The Urbanities Annex

My surplus blogging energies have recently been displaced to a new cite set up in conjunction with the right honorable Craig Epplin:  the Urbanities Annex. The Annex (or as I like to call it, the Urbanity Xanax) grew out of the “desk” Craig and I oversee on the “Feedback” blog of the Open Humanities Press. While OHP Feedback works out a few timing issues, Craig and I have opened the Annex in order to maintain our conversations on theory, space, poetics and architecture at a clip pace. We hope that this will help fertilize OHP Feedback and our own critical trajectory, since we’d like to establish cross-over between the two.

In the meantime, pop over to the Annex (and/or pop a Xanax) and check out some recent musings on “soft architecture,” global structure, Deleuze and Rubén Darío. Rad.

Eucalyptus music

I’ve been reading too much Macedonio lately, Museo de la novela de la Eterna to be exact, and this has added immensely to my already elevated delirium of daily existence.  Meanwhile it has suddenly become apparent to the civil society of this Great Nation that the Order of Wearers of Flags and Religious Symbols have, in fact, spent several years living in a fictional narrative world in which the End of the World has been initiated by allowing Sick-Child to see a doctor. And even though this novel has been exposed as precisely what it says it is, a novel, the Order of Wearers of Flags and Religious Symbols continue to insist that they must re-baptize the President for what he is not, the False Prophet.  Because in reality, the President is not a False Prophet, but President False False Prophet, or False President Falseprophet.

So I ask you:  To whom would you prefer to listen in this situation:  Macedonio Fernández or Ted Cruz?  The answer to those of you old enough to have watched Bill Murray in the 70s is obvious: Ricardo Montalbán.

Then this passage calls out to me from the ether, first in Spanish then English translation:

A la mañana a siguiente, muy oscura, batiendo el viento y la lluvia la casa, partieron casi todos casi sin verse, y antes que todos, la Eterna.  Los que se hubieran sentido tan abrigados y felices en la casa envuelta en eucaliptus que le daban paz y cuya música de tempestad fuera tan placentero escuchar en esa paz, debían todos alejarse, marchar separados, aún la pareja que tuviera trayecto común, ni debían quedarse guarecidos donde hallaran amparo. La orden cruda era: separarse al partir, aunque para las cosas espirituales que se le habían encomendado ningún rumbo ni el partir fueran necesarios.

And now from Margaret Schwartz’s translation from Open Letter Press (2010), for the sake of my Spanish-impaired readership:

The next morning they all left, with scarcely a chance to see each other.  It was very dark, and the wind and rain were beating on the house. Eterna left first of all.  They all had to leave, walking alone, those who had felt so happy and comfortable in the house surrounded by peaceful eucalyptus trees whose music, in the storm, was so pleasant to listen to.  Even a couple traveling in the same direction could not go together, nor could they remain in the shelter of the estancia.  The basic routine was this: each one separates upon leaving, even spiritual things that had been commissioned by nothing in particular and did not necessarily have to leave.

The essential riddle of October 2013 is this:  If a Democrat wins an election in November, and a Republican loses an election in November, can they avoid civil war? Or in other words, if a Democrat boards a plane in Illinois for Washington DC at 12:01pm and a Republican boards a plane in Texas for DC at 12:09pm, will they meet in time… in time for what? Their ranches are gerrymandered, they don’t live in the same space, and their respective jets do not travel at the same velocity. Each one separates upon leaving, living in a separate time and separate space, as the eucalyptus in the storm yields music at its own pace, its own rhythm. They are eternal these politicians, these trees.

This is a problem to be solved: The crude order of things. The answer to this problem is not Ricardo Montalbán, though He will come again in his own good time. The answer is… the plane, the plane.

Could it be that Graham Harman not read Macedonio yet?  That would be remarkable.

Circuits of Return

I swore to myself years ago that I would never write about music. At the time, I had started a project on some Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil I think, and after about a month of it I realized that I couldn’t stand to listen to Gilberto Gil anymore and this made me quite sad. Around that time, I had also been writing a blog, Jazz du Terroir (now defunct but still available to view here), built on a great concept: pair jazz albums to bottles of wine, a kind of blue sommelier if you just caught that reference. Unfortunately the more I got into it the less I listened to jazz for jazz’s sake and the less I drank wine for wine’s sake. On the back of my mind was always the blog, how am I going to write about this, how am I going to write about that. Is this Daou ’09 worthy of Coltrane or is it something of a lesser order, a Jimmy Heath or a Cedar Walton, great but not GREAT? I had submitted to the sovereignty of sign, when all I had to do, really, was pop open a bottle, put on Interstellar Space and live free. The whole concept had to be relegated to a state of coma lest I both the jazz and wine go braindead. One thing or another had to be induced into coma, that is, and I chose to let the good stuff live, free of whatever I or anyone else chose to signify or symbolize about it.

Lately the music-writing bug has been coming back. (Return of the repressed!) Mainly this has to do with my growing obsession for Luis Alberto Spinetta, which I have yet to explain to myself. (Return of the repressed! Or as Clarice might have written in Hora da estrela… BANG!) The uncanny thing about Spinetta for me is that his sound, particularly from the 1970s, goes straight back to the progressive rock and hard rock I grew up on, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Yes, a dose of Bowie, maybe a hint of Rush. Yet I have absolutely no nostalgic connection to Spinetta whatsoever. (BANG!) And it doesn’t sound at all the same as the music I grew up on. (BANG! BANG! BANG!) It’s progrock, but progressed into a whole other idiom.

I have the sneaking suspicion that rock nacional is a perfectly natural circuit of return, musically speaking. The introduction of rock into Brazil, for instance, was somewhat forced. I like Roberto Carlos and the Jovem Guarda and all, but let’s face up to its derivativeness. Early Roberto Carlos is derivative of US music, his critics were right; and they were wrong, too, because Roberto Carlos is derivative, wonderfully, soulfully derivative. The Tropicália was also forced in terms of its incorporation of rock; the beauty of Tropicália is that the rock clashes so sharply with national or local rhythms. I daresay that it’s not until Chico Science arrives that Brazilian rock seems at home with itself. Not so with rock nacional. It’s almost as if blues and tango come from the exact same source, such that the introduction of US rock to Argentina in the 1960s was more of a re-introduction than an importation. The bandoleón on Spinetta’s mid-70s albums with Invisible is perfectly at home there. Major Tom was floating in space, but Capitán Beto was floating above Buenos Aires. Tell my wife I love River Plate… she knows!

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post, which isn’t Spinetta or Capitán Beto, but Zbigniew. There is such a natural elegance to Namyslowski’s Kujawiak Goes Funky, that is at once surprising and perfectly simple to explain. The album takes jazz fusion and fuses it back with the roots of jazz (one of its roots, at least) in klezmer and central European folk forms. You could do the same with tango and milonga. As if we had almost forgotten that dialogue (sometimes argument, sometimes war strategy) that began once people started flooding into cities (New York City, Buenos Aires), whether on trans-Atlantic boats or on their bare feet.

All these words to say (BANG!)… why don’t we just STFU and listen…

Canine Structure

I recently re-read Jakobson’s “Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” for my graduate seminar. This is one of those intro to theory and methodology courses required for first-year students, which causes you to re-read items you haven’t re-read since the times (probably first-year graduate school) you thought they were particularly important to re-read. I’ve always had an affinity for Jakobson, and once upon a time I actually cited the aphasia essay in an article I wrote comparing Brasília and LA. By this point, though, today I mean, I’d rather sit down with him, Roman Jakobson that is, open a bottle of vodka and chat for a while, rather than analyze his structuralism yet again. Either way, I render Jakobson aphasic:  in the former hypothetical case, Jakobson would be unable to replicate himself as “Jakobson” within another object, another theory, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”  In the latter hypothetical case, some “Jakobson,” far-away and now dead, only speaks to us only by means of a disembodied object, some disembodied article of theory, and we can call this the “continuity disorder.”

But this is not my point here. In between blog-posts, and truth be told, in between everything I do, I spend time with my dogs. And truth be told again, I really do whatever it is I do in between spending time with my dogs and not the other way around. And I’ll leave it for you to figure out how this last reversal of predicates works, before I start telling any more truths again.

The younger of the two, Teo (full name: Teofil Woloszynski-Read), has an unusual affinity for items of clothing, an affinity bordering on a fetish. He’s just barely old enough to be left alone when I’m out of the house. He no longer chews things up, he is certainly house-trained, and though he’s exceedingly happy when I come home, he does not appear to suffer any separation anxiety when I’m gone. He will, however, latch on to any piece of clothing he can find. Socks are his favorite. If he finds his way into my dressing room, or into the dirty-clothes hamper in the bathroom, he’ll snatch a pair with incredible speed and stealth. Oftentimes when I’m cleaning, I’ll find pairs of socks in some strange corner of the kitchen, lodged between the refrigerator and the cabinet, or in the living room behind one of the stereo speakers. We can call this misplacement of socks the “continuity disorder.” And other times, I’ll grab one sock to wear, but I can’t find the other. Indeed, the number of socks that have lost their twins over the past year since I’ve had Teo is alarming. I almost have as many singles as I do doubles, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”

Teo steals to feed his fetish, but he is a careful thief indeed. He doesn’t chew on socks or sandals or shoes — his fetish tends toward the lower extremities rather than the torso or head. He doesn’t gnaw on them or put holes in them. He usually just keeps whatever it is he’s purloined on his front paws, holding it close to his snout while he sleeps. Recently — and this is odd — he’s taken to stealing a terry-cloth glove I keep by the sliding door leading to the backyard. The glove was designed specifically for rubbing dirty paws, cleaning the mud off of them when the pups come back inside, before they can track mud all over the house. They track mud and dirt all over the house anyway, but this glove is rather ingenious. The glove has six-fingers. And while you might think that this was thoughtful of the manufacturer, taking into consideration those consumers with genetic abnormalities, you would be wrong. The glove has two opposable thumbs, thus discounting your theory of genetic abnormality, since our six-fingered fellow humans typically have an extra pinky, but never an extra thumb. Everyone knows this to be true. In fact, thanks to the wonders of global capitalism, I can now go online and shop around hundreds of stores for the cheapest price on a piece of towel (80% polyester, 20% polyamide) assembled in Korea and cut-and-sewn into the shape of a mutant six-fingered and two-thumbed hand. Two thumbs so that it can be worn on either hand, wear it on the right leaving the rightmost thumb empty or flipping it over onto the left hand leaving the leftmost thumb empty, left or right, right or left, and left or right again, capitalism at its ambidextrous and bisexual best. We could call this disorder the “commodity fetish,” but I am writing here about Roman Jakobson and not Karl Marx — a Russian and not a German or a Korean.  Although technically, Teo is a German shorthaired pointer with a Polish name.

Teo has taken to this mutant glove like a mutant to a mutant glove. He’ll fish it out of the little basket that I fill with old towels and rags in my vainglorious/quixotic quest to prevent mud and dirt from entering the house. But Teo — and this odd — never pulls out any of the old towels or rags, just the mutant glove. You see, Teo needs something that has been physically connected to my body. It seems to give him comfort during those times he can’t actually sniff my body directly. We can call this the “continuity disorder.” Or perhaps the “similarity disorder.” It’s so hard to keep those two apart in my mind.

My older dog, Ziggy (full name: Zygmunt Woloszynski-Read), has several other disorders that could be named, too. He’s a dog, after all, and part of canine being is being disorderly. One need only look at the numerous muddy paw prints all over my floors to bear witness to this supreme fact. But no need to start diagnosing Ziggy now and naming all his disorders. After all, this is a blog-post about Roman. Not Lacan.

Invisible

Dear Blog of Mine,

I haven’t been attending to you and writing about my work lately, since I’ve just been doing my work. But the least I could do for you, dear blog, is tell you what I’ve listening to while writing.  Today is the amazing eponymous first album by Invisible from 1975, featuring Machi Rufino on bass, Pomo Lorenzo on drums, and of course, Luis Alberto Spinetta on everything else. Definitely “on” everything else.

Enjoy. At very loud volumes, please.

Yours,

Imageflood

The Non-Event

In my last post I argued that the recent protests in Brazil should not be dismissed as mere spectacle, as reducible to a spontaneous affective disorder of transitory anger or festivity. They are not Carnavalesque. Rather, no matter how long they last, they have already succeeded in politicizing space, creating new places of political activity in Brazil. I would further argue that the kind of political arena that has been created is relatively new. It is a physical manifestation of network power — the hybrid formation of affective social networks between subjects and their networking machines. This yields non-subjectivity: a political object (with demands!) that fills the street and cannot be pushed around.

Today we have news that this political objectives has achieved some measure of success in having its demands redressed.  As reported in the Washington Post:

President Dilma Rousseff proposed a wide range of actions to reform Brazil’s political system, fight corruption and improve public services — all demands angrily asked for by the millions of protesters who’ve taken to the streets the past week.

In a meeting Monday with four leaders of a main group behind the protest movement and later with governors and the mayors of 26 capital cities, Rousseff shifted some of the burden for progress onto the back of Brazil’s widely loathed congress — in particular, in calling for a plebiscite on political reform that only lawmakers have the authority to call.

Rousseff told the governors and mayors that the government would allocate $23 billion for new spending on urban public transport, but she didn’t provide details on what the new projects would be. The four leaders of the free-transit activist group that launched the first demonstrations more than a week ago said she also gave them no concrete plans.

This news comes on the heel of a spate of articles, mainly in the corporate US press, warning readers not to take the protests seriously at all. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady opines that if Dilma succumbs to the temptation to negotiate with the protesters, that Brazil will surely “sink back into the 1970s” rather than continue its “decades-long evolution toward democratic capitalism.” The protests are not truly popular according to O’Grady, but are the work of “hard-line leftists.” Never mind that 2 million citizens have participated directly, indicating that other Brazilians many times over also support them but have not joined. By way of comparison, has any Tea Party rally drawn that many people? And yet the Tea Party continues to be seen by the likes of the WSJ as a “successful” popular uprising. O’Grady’s “analysis,” such as it is, makes absolutely no sense. The military governments of the 1970s were the pro-capitalist advocates of “evolution” or progress toward “democratic capitalism” — an oxymoronic dream of the military rulers that they were “preparing the nation for democracy.” O’Grady frets that Dilma’s government is fettering the hands of global capital markets which — it goes without saying, of course! — should always remain unfettered. She then paraphrases Margaret Thatcher (!!) that “those who stand in the middle of the road get run over.” Well, at least she’s honest in stating that global capitalism’s goal is to murder anyone who stands in its way.

O’Grady’s op-ed is only slightly more intelligent than the article Christopher Dickey ran in the Daily Beast. Dickey begins by quoting French “historian,” Dominique Venner — an avowed Fascist, mind you, who recently protested France’s adoption of gay marriage by blowing his head off with a pistol at the altar of Notre Dame cathedral.

“The effervescence,” Venner wrote, “is not the revolution.”

By this Dickey attempts to reduce the manifestações to mere fizz:

You see that in Brazil right now, where a million people turned out to protest Thursday. There was violence, sure, and one person died, but there was samba, too, and the kind of adrenaline rush that comes from massive collective excitement. A lot of people find the effervescence fun in its early stages. But as Chairman Mao famously said, a revolution is not a dinner party. Effervescence doesn’t become a revolution until it’s organized and led by a party or a person, and then things start to get really serious and can get really ugly.

Movements like what has gone on in Brazil, or the Indignados in Spain, or Occupy in New York, or Gezi Park in Istanbul, none of these have any political “force” (his term), because they have not succeeded in translating themselves either into political parties within the established system or full-blown revolutionary insurrections. So evidently the only options a movement have are: 1) To be bought out by corporate interests, just as happened to the Tea Party (the only “success” Dickey cites); or 2) Start a war and wait for the drones to start firing missiles at your head.

Writers like O’Grady and Dickey fundamentally fail to understand the nature of network power exercised by these new political objects. However, it is also important to note that thinkers on the far-left have also misunderstood the situation. Several days ago, Alain Badiou published an open letter to the protesters in Turkey. In his typically Messianic fashion, Badiou feels that the Gezi protest signal “the rebirth of History.” That is to say:

The whole prob­lem is whether this cour­ageous upris­ing is cap­able of open­ing the way for a genu­ine his­tor­ical riot. A riot is his­tor­ical — as was the case only in Tunisia and Egypt, where the out­come of the struggle has still not been determ­ined — when it brings together, under shared slo­gans, not just one but sev­eral poten­tial act­ors of a new revolu­tion­ary polit­ics: for example, in addi­tion to the edu­cated youth and middle class, large sec­tors of working-​class youth, work­ers, women of the people, low-​level employ­ees, and so on. This move bey­ond the imme­di­ate riot toward a mass protest move­ment cre­ates the pos­sib­il­ity for a new type of organ­ized polit­ics, a polit­ics that is dur­able, that merges the force of the people with the shar­ing of polit­ical ideas, and that thereby becomes cap­able of chan­ging the over­all situ­ation of the coun­try in question.

The protests, in other words, hold forth the promise of becoming a miraculous Event, through which people of all classes will be united as One so that History will be redeemed from itself. What Badiou desires is that the “immediate riot,” which does not yet make historical sense, translate itself into some political form that does make sense. And one must suspect that Badiou seeks a new Chairman Jesus Mao (there, I said it!) who would be capable of retroactively translating the Event into the One Historical Future. This argument is not that far from that of Dickey, who also quotes Mao in his article, that a political movement is not effective until it forms itself as an institution with an institutional leadership. This argument misses the point entirely.

As I wrote several years ago in my article, “Unicity,” the world order in-formation is one of information: that is, it is composed of various densities of informational network traffic. Information is not a “thing,” as in a static object, but rather it is movement. Certain densities or “knots” of network traffic, which I dubbed exones, are instantly translatable from anywhere and to anywhere on the network — they “make sense” across the web. Other network knots, which I called intrones, are no less informationally rich, but are untranslatable and don’t “make sense.” The exone and the introne are not to be understood as stable places. They are not zones that one either lives in or does not live in. They are somewhere between an inhabited space and a state of being. One may be simultaneously exonic and intronic in various proportions. However, at times the introne will co-opt the translatability of the exone in order to disrupt it some fashion.

The manifestações, as well as Occupy, Indignados, Gezi, #YoSoy132, are all manifestations of the introne. They are massive knots of untranslatable information that have decided block specific flows of information translating across the exone — capital flows, political facilitation of capital flows, international soccer, what have you. The fact that they do not make sense to professional journalists or professional philosophers is perfectly reasonable — they will never fit into the pre-formed categories or institutions of the exone. This “decision” of the introne is not sovereign, because it is not the decision of a sovereign subject, it is not subjective. It is that of a non-subject — the political object. And here it is important to recall that “translation” not only means the conveyance of meaning from one code to another, but also the moving of an object from one location to another. The political object of the introne is one that cannot be moved from its site. It cannot be pushed around by the political or economic powers that be without a massive application of force. It is untranslatable!

As a density of untranslatable information, however, the political object is not quite objective. In other words, since all information is flow — even noise is flow — an informational object is never permanently stable as an object. Moreover, I would tend to the think of the “political object” as a transitory formation of a non-subject (a political entity neither subject nor object). The political object in this sense is a true “uprising” in the following sense: it can rise up as a blockage (no meio do caminho há uma pedra), dissipate, and rise up again later, making political gains as it ebbs and flows.

To the likes of Mary Anastasia O’Grady, then, I say: Those who stand in the middle of the road occasionally get run over; but more often than not a car will be totalled if it smashes head-on into giant boulder, há uma pedra! And to the likes of Alain Badiou, I say: Abandon all hope for the Event! The entrance of network power as a political object does not herald the future. It is thoroughly present as data processing, informational flow. In short, a Non-Event that is here. And here. And here. And here. And