Theorein latinoamericánico (Part 2)

I’m going to begin here with an admission: I frequently have no fucking idea what the hell is happening. Professionally speaking, such an admission is a huge breach of decorum, or at least sanity. As a serious scholar publishing in serious scholarly journals (not, egads, blogs), one must always have a fucking idea and never utter the word “fuck.” Rather than saying “fuck” or “fucking,” or just fucking (something so seldom accomplished, or accomplished well, by serious scholars), one must sublimate said impulse into an attitude of supreme mastery over the matter at-hand, and yes I just uttered “master” and “hand” in the same sentence. On the other hand (!!), having no fucking idea has proven immensely valuable to me, since I have never felt tied to any particular school of thought, or trend, or guru, or group. I feel free to follow any thread-of-thought with which I feel a particular affinity, rather than sensing much in the way of social pressure to think this a-way or think that a-way. So well have I pursued random threads without so much of an inkling as to why other people didn’t do so, that I can confidently say that I earned tenure by not having a fucking clue. Serious scholars may not like or appreciate that, but then again, like I said, I don’t give a fuck, or rather, I have just given you 9 fucks (now 10) in this paragraph. I feel like I’ve just finished the decathlon. Give me a gold fucking star.  11.

I believe Alberto Moreiras would call my admission marranismo, and he would be correct if he ever did say such a thing. The feeling that one has one’s foot in one world and one’s head in another, and a general sense that perhaps the Inquisition will eventually come around and compel you to confess as to whether you’re really a foot or a head. (The Inquisition is all feet, and “Off with the head!”) But in all seriousness, if there is good reason to be a serious scholar, and not an imaginary marrano even when one would like to imagine one is, it is this: the work we do is serious business, insofar as it demarcates the space between people, things, times and places as intelligible, legible. I may want to think myself a marrano or a serious theorist or the Big Lebowski, but as a matter of scholarship it doesn’t matter what the dude thinks of himself since the work is all about the space in-between. I thank Silviano Santiago for that observation, and I thank Vilém Flusser for this one: “I” and “you” do not exist except as abstractions of “we.”

Just today an article by Alberto appeared in the online journal Frontera D, “¿Puedo madrugarme a un narco? Posiciones críticas en la Asociación de Estudios Latinoamericanos.” The article is a journalistic account of the recent Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference, which occurred in San Francisco in May 2012, although Alberto uses this occasion to muse on the state of Latin American cultural studies. If you’ve never been a LASA, Alberto has just provided you Continue reading

Theorein latinoamericánico (Pt. 1)

A couple of very well written articles have just appeared online this morning, each of which strives (consciously or not) to provide a snapshot of current thinking in Latin American cultural studies. Both of these articles – one by Jon Beasley-Murray and the other by Alberto Moreiras – deserve extensive attention, such that I will dedicated a separate blog-post to each one.  (My post on Alberto’s article will be linked HERE when it’s up and ready.)

This first article that I will mention is a rather stunning review that appeared on Jon Beasley-Murray’s blog Posthegemony of John Beverley’s recent book, Latin Americanism after 9/11 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press).  Beverley’s book, which (full disclosure) I profess not to have read yet, seems to desire a kind of Latin American subalternism enshrined in the nation-state, rather than a subalternism necessarily contrary to the hegemony of the nation state.  Or as Jon writes, Beverley’s book:

…entails a reconsideration of the role of the state: if subalternism meant exploring the margins and the residues of official representation, to champion what did not or could not count in national-popular discourses, with the so-called “left turns” or marea rosada, Beverley is prepared to rethink his previous principled rejection of such hegemonic projects. If “in subaltern studies, the subaltern is conceptualized as that which is not only outside the state, but also constitutively opposed to the state in some sense or another” (111), he is ready to replace that opposition with something rather more like an embrace. Not without some anxiety and trepidation, he now throws his lot in with the governments of Chávez and Morales, Kirchner and Correa. (4)

Since I can’t comment on the quality of Beverley’s book, I won’t comment on the quality of Jon’s critique of it.  But I can say that the political formation Beverley calls the “people-state” is in fact being created in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela (and maybe Argentina or maybe not)… and this is the problem. Continue reading

Who pays for anything? ctd

A few more thoughts on my previous post on the music industry.  These are really just furthering some of the ideas in that post, rather than providing new ones.  Here goes:

1) Musicians are been summarily dropped into the lower middle class. Even though they’re labor has great cultural value (it is the central aesthetic element organizing entire generations of people) it has increasingly less economic value. In this sense musicians are facing the same problems of the “working-middle” or lower-middle class:  Production is less expensive to do owing to digital-informational technological innovations, which means that workers must perform more work but get paid less for their work than was the case just a decade ago.

2) So musicians must record and release more music (often distributing it themselves, another form of labor, and designing their own promotion outlets, yet another form of labor), but their recordings (the fruits of their labor) are worth less and less.

3) Moreover, there are fewer and fewer musicians who may survive on this model. Just like other laborers in the working-middle, there are less work-opportunities for musicians, and the ones who do manage to work must work longer and harder than before.  Production up, pay down.  Or what pundits on CNBC like to call “the jobless recovery” – the fact that businesses are coming out of the Great Recession by demanding more of their laborers, without actually hiring more laborers.


Who pays for music? Who pays for work? Who pays for anything?

I just wrote Andrew Sullivan about this post about recent exchange between Emily White and David Lowery regarding the music industry and illegal downloading. I doubt I’ll get any response from Sullivan, so I’ll post my email here anyway:

Dear Andrew,

Can I say some more about David Lowery’s response to Emily White?  What is happening to the music industry is significant, of course, because it presages what is about to happen in all other industries connected to the internet.  The money is no longer there for musicians, such that the majority of musicians are being relegated to the lower middle class with no benefits, health care, retirement.  In order to survive without revenue from album sales, these musicians have two options:  tour far more frequently, which paradoxically requires musician to release more recordings (that make no money) so as to promote the live shows the musician must constantly perform in order to earn a living; or they find a steady job, typically in A&R or the like (or at the University of Georgia), which allows the musician to record on occasion and pays for health care and retirement.  The musician is forced, in other words, to produce more and earn less — either to produce more recordings and shows, or produce for another company/institution in addition to producing records and shows.  This sounds pretty much exactly like what is happening to all workers across the globe at the moment, doesn’t it.  Production is up, but overall salaries are down.  Hmmm.

As this trend continues, however, it will inevitably occur to members of the upper middle class — those who aren’t in the 1%, but still in the 15% or the 10%, say.  Journalists are a prime example.  Continue reading

Latour of the City

Among the stack of books in front of me right now, I’ve been learning a lot lately from Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature. Here’s the money quote to which I keep returning:

As soon as we add to dinosaurs their paleontologists, to particles their accelerators, to ecosystems their monitoring instruments, to energy systems their standards and the hypothesis on the basis of which calculations are made, to the ozone holes their meteorologists and their chemists, we have already ceased entirely to speak of nature; instead, we are speaking of what is produced, constructed, decided, defined, in a learned City whose ecology is almost as complex as that of the world it is coming to know.

Latour gives me, avant ma lettre, another version of what I’ve been trying to say since the “Unicity” articles started coming out.  The division between “Nature” and “City” has been obliterated, both as an ontological matter-of-fact and, more significantly, as a conceptual axiom necessary to order the world.  Instead we have generated a planetary ecosystem that is entirely urban in nature (the “Urban Revolution” first recognized by Henri Lefebvre), an networked ecosystem of which “virtual” knowledge of the ecosystem is also a part. That is, knowledge is generated and transmitted via networks that are integral to the the ecosystem of the globe.

Latour is far more optimistic about this state of things than I am. His central point in Politics of Nature is that the political constitution of the world depends upon a schism between two geographies:  Pure Nature (“deep ecology”) on one side, the realm of all that is untouched and unsullied by human contact; and Human Society on the other, in which order only emerges by negating the force of Pure Nature. (These are my terms for his argument, btw, just to be clear.) The role of Science is to obtain knowledge of Pure Nature and bring that knowledge back to the Human Society, so that proper political decisions can be reached; Scientists hold a privileged position as mediators between the two realms. And Latour correctly recognizes that this model is no longer tenable in the age of globalization. As a corrective, he argues for a new collective assemblage of human and nonhuman actants capable of generating a properly democratic political ecology (or ecopolitics).

My own position is that the fusion of Ecosystem and City (ecology and politics) is part-and-parcel of a world order based on multinational corporate organization. This order cannot sustain (or does not wish to sustain) any sort of subjective agency, collective or otherwise.

But this is the start of a discussion with Latour, not the end of it.

Strategic Non-Issues

Steve Kornacki has about as good a read of the Mitt Romney campaign as any I’ve read:

“We’ll look at that– we’ll look at that setting as we– as we reach that,” Romney assured him.

This really is the definition of talking without saying anything. And in a way, it’s totally consistent with Romney’s general election strategy, which relies on speaking in broad, platitudinous terms and avoiding policy specifics and culture war traps as much as possible. He wants to be the generic vehicle for swing voters who are motivated by their economic anxiety to seek an alternative to President Obama – nothing more, nothing less.

The strategy is a non-issue.  I don’t mean that campaign strategy is not important — that would just be silly.  Rather, Romney’s strategy is wholly reliant on non-issues.  If any issue arises that requires a definitive statement of policy, Romney declines to say anything.  Instead, he creates non-issues related to positions Obama has never really taken in order to foment anxiety among the small sliver of independent voters (mostly white working-class) who will decide the election.  Another term for the strategic non-issue is simply “lying.”

Nevertheless, the strategy is not so terribly different from the one devised by the Obama campaign in 2008.  In that election candidate Obama found greatest success in presenting himself as a cipher.  That the George W. Bush presidency was disastrous was patently obvious, such that independent-voter anxiety was naturally inclined to support the opposition.  In that context Obama proffered himself up as the figure of “Hope,” to be filled up with any version of “Hope” different blocs of voters were desirous of obtaining. The down-side, after the election, is that the cipher could also be filled with anger, hatred, obstinacy, and any other social pathology imaginable.  Once he actually had to take concrete positions on policy, Obama became a Pandora’s Box in reverse, getting filled first with hope and then with all other forms of human evil.

Come to think of it, it is the same strategy of non-issue utilized by John Roberts to sail through Congressional confirmation on his way to the Supreme Court.  What of stare decisis?  This was an issue that Roberts stated was an issue raised in legal theory of which he agreed was a theory of the law.  As to what stand he would take on cases before the court?  One cannot speak of hypotheticals.  The real non-issue is to serve as an umpire making up-or-down calls… on complex cases for which there is no up-or-down decision, because if there were an up-or-down decision to be made you wouldn’t have to take the damn case to the Supreme Court in the first place!

Come to think of it, strategic non-issues are an excellent way to advertise soft drinks.  Or gasoline.  Or health insurance.  Or…

Come to think of it, presidential campaigns in the U.S. are perfectly suited for the election of presidents who are perfectly suited for advertisements that are perfectly suited to market the products of multinational corporations.  Corporations who are perfectly suited to control the government run by politicians who are perfectly suited to wear perfect suits perfectly suited to present an image perfectly suited to the interests of global corporate capitalism, come to think of it.

Political-Economics vs. Economic Politics

As the Wisconsin recall election looms today, I cannot help but think of the divorce of class/economic interests and politics in the United States. At no point in my lifetime has it been more crystal clear that the US State is the domain — the wholly owned subsidiary if you will — of a finance-capital ruling class. This class, in its ever-increasing need to evade public scrutiny and regulation, has unselfconsciously devised evermore rapid mechanisms of exchange, transaction, organization, and hence profit — mechanisms that move so rapidly that no government, let alone political system, would ever be able to catch up. At the same time, the Citizens United ruling has only “legitimized” and expanded the capacity of this class to express its own narrow interests (unmitigated greed) on the political level.

All other interests have been excluded, or nearly so. This has been accomplished, I believe, through the exclusion of economic interests that do not pertain to the finance-capitalist class from the US political arena. Workers’ unions have long been banned outright from direct political representation, and while Citizens United also permits the unions to pour limitless cash into political advertising, the unions, even taken in aggregate, will never be able to spend as much as Wall Street (which is but one albeit large faction of the finance-capitalist class).

More troubling than the prohibition of direct political representation of workers’ and middle-class economic interests, however, is the mere fact that Continue reading