Archive for communism

A Dialectic Of Normality

Posted in Reactions, Speculation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2014/04/13 by las Pétroleuses

Today, I just finished reading the very interesting Nihilist Communism. In what I see as the major text of the book, which comes at its end (it begins, after a 2009 introduction by Frere Dupont–the one of the book’s two authors who did not completely abandon politics in the wake of their project–with an edited set of letters between the two authors, and follows with a collection of various articles and interventions the pair produced), “Cruelty, or, the Inclusion of the Distributive Sphere,” the author(s) engage in a very pointed analysis of the movements of the Seventies. (This period of time has been the subject of a remarkable amount of analysis in the decades since; it’s hard not to conclude that, despite the mutually-exclusive nature of many of these analyses, they all refer to something real. In Lacanese, they are so many Imaginary narratives trying to make sense of the injunction of a Real trauma into the Symbolic order of everyday life. Consider: postmodernity, de-industrialization/post-industrial society, Autonomia’s (in)famous notion of “immaterial labor” or what Hardt & Negri will later re-name “biopolitical production”, the communisateurs’ narrative of the “death of programmatism”, etc…) On a certain level, the thrust of Monsieur Dupont’s analysis touches on recurring theme of capitalist civil society: the relation between the individual and society in terms of “normality” or “normalcy.” Here, I will simply lay out some rough thoughts in my preferred form of a dialectical quartet.

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How We Got To Here

Posted in GPOY with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2013/02/04 by las Pétroleuses

Let this be some context. The blog is the new journal or better diary, no? In “my” fantasy (I imagine it’s the fantasy of anyone who creates a blog and is minimally honest with themself) this blog will one day be well-read or well-liked or whatever. So lets get the personal-historical shit out of the way first. Politically, I started out in the nebulous no-zone of teenage political apathy, basically a liberal in that suburban classist way where the only reason I didn’t like Republicans is because I thought they were all fucking idiots (read: poor dumb white people); the ideological differences didn’t matter. My parents vote, but they ain’t patriots, and so neither was or am I. Enter college. Around this time, I was involved with a silly browser-based ‘game’ called CyberNations (holy shit it’s actually still around good god kill me); “game” in scare-quotes since CN is barely more of a game than the more well-known NationStates (the latter is based on weekly ‘policy decisions’ that improve some stats; CN is based on a daily intake of resources which are then spent in certain ways). You quickly learn that CN is more about the meta-game than the game itself, which serves as the formal-real actualization of the socio-symbolic meta-game. The world of CyberNations is one with literally tens of thousands of nation-states (if you don’t remember, our world has about 200), and so it was the Alliances of nation-states that really mattered. The alliance I happened to join was a minor one, called the Fifth Column Confederation.

The FCC was interesting (and lord knows part of me finds CN interesting enough to consider analyzing its little microcosm more in depth, help me) in that it was fairly ideologically cohesive. To give a simple, but likely not simplistic picture, imagine a two-axis political spectrum (you’re probably familiar with it): Libertarian-Authoritarian and Individualist-Collectivist. FCC fit pretty snug in that corner of Libertarian-Individualist, the members running the gamut from what we in the US know as libertarians (who can be categorized by their position on Ron Paul: they would range from “he’s the least worst of the bunch” to “He Is God Incarnate”) through (so-called) anarcho-capitalists to agorists (basically anarcho-capitalists who don’t pretend to be anarchists; they really like black markets). Being an impressionable youth, and also I’m sure in order to fit in, I went along with the tides of the alliance, and was waving my own tiny little black-and-gold flag… But over time, it stopped making sense.

My ivory tower background is in philosophy, and two conceptual structures come to mind for, firstly, the shift from being an ancap to being a commie, and, secondly, the entire three-stage process of pseudo-liberal/ancap/commie. The first structure is that of Alain Badiou’s “Truth-Event,” which is to say how events occur, how (pre)existing structures are changed through significant occurrences; in dialectical terms an event is the shift from quantitative change to qualitative change, from ongoing change that remains at the level of “inherent transgression,” easily recuperated by the system in question, to wide-ranging, radical change that restructures the system itself. Badiou’s event always strikes twice (recalling Hegel’s comment on historical change, that any real event happens twice in order to become part of history). This gap between the first and second occurrence of an event is simply the gap between when it ‘really really’ happened and when it was symbolically registered, when it became incorporated into symbolic reality (some conceptual oppositions that run along these lines: Hegel’s In-Itself/For-Itself, Lacan’s Real/Symbolic, and Deleuze’s Virtual/Actual respectively). The two moments of my shift from ancap to communist were, in short, reading and analyzing John Locke’s second Treatise on Government, and reading Slavoj Žižek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.

My encounter with Locke’s political work (I believe I had by this point already gone through his epistemology/metaphysics in a different class) fits the bill of the first occurrence of my “communist event” insofar as I only recognized it as such in hindsight. The two papers I wrote on the second Treatise were basically secondary analyses (i.e. unoriginal commentaries) on a journal article I had found, which made the argument that Locke’s political logic rests on the prohibition of suicide. In our postmodern ivory tower, you don’t run into thinkers like Locke much anymore (even among the analytics), who truly endeavors to construct a fully self-consistent and cohesive theoretical edifice, a beautiful crystalline house of thought-cards. The one card it all rested on was his argument for why suicide is to be prohibited by any rational government, which, tellingly, is also the only place that religion directly enters into his politics: citizens of a liberal government cannot justifiably commit suicide insofar as they are not their own property, but rather are the property of God (it appears then that the stereotypical notion of Lockean self-ownership is more a loan we take out from Yahweh in exchange for not paying back the debt of existence too early, before God says we can…). You might rightly wonder how this is the lynchpin of his political system. The answer is that the prohibition of suicide is the flipside of the right to self-preservation; insofar as the prohibition of suicide flies in the face of self-ownership, we could say that “self-ownership” is the form that self-preservation takes in an economic realm defined by property. Thus we have moved through the famous three rights of Locke’s politics: life, liberty, and property.

But lets leave aside Locke. What’s more interesting is the question that Locke pushed me to pose, as well as how I framed it. What is “the purpose of the human political project: the creation of a polity for the success of the persons who make up the community, or for the well-being of the people that is defined through this polity?” By this point the ancap or individualist part of me was beginning to come to a head with the developing commie/collectivist part. By this point, as a full-blown believer in dialectics as a theoretical framework, I see this political opposition as false or unsatisfactory (a truly “communist” community would be neither or both individualist and/or collectivist), but at the time it was perfectly relevant to the stage my political development was in. It was less than a year later that I ran into Žižek’s First as Tragedy. The slim book was not the first of his that I had read (that would either be Enjoy Your Symptom! in a film theory class or Mapping Ideology in a fun independent study), but it was the first that was explicitly political, as opposed to the other two which had the clothing of pure theory. It was the first thing I had read to really force the word “capitalism” to become a category in my thought, and moreover to critically approach it, to ask: is the wage a just form of labor? Is profit a sensible motor of production? Is the ‘invisible hand’ any more than a collective illusion of endless growth and prosperity covering over a vicious “war of all against all”?

I think you can guess my answers.

“Where do you wanna go?”

Posted in Reactions with tags , , , , on 2013/01/21 by las Pétroleuses

Those are the last words of Zero Dark Thirty, which, thankfully, is not as patriotic as you might fear. (Spoilers.) Don’t get me wrong: it perpetuates the post-9/11 version of the (Cold War) US myth of the CIA (or torture) as a necessary evil. (From a radical perspective, this is, still, a symptom of the film otherwise erasing the existence of US imperialism.) But at the same time, its position on the 9/11 era is a question: “well, Usama’s dead, [did you know that that’s how the US government spells his name now? I didn’t] it’s over. What now? Was it worth it?” I don’t know what the movie’s answer to those questions are, and I also don’t care.

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Black Box, Red Spark

Posted in Actions with tags , , , , , on 2013/01/16 by las Pétroleuses

The New York Times Magazine (one of the less shitty things produced by the Times, it should be said) recently ran an article about George Saunders, a writer of the same generation as David Foster Wallace, whom people are apparently taking quite a liking to lately. I’ve never read him, but at the least, his description of the purpose of art (and the reference to Vonnegut!) make me interested to do so:

“I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. . . . In fact, Slaughterhouse-Five seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us.”

Over against another common understanding of art, that art is entertainment, nothing more, that to give to art a purpose beyond some nebulous (surely neuronal) satisfaction is to insult the artist, (because all artists just want to entertain, right?) this notion of art is quite refreshing! Art as a vehicle for change! Creation as a mindfield made by one to pull an other through–after which, moreover, that other will be another other!

Let this place be a collection of such black boxes, with a simple purpose: to incite if not inflame a red spark in and among some other(s), some readers, you, you who are not-all!