Adorno ‘Minima Moralia’ – a note on Rhinos

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 10.50.19‘The unreality of games announces that what is real, is not yet real. They are unconscious practice exercises of the right life. The relationship of children to animals rests entirely on the fact that in the latter, which Marx even begrudged the surplus value they deliver to workers, utopia is cloaked. Because animals exist without any mission recognizable to human beings, they represent their own names as expression, as it were – as what is utterly not exchangeable. This endears them to children and makes their contemplation a joy. I am a rhinoceros, signifies the form of the rhinoceros’ ‘Minima Moralia’ 1951

Malign Velocities

malignBenjamin Noys’ Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism (Zero 2014) is a really impressive little book not because it offers a scathing critique of the accelerationists – a panzer tank to squash a gnat anyone? – nor because it pierces the commonplace anxiety that everything is speeding up – in a stagnant phase of capital accumulation, that speed hype is particularly transparent. No, I like the book because Noys loves the word equivocation and uses it with dextrous abandon. First of all Marx on India, p9, equivocal it ‘appears’, on the results of British colonial plunder in India (the footnote to Aijaz Ahmad will be worth following up, since limiting Marx’s discussion of the subcontinent to only the first of a great many NYDT articles on India perpetrates a fraud). This pattern is established early – the accelerationists believe the worst will produce the good. Variations on the theme abound – and it cannot but leave us saying ‘yes, but’. BUT, the best parts of the book do not owe much at all to the avowed ‘enemy’ here – the discussion of Bataille and Godard – Bataille is ‘equivocal’ on 76 – is the shit. Literally, and the excremental analysis of capitalism accords well with, after all, Marx’s own assessment of economics – he wanted to be done with that shit. Then a chapter on Brecht and Benjamin – ‘equivocal’ on 90 – gives a deep and careful evaluation of the train brake metaphor, observing actual wrecks and actual saves where the brake interrupts disaster. That Benjamin can be offered as the theorist impatient with waiting, 92, is perhaps somewhat sad given his end, but there is much to learn about the more cuddly of the Frankfurt School theorists. A pity though that Adorno is described as ‘mordant’ (41) only to be (unintentionally) plagiarised later on where the two torn halves of a culture that cannot be put back together is lifted from Adorno’s critique of Benjamin without acknowledgement (98 – Adorno to Benjamin 18 March 1936). Equivocation indeed, but who can disagree with great bon mots such as ‘The “left” failing to go all the way to capitalism (and not all the way to the left…)’ that would exempt us from heading with Nick Land towards ‘neo-China’? Instead, this book will tarry with Lyotard, Sade, Stalin, Lovecraft, D&G, Gibson, Detroit Techno and Pynchon (with Adorno again too simply ‘pessimistic’ 45 – could we not be equivocal here too?). The lessons on the USSR and Trotsky are well-taken, the section on Lukács, HArdt/NeGri, Badiou impressive, the Benjamin heartfelt.  Noys’ will neither be rushing to the handbrake nor pushing the pedal to the floor – his opposition to privatization and outsourcing of services, for campaigns which offer a return to public control, to ‘protect benefits’, to ‘sustain social and collective forms of support’ and to ‘attack’ the way ‘work is supposed to account for our own self-reproduction’ and its ‘ideological and material role’ in the ‘validation of citizenship’ (99) all seem eminently reasonable and sound parts of a Marxist critique. It is not rocket science. My petty concerns about a citation for Adorno do not disqualify this as a near flawless book, except perhaps for the false publicity it gives the woolly thinking of accelerations, futurists and fascists beneath Noys’ elephant gun. Crush them in the egg I agree – I suppose there need be no equivocation there. This is a welcome call to join the struggle against the total commodification of our lives.

The Age of Anxiety

Just bought this book hoping it adds to the discussion of Anxiety promoted by plan c and Inst for precarious consciousness on here recently:

The Age of Anxiety: Conspiracy Theory and the Human Sciences (Sociological Review Monographs)
by Jane Parish (Editor), Martin Parker (Editor)

But also because of the coda (below). For the record, some fanzines got interpolated way back, and indeed, I was never keen on the Xerox Files, but that image of Adorno as twiglet-munching couch alien really works for me. Redeemed-schemed.


Panto Terror reviewed (sandwich)

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 16.10.41A brief review from Mark Perryman (Philosophy Football) on Socialist Unity where I am sandwiched between words on Arun Kundnani’s book (which I read and think is really good) and Andrew Hussey’s book (which I’ve not yet read):

“Arun Kundnani’s ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing global impact of the west’s so-called ‘War on Terror’. Here the left is grappling with subjects it is more at ease with understanding, though the depth to which it is transformed via that process remains in question. An insight into what that transformation might look like is provided by John Hutnyk’s ‘Pantomime Terror‘ which imaginatively records how popular culture has been affected by a post 9/11 world and on occasion has offered signs of resisting the reactionary, racist, consequences of that process. The urgent necessity for this kind of engagement is established brilliantly by Andrew Hussey’s new book ‘The French Intifada’.”

I regret the reviewers have not noted the critiques of Zizek, Badiou and Buck-Morss in mine, or the importance of Spivak and Adorno to my argument, or the coda on Wagner, but still very good to have. See here. Thanks Mark.

Participation in Museums: Trinketizing the Audience.

Notes for Museum ‘debate’ in Liverpool on November 11.

There is much talk of participation and much effort to remodel foyers, and to an extent interiors, plus toilets, cafes, bookshops and websites, to enable easy access. Asked to be curmudgeon-esque, it seems clear to me that this participation-talk is pseudo-participation. Every participation seems the same, everything alike, repeated patterns, even colour schemes – so many pastels, and fluorescent red plastic chairs. Some of the chairs are little, for kids, or for breaking dad’s back.

How did it get to be that pseudo-participation rules? The dominant culture has no anxiety about having people walk past the exhibits, but do not let them touch you. File on by, stop perhaps for a second, for an hour, but only in a standardized way. Check the visit off on a list. Culture 101.

Nothing without regulation – aims and outcomes carefully calibrated on a planning form that no-one reads, inside a system dominated by the same malignant and parasitic bureaucracy that has overtaken health and education in the hyper-administration. The bureaucracy does not even administer anything today, just keeps the forms in circulation, and the school groups filing through the doors.

And it is this pseudo-routine that must be thoroughly tested. We must know our audience, using the very latest in dumbed-down questionnaires that even newspaper-selling leftist street-vendors would disavow except as props. This is not even market research – so long as the school groups keep on marching past in tight formation. Participation in the most bland formal sameness – Adorno pointed to a sexual lozenge at the heart of the culture industry, and for sure he also meant the museum as pseudo-education. Where everything should be clean. ‘Nothing should be moist’.

We are so far from education here except education as reinforced class privilege. Education is not a two-hour visit – give them 20 hours, even 20 weeks – and they must read in advance. Here cultural exposure is not instruction but packaged ‘culture’ – and education is not a social good, but ‘education’ as national programming. An articulated system for inculcating national ideology and the flat flat flat dissemination of British identity and imaginary pasts. Books in the bookshop on popular themes – tea, crockery, swords. The empty materials that can be rearranged for some groups to dominate others.

Because commodification is the new rule, just like the old one. Different levels according to price, knick-knacks or bespoke jewelry, a café and a bistro, a members room. The collection is sacrificed to the expansion of the foyer, the t-shirts and tote bags carry the branded museum like a picture on a mug. There is no room for the collection, but room aplenty for postcard reproductions. The collection is not a collection, not a research effort, not a scholarly project, but a beauty contest.


Three props – a toy wooden horse, my gilt-edged copy of Arabian Nights, and a carved wooden Ganesh idol.

Participation cannot be a Trojan Horse, smuggling the old kings of the elite cloister into the pockets of a population plundered and left to rue the day. Participation is not a flash mob.

Neither should we rest with the admirable storytelling device of Scheherazade from the epic One Thousand and One Nights. She tells stories every night – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – to ward off the threat of the despotic ruler Shahryar, and through her stories eventually she turns him to good. But insofar as this leaves the storyteller as the one with power, and the king in place, the population remains a distant audience, titillated, but fundamentally untouched. Great stories they are, but the structure of interrogation remains, she could be telling her stories to the despotic king, or in Guantanamo today to the CIA interrogators, or the national press. What she needs to do is teach others to tell stories, and this also takes time – perhaps 1001 nights, sometimes more, different in each case and not a blanket solution. Democracy is not an occasionally vote.

What if it were Ganesh that ran the museum. Tasked with writing down the epic Mahabharata – 100 thousand verses – as it was told by the sage Vyasa, Ganesh’s pencil wears down and in order to keep transcribing he snaps off his tusk and dips it in ink to continue. He is the patron of all studious soles, dedicated to a popular scholarship, unending. He is not an occasional visitor on a joy ride.

What we need perhaps is the best of all three of these figures. Enticement into the museum, by horse if need be, then good stories that undo the games of dominant power, and a celebration of scholarship that is not just a two-hour visit, but a lifelong commitment. Museums might be this. With these patrons.