Sunday, August 26, 2007

first principles

I was telling these two transvestites about Hotelling's spatial duopoly model. About how the problem isn't so much the discontinuities in the reciprocal reaction functions, as their failure to be quasi-concave.

Hotelling's innovations certainly contributed toward the development of useful models for understanding capitalist competition (e.g. Paul Sweezy's theory of monopoly); but his ideas are also interesting as a very pure form of the logic of economism. So, in Stability in Competition Hotelling criticises the mathematician Bertrand's presupposition (from his monograph on Cournot's book) that:

"one merchant can take away his rival's entire business by undercutting his price ever so slightly. Thus discontinuities appear, though a discontinuity, like a vacuum, is abhored by nature. More typical of real situations is the case in which the quantity sold by each merchant is a continuous function of two variables, his own price and his competitor's. Quite commonly a tiny increase in price by one seller will send only a few customers to the other."

In so far as Hotelling's system proved not to be internally consistant it invites consideration as ideology, i.e. as a product of the imagination under the circumstances in which it was formulated. Of course it's the logic of neoliberalism, something like:

"given the abstraction of the situation, and given the antithetical interests of participants involved, we must deduce or further presuppose the contiguity of their positions, hence equilibrium, a practically useful conjecture that cancels abstraction practically without cancelling it really."

Without going into the ruinous absurdities derived from, or related to this system of thought just yet, it's not irrelevant that this does recall previously existing figures of ideology, as discussed by Bachelard:

"The Grand Bénitier's strength is on a par with the height and bulk of its walls. Indeed, according to one observer, it would take two horses hitched to each valve to force the Grand Bénitier "to yawn, in spite of itself."

I should love to see an engraving that represented this exploit. I can imagine it, however, by recalling an old picture, which I have looked at long and often, of horses hitched to the two hemispheres, between which nothing existed but space. Here this image depicting the "Magdeburg experiment," which is legendary in elementary scientific culture, would have a biological illustration. Four horses to overcome fourteen pounds of limp flesh!"

Saturday, August 25, 2007

a subject for popular anxiety

"Interest in "atmospheres" is a critical attitude designed for, and particularly suited to, the poets of the nineteenth century; this may tell us something about them, and in part explain why they are so little ambiguous in the sense with which I am concerned. For a variety of reasons, they found themselves living in an intellectual framework with which it was difficult to write poetry, in which poetry was rather improper, or was irrelevant to business, especially the business of becoming Fit to Survive, or was an indulgence of one's lower nature in beliefs the scientists knew were untrue. On the other hand, they had a large public which was as anxious to escape from this intellectual framework, on holiday, as they were themselves. Almost all of them, therefore, exploited a sort of tap-root into the world of their childhood, where they were able to conceive things poetically, and whatever they might be writing about they would suck up from this limited and perverted world an unvarying sap which was their poetical inspiration."


"In that age, too, began the doubt as to whether this man or that was "grown up," which has ever since occupied so deeply the minds of those interested in their friends. Macauley complains somewhere that in his day a man was sure to be accused of a child-mind if no doubt could be cast "either on the ability of his intellect or the innocence of his character"; now nobody seems to have said this in the eighteenth century. Before the Romantic Revival the possibilities of not growing up had never been exploited so far as to become a subject for popular anxiety."

- William Empson Seven Types of Ambiguity

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the gorgon's head

I saw this in Southampton City Art Gallery last week. It's really the distance these things have from us now that justifies considering them as fragments of a dead culture. It would surely be an exaggeration to declare capitalist culture in general fragmentary, but there's no doubt some validity in Benjamin's method in Arcades, say.

Anyway, we can be sure Burne-Jones's picture is very symbolical of something or other. It suggests perhaps that the reflected image is the real one and the "natural" image somehow counterfeit (or something else).

a modern prince

The Times interviewed General Musharraf. The propaganda element of this article, from the decision to commission an interview with this unelected leader and not others, is no doubt to show the General somewhat domesticated; if not justified at least putting his side of the story. The idea of dialogue can be connected with the General. An intimacy of sorts is established.

There's also the ludicrous sub-editing:

"Hard man in a rocky place"

"He’s the West’s night watchman — an Islamic leader holding the flanks in the front line of the war against terror. His country harbours Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But is Pakistan’s President Musharraf doing enough — or is he fomenting civil war?"

(as if the perfect nightwatchman was a fantasist:)

"The exchange illustrated one of the problems Musharraf’s critics have consistently complained of: that when the truth is inconvenient, he simply tends to ignore it, crossing the frontier from fact into fiction as nonchalantly as he once ordered his troops to cross the border from Pakistan into India at Kargil. This is very evident in his memoir. As a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal noted, “believe little of what you read… Though there’s much the book doesn’t tell us, it does offer invaluable (and frequently hilarious) insights into the levels of delusion a man may reach when he is accountable to no one, elected by no one and trusted by no one”.

If Musharraf’s book was accused of having an inventive approach to the facts, it was also widely said to be, as The Economist put it, both “boringly boastful” and “bafflingly rude” about the leaders of other countries. The first time that the general showed either of these tendencies during our conversation was when I asked him what he felt when the world’s press published photographs of Dick Cheney lecturing him during a recent visit to Pakistan. At this, the general showed a brief flash of his famous amour-propre. “Dick Cheney never wagged his finger at me,” he said, in direct contradiction of pictures beamed across the world. “People may say that, but in fact… Dick is rather a quiet man. A great listener. I talked 90% of the time.” There was an irritable pause. Then the general added: “Everyone thinks we had a dressing-down. It’s not true.” Another pause, then: “At official levels there is total understanding between the US and Pakistan. We’re together in the same coalition. There can be differences, but…” He left the sentence unfinished."

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Suppose Futurism performs two contradictory operations, that we could call humanisation and dehumanisation, and suppose the combined effect of these operations was a kind of empty religious art.

Walter Benjamin's reduction of Marinetti's manifesto on the Ethiopian war demonstrates Futurism's effect quite purely:

"For twenty- seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as antiaesthetic.... Accordingly we state: ... War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others.... Poets and artists of Futurism! ... remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art . . . may be illumined by them!"

Its processes:

1. Humanisation

Marinetti's surrealist in this way: that he effectively takes for his unconscious things that really belong to the wider social world. This happens first of all with his Jarry pastiche Roi Bombance, written as if Jarry had the legal status of an imaginary friend. We can applaud this disregard for the copyright laws. It's here again in this piece on the Ethiopian war, Marinetti effectively usurps the position of creator, as sanctioned in bourgeois art, but here with respect to a vast apparatus of death.

2. Dehumanisation

What Badiou calls formalism:

"On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms."

...a recognisable tendency, is I think really a tendency to dehumanisation in art. There's no intrinsic inventory of forms with an implied succession, rather "newness" is here more an effect of form: "new architecture, like that of the big tanks" etc. This would relate formalism to the baroque, which Benjamin tells us "knows no eschatology". The market evidently dictates that art ought to be inhuman.

In the first case the artist stands in front of this alienation effect, in the second he tries to disappear behind it. In the situation where both operations are effected simultaneously the result is something like the genderless reproduction of the inhuman. This is how I'd want to introduce the subject of modern architecture.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


To what end is class, a category basic to capitalist society, treated under the heading "inequality" e.g. in the research of the left liberal Joseph Rowntree Foundation? This abstract "inequality" in a way suggests its opposite: quantitative inequality through qualitative equality; as if this society was an unfortunately inequitable version of socialism, and as if the only sociology thinkable was that of "economic man", (uncoerced and uncoercing, unaccumulating). Society is here found unfair not structurally, but in an inessential way; as if only "decoratively" unfair, on account of its practical efficiency (this is almost suggested). Thousands of homeless people affirm this society is not socialist.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

class composition in Britain: 2001 census information

"The National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC) is the replacement proposed for the Registrar General’s ‘social class’ classification. It places people into a socio-economic category based on their occupation and certain characteristics of the work that they do (whether they are an employer, self-employed or an employee; whether or not they are responsible for supervising others; and the number of employees at the place of work). Of the classifications for people in work, the highest group is NS-SEC 1,‘Higher managerial and professional occupations’, and the lowest is NS-SEC 7, ‘Routine occupations’.The NS-SEC classes are listed with the population in 2001."

1. Higher managerial and professional occupations (3,182,614) 8.46%
"Doctors, directors of large organisations, clergy "

2. Lower managerial and professional occupations (6,990,083) 18.59%
"Journalists, nurses, school teachers"

3. Intermediate occupations (3,532,894) 9.39%
"Travel agents, police officers (sergeant and below)"

4. Small employers and own account workers (2,626,067) 6.98%
"Farmers, taxi drivers, hotel managers"

5. Lower supervisory and technical occupations (2,687,927) 7.15%
"Train drivers, electricians, bakers"

6. Semi-routine occupations (4,393,965) 11.68%
"Scaffolders, traffic wardens, dental nurses"

7. Routine occupations (3,410,122) 9.07%
"Building labourers, waiters, cleaners"

8. Never worked and long-term unemployed (1,404,188)3.73%
Never worked (1,021,800)
Long-term unemployed (382,388)

Not classified (9,379,577) 24.94%
Full-time students (2,648,991) 7.04%
Not classified for other reasons (6,730,586) 17.90%

Total (aged 16-74) 37,607,437

Sunday, August 05, 2007


The dominant cultural paradigm in Britain now, and perhaps too in 1979, reflecting the coincident practices of the culture industry and the ideological bases of neoclassical economics, is the individualism of the atomised society. The credibility of this individualism as a realistic explanation of society depends on the absence of those features that were understood to characterise earlier versions of class society:

1. Coercion
2. Accumulation

Saatchi and Saatchi's indefinite dolequeue presents a horrific accumulation of the indigent, reminiscent of the legendary breadqueues of the eastern bloc. But it doesn't so much ask the spectator to choose the most realistic response to the phenomenon of unemployment, as to choose the metaphysical system that retroactively presents this unemployment in the most acceptable way. Thatcher's metaphysics won the day.