Saturday, November 05, 2016

Modern-Day Belief and Desire in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

No, the entertainment industry does not explicitly advocate the causes of today’s ruling class. If truth be told, both the TV and film industry, as capitalist as any other, have a long history of doing the exact opposite, of seeming to bite the hand that feeds them. Capitalist figures (think Montgomery Burns, Jabba the Hutt, Ebenezer Scrooge, Gordon Gekko, and so on) are far more likely to be portrayed as villains than as heroic saviors. And any film that explicitly aims to promote the virtues of capitalism will have little if any chance of raising the necessary capital to go into production, a seeming irony. But to see the lack of a pro-capitalist message as evidence of an anti-capitalist “liberal” bias in the entertainment industry, or, more alarming to some, as a sign of weakness within capitalist hegemony, is to misunderstand how power and ideology function in our time.

Consider the newspaper industry as an example. Sure, almost every major newspaper in the U.S. is owned by one or more major corporations who have explicit if unwritten rules about what can and can’t be covered as news, but, to be profitable, a newspaper can’t simply publish information that accords with the interests of specific corporations. Though newspapers may be owned by capitalists, it’s the masses, the working-class primarily, who have to buy those newspapers in order for the capitalist owners to make a profit. You won’t sell many papers by reporting exclusively on the fluctuations in the stock market, the year’s top wines, golf and yachting tips, or international tax havens. A profitable newspaper has to represent the dominant ideology in such a way that it appeals to the interests of ordinary people. To do that, it has to dwell on non-threatening (and seemingly apolitical) consumer interests, such as sports or celebrity gossip, and it can’t entirely ignore the sincere doubt and indignation that ordinary people have towards the ruling class, for our political leaders, in particular. To turn a profit, a newspaper can’t only focus on safe and ostensibly apolitical stories; it has to honestly address regular people’s real-life problems and the subsequent complaints that arise to confront those problems.

The film industry is no different. You can’t sell a movie to a mass audience by ignoring the problems of the masses. You can’t, for example, claim that capitalism has given ordinary working people a happy carefree prosperous life, for one simple reason: ordinary working people don’t live happy carefree prosperous lives. To sell your movie to a large audience, you have to either whisk people off to fantasy land (a seemingly apolitical maneuver that, like a sports article in the newspaper, serves the explicit political function of providing an escapist compensation for the suffering of real life) or speak directly to reality, to the very real concerns of the masses, to the material facts of most people’s lives that can’t be hidden, but in such a way that it avoids any revolutionary implications. Since certain concrete truths are too obvious to ignore, modern propaganda works not to hide reality but to obfuscate and disguise it.

If the US public has developed a growing mistrust of bureaucratic institutions responsible for intelligence gathering, then your film, if it wants to connect with the average viewer, should honestly represent that mistrust. To establish your street cred, so to speak, your film will have to accurately demonstrate the potential problems associated with massive surveillance. If certain sections of government can operate in secret and without democratic oversight, then what’s to prevent those agencies from forming their own independent agendas and then working against the very institutions that empowered their autonomy in the first place?  What’s to prevent intelligence agencies from becoming terrorist agencies? Thanks to the recent revelations of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, such questions can no longer be laughed off as the conspiracy paranoia of fanatics. The threat that intelligence agencies pose to democracy is real, and in the recent film Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, that very legitimate threat is actualized, at least in fictional form. Former Secret Service agent Solomon Lane has hijacked a covert operation of the British government and formed the Syndicate, a rogue international terrorist organization dedicated to stirring up civil unrest. The Syndicate is described in the film as doing the exact same thing as the IMF, not the International Monetary Fund but the Impossible Missions Force, otherwise known as the good guys. “They’re trained to do what we do,” says Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the film’s protagonist, an IMF member who goes rogue himself after the IMF is defunded by congressional committee. And what the IMF does is perform “impossible missions”, which is a simpler way of saying that they use technology, information, and trickery to manipulate environmental variables to produce desired outcomes.  Put another way, they manage history. CIA director Hunley’s (Alec Baldwin) description of Ethan Hunt would work as a raison d’etre for the IMF as a whole: “the living manifestation of destiny.”

Michelle Foucoult’s idea of bio-power has been described as power directed at man in general rather than at specific bodies. Traditional ideas of power stressed a sovereign’s ability to censor individual bodies, to repress one’s desire, or, more explicitly, they stressed the sovereign right and ability to kill; but while coercive power perhaps lurks behind modern forces of control, it is not, according to theorists such as Foucoult and Deleuze-Guattari, the primary means by which modern societies are organized and governed. Today, the freedom of bodies isn’t limited so much as it is forced to produce. Desire, in today’s culture, doesn’t have to be repressed, it has to be harnessed, which is accomplished less and less through laws that threaten punishment when disobeyed, through the threat of violence, and increasingly through administrative methods, through the creation of environments and technology that direct and even monopolize attention and therefore behavior in specific and designed ways, thus mediating social interaction and expression. No one thinks of a cell phone, pornographic film, or a highway as a type of social authority, but each of those technologies changes the way we interact with one another and move through space, thereby not censoring but shaping our lives and our desires. Power in today’s societies, bio-power, is increasingly not enforced or imposed but administered. By creating environments that suggest certain actions while concealing other possibilities, behavior can be managed with little or no need of explicit force. Today’s leaders, namely those in administrative positions, rule not with a mighty fist but with scientific planning principles. Put another way, they manage history. They are the living manifestation of destiny. As expressed by theorist Giorgio Agamben, life can no longer be distinguished outside the political technologies of control.

In Antonio Gramsci’s description of the hegemonic process, we learn that it isn’t necessary for the dominant class to sell a particular belief-system to the masses. What’s necessary is that the masses don’t acquire a comprehensive awareness of the hegemonic order that exploits them—that they don’t too strongly disbelieve in the system or understand too clearly what “the system” really means. One way to accomplish that is to represent an outdated mode of power and then condemn it. Films that vilify capitalists often take this course. Capitalist figures aren’t treated with much respect by the entertainment industry for several reasons, one of which is the indisputable fact that the nature of capitalism has changed and that today’s corporate dominated capitalism, developed with the credit system, has an increasing tendency to separate administrative functions from the ownership of capital, a trend Marx foresaw when he declared that it, this trend, "is the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself."Truth is, socialized private property, not private property owned by a few robber barons, has been the dominate form of American capitalism since as early as the 1930s. Portraying capitalists as evil is as threatening to modern neo-liberal capitalist hegemony as critiquing the divine right of kings.1

But films such as MIRN take another approach to navigating the dictates of capital. MIRN doesn’t try to shift the focus of revolutionary energies to outdated and irrelevant modes of power, doesn’t channel protest toward the attacking of windmills, nor does it tell viewers to believe in Capitalism, or to venerate rich people, or even to trust our governmental leaders. But it does make any kind of coherent counter-belief (or belief period) more difficult. The film begins by representing legitimate fears about our present government’s unchecked and unprecedented surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers. And the film makes no effort to convince viewers that those fears are unwarranted. Instead, it conflates our fears of an autonomous US intelligence agency with fears of terrorism, international conspiracies, and crime in general. The subtitle of the film, Rogue Nation, voices a complaint made frequently and convincingly by leftist critics, a complaint that the United States is the most rogue nation on the planet, that it operates especially on the international scene and increasingly on the domestic scene as an unchecked power that flagrantly disregards basic human rights in order to protect its own interests. But the Rogue Nation of the film’s title doesn’t refer to the US government, except obliquely; it refers to the nebulous menace identified as the Syndicate. Sort of.  Ethan Hunt and the group he belongs to, the IMF, also go rogue in the film after the organization’s funding is denied. And then the two rogue institutions do battle. Going rogue, the film implies, isn’t the problem. In fact, as our obsession with comic-book superheroes such as Batman, The Hulk, and the Wolverine attests, one could argue that going rogue is almost a pre-requisite for becoming an American Hero. The effect of using the same term to describe so many different types of individuals and institutions serves to obfuscate our sense of the term as threatening, which then serves to mitigate our concerns about the rogue powers of government bureaucracy. Expressing concerns that the NSA could go rogue almost sounds sexy.

Not only is it sexy, but the idea of going rogue demonstrates a common device that modern civilizations use to deflect criticism away from administrative issues, a device Roland Barthes calls inoculation, the strategy of admitting a little bit of corruption into an institution so as to ward off awareness of its fundamental problems. 2 We see inoculation at work, for instance, in the argument that the problem of police violence isn’t with the official policies and practices of the police department; it’s just that there are a few bad eggs the department needs to get rid of. This gives the impression that the institution is capable of reform and that its problems aren’t systemic. The rogue cop, like the rogue judge, the rogue CIA agent, the rogue teacher, the rogue bank investor, and the rogue superhero, plays an important role in maintaining cultural hegemony. The rogue can serve both as scapegoat and as savior.

If the American public, for good reason, distrusts the CIA and NSA, distrusts its own legislative bodies as well as those of our closest allies, such as Britain, then any film that portrays those institutions, if it wishes to make a profit, has to represent that distrust.

 And MIRN does. It pokes fun of authority of all kinds, from the CIA and the Secret Service to the legislative bodies ostensibly empowered to keep them in check. MIRN is yet another anti-authority film, a staple of Hollywood, in which the rogue agent for Impossible Mission Forces, the other IMF, isn’t just fighting the evil Syndicate, a rogue outsider nation run by an ex-insider British MI6 agent, he’s fighting the whole system. And the system, in this case, is somewhat accurately represented as a system that operates beyond a recognizable or representable authority, through the bio-power of administrators. The problem, though, is that the really bad guys, not just the sorta bad guys (CIA), also employ bio-power to attain their ends. As a result, the problem of bio-power, or this specific instance of it, which is the use of intelligence and technology to administer society in ways amenable to the ruling class, isn’t confined solely to states or corporations, to the ruling class, but to people, nay, to life, in general—which is exactly what bio-power is, the power to manage bare life. It isn’t the improper use of bio-power, the film tells us, but bio-power itself that becomes the problem, which is to say that it isn’t governments or corporations but life itself and its implicit evil that we have to be concerned with. In other words, rather than confronting bio-power, we should accept our democratic sovereignty to administer bio-power ourselves, to become our own living manifestation of destiny. We should all become administrative managers of our lives, participate full-on in what Foucoult refers to as the self-care industry. We should use our inner rogue to combat our inner rogue, for the enemy and the savior are within ourselves, which is to say that we are all become homerus sacri and villain at once, both the villain as well as the villain’s conqueror. Political institutions cannot be blamed for our troubles, nor can we look to the institutions to save us. We have to save ourselves from ourselves.

The film’s counter-subversive power comes as much through confusing the potential problems associated with government intelligence gathering as through the de-politicization of the issue altogether. If going rogue is hip, then being overtly political is its anti-thesis, and the film tries hard not to align itself with any specific political agenda. The problem of going rogue isn’t presented as a problem unique to US intelligence gathering or to government intelligence gathering period, or even as a problem. It’s problematic, perhaps, but problematic in the way that human nature is problematic. It isn’t a problem of the system, a creation of a human organization; it’s a problem of human nature, of evil people like Solomon Lane, who will always be with us whether we live under the rule of mercenaries or kings. That’s the hidden message behind films such as MIRN: it isn’t that your fear is misguided, it just isn’t thorough enough. You SHOULD be fearful of what your government leaders might do and about programs that authorize unprecedented levels of government surveillance—and your fears are well-founded, but you should also be fearful of those telling you to be fearful, fearful of potential enemies and the enemies of your enemies and the enemies of those enemies and of friends, too. Everyone should be under suspicion, because the world is a wicked place, full of treachery and deceit, which is precisely why we need intelligence gathering. The message from the film is the same as the message of the TV series X-files: Trust No One. And since no one or no thing can be trusted, material reality is no longer an issue. What matters isn’t what’s real or not real, for who’s to say what’s real in the modern age of the Simulacra? Neither does it matter whether you believe or disbelieve—it’s that you want to believe, and what you want to believe, that’s important.

We all know that the missions of the IMF really are impossible, except in the alternative universe of Hollywood cinema, but that’s not the point. What binds us together as members of societies governed by bio-power isn’t a shared idea of truth, a common belief system that takes belief seriously; it’s desire that unites us—not really believing but wanting to believe the same thing. This is where the stunts of the film become more than just an afterthought or gimmick. In fact, they might be the most important elements of the Mission Impossible series. Of course we know that in real life you can’t race through Istanbul on a motorbike at speeds of over a hundred miles an hour. We know you can’t crash at that speed and escape major injury. But truth doesn’t matter. Nor does belief. As Slavov Zizec has pointed out, belief and ideology can be maintained as easily through others as through ourselves—and that’s true even if the others, the true believers, are completely contrived. As long as we want there to be someone who believes, that’s all that matters. That’s enough to maintain the system of belief and all the rituals related to it. In this case, we want to believe that life is manageable, that we can fully subjugate all its messy abject qualities into the safe haven of an administered society—into the polis, which, in today’s world, is almost wholly fictional—a fictional world that now serves to replace material reality, that mediates our very access to the material, so that, as in a Concentration Camp or a monastery, rule and material fact are no longer distinguishable. Our common desire is for the material to be exorcised from existence so we can thereby gain the immortality that the proliferation of images has always offered: the cartooning of the body into a machine that can take ever more severe punishments and keep on ticking, as something torn out of its original context that now floats free on the ebb and flow of market forces. Not only is the commodified body that we create on Facebook and Twitter and free to circulate in space, but also it has lost its moorings in the past. 2  The stunts performed in MIRN, like Wily Coyote cartoons, satisfy the modern mind’s desire to be free of history and nature, to be liberated in the eternal present of the commodity. This is the goal of bio power today: to commodify bare life, body and spirit, and it’s our desire to transcend human limitation, to exile bare life, that binds us to today’s mechanized power wielders. We wish to exile our natural bodies, the Homo Sacer of today, and become pure image, a sovereign free and everlasting, that, like Ethan Hunt, can’t be destroyed because he has fully transformed into the impossible. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Pamla Paper

Title: Literary Counter Insurgency: Managing Dissent by Absorbing the Counter Culture. (?)

Few would argue that many of the cultural ideas and practices that were once perceived as subversive, the once-alternative values produced by the counter cultures of the sixties and seventies, have today become commonplace. Anti-capitalist figures such as Montgomery Burns, Mr. Potter, Jabba the Hut, and modern versions of Ebenezer Scrooge dominate social media, while positive capitalist portrayals are not only scarce but presented usually with subtle apologies or overt defenses. The newest Batman film, for example, doesn't try so much to sell us on capitalism as to scare us away from other possibilities. By some accounts it seems that the counter culture has taken over. Once threatening figures of resistance such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X are today celebrated as cultural role models. The free-spirited adventurism and willingness to try new things--to explore a communal subconscious that puts ego and social identity at risk--behaviors and attitudes that once excluded people from succeeding or even participating in fundamental social institutions, have today become the flexible skill-set that employers are actively looking for. Formerly radical praxes such as Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed are now almost cliche teaching methods of the state/market sponsored educational system; while Augusto Boal's radical theater games, his rehearsals for revolution, are commonly taught by corporations in order to boost company morale and efficiency.

Nevertheless, in spite of the preponderance of anti-capitalist media production, there seems to be little evidence that capitalism is actually in trouble. To the contrary, capitalism seems stronger than ever, but that isn’t to say, obviously, that capitalism has won over our hearts and minds—just, perhaps, a part of our minds, a part not overly concerned with ideology or conscious decision-making. The counter-culture, as Antonio Negri argues, may have in fact won the battle but lost the war. What we see in modern culture today, Negri argues, are the concessions made by capitalism in order to divert more serious rebellions. Roberto Virno takes Negri's idea a step further and suggests that the changes brought about by the counter culture are today the new forces of Post-Fordist capitalist production. It isn't just that anti-capitalist thoughts have become absorbed and made non-threatening but that a specific type of anti-capitalist mind-set is what saved and now drives the modern capitalist agenda, that the counter-culture is today being harnessed as a new kind of labor.

Thought of in another way, the hegemony that has been constructed today is one in which the superstructure has made peace with the counter-culture and redefined itself, redefined capitalism, in the process. The ideal citizen/worker under Neo Liberal Capitalism is not the Marlboro Man, it isn't Ward Cleaver or Jimmy Stewart; it's the hipster--the suave, non-commital, ironic, always disoriented but never out-of-place, never to be ridiculed because never taking himself seriously Everyman who populates both the swankest downtown cafes and the diviest ghetto and red-neck bars at once.

Today's American culture is every bit as or more homogenous as the culture of the conformist era of the 1950s, only the style of homogenization has changed. What we have today is not a 1950's style homogeneity focused on the conscious mind, but a deliberate and coherent harnessing of what Virmo refers to as pre-consciousness. What we have today is a hegemony that operates not by traditional brainwashing, but through what is sometimes referred to as Noopolitics--by reducing human behavior to a pursuit of emotional rather than sensual pleasures and thus minimizing opportunities for the type of deep reflection that makes ideology and conscious behavior significant. More concisely, hegemony today operates not on the active thinking mind but on the mind at rest. And if it can be shown, as Colin Campbell argues in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, that modern daily leisure activities serve as a form of productive labor that involves a reduction of emotional intensity through daydreaming or dream making--that is, if the passive mind has indeed been harnessed--and if art inevitably reduces both emotional and sensory intensity in its pursuit of pleasure, then literary and other arts become intrinsically involved in upholding the consumer economy, in acting as a facade that, even if revolutionary in content, can't help but support the neo liberal Capitalist agenda. Literary artistic expression becomes a type of subaltern voice that, unless appropriated, can't be heard or properly spoken.

One recalls Adorno's famously misquoted phrase about there being no poetry after Aschwitz. What he actually said, within context, is that: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation." Adorno was writing in 1949, at the dawn of American conformism, but his concern about the complete absorption of the mind by a capitalist or fascist hegemony is just as relevant today; only, if we take Noopolitics into consideration, one might argue that today the primary mind being absorbed is that of the reader rather than the writer, the audience instead of the creator, that in effect citizens are being trained to manage their attention in such a way as to resist conscious deliberation in deference to pre-conscious activity designed to bring consumerist pleasure, to the realm where bio and noo politics reign. The disciplining of the body described by Foucoult (bio-politics) and the disciplining of the pre-conscious resting mind described by Lazzarrato (noopolitics) step in to shape attention and behavior without a need for any explicit ideological support. In terms of literature, this assumes that no revolutionary or subaltern reading is possible regardless of how revolutionary a book's content. Further, one would presume that if an entire culture's readership is turned into a certain type of reader, that once the reading mind, which is to say, the passive mind in search of pleasurable stimulation, is absorbed in this way, then no subaltern voice can be either read or spoken; the conscious mind is no longer master of artistic inspiration. In a world focused on regulating subjectivity rather than the actions of a subject, ideology has little power to threaten the status-quo or to inform aesthetic judgment. Aesthetics subsequently falls under the dominion of a new consumerist form of pleasure-seeking, one dependent on the dreaming self's ability to defer a genuine expectation of pleasure fulfillment. As Colin Campbell explains: "The process of day-dreaming intervenes between the formulation of a desire and its consummation; hence the desiring and dreaming modes become interfused, with a dream element entering into desire itself."The pleasure seeker of today still employs actual memories, Campbell argues, but, through day-dreaming--by re-imagining real experience to better coincide with one's fantasies, a never-ending, never-perfected process--the modern hedonist can heighten gratification by speculating on enjoyments that are yet to come. He or she can enjoy the anticipation, in other words, and the act of desiring itself becomes a pleasurable activity. (p86) Thus, today's principal mode of pleasure-seeking is defined not as a pursuit of material satisfaction but as a pursuit to remain in and enjoy the pleasures of being in a state of desiring. Our most sought for pleasure, that is, is the pleasure of contemplating pleasure, the activity of daydreaming, of taking pleasure from "possibilities", of making contact with a fantasy without fulfilling the fantasy, which would satiate and lead likely to boredom, would reduce or terminate the sought-for pleasure. Ideally then, in contrast to both the pure escapist who sets out to enjoy a fantasy that isn't attainable and, as such, is therefore in search of a less intense pleasure, or the material pleasure seeker who seeks attainment in the direct appeasement of the physical senses, the modern neo-liberal subject wants to maintain the pleasant state of mind of the daydreamer, someone who is within reach of a tangible satisfaction but who never attains it, is never fulfilled and thereby never bored or disillusioned.

As a consequence, the desiring subject, which is to say a flexible constantly shape-shifting subject that remains pliable to the demands of both modern labor and modern consumption, replaces the unified and conformist subject contested under Fordist Capitalism. Social relations today require the flexibility and non-commital tolerance of the day-dreamer. As a result, mere survival now requires being implicit in, to become the barbarian required of a barbaric system. Or, to reference Adorno again, "it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living--especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz."

Here Adorno raises the concern that only the totally dominated mind is allowed to exist let alone speak. One doesn't, however, have to dominate the entire mind to accomplish the same level of domination that Adorno worries about. One merely need create a world requiring specific parts of the mind to govern behavior more than others, to make those functions of the mind survival skills, and then to dominate those particular mental faculties.

So as culture turns away from developed thoughts or complex narratives, literature gets marginalized, pushed outside of public discourse while simultaneously made relevant as a force for counter hegemony--a contrast to the image-based culture that harnesses counter-cultural ideals and non-reflective attention. As a result, the texts that tend to get published are texts that actively defy this new literary potential for subversiveness, literature that pays homage to the image and to the dominant discourse by defying consciousness, literature, that is, which not only avoids but ridicules ideology and thoughtfulness, literature that actively pushes the reader away from a literary aesthetic and towards the pseudo-utopian potential of the image--literature, in other words, that a neo-liberal public will actually want to read. At the same time, and more importantly, literature that embodies even a radical critique of the consumer subject, is rendered harmless. More to the point, popular literature, even if supportive of a revolutionary and/or subaltern message, becomes counter insurgent by misrepresenting the system as "authoritative", as being an ideological power and not a bio or noo power, while art that challenges the real--and really complex--capitalist apparatus is doomed to oblivion, to always be steered away from consciousness by its well-conditioned audience towards the new territory being exploited, the passive mind. Autonomist literature that tries not to reinforce traditional subjectivity, which tries, as Samuel Becket's plays do, to deconstruct the coherent Western subject and resist commodification, must appeal to consciousness to do so--to a conscious deactivation of subjectifying forces--but consciousness doesn't constitute the modern private subject whose individuality is now a collective and multi-faceted entity produced by and within consumer culture. Autonomous art must, that is, be reduced to pure aesthetics, be stripped of ideology, in order to retain its autonomy, but, once reduced to pure aesthetics, to the non-conceptual, its reception will be governed by pre-colonized and pre-conscious forces.

In one instance of literary revolt, in popular literature such as The Hunger Games, we find capitalism being treated negatively but inaccurately, as being a type of external authority as opposed to a plastic network that is largely self-realized. But within a society organized by bio and noo power, no external authority is required. The result is that this type of anti-capitalist popular art ultimately strengthens capitalist hegemony by redirecting revolutionary impulses toward a false facade that, protected by abstraction, can never be destroyed. The actions of the counter culture are channeled into a class struggle that only exists within literary and artistic universes, and revolutionary activity is downgraded to attacking windmills.

On the other hand, literary artists that understand and accurately represent modern, complex, and pliant capitalist forces, are pushed so far outside popular culture as to have a similar overall effect--that of channeling thoughts of revolt to a private and personal universe beyond the reach of market appropriation but also beyond the reach of collective action. Realism becomes accessible only as pure artifice, within an autonomous zone that isn't meant to be representational. Consequently, literature is made less relevant to actual circumstances and revolt can be seen as a seemingly "detached" activity, one limited to fantasy production, an already territorialized process. We can revolt all we want, the modern capitalist system tells us, but only in our imaginations! Revolutionary resistance is then governed by pre-conscious activities that can only be satisfied within a private and pre-territorialized part of the mind. The modern mind's training in de-emphasizing ideology, in distancing reality and real criticism in order to maintain pleasurable expectations, and the now strengthened impetus to defer satisfaction, because the deferment itself (of Utopian ideals, etc.) is now gratifying, ensures that no matter how accurate and convincing the artistic critique, it will be easily converted into a harmless pleasure-fulfillment--a deferred satisfaction, a possible but never satisfied reality that maintains a "desiring state of mind" in preference to a concrete plan for achievement. In short, no matter how authentic a book's revolutionary criticism, it can be turned into a commodity by its readers. Liberatory impulses must be re-channeled to a private and subsequently impotent world. They, like all other impulses and desires, get pushed inside, forced into becoming part of a private but multitudinous "inner life", the only life where liberation is achievable. The day-dreamer which neo-liberal Capitalist social relations insist upon and reinforce, the person we have to become to participate within modern society, the person we must become in order perhaps to survive, is now in charge of our aesthetic responses and makes sure that no counter ideology can touch it. The daydreamer, that is, which is today both a producer and a product of consumer capitalism, becomes skilled at internalizing utopian aspirations so that they become consumerist pleasures rather than revolutionary quests. The modern subject is trained to ensure that possibilities remain possibilities and nothing else, that the revolutionary impulse is forever deferred and endlessly enjoyed but never fully gratified or acted on, much like staring at a poster of the New York City skyline and deriving enjoyment from it by imagining what it would be like to someday live in the city but repressing and deferring the urge to actually move there because the reality would either disillusion or make one imaginatively poorer, with one less satisfying possibility in one's repertoire from which to derive emotional enjoyment. Put simply, one must defer material pleasures, the pleasures of the traditional hedonist, whether it be the enticing thrills offered by New York City or the social justice of a post-revolutionary society, in favor of the emotional pleasures begot by the daydreamer. The revolutionary struggle itself becomes today's Utopia in place of a post-revolutionary world in which revolutionary goals have been achieved.

But none of this is to say that all literature is doomed to degenerate into propaganda or even that popular genre literature can't contribute to the construction of an effective counter hegemony, but the task of the revolutionary artist today, the task, really, of every artist who seeks not to actively support the status quo, has changed dramatically. The challenge is no longer to change or influence people's thoughts and opinions, but to alter the tangible mechanisms of perception. Literature today, as Deleuze argues, must stake out territory in degenerate networks, thus reconfiguring meaning and understanding anew. It must hone in on that which is left over in the hegemonic process, on the pathologies and disorders of the modern mind which haven't yet been harnessed for production. But even that isn't enough. Once perception is reappropriated, new channels for utopian energies have to be created. The revolutionary impulse mustn't be merely liberated, it must open onto a counter ideological message, one that isn't imposed but which emerges from revolutionary praxis rather than from university offices or mountain-top retreats. Art may not drive effective social change, but it can facilitate change by focusing on the war of position advocated by Antonio Gramsci. The literary artist of today cannot afford to take refuge in solitude, to withdraw into her creativity; rather, her creativity must develop out of concrete revolutionary activities and membership within tangible revolutionary communities. (wherein new identities might be born and endure). In brief, the artist must become first a revolutionary subject before her art can speak revolutionary thoughts. She must seek less to create new worlds, or autonomous but fictional worlds, and instead locate the anti-alienating forces already with us, those forces already created by anti-capitalist movements, and to then embody and articulate those forces in new literary forms. She must become Gramsci's organic intellectual, a subject whose voice arises directly from within the revolutionary struggle and who then appropriates literary conventions (not the other way around) for her own subversive purposes and her own subversive audience.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Sometimes the doubt gets way too close. I don’t mean doubt about whether God exists or whether I’ll become successful in my career or anything specific. I don’t really know what it is that I doubt, actually. I just know that sometimes it gets too close. If I knew what it was, if I could name what it was that I doubted, it would then be even closer, and unendurable. I can never get close enough to recognize it.

I didn’t really stay up on US news while I
was away. I thought the Te’o story had something to do with parodying Tim Tebow. I’d heard Armstrong was going to have an interview with Oprah, but I didn’t know any of the details until I got back. It seems like the story of our lives, the thin coating we use to name and conceal the scattered rubbish underneath, has become the essence we are most desperate to preserve. And maybe that’s part of what it is that I’m doubting, the story. I want to believe in other people's stories, the story of the cancer survivor who overcame his disease to become a seven time Tour de France champion, for example. And I fully understand why a college student wants to believe in the pretty picture and nice words that come across his computer screen and iphone. I understand why someone would want to believe that life’s tragedies can be remade as heart-warming made-for-cinema victories, would want to confirm those stories, would value the story more than the actual lived experience, would hide the latter with the former. I can understand why someone would lie to preserve his own story, even a false story, see it as a gift to or from others, would do everything he can to make his story true no matter how false, would yield to what’s much bigger than he is.

I’m not sure what the narrative of my life would be. I kinda know what I would like it to be, and I know it isn’t what I'd like it it to be, but as long as it’s not over, my life I mean, as long it keeps going, I can hold onto the story and maybe the story, or the idea that there is a story, keeps me going. Part of the doubt that sometimes gets too close, that I can never name or see too clearly, is the concern that without the story there would not be anything left to motivate me, that, though the story be not only a small part of me but a part of me that in truth isn’t really a part of me, is all or mostly lie, I could not exist without it. And perhaps the only part of me that is real, that is me, is the doubt, the part of me I can’t bear to get too close to because, if I did, it would be the end of me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Follow Me

Follow me, love, for this
that my heart lead us always away
as a kiss that just awaits
where by the sun of your eyes we will travel
where we will find us all of our mornings
mouths that open like cathedrals
mosques that summon the other’s grace
and songs repeating always the same prayers
and more yet more than we ever might be.
In following, my dear, let that alone be our love and our poetry.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012



Finally I surrender, love.
The secrets of my desires I will no more withhold.
Spread your dark wings and blow your tempests,
yield up your fires and curses,
and I will be silent
except to pray alone in the night
to your fury.
You may have it all now;
all I can bring out of me is yours.
I will part with everything
if only I might rest in amazement
as you blast me open with your viciousness,
render all that denies me your deep space and stark insanity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Empty Rhetoric

"These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today." - Barak Obama

Oh, fantastic. We have free speech in this country. We can argue about which of the two representatives of Goldman Sachs and Haliburton is the most handsome and enunciates his words better. And like virtually every other nation in the world, we can go through a sham election in which the same policies are put in different wrapping paper and re-sold to us. But we can never forget, Mr. Obama, that as we speak people right here at home, not just in "distant nations", are fighting for the chance to argue about the issues that matter--and they're being stymied by your administration. I'm talking about the same whistle-blowers whose bravery you praised in 2008 but have piteously hunted down and imprisoned and tortured in the four years since then. I'm talking about the fact that your administration has used the notorious Espionage Act more times than all previous presidents COMBINED, more than Bush/Cheney and the paranoid Nixon administration or Red-Scared Reagan. I'm talking about the fact that your administration attempted to use the National Defense Authorization Act to detain American citizens indefinitely, without trial, just for being SUSPECTED of having ties to Al Qaeda. And when your abusive practices were ruled unconstitutional, you promptly put my tax dollars to work in trying to overturn the ruling. I'm talking about the fact that when thousands of Occupiers tried to voice their dissent, tried to "argue about the issues that matter" in locations paid for by their tax dollars and where they could actually be heard for a change, you called in the dogs and had them forcefully relocated to far off fields or hidden back rooms or living room sofas where no one could hear them and their voices would be effectively silenced. I'm talking about the fact that you charged John Kiriakou with treason for leaking information about officials involved in illegal waterboarding in Guantanamo and at the same time haven't bothered to prosecute a single person who engaged in or authorized the illegal practice in the first place. I'm talking about the consistent message your administration has sent out that "respect for the law" applies only to those people who are victimized by it.

I could go on and on here, but my point is simple: Obama has been re-elected President, and the country remains the same enemy of freedom and equality it has always been.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Religious Poem

I might want to believe in you, Lord
But in my struggle to know you, I become your prevention:

I want love and the impossibility of love.