Friday, February 26, 2010

paquin pull down!

“The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.”
Pound, Pisan Cantos, 1948

The artists who made the monuments of modernism, Adorno noted deflatingly, were “not demigods, but persons,” fallible, entangled, damaged. Ditto of course for those lesser parodic moles who now, like Jehan Alonzo, snipe at pyramids or scratch splenetically at their bases.

Those who put other persons in camps and cages are also persons (fallible, etcetera), but constitute an altogether different functional category.

Camps and cages belong to a whole apparatus of state terror, a complex set of mobilized and managed processes, behind which are more than executive orders and exceptional empowerments.

Also required, to launch a “war on terror,” were the spectacles of fear and fury demanding action, the conditioned-reflexive flag-waving and chanting for vengeance, the deep enjoyment of a war machine on the move.

What keeps this dirty war going now, beyond its infamous exposures? Distractions, other cares, attention tiring into indifference.

This war goes on, today, scandalously, by occupation, assassination and torture by proxy, all at absurd public expense, because the massive, continuing, determined protest that could stop it is absent. In its place, the silences and passivities that translate into tacit consent.

No dialogue with the fraudulent arguments of global enforcement. Immediate end to occupations, close the bases and camps, open the cages, without conditions: such are the actual conditions of a global dialogue free of domination. Not likely, but anything less concedes too much.

Not forgetting this, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in Havana is a wound that should hurt, let it be said. The death of any caged dissident on hunger strike is a wound to all, felt or not, acknowledged in truth or veiled in lies.

Camps and cages: the naked apparatus of domination, of states aimed at individuals. Tear them all down, let them all out: right now, without conditions. Not likely, but anything less concedes too much.

allegory and automaton (2)

Discussing causality in the Physics, Aristotle contrasts automaton (αυτόματον), or pure spontaneous chance, with tyche (τύχη), or luck. Good or bad luck, he proposes, is telic: it always implies a relation to an aim or telos and therefore can only happen to subjects (human agents capable of ethical praxis). Chance is what happens to objects lacking intentional agency.

Lacan in his theory of trauma (“Tuché et automaton” from the 1964 seminar) revises these terms. Automaton now designates “the symbolic,” the network of signifiers, the machine of signification. Subjectivity is a relational position within the automaton: a social place or voice from which the production of speech and meaning can issue. The “real” is what stubbornly resists capture by this automatic or self-driving process of signifying, emplotting, narrating, interpreting, allegorizing, etc. – while at the same time serving as its ground, as the necessary condition of subjectivity as such. Tyche, or trauma, is the encounter between a subject and this unassimmilable real – an encounter that remains “missed” and can only be retro-emplotted, belatedly and incompletely.

Trauma, then, is a crisis-provoking moment in the ongoing process of subjectivization. When the outside irrupts on the inside, the fact that interiority and exteriority are mutually constitutive is strikingly revealed. The subject shudders at the exposure of her precarious position – and, defending herself, represses, avoids, acts out.

In literary terms, allegory is the automaton of interpretation that dissolves every apparently transparent symbol into its essential otherness: a formal vehicle of automatic mediation.

In philosophical terms, freedom and unfreedom are a dialectical unity that marks the crossing of nature and the human, individual and society.

In psychoanalytic terms, this same juncture-crossroads is the riddle of subjectivity itself: the production of consciousness through the socialized automaton of language.

In this light, automaton is the allegorization of subjectivity. Language is the material-spiritual means by which individual consciousness emerges within and against society, the organized network of objective relations among subjects. Language is the interface between embodied nature and the global social process.

The unfolding of the possibilities inherent in this structure (freedom, happiness, the promise of a liberated, reconciled humanity) points back to the element of blindness and domination in human relations.

For the automaton of automatons, the master logic of logics, is that dominating automatic process that, generated by reasoning subjects, became a hostile, globalized and self-reproducing material sovereignty over them: in one word – capital.

Contra po-mo reductions of reality to language, the problem of freedom does not melt away into the already-given and endless play of signifiers. The wordy knot of subjectivity only re-exposes the social force field – that objective factor that conditions and constrains possible subjectivities.

Not language identified with reality, part mistaken undialectically for whole, but the organized field of relations between subjects must be the object of transformative praxis.

Language is a commons, a good held in common, not subject to scarcity. And yet access to it is controlled – enclosed and unfree, insofar as it is mediated by structural concentrations of power in class society.

The problem of access to language (education, culture, autonomy, life-possibilities) returns us to the problem of capital and domination: the dissolution of author-subject into automaton offers no escape from politics.

Allegory exposes the mortal ground of transience. But the automatic mole keeps digging, tunneling word-to-word and word-for-word. As politicized consciousness, the same mole breaks through the spell of social fate and exposes the transformable relations driving systemic processes.

Change every period above to a question mark, that goes without saying.

Two more questions: Where stands the image in this? How to relate Benjamin’s “dialectical image” – the true image of past, bearing a nucleus of revolutionary time – and Lacan’s “imaginary?”

(Photo: Athens, December 2008)

Friday, February 19, 2010

beauty usurped by love

“In a box at the theater, Albéric meets a woman more beautiful than his lover. Allow me to express this mathematically. This woman promises three units of happiness as compared with his lover’s two. Perfect beauty, let’s say, would be expressed by four units.”

“Is it really surprising, if he should prefer his lover, whose features, to him, offer a hundred units of happiness? Even little blemishes on another woman, a smallpox scar for example, are touching to a man in love and inspire deep reverie; just imagine the effects when these belong to the body of his lover.”

“If one even begins to prefer ugliness and love it, it is because in this case ugliness is beauty.”

[Note:] “Beauty is but the promise of happiness. (La beauté n’est que la promesse du bonheur.) The happiness of a Greek was different from the happiness of a Frenchman in 1822. Look in the eyes of the Medici Venus and compare them to those of the Magdalen of Pordenone (at M. de Sommariva’s).”

Marie Henri Beyle, aka Stendhal, De l’Amour, 1822

artificial paradise

“Art’s duality is a fatal result of man’s. Consider, if you will, the eternally subsisting part as the soul of art, and the mutable element as its body. That is why Stendhal – an impertinent, teasing, even a disagreeable critic, but one whose impertinences are often a useful spur to reflection – approached the truth more closely than many others when he said that “Beauty is but the promise of happiness.”

“This definition doubtless overshoots the mark; it makes Beauty far too subject to the infinitely variable ideal of Happiness. It strips Beauty too nearly of its aristocratic quality. But it has the great merit of making a decisive break with academic error.”

Charles Baudelaire, Peintre de la vie moderne, 1863 


“Kant said, ‘Something is beautiful if it gives pleasure without interest.’ Without interest! Compare this definition with another made by a genuine ‘spectator’ and artist – Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse du bonheur. Here, at any rate, the thing that Kant alone emphasizes in aesthetic matters is rejected and stricken out – le disinteressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?”

“However, as our aestheticians never tire of weighing in on Kant’s side, saying that under the charm of beauty, even naked female statues can be looked at ‘without interest,’ I think we are entitled to laugh a little at their expense – the experiences of artists are ‘more interesting’ with regard to this tricky point, and Pygmalion, at all events, was not necessarily an ‘unaesthetic man’.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral: Ein Streitschrift, 1887


“In the medium of beauty, people have been allowed to partake of happiness. But even beauty has been affirmed with good conscience only in the ideal of art, for it contains a dangerous violence that threatens the given form of existence. The immediate sensuousness of beauty immediately suggests sensual happiness.”

“For Nietzsche beauty reawakens ‘aphrodisiac bliss.’ He polemicizes against Kant’s definition of the beautiful and opposes to it Stendhal’s assertion that beauty is ‘une promesse du bonheur’.”

“The real gratification of individuals cannot be contained by an idealistic dynamic which either continually postpones gratification or transmutes it into striving for the unattained. It can only be realized against idealist culture, and only against this culture is it propagated as a general demand: the demand for a real transformation of the material relations of existence, for a new life, for a new form of labor and of enjoyment.”

“Beauty will find a new embodiment when it no longer is represented as real illusion but, instead, expresses reality and joy in reality. A foretaste of such possibilities can be had in the unassuming display of Greek statues or the music of Mozart or late Beethoven. Perhaps, however, beauty and its enjoyment will no longer fall to art at all. Perhaps art as such will have no objects.”

Herbert Marcuse, “Über den affirmativen Charakter der Kultur,” 1937


“They made a little too much music, that was the only fault I could find with them. If there is one thing that gets on my nerves it is music.”

Samuel Beckett, Molloy, 1951/5


“Stendhal’s dictum of art as the promesse du bonheur implies that art does its part for existence by accentuating what in it prefigures utopia. But this utopian element decreases, while existence more and more becomes merely the same as itself. Consequently, art is ever less able to make itself like existence. Because all happiness in existence is ersatz and false, art must break its promise in order to stay true to it.”

“In the false world all pleasure (ηδονή) is false. For the sake of happiness, happiness is renounced. It is thus that desire survives in art.”

Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, 1970


“I repudiate the Trilogy of Life, even though I do not repent having made it. I cannot, in fact, deny the sincerity and necessity that drove me to represent bodies and their culminating symbol, the sexual organs.”

“This sincerity and necessity belong to the struggle to democratize the ‘right to self-expression’ and to liberate sexuality. In light of the cultural and anthropological crisis, ‘innocent’ bodies, with the archaic, dark, vital violence of their sexual organs, seemed the last bulwark of reality.”

“Finally the representation of Eros, seen in a human environment barely surpassed by history, but still physically present (in Naples, in the Near East), was something that fascinated me personally, as author and man.”

“Now everything has turned upside down.”

“The struggle for democratized self-expression and sexual liberation has been brutally surpassed and thwarted by the vast (but false) tolerance conceded by the consumerist establishment.”

“The ‘reality’ of innocent bodies has been violated, manipulated, tampered with by the consumerist establishment; in fact, the violence done to bodies has become the most macroscopic element in the new human era.”

“Third, private sexual lives (such as mine) have undergone the trauma of both false tolerance and physical degradation, and that which in sexual fantasies was pain and joy, has become suicidal disappointment, shapeless sloth.”

“The collapse of the present implies the collapse of the past. Life is a pile of insignificant and ironic ruins.”

“Therefore, I am adapting myself to the degradation and I am accepting the unacceptable. I am maneuvering to rearrange my life. I am forgetting how things were before. The beloved faces of yesterday are beginning to yellow. Before me – little by little, slowly, without further alternatives – looms the present. I readjust my commitment to a greater legibility (Salò?).”

Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Repudiation,” 1975.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Mind Mattering Monsters of Reason, c. 1640.

“Living substance overcomes the frenzy of extermination only in the ecstasy of consequential creating (im Rausche der Zeugung).”

Benjamin, 1928

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (8)

What was song?

is the Word shot
down to earth,
lovely changeling
close to hand,
like an ink
brush or a
paving stone.

The weapon of song
can never replace
a singing weapon;
lyrical word becomes
real material force
when it grips
the people in
their senses.
    [Here nervous Sokrates
    Plato makes to wag
    his Panish head.]
Fisted there,
we lack full power
of educated senses.

Sorted hands,
we’re soft
or calloused.
our sentimental
Kultur plucked
in passing,
holds the place,
rocks not the house.
we hate the books
we’ve not been taught
how to love;
such songs
as these
will hardly find

    the unarmed prophet yet chanting:

        So many kinds of love,
            so many arts of singing

In a world truly leapt
beyond necessity,
you will find
no Art or culture
industry, no poets
by profession,
but only people
who loving song
sometimes sing,
among many other things,
painting, for example,
or kissing roses.

Song will out.

Words wing off
into music,
arousing lovers
to flesh-call,
calling back the dead
in their haloed beauty,

promising what could be
what could be
but is not.

Song, the bursting
of monad,
scattering tones
and voices,
the restless heart
in common,
all the storms
that have hit
and pierced us,
soarings of hope,
the loneliest miseries
of our blocked

We choose to love
although of course
we do not do it
just as we please.
To wit, the rest
is dross.

    *    *    *

Minstrel, jongleur,
vagans, mime,
I sing in jest
and fatal earnest,
spitting and slinging,
puking and rebuking,
barking and biting
the hand that reads me,
thieving and leching,
arrogantly deflecting
– that is, correcting –
birthing but a new word
or two as glue
for the monstrous music
of endless collage.

And what of it?
Piss off, as it pays
no rent! So what,
if I call it fun?

Back! Only fools fuck
with a desperado!

This world makes sick
and earns the rancor
of every singing canker.

That it giveth me no living
is mildest complaint!

the debt to benjamin

The Frankfurt debt to Benjamin:

1) The critique of progress – no progress without a revolutionary break with history as the continuous reproduction of domination.

“That there is a ‘status quo’ is the catastrophe.” (1938)

“Capitalism will not die a natural death.” (1940?)

2) Radicalization of aim: classless society plus an end to the domination of nature.

Break with master logics as such entails break with all fetishization of labor and work discipline. Radical skepticism toward technology. Opening to play and the ecological turn.

“The [Left’s] conception of labor is tantamount to the exploitation of nature, which, with naïve complacency, is contrasted with the exploitation of the proletariat.” (Thesis XI, 1940)

3) Allegorical method of dialectical critique.

Argument by image (dialectical image and dialectic of images).

But also: immanent-dialectical immersion in particulars as the way to the general and global.

The Goethe epigraph to the Trauerspiel book: the whole is unfolded from the part.

No bypassing direct appeal to the general – no ideology-transcendent critique from outside, over and above particulars, without attending to their truth content.

Critique of global totality, then, that nevertheless rescues the truth of the singular and non-identical – the cultural object as relic, fragment, hieroglyph, promise.

In the singular qua constellated monad, truth emerges from the force field of tensions.

(Very close to Marx’s method in Capital, but directing this questioning intensity to artworks and objects of culture.)


Throughout his amazing critical immersions in culture and history, Benjamin stayed focused on the problem of revolution: he kept driving his radical melancholy in the direction of praxis, until the image-idea of an organized pessimism flared up over the field of political disaster.

The Frankfurt theorists, giving up on revolution as a practical problematic (exception: Marcuse), veered back into academia and staked out radical positions within philosophy and sociology.

(Storm off Port-bou, photo: Paolo Matta)

allegory and philosophy

In his 1928 Trauerspiel book, Benjamin maps the vision of fate at work in baroque drama and revenge plays: in the world of tyrants, intriguers, usurpers and traitors, the relentless unfolding of death and doom takes place not on the stage of myth, but on that of history itself.

Benjamin dissects the melancholy that animates allegory as cultural code: a method of literary-visual creation and interpretation but also a productive stance vis-à-vis history locked in catastrophic mode.

In the Trauerspiel, history comes on stage “as script,” as the writing on the wall that speaks incessantly of transience and mortality: the ruin, the relic, the mark or graffito, the death’s head – the material wreckage and aftermath of disaster.

All are ciphers of transience and decay that have to be read, decoded, interpreted.

As a stage prop, the death’s head condenses the point at which nature and history cross.
Adorno develops Benjamin’s scheme into an apologia for philosophy after Auschwitz. Interpretation, he writes in the 1964 lectures, “presupposes the decay of systems” – of philosophy as the project of thinking and ordering the totality under unifying concepts.

Now these systems are shattered, refuted by the course of history, radically problematized and discredited.

But these ruined systems of meaning were always dialectical entanglements of truth and untruth. Their truth still survives, but now locked up in the ruins – in the fragment or concrete detail. These in turn become the objects of philosophical decoding, “or, God help us, hermeneutics.”

Critical philosophy can’t restore the system-building impulse. Rather, the only “joy of thinking” left, the only strong philosophical experience, is in interpretation.

In this moment of blocked revolutionary praxis, the energies that used to go into radical praxis now have to go into philosophical decoding and the tenuous making of art - so Adorno.

Not the whole, then, but only the singular part is the refuge of truth. But, in Adorno’s version, unreserved immersion in detail and fragment recovers the truth of the ruined system and thereby points back to the social totality and the possibility of a passage beyond it.

Making revolution is no longer his, Adorno’s, problem, but his negative dialectic holds open its possibility: objectively, the whole could become true. The tireless critique of false reconciliation insists on the necessary idea of a true one.

And in political terms, this rescue of the particular means insisting on subjectivity, the experience of individuals and their claim to freedom and happiness: no revolution without the non-identical.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

angelus novus

“Who cannot take sides should keep silent.”
Benjamin, 1928

“Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately achieved interruption.”
Benjamin, 1940

“Progress would be the establishment of humanity in the first place, the prospect of which opens up in the face of its extinction.”
Adorno, glossing Benjamin, 1962

empty time

Grimace as grip of mythic doom.

Stasis of terror and the terror of stasis: permanence in antagonism.

Revolution as self-rescue from catastrophic given.

“It follows, as Benjamin continues, that the concept of universal history cannot be salvaged. That idea was plausible only as long as we could believe in the illusion of an already existing humanity, coherent in itself and moving upwards in a unified manner.”

“If humanity remains trapped by the totality it itself creates, then, as Kafka observed, no progress has taken place at all.”
Adorno, 1962

allegory and automaton

The opening thesis of Benjamin’s celebrated last essay controversially poses a strategic alliance between “historical materialism” and theology.

Benjamin describes an elaborate eighteenth-century stage machine, the basis of a popular traveling show. This chess-playing automaton reduces to four elements: chessboard, “system of mirrors,” “puppet in Turkish attire” and “hunchbacked dwarf.”

Under Benjamin’s interpretative labor, each element generates a second, allegorical meaning, and the apparatus takes on philosophical status. The chessboard becomes the field of class struggle. The mirrors stand for the system of illusion that obscures what really takes place. The Turk becomes “’historical materialism’,” and the dwarf personifies theology.

Systematic deception makes it appear that “historical materialism” assists the exploited in their struggle. What actually happens in Benjamin’s allegorical image is that theology, concealing itself, gives its services to the exploited by manipulating the machinery of illusion and pulling the strings of “historical materialism.” This hidden, guiding infiltration of theology supplies the winning combination.

Benjamin’s quotation marks signal that something is fishy with historical materialism, or what goes by that name. A critique of pseudo-materialism will unfold in subsequent theses: Benjamin will distinguish a fraudulent “historical materialism” in the working class parties from one truly animated by Marx’s solidarity with the exploited and oppressed.

But keeping now to Benjamin’s formulations in the first thesis, we could pose some complicating questions:

In the allegory, the dwarf of theology is the only visible locus of autonomous agency. Benjamin encourages us to infer two more: the antagonists of class struggle, labor and capital. But strictly speaking, neither has substantial presence or determinate agency in the image. Both are merely implied by the relation between a present agonic field, the chessboard, and the identity of the puppet, “’historical materialism’.”

The distribution of agency appears to open up a problematic that exceeds the configured elements of the allegory itself.

The eighteenth-century stage machine, called the Chess Automaton or Turk (Schachtürke in German), is, to use I.A. Richards’ terms, the vehicle of the allegory. The philosophical counterpart is the tenor.

Let’s play along with Benjamin and immerse in this image. In the historical vehicle, the touring stage show performed for a paying public of amazed and suspicious spectators, one of whom must step from the crowd to become the Turk’s opponent.

Such an opponent – clearly an autonomous agent vis-à-vis the Turk-Automaton – is entailed by the set-up: the show makes no sense otherwise.

If we then infer, as we must, such an opponent for the tenor as well, then we have the collective subject-position of capital in the class struggle – or in a longer vantage, the exploiter-oppressor, whatever the mode of production. (Or, to take its actual appearance-form as Benjamin was writing, Nazism.) But then where do the exploited sit? They cannot be identical with “historical materialism.” At most, this last merely claims to represent the interests of the exploited. And fraudulently at that, for the puppet is actually part of the machinery of deception.

The exploited and oppressed seem to be excluded from any active agency in the game – not at all what we would expect!

Perhaps Benjamin wants to say that the system of deception denies the exploited their potential historical agency and that the infiltration of “historical materialism” by theology creates an opening to agency. But in that case, the allegory would hardly represent a corrected concept of history, since now the theological dwarf is standing in for the exploited – a substitution rather than empowerment or self-empowerment.

A real problem emerges around the agency-subjectivity of the exploited and the status of the deceptive apparatus itself. What really is Benjamin asking us to imagine and consider?

Edgar Allen Poe saw the real machine in action in Richmond. In his short story, “Maelzel’s Chess-Player” (1936), he attempts to establish the necessity of a hidden human agent. “It is quite certain,” he writes, “that the operations of the Automaton are regulated by mind, and by nothing else. Indeed this matter is susceptible of a mathematical demonstration a priori. The only question then is of the manner in which human agency is brought to bear.”

Indeed, what is an automaton? A machine that expends inputs of energy in a pre-programmed way, like a wound-up clock? Or a code, a string of ones and zeros, like the chess software you may have on your laptop?

The question points, quickly enough, to the problem of freedom that constitutes the concept of history.

In volume one of Capital, Marx shows how labor-time systematically stolen in commodity production is the source of all surplus value. Value (Wert), socially-necessary labor-time, emerges from the unfolding logic of exchange itself, as it transforms production into commodity production; labor-power takes the form of the value-producing commodity. Surplus value is extracted from the production-exchange process to the degree that wages are kept below the value that labor produces. Capital emerges as a new factor as value passes through the forms of money and commodities in exchange, adding to itself with each full circuit.

Capital, then, is “the valorization of value” in a boundless, self-renewing spiral movement: “self-valorizing value” (sich verwertende Wert, chapter four). Capital, Marx writes with legible astonishment, is “the dominant subject” of a self-moving, self-driving, constantly expanding process. It is an “automatic subject” (ein automatisches Subjekt), an “animated, inspirited monster” (ein beseeltes Ungeheuer).

If there is an automaton that dominates history, it is this expansive master logic of capital accumulation, which exerts itself as a constant force of compulsion acting relentlessly on direct producers and capitalists alike.

This logic, the very essence of our global social process, operates “behind the backs” of individuals. History is a blind process, in that it has never yet been consciously directed by human reason; it is rather the effect of that reason separating itself from the will and interests of individuals and asserting itself above and against them.

Reified, this process is experienced by these same individuals as unchangeable second nature, as the real objective power of things and facts that have taken possession of the autonomy promised to human beings.

So far there has been no global human subject, no human agency over the force of blindly operating and endured historical processes.

The exploited and oppressed, as those who have suffered most from this given even as their labor is its absolute condition, are the ever-present potential rupture in a history of continuous, accumulating toil, defeat and oppression.

The possibility that the exploited in struggle will gather their collective potentials and overthrow this logic of domination, Benjamin will reiterate again and again, is the possibility that human agency will emerge for the first time – free human agency in the global sense that alone would constitute a universal history of liberation, of progress in emancipation.

Possibly, then, this is what the tenor of the allegory shows us, by pointing to the need for a critique of pseudo-materialism and to a theological concept of redemption that, for Benjamin, will turn out to include intrinsically the secular concept of revolutionary praxis. This praxis would reflect the true and self-rescuing dialectic of matter and spirit.

This strategic concept of history, on the side of the exploited, is at least suggestively conveyed in the opening allegory – although, unless I’m mistaken, the image generates more questions than it can clearly answer. Answers will come in the subsequent theses, however.

And, needless to say, the problems of agency and praxis within and against a hostile, overpowering automatic process are the ones we actually still face.

(photo: Marc Wathieu) 

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (7)

Ludo Blissett
in appled shade
sitting ponders.

My muse, what ails
this ardour?

Our groupings
in affinity
be a sturdy form
and tactic
for survival.

And beloved,
it hath gladness,

But this hatch
we've levered open
all defyingly,
is it truly wide?
Is it politick?

Will it let us
pass, multitudo?
Spill us all out
of this hated muck?

He wonders,
hand to goaty chin.

Or was it slain
too ragingly,
that beasty Party
of old?

His knees
he hugs,

No, right it was
to kill it,
the thing
it had become.

But if not that,
then what?
By what
can we defend us
now, still
at risk in shadow
of armèd might,

Harder to say
than once he thought.
Chewy food
for thinking.

    *    *    *

Do we contradict
Do my voices
I tire.
On my tongue
these fine desires –
lusty rasping.
Twisted?  Undone?
The world
that is the case,
(And if I bite
my master’s hand,
will he not know why?)
Will I ride
this rage
to the end?
Have I breath

Coherence begins
post festum.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

dreaming naked

The antagonism of eros and thanatos is the substance of our species-being, our embeddedness in nature. This was Marcuse’s thesis, the basis of his last aesthetics.

He was pointing to: the irreversibility of time, mortality, transience and inescapable loss, the irreducible misfits of encountering singularities, sexual difference, wounds of love.

These he noted, assert their power “within, but also against the class struggle.”

Is it so? Let’s say it is. What follows?

Drives and needs are structured in a tense configuration of primary processes. This organic constellation - the material basis of subjectivity and therefore also the autonomy of individuals – is not invariable human nature but rather the open point of intersection between nature and the human. Open, that is, to re-constellation, tensions persisting.

Classless society, were it ever attained - or even that stronger reconciliation of a changed, non-dominating relation to nature - would not eliminate all possible collision of drives and needs, the tragic matter of spirit.

But it would, wouldn’t it, eliminate the socially imposed dimension of antagonism: the structural extraction of social surplus value, the master logic of domination?

Art might persist, probably it would – but as something different. A generalized common good, rather than privileged professional property: the end of “art.”

Conceivably, in classless society art could become radically and without reserve what it sometimes is brokenly even now: a continual expression of the dilemmas of liberated happiness - but also the living memory of loss and the appalling misery of prehistory.

Eros: the promise and possibility of a radical reorganization of needs and drives, the taming of death instincts by life, the liberation of the nature in humanity and humanity in nature...

In any case this, and nothing less, would be, wouldn’t it, the radical throw, the revolutionary leap to real reconciliation (aka “freedom”)?

shudders of freedom?

On that point, do Marcuse and Kristeva meet up and party?

Is it otherwise in Adorno, for whom reconciliation would also be liberation from unconsciously endured “natural history” (Marx’s prehistory of naturalized class society)?

Cyclical nature as ecological base and physical rock bottom is the model of archaic fate as blind compulsion, as wheel, vicious circle.

The expanding circuits of capital (M-C...P...C'-M') reproduce, in the second nature of commodified social reality, the spell of wheels that spin but cannot be changed: “the ever new production of the always-the-same,” with its naturalized shadow of misery and unfreedom – actually, so far, permanence in catastrophe, perennial disaster.

Freedom would be the real social reduction of all fraudulent necessity, the conscious openings in the mutual conditioning and reciprocal mediation of nature and history.

This would include the dissipation of blind fate and remnant myth in nature as such – in its “laws” and processes, including enigmas of speciation.

The supercession of nature as spell, as chaining helixes of ideology holding back human possibility. But also, at the same time, the liberation of nature from domination.

Radical ground and overlook on global climate change? Passage to classless production, generalized autonomy and zero-growth economies as firewall against planetary eco-meltdown?

In truth the problem of problems, the liberation from master logics as such, the puzzle of social code beyond DNA...

As it is, science belongs to capital. Techno-power, mediated by antagonism, serves and asserts the power of blind global process over nature and individuals alike – “the progress from slingshot to atom bomb.”

Could be otherwise, but no solution here that is not radically social...

sowing seeds with 5 fingers

G8 blockaders, Heiligendamm, Germany, June 2007.

Libidinous counter-images of organized refusal. Gestures, only, merely - but magnets of affect, relays of tickling ripples.

Gesturing to: the category of objective possibility: the seeds of a different future hidden in the dominant facta bruta - potential openings locked up in reified given, the social “world that is the case.”

How, in the daily noise, the spectacular occupation of collective mind by permanent distraction and emergency, to make radical possibility visible, thinkable, touchable?

What form of reach? How to organize that?

political eros?

Rhythms of Resistance/Action Samba Band Berlin: saving grace of northern demos in grim clime and harried streets...

Radical music or music for radicals? Or both at once: concrete appearance-form of politicized reach, of eroticized radical culture?

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (6)


WANTED (no reward).

Strutting-defiant jaywalking.

Shiftiness in demeanor.

Busking, no license.

Forgery & Discordancy.

Foul-breathed crooning.

Lewd display of unmentionables.

Trespass, Failure to disperse.

Failure to show Proof of Domicile.

Impersonating burghers of standing.

Disturbing public indifference.

Harkening in darkness.

Poaching Belcanto Wood.

Stiff-necking & Insubordination.

Authoring seditious missives.

Desecration of National Idols.

Threatening comportment at State Ceremonials.

Aiding & Abetting grievous insults to Property.

Giving comfort to sirens.

Circling false notes.


Corruption of youths.

Consorting with Eros.

Current whereabouts doubtful.

Last sighted Cythera Isle.

Armed with bile, Considered Toxic.


                        *      *      *

Go now my song,

go swallowing skyward,



Zoom rolling
and banking
till you find her –

she who could hear you

and laugh.

Then swoop,

vivid flier,

my bright-

speedy shadow,

trailing swift breezes,



by her lap.

You and she can decide

if you tickle or bother.

Either way

you’ll still be my song.

Friday, February 12, 2010

on tea partiers

“the race-baiting and hate-mongering discourse of tea parties” (from the 9 Feb. post, what was habeas corpus?).

Right, let’s quickly document and register this, for readers real and imagined who happily may not be so exposed to the current grotesqueries of the US political mediascape. (Those for whom it’s all too familiar and dismal can skip this one...)

Background: the so-called tea party movement names itself after the Boston Tea Party, that lauded episode of direct action property destruction from the American anti-colonial struggle against the British. The fabled anti-tax riot was organized by merchants and carried out by sailors and dockhands masquerading as “Indians.”

As the image makes clear, the action plays ambiguously on clichés of native wildness and violence. Aboriginal features, donned as disguise, are used as masking cover for the real agents of riot.

But in this covert action, the instrumentalizing appropriation of the other’s cultural markers denies to the indigenous who are mimicked any standing of their own, as autonomous ends-in-themselves: performance reflects the logic and reality of primitive accumulation – actual processes of violent seizure and genocidal displacement.

Whatever its anti-colonial valencies, then, this particular party also evinces the racism of occupiers who, reorganized as sovereign nation, would soon claim for themselves special divine blessing and “Manifest Destiny.”

(The fetishization of founding, a constant of aggressive American exceptionalism.)

Today the ranks of tea baggers seem to converge suspiciously with the regular spectators of Glenn Beck & Co. at Fox News.
In any case, the appearance of the movement last year, in the form of numerous local micro-demos of angry citizens, was extensively promoted and “covered” by Beck and others on Fox, who hailed it as a “new American Revolution.”

Their issues: big government, government spending (taxes), the bailouts ("free markets") and family values. Their unifying hate object: Barack Obama.

They call themselves “independents,” meaning, don’t take a Republican vote for granted. Some like McCain, others hate him. Some like Palin, others hate her. Some claim to have voted for Obama, but now hate him.

They’re busy and they’re organized. (Take note!!)

In the process of defining itself, still riven by internal disputes and contradictory positions, the movement of tea sippers just had its first “National Convention” in Nashville.

How many are they, then, really? We’ll all be finding out. For what it’s worth, the New York Times reported that during the recent election upset in Massachusetts, attributed to tea party power, more that 6 million people watched it on Fox, while at the same time CNN and MSNBC only attracted a bit more than a million each.

Their stance is ultra-middle class, but how grassroots are they, really? Organizers claim 600 people paid $549 to attend the convention (keynote speaker Sarah Palin; speaker’s fee reportedly $100,000.) Behind the scenes: a new legal entity called the Ensuring Liberty Corporation.

Do we really have to take this seriously? Isn’t it just a joke?

Expresso, please, and make it a double. This is real, it’s organizing and it’s already a demonstrated and mediatized material force, producing effects and impacting national discourse and policy.

Proof: Obama’s “spending freeze” (war machine exempted, of course) is a doomed attempt to appease them.

For these people are not likely to be appeased, and anyone who tries to conciliate them will be eaten alive.

Now for the crux:

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) 6 February 2010:

The organizer of the Tea Party Convention says he agrees with Tom Tancredo's description of President Obama as a socialist.

The former congressman from Colorado and 2008 Republican presidential candidate blasted Obama, saying “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.

Tancredo made his comments Thursday night as he gave the kickoff speech for the convention, which is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville.

That good old American perennial, then: racism plus anti-communism, in gaudy new Sunday dress.

But Obama clearly is no socialist.

Conclusion: this is an organized apparatus for scapegoating attacks – a crude form of would-be lynching.

Sadly, for the record.

Now, cui bono?

one, two, three

"It's not widely known, Amy, but there are at least three states of emergency that we're operating under right now by presidential declaration: one relating to 9/11, another one relating to the war on terror, and a third one relating to Iran."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, (Dem) Ohio, on DemocracyNow!, 9 February 2010

executive toothpaste

The merger of emergency executive and war machine within the US state is evidently bigger than Obama.

Tone shifts aside, he and his cabinet have drawn back from draw down.

With only minor, token exceptions and despite the complaints of Republicans, the Obama executive has maintained, reinforced and even continued to expand the apparatus, positions and prerogatives put in place by Bush.

Substantially, the war on terror continues. The politics of fear are played in a pleasingly different key, but one year on the logic of homeland security persists where it matters.

Emergency expansions of executive power, once established, are incredibly difficult to roll back. We would need to imagine the conditions for a transition to democracy in the US analogous to post-dictatorship periods in Spain, Chile or Greece. Leonard Cohen, but where is the struggle?

Carte blanche executive violation of standing treaties, secret presidential programs and expenditures, covert acts of war, normalized assassination and “extraordinary renditions,” suspension of habeas corpus and torture by proxy (all evidently in practice under Obama): whether granted by special authorization of Congress or simply unopposed and unprosecuted, such abuses of law clearly liquidate the Constitution.

They effectively reconstitute a new relation between the branches of government – something only Constitutional amendment could do legally. Checks and balances to constrain arbitrary power have been drastically enfeebled.

Q: So why do Congress and Supreme Court endorse the new regime by a mix of approval, silence and inaction? Why do they not “jealously guard” their own designated powers? Where, the trumpeted instinct for "liberty"?

Why, for example, is Kucinich all alone in crying foul (if that mild aside be a cry).

Is it safer in the dark? Is the new militaristic regime too “popular”? Is the populace asleep, apathetic, distracted, too confused and depressed?

Is it the sum of all these, converging with and reinforcing concentrated economic power - the "nexus of profit and secrecy"?

Given the conditions of winning Congressional elections and reelections, is it preferable to feign blindness and hand over powers at the slightest invocation of security shibboleths?
If so, in what ways? Who gains what, by what process?

And the Court, what is the Court after Bush v. Gore? A degraded reflector of the corporate-partisan force field at any given moment - a belated, arbitrary dialectic between presidential power of nomination and nine mortal lifelines.

A very partial, very unsatisfying hint at the weight and momentum of processes, once the changed facts in the state have taken hold:

“It is often too late for the toothpaste to be put back into the tube.”
Garry Wills, Bomb Power, 2010

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (5)



(She couldn’t
for Tommy.)

    *     *     *

Out of a blue sky
Eros pounces.

Hard the hit.
Sweet the swoon.
Crimson wet the after.

    *     *     *

Once upon a
May Day fine
desire grew
and kissed the sky.
Wings it had
and eyes to see,
and it saw
to a new horizon.
But flight by law
is not allowed,
as any cop can tell you.
So with laugh and howl
desire burst
and drummed in stony showers...

Eva Autonomista,
mos bels vezers,
by the grassy-banked canal.

The willows wept
to see you cry,
the swans fell dead
from the dusky sky,
the tear gas burned

But to see you get up
and raise your head
and shake your natty dreadlocks,
the birds came back,
the clover bloomed,
the samba played

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

what was habeas corpus?

“The National Security State is in permanent constitutional crisis.”
Garry Wills, Bomb Power, 2010

Wills traces the development of the US national security state from the Manhattan Project to the continuing so-called war on terror. He emphasizes its illegality, its violation of the US Constitution.

Given that demagogues like Glenn Beck are constantly waving and thumping the constitution on the airwaves of fear and hate, Wills’ intervention is absolutely necessary and vital.

But it will be necessary to go beyond the role of the fetishization of founders and foundings in the race-baiting and hate-mongering discourse of tea parties, and beyond even the categories of legality and constitution, to clarify what has happened and continues to happen.

For although he notes in passing the orgies of profiteering that have shadowed the war machine, the horizon of Wills’ analysis stops short of that “automatic subject” and “animated monster” we know from Das Kapital.

The real problem that collectively constrains us is not the character and actions of the US state, as destructive as these are. The real problem is the master logic generated by capitalist modernity itself, and the challenge is to grasp the mediations between this logic and its contemporary appearance-forms (of which, US imperium is at the moment the most visibly active and exemplary).

Coming posts will attempt little essays in this direction – so far as time, energy and courage last.

Monday, February 8, 2010

yes, we do assassination

“Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has confirmed US forces are authorized to kill US citizens abroad. Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee, Blair acknowledged President Obama is continuing a Bush-era policy authorizing the killing of US citizens if they’re considered a terrorist threat to the United States. In response, blogger Glenn Greenwald wrote the assassination policy gives President Obama “the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial.” DemocracyNow!, 5 February 2010

Constitution? When permanent emergency normalizes exception to code, that code is altered and a new code goes into force.

Under the master logic of antagonism, the law is the law of convenience.

Does the citizenry stir itself? Where aims its raging?...

galileo's post-hiroshima mea culpa (1)

"For what reason do you labor? I take it the intent of science is to ease human existence. If you give way to coercion, science can be crippled, and your new machines may simply suggest new drudgeries. Should you then, in time, dicover all there is to be discovered, your progress must then become a progress away from the bulk of humanity. The gulf might even grow so wide that the sound of your cheering at some new achievement would be echoed by a universal howl of horror."

Brecht (with Laughton), Galileo, as reworked after August 1945

galileo's post-hiroshima mea culpa (2)

"Had I stood firm the scientists could have developed something like the doctors' Hippocratic oath, a vow to use their knowledge exclusively for mankind's benefit. As things are, the best that can be hoped for is a race of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for any purpose."
Brecht, Life of Galileo

Sunday, February 7, 2010

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (4)

Who won’t submit,
who won’t comply
will have to take
a beating.

Until the day
the beaters all
are just
too busy singing.

    [Li Po, bright-
    eyed, guffawing
    circles elbow
    to Ezra’s rib.

    “Of grape or rice
    or cut with water,
    wine has more
    than oxen
    on the tongue –
    though in fine
    by morning after
    those of taste
    will likely judge
    such dicings
    gone to fur.”]

    *     *     *

    “...the life,
    moving of itself,
    of that
    which is dead.”

Hath we learned
our lessons well,
    [Smiling sweetly]

Strike, brother Brutus!
Let fly that iron!
Summer’s here
and the time is ripe

Full fathom five
our daddy lies
– and good riddance!
He broke our balls,
that prick,
riding us,
always riding.

Be warmed!
These are
scurvy tunes
writ in anger.
This be the news,
like it or not.
in palazzo.

General strike!!

One if by land,
two if by sea,
and over the ether
all power!!

claim the streets,
food not bombs,
songs not walls.
can ice it, organize
or death.


& nike town
gone burn down!

pinochet's corpse (and specter)

"The course of the world [Hegel's Weltlauf, master logic of the global process] which is hostile to human beings asserts itself against them but with their approval."
Adorno, 1964

state of exception

Where did it go -- was it ever? Toxic foundations in original accumulation, the condition of European industrialization. But leave that for now. Let's focus on the transformations since 1945. Shifts in the global social process and its enforcement, within it the functions of the US and the capitalist state as such.

Hiroshima: one word that condenses a whole set of such shifts.

"It would be no exaggeration to say that the legacy of the Manhattan Project included what Dwight Eisenhower would later call the 'military-industrial complex,' as well as a powerful national security culture organized around a permanent nexus of profit and secrecy."

"Whether the legacy of Auschwitz will in the end prove worse that that of Hiroshima is doubtful. As Jonathan Schell reminds us, the 'long' or 'real twentieth century' - the last phase of which began on August 6, 1945 - is still 'unfinished.' Hiroshima left the Americans with a new institutional nexus of profit, secrecy and power. But in a vicious circle, the effort to enforce its nuclear monopoly led to an intensification of secrecy and a perpetual culture of national security that quickly corroded civil rights and democratic foundations."
Gene Ray, Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory, 2005

Now here's a new and more detailed accounting, this time from a conservative constitutionist:

"This book has a basic thesis, that the Bomb altered our subsequent history down to its deepest constitutional roots. It redefined the presidency, as in all respects America's 'Commander in Chief' (a term that took on a new and unconstitutional meaning in this period). It fostered an anxiety of continuing crisis, so that society was pervasively militarized. It redefined the government as a National Security State, with an apparatus of secrecy and executive control."

"All this grew out of the Manhattan Project... The project's secret work, secretly funded at the behest of the President, was a model for the covert activities and overt authority of the government we now experience."
Garry Wills, Bomb Power, 2010

State terror, including genocidal powers held in reserve, has specific functions in global "governance."

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (3)

Join the union

of bedroom

Drift wakefully
in Boccaccio,
Villon, Duras;
Sappho, Debord.

Summon five
to a moon-
gazing party.

In Baraka,
Neruda, Serge
read Rabelais,
Pier Paolo,
& the Paris

the seeds
of revolution

in concert
what could be
der wahre

    *     *     *

looks on the
world, her eyes
burning ruby.

She wants
to know.

Where are the larks
of morning?
Where, the poppies
of May?

The wind is
the slop

is breaking
on the towers.

Doomed companions,
adventure must
not die.

Juliette will sing
forbidden songs.
Dangerous, she.

To remember love.
To resist.

nothing to lose but chains of gold

"Trying to think the revolution is like waking up and trying to see the logic in a dream. When, half-awake, I think about the revolution, I see it as the tail of a caged tiger, starting to lash out in a wide sweep, then falling back wearily on the prisoner's flank."
Jean Genet, Un Captif amoureaux, 1986

curse still spoken in the name of eros

Watteau's Singing Lesson, c. 1717: the "promise of happiness," a "beautiful semblance of liberation," counter-image to the rising and still-revolutionary bourgeoisie just as the commodification of the world is about to accelerate. "With regard to the domain of Eros, the Beautiful represents the pleasure principle. Thus it rebels against the prevailing reality principle of domination."
Marcuse, 1977

political eros?

"By virtue of achieved mimesis, these works contain the quality of Beauty in its perhaps most sublimated form: as political Eros."
Marcuse, 1977

coffee or tea?

"Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate victim in real life receive their beatings so that the spectators can accustom themselves to theirs.... There is laughter because their is nothing to laugh about."
Horkheimer & Adorno,

Dialectic of Enlightenment

(thanks, joni and bourbaki!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

the scurvy tunes of alonzo riley (2)

    A kiss

    from Rrose

Eros wishes
to remind
all striding

    Is Not

    Take Time
    To Tend
    The Roses.

    Else You
    Will Be

    When I Get
    To it.

    *     *     *

Dear prisoners,
we’ve come here today
bringing music up
to your prison walls.
By our little
concert we want
to show you
you haven’t
been forgotten.

We aren’t enough
today to throw
these walls
and give you back
your freedom.
So we’ll come again
another day
with our angry bags
and pipes.
Back we’ll be
till we bring the day
we’re strong enough

to break you out.

    *     *     *

First revolutionary
tasks: 1) Take out
all surveillance cameras.
2) Learn the local
flowers & birdsongs.
3) “Read, read, read!”
4) Sleep naked.

Romeo Clandestino
suggests Aikido.
Yoga for the masses
is also sage.
Comrades and lovers
need bodies they
can bring to bear,
lithe as cats
and ropewalkers.
Romeo says: parcours
for the young
and quick-healing,
simple bouldering
for the oldsters.

Mind and body
finely balanced,
All the arts
in their slow-
unfolding secrets
are potencies,
personal and
The struggle is
one does not live
by one century