Friday, September 28, 2012

review: nicholsen on the bio-meltdown

Shierry Weber Nicholsen, The Love of Nature and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern (MIT Press, 2002)

Those concerned and alarmed by the biospheric meltdown need to understand the obstacles that are blocking effective responses. These obstacles are mainly of two kinds: social and psychological. The unsustainable logic of accumulation that drives our contemporary capitalist society is also driving the biospheric crisis. But to change this logic would be to change the form of society itself. To do that, we would have to overcome formidable processes of social reproduction, including the addictive enjoyments of commodified life and the coercive enforcements of war machines and state terror.

The psychological blockages are no less formidable. To respond effectively to catastrophic ecocide, we would first need to bring it fully to awareness and attention. The extent of the damage being done is staggering and the implications are intimidating. We would need to acknowledge the destructiveness of our current way of life and our own deep implication in the global social process. Such awareness is painful and distressing. The feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt it may arouse are so threatening, in fact, that they provoke all our psychic defenses: we avoid this awareness by repressing and disavowing it, or by projecting it outward in the form of more violence or self-violence.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

elegy for an albatross

A juvenile albatross desiccate on sand, feathers cupping the fist of flotsam that starved it. As the biosphere melts down and species disappear forever, Chris Jordan documents the real appearance-forms of accumulation. On Midway Atoll (Pihemanu Kauihelani in Hawaiian), in the middle of the North Pacific, he photographed the carcasses of albatrosses killed by plastic. These are hard images, documents of barbarism in Benjamin’s sense: alarms that call us to awake.

This archive, which Jordan subtitles Message from the Gyre, is a lesson in dialectics. In a forensic sense, these images are evidence of a deadly process: capitalist modernity interacting with and transforming ‘nature’. In the commodity, capital animates and inspirits dead things with living relations: they are made to move and dance and flow on a global scale. Here, in these images, we can see in a flash the terrible, indifferent truth of this social process: accumulation, our master, grows within life like an incubus. The commodity – or its traces and refuse – acquires its life at the expense of life, a process that ends in the starvation of living things and the slow disappearance of life-forms. Modernity has launched a new mass extinction event, which now, steadily, comes into view.

Friday, September 21, 2012

capital and biosphere

Modernity and Biospheric Meltdown:
Rethinking Exits, Austerities and Biopolitics

by Gene Ray

In setting out the agenda for this conference, Yannis Stavrakakis calls for a critical and postcolonial reflection on the Greek crisis. He asks us to think about the current politics of debt and austerity within the historical force-fields of “Heterodox Modernity”: “A global crisis provides the opportunity for the enforcement of one more project of ‘modernizing’ Greek culture under circumstances of a quasi-state of emergency.” The terms constellated in this formulation point me to the emerging crisis within modernity itself.
My thesis here is that modernity exists but cannot be sustained. It stands exposed today as untenable and unviable – indeed, terminally so. Why? For all the good old reasons set out by critical theory long ago, but also, now, for some new ones. Today, biospheric or ecological meltdown and mass extinction announce the end of modernity. Our challenge now is to rescue ourselves from it: we need an exit from the logic it imposes, not a fix that would prologue it.
Given the stakes, which I clarify below, this challenge should be at the very center of political discourse and debate. It should be included now in every serious discussion about the so-called sovereign debt crisis, or art, or the postcolonial. Instead, we continue to leave it out. For many reasons, we’re avoiding this challenge. It’s too huge, too unthinkably catastrophic, too difficult and uncomfortable on so many levels. But avoidance and disavowal won’t make the biospheric crisis go away. It will impose itself now as the absolute material limit of modernity – the real constraining objectivity that will shape all politics, all possible futures.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

postcolonial studies

from Kleio's notebook: on Troikas, debts & Protecting Powers 

'The insurgent Greeks had contracted loans, on disadvantageous terms, in the City of London during the war of independence and in 1832, the three Protecting Powers [that agreed to recognize Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire and selected a monarch to rule over the new nation, the 17-year old second son of Ludwig I of Bavaria], Britain, France and Russia, guaranteed a loan of 60 million francs, much of the proceeds of which were expended on the army, on King Otto's Bavarian bureaucracy and on the service of the loan. 

'In the 1880s, further loans, totalling 630 million drachmas, were contracted, the service of which came to consume a third of the revenues of the state. 

'When, in 1893, there was a collapse in world demand for her principal export, currants, Greece was forced greatly to reduce interest payments and was effectively bankrupt.

Monday, September 17, 2012

overidentification and the greek crisis

Rethinking Overidentification:
On Some Activist Practices in the Greek Crisis.

by Kostis Stafylakis

Discussion about practices of ‘overidentification’ has to start by rejecting the idea that overidentification is, or can be, a concrete strategy for assaulting the forms of metapolitical and postdemocratic administration prevalent in today’s societies. Overidentification is not some full-on avant-garde attack on social systems of power and control. It is rather a ‘symptom’ of the ideological uncertainties and identity dislocations of late capitalism. That said, overidentification is a term for those impure moments within cultural practices when subjects can try out the consequences of their identifications, attachments and orientations of desire. The overidentifying subject embraces the risks involved in these games. To overidentify is to accept that one is fully imbricated in a social bond, in a field that does not pose neat and unproblematically clear choices between resistance and conformism. Overidentification is related to forms of critical cultural practices; its ‘criticality’ is generated when ‘subjects of overidentification’ begin to admit and embrace the fact that their subjectivity is deeply interwoven with and by social discourses, power, authority, heteronomy – and is structurally involved in their reproduction. In this respect, practices of overidentification can potentially foster a critical interrogation of current social dogmas to the extent that an unconscious part of one’s own attachment to the social apparatus is (re)enacted. In this gaming or acting out, the ‘over’ or surplus of overidentification is the movement beyond the safe, controlled, supervised representation of identity.

Since the late 1990s, significant theoretical approaches have contextualized the relation between cultural activism and grassroots social movements resisting the deregulation of societies and economies associated with globalization and neoliberal policies. In the late 1990s and early 2000s activist practices unwrapped an agenda of tactics and strategies against the neoliberal exploitation of public space, the waning of the welfare state, and the control of information and mass media by powerful corporations. Reclaim The Streets took back public spaces, the Yes Men tried to de-legitimize the politics of WTO and the managerial discourse of big corporations, and Critical Art Ensemble interrogated late capitalist eugenics and biopolitics. In a similar fashion, Geert Lovink and David Garcia coined the term ‘tactical media’ in 1997 to address the new nomadic and tactical zeitgeist of networked cultural resistance.