and future, but of realising the thoughts of the past. Lastly, it will become evident that mankind is not beginning a new work, but is consciously carrying into effect its old work.

In short, therefore, we can formulate the trend of our journal as being: self-clarification (critical philosophy) to be gained by the present time of its struggles and desires. This is a work for the world and for us. It can be only the work of united forces. It is a matter of a confession, and nothing more. In order to secure remission of its sins, mankind has only to declare them for what they actually are.

Assorted links from today's seminars

Steve McQueen's Gravesend (2007) defetishizing coltan?

Darwin's Nightmare defetishizing Nile perch?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fukuyama and the End of History

Thought I'd provide a link to the infamous 'End of History' essay by Francis Fukuyama that Derrida refers to several times. At the very least it's interesting for capturing a certain zeitgeist.

'The End of History?'

Fukuyama's biography is quite interesting. He was one of the founders of Project for a New American Century, the infamous neo-conservative think thank in the US, but has since split with the movement and even written a book attacking them.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Welles Hearst Capital

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts.

I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

Kane is (stuff about snow globes... as in post here and here).

Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overwritten film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her rival Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1958/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.

Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got him called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.

The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia...

Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as 'Mission to Moscow' and 'North Star' (Pizzitola 2002:409).

Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early 'investigative' journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the 'greatest film of all time' etc etc... the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.

So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all - a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital ("hat tip Rough Theory"). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane's snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan's table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.
The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

JH - Oct 2007

Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles

Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.

Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida on Ghosts

From Ghost Dance

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Capital the Unfinished Masterpiece

Hello everyone. Welcome to the 2007 blog.

Sorry to start with a recycled post but I think this article from The Guardian serves as a quite good introduction to a reading of Capital. It discusses Capital in relation to Balzac's The Unfinished Masterpiece.

'The poet of Dialectics'