Monday, October 31, 2005

The philosophy of neoliberalism

Latino kids in fun-ban shock

What next? Compulsory short-back-and-sides? No kissing in public? An end to kite-flying?

According to the BBC, Hugo Chavez is calling for a "ban on Halloween", although the article under the creepy headline provides no evidence whatsoever that he wants to ban anything. Not that it matters, for headshaking skimmers of the BBC website will already have come away with all the desired counterfactual impressions: a) Chavez is petty; b) Chavez is ridiculous; c) Chavez is a dictator - grim, humourless and puritanical, like lefties everywhere. Surely Venezuelans will see sense and choose freedom instead?

Rule Of Exception

Arguably, the political purpose of the ICTY was and is not in fact to indict, try and punish political and military leaders for crimes committed during the (profitable, successful) war(s) to destroy the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but to ostentatiously NOT indict others, such as Tudjman, Clarke, Clinton, Blair, Izetbegovic and Fischer. The purpose of the tribunal is to confirm the propaganda justification for the destruction and plunder of the FRY, the dispossession of its population and the imposition of foreign dictatorship upon them; the criminal aggressions are retroactively legalized, portrayed as a kind of global police work, necessitated by the criminality of the victim state and population.

Diana Johnstone, Fool's Crusade:

The Karadžic' case

On 24 July 1995, and again on November 1995, the ICTY indicted Karadžic on 16 counts of genocide, various crimes against humanity, violation of the laws or customs of war, unlawful confinement of civilians, the shelling of a civilian gathering, destruction of sacred sites, extensive destruction of property, appropriation and plunder of property, sniping against civilian targets, and other grave breaches of the laws of customs of war. This is a compendium of all the crimes that may or may not have been committed in the course of the war. But guilt depends on personal responsibility. The grave accusations against the Bosnian Serb leader were based on the following factors:

1. An a priori judgment that the war aim of the Bosnian Serbs was "genocide."

2. A statement made by Karadžic' during a parliamentary debate which was interpreted by his adversaries as a "threat"

3. Attribution of "command responsibility" to Karadžic' for all crimes allegedly committed bèy the Serbs in Bosnia during the civil war.

4. Specific responsibility for the "Srebrenica massacre" - a charge added in the 14 November 1995 indictment.

In late June and early July 1996, the case against Karadžic was laid out in a novel ICTY exercise called a Rule 61 hearing. Invented by the Tribunal judges, "Rule 61 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence" allows the Prosecution to present all the charges against an accused person in his absence after indictment. This "Rule 61 Hearing" is just one of the innovations made by the ICTY drastically reducing the rights of the defense. At the opening of the 27 June 1996 hearing, the French presiding judge, Claude Jorda, author of Rule 61, refused to allow Karadžic's defense attorney, Igor Pantelic', to represent his client during the hearing. He was merely permitted to observe proceedings from the public gallery. In short, this was a public ceremony of uncontested accusation, in which the indicted man's attorney was banned from cross-examining witnesses or offering rebuttals. Three attorneys for the prosecution presented the case, based on the four factors mentioned above.

1. The charge of "genocide"

The term " genocide" tends to be used increasingly for crimes that fall far sort of the literal meaning: the annihilation of a people. Already, the definition of the term in the 1948 Convention on Genocide was extremely broad and included "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of [a] group". There is a marked tendency in war to harm or kill people along lines of "national," ethnic or religious identity. This was clearly the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore, technically, all sides might be charged with "genocide". However, although the Hague Tribunal has occassionally accused Croats and Muslims of "war crimes", the "genocide" accusation has been reserved for Serbs. The key word seems to be "intent". It has simply been assumed from the start that the intention of the Serbs was more "genocidal" than the intentions of the others.

Even at the Rule 61 Hearing, where all the witnesses were called by and for the Prosecution, such intent was assumed or inferred, but never demonstrated. An Australian police officer named John Hunter Ralston was called to explain the political program of Karadžic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The party was founded in Sarajevo in July 1990 and went on to win and overwhelming majority of Serb votes in the November 1990 elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ralston acknowledged that the main goal of the SDS was the "complete and unconditional civil, national, cultural, religious and economic equality of the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its most important political goal was a federal Yugoslavia and within it a federal Bosnia-Herzegovina." This does not sound much like "genocide".

2. Karadžic's threat

The main "evidence" of genocidal intent produced at the Rule 61 hearing was a statement by Karadžic uttered during a heated exchange in the parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the night of 14-15 October 1991. Karadžic's Serb Democratic Party wanted to keep Bosnia-Herzegovina within Yugoslavia or, short of that, create autonomous Serb regions. Izetbegovic's Democratic Action Party totally rejected such suggestions. Calling on Izetbegovic to recognize the Serbian people's desire to remain in Yugoslavia, Karadžic declared: "You want to take Bosnia-Herzegovina down the same highway of hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia are travelling. Do not think you will not lead Bosnia-Herzegovina into hell, and do not think you will not perhaps make the Muslim people disappear, because Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war - How will you prevent everyone from being killed in Bosnia-Herzegovina?"

[The citation was read into the record not in the original Serbo-Croatian but as rendered into English, from Laura Silber and Alan Little, Yugoslavia, Death of a Nation, Penguin, Harmonsworth, p. 215]

Despite the double negatives, these are strong words, uttered in the heat of debate. They are certainly no more warlike than Izetbegovic's statement months before, in February 1991, that he "would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina, but for that peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina...would not sacrifice sovereignty". Karadžic's statement could be interpreted as a warning to Izetbegovic of the dangers of war and an invitation to compromise to save the peace. Izetbegovic, who had chosen war, described the Serb leader's statement as a threat, in an obvious move to shift blame. Accepting this interpretation, the Tribunal presented the citation as proof of Karadžic' intent to commit "genocide".

3. Attribtution of command responsibility for all crimes committed by Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Had Karadžic been defended at the Rule 61 hearing, his attorney could have presente ddocuments indicating that Karadžic not only did not order the crimes enumerated, he also did not (as accused) "fail to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators". His very first directive issued as President of Republika Srpska, on 13 May 1992, was an order to the armed forces to respect international conventions of war. To this end, he reminded officers of their "duty to initiate prosecution invoking the full sanctions of the law against individuals under their command who offend against the international conventions of war", and also "to hold regular training sessions" to make sure the conventions are understood. A month later, he issued and order outlawing paramilitary groups and another giving detailed instructions for humane treatment of prisoners of war. Subsequent directives stressed the need for "proper conduct towards the civilian population of other nationalities in our Republic." On 19 August 1992, Karadžic issued an order reiterating the need for "compliance with international humanitarian law and particularly the 3rd and 4th Geneva Conventions", and ordering a "stop the forced movement and other illegal measures against the civilian population". (This order was clearly directed against "ethnic cleansing".) And so on.

This may prove nothing to those whose minds are made up. But in the absence of presidential orders to commit crimes, the hypothesis can at least be advanced that whatever crimes were committed by Serb forces were in violation of Karadžic's orders and without his consent.

The Tribunal's application of the principle of "command responsibility" was blatantly selective. For example, in May 1995, violating a UN-sponsored truce, Tudjman sent his forces to recapture western Slavonia from Serb rebels, driving tens of thousands of Serbs from the region and killing hundreds of civilians who were too old, weak or sick to flee. In retaliation, and to get the Croats to stop attacking Serbs civilians, Krajina Serbs lobbed two Orkan rockets into central Zagreb, killing seven people. For this, the ICTY indicted the president of Serbian Krajina, Milan Martic'. Three months later, the Croatian army, strengthened by illegal arms shipments and U.S. advisors, swept through the Krajina, driving out some 200,000 Serbs, destroying homes, and killing civilians. In a rare moment of boldness, EU envoy Carl Bildt suggested that if ordering shelling was a war crime, Croatian President Franco Tudjman might deserve an ICTY indictment as much as Martic. The only result was that Bildt was declared persona non grata in Croatia. Supported by the United States and Germany, Tudjman never needed to fear indictment for his command responsibility. He remained above criticism until safely dead (he died on 10 December 1999).


However, for public opinion, all of this seems like quibbling. The case against Karadžic, and indeed against "the Serbs" in general, can be reduced to a single word: "Srebrenica". The difficulty in knowing the truth about Srebrenica began with the fact that before any solid information was available, Srebrenica had already become an important symbol and overwhelming political weapon. Uncertainty has persisted concerning the actual number of people killed, the circumstances and motives involved, and the political significance of the real or assumed killing that took place. In trying to understand what happened at Srebrenica, a number of factors should be taken into account.

The "safe areas" in Bosnia-Herzegovina were not demilitarized, and thus served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.

Six so-called "safe areas" were set up by the United Nations in Aprl and May 1993: Bihac' (200,000 inhabitants), Goradže (60,000 inhabitants), Sarajevo (380,000 inhabitants), Tuzla (130,000 inhabitants, swollen by refugees), Žepa (12,000 inabitants) and Srebrenica (an enclave with 44,000 Muslims, the Serb inhabitants having fled in 1992) . Common sense would suggest that a "safe area" in wartime must be demilitarized. In reality, these were all Muslim- held towns and the Muslims refused to demilitarize them. All were used by Muslim forces as safe bases, from which to attack the Serbs. The UN protection force (UNPROFOR) ensured safe transit to the "safe areas" of food shipments and other provisions from international charitable organizations. The Serbs suspected - correctly - that these shipments were also used to smuggle weapons
. [The possibilty was usually rejected indignantly by Western spokesmen as Serb cyncism, but in the spring of 1994, the German foreign ministry was obliged to admit that arms and munitions had been smuggled to Bihac' in shipments of powdered milk for the hospital there.] From the Serb viewpoint, the "safe areas" were a fraud, a disguised form of aid to the Muslim side.

In April 1993, the Bosnian Serbs had given in to international pressure not to capture the enclave on condition that Srebrenica be demilitarized. On 21 April, UNPROFOR announced that "demilitarization of Srebrenica was a success." This was deceptive. The Muslims "handed over approximately 300 weapons, a large number of which were non-serviceable". Only the central urban area of the "safe" zone was demilitarized, while the Muslim forces in the outskirts kept their weapons and continued to make forays into Serb territory, attacking civilians as well as Serb soldiers. By taking up positions close to the Dutc UN troops and opening fire on the Serbs, Muslim units tried to provoke a fight been Serbs and UNPROFOR, which had neither the mandate nor the forces to stop them
. [See Srebrenica Report: Report of the Secretary General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35 (1998), III. D, and Willen Honig and Norbert Both, Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, Penguin Books, London, 1996, p. 133]

The Muslim Military force stationed in Srebrenica - some 5,000 men under the command of Naser Oric', had carried out murderous raids against nearby Serb villages.

Serbs fled Srebrenica in May 1992, after the murder of a prominent Serb judge. Srebrenica thus became a Muslim enclave. The Muslim National Council gave command of the area to Naser Oric', who set about attacking surrounding Serb villages with remarkable brutality. Oric's raiders chose the Orthodox Christmas day, 7 January 1993, to attack the village of Kravica, slaughtering villagers and burning homes. Forty-six Serbs were killed outright, some as they left curch after Christmas services. The Western media almost entirely ignored the Christmas massacre at Kravica.

[The Kravica massacre of 7 January 1993 was reported the next day only in the Daily Telegraph and referred to in a CNN report on 23 March and in The New York Times on 22 April 1993 ("We Suffer Too, Serbs In Bosnia Cry", by John Darnton.) This scant coverage contrasts with widespread and repeated references to Serb attacks on Muslims.]

Between May 1992 and January 1994, some 192 Serb villages were pillaged and burnt, and over 1,300 villagers were killed, while many more fled. In 1994 and 1995, as Muslim commander at Srebrenica, Oric' actually invited foreign reporters to his comfortable apartment to show off his "war trophies": videocassette tapes of his exploits displaying severed heads and dead bodies of Serbs, burning houses and heaps of corpses.

[ Docmentation of the death and destruction caused by Oric's raids has been turned over to the ICTY, which has failed to act on it. As of this writing, no indictment has ever been issued against Oric. [Oric hads since been charged with war crimes by the ICTY judge-prosecutors. -q.] On 16 February 1994, the Washington Post reported that Oric "the toughest guy" in Srebrenica, dsplayed his "war trophies" on videocassette tape: "burned Serb houses and headless Serb men, bodies crumbled in a pathetic heap". In the Toronto Star of 16 July 1995, Bill Schiller reported watching "a shocking video version of what might have been severed heads, and people fleeing. Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork. 'We ambushed them,' he said when a number of dead Serbs appeared on the screen. The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives: 'We launched those guys to the moon,' he boasted. When footage of a bullet marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce, 'We killed 114 Serbs there'...]

These grisly images exist, but have never been seen by millions of people, who vividly recall the picture of a thin Bosnian Muslim [Fikrit Alic] man behind barbed wire. To become a determining factor in public opinion, an event needs to be recalled repeatedly in reports, articles, and editorial comment. Analogies thrive on specific historical memories. In the West, a think man behind barbed wire can signify "Auschwitz". Among Bosnian Serbs, decapitation signifies "The Turks". Serbs were reminded of the centuries of Ottoman rule when the Turkish method of repression featured decapitating rebels and displaying their heads to the public.

In one of their raids, on 26 June 1995, Srebrenica-based Muslim units penetrated behind Serb lines to burn down the village of Visnjica, and reported killing 40 "Chetniks" (meaning Serbs.) To put a stop to these raids, the regional command of the Serb army hastily planned "Operation Krivaja 95", initially aimed only at the non-militarized surroundings of Srebrenica municipalty...

"Incompetence" as camouflage

Detailing his career inside the national security bureaucracy, Col. Wilkerson describes the hothouse atmosphere in which Libby's recklessness incubated and flourished:

"[What] I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

This seeming incompetence, however, only masked the ruthless effectiveness of what Wilkerson calls "the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" in carrying out their own agenda: "The dysfunctionality," says Wilkerson, "camouflaged the efficiency of the secret decision-making process."

- Justin Raimondo

Sunday, October 30, 2005

So There

Unfortunately or fortunately, as you like it, I am not mystical and there is nothing mystical in my work. In fact my work is a deconstruction of values which found mysticism, i.e. of presence, view, of the absence of a marque, of the unspeakable. If I say I am no mystic, particularly not a Jewish one as Habermas claims at one point, then I say that not to protect myself, but simply to state a fact. Not just that personally I am not mystical, but that I doubt whether anything I write has the least trace of mysticism. In this regard there are many misunderstandings not only between Habermas and me, but also between many German readers and me, as far as I can see. In part this is because German philosophers do not read my texts directly, but refer instead to secondary, often American interpretations. For instance if Habermas speaks of my judaic mysticism he uses a book by Susan Handelman which in my view is certainly interesting, but very problematic regarding the claim that I am a lost son of Judaism. At any rate one never reads immediately. I know very well that one always reads from within certain schemes and mediations, so I do not demand that one read me - as if before my texts you could put yourselves into some kind of intuitive ecstasy - but I ask that one be careful with the mediations, more critical regarding the translations and the detours through contexts that very often are quite far away from mine.
- Derrida

The Freedom To Err

We do not recognize the right of the majority to impose the law on the minority, even if the will of the majority in somewhat complicated issues could really be ascertained. The fact of having the majority on one's side does not in any way prove that one must be right. Indeed, humanity has always advanced through the initiative and efforts of individuals and minorities, whereas the majority, by its very nature, is slow, conservative, submissive to superior force and to established privileges.

But if we do not for one moment recognize the right of majorities to dominate minorities, we are even more opposed to domination of the majority by a minority. It would be absurd to maintain that one is right because one is in a minority. If at all times there have been advanced and enlightened minorities, so too have there been minorities which were backward and reactionary; if there are human beings who are exceptional, and ahead of their times, there are also psychopaths, and especially are there apathetic individuals who allow themselves to be unconsciously carried on the tide of events. In any case it is not a question of being right or wrong; it is a question of freedom, freedom for all, freedom for each individual so long as he does not violate the equal freedom of others. No one can judge with certainty who is right and who is wrong, who is closer to the truth and which is the best road to the greatest good for each and everyone. Experience through freedom is the only means to arrive at the truth and the best solutions; and there is no freedom if there is not the freedom to be wrong. - Errico Malatesta

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bringing Democracy To The Benighted Levant

Henry Laurens, Le Retour des exilés: la lutte pour la Palestine de 1869 à 1997:

[In June 1928], the 7th Arab Congress saw the reconciliation between Nachachibi and Husseini. The new programme took up the well-known Anglo Saxon slogan: "taxation without representation is tyranny:"
The Arabs intend to control finally the enormous budget of the country and require that every tax imposed be approved by vote of their representatives, threating a general tax strike. Does this not also threaten to annul all legislation enacted up to now until its ratification
by the Parliament? More than once during the course of the debate, the orators made comparisons to Syria and Lebanon... [Ministères des Affairs Etrangères, Nantes: Levant Palestine 1918-1929 XXII, 74, consul général Jerusalem, 23 Juin, 1928]

The Arab Congress demanded a legitimate parliamentary government in Palestine and protested against the preferential treatment accorded to Jews... [O]n July 26, 1928, the Arab executive made a formal demand for the establishment of a parliamentary regime in Palestine:

Memorandum of The Executive Committee of the High Commission of the Arab-Palestinian Congress to Demand A Parliamentary Government In Palestine [Wathà'iq al-muqâwamat al-filistinniyya al-'arabiyya did al-ihtililâl al-britanniyya w-a suhiûniyya 1918-1939 Beirut, Institute of Palestine Studies, 1988] :

The executive committee of the Arab-Palestinian Congress held at Jerusalem on 20 June 1928, representing the assembly of public parties, Muslim and Christian, has the honour to submit to Your Excellency the decision of the abovementioned conference to request the constitution of a parliamentary government in Palestine, accompanied by an explanation of the motives for that request, which inspire the Palestinian Arab nation in its totality to cleave to this ambition and to apply itself to its realization by all legal means.

Palestine must be recognized to enjoy, like every other nation, the incontestable right to decide its own fate, a right established by the assemblage of Allied Powers, before as well as after the armistice, and which the entire world has adopted as a sublime principle which guides nations in their reciprocal relations and in the light of which the Powerful conducts itself with the Weak and the Weak confides in the Strong, entente replacing conflict; the decision of the Palestinian-Arab Congress abovementioned is nothing but a manifestation of this right.

Palestine is an Arab country in close relations with other Arab countries with which the British government concluded a clear agreement at the debut of the Great War which led those countries to join the Allied camp and their sons to give their blood to gain their sacred liberty and attain to their coveted independence....

less in Gaza

Thus, with the Gaza Disengagement Plan, the Palestinian quest for minimal justice in the form of a state in 22 per cent of their homeland, once dismissed as utopian, is now derided as short-sighted and selfish. The asymmetries between occupier and occupied are not only sanctioned, but their institutionalisation is seen as progress. Like its predecessors, the Disengagement Plan is hailed as an act of courage, as yet another example of Israel’s desire for peace, of its willingness to make concessions and sacrifices without demanding equivalent concessions of the Palestinians, who are the real aggressors, repeatedly refusing Israeli generosity.


The Palestinian compromise of 1988 – when they conceded 78 per cent of the country, where they had once constituted two-thirds of the population and owned all but 7 per cent of the land, in order to settle for a state in the West Bank and Gaza – is rejected (if remembered at all) as a legitimate point of departure. Rather, the Palestinians are supposed to begin negotiations at whatever point Israel (backed by the US) says they should, a point that alters in line with the diminished realities Israel has imposed on them. The result of Israel’s ever shrinking ‘offers’ is that compromise becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, and Palestinian violence more likely. With the Gaza Disengagement Plan, Israel’s generous offer has gone from a weak, cantonised entity in the West Bank and Gaza to the encircled and desperately impoverished enclave of the Gaza Strip – 1 per cent of historical Palestine. The disengagement from Gaza (while encircling it and absorbing the West Bank) is the most extreme illustration to date of Israel’s power to determine and reduce what there is left to talk about.

from here

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary even when, having been accused of lacking concrete relevance, they call attention to and appropriate the experience of "difference" and "otherness" in order to provide themselves with oppositional political meaning, legitimacy, and immediacy. Very few African-American intellectuals have talked or written about postmodernism. Recently at a dinner party, I talked about trying to grapple with the significance of postmodernism for contemporary black experience. It was one of those social gatherings where only one other black person was present. The setting quickly became a field of contestation. I was told by the other black person that I was wasting my time, that "this stuff does not relate in any way to what's happening with black people." Speaking in the presence of a group of white onlookers, staring at us as though this encounter was staged for their benefit, we engaged in a passionate discussion about black experience. Apparently, no one sympathized with my insistence that racism is perpetuated when blackness is associated solely with concrete gut level experience conceived either as opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory. The idea that there is no meaningful connection between black experience and critical thinking about aesthetics or culture must be continually interrogated....

...Critical of most writing on postmodernism, I perhaps am more conscious of the way in which the focus on "otherness and difference" that is often alluded to in these works seems to have little concrete impact as an analysis or standpoint that might change the nature and direction of postmodernist theory. Since much of this theory has been constructed in reaction to and against high modernism, there is seldom any mention of black experience or writings by black people in this work, specifically black women (though in more recent work one may see reference to Cornel West, the black male scholar who has most engaged postmodernist discourse). Even if an aspect of black culture is the subject of postmodern critical writing the works cited will usually be those of black men. A work that comes immediately to mind is Andrew Ross' chapter "Hip, and the Long Front of Color" in _No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture_; though an interesting reading, it constructs black culture as though black women have had no role in black cultural production. At the end of Meaghan Morris' discussion of postmodernism included in her collection of essays _The Pirate's Fiance: Feminism and Postmodernism_, she provides a bibliography of works by women, identifying them as important contributions to a discourse on postmodernism that offers new insight as well as challenging male theoretical hegemony. Even though many of the works do not directly address postmodernism, they address similar concerns. There are no references to work by black women.

The failure to recognize a critical black presence in the culture and in most scholarship and writing on postmodernism compels a black reader, particularly a black female reader, to interrogate her interest in a subject where those who discuss and write about it seem not to know black women exist or to even consider the possibility that we might be somewhere writing or saying something that should be listened to, or producing art that should be seen, heard, approached with intellectual seriousness. This is especially the case with works that go on and on about the way in which postmodernist discourse has opened up a theoretical terrain where "difference and otherness" can be considered legitimate issues in the academy. Confronting both the lack of recognition of black female presence that much postmodernist theory reinscribes and the resistance on the part of most black folks to hearing about real connections between postmodernism and black experience, I enter a discourse, a practice, where there may be no ready audience for my words, no clear listener, uncertain, then, that my voice can or will be heard....

...Postmodern theory that is not seeking to simply appropriate the experience of "otherness" in order to enhance its discourse or to be radically chic should not separate the "politics of difference" from the politics of racism. To take racism seriously one must consider the plight of underclass people of color, a vast majority of whom are black. For African-Americans our collective condition prior to the advent of postmodernism and perhaps more tragically expressed under current postmodern conditions has been and is characterized by continued displacement, profound alienation and despair. Writing about blacks and postmodernism, Cornel West describes our collective plight: There is increasing class division and differentiation, creating on the one hand a significant black middle-class, highly anxiety- ridden, insecure, willing to be co-opted and incorporated into the powers that be, concerned with racism to the degree that it poses constraints on upward social mobility; and, on the other, a vast and growing black underclass, an underclass that embodies a kind of walking nihilism of pervasive drug addiction, pervasive alcoholism, pervasive homicide, and an exponential rise in suicide. Now because of the deindustrialization, we also have a devastated black industrial working class. We are talking here about tremendous hopelessness. This hopelessness creates longing for insight and strategies for change that can renew spirits and reconstruct grounds for collective black liberation struggle. The overall impact of the postmodern condition is that many other groups now share with black folks a sense of deep alienation, despair, uncertainty, loss of a sense of grounding, even if it is not informed by shared circumstance. Radical postmodernism calls attention to those sensibilities which are shared across the boundaries of class, gender, and race, and which could be fertile ground for the construction of empathy--ties that would promote recognition of common commitments and serve as a base for solidarity and coalition.

"Yearning" is the word that best describes a common psychological state shared by many of us, cutting across boundaries of race, class, gender, and sexual practice. Specifically in relation to the postmodernist deconstruction of "master" narratives, the yearning that wells in the hearts and minds of those whom such narratives have silenced is the longing for critical voice.
- bell hooks, 1994

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The smooth flow of capital

Again, a ghost from the past:

"Realism emerges in an effort to portray, transform and produce the counterrevolution; le style roman of the 18th century was inadequate to a history of conflict viewed no longer as rivalry, no longer the clash of rival nations or vestigally feudal clans whose rivalry was echoed in the rent impulses of heroes torn between love and honour, or between two incompatible but equally attractive and worthy objects of devotion and desire, but as an increasingly manichean struggle, pitting affirmation against negation, life against death, meaning against confusion, the forces of something against the forces of nothing. And the protagonist's position is adjusted accordingly, a decided split developing and intensifying between characters whose function is principally metaphorical - who begin to perform the textual function of monsters - and those whose function is not, who are created according to new rules of versimilitude to serve as convincing illusions of individuals, balanced between typicality and eccentricity."

"Emerging is the framework of history promoted by the masters of capital, human history as the history of struggle between order (the market as it is advertised, mechanistic and divine) and anarchy (the market as it is, enforced by the violence of proprietors), and the Romeos and Juliets of the post-Revolutionary period will be suffering not from a divided worship of rival and equivalent objects of attachments of various kinds, but between loyalty to the sole manifestation of positivity, threatened by negation, and a third term, a private interest, a private sphere, a self-interest increasingly shrinking to the dimensions of the individual as we know it now, the atomized protagonist in the market." - AvW

Robert Park, The City: Suggestions for the investigation of human behaviour (1915):

“We are mainly indebted to writers of fiction for our more intimate knowledge of contemporary urban life. But the life of our cities demands a more searching and disinterested study than even Emile Zola has given us in his ‘experimental’...

...Because of the opportunity it offers, particularly to the exceptional and abnormal types of man, a great city tends to spread out and lay bare to the public view in a massive manner all the human characters and traits which are ordinarily obscured and suppressed in smaller communities. The city, in short, shows the good and evil in human nature in excess. It is this fact, perhaps, more than any other, which justifies the view that would make the city a laboratory or a clinic in which human nature and social progress may be conveniently and profitably studied.”

Bourgeois fiction codified as the Chicago School of Sociology. A real work of art.

The God On The Surface Of The Skin

Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies:

Toward the end of the 19th century, lack of affection during infancy and insufficient eroticization of the body's surface seem to have become the rule. The development marked a new phase in the "armouring" of the body. (The process Elias tried to describe in Process of Civilization.) The new body had no feel for its psychic boundaries; if it cathected its own periphery at all, it did so in a tentative, incomplete way. The body did acquire boundaries, of course, but they were drawn from the outside, by the disciplinary agencies of imperialist society. We can see why fascist propaganda and social practise places such great emphasis on setting boundaries of all kinds.

Christian Enzensberger (operating at his tentative distance) has identified an importan link:

Early capitalism must have brought on a more restrictive phase. Every upheaval of an existing social order, including our present industrial-technological revolution, inevitably generates immense quantities of dirt. Definitions become blurred, and everything threatens to migrate permanently to peripheral areas and turn into dirt. As a result, people proceed with extreme caution, paying equally strict attention to external and internal clealiness. With the advent of Puritanism, the skin's susceptibility to dirt must have become universal: from this point on, that is, the skin avoided every type of contact. Hygiene entered the scene as a form of piety (with the maxim "Cleanliness is next to godliness.")

"Individuals and the community used strikingly similar means to avert the new threat. The new nation-state gradually shifted its attention from the capital city to its border areas; eventually the state proudly envisioned itself as the place between Memel and the Meuse. Individuals began to monitor their own skins just as carefully and exclusively. The boundary of defilement slowly shifted from the inside to the outside, becoming increasingly sharp and sensitive in the process.

The "god within," who had supplanted the "god in heaven," eventually died himself. He was replaced by a "god without," who dwelt on the skin and whose name was Cleanliness.

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather:

If, as Marx noted, commodity fetishism flamboyantly exhibits the overvaluation of commercial exchange as the fundamental principle of social community, then the Victorian obsession with dirt marks a dialectic: the fetishized undervaluation of human labor. Smeared on trousers, faces, hands and aprons, dirt was the memory trace of working class and female labor, unseemly evidence that the fundamental production of industrial and imperial wealth lay in hte hands and bodies of the working class, women, and the colonized. Dirt, like all fetishes, thus expresses a crisis in value,, for it contradicts the liberal dictum that social wealth is created by the abstract rational principles of the market and not by labor.

Three studies in consumer desire

1. Persil commands you to get dirty

2. Orange commands you to turn your mobile off

3. Ikea commands you to work less

"And where the Persil and Orange ads are at best irritating and at worst presumptuous, this one is truly obscene."

-- by bat020 at Lenin's Tomb

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


These thickets of abstract identity are no doubt unpleasant to stumble through. The scrawny little sign of promiscuous individuality is a perpetual aggravation; reminding you in each case of your own incarceration by self. That enunciation should be harried by an 'I' is no mere stylistic infelicity, it is a loathesomeness, and yet the only routes of evasion leading away from it are hypocritical...To write oneself out of a book can be many things; the dilettantism of one for whom writing is from the start affectation and artificiality, the professionalism of one for whom a book tends to an anonymity - if not immediately to that of the commodity, at least to that of career capital...It can be a genuine timidity, pomposity, inertial apathy, even experiment, but what it can never be, for as long as it is remotely deliberated, is flight.
- Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (from American Stranger )

Monday, October 24, 2005


Large Bad Picture

Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or
some northerly harbor of Labrador,
before he became a schoolteacher
a great-uncle painted a big picture.

Receding for miles on either side
into a flushed, still sky
are overhanging pale blue cliffs
hundreds of feet high,

their bases fretted by little arches,
the entrances to caves
running in along the level of a bay
masked by perfect waves.

On the middle of that quiet floor
sits a fleet of small black ships,
square-rigged, sails furled, motionless,
their spars like burnt match-sticks.

And high above them, over the tall cliffs'
semi-translucent ranks,
are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds
hanging in n's in banks.

One can hear their crying, crying,
the only sound there is
except for occasional sighing
as a large aquatic animal breathes.

In the pink light
the small red sun goes rolling, rolling,
round and round and round at the same height
in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling,

while the ships consider it.
Apparently they have reached their destination.
It would be hard to say what brought them there,
commerce or contemplation.

Elizabeth Bishop

Chinese painting is the representation of a culture, not a piece of terrain. Nature is not disrespected, but this is because it is tied so closely to cultural identity -- for the ancient Chinese at least, there was no difference between the natural world and the Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo).

A Chinese park is not only painstakingly cultivated, it is heavily enculturated. As Nick Land and Anna Greenspan write here, there is no conception of civilization 'spoiling' an originally pure natural habitat. In fact, civilization is a necessary improvement.
- We Will Forever Be Indoors

People you don't know

Then what is money?

Money is the opposite of love. Or, money is the power to get people to do what they don't love. If you love to do it, you don't care if you don't get money for it. If you don't love to do it, you'll do it only in exchange for other people doing what they don't love, and money is the tool for doing this kind of exchange with people you don't know.

-- Ran Prieur


(photo pinched from Observing The Observer.)

But when we turn to the utopian political schemes and arrangements I have mentioned, the perspective is utterly anonymous. The citizens of utopia are grasped as a statistical population; there are no individuals any longer, let alone any existential ‘lived experience’. If More tells us that the utopians are ‘easy-going, good-tempered, ingenious, and leisure-loving’, or that, following Aristotle, ‘they cling above all to mental pleasures, which they value as the first and foremost of all pleasures’, this simply enhances the statistical impression rather than individualizing it. The whole description is cast in the mode of a kind of anthropological otherness, which never tempts us for one minute to try to imagine ourselves in their place, to project the utopian individual with concrete existential density, even though we already know the details of his or her daily life (nowadays the notion of the everyday having more or less superseded that of private life). It may be objected that when we get to utopias of the type of William Morris (News from Nowhere) this depersonalization will no longer obtain; but perhaps his formulaic characters are, as Victorians, merely a little closer to us in time. Still, it is an important objection, since I want to argue that this effect of anonymity and of depersonalization is a very fundamental part of what utopia is and how it functions. The boredom or dryness that has been attributed to the utopian text, beginning with More, is thus not a literary drawback nor a serious objection, but a very central strength of the utopian process in general. It reinforces what is sometimes called today democratization or egalitarianism, but that I prefer to call plebeianization: our desubjectification in the utopian political process, the loss of psychic privileges and spiritual private property, the reduction of all of us to that psychic gap or lack in which we all as subjects consist, but that we all expend a good deal of energy on trying to conceal from ourselves.

Let’s now return to the distinction I have been making between the two utopian perspectives, that of the root of all evil and that of the political and social arrangements. We should probably see each of them in two distinct ways: as wish-fulfilment and as construction. Both of these approaches clearly involve pleasure: almost by definition the wish-fulfilment has something to do with pleasure, even though it may involve a long detour and a multiple mediation through substitutes. Thus Ernst Bloch taught us long ago that advertising for patent medicines drew on the stubborn core of a longing for eternal life and the body transfigured. Such wishes are even more obvious when we come to the various utopias where old peasant dreams of a land of plenty, of roasted chickens flying into the mouth, as well as more learned fantasies about paradise and the earthly garden, linger close to the surface.

But the pleasures of construction may not be so evident: you have to think of them in terms of the garage workshop, of the home-mechanics erector sets, of Lego, of bricolating and cobbling together things of all kinds. To which we must also add the special pleasures of miniaturization: replicating the great things in handicraft dimensions that you can put together by yourself and test, as with home chemical sets, or change and rebuild in a never-ending variation fed by new ideas and information. Model railroads of the mind, these utopian constructions convey the spirit of non-alienated labour and of production far better than any concepts of écriture or Spiel.

- Jameson, The Politics of Utopia

Reason's Idols

Vaucanson's brass duck and flautist, the Baron von Kempelen's chess playing Turk, the clockwork idols, automata made of wheels and gears, speaking heads, wax figures animated by "mécaniciens d'autrefois," are nothing but delightful, seedy fairground mannequins, circus diversions in comparison to the cruel robots conceived by the Bohemian author Karel Capek in the drama R.U.R.. (Rossum's Universal Robots, 1929) "Robot," android, artificial labourer, a Czech term, which Capek derives from "robota," that is corvée, overworked.

These automata belong to the same species as the Golem and, although constructed on a distant island, have their roots in humus, in the sorcery of Prague. The Golem has his origin in clay animated by the "shem," the paper inscribed with the name of God. Similarly, the robots are not constructed of springs and pistons, as are the baroque automata, but kneaded out of a chemical substance like protoplasm, an "organic gluten" in the words of Joseph Capek, - a substance discovered by the philosopher-scientist Rossum ("rozum" = reason), an "extravagant old man," a "fantastic lunatic," of the type of mad scientist which prospered in expressionism.
- Ripellino, Praga Magica

US: work harder, get poorer, drop dead.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Society of Spectacles

If history never sleeps then are you the demon of the wakefulness to which we are forever imprisoned? Is forever a bullet or a bracket or a brace? By not telling do you consign us to uncertainty or to abjection? – "WB," speaking in Shadowtime, Charles Bernstein (2004)

In her Stupidity (2003), Avital Ronell ropes Joan of Arc – for Schiller, "a figure of transcendental stupidity, she is open to mystical ecstasy and the higher calling of historical foundation" – in for an interrogation of idiocy. This idiocy hints at an underlying radical property, a unique and inexchangeable calling that is open to, but in reality simply ignorant of, futurity and consequences.

One wonders if this Dummheit is a species of inauthenticity. Is a man – or a Joan – without qualities only a few doors down from the das Mans? Opening oneself to experience – and putting the Nietzschean "telephone to the beyond" on hold – might reveal the mediocrity (but wanton destructiveness) assigned to any understudy (and that is what they are) to Madame History.

Some difficult, wakeful nights I see that insomniac Angelus Novus as horrifically, panoramically taking in the work of other, less graceful Joans, of those who – in this administration, for example – bill themselves as "history’s actors," while the rest of us are abject fools for thought and inspection, gazing on through our lorgnettes:

"…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." – "Without a Doubt," Ron Suskind, The New York Times, Sunday 17 October 2004

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Secret underground forces or trivial causes? A thousand little causes, but the given of a problematic situation.
- Musil, draft for the essay The German as Symptom, 1923
This is how history looks from close up; you don't see anything. Of course someone will object that we are standing too close. But it is a metaphor, taken from the visual realm; one can be too close to an object to apprehend it fully. But can one be too close to understanding something to be able to grasp it? The analogy does not hold. Surely our knowledge suffices for us to form a judgement about present and recent events, and in any case we know more about them than later generations will. Following another of its roots, this metaphor would portray us as still too involved. But were we really involved at all?
- Musil, Helpless Europe, 1922