Saturday, November 04, 2006

peckham lib.

The shopping centre form of modern art, for various reasons, is basically a gloss on this experience of substitutability. You could perhaps account for it as a process of natural history, simultaneously intricate and banal, (as if art naturally sprang up where streetlife didn’t interfere, in the same way that plants reappear in disused carparks) although obviously in reality it’s all down to business and/or the council. The message of modern art is stupid and grandiose: “Citizens! Tremble!” - it’s all about the disclosure of this possibility of substitution and it’s fundamentally ambivalent toward the consequences. It hardly matters whether art is pro or con the shopping centre terror effect it inevitably piggybacks. Hans Arp once said, anticipating this ambivalence: “we had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds”. Go and have a look at Peckham Library if you don’t believe me.


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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...


catmint said...


Le Colonel Chabert said...

Hi catmint; I am sorry to put this reply to the antigram thread under your very astute post, but oh poor me, tossed in the briar patch again!

"...I mean, Hari's article is a textbook example of the part maudit argument: the spectacular oyster justifying itself against the postmod grit it emits"

Yes its true; I exaggerated. Punk atmosphere etc.

Though I think this kind of inane criticism develops reactively to match an equally vapid promotional stance; both H and D treat Z and Derrida as somehow interchangeable examples of a certain product, and try to legislate the fetishism of these commodities, declare them without history; twenty five years ago the resemblance of a certain theoretical genre to new criticism, the commodity fetishism of literary texts, was regularly noticed, but now its revealed religion and applies to something that has been lately retro-re-branded an intellectuals' "thought". If that's the promo campaign, and if it relies on the reverence for the brevet itself, it is unsurprising that the rebuttal of the competitors will highlight the elitism (though hypocritically) and take on this particular "its fashionable nonsense" character.

Hari is thoroughly odious; there really is no defence of him I know, but he could possibly be charged by the judge-prosecutors of his tribunal with being "no worse than Zizek".

catmint said...

That's very kind of you, yes I remembered what he wrote about the Punk Ethik

I got a bit carried away at Antigram. One thing I like about Antigram is that he doesn't try to steer clear of pretense. Lots of people write about cultural theory but I think it's mainly a defensive posture, constructing a sort of maginot line around your ordinary opinions, Antigram at least tries to use it productively.

But Johann Hari:

I looked through his article on China at, and it's not too bad but he ends it:

"...we need to show these corporations that we refuse to shop until they drop."

which just isn't a sensible analysis, The Economist wouldn't analyse pricing this way so I don't see why Johann Hari has to.

Most likely he is genuinely a social democrat progressive prone to the odd analytical error but the important thing, politically, is that The Independant isn't progressive in this way, it's pro the current line of advance which is toward the dictatorship of monopoly capital.

Considering his declared opponants he appears almost as a dissident figure.

With the right wing British press: The Times; The Telegraph there's still a residual sense of a former upper class sensibility. As if along with the smug, caustic quality of Anglo Imperial product there would also be qualities of wit, culture, fair play (within a restricted field of play). I don't think any of this applies today. These publications perpetuate the worldview of low rank call-centre managers. People like Niall Ferguson are, in my opinion, literary scabs.

You're right about Derrida, I'm genuinely surprised to what extent he's been forgotten since he died, what? two years ago. Before then he was pretty much hegemonic. Personally I wasn't a fan but I don't doubt that he was a seriously brilliant man. All these people switched over to brand Zizek as if it was the same sort of thing.

Hari had no real influence over the war, just like I have no influence over his career, but the stakes at play here shouldn't be forgotten.

catmint said...

...I see you are actually banned now

socialists eh?

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Oh dear, again back in the briar patch! Socialists still possibly; the problem is they are four-flushers and really if you call their bluff there is little else for them to do but erase the history and crop the photos. Which makes the De Man discussion (not about his personal sins, but about his interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy of history) at once appropriate and inadmissible. History may be written by the winners but it is erased by their devoted slaves.

I suppose it would not be spiteful and silly for me to post the deleted conversation on my blog.

...But I was writing this reply before that unsurprising occurence intervened.

Hari...I agree, he is kind of a decent progressive, and he's not a fraud, but the bad thing is that his "lapses" arise frequently from his kind of neo-racism. It's not very overt, and its not really outfitted with race in the strict sense, but he does have this underlying yerupeen supremacist faith, a flexible orientalist perspective, and in the last resort it decides him. But he doesn't pose as a revolutionary, as Zizek does. I suspect Zizek was actually on the US payroll at one time, before the cottage industry.

Antigram is a really truly excellent gifted writer, a prose artist - I like the grandiosity of his style too, it reminds of the sermons I used to attend at the Abyssian Baptist Church in NY just for the uplifting theatre of it, and it reminds me also of tony kushner's defence of bombastic pretentiousness - but its a talent he practises in a post-Baudrillardian fashion. Only a simulacrum of bounty. And I am really really unsympathetic to the location of 'the problem' in the moral failings and peccadillos of the neighbours, which implicitly defines the left as a kewl exclusive crowd who like the same kewl videos, especially when it is matched to all this free advertising for cocaculture and the sort of "google is harmless and will protect us from skinheads" posture. The puritan moralising, the fear of skinheads and shamelessly sexual bimbos infesting the social body, is not so far from what Sarko is so successfully selling.

Derrida...I'm not a fan either. Spectres of Marx was really inexcuseable liberal posing and trivial. The argument that his philosophy was inherently leftist is rubbish. His style of argument with his hostile peers was not only obfuscatory even when not to a purpose but sarcastic and defensive. His practise was in part the restoration of reverence for the canon and Western Sivileysation, and the securing of its centrality and dignity, by coopting and disabling the more incisive and politicised critiques of anticolonialist and marxist thinkers. He does that neoliberal thing, staging the gynesis only to restore the white bourgeois men to their places more securely, since they now have swallowed the world and are rendered immune to a critique which arises from a logic and an ethics they themselves claim to advance (it is a maneuvre against the expropriation of revolutionary enlightenment by humanity, ultimately). His choices of what binaries to deconstruct, if you make a list of them, and those to deploy undeconstructed, give rise to very troubling suspicions. As psychoanalysis displaces social conflict into the bourgeois psyche, Derrida displaces it into the nucleus of the sign. (Its there in both cases but they choose substitution over simultaneity.) He covertly repeatedly seeks to undermine the power of the analyses of both Debord and Fanon. And his exchange with McClintock and Nixon proved what an arrogant sarcastic arse he could be personally in ways that did impact directly the politics of his propositions, and show that in the last instance what he valued was the indefinite discussion, stalling politics via an endless rabbinical debate. Again there is yerupeenitude at the heart of his failure to produce leftist product despite a clear opposition to capitalism. On the other hand, its politically trivial because nobody who is not already with the programme reads it anyway. It's entertainment for clerks, mostly liberals and reactionaries.

What he did with texts I think is implicit in Marx, and the valuable premises in Derrida derive from Macherey, changed only in a bad way (idealised), but you can't evoke Macherey in these environments because nobody has bothered to read him.

But for all this, the art of deconstruction is I think indispensible for the critique of ideology, for the reading of texts which produce it, and Derrida refined the possible procedures far beyond Macherey. Emulating his practise is a truly demystifying occupation. I think its actual coherent propositions, the 'deliberate' if backhanded assertions, are mostly crap, but the main practise I really believe in, though one has to do it with very different commitments than Derrida had to expropriate it for historical materialism, and restore the last step - the materialist step - which he always took such sniffy offence when anyone pointed out he neglected it.

catmint said...

yes, I agree with all this.

Also, contra Dominic's suggestion on Antigram I think one other thing Derrida does is adapt Husserl's logic of mathematics to literary theory. That said, I don't know enough about about Husserl or lit. theory to make this argument explicitly.

I've only read excerpts of Spectres of Marx but from that it's fairly clear he didn't get what Marx was trying to explain (and so was, after all, humanly fallible). He should have done the whole of 19th Century economics, which is very mythological; the Robinson Crusoe stories of course, Cournot who wanted to explain society via mineral water, Edgeworth's desiring machines, Malthus...

catmint said...

I haven't read Macherey either (I don't really know literary theory, only art theory a bit). One thing excluded by the endless fetishisation of these people as extraordinary individuals is the political situation they are involved in, (even in its pettyness) which is crucial to understanding the works themselves. This is what Althusser writes about Lire le Capital though I expect you know it:

"As I have already said, I only read Capital in 1964-65 for the seminar which was to lead to Lire le Capital. If I remember correctly three individuals, Pierre Macherey, Étienne Balibar, and Francois Regnault, came to see me in my office in January 1963to ask if I would help them to read Marx's early works. So it was not my initiative which led me to talk about Marx at the École but rather a request on the part of a few students. This initial collaboration gave rise to the Seminar of 1964-1965, which we set up in June 1964. Balibar, Macherey, Regnault, Duroux, Miller, and Rancière, etc., were there. Miller was the one with the most fixed ideas on the subject, but he dropped out completely in the course of the year. He was living in a hunting-lodge in Rambouillet with a girl who "produced", so he said, "at least one theoretical concept a week"...."

"...But when Miller returned from Rambouillet in June 1965 and read the duplicated pages of the papers people had given, he discovered Rancière had "stolen" his own concept of "metonymic causality". Rancière suffered terribly when charged with this. And is it not the case that concepts belong to everyone? I certainly thought so but Miller had different ideas..."

"...The year ended very badly. By some trick of dialectics Miller accused me rather than Rancière of having stolen his concept of "metonymic causality..."

"...When I used the concept "metonymic causality", I referred in a footnote to the fact I had borrowed it from Miller, but I immediately changed it to "structural causality" which no-one else had used and was therefore my expression! What a to-do! It does, however, give some idea of what that small world was like. Debray was very struck by it on his return from Bolivia, and my readers must find it astounding."

catmint said...

"you can't evoke Macherey in these environments because nobody has bothered to read him"

yeah, maybe it's just 2 demanding

catmint said...

"I like the grandiosity of his style too, it reminds of the sermons I used to attend at the Abyssian Baptist Church in NY"

I was taking the piss a bit with my de Quincey quote on Antigram

["On the contrary, from my earliest youth, it has been my pride to converse familiarly, more Socratico, with all human beings-man, woman, and child-that chance might fling in my way; for a philosopher should not see with the eyes of the poor limitary creature calling himself a man of the world, filled with narrow and self-regarding prejudices of birth and education, but should look upon himself as a catholic creature, and as standing in an equal relation to high and low, to educated and uneducated, to the guilty and the innocent"]

but his style does reminds me of this sort of thing:

"Donne, Chillingworth, Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, Milton, South Barrow, form a plëiad, a constellation of seven golden stars, such as no literature can match in their own class. From these seven writers, taken apart from all their contemporaries, I would undertake to build up an entire body of philosophy upon the supreme interests of humanity. One error of M. Cousin's doubtless lay in overlooking the fact that all conceivable problems of philosophy can reproduce themselves under a theological mask: and thus he had absolved himself of reading many English books, as presumably mere professional pleadings of Protestant polemics, which are in fact mines inexhaustible of eloquence and philosophic speculation."

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"One thing excluded by the endless fetishisation of these people as extraordinary individuals is the political situation they are involved in"

Absolutely. I think also it follows this sort of logic of the ceremony of the commodity, a ceremonial worship of enclosure. Most of this product is fairly obvious; what is "really original" is wrong (because "really original" thoughts about the world in this genre are more often "idiocy" than "insight"). What these brand names (Foucauldian, Deleuzian, Althusserian) do, and this habit of having to pay the ceremonial toll by littering ones text with Great Author's names whenever one uses the word "flow" or "discipline" (even if only to beg permission to disagree with whoever who has become the proprietor of this word or "idea"), is just build into the speech and thinking of professional intellectuals a respect for the principle of enclosure, for intellectual property, and by extenstion for property generally as the essence of everything. The intellectual commons is parcelled and becomes the trademark property of whoever has managed to exploit it most profitably in the market - as Steven Speilberg's Amblin Entertainment successfully acquired the trademark to the word "Jurassic" through staggeringly profitable exploitation of it in the marketplace. This priestly humility and reverence is troubling, and in the last decades of the twentieth century the producers learned to tailor their thoughts and prose to the production of these trademarks and the enclosure of every banality or bit of obviousness left in the commons: Zizek owns enjoyment; Derrida was an endless producer of "signature" neologisms, as commodities in principle; Agamben's oeuvre is little more than the creation of merchandiseable terms (Homo Sacer is made to be turned into a doll). A lot of this work is just enclosure of this sort, (re)brandings of bits of the intellectual commons suitable for trademark ("multitude" "empire").

It has also the side effect of creating an illusion of great activity and creativity, as well as continuing to reestablish ceaselessly the idea that we don't have enough theory and that product in a certain genre, regardless of what its content is, is not only worthwhile but the most urgent concern. That capitalism remains mysterious and incomprehensible and that this failure of theory is the cause of the failure of left politics, and that therefore the solution is more theory.

I noticed that De Quincy reference...and I suspect antigram could in fact more or less summarize Z's shtick in plain terms, but then he'd have to say it's ridiculous. The defence of it is the defence of the genre itself, of the overflowing shelf at Borders, the supermarket cornucopia of 'ideas', of the profession and its vigorous production of new commodities creating so many opportunities for choice - if you don't like it, change the channel! - and thus 'opinionist', so can't be stated, only confirmed through silent but indispensible assumption (in the very of style of SZ, concocting arguments which require reader's to produce certain assumptions at least provisionally in order to make the arguments intelligible, and which are so densely encrusted with so much unexamined ideology one just can't be bothered to dismantle them.)

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"yeah, maybe it's just 2 demanding"

...I think all his writing on Spinoza would have been very popular actually in the Spinoza revival of the past decade but very little has been translated into either English or German, so its inaccessible to many who would be interested.

"I think one other thing Derrida does is adapt Husserl's logic of mathematics to literary theory."

That's very intriguing. I have always seen his concept of literary production as deriving from political economy and physiocrat vs britons arguments, various models of markets, the role of things like bread rioting (distribution mechanism disruption that is also regulatory), and the mystery of 'value', but this is probably my bias (I am interested in the long 18th century). I think what you say may account for many things better. Something to ponder...

catmint said...

"I have always seen his concept of literary production as deriving from political economy and physiocrat vs britons arguments"

I think Derrida may have something in common with political economy in having a model, as it were, in front of him first of all, and then working out its conditions of existence, which would invert normal philosophical procedure. Political economy does this naively, I think, while Derrida gets all the philosophy too. He's a complex writer though.

Reading Spectres of Marx, however, made me wonder if he understood this at all.

catmint said...

"Agamben's oeuvre is little more than the creation of merchandiseable terms (Homo Sacer is made to be turned into a doll)"

I have a fantastic name for an Agamben doll: Bare Zoë - she could be on the shelves for christmas!

Le Colonel Chabert said...

Bare Zoë...

It's perfect. So many outfits and playhouses. Barbed wire, slaveships. Tatooing and branding kits.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"Political economy does this naively, I think, while Derrida gets all the philosophy too...Reading Spectres of Marx, however, made me wonder if he understood this at all"

Yes, I get the sense that there is a naïveté that looks deliberate, then in that book you start to wonder, like not wanting to acknowledge he's talking about private property even when specifically talking about property. Sometimes the evasions seem really obvious, as when there turn out to be no consequences (no deconstruction of property) to this discovery "I have only one language but it is not mine."