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

Sunday, December 24, 2006

(ir)rational numbers

kenan's post '1,2,3...40 and tada!' on performativity somehow reminded me of two curious verses in koran, which amaze and amuse me to no end but since it wasn't much related to the topic i didn't want to post them as comment back then. since this is a 'holy' day, i wanted to share them with you, those two verses of pure holiness without much comment:

11- allah enjoins you concerning your children: the male shall have the equal of the portion of two females; then if they are more than two females, they shall have two-thirds of what the deceased has left, and if there is one, she shall have the half; and as for his parents, each of them shall have the sixth of what he has left if he has a child, but if he has no child and (only) his two parents inherit him, then his mother shall have the third; but if he has brothers, then his mother shall have the sixth after (the payment of) a bequest he may have bequeathed or a debt; your parents and your children, you know not which of them is the nearer to you in usefulness; this is an ordinance from allah: surely allah is knowing, wise.
12 - and you shall have half of what your wives leave if they have no child, but if they have a child, then you shall have a fourth of what they leave after (payment of) any bequest they may have bequeathed or a debt; and they shall have the fourth of what you leave if you have no child, but if you have a child then they shall have the eighth of what you leave after (payment of) a bequest you may have bequeathed or a debt; and if a man or a woman leaves property to be inherited by neither parents nor offspring, and he (or she) has a brother or a sister, then each of them two shall have the sixth, but if they are more than that, they shall be sharers in the third after (payment of) any bequest that may have been bequeathed or a debt that does not harm (others); this is an ordinance from allah: and allah is knowing, forbearing.

and for further examples of this sort of intricate calculations/directions see leviticus in the hebrew bible, especially the section where it prohibits eating the fat on the kidney of a certain animal.

merry christmas.

A commune with a leader?

The following lenghty quote is an epic footnote (No. 112, pp. 373-375) from Jack Amariglio's dissertation Economic History and the Theory of Primitive of Socio-Economic Development (University of Massachusetts, 1984) and it pertains to the theoretical status of the so-called Asiatic Mode of Production (AMoP). For Amariglio, the AMoP is not a distinct mode of production like capitalism, feudalism, etc., but rather a form of the commune. In bringing this footnote 112 to our attention my aim is not to revitalize an old Marxist debate on the theoretical status of AMoP, but rather to address Kenan's comment to my earlier "appropriation" of Fassbinder's remarks on the question of commune and the status of leader in relation the commune. Both Fassbinder and Kenan seems to believe that a commune, perhaps by definition, must be without a leader. Whereas the footnote quoted below articulates a different position. According to Amariglio, it is possible to imagine forms of the commune organized around leaders who are "communally designated" as the appropriators of surplus. [The image, with all due respect to the gap between the text below and the image, is the cover of Leviathan by Abraham Bosse (1602-1676) and the inner quote from Marx is from The Grundrisse.]

The question of whether Asiatic state appropriation is a form of Asiatic communal appropriation (a "primary" appropriation), or whether State "appropriation" is really a "distribution" of communally extracted surplus-labor to the Asiatic State as a subsumed class distributed share [a "tribute"], or whether Asiatic State appropriation is non-communal (perhaps feudal) opens up a wide range of related questions, such as what communal appropriation means, whether or not the Asiatic State may include a fundamental class process, and how communal redistribution takes place. Marx states: "A part of their [the "small" commune's"] surplus-labour belongs to the higher community, which exists ultimately as a person, and this surplus-labour takes the form of tribute, etc., as well as of common labour for the exaltation of the unity, partly of the real despot, partly of the imagined clan-being, the god" (p. 473). On close examination, the questions raised above cannot be resolved by reference to Marx's formulation.

It is possible, for example, for individuals within the Asiatic State to be conceived as occupying one or more subsumed class positions for which they receive in the form of tribute, a distribution of already communally appropriated surplus-labor. But there is a problem in this formulation. For this formulation presupposes a clear distinction, realized in the appropriation of surplus-labor, between the "higher" and "small" community (or commune). However, if the Asiatic commune takes the form of both the "higher" and "small" commune, then the distinction between them is purely formal and/or designed to call attention to their different constitution (overdetermination) as forms of the commune. We cannot call the village communities the "real" commune upon which the "imaginary" (higher) commune exists unless we wish to argue that the "real" commune is not itself ideologically constituted or, rather, that its constitution is natural, organic, and so forth, hence, "objective." What would make the village (here "small") commune less of an ideological representation to the commune members or less culturally bound together than its "higher" manifestation? What could it mean to say that the village community is the "real" appropriator of communal surplus-labor and that the Asiatic State (as higher community) merely receives a distributed share of this real appropriation but does not itself communally appropriate surplus-labor? For us, the village commune is every bit as much an ideological manifestation as is the Asiatic State (since the former is both constituted by and represents itself as a commune through various cultural designations, such as kinship).

As we discuss below, in a crude materialist sense, there is no communal appropriation if what is meant by the commune is not an ideologically constituted social body but, instead, is the group of direct producers, stripped of all cultural designations. The notion of a socially designated group of agents stripped of their cultural determinations is nonsensical. However, this is the confusion that is brought about when appropriation is presented as a purely physical act (what could this mean?) and when the direct propducers are treated as acting individually or as a group of individuals (a most ideological concept) who share only the act of appropriating, hence, as the "real appropriators." For Marx, appropriation is a social process done by socially constituted agents. Therefore, to say that only directly producing agents rather than families, communities, or classes, appropriate surplus-labor is, first, not to comprehend the social constitution of direct producers as appropriators (and as individuals) and, second, to make impossible the conception of appropriation by bodies that comprise non-producing as well as producing agents.

We treat below the Germanic and ancient forms of the commune in terms of communal appropriation despite the "fact" that individual agents (peasants and not the entire families or communities) may be said to "really" "appropriate" surplus-labor. Again this notion of peasant appropriation substitutes the supposedly "objective" observation of the physical act of appropriation by "one-sided" agents for the theorization of the social constitution of the process of appropriation and of the agents who produce and appropriate surplus-labor. That is, if peasants appropriate surplus-labor through membership in the commune (and, therefore, are communally designated as the producers and "immediate appropriators" of surplus-labor), then we treat this appropriation as communal appropriation. Thus, what is often treated as "individual" appropriation, we consider merely a form of communal appropriation, since this appropriation takes place in and through the culturally designated bodies of family, clan, and commune. And, we argue that if we conceive the family, clan, and commune to be comprised of more than the population of abstractly conceived direct producers, then communal appropriation is never reducible to appropriation by these direct producers (but it must include appropriation by communally designated direct producers).

Hence, what is meant by communal appropriation can not be grounded in an appeal to the supposed "real" producers and extractors, as if the relations of these producers to each other, to nature, and to non-producers are not mediated by and through the ideological/cultural processes that comprise the commune. The problem for the Asiatic commune, then, is interpreting the distinction "higher" and "small" community to see whether Asiatic communal appropriation can be attributed to either or both forms of the Asiatic commune. We have chose to treat the Asiatic state as a form of the Asiatic commune, arguing that it participates in the communal appropriation of surplus-labor as subsumed class payments.

Monday, December 18, 2006

No commune without a leader?

This is transcribed from a documentary included among the supplementary matter for the BDR Trilogy (comprising of The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola) DVD Box Set produced by those good people at the Criterion. The title of the documentary is I don't just want you to love me and it is directed by Hans Gunther Pflaum. The following is Fassbinder speaking to and away from the camera, chain smoking, and feeling deeply disturbed by the experience. The picture to the left is him (in a more animated moment) with, of course, Jeanne Moreau.

[NB. The inner quote is from an inserted footage and again it is Fassbinder who speaks and responds to the question: "A commune?" ]

"Working on a film or in a theater, for example, the atmosphere that’s created, the complications, getting to know each other or not getting to know each other—all that may have a lot to do with how I lived as small child. Sure. I can only say, and I’ve said it before, that I prefer that to being fixated on one or two or three people. I’m very glad that I had this strange, non-parental home life.


"There was only the desire, widely held among various people at the time for a group, for a new form of cooperation, and cohabitation, and so on. We tried in our way to put into practice what others had tried in their own way. For a long time we pretended to be a group even when it was clear to us we weren’t one. Perhaps, too, we thought—to return to what you said earlier—if we say again and again that we’re a group, perhaps we’ll become one. But that doesn’t work. Simply saying so doesn’t make it reality.

--It was our goal from the start to become a collective—the kind of collective with which we began the Action Theater. We would produce theater, but above all we would live together.
--A commune?
--Yes, a commune. That was our goal, but it became increasingly apparent that it wasn’t attainable.

"I’d say that I grew up in such a way that I don’t need a leader and don’t need to be one either. I have been around many people who were ultimately looking for a father or a mother, and, well-- Initially, I think I went along with that because I thought it was a transitional phase. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t a transitional phase, that maybe it was just the role I was supposed to play. That’s regrettable, but it’s a social phenomenon that we couldn’t escape, just like everybody else. You would have to start out differently. The education of the individual, or the education we all received would need to be different so that we no longer needed a leader. We aren’t there yet. Our upbringing is different, so we can’t have a group without a leader."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

To wit, Maliha is a "subject in question," as it were (Eglenelim, Ogrenelim)

Kenan: Dear Jamar and Maliha, could either of you please explain to me the use(s) of these two bewildering phrases, "as it were" and "to wit"? Dictionaries are of no use when it comes to such phrases.

Jamar: Asking Maliha to help you in this is like asking a polar bear at the north pole about the best sunscreen to use in the middle of a blizzard. But, anyway, "to wit" is a bit easier. It is used, usually, in place of "in other words" or " the point is. . ." or "namely" or "that is to say." So, you might say "Maliha's brain is like an empty freight train, to wit. . ." In this instance, "to wit" would suggest that you will be explaining further, but essentially repeating, the why and how Maliha's brain is the way it is. So, "to wit" usually implies that the speaker will add to or clarify some point by restating it (but perhaps in a slightly different form).

"As it were" is a stickier expression. It is mostly meaningless verbiage, but it's often used to double or redouble a point. Or, put otherwise, it's used at the end of some statement to simply suggest the "existence" or probable ontological veracity of what you've just said. So, it's short for "as if it were so." It's strange since it also indicates a bit of doubt since when you say "as it were," it implies there's some fragility in what it is you've initially said so you need to restate or "double" it. Sometimes it also indicates a bit of self-reflection or self-consciousness. It's probably closest to the phrase "so to speak."So, one would say, "when you have to listen to Maliha, you realize your mind is lost in a wind tunnel located somewhere in the midst of a typhoon, as it were." The "as it were" phrase is really a throw-away, but it "works" here to suggest that perhaps you've been metaphorizing and you are calling attention to that fact. It both strengthens and weakens the attempt at a metaphor. It strengthens it by indicating a self-consciousness of having used an analogical reference. It weakens by showing that you need to do such indicating (which means that the analogy didn't really stand on its own). Sometimes, "as it were" implies a bit of irony. Perhaps you can see the irony in the sentence about Maliha's mind.I'll see if i can find other ways to explain all of this. It may involve having to dispense with Maliha as the subject in question. To wit, Maliha IS a "subject in question," as it were.

Kenan: Dear Jack, many thanks. I couldn't ask for a better explanation. I've always wanted to catalogue such phrases that are barely communicable across lingual boundaries. Maybe this will be a start. Would you mind me having your message posted on the surplusthought? I am sure native and foreign speakers alike would enjoy and learn from it. I can substitute "Bush" for "Maliha" to save her the humiliation --what a way to save one's dignity!

Maliha: Please Kenan- use his posting with my name in it- I don't mind one bit, and the whole exchange was so hilarious I cried...and- to tell the truth- I really had no idea about "to wit"- so maybe Jack's analogy wasn't so far off...

Kenan: Thanks, guys. Much appreciated. Now that we've cleared these two out of the way, we can turn to other oddities of English like "why" (in the non-question form).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

socio-spatial sublimation

dear lichette lovers,
i am writing a paper on what i call "socio-spatial sublimation"
in the context of labor practices and management in a jamaican
hotel. in a little nutshell, service workers are elevated to the place
of the Thing by management discourses and work to incite the desire
of tourists.

my question:
can anyone direct me to some literature that directly addresses
the relationship between labor and sublimation?

in addition, can we create a message board at surplus thought?

my thanks for bigbadbull for the invite. it is an honor
and pleasure to be part of the collective.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

hear the azaan through Bose speakers!

I begin at the prompting of y...

Hajj is approaching, and perhaps to connect with various family members about to embark on this rite, I watched ‘Le Grand Voyage’ recently. Quite afraid that it might be a horrid repeat of ‘monsieur ibrahim’ which was an all too trite meditation on Islam (mysticism allows us true communion with other humans, with Islam, and with kind-hearted sex workers), I was met by something else.

Firstly, the movie is amazing for the very last thing it does- revealing actual film footage of Hajj in Mecca. This is new, and as many of us know, there has been a continuous tension around images of Mecca. The first images were leaked in 1853 when a non-Muslim British explorer went to Mecca and described his voyage in a diary. And even though photographs have been circulated of kaaba and hajj for quite some time despite the wahhabi prohibition against iconoclasm, the film scenes are imbued with a bit of the taboo.

Secondly, this film takes us by car from the south of France, through Italy, Serbia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, an epic 3,000 miles. Visually, this is quite impressive. The father, Mohammed Majd, enrolls his unwilling 18 year old son Reda to be his driver on this voyage. While within the borders of Europe, it is the son who controls communication with border agents and transportation issues. And after they are swindled in Turkey (aren’t we all though…), the poles of the relation shift. The father is capable of speaking multiple Arabic dialects, and after they hit Jordan, he must explain to fellow hajj travelers that his son was raised in France and only understands Moroccan Arabic. They look on with a puzzled expression at the boy as though he was mentally inferior, and Reda must stand by as they are obviously talking about him.

Such a transformation and relation can be viewed in multiple ways: most English reviews I have seen have fixated upon the ‘traditionality’ of the father, and the clash with his ‘modern’ son who is about to take college entrance exams right as this voyage sets out. For many reviews, Hajj, I assume because of its connection to Islam, is firmly within the domain of tradition, and so any person who wishes to go on this pilgrimage must by extension also be traditional. What this reading denies is the ‘cosmopolitan’ nature of Hajj, both historically and in the contemporary period. Certainly historically speaking, Hajj catapulted Cairo and Damascus into world cities precisely through being the two conventional starting points for Hajj (if you wanted to go on Hajj, you had to go to one of these two starting points for the annual caravan). A Hajjee was seen as cosmopolitan, a savvy negotiator of difficult and multiple travel arrangements through many countries. And in this film, the father recuperates such an image of a Hajjee. Beginning in Turkey, it is the father that seems worldly, as he handles shady money-changers and wily Turks.

I am reminded of Bobby Sayyid’s work on tradition and Khomeini’s discourse: to call Khomeini traditional was wrong he argued, because of all the ways that his discourse deployed modernism, using concepts like ‘the people’ and the ‘state.’ Khomeini’s political theory ‘is not a reiteration of traditional shia thought; rather it is a radical and novel reinterpretation of shia political doctrine…’ This is why sunni wahhabis can reject Khomeini as heretic. Returning to the film, we can use Sayyid to see all the ways that Hajj is changed into a ‘modern’ event even if it looks to be an ‘unchanging’ rite. The design, technology, and logistics going into the planning of housing, sanitation, transportation, and regulation of pilgrims are feats of modernism. In 1982, the government created an industrial meat-processing complex to handle the sacrifice and world-wide distribution of animals by all Hajj participants. Different security forces are charged with moving people through sites (the government website states that with one 9000 security agent force, they can get 1.5 million people through the small site where pebbles are cast at three pillars representing the devil in five hours). The desert sand floor surrounding the kaaba has been excavated and equipped with below-ground air-conditioning for a half mile radius so that pilgrims’ bare feet would not be scorched in summer months. The visas and lottery system by which permission to enter and perform the rite are also regulated by the government through an extensive bureaucracy in Saudi Arabia and sending countries. Zam-zam water is now treated with UV rays and made sterile, escalators in the Medina mosque (expanded to fit one million people at once) have been constructed to carry 15,000 people per hour. Radio networks and sound systems abound to carry the azaan.

Various modernist projects (urban planning, sanitation techniques, transportation systems, industrial housing, airport/bridge/road/tunnel construction, food service, police and security forces, etc.) have transformed the face of hajj. What is fascinating is how much hajj has changed, literally from the ground up, and yet it is depicted and even experienced by the pilgrims themselves as something that has remained totally 'unchanged.' Especially in the twentieth century, the aforementioned projects came into existence because of the greatly increased number of people performing Hajj at once (in 1885, Hajj involved a total of 70,000 pilgrims; last year, the number was at 1.7 million). Continuous technological improvement of Hajj is important at a number of levels: ideologically, the successful regulation and management of Hajj demonstrates the good faith of the Saudi monarchy as privileged protectors of this Islamic rite (lest i depict them in some kind of positive light, I do think the Saudi government uses hajj for every last drop of good public relations). It also is important to increase the limit of people able to perform Hajj simultaneously, to demonstrate that there is no limit, and that as Islam’s adherents grow, there is no need to change this mandatory pillar of Islam. Even if only ten percent of Muslims will ever perform Hajj, it is symbolically important and revising the pillar would meet with opposition.

If I was going to come up with a credit-card-commercialesque motto for the Saudi government, I might suggest: “Hajj: we change, so that you don’t have to.” But this would be an advertising lie, because the pilgrims are of course- changed as well. And more importantly, the government would never want to reveal how much hajj and its context have in fact changed.

INLAND EMPIRE by David Lynch (Updated on July 26, 2007)

Once again we are (and I am assuming the existence of a collective identity, yes) gearing up to that unique experience of watching a new David Lynch movie. My sense is that, from what I am reading in the blogsphere, this is not going to be (not surprisingly) a smooth ride. It is shot on Digital Camera and the subtitle is "A Woman in Trouble". The song on the trailer is written and performed by David Lynch and its called "Ghost of Love". No, unfortunately, it's not available.

On June 26, 2007, I am adding two more clips. The first one is the UK trailer for the movie:

And the second one is a glorious Italian trailer for this movie:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

1, 2, 3...40 and tada!

Is it possible to appropriate “folk wisdom” for high theory? Let’s take a look at an example of folk wisdom as encapsulated in a Turkish proverb: “If you say something 40 times over, it will come about the 41st time” or its more commonly used shortened version “If you say something 40 times over, it will come about”. I could never quite put my finger on it but this saying has always intrigued me. Obviously, there are figures involved, which is always interesting. But the real intrigue of it is that even though at first hearing it sounds very superstitious/religious, at a closer look you can tell it is not necessarily so. It is not praying that you do 40 times over (that would be too truistic even for a proverb); you “say”, “speak”, “utter” something. OK, this might be a more secular interpretation but it doesn’t make much sense, either…Saying something over and over again to bring it about…Sheer discursive repetition inducing a material effect…Hmmm….I think we have a name for that in our circles: performativity.

Seen in this light, the saying in question begins to sound more like Pascal’s motto “even if you don't believe, kneel down and pray, act as if you believe, and the belief will come by itself”, another religious sounding saying which need not be so. The reason why both examples are typically treated as metaphysical injunctions has, in my opinion, less to do with their religious overtones (or contexts as in the latter case) than the denial, obliteration of the materiality of language/discourse. That is, absent an understanding of language/discourse as a sui generis formative force in our universe, it is possible to make sense of these kinds of maxims only in a non-materialist, metaphysical way. With the recognition of the materiality of language, however, comes also the possibility of appropriating such wisdom for materialism. In hindsight, maybe the opening question needs to be rephrased to better capture the purpose of this thought exercise. Is it possible to appropriate ostensibly metaphysical folk wisdom for materialist theory (high or not)? Apparently, it is : )

This is just one example. I’m sure there are many others out there. For example, “evil eye”. Again, on the surface, this is yet another arcane belief in the ability of supernatural powers to bring about something, misfortune in this particular case. Equipped, however, with the conceptual tools of psychoanalysis (e.g. gaze, big Other, etc), it is possible, I believe, to cast evil eye (yes, pun intended) in a materialist light. Anybody want to venture a try?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

ymM's burkas, stoler's european paupers, arendt's barbarity

reading an article by ann stoler a few days ago, i bumped into a short list of prerequisites that dutch colonial government in sumatra set in 1884; to acquire european legal equivalence, one had to be 1-christian, 2-speak and write dutch, 3- have european upbringing and education, and 4-demonstrate a suitability for european society. not that unfamiliar i suppose. stoler says, early in the article, that one shouldn't take the politically constructed dichotomy of colonizer and colonized as given but as an historically shifting pair of social categories that needs to be explained. colonialism is made up of ever-changing rules and regulations, colonial control and profits always secured by constantly readjusting parameters of the colonial elite to delimit those who had access to property and privilege and those who did not.. hannah arendt, too, looks into the global imperialism when she's searching for a 'precedent in western history that might have eased the way for civilized peoples to embrace barbarity', as she puts it. then, one should look at today's barbarity as the continuation of a long process, arguably started with the spaniards' doings in the 'indies' in the 16th century. spanish/dutch/british etc idea of the emerging modern world described the roles each group had in its making, thus, being in the vanguard of setting the racial boundaries and race-thinking, emerged as a party to the state making process, imbuing, along the way, race with very modern and state related confusions: nations and religions, cultures and genes, colors and abilities etc. censuses, maps, museums.. colonialism, according to hannah arendt, required a 'superior caste of bureaucratic rulers who could find a peer wherever the union jack flew'. 'english' had to be a global phenomenon. however, most interestingly, not all the 'englishmen' were equal; they did not share the same possibilities in life. then race thinking also had to obscure these internal divisions; at the same time, though, it had to leave them in place. poor whites (for they too exist) set apart from the rest of the world by trivial biological and other numerous and ever changing set of criteria. how big is that burka to cover up all the sinister obligations of the world?