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Listen to Capital, Volume 1, by Karl Marx

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis. That crisis is once again approaching, although as yet but in its preliminary stage; and by the universality of its theatre and the intensity of its action it will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German empire.

Karl Marx
London
January 24, 1873

 

The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity Reflections on History, the Holocaust, and Antisemitism (Moishe Postone)

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The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity – Postone

This chapter seeks to relate historical changes in public responses to the Holocaust and understandings of antisemitism, especially on the left, to the historically changing configurations of capitalist modernity since 1945. 1 Thinking about the two together can be clarifying: public responses to the Holocaust have tended to be structured by an opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism – an opposition that also is constitutive of modern antisemitism. These responses have shifted with and are related to the changing configurations of capitalist modernity from the statist Fordist–Keynesian configuration of the 1950s and 1960s to a subsequent neoliberal one. Consideration of these large-scale configurations can illuminate the historical character of those responses; at the same time examination of those responses can shed light on these larger historical configurations. This problem complex can be fruitfully approached on the basis of a critical theory of capital, on the one hand, and one of antisemitism, on the other. Within the framework of a critical theory of capital the opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism is neither ontologically given nor historically contingent but is intrinsic to the fundamental forms that structure capitalism, namely, the commodity and capital.2 Such an analysis grasps both terms of the opposition – abstract universality and concrete particularity – as remaining bound within the framework of capitalist modernity, however much positions based on each of them have understood themselves to be fundamentally “critical” or “radical,” pointing beyond the existing order. This essay seeks to problematize such “critical” positions by highlighting the one-sided character of each and by drawing attention to a historical shift from the predominance of critiques based on abstract universalism, characteristic of classical liberal thought and, with important differences, working-class movements, to the ascendancy of positions focused on concrete particularity, such as those expressed by liberation struggles that can be deemed anticolonial in the broadest sense. By suggesting that both sorts of responses remain immanent to capitalism, to its double character, the approach presented here problematizes the relation of each to the Holocaust and to antisemitism while contributing to a reflexive critique of emancipatory theory. Far from delineating issues of peripheral importance for critical theories of capitalism then, the problem complex of responses to the Holocaust and the changing configurations of capitalist modernity touches upon issues of fundamental importance for such theories. Within the framework outlined in this chapter consideration of those changing responses not only reveals their generally problematic character, but also illuminates the limits of the left in terms of its most fundamental self-understanding as a practical and theoretical critique of the capitalist order. What mediates these various moments, as I shall elaborate, is the issue of antisemitism. I shall only be able to present a preliminary sketch of this argument here. To do so I shall briefly describe the main features of the two general historical configurations of postwar capitalist modernity and also outline an analysis of antisemitism that distinguishes it from racism in general while showing it to be deeply intertwined with history as constituted by capital. Such an analysis could help conceptually distinguish political terror and mass murder (as expressed metaphorically by Buchenwald and Hiroshima) from extermination (as represented by Auschwitz). These distinctions are important not because the one crime is “worse” than the other but because the left, which has had few problems dealing conceptually with political terror and mass murder, has had difficulty grasping extermination. This difficulty reveals an inadequate understanding of antisemitism and relatedly an underlying weakness in apprehending the fundamental object of the left’s critique: capitalism.


From the book: Jews and Leftist Politics. Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender ed. Jack Jacobs (2017)

Welcome to Hell: G20 Hamburg

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Announcing Continuous Live Coverage of the G20 in Hamburg – crimethinc

Welcome to Hell!

Today—July 6, the first day of an international mobilization against the 2017 G20 summit in Germany—we’re be posting continuous live updates, providing firsthand reports and analysis of the events in Hamburg. Tune in right here for continuous updates running late into the night and resuming on Friday if all goes well. We welcome field reports, footage, and updates. Send them to us at G20@crimethinc.com—we’ll sift through them, fact-check them, and blast them out into the world.


The Police Lost Tonight in Hamburg

Summing up the First Day of Resistance to the G20

A video overview of the days events.

While the city of Hamburg is slowly quieting down, there are still many streets on which demonstrators continue to keep the police at bay, pelting them with projectiles and building barricades. It is fair to say that the police will be busy all night. As we’re wrapping up our live coverage of the first day of actions against the G20 in Hamburg, it’s safe to say that the police lost tonight.

The residents of Hamburg woke up this morning to the news that a large number of Porsches had been burned in the outskirts last night, giving an indication of the ungovernable energy with which Hamburg would resist this intrusion.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/224553314?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0
Several expensive cars burned this morning, likely in protest against the G20 summit in Hamburg.

Despite the police controlling busses and trains full of activists at the border, they simply could not stop the crowds that gathered in the city center for the Welcome to Hell demonstration. The crowds they had to fear were not a few radical activists listed in the files of the secret police, but the population of Hamburg itself, which came together in opposition to the militarized policing that the G20 forced on the city.

The German police had brought together approximately 20,000 officers, including troops from other EU countries, with the intention of utterly quashing resistance. They brutally raided the camp that activists set up to accommodate protesters, then attacked people who gathered to enjoy themselves in the streets on July 4 and 5. They did everything they could to spread fear, in hopes of intimidating people out of showing up to the demonstrations to express their feelings about capitalism and the state.

It didn’t work. The Welcome to Hell demonstration attracted multigenerational crowds prepared to participate in blocs, black and otherwise. Thousands of people came together with joy, courage, and determination. In response, the police attacked a permitted demonstration without any justification—creating panic, severely injuring many people, and making more than 50 arrests in the first wave of repressive violence.

Yet this only served to foment more outrage against the authorities, which spread all around the city in the form of burning cars, barricades, and multiple simultaneous clashes and demonstrations of thousands. The strategy of terrorizing and kettling people with tremendous numbers of officers using brand-new militarized police equipment and brutal force simply failed. There were too many people on the streets and the police lost control. They report that 76 officers were injuredin Hamburg tonight.

There was a lot at stake today. The German state and the world leaders wanted to show that they are in control, that their reign is popular—or, failing that, that they can successfully dominate the population. They wanted the world to see that they can freely harass, intimidate, and oppress people without consequences. They wanted to flaunt their power by bringing the G20 to a center of resistance. Instead, they demonstrated their weakness.

Tonight, with the help of courageous people from around the world, Hamburg stood up and said Enough. We are humbled and inspired. We will continue tomorrow.

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The Myth of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

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by Walter Benn Michaels

Even our own stories don’t belong to us

Vanessa Place, Kenny Goldsmith, Kelley Walker, Dana Schutz, Sam Durant — these are all white people who in the recent past have made what they intended to be politically transgressive art, and succeeded. But not in the way they were hoping for. Dana Schutz’s painting of the dead Emmett Till was not meant to insult Till’s memory. Sam Durant’s “Scaffold,” a sculpture critiquing the execution by hanging of, among others, 38 Native Americans, was meant as just that — a critique. The point of all these works was resolutely antiracist.

Indeed, if one were to criticize them as political art, it would not be for expressing controversial positions. Just the opposite: Among the visitors to the Whitney Biennial or the Walker Art Center, the antiracism to which all these artists are committed is almost uncontested, and their politics could more plausibly be characterized as anodyne than outrageous.

So what got them in trouble? It wasn’t a belief in white supremacy; it was their embodiment of white privilege, the privilege that enabled them to treat something that didn’t belong to them as if it did. “Not Your Story” read a sign at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, protesting “Scaffold.” “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” wrote Hannah Black in her open letter to the curators of the Whitney Biennial. The idea here is that when white artists seek to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” as Hal Niedzvicki (a former editor of the journal of the Canadian Writers Union) recently urged all writers to do, what they’re really doing is less imagining other cultures than stealing from them. And, as the Equity Task Force of that same union put it in protest of Niedzvicki’s editorial: “The theft of voice, stories, culture, and identity are part of a long-standing settler agenda for cultural genocide and cannot be treated lightly.”

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‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

by Marcel Stoetzler (opendemocracy)

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits us.

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Horkheimer left, Adorno right, Habermas background right, running hand through hair. Max Weber-Soziologentag, Heidelberg,April,1964. Wikicommons/Jeremy J.Shapiro. Some rights reserved.

How do you make an argument against social domination when the very terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment¹ is a very strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive, circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.
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Let The Mystery Be

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain
And so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say once you’re gone you’re gone forever
And some say you’re gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack

Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain
And so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say they’re goin’ to a place called Glory
And I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact
But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to purgatory
And I don’t like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody is worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain
And so it’s all the same to me

I think I’ll just let the mystery be
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Communism for Kids

Communism For Kids

By Bini Adamczak

Translated by Jacob Blumenfeld and Sophie Lewis

Overview

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers–not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair, and a big pot called “the state.” Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. Happy ending? Only the future will tell. With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

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The Bleak Left: On Endnotes

David Lynch: The Art of the Real

 

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Arbeit

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Work: A Global History by Andrea Komlosy, discussed with Timothy Nunan

Work remains ever-present with us, yet somehow elusive. We spend more time doing it than anything else, other than sleeping, and yet defining what, exactly, the term means can be a challenge. Part of the reason may be the decline of solid salaried work, where one punched in and out of the factory, and knew that hours logged meant hours logged. For a time, even white-collar workers had the certainty of knowing that the weekend was just that – physical and infrastructural distance from fax machines, cell phones, and the papers, mountains of paper at the office. Today, however, many people not only allow office e-mail to intrude into the weekend; more than that, they embrace working from home.

Others are less lucky. Among historians, those who wash out in the brutal competition for the promise of tenured lifetime employment sometimes submit to the even crueler reality of the adjunct route. The root of the term itself demonstrates their precariousness: in linguistics, an adjunct is an optional, a “structurally dispensable” part of an utterance. All the same, as more and more work seems to become “casualized” (another telling term), organizers demand rights and privileges that were traditionally bundled with “full-time” or “traditional” employment. All the while, back at home, partners may grumble that there is precious little talk of unionizing or granting medical insurance to those of us stuck doing dishes, vacuuming, or putting a hot meal on the table.

The vocabulary that we use to talk about work remains, in short, of massive political importance, but all too often, we don’t scrutinize it very closely. Not, at least until Andrea Komlosy‘s 2014 book Arbeit: Eine globalhistorische Perspektive, published by Promedia Verlag  We recently had the chance to speak with Komlosy about her road to writing about social history and the history of work, as well as what it means to apply a global history perspective to a theme that necessarily stretches across hundreds of years. Let’s get to work, then, and dive into a discussion about Work.

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“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there”

by Jehu (2014)

If you ever want to make a good case against communism to a worker, tell her that communists want the following things:

  • Everyone is unemployed
  • No one has any income
  • Democracy no longer exists
  • No one can own anything

The paradox of communism is that it appears to involve conditions that are absolutely unacceptable to any rational person. Who in their right mind wants to give up having a job that pays a decent wage, the right to vote and control over means of production? And why would anyone who claims to fight for social emancipation stand for these sorts of things.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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Adam Shatz reviews:  Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman (2017)

One of the great paradoxes of the Obama era is that it encouraged so many liberals, both black and white, to see the black experience in America not as a slow, arduous struggle for freedom culminating in the election of a black president – Obama’s version, not surprisingly – but as an unending nightmare. Not least among the reasons was that a black man of unerring self-discipline and caution, bipartisan to a fault, should have provoked such ferocious white resistance – fanned by the man who questioned the validity of his birth certificate and then succeeded him as president. This most eloquent champion of ‘post-racialism’ may have been the most powerful man in the world, yet he remained a prisoner of his race, of his ‘black body,’ as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in Between the World and Me.[1] In the face of repeated police shootings of young black men or atrocities such as the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama did little more than deliver one of his formidable speeches. And – as he did in Charleston – sing ‘Amazing Grace’, as if only a higher power could cure America of its original sin, and end the nightmare.

The United States of Work

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BY MIYA TOKUMITSU (April 2017)

Employers exercise vast control over our lives, even when we’re not on the job. How did our bosses gain power that the government itself doesn’t hold?

Work no longer works. “You need to acquire more skills,” we tell young job seekers whose résumés at 22 are already longer than their parents’ were at 32. “Work will give you meaning,” we encourage people to tell themselves, so that they put in 60 hours or more per week on the job, removing them from other sources of meaning, such as daydreaming or social life. “Work will give you satisfaction,” we insist, even though it requires abiding by employers’ rules, and the unwritten rules of the market, for most of our waking hours. At the very least, work is supposed to be a means to earning an income. But if it’s possible to work full time and still live in poverty, what’s the point?

Even before the global financial crisis of 2008, it had become clear that if waged work is supposed to provide a measure of well-being and social structure, it has failed on its own terms. Real household wages in the United States have remained stagnant since the 1970s, even as the costs of university degrees and other credentials rise. Young people find an employment landscape defined by unpaid internships, temporary work, and low pay. The glut of degree-holding young workers has pushed many of them into the semi- or unskilled labor force, making prospects even narrower for non–degree holders. Entry-level wages for high school graduates have in fact fallen. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, these lost earnings will depress this generation’s wages for their entire working lives. Meanwhile, those at the very top—many of whom derive their wealth not from work, but from returns on capital—vacuum up an ever-greater share of prosperity.

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The Right to be Greedy: Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything (For Ourselves, 1974)

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For Ourselves (1974)

The positive conception of egoism, the perspective of communist egoism, is the very heart and unity of our theoretical and practical coherence.

This perspective is the essence of what separates us from both the left and the right. We cannot allow its fundamental importance to be obscured, or ourselves to be mistaken for either the right or the left. We cannot allow any Leninist organization to get away with claiming that it is only ‘a little bit pregnant’ with state capitalism.

INTRODUCTION

1

Greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis of communist society.

2

The present forms of greed lose out, in the end, because they turn out to be not greedy enough.

3

The repression of egoism can never totally succeed, except as the destruction of human subjectivity, the extinction of the human species itself, because egoism is an essential moment of human subjectivity. Its repression simply means that it returns in a hidden, duplicitous form. If it cannot show itself in the open market, it will find itself or create for itself a black market. If it is not tolerated in transparent n1 relations, the repressed self will split in two; into a represented self, a personal organization of appearances, a persona, and that which cringes and plots behind this character-armour n2. The repression of egoism, contrary to the dictates of every one of the so-called “Communists” (in opposition to Marx and Engels), from Lenin right down to Mao, can never be the basis of communist society.

Moreover, the repressive conception of “communism” misses precisely the whole point. It misses out on the validity of the egoistic moment. This is true even in the inverted form in which it emerges from an immanent critique of altruistic ideology: if I die, the world dies for me. Without life, I cannot love another. However, what it misses in “theory” – i.e., in its ideological representations – it nonetheless preserves in practice, and precisely with the help of that very ideology: its real basis is the egoism of the state-capitalist bureaucracy. This ideology of self-sacrifice serves admirably the task of extracting surplus-labour from the proletariat.
The actual negation of narrow egoism is a matter of transcendance (“aufhebung” n3), of the transition from a narrow to a qualitatively expanded form of egoism. The original self-expansion of egoism was identically the demise of the primitive community. But its further self-expansion will resolve itself into a community once again. It is only when greed itself at last (or rather, once again) beckons in the direction of community that that direction will be taken. Here the ancient Christian truth that no earthly force can withstand human greed rejoins us on our side of the barricades.

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Progress, Normativity, and the Dynamics of Social Change

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An Exchange between Rahel Jaeggi and Amy Allen

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal Volume 37, Number 2, 2016

Amy Allen, Rahel Jaeggi, and Eva von Redecker

Eva von Redecker: I would like to say a quick word to open up the conversation. I think that by moving the notion of progress to the center of your work, both of you accomplish something very interesting, in that you transpose an elaborate and well rehearsed debate in critical theory regarding the foundations of normativity away from the question of critique and into the history of social change and politics. This is what I find really exciting about this whole thematic field. Whether in problematizing the notion of progress, as Amy does, or in revisiting it in Rahel’s way, the shift from a mere reflection of critique to one of historical development immediately makes the debate more substantial.

The approaches each of you offer could easily be construed as a direct clash—progress: for and against—, but I am not so interested in pretending that your positions are even congruent enough to be exact opposites regarding the same question. I think it is more interesting to figure out the constellation in which they stand to each other. I hope we can probe this issue, which can be clustered around roughly three concerns: the conceptual role progress plays in critical theory, your respective versions of negativism, and how your views on progress are informed by different accounts of social change. To start us off on your separate takes on progress, I want to begin with a question that might seem a bit playful, but might move us to the important details. I’d like to ask Amy why she thinks that some residual notion of progress, despite her many critiques of it, is, at the end of the day, indispensable for critical theory. I also want to hear from Rahel about why she thinks we cannot simply work with an unmodified notion of progress. Why, for example, can we not take up Hegelian world history or historical materialism?
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Twin Peaks and Neoliberalism

twin-peaks-e1412698162766Trapped in the Hysterical Sublime: Twin Peaks, Postmodernism, and the Neoliberal Now”  by Linnie Blake (2016) 

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Watching Twin Peaks again, from the perspective of 25 years, a great deal has become apparent to me that was simply not “there” at the time. I am considerably more troubled by the program’s regressive class and gender politics, for example. I am less seduced by its bedazzling epistemological indeterminacy, generic hybridity, and often-absurdist pastiche of available styles. Mostly, I have come to question the ideological function of such representational practices—and this has led me to explore the links between postmodernism’s rejection of the certitudes of the Enlightenment and the social malaise of the new millennium. For, as Graeme Wearden reports, ours is now a world in which the polarization of wealth has never been greater—a recent OXFAM report demonstrating that the world’s richest 85 people now control as much of the planet’s wealth as “the poorest half of the global population put together.” As an avowedly postmodern text from the period in which neoliberalism came to dominant global economics, Twin Peaks proffers us a superb exemplification of the relation between postmodern representational practice and the coming into being of our own horrific world.

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Twin Peaks was first broadcast, then, in a world in which the certainties of state and nation, society and self, were being changed utterly by the radical energies of neoliberalism. This is the world we inhabit today, both periods being characterized by a conceptual adherence to the principles of postmodernism. This I define as a relativistic skepticism that challenges the instrumental rationality of post-Enlightenment humanism and all that it holds dear, including truth, justice, progress, the rights of the individual, and the social responsibilities of us all. In celebrating the dreamlike nostalgia of Twin Peaks, in reveling in its generic hybridity, its interstitial setting, and highly individuated yet strangely interchangeable characters, we the original audience became part of this postmodern project. We thrilled at the novelty of a series that so insistently foregrounded its stylish artificiality. We were carried along not by social or emotional realism, but by glittering cleverness: the ways the series foregrounded the surface and repudiated depth. And what a transgressive surface it was: rape, murder, incest, teenage prostitution, drug dealing, adultery, and more. Anything went in Twin Peaks and we were happy to go with it.

At the time, it was argued that “postmodern aesthetic experimentation should be viewed as having an irreductible political dimension” being “inextricably bound up with a critique of domination” (Wellberry 235). Certainly Twin Peaks was characterized by a sense of transgressive danger. Yet, even as postmodern thinkers affirmed the liberating dimensions of the postmodern turn, the world was becoming increasingly dominated by an economic model that brought exponential increases in wealth to the richest “even as it plunged billions into poverty” (Dean 67). And so, I have come to believe, as programs like Twin Peaks reveled in postmodernism’s critique of the positivistic order, first-generation viewers, such as myself, became gradually inured to neoliberal economics’ erosion of civil society, placated somewhat by cornucopia of goods and services that emerged during this period—including increasingly inventive TV.

We the original audience of Twin Peaks were, then, the children of a form of disorganized capitalism that manifested itself in the cultural products of postmodernism. For while the deregulation of the cultural sphere championed by postmodernism echoed neoliberalism’s deregulation of the markets, both postmodern relativism and laissez-faire capitalism disavowed transcendent meaning in favor of contingent and eminently revisable representations of the individual and the world. In both models, the individual was center stage, a consumer of goods and images possessed of the right to choose between them but not to choose otherwise (there is no outside this particular text) and bearing no responsibility for the impact of either choice on others.

Certainly, throughout the 1980s, our cultural life had become more fragmented and pluralistic, but the changes wrought to self and society were not merely, as Scott Lash and John Urry have argued, reflected in the rise of postmodernism; they were advanced by it. For “in reifying culture” in this manner, “attention is diverted from both institutional change and class dynamics” (Wexler 165). This was particularly true, I would argue, in the case of television programming, which even at the time was being theorized as “the real world of postmodern culture” with “ entertainment as its ideology . . . electronic images as its most dynamic, and only, form of social cohesion” and “the diffusion of a network of relational power as its real product” (Kroker 270). From the perspective of 25 years on in time, the television programs of this period can indeed be seen to be characterized by the free market’s “network of relational power,” brokered through organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and brought into our homes through a corporatized media.

And so, having hunted high and low for the meanings of Twin Peaks over a period of a quarter of a century, I am now inclined to argue that they are not to be found in the Red Room, in the dreams of Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), or in the Giant’s (Carel Struycken) gnomic portents. They lie, I believe, in a retrospective awareness that the program came into being at the moment at which neoliberalism was refashioning society as a Darwinian survival of the fittest, postmodernism was reconceptualizing the self as a mutable contingency, and the Enlightenment narrative of social progress was going rapidly out of style. This awareness now gives meaning to Twin Peaks’s self-conscious repudiation of meaning. This explains how intelligent people such as ourselves could have been so seduced by the ethical relativism of Lynch’s dark illogicality that we celebrated a cultural artifact that was at best politically conservative and replete with dangerous representations of already marginalized groups.

*

Looking at Twin Peaks 25 years on, in other words, I am less excited by its postmodern innovations than troubled by them. Standing in the ruins of the British Welfare State and surveying a culture in which the weakest are persecuted for the demands they place on the public purse while the furtherance of corporate interests appears to have become the primary role of government, I cannot help but think that my generation was seduced by the way postmodern representation subsumed the social to the cultural through the replacement of truths with images. Distracted by its cleverness we came to believe that a rejection of Enlightenment rationality promised a liberation of the self. Reconstituted as consumer-subjects unable to position ourselves within social history we came to accept the inevitability of the free market and the total global dominance of a neoliberal world-view. In the years since Twin Peaks’s initial broadcast, neoliberalism has created a world in which, OXFAM argues, “dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations” have become the norm. Neoliberalism’s legacy of pain and suffering, proffered in the cupped hands of postmodern discourse, has become the garmonbozia of the world.


Return to Twin Peaks: New Approaches to Materiality, Theory, and  Genre on Television  edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock and Catherine Spooner (2016)

 

The Perils of “Privilege”

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 Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage

Phoebe Maltz Bovy / St. Martin’s Press

INTRODUCTION: THE “PRIVILEGE” TURN

“[A] HORRIBLE PERSON”

In a freezing-cold flat in Berlin, I’m standing under the shower with the water turned up as high and hot as it will go. I’m trying to boil away the shame of having said something stupid on the internet. The shower is the one place it’s still impossible to check Twitter. This is a mercy. For as long as the hot water lasts I won’t be able to read the new accusations of bigotry, racism and unchecked privilege. I didn’t mean it. I don’t understand what I did wrong but I’m trying to understand.

*   *   *

THE ABOVE RECOLLECTIONS, from a 2015 article in the New Statesman by the writer Laurie Penny, are where I wish to begin because they make up the most wrenching, but accurate, description that I’ve come across of what it can feel like to be called out online. The phenomenon she describes—the privilege call-out—is a new, if increasingly familiar, experience. Penny’s reaction—“I’ve spent very dark days, following social media pile-ons, convinced that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to draw breath”—may have been extreme, but such interactions aren’t the high point of anyone’s week. While I’ve never experienced quite that spiral, I know what it’s like to see a new blog comment or Twitter notification, and then another … followed, predictably, by the heart-racing realization that the Internet (and it always feels, in the moment, like the entire Internet) has found me out.

The outright hateful comments are, as Penny notes, easier to handle, in a way. As unpleasant as it was the week when neo-Nazi Twitter made me its Jewess-du-jour, and as frightened as I was during the weeks when pro-gun Twitter made it known what it thought about my anti-gun stance, there’s something more viscerally draining about an “unchecked privilege” accusation. What’s so useful about Penny’s description is that she hones in on two of the key reasons why that’s the case. One is, as she spells out, that the accusation manages to tap into the accused’s worst fears about her value as a person. The other, which she does not, is the lack of specificity. Unlike earlier generations of bigotry accusation, the privilege call-out is intentionally vague, while also, at times, hyperspecific. Either your privilege is showing, and you’re not entirely sure which form of privilege (let alone how to appropriately respond), or you’ve suddenly learned that you’re wrong because surely you’ve never worked in food service, something about which your interlocutor, a stranger on the Internet, is remarkably certain.

A privilege accusation prompts the accused to contemplate his or her unearned advantages, and—all too often—to publicly self-flagellate for the same. The less saintly among us, though, will soon remember (and, all too often, reply) that we haven’t had it quite as easy as our accusers imply. And sometimes the specific privilege accusation will have been inaccurate. Regardless of how, exactly, all of this plays out, one thing’s for sure: The conversation will have switched from one about some broader issue to the ultimately trivial question of our privilege.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this thing, “privilege,” and why is getting accused of possessing it so fraught?

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22nd Century

There is no oxygen in the air
Men and women have lost their hair
Ashen faces legs that stand
Ghosts and goblins walk in this land
When tomorrow becomes yesterday
And tomorrow becomes eternity
When the soul with the soul goes away beyond
When life is taken and there are no more babies born
And there is no one and there is everyone
When there is no one and there is everyone

Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
It will be, it will be, it will be ahh

21st century was here and gone
And the 20th century was the dawn
The begining of the end was the 21st
When the 20th century was at an end

1990 was the year when the plagues struck the earth
1988 was the year when men and women
Struck out for freedom
And bloodletting was the thing that was

People said there was no god
And there was no reason
And there was no cause

1972 was right all the way
Drums and bugles blasting all though the day
Right wing left wing middle of the road
Side winder backswinger backlash whiplash
Race stockings red stockings
Liberation of women liberation of men
Everybody carrying a heavy load

Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
It will be, it will be, it will be
It will be ahh

Liberation of animals
Prevention of cruelty to animals men and beast
Flying and on flying flying things
Revolution of music poetry love and life
Sex change change change
Man is woman woman is man
Even your brain is not your brain
Your heart is a plastic thing which can be bought
There are no more diseases which can be caught

Man became the thing that he worships
Man today became his god
That was the day that man and woman truly became bored
Man became his good
Man became his evil
Man became his god
And man became his devil

Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
It will be, it will be, it will be ahh

Young women without money caught
Big dogs living in marble lofts
Young men die in spring
Boys of 7 falling in love
Give that lady fair a diamond ring
Wedding wedding wedding wedding
No a wedding ain’t the thing
Don’t want no preacher
Don’t want no preacher man preachin
Give me your hand and take my hand
This is better than anybody’s preacher man
Truth
Truth is now unfold
It says 7 years
7 years so I am told
Don’t sway me over
Don’t try to sway me over to your day
On your day
Your day will go away

Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
Tomorrow will be the 22nd century
It will be, it will be, it will be ahh

Oh tomorrow will be the 22nd century
It will be, it will be, it will be
It will be, it will be, it will be, it will be, it will be

Nina Simone

A General Logic of Crisis

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Adam Tooze on:

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck
Verso, 262 pp, £16.99, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 78478 401 0

‘Whatever it takes.’ These words, spoken by the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to a crowd of investors in the City of London on 26 July 2012, have come to represent the symbolic end to the acute phase of the global financial crisis. In the political sphere, by contrast, where words are supposed to be everything, we have not yet been able to draw the line. More than four years on, we know that in 2012 the political fallout was only just beginning. It was in December 2011 that David Cameron reopened the European question by opting out of the new ‘fiscal compact’ drawn up by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy with the aim of enforcing budget discipline across the EU. In the US in spring 2012, Mitt Romney emerged as the candidate from the Republican primaries, but the freakshow anticipated the Trump campaign to come. In Italy the ousting of Berlusconi in a backroom coup in November 2011 and the installation of the ‘unpolitical’ economist Mario Monti as prime minister set the stage for the emergence of Beppe Grillo and Five Star in the local elections of May 2012. In France as the fiscal compact began to bite, François Hollande’s presidency was dead almost before it had started.

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Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind

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By Juan Posadas – June 1968

(for more on space communism, listen here)

Life can exist on other planets, in other solar systems, in other galaxies and universes.

The passage of matter from the inorganic to the organic state could take place in a different manner to how it does on Earth, such that energy could be used in a more effective manner. Here, we barely know how to make best use of the oil and, in a very limited fashion, nuclear energy that we have at hand. They, on the contrary, may be on the way to exploiting all the energy existing in matter. They can use all the energy that we still do not know how to employ on Earth, and transform it into light. It could be that matter is organised differently in other planetary systems or galaxies, in infinite combinations and in totally different forms to those that we know on Earth. We cannot imagine what it is like, but we can imagine very well that there may be an organisation of energy infinitely superior to what we have here. In the Soviet Union, they have discovered a ray infinitely faster than light, which is something totally new.

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