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

Friday, April 27, 2007

The expansive politics of Azmi Bishara and Emily Jacir

In his recent book-manifesto, Hatred of Democracy, Jacques Rancière refers to citizen's rights as the "rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not." Politics is sparked within the interval of this contradiction as the 'have nots' defy, through political practice, the arbitrary deprivation of the rights that they have. This is at least how I understand Rancière's attempt to politicize the citizenship discourse and recover its radical dimension that is lost in the hands of both its critics and advocates.

The critics' apathy emanates from a certain circular deadlock that they think to inhere in the rights discourse: by its very definition, human rights are the rights of those (or for those) who have no rights. Conceived this way, rights discourse delivers nothing but a mere tautology. On the other hand, the advocates, in regarding the universality of the rights discourse as self-evident, remain oblivious to the internal exclusions that particularize the latter within the citizenship practices.

For Rancière, then, both advocates and critics would obfuscate the site of the political by sidestepping the divisibility of rights. That is, they would overlook the ways in which a new subjectivity could be established through countering the internal exclusions of the rights discourse via holding it accountable to its very pronouncements. Perhaps, it is the bringing into existence of this political site in the context of Israel that gives Azmi Bishara's position its profound uniqueness. (Thanks to entropy, the destroyer and viola swamp for acquainting me with Bishara and the wonderful documentary, I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara by Ariella Azoulay.)

From 1996 until his recent resignation, Bishara has been a member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and the key founder of the political party, the National Democratic Assembly (NDA-Balad), represented by 3 (now 2) seats in the 120 member Knesset. Bishara's controversial position stems from his persistence in pointing out the divorcement of the Israeli citizenship from its declaration, an exercise that violently figures in the denial of citizenship rights to the Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who have them. Rather than advocating for a separate nation-state for the Palestinians, Bishara and his party have insisted on reclaiming what they already have, Israeli citizenship.

In this sense, Bishara's position not only compels the Israeli state to face up to its disavowal of the principles of citizenship, and, hence, the intimate self-annihilation that resides at the core of its identity. It also restores the universalizing aspiration to the principle of citizenship against the process of the latter's privatization and particularization through the formation of ever newer nation-states. It is dire, and, unfortunately, not so surprising, that Zionism's anxious reaction to Bishara's position has been to clamp down on the Arab minority, the "enemy within." His recent resignation and exile come as a result of this increasing assault.


The photograph below by the diaspora/Palestinian artist Emily Jacir is entitled Bank Mirror, Ramallah. I do not know what makes this image so intriguing to me. I cannot but keep looking at it. Maybe, because I have grown so accustomed to associating Palestine with images of beige streets that look like war trenches, a wall-torn stony landscape punctuated with naked dwellings. Does this image remind me that there are actually banks in Palestine, which somehow 'function', that there is a modern urban life in shambles?

Or is this art work captivating because of the way in which it positions itself? That is, the way in which it does not forefront, frame, or try to carve out a space for itself, a separate realm for art, but rather merges with the social field of Palestine, letting itself "disappear" within what it offers: in Susan Buck-Moss' description of public art, "a protective exposure," "a safe place in the public sphere" for the unspeakable truths. In a sense, there is a certain innocence to the image that, in its refusal to deliver the familiar representation of 'the enemy', snatches the enjoyment of the reactionary common sense. After all, the image does not portray an easily identifiable Subject of resistance in revolt, but rather a shattering effect of the occupation that remains ineffable.

But what is this effect, the unspeakable truth within which this art work dissolves? Is the shattered mirror a witness to, an almost perfect reflection of the fact that there is nothing left anymore in Palestine to represent (or representable in some meaningful way), say, apart from its completely destroyed public life and its mutilated past? I want to suggest that what the image disseminates exceeds this realist and desolate insinuation. The image embodies a dimension of desacralizaton, destablization, a process of emptying out fantasies (how would the 'holy lands' of Israel reflect in this mirror? how would a Zionist appear in this mirror?) even though such a desacralizing aspect emerges as an effect of a violence imposed on a population.

Yes, the image does not offer a resolution; it does not guide a way out of the apartheid violence. Yet, the image does not quite close off onto itself; its cracks render palpable the impossibility of making essentializing identity claims on this geography. Maybe, it is the void and the cracks of the Palestine-Israeli social formation that this image moves toward. Elaboration of the politics of void, which, in part, is inspired by xurban collective's reconceptualization of art as archeology, is left for other surplus thoughts.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iraq oil and its colonial pre-history

I remembered some years ago talking in class about the US-led plans of privatization in Iraq at the beginning of the Occupation. From what I recall, Bremer even had a timeline for selling off the state-owned oil firm. At the time, it was roundly criticized by neighboring countries (surprise, surprise), and i think the plan was indefinitely delayed. Does anyone know any more about this? I tried looking this up, and there is so little I could find, that I am starting to wonder if I didn't make it all up.

It is worthwhile to use this inquiry by maliha to step back and recall the colonial pre-history of the regime of extraction of oil in Iraq. The story goes all the way back to a late Ottoman entrepreneur Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian who established the Turkish Petroleum Company in 1912 as a consortium of the European oil companies (Royal Dutch, British Shell, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, etc.) for the exploration and the extraction of oil in the Ottoman territories of Iraq. Gulbenkian, since he always retained a five percent of the shares of the oil concessions he organized, was also known as "Mr. Five Per Cent".

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the British took control of the Iraqi territories and in 1929 the Turkish Petroleum Company became the Iraq Petroleum Company. The largest shareholder of the consortium, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company will later (in 1954) change its name to British Petroleum. IPC maintained his monopoly position until 1961 when General Abd al-Karim Qasim nationalized almost all the concession areas in Iraq.

In a recent analysis published in ZNet, Munir Chalabi argues that the new oil law is "the old concessionary model in a new guise" giving all sorts of privileges to International Oil Companies and thereby marginalizing the role of Iraqi National Oil Company.

In the past two weeks, there were a number of protests around the world against International Oil Companies (e.g., against BP in UK and against Chevron in SF) warning them to keep their hands off the Iraqi oil. Indybay.org summarizes the current situation with respect to the new oil law:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsed the draft law February 26, it was approved by the Iraqi cabinet in March, and the law is waiting for a vote in the Iraqi Parliament.

Without doubt, this does not substitute for a comprehensive analysis of the situation. Yet it is useful to keep this historical perspective in mind when trying to make sense of the current reconfiguration of the regime of appropriation and extraction of Iraqi oil.

Saint ymM

Thursday, April 12, 2007

this man from poland wearing strange glasses

In lieu of a significant post on David Lynch, and the future (and/or death) of cinema...this is what is on offer:

"A great unified field."

It is only the transcendental meditation of David Lynch that makes me not believe in him being the greatest filmmaker of all time.

Follow this link to hear more from Lynch himself:

His utter conviction in the unity of all ideas (or "big fish" as he likes to call them) should disturb us all. But fear not. David Lynch, like all of us, has an unconscious. He knows not what he does.

Lynch on Texture:

Lynch on Digital Video:

Lynch on the death of film:

*Note: all audio files are taken from David Lynch's book "Catching the Big Fish"

More commentary to follow...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A non-all David Lynch

Unfortunately, perhaps due to the general difficulty in accessing to a screening of Inland Empire, the contributors of this list were not able to engage in a conversation on Lynch's latest installment of his post-noir non-all cinema. In any case, from its use of digital camera to its commerically suicidal 3hrs long non-narrative "plot", the movie is a big "fuck you" to the Hollywood system. Well, let's now pay attention to what Lynch himself thinks about the commericalization of cinema:

[Many thanks to Jared who brought this clip to my attention.]

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