Thursday, 18 March 2010

We Are an Image From the Future
Potentiality of Storming Heaven

We Are an Image From the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008

Greece: Potentiality of Storming Heaven

A 28 minutes short movie-presentation of the insurrection of December 2008 in Greece through the words and actions of people that took part in it. The video was created in Thessaloniki in January 2009 and its first presentation took place before an open discussion-review of the insurrection in the squatted public library of Ano Poli.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Paradise Built in Hell

While I'm on a derridata roll, reminds me of how prescient you were in your email from way back in January, concerning Rebecca Solnit. I see Contexts Crawler just catching up, when they refer to a piece in the Chicago Tribune to help determine whether disasters make people behave altruistically or not. Mhuthnance, you'll be interested in this too, as someone who has studied Disaster Management, and I think the same for you ahuthnance. True, Burroughs' description of the man on the Titanic who disguised himself with women's clothing, so he could get a place on a lifeboat, will long be remembered as setting the standard of how to "measure infamy and shame". But such conduct is not necessarily representative of the associations formed in critical situations:

Natural and man-made disasters can be utopias that showcase human solidarity and point the way to a freer society, according this stimulating contrarian study. Solnit (River of Shadows) reproves civil defense planners, media alarmists and Hollywood directors who insist that disasters produce terrified mobs prone to looting, murder and cannibalism unless controlled by armed force and government expertise. Surveying disasters from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, she shows that the typical response to calamity is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid, with neighbors and strangers calmly rescuing, feeding and housing each other. Indeed, the main problem in such emergencies, she contends, is the elite panic of officials who clamp down with National Guardsmen and stifling regulations.

Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster- whether manmade or natural-people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? What makes the newfound communities and purpose many find in the ruins and crises after disaster so joyous? And what does this joy reveal about ordinarily unmet social desires and possibilities?

Solnit explores these phenomena, looking at major calamities from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco through the 1917 explosion that tore up Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She examines how disaster throws people into a temporary utopia of changed states of mind and social possibilities, as well as looking at the cost of the widespread myths and rarer real cases of social deterioration during crisis. This is a timely and important book from an acclaimed author whose work consistently locates unseen patterns and meanings in broad cultural histories.

How Yale Destroyed New Haven's Economy

I'm not usually inclined to reproduce personal correspondence on this blog, but this is fully deserving of as wide a dissemination as possible. It is scandalous, and confirms everything in Will Teach for Food, as well as a whole lot more. Big thanks to derridata here:

"I discovered this while listening to a talk given by Rick Wolff (Capitalism Hits the Fan). When Rick publicised this, Glenn Beck invited him on his radio show. Yes, Glenn Beck invited a Marxian academic on his show to discuss Yale's historical tax exemption and the destructive results this has had on New Haven, now one of the poorest cities in the US. And Glenn Beck agreed with everything Rick had to say on the matter".

In 2005, Yale enjoyed a tax-free endowment of just over $15 billion after a 22.3% return on its investments in 2004. (Among universities, only Harvard has a larger endowment, at nearly $26 billion.) Yale alumni created the core of the endowment in good part because gifts to universities are a tax write-off. The endowment grows rapidly in large part because the capital gains on its in-and-out stock trades are not taxed (Stein, 2005). (The fact that Yale has the enormous sums to take advantage of company takeovers and private buy-outs arranged by billionaire capital funds also helps). So the university benefits in two ways from its tax-free status, but only in the 1990s did it get around to giving $2-$3 million each year in "voluntary contributions" to the city for fire services, a figure that rose to $4.18 million in 2004. (For a January 2008 update by a New York Times reporter on the growing dominance of Yale in New Haven, click here.)

The argument about New Haven in the 1950s, a city seen at the time as evidence for the great future made possible by urban renewal, is especially poignant in terms of how things turned out there. It is now one of the poorest cities in the United States. Yale and its faculty members are islands of increasing privilege and isolation in a sea of misery. Here's how a reporter for The Observer of Manchester, England, started a story on the city

in 2002:

The north wind cuts cold and sudden across the historic green of New Haven. It blows through the "tent city" where the homeless huddle. And it blows round the spires and quadrangles of Yale University, one of America's richest Ivy League colleges.

The contrast is stark: Charlene Johnson, three months pregnant, emerges from her bivouac, worrying about the winter that lies between her and her due date. And all around are Yale's stone walls, elegant colonial churches and smart people walking past boutiques and coffee shops, carrying their course books.

"You know what's underneath you?" challenges Rod Cleary, who was released from prison in Los Angeles after a conviction for gang fighting, found but lost a job in New Haven, and has now been evicted. "I'll tell ya: bones. This green was a cemetery once; you're sitting on a pauper's grave. And, man, that's what it's going to be again if we ain't careful."

The contrast this reporter draws between Yale and the poor is more than poetic. Although few Yalies can bring themselves to believe it, Yale contributes significantly to the basic problems caused by deindustrialization. It started taking a large amount of prime downtown land off the tax roles in the 1920s and 1930s while refusing to give any compensation, just at the time when New Haven was starting to decline as a manufacturing center. In addition, it always has paid dirt-cheap wages to its thousands of staff employees, leading to strikes and tensions in the last few decades. Peter Dobkin Hall, a historian who taught at Yale for many years, and now teaches at Harvard, wrote a detailed account in 2003 for the Yale Daily News on "How Yale Destroyed New Haven's Economy".

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Academic Rumspringa, Peer Review as Holy Scripture

There are a raft of issues to be dealt with here.

But firstly, give 'em enough rope and they hang themselves: what I posted about Slavoj Zizek in "Britney Is Cheaper" is pretty much confirmed in The Truth of Zizek, edited by Bowman and Stamp. I was amused by the irony in Simon Critchtley's contribution, which recounts how Zizek accused him of being an academic Rumspringa:

"the Amish practice of letting their children run wild for a couple of years of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll with the 'English' before either deciding to return to their community or preferring not to. Basically, Zizek accuses me of...[engaging] in a series of hysterical political provocations based on the dim memory of some radical past."

I regard Jeremy Valentine as doing a better job than Critchley of fleshing out the implications of this characterisation for Zizek himself. Gilbert makes specific mention of how Zizek does not take cognizance of the institutional and commercial forces that act upon him and make his interventions possible. Think of my Britney comparison then, when Gilbert writes:

"What we see here is simply the logic of celebrity culture and deep commodification extended to the field of 'intellectual' publishing, and it is virtually a truism today to acknowledge that celebrity is one of the most striking manifestations of the commodifying and individualizing logics of neoliberal capitalism".

In other words, Zizek is no social epistemologist, and, as Gilbert convincingly demonstrates, a dubious Marxist to boot. These are serious charges, so one might expect a vigorous self-defence to be launched in reply. Sadly, the reply could most charitably be described as a philosophical minotaur: a mythological creature, pale and only half formed. Zizek's strategy is to argue that he simply has no institutional power. He claims there are no academic departments dominated by Lacanians, as proof of his marginalization, and that he gives public lectures because, "this is all I have". But would Zizek be able to retain tenureship if he did not have such an extensive publication output as well, what with auditing culture being what it is? And wouldn't his celebrity status ensure that the teaching component of his tenureship would virtuallly give him a rubber stamp to teach whatever (and probably whenever) he wanted, because enrolments in his courses would far surpass that of the average journeyman academic? Surely such relative privileges would more than compensate for any "marginalization" Zizek may have felt when, according to him, his letters of recommendation did not lead to candidates winning academic jobs? Why not square up to the specific charges about publication and celebrity status, rather than just ducking and weaving all the time?

Because no straight answer is forthcoming, I can only conclude that the answers are so unsatisfactory because these kinds of people are simply unprepared for this line of questioning. But why should I expect anything different? Afterall, when you are habitutated to operating in a bubble you probably won't change too much. Recidivism rates will remain high for such serial offenders because there is little incentive to do anything else as you are so totally institutionalised you cannot openly acknowledge the forms of "structuration" at work in academia i.e. it both enables and constrains your actions. Donna Haraway is someone who could see through the kind of imposture Zizek embodies, when she warned of the danger of adopting the "God trick", to see everything from nowhere- what could also be described as omniscience.

With Haraway still ringing in my ears, let me be perfectly clear then about where I'm coming from. I'm not in the business of peddling academic gossip. What I've said about Zizek is meant to have nothing to do with anything that trivial. I'd also distinguish it from Furedi's argument concerning how peer review is infused with vested interests. For Furedi, this is pretty much unavoidable, but he claims it need not always invalidate holding authors accountable to an objective standard of scientific evidence. He maintains that this accountability can even come from "the grey literature", ie. what is published outside of the official channels of peer review. What appears then as a democratisation of [extended] peer review though, founders on an unfortunate reliance on the sanctity of objective scientific evidence as the gold standard to measure intrinsic worth. In practice, what this means is that Furedi is unwilling to accept any 'vested interest' that equates to 'advocacy science', wherein research is politicised and moralised, on behalf of a greater cause than the individualised careerist advancement that can routinely manifest in the procedures of peer review.

It's not difficult to see though that Furedi isn't throwing a very long lifeline to scientists, who, need I remind anybody, also comprise the general public. Furedi's goal appears laudable at first glance: peer review should not be used as a form of Holy Writ to prevent the public from raising concerns about, for example, climate science. But wouldn't these concerns be raised in the name of some other standard of the moralisation and politicisation of science anyway? For example, people living in the communities that could be affected by the implementation of scientific policy, could, quite rightly, demand a greater say in how the science should be used in an everyday context. So, it's the inclusiveness of peer review that needs to be extended, and this does not require placing a moratorium on social epistemological concerns.

Speaking personally, whenever I listen to an anarcho primitivist such as John Zerzan, I don't even really need to be a climate science sceptic to know why I find his beliefs so repellant. I've already got ideas from my sociological studies about why everyday life in the form of communitarianism he advocates would quickly become unbearable. I was reading Richard Sennett before I'd even heard of climate change. Moreover, writing as a sociologist, Furedi should have no trouble acknowledging this either. Just look at the mission statement of Spiked:

"spiked is an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms. spiked is endorsed by free-thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx, and hated by the narrow-minded such as Torquemada and Stalin. Or it would be, if they were lucky enough to be around to read it".

So it seems the definition of a "free thinker" certainly need not entail any exclusive reliance on the scientific method. If the challenge is to escape the dangers of academic rumspringa and peer review as holy writ, those who have sensed Steve Fuller waiting in the wings, can feel relieved that I can now bring him to centre stage. His record speaks for itself, as it is clear he would find common cause with Spiked in principle. To escape the twin dangers I've been discussing though, he would also insist, as a social epistemologist, on reading together the "two Karls": Marx and Popper. Indeed, mentioning Fuller at this point provides a convenient way of bringing this post full circle. Back in 2000, he was interviewed in the journal Configurations (8/3/pp389-417), and had this to say about the choice of research problems for many academics. Permit me to drop this science on you. It is a description of how many folks follow the path of least resistance, which reminds us that Zizek et al are symptomatic of a general, institutionalised character type:

CMA: To what extent, if any, are research problems dependent on the researcher's interest profile, taken in a psychological sense?

SF: You know, I'm a very funny kind of academic, because I don't have a very high opinion of academics as a group of people. My impression of academics is that they basically stick with what works. Let's say you're a graduate student and you spend a certain time working on a thesis. (This is so true in the United States, where people end up taking their thesis and making it into the basis, the methodological basis, for what they do subsequently.) They do this thesis, they've got this method, they manage to publish a few articles that get them some initial visibility in the field, and then they say: "Well, gee, people seem to like this. Let me see how many different ways can I do the same thing for the rest of my life."

CMA: So we are back to B. F. Skinner?

SF: I really think old B. F. is underestimated. The guy had some ideas, though he wouldn't call them that! He had some good conditioned responses, I should say. But in any case, his take on things is largely true--and so disappointing.

CMA: But is there something more to it than just positive feedback, so to speak, or reinforcement? Some motive or motivational structure of belief?

SF: I've always found it very hard to figure out why people go into academics. I don't actually think many people go into it because they've got an idea that they want to promote. If you were a naive observer on the scene, you might think that was the reason people would go into academics. But my experience with students and colleagues, even the very bright ones, is that that's not really what they are about. Once they find something that works, they simply stick with it. They like the environment or the lifestyle or something about academic life. Then they ask, "What do I need to do to be recognized as one of these people?" Thus, I find a lot of academics are almost pathologically interested in having other people in their fields respecting them. There's such a great deal of concern about that it ends up really influencing the problems they choose, etc. Of course, even ambitious people will always think certain "respected" characters are idiots, and they wouldn't want to please them for anything in the world. Nevertheless, it never ceases to amaze me how often academic discourse will revolve around: "Well, you know, X was in the audience at my latest talk and, you know, he asked me a very pleasant question and I think he likes me . . ." I don't think this way myself, but I think most people think this way and that's why they end up working on the kinds of topics that they do. It's not because they come in wanting to work on the topics, or anything like that.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Ammer Einheit - Deutsche Krieger

Aside from his work with German industrial noise pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten, F.M. Einheit has created a series of intriguing side projects in recent years. Deutsche Krieger is Einheit's third collaboration with Andreas Ammer; like their second project together -- Radio Inferno, Deutsche Krieger, too, has been released on the Chicago-based Invisible label.

Deutsche Krieger is an epic exploration of 20th. century German history through sound. Ammer and Einheit has excavated the German audio libraries for sound recordings of Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, Ulrike Meinhof, Goebbels, Kohl, Baader and dozens of other historical personalities. Samples of these people's words have been integrated into Ammer and Einheit's compositions. Centered around the three greatest periods of German crises of this century, the work has been divided into three distinct parts entitled: I. Kaiser Wilhelm Overdrive; II. Adolf Hitler Enterprise; and III. Ulrike Meinhof Paradise. At turns comical and chilling, this aural voyage through the past is at every turn fascinating.
Opening with the first few bars of Beethoven's fifth symphony, the CD immediately embarks on Kaiser Wilhelm Overdrive. The crackling of the old 78 rpm vinyl sources has been retained by Ammer and Einheit. The initial phrases by the Kaiser are rather ludicrous at this distance, and they have been underscored by a whimsical keyboard soundtrack. Later, as the samples become more vulgar in their viciousness, the underlying music also grows darker and more foreboding in mood.
Adolf Hitler Enterprise takes the listener through the drama of Hitler's rise to power and the second world war. This segment is richer in different sounds and voice samples than the former. The voices of various Nazi radio announcers, Hitler's political speeches, fragments of classical music, and the sounds of chaos and war are all weaved together with Ammer and Einheit's synth loops, which in turn makes extensive use of Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express." This segment ends with an imaginary burial ceremony for the German Fuhrer. The radio footage sounds authentic enough, and this passage is one of the most interesting on the CD, as it plays with the manipulative nature of the radio medium.
The third and final segment of the CD concerns the scandal surrounding Ulrike Meinhof, who allegedly supported and protected the members of the German Baader terrorist organization. To fit the period of the early 1970s, Ammer and Einheit creates a theme that utilizes not only funky disco rhythms, but also elements of Beethoven's fifth symphony, along with their own synth and percussion loops. The segment is again rich on media samples, and especially the extensive excerpts sampled from Ulrike Meinhof's defense speeches, in which she declares Germany a police state, are very powerful.
Ammer and Einheit's project is difficult to do justice in words. Deutsche Krieger is an extremely powerful work, the like of which has never (to my knowledge) been done before -- except for the musicians' own Radio Inferno, which did follow a similar design. While it is hardly a CD that one plays for its catchy dance grooves, it is a fascinating aural history book suited for careful and engaged listening.

Reviewed by Michael C. Lund (Last

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Big Shiny Prison, Metal Jew, Heavy Metal Islam

If that image doesn't grab your attention, then nothing will......

I came across it on the Metal Jew blog (where there's a link for a free download) in the course of following up some resources on cultural sociology and popular music. I regard cultural sociology as an alternative to the garden variety Zizekianism that tends to dominate the cultural studies influenced parts of the blogosphere, as well as the sociology of culture (my earlier post on Janet Wolff clarified some of the important differences). Other than Metal Jew, one can read Andy Bennett's (Griffith University) position paper to see what is involved, and then - for example- try to read Heavy Metal Islam according to Bennett's strategy (I suggest this supplement because it's rumoured something went awry during publication in HMI, which led to a watering down of the theoretical focus; so as it currently stands, it could probably be compared to a kaleidoscope- many entrancing shapes and colours that somehow never seem to align). Not sure when the related film might materialise though:

Metal Jew also makes some interesting observations about Burzum's new album, with which I concur. I'd adopt a similar justification for my taste in Death In June, Blood Axis, Boyd Rice et al- which otherwise make for strange bedfellows with the Afrofuturism I also enjoy.

Thanks to book editing commitments over the last fortnight I now have such severe RSI that I can barely type. I've since been avoiding the computer like the plague, but still hope to check in again before too long.