Thursday, March 30, 2006

Charitable Capitalism

Slavoj Zizek rejects the beneficent-business ethos promoted by today's (ironically self-annointed) 'liberal communists' who promote the notion that capitalist profitability and private enterprise can support social responsibility and humanitarianism. It's foolish, Zizek argues, to believe that "the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity," because in this equation "charity is part of the game, a humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation." The charitable mask simply provides the capitalists, liberal communists or otherwise, with a means of denying their "complicity in and responsibility for the miserable situation in the Third World."

We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today. All other enemies – religious fundamentalists, terrorists, corrupt and inefficient state bureaucracies – depend on contingent local circumstances. Precisely because they want to resolve all these secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system. It may be necessary to enter into tactical alliances with liberal communists in order to fight racism, sexism and religious obscurantism, but it’s important to remember exactly what they are up to.

Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.

Zizek is probably right about the lie underlying the logic of charitable capitalism (a term that, I think, is less confusing than the silly and misleading 'liberal communism' tag that the Davos gang adapted). It's more or less the same fantasy as 'compassionate conservatism' except that it takes more seriously the notion of corporate responsibility. Compassionate conservatives don't bother trying to reconcile corporate profitability with social responsibility; they simply propose (some sincerely, others cynically) that churches and other traditional charitable institultions, as opposed to the state, assume this role. However, I'm not certain what progressives - particularly those in the U.S., which lacks parliamentary representation and must work within the limits of a winner-takes-all two-party system, are supposed to do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Modernist Representations of Consciousness

Ira, this afternoon I read the introduction to Jed Esty's A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England and came across a passage that struck me as relevant to your research. Esty takes a position on modernist representations of consciousness similar, I think, to the one you make in your dialectical reading of Ulysses. Like you, Esty is interested in the relationship between modernist nativism and what he sees as a 'cultural turn', that is, a literary move away from aesthetic to cultural investments. Esty's book focuses on late modernism, from roughly 1930 to 1960, but even though he reads literature from more of a historical than a philosophical lens, I think you'll find his approach to be informative, particularly as you consider how your project on Joyce links up more generally with recent modernist studies.

Anyway, I should be working with materials directly related to my research, not yours, so I'm putting aside the Esty until you return. For now, here's the quote:

Although I have suggested that the personal/impersonal antinomy of English high modernism reaches a new resolution via the supervening doctrine of anthropological holism, I do not read (as Lukacs does) modernist representations of consciousness as a cosmopolitan indulgence subsequently correctly when the return to national concerns enforces a properly sociohistorical aesthetic. Modernist representations of the subject were always, as Adorno insisted, shaped by (not detached from) specific and objective social conditions. Indeed, a genuinely critical or negative art required (more than ever) the language of subjectivity in order to avoid simply reproducing the real world in a naive attempt at mimetic objectivity or social realism. This Adornean model of 'objective subjectivity' as the key to modernist technique seems to have come under pressure in the midcentury, at least in practice, for English writers like Eliot and Woolf.

Coincidentally, the copy of Adorno's Negative Dialectics you ordered arrived today.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie

Last Monday night, on the eve of our wedding anniversary, Ira and I saw Billy Bragg play live at the Double Door. That night Bragg debuted a new song that he had written earlier that day on the flight from Minneapolis to Chicago. The song was The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie, written about the late peace activist who was killed by an Isreali bulldozer in Gaza. You can read Bragg's remarks about the song and download it on The Guardian.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Douglas Coupland Meets the Moz

Author Douglas Coupland, who named a novel after The Smiths' song "Girlfriend in a Coma", travelled around the world to interview Morrissey but concluded that the eccentric singer was "interview proof." Thus, while Coupland's piece offers a few impressions about Morrissey that he gleaned during their meeting ("he has an almost clinical, Tourette's-like need to blurt out thoughtless things to people, and he's not even aware he's doing it, so when people retaliate, he genuinely has no idea why) Coupland spends much of the essay reflecting on why the interview is an obsolete genre in the age of Google. (On the whole, he's probably right, at least for the celebrity interview.) He advises fans to pay attention to the artwork, not the artist and proceeds to practice what he preaches. The essay concludes with an enthusiastic, if somewhat endearingly amateurish, review of Morrissey's forthcoming album, Ringleader of the Tormented, which, I'll admit, I'm eager to hear. Early reports are that Morrissey is taking his sound in new directions. We'll have to hear...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Paper Shredder: Photo of the Day #74

Time to destroy old credit card statements and other documents that a foolish identity thief might want to steal. Later we put this baby to work and were shredding docs like Fawn Hall (now there's a blast from the past).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Happy Primates: Photo of the Day #71

Ok, technically this is another primate photo from our Lincoln Park Zoo outing yesterday, Sunday, March 13. But there were lots of good shots from Sunday and none from Monday, so there you have it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Coffee-Table Books: Photo of the Day #59

Manifesto Against Religious Totalitarians

A manifesto, originally published in France, and republished here in the Danish gallants-Posten calling "for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all."

Ira sent me a link to the manifesto on thegallants Posten, which she found on the Dagengs Nyeter, Sweden's largest daily newspaper. I was disappointed to learn that the Swedish paper only featured an article about the manifesto and a link to the reviled Danish newspaper. This gesture suggests perhaps that the Swedish editors want to distance themselves from the manifesto by reporting on it rather than endorsing it. In my opinion, they may be assuming the position of what Hegel dubbed the 'Beautiful Soul.' I'm wary of such efforts to position oneself above the frey. Sweden did this in World War II, when they remained neutral. I've heard that the Danes had a saying about this: "Swedes are Germans with a human face."

Lately I've been reading essays written by Salman Rushdie after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwah calling for Rushdie's life. Rushdie's writings which have increased my conviction that Western governments, institutions, publishers, and citizens must defend Enlightenment principles and refuse to cave in to pressure from religious fundamentalists who would reduce or eliminate our civil liberties. One of the most disgusting things that Rushdie writes about is the way Western governments - including the United States and Britain - would issue statements in support of free speech that condemned the Iranian theocrats but then, caving in to corporate pressures, refuse to follow through with the economic sanctions that would show Iran that they didn't want to do business with a totalitarian regime.