Saturday, July 28, 2007

a Miracle Play Herod

(Max Stirner at least seems to have noticed that Hegel's historical scenes are largely populated with papier-mâché figures)

Athlone Contemporary Thinkers etc: an industry exists producing these books about politics that convince not through their appraisal of real political structures but rather through the adoption of a style and tone that suggest a real political theology, as if such a thing were possible. In this arrangement the properties afforded to a single figure, here the writer, work to suggest a whole metaphysics, which in turn extends and frames the work itself. Versions of pastoral can do something similar: using single figures or figures in small groups to suggest coherent classes. Of course these works aren't immune to the effects of bureaucratic processes (alternatively "the effects of the market") - and so the slogan "imminence in philosophy" - a refutation of these arrangements, is effectively promoted in exactly this way. This doesn't make it a bad slogan though.

Here's a sort of explanation from renaissance drama:

1. Falstaff suggests a Plantagenet underclass, in the same way as Žižek suggests a class of theologians. In the case of Dr Žižek a few real or imagined novelties, or perhaps novelties with respect to the everyday language of the media, imaginatively suggests the efficacy of an imputed science that does not need to be shown. Likewise the incongruity of Shakespeare's Falstaff as an underclass figure is used to suggest the properties of this underclass. This unusual, disturbing quality is I think what Empson's getting at* in objecting to the "tender attitude" shown toward the latter Falstaff or the popular Falstaff. His argument recalls the notion of "compulsion anxiety" - pleasure (in this case) achieved through the repetition of an experience that's initially distasteful. (Advertising often takes advantage of this sort of process).

2. An incongruous figure suggests a coherent other class better than a figure typical of that class. Common paranoia can be left to construct around the few strokes drawn a coherence that can only be really shown in a truly pedestrian way.

*"It is as well to look at Falstaff in general for a moment, to show what this tender attitude to him has to fit in with. The plot treats him as a simple Punch, whom you laugh at with good humour, though he is wicked, because he is always knocked down and always bobs up again. People sometimes take advantage of this to view him as a loveable old dear; a notion which one can best refute by considering him as an officer.

I haue led my rag of Muffins where they are pepper'd: there's not three of my 150 left alive, and they for the Townes end, to beg during life

We saw him levy a tax in bribes on the men he left: he now kills all the weaklings he conscripted, in order to keap their pay. A fair proportion of the groundlings consisted of disbanded soldiers who had suffered under such a system; the laughter was a roar of hatred here; he is "comic" like a Miracle Play Herod."

- Empson Some Versions of Pastoral

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


There might be some mileage in analysing the work of writers like Nick Cohen in a "Hegelian" way. Cohen's What's Left isn't really of or for the working class, its closer to being a book calculated to irritate anyone who belongs to the working class and reads books about politics, i.e. its ostensible target audience; even as disinformation it is useless. Nor can one imagine the plutocrats for whom Cohen works finding anything useful or even cheering in his miserable hack work. It truly appears as bourgeois ideology reproduced through an imagined version of its implied ideal recipient.

Obviously the rabbit eater is partly a joke, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be accurate. For this reason I'm trying to locate some proper statistics for class composition in Great Britain. These are some statistics for the US, from Dennis Gilbert The American Class Structure: In An Age of Growing Inequality (2002):

Capitalist class 1%
"Top-level executives, high-rung politicans, heirs with incomes in the top 1%"

Upper middle class 15%
"Highly educated, most commonly salaried, professionals and middle management with large work autonomy"

Lower middle class 30%
"Semi-professionals and craftsmen with a roughly average standard of living. Most have some college education and are white collar"

Working class 30%
"Clerical and most blue collar workers whose work is highly routinized. Standard of living varies depending on number of income earners, but is commonly just adequate"

Working poor 13%
"Service, low-rung clerical and some blue collar workers. High economic insecurity and risk of poverty"

Underclass 12%
"Those with limited or no participation in the labor force. Reliant on government transfers"

Sunday, July 22, 2007

some versions of pastoral

his appearances on each take on a different character

William Empson's Some Versions of Pastoral manages to be a book about organised mendacity that avoids reproducing the overwrought tone that distinguishes, almost without exception, the successors of Friedrich Nietzsche. It worked this way, at least acording to Empson:

"The essential trick of the old pastoral, which was felt to imply a beautiful relation between rich and poor, was to make simple people express strong feelings (felt as the most universal subject, something fundamentally true about everybody) in learned and fashionable language (so that you wrote about the best subject in the best way). From seeing the two sorts of people combined lime this you thought better of both; the best parts of both were used. The effect was in some degree to combine in the reader or author the merits of the two sorts; he was made to mirror in himself more completely the effective elements of the society he lived in. This was not a process that you could explain in the course of writing pastoral; it was already shown by the clash between style and theme, and to make the clash work in the right way (not become funny) the writer must keep up a firm pretence that he was unconscious of it."

Pastoral was always for the rich. So another way of describing its effect is that it refuses to present a particular figure, that of the poor man deformed by the politics of the rich; and it's to this end that the poor are imagined how the rich ought to be. Empson is, effectively, reproducing the logic of psychoanalysis without its presuppositions, to the effect that pastoral can be said to be built around the repression of this idea of the poor being cramped or injured by these politics.

(applied psychoanalysis was then in vogue: "Ernest Jones' essay on Hamlet, which may perhaps have caused Mr Eliot to jettison the play in his later essay, brought out a very far-reaching use of double-plot methods and introduced at least one valuable technical term; in "decomposition" "one person of complex character is dissolved and replaced by several, each of whom possesses a different aspect of the character which in the simpler form of the myth is combined in one being".)

Consequently, where the statement of class distinctions is inevitable, it's normal to show the poor as an idealised version of the rich, so that for either group the personality appears to be formed according to a logic that's indifferent to politics. It could be done another way; if class distinctions weren't stressed, a similar feeling could be produced by showing an extravagant degree of difference.

Empson describes a genre that gives pleasure, or more properly happiness, since pastoral is aligned with stoicism, or represents a more decorative version of it. It's also close to the effect of modern media in that (what we could call) its "first movement" is to invite condescension.

In any case, this is Empson's discussion of the emergance of the "independant individual" of bourgeois society, in relation to the sonnet "I am a little world..." of John Donne that:

"though without indifference to a universal right and wrong, takes the soul as isolated and independent; it is viewed as the world in the new astronomy, a small sphere, complete in itself, safe from interference, in the middle distance. The idea that you can get right away to Americs, that human affairs are not organized round one certainly right authority (e.g. the Pope) is directly compared to the new idea that there are other worlds like this one, so that the inhabitants of each can live in their own way. These notions carried a considerable weight of implication, because they lead at once to a doubt either of the justice or uniqueness of Christ. It was bad enough when all the Chinese were certain of hell because they had not been told of the appearance of the Messiah, but to damn all inhabitants of other planets on this count was intolerable. On the other hand, if Christ went to all the planets his appearances on each take on a different character; it is a more symbolical matter, and you can apply the ideas about Christ to anyone who seems worthy of it. This was in fact done, though with an air of metaphor. Beyond that heaven which was most high adds that heaven, if it is there at all, is now safely far off; it is difficult to reach across from either side."

Monday, July 16, 2007


Mark K-Punk on the psychology of the ruling class:

"Class power maims at precisely the same moment that it confers its privileges, which is why, in my experience, so many members of the ruling class resemble Daleks: their smooth, hard exterior contains a slimy invertebrate, seething with inchoate, infantile emotions. Dominic is quite right to insist on the distinction between inner phenomenological states and social confidence. The ruling elite will often be in states of profound inner turmoil (which states they often believe are terribly interesting, even if they are tediously generic); yet this doesn't affect their social confidence a jot. The behaviourist philosophy of Gilbert Ryle may prove surprisingly useful if we want to understand how this is so. Ryle's dismissal of the 'ghost in the machine', his claim that there was no inner entity corresponding to the Cartesian notion of mind, might well have been polemical overstatement, but his emphasis on the external and behavioural quality of mental states is essential to understanding how class power operates."

...which I think is an excellent piece of writing. It illustrates a problem vividly and concisely: economic forces; the Cartesian notion of mind; an image from popular culture concretely relating these ideas. We're then left to decide how applicable this model is. Objections to this argument could be made on various grounds:

1. Ethically: The pronounced gap between esoteric and exoteric presentations of self in Mark's model conforms quite closely to fashionable Lacanian ideas about psychology. Mark, however, isn't applying it universally, but only to one social group. This simple conceptual modification presents a psychology quite different, affectively, to that of Lacan. Instead of the obligatory chorus pronouncing that we are all suffering, one hears, if distantly, the catcalls of the mob. It seems unfair.

2. Aesthetically: Undoubtedly the figure of the Dalek does serve to poetically represent Descartes' theory of mind. But one has reservations as to whether a character from a television series is a philosophically appropriate object of contemplation. Can we really place the Dalek on a pedestal beside Lacan's heuristic figures?

3. Logically: Statistical research in psychology is of course dominated by institutions with their own political interests, which in this case are likely to coincide with the interests of the ruling class*. One could, nevertheless, extract concrete positions from Mark's observations and evaluate them with reference to the available literature.

*we need a consistant definition of this term "ruling class", which can be stretched to mean: those who give orders, so including the overseers of the working class; the upper middle class, including those who don't give orders; capitalists and state administration; or just the capitalists; or the ruling class in the last instance, the Generals and Chiefs of Police.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

heuristics 2

Yesterday's Guardian reports an official death toll for the Islamabad Red Mosque siege of fifty eight: eight soldiers, fifty militants. Acting mosque leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, in touch with local television via mobile phone, had earlier reported deaths in the hundreds even before the Government's final assault. Today's China Daily puts the figure at 102. Mr Ghazi was killed in Tuesday's attack having already predicted "my martyrdom is certain now". The violent end of this confrontation was probably inevitable from the first shots being fired at security forces from inside the mosque.

The Government raid that degenerated into the siege occured in response to escalating para-police activity by "hardliners" associated with the mosque. The BBC describes these militants as being involved in:

"a morality campaign which in recent weeks included the abduction of police officers and people accused of running brothels, as well as raids on music and DVD shops." which the Government initially responded in a conciliatory way. The adoption of a more confrontational approach (to what are blatantly crimes) followed complaints from the Chinese Government concerning mistreatment of its citizens.

Clearly this was a complex situation. But one is immediately struck by the senselessness of the militants' acts. Did they really believe they they could win? Wasn't their position unrealistic?

It's worth considering how these events are replayed through the media. There's always potental for ordinary bias and misinformation, but there's also the matter of journalists and editors making a complex event intelligible in a short article.

This is the first paragraph of an article from the BBC News website written at the start of the siege:

"Barely two weeks ago, Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, was battling for his political survival. The war drums being beaten by the opposition at home were reaching a crescendo. His battle with the country's chief justice had taken a serious toll on his image as a military man who loathes the pettiness of everyday politics. More importantly, perhaps, his Western allies seemed to be getting increasingly impatient with his seeming inability to deal decisively with Islamist extremists. All this seems to have changed dramatically over the last three days, after Gen Musharraf gave his administration the green light for dismantling a radical seminary located in the heart of capital, Islamabad"

...which is to present the confrontation between Musharraf and the Islamists in terms of an index that mediates between them. No information about the parties needs to be supplied, only the relative movements of the index, given the presupposition that the interests of the contending parties are strictly antithetical.

(As if there were two balloons in a box, and as one is inflated, so the other is compressed.)

This is a coherent heuristic system, useful in some ways for passing on information, because it dramatises. But in this case a supposition is introduced concerning the antithetical orientation of these two parties, and it's intoduced (I believe) methodologically, in order to help the story along; as it were "unconsciously". This supposition may be fallacious.

Mainstream opinion suggests a relationship between Pakistani secret services and these Islamists, at least tacit approval. Imran Khan, writing in The Guardian asks:

"A number of questions arise. Why was action not taken immediately? How were militants and arms able to ge in under the gaze of the police and intelligence services? And why were other measures, including shutting off electricity at the mosque, not exhausted earlier?"

al Jazeera asks a similar question:

"In Pakistan – governed by generals for more than half of its sixty-year history - just what is the relationship between mosque and the military? "

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hotelling's spatial duopoly model

Why are New Labour and the Tory Party so much alike? And are they really reflecting public opinion? Or, why are Coke and Pepsi alike?

This is a two part problem: a qualitative problem of product differentiation and a quantifiable problem of competitiveness. Harold Hotelling's spatial duopoly model, of 1929, attempts to solve this problem by substituting this qualitative differentiation with a type of quantifiable differentiation: hypothetically the spatial distance between rival firm's plants. Consequently we can consider a purely mathematical system relating product differentiation to competitiveness. So if we know something about one of these factors, we can make inferences about the other.

Suppose for instance two stalls selling flowers are set up alongside a highway, and alternately decide their prices and location along this highway. Potential customers are evenly distributed along the highway but the distance they are prepared to walk to buy flowers depends on two factors: price and distance*. Each flower seller is therefore in a position of seeking to set their price and location along the line to maximise their profits. But their strategy is ultimately dependant on what the other seller does

(*I've tried to make this picturesque: Hotelling talks about unit cost and transport cost)

Hotelling's mathematical solution of this problem gave the conclusion that both firms would acheive higher profits than under perfect competition and would tend to minimise the degree of product differentiation. In Hotelling's famous phrase they would compete "back-to-back" in the centre of the market.

Now, unfortunately subsequent studies, following d'Aspremont's revisions, have demolished the mathematical basis of Hotelling's reasoning. There isn't a pure strategy solution to the game Hoteling actually specifies; and variations to the Hotelling game are seen to result in deliberate product differentiation, and again profits above those determined by perfect competition.

It's possible Hotelling was thinking the transport cost accrued to the firms (but didn't state his presuppositions this way), in which case I believe his conclusions about product differentiation are justified, though it's hard to imagine real world circumstances to which this model could apply.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

structuralist pornography

homo lacanianus

For the committed postmodernist, what's interesting in Slavoj Žižek's articles in the Washington Post isn't so much their content, but the politics of their style. This is the introduction to an article Žižek contributed to the Washington Post of the 24th March this year:

"Since the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques?"

...which is really antiphilosophical: presenting a tangle of discursive elements unattributed to any speaker. For whom is moral outrage mixed with doubts? Who is vacillating over whether claims apparently extorted from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed under torture can be trusted? Who wonders if Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's vanity precedes his humanity, or vice-versa?

The affectivity of this paragraph is the affectivity of structuraism. By structuralism I mean philosophy not as a practice, but as a transcendental structure.

Structuralism is first conjured in this opening paragraph, with the gaping discrepancy between Žižek's philosophical credentials and his antiphilosophical practice. His statement is a variation of Baudrillard's practice of presenting an inverted truth and alongside it a fantastic justification. The complete inversion of truth suggests the infinite extension of philosophy: a structuralism.

Žižek continues:

"It is as if not only the terrorists themselves, but also the fight against them, now has to proceed in a gray zone of legality. We thus have de facto "legal" and "illegal" criminals: those who are to be treated with legal procedures (using lawyers and the like), and those who are outside legality, subject to military tribunals or seemingly endless incarceration.

Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls "homo sacer": a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he's not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law."

...working the schema a different way. Perhaps Žižek intended only to advertise the work of his colleague, arch antimaterialist Giorgio Agamben. Here, a tangible problem concerning institutional inconsistancies is given a fantastic solution. To the reader perhaps inclined to query this line of reasoning, references are duly produced (Agamben: homo sacer). This referencing is important because Žižek here can only hint at the properly opaque style of his books.

(the apparent legal problem stated above is in fact soluble: in US law evidence extracted by the state under torture is inadmissible)

Again what's suggested is a version of structuralism; and this is what's important for the newspaper. Because it allows the reader to suppose there's (so to speak) another level of discourse above that of the newspaper, authorising and correcting what the newspaper has already said.

The affectivity of structuralism is built around the logic of (pre whig era) conservatism. Structuralism isn't selling conservatism but it does dramatically ask: what if conservatism is after all reasonable? It restates the idea of a mysterious quasi-divine social order, not as the basis of political commitment but as a horrifying possibility undermining political commitment. It's surely of a piece with the vague politics of the middle class; predicated on a worried sort of liberalism. But again it's not too far from conservatism proper, which was always an orthodoxy of absent arguments; the arguments of conservatives being nearly always bad (there's also a relation to masochism).

The tendancy of the newspaper reader to countenance every kind of insult, albeit to only a small degree, probably derives his everyday use of two incompatible forms of argument:

1. ordinary arguments from experience

2. "reverse induction" arguments such as are required to understand newspapers*

but it truly is only the middle classes whose permanent tutelary role allows them to dream so profoundly the bureaucratisation of all social practice.

* i.e. what I later call arguments based on "naturalistic-inductive" logic

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Reproducible pornography is a discourse thats affectivity derives from the apprehension of a disturbing social reality outside its diegetic plane.

This pornography can only suggest, because it cannot realise:

1. the existance elsewhere of a general social pathology (along the lines of Foucault's scientia sexualis)

2. the existance of a real world of libertinism likewise outside pornography

(there is no libertinism, only a discourse about libertinism)

The affectivity of pornography is built around a double bind: pornography both incites and censures a libertinism it doesn't really relate to. Libertinism is here determined twice: as substance of indictment and as protocol of experiment.

For this reason the current form of reproducible pornography is probably vulnerable to gratuitous parody, as all commodities are vulnerable to gratuities.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


a new survey asserts! a new survey asserts!

Walter Benjamin writes somewhere that the philosopher lives under the sign of the intellect, as the prostitute lives under the sign of sex. The popularity of books such as those by Slavoj Žižek suggests that the bourgeois consumer often feels he lives under the sign of his mysterious pathology.

The consumer base in this country consists predominantly of a single class of petty functionaries, who, though they do not own the means of production, are permitted to call themselves bourgeois, or, if they are not permitted to speak, may feel ashamed in the name of the bourgeoisie. Their leaders have followed their gods in ceasing to speak to them directly. Their society is dominated topographically by capitalism and culturally by hearsay.

The vogue for a repackaged psychoanalysis, a psychanalysis cut into bits and redistributed through magazines, surely derives from the bourgeois consumer's horror and fascination with his own image as it appears distorted in the commodity spectacle. Ceaseless pronouncements on the abstract necessity of every aspect of his life, along with the miserable condition of this life, undoubtedly suggests to him that it is his own psyche, the centre of his universe, that is in really riddled with neuroses.

Capitalist mass culture, though hegemonic, is nearly always presented as something subsidiary, or marginal, as if some alternative existed. This ersatz marginality derives from its reproduction through the commodity system. Life is seen to circulate around an absent dominant. The counterpart of this discourse in topography is airport architecture: transit without destination. The reproduction of social roles tends also to the reproduction of marginality. There is no reason for these roles to be consistant with a conscious totality of life. Society takes on the character of the workplace. The psychoneurotic imagination serves to compliment and otherwise explain life as an endless series of preludes to living.

(intertitles for a silent film)