communists in situ

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Tag: life

A New Type of Human Being and Who We Really Are

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by Robert Hullot-Kentor (2008)

It needs to be noticed: We have New Left Review and October; we have Monthly Review and Critical Inquiry; there is Rethinking Marxism and Cultural CritiqueSocialist Review and ConfrontationCritiqueRadical Philosophy; the Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies and shelves and shelves of critical theory of all kinds. We have criticism of all things. Nothing is spared. A web search I tried last week of “critical studies”—leaving aside “cultural studies” and “critical theory”—turned up more than 31 million references. If we prudently discount 15 million of these references, we still easily have 15 million plus critical studies publications, programs and sundry essays: critical studies in television, of food, and culture; of science; of the arts, of media, across the disciplines; of society, of gender, in theatre and performance. And so on.

This capacious critical literature is certainly not homogeneous. Under any scrutiny, it polarizes out into the most remote extremes: On one hand, much of it amounts to fantasies of conceptual omnipotence; mental muscle magazines of self-obfuscation and academic self-advancement; administrative techniques for treating all things, all at once; a plausible way for anyone with an advantage of mental agility to get a hoist up on top of who knows what. But at the other extreme, an important part of this critical research and thinking, much for instance that can be found in volumes of Monthly Review and New Left Review, is of the greatest seriousness and responsibility, without which it is hard to imagine ever getting an education.

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Defender of the Faith

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by Philip Roth (1959)

    IN MAY OF 1945, ONLY A FEW WEEKS AFTER the fighting had ended in Europe, I was rotated back to the States, where I spent the remainder of the war with a training company at Camp Crowder, Missouri. Along with the rest of the Ninth Army, I had been racing across Germany so swiftly during the late winter and spring that when I boarded the plane, I couldn’t believe its destination lay to the west. My mind might inform me otherwise, but there was an inertia of the spirit that told me we were flying to a new front, where we would disembark and continue our push eastward-eastward until we’d circled the globe, marching through villages along whose twisting, cobbled streets crowds of the enemy would watch us take possession of what, up till then, they’d considered their own. I had changed enough in two years not to mind the trembling of old people, the crying of the very young, the uncertainty and fear in the eyes of the once arrogant. I had been fortunate enough to develop an infantryman’s heart, which, like his feet, at first aches and swells but finally grows horny enough for him to travel the weirdest paths without feeling a thing.

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The Use of Bodies, Prologue (Agamben)

1. It is curious how in Guy Debord a lucid awareness of the insufficiency of private life was accompanied by a more or less conscious conviction that there was, in his own existence or in that of his friends, something unique and exemplary, which demanded to be recorded and communicated. Already in Critique de la séparation, he thus evokes at a certain point as intransmissible “cette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires” (“that clandestinity of private life regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents”; Debord 1, p. 49/33); and nevertheless, in his first films and again in Panégyrique, he never stopped parading one after the other the faces of his friends, of Asger Jorn, of Maurice Wyckaert, of Ivan Chtcheglov, and his own face, alongside that of the women he loved. And not only that, but in Panégyrique there also appear the houses he inhabited, 28 via delle Caldaie in Florence, the country house at Champot, the square des Missions étrangères at Paris (actually 109 rue du Bac, his final Parisian address, in the drawing room of which a photograph from 1984 shows him seated on the English leather sofa that he seemed to like).

Here there is something like a central contradiction, which the Situationists never succeeded in working out, and at the same time something precious that demands to be taken up again and developed—perhaps the obscure, unavowed awareness that the genuinely political element consists precisely in this incommunicable, almost ridiculous clandestinity of private life. Since clearly it—the clandestine, our form-of-life—is so intimate and close at hand, if we attempt to grasp it, only impenetrable, tedious everydayness is left in our hands. And nonetheless, perhaps precisely this homonymous, promiscuous, shadowy presence preserves the stowaway of the political, the other face of the arcanum imperii, on which every biography and every revolution makes shipwreck. And Guy, who was so shrewd and cunning when he had to analyze and describe the alienated forms of existence in the society of the spectacle, is equally innocent and helpless when he tries to communicate the form of his life, to look in the face and dissolve the stowaway with which he had shared his journey up to the end.

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