Monthly Archives: November 2007

A guide on what to do in the event of the death of an asylum seeker

By IRR NEWS TEAM, 11:00am, 28 November 2007 — A guide on what to do in the event of the death of an asylum seeker has been published by the Institute of Race Relations.

What to do in the event of an asylum-seeker death

The Guevara Convention

Absolutely fantastic news – the Guevara Convention project (initial details were here) is now part reality – with two great tracks to listen to – so learn a little about brother Malcolm X and Harlem…
he was pointing the way…

and then a second track still more sublime…

Listen to both from the downloads area of the Guevara Convention site here or the very bottom of this page, or the side bar of [the old site of] Trinketization.

Bye Bye Howard, TweedleRudd takes his place – eeew/New Leadershrimp.

After 11 long reactionary years, Johnny bye bye Howard’s concessions speach in the Austraian ‘election’ just now on SkyNews included a tribute to the First Australians and his recent ‘intervention’ – given the blunt racism of that intervention, this was just one final kick in the knees. I am so glad to see him fuck right off. And I don’t carehow much the swing was, or if Benelong’s revenge is that he loses his seat or just withers away in office. Bye Bye Johnny Bye Bye.

Then I switch to ABC news and to the acceptance speech of the new Prime Minister. How long it takes Mr Rudd to remove the troops from Iraq will be the first test for his promise ‘to govern in the National interest’. Then some platitudes… doesn’t sound that promising does it: ‘A new consensus’ needs to be ‘forged’, a ’21st Centry economy’ and a ‘right balance’ between flexibility and fairness in the workplace’ [fair for some, flex the rest]. Oh dear – then there was some waffle about ‘fair go’, ‘national defence’ and ‘work for the nation’.

‘To our frineds and allies … [Rudd] will work with them to face the challenges of the future’ – what could that possibly mean? Especially followed by mention of our great friends in the USA straight after. Mate – ‘eeew’ Leadership or ‘new’ same old same old’.

Greens don’t seem to have done as well as they might have hoped, but Adam Bandt did alright in the impossible ask against Lindsay Tanner in Melbourne. Reason to be cheerful I do suppose – awwww. We will of course be admonished for not being happy happy happy. And that Maxine Medium in Benelong got all the publicity in the UK papers. While communist parties don’t seem to get any mention anywhere, of course. The resurgent Left is, um, not yet quite evident…

We’ve decided the Goverment in Exile Office must remain open for business.

Text message: what does Marx have to say about Jamie Oliver style school lunches?

At the beginning of chapter 16, more than half way through the first volume of Capital, Marx seems very often to be thinking of food. We have seen him worried about a coat, perhaps shivering in the reading room of the British Museum, but here he turns his attention to education and school dinners. Well, perhaps not school dinners, but dinners and schooling of the workers. For several chapters he is working out the ways capital seeks to extract greater surplus value through modifications of the skill base of the working class. Primarily this means education, training, discipline, but can also mean increasing productivity by means of the robust health – nutrition – of the workforce. An army marches on its stomach of course, and Marx by chapter 24 is quoting John Stuart Mill on wages as a necessary fund for consumption. Then there is an anonymous eighteenth century authority who complains that the workers consume too many luxuries – if only ‘our poor’ would live less luxuriously, consuming ‘brandy, gin, tea, sugar, foreign fruit, strong beer, printed linens, snuff, tobacco etc’ (An Essay on Trade and Commerce, 1770 p44-46, Marx 1867/1967:748). Not to deny the workers such pleasures out of sheer spite, the effort here, Marx notes, is to ‘force down English wages’. Some twenty years later, a certain Count Rumford (a ‘remarkable philosopher’ and ‘American humbug, the ennobled Yankee [also known as] Benjamin Thompson’) goes so far as to suggest cheaper substitutes for the expensive tastes of the workers and prepares a soup recipe which Marx details with the care of a post-Dickensian Jamie Oliver advising the Labour Party on school meals: ‘5 lb. of barley-meal, 7&1/2d.; 5 lb. of Indian corn, 6&1/4d.; 3d. worth of red herring,; 1d. salt 1d. vinegar, 2d. pepper and sweet herbs, in all 20&3/4d.; make a soup for 64 men, and at the median price of barley and of Indian corn … this soup may be provided at 1/4d. the portion of 20 ounces’ (Thompson quoted in Marx 1867/1967:749 – Marx then adds a footnote on Scottish workers who are ‘better’ educated than English workers and do not refuse to live. ‘very comfortably, for months together’ upon oat-meal mixed with water and salt – Eden quoted in Marx 1867/1967:749n).

Marx confirms that the adulteration of food in advanced capitalism has rendered such Rumfordian measures superfluous. We have already seen Marx reporting on bread mixed with flour, sawdust, vermin and the like, in the 1873 version of Capital now also records the innovations of capitalist medicine that were revealed as part of the inquiries relevant to the Parliamentary Commission Select Committee on the Adulteration of Food Act 1872, where ‘adulteration even of medicines is the rule, not the exception. For example, the examination of thirty-four specimens of opium, bought from the same number of different chemists in London, showed that thirty-one were adulterated with poppy-heads, wheat-flour, gum, clay, sand etc. Several specimens did not contain an atom of morphine’ (Marx 1867/1967:750n). It is no doubt some comfort to junkies in London today to know that the Afghan wars have increased poppy production and street heroin is at least not worse than that which was once sold legally on the high street.

Further comments then on workers being paid in part in bread – and other examples of ‘direct robbery from the worker’s necessary consumption fund’ (Marx 1867/1967:751).

Consumption of food by workers tends towards the most measly portions. Although the reproduction of labour-power is left ‘to the worker’s drives for self-preservation and propagation, this is continually under threat since all the capitalist cares for is to reduce the worker’s individual consumption to the necessary minimum’ (Marx 1867/1967:718). In the South African mines this can be a crude minimum of beans and bread, all the better for being substantial rather than less substantial (tastier) fare, since these workers must carry heavy loads of ore to the surface. ‘The consumption of food by a beast of burden does not become any less a necessary aspect of the production process because the beast enjoys what it eats’ (Marx 1867/1967:718). But to maintain itself, and to reproduce itself, the workers are only indirectly managed – though more and more by the nanny state of present times, so also in the Parliamentary Reports of Marx’s day – these are but ‘invisible threads’ (Marx 1867/1967:719) binding wage-labourers to their puppet-master owners.

Alongside the forcing down of wages to levels of French and Dutch workers (Engels adds that the lower remunerated Chinese workers had become the standard – third German edition Marx 1867/1967:749n), the innovations of science and technology which increase the pressure under which the workers work, the ‘main burden’ of the partial depreciation of fixed capital through competition and innovation ‘falls on the worker, in whose increased exploitation the capitalist seeks compensation for his loss’ (Marx 1867/1967:754). The consequence of civil war amongst competing capitals is ever more malnourished workers, even as these workers must be accustomed to greater skills, efficiencies, streamlinings and co-ordinations.

For the capitalist, this is a necessity in several ways – an initial drive for self-enrichment – avarice – then becomes ‘a business necessity’ as the ‘exhibition of wealth’ enters as luxury into capital’s ‘expenses of representation’. This attracts credit, since the capitalist must expand: ‘Moreover, the capitalist gets rich, not, like the miser, in proportion to his personal labour and restricted consumption, but at the same rate at which he squeezes out labour-power from others, and compels the worker to renounce all the enjoyments of life’. But while we can be sure that bastard money-bags is enjoying this luxury, it is somehow also a farce of contradiction, his enjoyment restrained by ‘sordid avarice and anxious calculating lurking in the background … a Faustian conflict’ (Marx 1867/1967:741). Of course there is no need to feel sympathy for this pact with the devil.


So back to chapter 16, Marx is thinking of food but also education. An insightful passage compares different ways of producing what is essential for the capitalist – the production not of commodities, but of surplus-value. Workers are employed by capital to produce surplus-value, not just to produce. And the capitalist does not care so much what work or what commodities are made, so long as surplus-value, and increasing amounts of it, is the consequence. Then this citation, which deserves to be entered on the statues of every university today:

‘a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his pupils, he works himself into the ground to enrich the owner of the school. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation’ (Marx 1867/1967:644).

Of course today a university and many schools are run by the state, and while a lecturer does not produce surplus value through lecturing, but rather adds value to the students future labour by way of increased productivity, university today is also a teaching factory insofar as degrees are sold for international income, training programs are delivered for industry free of charge, and a massive infrastructure – a knowledge industry – arises upon the very idea of education.

The value of labour-power is in part determined by the ‘cost of developing that power, which varies with the mode of production’ (Marx 1867/1967:654). The economies of labour-time earnt by increased productivity are of course soon adopted by other capitals and become standard – the value of labour power varies in cost – ‘an increase in the productivity of labour causes a fall in the value of labour-power and a consequent rise in surplus-value’ (Marx 1867/1967:657) – even as factors such as training, instruction, even education become more important and increase the cost of labour-power – though of course also vary across different processes of production. The university today can be said to produce differentially trained levels of workers – alpha knowledge workers, beta service workers, Delta drones (see Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or the film Gattica).

So there is organisation, maintenance, training and reproduction (sex, childrearing, housework, community) of the workforce as crucial factors that modify rates of surplus-value extraction. It should be no surprise then that the capitalists as a class – the State – take a direct interest in such matters: labour regulation, national health, education and training, family. In addition, as we shall see later, migration and unemployment are concerns that become greatly important to capital at different times.

Yet also continually:

‘The reproduction of the working class implies at the same time the transmission and accumulation of skills from one generation to another. The capitalist regards the existence of such a skilled working class as one of the conditions of production which belong to him (Marx 1867/1967:719-720).

The next part of the discussion should be about discipline of the workforce,
Invention – p 677. Especially innovation as a tool for suppression of the workers, and R&D, City Planning, Science parks, maybe even Graduate Schools etc…

{Picture is a Deutsche Telecom ad from 1997}

Free Stuff


Three free tracks from Fun Da Mental – as always uncompromising, provocative and sincere.

1.Happy to Be Clappy- exposing the deceit of the collaborators in current times and the consequences.

2. Darfur to Disneyland – Riyadh to Washington and all those in between.

3.Guilt of the Innocence – Only FDM will deal with the issue of suicide bombing – we are all victims except the guilty ones.

See you in Belmarsh

fun da mental

feel free to forward to all including the intelligence services

Terrorvisionaries (part two)

A talk at Nottingham University Politics department last night gave me a chance to elaborate my worries over new media anthropology in South Asia, pantomime terror and the hanging channel – following on from the talks I’ve given about the Mohammed Afzal case and the DIY Cookbook video from Fund^da^mental. The notes below presume you have read the earlier posts which are linked at the relevant points (sorry, a bit clumsy and it presumes a lot eh – still, these are notes to myself really – just a little more public than usual – but then all our data seems to be very very public these days, thanks to the chancellor and the lost personal details from the Child Support Agency – ha).

Televisonaries (part one) here should be read first, then come back here to read this post, but half way through slot in the DIY Cokbook and Bus posts as indicated after about four paragraphs…

‘Terrorvisionaries (part two)’:

The second example of cross platform public media storytelling is a diasporic one that involves my British-Pakistani mate Aki Nawaz. I have detailed the Aki story elsewhere, so merely refer you again to the links here.

In “Echographies of Television” (Derrida and Steigler) Derrida notes that televisual recording both captures immediacy more and can be more readily edited and manipulated, such that there will need to be a change in the legal axiomatics of the courts (p97 and 93). There is much that Derrida has to say of interest on television, the archive and justice, but sometimes Gayatri Spivak is much better on Derridean themes than Derrida himself. She apparently was working on the text of the Mahabharata – let us hope she will take it up again, and perhaps share views on elder brother Karna. Though he is not exactly subaltern, his position on the side of the Kauravas is at least interesting and the archival exclusion is operative, gridded over by a counter-female patriarchy and, as national and global reworkings of the narratives insert stories onto developmental teleology, neoliberal hype as well. The archive in Spivak is difficult, requires more effort than we usually can manage (‘more’ – persistent, language learning, privilege-unlearning, patient, painstaking scholarship) but her work on terror, suicide bombings and planetary justice is inspirational.

On the telematic, Spivak is more epistemological than Derrida – for her media would be something like knowledge, reason, responsibility, and so something to be conjured with, interrupted in a persistent effort of the teacher through critique to rearrange ordained and pre-coded desires. Not just to fill up on knowledge but to further transnational literacy and an ethics of the other. On terror: the ethical interrupts the epistemological. There is a point at which the construction of the other as object of knowledge must be challenged: ‘the ethical interrupts [law, reason] imperfectly, to listen to the other as if it were a self’ (Spivak 2004:83 “Boundary 2″, summer 80-111).

The task suggested here that seems most difficult to get our heads around is to accept complicity in a way that makes possible an identification, ‘alive to visible injustice’ (Spivak 2004:89) as well as ‘not to endorse suicide bombing but to be on the way to its end’ (Spivak 2004:93). Is there a message we can hear without an automatic move towards punishment or acquittal? Here the ethical and archival task of knowledge is to learn to learn what is in the mind, and what is the desire (or motivation?) of the suicide bomber. DIY Cookbook does something like this in a different way.

7/7 – buses, camera phones – Aki in the Guardian, backpacks, Charles De Menezes, DIY Video. As already riffed in the earlier posts on the Buses and on DIY Cookbook, here and here

Then return to the current post to continue:

The point is that here again an anthropology of media can be said to have made important moves to acknowledge cross platform significance in the media – saturated India – but also we might note that the acknowledgement that music tracks are a crucial make or break component of Bollywood film marketing only barely begins to get at the range of issues to be discussed in this field today.

The war on terror has achieved something that was previously only hinted at, partial, or only aspirational with regard to the place of South Asia in the world. Blown forcefully into the frontal lobe attention of all political actors, the obscurity of the previous Afghan wars, the regional nuclear detente, the peasant insurgencies or rural and hill tribals, these are no longer ignored. Front and centre, Islam on display, Pakistan a strategic player, India on alert. What multiculturalism and Bollywood could do only in a marginal and somewhat exotic way is exploded by a new visibility. But this is not just a media scare. Visibility maters where something is done with it – it is the first opportunity for a politics of redress that would build upon this (global) attention.

Call centres, news media, satellite, language, popular culture, tourism, humour, obscenity, gender, sex, digitization (of tradition), software and diaspora (India 2.0) all this suggests that media studies in this area are taking a broader scope and have advanced beyond the ‘coming of age’ stories that greeted Ramayana and Mahabharata, live cricket, and Bollywood on cable. This is to be welcomed.

Yet all is not rosy in storytelling land.

For all the publicity Sarai has garnered, it remains a small operation run out of CSDS. What it stands for however is more important – a still somewhat neglected area of academic and creative interest, deeply marked by a version of a technological cringe – the idea that new media is somehow new to India – and that the old politics are not also played out in the new news formats.

The exotic story of the new media arrival is the same orthodox binary obscurantism that ensures that stories of India abroad are either about rustic romance and tradition, morality, and colourful clothing, or else they are the dark side of communal violence, suicide bombing and disaster – the mismanaged nation post departure of the British, or blamed on Islam/Pakistan/Moguls/or Maoists. More nuanced positions are lost in favour of ‘the invisible or the hypervisible (stereotype)’ (Gopinath 2005:42). The ideological message here is that an India untainted by the ravages of imperial plunder might be preferred, and the NDTV ideal would have the Mahatma reading the news, but unfortunately the crisis is upon us, and in a flap chaos prevails. Anthropologists join the military effort (New York Times October 2007).

If we were to understand this material not only in juridical terms, or as requiring a transformation of the protocols of legal evidence and admissibility (no doubt this is necessary, as Derrida says), but also recognising that comprehension of media storytelling perhaps requires an appreciation of a wider sweep of mythological knowledge or epistemological reference (as Spivak might suggest), then to read the stories of Aki Nawaz as pantomime, or Mohammed Afzal as melodrama is somehow also warranted. This is not to disavow or diminish the urgent politics around the immediacy of these events – to challenge the demonization of Muslims in Britain, to oppose the death penalty and torture, to defend an individual from trial by media. But it is also to recognise something that shifts at a more general media level, where journalism gives way to SMS poll popularity, court procedures mimic docu-drama, tabloid sensations become the tactics of security services and similar.

To develop this is to recognise how patterns of melodrama and performance are played out in the way these events come to our attention. The pantomime season at Christmas is now matched with a sinister twin in July that commemorates the bus bombings with an equally ideological storytelling round – teaching kids fear and hate just as much as Christmas teaches them commoditization. The idea that pantomime is educational, rather than Orientalist – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – is just as much training in stereotype and profiling as are the melodramatic terror alerts each July (and September). These are constructed ‘panics’, each no doubt grounded in real evidence, solid intelligence, and careful analysis by Special Branch and MI5 – as Charles de Menezes and Mohammed Afzal both surely can attest. Aki Nawaz as ‘suicide rapper’ might almost be funny if it were not symptomatic of a wider malaise and complicity in our media reportage – a failure to examine critically and contextually what is offered up to us as unmediated ‘news’. What did it say on the side of the bus if not ‘Total Film’?

One way perhaps to disrupt the walled enclave or ‘green zone’ that is civil society, polite discussion and public commons also known as the privileged space of television news might be to hark back to older storytelling forms.

Its 30 years since Edward Said delivered Orientalism and though I might have some quibbles with what has happened in the wake of that text (too many historical studies, not enough now) I do believe it alerts us to something important and not yet nearly resolved. I can’t help but think looking to old texts might help us rethink new ones – hence the Mahabharata and the Arabian Nights as away to refocus television…

The Mahabharata rehearses a fratricidal drama that tears everyone apart. Pakistan and India are not referenced there, but the tale of brothers split and fighting is a well worn trope, such that I think its time to move to other stories as a break. For me, its not so easy, inducted into the Arabian nights as a child, I feel betrayed because…

Instead, I imagine Roshan Sethi as a new kind of despotic Shahjah, entertaining Scheherezade only by email or SMS – because she was caught, detained and then by ‘special rendition’ she was interred in Guantanamo Bay, she texts out intermittently to Roshan. Forlorn drunken fool, her anguished reports reveal her having been interrogated all day yet again to the Gitmo Military Intelligence. This version of the 1001 nights is particularly obscene, but because Omar’s father is drunk in bed, watching Bollywood reruns, or Stephen Frears’ later fluff, the story just cannot get out. This is politics, its good to think something might more might be done today.

The character played by Roshan Seth might rant against the kind of journalism that enables this new cretinized media propaganda, but more than sozzled rants are required.

[image is the Nation logo - it should be spinning but blogger can't cope]

Comrade Gaurav Speaks At Goldsmiths College In London


“Professor John Hutnyk of the Goldsmiths College Centre for Culture Studies gave a brief introduction.

Comrade Gaurav (C.P. Gajurel), who is in charge of the International Bureau of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)-CPN (M)-made an important speech at Goldsmiths College in London on Thursday 15/11/07. Comrade Gaurav made a series of important and inspiring points. His speech was well-received by an audience of students and British sympathisers with the revolution in Nepal.

Comrade Gaurav urged a united struggle by the CPN (M) and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) against the Congress-led Interim government.

However, Comrade Gaurav stated that the CPN (M) did not want to take power at this current time. He argued that in the present situation, the party could do little to benefit the people, if it was part of the government. However, he was confident of the CPN (M) achieving power at the appropriate time.

Comrade Gaurav explained that Nepal Congress was in a serious dilemma at the moment. This is because of the fact that they have lost a recent vote in the Interim Parliament on the issue of the establishment of a republic and a fully proportional voting system. If Congress sticks to its position, it will be going against the will of the people. If it changes its position, this will be seen as a significant reversal of its policy.

It was made clear by Comrade Gaurav that the CPN (M) only sees the parliamentary struggle as one front in its fight for revolution. As Marxists, they do not believe that power can be achieved by parliamentary means alone. The decision to engage in parliamentary struggle arose from the need to win over the urban masses. Critics who ask why the CPN (M) did not continue the People’s War in 2006 fail to acknowledge this need. Despite its power in the countryside, the CPN (M) was not politically strong enough to lead an urban revolt in 2006 to complete the revolution.

Comrade Gaurav spoke of the dangers of foreign intervention led by US imperialism to prevent the success of the revolution in Nepal. Comrade Gaurav pointed out that Nepal was perfectly able to withstand an economic blockade by means of economic self-reliance and through the determined spirit of the people. Comrade Gaurav also pointed out that the disruption to the regional balance of power caused by intervention in Nepal would not be tolerated by interested parties among the Asian nations.

Finally, Comrade Gaurav stressed that the CPN (M) was making its revolution for all the people of the world. The main enemy of the people of Nepal is U.S. imperialism, he stated. Comrade Gaurav hoped that the example of the CPN (M) would inspire people around the world in the struggle against imperialism.

The meeting was hosted by Goldsmiths College Centre for Culture Studies, Nepali Samaj and the World People’s Resistance Movement”

current mood – dubious


Not sure which foto to offer for the ‘virtual graduate school’ page. Perhaps this one, taken by Tara in Melbourne earlier this year.

plastic stuff

“The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly strung propaganda chiefs of the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father berating his children for not rushing joyously downstairs when he comes home from his office. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces, and there is a straight line of development between the gospel of happiness and the construction of camps of extermination so far off in Poland that each of our own countrymen can convince himself that he cannot hear the screams of pain. That is the model of an unhampered capacity for happiness. He who calls it by its name will be told gloatingly by psycho-analysis that it is just his Oedipus complex” (Adorno Minima Moralia p62-3).

This is old Adorno in elegiac grumpy mood. From a great book, redoing his schtick about the camps. I think the same points might be made today perhaps about trinkets, about plastic toy workshops in the South, brought here by container, packaged ready for Christmas, to teach kids to love capitalism.

So, lets talk about why we want to play with plastic. Materialist comprehensions of the commodity, objects, souvenirs or trinkets (these are not the same) are different to those of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics. I know, but…

Plenty of space for a long convoluted discussion of value, labour, circuits, modifications to the formula, etc etc, but we might get locked up for too long in the study. Someone will ask: ‘Why shouldn’t everyone get to shop, get a load of things, trinketize?’ In Australia during the Soviet era, I remember there used to be an advertisement that went something like: “in some countries they don’t have advertising”. A forlorn family sat bored in a spartan room. Indeed, versions of the queues for bread or the wait for a state-manufactured car are still the loaded ideological tropes of anti-communism, as seen in bitter-sweet triumphalist films like “Goodbye Lenin”. In the Grundrisse Marx devotes considerable pages to the impact of money on ‘traditional’ societies (pp145-172) but, again, who is to say that people with feathers should not want to shop? The problem is not scarcity or abundance of things, though this may be a factor, but the distribution thereof, their production for profit, the manufacture of needs (for things) and decisions about what things are made when and where. More than wanting beads and blankets are at stake.

The problem is not the lack of (plastic) things in various sectors of the world, soon to be rectified by the opening of a hyper-mega-super-market chain very close by, but that the abundance and success of capitalism amounts only to this: it presents itself as an immense collection of commodities. If we at all see this as a success, even as we critique it, (‘who wants all this stuff’ – Deleuze and Guattari) we have given ourselves over to commodity fetishism through and through.

It may bore some people to death, but I’m interested again in the coding of flows arguments D&G offer in Anti-Oedipus – the territorial machine and the technical machine need the social machine to activate them – though we have to understand these machines as interrelated, there can be no move in space or technology without the social, without memory, without labour. Flows must be coded through the machine, marked, inscribed – and so perhaps capitalism is this coding, but it is not always the same, it has fashions and trends – history – and is not a ‘haunting’ such that ‘in a sense capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terryfying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes’ (A-O p140). Codes? Trinkets to be calculated, to be inscribed and counted in some way (general equivalent, abstraction, numbers). But with capitalism this inscription-calculus becomes an abstract coded/coding flow of desire, which in a way makes Deleuze and Guattari improbably advocates of a return through Marxism to psychoanalysis.

Was that Teddy A I saw in the sports sction of the department store on saturday? Was he buying golf clubs? A set of tees or balls for xmas then.

When what we might be doing instead is sideways inscribing, perhaps reinscribing, twisting desire and flow elsewhere – like these two likely lads – anti-war protest coppers (go figure!) at May Day last year [they say 'US-UK Force No to America' - bad grammar, but the sentiment is clear, no? see pic].

A Comet for Utopia

[Wrote this with Laura King, for Stimulus Respond - out in the next issue: the piece is called: A Comet for Utopia].

“One cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet”
Jameson 2005: xii

Earthlings experience dystopia in a variety of ways. Yet we all have visions of a utopia which is in some way designed or designated as ours and for us. Fear and hope. Hope and fear. No doubt, we get such things from TV. One way of understanding the constellation of the dystopic, and therefore the utopic, is to go searching among the stars – a projected vision launched from the living room, blasting up up and away towards science fiction (SF) futures.

The fantastic future as utopia/dystopia is an old routine, but nowhere in popular culture do we find the recurring (neo-colonial) atrocities of today, and the subsequent escape to paradise, explored in such depth as in the re-imagined version of the television show Battlestar Galactica (2003, USA). This series delves into the need for refuge and redemption, conjuring the idea and ideal of a safe home, the Earth as sanctuary. The basic premise of the show is that the robot creations of humanity evolve and return to destroy their creators, who in classic SF fashion, had tried to restrict the autonomy and rights of the previously servile machines (called Cylons). After the Cylon revenge attack, the few survivors take flight in a rag-tag fleet of space ships and are hunted through the galaxy. Among the refugee survivors a flawed genius-scientist battles for political leadership with a former Government functionary of the now destroyed home worlds. The military commander, of course, remains ostensibly neutral but plays his part in both political intrigue and the family-narrative that drives each episode – heroic soldiers/viper pilots Starbuck and Lee Adama (the Admiral’s son) play out the conflict as last ditch heroic defenders again and again. The Cylons’ mission is to destroy. The human mission is to find the 13th Colony of Kobul, which is, of course, the mythical rumoured but unknown planet called ‘Earth’. Amidst the fleet, fear, anxiety and paranoia reign – the escape is threatened from within, the search for home, safety and the future-perfect family hang in the balance (sit-com style relationship dramas and the commander’s marital redemption also anticipate the ‘utopia’ of a reunited humanity). But its not on this show that we’ll find a harmonious Borg-like vista of all people joining together in one struggle, Galactica takes us further and projects a unity in fear that strives for its opposite. The utopic is defined by and thrives upon its antithesis, and is thereby unachievable. The search for Earth as a refuge from terror reproduces terror itself.

In such intergalactic dreamscapes as this, utopia exists as a reverse-tooled set of vampires and villains; slaying one leaves a void in which new enemies must be invented. Rather than an attained, liveable, realisable utopia, utopia itself dwells only in its own imagining. No-place. It is this that we find particularly evident in Galactica; unachievable goals are the prime drive for the human fleet, and it is this same drive that keeps the Cylons at the chase. The robotic ‘bad guys’ do not give up because they fully recognise that humans are no good, they must be redeemed and restored to the machinic-digital ideal, and so because of their destructive ways, they must be destroyed. This impeccable but contradictory logic justifies human efforts not only to escape and survive, but through a dialectical embrace, to return and fight again.

The first premise of Galactica – that Cylons rebel against their creators – is born of the same concern that drives science fiction utopianism from its earliest beginnings, and perhaps its highest point of articulation is found in the work of Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. Thus we remember Asimov would have robots always help humans without complaint:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
(Asimov 1940 I, Robot)

Helpful robot heroes of SF begin with The False Maria of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. We might also think of Roy in Bladerunner, more human that Deckard by some distance. And the character Bishop in Aliens, played by Lance Henrikson; or Cal in Alien Resurrection, played by Winona Ryder. Think again of the Borg (go team), willing to improve humanity by way of assimilation. We may wonder why these beings are given such a hard time. Is it because our concern is that as artificial intelligence exceeds human thought we are doomed as obsolete and redundant? Or is it guilt at the residual slavery narrative that lurks behind these future space-scapes? We suspect something more sinister is really behind the fear of manchines. The future cleansed of all danger and threat, the dark misogynism that quakes at the idea of human-machine intercourse, the Cylon baby, the new evolutionism, are all symptomatic.

Isn’t it also perhaps a worry that there might be something about machine knowledge (collective intelligence, techne, logic, wisdom) that extends the organisational capacities of an individual mind, and thus suggests the collective rules. This might also be taken as the utopian drive buried within the circuitry of A.I – the design society, the sleek sharp curves of both a Centurion or a Sharon (the first Cylon to switch sides). The planned economy is targeted here also. If we allow that science fiction is a fantasy projection of real world concerns into space, one other consequence is that the collective might be a potential brake on rampant individual profiteering. If so, isn’t it the case that fear of robotics is merely the distorted manifestation of fear of an organisation of life and labour that would harness the general intellect for the good of all? To worry about this is a bourgeois anxiety, but to actively fear it and project it off-world is perhaps already an ideological concession that abandons both individualist and hierarchical thinking: and so no longer promotes the good of one over the well-being of all. Admiral Adama leads the fleet in the chant: ‘And So Say We All, So Say We All’.

Thus the Cylon quest also questions what it is to be human even as it is the humans who are searching for Earth. It is never a precise search – the human utopia exists only as an oblique reference in an obscure religious text, and is fuelled by the rallying hype and lies of the pragmatically wise military leader, Adama. Utopia here is by definition unreachable, uncertain and false. The effort to find the new non-hierarchical terror free terra firma is, however, tangible, and it provides the humans with an abstract but motivating goal. We are intrigued by this new fold in the survivalist text; and we suggest that it is rare in SF for utopia to present this as possible only in the imagination. Ever since Things to Come (William Menzies, 1936, UK) utopia has been posed as a spectacular achievement which must be defended; it has been realized, but it is under threat. Here it is an aspiration.

Yet the promise of Galactica is dark. Utopia cannot be achieved, it alienates. Utopia becomes viable merely as an appearance of coherence and wholeness that is to come only after a violent resolution that will destroy the motivation of all. This repetition recurs throughout the (ongoing) series of Galactica. Appeasing all politics, all morals and all desires is the never-ending impossibility of our protagonists. Earth as destination becomes a fetish, it is the mirage of a united front. Thus, there is also a certain dystopian pleasure in this for us as viewers who ‘already’ live on Earth since we know that the Earth we have now cannot ever offer the fleeing Galactica fleet sanctuary (the State would build a detention centre somewhere in Kent perhaps…). That this planet can be (re)imagined as a place of asylum is cleverly knowing – we are fully aware that this neo-colonial war-ridden, pollution-choked, automotive-industrial-psychologically unstable, inhospitable planet cannot provide anyone with the utopia they desire, and therefore the show underlines for the viewer the prospect of their own impossible utopias….

Our politics are thereby deferred, as in episode after episode we see the good guys and bad guys change sides with alarming frequency. Our heroic leaders may turn out to be Cylons in the end, our president of the colonies bans abortion, and just as we begin to find hope and heroism in the military, they go and shoot into an unarmed crowd. The Cylons also share such schizophrenia; we should hate them for their destruction, their violence, their cold calculus, but then they surprise us with philosophical interjections that demand a rethink. The Cylon vision of utopia lies both in the annihilation of the human race, and the creation of a hybrid human/Cylon child who can lead them towards another version of this same denouement. Such an obvious dystopia to the humans, a prospective resolution that cannot be countenanced, a hybridity too far, it seems the only solution. Yet both Cylon and human visions drive each other on exponentially and Earth remains out of reach (at least as of series three; the final series screens in 2008). The blue planet does not appear on ‘dradus’ (radar) and we have a sneaking feeling that if the Cylons in the end prevail, this would not be all that bad…

Fear and revenge animate televised ideals. Galactica’s search for Earth would not exist without a dystopic threat that includes the destruction of civilization; the path to freedom must pass by way of violent death for most, breeding farms for the rest (the population must grow). Conversely, the Cylons are concerned that the possibility of the fleet reaching Earth would mean a disruption of their well-made plans for human destruction, in turn spurring them towards a more comprehensive terror. The imbrications of dystopia and utopia find their places within each other, both becoming unachievable as the one cancels out its opponent. As the series themes it: ‘This has happened before, it will happen again’.

Asimov, I. 1968 I,Robot, London: Grafton Books (short story ‘Runaround’ from 1940).
Jameson, F, 2005, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Verso Press: London

And if your so frakked up must needs want Galactica Slash, try here.


Poppies seem to spring up on people’s lapels earlier each year, and on younger lapels than ever before. Walking through London Bridge tube station last night I saw them on teenagers, and then later that evening caught a few minutes of an inane interview of Girls Aloud (a pop band apparently) on the BBC and several of them were sporting the little red blossom.

Of course I know all the multiple and multiplying associations that could unfold from the petals of this little bit or remembrance (it is a sort of trinket, the issues are certainly trinketized). Poppy-war, Heroin & war, Fashion, Charity, Symbolism, Hypocrisy. Out of respect for the dead, we should start with the carnage adn waste of so many lives in Çanakkale Savaşları, aka Gallipoli, where thousands of soldiers were sent to the fields of eternal sleep – not the pretty sleep of the Dorothy in a field on the way to Oz kind, but a more wicked wizardry of military strategy in a stupid imperial war, run by kings and generals, endured by regulars and innocents on both sides.

Dorothy’s dream inside a tornado is relevant today. She is about to be released again in a remake, but for pc reasons the remake will not include the munchkins. My version of Dorothy re-imagined would immediately transport us not to Oz or Gallipoli, but to the killing fields of Afghanistan. Under the tarpaulin, huddled in the dust, afraid and under-equipped, young recruits on their third tour of duty, a tin man, a scardy-cat lion, a fellow made of straw – Toto, come back Toto… somewhere over the rainbow… And it has been a long long nightmare for the Afghan people – the humanitarian aid packages are now forgotten, the humanitarian bombing goes on (with an anthropologist helping write ‘counter-insurgency guidelines’ and advising on the battle to win/destroy hearts and minds). That the battle is brought to the imperialists by the resurgent Talaban is not reason to still sustain a long duration battle plan. Among the reasons given by Bliar for attacking Afghanistan in the first place was to eradicate heroin poppy production. That this has failed spectacularly, and his soothing words about restoring the education of women, and the bollocks about the capture of Sheik Osama – the other two objectives – these reamin, how shall we say, ‘incomplete’. This is surely not just circumstantial evidence in a far longer war crimes charge sheet. Whatever happened to the three strikes and you’re out metaphor? And to think Bliar can intervene in the Middle East to good effect – they are havin’ a laugh.

I guess we mostly remember poppy not as echo of the static death embrace of armies in Flanders, but through versionings of death as heroism in the cinema. All Quiet on the The Western Front (1930), Paths of Glory (1957, Kubrick dir. with Kirk Douglas) the trenches and beaches of the Dardanelles – near the site of Troy, and this comes as metaphor because of films that support the nation – the Australian Film Commission funds a jingoism which thrives on cinematic recollection (blame Gallipoli 1981, Peter Weir, dir. with Mel Gibson), and though we like to mock the stiff upper lisp inanity if the military that sent so many troops to pointless charge of the light brigade type death, there is also much to mock in some of the ANZAC tradition marches. With style and humour, Fiona Nicoll has an excellent book that relates Returned Service League, RSL, marches and the Aussie ideal of ‘mateship’ to the carnivalesque of Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney – From Diggers to Drag Queens, Pluto Press. But even that old routine – the One Day of the Year – has worn a bit thin – as we watch our rugby players before the recent world cup, just like the cricket team before them, draw (insufficient) sporting inspiration from a visit to the trenches. Sport is also heck, buy a poppy for Team Oz.

World War 1 is long gone, but that lost generation fodder for the insane destructive wars of Capital must be revived, renovated and renewed over and over. The remembrance date (Nov 11 – but also 25 April for ANZACS) is rehearsed for new wars, and we must acknowledge the charge that brings out a special strain of charity: poppy pins for veterans’ aid collection, emotive posters (on the tube again, posters of an old guy on a park bench with his missing ‘mate’ outlined in floating red flowers), and the Queen and other piggy pollies waddling over to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths for the fallen. Live on television, this comes with almost no debate. In England debate would be unseemly – all the while as more and more are slaughtered in the global war that these very same crocs (Labour Party, ruling class, military brass) perpetrate. Tears for the dead they can spare. Yet their hypocrisy wears thin these days, and at even the most modest or small c conservative levels there are questions being asked about troop welfare, troop support, and adequate compensation for their own maimed fodder. But a debate that would pin responsibility on any decision maker is not likely. Only remembrance – a tamed and contained memory, a blank memorial façade, an anaesthetized festival of hypocrisy and cynicism.

‘We support the troops when they turn on their officers’ was a slogan seen on a photo I posted here recently, but this has not grabbed hold of anyone by the scruff of the coat, even as the old fashioned war veterans associations and the like are ‘up in arms’ about establishment contempt for their dead and wounded. Of course we have not attended, and can barely conceive of a way to attend, to the civilian casualties, the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq, and all those subject to the everyday terror of our contemporary total war capitalism on the streets here (Charles de Menezes) or on the streets there (how many killed today?). Buy a poppy because we are the numb, we are living war, we wear it as fashion, Girls Aloud teach it to their teen fan base. Patriots all Dorothy. Worse than the drug. Tin-Zombies. Lions of Halloween. Straw-man Fiends.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,812 other followers

%d bloggers like this: