Spivak – critique of postcolonial reason 1.2

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is visiting Goldsmiths – Some of us have returned to reread her Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Such a great, difficult, suggestive book.
These are some subjective comments and reading notes on the Philosophy chapter. The first part is on Immanuel Kant here.

2. Hegel

The section on Hegel is more a section on the Bhagavad Gita in context. It requires some homework with a difficult script which is much overlain with versionings, from the television serialisations and oleographs of popular culture in India today, to the chantings of Iskon in the streets of every major western metropolis and their sometimes very good vegetarian restaurants through to inanities like the pop band Kula Shaker’s exoticist Krishna consumptionism. Similarly, some effort is needed to move beyond simple received versions of caste, and several necessary texts should be consulted, especially ‘Hindus of the Himalayas’ by Gerald Berreman, and ‘Imagining India’ by Ron Inden just for starters.

Spivak herself is very well versed in this history, ironically almost, noting that she might even satisfy the demand that ethnics speak for themselves, having received the text as a ‘profoundly taken’ (p63) teenage enthusiast. Bengal as place of Brahmo Samaj movement, RamMohan Roy, Bhakti devotional cults and the like… History however is the key problem here where Hegel calls such texts empty and monotonous, and though he admires the beauty of the verses he finds them to have an absence of history, and so they are a deviation from the story of spirit he is – on a larger scale – wanting to graph (not chart, I guess, because a graph is less materialist, and more system-like, as in system without foundation…).

Spivak, of course, is not bored by alleged monotony. This is a lever which opens up Hegel to the world as another ‘mistaken’ reading (or rather reading of mistakes) is offered alongside an interested declaration that this effort might counter the too easy west-and-the-rest polarisations of colonial and postcolonial discourse studies (p39). This is part of a persistent attempt also to displace the simple reversals of Caliban and Prospero that some times may be lauded by progressive western liberals – and to do this by pointing to the ‘complicity between native hegemony and the axiomatics of imperialism’ (p37). (This has implications for work like Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici I think – a whole other story one day…)

For Hegel the Gita is not history, but it is possible to read this differently. The Gita must be situated within the Mahabharata, of which it is a small – however important, part. Various authorities and styles of doing so are surveyed – Kosambi, Motilal and van Buitenen. Spivak wants to differ slightly from these somewhat literal situatings to challenge the ‘often unexamined opposition between colonizer and colonized’ in much colonial discourse study (p46). Not realist, as in Kosambi, but about structure and text, and working via the mistaken attempt to engage that (im)possible perspective of the native informant which is her wider theme.

The native informant is a mistaken trope in that its anthropological heritage (as source of evidence) and as a possible recovery of a lost unity (that never did exist, just as the unified ‘third world’ is not there in the nationalist movements or lodged exclusively with the ethnic minorities in the first world who articulate it). Still, the idea of a contemporary reader of the Gita in context may be conjured; first to note a) how bemused such a reader might be at the suggestion that a text about the negation of history – Krishna teaches Arjuna that all appearance is illusion – might be taken as a-historical, secondly b) to note that Hegel and many exoticist readers do construct such a mistaken contemporary reader of the Gita; and c) to read this text on the back of the homework necessary – mentioned above – that would allow at least the refusal of a centralised interpellation of the native informant, by taking the trouble to learn enough to be able to produce such a ‘contemporary reader’ and not ‘teach the producer[s] of neo-colonialist knowledge to chant in unison, “one cannot truly know the cultures of other places, other times”’ (p50)

Of course the ideological use of the text is also local – the Brahmanical tradition can use the epic as a convenient vehicle for doctrine, says Kosambi. Karma and caste are crucial here, and Arjuna is inducted by Krishna into what is now often read as a conservative even fundamentalist (BJP, RSS) ideology. The question of history is brought up here by Spivak and she notes how Krishna contains all history within his true self, only revealing this to Arjuna by special dispensation, Krishna is unborn and imperishable, and manifests whenever the law is in decline, but was already there at the beginning. Human time is a lesser time here (p53). (There is an interesting comment on Erscheinung – illusion – that must make us think of Marx in Kapital, but this is a side-step). Krishna in divine form contains all appearance (Maya) and in Arjuna’s vision masticates all the combatants on the field of battle between his teeth. (p55-6). (Quiet aside – this teeth-gnashing scene terrifies me with the threat of flashbacks – and of course its been read as a bad mad trip by the denizens of Manali and the like… nod to Max Ryan, a colleague of yore – arriving in India dropping acid on the plane for fuck’s sake [true story]).

We are a long way from Hegel’s monotony in any case. Reading Spivak, this text could be understood as a thinking through of a transition from tribal society to something like a state form. This is a big claim and it will be no surprise that it will be a long task to work up the scholarship that would allow an assessment. Certainly the story of the Mahabharata seems to indicate an allegory of state building, but then the question of (national) allegory as applied to every epic text has been problematized in the debate between Ahmad and Jameson. Even as Ahmad wins that one, on a wider scale, I am not sure where we should rest on this one as yet… well, no doubt we should not rest, however monotonous some of the moves have become.

Page 60 is worth reading carefully in terms of the role of US third worldism and the uncritical enthusiasms for getting authentic ethnics (who could not possibly but be confections vis a vis the foreclosed native informant) to speak up . These lost figures are promoted both by indigenous elite nationalists and by well meaning western liberals and manifest today in fundamentalist essentialisms of a sometimes virulent type. Here the difference between an effort of sublating and the accomplished sublation is of interest (p60). ‘To repeat, neither the colonial or the postcolonial subject inhabits the (im)possible perspective of the native informant or the implied contemporary reader’ (p62).

What is Spivak saying here about the native informant she seems to need to trip her text, and for her to trick out a contemporary reader of the Gita in situ – seems quite impossible. There is no such timeless being as that native informant of anthropology uncritically championed by those who would retrieve a lost indigenous authenticity (and so deny colonialism and historical transition etc). On the other hand an uncritical celebration of the hybrid is no alternative to the vigilance that is necessary to continually challenge the complicity of postcolonial figuration with these options.

Where Spivak does not continue as far into the story as she might, there is also a lacunae – linking religious fundamentalist denial of basic rights with the legal denial of rights by new states such as Indonesia and Malaysia and ‘laws’ like the Internal Security Act is apposite. But we might go further and note how modified traditionalisms like panchashila might be used to justify such ‘law’ and look to history also – the ISA in Malaysia for example was a British colonial legal form designed to deal with the communist insurgence, adopted by the conservative elite at independence, where Tunku Raman was favoured by the Brits in the negotiated decolonisation in order to keep out the undefeated communists. This would today need to be brought forward to also take account of the raft of similar ‘laws’ passed in almost all states in the wake of the war of terror initiated by Bush and Blair. A certain complicity between crusaders and legal forms is not far fetched here.

The attempt though is to continue to undo the continuing subordination by the figuration of the native informant into a reader’s perspective – the work of a resistant reader and teacher is never complete (the dredging operation in the mainstream that runs muddy continually – see Mahasweta here).

3. Marx.
Marxism forecloses the native informant via the socialisation of women’s/reproductive labour power because of a Eurocentric prejudice. Foreclosed as vanguard. The next section examines the Asiatic Mode of Production and Value… These sketchy notes also need more work, so I have to delay yet again, and reread…

The next bit soon, I promise…

The previous bit is here.

Spivak – critique of postcolonial reason 1.1

Gayatri Spivak is visiting Goldsmiths – so some of us have returned to reread her Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Such a great, difficult, suggestive book.
These are some subjective comments and reading notes on the Philosophy chapter. The first part is on Immanuel Kant.

1. Kant

Although this is at best an inverse aside (p.6), I think it is a generous if necessary move to note that the native informant is taken seriously in ethnography, where ethnography as sanctioned methodology of the discipline of anthropology produces texts unlike those Spivak addresses in this chapter. Kant, Hegel and Marx are not ethnography, yet even this methodological precept, emergent only just in Spivak’s text, popping up in the footnotes on occasion, threatening to be taken seriously itself, is not without its problems, well rehearsed elsewhere (the native informant in ethnography does not, for example, get credit for co-authorship, there are issues of authority, perhaps intellectual property, and questions of surveillance and voyeurism not far away).

So, this might serve as a ‘deconstructive lever’ to open up Spivak’s discussion. Her strategy seems to me to be consistent – whether the topic is Kant or Hegel, or even more clearly in the next chapter with Bronte, she shows she knows ‘the’ debates around a particular author or field with a quick sketch, then she shows she knows the critical angles on these debates and that these could be fruitful, but are often not without problems, but then, rather than detailing or extending these, she takes some moment or oblique angle on the text – say in Jane Eyre, after a quick survey of the standard repertoire, tracking of the comprador figures, we then see her opening up the text with attention to Bertha Mason, the creole Jamaican… In Kant, Hegel and Marx, in chapter one, we see something similar. As the book declares at the beginning, the recoding of the native informant by the postcolonial subject is the narrative frame, in this first chapter we are identifying the first figure in key texts of philosophy – proper names Kant, Hegel, Marx (the three wise men). The perspective of the native informant is the figure Spivak tracks through the heteronomy of the determinant, becoming reflexive in Kant, in the move of Spirit from unconsciousness to consciousness in Hegel and through the modes of production narrative and value in Marx.

In Spivak’s first section the text of Kant is mined for asides that indicate this (im)possible perspective of the native informant. Two characterisations are crucial, mention of the raw man (dem rohen Menschen) on page 13 and the Neuhollanders (and inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego) on page 26.

The Raw Man is the one who is terrified by what for the cultured, cooked, programmed, tuned, reasoning man is the sublime. The uneducated, and alien, natural, and outside raw being over against the cultured, receptive, moral person for whom desire is subject to reason, and freedom is a coherent choice to deploy ideas and imagination over mere sensibility. A supra-sensuousness that gives a greater freedom (though this itself is a supplementary and even ‘faked’, sensibility, since all truths are tropes).

To expose the workings of this figure of the native informant in Kant requires a ‘mistaken’ reading, but we get the point that Kant is insulting a large portion of humanity here. Thus, deconstruction can help reading in this task even as for Kant the raw man or the Neuhollander is not part of his text proper, and barely even an aside (it appears in brackets). To read up on the Neuhollander however is too huge a task (fn p28-9), and while Spivak gets a few details slightly wrong, she indicates the parameters of where a deconstructive reading might inform itself better than Kant – Neuhollanders are Aboriginal (not aborigine) Australians and these are differentiated, (though Warlpiri are not Koorie and there are further heterogeneities that deserve attention, especially regarding urban and outback Aboriginal politics – fns p27-8). So, this justification seems acceptable –to reprimand Kant for not knowing or caring for the specificity of life for Neuhollander does not mean we are also not just as ignorant. An effort to change this would be beyond the scope of the book – the task of reading a way well enough into the scene of Australia, colonial invasion, local differentiation, history of war-extermination-smoothing the dying pillow, right through to ongoing Howard Government interventions of unprecedented paternalism (police interventions not unlike the old Protection Society routines) is a huge task indeed. So much resides there, where, in a long and almost longing for time paragraph, she writes ‘I cannot write that other book that bubbles up in the cauldron of Kant’s contempt’ (p28n).

The imperial mission in philosophy comes across as the task of helping all men move from fear of the abyss (terror of nature) to appreciation of the sublime, through culture, programme, the ‘cooked’. Receptivity to ideas is the program of humanity (through culture). The plan is hierarchical and civilisational – polytheism equals a bad demonology, Christian monotheism comes closer to philosophy (p31). Something here returns to a point made in a certain interview in an earlier book – The Postcolonial Critic – where many gods are less good than few gods and the one god is best of all – leaving the raw man, Aboriginal and other animist or such like cosmologies outside of the text-civilizational path completely. And so ‘sanctioned inattention’ (p30) to the itinerary of the native informant on the path to postcoloniality via discussions of ethics and ethnicity allow this (im)possible perspective of the native informant to be both frozen and erased (foreclosure) and, we will see, into this space steps the self-appointed metropostcolonial, marketing culture from the home over there in that place now home over here (echoes of that old 1970s we were here because you were there intended).

That the native informant is both needed by the narrative of imperial aid, and by its continued privilege is clear (the south is not in the north, but is needed to maintain the North’s privilege, it is both excluded and included, and so (im)possible, we may say). That this today impacts upon neo-colonial post-Soviet, UN and IMF programmed globalisation, finance capitalism and the feminization of exploitative labour is another of Spivak’s key points. That these concerns should be first articulated through a reading of key founding texts of western modernity – Kant, Hegel, Marx – is genius.

The ‘dredging’ operation here is an effort to broach the mainstream education that permits a ‘sanctioned ignorance’ (p2) that learns to ignore the ways these key texts reveal the flotsam of their prejudice, and often loose their moorings. A counter narrative that makes visible the foreclosure of the subject without access to the position of narrator (p9) is her corrective intervention – an attempt to destabilise productively (p15).

This relies upon deconstruction in two steps 1) to show that truths are tropes, and 2) to show how the corrective to this obliges a further lie (p18-9).

In Kant, this is where God is smuggled in – moral inner determination, or reason, requires a moral author of the world, a purpose and a programme require an intelligent design – a god. (p23).

The tropes here are aporia that in Kant must be ignored in order to read how theory as the analysis of the sublime is already normed by the practice of having to assume a moral being. These are then displaced in the correctives by that smuggled god. And the imperialism that lets this pass unnoticed (p34) – sanctioned ignorance – and this is both geographical and hierarchical and named in those two casual asides about the raw uncultured man quaking in terror before nature and the ‘natural’ Neuhollanders. That civil society is then mapped onto the reason that was built on both the social mission of imperialism and the cultured taming of desire by reason is the opening of a possible rereading that might displace some of our ignorance.

2. Hegel

The section on Hegel is more a section on the Gita. It requires some homework with a difficult script which is much overlain with versionings, from the television serialisations and oleographs of popular culture in India today, to the chantings of Iskon in the streets of every major western metropolis and their sometimes very good vegetarian restaurants through to inanities like the pop band Kula Shaker’s exoticist Krishna consumptionism. Similarly, some effort is needed to move beyond simple received versions of caste, and several necessary texts should be consulted, especially ‘Hindus of the Himalayas’ by Berreman, and ‘Imagining India’ by Inden.

This is continued here.

But because this needs a bit of work, only just not even started here, I’ll leave it for tomorrow. Got to go to the anti-war teach in (here) just now…


For a long time I have wanted to pay homage to the character played by Roshan Seth in “My Beautiful Laundrette”, a Stephen Frears film, written by Hanif Kureshi. Despite some problems with the film itself – ‘we did not fuck fascists, we fucked them up’ said one of my anti-racist South Asian comrades many years ago, there are some delicate touches – tee hee – in the film. The portrait of the vodka swilling, bed ridden, socialist journalist father of ‘white-boy-kissing’ Omar is among Seth’s best (see Desai 2004:vii). Seth has also played a wide range of roles in all sorts of films, including “Monsoon Wedding”, “Buddha of Suburbia”, right through to utter crap like “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, his take on Nehru in Attenborough’s “Gandhi” and most memorably, as the KGB’s own Beria in a biopic of “Stalin”.

Trouble is, watching the films is the best way to pay homage, so instead I offer a few notes for a talk on Media in India, given on saturday at Sacred Media Cow.

Mythologicals from the very ‘start’ of film in India, with Raja Harishchandra, and on television from the serialization of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the late 1980s, have become the new stock in trade of media anthropological commentary. It is now a standard opening to mention how many ‘anecdotes abound’ (Dwyer – “Filming the Gods” 2006) about these shows – my own version as I have detailed elsewhere revolves around a TV set manifest as shrine, where the oil burner burns a little too well and the TV is reduced to ash, charred wood, and the short circuiting of an entire bustee area of Kolkata. Apocryphal or not, I can no longer remember. But in those days it was rare to see mention of television or film in ethnography, except perhaps as a knowing guilty indulgence.

Attention to Bollywood film changed all that. No longer was the art cinema of Bengal the primary visual media focus. [Though it took a little longer for diasporic films to get the attention they deserve (see Desai and Gopinath books recently out)]

To some degree we are still working through this opening today. There are a great number of anecdotes and studies of the hindi and other language filmi stars, the politics of film, the national allegory (pace Jameson v Ahmad) and the secret politics of our desires (Nandy) as well as a series of excellent conferences at Jadavpur University, Bangalore, Delhi and so on. Film Studies attest to a burgeoning sophistication. Add to this initiatives like SARAI at CSDS, and I think some of the directions of this conference are such that things can be said to have…

– I do not want to say that new media has ‘arrived’ with an explosion in the subcontinent. I would like to make an argument that there has always been a media sphere in India. That cross platform televisual media (satellite with talkback and audience participation via phone or street interview) has always been an Indian phenomena – television an Indian format accidentally invented by the British (to adapt a cricketing phrase by Ashis Nandy). We have to welcome further research on the various imbrications and innovations that bring the Adda to the screen, that offer cybermohalla, or Media Nagar, even doordarshan, ha ha, or that posit the information age – duly explained on the front page of their website – as Sarai. (though there is something slightly inappropriate in this perhaps – CSDS is not exactly a street people’s scene, nor is it a tavern). In any case, to elect Sage Vyasa and Elephant head, broken tusk, Ganesh, the co-producers of the extended family drama of the Pandava Five, as the patron deities of the media age, is not far-fetched, but I think perhaps there are other possibilities – I think of Karna, the disenfranchised sixth Pandava brother, son of Kunthi – this sixth brother might also prove to be significant.

Whatever the case, the media space of India has always been one of a certain density. I want to explore just two examples today where the convergence of television and other media seem to raise questions of an explosive character that might lead one to do as Omar’s papa did in Thatcher’s Britain – grab a bottle of vodka and take yourself to bed.

I once wrote a critique of the way South Asia and its diasporic cultural production (music and music video) was consumed as exotica. Still earlier I described how and entire city was constituted through various media – books, films, stories as a phantasmagoric site of poverty in need of benevolent Western aid. Today I want to look more closely at the dark side – the telematic mediation of terror – or terror-vision.

The first case is that of Mohammed Afzal and the English language news channel NDTV…

On December 13th, 2001, little over two months from another now overdetermined date, five men (at least) piled out of a white ambassador car that had driven into the grounds of the Parliament building in Delhi. The winter session was on, and guns blazing these miscreants/terrorists attacked, killing 9 people and then dying themselves in a hail of bullets, having failed to set off their car bomb as the detonator had been damaged in a collision with the President’s parked vehicle. Military deployed and border with Pakistan sealed, Terror legislation and terror threat level on high for a year, high profile court case, debate all through the press. Much to discuss.

As many commentators have said, it was a fairly incompetent raid. But among the commentators, Arundhati Roy for example, in ‘The December 13 Reader’, has questioned the swift ‘case cracked’ response of the police in arresting and bringing to trial four accomplices of the dead attackers. The reader published in December 2006, as well as a commentary on Kashmir published by the brother of one of the accused (Geelani, a lecturer at Delhi University), raises a whole series of disturbing questions that have become fairly common knowledge, but also something of a media circus – Vikram Chandra hosted a teleconference in a boxing ring to illustrate the stakes involved…

Three of the cases were eventually dismissed, only Mohammed Afzal was found guilty and sentenced to hang, so as to appease the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation. Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, had been a 20 year old border crossing militant youth in Kashmir, but had ‘surrendered’ to authorities in the early 1990s and then enrolled at university in Delhi. His experience with said authorities was of course not all pleasant – tortured and found to be ‘clean’ by one Davinder Singh, a man who proudly ‘tortures for the nation’, chillies and petrol enemas being the facilitators of storytelling here (even petrol seems to get the red hot vindaloo treatment now) – Afzal’s video ‘confession was judged illegally obtained and unsafe by the Supreme Court, making his conviction based upon serious, yet ‘circumstantial’ evidence of him being seen by a shopkeeper buying the mobile phones and explosives used in the Parliament raid (the phones left in the Ambassador), renting rooms to the five men (or were there in fact six attackers –CCTV footage restricted) and having possession of the computer upon which the fake ID cards were made, well, at the very least this is circumstantial. Media signs proliferate.

Found guilty and slated for hanging on October 20 2006, the television station NDTV screened Afzal’s video confession. They did so without mentioning that this was five year old and discredited piece of footage. It turns out, from reports by a Police Inspector, that this video was version three of a rehearsed statement. NDTV omit to mention the Supreme Court rejection of the footage, all the while allowing an on screen SMS commentary to announce, the ‘collective conscience’ view, that terrorists should hang, that Pakistan was behind it all, that the national institutions of law must be respected and due process must take its course. Let him hang.. At this time, Afzal’s execution was being reviewed on appeal, but the SMS poll seems to have decided his fate. The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on January 12 2007. Only a plea for clemency by his wife forestalls the hanging. President Abdul Kalam has yet to decide.

I am particularly interested here in the justice process as it is played out through the televisual public sphere. Arundahati Roy and other prominent intellectuals speak out, television stations set up opposing views and spokespersons of note. This is an elite mohalla discussion with commentary by SMS and phone of the lynch mob variety. I have written about the Hanging Channel as a satellite slot that could aggregate scenes such as Saddam Hussain’s hanging, movies like the Dead Man Walking, and reality TV scenario of the Afzal appeal, with SMS voting to allow the people to decide. For me this is quite bizarre.

NDTV then go on to host the successful show Airtel Scholar Search UK – a mobile phone company sponsored reality TV vehicle to bring a media and cultural studies scholarship student to Cardiff (they will get a surprise – winner announced September 22, 2007) also management students to Warwick, etc. A great publicity coup for UK teaching factories, in which the cultural construction of fantasy India and tamed public spheres proceeds apace (it was once thought the university was a place for rampant intelligence, now its sold like soap in TV, not even as smart as Crorepati).

The rest of this, discussing Derrida, Spivak, Steigler, I’ll save for another post, but the second example retold the story of the buses and my mates Aki and Dave’s singalong bomb song: DIY Cookbook. See Here and here.

Also see Sacred Media Cow

The Guevara Convention (by Dave Watts & friends)

October 9 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the death of Ernesto ´Che´ Guevara. Since his image, writings and influence has spread across the world, the thought of putting a compilation album to commemorate his life has been in my head for a few years. Our small team has tried to get record company interest in this but it has not materialized, which in reality is how it´s supposed to be, and i was stuck in the mental time-zone of CD format ideology. Use what is at my fingertips,

I think Ernesto´s sense of care for the people of Latin America (and beyond) especially after his initial travels around the continent where he got to see first-hand the subjugation of a people by the USA and it´s excessive greed, is something that many people are still living with today, and it seems that things have only gotten worse with it´s influence and misuse of power growing day by day.

So I am writing to you because I think you could contribute in some way, with art, words, music, ideas, suggestions, distribution, whatever….

The project would be a compilation album with music inspired by ´Che´ and/or the revolutionary spirit that he embodied. The contributions do not have to mention ´Che´ directly, but it´s the spirit for humanities well-being and desire and efforts to bring about a change in our status, conditions and environment that he and thousands, millions of others had worked tirelessly for.

“Above everything, be always capable to feel deep inside any injustice committed against anybody anywhere in the world.”

Ernesto ´Che´ Guervara.

In this day it makes sense to use the internet as an avenue of our collective expression. The plan now is to upload at least one piece of music, image, essay, etc. a month running over the year, starting from next week October 9 to be precise as that was the day Che was retired as a living human.

Running the project online instead of a ´traditional CD release´ gives us the opportunity to maintain a continuous flow of contributions to stimulate, exchange interest, ideas, create bonds & links, provoke, engage, inspire, maintain momentum. Words, Music, Visual Stimulants, Sound.

Through the internet, some of us have the ability to ´make friends´ with people we have never met and will most probably never ever meet. However through some of our ´friends´ we have learned of something that we had no knowledge of previously, and through some of these ´friends´ meaningful relations have flourished and connections made. My point being that our knowledge base is constantly expanding and contributions can arise instantly and uploaded as soon as one wishes and hence shared. So with this in mind, we can dispense with the limited ideology of a CD and it´s restrictions, imagined or real.

History appears to be filled with a continuous flow of stories of rebellion against tyrannies large or small, that hold no regard for the fact that we all came onto the earth in the very same manner as the those next door or across ocean´s and therefore entitled to a life without the enforced burdens laid upon one´s shoulders down by whoever thinks they are “The Man” and governments of ill repute whose icons parade as saints and saviors.

The Guevara Convention is a space where to express the revolutionary change that we seek….or maybe i just need to lighten up a bit and read Hello / Hola.

John Hutnyk wrote this and inspired the title. Which leads to issues surrounding the iconic status and state of reality, which is something that DJ/ Rupture has said he would like to tackle in his contribution.

It is my wish that you still see something in this for you to contribute to and be part of.

We have also had positive response from Indigenous Resistance, Coldcut, Filastine, Las Ratas, Fermin Murguza, Clandestino (artwork), Dr. FDM, Dr. Das, Ramjac, Sandy Hoover and Los de Abajos. Shaheen, who was in S.African hip hop pioneers Prophets of da City, is now residing in Toronto, doing a university thing on hip hop and politics is now onboard also. Shaping up nicely.

All the beats

Welles Hearst Capital

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts.

I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

Kane is (stuff about snow globes… as in post here and here).

Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overburdened film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her bitter enemy Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1950/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.

Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got Hearst called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.

The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia… Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as ‘Mission to Moscow’ and ‘North Star’ (Pizzitola 2002:409).

Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early ‘investigative’ journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the ‘greatest film of all time’ etc etc… the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.

So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all – a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital (“hat tip Rough Theory“). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane’s snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan’s table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles

Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.

Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.

Fifty Birthday greetings from Gaius Balthar

A little more of the unfolding Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar, a piece co-authored with Laura King on Battlestar Galactica (New Razr snippisodes are out now).

This posted in honour of the 50th birthday (today, Oct 4) of the little RED Soviet tin ball that could (and was part of the provocation that got the Americans to move the Cold War into space (for sputnik, pictured, see the link at the end). Do not get me wrong, its clar the Soviets started it – ha – and though Yuri Gagarin did ok in some senses, it was not all easy, the Soviet masses no doubt contributed, as did our canine friends, a certain Leika for example. Still, the consequences now, with satellite sniping not far off, are well and truly well past any dogged calculation of beginnings. Systems are go Virgil, but international rescue seems stalled.

We are all Cylons, we just forget that we are.

Marx writes in the Eighteenth Brumaire that; “Unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nevertheless required heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war and national conflict to bring it into the world” (1852/2002:20). The wars fought and blood shed by the expansion of Western states is a repetitive ‘heroic’ action of the self-interested bourgeois; not content with ownership of the lives and livelihood of people near to them, ‘sacrifice, terror and conflict’ must be produced in order to create control and have those others brought into the world. Where Marx discusses the ‘bringing into the world’, we can consider the ‘remaining in the world’? In order to continually hold its power, and remain as a constant presence, the unheroic bourgeois need to create heroes for itself by way of creating conflict. Elsewhere Marx had already declaimed, this time with Engels, that capital ‘It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production’ (Manifesto 1848:?? Chapter 1). For us, this mode of production has become digtal-genetic-machinic and military, and the Cylons are the manifest heroes of this mode – in a honoured tradition of SF, from the false Maria of Lang’s Metropolis, through the replicants of Bladerunner, to the clone/machine armies of Star Wars and Terminator.

The struggle of the Cylons with humanity is also part of the ur-story behind Galactica in the very first place. The war between machines and humans had come to an uneasy détente, and the Cylons had left the field of battle. Perhaps we might even consider the context of the first or original series of Galactica, the television apotheosis of Lorne Green as Admiral Adama – which ran amidst the last years of the superpower rivalry between the USSR and the USA. It seems appropriate to return today to new demons which must be manufactured, new clone armies to rouse the troops.

Can we argue that where Bladerunner and the later Alien films displace race issues into a blaming of the corporation (Tyrell Corp, The Weyland-Yutani Company) for greed, opportunism, evil, Galactica instead illustrates a later digital mode of the same argument, with corresponding post-apocalyptic mode of production and power? The reimagined, digital new model Cylons have potentials that belong to what many would call totalitarian, but with a general intellect, a planned total economy, decision making by think tank cabals, and shiny slick friends… spuriously called toasters by the obsolete humanoids. The question for the humans faced with extinction then has to do with Deckard’s old fashioned bad cop complicity/opportunity syndrome – do you kill all replicants without remorse, or look for your chance to escape on your own (with Rachel)? What Galactica does is add a gods-bothering dimension to this A.I. – which for mine is the equivalent of touching faith in open source. The parameters of individualism and hierarchy are not thereby disrupted. Maybe we are obsolete. The survivors on New Caprica, struggling to breed and scratching in the dirt, are dehumanized, life becomes barely worth living, suicide attacks become plausible (when the Cylons occupy). Only the organised rebels have agency, and yet they too send their own to death.

New Caprica became a nightmare refuge – the escape from Cylon pursuit was soon visited by occupying power. In a reversal of the game, President Gaius Balthar had led the fleet to a seemingly secure and shielded planet, only for the Cylons to finally track the settlers and arrive with plans to ‘manage’ their settlement ‘democraticaly’. Gaius becomes a compromised and proxy president, reluctant at tmes, but generally coerced into doing what the Cylons want. New Caprica becomes a police state, complicity thrives, alongside a resistance. There are suicide bombings – on the part of the resistance. Things are grim.

We understand this in the utopia/dystopia category as hinted above – a category we frame as first set out by Jameson where he comments:

“The Utopian calling, indeed, seems to have some kinship with that off the inventor of modern times, and to bring to bear some necessary combination of the identification of a problem to be solved and the inventive ingenuity with which a series of solutions are proposed and tested” (Jameson, 2005, p11).

But acknowledging that Linda Ruth Williams responds (to an earlier formulation by Jameson along such lines), that:

“Utopias operate dialectically by neutralising the (dystopian) world from which thy sprung. This is in keeping with a wider tradition of utopian criticism, but dystopias function in a similar way’ (Williams 1999:157)

Here, fear of others displaces a fear of the self that abuses power (over others). Jameson points out that often dystopian vision is a critique of those who wish good upon the world. Williams points out that the good, or the escape from evil, is deeply conservative. For example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four Julia’s protest against Big Brother is to dress up in a feminine makeover 1950s style as ‘Real Woman … cast by the film as only the latest act in a long line of rebellions’ (Williams 1999:167). Winston is our necessary hero, but his rebellions are meek and predictable, his ultimate defeat, and betrayal foretold. We can also see this over and over in Galactica as the heroes of the fleet – Admiral Adama, Lee Adama, Colonel Ti, become their worst enemies, both turning themselves and their democratic ideals into a military-fascist order, or, with Gaius Balthar, and the class that invented Cylons in the first place, creating technological systems that they fear, rightly, surge out of control and wreak awful revenge upon their creators.

So, though it remains a commonplace to say that SF works through the contemporary by projecting present problems into space, we can see that herein lies the foundation for repetition; the cycle of destroying an invented enemy leaves voids in the public psyche which must be filled. We must remember that this is our invented enemy, our invention as such (Saddam was a US puppet, Al Qeida and Osama bin Laden a part of the US funded anti-Soviet mujahideen). After all, once the war on terror has been ‘won’, and there is no more ‘terror’, who else is left to fear but the instigators of oppression? Remembering that Gaius Balthar remains president only through the compromise he makes with the force of the Cylon army – and we have not even begun to discuss the ways this army itself is bifurcated – there are reasons to concede that the twists and turns of political play leave both sides in disarray. Is there a parallel with what has happened in Iraq here – a compromised president (Talabani) struggling to manage the factions, and an escalating resistance, assassinations, torture, compromised military, constraints, betrayals? There is no Galactica Battlestar to swoop in to save the situation now – there is no quick exit that Bush is willing to contemplate, however much the US Congress should wish that might come to pass. To see this as a rerun of the Vietnam defeat would be difficult for the present administration, and so a new threat is pending – Iran? North Korea? (France?). Of course this leaves us guessing who is next on the hit list? In the messy aftermath of the Fleet’s subsequent escape from the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, there are reprisal killings (of Ti’s wife for instance) and Gaius’s sanctuary upon the Cylon base ship is brief …

Other Gaius bits here and here

For Sputnik birthday stuff see here.

Beep Beep Sputnik

Beep Beep – 50 years ago today. Happy Birthday.

From the fine folk at Needham High School’s History Crib

The Launch of Sputnik
“Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation.”
– Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience

The launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, brought the dawn of the space age, and increased conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The people of the United States had begun to feel as if they were unsurpassable in every aspect of life. However, the launch of Sputnik alarmed society and created a wide spread panic in suspecting that their country was vulnerable and could be outshown.

The Story of Sputnik

Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957 by the U.S.S.R. It was little more than the size of a basketball and weighed 184 pounds. Sputnik was not equipped with any scientific instruments, but orbited the earth once every 98 minutes. It contained a single radio transmitter, which did little more than issue an incessant beeping that allowed even the most primitive instruments to track it. As an instrument used for gathering data, Sputnik was relatively insignificant. However, Sputnik did usher in the new age of space exploration, and initiated the U.S./ U.S.S.R. space race that would lead to the creation of the manned space shuttle and utilization of the space station.

Why the U.S. Did Not Beat the U.S.S.R. into Space

Conflict between military branches had hindered the progression in creating a satellite before Sputnik’s launch. Also, it was not until the U.S.S.R. got Sputnik launched that the U.S. saw their own space program as something more than a leisurely hobby. Satellites were predicted to have no military value to the U.S., and so sufficient funds were not put into the Vanguard project. A lack of qualified personnel contributed to the slow progression of the U.S.’s satellite projects as well. After Sputnik’s launch, however, money was pumped into education and satellite projects.

continues here if you want to read what Eisenhower did next.

but better might be to seek out:
“Soviet Claiming Lead in Science.” The New York Times. 5 Oct. 1957: 2.

Happy Birthday, ball of tin. Erm, RED ball of tin. Yaay!