a new context for the communal production, appropriation and distribution of critical knowledge

Thursday, November 30, 2006


i don't want to ruin the mystique of S=thought but i sorta wonder who is who here? i get who Kenan Ercel, Phil or maliha are, but some obscure code names are
beyond reach of my imagination.

well, to start with, this is burak talking.

you are...
ymM ... yahya (i'm not sure what the recently added 'saint' means... i have wild guesses though, kinda kinky.)
gd... ???
viola swamp... ryvka?
C-blok... ceren?
bigbadbull... steven?
tesserakontapechys... ???
mr reality-check... ???
jamar... ???
tutulya... tulya?
confisius... ???
frauelein montag... esra?
boris devastated... ???
ch.. ???

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Activists in Istanbul Protest Israel's Apartheid Wall

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Are you as put off by this poster as I am?

It is all over the subways here in New York. I don't even know where to begin. I thought at first that this was some kind of an attempt to show how all of humankind originated in Africa. But the real posters in the subways are less ambiguous than this picture; they actually have "Save Darfur" written across the top.

Okay. Save Darfur. But we are all African? Really? That's why so many Americans don't even understand that Africa is in fact divided into countries, and certainly most would not be able to find Sudan on a map. Furthermore, under what circumstances are we all African? I think it's quite clear that the target audience, which I think is business people "with a heart," artists "with a conscience," etc. not to mention preppy NYU students hopping around the subway with ipods--we are not the Africans that the poster wants us to identify with (as?), and not because (as the picture implies) some of us have different skin tones than "Africans." What is this campaign supposed to message? That Africans are humans too? Yes, I understand that the white American public has trouble relating to people of colour. But I'm not sure that just owning that African identity is gonna make the difference, if that is the action in and of itself. Next time somebody asks me to do something for global justice, I'll just say "oh, I already did my share, I actually am African."

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that this is always a bad tactic. Two years ago some Israelis joined Palestinians and internationals in the town of Budrus to protest the administrative detention of an activist school teacher, all of them holding signs saying "I am Ahmed Awad" (his name). When they were arrested this was the name they all gave. This is different, I think because it was in the context of a solidarity action that they used identification as a tactic, and one which was specifically designed to call attention to his case in order to free him. The goal was clear, the solidarity was strategic, and because of that, the message was really strong.

But for the identification to be an action in and of itself? This is a very liberal and non-committed “put yourself in her shoes” kind of position, a call for sympathy more than any kind of real exploration of what it means to be in solidarity or to really think of oneself as connected with another.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Altman and inner monologue:

well, (1) because this site started off with an enchanting interest in obituary, and (2) after reading ymM's kind invitation to comment on the link he drew between Badiou's remark on europeans fear of islam and Haneke's Cache (i will... another promise to fulfil), i felt this irresistable urge to play along... Robert Altman died a few days ago, he was 81.

i'm not gonna write about him though. i'm not very familiar with his work, for some obscure reason. i say so because i only saw three of his films, 'Mrs. Miller and McCabe', 'The Long Goodbye' and 'Gosford Park', and all of them were perfect. pure meditations... on a few Leonard Cohen songs, on the use of inner monologue in hard-boiled fiction/film as to generate a distant/objective gaze, and on the irreducible materiality of class stratification (see Woody Allen's 'Match Point' for a more current take on this), respectively.

let me concentrate on the film noir 'cause currently i'm reading Alain Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy, actually started couple of hours ago, a 100-page novel written in mid 50s, one of the landmarks of the so-called 'nouveau roman'. from a distance, it has nothing to do with film noir actually. it's about a man who gets jealous. but:

The lustrous black hair falls in motionless curls along the line of her back which the narrow metal fastening of her dress indicates a little lower down.

No, her features have not moved. Their immobilty is not so recent: the lips have remained set since her last words.
Her silhouette, outlined in horizontal strips against the blind of her bedroom window, has now disappeared... She says "Hello" in the playful tone of someone who has slept well and awakened in a good mood: or of someone who prefers not to show what she is thinking about-if anything-and always flashes the same smile, on principle; the same smile, which can be interpreted as derision just as well as affection, or total absence of any feeling whatever.

this is the cold voice of the male noir protagonist. watching, silent... trapped in his faith...

there is more to it. the story is narrated grammatically in the third person, yet it is actually the inner monologue of a paranoid man who suspects of an affair between his wife (the whore, the femme fatale) and his neighbour (the hairy stupid buddy). there are apparently three characters in the story (man, wife and her lover), they are having drinks on the porch or eating dinner together, and the reader is told of a third glass, plate or chair etc. but never a third person is mentioned. the only way it could have been mentioned is by referring to this person as "I" but the author delibaretely resists to this temptation. that person is always missing. so the novel turns into a series of schizoidly precise/detailed descriptions of objects (windows, stairs, banana trees), of people or of words. extreme subjectivity dissolves into pure objectivity.

of course, it's perfect for cinema. the camera will be the lacking protagonist. but one of the biggest problems is how to maintain the integrity of the story, for the novel has the liberty of not mentioning the "I", whereas in cinema, the "I", the camera, is inescapably there. the more you avoid it, the more visible he becomes.

... and the banana trees on the opposite slope, soon invisible in the darkness.

by the way, Ceylan's latest, "Climates", is a total disaster.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Adventures in Lacano-Marxism

Paul Allen Miller is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Southern Carolina. C-Blok, j.b., and I met him four years ago when he and his colleagues organized a conference on Psychoanalysis and Social Theory that the three of us went together. The conference is memorable for me for a number of reasons: (1) It was fun to drive to Columbia, SC, listening to music on the car stereo (Admittedly, there was a hegemonic struggle involving both consent and coercion over who will play the next CD!) (2) It was the first conference where C-Blok and I presented our work. (3) Zizek was there; he listened to and commented on our talk--albeit obliquely. (4) Afterwards, when he saw us (on his way to an ATM) in the porch of a nearby pub, drinking beer and having food, he stopped by us, quickly glanced at our food, and offered a concise class analysis of the situation: C-Blok, who was having fish and chips, was an intellectual trying to pass as a member of the working classes, j.b., who was having a steak, was an intellectual who aspires to the lifestyle of haute bourgeoisie, and me, who was having a hamburger, was simply a bland middle class intellectual. (5) And finally, and perhaps most traumatically, on our way back from the conference, we got caught in the middle of the worst storm of the century and it took us an unbelievably hellish 48 hrs to get back to Northampton, MA!

In any case, let me return back to Paul Allen Miller, the organizer of this memorable conference. In 2004, he wrote a book review for the The Cambridge Companion to Lacan (edited by Jean-Michel Rabate). He concludes this review with the paragraph that I quote below. I thought some of our comrades would be invigorated by these words, so I am reproducing them here:

Lastly, while Marxism's status as the untranscendable horizon of our intellectual authenticity may be a thesis that few would defend today, the fact is that many Anglo-American critics first came to Lacan through the Marxism of Jameson and Althusser. Moreover, as Zizek's own practice testifies, the concept of psychoanalysis as a politically progressive practice remains dependent on a certain reading of Marx. In this light, Joe Valente's essay, "Lacan's Marxism, Marxism's Lacan (from zizek to Althusser)," does an admirable job of detailing the various tensions, and at times downright contradictions, between these two bodies of thought. In the end, the essay itself did little to dissuade this reader from the conviction that a Marxism without psychoanalysis is of little use in the postmodern world and that a psychoanalysis without Marx has no political program worthy of the name, but it did offer a solid cautionary tale to all who would see these discourses as easily compatible or reducible one to the other. [From symploke vol. 12, no. 1-2 (Wntr-Spring 2004): 279-81.]

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Netherlands proposes to ban burkas"

There are a couple of aspects of the matter that incites my interests in these--let me put out it out there right away--racist laws. And, to be entirely honest, none of them really relate to the question of secularism. I identify as a secular subject, but these so-called defences of secularism leave me cold--to say the least.

First of all, what I am really interested in is to develop a distinctively leftist response to the debate. Alain Badiou,
in a very sarcastic and powerful critique of the "scarfed law" in France, begins to formulate a leftist position that I can identify with, more or less. The ridiculousness of these bans compels Badiou to build his analysis of the french ban on hijab from the basic lacanian thesis pertaining the status of fantasy: rather than revealing anything about the object of fantasy, they lay bare the unconscious investments of the subject(s) of the fantasy. The title of the essay "Behind the Scarfed Law, There is Fear" is explained in a paragraph towards the end of this short intervention:
27. In truth of fact, the Scarfed Law expresses one thing and thing alone: fear. Westerners in general, the French in particular, are but a shivering, fearful lot. What are they afraid of? Barbarians, as usual. Those from within, i.e. the "young suburbanites"; those from without, i.e. "Islamist terrorists." Why are they frightened? Because they are guilty, but claim to be innocent. They are guilty of having renounced and attempted to annihilate-ever since the 1980s-every kind of emancipatory politics, every revolutionary form of Reason, and every true assertion of something else. Guilty of clutching at their lousy privileges. Guilty of being but old children playing with their manifold purchases. Yes, indeed, "in a long childhood, they have been made to age." They are thus afraid of everything a little less aged. A stubborn young lady, for instance.
This analysis reminded me of Michael Haneke's Cache. Perhaps, our contributor j.b. would like to intervene to my connection.

Of course, this critique of the "scarfed law" implicates the leftists,
feminists, seculars, and other so-called progressive (liberal) forces that lend support to it. The question of the feminist critique of the "veil" and the question of how to understand it in the context of the political economy of capitalism opens a second layer of considerations that leads us, unfortunately, to the question of how to theorize capitalism.

Here, in the same article, Badiou, once more mobilizes a set of lacanian concepts, this time the psychoanalytical critique of the libidinal economy of capitalism:
16. It is said virtually everywhere that the "veil" is an intolerable symbol of control over female sexuality. Do you really believe female sexuality to not be controlled in our society these days? This naiveté would have made Foucault laugh. Never has so much care been given to female sexuality, so much attention to detail, so much informed advice, so much distinguishing between its good and bad uses. Enjoyment has become a sinister obligation. The universal exposure of supposedly exciting parts is a duty more rigid than Kant's moral imperative. In passing, between our tabloids' "Enjoy it, women!" and our great-grandmothers' dictate "Don't enjoy it!" Lacan long ago established an isomorphism. Commercial control is more constant, more certain, more massive than patriarchal control could ever be. Generalized prostitutional circulation is faster and more reliable than the hardships of family incarcerations, the turnabouts of which kept audiences laughing for centuries from Ancient Greek comedy to Molière.
While I wholeheartedly agree that the shift from "don't enjoy it" to "enjoy it" is an important shift in the very ideological coordinates of capitalism, I would like to highlight two problems with this analysis.

Perhaps, from a marxist-lacanian perspective, the distinction that Badiou articulates between "commerical control" and "patriarchal control" is somewhat problematic. It is problematic because I am not so sure I understand how the two differ from one another. Elsewhere, C-Blok and I argued that the logic of capitalist-all resembles the masculine logic of exception that Lacan develops out of his readings of Freud and Kant (see Joan Copjec's "Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason" for a "heady" introduction). If those two are homologous, then, what are the differences between commercial and patriarchal control? Do they correspond to capitalist and feudal forms of exploitation, respectively? If they do, then is the story that Badiou tells us the story of an uneven transition (or, perhaps, perpetual co-existence of) two modes of production (with their particular economic, political, and cultural conditions of existence) side by side, or is he sarcastically pointing at the anachronistic obsession, in the age of late capitalism, with feudalism, patriarchy, etc.?

This brings me to the second problem. The analysis of capitalism that informs this critique of the "scarfed law" views capitalism as a "commercial" system. In this analysis, capitalism is conflated with markets. Capitalism should not be equated with markets but rather should be viewed as an insititutional organization of the production, appropriation, and distribution of surplus by non-laborers that can exist with a variety of forms of circulation (ranging from the price mechanism to the administrative fiat). One important limitation of this view of capitalism qua market, a view that fails to conceptualize capitalism as one among many institutional forms (e.g., feudal, slave) of trying to domesticate the real of class antagonism, is its failure to formulate and enact a different relation to the real of class antagonism. Reduction of capitalism to market exhange simplifies it and to the extent that the object of critique is simplified, it becomes difficult to find openings in its edifice to begin deconstructing it.

The problem surfaces most clearly in Badiou's deployment of "prostitution" as the metonymy of the "commercial" system.
17. The mother and the whore. In some countries, reactionary laws are drafted in favor of the mother and against the whore. In other countries, progressive laws are drafted in favor of the whore and against the mother. Yet it's the alternative between the two which must be rejected.

18. Not however by the "neither... nor...", which only perpetuates on neutral ground (i.e. at the center, like with François Bayrou?) what it professes to contest. "Neither mother, nor whore," that's quite pathetic. As is "neither whore nor submissive," which is simply absurd: isn't a "whore" generally submissive, and oh so much? In France in the past, they used to be called "les respectueuses" (the respected). Public submissives, all in all. As for "subs" themselves, perhaps they are only private whores.

Without doubt, we should reject the alternative between the mother and the whore, or the patriarcial and the commercial, or the feudal and the capitalist. Yet, as Marjolein van der Veen (scroll down at the linked page for the relevant paragraph) has elegantly articulated years ago, our representation of "the whore" as a metonymy of capitalism reveals more about our own fantasies than the practice of prostitution itself. It is perhaps wrong to take Badiou's treatment of the concept of "the whore" too literally. Yet at the same time, by reducing "prostitution" into "the selling of the body" (rather than "the performance and the sale of a service"), he defines "the whores" as "public submissives". In his attempt to deconstruct the representation of the "hijab girl" as the submissive one, he ends up constructing a discourse on the whore as the submissive one. In other words, he argues, forget about the patriarchal oppression, the real oppression is the commercial oppression!

In this sense, in order to show us that the ridiculousness of the "hijab issue," Badiou juxtaposes the "scarfed law" and the patriarchal oppression that the law claims to oppose with the capitalist colonization and oppression of our lives. Which is, of course, fine and welcome. But, in doing so, he constructs a particular discourse of capitalism-a discourse of capitalism that does not permit us to think beyond the logic of exception.

These concerns, along with the ongoing imperialist war in the Middle East and the sustained construction of the Muslim as the new Jew in Western liberal capitalist democracies, should perhaps constitute some of the points of departure for left (and truly secular) engagements with these laws.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another obituary (of sorts)

I read in the news today that Milton Friedman, 94, is dead.
I say, good riddance.
That is pretty much all he had to say
for those left behind by the social Darwinist policies
he championed all his life: good riddance.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

With all due respect to the interval, or, courting a science of the image

In defiance of all pretentions of purpose and/or usefulness...the first G.Frege post:

Lately I have daydreamed over how to conceive of the specific economy that is embedded in the act of quotation. Could we perhaps call it the sister of appropriation (as Lacan calls truth the sister of jouissance)?

Flaubert, September 1852: "Beauty may become a useless sentiment and art something between algebra and music."

I hope our blog, over time, moves in the direction of the latter. Nevertheless...I felt encouraged to post images:

Agamben, July 1975: "For [Aby] Warburg, the attitude of artists toward images inherited from tradition was conceivable in terms neither of aesthetic choice nor of neutral reception; for him it is a matter of confrontation--which is lethal or vitalizing, depending on the situation--with the tremendous energies stored in images, which in themselves had the potential either to make man regress into sterile subjection or to direct him on his path toward salvation and knowledge."

Hollis Frampton, September 1971: "A still photograph is simply an isolated frame taken out of the infinite cinema."

Deleuze, March 1970: "There is no apprentice who is not the Egyptologist of something."

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

community in dispersion

Its very odd to think that just a few short years ago we, well most of us, called the Pioneer Valley home. Even stranger to think that most of us are not there now. I have a lot to write in this forum. My student/colleague Jason and I are almost through with Transcritique and I think that has been a very productive read for the both of us. I feel like the philosophical substance of this book--that philosophers (and others) are always writing from this in-between, transcritical position (for example, the evolution of Marx's writing in relation to his being in-between France, Germany and England)--speaks in some way to our collective condition as well. As much as I can see the value of seeing myself in relation to universality/singularity, I am still working through and mourning the loss of my general/individual self.

In this initial post, I simply wanted to thank YMM for setting up the forum.
Stephen (aka. big-bad-bull)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Words Without Borders

This month's "Words Without Borders" magazine for international literature is on Palestine, and includes some of our *favourites* like Azmi Bishara and Mahmoud Darwish. Most of the pieces are short enough to print out and read on the train/plane/boat/bus.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Alfred Kinsey & Gibson-Graham

Let me begin my first contribution to surplus thought by thanking ymm (aka ‘rummenigge’ aka ‘dj plummer’ aka ‘obscene daddy’) for not only launching this platform but also for getting the ball rolling with his obituary on Ecevit (a Turkish Allende who, unlike his Chilean counterpart, survived a military coup –albeit only physically, not ideologically, as ymm duly laments). I think thanks are also in order for Erkan (aka ‘dj eko’ aka ‘that subliminal kid’) for pitching us the idea of a collective blog (though he is yet to become a member himself!). As we are dispersing wider and wider geographically, a virtual meeting place is all the more needed to sustain our community.

Kinsey & Gibson-Graham…To be honest with you, my familiarity with Alfred Kinsey doesn’t go much further than the motion picture of the same name (2004), starring Liam Neeson as the iconoclastic professor. For those philistines among us who may not know about Kinsey even that much, Kinsey is renowned for his groundbreaking studies on human sexuality, which have shattered pretty much all the convictions about ab/normal sexual behavior widely held at the time (late 40s, early 50s) and for that matter, to a large extent, still today. Drawing on the results of thousands of in-depth interviews conducted with people of varying ages, occupations, etc. (not so much of color, though) Kinsey demonstrates that heterosexual, monogamous, reproductive sex is hardly the norm it is believed to be; people engage in all different sorts of sexual practices that don’t fit this norm (masturbation, bisexuality, premarital sex, S&M, paid sex were found to be much more common than was believed to be the case; “erogenous zone” turned out to be applicable to pretty much any part of the body or to put in the scientifically cautious terms of the Kinsey report itself “there is no part of the human body which is not sufficiently sensitive to effect erotic arousal for at least some individuals in the population”; bestiality proved to be very common among men in the countryside, etc.).

It must be obvious by now to this audience where I am going with this: Kinsey is to sexual studies what Gibson-Graham is to economics. In both cases the goal is to undo the hegemonic discourse which conditions us to live in denial of those (sexual & economic) practices that constitute a big chunk of our social existence.

O.K., this analogy—in certain respects, homology—between heteronormativity and capitalocentrism is not news to anyone who knows their Gibson-Graham well. We know Gibson-Graham draw on deconstruction of sexuality (ala Butler) for their explorations of economic difference. That being said, I don’t think this renders redundant the parallels drawn above between Kinsey and Gibson-Graham because what interests me in Kinsey’s studies is not so much the sexuality per se but the etnographic dynamics at play in the research/interview process. I wasn’t a member of the Community Economies Collective (CEC) but from the various accounts of that project I have heard and read over the years, I can say with some confidence that it has very interesting methodological affinities with the Kinsey studies. There is no denying that Kinsey’s was a positivist undertaking whose ultimate goal was to unearth the truth about human sexuality whereas Gibson-Graham define their project as a performative act (which, in Buck-Morss’ eloquent formulation, is “trying to bring about that which one presumes”). But I don’t think Kinsey has to be taken at his own word because performativity is there no matter how Kinsey & Co make sense of their own project. And this is where the movie comes into the picture (no pun intended) because it sheds light on those performative moments of the research that one wouldn’t be able to know about from merely reading the Kinsey reports.

As the movie makes abundantly clear, there is no way Kinsey and his assistants could have come up with the surprising results they did, had they engaged in simple data-gathering (of the census-taking style). For although what was believed to be the norm turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg (of actual human sexual practices), almost all the participants of the research thought otherwise, at least initially. This is why Kinsey and his research team had to come up with creative methods to tease out answers from their “reluctant subjects,” who exhibited strong resistance to acknowledging those parts of their sexual experience that didn’t square with “the norm”. In other words, they were also striving to “bring about that which they presumed”.

This is taking much longer than I thought and I’m afraid it is time for me to go back to the production of “necessary thought” (prospectus, reviews, etc.), but I will try to pick up from where I left off at my earliest convenience. In the meantime, though, I’d be very much interested to hear what you folks have got to say about the topic.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

a tale of two "ecevit"s (in lieu of an obituary)

ecevit was an interesting figure. i used to prefer him to demirel. when i was a little boy, sitting on the floor in the living room and watching the news on the black and white tv with my parents, every night ecevit and demirel would come out and put on something not so different than a laurel and hardy show-at least in my (probably) six years old eyes and imagination.

perhaps because he was distinctly more attractive (thin, young, energetic with dark black hair combed back with a very symbolic moustache-[see right]) than the corporate-looking and well-fed demirel (though weight was not an issue with laurel), i used to prefer ecevit. or perhaps i was already a social democrat populist.

ecevit was a social democrat or, what one would call, a left populist leader. he was, in many senses of the analogy, the lula of turkey. not only he came to power through a leftist platform both in the seventies (and then in the post-coup nineties), but also, like lula in brazil, he capitulated (in his post-coup career) to all the demands of the imf and the world bank.

let me be clear. i am not using the adjective "left populist," like many do, in a pejorative manner. in the seventies, ecevit did bring together a large electoral coalition of progressive forces in turkey. such a leftist and winning electoral coalition has never been produced until then and has not yet been produced since then. in this period, his economic policies were constituted by a combination of social programs and an advanced level of "import-substitution-industrialization" (i.e., the protection of the local industries with the intention of gradually creating backward linkages). of course, an important class-base of this project was the then well-organized urban proletariat. in this period, he also initated a project of social economy, titled people's sector, to construct, cultivate, and support a sector of the economy composed of publicly and cooperatively owned industries, agricultural cooperatives, and small businesses.

but this was all before the coup d'etat of 1980. coup banned both ecevit and demirel from politics and tortured, imprisoned, and (gasp) hanged an entire generation of leftist activists that helped to create the wave that carried ecevit to power in the seventies. after 1980, the military regime/dictatorship swiftly re-structured the economy as well as the polity paving the way for thatcherite turgut ozal (an economist who worked at the imf for awhile in the late 1970s) to privatize, liberalize (finance and trade), and reorient the development strategy from the government-led and labor-capital-accord-centered "import-substitution-industrialization" to the (also) government-led but explicitly pro-business and anti-labor "export-oriented-industrialization."

if ecevit was the hero of the dispossessed in the seventies, his post-coup period is pretty difficult to stomach. he became a bitter divider of the social democratic left and constituted a party of two (with his wife rahsan ecevit) in his democratic left party (which was neither democratic nor left). when he came to power, he did so because he embraced anti-kurdish, nationalist positions and surrendered the economic initative to the control of the imf and the world bank. in fact, in this period, his economics minister was kemal dervis-who also came to turkey after an illustrous carreer at the world bank.

one final anecdotish: before he got into politics full time, ecevit was a poet (perhaps not unlike the poet-politician in kustirica's underground) and an art critic. in the sixties, he established aica-turkey (association internationale des critiques d'art). later on, a couple of years ago, when aica was re-established, the new team acknowledged his initial efforts and honored him in the re-inauguration of the branch of the association in turkey. by then, he was already an ex-prime minister, but beral madra (one of those who re-established the association) notes that he was very affected by being honored on this particular account. perhaps, this was due to the unexpected recognition of an aspect of his life that was long ago a truncated by the ordinary business of politics that he chose to fully engage in.

Monday, November 06, 2006

some matters of logistics

this entry will be continually edited and will address matters of using the blogspot.

1. please familiarize yourself with the technology of blogging.
2. if you would like to update links and cannot figure out how to, let me know.
3. we should think of links we want to be associated with. we should also link ourselves to other blogs and ask them to link us.
4. please use images.
5. don't feel oppressed by the idea of blogging. just blog away. i will edit, if necessary.
6. remember, you can always edit your blog. but don't obsess too much.
7. this is a public blog but we will not experience too much traffic probably.
8. all members are adminstrators. drive responsibly!
9. remember to select update service in the settings. this way you will learn about it when a fellow traveller updates the blog.
10. please, please, please, bookmark the blog and visit frequently.

keep connected!


susan buck-morss spoke about Law beyond/before law as that which constitutes the very frame within which laws are formulated.