Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Empire and Multitude

I was underwhelmed by Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Multitude. Its an anti-climactic feeling, because of all the hype. Reading these books was like listening to the new band or watching the new movie everyone has praised and finding out its not all that. I’m not saying they’re as bad as Lost in Translation, but they certainly aren’t Tout van Bien, or Charlie Chaplin.
I was mainly underwhelmed with Empire and Multitude because of the disjuncture between the aim of the books- theorizing the revitalization of the left- and its result; the theorization of the revitalization of the left. Call me a pessimist, but I think the Left has to do a little more then put on its post-modern prescription glasses to sort itself out
Hardt and Negri certainly do a good job of framing the problem- globalized corporate neoliberal rule over all aspects of life-but their theorization of overcoming it is inadequate because they somehow think updating Marx with Deluzean terminology and Foucaultian biopolitics is enough. That somehow this new postmodern frame- with its schematic talk of the post-modern biopolitical production of immaterial labour through networks as the basis of the new antagonism of empire and the multitude- will unlock our understanding of our current geo-political cluster fuck and make us suddenly aware that things are going to be okay because history is on our side. In other words, replace proletariat with multitude… and…. Wahla… history is still developing towards democracy for all.
The tragedy, then, is that this update of Marx, updates the most useless part. Hardt and Negri ignore vital Marxian concepts like alienation, fetishism, labour time, and the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism because they celebrate the libratory potential of immaterial labour. Its this view-point and their celebration of post-modern irony and carnival as the new politics- like their celebration of the papier-mâché street theatre puppets- and talk of the Seattle WTO protests that also make the works seem irrelevant and dated. This is grossly displayed in one of their examples of how the potential of the multitude is inherent in immaterial labour; their discussion of finance capital;

“we should note that finance capital also has another face, a common face that points toward the future…Finance capital…tends to function as a general representation of our common future productive capacities…Since finance capital is oriented toward the future and represents such vast realms of labour, we can perhaps begin to see in it, paradoxically, the emerging figure of the multitude, albeit in inverted, distorted form. In finance the contradiction becomes extreme between the expansive becoming common of our future productivity and the increasingly narrow elite that controls it. The so-called communism of capital, that is, its drive toward an ever more extensive socialization of labour, points ambiguously toward the communism of the multitude.”282

Unless the ambiguity of “communism of the multitude,” means further immiseration of the multitude, I have seen no communist potential in the continuing meltdown of financial capital. What I have seen is what theorist’s who use the Marxian concepts Hardt and Negri ignore- like Harvey, Jameson etc. long predicted; a collapse of the speculative bubble as an ensuing crisis endemic to capitalism.
Are Hardt and Negri then headed for the dustbin of history like contemporary neo-classical economics handbooks? I doubt it. Negri has been at it for years and has evolved with the times. I just hope in their future work, their understanding of the problem and their admirable optimism is tempered with complexity and a certain suspicion that the new- whether it is postmodernism or post-post modernism- may be necessary but its not inherently sufficient.
Meanwhile, here are two things I think are relevant to the current crisis; the knowledge that things have changed, which Hobsbawm soberly assesses

The interest in Marx seems a vindication, as his analysis of capitalism put its finger on globalisation and periodic crises and instabilities. Over the past few decades people thought the market would sort everything out, which seemed to me a statement of theology rather than reality. It's good that people are taking this kind of analysis more seriously than they have for a long time because it breaks with the conventional analysis that has dominated most governments and a lot of ideologies over the years. It's fun to discover that what one has been saying for a long time, and others have been pooh-poohing, is being taken seriously. But that isn't the important thing; that is to recognise that a phase of this particular world system has passed and we must think of another one. It will take a long time for it to settle down, but there is no way we're going back to where we were in the 1980s and 1990s, and that's a good thing.

And the knowledge that this change carries with it the potential and need for a new non-post modern, extra-representative form of politics, which Badiou polemicizes for:

The only thing that we can hope for in this affair is that this didactic power may be found in the lessons drawn from this grim drama by people, and not by the bankers, the governments who serve them, and the newspapers who serve these governments. This return to the real has two related aspects. The first is clearly political. As the film has shown, the "democratic" fetish is merely the zealous servant of the banks. Its real name, its technical name, as I have argued for some time, is capitalist-parliamentarianism. It is advisable, as several political experiments have begun to do in the past twenty years, to organise a politics of a different nature.

In other words, history isn’t over and it isn’t inexorable, it just happens and if we are going to change it and get rid of whatever succeeds neoliberalism, well we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Artist: Lil' Wayne, Song: Georgia... Bush

Artist: Lil' Wayne
Song: Georgia... Bush

Lyrics :

This song right here, is dedicated to the president of the United States of America
Y'all might know him as George Bush
But where I'm from, lost city of New Orleans... we call him this

[Ray Charles sample:] Georgia.........

This song is dedicated to the one wit the suit
Thick white skin and his eyes bright blue
So called beef wit you know who
Fuck it he just let him kill all of our troops
Look at the bullshit we been through
Had the niggas sittin on top they roofs
Hurricane Katrina, we shoulda called it Hurricane (Geeoorrggiaa) Bush
Then they tellin y'all lies on the news
The white people smiling like everythin cool
But I know people that died in that pool
I know people that died in them schools
Now what is the survivor to do?
Got to no trailer, you gotta move
Now it's on to Texas and to (Geeoorrggiiaa)
They tell you what they want, show you what they want you to see
But they don't let you know what's really goin on
Make it look like a lotta stealin goin on
Boy them cops is killas in my home
Nigga shot dead in the middle of the street
I ain't no thief, I'm just tryin to eat
Man fuck the police and president (Geeoorrrggiiaa) Bush
So what happened to the leverage, why wasn't they steady
Why wasn't they able to control this?
I know some fok' that live by the lever
that keep on tellin me they heard this, stole this
Same shit happened back in Hurricane Betsy
1965, I ain't too young to know this
That was President Johnson now
but it's president (Geeoorrggiiaa) Bush

[Chorus - 2X]
We from a town where (Georgia)
Everybody drowned, and
Everybody died, but baby I'm still prayin wich ya
Everybody cryin but (Georgia)
Aint nobody tried, there's no doubt on my mind it was (Georgia) Bush

I was born in the boot at the bottom of the map
New Orleans baby, now the white house hatin, tryin to wash away like we not on the map
Wait, have you heard the latest, they sayin you gotta have paper if you tryin to come back
Niggas thinkin it's a wrap, see we can't hustle in they trap, we ain't from (Geeoorrggiaa)
Noooww it's them dead bodies, them lost houses, the mayor say don't worry bout it
And the children have been scarred, no ones here to care bout em
And fash out, to all the rappers that helped out
Yea we like it they callin y'all, but fuck president (Geeoorrggiaa) Bush
We see them Confederate flags, you know what it is
A white cracker muthafucka that probably voted for him
And no he ain't gonna drop no dollas, but he do drop bombs
R.I.P. Tay cuz he died in the storm, fuck president (Geeoorrggiiaa) Bush
See us in ya city man, give us a pound
Cuz if a nigga still movin then he holdin it down
I had two Jags, but I lost both them bi-tch-es
I'm from N.O. the N.O. Yea!

[Chorus - 2X]
We from a town where (Georgia)
Everybody drowned, and
Everybody died, but baby I'm still prayin wich ya
Everybody cryin but (Georgia)
Aint nobody tried, there's no doubt on my mind it was (Georgia) Bush

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two books about boys.

Recently I partially read (meaning skipped around and skimmed a lot) two books about dudes and their conquests. One was Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and the other was Women by Charles Bukowski.

Into the Wild is a biography of Chris Mccandless, a guy who hated money and modern society so he wandered off into the wilderness, and then was found starved to death. Most of the information in the book is culled from diaries and interviews, and really, theres only enough of an actual story here for an article (which is what this book started out as) and the rest of the 200 or so pages is filled out with information about the regions and towns mccandless traveled through and accounts of other young men who have done similar things, including a personal account of the writers own Alaskan adventures. I expected that the book would paint the parents as snotty rich folk, but they are actually portrayed as blue collar people who worked their up to what they had. Basically, Mccandless was inspired to travel the country through authors such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway or Henry David Thoreau. On one of his first trips he went to visit some extended family in Southern California only to find out from them that after he was born his father had carried on with his ex-wife and had another child by her. This is the turning point at which Mccandless decided that he hated his parents and after college he would cut them out of his life and go to live of the land, and that's basically what he did.

Women on the other hand is basically a book about an ageing poet that has sex with a lot of young female fans. Literally. What I read of it, every chapter was the same plot line applied to a different girl. It was just kind of gross and boring.

I mention these two books at the same time because Chris Mccandless lived and died following the words of authors that wrote about living off the land, and while Bukowski is writing about a very different set of male fantasies, his status as a writer that boys emulate is kind of the same. I am in no way an expert or even fan of any of these writers, I just find the idea of idolizing writers who were known to either be not such great people in real life, or never having really lived the stories they write interesting. And in the case of Mccandless, he demonized his parents lives over something that the authors he loved did too, and instead of living the life of one womanizer (his father) he decided instead to follow the fantasies of another.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Deer Hunting With Jesus, Dispatches From America's Class War

I recently rode my bicycle from Olympia to San Fransisco. I met dozens of people doing the same trip along the way. At night we would camp out at spots just for bike tourers and shoot the shit around the fire. Outside of Pt. Reyes CA I met two radical lesbian feminist from the UK. They gave me this book, Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant. They were reading a book a night, all on the subject of American politics/culture. They were dumb founded that G. Bush was our president and trying desperately to understand why. They loved this book so I gave it a go. Joe does most his research from a dive bar in Winchester PA were factory workers from the local Rubbermaid plant drink there nights away. If I happened to sit next to Joe at the bar I would get up and move to a booth. I don't like Joe, but I think this subject matter is relevant. He hits the nail on the coffin when it comes to the financial crisis we are in currently in and gives some intimate accounts of poor working whites situation in Winchester PA. He should have sub titled the book, The War On the Working Poor. If you think to your self "those stupid fucking idiots" every time you see a McCain poster in someones yard, maybe you should read this book. It may help you understand and even empathize with folks.

Hey Joe, you should order a double shot of class war straight up and a social change back. xx kanako

Monday, October 6, 2008

ursula k. le guin in OLYMPIA

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

is this year's TIMBERLAND READS TOGETHER book.

She will be at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts this Friday, October 10th at 7:00 p.m.

This is a free event.
No tickets necessary.

She'll be reading from and answering questions about "A Wizard of Earthsea."

Fantasy is not my genre but I am trying very hard to read this book because Le Guin is famous for writing SciFi and Fantasy that feature feminist protagonists. I've heard that Le Guin doesn't make very many public appearances so I think this is a pretty rare event.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Pirate's Dilemma

The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism by Matt Mason

"DIY is changing our labor markets, and creativity is becoming our most valuable currency." (p 31)

This book is like the evil twin brother of Anne Elizabeth Moore's Unmarketable. It too is about the relationship of underground culture to marketing, only rather than a critique it is more of an inspirational/motivational/how-to-compete-in-the-new-world manual. Sometimes he seems to be addressing "the kids," other times it's closer to a corporate consulting spiel.

Mason's idea of "pirates" is broad and he brilliantly weaves together pirate radio, pirated DVDs, graffiti, open source software, illegal downloads, game modding, punk, and a game theory model called "The Pirate's Dilemma." What his pirate examples have in common is that in each one a practice threatens the players in an existing market by doing business outside the rules of the market. This puts the existing companies in a "Pirate's Dilemma." Something like this... people pirate just-released movies, press them as DVDs and sell them on the street. The movie industry is threatened. But the fact that people buy these DVDs just proves that that there is a market for low-quality DVDs of brand new movies. The non-pirates have to decide whether to fight the pirates or start to compete like a pirate. If they fight the pirates - for instance, try to shut them down legally - the best the industry can hope for is a return to the market conditions they had before the pirates. But if the existing companies put on their pirate hats and start acting like pirates then they are competing in their old market (say the movie theaters) and in the new market opened up by the pirates (DVDs sold on the street the same week that the movie is released). The pirates look like a threat but actually they do everyone a favor by opening up a bigger market.

His examples are of kids, artists, underground culture, etc but it all comes back to a marketer's view of the world.

He writes that the "The Situationist notion of making art indistinguishable from everyday life is now known as branding." (p 21) But that's only if you accept that advertising = art. Not really what the Situationists had in mind.

In the fashion industry he says that cheap knock-offs of designer wear actually do the designers a favor. Once the rich and stylish people see that other people have cheap versions of their designer clothes then the clothes are obsolete and they are ready to buy a new round of new improved designer clothes. The new outfits will be exclusive at firsts but then also be knocked off and easily available. This is how pirate's drive innovation. Which is wonderful, I guess, if you are a fashion designer or a boutique. For the rest of the world it's just cycles of consumerism, built-in obsolescence and more crap for the landfill.

He starts off with the idea of "punk capitalism." His two examples are Vice magazine (and its spin-offs) and American Apparel. The idea is that "punk capitalists" do what they want without concern for an audience. They're not afraid to be obnoxious or offensive and money is not their prime motivator. They put "purpose next to profit." Fair enough, I guess, even though I think that Vice and American Apparel are pretty horrible examples. It's great that because of American Apparel you can easily buy non-sweatshop t-shirts. The company has other progressive policies as well. But is it really so punk to build the company's image around an aura of sexual exploitation? But even going with these examples the problem is that Mason doesn't discuss the economics of autonomy. Can a business really pursue "punk capitalism" if it isn't independently owned? How long can you "do what you want" if it's not delivering the goods for a parent company?

Mason is an entertaining writer and he goes on convincingly about grime, pirate DJs in London, hip-hop clothing lines and graffiti. But he calls Linux an "open source company" though, so he may actually be bluffing through a lot of the youth culture stuff too.

One pirate reference he does not work in is Hakim Bey's use of the concept of "pirate utopias." Which doesn't really fit anyway; because he's interested in the efficiency of markets, not freedom, transformation or resistance.

Despite my criticisms, I think this is an amazing book. All along the way I would think, "Oh, that's cool if you are a capitalist who wants to learn from youth culture, but how can I reverse-engineer what he's saying and get something out of it?"