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Showing posts from February, 2011

The Counter War Film: Rachid Bouchareb's "Indigenes"

I have always disliked Hollywood war films, especially World War 2 films.  They generally strike me as exercises in masculine heroism, macho boy stories that reify certain ideological understandings of war and the military.  Even those supposedly "critical" Vietnam War movies are suspect, all about American soldiers traumatized by an amorphous landscape of asians––and no, I really do not care if the most acclaimed of these films is an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad novel. But mainstream World War 2 films are the worst.  There is a narrative of WW2 that has become part of North American, and most specifically USAmerican, consciousness that is promoted by such movies.  A narrative I briefly critiqued in a previous post , a narrative that is still the dominant North American understanding of this war: "we fought fascism because it was evil and we are good."  This is an ahistorical comprehension of fascism as an evil menace abstracted from its concrete circumstances th

My Anarchist Past and the "Infantile" Analogy

This post is inspired by an email exchange I had with the one of my regular readers regarding my background as an anarchist and why I'm now a communist who identifies with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist tradition.  [Note that this regular reader is part of community that produces excellent blogs that can be found here , here , and here .]  Since I still have comrades/friends who identify as anarchist, I figured why not write a post about my anarchist past... When I was intitially politicized, and became involved in student activism, I was an anarchist.  Or maybe, at first, a quasi-anarchist who was sympathetic to, because of my parents and uncle, liberation theology.  A strange combination perhaps, but one that somehow made sense to me at the time.  Of course, the more involved with undergraduate activism I became, an involvement that culminated in the 2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City at the end of my BA, the more theoretically anarchist I made myself.  When I began my MA I was

The Optimism-Pessimism Binary: Getting Straw-Personed By Kasama

Apparently the folks at Kasama Project posted one of my earlier analyses of Egypt today and one of their writers, Mike Ely, in his own analysis of the Egyptian intifada, responded to some of its points.  I like Mike Ely's analysis.  In fact I agree with many of the points he makes, which are supposedly in contradiction of my analysis, because his response tends to straw-person my position.  For example, he accuses this analysis of "deep pessimism about immediate outcomes" and "binary thinking" both of which are entirely absent from my position. I do not believe this is an intentional straw-personing of my position (because, after all, why would Kasama bother to post my article on their site in the first place), but the result of both a hasty reading and my hasty writing.  If I had written my position as an academic paper rather than a hastily cobbled together blog entry (a problem with many of my entries since this blog serves as an outlet for immediate ref

The People and the People Alone

Despite my previous posts on the intifadas in Tunisia and Egypt, I think it is also important to be reminded of Mao's statement: "The people, and the people alone, are the active force in the making of world history, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant."  We should note that when Mao says we ourselves  he means the party, the bureaucracy that had become enshrined in the party, and that the masses were often running ahead of the party's ossification: hence the requirement for the mass line and the germ-theorization of Cultural Revolution, the call to "bombard the headquarters." Although I stand completely behind my previous statements , and feel strongly that this post needs to be balanced by what I have already argued, I want to be clear that I also support the uprisings (but still qualify that the word "revolution" is conceptually inappropriate) and that we should all support the uprisings just as we should support any revolt, re

The Egyptian Uprising: Five Strange Claims

With all the elation over the fall of the Mubarak regime, more people are drinking the spontaneist and uncritical kool-aid that I initially criticized in an earlier post .  I am also excited about the toppling of a comprador dictator and the possibilities that will emerge from this rebellion; I have never maintained otherwise, though my critical, historically grounded, and nuanced position has caused me to be misinterpreted by overly excited comrades, friends, and acquaintances. My position remains the same as the post cited above: this uprising will not become a socialist revolution and those who currently possess the most developed organizational structures (ie. competing sectors of the ruling class) will end up directing the rebellion and providing its class content––this is already happening.  This is not to say that I'm not excited, that I don't think it's possibly a progressive historical moment, though I must admit I'm more excited by the possibilities emerging

Against Intellectual Resignation

At the very beginning of  Negative Dialectics  Theodor Adorno writes, "Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed.  The summary judgment that it had merely interpreted the world, that resignation in the face of reality had crippled it in itself, becomes a defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried."  For those of us who are familiar with Marx, we cannot miss the fact that Adorno is referring to Marx's famous 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: "philosophy has only interpreted the world, the point is to change it."  Adorno, however, is arguing that since the communist attempts to change the world have failed, this proud Marxist assertion––this claim that philosophy could not resign itself to interpretation and needed to face the reality––has become a "defeatism of reason."  Thus Negative Dialectics  becomes a flight back into the ivory towers of philosophy, an attempt in some ways to rees

Five Hilarious Encounters With The Slumlord

I generally try to avoid posting entries with too many autobiographical details so the following entry might seem a little out of place.  At the same time, however, I feel that the semi-theory that has defined this blog of late (transforming the blog into a place where I have started to relegate aborted academic ideas that fail to make it into papers) has been all too serious and a ranty entry might be in order. I just got off the phone with my landlord, an experience that always puts me in a bad mood––a mood made all the worse these days because we’re being evicted, our landlord having sold the property, probably for millions, to a gentrifying condo development company.  Onward urban progress! Usually, because I am somewhat paranoid, I would avoid mentioning my landlord (though I would have no problem mentioning landlords together as a class) in a public blog because, for all I know, she reads this blog as part of her tenant surveillance.  But now that we’re being evicted I fi

The Problem with the Tools-House Metaphor

Recently, in a class discussion, one of my students quoted Audre Lorde's claim "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  Although this was one of my better students, and I have great respect for Audre Lorde, I was reminded again of why I have always been troubled by this statement.  Generally I think it fails as a metaphor and leads to some rather problematic and ahistorical assumptions.  This is not to say that I disagree with what might have been Lorde's initial motivations for the tools-house analogy (an essay designed to attack the underlying racism of certain feminist movements), but that this aphorism is often cited by activists without any critical thought––as if it is some scientific insight, some truism that holds for activism as E=MC2 holds for the General Theory of Relativity.  It is used all the time to reject both theory and praxis, mainly by quasi-lifestyle activists and culturalists who have very dubious understandings of hi

The Limits of Spontaneity in Tunisia and Egypt

Although I have resisted writing about the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt on this blog, despite following them closely, I finally feel like I need to post something.  Like many of my fellow bloggers and readers, I have been excitedly following these popular insurgencies.  My misgivings about writing an analysis are generally a product of my contradictory feelings about these spontaneous and mass rebellions; I want to address these misgivings here. On the one hand I cannot help but feel impressed and excited by the spectre of popular power.  When the masses take the streets, after all, the limits of the state are exposed: we are shown that it is not the government apparatus and its special armed bodies, nor the market and its reified forces, that allow society to function; we are forced to admit that society is determined by the masses, and these masses greatly outnumber the ruling classes and their security forces. On the other hand, I also cannot help but feel the pessimism th