Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

what is metaphor?

Enjoy opaque writing? This is Galvano della Volpe's account of metaphor from Critique of Taste, initially citing Aristotle (parentheses and references omitted):

"In Rhetoric we are told that metaphor provides us with easy instruction and knowledge "through the genus" - in other words in so far as it is a general notion or idea. The same conception is repeated today, after Castelvestro and others by I.A. Richards when he summarizes the principle of metaphor as "a combination of general aspects". Again, in the Poetics Aristotle says that "the right use of metaphor means an eye for resemblances", that is, that "metaphors should be drawn from objects which are proper to the object, but not too obvious; just as, for instance, in philosophy it needs sagacity to grasp the similarity in things that are apart". Given these premises, Aristotle concludes by showing under the heading of Logic in the Topica that similarity in metaphor, "for those who use metaphors always do so on account of some similarity" is the same categorical norm as the similarity or sameness which regulates inductive, hypothetical and definitional reasonings. To limit ourselves to the latter, we are told that: "(The consideration of similarity) [=sameness] is useful for the assignment of definitions because, if we can see what is identical in each particular case, we shall have no doubt about the genus in which we must place the subject under discussion when we are defining it; for, of the common predicates, that which falls most definitely in the category of essence must be the genus"."

Two things are abstracted to the degree they constitute equivalents; this also means: such that each possesses a function common to both. Then potentially each can be decomposed into parts contrasting with or consonant with this function.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Jack and Sarah exist in the front room of a middle class house. In the centre of the room stands a Ford Sierra, purring unremarkably. It cannot be said to complain.

Sarah: Millions of people in this world get by without complaining, or at least without endlessly playing out their complaining: without trying to make this complaining into avant garde theatre.

& you feel cheated?

Jack: I do feel fucking cheated

Sarah: & you sit there with all this "our social problems are political problems"

Jack: smaller versions of

Brecht's method you know, it's a mistake to see these things as somehow optional. Drama merely recapitulates existing social drama, itself simply expressing these political problems.

Sarah: All our drama sublates does it? Why don't you put that on your fucking C.V.?

Jack: I don't know if I've got the vocation for missionary work among them. I have this aversion you know. Especially the whole thing links back. You have to justify it from your former employer. These Himalayan Nuns, you know, didn't have to justify their thing out of local sources.

Sarah: These adolescence!

Jack: Society does not recapitulate the logic of the school.

Sarah: Schoolmasters against school! I'll write that one down. Society does not what?

Sarah walks round distractedly and finally settles in the front seat of the Sierra. The electric windows are raised almost noiselessly.

When I arrived I read them, just for fun, one of the poems I wrote during the strike:

"It started as a metaphor/
but now persists/
as system staged to conjure/
its original referent/
She's swirling a red flag."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ambiguities (1): "economic determinism"

C. Wright Mills' book was written fifty years ago but it's still worth reading now. In the intervening years the language with which modern society explains itself has undergone some changes. The rationale of economics is relatively more important; politics is now apparantly subordinate to economics rather than the other way round (imaginatively if not really). Ideology is more worked over and is more diffuse.

Nevertheless what Wright Mills calls "economic determinism" fairly characterises how many contemporary radical socialists* see the state functioning. Wright Mills aims to extend this notion:

"We do not accept as adequate the simple view that high economic men unilaterally make all decisions of national consequence. We hold that such a simple view of "economic determinism" must be elaborated by "political determinism" and "military determinism"; that the higher agents of each of these three domains now often have a noticeable degree of autonomy; and that only in the often intricate ways of coalition do they make up and carry through the most important decisions."

Evidently people have good reasons for ignoring the hegemonic language of economism ("it's a composite of lying sophistries" would be one) but this "economic determinism" is no such thing: it's not consistant with our current ideas of economics. It's assumed that there is one kind of mechanism of control that in the modern period is providentially taken over by the economic élite rather than an élite of a different sort. "Economic determinism" if it is to mean anything ought to be concerned with the determination of the channels of control and the technology of control with respect to tangential transactions carried out via a more or less open market. Hence one could talk about the economic determination of the comprador régime in Afghanistan etc.

*I dislike calling things "radical" but since the former socialist parties of Western Europe defected to neoliberalism all proponants of socialism are marginalised from mainstream politics, hence are, de facto, radical socialists. I will end this footnote without going over the ambiguities inherent in the terms "open market" and "mainstream politics".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

workhouse without walls

The BBC reports new plans under which the long term unemployed will be made to carry out community work.

"Claimants will have to carry out four weeks' community work once they have been unemployed for more than a year. After two years, they will be ordered to work full-time in the community. People who have been signed off sick will have a new medical check with someone who is not their own GP."

The Work and Pensions secretary had this to say:

"The longer people claim, the more we will expect in return. At three months and six months, claimants will intensify their job search and have to comply with a back to work action plan,"

"Work works and it's only fair that we can ensure that a life on benefits is not an option."

Inevitably private contractors will be organising the community work details.

The economic rationale of this is that it's meant to shift the supply schedule for labour across a bit, increasing those in work and decreasing wages: some of those out of work will presumably find jobs, others will accept their punishment. Workers are supposed to benefit because the government's overheads will be reduced.

Johann Hari praised the "reeducation" aspect of this work, but I'm more interested in these contractors. The overheads charged by employment contractors like Manpower and Carlyle Group are around £7 per hour on top of salary paid. Isn't it going to be the government ends up paying a lot more than current benefits provision, into a slush fund for these gentlemen?

I find it hard to believe these proposals please anyone except big capital and historians of the victorian era, who get to see their source material brought to life, but there you are, that's the new thing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Power Elite

"Ruling class" is a badly loaded phrase. "Class" is an economic term; "rule" a political one. The phrase "ruling class," thus contains the theory that an economic class rules politically. That short-cut theory may or may not at times be true, but we do not want to carry that one rather simple theory about in the terms that we use to define our problems; we wish to state the theories explicitly, using terms of more precise and unilateral meaning. Specifically, the phrase "ruling class," in its common political connotations, does not allow enough autonomy to the political order and its agents, and it says nothing about the military as such. It should be clear to the reader by now that we do not accept as adequate the simple view that high economic men unilaterally make all decisions of national consequence. We hold that such a simple view of "economic determinism" must be elaborated by "political determinism" and "military determinism"; that the higher agents of each of these three domains now often have a noticeable degree of autonomy; and that only in the often intricate ways of coalition do they make up and carry through the most important decisions. Those are the major reasons we prefer "power elite" to "ruling class" as a characterizing phrase for the higher circles when we consider them in terms of power.

- C. Wright Mills The Power Elite

Saturday, July 19, 2008

mute copy

Perhaps Damien Hirst's in vitro installations satirise the reification implicit in Mark Wallinger's copy of Brian Haw's "Stop the War" stalls. Or vice versa. It's easy to read into these works ideas that aren't intended, as per Rorschach inkblots, because they are inconclusive.

Our contempories in the visual arts are not just the children of Saatchi, but of a vast spectacle growing out of several grand institutions: universities, museums and their trusts, publishing houses. The equivalent institutions in Paris had, in recent memory, produced a new international style, not in the visual arts but in literature; Alain Badiou talks about "a French philosophical moment of the second half of the 20th century which, toute proportion gardée, bears comparison to the examples of classical Greece and enlightenment Germany." The British institutions sought to mimic this.

The work of the British Artists is coloured by its reproducibility via art spectacle as much as commodities are marked by their reproducibility via the commodity market. In a way there was only one sort of work conceived at a high level of abstraction; talked about essentially in vague terms; only contingently materialised in a different way: as art in London, as literature in Paris.

Given this parallel each can be understood as an indirect criticism of the other. The success of the Republic's doctors of thought rested on a fetishisation of the individual genius, and an evaluation of content following from it: consequently on an implied expressionism absent from the manifest content of their work. Likewise the British Artists derived their sales pitch from their university work: reproducing its style but without any particular content. The British version is a mute copy.

It is as if in response to the Beatles' success the French made stars of four young men who were dressed exactly as the Beatles, but unable to conjure music from their plywood instruments instead insolently chewed gum.

Tracey Emin's Bed

philosophy so far has only interpreted these bedclothes; the point is to change them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

current public sector workers strike

We've been on a very exciting wildcat strike in solidarity with town hall bureaucrats, care assistants, binmen etc, on official strike. The protests, which I didn't attend, were nothing like the Vallotton picture, more like this sort of thing. Unison seem to be militating for a 50p/hour rise, across the board, which seems fairly left wing in the context of their set up. Hardly anyone seems to buy the official inflation figures as a genuine measure of the change of cost of living anymore, or the economists' line that employees can't effectuate wage rises this way, as the effects of inflation supposedly come in to restore "structural balance" automatically. Evidently ordinary people have no input in the central bank creating money to redistribute to the finance sector, should they choose to go down this road.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

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Monday, July 14, 2008

when contrasted

veritable portrait of the real face of Our Western Civilisation

Christopher Hitchens' latest wheeze: discussed here and here

It's perplexing that people who were really against the war sometimes want to treat Hitchens as some kind of worthy adversary. There's a danger here of approaching moral equivalence. He is an ideologue, and his writing is as full of pathetic compromises as one would expect. He merely personalises a set of received ideas he does not formulate himself: appends them to a photograph and a biography. His appeal is that of style: a relative freedom compared to that afforded to more lowly ideologues. Celebrity journalists like Christopher Hitchens and Tom Friedman are permitted a degree of liberty in their subject matter. They operate like cavalry squadrons behind the front lines of ideological production, ready to sally forth wherever the line seems weakest, no matter how lame their charges. According to Hitchens:

"When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint."

When contrasted to actual foreplay, waterboarding is more like torture. I suppose Mr Hitchens has two rhetorical devices here and has inadvertantly mixed them up, in a mélange even he could not possibly understand:

1. All reality is subsumed into a confrontation of antithetical forces: the US security services are on one side and the murderers of Daniel Pearl on another. The actions of the US security services can therefore only be judged by themselves or the murderers of Daniel Pearl.

2. Waterboarding is called torture, but is less bad than other actions called torture, therefore it is no torture.

Both are still fallacies unmixed, but the effect would be less strained if they weren't allowed to bleed into eachother this way.

These idelogues; I don't believe they really love this society, or trust its economics, since they lard their analyses with such ersatz humanism. They refuse to recognise a process of falsification they themselves have a part in. The grandeur of Our Western Civilisation consists precisely in the materiality of a public rhetoric as acidtripped as that of the Olmecs.

A similar situation as below. The Daily Mail isn't the only publication to have a weird relationship with its imagined working class; they find Banksy's work faulty, as pastoral.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Vautrin was greater than this"

Johann Hari doggedly asserts that Vautrin does not reside in Cheltenham.

Empson's pages on Gay put forward the idea that the pastoralisation of the criminal milieu in bourgeois society: its effective presentation as a network possessing apparent organisational consistancy, could be achieved by substituting a version of the old aristocratic social world in the place where an accurate picture of the criminal world would otherwise be. A dissapearing class is made to stand in for one newly "discovered" or at least unearthed. Sentimentalised ideas about the old aristocracy were not in short supply and were of less and less use in real life. Acquiring real knowledge about the criminal world has always been difficult, dangerous and distasteful. But the purpose of the exercise isn't in any case the passing on of accurate information rather its the dramatic effect of menace. A certain vagueness has its part in the overall effect. The shift is from mere crime to criminal underworld.

Balzac's Vautrin is likewise a cod aristocrat: Vautrin, we are told, commands the loyalty of ten thousand men, as by feudal bond; he is pledged to a fearful code of honour such as persists in a degraded half remembered form among Balzac's bourgeois aristocrats; his ambition is to set up a slave colony in Louisiana: grotesque caricature of the feudal system. Again, the effect is to suggest criminality as a black menace offstage, with which this character communes and from which he draws his stregnth. Second thing is, once a degree of uncertainty is induced the eccentricity of this character commutes from his individual self, as if a line of cartoon ants, and comes to signify the vagueness of the milieu in which he's apparently so surely planted. Shakespeare may have had the same idea with Falstaff, who knows?

One of the reasons for valorising so called "materialism" is getting away from these sorts of effects, when they appear not in forms of entertainment but in apparently serious ideas about real life; ideas that are really acted on. The idea of the world that makes the social group of criminals* an effective class with perfect "conductivity" on the basis of a few tricks is surely an idea opposed to materialism. The act of the gauging this "conductivity" might as well be "materialism", since the name might as well be used.

*other groups from which an exoteric network can be contrived or has been historically: the Police; Freemasons; the Catholic Church; Jews; Gypsies; the upper ten thousand; circus performers; the working class; drug addicts; communists; bourgeois leftists.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


"we used to do that kind of physical, hand-to-hand training, to build confidence and push people through their internal barriers. It's the same reason we waterboarded each other. It's a wake up call, and quite liberating."

This is a strange sort of announcement; in all probability contrived as part of a wider strategy of the gangsters in power in Washington, but with a sort of mutability: it could after all really be just this deranged apparachik. There's a setting up of provisionality. It's a bit like the introduction of new soap opera characters, put forward for public evaluation: "Do you like this guy? How did you feel about the mutual waterboarding backstory? Did you find any of it convincing? Oh, he doesn't have to come back, not if you don't want." I said before I thought the propaganda strategy had changed because they used to try to avoid revealing the very bad things they'd done (e.g. shooting down of Iran Air flight IR655). There was a tendancy to squirm and equivocate until the position being held became untenable. Now, I suppose, the idea is to give you time to get used to the bad news: present it first in this provisional way.

There's one moment of humour:

"He needs to get a briefing in the morning, like the threat matrix briefing that POTUS gets each morning. A miserable summary of what has gone wrong".

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Taxable income in the UK

UK Income Tax statistics for 2004/2005 are listed here as cited by Leninushka here. Apparently around half of the total population paid Income Tax. Of these 45% earned less than a "disqualified" rate of £15000 for a year working full time. 39% acheived a "middle class" salary of £20000 per year or more. 16% sold some form of qualified labour without being especially well rewarded for it or worked excessive hours. These conclusions would be suggested if we imported Joe Bain's idea that the outcome in a particular market reflects the structure of competition within it. Statisticians might pick at a few things here: there's no distinction relating to hours worked and there's an incentive to minimise the figure one gives on a tax return, but that's what's in the books.

"Data from HMRC 2004/2005; incomes are before tax for individuals. The personal allowance or income tax threshold was £4745 (people with incomes below this level do not pay tax). The mean income was £22,800 per year with the average Briton paying £4060 in tax"

Earnings Less Than £ Number of Taxpayers (000s) Percentage
6000 1440 4.76
7000 1160 3.83
8000 1590 5.25
10000 2950 9.75
12000 2760 9.12
15000 3650 12.06
20000 4950 16.36
30000 6000 19.83
50000 4090 13.51
70000 859 2.84
100000 410 1.35
200000 300 0.99
500000 89 0.29
1000000 16 0.05
Total30264 100