Minimalism

I want to keep this response handy.

One may think that the essay form does not suit minimalism, and really you needed just to send a postcard. Something short. But the short descriptive, meaningful and useful thing is no easy task. Adorno here might have been critical of Benjamin for fetishising, and mystifying the aura, of reducing the complexity of capitalism into something that resolved itself into a singular image – the angel of destruction, the frozen moment in a glass snowdome. Maybe Benjamin was onto something, that I also call trinketization. My preference is for Adorno’s critique though – every small trinket has become a monetary cipher, and the profound cultures of tradition and meaning, and belonging cannot be reclaimed from the market – they just become exotica, a broken nostalgia that cannot be put back. Innocent no more. We are forced to face the naked truth at the end of every fork as consumers crunch down on every every thing.

Pantomime Terror

This book is about storytelling and music video – well, also politics and terror, performance and television.

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HUTNYK_PANTOMIME TERROR

The book tunes into music in three acts. I have written on these performers before, and so thank them again for the opportunity to return to their stories. The approach is a continuation of a research project and collective political effort that I joined when I first came to Britain in 1994. This iteration rehearses this work for London and in relation to twenty first-century terrors, as well as returning to a long beloved articulation of divergent interpretations of critical theory, especially the work of Theodor Adorno. In the introduction, there is a first rendition of the theme of pantomime, which will resonate throughout, and perhaps perversely, the end of the intro starts in on the end of the video Cookbook DIY, examined more fully in the next chapter. I advance this end because the point of this book is to record how peripheral ‘messages’ are too often ignored. In this sense, the project of ‘pantomime terror’ as distraction will be affirmed. I thank Aki Nawaz and Dave Watts for what is now a long collaboration.

The chapters are:

1. Introduction: London Bus :: Pantomime :: War Diary :: Mediation :: The Orange Jumpsuit :: Alerts.

2. DIY Cookbook: Visiting the Kumars :: A Suicide Rapper :: 1001 Nights :: Cookbook DIY :: Pantomime Video :: The RampArts Interlude (notes from a screening) :: All is War :: Back to the Kumars.

3. Dub at the Movies: Representing La Haine :: Žižek-degree-zero :: Derrida Writes the Way :: The Eiffel Tower :: Ruffians, Rabble, Rogues and Repetition :: Musical Interlude :: Riff-raff :: Reserve Army :: Coda: The Battle of Algiers :: Molotov.

4. Scheherazade‘s Sister, M.I.A.: Cultural Projects :: Storyteller Nights :: M.I.A. :: Born Free :: Sell Out, or Tiocfaidh ár lá :: Witticisms and Wagner :: Despot Culture :: Scheherazade in Guantánamo.

 

what do you call that reorder edit – on a crooked line of Marx

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                               Transpose

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In Marx’s own copy of the 1867 edition of Capital, we can see he changes a few things. I wonder when.
There are more changes in the copy of the first page of another of his editions, but in this one there are reasons to speculate and maybe go far too far down the rabbit hole of hermeneutics. So, facing up to the Cheshire Cat, I want to ask if anyone else finds it interesting that on page 43, for example, Marx underlines/circles/corrects the word order in the sentence:
Nur als Erscheinungsform ihres eignen Werths interesierte die Steifelwaare der Steifelknecht.
I’m not at all sure about Steifelwaare, but maybe this can translate as:​ Only the appearance form of its value is interesting in the boot to the boot maker. (Ie, its value as something the bootmaker can sell).
In his correction, Marx wants to smooth the expression out so as to reverse the order of die Steifelwaare and der Steifelknecht. So Der Steifelknecht die Steifelwaare (probably den). This can then be: ‘Only the appearance form of its value is interesting for the maker of the boot’ (my trans – not sure).
Does it matter? It seems the sentence was completely removed from the next revision (most people read the 4th Edition, or translations based upon it – but Marx revised in 1872 for the french serialisation, so unless all the changes from the hand annotated editions can be collated and dated…) so I suspect it matters not that very much. Nevertheless, if clarity of expression was key, this may be because speaking voice is crucial in the very next sentence, which was not removed – the very famous:
Konnten die Waren also sprechern, so werden sie sagen, unser Gerbrauchwerthe mag den menschen interesieren. Er kommt uns nicht als Dingen zu. Was uns aber dinglich zukömmt, ist unserer Werth. Unser eigner verkehr als Warenendinge beweist das.
If commodities could speak, what would they say: our value as commodities interests men. This come to us not as things. But what comes to us is our value. Our traffic as commodities shows that. (my trans)
The idea that commodities might speak at all is fetishism, the filthy little gossips. So we want to know what they would say, and to whom – since it implies a listener. Is it the owner or the maker or the buyer they chat with? And why do they speak in the voice of a 19th century political economist? They speak like that for the rest of the paragraph, though there is also a little reverse ventriloquy from Dogberry, who thinks it natural to write.

Worker or Labour

Note for later… on the difference between worker and labour. Is it not obvious there are questions to ask here about demarcation – is a worker everyone under capital? Are there worker hierarchies that are more than strategies of containment/control – setting x worker up against y, a buy-off of the worker elite, dumping of disposable workers, erasure of all other possible modes of being subject to the bullshit of work that is neither fulfilling or worthwhile (to who?), alienated work v. work you would do no matter what

In Marx: the concept of worker and labour power shift analytically across the book of Capital. Under capitalist relations the workers sell their labour power (capacity to labour, more productive than the cost of reproducing it) but not all labourers are so lucky (misfortune) to be able to sell their labour power. The unemployed, partially employed, the drifters and vagabonds, the mothers and children in training, the elderly are also all responsible to maintain their capacity to work, their labour power, even when not in employment as workers. Marx uses simple reproduction in his examples in the earlier chapters of capital, but if you read just the introduction of chapter 16 (Ch14 n Tieng Viet I think, the start of Vol thu Nhât, Phân 1) you see him explain about the narrow and the wide notion of the productive labourer, and also introduce the concept of the collective worker. The worker in the narrow sense produced surplus value, indeed value in general, the collective worker would include those that do not produce surplus value, but help other people produce it – for example as a teacher, when I am not producing a profit for the university boss, I add to the capacity of the students to produce surplus value, I do not produce that value myself except as part of the collective labourer. Again, it’s very important that Marx not be read without a dialectical conception of all of his categories, including worker – we actually discussed just this in relation to the early parts of Hegel that we read together.

Yet again to re-read the start of Chapter 16 (TV 14) – the difference between a sausage factory and a university is negligible. Hilarious and fun Karl.

Rosa now more than ever

Rosa now more than ever
Or why Rosa is someone who should be read at this point in time.
   To be a student of Rosa Luxemburg today is assisted hugely by the (hopefully ongoing) publication in English of her Complete Works, starting with the two volumes out so far on her anthropology studies and course on economics. This alone is enough to extend fourfold what most leftists might know of her, which is usually only a half-digested something or other about ‘spontaneity’ and a disagreement with Lenin.
   Now, over and over, more than ever, I see people worrying both about spontaneity and vanguards. They say it’s all terrible or it’s all fine (actually this borrows an early move from Mao, but still…). The communists hate the anarchists and the anarchists hate the communists, basically, for being too much like each other in all the ways that are wrong.
   My friend David Graeber for example says of the squares, Occupy, yellow vests and all future horizontal protests, that:
‘These new movements do not need an intellectual vanguard to provide them with an ideology because they already have one: the rejection of intellectual vanguards and embrace of multiplicity and horizontal democracy itself‘ infoshack, radioshackorsomesuch.com
Hence the need for Rosa. Against the idea that all we need is already delivered by those who say we don’t need the Party (albeit we don’t need some old fart Party, against the party I would lead, which would be available only to people who could name the stations of the Kronstadt). Anarcho adventures into the void will not do.
   At the same time, communist comrades are incensed that the anti-Leninist and verbose anarchists are undermining their theoretical primacy. Ha ha. Well overdue. As if their political, and philosophical, purity had been baptised and sanctified in previous militant vanguardist struggles such as … wait, I’m, where? When? Theoretical struggles perhaps. Bloody minded entryism, penetration and destruction. Fuck them too.
   So, Rosa for the Party and in symbiosis of a new moving type, moving with the masses – becoming masses, finding their unities, alongside and with Rosa, forming the Party that can keep forming across time. Since time is all the meantimes and meanwhiles where everyone but the caviariste class knows it’s long past the time when the shitty conditions in which most find themselves are such that with this up we cannot put.
Hence, Rosa now more than ever.
   A few brief words though. In common reception of Rosa, in particular with the spontaneity question, there really is a dangerous and defeating mistake made if Rosa‘s commitment to the masses is ever taken to mean no active organisation by the Party within the class forces. There were certainly, also shown in the Letters (same publisher, should be cheaper though), so many ways in which Luxemburg was committed to tendencies and factions within the Party, within the International and within the general Left movement. Her relationship with Kautsky grows fractious over time, her squabble with Lenin is really resolved by the time of the Bolshevik uprising, and between times Lenin had been visiting Rosa and stoking her cat – and being scratched by said kitten, because not all cats fell for Lenin right away. Though in due course…
   Luxemburg was well aware of the need for the class to be organised and able to move with the workers whenever the possibility presented itself, and without the ability to organise the Party to swiftly move into place alongside the ‘spontaneous’ uprising, there would be nothing afterwards. Listening to the sounds of adventurism crashing on the rocks – we need adventures and rock-moving teams (not rock spiders lying in wait with their entryism of doom). Rosa now more than ever. Albeit what organisation there was would be in large part itself only possible because of the tireless devotion of Luxemburg (or Cam) urging on the uprising at meeting after meeting. And indeed, what claim could she have for even being discussed by anyone other than adventurers at the barricades since we all know that her insurrection was crushed, she and her former lover murdered, by a repressive militarist counter-revolution. No, it would be dangerous not to realise that reaction is always already coming and that we also need to organise defense in offense. To say listen, stand aside, wait, all these give space for the reaction – fill the gap with forward and better, biger adn more power to the movements.
   Reading Luxemburg can show us why now more than ever. She does not come across in her writings, or even in her actions as revealed in her biography, or the letters, as someone with a blind faith in going out to the streets. She goes out in the streets. Also, she reads, she teaches, she deploys vast troves of footnotes and argument in an ongoing polemic that always sought to teach, but was always making space for contemplation, education and polemical life that was more than simple or naive spontaneity.
   Her effort was to make links with those on the streets, and she did this as a life-long commitment, and through long patient but urgent work, through talks, classes, writing and editorial meetings, with those inside workplaces and working class areas of the city so as to build the organisation around issues such as hours worked, wages, prices, subsistence, work organisation and justice for women, justice for murdered workers, justice for all. And forever pushing for a better argument and better outcome, aspiring to get the idea accepted that the communist dream was something that could be. Could be by force of her will perhaps, but as an illustration, and a model to be replicated, the path to a revolution that can be sustained is made clear.
   Her polemic with co-revolutionaries always strove towards improving her own as well as their capabilities, through argument to express her own will to clarify and build a revolutionary capacity. And to be able to present her ideas before the masses and at any time strive for the uprising that after-all was – and today has been for a long time again – well overdue. Listening all the time, she is never silent, since participation in the revolution comes from saying, loudly, what is happening, what you can see.
   And read, with care. Rosa does not say no to the Party, does not say no to Party organiser going out to talk to the masses, urge them with ‘fire in their bellies, and their minds’, but she does say no to a Party that is above the dictatorship of the class, no to the dictatorship of a Party or of a clique –yes to ‘dictatorship of the class’ which means dictatorship of the proletariat ‘in the broadest possible form on the basis of the most active, unlimited participation of the mass of the people, of unlimited democracy’ (On the Russian Revolution).
   Without the Party, Luxemburg is nothing, the revolution is nothing, and the masses have no voice. The Party is the organisational form that best coordinates the preparedness required to build alongside the spontaneous uprising of the masses when its best chances arrive. On many occasions the potential of such an uprising might seem more or less apparent, but without robust organisational preparation in place, the political movement will always lack consequence, be subject to fluctuations of spontaneity in the random sense – as opposed to the general sudden realisation that now is the time we have been preparing for, and when the Party serves the masses as a rallying cry, vehicle for articulation direction and aspirations for a path out of the horror of persecution, oppression and inequalities.
   Many skirmishes and test case battles prepare the ground for spontaneity of the revolutionary type. These disconnected struggles are the school for revolutionaries, the training and honing of skills in single issue campaigns, in local initiatives, in building comradeship and Party organisation. They cannot yet be the mode of transition to a communist future but they develop the possibility. Through local wins, and no doubt losses, coordinated battles and preparedness, anticipation, analysis and expectation – knowing perhaps a little more though this of what we might expect – the groups that work together learn together and will face down the tanks together. The Tanks are coming. Do not think Rosa now more than ever means they won’t – the ruling class will want to through us all in the canal. But we will swim. For this, reading, writing, distributing newsletters and papers, forums and research groups, all build – and crucially, reproduce – potential for spontaneity. Swimming in the spontaneous flow.
   The reading and research group is not the only form in which this Party as the vehicle of the wider class interests can articulate and hone its skill base, but it is all the more important because this form of organising has a role in defining and producing knowledge and analysis of the situations in which we are faced with oppression, exploitation, desperation and despair at the hands of capital.
   The urgency of the situation. it is never all day every day, and a part of it is reading, together. meet to plan and talk, if only over a paragraph n between urgent tasks and planning. This research group, that has read its way into a Marxist analysis will move forward and articulate further connections with the oppressed  and offer the classes knowledge not by telegraphing it in, or posting it on this blog, but by sharing not only knowledge as knowledge, but knowledge as a knowledge making process. A revolutionary act whose patron figurehead is also Rosa. Now more than ever. What then if in the current conjuncture those who rise up in protest do so on the basis of having come together over time to develop a shared analysis of the ways an exit from capitalism and oppression can be achieved with equally for all?

Boy Scout

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“‘There is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism‘” (Walter Benjamin Illuminations)

 

William Burroughs’ annotated Boys Scout’s manual has been reissued, and I am waiting for it to arrive so I can have another go a trying to reconcile the whole boy scout thing. Militarism in the blood by dint of generations of just doing what kids do when their fathers did it before them. The dodgy old hyphenated, Colin Baden-Powell had invented the concentration camp in Mafeking during the Boer War too. Can’t say a Boy Scout history is a reason to be proud. I first heard of the Burroughs manual from Mick T, so I rifled through an old travel diary into which a news clipping was folded. It included a photograph of five young Americans in combat gear beside a ‘Homeland Security’ bus. From the front page of the New York Times I collected it on May 13 2009 when last visiting Mick in New York. The image caught my eye and I recall this was the same day when newly discovered atrocity photos from CIA ‘facilities’ in Afghanistan and Iraq were to be published but were censored so as to avoid undermining the war effort and the troops at the front.[i] Anxious excuses were conjured for spin and impression management… Instead, we got the unbelievable shot of Explorer scouts tooled up for the kill.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s long-time missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and fire-fighters. Rereading the text ten years on is bracing, and Burroughs does not help the dark forebodings of the text.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.” (New York Times, 13 May 2009)

Blocking the atrocity images, then president Obama said he would fight any release of the new set of detention images,[ii] backpeddling from an earlier ‘release them all’ position after a word from Pentagon chiefs. This old strategy or submerging truth is reported on the same front page as the scouting story). But the bus picture contains a curious quirky little detail. Look at the line of action-figure scouts in the shot. The very last one doesn’t seem to think the situation is all that real. A big grin on his face, forgetting the seriousness of the security role-play; has he tapped his colleague on the shoulder to say he likes his combat trousers? ‘Dude, I got these on special at ‘Old Navy” says his colleague. ‘Awesome’. I wonder if there is perhaps-possibly-maybe a little chink of critique, on the part of the New York Times’ photographer or picture editor in this edge-of-the-image smile? Such good terror-fighting teeth too. I would ‘hope’ we read this scene against the grain. ‘Yes we can’.

The article offers a great many other howlers – including strange juxtapositions: one such follows on from the news that neophyte Explorer Cathy is ‘attracted by the guns’ and says: “I like shooting them … I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.” We then get the observation that the police who supervise this ‘training’ have been exploring in their own perversions: “There have been numerous cases over the last three decades in which police officers supervising Explorers have been charged, in civil and criminal cases, with sexually abusing them”.

It seems though we are safe. This is after all only a role-playing game, with Arab dress-ups and other harmless pantomime fun. We are assured that ‘the training … is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting’. OK.

Meanwhile, collected from the same paper, another photograph of another line of troops had caught my eye – commemorating the body of a soldier being returned to the US. RIP Michael P Yates, killed by one of his own in the counselling tent.[iii] The televised reporting of the return of troop bodies was of course suppressed by the previous President, Bush W, but the correspondence between the line of Explorer scouts and the solemn line of the troops in the second picture is poignant. (The death toll of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan topped 5000 soon after). This picture too appears a few pages before a full page ad taken out by a right wing group, suitably named the ‘Torture Truth Project’ that condemns those who would embarrass the US internationally by mentioning the ‘only three’ detainees that endured the notorious torture technique known as water boarding. The text of the ad takes on its own special rhetoric when it tortures the truth by warning that ‘we are losing the goodwill of people across the world’. Welcome to the USA today, in the New York Times.

The Scouts, as spawn of Sir Colin Baden-Powell, cannot be disassociated from the logic that developed the detention camp at Mafeking. Be Prepared. I remember this slogan and the implication of youthful disciplining, as is surely true for anyone who was a scout (sure, it was mostly fun of course, smoking behind the troop hall). My grandfather in the UK and father in the Ukraine were also enthusiastic adventurers. William Burroughs might have been a safer bet as father figure.

[i] New York Times, 13 May 2009

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/politics/14photos.html?scp=6&sq=obama&st=cse accessed 13 May 2009

[iii] curiously, the image is not reproduced in the online version of the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/14victims.html accessed October 20 2009.

‘Citizen Marx/Kane’ in “Marx at the Movies”, 2014

Citizen Marx/Kane’ – Hutnyk

This chapter addresses the question of how, today, to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital — of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms. In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it is usual to say it is good to start at the beginning — not always of course, but usually to start with what is immediately at hand. Commentaries, primers, prefaces, intros, first sentences and first chapters start at the beginning and continue on from there. This is itself debated, but my argument is that we can only approach Capital through the already existing commentary, even as we would like to start as if the book were new. And the commentary that exists is not only that which is explicitly marked as such, but also includes all the ideas we have already received about so many things — about Marx, capitalism, communism, exchange, commodities and so much more. A vast accumulation of things filter reading, so it would be naive to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, even if it makes sense to start with commodities, the objects that are the souvenirs or detritus of our lives.

Keywords

Capitalist Class Capitalist Mode Moral Testimony Commodity System Film Poster 

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